The British flat racing season reached an emotional climax in British Champions Day at Ascot during the weekend while a trio of defectors from that event landed big races in Canada.
Japan had a big weekend both at home and in Australia.
In U.S. racing, it was time for the local heroes to strut their stuff -- and, for the winners, to stuff their owners' pockets a bit.
It's all good stuff so let's get on with it straight away.
British Champions Day
It was a fairy tale finish in the Group 1 British Champion Stakes as Noble Mission won a dramatic battle to the wire, beating Al Kazeem by a neck, emulating the success of his full brother, Frankel, and making a dream come true for his trainer, Lady Jane Cecil, widow of Frankel's trainer.
"I did an interview before the race and said it would be a fairy tale if he won and that's what it feels like to me," an emotional Lady Cecil said. "We hardly dared to dream this could happen."
In fact, Noble Mission has lived up to both his name and heritage this year as his tactics were changed to put him on the lead. Heading to Saturday's climactic victory, he had won four straight races before getting home second in Munich in his last outing.
In the Champion Stakes, jockey James Doyle had Noble Mission out front with Al Kazeem in close pursuit. Al Kazeem closed the margin and put his nose in front inside the final furlong. But Noble Mission found more and was home a dramatic first. The lightly raced Free Eagle was along for third but Cirrus Des Aigles, caught wide throughout, could not produce any burst in the late going and got home fifth. Ruler of the World finished last of nine.
Lord Grimthorpe, racing manager for Prince Khalid, said no decision has been taken whether to retire Noble Mission or to let him continue. But, he said, "I wouldn't think he would run again this year because he's had quite a race today."
Cirrus Des Aigles apparently will race again this year. Trainer Corine Barande-Barbe said the veteran arrived back in France still looking fresh and is ticketed for a fifth try at the Longines Hong Kong International Races on Dec. 14. His best previous showing was a third place in last year's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup.
Doyle was fined and handed a ban after the race for excessive use of the whip.
Also on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday:
Charm Spirit got to the fore with a furlong to run in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and held on well to win by 1/2 length over Night of Thunder, who had a troubled trip. Toormore finished third. Kingsbarns finished sixth. Charm Spirit, trained in France by Freddy Head, was ridden by Olivier Peslier in his first outing as retained rider for Sheik Abdulla bin Khalifa Al Thani. While Peslier said he was thrilled with the outcome, he said he was a bit worried before the finish. "I came a little bit early on that ground," the rider said. "But he is very generous so, when I took the lead, I kept going and he always responds." Head said Charm Spirit could be retired to stud -- or not. "We'll see," he explained. Night of Thunder, the favorite, switched to the outside under Richard Hughes, found his way blocked and had to swerve back inside to finally get room. "It was a bit messy but that's racing," said Night of Thunder's trainer, Richard Hannon.
Gordon Lord Byron came with a late run to land the Group 1 QIPCO British Champions Sprint by 1 1/4 lengths from Tropics, with Jack Dexter getting home third. G Force, winner of the Group 1 Haydock Sprint Cup in his last outing, showed none of that zip while finishing last of 15. Gordon Lord Byron, with Wayne Lordan in the irons, returned to the winner's enclosure after finishing second at Haydock and again in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret at Longchamp. "He's just been a fairy tale for us," said winning trainer Tom Hogan. "He's been unfortunate in that he had to make his own running at Haydock and then they went a bit quick for him in France last time. But he's in the money every day." Hogan said Gordon Lord Byron certainly will soldier on through the winter "and at the moment, it's going to be first stop, Hong Kong." That presumably would be for the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint on Dec. 14, although he has contested the Mile race on that card each of the past two years.
Madam Chiang came from the back of the field to win the Group 1 QIPCO British Champions Filly & Mares by 2 lengths over fellow late runner Silk Sari. Chicquita, who led into the stretch, took a left-handed detour heading for home but still managed to finish third. Madam Chiang finished only 1 1/2 lengths behind eventual Arc winner Treve in her last previous start, the Prix Vermeille. Trainer David Simcock said, "When the ground became very soft we knew she would handle it. And, following a very good run in last month's Group 1 Prix Vermeille, when she ran extremely well against a very strong field, we came here hopeful. You can never be confident, but we were hopeful." He said Madam Chiang will remain in training next year, with the possibility of dropping her back to 10 furlongs. Owner Kirsten Rausing bred Madam Chiang as well as her dam, and stands her sire, Archipenko.
Forgotten Rules prevailed in the 2-miles, Group II British Champions Long Distance Cup after drifting to the right inside the 2-furlongs marker, causing a chain reaction of unpleasantness. Leading Light had a nightmare trip and got home seveneth. Estimate, the standard-bearer of Her Majesty the Queen, tailed off badly and finished last, eased. She will be retired. Forgotten Rules, with Pat Smullen up, was near the back early in the race, began making progress inside the half mile and won by 1 3/4 lengths over Biographer after steering his erratic course. Pallasator finished third. Forgotten Rules, whose name may have seemed appropriate to the losers after the result stood, is a 4-year-old by Nayef.
Hillstar bypassed Champions Day at Ascot and instead landed the winner's share of Sunday's $1 million (Canadian), Grade I Pattison International with a well-timed ride by Ryan Moore. The 4-year-old Danehill Dancer colt was always close to the slow early pace, surged to the lead at mid-stretch and held off Big Blue Kitten at the end by 3/4 length. Dynamic Sky was up for third with the Chicago-based duo of The Pizza Man and Suntracer finishing fourth and fifth. Another British entry, Irish St Leger winner Brown Panther, tossed his rider and bolted before the start and was scratched. Hillstar, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, ran 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:29.00. He came into the race off a series of four straight runner-up finishes, followed by a Group 3 win at Newbury in his last previous outing. "I was out a little bit too early but he was fine and plenty and it was going to take a good horse to get by him," said Moore. "Like Brown Panther, he was the best horse in the race and we just felt we would keep it as simple as we could."
Just the Judge, another British raider, albeit via Arlington Park, rallied to the lead in the stretch and held on to win Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian), Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes for fillies and mares. The race was dominated by Europeans as Odeliz finished second, just 1/2 length back, Wall of Sound was fourth after making the early pace and Eyeful ran evenly to finish fifth. Just the Judge, a 4-year-old Lawman filly, ran 1 1/4 miles on good turf in 2:03.47 with Jamie Spencer in the irons for trainer Charlie Hills. She started a tad slowly, then had to force an opening to get running room in the lane. Or, as Spencer phrased it, it was "very, very tight where I was. Then she had to make a little bit of room for herself early in the stretch." Just the Judge had four wins from 11 starts in England and Ireland before finishing third in the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington in her last outing. The win was her first since the Irish 1,000 Guineas in May of 2013. She now is targeted for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf and Spencer said he was mindful of that during Sunday's race. "She's won but I'd prefer if it had gone a little more smoothly," he said.
Yet another Brit, Caspar Netscher, won Sunday's $300,000 (Canadian), Grade II Nearctic Stakes by 3/4, catching pacesetter Black Hornet in deep stretch. The favorite, Calgary Cat, was third with a late move. Caspar Netscher, a 5-year-old son of Dutch Art, ran 6 furlongs on good turf in 1:08.97 with Andrew Mullen up for trainer David Simcock. It was a rare win for Caspar Netscher, who last visited the winner's enclosure following the Group 2 German 2,000 Guineas at Cologne in May of 2012. He had been retired to stud at the end of that season but proved ineffective and was returned to training. "I jumped well and they were going hard in front so I just slotted him in," Mullen said. "I gave myself an option to go in or out and when I switched him in, I got a nice run and he picked up well all the way to the line."
Native Bombshell outfinished Disco Barbie to land Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Ontario Fashion Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by a neck. Cryptic Message led most of the way and held on for show money. Native Bombshell, a 4-year-old War Front filly, ran 6 furlongs on firm going in 1:09.48 with Patrick Husbands up. It was her fourth win from just six career starts but first victory in a stakes event.
After bitter disappointment in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Japan had reason to celebrate Saturday as Admire Rakti collared Rising Romance in the final 100 yards of Saturdays Group 1 Caulfield Cup, winning by 1/2 length from that one. Lucia Valentina finished third. The Offer finished 11th and Seismos reported home 14th. Admire Rakti, a 6-year-old Heart's Cry gelding, bounced back from a drubbing in his last outing -- a 13th placing in the Group 1 Tenno Sho Spring in May in Kyoto. He previous best effort was a fourth in last year's Group 1 Japan Cup. The international flavor of the win was compounded by winning jockey Zac Purton, who is based in Hong Kong. Admire Rakti now is among the favorites for the iconic Melbourne Cup on Nov. 4 and will be counted upon to avenge the subpar performance of the Japanese trio in this month's Arc.
Shonan Pandora upset Sunday's Group 1 Shuko Sho at Kyoto -- the third jewel of the fillies Triple Crown, besting the favorite, Nuovo Record, by a neck. Shonan Panda, a Deep Impact filly, finished the 2,000 meters, or about 1 1/4 miles in course-record time of 1:57.0 under Suguru Hamanaka. The field effectively split into two groups through the early stages of the race with Shonan Pandora settled at the head of the second pack while saving ground. She edged closer around the turn and took the lead with a furlong to run. Nuovo Record, the Yushun Himba and Rose Stakes winner, came with a late rush and just missed. Tagano Etoile finished third. "She broke well and was able to sit in an ideal position taking an economical route," Hamanaka said of Shonan Pandora. "I saw Nuovo Record coming from the outside and just prayed that we could hold her off until the wire."
Taris was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Lexus Raven Run Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, wasn't challenged and drew clear in deep stretch to score by 9 lengths. Sweet Whiskey was second and Thank You Marylou completed the generous trifecta. Taris, a Flatter filly out of the Theatrical mare Comedy, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.32 with Clinton Potts at the controls. She now has won four of her five starts, a run broken only by a fifth-place finish in the Grade III Honeybee at Oaklawn Park in the spring. She got a six-months rest after that one. All four wins have been by huge margins. "I knew it was a big step for her," said winning trainer Todd Beattie. "We're away from home. Thought the distance. Thought the timing was right. I liked all those things and she stood up to the call." He said he has not decided on the filly's next start.
Sparkling Review rallied six-wide around the leaders in Friday's $150,000, Grade III Pin Oak Valley View Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths over pacesetting long shot Spring Included. Goldy Espony came from next-last of 12 to take third. Sparkling Review, a Lemon Drop Kid filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.34 with Julien Leparoux up. She has won three straight races, all on the grass, after a career-opening defeat on the Churchill Downs main track. "She came out of the race great," trainer Ben Colebrook said Saturday morning. "The next logical spot would be the stakes at Churchill (the Grade II Mrs. Revere). But I've got to talk to the owners and see how she trains between now and then."
White Rose got first run at the leaders in the stretch drive in Sunday's $125,000 Rood & Riddle Dowager Stakes and made that advantage stand, winning by a nose over the surging favorite, Caroline Thomas. Appealing Cat finished third. White Rose, a 4-year-old Tapit filly, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:31.34 under Shaun Bridgmohan. She now has three wins from her last four starts, also including the Kentucky Downs Ladies Marathon.
North Slope and Slumber both slipped by pacesetting Micromanage in the final yards of Sunday's $100,000 Bowl Game Stakes with North Slope prevailing by a neck over Slumber and another head over Micromanage. North Slope, a 4-year-old Elusive Quality gelding, ran about 1 1/4 miles on the good inner turf in 2:05.81 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. The winner was stepping up from the local optional claiming ranks although he did finish a good second in last year's Grade III National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga.
Boozer led from the first shot in Saturday's $100,000 California Flag Handicap for state-breds down the hillside turf course and got home first by 2 1/2 lengths over Tamarando. Super Ability was third and Heat Flash completed the order of finish. Boozer, a 4-year-old Unusual Heat gelding, ran about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:12.36 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons.
Ostrolenka stalked the pace in the $250,000 Sleepy Hollow for 2-year-olds, took over in the stretch and won by 2 1/2 lengths over Good Luck Gus. Market Conduct rallied late to get show money. Ostrolenka, the odds-on favorite, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.39 with John Velazquez up for trainer Todd Pletcher. The winner is by Musket Man.
Quezon rolled late to take the $250,000 Maid of the Mist for 2-year-old fillies by 6 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Temper Mint Patty. Sweetpollypurebred finished third. Quezon, a daughter of Tiz Wonderful, got 1 mile in 1:38.38 with Manuel Franco riding.
Kharafa moved to a big lead early in the stretch run in the $200,000 Mohawk at 1 1/16 miles on the good inner turf and held on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Lubash and another 1 3/4 lengths over the favorite, King Kreesa. Kharafa, a 5-year-old Kitalpha gelding, finished in 1:45.01 with Angel Arroyo up.
La Verdad led from the early jumps in the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes for fillies and mares and got home first by 1 1/4 lengths. Willet finished second with Risky Rachel third. La Verdad, a 4-year-old filly by Yes It's True, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.13 for jockey Jose Ortiz.
Princess Violet bided her time in the $150,000 Empire Distaff Handicap, surged to the lead when prompted and kicked clear to win by 5 1/2 lengths. Flipcup was best of the rest, 2 lengths ahead of Carameaway. Princess Violet, a 3-year-old daughter of Officer, ran 1 1/16 miles on the main track in 1:43.81 under Jose Ortiz.
Effinex rallied from well back to upset the $300,000 Empire Classic, catching pacesetter So Lonesome in the final yards for a neck victory. Beautyinthepulpit finished third. Effinex, a 3-year-old Mineshaft colt, finished 9 furlongs on the main track in 1:48.51 with Arroyo riding.
Discreet Marq raced second through the early furlongs of the $200,000 Ticonderoga Stakes for fillies and mares on the grass, kicked in nicely in the stretch and went on to win by 3 lengths over Old Harbor. Selenite finished third with Effie Trinket fourth. Discreet Marq, a 4-year-old daughter of Discreet Cat, ran 1 1/16 miles on good ground in 1:44.36 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up.
Moonlight Song set a pressured pace in the $150,000 Hudson Handicap and held on to win by 1/2 length over Big Business. West Hills Giant finished third. Moonlight Song, a 7-year-old gelding by Unbridled's Song, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.58 with Joel Rosario at the controls.
Saturday night's card was packed with rich stakes for horses bred in West Virginia.
Russell Road edged by pacesetting, odds-on favorite Lucy's Bob Boy in the final yards of the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders' Classic when Arnaldo Bocachica, riding Lucy's Bob Boy, appeared to drop his right rein while switching his stick. The margin of victory was 1/2 length, with Fred High rallying to take third. Russell Road, an 8-year-old Wheaton gelding and a veteran of the local stakes wars, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.85 with Jose Montano up.
Down Town Allen led all the way in the $200,000 Jefferson Security Bank Cavada Breeders' Classic for fillies and mares and won by 3/4 length over Dora Dora with Navy Chapel third. Down Town Allen, a 7-year-old Windsor Castle mare, covered 7 furlongs in 1:26.55 with Mathew McGowan riding.
Cat Thats Grey dueled with odds-on favorite Chrome Mine throughout the $85,000 Division of Tourism Breeders' Classic for 3-year-old fillies, swapped the lead and finally prevailed by a neck. Final Bow was 7 lengths farther back in third. Cat Thats Grey, a daughter of Fiber Sonde, ran 7 furongs in 1:26.47 with Christian Hiraldo up.
Flirting Song was all out to win the $85,000 Breeders' Classic Distaff by a head over Spa Creek with a late run. Runaway Brae was only a nose farther back in third. Flirting Song, a 4-year-old Fiber Sonde filly, finished 9 furlongs in 1:55.53 with Hiraldo up.
Perfect Cross came from last of seven to take the $85,000 WVTBA Onion Juice Breeders' Classic by a nose in a four-horse blanket finish. In the Fairway was second, a neck in front of Waves and Tides and another neck better than Help a Brother. Perfect Cross, a 4-year-old Medford gelding, ran 7 furlongs in 1:26.47 with Montano riding.
Halter Off outfinished odds-on Greenway Court to land the $80,000 Dash For Cash Breeder's Classic by a neck with Mr. Ripken finishing third. Halter Off, a 4-year-old Windsor Castle gelding, dashed 4 1/2 furlongs in 51.70 seconds under Luis Batista.
Hear the Chatter made all the going in the $80,000 Vincent Moscarelli Memorial Breeders' Classic for 2-year-olds and kicked clear in the final sixteenth to win by 4 3/4 lengths over One More Time. Wrongsidetwntynine finished third. Hear the Chatter, a Mass Media gelding, reported home after 6 furlongs in 1:19.69 for Gerald Almodovar.
Prince of Windsor came from far back to take the $85,000 West Virginia Lottery Breeders' Classic for 3-year-old by a neck over Comeonletsplay. Little Big Sime was 1 length farther back in third. Prince of Windsor, a Windsor Castle gelding, got 7 furlongs in 1:26.87 with Travis Dunkelberger riding.
Harlan's Destiny kicked off the night's proceedings with a popular, 2-lengths win over My Sister Caro in the $80,000 Triple Crown Nutrition Breeders' Classic for 2-year-old fillies. Just a Real Cat was along for third. Harlan's Destiny, a daughter of Harlan's Holiday, got 4 1/2 furlongs in 53.61 seconds with Rafael Hernandez at the controls.
Saturday was Maryland Millions Day.
Eighttofasttocatch was fast enough to lead from gate to wire in the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic, winning by a comfortable 4 1/2 lengths from Concealed Identity. Turbin finished third. Eighttofasttocatch, an 8-year-old Not For Love gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.54 under Forest Boyce.
Talk Show Man collared Ben's Cat in the final yards to take the $125,000 Turf by 1/2 length. Roadhog was third, 1 1/2 lengths farther in arrears. Talk Show Man, a 4-year-old Great Notion gelding, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:39.20 with Xavier Perez up.
My Magician conjured a daylight lead early in the stretch run in the $100,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies, then held on gamely to win by a neck over Rocky Policy and another neck over the favorite, Rockin Jojo. My Magician, a Street Magician filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.22 with Julian Pimentel in the irons.
Bear Access, at 66-1 odds, led all the way in the $125,000 Ladies Stakes on the turf and won by 3/4 length over Devilish Love. Pagan Priestess finished third. Bear Access, with Horacio Karamanos up, ran 9 furlongs on good going in 1:54.83. She is a filly by Gators N Bears.
D C Dancer rallied by pacesetting Always Smiling in the lane to win the $100,000 Sprint by 1 1/4 lengths over that foe. The favorite, Avarice, broke poorly and made up ground but settled for third. D C Dancer, a 4-year-old Not For Love gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.93 with Angel Serpa riding.
Classy Coco took back early in the $100,000 Distaff but then took full command in the stretch, kicking clear to win by 6 lengths over Steady N Love. Jonesin for Jerry was 3 lengths farther back in third. Classy Coco, a 4-year-old filly by Not For Love, ran 7 furlongs on the main strip in 1:23.93 under Trevor McCarthy.
Golden Years, the heavy favorite, set a pressured pace in the $100,000 Nursery for 2-year-olds, then edged clear late to win by 1 1/2 lengths from Legal Punch. Stonebriar filled the trifecta. Golden Years, a Not For Love colt, covered 6 furlongs in 1:10.54 with Victor Carrasco up.
Imahit jumped out to a big lead in the $155,000 Oklahoma Classics Cup Saturday and outlasted the odds-on favorite, Z Rockstar, winning by 2 1/4 lengths. Ibaka finished third. Imahit, a 5-year-old Whywhywhy gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.77 with Jareth Loveberry up. The $137,000 Distaff went to Okie Smokey, who ran from last of 11 to win by 2 1/2 lengths over What Lola Wants. Okie Smokey, a 3-year-old Cavvy filly, got 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:42.01 with Bryan McNeil in the irons.
Robbytyme outfinished the favorite, Dusty Okie, to win the $126,000 Turf Classic by a neck at 30-1 odds. Polka Joke was third. Robbytyme, a 6-year-old Kipling gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.19 under Jose Medina. Bringinginthelute rallied from next-last to win the $130,000 Distaff Turf by 2 1/4 lengths over Okie Nova. Katour finished third as the winner, a 4-year-old Midnight Lute filly, got 7 1/2 furlongs on the green in 1:28.83 with Luis Quinonez up.
Chifforobe got by the favorite, Okie Ride, in the final yards to win the $122,000 Sprint by a neck over that one in 1:09.25 under Lindey Wade. Johnny Whip finished third. Diamond Disco went quickly to the lead in the $115,000 Distaff Sprint and wasn't caught. The odds-on favorite, More Than Even, finished 1/2 length back in second with Mama's Mad Money third. Diamond Disco, a 5-year-old Diamond mare, got 6 furlongs in 1:10.18 with Ramon Vazquez up.
Zealous Vision took over in deep stretch to annex the $85,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies by 2 1/2 lengths over Dancing Diva with Rich Uncle third. Zealous Vision, a daughter of The Visualizer, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.08 with Alex Birzer up. In the $85,000 Juvenile, Shotgun Kowboy got clear late to win by 6 1/2 lengths over He Knows Better. Batman Can finished third. Shotgun Kowboy, a Kodiak Kowboy gelding, was home in 1:09.95 under Quinonez.