Aug. 3 (UPI) -- Upsets were the watchword in weekend horse racing as Kentucky Derby contender Honor A.P. was defeated at Del Mar and Saturday's three Grade I events at Saratoga -- "the graveyard of champions" -- all saw long shot victories with Midnight Bisou, Tom's d'Etat and No Parole falling.
Trainer Bob Baffert had a rather pleasant summer weekend, winning Grade I events at both Saratoga and Del Mar, plus a big Kentucky Derby prep.
Worthy of note: Saratoga notched a record all-sources handle Saturday with its massive stakes card, despite having no fans in the stands. And Del Mar, also devoid of spectators, announced a 10% purse increase because of the favorable trend in wagering.
It's nice that top-notch racing can do well even without having fans at the track. But it's a long-term risk for the sport. How many new fans are generated by televised races and computer betting? It's the glamour and pageantry of the track, the paddock, the rail that produce excitement for the average sports fan. End of sermon.
The Road to the Roses
Thousand Words ran right back into the Kentucky Derby picture with a gritty, front-running win in Saturday's $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar.
With Abel Cedillo up, the Pioneerof the Nile colt showed the way while under some pressure down the backstretch and around the turn in the 1 1/16-miles affair.
Spinning into the lane, he was side-by-side with stablemate Cezanne and one of the top Kentucky Derby prospects, Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P.
Skimming the rail, Thousand words turned back both of those contenders with Honor A.P. settling for second, 3/4 length back.
Long shot Kiss Today Goodbye edging previously undefeated Cezanne for third. Thousand Words reported in 1:43.85 over a fast track. Uncle Chuck and Anneau d'Or were scratched.
"I told Abel to jump him out of there and I thought he and Cezanne would be 1-2," said Bob Baffert, the five-time Kentucky Derby winner who trains both horses.
"Turning for home, I could tell that Honor A.P. wasn't running like he usually does. Cezanne got really tired, but Thousand Words ... I could tell when we got down here that he was a different horse from Los Alamitos and the real Thousand Words showed up today.
"His whole mind changed. His color has changed. He had soured out on me, but we got him going the right way. I think he earned his way to the Derby."
Thousand Words won his first three starts, but then faltered in three straight, including an 11th-place showing in the Oaklawn Stakes, when he was bumped at the start and didn't appear too fond of the sloppy track.
He then finished second to Travers-bound Uncle Chuck in the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby. He and Honor A.P. both have plenty of "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points to get into the Run for the Roses. Cezanne has none and, if Baffert hopes to continue with him, will have to find one more prep before the Sept. 4 event.
Vexatious, winless in her past 11 starts, spanning nearly two years, pulled off the upset in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga, holding off the odds-on favorite, Midnight Bisou, by a neck in the closing strides. Point of Honor was along for third.
Vexatious, a 6-year-old Giant's Causeway mare, raced right behind the early speed and took first run to the lead in the stretch. Midnight Bisou, a tad farther back, rallied right behind but could never get by in a tight stretch battle.
There was an inquiry into some incidental contact between the two in the stretch run but the result stood. The 1 1/8 miles on a fast track went in 1:48.82 with Jose Lezcano on the winner.
Vexatious last posed after a victory in a turf marathon at Del Mar on Aug. 15, 2018. Midnight Bisou, by contrast, was last seen winning the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs by 8 1/4 lengths June 27 and, before that, just missing to Maximum Security in the $20 million Saudi Cup.
The Personal Ensign was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Distaff and trainer Jack Sisterton said that's very much on his mind.
"We'll give her a well-deserved few days off and let her jump ahead a bit," Sisterton said. "Obviously, it's a "Win and You're In." We'll run her again before the Breeders' Cup and look forward to being home at Keeneland."
The weekend's second Grade I in this division, also a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In," went to Fighting Mad, who made all in Sunday's $250,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar, holding off Ollie's Candy through the closing yards to win by 1/2 length.
Ce Ce was a distant third. Fighting Mad, a 4-year-old daughter of New Year's Day, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.46 with Abel Cedillo in the irons.
Fighting Mad has won three of her last four starts, all graded stakes, and the combo of Cedillo and Bob Baffert picked up their second score in two days, following Thousand Words' victory in Saturday's Shared Belief.
"Basically, she ran them off their feet," Baffert said. "The way she acted in the paddock, she ran an incredible race. She was trembling and sweating and I was worried, but once the race started she was pretty serious."
At Monmouth Park on Saturday, Hopeful Growth stalked the early pace in the $212,000 Grade III Monmouth Oaks, then took over in the lane and drew off to win by 4 lengths at odds of nearly 12-1.
Project Whiskey and Eve of War were second and third, respectively, and the favorite, Lucrezia, faded from the lead to finish fifth. Hopeful Growth, a Tapiture filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.63.
Hopeful Growth, trained by Anthony Margotta Jr., won for the third time. She was fifth in her previous start, the Grade III Delaware Oaks.
Improbable continued his upward trajectory as a 4-year-old on Saturday at Saratoga, shadowing the early pace in the $750,000 Grade I Whitney Stakes, and then taking charge in the stretch to win by 2 lengths.
By My Standards raced evenly to finish third and the even-money favorite, Tom's d'Etat, could only salvage third after a stumbling start got him away last. Improbable, a City Zip colt, got 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.65. Irad Ortiz Jr. had the mount for trainer Baffert.
Improbable showed promise as a 3-year-old, finishing second in the Arkansas Derby and fifth, promoted to fourth, in the Kentucky Derby.
He started this season running second to Tom's d'Etat, beaten less than a length, in the Oaklawn Mile, and then won the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Tom's d'Etat saw a four-race win streak ended.
"Bob had him ready to go, as usual, when he comes east," said Elliott Walden, CEO of WinStar Farm, which owns Improbable in partnership with China Horse Club and SF Racing.
"But, he's just a different horse this year," Walden said. "That's his second Grade 1 in a row. He got beat by Tom's d'Etat in his first start at Oaklawn, but he's set up for a big year and we're just excited to continue that."
Continuation could extend to November at Keeneland as the Whitney was a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic.
Walden also reflected a bit about the current situation, relative to our earlier comments about fan-less racing:
"It's a little different but it's always great to be here at Saratoga. Even this morning on the backside, you can take things for granted sometimes when they're almost taken away, so it was a great opportunity for reflection and to think about the opportunity to be here.
"It's still special. I wish the fans were here and I know how much they love Saratoga and what Saratoga means to the racing industry as a whole. Hopefully, it will get back next year and the fans will be roaring once again."
Echo Town rallied five-wide in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Stakes Presented by Runhappy at Saratoga, opened up a big lead in the lane and won by 3 1/2 lengths.
Tap It To win held a brief advantage turning for home but settled for second, 1/2 length in front of Shoplifted. The favorite, No Parole, was the early leader but proved no factor late, finishing ninth, beaten more than 15 lengths.
The race was for 3-year-olds. Echo Town, a Speightstown colt, finished the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.53 under Ricardo Santana Jr.
Echo Town, trained by Steve Asmussen, finished second to No Parole in their last start, the Grade I Woody Stephens at Belmont Park with Shoplifted third. No Parole suffered just his second career loss in his seventh start.
"It was great to see him put it all together when it matters so much on this stage," Asmussen said. "He ran solidly here. He ran really well into the Woody Stephens, but I thought the timing of this race was better. He's run hard all year. He's run consistently all year. Now, he will be noticed."
The day's second Grade I sprint, the $250,000 Bing Crosby at Del Mar, went to Collusion Illusion, a 3-year-old Twirling Candy colt running against elders.
With Flavien Prat up, Collusion Illusion started well back in the eight-horse field, rallied along the rail and outfinished Kentucky invader Lexitonian, winning by a nose in 1:10.41.
Law Abidin Citizen held a brief lead but finished third, another 1 1/4 lengths back. McKinzie was a late scratch.
Collusion Illusion improved his record to five wins from six starts. His only loss came when he was pulled up after being distanced in the 1 1/16-miles Grade I American Pharoah last September at Santa Anita.
The victory earned him a "Win and You're In" spot in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in November.
Winning trainer Mark Glatt said Collusion Illusion "doesn't like dirt in his face and the way it set up he was going to have to go extremely wide to stay away from it."
"But the past couple days the rail has been getting better as a place to be and when he darted to the rail I knew he was going to be coming." Glatt said. "I got a little worried if he was going to find a place to go, but he was able to and came through in the end."
Cross Border was elevated to victory in the stewards' booth after Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Bowling Green at Saratoga as the first under the wire, Sadler's Joy, was set down to fourth.
The ruling also promoted Highland Sky to second and Channel Maker to third.
Sadler's Joy and Cross Border were both making a run for the lead on the outside nearing the 16th pole when Sadler's Joy, under Javier Castellano, lugged in, causing a bumper-cars chain reaction affecting several horses.
After a look, the stewards had an easy call, naming Cross Border, a 6-year-old English Channel ridgling, the winner in the 1 3/8 mile race.
"This is just a gutsy New York-bred and its good for the game that they can breed a New York-bred that can win a Grade 2 at Saratoga," said Kirk Wycoff, who owns Three Diamonds Farm, which owns Sadler's Joy.
"It was a calculated risk to come back in 10 days' [rest] and we weren't all in agreement, but Mike Maker made the decision and obviously it was the right one."
Sunday was Kentucky Downs Preview Day at Ellis Park with five turf races pointing toward rich events in September at the European-style turf layout near the Kentucky-Tennessee border. The series is designed to help both tracks fill engaging fields and build interest through the summer.
The day's capper was the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup at 1 1/4 miles. Factor This fought to the lead, turned back a couple of challengers and went on to win by 1/2 length over an onrushing Hierarchy.
Split the Wickets was a long shot third. Factor This, a 5-year-old son of The Factor, reported in 2:04.52. The course was rated soft as Ellis was socked with a Saturday deluge powerful enough to call off the second half of the card.
Factor This won the preview event last year, then was fourth in the Grade III Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup. He came to Sunday's race off three straight wins -- all graded stakes -- for trainer Brad Cox.
One of those wins was the Grade II Muniz at Fair Grounds, which earned a spot in the Grade I Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Derby Day and Cox said that might beckon louder than this year's Kentucky Turf Cup.
"We're going to let the dust settle," Cox said. "I think we'd like to take a shot in the Grade I on Derby Day. I feel like I kept a pretty close eye on that division from a mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter and I don't see anyone to be scared of, to be honest with you.
"I think this horse can win a Grade I, given the right setup and the distance."
Filly & Mare Turf
English Affair started last of 11 in Sunday's $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf Stakes at Ellis Park, rallied forward around the turn and into the stretch and won going away by 1 1/2 lengths.
She'sonthewarpath dueled for the lead, then had enough left to save second, 3 1/4 lengths to the good of Frond. English Affair, a 6-year-old English Channel mare from the Colonial Affair mare Lady Melesi, negotiated 1 mile of soft turf in 1:37.35. Rafael Bejarano rode for trainer Rusty Arnold.
English Affair was second in this preview in 2018, then finished eighth in the One Dreamer stakes at Kentucky Downs. She missed most of 2019 with an injury.
Arnold said he had planned to send her to the Ladies Marathon at 1 5/16 miles in September but might instead take the free pass to the 1-mile Ladies Turf.
Spectacular Gem pressed the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile, and then took over easily and ran on to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Mr. Misunderstood was along to take second by another 1 1/4 lengths over Hembree. Spectacular Gem, a 4-year-old colt by Can the Man, got the 1 mile on soft going in 1:37.37 with James Graham in the kip.
It was the second win from three Ellis Park starts for Spectacular Gem, who did not pursue the Ellis-Kentucky Downs series in 2019, and winning trainer Jimmy Baker said he was very concerned about the rain-softened course.
"I didn't sleep well the last couple of nights," Baker said. "I know he does his best running on firm turf. I can relax and breathe and sleep good tonight."
Baker said the next target is the $750,000 Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs.
In another of those Ellis Park preview races, Carotari rallied from mid-pack in Sunday's $100,000 Runhappy Preview Turf Sprint and outfinished the favorite, Tiger Blood, by 1 length.
High Crime was third. Carotari, a 4-year-old Artie Schiller gelding out of the Rahy mare Soother, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the soft turf in 1:04.76 with Julien Leparoux up.
Carotari was making his first start at Ellis Park. In 2019 he finished ninth in the Grade III Nevada State Bank Franklin-Simpson Stakes at Kentucky Downs. Trainer Bryan Lynch said Carotari is headed to the $700,000 Grade III RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint on Sept. 12 at Kentucky Downs.
Fillies and mares went sprinting in Sunday's $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Sprint at Ellis Park with Into Mystic easing by pacesetter Ambassador Luna at the 1/16th pole and getting clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Dance Rhythms was third. Into Mystic, a 4-year-old daughter of Into Mischief, got the same 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.18 under Joe Talamo.
Into Mystic, campaigned in New Mexico earlier this year, was making her first start at Ellis Park. "I was quite concerned about the ground," said winning trainer Brendan Walsh, "because I think she'll be a better filly on faster ground. I think she has some big days ahead of her."
The first of those, he said, will be the $500,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint.
She's My Type got a break from some bumping that opened a seam between rivals in the stretch run of Friday's $100,000 Coronation Cup for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga.
Trapped in traffic before the incident, the French-bred daughter of Dunkerque shot through the daylight and went on to win by 1/2 length. Miss J Kay made a late run to finish second, 3/4 length in front of Shippy.
The adjudged villain in the bumping was the race favorite, Artie's Princess, who finished fourth and was set down to last.
She's My Type, with Joel Rosario up, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:01.67. It was her third win from six starts.
Cariba seized the lead in the lane in Saturday's $200,000 Caress Stakes for fillies and mares at Saratoga and blazed on to win by 1/2 length from pacesetting Jakarta. Sweet Bye and Bye made a late run, finishing a head farther back in third.
Cariba, a 4-year-old Cairo Prince filly, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:01.53 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. Cariba, making her first stakes start, scored her second straight win for trainer Christophe Clement.
Ortiz said Clement "told me to be third or fourth and don't be too far. The horse put me right there and when I tipped her out in the stretch, she had something left and finished up very well. She ran really good."
At Woodbine, Forester's Turn outfinished Forester's Fortune to win Saturday's $150,000 Greenwood Stakes Presented by Stella Artois for Ontario-bred 3-year-olds by 1/2 length.
Artemus Citylimits was third. Forester's Turn, an Old Forester gelding, got 6 furlongs on firm going in 1:07.91 with Kazushi Kimura in the irons.
Joy's Rocket was quick off the launching pad in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) My Dear Stakes at Woodbine and was untroubled after that, winning by 2 3/4 lengths.
The favorite, Road to Romance, settled for second, 3/4 length to the good of Rotary. Joy's Rocket, a Florida-bred filly by Anthony's Cross, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:05.10 with Luis Contreras riding for trainer Steve Asmussen. She won at first asking in June at Churchill Downs and now is 2-for-2.
Governor Goteven dueled for the lead in Saturday's $100,000 CBTA Stakes for California-bred fillies at Del Mar, cleared and went on to win by 3 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Big Andy.
Reign of Fire was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Governor Goteven, with Tiago Periera in the irons, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.55. The Governor Charlie filly inproved to 2-for-2.
At Gulfstream Park, Go Jo Jo Go started last of eight in Saturday's $100,000 Desert Vixen Division of the Florida Sire Stakes, rallied five-wide down the lane and blew by pacesetting favorite Princess Secret to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Princess Secret and Freak then fought it out for second, with the former getting there by a head bob. Go Jo Jo Go, a Khozan filly out of the Gulch mare Flashy Flirt, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:11.47 for jockey Leonel Reyes.
On the Monmouth Park turf, Wink led easily through most of Sunday's $75,000 Colleen Stakes, then eased home first, 3/4 length to the good of Flying Althea.
Kewpie Doll was third. Wink, a Midshipman filly, ran 5 furlongs on firm going in 56.74 seconds with Antonio Gallardo up. She's now 2-for-2 after an earlier win at Belmont Park.
Positivity chased down front-running Good With People in the final furlong of Sunday's $100,000 Graduation Stakes for California-breds at Del Mar and won by 1/2 length over that one. Scooby, a first-time starter, was third. Positivity, a Paynter Colt out of the City Zip mare Sam's Sunny City, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.49 with Drayden Van Dyke up. Positivity bumped with the favorite, Touchdown Brown, right after the start and the latter never reached contention, finishing last of seven. The stewards took a look but let the result stand.
Ready to Repeat showed up ready to run in Sunday's $120,000 (Canadian) Victoria Stakes at Woodbine and led most of the way to a 2 1/2-lengths victory. Master Spy and Gospel Way completed the trifecta. Ready to Repeat, a More Than Ready gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:05.53 for jockey Luis Contreras, winning his second straight race.
Breeze On By went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Dr. Fager Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park, battled with Gatsby for several furlongs and inched away to win by 1 length over that one.
It was 8 1/2 lengths to Boca Boy in third. Breeze On By, a Cajun Breeze gelding, reported in 1:10.85 with Emisael Jaramillo riding.
At Prairie Meadows on Saturday, Chicks Dig Scars led from gate to wire in winning the $52,664 Iowa Stallion Futurity for state-breds. Momma G was 3 lengths back second with another 5 lengths to Cantwaittograduate in third.
Moretti tracked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Birdstone Stakes at 1 3/4 miles on the dirt, took over with less than 1/4 mile left and won by 1 1/2 lengths. You're to Blame was second with Rocketry third.
Moretti, a 4-year-old colt by Medaglia d'Oro, finished in 2:58.51 with Javier Castellano riding.
El Tigre Terrible rallied from next-last to win Friday's $125,000 Real Good Deal Stakes for California-bred 3-year-olds by 4 3/4 lengths. Rookie Mistake was second and Lightning Fast, devoid of early speed, rushed up to get third.
El Tigre Terrible, a Smiling Tiger gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.23 with Flavien Prat riding.
Around the world, around the clock:
There wasn't much to Friday's Group 2 King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood. But then, there wouldn't be with one of the world's fastest horses simply going full speed in a straight line for 5 furlongs against six nice but outclassed rivals.
Thus, Battaash romped to his fourth straight victory in the event, easing away from a persistent Glass Slippers in the final furlong for a winning margin of 2 lengths. And he did it in course-record time of 55.62 seconds with Jim Crowley providing a bit of encouragement.
Trained by Charlie Hills for Sheik Hamdan al Maktoum, the 6-year-old Dark Angel gelding made it 2-for-2 on the season and erased any lingering memories of his worst-ever performance -- a 14th-place showing, beaten 18 lengths as the favorite, in the Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp Longines last October. That race, run over very soft ground, was won by Glass Slippers.
"He has broken his own track record," Hills said. "It is brilliant. Battaash is not the biggest horse in the world, but he is well balanced and a true athlete, really."
Hills said Battaash "might only have two more runs this year and for a 6-year-old, he is lightly-raced really. We are looking forward to the Nunthorpe now. We'll get that hurdle done and then look at the Abbaye, probably. Who knows what is going to happen? It is a strange year and no-one really knows what the future holds."
Asked about a tilt at the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland, Hills said that conceivably could be an option should the ground at Longchamp again prove too soft for Battaash's liking. Sheik Hamdan will make the call, he said.
Also Friday at Goodwood, Juddmonte Farms homebred 3-year-old Tilsit and jockey Ryan Moore had to sweat out an inquiry before being certified winners of the Group 3 Bonhams Thoroughbred Stakes for 3-year-olds.
The First Defence colt finished 1 1/2 lengths in front but appeared to have been the guilty party in some traffic that afflicted the second- and third-place finishers, My Oberon and Khaloosy. No action was taken and Tilsit improved to 2-for-3.
In Friday's third attraction, Pablo Escobar defeated joint favorite Desert Encounter by 3/4 length in the Group 3 l'Ormarins Queen's Plate Glorious Stakes at 1 1/2 miles.
Pablo Escobar, a 4-year-old Galileo gelding, won for just the third time from 14 starts with one of the wins coming on the all-weather.
Watch Me was best late in Sunday's Group 1 Prix Rothschild for fillies and mares at Deauville, finishing the 1 mile down the straight 3/4 length to the good of Half Light, with Know It All just a short head farther back after leading much of the way.
Watch me, a 4-year-old daughter of Olympic Glory from the Galileo mare Watchful, backed up a victory over the course and distance July 12, marking just the second time she has won back-to-back races. Her previous high point was a 20-1 upset victory in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at 2019 Royal Ascot.
"I think my heart stopped beating in the final 100 meters because for a moment I thought she might only be third," Racing Post quoted trainer Francis Graffard as saying. "But she went again and she won in the style of a very good filly."
Watch me was third in last year's Group 1 Prix de l'Opera and Graffard said that race again is the year-end objective. "But we will enjoy this because it was a long morning for me," he added.
John Gosden and Frankie Dettori landed another Group 1 on Sunday as Miss Yoda led virtually all the way to win the Henkel-Preis der Diana or German Oaks over Zamrud. Virginia Joy was third in the 1 3/8-miles event at Dusseldorf.
Miss Yoda, starting from the inside gate, took command quickly but was under pressure most of the way. About 2 furlongs out, she seemed to shy from a path across the turf but recovered quickly and finished well.
The German-bred daughter of Sea the Stars scored her fourth win from seven career starts. Sunday's race was her first in Deutschland.
"She jumped good," Dettori told Racing Post. "I wanted to be in front and I was in front by the bend. She was flowing with a lovely action.
"When I turned for home she was thinking of going back to the stables and she stopped a bit but then I said, 'Come on, concentrate,' and she went."