June 29 (UPI) -- Midnight Bisou and Tom's d'Etat won Breeders' Cup berths with victories at Churchill Downs, Mean Mary and Newspaperofrecord were front-running winners in New York, and Casadero popped up on the radar for the 2021 Kentucky Derby, all in weekend horse racing.
International racing featured some equally impressive performances, including another Group 1 win for Magical, another Irish Derby for Coolmore and Aidan O'Brien, a first Group 1 victory for Way to Paris and a farewell-to-South Africa triumph by Hawwaam.
There also was a Kentucky Derby prep race but we'll save that for a bit and, instead, kick things off with another tour de force by a certain future Hall of Fame mare.
Midnight Bisou earned a third trip to the Breeders' Cup Distaff with an imposing victory in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs.
The 5-year-old Midnight Lute mare tracked the pace made by Serengeti Empress, quickly closed the gap around the turn and found no competition in the lane, winning by 8 1/4 lengths with Mike Smith powering her down through the final yards. The 1 1/8 miles went in 1:48.99.
Motion Emotion and Another Broad were along for second and third as Serengeti Empress tired from the early exertions to finish fourth.
Midnight Bisou, trained by Steve Asmussen, showed no signs of jet lag while making her first start since finishing second to Maximum Security in the $20 million Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh Feb. 29.
The race was a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff Nov. 7 at Keeneland -- a race in which Midnight Bisou finished third in 2018 and second last year.
"She's just an amazing mare," said Smith, who has ridden some of the best female horses in recent history, notably Zenyatta.
"I actually had took the lead a little before I wanted to. We were planning on laying a little bit closer but the way Serengeti Empress was winging it on the front end, we were a little further back. She's just incredibly special."
Asmussen added: "What an amazing mare. What a commitment to put her back into training for her 5-year-old year, true sportsmen. ... It's the combination of the amazing talent she has, the head on her shoulders and the way she goes about it."
Tom's d'Etat roared down the stretch to take Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Stephen Foster by 4 1/4 lengths, winning his fourth straight race and earning a "Win and You're In" spot in the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
By My Standards came to challenge for the lead exiting the turn but couldn't go with the winner, settling for second. Silver Dust was third, another 2 3/4 lengths in arrears.
Tom's d'Etat, a 7-year-old son of Smart Strike, finished 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:47.30. If that sounds fast, that's because it was fast -- just 0.02 second off the rack record set by Victory Gallop in the 1999 Stephen Foster, with Jerry Bailey riding for trainer Elliott Walden.
Tom's d'Etat started his win skein with a victory in the Grade II Fayette at Keeneland in October, continued it in the Grade I Clark Handicap in November at Churchill Downs, then came back from a brief break to win the Oaklawn Mile in April.
"We knew coming into this race he was a fresh horse but [he] ran so well fresh in the past," said Tom's d'Etat's trainer, Al Stall, Jr.
"This will set him up to be in good shape for the rest of the year. I think he'll benefit a lot from this race. ... We've sort of been waiting for this horse to get into form with the breaks in his races but he's finally got there. That was a very impressive performance today."
Stall reported Sunday to NYRA publicity that Tom's d'Etat exited the Foster in good order and will target the $750,000 Grade I Whitney Aug. 1 at Saratoga.
Filly & Mare Turf
It was all Mean Mary in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II New York Stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park. With Luis Saez along for the ride, Mean Mary took the early lead and was never seriously challenged.
She strolled home first by 5 1/4 lengths with My Sister Nat's big late run good only for second. Feel Glorious added a little value to the trifecta payout. Mean Mary, a 4-year-old Scat Daddy filly out of the Dynaformer mare Karlovy Vary, ran 1 1/4 miles on the firm inner turf course in 2:01.85.
Mean Mary, an Alex Campbell homebred, now has five wins from seven career starts and came into the race off a pair of front-running Grade III scores at Gulfstream Park. Trainer Graham Motion said he wasn't sure how to evaluate her off those runs.
"You always wonder a little bit about Florida -- did she just suit that course? But this is so different than running at Gulfstream," Motion said. "The way she did it was pretty impressive. ... I think she might be one of those horses where you don't have to make too many excuses."
Motion said the $500,000 Grade 1 Diana on Aug. 23 at Saratoga is a "strong possibility" for Mean Mary. "The decision will be where to go next in order to get her to the Breeders' Cup," he said.
As we noted here Thursday, Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs looked like a pretty wide-open affair.
Thus, Harvey's Lil Goil, at odds of 11-1, pressed the early pace, took over the lead late and survived a late bid by the favorite, Crystal Cliffs, to win by a head. Good Spirits was third.
Harvey's Lil Goil, an American Pharoah filly, scored two easy wins at Aqueduct during the winter, taking the Busanda Stakes by 7 lengths, but then was overwhelmed in the Grade III Fantasy at Oaklawn Park, finishing 11th, beaten more than 20 lengths.
Newspaperofrecord was out and winging in Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Just a Game Stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park and wasn't about to be caught. Shaking off challenges at the head of the stretch, the 4-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Lope de Vega found another gear and won off by 3 lengths for her second straight victory. Beau Recall came from last to finish second, preventing an all-Chad Brown trifecta. Brown, king of the New York turf, saddled Newspaperofrecord and the third- and fourth-place finishers, Uni and Regal Glory.
Newspaperofrecord was undefeated in three starts as a 2-year-old, finishing with a win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She was unable to carry her speed longer in three tries last year but, returned to sprint-mile distances, she now has two impressive wins running. Going forward, though, Brown said he's not sure.
"She's just had two big races back-to-back. With limited mile races out there, she may be another one that has to face the boys but I don't want to commit her to that yet. We'll see how she's doing and see what else is out there," the trainer said.
Uni is the reigning Breeders' Cup Mile champ but had not raced since that victory last November. Brown said she has had some issues and missed some training.
At Woodbine on Saturday, Elizabeth Way pressed the pace made by Another Time in the $175,000 (Canadian) Nassau Stakes for fillies and mares, then put a neck in front in the final strides for the victory.
The favorite, Malakeh, was third, another 3/4 length back. Elizabeth Way, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Frankel from the Giant's Causeway mare Maids Causeway, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.26 with Emma-Jayne Wilson riding.
Elizabeth Way won the Grade III The Very One Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February and was third in the Grade III Orchid the following month but finished 13th in the Grade III Mint Julep at Churchill Downs on her way north.
Firenze Fire rallied around rivals into the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Grade II True North Stakes at Belmont Park and edged away to win by 1 1/2 lengths as the favorite.
Stan the Man ran evenly to finish second, 3 1/4 lengths to the good of Yorkton in third. Firenze Fire, a 5-year-old son of Poseidon's Warrior, got 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.53 with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard.
Firenze Fire had won four straight races since finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint before catching a sloppy track in the Grade I Carter on June 6. He was never a factor in that, finishing fourth.
"For sure, he needed that last race," said winning trainer Kelly Breen. "I think the track had something to do with it last time out. He ran fast. He's run fast races before. Hopefully, we can move onward to Saratoga and find a nice spot for him there. The goal is to get him to the Breeders' Cup."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Victim of Love victimized five rivals and the chalk players in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Vagrancy Handicap at Belmont Park.
Dispatched at odds of 27-1, the longest on the tote board, the 4-year-old Speightstown filly pressed the pace, surged to the lead in the lane and easily held off the odds-on favorite, Come Dancing, to win by 1 3/4 lengths.
It was another 4 1/4 lengths to Pacific Gale in third. Victim of Love ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a good track in 1:16.27 for Jose Lezcano.
Victim of Love was second in the Grade III Barbara Fritchie at Laurel Park Feb. 15 but tossed in a clunker in her most recent outing, leading to the generous odds.
"My filly kept going the whole way around and never stopped," Lezcano said. "She gave me everything she had."
Looking forward to the 2021 Kentucky Derby when, we hope, things will be back to something like normal? Well ... some 2-year-olds were on the track Saturday at Churchill Downs with their connections dreaming of the first Saturday in May 2021.
Casadero waited patiently behind a blistering early pace in the $100,000 Grade III Bashford Manor, charged to the lead leaving the turn and rolled home first by 4 3/4 lengths, remaining undefeated after two starts.
County Final held second after leading through the early furlongs. Casadero, a Stonestreet Stables homebred son of Street Sense out of the Forest Wildcat mare Wild Gams, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.73 with Ricardo Santana Jr. up.
"He really did it the right way today," said Stonestreet's Barbara Banke. "I was really encouraged that he demonstrated he didn't need to be on the lead. Of course, he's a homebred. We're so glad we kept him. ... He was a little horse because he was a late foal. But he's really come along."
The Road to the Kentucky Derby
In a strange year, strange things continue to happen in the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby. This weekend's chapter: Dean Martini opened a daylight lead at mid-stretch in Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Ohio Derby, and then held off South Bend to win by 3/4 length.
The favorite, 2019 2-year-old champ Storm the Court, finished third and remains winless since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Dean Martini, a Cairo Prince gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:51.60 with Ricardo Mejias up for trainer Tom Amoss. He completed one-half of the hunch exacta of Dean Martini-Dack Janiels but the latter showed little and finished last.
Dean Martini took eight tries to find the winner's circle, running at Ellis Park, Del Mar, Santa Anita, Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park before finally breaking through at Churchill Downs on May 17.
He earned 20 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leader board used to decide the field for the Run for the Roses, which would put him on the bubble to get into the race if things were frozen now. However, with new contenders emerging seemingly every week, he likely will need to do more.
Since he was not nominated to the full Triple Crown series, he also would have to be supplemented to the Kentucky Derby -- $45,000 plus another $25,000 to enter and $25,000 to start.
"That's the carrot dangling in front us," Blood-Horse quoted Amoss, who claimed Dean Martini for $50,000 two starts back. "I don't know. We'll see," Amoss said about the Kentucky Derby.
Around the world, around the clock:
Santiago led an Aidan O'Brien-trained quartet home in Saturday's Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, doubling down on his victory in the Group 2 Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot just eight days earlier.
The Authorized colt, with Seamie Heffernan deputizing for the quarantined Ryan Moore, burst to the front through a minute opening after turning for home, then dug in determinedly to hold off stablemate Tiger Moth.
The trip undoubtedly made the difference as Heffernan's decision to stay inside and ride for luck paid off. Tiger Moth had to circle the field to mount his challenge, then fell just a head short at the end. On the flip side of that, Santiago met the challenge when it was presented and held his rival safe though the closing yards.
Dawn Patrol and Order of Australia reported third and fourth. Tiger Moth and Dawn Patrol are by Coolmore's long-time superstar stallion Galileo. Order of Australia is by 2014 Investec Derby winner Australia, a son of Galileo.
"You'd have to be very happy with him," Racing Post quoted O'Brien of Santiago. "He's a lovely, hardy horse and it was a big call by the [Coolmore] lads to run him so close after winning at Royal Ascot. I'm delighted and he has to be better with time."
The Curragh turf was listed as good for the Derby although the leprechauns produced a vivid double rainbow over the course as the horses entered the saddling area and rain fell in torrents as they went into the stalls.
The Coolmore-O'Brien-Heffernan happiness extended into Sunday's Group 1 Alwasmiyah Pretty Polly Stakes for fillies and mares over the same course.
The race was never in doubt as Heffernan send Magical right to the front, led a quartet of overmatched rivals throughout the 1 1/4 miles and came home first by 4 1/2 lengths. The only downside for the lads was Fleeting finishing third, 1 1/2 lengths behind runner-up Cayenne Pepper.
Magical, making her first start since winning the Group 1 Qipco British Champion Stakes last October, finished in an unhurried 2:12.29, running through a gale, complete with drenching rain.
The 5-year-old Galileo mare has had some epic showdowns while traveling around the world, all too frequently as a bridesmaid to other world-class horses -- three times second to Enable. She now has won four Group 1 events, with three of those coming within the past 10 months.
O'Brien said he noticed a change for the better in Magical and convinced the Coolmore lads to delay a planned visit to No Nay Never to give the mare another chance on the course.
"Something just happened with her over the winter," Racing Post quoted the trainer. "She transformed. Usually you see that sort of improvement from three to four, but she made it from four to five. The power really came into her body."
Sunday's Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin Racecourse was a pretty wide-open affair. It's one of the two "grand prix" events on the Japanese racing calendar for which fans vote their favorites for the field -- an exercise conducted online-only this year as the pandemic restrictions kept spectators out of the grandstand and off-track facilities remained closed.
The No. 1 pick, Almond Eye, did not contest the race. And the fans virtually overlooked eventual winner Chrono Genesis, leaving her No. 6 on the list. They did better in the actual wagering, though, as Chrono Genesis went to the post as second-favorite.
When the competition hit the course, it was all Chrono Genesis. The 4-year-old Bago filly was on cruise control near midfield for most of the race, picked things up on her own initiative nearing the stretch turn and kicked away from a wall of rivals in the final 200 meters to win by 6 lengths.
Last year's runner-up, Kiseki, finished second, 5 lengths better than Mozu Bello -- another fan flub as he was sent off at odds of more than 100-1. The favorite, Saturnalia, finished fourth.
With the win, Chrono Genesis earned starting spots in both the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) and the 100th running of the Cox Plate (G1).
"The filly broke smoothly and we were able to travel in good rhythm in good striking position," jockey Yuichi Kitamura said. "I didn't really have to urge her to go but she just went spontaneously. She was responding really well so I knew that she would stretch well in the lane.
"She has become a powerful filly and was in very good condition. She was really strong."
Old guys ruled in some nice races in England.
On Saturday at Newmarket, 8-year-old Limato won the Group 3 Betway Criterion Stakes for the second year running. The Henry Candy-trained Tagula gelding, a multiple Group 1 winner earlier in his career, strode away in the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths -- his 14th win from 32 starts.
At Newcastle, Caspian Prince belied both his age (11) and odds (28-1) while winning the Gosforth Park Cup by 1 1/4 lengths. Tom Marquand, who rode the Dylan Thomas now and again in his salad days, had the mount for his 101st race. Caspian Prince was fourth, beaten just more than 2 lengths, in the Group 2 Meydan Sprint on Feb. 20 in Dubai.
Way to Paris launched a determined and sustained drive some 350 meters from home in Sunday's Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and got the job done in the closing strides, defeating Nagano Gold by a neck with Ziyad a head farther back in third. Falamour and Old Persian completed the order of finish.
Way to Paris, a 7-year-old, British-bred son of Champs Elysees from the Cozzene mare Grey Way, has been a consistent performer through his career, but won for just the sixth time and first in a top-level event. Last time out two weeks ago, he finished second to Sottsass in the Group 1 Prix Ganay at Chantilly.
Trainer Andrea Marcialis said Way to Paris is "particular" about how he runs but, on his day, can give anyone a fight.
"He has run three times in thirty days and that's not easy," Marcialis told Racing Post. "He'll have a break now and if he is still in good form come the autumn, the Arc will be the aim."
Hawwaam bid a possibly premature goodbye to South Africa Saturday with an easy, 3 1/2-lengths win in the Group 1 World Sports Betting Premier's Champions Challenge.
Taking the lead some 300 meters out under Callan Murray, the 4-year-old son of 2001 Arlington Million winner Silvano was clearly best, leading home Mike de Kock stablemate Soqrat. Tierra de Fuego, trained by another internationally minded South African, Sean Tarry, was third.
Hawwaam races for Sheik Hamdan, who wants him in international competition. Had export protocols to the UK been relaxed this spring, as hoped, the colt might have stuck around for the iconic Durban July. Now, he goes to quarantine and an early exit.
"This horse could win an Arlington Million," Sporting Post quoted de Kock. "He will win a Group 1 in Australia. It's scary to think that he is going to be even better at 5. His wither hasn't even flattened out yet. He is definitely getting better. And what a great week for Sheik Hamdan -- one of the world's great owners and breeders."
De Kock said Murray, a product of the South African Jockey Academy, was key to the victory, adding: "Callan doesn't overthink his ride on this horse. He rides him perfectly.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Lone Star Park
Sunday's program featured three stakes events, each worth $75,000.
Fool's Paradise rallied from last of seven to win the Lone Star Park Turf Stakes for fillies and mares by 3/4 length over front-running Quebec.
The favorite, Curlin's Journey, had more of a nightmare journey and settled for third, another 4 3/4 lengths back. Fool's Paradise, a 5-year-old daughter of Pioneerof the Nile, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.15 for jockey Ramon Vazquez.
Little Menace set a pressured pace in the Grand Prairie Derby, then took charge in the stretch run, drawing off to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Sir Rick was second, 1 1/4 lengths in front of Gold Pilot. Little Menace, an Into Mischief colt trained by Steve Asmussen, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.79. Stewart Elliot rode.
Hunka Burning Love pressured pacesetter Sleepy Eyes Todd through most of the Lone Star Mile, edged past that rival late and went on to win by a head. Another 7 1/2 lengths later, Vangilder reported third. Hunka Burning Love, a 6-year-old Into Mischief gelding, finished in 1:36.32 with David Cabrera in the irons.
Critical Value rallied from off the pace to take the lead at the top of the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Bouwerie Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies and easily rolled on to a 4 1/2-lengths win.
Big Q was best of the rest, 1 1/4 lengths in front of Naked Avenger. Critical Value, a Bodemeister filly, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.07 with Junior Alvarado riding.
Galilean swung four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Soi Phet Stakes for California-breds and kicked away to win by 4 lengths over Grinning Tiger. Brandothebartender rallied from well back to finish third. Galilean, a 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.49 with Juan Hernandz in the irons.
Chief Randel got first run to the lead in the stretch drive in Saturday's $75,000 Daniel Sterns Cleveland Gold Cup for Ohio-bred 3-year-olds and held on to post the 24-1 upset victory.
The odds-on favorite, Liberate, was in contention most of the way but couldn't match strides with the winner in the final sixteenth, finishing second. It was 7 1/2 lengths to Betchaiwill in third. Chief Randel, a Fiber Sonde colt, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:54.22 with Agustin Bracho riding.
Only three faced the starter in Saturday's $52,375 Bob Bryant Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and only Flat Out Speed ever had much chance of winning the event.
The daughter of Flat Out, with Alex Cancheri up, quickly worked to the lead and was out for a stroll the rest of the way, winning by 5 1/2 lengths, under wraps. Beer Can was second and it was another 19 3/4 lengths to Mayan Sky, who earned $6,983 for completing the 6 furlongs. Flat Out Speed was home in 1:09.21.
On Sunday at the Iowa oval, Mollies Rocket rocketed to the front in the $52,375 Gray's Lake Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds and got home first, an easy 2 3/4 lengths in front of the odds-on favorite, Fleetwood Shac.
It was another 11 lengths to Polly's Brother in third. Mollies Rocket, a Rock the Rock gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.30 with Glenn Corbett up.
Shanghai Keely chased down front-running long shot Presley in the final yards of Sunday's $50,000 First Lady Handicap for fillies and mares, winning by 1/2 length over that rival.
Ornamental Iron was third, another 2 3/4 lengths in arrears. Shanghai Keely, a 3-year-old Shanghai Bobby filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.67 with Jimmy Coates riding.
News and Notes
The Hong Kong Jockey Club announced Saturday it will reopen its off-course betting branches June 22 for race wagering and customer services. Sports betting will not be conducted and the Mark Six lottery remains in suspension.
The HKJC said the decision reflects "recent improvements in the COVID situation." Hong Kong racing has been beset with issues during the 2019-20 season, not least of them the no-spectators rule imposed at Sha Tin and Happy Valley racecourses since early in the year and the shuttering of its satellite operations.