An exciting weekend of Thoroughbred racing featured breakout performances, a comeback effort in England, some very fast 2-year-olds and progress on the turf.
Up With the Birds, Somali Lemonade, Stopshoppingmaria, Spring to the Sky and Tourist all showed marked improvement in winning weekend stakes and look to have bright futures during the second half of the 2014 campaign.
Del Mar and Saratoga were in full swing with race cards that begin sorting out the sheep from the goats in terms of year-end competition.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien saddled the winner of the Irish Oaks -- but not the one most folks expected.
Expect to read all about it in the next few thousand words:
Filly & Mare Turf
Somali Lemonade saved ground into the stretch in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I TVG Diana Stakes at Saratoga, came out for running room and took the lead with a sixteenth to run. She then held off Stephanie's Kitten and Discreet Marq by a neck and another neck, posting an 11-1 upset. The favorite, Alterite, weakened late and finished eighth of 10. Somali Lemonade, a 5-year-old Lemon Drop Kid mare, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.51 with Luis Saez in the irons. She appears to have found a new level, with three wins in her last four starts, also including Grade III Gallorette Handicap at Pimlico. "Not a bad horse to have," said winning trainer Michael Matz. "I don't know if it was the blinkers. I don't know if it was maturity. But she's doing really well right now. She's better now at 5 than she was her whole life." He didn't discuss her next race but trainer Chad Brown said Stephanie's Kitten likely will move along to the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington Park next month.
One to watch: Regal Conquerer outfinished Skylander Girl to win Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Ontario Damsel for 3-year-old fillies by 1/2 length. Fancy Ribbons got show money and the odds-on favorite, Llanarmon, was a poor fifth. Regal Conquerer, a daughter of Sky Conquerer, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.11 with Eurico Da Silva up. It was the filly's turf debut and trainer Darwin Banach noted she is bred for a career on the green course. "Sky Conqueror was the best horse I ever trained," he said. "He made two million on the grass and her mum (Classic Stamp) made one million on the grass. It was nice to see her come through on the grass and relax for Eurico like she did and pick it up down the lane for us."
Tom's Tribute waited patiently in second position through the early furlongs of Sunday's $300,000, Grade I Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar, took over when asked by jockey Mike Smith and edged away to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Summer Front, the favorite, followed the winner and finished second, 1 length in front of Spring Up. Tom's Tribute, a 4-year-old Lion Heart colt, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.01. The victory was his first in a graded stakes and followed a fifth-place showing in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita last month. "I think I'll vote for Mike Smith for the Hall of Fame next year," smiled winning trainer Jim Cassidy. "You've got to get this horse to relax, that's the key, and today Mike got him to relax and he was the most professional of any race he's run. We had originally planned on the Del Mar Mile and not this race, but then I changed my mind. I don't know what's next but we'll be thinking about the Breeders' Cup." Mike Smith, as Cassidy knows, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.
Tourist took a really quick tour around the Saratoga turf in Friday's $100,000 Sir Cat Stakes for 3-year-olds. Leading all the way, the Tiznow colt won by 1 3/4 lengths and was clocked in 1:33.54 -- just 0.12 second off the 10-year-old course record for 1 mile. Ring Weekend was second and Storming Inti finished third. Joel Rosario rode the winner for trainer Bill Mott. The colt took five tries to find the winner's circle, finally responding at Gulfstream Park when he was put on the grass, and now has won three straight races. Mott admitted he may have waited a little too long to switch Tourist to the green course. "The problem was, he ran just well enough on the dirt that we kind of kept trying him. We all want a Derby horse, right?" the trainer asked. "We tried him one or two extra times on the dirt than, maybe, was to his benefit, but it's all coming together now." Could he move on to races like next month's Grade I Secretariat Stakes -- 1 1/4 miles on the Arlington Park turf? "I guess what we have got to decide is if he'll stretch out beyond a mile," Mott said. "We have to figure out what direction we want to go now."
Up With the Birds rated last of seven through most of Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Nijinsky Stakes, bulled his way through between rivals heading for home and quickly shot clear, winning by 4 lengths, ridden out. Dynamic Sky finished second, followed by River Seven. The favorite, Za Approval, didn't show much and finished fifth. Up With the Birds, a 4-year-old Stormy Atlantic colt, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:45.74 with Eurico Da Silva riding. The victory was a major improvement for the colt. He wound up 2013 being named Canada's Horse of the Year after a win in the Grade I Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park but was unplaced in his first two starts of this year's campaign. "He's a very nice horse," Da Silva said. "I wanted to do the same as I do in the morning and let him relax. He always works really well like that." Trainer Malcolm Pierce said things came together for his charge. "He's had a couple of really good works coming into this race," said Pierce. "He's in good order and when you have a good horse right, they're dangerous."
Lafontaine stalked the pace in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Toronto Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds at Woodbine, then rallied down the lane to snatch an upset win by 1/2 length over Pumpkin Rumble. The favorite, Heart to Heart, showed the way but couldn't match strides late and finished third. Lafontaine, an Artie Schiller colt, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm going in 1:48.84 with Steven Bahen in the irons. He now has two wins from five starts. "I'm very proud of this horse," said winning trainer Liz Charalambous. "He's really figured it out now and knows why he's here and what we're asking of him. The talent was always there, he just had to figure it out."
East Hall closed like a freight train in the stretch run of Saturday's $300,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown, winning by a head over Jessica's Star and another 2 1/4 lengths over the pacesetting favorite, Almost Famous. East Hall, a Florida-bred gelding by Graeme Hall, finished 1 1/16 miles on a wet-fast track in 1:44.22 with Juan Leyva up for trainer William Kaplan. East Hall finished fifth in the Grade Florida Derby, then skipped the trip to Louisville, instead finishing second in two minor stakes at Gulfstream Park before Saturday's victory.
Stopshoppingmaria bided her time in Sunday's $300,000, Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga, came three wide into the lane and kicked away, winning by 5 lengths. Unbridled Forever was the best of the rest, 4 lengths ahead of Miss Besilu. Stopchargingmaria, a Tale of the Cat filly, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.80. "I had a beautiful, dream trip," said winning jockey Javier Castellano, after overcoming the inside post position. "The way she has matured, she was phenomenal today." Stopchargingmaria finished second in the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga last summer, third in the Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park, then won the Grade III Tempted and Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct in November. She turned in a couple of duds during the winter to start her 3-year-old campaign. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Stopchargingmaria "has been training much more powerfully than she did this winter, so we expected a big effort from her ... I thought she ran well enough today to certainly earn a spot in the Alabama," a $600,000, Grade I at the Spa on Aug. 16. Owner Mike Repole agreed, saying the filly has blossomed in upstate New York. "It had to be that she didn't like Florida," he said. "Or maybe she didn't like Todd. I'm not sure."
Aurelia's Belle parked just behind the early pace in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Arlington Oaks at Arlington Park, moved up around the turn and surged to a big lead early in the stretch run. But the Lemon Drop Kid filly then was put to the test by Stellaris, who missed by just 3/4 length at the wire. It was another 4 1/2 lengths back to She's Offlee Good in third. With Channing Hill in the irons, Aurelia's Belle got 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:52.34. She now has won three of her last four, all graded stakes and on both dirt and the all-weather, for trainer Wayne Catalano, sandwiched around a ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks. "We'll go back to the drawing board and take a look" for her next start, Catalano said. "She's been running pretty hard. We'll probably get her back on the grass. That's probably her surface."
Istanford surged quickly to the lead in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II San Clemente for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar, maintained the advantage and was 2 1/2 lengths clear of the runner-up, Tepin, at the finish. My Conquistadory was third and the favorite, Diversy Harbor, settled for fourth. Istanford, a Florida-bred filly by Istan, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.83 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. She earlier won the Grade III Arlington Classic and finished second in the Grade II Tampa Bay Oaks. "I told Rafael to break sharp and if you got the lead, fine, but if somebody else wants the lead let them have it," said winning trainer Michael Stidham. "You saw what happened. Obviously, she loves this firm turf here." As to plans, he said, " We'll see. We always nominate to a lot of stakes and we'll be looking around. But the way she ran on this turf course, it's something to think about."
Meanwhile, Wise Dan recorded a 4-furlongs breeze over the Oklahoma turf training course at Saratoga on Friday, continuing his comeback from colic surgery this spring. Wise Dan is the reigning, two-time U.S. Horse of the Year and two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile and trainer Charlie Lo Presti is hoping to bring him back for a try at a third straight win in the Fourstardave on Aug. 9 at the Spa.
Big Trouble rallied wide from well off a hot early pace in Saturday's $250,000, Grade III Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, exchanged some serious bumps with Mr. Z as that pair moved toward the lead, and then was up in the final stride to win by a neck. Mr. Z finished second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Cinco Charlie, and the favorite, Nonna's Boy, finished third. Big Trouble, a Tiz Wonderful colt out of the Najran mare Silver Lullabye, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.64 under Irad Ortiz Jr. and survived a stewards' inquiry before the result was posted official. Big Trouble won at first asking at Belmont Park last month. "I told Irad that he breaks very good and to give this horse a chance to run good," said winning trainer Tony Dutrow. "So I didn't know what was going to happen. But I'm so happy that this boy was able to do something different than his maiden win against some nice horses today. For him to be completely different than he was in his first race, and only having one racing experience, I have to feel really good about his future." He said the Grade I Hopeful on Sept. 1 is a logical target for the next race.
Yikes. Trackattacker blew the doors off five rivals in Sunday's $50,000 Emerald Express Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings, winning by 11 lengths at prohibitive odds. Monster Wave won the race for place at monster odds. Private Boss finished third. Trackattacker, a Harbor the Gold gelding out of the In Excess mare Escalante, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.31 with Leslie Mawing up. He was bet down to next to nothing after winning his first start by 9 lengths, covering 4 1/2 furlongs in track-record time of 49.98.
Private Prospect ran by pacesetting favorite Brookerson in the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Prairie Gold Juvenile at Prairie Meadows and went on to win by 5 1/2 lengths over that one. Flying Frank flew too late from last and settled for third. Private Prospect, a Discreet Cat colt out of the Private Terms mare Private Deputy, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.85 with Alex Birzer in the irons. He now is 2-for-2 with the first win coming at Arlington Park on the all-weather track.
Fashion Alert broke sideways at the start of Friday's $250,000, Grade III Schuylerville at Saratogta but quickly recovered under John Velazquez' urging and passed pacesetting Take Charge Brandi in the late going to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Tulira's Star was a parsec farther back in third. Fashion Alert, an Old Fashioned filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.78. Winning trainer Todd Pletcher noted trainer D. Wayne Lukas likes his runner, Take Charge Brandi, "a lot. They got into a prolonged speed duel. You could tell they were both getting tired but she showed some guts." He said he won't rule out the Aug. 10 Adirondack but "likely" will wait for the Aug. 31 Spinaway. "It's pretty hard to win the first two," he noted.
My Fiona got to the lead in the stretch run in Friday's $100,000 CTBA Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies at Del Mar and gamely held off the favorite, Lost Bus, winning by a neck. Take Back Spring was 8 3/4 lengths up the track in third. My Fiona, a Ghostzapper filly, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:04.90 with Fernando Perez in the irons.
Strawberry Baby was far too much for her rivals in Saturday's $75,000 Prairie Gold Lassie at Prairie Meadows, saying goodbye early in the stretch run and winning by 7 1/4 lengths. A Wild Notion beat the others and Cats West took third. Strawberry Baby, a daughter of Warrior's Reward, got 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.19 with Dakota Wood riding. She now is 2-for-2, with the earlier win coming at Lone Star Park.
Spring to the Sky set a pressured pace in Sunday's $100,000 Lucky Coin Stakes at Saratoga, finally worked clear at the end and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Great Attack. Strong Impact finished third. Spring to the Sky, a 5-year-old son of Langfuhr, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:01.66 under Javier Castellano. He finished 11th in last fall's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint but now has scored two straight victories. "He's had a lot of breaks and this and that happen to him," said winning trainer Bruce Brown. "I think we're finally in a consistent pattern of running him and he just seems like he's coming into his own at the right time. He loves it up here, so hopefully he'll come back in the next stake toward the latter part of the meet and go from there."
Aidan O'Brien-saddled fillies finished first, second and fourth -- like many of yours truly's trifecta boxes -- in Saturday's Group 1 Irish Oaks at the Curragh. Bracelet, with Colm O'Donoghue up, chased down pacesetting Volume to get to the front a furlong from home, then held off Tapestry and Joseph O'Brien to win by a neck. Volume held third with extreme outsider Beyond Brilliance fourth under Ana O'Brien. Bracelet, a Monjeu filly, ran 1 1/2 miles on good to firm going in 2:33.86. It was her fourth win and first at the Group 1 level. O'Brien said the Yorkshire Oaks now is a likely target as Bracelet seems to be improving as the year progresses.
Amralah was eager to run in Saturday's listed Doom Bar Stakes at Newbury, remained prominent throughout and after gaining the lead 2 furlongs from the finish, held on by a short head over Vancouverite. Nabucco finished third and the favorite, Al Kazeem, was hard pressed to hold fourth in his return to the track after striking out in the breeding shed. Battle of Marengo finished next-last of 10. Amralah, a 4-year-old Teofilo colt, ran 1 1/4 miles on good to firm going 2:08.59. Al Kazeem won five straight races last season, including the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh, the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Group 1 Coral Eclipse at Sandown. He was not able to find the winner's enclosure after that string, though he did finish a credible sixth in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe despite a poor draw. He proved "subfertile" when retired to stud. Saturday's race was his first of 2014 and trainer Roger Charleton admitted he was bit overweight and needed the race.
Active Minoru, a Statue of Liberty colt, won Saturday's Group 3 Hakodate Nisai Stakes for 2-year-olds by 1 length over Takeden Tiger. Tosho Piste was third. Active Minoru, with Yoshihito Kitade up, made all the going and ran 1,200 meters on firm turf in 1:10.2. After the first two, nine other competitors finished within 1 or so lengths of each other. Umbilical ran a discordant sixth, beaten less than 2 lengths for it all.
Enterprising came from last of 11 to win Thursday's $100,000 Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds by a neck over fellow closer Argyle Cut. Home School got home third. Enterprising, an Elusive Quality colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.89 with Mike Smith at the controls. He now has four wins, a second and two thirds from his last eight starts but trainer Tom Proctor sounded almost surprised to be standing in the winner's circle. "It usually depends on the trip and I guess any winning trip is a good trip," Proctor said. "He was outside and in the clear. I've been running a lot of seconds lately so I wasn't sure he was going to get there. But it all worked out."
Cozze Up Lady stalked the pace in Saturday's $90,000 Osunitas Stakes for fillies and mares, got to the lead in the stretch run and won by 1/2 length over Warren's Veneda. Rhagori finished third while the favorite, Premier Steps, checked in fifth. Cozze Up Lady, a 5-year-old Cozzene mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in a speedy 1:39.95 with Kent Desormeaux up.
Pirate's Trove, invading from Arlington Park, stalked the pace in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Duchess Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, shot to the lead entering the stretch and held off Cactus Kris to win by a nose. Hillhouse High finished third. Pirate's Trove, a Speightstown filly, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.75 with Florent Geroux in from Chicago for the winning ride. It was only the second career start for the Michael Stidham trainee, who won at first asking over the Arlington all-weather course on May 31 -- by 12 1/4 lengths. "I've been working her for several weeks before she raced," said Geroux. "She can be a little bit hyper, a little bit complicated sometimes, but she ran very fast and is a very nice filly."
Good Lord went quickly to the fore in Saturday's $50,000 Don Bernhardt Memorial and held off Ghost Is Clear at the end to win by a neck. Nicklaus Way was 6 lengths farther back in third. Good Lord, a 7-year-old Greatness gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.55 -- just 0.09 second off the track record. Leandro Goncalves had the mount.
Ole's Miss got to the front a furlong from home in Saturday's $50,000 Kent Handicap for 3-year-old fillies and battled to the wire before winning by neck over 20-1 long shot Mylast Sweet Pea. Papa's Flashy Girl flashed under the wire 6 lengths farther in arrears. Ole's Miss, an Officer filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.46 with Leslie Mawing in the irons.
Stryker Phd came four-wide around the stretch turn in Sunday's $50,000 Mt. Rainier Handicap and got the job done in the lane, winning by 1 length over pacesetting longshot Dontmesswithkitten. Disruption held the lead briefly at the top of the lane and held on for show money. Stryker Phd, a 5-year-old Bertrando gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:40.20 with Mawing up.
Stormy Novel circled to the front entering the stretch in Sunday's $72,800 Miss Woodford Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, battled down the stretch and finally prevailed by 1/2 length over Who's in Town. Discreetly Elusive finished third. Stormy Novel, a Bernardini filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.62 with Kendrick Carmouche riding.
Patsy's Holiday finished strongest of all to win Saturday's $63,000 Desert Vixen Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1/2 length over Charm City Girl. Super Sky finished third. Patsy's Holiday, a Harlan's Holiday filly, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.20 with Pedro Cotto Jr. in the irons.
Csaba got to the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Skip Trial Stakes and edged clear in the final yards to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Grand Tito was second and the favorite, Palatine Hill, finished third in a dead heat with Kings Over. Csaba, a 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.12 with Manoel Cruz up.
Appeal to the King didn't need to appeal to anyone after winning Sunday's $55,000 MTA Stallion Auction Laddie Stakes for 3-year-olds by 9 1/4 lengths. Hansboro rallied from well back to beat the others, finishing 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Granite Ridge. Appeal to the King, an Appealing Skier gelding, completed 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.92 with Dean Butler up.
Tempered Sapphire scampered off to an easy victory over three rivals in Friday's $50,000 (Canadian) Madamoiselle Handicap for fillies and mares. At the wire, the Tempered Appeal mare was out front by 13 3/4 lengths. Tell Me Lies was second, 6 1/2 lengths better than the overwhelming favorite, Saturday Nite Ride. Portofappeal was last. Tempered Sapphire, with Rico Walcott up, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.94.
Consecrate was almost as good in Friday's $50,000 (Canadian) Northlands Oaks, rallying from a bit of a slow start to win by 11 1/4 lengths. Solie Go Nee Nee was best of the rest with Via Bendita third. Consecrate, a 4-year-old Pulpit filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:41.30 with Walcott up.
The Spinmeister dominated in the stretch run in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Count Latham Handicap for 3-year-olds, drawing off to win by 6 1/2 lengths over Private Money Game. Go Max finished third, leaving the favorite, Tizawonderfulbuzz, fourth. The Spinmeister, a Kentucky-bred Heatsseeker gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a good track in 1:46.23 with Jorge Espitia in the irons.
Those who backed For Cash cashed after Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Fred Jones Handicap as the 4-year-old Stephen Got Even gelding caught pacesetting favorite Commander in the final yards to win by a neck. Toccetive finished third, 6 1/4 length farther back. For Cash, with Walcott riding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a good track in 1:45.21.
Top Kisser surged to a daylight lead at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 California Governor's Cup for fillies and mares and held off Scarlet Strike late, winning by 1/2 length over that foe. Vicenza finished third. The favorite, Unusual Way, faded from the lead to finish last of seven. Top Kisser, a 5-year-old Old Topper mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.43 with Russell Baze in the irons.
Deniro's Saint closed with a rush in Saturday's $50,000 George Lewis Memorial for Ohio-breds and quickly got clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Raise the Reward finished second and Key Low was third. Deniro's Saint, a 4-year-old Saints n' Sinners filly, ran 9 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:53.68 with Luis Gonzalez up.
News and Notes
HRTV reports jockey Gary Stevens needs a complete replacement of his damaged right knee, jeopardizing plans to continue his comeback. Stevens had hoped to have a partial replacement but told HRTV an MRI found his ALC is completely torn. "It hasn't been right for the last month and a half," he said. He originally retired in 2005 but returned to riding last year with spectacular success, winning the Preakness Stakes, Breeders' Cup Classic and Breeders' Cup Distaff among others. Stevens said he will "bust my butt" to return to riding but if that's not possible, "continuing on with my broadcasting career."