Saturday at Saratoga was just a nose short of perfect for horse owner Mike Repole.
Midway through this year's Kentucky Derby preps, Repole's star runners, Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty, looked like the best 1-2 punch since Muhammad Ali and good bets to have a huge impact on the Run for the Roses.
That was before a liver ailment sidelined 2010 Juvenile champ Uncle Mo in April and Stay Thirsty was derailed by a possibly ill-considered trip from New York to the Florida Derby, where he finished seventh.
But that's all history after Saturday's racing at Saratoga where a resurgent Stay Thirsty survived constant pressure to win the $1 million Travers Stakes -- the Midsummer Derby -- and Uncle Mo came within a nose of winning his return engagement in the 7-furlong King's Bishop.
Both now could be on track to make an impact in the Breeders' Cup World Championships.
"It's a roller-coaster game, it's a bi-polar game," Repole said. "What we just saw in the last half hour for (trainer) Todd Pletcher and Mike Repole -- the low, the highest high, all within 30 minutes. It's a tough loss with Uncle Mo and probably the best win of my life here with the Travers."
Stay Thirsty, under Javier Castellano, had to fight for position into the first turn, then battled with several rivals before establishing position. He tracked pacesetter Shackleford, the Preakness Stakes winner, down the backstretch, surged to the lead midway around the turn and held well to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Rattlesnake Bridge. J W Blue finished third.
Coil, the Bob Baffert-trained Haskell winner, finished last, never running a lick. "I think when he broke, he should have gone," Baffert said. "He's still green. We'll learn more about him."
Since his Florida misadventure and a 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Stay Thirsty has been a tough cookie. The Kentucky-bred Bernardini colt finished a close second in the Belmont Stakes behind Ruler On Ice, who got home fourth Saturday, then won the Jim Dandy earlier in the Saratoga meeting.
The 1 1/4 miles went in 2:03.03.
The Travers clearly moved Stay Thirsty to the very top of the 3-year-old division, which suddenly looks quite competitive with the older horses.
"The first turn was a little more complicated than we expected," Pletcher said after the Travers. "We kind of got jammed up in between horses. Finally, Javier got him back off the pace to where we wanted, stalking Shackleford, and as soon as we did that, another wave of horses came. I thought it was a huge effort, considering he ran every step of the 1 1/4 miles."
"We need a bridge between here and the Breeders' Cup," the conditioner said, adding that's likely to be the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 1 at Belmont Park.
One race earlier, Uncle Mo, starting for the first time since April 9, showed he's ready for business despite the layoff and the liver ailment that caused it. After relaxing off the pace for jockey John Velazquez, Uncle Mo rallied to the lead in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Foxwood King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga, then was just caught at the wire by late-running Caleb's Posse, who won by a nose. Justin Phillip was third at a long price. Caleb's Posse, a Kentucky-bred Posse colt out of the Slewacide mare Abbey's Missy, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.59 with Rajiv Maragh up.
Repole said, "Listen, I want to win. I think the horse ran great. He came off a liver disease and to lose like that, to come back from a five-month layoff and to beat the speed bias the way he did -- by the way -- he just came up short."
Asked what's next for Uncle Mo, his owner was a bit enigmatic. "Uncle Mo might have two races left, he might have five races left," Repole said. "We might have just seen Uncle Mo's last start." Sunday, he said he's thinking Breeders' Cup Classic or Dirt Mile, depending on how Uncle Mo bounces back.
Winning trainer Donnie Von Hemel bowed to the competition, saying Uncle Mo "is certainly the class of the field as a 2-year-old champion and a great horse, by all accounts. We're just proud to be in the same race … . [Caleb's Posse] outperformed his pedigree every jump of the way."
Other races with potential impact on the Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 4-5 at Churchill Downs:
In the weekend's other $1 million race, Acclamation cemented his position atop the West Coast handicap horses with a victory in Sunday's Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Quickly on the lead, the 5-year-old, California-bred son of Unusual Heat set a good pace, then held on at the end to win by a head over the favorite, Twirling Candy. The well-traveled Stately Victor was third, a nose in front of Game On Dude. Acclamation, with Pat Valenzuela in the irons, ran the 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather track in course-record time of 2:00.61. He scored his fourth straight victory but his first ever on any surface other than turf. He had been 0-for-6 on synthetics. He's a great horse," Valenzuela said. "And it doesn't matter -- grass or dirt of Poly. He's just a runner." Winning trainer Don Warren said Valenzuela had a lot to do with the win by judging a moderate pace early. "I thought it was excellent. He nursed the horse along just like we wanted him to, a length or two in front, and was able to save enough to hold off any horse that made a run at him. We were looking for a speed type rider and he's always been one of the best in the world at putting a horse on the lead, so it was kind of a natural fit. That's what I look for when I'm trying to choose a jockey is will he fit the horse well. You want Eddie Delahoussaye on a big stretch runner and you want a P-Val on a front runner. It's that simple." Twirling Candy's trainer, John Sadler, said his steed "ran a very big race. We're very happy other than not getting the win. We just came up a head short. We got the trip we thought he would get. We thought he would pick that horse up, but that horse just out-bobbed him a little bit. But he ran real well."
Turallure wasn't lulling anybody to sleep in Friday's $200,000, Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga. After waiting well back early, the 4-year-old Wando colt, moved up around the stretch turn and got racing room wide through the lane, going on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over pacesetter Get Stormy. Get Stormy held second by 3/4 length over Baryshnikov. Turallure, with Julien Leparoux at the controls, finished the 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:48.75. It was his second win from five starts this year and first in a graded stakes. In his last outing, the Kentucky-bred was fifth behind Sidney's Candy in the Fourstardave on July 31. "That's a tough horse on the front end," said winning trainer Charles Lopresti, referring to Get Stormy. "He really ran a great race. I thought we'd get by him quicker and he hung on. We'll probably go to Keeneland and look at something there."
Celtic New Year took the lead entering the stretch in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Del Mar Handicap, then held on to win by a head, outdueling the favorite, Bourbon Bay. Imponente Purse found running room along the rail in deep stretch and was up for third, just another head back. Celtic New Year, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred North Light gelding out of the Dynaformer mare Reggae Queen, got the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:14.92 with Victor Espinoza riding. He picked up his fifth win from 17 starts and earned a Breeders' Cup berth through the "Win and You're In" program. Winning trainer John Sadler said his instructions to Espinoza were "to be in front. I thought we were going to be in front, too. Victor rode him a little bit differently and it worked fine. I was kind of relieved in a way because the front hasn't been working in these distance turf races … . The 'Win and You're In' makes a difference because it's $90,000. We'll go on to Oak Tree and then the Breeders' Cup."
Filly & Mare Turf
Daveron rallied four-wide past the leaders into the stretch run in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Ballston Spa Stakes at Saratoga and kicked clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths over pacesetting Tapitsfly. Romacaca was third and the favorite, Aviate, finished fourth. Daveron, a 6-year-old, German-bred Black Sam Bellamy mare, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.09. Winning trainer Graham Motion credited jockey Eddie Castro as the main contributor as Daveron picked up her fourth straight win and fourth in her last five starts. "The last couple of races, he had to drag her back," Motion said of Castro. "Today, it was a natural progression. I think if she settles like that, she can go further. I don't think distance is really any issue. She's bred to go further."
Caracortado was just up at the right time to put a nose in front of Mr. Commons and win Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Del Mar Mile. Calimonco was a half length farther back in third. Caracortado, a 4-year-old, California-bred Cat Dreams gelding, was clocked in 1:34.24 over firm going with Joe Talamo up. It was his first win since January, when he copped the Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita. "I know we only just got there, but I was confident," winning rider Joe Talamo said. "We were smokin' that last part." Asked about the future, winning trainer Mike Machowsky said, "We'll get back to Santa Anita and re-evaluate. I don't want to beat him into the ground. I want to keep him around for a couple years. They asked me about Breeders' Cup and I'm 50-50."
Dubawi Gold rallied late from well back to win Saturday's Group 2 Betfair Celebration Mile at Goodwood in England by a half length from Set the Trend. Beacon Lodge finished third. Poet's Voice, last year's winner, was coming off a long layoff and never factored in Saturday's running. In 2008, Raven's Pass won the Celebration Mile, then went on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in one of Europe's best-ever Breeders' Cup days.
The Factor salvaged something from an otherwise disappointing weekend for trainer Bob Baffert by winning Sunday's $250,000, Grade I Pat O'Brien Stakes at Del Mar off a four-month layoff. After dueling for the lead, the 3-year-old War Front colt worked clear down the lane and won by 1 3/4 lengths over a late-running Camp Victory. Crown of Thorns was third. The Factor, with Martin Garcia in the irons, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.56. The colt, who set a track record of 1:06 4/5 at Santa Anita last winter, gave Baffert his third consecutive victory in the Pat O'Brien, after Zensational in 2009 and El Brujo last year. He also helped ease the sting of poor performances by Baffert trainees Coil in the Travers and Game On Dude in the Pacific Classic later in the Del Mar card. But the silver-haired conditioner was all about his winner. "When this horse is really on his game he is an extraordinary horse," Baffert said. "I'm just glad to have him back. He's got the most beautiful stride I've ever seen on a horse. It's like he barely picks up his feet … . [Jockey Rafael] Bejarano worked him for me the last time and when he came back I asked 'Is he ready?' and he said, 'Oh man, he's ready.'" Baffert said The Factor will be considered for both the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the Dirt Mile, which will be around one turn at Churchill Downs. "I'd probably like to keep him around one turn," Baffert said.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Hilda's Passion was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga, quickly opened a daylight advantage and rolled home a winner by 9 1/4 lengths. Tar Heel Mom, who stumbled at the start, was best of the rest and Tamarind Hall finished third. The favorite, Sassy Image, never fired and ran last all the way. Hilda's Passion, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Canadian Frontier filly, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.06 under Javier Castellano. She did the 6 furlongs in 1:09.19. "It was pretty straightforward," winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. "We wanted to be on the lead, she broke great, and when she's on her game, she's awfully, awfully good … . We were wanting to be where we were, we were happy, and it looked like she was doing it the right way." The race was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. However, Pletcher reported Sunday Hilda's Passion sustained a condylar fracture in her right fore that will require surgery and end her season.
Hot Summer heated things up in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Victory Ride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga, running down pacesetting Maple Forest to win by a half length. Roman Treasure finished third and the favorite, Jealous Girl, faded to finish sixth. Hot Summer, a Virgina-bred Malibu Moon filly, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.18 with Cornelio Velazquez in the irons. Winning trainer David Fawkes said sprinting distance shouldn't make a difference. "I wouldn't mind seeing her go seven-eighths," He said. "She ran awfully big today." Asked about training Hot Summer up to the Breeders' Cup, he said. "It's possible. I have to talk to the owners."
Fort Loudon stuck close to the pace in Saturday's $125,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder Race Course, got to the front in the stretch amid some bumping and drew clear at the end to win by 2 lengths over Argentine Tango. Kings Over came from well back to take third at a big price. Fort Loudon, an Awesome of Course colt out of the Talc mare Lottsa Talc, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.75 with Luis Jurado up. He now is just one race shy of sweeping the series with the third and final leg the $300,000 In Reality Division during the Festival of the Sun on Oct. 15. "We'll talk about options," said winning trainer Stanley Gold. "But we have six weeks now to get ready for them to go two turns. You can pretty much be sure you'll see Fort Loudon in the In Reality."
Midnight Serenade rallied from last of 10 to win Saturday's $55,000 Seacliff Stakes at Calder Race Course, beating Burning Tree to the line by 2 3/4 lengths. El Romano finished third and the favorite, Isutalkintome, checked in eighth. Midnight Seranade, a Florida-bred Bandini gelding, got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:42.09 with Jose Alvarez in the irons.
Queen Drama outdueled favorite Redbud Road in deep stretch to win Saturday's $125,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder Race Course by a nose. Awesome Belle finished third. Queen Drama, a daughter of Burning Roma out of the Notebook filly Riveting Drama, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.16 under Daniel Centeno. She is a half sister to Big Drama, the 2008 Florida Stallion Stakes star who won the 2010 Breeders' Cup Sprint and an Eclipse Award. "It's quite a family," winning owner/breeder Harold Queen said. "And we've got a yearling filly, also by Burning Roma, coming up." He said Drama Queen will go directly to the $350,000 My Dear Girl Division on Oct. 15.
The race wasn't named for her but Frolic's Revenge nonetheless made off with Saturday's $55,000 Lindsay Frolic Stakes at Calder Race Course, clearing the field in the stretch run to score by 4 3/4 lengths. Sinister Brew and French Politics completed the trifecta. Frolic's Revenge, a Kentucky-bred Vindication filly out of the Summer Squall mare Stormy Frolic, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:42.06 for jockey Juan Leveya.
Musical Flair waited behind the pace into the stretch in Saturday's $55,000 Fasig-Tipton Turf Dash at Calder Race Course, split rivals and worked clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Martini Madness. Big Dreams was third and the favorite, Everyday Dave, settled for fourth. Musical Flair, a Kentucky-bred Songandaprayer colt, ran the 5 furlongs on "good" turf in 57.48 seconds under Jesus Rios. Winning trainer Sal Santoro said, "He's shown now that he can run on dirt, mud, and grass … . We'll sit back a little and give him some time. We have a lot of options."
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Maybe the grass race for 2-year-old fillies at this year's Breeders' Cup will have a foreign flavor. Maybe that flavor will be Maybe -- the winner of Sunday's Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh in Ireland -- a "Win and You're In" for the big American race. With Joseph O'Brien in the irons for trainer Aidan O'Brien, Maybe raced off the early pace, surged to the front with a quarter mile to run and held well to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Fire Lily. La Collina was third. Maybe, a Galileo filly, now has five wins from five starts. O'Brien, however, clearly is thinking well beyond November and well east of Louisville in planning for Maybe. "With a filly of that class, you would have to think of the Guineas for her as a 3-year-old. And a mile should be no problem," the trainer added.
Citizen Advocate pressed the pace in Saturday's $55,000 Catcharisingstar Stakes at Calder Race Course, was forced wide at the top of the stretch but overcame that to win by 3/4 of a length over Sweet and Vicious. Exclusively Maria finished third. Citizen Advocate, a Florida-bred Proud Citizen filly, was clocked in 58.22 seconds for the 5 furlongs on good turf. Luis Jurado rode.
Sunday's races were scrubbed in deference to Hurricane Irene. The $300,000, Grade I Personal Ensign for fillies and mares is to be redrawn Wednesday and run Saturday on a card that will also include the Grade 1 Woodward and Grade 1 Forego.
Lovely Lil outkicked Nicole's Miss El in the stretch run of Monday's $75,000 Union Avenue Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares, winning by 1 3/4 lengths. Lady Gracenote finished third. Lovely Lil, a 4-year-old Tiznow filly, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.59 for jockey Ramon Dominguez.
Bigger is Bettor got off the rail and out of mid-pack turning for home in Wednesday's $100,000 Albany Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds and went by the leaders to win by 3/4 of a length. Socialsaul had first run, briefly held the lead and finished second. Preachintothedevil ran evenly to get home third. Bigger is Bettor, a Grand Reward colt, got the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.12 with Abel Lezcano up.
Havelock stayed close to the pace in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Play the King Stakes, found room late along the inside and was up to win by a head over Riding the River. It was another nose back to Fatal Bullet in third and a neck to Gypsy Ring in fourth. Havelock, a 4-year-old, Maryland-bred Great Notion filly, ran the 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:21.56 with Jermaine Bridgmohan up. Winning trainer Darrin Miller said the good performance may change his plans for Havelock -- possibly including a detour to the $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile on Sept. 18. "Before, I would have said no," Miller said of the big race. "But considering the way he gutted it out today, we'll think about it."
Anne's Beauty saved ground into the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Ontario Colleen Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got outside her rivals for the final push and worked clear at the end to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Smart Sting. Mendocino Beano finished third and the favorite, Summer Savory, finished sixth. Anne's Beauty, a Kentucky-bred Artie Schiller filly, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:33.70 under Patrick Husbands.
Racing was canceled for both Saturday and Sunday because of Hurricane Irene. The lost cards, which included Sunday's Grade II Molly Pitcher for fillies and mares, will be made up later in the season, which runs through Nov. 6, track officials said.
John Johny Jak battled to the lead in the stretch run of Wednesday's $85,000 Harry F. Brubaker Stakes and held by a nose over the favorite, Norvsky. Red Sun finished third. John Johny Jak, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Wildcat Heir ridgling, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.16 with Joel Rosario up.
Calder Race Course
Don'ttalktome seized a good lead at the top of the lane in Sunday's $50,000 Connie Ann Stakes for fillies and mares and coasted home first by 3 1/2 lengths over Miss Maggie Girl. The favorite, Musical Romance, was home third with a late rally from well back. Don'ttalktome, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Cactus Ridge filly, got the 5 furlongs on good turf in 55.91 seconds with Fernando Jara up.
Motega got to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Miss Ohio Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies and easily distanced the field, winning by 8 1/2 lengths over Private Cause with Kira's Wink finishing third. The favorite, Caviar N Champagne, shortened stride in the stretch, finished last by a large margin and collapsed after passing the wire. However, she was revived and walked off the track. Motega, a Yonaguska filly, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13.04 with Jareth Loveberry in the irons. She now has three restricted stakes wins to her credit.
Linda's Lace kicked up her heels in the stretch run of Saturday's $84,000 Merrillville Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, clearing the field to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Eskimo's Best was the best of the rest with Whistlin' Jean third. The odds-on favorite entry of Facey's Spirit and Toy's Golden Girl finished last and next-last. Linda's Lace, an 8-year-old Sveikatas mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11 2/5 for jockey Terry Thompson.
Pass the Crown passed the early leaders in the stretch run of Saturday's $84,000 Brickyard Stakes for Indiana-breds and held off Liepers Fork at the end to win by a neck. Our Rock Star finished third. Pass the Crown, a 3-year-old Pass Rush gelding running against older horses, got the 6 furlongs on 1:10 2/5 for Chris Emigh.
After four scratches, only three went to the post in Saturday's $50,000 Sylvia Bishop Memorial for West Virginia-bred 3-year-old fillies. Blushing B.J. let Princess Cecilia make the early going, then got by and went on to win by 2 lengths over that rival. Buckle Bunny Babe finished third. Blushing B.J., a Rock Slide filly, ran 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:27.50 with Oscar Flores up. Trainer Richard Vega said he gave his filly some time off to treat nagging foot problems but now has his eye on the $400,000 Charles Town Oaks Sept. 17.
Doug's Buddy led from gate to wire in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Birdcatcher Stakes for 2-year-olds, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Silver Baubles. Kiribrassy was third. Doug's Buddy, a Kentucky-bred Badge of Silver colt out of the Forest Wildcat mare Floral Park, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:18 4/5 with Rico Walcott up.
In Saturday's $50,000 Bird of Pay Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, My Daddy's Girl led all the way to a 1 1/4-lengths win over Top It Up. Countryfire finished third. My Daddy's Girl, an Alberta-bred Cape Canaveral filly out of the Forest Wildcat mare Crystal Forest, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:21 2/5 for jockey Fernando Perez.
After six scratches, only two horses faced the starter for Wednesday's $25,000 Tex's Zing Stakes for Illinois-breds and only one of them mattered. Capt. Bullet Bob drew away steadily from his lone rival, Fox Academy, and won by 40 lengths. Yes, 40. A Wayne Catalano-trained son of Mutakddim, the 5-year-old ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12 2/5 with Emanuel Cosme in the irons, earning $15,480.
Four went to the post in Wednesday's $25,000 Lady Riss Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares. Kel's Dreamer drew clear early and ran off to win by 5 lengths over Kathleen L. Cruise and Ridgeway Angel completed the order of finish. Kel's Dreamer, a 4-year-old Kugelis filly, got the 6 furlongs in 1:12 under Rafael Hernandez.
Baden Racing will offer 54 races worth 1.5 million Euros in purses and bonuses during its Great Festival Week, or "Grosse Woche," which started this weekend and runs through Sept. 4. The weekend, sponsored for the second year by Swiss watchmaker Longines, is highlighted by the Grosser Preis von Baden. Each of the six race days features a Group race and the week also includes fashion, family and entertainment events. Racing at the Iffezheim track, which dates back to 1858, was threatened with extinction until it was rescued by a Swiss-led consortium in 2010.