Labor Day was no holiday on North American race tracks with some major events on offer in the turf sprint and juvenile divisions.
Parx Racing offered a potential preview of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. The youngsters were helping both Del Mar and Saratoga wind up -- already? -- their meetings. And hither and yon were important milestones in some of the other divisions.
Let's labor on to the details:
Ben's Cat was just up in time to win the $350,000, Grade III Turf Monster Handicap at Parx Racing by a head over Chamberlain Bridge. Great Mills led for a while and held on for third. Ben's Cat, a 6-year-old Parker's Storm Cat gelding, ran the 5 furlongs on soft turf in 1:00.62 with Julian Pimentel in the irons. Chamberlain Bridge won this race in 2009 and 2010 and, in the latter year, used it as a springboard to win the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs. Ben's Cat won last year's edition by trainer King Leatherbury was unable to raise enough money to get the horse supplemented to the Breeders' Cup. Monday's race was a "Win and You're In" for this year's Turf Sprint. However, Ben's Cat still would have to be nominated to the program to receive the automatic berth and travel benefits.
Inspired worked her way to a daylight lead in the $200,000 Turf Amazon Handicap for fillies and mares at Parx, then held off longshot Bounding Bi to win by 1 length. The favorite, Sensible Lady, was just a nose farther back for third. Inspired, a 5-year-old Unbridled's Song mare, finished the 5 furlongs of soft turf in 1:00.87 for jockey Roberto Alvarado Jr. Inspired now has hit the board in all but one of her eight starts this year -- all of them stakes races -- for trainer Allen Iwinski while racing at six different tracks from Fair Grounds to Gulfstream, Keeneland, Pimlico and Monmouth.
Easter Gift kicked into high gear in the stretch in the $350,000, Grade III Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds at Parx Racing and got home first by 4 1/2 lengths over Traffic Light. The favorite, Teeth of the Dog, faded from the lead to finish third and was vanned off after the race with an apparent laceration. Easter Gift, a Hard Spun colt, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a sloppy track in 1:42.04 with Kendrick Carmouche up for trainer Nick Zito. Easter Gift now has won three of his five starts and also finished second in the Grade II Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park.
Hit It Rich, the odds-on favorite, led from the start in the $150,000, Grade III Glens Falls Stakes at Saratoga and cruised home first by 1 1/2 lengths over Bizzy Caroline. Kissable was a neck farther back in third. Hit It Rich, a 5-year-old Smart Strike mare coming off a two-month layoff, finished the 1 3/8 miles on firm going in 2:12.34 with Javier Castellano in the irons. Winning trainer Shug McGaughey said he passed on a couple other races for Hit It Rich, including the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington, where he didn't like the prospective weight. "I think the freshness really did her good, too," he said of Monday's effort. He said he will be looking at the Flower Bowl at Belmont on Sept. 29 or the Spinster on the all-weather track at Keeneland on Oct. 7.
Filly & Mare Turf
Halo Dolly outfinished City to City in the $250,000 Yellow Ribbon Handicap for fillies and mares at Del Mar, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over her late-closing rival. Vivo Per Lei was a longshot third. Halo Dolly, a 4-year-old Popular filly, got the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.52 with Joe Talamo up. "Joe, it seems like he rides Halo Dolly perfectly whether she's off the pace or up on the pace," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "I didn't give him too many instructions. I just told him to let her break and then decide where he wanted to sit and if he got her to relax, then she'd probably run good for him."
Shanghai Bobby tracked the early leaders in the $300,000, Grade I Three Chimneys Hopeful at Saratoga, rallied into a three-way battle at mid-stretch and drew clear late to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Fortify held on for third by 3/4 length over Bern Identity. Shanghai Bobby, a Harlan's Holiday colt out of the Orientate mare Steelin', got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.72 with Rosie Napravnik at the controls. He also earned a spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile through the "Win and You're In" deal and a $100,000 bonus from a program rewarding 2-year-olds who break their maiden at Aqueduct or Belmont, then win a stakes at the Spa. And, he closed out a Saratoga meet that found trainer Todd Pletcher 23 races for 2-year-olds. "We felt like this summer the 2-year-olds were training very well, and we were coming in holding a strong hand," Pletcher said. "When some of them start to win and their workmates come up to run, you kind of get a good feel for it. We're not surprised. But we're happy." A win by Fortify would have given Godolphin and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin their sixth graded stakes win of the Spa meeting. "He finished second today," McLaughlin said. But we feel like he's going to keep improving. That's a big step up so we're happy."
Dynamic Sky closed stoutly from far back in the field to win the $200,000 (Canadian) Simcoe Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings at Woodbine. Honorable Guest and Star Contender completed the triactor. Dynamic Sky, an Ontario-bred Sky Mesa colt, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:17.70 with Luis Contreras up.
Tequila Hero closed on the outside down the stretch in the $125,000 Finger Lakes Aspirant and was along in time to post the 24-1 upset win by 3/4 length over Dark Roast. The favorite, Saint Arthur, was third in a race where the top six finishers last competed at Saratoga. Tequila Hero, an Andromeda's Hero colt, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13.48 with Jeremias Flores in the irons.
Native Treasure had to battle all the way in the $150,000 I'm Smokin Stakes for Cal-bred 2-year-olds at Del Mar but finally edged clear at the end to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Thehumancomplaint rallied from last of six to finish second and Strong Win was third. Native Treasure, a Tribal Rule colt, got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.69 with Juan Hernandez riding.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Renee's Queen prompted the pace in the $100,000 Oak Tree Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar, then took over and went on to post a 30-1 upset victory. Shrilanka, at 14-1 odds, was along for place money and the favorite, Speedinthruthecity, settled for third. The finish was tight, however, with a head, nose and neck separating the first four finishers. Renee's Queen, an After Market filly, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.36 with Agapito Delgadillo riding. She came into the race winless in three previous starts. Two races back, Renee's Queen finished fourth in the Landaluce, won by Executiveprivilege with Speedinthruthecity second. "I think she's bred for the grass," said winning trainer Eric Guillot. "After Market, I've watched him air on the grass many times. The reason I bought her was routing on the grass and that proved so."
Cryptic Message led all the way in the $200,000 (Canadian) Muskoka Stakes at Woodbine and got clear late to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Evangeline's Hope was best of the rest with Sarah Her Highness checking in third. Cryptic Message, a Cryptograph filly, finished 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:19.36 with Eurico De Silva riding. Cryptic Message now has won all four of her career starts, three of them stakes. Dynamic Sky opened his career with a third-place showing in the Vandal Stakes locally on July 28.
Matchmadeinheaven jumped up to win the $125,000 Lady Finger Stakes at Finger Lake in her first career start, at odds of 17-1. Matchmadeinheaven, a Utopia filly, ran down the pacesetting odds-on favorite, Shea Darby, in the final strides to win by a neck. E. Schifty finished third. The winner got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13.61 under Joel Cruz.
Pender Harbour, the prohibitive favorite as the winner of two-thirds of last year's Canadian Triple Crown, ran to his notices in the $125,000 (Canadian) Elgin Stakes, finishing first by 5 3/4 lengths over Medidochiospisurg. Opening Meet finished third. Pender Harbour, a 4-year-old Philanthropist gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.74 with Luis Contreras up.
Tee Game led all the way to a 2 1/4-lengths win over the favorite, Casa Loma, in the $125,000 (Canadian) Algoma Stakes. Awfully Sinful finished third. Tee Game, a 5-year-old El Corredor mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:45.78 under Richard Dos Ramos.
Welloiledmachine surged to the lead early in the stretch run of the $125,000 (Canadian) Halton Stakes and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Aldous Snow. Celtic Conviction finished third. Welloiledmachine, a 4-year-old Mobil gelding, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.34 with James McAleney riding.
Bear's Chill came from off the pace in the $125,000 (Canadian) Kenora Stakes and outfinished Bear No Joke to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Menlo Castle finished third. Bear's Chill, a 4-year-old Artie Schiller colt, ran the 6 furlogns on the all-weather track in 1:11.42 with Patrick Husbands aboard.
Afleeting Lady pressed the pace in the $75,000 Lady's Secret Stakes for fillies and mares, took over when asked by jockey Christopher DeCarlo and drew off to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Daddy's Honor finished second and Successful Song was third. Afleeting Lady, a 5-year-old Afleet Alex mare, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.88.
Calder Race Course
Nakano picked up the first stakes win of her career in the $55,000, off-the-turf Connie Ann Stakes for fillies and mares. With Luis Saez in the irons, the 4-year-old First Samurai filly stayed well back of the early speedster, got to even terms with a sixteenth of a mile to run and then kicked on to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Indulgence was along for second, followed by Leopard Rock. Nakano ran the 5 furlongs on the good main track in 58.88 seconds.
Final Count rallied smartly down the stretch to post a come-from-behind victory in the $50,000, off-the-turf Cliff Guilliams Handicap. The 6-year-old son of Smart Strike kicked clear at the end to win by 4 1/4 lengths over Big Town with Forty Nine Watts third. Final Count ran the 1 mile on a muddy track in 1:37.46 under Corey Lanerie.
Herbie D pressed the pace in the $50,000 (Canadian) Derby Bar and Grill Express, took over and won by 2 3/4 lengths. Stormy Canuck was up for second and Dollarwatinonadime finished third. Herbie D, a 4-year-old Orchid's Devil gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.63 under Amadeo Perez.
In the $50,000 (Canadian) Derby Bar and Grill Ladies Express, Overvalued dueled for the lead before drawing off to score by 2 1/4 lengths over Claresmiezie. Cry Cry Cry finished third but the stewards reversed the order of the second- and third-place finish because of interference. Overvalued, a 4-year-old Forest Grove filly, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.61 with Enrique Gomez up.