One of the most interesting aspects of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships is the intensified competition they provide for 2-year-old horses. The two Breeders' Cup events for juveniles usually decide those divisions' championships and have produced some memorable races.
Flanders' dramatic victory over Serena's Song in 1994 is among the most exciting races of that decade despite Flanders' career-ending injury. The following year at Belmont Park, My Flag finished strongly to win the event, following in the hoofprints of her dam, Personal Ensign, who won the 1998 Breeders' Cup Distaff to retire undefeated. And last year's renewal at Arlington Park found Storm Flag Flying rallying through the stretch for a dramatic victory.
And, with $1.5 million in the purse for the Bessemer Trust Juvenile and $1 million in the pot for the Juvenile Fillies, owners and trainers have a reason to get their horses cranked up for the end of the year, rather than waiting for the 3-year-old classics in the spring.
The races also usually draw big fields and offer big payoffs to bettors who can figure out which of the youngsters will do well.
Many of this year's contenders were stretching their legs during the Labor Day weekend, giving a bit of an advance handicapping opportunity for the big events on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita Park.
Among the contenders for the Juvenile Fillies:
--Halfbridled emerged as a potential contender with a dominating victory in Saturday's $250,000 Del Mar Debutante Stakes in California. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Unbridled, making just her second start, raged behind the early pace, then took the lead in the stretch and easily drew clear to win by 5 lengths under Julie Krone. Hollywood Story was second and the favorite, Victory U.S.A., the favorite, finished third. The 7 furlongs on a "good" track took 1:22.20. Winning trainer Richard Mandella said when he first saw Halfbridled, "she reminded me of Phone Chatter," winner of the 1993 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita and that year's Eclipse Award for the division. "She accomplishes things so effortlessly," Krone added. "She showed real courage out there today."
--On Friday at Saratoga, Ashado got the lead on the turn in the $200,000 Spinaway Stakes and had enough left to win by 1 1/4 length over Be Gentle. The favorite, Daydreaming, went to her knees at the start, then was blocked on the turn before checking in third, beaten 9 1/2 lengths. Ashado, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Saint Ballado, finished the 7 furlongs in 1:10.64 under Edgar Prado. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Ashado is not an eager worker in the morning so when she was challenged at the eighth pole, "I didn't know how much I had in her. Fortunately, she is one of those horses that know the difference between the morning and the afternoon." He said Ashado will go next in the Frizette at Belmont Park on Oct. 4. Trainer Shug McGaughey said Daydreaming "came back fine" from her mishap. "We'll try again," he said. "I don't think that race will hurt." She also will go to the Frizette.
--French Village remained undefeated with a 1 1/2-length victory at Calder Race Course in the $125,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes. The 1-5 favorite, the daughter of Jules ran the 7 furlongs in 1:25.91 under Gary Boulanger. Chatter Chatter was second and Prohibido Olividar was third. French Village now has won all three of her starts, including the first two legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes series, and will be pointed toward the final leg - the $400,000 My Dear Girl Division on Oct. 11. "My challenge, said trainer Bill White, "is that she is a light-bodied filly that you don't want to train hard."
--At Delaware Park, From Away caught favorite Herminone's Magic in deep stretch to win Saturday's $200,000 NATC Sorority Futurity by 2 1/2 lengths. Smartlee Away finished third. From Away, a Kentucky-bred Gulch filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.20 on a sloppy track.
--In Rome had to wait for traffic to clear before she could put in her bid in Saturday's $100,000 Pepsi Bassinet Stakes at River Downs in Ohio. When the path cleared, the filly went to the front and held off Down by the Sea by 3/4 length. Snappy Little Cat finished third. "A hole opened up on the rail and she went through it willingly and was strong all the way to the wire," said winning rider Jeff Johnson. In Rome now has won two straight after suffering three defeats.
--Feline Story dusted the competition in the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Sorority Stakes at Monmouth Park. After chasing the early pace, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Tale of the Cat got the lead on the stretch and won off by 5 3/4 lengths over Whirlwind Charlott. Stand on Top was third. Feline Story ran 6 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:10.93.
--At Prairie Meadows, Lovethatlegend led all the way to win Saturday's $65,000 Iowa Sorority Stakes for state-bred, 2-year-old fillies by 5 1/2 lengths over Walks Lik'n Angel. Sent off as the odds-on favorite, Lovethatlegend ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.10. She is a daughter of Gold Legend, trained by Kelly R. Von Hemel.
--In Ireland, Necklace needed some encouragement in the late going before going on to post a 1-length victory in Sunday's Moyglare Stud Stakes at The Curragh. Trained by Aiden O'Brien, the Darshaan filly was ridden by Mick Kinane. Red Feather was second with a late rung and Menhoubah was third to finish after leading into deep stretch and
--On the grass at Retama Park in Texas, Topango pulled off a minor upset in Saturday's $100,000 La Senorita Stakes. Always close to the front, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Distant View seized the on the far turn and opened up a 3-length advantage, then held on to win by a head over Homemaker. Blondz Away was third and the favorite, Bluegrass Sara, was pulled up at the top of the stretch after stumbling at the half-mile pole. Topango ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.33.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
--Silver Wagon took a huge step forward in winning Saturday's $200,000 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Coming off his maiden win and making just his third start, the Wagon Limit colt trailed six rivals into the turn, then had to wait behind horses near the quarter pole before finding running room. But when jockey Jerry Bailey found daylight, Silver Wagon surged past heavily favored and previously undefeated Chapel Royal to win by 4 lengths. Chapel Royal, winner of the Flash and the Sanford, held second and Notorious Rogue was third. Silver Wagon ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.47. Trainer Ralph Ziadie said of Silver Wagon, "The longer he goes, the better he's going to be." But Ziadie said he will ship his colt back to Calder Race Course, thinking of next year's classics, rather than year-end honors. "He's a 2-year-old. The big boys are next year. I don't want to go to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile," he said. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Chapel Royal "is a better horse than the way he ran today. If he's healthy, we'll go on to the next step."
--At Calder, Sir Oscar came from just back of the pace to win Saturday's $125,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over All True. Kipper's Night was third. Sir Oscar, a son of Halo's Image, ran 7 furlongs in 1:25.69, remaining undefeated after four races. Trainer Manny Azpurua said Sir Oscar will move along to try for a sweep of the series in the Oct. 11 In Reality Division. "I really believe he'll go two turns," Azpurua said. "He's doing everything I could want him to. I just hope there will be less horses next time." Thirteen went to the post Saturday.
--Plum Sober rallied boldly through the stretch to win Saturday's $65,000 Iowa Cradle Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds at Prairie Meadows by 4 1/4 lengths over War Reality. Plum Sober, a son of Blumin Affair, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.32.
--Tym Beau rallied through the stretch to post a big upset in Saturday's $200,000 NATC Futurity at Delaware Park. Tabacchi, the favorite, finished second and pace-setter Neat Bandit was home third. Tym Beau, a Kentucky-bred son of Peaks and Valleys, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.00. Trainer Lynette Ashby, who went from the winner's circle to her own wedding later Saturday, said she will "probably run him in the Dover," on Oct. 11.
--In France, Whipper posted a shocking upset in Sunday's Prix Morny at Deauville. The Miesque's Son colt sat behind the leader, then went on to win by 2 lengths over the favorite, Much Faster, a filly. The going was impacted by a heavy rain that left the course officially "good to soft." The race went in 1:14. The race is an important test for continental youngsters. Aiden O'Brien used it as a stepping stone to the 2001 Juvenile with Johannesburg.
--On the turf at Retama Park in Texas, New York Harbor scored a major upset in Saturday's $100,000 Ketel One El Jovan Stakes. After falling back early, the Kentucky-bred son of Woodman rallied four-wide on the turn, then prevailed by 1/2 length after a spirited stretch battle with Oncearoundtwice. The favorite, There Goes Rocket, rallied from mid-pack to finish third.
In other races with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships:
$2 million John Deere Turf
--Strut the Stage, highweight at 123 pounds, got the lead with a furlong to go in Saturday's $300,000 (Canadian) Niagara Breeders' Cup Handicap at Woodbine and worked clear, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Revved Up. Better Talk Now was third. The 1 1/2 mile on the E.P. Taylor Turf Course took 2:27.13. "I think we found that he likes it a little further," said winning trainer Mark Frostad. "We were trying to make him a miler last year but he was coming up a little bit short. We stretched him out and he's responded very well." Strut the Stage is a 5-year-old son of Theatrical.
--Irish Warrior closed willingly through the stretch to win Sunday's $250,000 Del Mar Handicap by a head over Continental Red. Continuously was third in the 11-furlong event, run in 2:12.28 on firm turf. Irish Warrior is a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Irish River. "I'll need to regroup a little," said winning trainer Wally Dollase. "This may have taken a lot out of him. It wasn't an easy win." Winning jockey Alex Solis said, "They got the right name for him. He was a warrior out there today."
$1 million Sprint
Aldebaran had too much oomph in the stretch run of Sunday's $250,000 Forego Handicap at Saratoga, leaving a half dozen rivals strung out behind him. After tracking the pace, the 5-year-old son of Mr. Prospector came through on the inside on the turn and won off by 4 3/4 lengths under Jerry Bailey. Najran was second and Gygistar was third. Aldebaran ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.26. "You have to ride him with a lot of confidence," said trainer Bobby Frankel, adding that he is pointing Aldebaran to the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Said Bailey, "If he can run like that, he can be effective going three quarters. He gets up to the back horse quicker than he did last year and takes me through the pack quicker."
In other weekend racing:
Brass in Pocket broke poorly in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Seaway Stakes and was rushed into contention by jockey David Clark. After dueling with favorite Whiletheiron'shot, Brass in Pocket put the race away, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over El Prado Essence, with Whiletheiron'shot taking third. The 7 furlongs went in 1:24.45. Brass in Pocket is a 4-year-old daughter of Domasca Dan. She now has four stakes wins this year.
Reason to Talk, with Jon Court in the irons, rallied through the stretch to upset Saturday's $75,000 Dade Turf Classic for fillies and mares. At the line, Reason to Talk was 3 lengths in front of Two Dot Slew, with Piconeach a neck farther back in third. Reason to Talk ran the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:48.90. She is a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Sabona filly.
Sala de Oro rallied three-wide into the stretch in Sunday's $70,000 Barbara Shinpoch Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and won by 2 lengths over Americas Pride. Sariano was third. Sala de Oro, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Expelled, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37 4/5.
Lindsay Jean came from last in a field of five fillies and mares to win Saturday's $60,000 Autumn Leaves Handicap by 1/2 length. Pheiffer and Marty's Zee dead-heated for second and third. Lindsay Jean, a 5-year-old Saint Ballado mare, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:38.34. Trainer Art Sherman said he told jockey Chad Schvaneveldt to take back behind the abundant early speed. "You knew they'd all want the lead and somebody would give in," he said. "I said just sit back and enjoy it."
Only the Best chased Special Judge down the lane in Saturday's $50,000 Select Stakes for 3-year-olds, then was just up in time to win by a nose. Second in Command was third. Only the Best, a California-bred Smokester gelding, ran the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.95 seconds.
Sunday, Spruce Run found running room on the inside, got the lead and held on to win the $50,000 Bob Harding Stakes by 1/2 length over North East Bound. American Freedom was third. The 1 mile on firm turf took 1:35 1/5. Winning rider Jose Ferrer said the trip made the difference. "When the hole opened, I went through," he said.
Also Sunday, Grand Heritage caught King Carlos in the stretch to win the $50,000 Continental Mile for 2-year-olds on the grass by 1 length. Midnight Express was well back in third. Grand Heritage finished the mile in 1:36 4/5. The colt, by Grand Slam, has won two of three starts.
Kool Humor sat right alongside pace-setter Taxicat into the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 Prelude Stakes for 3-year-olds, then got clear and won by 2 lengths. Zydeco Affair closed well to finish second and Crowned King, the favorite, was up for third. Kool Humor is a New Jersey-bred Distorted Humor gelding. He ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:44.17.
In Sunday's $50,000 Folklore Handicap, That Tat stalked the early pace set by Electrode, then cruised on by and won by 3/4 length. Electrode held second and Doctor Mike was third. That Tat, a 5-year-old, Oklahoma-bred gelding by Faltaat, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.55.
Sharbayan closed into a slow pace in Saturday's $45,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap but still was able to get up for a 3/4-length victory over Roxhino. Act of War was third. Carlos Marquez Jr. rode Sharbayan, a son of Doyoun, over "about" 1 1/2 mile in 2:31.65. "I waited as long as I could with him and when I called for him, he responded," Marquez said.