On a weekend when speed was on display from England to Florida to California, a good part of the biggest race was contested at a virtual crawl.
Mission Approved took the lead right out of the gate in Saturday's $600,000 Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park and no one elected to stay with him. Jockey Jose Espinoza therefore let his mount bounce along through a quarter in 26.13 seconds, a half in 52.27 and 6 furlongs in a dawdling 1:18.07. And, mind you, that's over firm turf.
The pace could have been a killer for the favorite, Geo Ponti. Last year's dual Eclipse Award winner started on the outside and, failing to get better position the first time under the wire, settled in last under jockey Ramon Dominguez. He was still there, with a little traffic problem, when the field entered the sweeping Belmont Park stretch turn.
But when a seam opened up and Dominguez steered him into it, Geo Ponti was up to the task. Closing ground quickly, he hit the front a few strides before the wire and beat 50-1 long shot Mission Approved by a neck. Expansion ran evenly to finish third. The 1 3/8 miles took 2:16.20 -- nearly 6 seconds more than the 20-year-old course record.
"As the race unfolded," Dominguez said, "I was a little concerned about the slow pace. But I was very happy with the way he was traveling. Turning for home, I felt it was a matter of getting a little racing luck. When he split horses, at that point, I felt a little more confident, and that he would get there."
Winning trainer Christophe Clement said he "never had a doubt that the horse was the leader of his division and I'm delighted with the way he ran today. The race was completely against him. They walked in front. He was last. But he's good enough to be versatile and win the race."
Gio Ponti now has 10 wins from 20 starts and earnings of more than $4.1 million. Clement said he will either try for a repeat win in the Arlington Million on Aug. 21 or tackle the Pacific Classic at Del Mar -- on the all-weather track -- the following weekend.
But much of the action, especially with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Championships in November at Churchill Downs, involved the "How fast can you run?" crowd.
Big Drama took the lead at the quarter pole in Saturday's $350,000 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder Race Course, quickly put daylight between himself and the field and held on well to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Mambo Meister rallied from far back to finish second and long shot How's Your Halo finished third. Big Drama, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Montbrook colt, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.93. Eibar Coa rode."He's grown up since last year," said winning trainer David Fawkes. He's a bigger, stronger horse. We'll keep him sprinting and hope to get him to the Breeders' Cup. He'll probably run once at Saratoga and we'll see where we are at that time."
Jockey Edgar Prado appeared to have the favorite, D'Funnybone, home free in Saturday's $200,000 Carry Back Stakes for 3-year-olds at Calder Race Course. But Prado uncharacteristically left room along the rail and paid the price as Coffee Boy, under Jermaine Bridgmohan, shot through in the final 16th to win by 1 length. Peace At Dawn was well back in third and Dream of Atlantis completed the order of finish. Coffee Boy, a Florida-bred Yonaguska colt, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:11.55. Marty Wolfson trains. "No excuses," Prado said, adding D'Funnybone "ran his race. We were sitting forwardly placed, made our move around the turn into the lead and in the stretch he kicked on for me. The other horse just had a little more than we did at the end of it."
E Z's Gentleman pressed the pace in Saturday's $250,000 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park, got by pacesetting M One Rifle at the top of the stretch and cruised home an easy winner. Sangaree ran well late to take second, 3 1/4 lengths in arrears. The favorite, Gayego, finished third. E Z's Gentleman, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Yankee Gentleman ridgling, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.11 with Martin Pedroza up. "I didn't give either jockey any instructions," said Bob Baffert, who saddled the exacta. "When (E Z's Gentleman) was dueling, I thought, 'Oh, no! He doesn't run like that.' But he just put it to him (pacesetter M One Rifle) … Martin knew what he was doing and the other horse came on and ran well. Recently, E Z's Gentleman has just gotten better and better with age. This horse just kept on running. The timing was great for today."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Jessica Is Back stalked the pace in Saturday's $350,000 Princess Rooney Handicap at Calder Race Course, angled outside for room at the top of the lane and caught pace-setting favorite Warbling inside the 16th pole, Under urging from jockey Elvis Trujilo, Jessica Is Back then got clear to win by 2 lengths. Warbling held second, 1 length ahead of Dubai Majesty. Jessica Is Back, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred Put It Back mare, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:11.48, earning an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint through the "Win And You're In" program. "She can't run with 'Rachel' (2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra)," said winning trainer Marty Wolfson, "although she did for a little while in that last race. I'll keep her here and look around for the right spot. She's very versatile, so there are plenty of options."
Starspangledbanner made the early going in Friday's July Cup at Newmarket in England, surrendered the advantage to Equiano after a quarter mile and then got to the front again with about 200 yards to run and prevailed by a neck. Equiano held second, 3/4 length better than Alverta. Kingsgate Native was fourth. Starspangledbanner finished the straight 6 furlongs in 1:09.81, narrowly missing the course record of 1:09.50 established in the 1999 July Cup by Stravinsky. Starspangledbanner, an Australian-bred, was targeted for a quick trip back down under to begin stud duty in the Southern Hemisphere spring. After Friday's win, trainer Aidan O'Brien said he will be discussing plans with co-owners John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.
Tahoe Warrior stalked the pace early in Saturday's $100,000 Bob Umphry Turf Sprint Handicap at Calder, came around the leaders turning for home to take the lead at the sixteenth pole and won going away. Chihulykee was 2 3/4 lengths back in second and Lord Robyn was third. Tahoe Warrior, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred Carson City gelding, got the 5 furlongs on firm going in 56.28 seconds under jockey Edgar Prado.
General Perfect upset Sunday's $100,000 John McSorley Stakes at Monmouth Park, setting a pressured pace and then drawing off at the end to win by 1 1/2 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Silver Timber. Just Playin Around was third. General Perfect, a 7-year-old, New Jersey-bred Perfect gelding, finished the 5 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:01.40. "My horse likes to run on the lead," said winning jockey Pablo Fragoso. "I just wanted to break well and give him the opportunity to race on the lead. I had plenty of horse the whole way and I knew nobody was going to be able to run us down." Silver Timber finished sixth in last year's Turf Sprint at Santa Anita.
The West Coast's leading early contender for the Breeders' Cup Classic, Rail Trip, was upset in Saturday's $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, losing a nip-and-tuck stretch tussle to Awesome Gem. Richard's Kid, making his first start since Dubai, threatened into the stretch but couldn't keep pace with the top two, finishing third. Awesome Gem, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred Awesome Again gelding, saved ground near the back of the six-horse field much of the way. When David Flores dropped him back to the rail midway down the stretch, he kicked in gamely, got the lead with a 16th left and won by 1/2 length. Rail Trip, ironically, took the outside path under Rafael Bejarano, led with a furlong to go but could not hold on. Awesome Gem finished the 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather track in 2:03.31. He now has won just six of 36 starts but the quality of his competition is reflected in his career earnings of nearly $2.3 million. "This horse can run over anything -- synthetic, grass, mud, you name it," said winning trainer Craig Dollase. "He's very versatile and a real pleasure to train … The owners have been real patient and given this horse time when he has needed it. He's like fine wine. He's just getting better with age. He's in his prime right now." Rail Trip's trainer, Ron Ellis, said, "It just didn't work out today. He was wide. I don't know why. I don't know what it was. You would have to ask (Bejarano)." Bejarano said he was forced out on the first turn by a rival. After that, "I was trying to follow the speed but they were going so slow. I didn't want to rush him, so I waited for the half mile. I don't think he ran his race because he was so wide on the first turn and the second turn."
Trappe Shot stumbled at the start of Saturday's $175,000 Long Branch Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park, then bided his time until the far turn. After battling his way to the lead, the Florida-bred Tapit colt broke away from his trio of rivals and won off by 2 1/2 lengths. Nacho Friend, Southern Ridge and Latigo Shore completed the order of finish. Colizeo and Wildcat Lake were late scratches. Trappe Shot ran the 1 1/16 miles on a "good" track in 1:43.48, improved his record to four wins in five starts and likely earned a spot in the Aug. 1 Haskell, which also is expected to feature Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. "He's obviously a very nice horse," said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "We'll talk it over with the owners, but going into this race we thought if he ran well we'd bring him back in three weeks for the Haskell. I don't think this race took too much out of him. He's certainly bred for the distance and handled everything perfectly today."
Blind Luck, the odds-on favorite, almost left too much to do in Saturday's $250,000 Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park. Rallying from last of seven, the Kentucky-bred Pollard's Vision filly just caught Havre de Grace at the wire to win by the tightest of noses. Early pacesetter Derwin's Star held on for third. Blind Luck, with Joel Rosario up, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:43.34. She now has eight wins from 12 starts. "She got away a little slow and sometimes she does that," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "I honestly was hoping she would have been a little closer. You know the good ones just find a way to get there … We are still looking at the Alabama (at Saratoga on Aug. 21) for her next start."
Filly & Mare Turf
Music Show upset more highly regarded rivals Lillie Langtry and Special Duty in Wednesday's Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket in England. The 3-year-old Noverre filly, winless in her last three starts, settled behind a quick early pace, then made up the advantage in the final furlong, winning by 2 lengths over Spacious. Lillie Langtry, winner of the Coronation Stakes, finished fifth and Special Duty, winner of both the English and French Guineas, got home next-last of eight. Music Show, under Richard Hughes, covered the straight 1 mile in 1:36.76 over good to firm going.
Originally scheduled for the grass, Saturday's $100,000 Sussex Stakes at Delaware Park was scratched down to four starters when rains forced a change to the sloppy main track. Of those four, Pickapocket was best, stalking the pace until the final 16th, when he took charge and won off by 1 3/4 lengths. Bullsbay was second, a head in front of pacesetter Nicantor. Despite the short field, Tybalt found traffic problems in the stretch and finished fourth. Pickapocket, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by the old turf warrior Mecke, ran the 1 1/16 miles in the slop in 1:45.69 under Brian Hernandez Jr.
Violon Sacre saved ground in Saturday's $100,000 Battlefield Stakes at Monmouth Park, came four-wide into the stretch and closed strongest of all to win by a neck over Banrock. Whatsthescript, the favorite, was 1 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Violon Sacre, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Stravinsky, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.34 with Pablo Fragoso up. The horse was making just his second start in the United States. "He ran very well last time," said winning trainer Patrick Biancone of Violon Sacre's fourth-place finish in a Monmouth allowance. "He just got a little bit tired at the end. He was still trying to acclimate to America. He was training very well leading up to this race and we were very confident." Biancone said he consider the $200,000 Oceanport Stakes on Haskell Day for Violon Sacre's next race. That's an added 16th of a mile.
Draw a circle around Little Drama. The Florida-bred Burning Roma colt went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Frank Gomez Memorial Stakes at Calder Race Course, easily extended the advantage when asked by jockey Eibar Coa and scooted off at the end to win by 9 1/2 lengths. Alley Oop Oop, who defeated Little Drama in their last start, finished second this time after some trouble out of the gate. Vee's Accolade was third. Little Drama, from David Fawkes's barn, completed the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.59. "He was unlucky not to win his first start," Fawkes said of the half-brother to Big Drama. "He clipped heels in the race and still just got beat (finishing second). He indicated from the beginning that he was going to be a nice horse. He always did everything right. He's eligible for the (Florida) Stallion Stakes series and we'll keep him right here for that." Big Drama swept the three FSS races in 2008.
Simply Gone didn't exactly live up to his name in Saturday's $100,000 Texas Stallion Stakes at Lone Star Park. But, after racing in mid-pack, the Intimidator gelding did enough late to win by a head over an onrushing Alli's Legend. Pacheco also came from far back and finished third. The odds-on favorite, Tamtastic, had repeated traffic problems and finished sixth. Simply Gone, with Martin Escobar riding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a "good" track in 1:05.39. He now has two wins from as many starts.
Dawnie Macho sped to the lead in Sunday's $100,000 Landluce Stakes at Hollywood Park, put daylight between herself and seven rivals, then held off Izshelegal in the late going to win by 3/4 length. The favorite, Belleofthebridle, finished third. Dawnie Macho, a Florida-bred daughter of Macho Uno, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.75 with Joe Talamo riding. Dawnie Macho came into the race off a record-breaking victory in a maiden event at Arlington Park. After that win, she was sold to Gary and Cecil Barber and turned over to trainer John Sadler. "I got into Chicago at 5:30 in the morning to look at her and then got on a plane and flew back," Sadler said. "We put a deal together about a week after her first race."
Awesome Feather tracked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 J J'sdream Stakes at Calder after being bumped at the start, then rallied late to catch pacesetting Because I Like It, winning by 1/2 length. Blue Eyed Sweetie was third at a big price. Awesome Feather, a Florida-bred daughter of Awesome of Course, got the 5 1/2 furlongs over a fast track in 1:06.50 with Jeffrey Sanchez up. "We didn't think she'd get that much education," said winning trainer Stanley Gold, "so I'll be a lot more confident for the next one." He said that will be the Desert Vixen Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes on Aug. 7.
Fastation saved ground early in Saturday's $100,000 Texas Stallion Stakes at Lone Star Park, moved to the leaders when asked by jockey Richard Eramia and drew clear to win by 3 3/4 lengths over Rush the Net. Last Legend finished third. Fastation, a daughter of Valid Expectations, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:04.27, breaking her maiden on the fourth try. "We've had a lot of success with Valid Expectations' fillies," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "She seems to be continuing that trend."
In other weekend racing:
Free Fee Lady got by odds-on favorite Embur's Song in the stretch drive in Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Bison City Stakes for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies and drew off to post a huge upset, winning by 4 lengths. Embur's Song held second, 6 1/4 lengths ahead of Oil Painting. Ernfold completed the order of finish. Free Fee Lady, an Alberta-bred daughter of Victory Gallop, got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.02 with Emma-Jayne Wilson in the irons.
Utterly Cool took control early in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Ontario Jockey Club Stakes for Ontario foals, maintained a comfortable lead and won by 2 lengths, ridden out. Grazettes Landing led early, dropped back and came again to finish second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Sand Cove. Utterly Cool, a 4-year-old, Ontario-bred Smoke Glacken gelding, ran the 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:19.58 with Patrick Husbands up.
Barracks Road dueled for the lead for a half mile in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Damsel Stakes for Ontario-foaled 3-year-old fillies, shook loose to open a big lead and held on at the end to win by 3/4 length over Somme. Thislilsoulofmine was third. Barracks Road, an Elusive Quality filly, ran the 1 mile on "good" turf in 1:35.42 with Corey Fraser in the irons. Somme had beaten Barracks Road by 2 1/2 lengths in their last effort, the Alywow Stakes. And Barracks Road came into that effort off a tough maiden win on May 26. "I believe in the bounce," said winning trainer Mark Casse. "The first race was deceiving. It may have taken more out of her than it looked."
Calder Race Course
Pica Slew watched Rapport open a big lead early in Saturday's $150,000 Azalea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, quickly closed the gap with a furlong to run and went by to win by 2 lengths. Buckleupbuttercup rallied to finish second and Bronx City Girl nosed Rapport for third. Pica Slew, a Florida-bred daughter of Pico Central, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.12 with Manoel Cruz up.
Trickmeister led from the first jumps in Saturday's $100,000 Barbaro Stakes for 3-year-olds and held gamely at the end to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Not Abroad was second and Colizeo finished third. Trickmeister, a Kentucky-bred Proud Citizen colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.32 under Gabriel Saez, picking up his third win in as many starts. "We are not sure where we will go next," said winning trainer Cindy Jones. "We are just going to give a couple of days and then figure out where we should go."
Moneigh Lisa pressed the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Spruce Fir Handicap for New Jersey-bred distaffers, got past pacesetting Love That Dance in the stretch and went on to post the upset by 1 3/4 lengths. Love That Dance held second and Way With Words was third. Moneigh Lisa, a 4-year-old Mo Mon filly, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.17 with Jose Lezcano up.
Everyday Heroes pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 James B. Moseley Sprint Stakes, then just put his head in front under the wire, beating pacesetting favorite Ju Jitsu Jax. Perfectus was third. Everyday Heroes, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Awesome Again colt, ran the 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:11.31 under Channing Hill. Kiaran McLaughlin trains for Darley Stable.
Awakino Cat took back to a stalking position after a stumbling break in Saturday's $75,000 Seabiscuit Stakes, came between rivals at the top of the lane and shook loose, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Natural Seven led the way and held second, 2 1/4 lengths clear of True to Tradition. Awakino Cat, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Stormy Atlantic gelding, ran 5 furlongs on a sloppy track in 58.93 with Channing Hill up. The race was moved off the grass.
Scat Dancer broke last in Satuday's $60,000 Iowa Stallion Stakes for 3-year-olds, closed to the leaders on the second turn and wore down pacesetting Wild for Glory late to win by 1 length over that rival. Hum Along Mara finished third. Scat Dancer, a King of Scat gelding, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.99 with Glenn Corbett up.
Assessment rallied to challenge for the lead in the stretch run of Sunday's $50,000 Governor's Handicap, dueled with Noosa Beach and prevailed by a neck. Gallon finished third. Assessment, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Jump Start gelding, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14 2/5 under Gallyn Mitchell.
Rewritten came from the middle of the pack to win Sunday's $50,000 Washington Lottery Handicap for 3-year-old fillies by 1 1/2 lengths over Sis's Sis. Soul Custody finished third. Rewritten, a Kentucky-bred daughter of El Corredor, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43 with Francisco Duran in the irons.
No Hesitation didn't hestitate a bit when given the go-ahead signal in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Ky Alta Handicap for 3-year-olds. The California-bred Siberian Summer gelding quickly shot to a big lead and drew off to win by 8 lengths. Streakin' Mohican was second and Passo Alegro finished third. No Hesitation, with Rico Walcott riding, got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38 1/5.
Shakenwithanoliveled all the way to a 1 3/4-lengths victory in Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) John Patrick Handicap. Alywyn chased and finished second while the odds-on choice, Littlemiss Allison, settled for third, well back. Shakenwithanolive, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Suave Prospect filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38 1/5 with Jorge Carreno up.
Restless Youth jumped out to the lead in Sunday's $50,000 Sam J. Whiting Memorial Handicap, set a brisk pace and held determinedly at the end, winning by 3/4 length over Jiggly. Paul's Hope and Kelly Leak completed the order of finish. Restless Youth, a 7-year-old, California-bred Helmsman gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.46 for Chad Schvaneveldt.
Dyna Stroll took his time getting going in Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) Chris Loseth Handicap for 3-year-olds but once he was rolling, he rolled right on to a 1 1/4-lengths victory. Victor's Magic was second and the early leader, Sense of Humor, finished third. Dyna Stroll, a British Columbia-bred Stroll gelding out of the Dynaformer mare Irish Dynasty, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.12 under Mario Gutierrez.
News and notes:
Another imaginative, successful innovation is falling victim to legislative inaction. Turfway Park announced last week it plans to cut all but one stakes race from its fall schedule, dooming the remaining portion of the Kentucky Cup Day of Champions. That series has served as a springboard for seven winners in the Breeders' Cup World Championships, and three Eclipse Award winners, since its inception in 1994. "If the state Legislature allows us to level the playing field with surrounding states that enhance their purses with gaming revenue, the Kentucky Cup would be high on the list of races we would restore," said Turfway President Robert N. Ellison.