Shared Belief, Beholder, American Pharoah and Main Sequence made their cases for Breeders' Cup favoritism with weekend wins but some upsets roiled the waters with only five weeks to go until the big races.
Tonalist reminded fans he is the Belmont Stakes winner, posting a victory in a trouble-plagued Jockey Club Gold Cup. Vyjack jumped up as a Dirt Mile contender and Stephanie's Kitten and Emollient looked tough in distaff turf races.
On the foreign front, Tiggy Wiggy ran a biggie in England but Lankan Rupee didn't in Australia.
Let's wig out with this account:
Shared Belief remained undefeated with an all-out victory in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita, hanging onto his likely favorite's role for the Nov. 1 Breeders' Cup Classic. But it was a near thing as Fed Biz, who seems to be getting better at just the right time, survived an early speed duel and only grudgingly surrendered to Shared Belief in the final yards. The margin was but a neck, with Footbridge finishing third. Shared Belief, a 3-year-old Candy Ride gelding, was carried wide on the first turn by Sky Kingdom. He finished 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.58. He has won all seven career starts and now owns two straight wins over older horses. He benefitted from an injury that kept him out of the Triple Crown grind. Jockey Mike Smith questioned his rivals' tactics. "I believe if you want to press the pace or take me out a little bit, okay," he said. "But doing it at all costs just to get me beat isn't the way it should be done." Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said Smith will "have to settle up" with Victor Espinoza, who rode Sky Kingdom. But he said he was happy with the race for Shared Belief. "It's not the worst thing in the world to have a tough race and be double-fit for the Breeders' Cup," Hollendorfer said.
Tonalist, the Belmont Stakes winner, found a lane between horses in the stretch run of Saturday's $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, surged through and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Zivo was up for second with a late run and Long River, after leading in the late going, settled for third. Grade I Travers winner V.E. Day finished fifth with a troubled trip, He, like many of the runners, was compromised when Wicked Strong clipped heels with Moreno nearing the stretch turn, dropping jockey Rajiv Maragh. Moreno finished fourth but was disqualified to last for the interference. Wicked Strong did not fall and continued running. Maragh suffered a broken arm that will sideline him for some time. Tonalist, a 3-year-old Tapit colt, ran 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:02.12 with Joel Rosario up. He won the Peter Pan in May but bypassed the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before taking the Belmont as California Chrome's Triple Crown bid fizzled out. He then finished second in the Trade II Jim Dandy and third in the Grade I Travers at Saratoga. Rosario said once he got past the fallen Maragh, he decided to save ground and hope for the best. "He relaxed very nicely," Rosario said of Tonalist. "I was probably a little far back but I wasn't worried about it. I didn't want to make him do something he didn't want to do. I could see turning for home they were coming back to me and he found a way through ... He's a one-paced horse, and when he starts going, he goes forever."
At Remington Park in Oklahoma, Tonito M. wore down the long shot leader, Bay of Biscay, in the stretch run to win the $400,000, Grade III Oklahoma Derby by 2 3/4 lengths. The even-money favorite, Wildcat Red, ran evenly to finish third. Tonito M., a Rock Hard Ten colt, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.41 with Rafael Bejarano in to ride for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Tonito M. started his career in Puerto Rico and had been winless in five U.S. starts. Wildcat Red has visited the winner's circle only once since taking the Grade II Fountain of Youth on Feb. 22. He beat only one horse in the Kentucky Derby.
Cigar Street pressed the pace in Saturday's $125,000 Homecoming Classic at Churchill Downs, went by the long shot leader and cruised home first by 1 3/4 lengths. The favorite, Departing, was along to finish second, 1/2 length ahead of Call Me George. Cigar Street, a 5-year-old son of Street Sense, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.86 with Shaun Bridgmohan in the irons for trainer Bill Mott. Jack Ballis, co-owner of Cigar Street, said he is happy to have the horse running well after being sidelined with injuries. "Bill Mott is one of the best horsemen in the world, Ballis said. "He's been patient with him and we just kind of give him the keys and let him drive because we have so much faith in him. I'd obviously love to go to the Breeders' Cup, but we're just going to enjoy this win and talk with Bill and we'll see what happens."
Beholder bounced back nicely from a rare defeat out east with a workmanlike, 3/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita. The defending Breeders' Cup Distaff champ waited nicely behind pacesetter Tiz Midnight for jockey Mike Smith, came to the lead three-wide and held on to win by 3/4 length over that rival. Iotapa finished third. Beholder, a 4-year-old Henny Hughes filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.19. It was her 10th win from 15 starts. She has missed the exacta only twice -- most recently when fourth, beaten only 1 length, in the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park in June. She suffered a cut on her left hind pastern in that race and has been working through that injury ever since. "I couldn't be happier than to have her back like this," said winning trainer Richard Mandella. "This race ought to put her ready to go for the Breeders' Cup. Smith kept her out of trouble and did the right thing." Smith said Tiz Midnight was more race-fit than Beholder after running twice at Del Mar, adding, "She made us do a little more than we thought we were going to have to."
Belle Gallantey ran away with Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park, leading all the way to an 8 1/4-lengths victory. Stopchargingmaria finished second while trying older rivals for the first time after three impressive wins in the 3-year-old ranks. Endless Chatter held third by a neck over Stanwyk. Belle Gallantey, a 5-year-old After Market mare, won the Grade I Delaware Handicap in July but finished a distant sixth in the Grade I Personal Ensign in the mud at Saratoga in her last start. She got the 9 furlongs of the Beldame in 1:47.55 with Jose Ortiz up. "I think she's a pretty versatile filly where she can sit and come from behind," said winning trainer Rudy Rodriguez. "When they left them alone and they went in 24.18 (seconds for the first quarter mile), I was very happy. She's a very nice filly and she showed it today." Stopchargingmaria's rider, John Velazquez, said he filly ran well but couldn't cope with the loose-on-the-lead winner. "I couldn't do the dirty job and try to go with her," he said, "and I didn't have any help in front. She still ran really great."
Shanon Nicole surged quickly to a huge lead along the rail in the stretch run in Sunday's $200,000 Remington Park Oaks and was home free to a 5 1/4-lengths victory. Thegirlinthatsong was along for second and Haveyougoneaway finished third. The favorite, America, checked in fourth. Shanon Nicole, a Majestic Warrior filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.33 with Rosie Napravnik steering. She was coming off a victory in the Indiana Grand Stakes on July 23 -- her first win since an optional claimer at Fair Grounds in January.
Heart to Heart led from gate to wire in Saturday's $110,000, Grade III Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, winning by 4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Captain Dixie was best of the rest with Sportscaster third. Heart to Heart, an Ontario-bred colt by English Channel, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.44 with Julien Leparoux up. He was backing up a win in the Better Talk Now Stakes at Saratoga. "We got the first quarter pretty easy," Leparoux said. "He was just galloping early on. He was just happy in front. He relaxed and then when I asked him at the quarter pole he just gave a big kick. He's a very nice, classy horse and he obviously won pretty easily."
Vyjack edged by pacesetting River Rocks inside the furlong pole in Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Kelso Handicap and inched clear to win by 1 length over that one. The favorite, Itsmyluckyday, allegedly prepping for the Breeders' Cup Classic, stuck close to the fast pace but then wilted and finished third, another 2 1/2 lengths up the track. Vyjack, a 4-year-old Into Mischief gelding, finished the one-turn mile in 1:34.05 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. It was only his second win since taking the Grade III Gotham way back in March of 2013. The other was in a 7-furlongs optional claimer at Aqueduct this past April. "When he broke well, he had a good chance," Ortiz said. "In his last couple of races he was missing the start. It's hard to miss the start and beat these horses." Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said he had been pointing Vyjack to the Cigar Mile. "Now," he said, "I have to talk to the owner and see what his plans are." Itsmyluckyday's trainer, Eddie Plesa, said he wasn't immediately sure what to make of the race. "I don't know what we'll do next," he said.
Main Sequence ran his U.S. record to 3-for-3 with a typical narrow, come-from-behind win in Saturday's $600,000, Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park. With Rajiv Maragh in the irons, the 5-year-old Aldebaran gelding was reserved behind the pace, started his challenge on the turn and prevailed by a neck over Twilight Eclipse. The early leader, Imagining, finished 1 length farther back in third with a similar margin separating Big Blue Kitten in fourth and Hangover Kid in fifth. Real Solution and Medal Count completed the order of finish. Main Sequence finished 1 1/2 miles on firm going in 2:26.32 after exchanging a solid bump with the runner up in the final yards. The stewards consider a claim of foul but let the result stand. Main Sequence came to the United States this year after a moderately successful career in England, highlighted by a second-place finish in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York in 2012. Here, he won the Grade I United Nations by a neck and the Grade I Sword Dancer by a head before Saturday's effort. All three races look identical on the running lines. "What a cool horse," said winning trainer H. Graham Motion. "The only thing I've ever told Rajiv is just not to worry about him." Maragh said he might have hit the lead a little early in the stretch. "I tried to make him see the other horse and a little contact happened." Jose Lezcano, aboard Twilight Eclipse, said he was hit so hard, "My horse lost his balance. I had to stop riding." Both the top two are likely for the Breeders' Cup.
Bright Thought prompted the pace in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II John Henry Turf Championship at Santa Anita, took over on the turn for home and was in command in the stretch, winning by 3/4 length over Finnegan's Wake. The favorite, Big John B, finished third. Bright Thought, a 5-year-old Hat Trick ridgling, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:58.27 with Tyler Baze up. The winner came into the race off a third-place finish in the Grade II Del Mar Handicap, a race won by Big John B. Finnegan's Wake was coming off a fifth-place showing in the Grade I Arlington Million. Phil D'Amato trains both Bright Thought and Big John B. "He's just a classy horse," D'Amato said of the winner. "Last time I don't think I used his best asset, his speed, to full advantage. This time I wanted to sharpen him up and use that speed, and Tyler used it perfectly today." He said Big John B. probably really wants more distance and the 1 1/2 miles of the Breeders' Cup Turf "is right in his wheelhouse."
Manchurian High came from next-last of 13 to post a mild upset win in Saturday's $100,000 Laurel Turf Cup. With Sheldon Russell at the controls, the 6-year-old gelding swung six-wide into the stretch and outfinished Calvados to score by a neck. St. Albans Boy was third and the favorite, Reflecting, finished fourth. Manchurian High ran 1 1/2 miles on firm going in 2:27.91. "I bought him as a jumper and I had him out jumping this morning before I brought him to the track," said winning trainer Lilli Kurtinecz. "He's been training for the Maryland Hunt Cup and that's 4 miles so I knew he could go a mile and a half. He's my pet. He lives on a Baltimore County farm and he's turned out every day. He's treated like a horse and I keep him happy. I kiss this horse more than I've kissed any boyfriend I've ever dated."
Filly & Mare Turf
Stephanie's Kitten bounced back from two heartbreaking losses to win Saturday's $600,000, Grade I Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park in convincing fashion. With John Velazquez returning to the irons after two tries under Frankie Dettori, Stephanie's Kitten waited patiently behind the pace, came three-wide into the lane and went by to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Abaco followed the winner to finish second and the pacesetter, Viva Rafaela, held on for third. Stephanie's Kitten, a 5-year-old mare by Kitten's Joy, ran 1 1/4 miles over the firm inner turf course in 2:01.15. She was second by a neck to Somali Lemonade in the Grade I Diana at Saratoga in July, then second by 3/4 length to Euro Charline in the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington Park. "She got a beautiful trip, and I'm really proud of this filly," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "That's the third race in a row for us that I felt she ran terrific. She was a little unlucky in the Beverly D. and Diana, and this time Johnny got away from the gate really well and gave her a beautiful trip. The filly did the rest." He said Stephanie's Kitten "absolutely"will go on to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. The Flower Bowl win earned her a spot in that field.
Emollient had a tough time of things back east this summer but a return to Santa Anita worked wonders as the 4-year-old Empire Maker filly rolled from a pace-stalking trip to win the $300,000, Grade I Rodeo Drive Stakes by 1/2 length over Parranda. Rusty Slipper finished third at a big price as Miss Serendipity tossed in a rare clunker, finishing 11th, and Moulin de Mougin slipped and fell in the stretch run. Emollient, with Rosie Napravnik up for trainer Bill Mott, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:00.22. She was coming off ninth-place finishes in both the Grade I Diana at Saratoga and the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington. She was fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf after prepping with a victory in the Grade I Spinster at Keeneland. "She loves this hard surface here," said Mott assistant David Lively. "I think that's what it is ... We'll be shipping back to New York. We'll ship back for the Breeders' Cup. That's the plan right now."
Medea ran from mid-pack to catch pacesetting long shot Party Starter in the final yards in Saturday's $100,000 Lady Baltimore Stakes at Laurel Park. Medea won by 1/2 length over the 80-1 shot, with Scampering a nose farther back in third. The lukewarm favorite in a field of 14, Chat, checked in 12th as the 10-cent superfecta returned $15,184.60. Medea is a 5-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Danehill Dancer. With Forest Boyce up, she got 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:42.47. "She is a filly that needs fast ground," said winning trainer Tres Abbott. "She has very bad feet. Hard ground stings them. I thought there was a little bit of cushion here today. Forest gave her a great ride."
Private Zone won the Grade I Vosburgh Invitational at Belmont Park last year, hadn't won since but captured a hard-fought victory in Saturday's $400,000 renewal, trading the lead with Dads Caps in a long stretch duel before winning by a neck. It was 1 1/2 lengths farther back to the favorite, Palace, who never mounted a serious challenge while seeking his third straight Grade I win. Private Zone, a 5-year-old Macho Uno gelding, followed last year's Vosburgh with a fading, 10th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and a second in the Grade I Cigar Mile. The Vosburgh was his second start of 2014. "He's a warrior," said winning jockey Martin Pedroza, who guided Private Zone over 6 furlongs in 1:08.95. "He's a great competitor. He doesn't like to get beat. Once he looks a horse in the eyeball he just gains confidence. I haven't been on a horse as game as this horse in 30 years.''
Mico Margarita wore down Heitai, a tough, pacesetting foe, in Sunday's $150,000 Remington Park Sprint Cup and went on to win by 3/4 length over that rival. Ghost is Clear was third, a neck clear of his nearest rival. The favorite, Wine Police, faded to finish last. Mico Margarita, a 4-year-old Run Away and Hide colt, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.26 with Rosie Napravnik riding. She made it two straight wins after taking the Senator Robert C. Byrd Memorial at Mountaineer in her last previous outing for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Home Run Kitten rallied from last of 11 to win Friday's $100,000, Grade III Eddie D Stakes down the Santa Anita hill by a nose over Ambitious Brew. Lil Bit o' Fun finished third. Home Run Kitten, a 3-year-old Kitten's Joy colt, finished the gravity-aided 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:11.94 with Joe Talamo up. Trainer David Hofmans, asked about the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, which will be run on the same course, said, "We won it in 2008 for the same owner. We might do the same thing. He paid 80 bucks that day. This horse might pay 40." Desert Code won the 2008 edition for Hofmans and Susan Osborne's Tarabilla Farms. He also came from far back to win by 1/2 length and paid $75 to win.
Dreamsgonewild stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Laurel Dash, went by pacesetter Bold Thunder in the stretch and won by 3/4 length over that rival. The odds-on favorite, Ben's Cat, came running late on the outside but settled for third, a neck short of Bold Thunder. Dreamsgonewild, a 5-year-old Freud gelding, finished 6 furlongs of firm turf in 1:07.99. "This will pay for a lot of groceries," said winning trainer Bruce Alexander. "The four (Bold Thunder) was in front but we didn't want to be chasing him the whole way. Then my rider heard Ben's Cat coming and the horse pinned his ears back and won." Ben's Cat's owner/trainer King Leatherbury expressed some concern about his 8-year-old phenom. "One race means something because it's very unlike him," Leatherbury said. "It's not like him to not have any excuse when he runs like this."
Madame Giry rallied four-wide to take the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $125,000 Jameela Stakes at Laurel Park and held on to win by a neck over Monster Sleeping. The early leader, Tizgale, held third. Madame Giry, a 5-year-old Castledale mare, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:08.54 with Eddie Castro up. "She was fortunate to get through," said winning trainer Cam Gambolati. "She was in tight and she was getting a little timid. She always gives her best. She is kind of a world traveler. Turf stakes are hard to find. Now she's going back to Florida for a stakes on Nov. 1."
Alexis Tangier rallied to the lead along the rail in deep stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Unzip Me Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita and held on gamely to win by a neck over Gender Agenda. Stars Above Me led much of the way and finished third. Alexis Tangier, a Kentucky-bred Tiznow filly, got the 6 1/2 downhill furlongs in 1:12.50 for jockey Victor Espinoza.
American Pharoah scored his second straight Grade I victory with ease in Saturday's $300,000 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita. Making his first start on the dirt and first around two turns, the Pioneerof the Nile colt set a reasonable pace under slight pressure, then quickly took charge in the stretch and won off by 3 1/4 lengths. Calculator was along for second and Texas Red finished third. American Pharoah, winner of the Del Mar Futurity in his last outing, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.95. Victor Espinoza rode for trainer Bob Baffert. "The horse just has that extra 'something,'" Baffert said. "What a performance ... The second you see them coming around the far turn, the first thing you think is, 'Can he go two turns?' Right away, that's what you think. When he opened up and pulled away, I knew he can go two turns." Calculator's trainer, Peter Miller, said his horse also is Breeders' Cup-bound.
Less Than Perfect was plenty good enough to win Thursday's $100,000 Fitz Dixon Jr. Memorial over the all-weather course at Presque Isle Downs, beating the favorite, Bourbon Cowboy, by 2 1/4 lengths. Draw Nigh drew nigh enough to finish third at long odds. Less Than Perfect, with Willie Martinez up, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.29.
Imperia rallied by pacesetter Vision Perfect in the late going to win Sunday's $200,000, Grade III Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park by 1 length over that one. Offering Plan was third and the odds-on favorite, Startup Nation, got started a little late and finished fourth with a rush. Imperia, a Medaglia d'Oro colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.36 with Javier Castellano up, scoring his first career win. Winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he can recall running a maiden in a graded stakes only once previously but figured, "Why Not? ... You have to get graded earnings to get into the Breeders' Cup. We really liked him and thought, 'Why run him back in a maiden race? We can always break our maiden. Let's run in a stakes.'"
Cyclogenisis, the odds-on favorite, took over late in Saturday's $100,000 Laurel Futurity and kicked away to a 5 3/4-lengths victory. One Eyed Ray was second with Tazmanian Charlie a nose father back in third. Cyclogenisis, a Stormy Atlantic colt, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:01.94 for jockey Trevor McCarthy. Tom Foley, assistant to winning trainer George Weaver, said Cyclogenisis will head to Florida to await plans.
Angela Renee, in from Saratoga, won Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Conquest Eclipse. Danette finished third. Angela Renee, a Bernardini filly, stuck close to the early leaders and shot out to a 2-lengths lead early in the stretch run. Conquest Eclipse gave up some ground on the stretch turn, then came with a belated run. Angela Renee, with Rafael Bejarano in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.45. She won at first asking in June, then finished second in the Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga and third in the Grade I Spinaway. Assistant trainer Mike McCarthy said his boss, Todd Pletcher, gave Bejarano no particular instructions. "He said the filly was very straightforward. Don't take anything away from her that comes easy." Mark Casse, who trains Conquest Eclipse, said traffic issues hampered his filly but the race will set her up for the Breeders' Cup.
Juvenile Filly Turf
Lady Eli came five-wide around the competition entering the stretch run in Sunday's $200,000, Grade III Miss Grillo Stakes at Belmont Park and quickly left her rivals behind, winning by 3 lengths over 50-1 long shot Margaret Reay. The favorite, Tammy the Torpedo settled for third. Lady Eli, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Divine Park, toured 1 1/16 miles over firm turf in 1:43.50 for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. "Outstanding performance," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "She had trained like a horse with a ton of ability ... To start your career 2-for-2, as impressive as those races have been, is great. You can't ask for more."
Miss Bullistic led the charge from the rear in the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Selima Stakes at Laurel Park and got there first, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of fellow late-runner Unhindered. Coco's Wildcat had the lead in the lane but settled for third and the favorite, Harlan's Honor, was fourth. Miss Bullistic, a Bullsbay filly, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.94 with Xavier Perez in the irons.
England and Ireland
Tiggy Wiggy made all the going in Saturday's Group 1 Connolly's Red Mills Cheveley Park Stakes, stayed on to win by 3/4 length from Anthem and well could be headed to next weekend's Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye against older fillies at Longchamp. French-based High Celebrity was third in the Cheveley Park, another 1 1/4 lengths in arrears. Explosive Lady refused to load and was scratched. Tiggy Wiggy, a Kodiac filly, scored her third straight win, following victory in the Group 2 Lowther Stakes at York. She is on the list for next season's 1,000 Guineas. Her appearance in the Abbaye is shaky but, if she goes, she could be joined by The Great War, an Aidan O'Brien trainee who showed plenty in winning Sunday's Blenheim Stakes at the Curragh in Ireland. The War Front colt awoke after not showing much in his first six starts but dominated in Sunday's race.
Elm Park had a bit of an eventful trip in Saturday's Group 2 Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes for 2-year-olds at Newmarket but still managed to get home first, 1 length to the good of Nafaqa. Salateen finished 4 lengths farther back in third. The race is a Breeders' Cup Challenge event for the Juvenile Turf. Elm Park, a Phoenix Reach colt, posted his third straight win with Andrea Atzeni up for trainer Andrew Balding. Balding said he's pointing Elm Park to the Racing Post Trophy rather than Santa Anita.
Lucida had the most in the late going and that was enough to land Friday's Group 2 Shadwell Rockfel Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Newmarket, another Breeders' Cup Challenge event. Lucida, a Shamardal filly, went to the post as even-money favorite after finishing a close second to Cursory Glance in the Group 2 Moyglare Stud in her last previous outing. In Friday's race, Kevin Manning kept Lucida in touch with the pace, kicked her into gear in the final furlong and prevailed by 1 length over Fadhyyll. New Providence finished third. Trainer Jim Bolger said she is 50-50 for the Fillies Mile on Oct. 17.
At the risk of blasphemy, we'll note the last-place horse -- among 31! -- in Saturday's Betfred Cambridgeshire at Newmarket is named God Willing. To reference Tennessee Ernie Ford, the creek must have risen. Google it.
Lankan Rupee, judged by some as the world's top sprinter, suffered his second straight defeat Friday night when he was not quite able to catch Buffering in the final strides of the Group 1 Moir Stakes at Moonee Valley. In his first outing of the season, the 5-year-old finished behind Angelic Light in the Group 2 McEwen Stakes over the same course. Trainer Mick Price and rider Craig Newitt both said their star pupil doesn't deliver his best over the Moonee Valley layout, preferring the bigger tracks. But he said he will go ahead with plans to return Lankan Rupee in the Group 1 Manikato Stakes at the same venue on Oct. 24, possibly with a run in the Group 2 Schillaci Stakes at Caulfield as a tightener on Oct. 11. Buffering, a 7-year-old, now has victories over both Lankan Rupee and Lucky Nine on a sparkling resume and has earned consideration on anyone's list of world's top speedballs.
As was the case in Australia, early-season races will set the stage for the big days at Sha Tin -- and provide some uncertainty as last season's stars come off the shelf. Thus it is for Wednesday's HK Group 3 National Day Cup at 1,000 meters down the straight. Entries for the dash include both of Hong Kong's winners on the March 29 Dubai World Cup card -- Amber Sky, who took down the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint, and Sterling City, who won the Group 1 Golden Shaheen at 1,200 meters on the now-history Tapeta surface at Meydan. "We're looking for a little bit of improvement going into this season," trainer Ricky Yiu said of the 5-year-old Amber Sky. He also said as a more mature horse, he hopes to have Amber Sky going around a turn for 1,200 meters with an eye on the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint in December.
Empoli overhauled pacesetting Earl of Tinsdall when given running room in the final furlong of Sunday's Group 1 Preis von Europa at Cologne and went on to win by 1/2 length from that rival. Night Wish finished third. Empoli, a 4-year-old colt by Halling, won for only the second time, although he has been prominent in several top-shelf international races. Among those, he was fourth in this spring's Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic and second in this race last year but disqualified to fourth. Trainer Peter Schiergen supplemented Empoli to Sunday's running after he trained well in the preceeding week.
The only foreign horse selected for the Group 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) on Nov. 2 is the French-based Smoking Sun -- an accomplished international shipper who finished second to Dan Excel in this spring's Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup at Kranji, then sixth in the Arlington Million.
In other action:
Strut the Course strutted her stuff in the stretch run in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Classy n' Smart Stakes for fillies and mares, kicking clear to win by 7 1/2 lengths. Silent Star was second with Pipers Future third. Strut the Course, a 4-year-old Strut the Stage filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.53 under Eurico Da Silva.
Zazinga zinged right to the lead in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) La Prevoyante Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and kept on running, winning by 4 1/4 lengths after 1 mile in 1:33.43. The odds-on favorite, Regal Conquerer, conquered the rest with Elgin ticking well enough to get show money. Gary Boulanger rode Zazinga, a daughter of Head Chopper.
Goodoldhockeygame rallied to the lead at mid-stretch in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Bull Page Stakes for Canadian-bred 2-year-old colts and geldings, then drove clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Super Colerosa. The odds-on favorite Seffeara, dueled on the lead and then saved third. Goodoldhockeygame, an Old Forester gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.81 with Patrick Husbands riding.
Greengrassofyoming rallied through the final furlong of Sunday's $110,000 Remington Green Stakes to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Gentlemen's Kitten. Shining Copper finished third. Greengrassofyoming, a 4-year-old Quest gelding, covered 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.63 with Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard.
Bayerd inched by pacesetting Nublado Bling in the final sixteenth to take Sunday's $75,000 Kip Deville Stakes for 2-year-olds by 1 length. Shotgun Kowboy finished third. Bayerd, a Speightstown colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.91 with Rosie Napravnik up for trainer Steve Asmussen. The colt broke his maiden on his second try at Saratoga a month ago.
Fast N Fine Lookin was all of that in Sunday's $50,000 Flashy Lady Stakes for fillies and mares, leading by daylight from the early going and coasting home first by 3 3/4 lengths. Dancin Lil was second and Lasting Bubbles, the favorite, finished third. Fast N Fine Lookin, a 3-year-old Forestry filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.72 with Jareth Loveberry up.
Ridgeofstone outfinished Bringinginthelute to win Sunday's $50,000 Ladies on the Lawn Stakes for Oklahoma-bred distaffers by 3/4 length. Okie Nova finished third. Ridgeofstone, a 7-year-old Sand Ridge mare, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:28.19 with Loveberry in the irons.
Lilbourne Eliza outfinished the favorite, Angelica Zapata, to post a big upset in Saturday's $75,000 Wasted Tears Stakes for fillies and mares, scoring by 1/2 length. The early leader, Burning Truth, finished third, also at a big price. Lilbourne Eliza, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly by Elusive City, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.25 under Fernando Jara.
Prime Engine dominated Sunday's $50,000 Gottstein Futurity for 2-year-olds, tracking the pace, then opening up a huge lead and coasting home first by 5 1/2 lengths. Private Boss beat the four with Val de Saire third. Prime Engine, a Northern Afleet colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.49 with Isaias Enriquez in the irons.
Things went equally smoothly for Daytona Beach in Sunday's $50,000 NWSS Cahill Road Stakes for 2-year-old sprinters. The Harbor the Gold gelding shot off to a big advantage and won by 5 1/2 lengths over Moby. Eight Ball Parker finished third. Daytona Beach, with David Lopez up, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.81.
Posse Dreamin dueled his way to the lead on the turn for home in Saturday's $60,000 Jersey Juvenile for state-bred 2-year-olds, then cleared, winning by 2 lengths over Little Hitman. Skirt Stake was 5 lengths farther back in third. Posse Dreamin, a Posse colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.30 with Pedro Cotto Jr. up.
Reno Rebel speared the leaders with a quarter mile to run in Saturday's $65,000 Asparagus Stakes for 3-year-olds, then stalked off to a 4-lengths victory. Look Quickly was up for second and Final Step was third as the favorite. Reno Rebel, a Big Brown ridgling, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.28 with Kyle Frey in the irons.
Plain Ol' Willard passed all 10 rivals en route to a 2 1/2-lengths victory in Sunday's $50,000 Catlaunch Stakes for Ohio-breds. The favorite, Jac's Fact, seized the lead early in the stretch and held on for second. Uncle Virgil was a distant third. Plain Ol' Willard, a 4-year-old Pacific Waves gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:47.02 with Noel Vigil up. The race is named for the Ohio-bred gelding who won 40 of 108 starts, with 77 in-the-money finishes and more than $1.1 million in earnings.