After the stunning surprise of the Kentucky Derby and the scary stretch run of Saturday's Preakness Stakes, what surprises can be left for the Belmont?
The Preakness came within inches of disaster as the field turned into the stretch. Thirteen-to-1 longshot Scrappy T had wrested the lead from a tiring High Limit on the turn. But when jockey Ramon Dominguez hit him left-handed, Scrappy T veered sharply to the outside -- right in front of an onrushing Afleet Alex and jockey Jeremy Rose.
Afleet Alex clipped heels with Scrappy T and went to his knees. Rose held onto the colt's mane, fully expecting to fall to the track along with his mount. Instead, Afleet Alex athletically regained his footing and Rose held on.
As Dominguez wheeled in the saddle, looking behind him in apparent horror, Rose sent Afleet Alex to the rail, where he quickly drove clear and won by 4 3/4 lengths. Scrappy T held second and wasn't penalized since his misadventure hadn't disadvantaged any other rival.
Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo rallied from near the back of the pack to take third, 5 lengths behind Scrappy T. Sun King also made a late run to finish fourth -- the best trainer Nick Zito has managed from five starters in the Derby and three in the Preakness.
Rose said he expected to go down when Afleet Alex clipped heels and had just enough time to be scared.
"The thought process was that I was going to get run over," he said. "The instinct was to hang on and try to get my balance back," Rose said. "I thought for sure we were going down. I was going to try to go down with him as close as I could, because I figured that was my best shot at getting away. Luckily, he came right back up underneath me."
On the other hand, he said, Afleet Alex's ability to come back and win by a comfortable margin despite the incident shows a lot of talent.
"To be able to pick it up and win a Grade I with the toughest horses in the world in this race, that's saying something right there," he said, adding the final margin "probably should have been 10 (lengths). We were rolling. We were going real fast."
The outcome of the Preakness means there will be no Triple Crown winner again. The last was Affirmed in 1978.
Still, it's not out of the question that Afleet Alex and Giacomo, the shocking upset winner of the Derby, will be back for a rubber match in the Belmont Stakes in three weeks' time.
"He wins the Derby and comes back to run third in the Preakness," said Giacomo's trainer, John Shirreffs. "I think that says a lot about Giacomo. "Mike Smith said he had a lot of horse at the wire. He was full of run." Smith said the son of Holy Bull "galloped out great, so I know he'll come back strong in his next race."
So after a shock in the first "jewel" of the Triple Crown and a scare in the second, the third leg could feature a classic confrontation.
In other weekend racing at Old Hilltop:
Willy o'the Valley used a late move to win Saturday's $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap by 1 length over With Distinction. Take Achance On Me was third after showing the way. Willy o'the Valley, a 4-year-old son of Will's Way, broke from the far outside in the eight-horse field, raced five-wide into the stretch and endured some contact before prevailing. He finished the 6 furlongs in 1:09.95 with Edgar Prado in the irons. "I was able to get behind the speed and save some ground," said Prado. "When I swung outside, he really kicked it in."
Cool Conductor upset Saturday's $200,000 Dixie Stakes at 9 furlongs of "good" turf. Both Cool Conductor and odds-on favorite Artie Schiller sat behind the pace and made a late run in the stretch. Artie Schiller bobbled twice in the lane and lost by just a nose. Good Reward was third, 2 1/4 lengths back, and Better Talk Now was fourth. Cool Conductor, a 4-year-old son of Stravinsky, was clocked in 1:52.79 with Cornelio Velasquez up. Winning trainer Ralph Nicks said the Dixie could be a statement for his horse in the sprint division. "When you can run with Artie Schiller and Better Talk Now, you have no reason to be ducking and diving so much," he said.
Pinpoint went right to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes for 3-year-olds, turned back several challenges and held on to win by 3/4 length over Smokescreen. Killenaule was third and the favorite, Reel Legend, was fourth. Pinpoint, an Arthur Hancock III homebred son of Peaks and Valleys, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.43.
The further he runs, the better he looks," said winning trainer Nick Zito. "He has talent and it looks like he is learning how to compete." Jockey Rafael Bejarano said he "didn't have to urge him much. He can run all day."
In the $100,000 William Donald Schaefer Handicap, Jerry Bailey took Zakocity right to the front, dictated the pace and drew clear at the end to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Clays Awesome. Royal Assault was third while the favorite, Alumni Hall, couldn't overcome a wide trip and finished last. Zakocity, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred son of Precocity, ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.19. "He's a speed kind of horse and there wasn't much speed in there other than me," Bailey said. It was the horse's first win of 2005.
Bailey also rode Film Maker, who came near the back of the pack to win Saturday's $100,000 Gallorette Handicap for fillies and mares by a neck over Briviesca. Humoristic was third. Film Maker is a 5-year-old daughter of Dynaformer from the Mr. Prospector mare Miss Du Bois. She ran 1 1/16 mile on "good" turf in 1:44.29. Bailey said the mare wasn't running well early and "didn't have a lot of acceleration on the turn, so I didn't know what to expect in the stretch. But I was pleasantly surprised."
And in Saturday's $100,000 Woodlawn Stakes, English Channel raced at the back of the back, worked through some traffic to reach contention in the stretch run and shook free, winning by 4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. United was second and Holy Ground was third. English Channel, a son of Smart Strike, completed the 1 1/16 mile on the grass in 1:44.45. "I guess the trip was pretty good since we won," said victorious jockey John Velazquez.
Friday's card was severely impacted by heavy rain that left the main track sloppy and the turf soft.
None of that bothered Eddington, who exploded down the stretch to easily win the $500,000 Pimlico Special by 5 1/4 lengths over Pollard's Vision. Presidentialaffair was third and 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, in his seasonal debut, was fourth with an even run. The remaining order of finish was Eurosilver, favorite Offlee Wild and Grand Reward. Second of June and Badge of Silver were scratched. Eddington, a 4-year-old son of Unbridled, finished the sloppy 1 3/16 mile in 1:58.05 for Eibar Coa. The chestnut colt won the Gulfstream Park Handicap in March, then finished third behind Grand Reward and Second of June in the Oaklawn Handicap in his last start. "We had to worry about him last year because we couldn't get him to switch leads," said winning trainer Mark Hennig. "We had to give Eibar some instructions and I'm sure that they frustrated him. But he stuck with us and he's a perfect fit for the horse. This is a very prestigious race to win." Trainer Barclay Tagg and jockey Jose Santos both said Funny Cide disliked the sloppy track. "I think the program that Barclay has for him is going going to be good for him in the fall," said Santos.
Little of the Kentucky Oaks field made the transition to the $200,000 Black-Eyed Susan and the winner was Spun Sugar, a Kentucky-bred Awesome Again filly making just her fourth start and her first in a stakes race. With John Velazquez up, the Todd Pletcher trainee survived a six-wide trip around the first turn, pressed the pace and then took charge in the lane to win by 3 3/4 lengths. R Lady Joy was second and Pleasant Chimes was third. The only Oaks starter who ran back in this event, Runway Model, finished fourth. "I was concerned with what was taking place on the first turn," said Pletcher. "But my filly looked like she got through it okay." Velazquez said Spun Sugar was forced out by Merrill Gold and he positioned his filly to avoid any repeat on the second turn.
Silmaril upset heavily favored Ashado in the $150,000 Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff Handicap, rallying outside that rival in deep stretch to get home 3/4 length in front. Friel's for Real was third and Pleasant Home fourth and last in the scratch-shortened field. Silmaril had a recent win over the track in a restricted stake while Ashado had been off since a tiring fifth-place effort in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn in early April. Silmaril, a 4-year-old, Maryland-bred daughter of Diamond, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.87 for Ryan Fogelsonger. "There was absolutely no pace in the race," said Fogelsonger. "I was sitting down the backside just getting tugged along. As Ashado began to pull away, we came digging with every stride." Ashado's jockey, John Velazquez, said he got a "perfect trip. She just couldn't handle the (sloppy) track."
Burnish also used a strong stretch run to capture the $100,000 Adena Stallions' Miss Preakness Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going 6 furlongs. The Menifee filly swung five-wide into the turn to pass most of the field and drew off to win by 2 lengths over Partners Due, with Hot Storm third. The race went in 1:12.40.
Friday's only turf stakes produced an upset to dwarf Giacomo's Kentucky Derby performance as Gabianna rallied from a pace-pressing position to win the $75,000 The Very One Stakes by a neck over Feisty Bull. Gabianna, a 5-year-old Deerhound filly, went to the post at odds of nearly 89-1. The $2 exacta returned $1,299.20. Gabianna, claimed for a mere $7,500 last fall, won for only the third time in 22 lifetime starts. She ran 5 furlongs on the soft going in 56.69 seconds. Gabiannia was making her first start for trainer Jorge Prado, brother of jockey Edgar Prado. "We never imagined this," he said. "I didn't even name my brother to ride because I thought he'd be too tired (in the last race on a 12-race card). This is my first stakes win."
In other weekend racing:
Society Selection got to the lead with a furlong to go in Saturday's $200,000 Shuvee Handicap for fillies and mares, then easily held off favorite Daydreaming to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Bohemian Lady was third under the wire. Society Selection, a 4-year-old daughter of Coronado's Quest, got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.23 with Eibar Coa in the irons.
Sunday, Sauvage came from just behind the pace to win the $150,000 Sheepshead Bay Handicap for fillies and mares by 1/2 length over another closer, Angara. Barancella was third and the pace-setter, Finery, held on for fourth. The favorite, Honey Ryder, named for the first James Bond movie heroine, faded in the stretch to finish fifth. Sauvage, a 4-year-old, French-bred filly, saved ground, then found running room on the inside in the stretch drive. With Javier Castellano up, she ran 1 3/8 mile on firm turf in 2:15.65.
Storm Wolf broke a step behind five rivals in Saturday's $150,000 Lazaro Barrera Memorial Stakes for 3-year-olds. But jockey Alex Solis quickly hustled the Kentucky-bred son of Stormin Fever to the front and he kept right on rolling, winning by 6 lengths over Dover Dere. Ransom Demanded finished third. Storm Wolf completed 7 furlongs in 1:22.26 after setting a quick early pace. Solis, who won five races on the card, said Storm Wolf "was running the whole way green, drifting out, looking around. Down the stretch, he was looking at the infield. And he didn't break that alertly, either. He was just a little green today. Even so, he beat this group real easy. That's how much talent he has."
Sunday, Wild Uncle Kurt won the $75,000, restricted Willard L. Proctor Memorial Stakes for 2-year-olds, catching pace-setting The Missile Came in the stretch. At the wire, Wild Uncle Kurt was in front by 2 lengths. June's Prince was another 5 lengths back in third as the six-horse field stretched out most of the way to the sixteenth pole. Wild Uncle Kurt, a Cal-bred son of Swiss Yodeler, finished the 5 furlongs in 58.85 seconds under Isaias Enriquez.
Flying Circle circled four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Open Mind Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over the early pace-setter, Angel Trumpet. Harmonic Miss was third and the favorite, Little Hussy, took fifth under Pat Day. Flying Circle is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Pembroke. She got 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.97 seconds. Flying Circle came into the race off a victory in the Snurb Stakes at Calder in Florida. "Today was a different race than at Calder," said winning rider Eddie Castro. "I had to push her a little bit in the stretch to get her to go."
Golden Gate Fields
Pickle sat near the back of the field in Saturday's $100,000 Yerba Buena Breeders' Cup Handicap until the second turn. Then, jockey Russell Baze sent the 4-year-old, British-bred filly forward along the rail, moved out into the stretch for room and was up in time to win a dash to the wire by 1/2 length over Marla Bay. Midwife finished third. The 1 1/16 mile took 1:41.72.
Yerevan Star pressed the pace in Sunday's $55,000 Camilla Urso Stakes for fillies and mares, came three-wide into the stretch and went by the leaders when asked, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. Our Mango was second and Platinum Princess was third. Yerevan Star, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Menifee, got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.16.
Unbridled Energy, with Todd Kabel in the irons, rallied past pace-setting Wholelottabourbon along the rail to win Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Marine Stakes for 3-year-olds. The Kentucky-bred son of Unbridled's Song started his run at the top of the stretch after lurking in mid-pack. At the wire, he had done 1 1/16 mile in 1:46 on a fast track. Morris Byrne, assistant to winning trainer Elliott Walden, said the victory could be a stepping stone to the Belmont Stakes. "We have to assess how he is in the morning," Byrne said. "It's up to the boss, really." He added that Walden "has been very patient and was looking for a big race from him."
Sunday, Gold Strike pressured front-running favorite Lemon Maid through the early going in the $250,000 (Canadian) Selene Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then ran by and went on to win by 5 3/4 lengths. Lemon Maid, previously undefeated, held second and Charming Ruckus was third. Gold Strike is a Manitoba-bred daughter of Smart Strike. She finished 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:45.80. "It worked out but it was by no means my intention to be up close," said winning rider Jim McAleney. "I thought there was enough spped in the race that a good stalking trip would be effective." Gold Strike now has three wins and two seconds from five career starts. She also is nominated to the June 16 Queen's Plate.
Annika Lass outfinished favorite Fortress Hill to win Saturday's $75,000 Sweet and Sassy Handicap for fillies and mares by a nose. Storm Minstrel was third, 2 lengths farther back. Annika Lass, a 4-year-old daughter of Mister Jolie, sat in mid-pack until the stretch run, then moved past horses on the inside to take aim on the lead. She finished the 6 furlongs in 1:11.06.
More Smoke blew away four rivals in Saturday's $60,000 Select Stakes for 3-year-olds. After shaking loose from an early pace duel, the Kentucky-bred Smoke Glacken colt drew clear and improved his position to the wire, winning by 5 lengths over Lieutenant Danz. Miracle Man was third. More Smoke finished the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.04.
Sunday, Portsea led from gate to wire in winning the $60,000 Just Smashing Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1 length over Golden Locket. All Platinum was third. Portsea, a Kentucky-bred filly by More Than Ready, got the 7 furlongs in 1:10.23.
Wild Wild West went right to the lead in Saturday's $60,000 John Wayne Stakes for Iowa-bred colts and geldings, opened up a big advantage and coasted home first, 4 1/2 lengths ahead of Scooter Rains. Asailortoremember was third. Wild Wild West, a 4-year-old son of Slewacide, set a quick pace and got the 6 furlongs in 1:08.79. "If I'd asked him to run, he'd go 1:07 and change," said winning jockey Wade Rini. Trainer J. Larry Jones, pointing to an open allowance victory at Oaklawn by the Iowa-bred, said Wild Wild West "can go anywhere. Believe me, we won at Oaklawn and that was a tough field that day." John Wayne was a native of Winterset, Iowa.
Calder Race Course
Sir Ray bolted to the outside rail on the first turn in Saturday's $50,000 Maryland My Maryland Stakes and everyone watching thought his race was done -- except jockey Manoel Cruz. Cruz waived off the outrider who came to collect Sir Ray at the end of the turn, eased him back toward the inside and started gathering speed. By the time the field hit the stretch, he was in front and he won off by 2 1/2 lengths over Perspicacious, running 1 3/16 mile in 2:04.12. "In 20 years of training, I've never seen anything like that," said winning trainer Bill White. "I was just thinking Cruz was going to pull him up." Cruz said the horse has a tender mouth and shied when he tried to take hold of him on the turn. "The outrider was going to try and pick my up on the backside but I felt like we were still in the race," Cruz said. "Even when we were going around the first turn on the outside fence, I was confident that I could get back in the race."
Ketchmewhereyoucan chased the pace early in Saturday's $50,000 Dixie Miss Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, went to the front on the turn and won by 1 1/4 length over late-running Risen Empress. Kera's Kitty Cat finished third. Ketchmewhereyoucan, a Kentucky-bred filly by Distorted Humor, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in1:12.07.
My Ro took the overland route around the turn to win Saturday's $40,000 Fit For A Queen Stakes by 2 lengths. Making her first start in nearly three months, the 5-year-old daughter of Dixieland Band was tucked in among horses on the turn by jockey Shaun Bridgmohan. "I moved her up on the turn, got to the top of the stretch, swung her out and she just ran them down," Bridgmohan said." Rich City Girl was second and Liz On Polk Street finished third. The 6 furlongs took 1:10.03. My Ro hadn't won in well over a year but now has five victories from eight career starts.
The Phoenix track closed up shop for the season Sunday with the traditional, 1 7/8-mile marathon Hasta La Vista Handicap. Balustrade led the nine starters around and around at a stately pace, reserving plenty of gas for the final stretch run. At the wire, the 5-year-old son of Green Dancer was still there, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Paladin Power. Geririg was third. Balustrade got home in 3:16.76.