June 22 (UPI) -- Tiz the Law was an easy winner in the Belmont Stakes, the highlight of weekend horse racing, and solidified his standing as the Kentucky Derby favorite, but Triple Crown winner American Pharoah could be coming from Japan to challenge him in the big race.
A "new shooter" emerged on the Oaks front as Gamine put on a performance that rivaled Tiz the Law in the Acorn at Belmont Park.
No Parole was an impressive winner sprinting in the Grade I Woody Stephens. Much of the rest of the weekend action in North America was on the turf.
Royal Ascot is in the rear-view mirror and we all hope the hoopla, fashion and Royals will be able to return next year. But there was nothing wrong with the racing even under COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. We trust you've followed our special coverage along the way.
Hong Kong staged its final Group races of the 2019-20 season but the jockey and trainer competitions are still hot.
Let's jump right into it:
The Road to the Triple Crown
Tiz the Law confirmed his status as this year's Kentucky Derby -- and perhaps Triple Crown -- favorite with a romping victory in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
With Manny Franco riding, the New York-bred sat just off the pace, rallied to the front entering the stretch and kicked away smartly, winning by 3 3/4 lengths over Dr Post. Max Player was third.
After chasing a solid pace, Tiz the Law finished the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:46.53, just a shade more than 1 second off the track record set by Secretariat in the 1973 Marlboro Cup.
"I was pretty confident when we got to the seven-eighths pole," Franco said. "He was so kind and relaxed for me. He was so comfortable and never got keen, so I think that was the key."
The Belmont, normally the final leg of racing's Triple Crown, this year was shortened from 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/8 miles and serves as the first race in the series that will continue with the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby and conclude Oct. 3 with the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.
Trainer Barclay Tagg confirmed Sunday Tiz the Law came out of the Belmont in good order and that the Grade 1 Travers Stakes -- the "Midsummer Derby" -- at Saratoga, is the next target en route to the Kentucky Derby. Meanwhile, he said, the colt will get the same tender, loving care all his horses enjoy.
For the next few days, Tagg said, Tiz the Law will walk the shed row. "The fourth day, we'll take him out and jog him once around backwards to see how he moves and how he is and if he eats up that night we'll go to galloping. And 10 days after that we'll give him an easy breeze, a half-mile."
"I've never won the Travers and I want to win it," Tagg said. "It's very important to me."
Tiz the Law, a son of Constitution, is owned by Sackatoga Stable, a 35-member syndicate. Sackatoga and Tagg are the same team that campaigned Funny Cide to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2003, only to see him fall short of the Triple Crown on a rainy day at Belmont Park.
While Tiz the Law seems to be head and shoulders above most of the other Derby contenders -- save perhaps Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P. -- a threat could be coming from across the Pacific.
Café Pharoah, a Kentucky-bred son of American Pharoah, on Sunday won the Unicorn Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse and cinched a first-place finish in the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" -- an automatic bid to the Run for the Roses.
There was no doubt about it, either. Starting from the outside gate in a field of 16, Café Pharoah quickly raced into striking position behind the early leader, came to even terms shortly after entering the stretch and accelerated smoothly to win by 5 lengths.
He earned 40 points for the win, advancing his total to 70 -- enough that no other contender can catch him in the final event in the series.
Dieu du Vin, winner of the first leg of the series, closed well in the final furlong to take second in the Unicorn and second in the point standings, but was never a threat to the winner.
Café Pharoah now is undefeated in three starts. He is nominated to the U.S. Triple Crown races but his trainer, Noriyki Hori, is notoriously closed-mouthed about his planning and declined to comment about the colt's chances of traveling to Louisville on the first Saturday in September.
Full Flat, a Speightstown colt making his first start since winning the Saudi Derby on Feb. 29 in Riyadh, finished sixth in the Unicorn. The world traveler also was fifth in the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall at Santa Anita.
Out west at Santa Anita, Collusion Illusion may have raced his way back into the Triple Crown picture with a handy win in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Lazaro Barrera for 3-year-olds.
The heavy favorite in a field of just five tracked the early pace made by Ragtime Blues, blew by that one in the lane and won off by 3 1/4 lengths. Ragtime Blues held second, another 3 1/4 lengths to the good of Howbeit. Collusion Illusion, a Florida-bred Twirling Candy colt, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.03.
Collusion Illusion has won four of his five starts, including the Grade II Best Pal at Del Mar. In the fifth, he lost his rider at the start of the Grade I American Pharoah at Santa Anita in September. After that mess, he was idle until May 15, when he won a 6-furlongs allowance race at Santa Anita.
"He's pretty good," said winning trainer Mark Glatt. "He obviously followed up on his comeback race today. He had me a little worried there at the top of the stretch, but I think he's a pretty smart horse and Flavien has a lot of confidence in him. He's very athletic, there's no wasted action in his stride."
Asked about the Kentucky Derby, Glatt admitted, "It's on our radar. We paid the [$3,000] late supplement. I don't know what's next. I just wanted to get by today. We'll need to stretch him out and figure out how to get enough points."
The Road to the Oaks
The word "gamine" means "a girl with a mischievous, boyish charm." That definition hardly covers the performance the filly of that name turned in Saturday in the $300,000 Grade I Longines Acorn for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park.
With John Velazquez up for trainer Bob Baffert, Gamine jumped right to the lead, kept finding more and was home first by 18 3/4 lengths. Pleasant Orb and Water White eventually were along for second and third.
And despite drifting out a bit during the stretch run, Gamine missed Najran's 17-year-old track record for 1 mile by just 0.31 second.
Gamine now is 3-for-3 with victories at Santa Anita, Oaklawn Park and Belmont Park and a lot of frequent flyer miles. Her owner, Michael Lund Petersen, gave $1.8 million for the filly at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Mid-Atlantic 2-year-olds in training sale.
"It was an amazing race out of her," Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes said. "Especially coming into a Grade I and for it being only her third start. Johnny rode her right to the way we told him to go. We told him to take advantage of her position and he certainly did.
"I wanted to see her run the one turn just because of the way she runs," Barnes added. "Two turns, one turn, she can handle either one. We'll go home, give her a little time and see what's next for her. I can imagine something at Saratoga."
And the name makes perfect sense as she is by Into Mischief.
No Parole led from the start and took no prisoners in Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Woody Stephens for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. Echo Town and Shoplifted filled out the trifecta with Mischevious Alex fourth and the favorite, Meru, completing the order of finish.
No Parole, a Violence colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.41 with Luis Saez in the irons. The Tom Amoss trainee started his career in Louisiana, winning at Fair Grounds and Delta Downs, before finishing eighth in the Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park.
Turned back to 6 furlongs, he easily won an Oaklawn allowance before heading for the Big Apple.
"No Parole is a one-turn horse for sure," Amoss said. "We'll get together with the ownership and we'll sit down and map out a plan. We're very excited about his future and we're already thinking about the first weekend in November," referring to the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Keeneland.
Filly & Mare Sprint
For all its woes -- and they're legion -- Illinois racing still has Jean Elizabeth. The 5-year-old, Illinois-bred daughter of Adios Charlie, trained by Larry Rivelli, ran her winning streak to eight Sunday with a front-running victory in the $125,000 [Canadian] Whimsical Stakes at Woodbine.
Never threatened, she won by 1 length over Painting with Summer Sunday third. David Morgan had the ride and brought Jean Elizabeth home in 1:09.86 over the all-weather surface.
"She's a rocket," Moran said. "I wasn't expecting her to be that quick with her ears pricked down the back. She just pricks her ears and I think she just waits for a bit of company to go on again."
Decorated Invader ran right by pacesetting Proven Strategies in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Pennine Ridge Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park and streaked away to a 4 3/4 lengths victory. Proven Strategies held second, 1 3/4 lengths better than Mr. Kringle.
Decorated Invader, a Declaration of War colt trained by Christophe Clement, won the Grade I Summer Stakes at Woodbine last September, then reported fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita. He won at Gulfstream Park in his comeback in March.
"He's been a top-class horse even last year," Clement said of Decorated Invader. "He was very unlucky in the Breeders' Cup. He won a Grade I in Canada. He won at Gulfstream this year. He won one today and I think he's good enough to do a mile, a mile and a quarter."
Winning jockey Joel Rosario agreed: "I think the further he goes, he'll go better. He's a big horse and he loves to run."
Three-year-old fillies contested Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Wonder Again Stakes at Belmont Park but Sweet Melania had her four rivals all running for place money.
The American Pharoah filly went right to the front under Jose Ortiz and won by 1 1/2 lengths, unchallenged. Highland Glory and Antoinette finished second and third.
Sweet Melania won the Grade I JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland last fall before finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. The Wonder Again was her first start of 2020.
"We planned on giving her a little time off after the Breeders' Cup and things went kind of crazy for a while," said Sweet Melania's trainer, Todd Pletcher. "We didn't know where she would come back. We knew a distance like a mile was what we were looking for, so when this race came out, we pointed towards this."
Pletcher said he will study the recently released Saratoga stakes schedule in search of a next race for the filly.
In Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Wise Dan Stakes at Churchill Downs, Factor This battled long shot Ritzy A.P. into submission, looked like a winner at mid-stretch, and then had to continue the fight to the finish, holding off the onrushing English Bee by a diminishing neck. Parlor finished 3/4 length farther back in third.
Factor This, a 5-year-old son of The Factor, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.15 with Shaun Bridgmohan riding.
Factor This, trained by Brad Cox, made it three straight wins, building on victories at Fair Grounds in the Grade III Fair Grounds Stakes and the Grade II Muniz Memorial.
"We got a lot of pressure early and, once we sort of got into a rhythm, I tried to wait on him as much as possible," Bridgmohan said. "He was still able to hold off the charge after getting that pressure early. He has a lot of fight and determination. He's just getting better."
At Santa Anita on Saturday, odds-on favorite Toinette surrendered the early lead to Gypsy Spirit in the $100,000 Grade III Wilshire Stakes for fillies and mares, came back to put that one away and then outfinished late-running Red Lark by a comfortable 2 3/4 lengths. Querelle was third. Toinette, a 5-year-old Scat Daddy mare, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.20 with Flavien Prat in the irons.
Toinette won for the eighth time from 12 starts. She was last seen finishing fourth in the Grade I Matriarch at Del Mar Dec. 1.
On Sunday at the Great Race Place, Blitzkreig blitzed eight rivals in the $100,000 Grade III American Stakes. Charging right out to the lead under Victor Espinoza, the 5-year-old War Front gelding got clear to a 3-lengths lead and coasted home first by 1 length.
Bowie's Hero was second and Sharp Samurai and Souter dead-heated for third and fourth. Blitzkreig finished 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.46.
Oleksandra unleashed a devastating turn of foot through the stretch run of Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Jaipur Stakes at Belmont Park, racing by all seven opponents and just nailing Kanthaka in the shadow of the wire for the victory.
Texas Wedge held the lead briefly at the top of the lane but settled for third. Oleksandra, an Australian-bred mare by Animal Kingdom, ran 6 furlongs on the firm inner turf in 1:06.80, just 0.06 second off the course record.
After starting her career Down Under, Oleksandra came into her own in her second season in the United States, advancing from the allowance ranks to win the Grade III Buffalo Trace Franklin County at Keeneland last fall.
She returned with a second-place finish in the Monrovia Stakes at Santa Anita last month and was the only female in Saturday's field.
Jockey Joel Rosario said Oleksandra was bumped at the start, but to little effect. "The fast pace was probably why I was further back, but she came with a great run in the end," he added. "We do well together. You just need to understand her and what she wants to do during the race."
Trainer Neil Drysdale said he will discuss next steps with Barry Irwin of the owning partnership Team Valor. "Obviously, her final call of the year would be the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland, and she's won there before," Drysdale said.
Sunday at Belmont Park, Bredenbury waited chilly behind pacesetting Chili Petin in the $80,000 Lady Shipman Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, went on by when prompted by jockey Luis Saez and won by 1 1/4 lengths.
She's My Type was up for second with Miss J McKay third. Bredenbury, an Irish-bred miss by Night of Thunder, ran 6 furlongs over the firm inner turf course, according to Equibase, in 1:07.21 -- a course-record time.
Raced earlier in England, she got her first American start in the Lady Shipman and Saez said he thinks she could handle a little more distance. "When I turned her loose, she gave a really good kick," the rider said.
Red King took complete charge in the closing furlongs of Sunday's $100,000 Grade III San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita, surging quickly to the lead, then drawing off to win by 4 1/4 lengths.
Siberian Iris was second and the odds-on favorite, Ward 'n Jerry, settled for third after working hard early to take a sizeable lead. Red King, a 6-year-old son of English Channel, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:46.67 with Umberto Rispoli riding.
"It's just an amazing race and it's really cool to win it," said Red King's trainer, Phil D'Amato. "My horse won his last race and that picked his confidence up. It looked like maybe the favorite moved a little soon and Umberto was in the right spot."
Field Pass led all the way around in Saturday's $100,000 Audubon Stakes at Churchill Downs and won by 1 length over Bama Breeze. Pixelate was third. Field Pass, a Lemon Drop Kid colt, finished 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:47.99 for jockey Tyler Gaffalione.
Field Pass now has won three of his last four starts, including the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks on the Turfway Park all-weather course.
"He's been a really nice horse this year for us," Maker said. "That was a nice victory and did everything very easy."
Indian Peak rallied to a short lead in the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Snow Chief Stakes for California-bred 3-year-olds at Santa Anita and held off California Kook to win by 1/2 length.
The favorite, Margot's Boy, led the way and finished third, another nose behind. Indian Peak, a Comic Strip colt, got 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:48.11 with Mike Smith riding.
"When you've been claiming horses for $2,500 to run at Stockton for $4,000, this is really special," said Indian Peak's trainer, Quinn Howey.
My Storm Warrior was awarded the victory in Saturday's $163,415 Mountain Top New Mexico-bred Thoroughbred Futurity at Ruidoso Downs when Fill the Bill was set down to third for interference in the stretch run. The decision also elevated One Mark to the place position.
My Storm Warrior, an Attila's Storm gelding, scored his first career win. He was second in a June 6 trial heat for the Futurity.
Around the world, around the clock:
In the eerie light of a waning solar eclipse, Dances With Dragon flew down the Sha Tin Racecourse straight to post a 17-1 upset win Sunday in the final Group race of the Hong Kong season, the Group 3 Premier Plate.
Dances With Dragon, a 6-year-old New Zealand-bred, was making just his second start at the Group level after finishing sixth in the Lion Rock Trophy three weeks earlier. And he was facing some tough cookies, including Southern Legend and Furore.
But with Keith Yeung up for trainer Caspar Fownes, Dances With Dragon came around the leaders on the turn, quickly surged to the front and drew off to win by 4 3/4 lengths.
Helene Leadingstar was second with 2019 BMW Hong Kong Derby winner Furore third. Multiple Group 1 winner Southern Legend led early but slipped back in the late going to report fifth and More Than This, a hot 4-year-old prospect at the other end of the season, continuing his retreat, finishing sixth.
"He's won well but he was carrying no weight on his back," Fownes said, referring to the 113-pound impost. "He's got a good spot and just sprinted away from them. It doesn't matter what he does now, he's proven that he's up to that level.
"He's done his job as far as I'm concerned. His first win was in Class 3 and now he's got a Group 3 at his fourth win for me so I'm very happy."
In the day's second feature and penultimate Group race of the season, Jolly Banner captured the Group 3 Premier Cup Handicap for jockey Matthew Poon and trainer Ricky Yiu.
The win edged Yiu closer to his first trainer title, with a double taking his score to 61 wins -- five more than his closest rival, Tony Cruz. "It's encouraging. That win's very important," Yiu said.
Zac Purton extended his lead in the jockeys' premiership to four wins thanks to a double. The Australian has 132 to nearest rival Joao Moreira's 128. Moreira had one winner on the day.
News and notes
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., has resumed work on its massive renovation project. Started in Janauary and stopped in March because of the COVID-19 shutdown, the renovation still is expected to be done by year's end.
When up and running, a new Race Day Gallery will provide an insider's virtual view of a day at the races. The Hall of Fame will be digital and interactive with a 360-degree visual experience and 6-foot touchscreen monitors.