Wise Dan wins the Firecracker Handicap in the rain at Churchill Downs. (Churchill Downs photo by Reed Palmer)
Potential previews for this fall's Breeders' Cup races played out this weekend in Iowa, Kentucky and California.
While much of the attention was on Wise Dan, the reigning Horse of the Year in Saturday's Firecracker at Churchill Downs, races in many of the sport's divisions had owners and trainers thinking about where they might fit in at the Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 1-2 at Santa Anita.
The favorites didn't fare well in the Irish Derby.
Last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Mile finished with Wise Dan, Animal Kingdom and Obviously 1-2-3. After Saturday's races, and with Animal Kingdom retired, it looks like Wise Dan and Obviously are, well, obvious early contenders for the 2013 renewal at Santa Anita.
Wise Dan, who clinched 2012 Horse of the Year honors with last year's win, had all he could do to notch his seventh straight victory in Saturday night's $150,000, Grade II Firecracker Handicap at 1 mile over the Churchill Downs turf. Wise Dan and jockey John Velazquez, the heavy favorites, found themselves boxed in behind horses turning for home on the rain-soaked course, brushed the hedge while slipping through on the inside, then finally got clear to win by 2 lengths. Lea split rivals to close for second. Seruni was third. Corporate Jungle was among three late scratches. Wise Dan, a 6-year-old gelding by Wiseman's Ferry, finished in 1:39.82 over a course rated yielding. He toted 128 pounds, giving 11 or more to each of his rivals, as he became the first horse to win the Firecracker twice. "It was really tough," winning trainer Charles LoPresti said. "I'm just glad he got it done. I was really worried about it. I had been worried about the weights. It wasn't so much the weight on him, but the spread. The first thing I said to Johnny was, 'Is he OK,' because it wasn't a pretty race ... . Now that it's over, I can tell you I was worried." LoPresti has said his goal is to get Wise Dan back to the Breeders' Cup but has not committed to the Mile as the specific target. He said Sunday Wise Dan emerged from the Firecracker unscathed and, after a rest, will head for Saratoga with both dirt and turf races as potential next steps. "I'd really like to keep him undefeated and I'd like to win a Grade I on dirt with him this year," the trainer said. "If we get a Grade I on dirt with him and then keep him going and get a few wins on the grass and then get to the Breeders' Cup, maybe he'll get Horse of the Year again."
Obviously, the odds-on choice, led from the early furlongs in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park and coasted home first by 3 1/4 lengths. Za Approval beat the others, with Wilkinson, Jeranimo and Lucayan completing the order of finish. Obviously, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Choisir, crossed the finish line in 1:32.86 with Joe Talamo steering. He now has won five of his last seven starts. Among the losses is the one he might have a chance to avenge in the fall -- that third-place finish behind Wise Dan in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile. "We'll definitely run in the Del Mar Mile Handicap," said winning trainer Mike Mitchell, referring to the $250,000, Grade II event on Aug. 25, where Obviously will be seeking a repeat win. After that, he said, he will get with owners Anthony Fanticola and Joseph Scardino "and discuss what's next for him ... . The main goal is to run back in the Breeders' Cup Mile. He's razor sharp right now. He's training so well and he looks so good. I think he's better than last year. He's stronger and a little bit more filled out."
Friday night's $100,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap at Prairie Meadows likely will be one of the key races studied before this fall's Breeders' Cup Sprint. Delaunay, in the absolute top rank of the nation's sprinters, came to the Iowa track as the favorite, representing home-town owner Maggi Moss and toting Rosie Napravnik, who braved airline issues and windy conditions to get to Altoona for the ride. Delaunay was bumped at the start, had to hustle into contention and then could not hold off a rising star in the division, Gentlemen's Bet, who rallied smartly through the final sixteenth to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Delaunay held second and Credit Report, who was the other party in the early bumping, faded from the lead to finish third. The 6 furlongs over a fast track went in 1:09.51 with David Mello inheriting the winning ride when Robby Albarado's travel connections fell through. "We deliberately went to this race knowing Delaunay was here," winning trainer Ron Moquett said. "We're not ducking anyone. We all think he's the best there is but we might not be impartial." Gentlemen's Bet now has won five of six starts, with the lone loss coming when he was "stuck down on a dull rail," Moquett said. He is a 4-year-old son of Half Ours, who is by Unbridled's Song. Delaunay saw a six-race win streak snapped.
Centralintelligence blew by pacesetting Comma to the Top with a furlong left in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park and quickly got clear, winning by 3 1/2 lengths. Comma to the Top held second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Morning Line while the favorite, Jimmy Creed, faded to finish last of eight. Centralintelligence, a 5-year-old Smarty Jones gelding out of the Seattle Slew mare Shootforthestars, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.57 under Victor Espinoza. He is owned by Ammerman Racing and Bongo Racing and Gary Finder. It was his first stakes win and earned him a berth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile as a "Win and You're In" race but trainer Ron Ellis said he will point to the Sprint. "This was our test today to show if he was good enough to keep pace with some good sprinters," Ellis said. "You won't see him run again until the fall meet at Santa Anita."
Filly & Mare Sprint
With early favorite Kauai Katie scratched, Baby J, the longest shot in the field, upset Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Victory Ride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park. Baby J led early, surrendered the lead to Bridgehampton, switched to the outside in the stretch and came again to beat that one by 3/4 of a length. The post-time favorite, Fusaichiswonderful, settled for third. Baby J, a daughter of J Be K, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.84 with Joel Rosario up. It was her first stakes win and now she is ticketed for one of the big races at Saratogak. "In my head, I thought maybe she would come back," Rosario said of the lead-swap in the stretch. I kept her busy and rode her. After the horse came over on me a little, I put her on the outside and she came back again. It was impressive."
Cozze Up Lady saved ground early in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Chicago Handicap at Arlington Park, got through with a wide move at the top of the lane and went on to win by 3/4 of a length over Queen's Award. The favorite, Aubby K, made up ground in the stretch but settled for show money while trying an artificial surface for the first time. Cozze Up Lady is a 4-year-old daughter of Cozzene out of the Johannesburg mare The White Lady. She ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.06 under Miguel Mena. "We had a lot of confidence and we were pointing for this race for a while," said winning trainer Bret Calhoun. "She's in very good form and we thought she'd like the synthetic surface. We thought seven-eighths would be a real good distance for her. "It's been a goal for us to get some graded stakes wins under her. We got this one done and hopefully there will be more in the future."
Filly & Mare Turf
Starformer stalked the pace in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II New York Stakes, rallied to the lead in the lane and easily held off Lady of Shamrock to win by 1 3/4 lengths as the 16-1 long shot of the field. The favorite, Dream Peace, finished third. Starformer, a 5-year-old Dynaformer mare, ran 1 1/2 miles on the firm inner turf course in 2:00.33 with Edgar Prado up. She came into the race off an eighth-place finish in the Grade II Sheepshead Bay Stakes over the same course. "Well, you know, the last time she had an excuse," Prado said. "The ground was very soft and I don't think she was very happy. Today was firm ground, she broke running out of there and I was able to sit behind the leaders most of the first part of the race. When I called on her, she fought hard and kicked in strong."
Laughing ran down pacesetting, odds-on favorite Dayatthespa to win Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Eatontown Handicap at Monmouth Park by 3/4 of a length. Ruthenia finished third. Laughing, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Dansili, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:39.26 with Angel Serpa in the irons. She was making her first start since last October and picked up her fifth win from 12 trips to the races. Serpa said trainer Alan Goldberg "told me there was a lot of speed in the race so I just wanted to sit off. I rode her last year so I was familiar with her. I placed her just behind the speed and when we turned for home, she broke like the gates opened again."
Prayer for Relief still had plenty to do when the field turned for home in Saturday night's $300,000, Grade III Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Stakes. But jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. took advantage of a pace battle between the favorites, Silver Max and Taptowne, to slide by those two in the stretch run and kick clear for a 1 3/4-length win. Taptowne held second and Silver Max finished third. Prayer for Relief, a 5-year-old son of Jump Start, ran 9 furlongs on a fast Prairie Meadows strip in 1:49.96. It was the first time Santana had ridden Prayer for Relief. "But I know him well because I beat him twice already," the jockey said. Prayer Relief came into the race off two straight stakes seconds in Texas -- both times behind stablemate Master Rick, who was ridden in those races by Santana. Prayer for Relief now has six wins in 21 starts and is 2-for-2 at the Iowa oval.
Saturday's $250,000, Grade III Iowa Derby turned out to be a "cool" affair for the long shot players as 17-1 chance Looking Cool won a stretch battle with Betweenhereandcool to score a neck victory. Bashaar came from far back to finish third while the favorites, Our Double Play and Manando, tired to finish fourth and fifth. Looking Cool, a Candy Ride colt, is trained by Carl Nafzger for owner Jim Tafel. Leandro Concalves had the winning ride as Looking Cool covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.29. It was only the third win of his career and he was coming off an eighth-place showing in the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Fiftyshadesofhay tracked the pace set by So Many Ways early in Saturday night's $200,000, Grade III Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows, kicked on when that one was done and won off by 3 1/2 lengths. Seaneen Girl was along for second and So Many Ways held on for third. Fiftyshadesofhay, shipped from California by Bob Baffert after winning her last race in the Grade II Black Eyed Susan at Pimlico, covered 1 1/16 miles on the fast track in 1:44.65 with Martin Garcia up. Asked what's next for the Pulpit filly, co-owner Paul Weitman said, "Coach Baffert's probably going to make that decision." "He's a genius," added co-owner Karl Watson. Mike Pegram also is in the ownership team.
Debt Ceiling waited briefly behind a torrid early pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs, swept around the leaders to take a big lead and held on through a slowing-down final furlong to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Hollywood Talent. My Corinthian, who ran the first quarter in 20.93 seconds over the sloppy, sealed track, held on for third. The favorite, D'Cajun Cat, finished fifth. Debt Ceiling, a Discreet Cat colt out of the Marquetry mare Top Marks, finished 6 furlongs in 1:10.66 with Eric Camacho riding. He now is 3-for-3 after wins at Laurel and Pimlico. The race has not been a producer of Kentucky Derby winners but that doesn't keep winning owner Tim O'Donohue from dreaming. "I was lucky enough to come here in 2007 when my brother-in-law [Mario Pino] rode Hard Spun in the Kentucky Derby," O'Donohue said. "That was as close to the dream as I've gotten. My wife and I both said that we're not coming back to the Derby until we have our own horse in it. Who knows? It's a little early, but you can always dream."
Across the waters:
Trading Leather stuck close to the pace in Saturday's Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh, took the lead with a quarter mile yet to run and got away to a handy, 1 3/4-length victory. Galileo Rock, who finished third in the Epsom Derby, improved to second in Saturday's race and Aidan O'Brien, who had won seven straight runnings of this race, could only manage a third with Festive Cheer. O'Brien's star, Epsom winner Ruler of the World, finished fifth, behind Godolphin' s Cap O'Rushes. Trading Leather, an Irish-bred Teofilo colt, won for the second straight time at the Curragh and now has won half his eight career starts. Trainer Jim Bolger, who also handles beaten Epsom favorite Dawn Approach, trains the Irish Derby victor. Trading Leather ran 1 1/2 miles on good to firm going in a quick 2:27.17 with regular rider Kevin Manning handling the reins.
Ambivalent led from the start in Sunday's Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes for fillies and mares at the Curragh and held on at the end to win by a half-length over Was. Shirocco Star finished third. Ambivalent is trained by Roger Varian and Johnny Murtagh had the winning ride. The 4-year-old Authorized filly now has three wins, a second and two thirds from eight starts. The Pretty Polly was her first Group 1 victory.
Havana Gold caught San Marino Grey in the late going to win Sunday's Group 1 Prix Jean Pratt at Chantilly by a short neck. Mondialist finished third and UAE Derby winner Lines of Battle got home eighth. Style Vendome, winner of the Poule d'Essai des Poulains, finished fourth. Havana Gold, with Mickael Barzalona up for trainer Richard Hannon, finished 1 mile on good to soft going in 1:37.01. The win was his first in four tries as a 3-year-old after a promising 2-year-old campaign in England and France. Hannon said the colt will have a summer rest and return in the fall, adding he believes 1 1/4 miles will be no problem for the Teofilo colt.
Elsewhere around the ovals:
Flashy American had no trouble as the odds-on favorite in Friday night's $100,000 Iowa Distaff, biding her time until jockey Terry Thompson gave the go-ahead, then quickly taking the lead en route to a 5 1/2-length victory. Magic Hour was second and Itsabeautifulthing added value to the trifecta. Flashy American, a 4-year-old daughter of Flashy Bull, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.64. Thompson said trainer Kenny McPeek "didn't give me any instructions. He just said, 'Keep her clear and don't get her stopped."
Livi Makenzie rallied three-wide in the stretch run of Friday night's $100,000 Saylorville Stakes for fillies and mares and was along in time to win by a length over Devious Intent. Lulu Wong was third. Livi Makenzie, a 4-year-old Macho Uno filly, covered 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.28 with Israel Ocampo subbing for travel-challenged rider Ricardo Santana Jr. It was her sixth straight in-the-money finish. Owner J. Lee Didier said he's not sure of the filly's next start. "It will be a stakes race somewhere," he said.
Original Script had them all the way in Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Bison City Stakes for 3-year-old, Canadian-foaled fillies. After jumping to the lead for jockey Jesse Campbell, the Malibu Moon filly set a measured pace and held off Smartfly at the end to win by a length. Strut the Course finished third. Original Script got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:45.09. She picked up her fourth win from seven starts. She also was third in the Woodbine Oaks earlier this month, behind potential Queen's Plate starter Nipissing. "She's become such a professional," winning trainer Paul Attard said. "She was a little high-strung as a 2-year-old but she's really matured now and a lovely filly to work with."
Black Hornet went to the lead on the turn in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Achievement Stakes for Ontario-bred 3-year-olds, quickly opened a big lead and coasted home first by 2 3/4 lengths. Langstaff was second and Kitten Candy finished third. Black Hornet, a Pioneering gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.46 with Justin Stein up. He now has won two straight over the Woodbine surface. "He's got a lot of stamina," Stein said. "He's one of the natural speed horses. He can go that fast and keep on going carrying that speed."
Strapping Groom led from the start in Wednesday's $100,000 Lion Cavern Stakes and kicked clear late to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Hardened Wildcat. Leave of Absence took third. Strapping Groom, a 6-year-old son of Johannesburg, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.45 under John Velazquez.
Weekend Hideaway ran away and hid Friday in the $100,000 Gone Fishin Stakes for 3-year-olds, winning by 4 3/4 lengths after leading most of the way. Bernie the Jet was second and Skylander finished third. Weekend Hideaway, a Speightstown colt, ran 6 furlongs over the firm inner turf in 1:08.23 with Jose Lezcano in the irons.
Lady Samurai drew off late to prevail by 8 1/4 lengths in Sunday's $75,000 Lighthouse Stakes for fillies and mares. Successful Song contested the early pace and beat the rest of them. Withgreatpleasure finished third. Lady Samurai, a 4-year-old First Samurai filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.13 with Abel Mariano riding.
Presque Isle Downs
Mystic City got to the lead in the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Windward Stakes for fillies and mares and went on to post a 30-1 upset victory. Hooh Why was second and Let's Get Married finished third. The favorite, Lotta Lovin, settled for fifth. Mystic City, a 6-year-old City Zip mare, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:37.72 with Pedro Rodriguez up.
Sensible Lady stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Buckland Stakes for fillies and mares, came out for room and got home first by 1 3/4 lengths over Nistletoe. Queen Chatanika finished third. Sensible Lady, a 4-year-old daughter of Street Sense, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:02.85 with Xavier Perez riding.
Short Round got off to a rough start in Wednesday's $85,000 Snack Stakes for Indiana-bred 3-year-olds, then got through between rivals in the final furlong to win by 3/4 of a length over Seal Beach. Clyde Park was third. Short Round, a Pass Rush gelding, got 1 mile and 70 yards on the sloppy main track in 1:44.68 with Orlando Mojica up. The race was moved off the turf.
Harbor Cat sat behind a three-way pace duel in Wednesday's $85,000 Ellen's Lucky Star Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies, circled those foes and won off by 1 1/4 lengths. Allie Earpp and Dingalingaling also rallied from off the pace in the off-the-turf event to finish second and third. Harbor Cat, a Rockport Harbor filly, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in the slop in 1:45.37 with Jon Court up.
Commander took command in the stretch run in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Spangled Jimmy Stakes and went on to win by 3 lengths over Senor Rojo. Dougs Buddy was third. Commander, a 5-year-old Broken Vow gelding, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:37 4/5 with Jorge Espitia up.
Tempered Sapphire took command in the lane in Friday's $50,000 (Canadian) John Patrick Handicap for fillies and mares and won off by 5 1/4 lengths over Regal Tigereyes. The favorite, Madeira Park, ran evenly to finish third. Tempered Sapphire, a 4-year-old Tempered Appeal filly, finished the mile on a fast track in 1:39 2/5 with Amie Pooli riding.
In the Fairway hit one straight and long in Saturday's $50,000 Coin Collector Stakes for West Virginia-bred 3-year-olds. The Posse colt assumed the lead quickly and kicked clear of four rivals to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Grey Tiger and Mr. Ripken fillied the trifecta. In the Fairway, with Jose Montano up, ran 4 1/2 furlongs in 50.66 seconds over a fast track.
Saint Arthur led from the early jumps in Saturday's $50,000 Ontario County Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds and held on to win by 2 lengths over Tequila Hero. Cajun Best finished third. Saint Arthur, an Invasor ridgling, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:12.28 with Jaime Rodriguez up.
Positive Response came from off the pace to win Saturday's $50,000 County of Alameda Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths over Pepnic. Tribal Tribute finished third. Positive Response, a 5-year-old Pomeroy gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.16 under Kyle Frey.
Caviar N Champagne stalked the pace in Sunday's $50,000 J. Wm Petro Memorial for Ohio-bred fillies and mares, then got into the clear and held on to win by a half length over Startin Something. The favorite, Pay the Man, was 3 lengths farther back in third. Caviar N Champagne, a 4-year-old Formal Dinner filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.62 with Scott Speith up.