Comparing results from weekend races, one is forced to wonder whether -- all things being equal -- horses don't need to run races once in a while to have a good chance of success.
Specifically, consider three races: Sakhee's disappointing second-place finish in Saturday's Group 3 Prix Gontaut-Brion at Deauville in France; With Anticipation's thrilling victory in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga; and especially Xtra Heat's dominating win in the Straight Deal Breeders' Cup at Laurel Park.
Sakhee clearly is one of the most talented horses in training, as evidenced by the fact he was top-rated before Saturday in BOTH the Classic Division and the John Deere Turf Division of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championship rankings. At last year's Breeders' Cup, he moved off the turf to run in the Classic and was just caught at the wire by Tiznow. So he's pretty good.
But Godolphin Racing gives the 5-year-old son of Bahri little chance to display his form. He disappointed in Dubai World Cup this spring after a winter layoff. But, rather than building off that try, Sakhee went back on the shelf. He had been set to run in the King George at Ascot on the last weekend of August but Godolphin decided the ground was too hard that day and Sakhee sat.
Saturday, he had every advantage. Godolphin Racing Manager Simon Crisford not only hand-picked the race but also entered a "rabbit" to ensure Sakhee would have a legit pace to run at. Even so, when the running began as they turned for home, Sahkee couldn't get past Wellbeing, who won by 1 length.
Of course, every horse is different and the trainer knows the horse best. Lord knows, journalists would never try to give advice to trainers. It may be that Sakhee needs a limited schedule for reasons yet undisclosed. And maybe this time Godolphin will use the comeback effort to build toward the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup Championship races at Arlington Park near Chicago.
"That was disappointing," Crisford said after the Deauville race. "We will see how Sakhee is when we get him back to Newmarket and talk to the owner, Sheikh Hamdan. We will then work out a program and make decisions."
Now consider Xtra Heat. Here is a filly claimed two years ago for $5,000 who is closing in in $2 million in earnings. She seems to race every time the sun rises and thrives on the effort. Saturday, she coasted to a 2 ½-length victory in the $125,000 Straight Deal Breeders' Cup at Laurel -- her fifth win in seven starts this year and her 22nd score in 29 lifetime starts.
And owner-trainer John Salzman says he's looking for ways to keep the Dixieland Heat filly "fresh" for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint.
"We need to put her where she won't have to carry too much weight for a couple races because to keep carrying 125 pounds-plus would leave us pretty empty this fall," said co-owner Kenneth Taylor.
If Sakhee really sat out the Ascot race because of the hard going, Crisford might pay attention to With Anticipation's performance at Saratoga. The 7-year-old Relaunch gelding was reserved in the early going under Pat Day, was fifth turning for home and needed to find running room.
Digging deep, With Anticipation just did catch Denon, who got the rail at the top of the stretch and seemed to have the race won. Volponi was third in the 1 ½-mile race over the inner turf, which went in 2:24.06.
"Pat did a masterful job," said trainer Johathan Sheppard. "He was holding him back a little bit because he thought the ground was stinging him. I was a little concerned about that because we had very little rain. I know that being around the horse for so many years, that he is not very comfortable when it is very hard."
With Anticipation was rated No. 8 in the John Deere Turf Division and likely will move up after his win and Sakhee's disappointing performance. Denon, a Bobby Frankel trainee, was ranked No. 10 at the start of weekend action.
In other races likely to impact the Breeders' Cup events at Arlington:
$4 million Classic
Left Bank, the No. 4-ranked horse in the division after winning the Whitney Handicap last weekend, underwent emergency colic surgery Saturday and may not race again. The 5-year-old son of French Deputy is owned by Michael Tabor and trained by Todd Pletcher.
Wiseman's Ferry, winless since the Lone Star Derby in May, led virtually from gate to wire in winning Saturday night's $600,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park. With Jorge Chavez in the irons, the Hennessy colt was all out in the final yards to hold off The Judge Sez Who. Captain Squire was third, 1 length farther back. Wiseman's Ferry raced in Ireland and England as a 2-year-old for Aidan O'Brien. For Niall O'Callaghan this year he now has three wins from six starts. In the Belmont, he bumped with a stumbling War Emblem at the start.
$2 million John Deere Turf
A third country heard from: While Sakhee was finishing second in France and With Anticipation was winning in the United States, Portcullis captured Saturday's $500,000 Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine -- the third leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. Portcullis caught pace-setting El Soprano in the stretch run, finishing the 1 ½ mile in 2:29 4/5. A different horse won each leg of this year's Triple Crown: T J's Lucky Moon the Queen's Plate; Le Cinquieme Essai the Prince of Wales.
$1 million Mile
Quest Star came from last in a field of five to win Monday's $150,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga by 1 ½ lengths over Union Place. The favorite, Patrol, finished third, saving at least one bridge jumper and creating a $3,162 minus show pool. Quest Star, a son of Broad Brush, ran 1 1/8 mile on an inner turf course rated "good" in 1:49.66. "He was very responsive when I called on him," said winning rider Pat Day. "He split horses gamely, ran on down to the wire and got the job done."
$2 million Distaff
Azeri cemented her position atop the Distaff Division by easily winning Sunday's $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar. First out of the gate, the 4-year-old Jade Hunter filly was never seriously threatened and won by 2 lengths over longshot Angel Gift. The win was her fifth straight, all in stakes. She has lost only once in nine career starts. Del Mar had to pay a minus show pool of $130,262 because of two huge show bets on Azeri. "The beat goes on and let it march on to the Breeders' Cup," said winning trainer Laura De Seroux. She said she may train Azeri up to the big race to avoid heavy weights in the handicaps that would be logical stepping stones.
Minister's Baby, the pari-mutuel favorite, kicked in on the far turn in Saturday's $200,000 Gardenia Handicap at Ellis Park and rolled on to win by 1 ¾ lengths over Lakenheath. Softly was third. With Craig Perret aboard, Minister's Baby, a 4-year-old daughter of Deputy Minister, covered the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.73. The Kenny McPeek trainee now has won four of her last five starts, with a sixth-place finish in the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs the only blemish.
At Arlington Park, just one week before the International Festival of Racing, Lost At Sea produced a winning stretch effort in Saturday's $100,000 Singapore Plate for 3-year-old fillies. The daughter of Lost Soldier, with Rene Douglas up, finished the 9 furlongs in 1:50.58, beating See How She Runs by 1 ¼ length. Lost at Sea and See How She Runs also ran 1-2 in the Iowa Oaks in their last outing. "I was very confident in my filly," said Douglas. "You can't ask for anything better." The winner is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer.
$1 million Penske Auto Centers Sprint
Orientate went right to the front in Sunday's $200,000 A.G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga and was never seriously challenged, winning by 2 lengths over Say Florida Sandy. Multiple Choice finished third. Orientate, rated No. 6 in the Sprint Division, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.72 and finished ridden out. Winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Orientate, a 4-year-old son of Mt. Livermore, is tentatively slated for the Forego at 6 ½ furlongs on Sept. 1, "and then we may or may not run once more before the Breeders' Cup."
$1 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
Valid Video battled for the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park, then took charge in the stretch run to win by 2 ½ lengths over Farno. Boston Park was third. Valid Video, a son of Valid Wager, has won both his lifetime starts and trainer Dennis Manning said the Sept. 15 Futurity at Belmont Park is the likely next start. The Sapling's 6 furlongs went in 1:09 4/5.
Lawbook wore down Trust N Luck in deep stretch to win Saturday's $75,000 Dr. Fager Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder by ¾ length. Supah Blitz was third. Lawbook, a son of Notebook, needed 1:11.28 for the 6 furlongs. "I really think he wants to go longer," said winning trainer Thomas Heard Jr. "He's actually put on weight racing and training." Heard said Lawbook will contest the next division, the Aug. 31 Affirmed.
$1 million Long John Silver's Juvenile Fillies
Buffythecenterfold stretched out to 6 ½ furlongs in Saturday's $150,000 Sorrento Stakes at Del Mar and won by ¾ length over Tricks Her, remaining unbeaten through three starts. The daughter of Capote was clocked in 1:17 1/5. Indy Groove was third. Pat Valenzuela, aboard Tricks Her, claimed interference at the start but the claim was not allowed. Winning Trainer Mel Stute said Buffythecenterfold will run in the Del Mar Debutante and then the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. "I'd like to make a million dollars with her this year."
In Saturday's $75,000 Desert Vixen Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder, Fortunate Card and Heavenly Miss staged a stretch duel reminiscent of the 1994 Juvenile Fillies battle between Flanders and Serena's Song. After racing head-to-head for a quarter mile, Fortunate Card was ahead by a head at the finish. Running Debate was well back in third and Ivanavinalot was fourth as the favorite. The 6 furlongs went in 1:11.72. "She was waiting on the other horse," said winning rider Sebastian Madrid. "She was clocking her. She was just doing enough, waiting for the other horse, which is the sign of a good horse." Winning trainer Henry Collazo said Fortunate Card will go on to the Susan's Girl Division on Aug. 31.
At Woodbine, Handpainted won Sunday's $150,000 Ontario Debutante Stakes by 3 ¾ lengths over Buffalo Jump, remaining undefeated in three lifetime starts. The daughter of A.P. Indy ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.35 and jockey Todd Kabel said, "Once she goes two turns, I think you're really going to see her shine. She's all business, very professional."
In other weekend racing:
Hot Talent got the lead on the far turn in Monday's $250,000 Wonder Where Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and rolled home a winner by 1 ½ lengths. The event is the third jewel in the Canadian "Triple Tiara." Ginger Gold won the first leg, the Labatt Woodbine Oaks. Silver Nithi captured the second leg, the Bison City Stakes at Fort Erie. In the Wonder Where, Silver Nithi finished second and Ginger Gold third. "If she keeps improving, she's a very nice horse," said winning rider Todd Kabel of Hot Talent, a daughter of Alphabet Soup -- winner of the 1996 Breeders' Cup Classic at Woodbine.
Interest Only produced a reasonable return on investment after winning Saturday's $125,000 Ellis Park Breeders' Cup Handicap for fillies and mares. The 4-year-old daughter of Crafty Prospector, dispatched at nearly 4-1 odds, led almost all the way and won by 3 ¼ length over Hattiesburg Road. The favorite, Juke, finished third. Interest Only ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.64.
Woodmoon, with Glenn Corbett at the controls, rated behind the early pace, then drew off in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 Prairie Meadows Handicap, winning by 3 ¼ lengths over Take Me Up. Halo Kris was third. Woodmoon, a son of Woodman, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:48 4/5. Betsy Couch, assistant to trainer Niall O'Callaghan, said she told Corbett, "Give him a nice, long rein. He'll relax for you. Sit off the pace and come running." Corbett got the mount when neither Robby Albarado nor Rene Douglas could make the trip to Altoona, Iowa.
Just about every race on Saturday night's card was a stakes event worth $85,000. Urban Dancer staked the pace in the Secretary of State Handicap for fillies and mares, then drew off to win by 3 lengths over Night of Delight in 1:10.32. In the Senate President's Cup Handicap for fillies and mares on the turf, Persian Silver let Rickety's Revenge draw off by as much as 14 lengths before reeling in that rival and going on to win by ½ length over Cayman Sunset in 1:34.14.
Royal Spy led almost all the way to a 1/2-length victory over Buenos Dias in the House of Delegates Speaker's Cup Handicap, finishing the 1 mile on the grass in 1:33.57. Sheryar Special came from off the pace to capture the Legislature Chairman's Cup Handicap by 1 ¼ length over Abajo, running 4 ½ furlongs in 51.67 seconds. Secret Romeo surged in the final furlong to beat Mo Mom by ¾ length in the Harvey Arneault Memorial Handicap, finishing the 6 furlongs in 1:10.05. And Docent was just up at the wire to upset Burning Roma by a neck in the Governor's Handicap, with X Country third.
Unrestrained was unhurried for the first half of Saturday's $75,000 Open Fire Stakes. But once the 4-year-old Unbridled filly was unleashed, she proved unbeatable, romping home first and 3 ¼ lengths ahead of pace-setter Regal Countess. Shiny Sheet was third. Unrestrained ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.27. Winning rider Eddie Martin Jr. said he wasn't concerned about trailing early because of a hot pace. "I was really comfortable where we were at," he said. "By the end of the backstretch, they came right back to her, too."
La Reine's Terms equaled the course record for 9 furlongs Sunday, winning the $75,000 Find Handicap for the second straight year in 1:46.04. Purple Sand was second and Pinky Pizwqaanski was third. "This horse is extremely talented and has not been over-raced in his career," said trainer Larry Murray. "So he could get better yet." He has the Maryland Million in mind.
Miss Pickums took charge of Sunday's $50,000 Mariah's Storm Handicap as the field turned for home and went on to win by a comfortable 4 ½ lengths. Leslie was second with a late run and Magic Motel finished third. Miss Pickums, a 4-year-old daughter of Afternoon Delites, ran 9 furlongs on a fast main track in 1:51.29. Rene Douglas rode for trainer Paul McGee.
Chauffe Au Rouge drew off in the stretch run to win Saturday's $50,000 Retama Park Turf Cup by 2 ¼ lengths over Rasby. Kris Havingfunnow was third as the favorite and Maysville Slew was fourth. Chauffe Au Rouge, a 6-year-old Texas-bred by Red Attack, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:44.61.
Twilights Prayer tracked down pace-setting Willie's Luv in the stretch to win Saturday's $50,000 Spruce Fir Handicap by 1 ½ length. Twilights Prayer, with Dale Beckner up for trainer Gary Contessa, ran the 1 mile on the green course in 1:36 1/5.
Bay Meadows (San Mateo Fair)
Humorous Lady broke on top and sped off to win Sunday's $50,000 Mid-Peninsula Stakes for 2-year-old, Cal-bred fillies by 8 lengths. The daughter of Distorted Humor finished the 5 ½ furlongs in 1:02.72. "She's a green-running filly and still learning," said winning trainer James Chapman. "I think there's still a lot more to her."
Taylor's Queen took on the pace-setters at the top of the lane in Saturday's $40,000 Dixie Miss for 2-year-old fillies, then won a stretch duel with Cielo Girl before prevailing by a neck. The 6 furlongs took 1:11.43. Highhopesemilyluck was third. Winning trainer Cole Norman said Taylor's Queen will be pointed to the Louisiana Breeders' Festival in October.
Sunday, Comic Truth shipped in from Florida to win the $40,000 Pioneer Stakes for 2-year-olds by 6 ¾ lengths. Crowned King was second and Aledo Pass third. Comic Truth needed 1:11.60. "The colt proved he's a runner," said winning rider Tony Lovato.
Silver Zipper zipped to a 5-length victory in Saturday's $35,000 Shakopee Stakes, equaling the track record of 1:40 1/5 for the 1 mile and 70 yard distance. Tahkodha Hills was the best of the rest, with Top Secret Affair third. Silver Zipper was ridden by Seth Martinez for trainer Hugh Robertson.
Sunday, Be My Friend went to the lead in the $40,000 Minneapolis Handicap for fillies and mares, slowed things down and then held off Sarah Jade to win by a neck. Picnic Spread was third. Be My Friend was second in the same race last year.
News and Notes:
--The "Barn 7 Recovery Fund" has been established at Woodbine to help those who suffered losses in the Aug. 5 fire that claimed the lives of 32 racehorses. "This is a family," said trainer Mort Hardy, who organized the fund. "Every family may have their squabbles but when something like this happens, we all come together." Contributions to BARN 7 RECOVERY FUND may be sent c/o HBPA of Ontario, Scotia Bank, 135 Queens Plate Drive, Etobicoke, Ontario M9W 6V1.
--Sure Shot Biscuit became the first Iowa-bred to surpass $1 million in career earnings when he finished a close third in a 1-mile allowance event Tuesday at Prairie Meadows. The 6-year-old gelding, trained by Kelly Von Hemel, wasmaking his 47th start.