With hopes of a U.S. Triple Crown on hold for a week, European 3-year-olds were on display in several countries during the weekend.
Meanwhile, North America was not devoid of important races. Imagining beat some good ones from both sides of the pond on the Belmont Park grass while Palace Malice and Fiftyshadesofhay made some hay at the same track.
Race callers, who usually describe the action, provided some action of their own.
And ... Belterra Park? Read on.
The Triple Crown trail
The still-shifting sands that comprise the Preakness field currently contain 10 grains -- 10 likely starters for the second jewel of the Triple Crown, including Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome and the promising filly Ria Antonia. General a Rod, who finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby, was added to the field Friday. "The bottom line is that (trainer Mike Maker) thinks the horse is in good order after the Derby and he thinks the race will suit him," said Jack Wolf of the owner, Starlight Racing.
California Chrome, meanwhile, remained at rain-plagued Churchill Downs, where he galloped 1 3/4 miles Sunday over a track rated "good." "He loves it out there," exercise rider Willie Delgado said after the gallop. "Whatever he does, I just let him do. He is a rock star and I am just a groupie. He is the Kentucky Derby winner. He can do whatever he wants." Delgado said he can see no ill effects from California Chrome's Derby exertions. "I am amazed at how quick he bounced back from the race," he said. Art Sherman, assistant to his father, trainer Art Sherman, said California Chrome was scheduled to jog Monday before shipping to Pimlico for the next step toward destiny.
Trainer Bob Baffert said Bayern will run without blinkers in the Preakness. He said he hopes to get the Arkansas Derby third-place finisher to track the early speed and, to do so, he will need a clear field of vision. And trainer Tom Amoss said a decision will be made Monday on whether to start Ria Antonia against the boys in the Preakness -- a decision that could remove a grain of sand from the mix.
There has been no Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Since then, 12 horses have won the Derby and Preakness, only to fall short in the Belmont.
Looking ahead to the Belmont Stakes, Tonalist dominated a half dozen rivals in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park, leading for most of the final mile and coasting home 4 lengths in front of his nearest rival, Commissioner. Irish You Well, third in the Grade III Illinois Derby last time out, finished third again, flattering the chances of the winner of the Illinois race, Dynamic Impact, in this coming weekend's Preakness. Tonalist, trained by Christophe Clement and ridden by Joel Rosario, ran 9 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:48.30. Tonalist is a Tapit colt out of the Pleasant Colony mare Settling Mist. The Peter Pan was his first start since February as he recovered from a lung infection. "This win is nice, it's great," Clement said. Let's see how the horse comes out of it but, of course, we have to think about the Belmont Stakes. We're New York people and we're at Belmont." Todd Pletcher said Commissioner also is a candidate for the Belmont. "Second best on the day but he handled everything pretty well," Pletcher said.
Imagining led from the start in Sunday's $400,000, Grade I Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park and held off Real Solution through the stretch to win by 3/4 length. Grandeur came from England to finish third, 1/2 length farther back. The favorite, Amira's Prince, faded badly to finish last of six. Imagining, a Phipps Stable homebred, a 6-year-old son of Giant's Causeway, ran 1 3/8 miles on the good inner turf course in 2:14.33 with Joel Rosario in the irons. He was making his second start of the year following a good runner-up finish in the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap back in February. "He does like it here but his race in Florida was a good race, too," said winning trainer Shug McGaughey. "I'm happy for the horse. This is his first Grade 1. We've got a good, solid race into him now and hopefully he'll come back fine and we'll have a good summer with him." It was McGaughey's third straight win in the prestigious Man o' War, but, typically, he put the focus on Imagining. "I'd never won the race before and now I've won it three years in a row. I'm pleased, I'm pleased for the horse," he said.
Fiftyshadesofhay shifted outside the early leaders in the stretch run in Sunday's $250,000, Grade II Ruffian Stakes for fillies and mares, rolled on by them and went on to win by 3/4 length over Grace Hall. My Wandy's Girl led briefly and held third, a nose farther back. Fiftyshadesofhay, a 4-year-old Pulpit filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.70 with John Velazquez up. It was her first win since the Grade III Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows last June. "I saw her way behind and I saw the hot pace, so I thought we had a chance," said winning trainer Bob Baffert. "I told John to ride her however he wanted, so I guess he knew what he was doing." Velazquez said, "They were going fast enough, so I thought I'd try to save some ground and put her behind horses and hopefully I'd get somewhere."
Palace Malice bided his time through the early fractions in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Westchester Stakes, then took control and went on to win by 9 3/4 lengths. Declan's Warrior, I'm Steppin' It Up and Red Rifle completed the order of finish. Palace Malice, a 4-year-old Curlin colt, finished the one-turn mile in 1:35.53 under John Velazquez. Last year's Belmont Stakes winner, Palace Malice has thrived recently at shorter distances, winning the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap at 1 mile and the Grade II New Orleans Handicap at 1 1/8 miles in his two previous starts. "He doesn't seem to have any distance limitations, short or long, to win twice at a mile, once at a mile and an eighth, Belmont on the resume," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "We're really excited about where he is, how he is doing, and hopefully more to come." He said the $1.25 million, Grade I Met Mile On June 7 has been in the plans for Palace Malice. "He certainly ran well enough today to keep that as a top priority."
Free as a Bird rallied three-wide to take the lead with a furlong to run in Sunday's $100,000 License Fee Stakes for fillies and mares and got there first by 1 length. Vicki's Dancer came from well back to take second, a neck in front of Sounds of the City. Free as a Bird, a 5-year-old Hard Spun mare, ran 6 furlongs on good turf in 1:09.94 with Joel Rosario up.
Top Fortitude showed plenty of fortitude in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Lazaro Barrera Stakes for 3-year-olds -- and at odds of 30-1, no less. The Top Hit colt was with the leaders throughout the 7-furlongs tilt, turned back all of them and emerged on top by 1 1/2 lengths over late-running Tonito M. Ferocious was third and the favorite, Kobe's Back, while in fact back in California, was not back in form, finishing fourth. Puppy Manners was fifth and Chelios, like the Chicago Blackhawks earlier in the week, was in a rough patch, finishing last of seven. Top Fortitude, with Kayla Stra in the irons, finished in 1:22.98 on a fast track. Stra, an Australian, scored her first North American stakes win. "I thought there would be two horses on the lead, maybe not the two that I thought, but it still helped in how it worked out," she said. "I think everything went to plan. When I looked at the Form, it seemed pretty simple ..." Or, as Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee is fond of saying, "It's a simple game."
Really Sharp got the lead in the stretch in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Vigil Stakes and held on to win by 3/4 length over the favorite, Occasional Blue. Go Blue Or Go Home finished third. Really Sharp, dispatched at odds of 29-1, covered 7 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:21.83 with Stephen Bahen in the irons. He is a 4-year-old Sharp Humor colt. "He rated real nice and was sitting there waiting to run," said Bahen. "He was really sharp today."
Wild Catomine stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Fury Stakes for Ontario-bred 3-year-old fillies, took over in the stretch run and won by 1/2 length over an onrushing Hot and Spicy. The favorite, Lexie Lou, settled for third. Wild Catomine, a daughter of Milwaukee Brew, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.42 with Gary Boulanger in the irons. "She's worked in the morning beside horses and behind horses, so she's well-schooled that way," Boulanger said. "She showed a lot of class."
The Jersey Shore oval swung back into action on Saturday and Ribo Bobo was the first stakes winner of the season, taking down the $79,000 Decathlon Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over pacesetter Joe Tess. Be Bullish finished third. Ribo Bobo, up from Florida, is a 6-year-old Louis Quatorze gelding. He ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.29 with Paco Lopez riding.
Sweet Cassiopeia ran by the favorite, Point to the Wild, in deep stretch in Saturday's $65,000 Unbridled Sidney Stakes and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. It was 5 more lengths back to Queen Negwer in third. Sweet Cassiopeia, a 6-year-old mare by Five Star Day, ran 5 furlongs on a sloppy track in 57.58 seconds with Joe Rocco Jr. aboard. The race originally was carded for the turf.
Patty's Key wore down pacesetting favorite Wolf Pack Jack in the stretch drive in Saturday's $70,000 John Wayne Stakes for Iowa-bred colts and geldings, winning by a nose. You Funny Man closed well along the rail to finish third, 3/4 length farther back. Patty's Key, a 4-year-old Sir Shackleton gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.22 for jockey Glenn Corbett.
Jumped the Harbor stalked the pace early in Friday's $70,000 Mamie Eisenhower Stakes for Iowa-bred distaffers, then took over turning for home and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Sumting Wrong. The favorite, Queen Lilly Kay, made a late run but could only salvage third. Jumped the Harbor, a 4-year-old Jump Start filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.55 with Shane Laviolette in the irons.
Daring Kathy had 'em all the way in Saturday's $75,000 Honey Ryder Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, drawing off late to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Marnesia Wild Heir was second and Florida Sun got third. Daring Kathy, a Wildcat Heir filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.05 with Abdiel Jaen up.
Dad'z Laugh also led all the way in Saturday's $75,000 Big Drama Stakes for 3-year-olds and won by 2 3/4 lengths over Risk Factor. Narvaez finished third. Dad'z Laugh, a Black Mambo colt, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:15.44 with Elvis Trujillo in the irons.
Presque Isle Downs
They're off and running at Presque Isle Downs, too, and Sunday's $100,000 Inaugural Stakes for 3-year-old fillies went to Henny Jenny, who made up plenty of ground in the stretch and outfinished Cactus Kris by 3/4 length. Norquay finished third. Henny Jenny, a Henny Hughes filly, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.24 with Dylan Davis up. The nine horses in the field ran their last previous races at Woodbine, Keeneland, Sam Houston, Tampa Bay Downs, Laurel Park and Fair Grounds, clearly demonstrating the power of the gaming-fueled purse structure.
Golden Gate Fields
G.G. Ryder stalked the pace in Sunday's $75,000 Alcatraz Stakes for 3-year-olds, then locked things up in the stretch run, escaping from the pack to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Pazmeifucan was second and Flagman finished third. G.G. Ryder, a Chhaya Dance colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.98 under Russell Baze.
Luscious Lonna led literally the length of Saturday's $65,000 Golden Poppy Stakes for fillies and mares, opened a daylight lead in the stretch and held on to win by 1 3/4 length. Koby Jo was best of the rest with Spring Bloom finishing third. Luscious Lonna, with Juan Hernandez up, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.13. She is a 6-year-old Benchmark mare.
Stopshoppingdebbie rallied to the lead entering the stretch in Sunday's $50,000 Hastings Handicap for fillies and mares and charged off to a 4-lengths victory. Madam Pele beat the others, with Blueberry Smoothie 1 3/4 lengths in her wake in third. Stopshoppingdebbie, a 4-year-old Curlin filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.38 with Rocco Bowen up.
There's some karmic symmetry to the fact that Rivers Run Deep on Thursday night scored the first stakes win at the "new" Belterra Park. Belterra is the revamped -- with casino -- River Downs, along the Ohio River in Ohio, competing with the casino-less Kentucky tracks. But, as "Moustache" was fond of saying in the excellent movie "Irma la Douce," that's another story. Rivers Run Deep, a Ready's Image colt, waited briefly behind the pace in the $50,000 Tall Stack Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds, then quickly put the issue to rest, drawing off to win by 12 3/4 lengths. Dr. Advo Cat beat the rest and Jac's Fact got show money. With Jareth Loveberry in the irons, Rivers Run Deep got 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.41.
Lone Star Park
Thegirlinthatsong caught pacesetting favorite Scooter's Choice in the late going and kicked clear to win Saturday night's $75,000 Texas Stallion Stakes Got Koko Division by 4 1/2 lengths. Scooter's Choice held second by 1 length over Paddle Out. Thegirlinthatsong, a daughter of My Golden Song, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.53 with David Cabrera up.
Ibaka stalked the pace in the companion $75,000 Stymie Division, then went on to win by 3 lengths over F J Uncle Vic. Ring Necked flew up for third. Ibaka, an Oklahoma-bred Uncle Abbie gelding, got home in 1:37.71 with Lindey Wade riding.
Mikki Isle relaxed on the lead from the gate into the stretch turn in Sunday's Group 1 NHK Mile at Tokyo Racecourse, then held off a charge by much of the rest of the field, winning by a neck. Tagano Burg finished second just a nose better than Kings of the Sun. Four others were within 1 length of the winner under the wire in a well-timed winning ride by jockey Suguru Hamanaka. "Being sent off as heavy favorite, I'm relieved with the outcome," Hamanaka said. Unusually, he was tense in the gate and didn't break as well. But once he spurted for the lead he was faster than the others. I knew the others were closing in fast and prayed that he hold on to his lead. This horse has incredible speed and character." The Deep Impact colt got home in 1:33.2 on firm going. He now has five straight wins, the last three of them stakes victories.
At Lingfield on Saturday, Snow Sky, trained by Sir Michael Stoute for Khalid Abdullah, rather easily landed the Betfred.com Derby Trial, finishing 2 lengths ahead of Hartnell with Sudden Wonder third. Stoute said the Nayef colt is entered here and there, including the Investec Epsom Derby, and he will have to consult with the owner before charting a course of action.
In Saturday's Betfred Oaks Trial, Honor Bound bounded to the lead a furlong out, then was all out to win by a nose over Criteria. Momentous finished third. Honor Bound, a daughter of Authorized, was one of three entered by trainer Ralph Beckett and he said she was the least likely of the trio. He added she will not be supplemented to the Investec Epsom Oaks.
Fascinating Rock was awarded the win in Sunday's Group 3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown after Ebanoran was judged to have caused repeated interference in the stretch run. But, while Fascinating Rock was praised by trainer Dermott Weld and likely ticketed for Epsom, British bookmakers left him as an outside chance for next month's Investec Derby. Australia remains a solid favorite for the 3-year-old classic while True Story, the only other contender held at single-digit odds, could cut into that margin with a good showing in Thursday's Betfred Dante Stakes.
Avenir Certain shot away from the field in the stretch run in Sunday's Group 1 Poule d'Essai Des Pouliches for 3-year-old fillies at Longchamp and shot right into the picture for the Group 1 Prix Diane. Under Gregory Benoist, the Le Havre filly remained undefeated in four career starts. She won by 1 1/4 lengths over Veda but did have to withstand an inquiry before the result was made official. "What can I say? She's a crack filly," said trainer Jean-Claude Rouget. "I see no reason she wouldn't stay the distance in the Prix Diane."
In the Group 1 Poule d'Essai Des Poulains for 3-year-old colts, Karakontie raced in mid-pack through the early furlongs, got to the front with a furlong to run and ran on stubbornly to win by a neck over Prestige Vendome. Pornichet was third and Giovanni Boldini faded late to finish seventh. Karakontie is a Japanese-bred colt by Bernstein, owned by the Niarchos Family. Stephanie Pasquier had the mount.
Sea the Moon had the best late kick in Sunday's Group 3 Fruhjahrs-Preis Des Bankhauses Metzler for 3-year-olds at Frankfort, winning by 2 lengths over Abendwind. Magic Artist was third. Sea the Moon, a Sea the Stars colt, got 1 1/4 miles on soft turf in 2:16.54.
News and notes
Tom Durkin, one of the most-recognized voices in horse racing, is calling it a career this summer after 43 years of calling the races. Durkin, 63, was raised in Oak Park, Ill. He started calling at county fairs in Wisconsin, moved along to the likes of Cahokia Downs, Quad Cities Downs and Miles Park before signing on with Hialeah in 1981, then with the New York Racing Association, where he still handles the microphone, in 1990. He called the Breeders' Cup World Championship races from 1984 to 2005 and also was the voice of the Triple Crown for many years. "Tom Durkin is one of the greatest race-callers in history," said NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay, "and we are fortunate to have had him with us here in New York for so many years." Durkin added, "It's been exciting. And just as importantly, it's been fun." No dummy, Durkin will work the Saratoga meet as his swan song.
On the other coast, Trevor Denman, Santa Anita's race caller for more than 30 years, will take time off during June to "freshen-up" before returning to call the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita on June 28. Frank Mirahmadi, who calls full-time at Oaklawn Park, will "pinch hit" for Denman for 10 racing days. Denman, 61, a native of South Africa, will spend time attending to about 40 young calves on his Minnesota ranch, where several acres "would cover the lot," to paraphrase his race calls. "We love it," Denman said of the ranch work. "Plus the time away really does serve to freshen me up." Denman is so synonymous with Southern California racing that his voice has been featured on The Simpsons.