Despite its many upsets, this year's Breeders' Cup confirmed the "star" status of a couple horses and revealed potential stardom for a few others.
Wise Dan beat a field of top international talent to solidify his position near the top of the world rankings. He is rated on all surfaces and his standing will improve as a result of his victory in the $2 million Mile. And let's not forget about Animal Kingdom, who finished a remarkable second in the Mile in his first start since February and is being pointed to the world stage.
Royal Delta showed she is royalty, indeed, with a front-running win in the $2 million Ladies' Classic. She, too, may be headed toward another swing at the Dubai World Cup.
Shanghai Bobby, extending his undefeated record to five wins with a hard-fought victory in the $2 million Juvenile became the early favorite for next year's Kentucky Derby. And George Vancouver's victory in the $1 million Juvenile Turf sets him up as a potential contender for next year's Epsom Derby in England.
Zagora in the Filly & Mare Turf and Groupie Doll in the Filly & Mare Sprint also were impressive in victory.
Royal Delta, Groupie Doll, Shanghai Bobby and Wise Dan, by the way, were the only favorites on the 15-race championship card who won.
Even though she won the Ladies' Classic for the second straight year -- only Bayakoa had done that before -- Royal Delta has a little unfinished business. And owner Benjamin Leon said he hopes to take care of that next March in Dubai, where she was a non-factor in the 2012 World Cup.
"Our intention is to take her to Dubai to give her one more chance ... to become the world champ," Leon said. Trainer Bill Mott added he will give Royal Delta some down time, then likely one prep race in Florida before traveling to the Mideast.
"She has to remain healthy and we've got big plans for her," Mott said. "If ever there was a filly that you could shoot for the moon with, I could say it would probably be one like her."
Royal Delta went right to the front in the Ladies' Classic and won by 1 1/2 lengths as jockey Mike Smith moved ahead of Jerry Bailey on the all-time Breeders' Cup jockey wins list.
While everyone on the international racing scene has been focused this year on Frankel and Black Caviar, Wise Dan has been sneaking up along the rail toward a top spot on the world rankings. After Saturday's victory in the Mile, he's even closer to the top of those standings.
Wise Dan not only beat the best Europe could throw at him -- Excelebration and Moonlight Cloud are top-shelf milers -- but he did it in record time over a Santa Anita course that has hosted some mighty good ones from all over the world. And his mere presence in the race scared off some potential competition.
The question is, will Wise Dan now move out from his U.S. base to challenge on the international front? Owner Morton Fink and trainer Charlie Lopresti were noncommittal after the dramatic win on Saturday.
"It's definitely an option," Lopresti said. "But we have to talk about it. "I think it knocks them out when you go to Dubai. Maybe we want to go on and do what we did last year and stay here in the United States and go to Saratoga and Woodbine. But we'll see."
Neither of them, wisely, wanted to compare Wise Dan with the now-retired Frankel. Frankel, after all, beat Excelebration five times and usually by much greater margins than Wise Dan accomplished Saturday.
"I'm not going to think about what he would do against Frankel," Fink said. "He's the best horse in the world."
Animal Kingdom, meanwhile, put in an almost unbelievable run in the stretch to take second in the Mile and could have won but for traffic issues in the stretch. "I'm thrilled with the way he ran," said trainer Graham Motion, who is hoping to get Animal Kingdom to the Dubai World Cup. "He's a special horse."
Last year, Union Rags came into the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile undefeated, failed in a stretch duel with the gray colt Hansen and saw his career go south from there. This time around, Shanghai Bobby entered the race undefeated, won an equally tight stretch battle over the gray colt He's Had Enough and now is the object of great expectations.
"It's great to have an undefeated 2-year-old and go all the way from April until November," winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. "It's pretty hard to do. It's a real feather in his cap."
But Jack Wolf, part of the owning partnership, noted victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, unaccountably, is worth only 10 points in Churchill Downs' new system for qualifying for the Kentucky Derby -- a drop in the bucket compared to the points available in next year's Derby preps.
"The horse will either be there or not be there and we ought to celebrate what he's doing right now," Wolf said.
If he is going to move forward, Pletcher has some instructing to do. Winning jockey Rosie Napravnik said when Shanghai Bobby opened a lead at the top of the stretch, he got "a little bit lost. I was hoping those horses would come up to him sooner than later. They did, and he kicked on again."
And speaking of Derby contenders, there's George Vancouver, winner of the $1 million Juvenile Turf by a length over Noble Tune and a candidate for next year's renewal of the original Derby at Epsom Downs in England.
Elsewhere on two beautiful days at Santa Anita:
-- The $5 million Classic always going to be overshadowed this year by the Ladies' Classic and the Turf and its only real chance for import was Game On Dude's bid for Horse of the Year honors. When "The Dude" didn't break well and faded in the stretch, that left Fort Larned to rake in the big bucks as a dramatic, half-length winner over Mucho Macho Man. The win capped an excellent year for Fort Larned and could put him into contention with Game On Dude for a divisional Eclipse Award. Flat Out finished a well-beaten third in the Classic and Alpha was dead last of 12.
-- Trinniberg came from last of 14 in the stretch run to win the $2 million Xpressbet Sprint by a head over another closer, The Lumber Guy, with Smiling Tiger third. Defending champion Amazombie was never in the mix and finished eighth. This race had to sting for trainer Bob Baffert almost as much as Game On Dude's flop in the Classic as he saw Fast Bullet get home get home sixth, Coil seventh and Capital Account 12th.
-- Little Mike won the Arlington Million, ran terribly in New York and came right back to win Saturday's $3 million Turf with a run from just off the pace. Point of Entry saw his long undefeated streak broken after having bad traffic issues and falling only a half-length short with a late kick. Defending champion St Nicholas Abbey also ran well late but settled for third. Trainer Dale Romans said he considered shortening up Little Mike to run in the Mile but ultimately had faith in his original intention to keep him at a distance of ground.
-- Mizdirection came from far back to win the $1 million Turf Sprint down the hillside course. Jockey Mike Smith elected to swing around the field approaching the crossover to the main turf track and had most of the field to catch. Running up the outside, Mizdirection got the job done. Unbridled's Note finished second and Reneesgotzip was third.
-- Tapizar pressed the pace in the $1 million Dirt Mile, surged to the lead in the stretch and held off Rail Trip to win by 2 1/4 lengths with Delegation third. The favorite, Emcee, faded from the lead to get home sixth. Shackleford bobbled at the break and, unable to set the pace, folded up and finished seventh.
-- Groupie Doll also emerged as a star, albeit in a lesser-noted division, by sweeping to victory in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint. With Rajiv Maragh along for the ride, the Bowman's Band filly won by 4 1/2 lengths over worthy rival Dust and Diamonds with Switch getting home third.
-- Zagora collared Marketing Mix in the late going to win the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf by 3/4 of a length with European invader The Fugue running well late to take third as the mutual favorite. Zagora has been a force on the U.S. scene since her arrival in trainer Chad Brown's barn.
-- Beholder will be an early favorite for the Kentucky Oaks after her 1-length victory over Executiveprivilege in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies. Dreaming of Julia finished 4 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Beholder, a Henny Hughes filly, is trained by Richard Mandella. Baffert got as close to the winner's circle as he would get all weekend with Executiveprivilege. Beholder's win avenged two earlier defeats at the hands of Executiveprivilege and improved her record to three wins from five starts.
-- Flotilla was a rare bright spot for the Europeans' weekend, winning the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf with a late run under Christophe Lemaire by 1 1/4 lengths over Watsdachances. Summer of Fun finished third. Flotilla, trained by Mikel Delzangles, will have a bright future next summer either in France or in the English 1,000 Guineas.
-- Calidoscopio, in his first run outside South America, ran by most of the field in the final furlongs to win the $500,000 Marathon by 4 1/4 lengths over Grassy. Atigun finished third. Calidoscopio, dispatched at 17-1 odds, is a 9-year-old Argentine-bred. A sentimental favorite in this race, venerable international campaigner Fame and Glory, clearly didn't relish his first taste of dirt racing and quit running about a mile into the 1 3/4-mile event. Jockey Jamie Spencer gave him a few smacks with the whip, then eased him. Sense of Purpose also jogged home.
-- It should have been a tipoff on long shots when Hightail got through on the rail to win the first Breeders' Cup race of the weekend -- the $500,000 Juvenile Sprint -- for Maragh and trainer D. Wayne Lukas. At 15-1, and with the most modest of credentials, Hightail won by a nose over the odds-on favorite, Merit Man, in a field of just five starters.
The Breeders' Cup returns the World Championship program to Santa Anita next fall.
Tuesday the nation stops to watch the Melbourne Cup and defending champion Dunaden and globetrotting 2010 winner Americain are among the favorites. Dunaden drew post position No. 16 and has picked up handicap weight. Mount Athos is among the top local picks. Jakkalberry and Cavalryman add spice to the field of 14 drawn for the 2-mile event, sponsored by Emirates Airline. Jakkalberry won the inaugural running of the American St. Leger at Arlington this summer but then finished a dismal 13th in the Caulfield Cup. He was third in the Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night. Cavalryman, a Godolphin runner, was seventh in the Sheema Classic but has been running in listed races in England this summer.
Loch Garman reeled in pacesetting Anna's Pearl to win Thursday's Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud by a half-length. The Jim Bolger-trained Teofilo colt now is 2-for-2 and was introduced as an Epsom Derby contender by the British bookmakers. With Kevin Manning riding, Loch Garman finished the mile on heavy going in 1:52.70.
Hunter's Light broke through to his first Group 1 win by taking Sunday's Premio Roma at Capannelle for Godolphin Racing. With Silvestre de Sousa up for trainer Saeed bin Suroor, Hunter's Light won easily despite taking a left turn late in the stretch run. A Godolphin spokeswoman said the 4-year-old Dubawi colt now has tougher targets. "There is a possibility Hunter's Light could go to Hong Kong for the international meeting at Sha Tin (on Dec. 9) and he will remain in training next year," said Diana Cooper.
Violence won Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Nashua Stakes for 2-year-olds by 2 lengths over Vegas No Show. Violence, a Medaglia d'Oro colt trained by Todd Pletcher, stalked the pace before rallying wide. Really Sharp got home third. The mile on a fast track went in 1:35.32 with Javier Castellano up.
My Happy Face battled all the way around with Cue the Moon in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Tempted Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. At the end, the margin was a neck, with Ruby Lips 6 1/4 lengths farther back in third. My Happy Face, a Tiz Wonderful filly, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:36.32 under Ramon Dominguez.
Boisterous came three-wide to the lead in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Red Smith Handicap and drew off in the final furlong to win by 3 lengths over Lake Drop. Philly Ace finished third. Boisterous, a 5-year-old son of Distorted Humor, ran the 1 3/8 miles on yielding turf in 2:19.38 with Edgar Prado riding.
Hobbs rallied from last of seven to win Sunday's $80,000 Montserrat Stakes for 3-year-olds by a neck over Shkspeare Shaliyah and another neck over Which Market. Hobbs, a Florida-bred Put It Back gelding, finished 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:44.63 with Eddie Castro up.
Rhythm of Light rallied four-wide after a slow start and was up in time to win Sunday's $150,000 Goldikova Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/2 lengths over A Jealous Woman. Vivo Per Lei finished third. Rhythm of Light, a 4-year-old, British-bred Beat Hollow filly, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:33.42 for jockey Garrett Gomez.
Politicallycorrect tracked a very hot pace in Saturday's $100,000 Damascus Stakes for 3-year-olds, rallied along the outside in the final furlong and was up to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Private Zone held on for second over Brother Francis. Sir Bond finished fourth. Politicallycorrect, a Kitten's Joy gelding, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:20.86 with Joel Rosairo timing the move perfectly.
Unusual Way led from the start in Saturday's $100,000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly Preview Stakes and kicked loose at the end to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Switch to the Lead chased all the way and finished second with Truly Mane third. The favorite, Bares Tripper, finished fourth with a dull effort. Unusual Way, a daughter of Unusual Heat, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.50 with Ramon Dominguez up.
Gabriel Charles opened up in the stretch run to capture Saturday's $100,000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint Preview. With Joe Talamo up, the Street Hero colt got clear in the final sixteenth and went on to win with ease. Den's Legacy put in a late run to snatch second and Mico Margarita finished third. Gabriel Charles got the 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:12.22.
Grandeur, an Irish-bred, English-raced colt, swept by the front-runners in the final sixteenth to win Friday's $150,000, Grade II Twilight Derby by a half length over Speaking of Which. Smart Ellis finished third. Grandeur, a Verglas colt, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.78 for jockey William Buick. The colt came into the race with a record of four wins from nine starts in England against some tough competition.
Lady of Fifty pressed the pace in Thursday's $65,000 Palm Springs Handicap for fillies and mares, went by the early leader in the stretch and held off Awesomemundo for a half-length win. May Day Rose finished third. Lady of Fifty, a 3-year-old After Market filly, got the mile on a fast track in 1:36.22 for jockey Joel Rosario.
Brushed by a Star stuck her head in front of Joyful Victory at the wire to win Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Chilukki Stakes for fillies and mares. The favorite, Salty Strike, finished third. Brushed by a Star, a 4-year-old Eddington filly, got the one-turn mile on a fast track in 1:37.16 under Corey Lanerie. She is scheduled to be in the ring at Monday's Fasig-Tipton sale but owner-trainer Grant Forster said, "If she doesn't sell, we'll be back for the Falls City" Handicap in three weeks' time.
Delaunay bumped out of the gate in Saturday's $65,000 Bet On Sunshine Stakes, quickly assumed the lead and got home unchallenged, winning by 5 1/2 lengths over Laurie's Rocket. China finished third. Delaunay, a 5-year-old Smoke Glacken gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.19 with Shaun Bridgmohan up.
Neck N Neck rallied from near the back of the field to win Friday's $100,000, Grade III Ack Ack Handicap, kicking clear at the end for a 2 1/4-length score. Fort Loudon finished second with Stealcase third. Neck N Neck ran the mile on a fast track in 1:36.38 with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons. The 3-year-old Flower Alley colt was coming off a win in the Indiana Derby and trainer Ian Wilkes said his next step up the ladder will be the Grade I Clark Handicap on Nov. 23.
Atlantic Hurricane put a nose in front of Youcan'tcatchme to win Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Ontario Fashion Stakes in a battle of unfortunate names. Roxy Gap finished third. Atlantic Hurricane, a 5-year-old Halo's Image mare, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.57 with Luis Contreras up.
Smart Sting tracked the pace in Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Maple Leaf Stakes for fillies and mares, shifted into another gear in the final furlong and won off by 2 1/4 lengths. Imperial Pippin made a late move from well back to finish second and the early leader, Moonlit Beauty, finished third. The favorite, Dixie Strike, hit a traffic jam while making her move in the stretch and was shuffled back to finish seventh. Smart Sting, a 4-year-old Smart Strike filly, got the 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather track in 2:03.77 with Eurico Da Silva in the irons.
Good Lord rallied like a favorite should to win Saturday's $130,000 Mountaineer Mile by 3 3/4 lengths over early leader Mega Rush. It Happened Again came from far back to pick up show money. Good Lord, a 5-year-old Greatness gelding, ran the mile on a good, sealed track in 1:39.59 with Gabriel Saez riding.
Lighthouse Bay dueled down the stretch with Ek Haseena in Saturday's $100,000 Smart Halo Stakes for 2-year-olds before prevailing by a nose over that rival. Power Lady finished third and the favorite, Baby J, faded from the lead to finish fifth. Previously undefeated Jax and Jill beat just one horse. Lighthouse Bay, a Speightstown miss, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.11 for jockey Kendrick Carmouche.
Ciguaraya came from near the rear to upset Saturday's $50,000 Crowned Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by a head over Winiliscious. The favorite, Bryan's Jewel, settled for third. Ciguaraya, a 3-year-old Latent Heat filly, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.37 with Angel Castillo up.
Uptown Boy got by On the Go in the late going in Thursday's $50,000 Bellamy Road Stakes for 2-year-olds and drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Sapphire Sandy finished third. Uptown Boy, a Johannesburg colt, ran the 6 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:11.16 with Matthew Rispoli riding.
Global Stage pressed the pace set by favorite Forest Mouse in Saturday's $55,000 Veterans Stakes, then got by in the final strides to win by a neck over that rival. First Strike was a non-threatening third. Global Stage, a 5-year-old, California-bred Globalize gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.50 with Ken Tohill up.
Deniro's Saint was more than the traditional "much the best" in Saturday's $50,000 Glacial Princess Stakes for Ohio-bred 2-year-old fillies. Leading from the start, the Saints n' Sinners filly kicked clear and then distanced her five rivals, winning by 24 lengths. After a while, Ms. G Q finished second with Skiboot third. Deniro's Saint, with Victor Urieta-Moran riding, got the 6 furlongs in 1:12.58.