What more could you ask from a weekend at the races?
The reigning Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, won her second straight race after two losses; a big upset at Ascot scrambled the international turf racing picture; and the first big 2-year-old races threw some light on potential stars of the future.
And, in Minnesota, the "blue collar" horses got their day to shine in the annual Claiming Crown races at Canterbury Park.
The marquee race of the weekend was the $400,000 Lady's Secret at Monmouth, where Rachel Alexandra was trying to continue on the comeback trail. The 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly finished second in her first two starts of the year, looking little like the superstar who blitzed through her 3-year-old season, beating males twice. She started toward redemption with a big win in her last start at Churchill Downs.
Saturday, jockey Calvin Borel kept Rachel Alexandra just behind a moderate pace over a track that was dry and playing slow. When asked, however, the filly responded gamely and got by pacesetting Queen Martha in the stretch to win by 3 lengths. Ask the Moon finished third, far back. The final time was 1:49.78.
"She won very easily again today," Borel said. "I let her run a little bit in the stretch to make sure she got something out of the race, but I think we saved a little bit in the tank for next time. She is on her game."
"I'm very pleased with how she went today," added winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "I was happy with how she looked. She was very relaxed. I love where her mind is at right now. She's more mature and she's carrying a little more weight."
Asmussen said he and owner Jess Jackson will meet next week in Saratoga to discuss where Rachel Alexandra will race next. Racing fans are hoping that will be someplace that also could attract Breeders' Cup Classic champion and undefeated super filly Zenyatta.
Other weekend races that could impact the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs in November:
Maybesomaybenot led the way in Sunday's $150,000 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga and held well at the end, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Nacho Saint. Another Silver Oak was third. The result may have been determined at the start when the favorite, Bail Out the Cat, hit the gate, nearly dumped jockey Alan Garcia and spotted the field about 10 lengths. Bail Out the Cat was never a factor and finished sixth of eight. Maybesomaybenot, a Kentucky-bred Sunday Break gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on a "good" main track in 1:10.97 with Julien Leparoux back from Iowa for the ride. He now has two wins from three starts. "The owners are the nicest couple you'd ever want to meet," said winning trainer Mike Maker. "They've had some lesser horses who were stabled where I train my horses, and he'd always tell me, 'When I get a good horse, I'll bring it over to you.' He came over to me this spring, and said, 'I think I have a good horse for you.' As for the horse's next start, anything's a possibility. We'll just play it by ear."
Vengeful Wildcat pressed the early pace in Sunday's $100,000 Tyro Stakes at Monmouth Park, seized the lead in the stretch and drew off smartly to win by 3 1/2 lengths. The early leader, Brother In Arms, held second and first-time starter Christiesborntorun finished third. Vengeful Wildcat, a Kentucky-bred Vindication colt, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:04.59 with Carlos Marquez Jr. up. "With the smaller field, I told (Marquez) just to let him run out of the gate and settle," said winning trainer Ben Perkins Jr. "He seemed very relaxed and had run the whole way." Vengeful Wildcat now has two wins from as many starts.
Wine Police got his career off to a promising start Saturday at Saratoga, drawing clear in the stretch to win a maiden special weight event by 7 3/4 lengths. The Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt ran the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.36 – just shy of the track record of 1:03.13. "He ran very fast and very impressively," said winning rider Shaun Bridgmohan. "The most impressive aspect of his debut was the way he relaxed and then when I asked him, how professional he was. Horses came around him and he didn't panic, and when I asked him to go, he took off." Trainer Steve Asmussen added, "Off that performance, we'll consider a stake for his next start, most likely here in Saratoga." He mentioned the Grade I Three Chimneys Hopeful on Sept. 6.
Le Mi Geaux, rallied to the lead in the stretch run in Friday's $100,000 Schuylerville Stakes at Saratoga and drew clear to beat her more highly regarded rivals with ease. The favorite, Stopspendingmaria, led most of the way into the stretch and held second, 1 1/2 lengths behind the winner and 2 3/4 lengths better than Show Me the Bling. Le Mi Geaux, a Kentucky-bred daughter of First Samurai out of the Cryptoclearance mare Message Red, ran 6 furlongs on the sloppy, sealed main track in 1:13.67. Frederic Lenclud had the mount. After finishing third behind Show Me the Bling in her debut at Monmouth, Le Mi Geaux came back to break her maiden in front-running form at Belmont on July 1. "That was a pleasant surprise," said winning trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. "We're very happy. I have to give all the credit to the owner (Lansdon B. Robbins III) because he was the one who wanted to run her here. I thought she was in too tough." He said he expects Le Mi Geaux will move along to the Spinaway on Sept. 5.
Swiss Wild Cat rallied through the stretch to win Friday's $100,000 CTBA Stakes for California-bred fillies at Del Mar by 1/2 length over Hi Ho Yodeler. Rockin Heather finished third. Swiss Wild Cat, a daughter of Minister's Wild Cat, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:04.15 under Chreistian Santiago Reyes, picking up her second win in five starts.
Vineyard Haven led eight rivals a merry and muddy chase in Friday's $75,000 James Marvin Stakes in the slop at Saratoga. Moving quickly to the front under Alan Garcia, the 4-year-old, Florida-bred Lido Palace colt opened a daylight lead at the top of the lane and coasted home first, 1 3/4 lengths better than Half Metal Jacket. You and I Forever finished third. Vineyard Haven finished the 7 furlongs in 1:22.30 in his first start since finishing third in the Cigar Mile last Thanksgiving weekend. "I was so confident with my horse," Garcia said of the Godolphin Stable runner. "I was in hand with him throughout. When I asked him to go a little bit, he took off." Rick Mettee, assistant to winning trainer Saeed bin Suroor, said the stable hasn't yet decided whether to keep Vineyard Haven sprinting and go to the 7-furlong Forego on Sept. 4, or to forgo that option and instead try the 9 furlong Woodward on the same day. "I'll have to talk to Saeed," he said.
Harbinger drew off with ease in Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, winning by 11 lengths, demolishing a field that also included Epsom Derby winner Workforce. Timeform gave the effort a provisional score of 142 – the fourth-highest rating in the organization's 50-year history. Harbinger, with Olivier Peslier up, sat off the speed until the field entered the stretch. He then went by Irish Derby winner Cape Blanco and cruised home. Cape Blanco held second, 3 1/4 lengths in front of Youmzain. Daryakana was fourth and Workforce finished fifth. Sir Michael Stoute saddled three for the race, including Harbinger and Workforce. Harry Herbert, who manages the syndicate that owns Harbinger, said Peslier "came in saying he was already smiling" as he hit the stretch. "You never second guess Sir Michael's plans at this stage," he told The Guardian. "But I'd imagine he'd have to go for the Arc now." British betting shops quickly advanced Harbinger as a favorite for the Oct. 3 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. Sir Michael, however, was not backing off his Derby winner, who had been among the Arc favorites before Saturday's race. "Workforce was a little bit too keen," the trainer said. "He just didn't relax enough today and I think that the ground may just have been a bit too fast for him. But you have to remember that it was only his fourth run today and, make no mistake, he will bounce back."
The Usual Q.T. continued his domination of the West Coast turf ranks with a sparkling victory in Saturday's $300,000 Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar. Racing from behind the pace under Victor Espinoza, the 4-year-old Unusual Heat gelding unleashed a powerful stretch run, getting clear and scoring by 2 lengths. Victor's Cry and Enriched completed the trifecta. The Usual Q.T. ran the last eighth in 11.14 seconds and finished the 1 1/8 miles on firm going in 1:47.28. He now has won seven straight on the California turf and trainer James Cassidy said he has plenty of options. "I'll keep an eye on the weather in Chicago (for the Arlington Million)," he said. "I'm not going to run him there if the ground is bad. If that happens, we'll look at things here and consider the Del Mar Handicap or even the Pacific Classic." The latter option would put The Usual Q.T. back on the all-weather surface, where he is 0-for-5 but with three seconds.
Sam-Son Farms and trainer Mark Frostad finished 1-2 in Saturday's $300,000 (Canadian) Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine as Windward Islands rallied past his more highly regarded stablemate, Grand Adventure, to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Southdale, who pressured Grand Adventure's lead most of the way, held on for third. Windward Islands, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Cozzene gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on yielding going in 1:53.58 with Chantal Sutherland up. "We had a lot of conversation about the race and with the rain and the turf coming up soft, it changed a lot of things," said winning co-owner Rick Balaz. "It made it a lot less predictable. But we've always had a lot of faith in Windward Islands." Frostad said Windward Island has been "a little fragile and we don't seem to get too many races out of him. But he's a real high-quality horse." He also pointed out Grand Adventure gave his winning stablemate six pounds. "They both ran great races," he added.
Famous Name rallied home a 2 1/2-lengths winner in Thursday's Meld Stakes at Leopardstown in England, setting up a potential trip for the 5-year-old Dansili horse to the Arlington Million next month. Under Pat Smullen, Famous Name drew clear from Steinbeck in the late going and the outcome was never in doubt. Famous Name now has won all three of his starts this year and almost never is off the board. "We'll keep an open mind," winning trainer Dermot Weld told Britain's Press Association, "and look at races in France, in particular the Prix Jacques le Marois. We'll also look at the Arlington Million. Ground conditions are important. He needs an ease in the ground."
Stotsfold, third in last year's Arlington Million, was withdrawn from Saturday's York Stakes in England because of an attack of colic and trainer Walter Swinburn said plans to try the Million again this year will be scrapped. The 7-year-old Barathea gelding beat all but Gio Ponti and Just as Well in the 2009 Million.
Also unlikely for an American campaign is Debussy, who had been considered for the Million until he finished fourth Saturday in the Group 2 York Stakes at York. Summit, from Luca Cumani's barn, won the race.
Filly & Mare Turf
Kiss Mine won Saturday's $75,000 Ellis Park Turf Stakes for fillies and mares at the western Kentucky track. Kiss mine turned back a challenge from the favorite, C.S. Silk, at the top of the lane and went on to win by 5 lengths. C.S. Silk held second and Seniga was third. Kiss Mine, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Mineshaft filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:39.55 with Jon Court up for trainer David Vance. It was the fifth win from 20 starts for Kiss Mine and her first stakes win.
Island Time led all the way to a 1 1/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $100,000 Desert Vixen Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Monmouth Park. Triple Cream was second and Potosina finished third. Island Time, a Florida-bred Trippi filly, got the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.03 with Carlos Marquez Jr. in the irons.
Evening Jewel stalked the pace in Sunday's $150,000 San Clemente Handicap for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar, then outfinished the other closers to win by 3/4 length. City to City was second, a head in front of Weekend Magic. Evening Jewel, a California-bred Northern Afleet filly, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.36 under Victor Espinoza. Earlier this year she won the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, was beaten a nose by division leader Blind Luck in the Kentucky Oaks and won the Honeymoon Handicap at Hollywood Park. Her likely next stop would be the Del Mar Oaks on Aug. 21.
Twirling Candy picked up his third win without a loss in Wednesday's $100,000 Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds on Opening Day at Del Mar. The Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt stalked the pace nicely under Joel Rosario, bid for the lead a furlong out and drew off to score by 2 1/4 lengths over Macias. Gallant Gent was third. Twirling Candy, coming off a two-month layoff, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.69. While the Oceanside's conditions point to the grass mile, winning trainer John Sadler said Twirling Candy could wind up running almost anywhere. "This is a very talented horse," Sadler said. "He can run on synthetic, grass or dirt. He's a serious horse for a lot of serious races. He could stay here and run in the (Sept. 5) Del Mar Derby if we keep him on the grass. Or he could run in the Travers Stakes (on the main track at Saratoga). He's a big colt that's still learning."
If Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are both headed to the Classic, Devil May Care could have a lock on the distaff version in November at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky-bred Malibu Moon filly, who finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby, cruised to a seemingly effortless victory in Saturday's $250,000 BetFair TVG Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. After racing just off the pace under John Velazquez, Devil May care ranged up alongside the leaders at the top of the stretch, took the advantage when asked and drew off to win by 4 lengths. Biofuel ran from last to finish second with Acting Happy third. Devil May Care ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.42. In her only other start since the Derby, she also won the Mother Goose at Belmont, on June 26. "The thing that I think gets lost in the shuffle a little bit," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher, "is how much there is left in the tank. We tried to do the right thing after the Derby and give her plenty of time to the Mother Goose and she rewarded us with a big effort and did the same today. I've felt all along that this filly is the best of her generation and if she continues to run like today, I think she'll prove it." He said her next effort likely will be in the Alabama on Aug. 21.
La Rocca led most of the way in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Matron at Woodbine, surrendered the advantage to Simply Splendid in the stretch and then came again to win by 1/2 length over that rival. Euphony and Floating Heart completed the order of finish. La Rocca, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Toccet filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.63 with James McAleney aboard. "La Rocca was able to go around there with her ears pricked," said McAleney. "We turned it into a short sprint. It wasn't an absolute to be off the rail. The rail was a little bit better in morning workouts this morning. Ninety-nine percent of all horses run better on the outside."
In other weekend racing:
The annual Claiming Crown, run at its traditional home at Canterbury Park, provides stakes opportunities for steeds who have started for a tag during the previous year. As usual, the event provided exciting racing.
In the $50,000 Iron Horse, at 1 1/16 miles on the main track, Roaring Home led all the way and held on at the end to score by 3/4 length over the odds-on favorite, Sea Gaze. Benson was third. Roaring Home, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred Roar gelding, finished in 1:43.79 with Daniel Centeno up.
Moralist dueled for the lead in the $50,000 Express, then opened up a lead and came home first by 1 length over Thegreatcrosby. Churubusco finished third. Moralist, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Talk Is Money gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.92 under Israel Ocampo.
My Irish Girl, returning to Canterbury after touring Indiana, Iowa and Pennsylvania, rallied from well back to win the $75,000 Glass Slipper for fillies and mares. With Ocampo at the controls, the 3-year-old, Florida-bred Closing Argument filly got through along the rail on the turn, then came out for running room and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Margie Marie. Hawaiian Sky finished third. My Irish Girl got 6 furlongs in 1:09.92, picking up her sixth straight win.
Humble Smarty pressed the pace into the stretch in the $75,000 Rapid Transit, dueled with Max Ahead before taking the lead and then held off the late rush of Red Pete to win by 3/4 length. Max Ahead held third. Humble Smarty, a 6-year-old, Arkansas-bred Mutakddim gelding, finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.57 with Alex Birzer up.
Inca King waited behind the leaders in the $100,000 Emerald at 1 1/16 miles on the grass, then surged to the lead on the outside in the stretch run and won by a comfortable 1 1/4 lengths over Tiger Lake. Elusive Schemes finished third. Inca King is a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Sir Cat gelding. He was clocked in 1:42.80 over firm going with Julien Leparoux up.
And in the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel, Headache sat last of six under Leparoux until the stretch turn, found traffic problems and had to alter course for running room but still got up to win by a neck over pacesetting Smarten Destiny. Strike Impact was third. Headache, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Tapit gelding, finished the 9 furlongs in 1:50.11. "He's the kind of horse you have to wait with and then go, and that's what he did today, said Leparoux. "It's a lot of fun." Headache came to the Claiming Crown after seven straight losing efforts at the "non-winners-of-two-other-than" allowance level at Gulfstream Park, Keeneland and Churchill Downs. "I love this horse," said winning owner Kenneth Ramsey. "But he had given me plenty of headaches running second, second, second so many times. Today Julien got him home, though."
Golden Moka stalked the pace in Sunday's $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, then took complete charge in the lane, drawing off to win by 2 3/4 lengths over fellow long shot Mobil Unit. The favorite and Queen's Plate winner, Big Red Mike, raced evenly to finish third. Hotep, who finished second in the Plate, finished fourth Sunday. Golden Moka, a Golden Missile colt who previously raced in Panama and was coming off an eight-month layoff, finished the 1 3/16 miles on a fast track in 1:56.45 with Anthony Stephen up.
Stormy Lord gave up the early lead to Kara's Orientation in Saturday' $150,000 (Canadian) Toronto Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds, then came again in the stretch to regain the lead and win by 1/2 length. Kara's Orientation held second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Born to Act. Stormy Lord, an Ontario-bred Stormy Atlantic gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:49.62 with James McAleney riding.
Never Retreat came three-wide around the leaders into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Lady Canterbury Stakes for fillies and mares, seized the lead and held off Danzon at the end to win by 3/4 length. War Tigress finished third. Never Retreat, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Smart Strike mare, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.53 with Shane Sellers in the irons for Chicago-based trainer Chris Block. "I was on the best horse today in this race," said Sellers, who barely made it to Canterbury because of weather-related travel delays in Chicago. "You hate to go wide, but the other horses tired in front of me."
Proceed Bee led all the way, most of the time under pressure, in Saturday's $100,000 Prairie Meadows Handicap, then held on at the wire to beat Going Ballistic by a neck. Que Paso finished third. Proceed Bee, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Bernstein gelding, ran the 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:03.96 with Michael Baze riding for trainer Scott Becker.
Calder Race Course
Trip for A.J. was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $65,000 Nancy's Glitter Handicap for fillies and mares, hugged the rail and sailed home first, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Even Road. The heavy favorite, Sweet Repent, checked in third, another 3 lengths back. Trip for A.J., a 3-year-old, Florida-bred Trippi filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a "good" main track in 1:46.91with Javier Santiago in the irons.
Causeway's Kin came from mid-pack to win Saturday's $55,000, off-the-turf Band Is Passing Stakes by 1 length over Dinner in Odem. Fearless Eagle was third. Causeway's Kin, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Giant's Causeway colt, got the 1 mile on a "good" track in 1:40.73 with Jermaine Bridgmohan up. The race originally was carded for 7 1/2 furlongs on the greensward.
Bernie the Maestro led throughout in Sunday's $55,000 American Dreamer Stakes for 3-year-olds, shrugged off a challenge turning for home and went on to win by 1 length over Concorde's Fury. Thank You Phillipe, the odds-on favorite, finished third. Bernie the Maestro, a Florida-bred Bernstein gelding, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.57 under Manoel Cruz.
Bruce's Dream rallied from the back of the pack to win Sunday's $100,000 California Dreamin' Handicap for state-breds by a head over Colgan's Chip. Cayambe was third. Bruce's Dream, a 4-year-old Atticus gelding, finished the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.96 with Joe Talamo riding.
Lilly Fa Pootz rallied between rivals in the stretch to win Saturday's $75,000 Osunitas Stakes by a head over Burg Berg. Theodora was only a nose farther back in third. Lilly Fa Pootz, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Gilded Time mare, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.27 under Joe Talamo.
Salt Flat Speed set a pressured pace in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Don Fleming Handicap, then shook clear in the stretch run and won by 3 lengths. Footprint provided the pressure and held on for second, 3 lengths better than Cool Ventura. Salt Flat Speed, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Salt Lake gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44 2/5 with Rico Walcott up.
Category Seven and Clear Sailing both rallied from off the pace into the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Matron Stakes, then fought it out to the line with Category Seven finally prevailing by a neck. Warrior Maid was far back in third. Category Seven, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred Gulf Storm mare, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.17 with Richard Eramia up.
Newfound Man led all the way in Sunday's $50,000 Seattle Slew Handicap, then held on at the end to win by a head over Posse Power. Saratoga Boot was third. Newfound Man, a 3-year-old, Washington-bred Newfoundland gelding, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41 4/5. Inoel Beato rode for trainer Blaine Wright.
Tenth Power set a pressured pace in Sunday's $50,000 Omaha Stakes (not Steaks), then inched clear at the end to win by 3/4 length over The Nutz. Nomorewineforeddie was third. Tenth Power, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Ten Most Wanted, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39 3/5 with Ashley Dill riding.