Bob Baffert's horses didn't win any Triple Crown races but the silver-haired trainer still is facing the rest of the year with a top hand.
Baffert trains Paynter, as well as Bodemeister, who finished second in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. All three races ended similarly and the total margin of defeat in the three events was about 1 length.
While Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another enjoys his injury-prompted retirement, Bodemeister and Paynter can be expected to enliven things at race tracks around the country in the second half of the season.
And, if the racing gods smile enough to preclude any further injuries, they could join Union Rags and some talented older horses, such as weekend winners Acclamation and Redeemed, to make up a memorable Breeders' Cup Classic this fall.
And, by the way, don't pay much attention to the critics who are carping about how slowly this year's Triple Crown races were run. Bodemeister and Paynter set the pace they could get away with and if no one came to get them until the end -- well, the final times were on the slow side. That doesn't make the races any less exciting.
And while no one is going to confuse Union Rags with Secretariat or I'll Have Another with Seattle Slew, that doesn't mean this year's horses necessarily are any better or worse than last year's or next year's. One of the great secrets to life is learning to enjoy the moment and the finish of each Triple Crown race was plenty enjoyable.
Yogi also said, "You can observe a lot by watching." So watch and enjoy.
One who won't enjoy watching the replay of Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Belmont Stakes is Mike Smith, who rode Paynter. Smith appeared to have the race won as Paynter held the lead at mid-stretch while Union Rags was stuck behind him and boxed in by eventual third-place finisher Atigun.
If Smith had held his place on the rail and forced Union Rags' rider, John Velazquez, to switch to the outside, it's questionable he could have regained enough momentum to get up for the win. Smith admitted as much right after the race.
"He just shouldn't have gotten through on me," Smith said. "I'd like to see what the outcome would have been if he wouldn't have."
Baffert was more philosophical. "The outside horse had that horse trapped," he said of Union Rags. "Johnny [Velazquez], you have to give him credit. He was patient and he just waited. He knew sometimes that happens in these big races."
Baffert added, "Is there a Triple Crown for seconds? I need a Triple Crown for seconds. I really thought he was going to win today. He was doing so well."
Velazquez said he planned to keep Union Rags on the inside and thought the plan might pay off when he saw Smith hit Paynter left-handed. "I said, 'Well, this could be my chance. I'd rather stay here and wait for the hole to open.' And it just happened. I got lucky."
Union Rags' trainer, Michael Matz, confessed he was worried at mid-stretch.
"It didn't look like he was going to get through and, you know, yeah, I was worried," Matz said. "But like I say, he got him through there and he's a strong enough rider to make it happen."
The summer fireworks could begin at Saratoga as soon as July 28 in the $600,000, Grade II Jim Dandy -- a stepping stone to the $1 million, Grade I Travers on Aug. 25.
Matz said Sunday, "At this point right now I think what we'll do is look at some of those -- whether it's the Haskell [at Monmouth Park], the Jim Dandy, the Travers, whatever -- one of those races down the line with a little time in between."
Baffert said Paynter will point to the Travers, perhaps with a stop in the Jim Dandy, while Bodemeister is headed for the Haskell. Trainer Ken McPeek said Atigun also is a candidate for the Jim Dandy and the Travers while Unstoppable U, who was sixth in the Belmont, might be considered for the Haskell. Fourth-place finisher Street Life, too, could go in the Jim Dandy, said trainer Chad Brown.
The big disappointment in the Belmont was Dullahan, who never fired and finished seventh. Asked about his next start, trainer Dale Romans said, "I have no idea. We'll sit down and talk the next few days. We'll figure it out." Dullahan was third in the Kentucky Derby but has never won on a real dirt track.
Other weekend racing:
Desert Blanc charged into contention between rivals and hooked up with Papaw Bodie at the sixteenth pole in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap, then battled to the wire before Desert Blanc prevailed by a nose. Boisterous was up for third and the favorite, Hudson Steele, faded to finish fourth after leading most of the way. Desert Blanc, a British-bred, French-raced horse, was making just his second start in the United States for trainer Chad Brown. The 4-year-old Desert Style colt finished the 1 1/4 miles over the firm inner turf course in 1:59.65 with Ramon Dominguez up. "I was fortunate enough to get in between horses turning for home, and he was pretty determined to get up," Dominguez said. "I was concerned about the lack of early speed but I was just trying to do my best to keep him cool and we prevailed at the end."
Caixa Eletronica, bouncing back from a fourth-place finish in the Met Mile on Memorial Day, rallied from last to win Saturday's $400,000, Grade II True North Handicap by 3/4 of a length over Justin Philip. Smiling Tiger finished third. Caixa Eletronica, a 7-year-old son of Arromanches, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.52 with Javier Castellano riding. "He can win at 6 furlongs, he can win at 1 1/8 miles, he can win a million-dollar race (the Charles Town Classic) and he can win a $16,000 starter handicap," enthused winning owner Mike Repole said. "This is a throwback horse to the '60s and '70s. How can you not root for this horse?" The race was marred by the breakdown in the stretch of Giant Ryan, a top-level sprinter making his first start since finishing fifth in the Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 31. On-call veterinarian Larry Bramlage later said Giant Ryan was headed to the University of Pennsylvania for surgery on an injured ankle.
Tapitsfly led them all the way in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Longines Just a Game Handicap for fillies and mares wasn't giving anything up in the stretch, winning by 2 1/4 lengths. Old rivals Winter Memories and Hungry Island finished second and third, respectively. Tapitsfly, a 5-year-old Tapit mare, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:32.34 with Dominguez handling the reins. It was her sixth win but first in a Grade I event. "She really needed a Grade I and deserved a Grade I," winning trainer Dale Romans said. "We were thinking about running at Churchill but I knew we needed to take on the big girls. Very impressive." He said he expects Tapitsfly will return at Saratoga.
Teeth of the Dog found running room between horses early in the stretch drive in Saturday's $100,000 Easy Goer Stakes for 3-year-olds, went through and quickly drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Fast Falcon followed the winner's late advance to take second and Politically Correct, who led briefly, settled for third. Teeth of the Dog, a Bluegrass Cat colt coming off a fifth-place finish in the Preakness, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.84 with Joel Rosario up. The win was only his second in six career starts.
Trinniberg, who finished a fading 17th after attending the pace in the Kentucky Derby, led all the way to victory Saturday in the $400,000, Grade II Woody Stephens Stakes for 3-year-olds. With Willie Martinez in the irons, the Teuflesberg colt set a brisk clip but had plenty left at the end, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Currency Swap. Il Villano finished third. Trinniberg got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.26. "We believe he's one of the top sprinters in the country right now," Martinez said, "definitely the best 3-year-old sprinter right now, and he lived up to expectations. It was an amazing ride. I've always been confident in this horse on any kind of surface."
Redeemed served notice he's to be reckoned with in the handicap division for the rest of the year with a smashing triumph in Friday's $200,000, Grade II Brooklyn Handicap. With Ramon Dominguez at the controls, the 4-year-old Include colt shot to the front from the No. 10 post position, set a brisk pace and then kicked in the afterburners in the stretch run, winning off by 10 lengths. Eldaafer was the best of the rest, finishing 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Arthur's Tale. Redeemed ran the 1 1/2 miles on a fast track in 2:28.89, less than 5 seconds off Secretariat's track record. "We're going to have to stay after the big races," winning trainer Rick Dutrow said. "We'll just have to see what's next. I'll have a talk with Ramon and see if he wants to go this far all the time. We'll get the numbers, check things out. But we have a live horse, that's for sure." Redeemed finished third in the Donn Handicap to kick off his season, then struggled in the New Orleans Handicap before dominating a minor stakes race in the slop at Belmont a month ago. He now has seven wins from 12 starts.
Upgrade had to wait for running room in Friday's $150,000, Grade III Jaipur Stakes but when he found a seam, he ran right through and battled resolutely through the stretch to win by 3/4 length over Right One. Yield Bogey was third and the favorite, Bergerac, settled for fourth. Upgrade, a 5-year-old Saint Liam gelding, ran 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:21.25 with John Velazquez up. He now has five wins, seven seconds and two thirds to show for 17 lifetime starts. Winning trainer Michelle Nihei said the Breeders' Cup is the goal. "We'll take a breath, come out of this race, and look for something appealing at Saratoga and look for a path that looks obvious between now and November," she said.
Acclamation Saturday won his third straight Charles Whittingham Memorial, leading all the way to a 1-length victory in the $250,000, Grade I event. Slim Shadey was second and Utopian finished third. Juniper Pass and Barney Rebel completed the order of finish. Acclamation, a 6-year-old son of Unusual Heat, came off an eight-month layoff to run the 1 1/4 miles over firm turf in 2:01.50 with Patrick Valenzuela riding. The victory also was Acclamation's sixth straight win. "The ultimate goal is the Breeder's Cup Turf," said winning trainer Don Warren. "We'll look at the races we ran in last year. Who knows, we may even want to look at the Hollywood Gold Cup (on the main track July 7). I'd like to keep him on the turf, though."
Richard's Kid bounced back from his disappointing trip to Dubai with an easy, front-running win in Friday's $70,000 Prove It Stakes. With Rafael Bejarano riding for trainer Bob Baffert, the 7-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid drew clear in the stretch and won by 7 1/4 lengths over Dynamic Host. Balladry finished third. Richard's Kid ran the 11 furlongs on the all-weather track in 2:16.43. During his winter in Dubai, Richard's Kid finished sixth and fifth in the final two rounds of the Maktoum Challenge, then got home fourth in the very tough Godolphin Mile.
My Gi Gi was the first horse to get past the leaders in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Honeymoon Handicap for 3-year-old fillies and she then just did hold off the favorite, Lady of Shamrock, winning by a nose. Stormy Lucy, who prompted the pace, held on for third. My Gi Gi, a daughter of E Dubai, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.22. Winning jockey Rafael Bejarano said the lead ahead of Lady of Shamrock was a conscious decision. "I knew she was the one I had to beat and I thought that was the only way I could beat her," he said. "I was pretty lucky because she passed me just after the wire." "That was an unreal ride," winning trainer Peter Eurton said. "You've got to give him a lot of credit."
Byrama surged to the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $93,000 Manhattan Beach Stakes for 3-year-old fillies but found company there and had to battle to get home first by a neck over Lemon Hero. Dypsy led the way early and held third. Byrama, a British-bred filly by Byron, ran the 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:09.76 with Bejarano riding.
All Star Heart came wide into the stretch in Sunday's $70,000 Redondo Beach Stakes for fillies and mares, quickly passed the early leaders and then just got by Hard to Resist in the final jumps for the win. Briecat, who also led briefly, held third. All Star Heart, a 5-year-old Arch mare, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.45 with Brice Blanc aboard.
John Velazquez, fresh off Saturday's win in the Belmont Stakes, booted home Data Link to win Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Monmouth Stakes by a length over Get Stormy. Get Serious got home third. The lead changed hands several times during the 9-furlong turf event, with Get Stormy leading early in the stretch run. Data Link, a 4-year-old War Front colt, finished in course-record time of 1:45.93. He now has six wins from 12 career starts. "It was perfect," Velazquez said. "There was a lot of speed in the race and he likes to come from behind. It just worked out perfect for us." Winning trainer Shug McGaughey said Data Link is "a pretty good horse. We got a little bit of a pace and Johnny was patient with him and got him to relax. When he wheeled him out, it was here we come."
Varsity led all the way in Sunday's $60,000 John McSorley Stakes, surviving the late run of Triple E by just 1/2 length. Tune Me In finished third. Varsity, a 5-year-old Indian Charlie gelding, ran the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:00.92 with Joe Bravo at the controls.
Jazzy Idea was last early and first when it counted in Saturday's $60,000 Crank It Up Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. With Elvis Trujillo riding, the Great Notion filly rallied by all five rivals to win by 3/4 of a length over the favorite, Stopshoppingmaria. Sensible Lady was third. Jazzy Idea finished the 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:01.49.
Calder Race Course
Four of the five stakes on Calder's Saturday program were sprints -- leadups to the track's iconic "Summit of Speed." Each was 6 furlongs and the track was fast.
Another Romance closed steadily through the stretch in the $75,000 Leave Me Alone Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and was just up in time to win by a neck over Citizen Advocate. Yara was 4 lengths farther back in third. The favorite, My Due Process, was held up in traffic, then faded to finish next-last of nine. Another Romance, a daughter of Saint Anddan, finished in 1:11.24 with Luca Panici riding.
Fort Loudon took over at the quarter pole in the $75,000 Unbridled Stakes for 3-year-olds, then quickly worked clear and got home first by 3 3/4 lengths. Bahamian Squall was second with Angelofdistinction third. Fort Loudon, an Awesome of Course colt, went off as the favorite and finished in 1:10.59 under Fernando Jara.
Wild Bout Tiffany led from the early going in the $75,000 U Can Do It Handicap for fillies and mares, then held on at the end to win by a neck over the late-running Flying Trip. Bessie M finished third and the favorite, Tamarind Hall, was home fifth. Wild Bout Tiffany, a 4-year-old Wildcat Heir filly, got the distance in 1:11.27 with Manoel Cruz riding.
Field Commission stalked the pace in the $75,000 Ponche Handicap and then drew off at the end to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Bull Dozer. Close It Out came from last of 11 to finish third. Field Commission, a 7-year-old, Ontario-bred son of Service Stripe, finished in 1:09.75 with Cruz riding.
In the lone non-sprint stakes, Angelica Zapata won a long stretch duel with Canadian Mistress before capturing Saturday's $55,000 Emergency Nurse Stakes for fillies and mares by a neck. It was another 7 3/4 lengths back to Beloveda in third. Angelica Zapata, a 4-year-old Sharp Humor filly, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.33 with Jose Ferrer riding.
Prospective had been going the wrong way since winning the Tampa Bay Derby three months ago -- sixth in the Blue Grass at Keeneland and then 18th in the Kentucky Derby. The Malibu Moon colt reversed that trend nicely back where he started his career, winning Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Victoria Park Stakes for 3-year-olds by 1 3/4 lengths. Prospective stumbled at the start, sat off the pace in a short field, then advanced when asked by jockey Luis Contreras and got clear at the end. Patrioticandproud finished second. Courtville and Holiday Promise completed the order of finish. Prospective ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.08. His stay north of the border may be a short one. "I'm not sure that synthetic is his favorite," winning trainer Mark Casse said. "He likes dirt. So we may travel out of the country for his next one."
Jenna's Wabbit was blocked at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Bold Ruckus Stakes for Ontario-bred 3-year-olds, forced his way through the traffic and then wan weally fast in the final sixteenth to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Raincoats'ntuxedos was second and Locally Made finished third. The rider of Bear and Rod, who exchanged bumps with the winner during the traffic jam, claimed foul but the result was allowed to stand. Jenna's Wabbit, an Old Forester gelding, got the 6 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:09.98 with Eurico Da Silva riding. He was making his 3-year-old debut after winning three times last year, including the Bull Page and Frost King Stakes.
Golden Gate Fields
Summer Hit led all the way in Saturday's $100,000 Silky Sullivan Stakes for California-bred 3-year-olds, hanging on at the end by a neck over Stoney Fleece. Pepnic finished third. Summer Hit, a Bertrando gelding, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:36.40 with Russell Baze up. Ironically, the winner's running style was the exact opposite of the race's namesake. Silky Sullivan remains famous for making up incredible deficits in the stretch -- sometimes nearly 40 lengths. He won the Golden Gate Futurity in 1957 and the Santa Anita Derby in 1958 but fizzled in that year's Kentucky Derby. He is buried in the Golden Gate infield.
Nikki's Sandcastle caught pacesetting favorite Mr. Vegas late in the stretch run of Saturday's $65,000 Sea O Erin Stakes and went by to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Middle was third. Nikki's Sandcastle, a 5-year-old Castledale gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.38 with Diego Sanchez up.
Guys Reward rallied around most of his five rivals in Saturday's $75,000 Opening Verse Stakes and finished strongest, winning by a 1/2 length over the favorite, Seruni. Scotus was third. Guys Reward, a 5-year-old son of Grand Reward, covered the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.98 under Shaun Bridgmohan.
Wicked Mizz sat just off the early pace in Saturday's $75,000 Go For Wand Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, bid three-wide for the lead and got clear late to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Ageless led briefly and held second, 1 3/4 lengths better than And Why Not. The favorite, Lady Cohiba, rolled home seventh. Wicked Mizz, a daughter of Mizzen Mast, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.32 with Jeremy Rose in the irons.
Bella Road led early in Friday's $75,000 Hawkeyes Handicap for Iowa-bred fillies and mares, gave up the lead but then came again to win by 3/4 length over Someplace Else. Afleet Lover was well back in third. Bella Road, a 4-year-old Bellamy Road filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.06 with Ken Tohill in the irons. She was unraced at 2 posted only one win from seven starts last year. After surgery to remove a chip in her ankle, she now has posted back-to-back wins.
Cainam rallied from last to win Saturday's $75,000 Cyclones Handicap for state-bred colts and geldings by 1 1/2 lengths over Wings of War. Launch Light finished third and the favorite, Kate's Main Man, faded from the lead to finish last of six. Cainam, a 5-year-old Is It True gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.45 with Glenn Corbett aboard.
Tsunaami Stu raced last of 11 through the first half mile of Saturday's $50,000 Sydney Gendelman Memorial Handicap for Ohio-breds, then got revved up and passed them all to win by a 1/2 length. Shakeyogroovething was second and the favorite, Pyrite Personal, finished third. Tsunaami Stu, a 5-year-old Dumaani gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.55 with Albin Jimenez riding.
Pretty Cozzy took charge in the stretch run in Saturday's $50,000 Susan B. Anthony Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares and won by 2 lengths over Nicole's Miss El. Clean Jean was third at a big price. Pretty Cozzy, a 6-year-old Broken Vow mare, ran the 6 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:11.26 for jockey John Davila Jr. Bob's Dylan finished fourth.
Evelyn's Dancer stalked the pace in Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) Emerald Downs Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, moved smartly to the front when asked and drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Madeira Park was along for second with Our Eleanor third. Evelyn's Dancer, a Songandaprayer filly, finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.30 under Fernando Perez.
E Z Kitty led from the gitgo in Sunday's $50,000 Washington State Legislators Handicap for fillies and mares. At the line, the 4-year-old He's Tops filly was on top by 3/4 length with Class Included second and Special Holiday filling the trifecta. E Z Kitty, with Leonel Camacho-Flores riding, got the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.61.
News and Notes
Time flies department: Evolutionary is set to become the first foal of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin to start in a race. The filly is entered in Wednesday's first race at Arlington Park. Evolutionary, out of the Gilded Time mare Gilded Wings, will face six other 2-year-old fillies at 5 furlongs on the all-weather track for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel.
Note to critics of this year's Triple Crown races: The horses that finished 17th (Trinniberg) and 18th (Prospective) in the Kentucky Derby both came back to win this weekend.