Candidates for honors in the Classic, Distaff and Mile divisions were specially in the spotlight. But there were some early races for the good 2-year-olds as well, indicating it's not long until Del Mar and Saratoga swing into action.
Internationally, the weekend before Royal Ascot was filled with a really nice edition of the Prix de Diane Longines at Chantilly -- a race that has churned out more than its share of those potential champions previously referenced.
For fun, read on through and find two horses with "Moonshine" in their name winning on the weekend. Meanwhile, starting on the Continent:
Avenir Certain, following in the hoofprints of Treve, rather easily landed Sunday's Group I Prix de Diane Longines at Chantilly, setting her a notch above rival 3-year-old fillies and sharpening speculation about her chances in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in the fall. The Le Havre filly, with Gregory Benoit in the irons, hit the front with some 100 yards to run and cruised home first by 1 length over Amour A Papa. Xcellence, Shamkala and Miss France followed in a close bunch. Avenir Certain remained undefeated in five starts. British bookmakers chopped her Arc odds to as low as 16-1, noting Treve's 2013 Diane-Arc double. Trainer Jean-Claude Roget said Avenir Certain reminds him more of Zarkava, who turned the double in 2008.
And, back in North America:
Moonshine Mullin shadowed the early pace in Saturday night's $500,000, Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, took over with 3 furlongs to run and got home first by 1 3/4 lengths over the late-running favorite, Will Take Charge. Departing challenged for the lead at the top of the lane but flattened out to finish third. Mylute, Golden Ticket and Revolutionary were the next three under the wire. Moonshine Mullin, a 6-year-old son of Albert the Great, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.66 with Calvin Borel in the irons. He went to the post at 10-1 odds despite having won four straight races, including the Grade II Alysheba over the same track in his last outing. He was claimed by owner Randy Patterson and trainer Randy Morse last November for $40,000. The winner's share of the Foster purse was $323,848. He also won a free pass to the Nov. 1 Breeders' Cup Classic through the "Win and You're In" program. Will he go? "If he never wins another race, it's been a great ride," Morse said. "But as good as he's doing, who knows? You never know. That's one thing about this sport -- they come from everywhere." Will Take Charge, coming off a clunker in the Alysheba, "showed up today," said jockey Gary Stevens. "I mean, we spotted the winner 10 pounds and he was still getting with it the last sixteenth of a mile." Trainer Al Stall Jr. said Departing "needed the race ... I think we're in good shape." And Mike Smith, who rode Revolutionary, added, "He just didn't give me the run that he has been. As to why, I don't know."
Tapiture bounced back nicely from a trouble-filled drubbing in the Kentucky Derby to win Saturday night's $100,000, Grade III Matt Winn for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs by 2 lengths. Ulanbator continued a quick rise through the ranks to finish a good second with Almost Famous another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. Tapiture, a Tapit colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.99 with Rosie Napravnik riding for the first time. The Steve Asmussen trainee won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club last fall, then took the Grade III Southwest at Oaklawn before finishing a narrow second in the Grade II Rebel, fourth in the Grade I Arkansas Derby and 15th in the Run for the Roses. "Great trip," Napravnik said. "We sat in a really comfortable position. There was plenty of speed in there for us to sit behind and he's a very nice horse. I actually breezed him at Fair Grounds before he turned 3 and I've wanted to ride him ever since so it was great to finally get on him."
Winning trainer Steve Asmussen added, "After the last couple of trips that he's had, I think that was perfect for him to hopefully get his confidence back. There are still some lucrative 3-year-old races left out there so hopefully he can get in the mix."
Albano didn't exactly sprout wings in the stretch run of Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park. It just looked like it as the Istan colt kicked away to win by 6 1/2 lengths over Encryption. Lynx finished third and Ring Weekend was pulled up and later walked off the course. Uncle Sigh was a late scratch. Albano, with Kerwin Clark in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.17. He is another who bailed out on the Triple Crown chase early -- in his case, after finishing second in both the Grade III LeComte and the Grade II Risen Star, then fourth in the Louisiana Derby. The Pegasus was his first start since leaving the Bayoux. "We had no plan," said winning trainer Larry Jones. "He (Clark) played it the way it came up. It sure looked awfully good." He said the $1 million, Grade I Haskell Invitational on July 27 "is our game plan. But we'll see how it goes."
We Miss Artie was the winter book favorite for the Queen's Plate and the Artie Schiller colt did nothing to damage that assessment in winning Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Plate Trial at Woodbine. With Javier Castellano up for trainer Todd Pletcher, the odds-on favorite waited a bit for running room, moved to pacesetting long shot Majestic Sunset at mid-stretch and won by 3/4 length over that rival. Tower of Texas finished third. We Miss Artie, owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:50.78. The colt has had great success on artificial footing, winning the Grade I Dixiana Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last fall and the Grade III Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park this spring. He has had significantly less to show on dirt, including a 10th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. "He was boxed in there," said assistant trainer Ginny DePasquale. "For a moment, you get a little nervous. But we knew he would come through in the end. He's got a big heart, found an opening and went on. Javier just kind of saved him at the wire a little bit." Castellano said, "My target is the Queen's Plate."
Iotapa shook loose from the field turning for home in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Vanity Stakes at Santa Anita and quickly settled the issue, winning off by 10 1/4 lengths. Grace Hall beat the other four with Scherzinger third and the favorite, Let Faith Arise, a dull fourth. Iotapa, a 4-year-old daughter of Afleet Alex, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.64 with Joe Talamo in the irons. Iotapa has never finished out of the money in California, with five wins, four seconds and a third from 10 starts. She was coming off a last-place finish in the Grade I Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs. "We expected to be in front," said winning trainer John Sadler. "When you draw the one (post position) and you've got a speed horse going long, you aren't going to waste the post. We wanted to go out in front. She ran a big race." Asked about the Humana Distaff flop, owner Kostas Hronis said, "She didn't like the trip, the track or the flying."
Molly Morgan rallied from far back to soundly whip a quality field in Saturday night's $200,000, Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs. With Corey Lanerie up, the 5-year-old Ghostzapper mare found a hole along the rail at the top of the stretch, shifted into another gear and won off by 4 lengths over Flashy American. She ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.11. The rest of the finish was Fiftyshadesofhay, Frivolous, fading favorite On Fire Baby and Ondine. Molly Morgan was the longest shot in the mutuel field despite having finished second to On Fire Baby last time out in the Grade I La Troienne. "I think there's just a late maturing curve on her pedigree," said winning trainer Dale Romans. "She always showed me she had the talent to be a nice filly ... I just thought she would eventually come around and she did."
Gamay Noir rallied from last of eight to win Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Obeah Stakes at Delaware Park by 1/2 length over Montana Native. Ambusher finished third and the favorite, Zucchini Flower, ran evenly through the stretch run to get home fourth. Gamay Noir, a 4-year-old Harlan's Holiday filly, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.22. She finished third in her last previous start, the Grade III Sixty Sails at Hawthorne Race Course. Before that, she won the Grade III Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream Park. "I was galloping her for the last few days here at Delaware Park," said winning rider Daniel Centeno. I told her trainer (Martin Wolfson) that she was doing great despite all the rain we had and the track being off and that we were ready. She broke good today and got a perfect trip. When I turned the corner, she really took off. She galloped out perfect."
Lexie Lou stalked the pace set by Wild Catomine in Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Oaks for Canadian-bred fillies, got to the lead entering the turn and won by 4 1/2 lengths. Sweet Catomine held second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Llanarmon. The favorite, Paladin Bay, finished fourth. Lexie Lou, a Sligo Bay filly, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:49.77 with Patrick Husbands up. Gary Barber purchased Lexie Lou from John Ross after her first start of the year. Husbands noted she previously had run with blinkers. "So when I worked her, I said she doesn't need blinkers ... Today, no blinkers." Lexie Lou next could try running against 3-year-old males in the Queen's Plate or stick with fillies in the second leg of the Canadian Triple Tiara, the $250,000 (Canadian) Bison City Stakes.
Obviously shot to the lead in Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita, opened a big advantage and held on at the end to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Summer Front. Tom's Tribute was along for third. Obviously, a 6-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Choisir, finished in 1:32.66 over firm going with Joe Talamo up, winning the Shoemaker for the second straight year. The victory earned Obviously a berth in the Breeders' Cup Mile through the "Win and You're In" program. He finished fifth in that heat last year, third the year before. Talamo said he had no real choice in tactics. "His thing is going to the front. If I would have taken him back, we wouldn't have won. You give him his head and let him do it," Talamo said. Winning trainer Phil D'Amato, noting the quick early fractions, added, "Most horses can't do that" and stick around to win. He said he will look for a race at Del Mar and another back at Santa Anita before the Breeders' Cup.
Filly & Mare Turf
Aurelia's Belle, making her first start on the green course, was promoted to the victory in Saturday night's $100,000 Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs when the stewards ruled first-place finisher A Little Bit Sassy guilty of interference in the late running. A Little Bit Sassy was set down to fourth, promoting Personal Diary to second and Kiss Moon, the victim of the bumping, to third. Aurelia's Belle, a Lemon Drop Kid filly ridden by John Velazquez, was coming off a 9th-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks. Before that, she was victorious in the Grade III Bourbonette Oaks over the Turfway Park all-weather course. "I had a really good trip, a perfect trip until really late and it looked like I was going to go by her (A Little Bit Sassy)," Velazquez said. "When she got hit, I had to pull away from the other horse and she kind of lost her balance but she still only got beat by a head. It could have gone either way. I don't even think I got the worst of it." Winning trainer Wayne Catalano said he hasn't penciled in a next race for Aurelia's Bell. "But she handled the turf very well and that's what you have to take away."
Wow. It's very early innings but Fashion Alert won her first career start Saturday at Belmont Park pretty impressively. The Old Fashioned filly, out of a Tiznow mare, broke a little awkwardly for jockey John Velazquez in the $100,000 Astoria Stakes but quickly bounded to the lead and won off by 4 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Liatris. Lindy contested the early lead and held on for third. Lindy and Liatris both won at first asking in their respective last races while Fashion Alert was entered in an earlier maiden event that failed to fill. Fashion Alert ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track Saturday in 1:04.01 and trainer Todd Pletcher said the race "sets her up very well" for the Grade III Schuylerville at Saratoga on July 18. "We're off to a good start with our 2-year-olds," Pletcher said. "It looks like a good crop."
Dekabrist rallied by pacesetting I'm Venezuelan in the late going to win Saturday's $50,000 Kodiak Island Stakes at Gulfstream Park by 1 1/2 lengths. Kulak and Bagration completed the order of finish. Dekabrist, a Kentucky-bred Street Boss colt, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.64 with Edgard Zayas. There were three scratches before the race. The first, third and fourth finishers all are owned by Raut LLC and trained by Gennadi Dorochenko.
For those looking forward to next March in Dubai, note that 2012 Arabian "Horse of the Year" Valiant Boy Sbrar wore down pacesetting Rb Champagne Taste in the final yards to win Saturday night's 100,000 President of the United Arab Emirates Cup at Churchill Downs by 3/4 length over that rival. Brute was third. Valiant Boy Sbfar now has won seven of his last eight starts.
Cristina's Halo, at 33-1 odds, rallied by Zensational Bunny in the final yards of Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Allywow Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, winning by 1/2 length. Sky America finished third and the favorite, Lacarolina, finished fifth. Cristina's Halo, a daughter of Leonnatus Anteas, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:15.18 with Chantal Sutherland-Kruse in the irons.
Flashy Margarita led from the start in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Bold Ruckus Stakes for 3-year-olds and just lasted to win by a neck over Spin the King. The favorite, Spadina Road, settled for third. Flashy Margarita, a Bold n' Flashy gelding, got 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.84 with Patrick Husbands in the irons.
Checkered Past jumped to the lead in the final furlong in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Trillium Stakes for fillies and mares and went on to win by 2 lengths over Royal Fury. Savvy Hester was a pesky third, edging the favorite, Sisterly Love. Checkered Past, a 4-year-old Smart Strike filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:43.29 for jockey Eurico Da Silva.
Frabster got home first in Saturday's $100,000 Isaac Murphy Stakes for Illinois-bred fillies and mares, only to be set down to third for stretch interference. The stewards promoted Fire Tricks to the win and Scarlet Power to place money. Fire Tricks, a 19-1 chance on the tote board, rallied from 10th and last with a six-wide move but finished 1/2 length in arrears. Scarlet Power, the victim of the interference, had moved up along the inside before being impeded. Fire Tricks, a 5-year-old Hat Trick mare, was ridden by Eddie Perez. Six furlongs on the all-weather track went in 1:11.58.
Sagebrush Queen got through along the rail on the turn in Sunday's $100,000 Desert Stormer Stakes for fillies and mares, led by daylight in the stretch and held on to win by 1 length over Clearly Confused. The favorite, My Sweet Addiction, faded from the lead and finished third. Sagebrush Queen, a 4-year-old daughter of Unbridled Energy, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.75 with Edwin Maldonado up.
Galiana took charge entering the stretch in Thursday's $50,000 Dashing Beauty Stakes for fillies and mares and went on about her business, winning by 1 lengths over She's Ordained. Miss Cruisen' outfinished the favorite, Geeky Gorgeous, for third. Galiana, a 4-year-old, New York-bred daughter of Stonesider, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:10.92 with Ricardo Chiappe in the irons.
Calder Race Course
Angelica Zapata rallied from last of seven to take Saturday's $75,000 Nancy's Glitter Handicap for fillies and mares by 4 lengths. The early leader, Swinger's Party, ran on for second, 9 3/4 lengths better than the favorite, Centrique. Angelica Zapata, a 6-year-old Sharp Humor mare, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.67 under Jesus Rios.
Ghost Is Clear circled rivals turning for home in Sunday's $75,000 Dark Star Stakes and went on to get clear and win by 1/2 length. Bobcat Jim was second and La Mano Nera finished third. Ghost Is Clear, a 6-year-old Ghostzapper gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a good track in 1:18.04 with James Graham up.
Ice for the Lady coolly ran by the favorite, Stellaris, with a big, late move to take Sunday's $75,000 Northbound Pride Oaks by 1 1/2 lengths over that rival. She's Offlee Good was good enough to take show money. Ice for the Lady, a daughter of Flatter, ran 1 mile on the good main track in 1:41.10 with Seth Martinez up. The race was moved from the turf.
Saintly Joan got by pacesetting Legal Laura in deep stretch in Saturday's $60,000, off-the-turf Little Silver Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, winning by 1/2 length over that one. Swiss Army Wife finished third. Saintly Joan, a Northern Afleet filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.60 with Angel Serpa riding.
Silent Appeal led from the start in Sunday's $60,000 Dan Horn Handicap for New Jersey-breds and worked clear in the lane to win by 3 lengths. Max Jaxx was second and the favorite, Chunnel, finished third. Silent Appeal, a 6-year-old Hook and Ladder gelding, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.48 with Eddie Castro in the irons.
Proud Azteca circled most of the field around the turn and into the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 English Channel Stakes for 3-year-olds, then took charge late, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Little Daddy. Charlie the Boss held sway early and stuck around for show money. Proud Azteca, a Kitten's Joy colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.63 with Abdiel Jaen up.
Golden Gate Fields
Moonshine Bay was along late to win Saturday's $50,000 Albany Stakes by 1/2 length over Incline Village. The favorite, A Toast to You, led briefly but finished third, another head in arrears. Moonshine Bay, a 6-year-old gelding by Kela, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.21 seconds with Russell Baze in the irons.
Down Town Allen dominated four rivals in Saturday's $50,000 Fancy Buckles Stakes for West Virginia-bred fillies and mares, drawing off to win by 4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Royal Fireworks and The Bop Express completed the trifecta. Down Town Allen, a 7-year-old Windsor Castle mare, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 51.88 seconds with Matthew McGowan in the irons.
Lone Star Park
Molly's Honour battled Lasting Bubbles into submission in Saturday's $50,000 Lane's End Stallion Scholarship Stakes for Texas-bred fillies and mares, then withstood a challenge from Expect Royalty before winning by a head over that one. Lasting Bubbles lasted long enough to get show money. Molly's Honour, a 4-year-old filly by Etesaal, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:29.03 with Cliff Berry up.
Bump Start came five-wide around the leaders to upset Saturday's $50,000 Danzig Stakes for Pennsylvania-bred 3-year-olds, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Johnny Jump Up. Change of Seasons finished third and the favorite, Fourth and Long, finished fourth. Bump Start, by Jump Start, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.58 with Alex Cintron in the irons.
Raging Smoke led throughout Saturday's $50,000 New Start Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies and won by 3/4 length over Queen to Be. The favorite, Pixie Dust, was another head back in third. Raging Smoke, a More Smoke filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.50 under David Cora.
Fuzzy Dee Jay prompted the pace in Sunday's $50,000 Sydney Gendelman Memorial Handicap for Ohio-breds, took over when asked and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over John Galt. Silver Tongued came from far back to take bronze. Fuzzy Dee Jay, a 4-year-old Northern Afleet colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in course-record time of 1:43.25 with Rodney Prescott up.
Stryker Phd took charge in the stretch run in Sunday's $50,000 Budweiser Handicap and won by 3 1/4 lengths over Mr. Bowling. Shooting Jacket was third at a big price and the favorite, Jebrica, settled for fourth. Stryker Phd, a 5-year-old Bertrando gelding, ran 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:34.15 with Leslie Mawing riding.