With much of Thoroughbred racing awaiting Champions Day next week and the Breeders' Cup World Championships three weeks away, a fast-maturing 3-year-old filly was the star of weekend action.
There also were some nice performances from the juvenile set and an Illinois-bred mare continued to show the colors of the Land of Lincoln out east.
Let's take it home:
Crown Queen stalked the pace in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for 3-year-old fillies, moved to the lead inside the furlong pole and prevailed by 3/4 length over Ball Dancing. Sistas Stroll and Personal Diary dead-heated for third and fourth. Crown Queen, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Smart Strike, ran 9 furlongs on soft turf in 1:49.98 with John Velazquez riding. She did not make her 3-year-old debut until June, when she broke her maiden at Belmont Park, followed by victories in an allowance race at Belmont Park and the Grade II Lake Placid at Saratoga. "We ran her a couple of times as a 2-year-old, and Mr. Leon (owner Ben) wanted to give her some time over the winter to mature and grow up a little bit," said winning trainer Bill Mott. "It's worked out perfectly. He made a good call, and she's undefeated this season and now she's a Grade 1 stakes winner." He said future plans require a trip to the drawing board.
Free As a Bird surged to the lead at the sixteenth pole in Friday's $100,000 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes at Keeneland, then held off the favorite, Ageless, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over that rival. The 5-year-old daughter of Hard Spun notched her fifth straight win. Asked what occasioned the string of victories, trainer Ian Wilkes said, "I shortened her up ... She was just a little too rank when I ran her longer." Free As a Bird ran 5 1/2 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:03.60 with Joel Rosario at the controls.
Illinois-bred and based La Tia led the way in Sunday's $200,000, Grade III Athenia Stakes for fillies and mares and held on at the end for a narrow victory over Byrama. Overheard finished third. La Tia, a 5-year-old mare by City Place, ran 1 1/16 miles over the yielding inner turf course in 1:43.36. She came to the race off a third-place finish in the Grade II Canadian over the Woodbine turf and also has won two graded stakes on all-weather courses at Arlington and Woodbine this season. "They pressured me last time," said winning rider Joel Rosario, who rode La Tia for the first time in the Canadian. "The stretch in Woodbine is longer than here, and that day they finished up very strong. She ran a good race and got beat by some very good horses. I was very confident with her today."
Legendary kicked into gear turning for home in Saturday's $100,000 Knickerbocker Stakes for 3-year-olds, quickly opened a commanding lead and survived a late bid by the favorite, Up With the Birds, to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Mshawish finished third. Legendary, a British-bred gelding by Exceed and Excel, got 9 furlongs on the yielding inner turf course in 1:51.65 with Sheldon Russell up. "As long as he's on the outside, he comes home real good," Russell said. "Being from England, he'd run on softer courses, so I knew today wasn't going to be a problem for him."
Pohdi Phodi, the odds-on pick, was in command all the way in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Victorian Queen Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and extended her advantage to a 5-lengths win. Indiantown Sunrise was second, 3 lengths to the good of Internal Bourbon. Pohdi Pohdi, a daughter of Old Forester, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.29 with Patrick Husbands riding.
San Nicola outfinished Iroquois Falls in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Bunty Lawless Stakes, winning by a neck over that foe. The pacesetter, Warbred, held on for third, 1/2 length to the good of the favorite, Pender Harbour. San Nicola, 4-year-old Silent Name gelding, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.89 with Justin Stein in the irons.
Passion for Action swept by the leaders in the stretch run in Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Cup and Saucer Stakes for Ontario-bred 2-year-olds and went on to win by 3 1/4 lengths, ridden out. Java's Bourbon was best of the rest with Conquest Boogaloo third. Passion for Action, a Speightstown colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.66 with Luis Contreras up.
Velvet Mesquite led, under pressure all the way throughout Saturday's $100,000 California Distaff Handicap for state-breds down the hillside turf course and remained 1/2 length out front at the wire. Heat Trap was second and Go West Marie finished third. Velvet Mesquite, a 4-year-old In Excess filly, finished about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:12.39.
Light the City came three-wide into the stretch in Sunday's $75,000 Anoakia Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, hit another gear and won by 2 1/2 lengths over Seduire. Starley O'Hara was a distant third. Light the City, a Kentucky-bred Street Sense filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.00 with Elvis Trujillo up.
Saturday was Best of Ohio Day with the stakes card restricted to state-breds. The track was muddy and sealed.
Plain Ole Willard came from last of 14 to cap the day with a massive upset in the $150,000 Endurance, winning by 3 1/2 lengths from Jac's Fact. Farmer Steve anchored a $2 trifecta payout of $13,427.60. The favorite, Fuzzy Dee Jay, wasn't a factor and finished eighth. Plain Ole Willard, a 4-year-old Pacific Waves gelding, ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:04.87 with Noel Vigil up.
The $150,000 Distaff was much more formful with the favorite, Caviar N Champagne, setting a pressured pace early, then kicking away to a 3-lengths victory over Pyrite Blues. Needmore Flattery finished third. Caviar N Champagne, a 5-year-old Formal Dinner mare, ran 9 furlongs, despite the mud, in course-record time of 1:51.85 for jockey Scott Spieth.
Rivers Run Deep, the odds-on favorite, was quickly to the fore in the $150,000 Sprint and scurried off to win by 5 1/4 lengths with Diavoletto a neck in front of Candy Bites for the minor placings. Rivers Run Deep, a 3-year-old Ready's Image colt, just missed the track record by 0.12 second while finishing 6 furlongs in 1:08.78 with Jareth Loveberry in the irons.
Mound went to the lead in the stretch run in the $150,000 Juvenile, opened a daylight advantage in the lane and lasted to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Flip Daddy. Triple Strike was third and the favorite, The Graduate, struggled home eighth. Mound, a Mercer Mill colt, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.80 with Megan Falovich riding.
Justalittlesmoke rallied late to justify her odds-on favorite status with a head victory over Senorita Dominguez in the $150,000 John W. Galbreath Stakes for Ohio-bred juvenile fillies. Heat Transfer led the way and held on for show money. Justalittlesmoke, a Smoke Glacken filly out of the Gilded Time mare Justasprinkle, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:47.30 under Jeffrey Skerrett.
Crown the Kitten rallied from well back to win Saturday's $100,000 El Jovan Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings by 5 3/4 lengths. Infiltration was second, 1/2 length to the good of Witt's Runner. Crown the Kitten, a Kitten's Joy colt owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:38.64 with Rafael Hernandez up.
Right On Kitten, another of the Ramsey brood, sat second off the early pace in Saturday's $100,000 M2 Technology La Senorita Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, took the lead in the lane and cleared, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Sweet Diva. T C B Kiwi's finished third. Right On Kitten, by Kitten's Joy, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:39.16, also with Hernandez in the irons.
Downtown C. T. led throughout Sunday's $75,000 Bull Dog Handicap and held on late to score by 3/4 length from Terrys Tom Cat. The favorite, Salah Champ, finished third, 4 lengths farther back. Downtown C. T., a 5-year-old Crafty C. T. gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.62 for jockey Ricardo Gonzalez.
Bound rallied from mid-pack to win Saturday's $85,000 Plum Pretty Stakes for Pennsylvania-bred fillies and mares by 3 1/2 lengths over the pacesetting favorite, Primo Via. It was 1/2 length more back to Maybe Tonight in third. Bound, a 3-year-old Jump Start filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:45.02 with Kendrick Carmouche aboard.
Winning Image led from the early jumps in Saturday's $75,000 Cornucopia Stakes for state-breds, under pressure most of the way from Munnings Sister but held that one safe to prevail by 1/2 length. Lady Sabilia finished third and the favorite, Geeky Gorgeous, was fourth. Winning Image, a 7-year-old Southern Image mare, got 6 sloppy furlongs in 1:10.12 with Anthony Black in the irons.
Page McKenney rallied from last of six to win the off-the-turf, $75,000 First Responder Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths over Yougotthatgoinforu. Mezzano got show money. Page McKenney, a 4-year-old gelding by Eavesdropper, ran 1 1/16 miles on the slop in 1:44.20 with Frankie Pennington in the irons. Six were scratched after the surface change.
Fawkner took charge late in Saturday's Group 1 Caulfield Stakes and held off the late run of Criterion for the victory. Side Glance was a game third after leading the way. Fawkner, winner of last year's running of the Caulfield Cup, appears set for a repeat there. Side Glance, also third in the Grade I Arlington Million in August, is ticketed for the Cox Plate or the McKinnon Stakes, which he won last year.
Shooting to Win did just that Saturday in the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas, catching Rich Enuff in the late going for the victory. Wandjina finished third. Amicus scored a 3/4-length victory over Traveston Girl in the Thousand Guineas with Sabatini third.