Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar, a "win and you're in" race for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic this fall, produced a winner who might not have been a shoo-in for the big race in any other way.
Facing an established star in Lava Man and up-and-comers such as Sun Boat, A.P. Xcellent and Big Booster, Student Council came into the Pacific Classic off a defeat in his last race -– an optional claimer at Churchill Downs.
That didn't faze his trainer, Vladimir Cerin, or his rider, Richard Migliore. Nor did it deter the 5-year-old son of Kingmambo, who powered around a bunch of tiring rivals on the turn for home, seized a good lead and held on to win by a 1/2 length over Awesome Gem. Hello Sunday was third with the big names all finishing well off the board. Lava Man, the sentimental and wagering favorite, faded to finish sixth.
The parade of longshots -– Student Council was 23-1 on the board -– produced a $2,513.90 return on a $1 trifecta ticket.
"This horse was just so professional and classy today," said Migliore. "You couldn’t ask more from a horse. I saw how well-bred he was and Vlad said he was doing well … Turning for home, I was feeling good. But I knew I had Lava Man with me. I couldn't be sure. But he kept on going. So sweet!"
Student Council was purchased privately before the Pacific Classic for Millennium Farms and former trainer Neil Howard turned him over to Cerin to prepare for Sunday's race under his new silks.
Corey Nakatani said Lava Man "tried hard. But he was struggling a bit out there. He wasn't really getting the track."
Sun Boat, winner of the San Diego Handicap in his last start, never ran a lick Sunday and finished last, eased through the stretch.
Other weekend races with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Championships Oct. 26-27 at Monmouth Park:
$2 million Distaff
-- Lady Joanne stalked the pace in Saturday's $600,000 Alabama Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga, got to the lead three-wide with a quarter mile to run and held on at the end to win by a neck. Lear's Princess was second and Octave, trapped on the rail behind the winner, finished third. An inquiry absolved Lady Joanne of wrongdoing for coming over in front of Octave in the final sixteenth. Lady Joanne, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Orientate, ran the 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.62 under Calvin Borel. "Calvin just rode an unbelievable race," said winning trainer Carl Nafzger. "Last time he ran against Octave, she had us inside. This time, we had her inside. I’m sorry about the inquiry, but when you look at it, John (Velazquez on Octave) never did quit riding. It was a tight hole, but it was a good hole." Nafzger said he hopes to bring Lady Joanne back in the $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Oct. 7. "The way we're going now, we'll definitely go to the Breeders' Cup Distaff," he added. Less heralded than division rivals Octave and Rags to Riches, Lady Joanne is no stranger to success. She now has six wins from nine starts and has never been worse than third. She finished second by a 1/2 length to Octave in the Mother Goose at Belmont on June 30.
-- Marietta sat well back as the field worked down the backstretch in Saturday's $100,000 Arlington Oaks at Arlington Park, swung five-wide around the turn when asked by jockey Mark Guidry and drew off at the end to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Humble Janet finished second with a late rush and Marquee Delivery was third. Marietta, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Machiavellian, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:49.39. Eoin Harty trains the filly for Darley Stable. "I thought she was a little too far out of it going down the backside, especially after that opening quarter in 25 (seconds)," Harty said. "Mark knew what he was doing and she made a big run."
-- Gemstone Rush, with Russell Baze aboard, rallied from near the back of the pack in Sunday's $100,000 Emerald Distaff Handicap at Emerald Downs, opened a big lead in the stretch run and got home first, 3 3/4 lengths ahead of Fortunate Event. Beaulena finished third. Gemstone Rush, a 5-year-old, Washington-bred mare by Wild Rush, finished the 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:48 3/5. Jerry Hollendorfer trains her.
-- Pleasant Hill led most of the way to a 1-length victory over the favorite, High Heels, in Saturday's $150,000 Gardenia Handicap at Ellis Park in Kentucky. With Larry Melancon in the irons, the 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Pleasant Tap set an honest pace, turned back a challenge on the turn and finished mostly on her own. She got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.85. Greg Foley trains the filly for Donamire Farm.
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
-- Rutherine settled well back in the pack in Saturday's $400,000 Del Mar Oaks, advanced five-wide around the turn and kicked home, winning by 2 lengths over Valbenny. Super Freaky finished third. Rutherine, a diminutive Kentucky-bred daughter of Pulpit, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.79. She now has won six of her seven lifetime starts. "You don't necessarily want to be that far back," said Jane Turner, assistant to winning trainer Chrisophe Clement. "But they were going fast and with that kind of pace, it sets up for her. She'll do what you want her to. She's a filly with an attitude. She a little package of dynamite and she lets you know she's the boss."
-- Sharp Susan was sharp from the opening bell in Friday's $150,000 Lake Placid Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga. Breaking alertly under Kent Desormeaux, the Kentucky-bred Touch Gold filly was quickly clear and never seriously challenged, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over New Edition. Lady Attack was third as the favorite. Sharp Susan ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.69. "I've got to give Kent a lot of credit," said winning trainer Bill Mott. "He's got a good set of hands and she rated well for him. As I said before, I think he understands pace." Mott said he is looking down the road at the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland on Oct. 13 as a goal for Sharp Susan.
$2 million Mile (turf)
Crossing the Line, a 5-year-old New Zealand-bred, stormed down the middle of the course to win Sunday's $400,000 Del Mar Mile Handicap and an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Passing embattled rivals with ease, Crossing the Line won by 3/4 length over Becrux, with Isipingo third at long odds. Crossing the Line finished in near-course-record time of 1:32.59 with Garrett Gomez riding for trainer John Sadler. The horse now is undefeated in three U.S. starts. "When I saw the early fractions," said Sadler, "I felt good because I knew he had a good kick. I started looking for some slots where Garrett could get through. He found one and came home really nice."
$1 million Dirt Mile (new race)
-- Gotcha Gold dueled for the lead in Saturday's $300,000 Philip H. Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap at Monmouth Park, took a clear advantage turning for home and cruised under the wire first, 4 1/2 lengths ahead of Brother Bobby. Indy Wind finished third and the favorite, Master Command, could do no better than fourth with an even effort. Gotcha Gold, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Coronado's Quest, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.36. Charles Lopez rode for trainer Ed Plesa Jr. "We'll definitely look at the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. No doubt about that," Plesa said. "I might sit on him until then. He likes the surface and I'm not sure he'll need a race between now and then."
-- The Great Face was pressured all the way in Sunday's $400,000 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs near Seattle, but never gave up the lead and held on at the end to win by a head over Raise the Bluff. Wasserman was third under the wire in a full field of 12. The Great Face, a 5-year-old, Washington-bred gelding by Cahill Road, finished the 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:34 2/5. Juan Gutierrez was in the irons for trainer Tom Wenzel.
$2 million TVG Sprint
Greg's Gold rallied to the lead with a quarter-mile to run in Sunday's $300,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar and ran on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over the even-money favorite, Surf Cat. Soul City Slew finished third. Greg's Gold, a 6-year-old, California-bred gelding by Lake George, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.95 with Victor Espinoza up for trainer David Hofmans. Asked about the horse's next race, Hofmans said, "It'll be either the Ancient Title at Oak Tree or the Phoenix at Keeneland. I wanted to see how he'd run today because we were coming back a little quick. Those two races are about the same spacing going to the Breeders' Cup."
$1 million Filly & Mare Sprint (new race)
River's Prayer stalked the pace in Friday's $200,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar, came to the lead on the turn and then held on despite drifting out in the late going to win by 1/2 length over Strong Faith. Lady Gamer finished third. River's Prayer, a 4-year-old, California-bred filly by Devon Lake, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:17.85 with Clinton Potts up for trainer Paula Capestro. "She's all racehorse," Capestro said. "Our job is just to keep her healthy and happy. I'm trying to find time to give her a little break … I want to make sure she's super-fresh for the Breeders' Cup."
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Kodiak Kowboy won his fourth straight race in Thursday's $150,000 Saratoga Special and learned something from the experience. Breaking from the inside, the Kentucky-bred son of Posse sat behind horses, then had to wait for a hole to open at the top of the stretch. It did, and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan urged Kodiak Kowboy through and on to a 3-lengths victory over a late-running The Roundhouse. Riley Tucker finished third as the 6 1/2 furlongs went in 1:15.95. "He got a lot out of this race. He was professional in doing it," Bridgmohan said. Trainer Steve Asmussen agreed, adding, "It looks like he'll be able to step out and we're hoping to run him in the Belmont Futurity" -– 7 furlongs on Sept. 15.
-- Atoned rallied three-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Continental Mile at Monmouth Park, drew clear and won by 3 lengths over Hop Skip and Away. Run Sully Run finished third. Atoned, a Florida-bred colt by Repent, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:13.89 under Christopher De Carlo. He is trained by Todd Pletcher. The race originally was carded on the grass.
-- Justaclown was justawinner after Saturday's $75,000 Sunny's Halo at Louisiana Downs. The Texas-bred son of Valid Expectations rallied from last in a field of five to win by 1 length over Canny. The favorite, Pantara Phantom, led early but faded to finish third. Justaclown ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:39.16 with Quincy Hamilton up.
-- Yonegwa showed the way in Saturday's $50,000 James C. Ellis Juvenile Stakes at Ellis Park, opened up a huge lead on the turn and held on to win by 2 lengths over Pulaski Runner. D.C. Eight finished third. Yonegwa, a Kentucky-bred colt by Kafwain, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.78 with Miguel Mena aboard.
-- Jet Run stalked the pace early in Saturday's $55,000 Par Four Stakes at Delaware Park, came to the leaders at the top of the stretch and drew off, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Haddenfield. Scary Trip led early and then held well to finish third. Jet Run is a Maryland-bred colt by Waquoit. Nicholas Petro rode.
$2 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies
-- Officer Cherrie rallied from last of six with a three-wide move around the turn and went on to win Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Debutante by 1/2 length over the odds-on favorite, Dancing Allstar. Simple Sister finished third. Officer Cherrie, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Officer, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.45 on the all-weather track. Patrick Husbands rode for trainer Mark Casse. "Her last two races show she is a champion," Husbands said. "She's just getting better and better every day."
-- Timely Reflection had the strongest punch at the end of Saturday's $75,000 Donnie Wilhite Memorial Handicap for 2-year-old fillies at Louisiana Downs, prevailing by a 1/2 length over Vengeful Shadow. The odds-on favorite, American Prize, finished third. Timely Reflection, a Kentucky-bred filly by Yankee Victor, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:39.86 with Carlos Gonzalez in the irons.
-- Miss Red Delicious was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Anna M. Fisher Debutante Stakes at Ellis Park in Kentucky, set a brisk pace and then held well, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Wonderful Luck with French Kiss third. Miss Red Delicious, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Empire Maker, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.98 with Victor Lebron in the irons.
-- After stumbling out of the gate, Sales Tax kicked in for the final furlong of Sunday's $60,000 Junior Champion Stakes at Monmouth Park, winning by 2 lengths over Sammy Van Ammy. Sumwhrovrtherainbow text-messaged her way to a third-place finish. Sales Tax, a Maryland-bred daughter of High Yield, got the 1 mile on "good" turf in 1:36.9 with Rajiv Maragh up.
In other weekend racing:
Latitude Forty scored a major upset in Saturday's $100,000 Yaddo Handicap for New York-bred fillies and mares, stalking the pace and then taking charge in the stretch to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Factual Contender. Symphony of Psalms finished third. Latitude Forty, a 4-year-old Chester House filly, ran the 9 furlongs on the firm inner turf course in 1:47.84 under Kent Desormeaux.
Cherokee Country took charge in the stretch run of Saturday's $60,000 Anderson Fowler Stakes for 3-year-olds, winning by 4 lengths over Heezafrequentflyer. Southwestern Heat was third and Tempt Me Not last in a field shortened by a switch off the grass. Cherokke Country, a Kentucky-bred colt by Yonaguska, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:03.65 under Jose Lezcano.
Financingavailable stalked the pace, took charge when asked by jockey James McAleney and went on to win Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Victoriana Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 length. Executive Flight was second and London Snow third. Financing Available, a 6-year-old, Ontario-bred mare by Kiridashi, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.26.
Revival Ridge led the field through Saturday's $50,000 Regaey Island Stakes for 3-year-olds, then just held on to win by a nose over Voy Por Uno Mas. Self Made Man finished third. Revival Ridge, a Kentucky-bred colt by Thunder Gulch, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.59 for jockey Charles Woods Jr.
Forty Acres, breaking from the No. 10 post position, went right to the front in Saturday's $100,000 Super Derby Prelude and was never challenged. At the wire, the Arkansas-bred West Acre colt was 2 1/4 lengths in front of his nearest rival, Beta Capo. Strong City finished third and the favorite, Greeley's Conquest, was a fading seventh. Forty Acres, with Carlos Gonzalez up, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.92.
Whisper to Me rallied between horses in the final furlong of Saturday's $75,000 Lyrique Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Blue Angel. Wine Diva finished third. Whisper to Me, a Kentucky-bred Thunder Gulch filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the firm turf in 1:43.96 under Quincy Hamilton.
Starspangled led seven rivals around the course in Saturday's $75,000 Concern Handicap, turning back a couple rivals along the way and winning by 1 3/4 lengths after the 1 1/16 miles. Electric Chant finished second and Middleweight was third. Starspangled, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Editor's Note, finished in 1:44.03 on firm turf with Elvis Perrodin in the irons.
Marq French sat just off the early pace in Sunday's $50,000 Silver Goblin Stakes for Oklahoma-breds, went by the leaders turning for home and drew off to win by 2 lengths over Evening Reward with Tonight Rainbow third. Marq French, a 5-year-old gelding by Marquetry, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:18.46 with Tim Doocy aboard.