With just three weeks to go until the Breeders' Cup World Championships, it was effectively "last call" this weekend for horses hoping to compete in the expanded, two-day extravaganza.
This year's Breeders' Cup, Oct. 26-27, visits Monmouth Park in New Jersey for the first time, continuing an odyssey that has taken the event as far afield as Woodbine in Canada, Lone Star Park in Texas and Arlington Park near Chicago.
And for the first time, the World Championships are spread over two days, thanks to the addition of three races -- a turf race for 2-year-olds, a sprint for fillies and mares and a 1-mile event on the dirt. Those races will be run on Friday and each has a $1 million purse -- but no official graded status.
Thanks in part to another new feature -- "Win and You're In" -- some of the nation's top steeds have earned their way into the Breeders' Cup events. Others were still trying in Columbus Day weekend events. In highlights of that action:
$5 million Classic, Powered by Dodge
Diamond Stripes, the favorite, rallied between rivals entering the stretch in Friday's $500,000 Meadowlands Cup and won the sprint to the wire by 1/2 length over Magna Graduate. Xchanger was only a nose farther back in third. Diamond Stripes, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred son of Notebook, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.36 for jockey Cornelio Velasquez. Diamond Stripes, trained by Richard Dutrow, has five wins in eight career starts but Dutrow said he's not necessarily headed for the classic, indicating the $1 million Dirt Mile might be a more appropriate target for his gelding. "However, you never know," he added. "If you run third or fourth (in the classic), that's big money, also."
Another favorite justified his support in Saturday night's $500,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park. Zanjero, last of nine in the early going, got going on the second turn, angled out for running room and swooped to the front. At the wire, the Kentucky-bred son of Cherokee Run was 3 1/2 lengths in front, with Bwana Bull second and Flashstorm third. Zanjero got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.95. Robby Albarado rode for trainer Steve Asmussen. "If it wasn't for Curlin, this would be the top horse in Steve's barn," said Albarado. "I have always liked this horse and glad to finally get the chance to ride him."
$3 million John Deere Turf
Dylan Thomas is headed to Monmouth Park as the winner of Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in Paris, a race that saw more highly fancied Authorized and Soldier of Fortune fail to fire. Dylan Thomas, which has been first or second in six Group 1 races earlier in the year, ran a bit erratically in the stretch and had to survive a half-hour inquiry before his victory was made official. Youmzain was second with Sagara third. Authorized finished 10th and Soldier of Fortune fifth. "He is one of those really good Danehills," said winning trainer Aidan O'Brien, "and we now will prepare him for the Breeders' Cup race. As Danehill is no longer around, Dylan Thomas may be retired to stud after this year."
Artiste Royale got to a short lead at mid-stretch in Saturday's $250,000 Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship at Santa Anita and held on gamely to win by 1 length over odds-on favorite The Tin Man. Isipingo finished third, a neck farther back. Artiste Royale, a 6-year-old, Irish-bred ridgling by Danehill, ran the 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:59.89 under Joseph Talamo. "We hope this horse will be invited to the Japan Cup," said winning trainer Neil Drysdale "That's what's in the cards. That's the plan." Trainer Richard Mandella, asked about The Tin Man's Breeders' Cup prospects, said, "We won't think about it for a few days."
Transduction came five-wide into the stretch in Friday's $150,000 Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland and wore down pace-setting Bee Charmer in the final strides to win by a neck. Dreadnaught completed a long-shot trifecta ($3,428.20) while favorite Big Prairie raced evenly to finish sixth. Bred, owned and trained by John Glenny and ridden by James Grahem, Transduction ran the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:31.96. He is a 4-year-old Formal Gold gelding. "He's been a speed horse a couple of times," Glenny said. "But James rode him to win coming off the pace at the Fair Grounds -- maybe his best race ever, until today."
Nobiz Like Shobiz, undefeated on the grass, punched another ticket in Saturday's $300,000 Jamaica Handicap for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park. After rating through the early going, the Kentucky-bred Albert the Great colt took charge in the stretch, drawing off to win by 4 lengths over Red Giant. Pays to Dream paid show bettors. Nobiz Like Shobiz, with Javier Castellano up, ran the 9 furlongs on the firm inner turf course in 1:46.80. But trainer Barclay Tagg said the Breeders' Cup isn't in his plans. "I'm going to go out to the Hollywood Derby with him," Tagg said. "If he can do what he did today, he'll get a mile and a quarter easy."
$2 million NetJets Mile (turf)
Purim caught Cosmonaut in the final yards to win Saturday's $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland by a neck. Shakis finished third and the favorite, Astronomer Royal, faded to finish sixth. Purim, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Dynaformer, finished in 1:35.56 under Jamie Theriot. Proctor said Purim is eligible to the Breeders’ Cup but “I am not one of those guys to run just to run.”
Out of Control beat long shot Zahn by a nose in Sunday's $250,000 Oak Tree Mile at Santa Anita -- a race more notable for the last-place finish of Lava Man. Courtnall was third. "I had Lava Man boxed in down the backside,” said winning jockey Michael Baze, “and I wanted to do everything I could to hold him in there on the rail." That didn't matter and it was Zahn who posed the late threat. A 4-year-old Brazilian-bred, Out of Control improved his career record to five wins in 11 races. Trainer Bobby Frankel was in New York and not immediately available to discuss Out of Control's future plans. As to Lava Man, “He’s been having some issues, I believe,” regular rider Corey Nakatani said of the 6-year-old gelding who has earned more than $5.2 million. “There was no energy level there at all. He just had no fight today.”
At Longchamp in Paris, German invader Toylsome pulled a huge upset in Saturday's Prix de la Foret. Never challenged coming for home, Toylsome's victory proved consolation for his owner, George von Ullmann, whose brilliant Manduro suffered a career-ending injury in winning the Prix Foy last month. Welsh Emperor was second Saturday with Marchand D'Or third. Ullmann indicated Toylsome's travel plans likely will be confined to France and Germany.
Also at Longchamp on the day before the Arc, Spirito Del Vento came from last to win the Prix Daniel Wildenstein with a dramatic late rush. Echo Of Light led early but succumbed to the pressure of Racinger with a furlong to run. Racinger took the lead but then couldn't withstand the final drive of Spirito Del Vento, who won drawing clear. Racinger held second and Blythe Knight was third with a late effort. Winning trainer Jean-Marie Beguigne said the hope is that Spirito Del Vento is invited to the Hong Kong Mile.
And at Newmarket in England, Majestic Roi upset Saturday's Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes, coming around rivals a furlong from home and holding well. The filly finished 3/4 length ahead of Nannina and Echelon, the favorite, was third. Trainer Mick Channon indicated Majestic Roi, who had run in hard luck through much of the year, will remain in training next year.
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
Vacare caught Precious Kitten in deep stretch to win Saturday's $400,000 First Lady Stakes at Keeneland by 1/2 length. Quite a Bride finished third. Vacare, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Lear Fan, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.85 for jockey Corey Nakatani. Christophe Lorieul, assistant to winning trainer Christophe Clement, said the Breeders' Cup is "obviously an option" for Vacare. But asked whether she might start in the Filly & Mare Turf or the grassy Mile, he added, "I don't know if it's a dilemma. But that will be up to Christophe to decide."
Satwa Queen rallied late and between rivals to win Sunday's prix de l'Opera at Longchamp, a race in which she finished second last year. Satwa Queen, a 5-year-old daughter of Muhtathir, finished fifth in last year's Filly & Mare Turf. But trainer Jean de Roualle said he is more likely to contest the Hong Kong Cup this year. She won Sunday's event in 2:03.80 on going rated good to soft.
$2 million Emirates Airline Distaff
Tough Tiz's Sis earned an automatic "Win and You're In" berth in the Distaff with a victory in Sunday's $200,000 Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita. Tough Tiz's Sis caught odds-on favorite Hystericalady at the wire to win by a nose in 1:41.64. Bai and Bai finished third, 2 lengths farther back. "She was pretty comfortable early," said winning jockey Victor Espinoza. "But we had to put pressure on the favorite from the three-eighths pole. From the 16th pole, I really had to get after my filly. She's such a big filly, I think the older she gets, the better she's going to be." But whether that will be in the Breeders' Cup remains an open question since she would have to be supplemented for $180,000. "Right now we'll just have to wait a week and think about it," said winning trainer Bob Baffert."
Panty Raid caught Lady Joanne in deep stretch to win Sunday's $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes at Keeneland by 1/2 length and also earn an automatic berth in the Distaff. Teammate finished third." The race went in 1:51.30. "We're not sure" about the Breeders' Cup, said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "The filly will tell us if she wants to come back in 20 days. The other question is what surface to run on because she would fit in either the Filly & Mare Turf or the Distaff."
Tessa Blue blew away nine rivals in Friday night's $400,000 Indiana Oaks at Hoosier Park, moving to the lead turning for home and drawing off easily to win by 7 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Boca Grande. Marietta finished third. Tessa Blue, a Maryland-bred daughter of Awesome Again, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.42. Mike Smith rode for trainer Frank Brothers. "The trainer said she was a 10-1 shot, but she had a chance," Smith said. "He told me I had some horse to work with and Frank usually doesn't call me to ride unless he thinks we have a shot."
$2 million TVG Sprint
Off Duty pressed the pace early in Saturday's $250,000 Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland, surged to the lead as the field turned for home and held sway, winning by 1/2 length over a late-running Rebellion. Saint Anddan was third and the favorite, Indian Chant, faded to finish fourth. Teuflesberg pulled up on the backstretch, was vanned to Rood & Riddle Veterinary Clinic and diagnosed with broken sesamoids in his left fore. Dream of Angels became agitated in the saddling paddock before the race, flipped, suffered severe head trauma and was euthanized. Off Duty, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Yes It's True, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.17 on the all-weather track. Larry Melancon rode the 14-1 long shot for trainer Lynn Whiting. Whiting said Off Duty is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup. "That would be a factor because it may be cost-prohibitive. He's really good right now. Maybe he will make us go."
Greg's Gold was blocked through most of the stretch in Sunday's $300,000 Ancient Title Stakes at Keeneland, then couldn't catch Idiot Proof when he did get running room. At the wire, Idiot Proof, under David Flores, prevailed by 3/4 length in a hot 1:07.57. "It was one of those things," said Victor Espinoza, who rode Greg's Gold. "If I get luck, I get through and win the race. But not today." Both the top two are likely to go on to Monmouth Park for the Sprint.
Benbaun won Sunday's Pris de l'Abbaye at Longchamp by an easy 2 lengths over favorite Kingsgate Native. Desert Lord was third. Benbaun, who also hit the board in last year's Hong Kong Sprint, finished Sunday's contest in 56.70 seconds.
$2 million Juvenile
Saturday's $400,000 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park was supposed to be a showdown between Majestic Warrior and Ready's Image and a preview of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Instead, it was War Pass, at odds of nearly 5-1, who led the field through lively fractions, drew off and then held on well to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Pyro was second and Z Humor third. Majestic Warrior finished sixth and Ready's Image was last of eight. War Pass, a Kentucky-bred cost by Cherokee Run, got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.12. Cornelio Velasquez rode for trainer Nick Zito. "The only thing," Zito said, "is we'll worry about the three weeks (to the Breeders' Cup). But I've got good help and they'll know what to do … Hopefully, things will work out. If not, we still have this big race here -- the Champagne."
As did Belmont's, Keeneland's final prep for the Juvenile did more to confuse matters than clarify them. Wicked Style won Saturday's $500,000 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity in front-running style, leading most of the way to a 3 1/4-length victory at odds of 11-1. Slew's Tiznow was second and Old Man Buck third, while the favorite, The Roundhouse, showed little in finishing sixth. Wicked Style, a Florida-bred colt by Macho Uno, completed the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.21 with Robby Albarado up for trainer George Arnold II. "He's never been on dirt since I had him," said Arnold, who sent Wicked Style out for his first two starts on the Arlington Park man-made surface. "It's just a question of where I've been stabled but I don't think the dirt (at Monmouth) will be a problem." The Roundhouse's jockey, John Velazquez, said he ran greenly. "I think he could use blinkers to help him focus," Velazquez said.
The upsets even spread to Finger Lakes in upstate New York, where 7-1 long shot By the Light got the jump on 1-5 favorite Law Enforcement in Saturday's $270,000 New York Breeders' Futurity and couldn't be caught, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over his more highly regarded rival. By the Light, a son of Malibu Moon, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.35.
$2 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies
Country Star rallied strongly down the middle of the track to post a mild upset in Friday's $500,000 Darley Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland, beating A to the Croft by 1 length. Grace Anatomy was third after a slow start and the favorite, Irish Smoke, finished last of 10. Country Star, in only her second career start, finished the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:45.85 under Rafael Bejarano. She is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Empire Maker. "She's a superstar horse," Bejarano said. Bobby Frankel is the trainer.
Indian Blessing, the odds-on favorite, won as she pleased in Saturday's $400,000 Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park, opening up an 8-length advantage at the top of the lane and coasting home to win by 4 1/2 over Backseat Rhythm. Sunday Holiday was third. Indian Blessing, a Kentucky-bred filly by Indian Charlie, got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.64. Garrett Gomez rode for trainer Bob Baffert. "This is very exciting," said Baffert, whose other star 2-year-old filly, Cry and Catch Me, won the Oak Leaf at Santa Anita a week ago. "It's nice to have two good fillies." Indian Blessing is 2-for-2. "She's just a little sweetheart," said Gomez. The filly is owned by Hal Earnhardt.
$1 million Filly & Mare Sprint (new race)
Wild Gams came from near the back of the pack to win Saturday's $300,000 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland by 1 1/4 lengths over Sugar Swirl, with Baroness Thatcher third as the favorite. Wild Gams, a 4-year-old, New Jersey-bred filly by Forest Wildcat, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.00 with Ramon Dominguez aboard for trainer Ben Perkins Jr. "We're not allowed to make plans yet," Perkins said. "This is two races, back to back. She will go back to Monmouth on Monday. It would be a neat thing to do with the Breeders' Cup at her home track."
Sindy With an S came wide into the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Safely Kept Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Laurel Park and scooted away to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Ticket to Seattle. Change Up finished third. Sindy With an S, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Broken Vow, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.16 under Jeremy Rose. "She ran a real nice race," Rose said. "The trip was perfect. She is a nice, nice filly. I like the way she handles herself."
$1 million Dirt Mile (new race)
Daaher scored a 2 1/4-lengths victory in Sunday's Jerome Handicap, punching his ticket for the inaugural running of the dirt mile. With Eddie Castro up, Daaher sat back of a fast pace, went to the lead with a quarter mile to run and held off Forefathers to win in 1:34.28. Winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said the addition of blinkers has "made all the difference in the world" and that the Breeders' Cup is the next stop for the Shadwell Stables colt.
$1 million Juvenile Turf (new race)
Gio Ponti remained undefeated in two starts by winning the $150,000 Woodford Reserve Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland on Sunday. At the furlong pole, the son of Tale of the Cat switched to the rail and accelerated to win by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Nownownow. Caberneigh finished third. Gio Ponti is trained by Christophe Clement.
In other weekend racing:
Casino Evil rallied from near last to win Saturday's $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Mile by 1 length over Simon Pure. Unbridled Behavior finished third. Casino Evil, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Salt Lake, ran the 1 mile in 1:37.40 under Calvin Borel. Michael Tomlinson trains the colt.
Dubai Cat came on strongly in the stretch to win Friday's $60,000 John Henry Stakes at the Meadowlands by 2 1/2 lengths over Phil the Power. French Vintage was third. Dubai Cat, an 8-year-old, Florida-bred son of Western Cat, ran the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:14.24 under Emily Fewster. The race is named for the legendary gelding who won the inaugural Arlington Million by a nose over The Bart.
Also Friday, Exchanging Fire led all the way to a 4 3/4-length win over A True Pussycat in the $60,000 Honey Bee Handicap for fillies and mares. Leap in the Sun finished third. Exchanging Fire, a 3-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Exchange Rate, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:40.26 with Edwin King Jr. in the irons.
Sans Souci Island rallied to the lead a furlong out in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Carotene Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and edged clear to win by 3/4 length over Dance to My Tune. Siwa, the early leader, tired to finish third. Sans Souci Island, an Ontario-bred daughter of Chester House, ran the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:54.42 for jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson.