Some of the top names in turf racing were at Monmouth Park for the $750,000 United Nations Stakes and English Channel not only beat them all, but also bettered his own record in winning the race for the second straight year.
The United Nations Stakes, Presented by TVG, is an early-summer test leading toward the $3 million John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf, which will be run in October over the same Monmouth Park turf.
In Saturday's race, English Channel looked a bit uncomfortable while tracking the early leader until the last of three turns. But then jockey John Velazquez sent the 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Smart Strike to the lead and the rest seemed easy.
Easily taking the lead, English Channel then equally easily turned back a late challenge from stablemate Honey Ryder, one of the nation's top turf females. Better Talk Now, who won the United Nations two years ago, settled for third this time.
English Channel ran the 1 3/8 miles on firm going in 2:12.89, bettering his own course record of 2:13.24.
"Once he relaxed, he was fine the whole way," Velazquez said.
Todd Pletcher, who trains both English Channel and Honey Ryder, said other than a poor effort in Dubai, "he's really never run a bad one ... . It was good to get him back to three turns and he's shown that he likes the Monmouth Park turf course."
Pletcher said he will run English Channel in the Sword Dancer Aug. 11 at Saratoga and then either the Man o' War or the Turf Classic at Belmont Park as a final prep for the Breeders' Cup.
In other races with potential implications for the Oct. 26-27 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Monmouth Park:
$3 million John Deere Turf
Always First was fifth early in the $200,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington Park July 4. But he was first when it counted -- by a nose under the wire. Cloudy's Knight led most of the way and just failed to hang on while Stream Cat rallied to take third. Always First, a 6-year-old, British-bred gelding by Barathea, ran the 1 1/2 miles on soft turf in 2:31.87 under Robby Albarado. The win was the first in three starts this year for Always First and trainer Thomas Voss said he may be headed to the Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga on Aug. 11.
Filly & Mare Turf
Panty Raid got first run at the leaders in Saturday's $750,000 American Oaks Invitational at Hollywood Park and didn't relinquish the advantage once she got it. At the wire, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Include held on to win by 3/4 length over the favorite, Include, with Anamato third. Panty Raid, with Edgar Prado riding for trainer Todd Pletcher, ran the 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:01.53. The victory was the third straight for Panty Raid, who had been idle since winning the Black Eyed Susan at Pimlico in May. It was her first try on the turf. "It was a beautiful trip," Prado said. "We were in perfect position and when I asked, she really responded. In her other races she moved like she would love the turf and she showed today that she can handle it very well."
$2 million TVG Sprint
-- Mach Pride took over from the pace setters and got off to a big lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $500,000 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder Race Course, a co-feature of the "Summit of Speed," then held on well to post a nearly 8-1 upset. Paradise Dancer was second and the favorite, Smokey Stover, checked in third, 6 1/2 lengths farther back. Elvis Trujillo rode the winner, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Pentelicus, over 6 furlongs on a track rated "good" in 1:09.8. Winning trainer Steve Standridge said the addition of blinkers has helped Mach Pride stay focused. "I felt good about him today, the way he was placed down the backstretch and the way the race was developing," Standridge said.
-- Black Seventeen bobbled at the start of Saturday's $300,000 Carry Back Stakes for 3-year-olds at Calder Race Course but quickly recovered, took the lead and never looked back. At the wire, the Florida-bred son of Is It True won by 1 length over Teuflesberg with Yesbyjimminy third. Black Seventeen got the 6 furlongs on a "good" track in 1:09.84 under Clinton Potts. Brian Koriner trains the colt, who now has four wins from six starts and is perfect at 6 furlongs. "The Breeders' Cup will be a big consideration for us," Koriner said. "But we'll see how some of these other horses, like Smokey Stover, run." In the interim, he said, the King's Bishop on Aug. 25 at Saratoga is on the horizon.
-- Idiot Proof was just about that in the $150,000 Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup for 3-year-olds on Independence Day at Monmouth Park. After pressing the pace, the California-bred son of Benchmark took the lead on the turn and easily ran away from the field, winning by 7 1/4 lengths in track-record time of 1:07.47. Spin Master was second and Principle Secret, the favorite, finished third. Rajiv Maragh rode Idiot Proof for trainer Cliff Sise Jr. "We might have to bring him back for the Breeders' Cup," Sise said. "He's just a really cool horse."
-- High Finance took charge in the stretch drive of the $200,000 Tom Fool Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park and drew off to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Awesome Twist. The favorite, Commentator, led early but then faded to finish third. High Finance, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Talk Is Money, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:21.81 under John Velazquez. Winning trainer Richard Violette Jr. said the Forego Handicap on Sept. 1 at Saratoga is the likely next stop for his steed. "This horse has run two pretty hard races and he likes his races spaced," Violette said.
-- Bilo upset Saturday's $300,000 Triple Bend Invitational Handicap at Hollywood Park, leading all the way and holding on at the end to beat favorite Surf Cat by a head. Battle Won was third under the wire. Bilo, a 7-year-old, California-bred gelding by Bertrando, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:21.65 under Joseph Talamo. Martin Jones trains Bilo.
$1 Million Filly & Mare Sprint (new race)
-- River's Prayer dueled with favorite Shaggy Mane through most of Saturday's $500,000 Princess Rooney Handicap for fillies and mares, then edged to the front in the final furlong, winning by 1/2 length. G City Gal finished third. River's Prayer, a 4-year-old, California-bred filly by Devon Lane, ran the 6 furlongs on a "good" track in 1:10.66 under Clinton Potts. "This was her race to step up and see how good she really is and she came through," said winning trainer Paula Capestro, who shipped in from California for the race. "Now we can look forward to the Breeders' Cup." The filly now has six stakes wins to her credit -- four of them on the grass.
-- Dream Rush picked up her fifth win in seven career starts with a nifty run in Saturday's $250,000 Prioress Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park. After battling longshot Ticket to Seattle into submission, Dream Rush cruised out to a big lead under Eibar Coa and coasted home in front by 2 1/4 lengths. Graeme Six was second and Silver Knockers twirled around outside horses to finish third. Dream Rush, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Wild Rush, got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.02. "This is a great thing to have under our belts," said winning trainer Richard Violette Jr. "She's a Grade I winner now and the Darley Test is certainly our goal, as long as she comes out of it well."
-- Sheets rallied from mid-pack to win Saturday's $300,000 Azalea Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Calder Race Course, beating the favorite, Sindy With an S, by 4 1/4 lengths. Holly Torque finished third. Sheets, a Kentucky-bred filly by Scatmandu, finished 6 furlongs on a track rated sloppy in 1:10.40 under Robby Albarado. Winning trainer T.V. Smith said owner and breeder Robert Masterson "just told me we have a pretty ambitious plan for her next start -- the Test Stakes at Saratoga." Sheets finished second in her career debut last June at Churchill Downs in a race in which Rags to Riches finished fourth. That was Rags to Riches' only defeat.
-- Ginger Punch went to the lead when asked at the top of the lane in Sunday's $150,000 First Flight Handicap at Belmont Park and easily drew off to win by 5 lengths over Sweet Fervor. Swap Fliparoo finished third. Ginger Punch, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.64. Bobby Frankel trains the 4-year-old, Florida-bred Awesome Again filly.
-- Quiet Action came from last of seven to win Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Damsel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine. You Will Love me finished second, 3 3/4 lengths back, with Banker's Street third. Quiet Action, an Ontario-bred filly by Forest Wildcat, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:18.40 for jockey Patrick Husbands.
$5 million Classic, Powered by Dodge
Any Given Saturday rallied to the lead on the turn in Wednesday's $150,000 Dwyer Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park and won off easily, beating Nobiz Like Shobiz by 4 lengths. Sightseeing was 5 lengths farther back in third. Any Given Saturday, making his first start since finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.69 with Garrett Gomez up for trainer Todd Pletcher. "He came out of the Kentucky Derby with a pretty good foot bruise," Pletcher said of Any Given Saturday. "It took us a while to get him over that." Nobiz Like Shobiz also had been resting since the Run For the Roses, where he finished 10th.
$2 million Emirates Airline Distaff
-- Nashoba's Key saved ground throughout Saturday's $300,000 Vanity Invitational Handicap at Hollywood Park, got through a big hole on the rail as the four-horse field turned for home and went on to win by 3/4 length over Balance. Hystericalady and Ballado's Thunder completed the order of finish. Nashoba's Key, a 4-year-old, California-bred filly by Silver Hawk, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:48.83 under Joseph Talamo.
-- Mauralakana pressed the pace in Sunday's $150,000 Locust Grove Handicap at Churchill Downs, took the lead on the second turn and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Quiet Royal. The even-money favorite, Quite a Bride, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.99 under Julien Leparoux.
$2 million NetJets Mile (turf)
Lady of Venice had to wait for running room as the field turned into the stretch in Friday night's $1 million CashCall Mile Invitational at Hollywood Park. But when jockey Julien Leparoux steered her to the outside and daylight, the French-bred filly had no problem taking advantage and ran off to a 1 1/4-lengths victory over pace-setting Precious Kitten. The odds-on favorite, Price Tag, was a head farther back in third. Lady of Venice, a 4-year-old Loup Solitaire filly, trained by Patrick Biancone, finished in 1:33.56 on firm turf. "On the second turn, I was behind horses with nowhere to go," Leparoux said. "At the quarter pole, I found a little spot and got her to the outside. When I asked her, she gave a great kick and finished strongly."
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Kodiak Kowboy stalked the early pace in Saturday's $150,000 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs, came around the leaders three-wide on the turn and eased off to a 2 3/4-lengths victory. Dr. Nick finished second and Crackalackin was third. Kodiak Kowboy, a Kentucky-bred colt by Posse, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.15. Corey Lanerie rode for trainer Steve Asmussen. The colt now has won three straight after a narrow loss in his first try at Woodbine.
-- Salute the Sarge came between the leaders on the turn in Wednesday's $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship, surged to the lead and then held on gamely to win by a nose over Leonides. Whatever Whenever was third while the favorite, Booted, faded to finish fifth of 11. Salute the Sarge, a Kentucky-bred colt by Forest Wildcat, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:12.08 on the all-weather track under Michael Baze. "His running style," said trainer Eric Guillot, "is one where he breaks sharp and pulls himself back a little. But he's a nice horse."
-- Big City Man drew off in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 Criterium Stakes at Calder Race Course, winning by 4 1/2 lengths. A 60-1 longshot, Surrealdeal, rallied for second with Honey Honey Honey third. Big City Man, a Florida-bred colt by Northern Afleet, ran the 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:12.14. He now has two wins from three starts.
-- Gold Coyote was solid gold in the $125,000 colts and geldings division of Saturday's Texas Stallion Stakes at Lone Star Park. After dueling for the lead into the stretch, the Gold Legend gelding kicked clear big time, running off to a 10-length victory. Spark Plug was second and Stormy Date third. With Randy Zimmerman up, Gold Coyote ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.04.
-- Doneraile Gem ran a gem of a race in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Clarendon Stakes for Ontario-bred juveniles, stalking and then sweeping by to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Druids Mound. Baldassare finished third. Doneraile Gem, a gelded son of Doneraile Court, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:06.14 with Patrick Husbands up for trainer John Cardella, remaining undefeated in two starts. Cardella said he ran Doneraile Gem in a $50,000 claimer in his first race because he saw little talent. "When he won, I was really impressed -- shocked, really," he said. "And I'm shocked right now."
$2 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies
-- Related Fiesty, the odds-on favorite off an impressive victory in the Kentucky Breeders Cup, led all the way to an easy, 6 1/2-lengths victory in Saturday's $100,000 Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs. With Shaun Bridgmohan in the irons for trainer Steve Asmussen, the filly ran the first quarter mile in 21.53 and kept right on ticking, stopping the timer at 1:09.27. Dreabons Legacy was second and American Country finished third. Related Feisty is a Florida-bred filly by Exchange Rate.
-- Yonagucci found running room along the rail on the turn in Saturday's $100,000 J J'sdream Stakes at Calder Race Course and drew off, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Britten's Beauty. Arealhotlover finished thid. Yonagucci, a Florida-bred Yonaguska filly, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:13.02 on a sloppy track with Jeffrey Sanchez in the irons. She now has two relatively easy wins from two starts for trainer Manny Azpurua.
-- Valid Lilly dominated Friday's $125,000 filly division of the Texas Stallion Stakes at Lone Star Park, drawing off smartly in the stretch to win by 6 1/2 lengths over Classie Baloo. Fiesty Lula finished third. Valid Lilly is a daughter of Valid Expectations. She got the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.75 under Luis Quinonez.
In other weekend racing:
Distorted Reality stayed back of the leaders through the early furlongs of Sunday's $100,000 Lexington Stakes for 3-year-olds, made a three-wide move around the turn and slowly overhauled the leader, Buddy's Humor, to win by 1/2 length. Perusal finished third. Distorted Reality, a Florida-bred colt by Distorted Humor, ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.45 with John Velazquez up for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Somethinaboutlaura rallied three-wide into the lane in Friday night's $150,000 A Gleam Invitational Handicap for fillies and mares and was up in the late going to win by 3/4 length over Strong Faith. Theverythoughtofu came from well back to take third. Somethinaboutlaura is a 5-year-old, Cal-bred mare by Dance Floor. With Victor Espinoza up for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, she ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.93.
In Friday night's $100,000 Flawlessly Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Passified came around pace-setter Diva's Seastar on the turn for home, survived some bumping with that rival and went on to win by 1 length. Diva's Seastar held second by a neck over Spenditallbaby as the 1 mile on firm turf went in 1:35.71.
Calder Race Course
Electrify lit up the tote board a little bit after Wednesday's $100,000 Mecke Handicap. Coming from a pace-pressing position, the 4-year-old Florida-bred son of Delaware Township came along the rail to take the lead at the top of the stretch and drew clear, winning by 3 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Cheiron. Golden Strategy took third. The 1 1/8 miles on a fast track took 1:51.49.
D'artagnans'spirit rallied along the rail to take the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint and won off by 1 3/4 lengths. Pace-setter Lord Robyn held on for second, with Bow Out third. The race was taken off the turf and run on a sloppy main track, with three prospective starters scratched. D'artagnans'spirit, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Secret Hello, ran the 5 furlongs in 57.87 seconds.
Smitty's Sunshine pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Distaff Turf Sprint, opened up a daylight lead early in the stretch run and then held on to beat Flying Circle by a head. Shesgoldincolor finished third with a late rush. Smitty's Sunshine, a Louisiana-bred filly by Seeking a Home, ran 5 furlongs in the sloppy main track in 58.52 seconds. Three prospective starters excused themselves when the race switched surfaces.
Fort Prado became a four-time Prairie State Festival winner by snatching victory in the final strides in Saturday's $75,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap. The 6-year-old son of El Prado sat well behind the lone speed of Tenpointfive, got rolling between horses at the top of the stretch and put his nose in front at the last possible moment for jockey Eusebio Razo and trainer Chris Block. Majestic Zeal finished third as the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf went in 1:42.69. Block said Tenpointfive worried him. "He's the lone speed. It will be difficult to run him down," the trainer fretted. But, he added, Fort Prado "is just full of heart." The horse has won the Black Tie Affair three straight times and also copped the Springfield Stakes in 2004.
High Expectations rallied from well out of it to win the $75,000 White Oak Handicap by 1/2 length over last year's Illinois juvenile champ, Caruso. Last Gran Standing finished third. High Expectations, a 5-year-old son of Peaks and Valleys, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.84. "That's just his way of running," said winning trainer Christine Janks, "lay way back and then come and get 'em."
Royal Leah moved on the leaders turning for home in the $75,000 Lincoln Heritage Handicap for fillies and mares and won a three-way battle to the wire. Lampoon was 3/4 length back in second, beating Now by a nose. Royal Leah, a 5-year-old Royal Academy mare, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.03. Winning trainer Michael Stidham said jockey Jesse Campbell "knows her well and he rode her great."
Stablemates Modadji and Pretty Jenny battled to the wire in the $75,000 Isaac Murphy Handicap for fillies and mares, delighting trainer Christine Janks by finishing in that order. Bluesbdancing was 1/2 length farther back in third. Modadji, a 5-year-old Pioneering mare, finished the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.91. "I'm just thrilled with both of them," Janks said. "We raised them both and they're just family."
Magnetic Miss stuck close to the leader early in the $75,000 Purple Violet Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got the lead on the backstretch and rolled home an easy, 4 1/4-lengths winner. Secret Kin finished second and Lil Cora Tee was third. Magnetic Miss, a daughter of Artax, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:37.49. "She fell out of the gate easily and did what she needed to do," said winning jockey Earlie Fires. "When I asked her she just went on about her business."
Gentleman Chester broke near the back of the pack in the $75,000 Springfield Stakes for 3-year-olds, circled the field on the turn and drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Wayoff. Stonehouse finished third. Gentleman Chester, a son of Chester House, finished the 1 mile in 1:37.63. "It was time to pull the trigger," said winning jockey Rene Douglas. "I didn't want to do it earlier. He started to fool around a little bit so I let him know I was on top. I hit him a couple of times and he responded."
Pommes Frites fried six opponents in Saturday's $60,000 Lighthouse Stakes for fillies and mares. After prompting the early pace, the 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Dynaformer accelerated through the stretch to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Beat the Band. A Different Tune finished third. Pommes Frites ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.82 with Joe Bravo up.
Herecomeshollywood battled down the stretch with odds-on favorite Suave Jazz before winning Saturday's $60,000 Mr. Prospector Stakes by a head. War Tempo finished third. Herecomeshollywood, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Woodman, ran 6 furlongs on a fast main track in 1:08.52 under John Velazquez.