Aug. 10 (UPI) -- With just four weeks to go until the Kentucky Derby, Tiz the Law cemented his favorite's role with a powerful victory in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, while Art Collector emerged as a new challenger with a hard-fought win in the Ellis Park Derby.
Last year's Kentucky Oaks winner, Serengeti Empress, finally got back to the winner's circle and earned a November Breeders' Cup berth. Last year's Breeders's Cup Juvenile winner, Storm the Court, continued to struggle for victory despite a change of surface.
On the international front, Space Blues gave Godolphin a handy win in France and set up a nice intramural battle a short way down the road.
Speaking of roads:
The Road to the Roses
Tiz the Law effortlessly turned aside a field of would-be challengers to his Kentucky Derby favorite title with a dominating and seemingly effortless victory in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
The Constitution colt extended his record to six wins from seven starts, running the shoes off upstart California invader Uncle Chuck in the stretch to win by 5 1/2 lengths.
The next stop is Louisville on Sept. 5 for the long-delayed 146th running of the Kentucky Derby, where Tiz the Law will be the overwhelming favorite.
"It's the way I thought he would be all along," winning trainer Barclay Tagg said. "I thought he'd have to come to Uncle Chuck into the stretch and he would go by him if he quit. It went so easy for him, which is fine with me, too. The easier, the better."
About preparations for the Derby, Tagg added, "I don't think we'll change a whole lot. We'll give him 10 days of easiness and then get a few more breezes in him before we go out there. That's about all we can do."
Beyond simply winning, Tiz the Law proved his ability at 1 1/4 miles -- the distance of both the Travers and the Derby. And jockey Manny Franco said once Uncle Chuck's challenge evaporated and he saw no one else coming, he made sure he saved some fuel for the next race.
Tiz the Law, a New York-bred, now has won three of the most important races the Empire State has to offer -- the Champagne for 2-year-olds, the Belmont Stakes and the Travers.
"We're just thrilled to death," said Jack Knowlton, kingpin of Tiz the Law's ownership group, Sackatoga Stable. "We're the third New York bred to win this race, the first New York bred in 138 years to win the Belmont Stakes.
"It says to me that this accomplishment is something that is pretty spectacular. ... I really believe after this race that he is going to be adopted, not only by Saratoga, but also by New York, and hopefully the country."
Lest we forget:
Caracaro, who finished second behind Tiz the Law in the Travers, also is headed to the Kentucky Derby. Caracaro ranks 10th on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard, guaranteeing him a spot in the new 20-stall starting gate.
"We do think that our horse still has a lot of room for improvement. He's still developing, you can tell, and we were asking a lot from him," trainer Gustavo Delgado said.
Max Player, third in the Travers, also has plenty of points to get into the Derby and trainer Linda Rice said it's not impossible he could be her first starter ever in the Run for the Roses. "We're certainly going to keep that option open," Rice said.
It seems unlikely after his early checkout from the Travers, but it's technically possible Uncle Chuck could contest the Run for the Roses. He currently is No. 25 on the list for 20 spots but several of those ahead of him are almost certain to defect.
On the other hand, Baffert has Authentic, the No. 2 points-getter, and Thousand Words, No. 7 on the list, teed up for a try at a record-tying sixth victory in the Kentucky Derby.
But now there's another player in the game.
Art Collector, a Bernardini colt who sprung to prominence with a win in the Blue Grass at Keeneland July 11 in his first stakes race as a 3-year-old, doubled up on that with a pressured, persevering victory Sunday in the $200,000 Ellis Park Derby.
Shooting right to the front under Brian Hernandez Jr., Art Collector was hounded around the clubhouse turn, down the backstretch and around the far turn by a trio of rivals.
One by one, they began to drop back while Art Collector kept on going, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over the best of the pursuing pack, Attachment Rate. Necker Island came from well off the pace to take third as Art Collector finished the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.02.
"This is huge," Hernandez said. "We're going into the [Kentucky] Derby now with a legitimate horse. Like we said after the Blue Grass, he's proven he's getting better and better with each race. He showed it again today. He put everyone away. He did it all on his own and ran away from there.
"Tiz the Law will be the favorite. But everybody who's going to be there in the Kentucky Derby, they've earned their chance," Hernandez said.
"You have to go in there with an open mind and just read your race. The biggest thing we've done through this whole journey is we just have to trust our horse. Let him take us there, and that's what he's doing."
The final pool of the Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby Future Wager closed Sunday evening with Tiz the Law the even-money favorite. Art Collector and Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P. closed at 8-1 and Haskell winner Authentic was the fourth choice at 11-1.
The Road to the Oaks
Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Longines Test Stakes at Saratoga figured to be between Gamine and Venetian Harbor with the other three contesting show money. And that's just how it played out.
Departing from the outside gates, Gamine led the way with Venetian Harbor shadowing her stride-for-stride. As they hit the stretch, though, Venetian Harbor's strides shortened and Gamine's didn't and the latter pulled away to win by 7 lengths. It was another 6 1/2 lengths to Up In Smoke in third.
Gamine, an Into Mischief filly trained by Bob Baffert, remained undefeated while finishing 7 furlongs in 1:20.83 under Johnny Velazquez.
The 42-year-old track record is 1:20.80. In those days, things were measured in fifths of a second so the actual record could have been anything from 1:20.80 to 1:20.99, so it's possible Gamine actually eclipsed the old mark.
In her previous start, Gamine won the Grade I Acorn, a one-turn mile, by 18 3/4 lengths, earning a 110 Beyer Speed Figure. She now is 4-for-4 and stands No. 12 on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard thanks to the 50 points for the Acorn win.
Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes said Gamine is "rising straight to the top. For what she's accomplished so far for such a lightly raced filly, we look forward to stretching her out and see what comes of that."
At Ellis Park on Sunday, Mundaye Call scored an impressive win of her own, taking the $100,000 Runhappy Audubon Oaks by 7 1/4 lengths after leading most of the way.
Ocean Breeze and Sconsin picked up the minor checks as Mundaye Call, an Into Mischief filly trained by Brad Cox, completed 7 furlongs in track-record time of 1:21.17.
Asked if the result was good enough to prompt thoughts of the Kentucky Oaks, Cox said, "I'll talk to [owner Larry Best and] see if that's something he wants to entertain." Mundaye Call stands No. 23 on the list for a field of 14.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Serengeti Empress sprinted to the lead from her inside gate in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga, blazed away and held off the favorite, Bellafina, in the closing strides to win by 1 length. Victim of Love was third.
Serengeti Empress, a 4-year-old filly by Alternation, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.63 and earned a spot in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint through the "Win and You're In" scheme.
Serengeti Empress had raced nine times since her Kentucky Oaks win in 2019 with just a single first-place finish to show for it -- that in the Grade II Azeri over a sloppy track at Oaklawn Park.
In most of the defeats, she led early and faded so trainer Tom Amoss decided to give her a shot sprinting and it paid off. In her only other race this short, she finished second to Covfefe in the Grade I Test almost exactly a year ago.
"When you win the Kentucky Oaks, which is a two-turn race, you're almost married to continue to run these two-turn races. Today, we got an opportunity to move back to middle distance, and I think we found a home here," Amoss said.
"I look forward to staying at the seven-eighths distance, maybe getting one more start in her before the Breeders' Cup."
Filly & Mare Turf
Bodhicitta was just up in the final strides to defeat Tonahutu by a nose in Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Yellow Ribbon at Del Mar. Harmless, who led into the stretch in the 1 1/16-miles affair, held on for third, another 1 1/4 lengths in arrears.
Bochicitta, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Showcasing, finished in 1:42.83 with Flavien Prat riding for trainer Richard Baltas.
Bodhicitta made nine starts, in Ireland and Southern California, before finding the winner's circle last October at Santa Anita. Since then, she is 5-for-7.
"I had a good post today, so I was able to get right on the fence and save ground," Prat said. "I knew they were going slow but my filly has a good turn of foot and we got it done."
My Sister Nat rallied from the back of the field to contend for the lead at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Waya Stakes at Saratoga and outfinished the favorite, Mrs. Sippy, by a neck.
Fools Gold was the early leader and held third, giving trainer Chad Brown a first and third in the event. My Sister Nat, a 5-year-old, French-bred mare by Acclamation out of the Galileo mare Starlet's Sister, finished the 1 1/2 miles on firm going in 2:30.26 with Jose Ortiz at the controls.
It was her first win in six starts since emigrating from her native land, although My Sister Nat had finished second in her last two outings, the Grade III Long Island at Aqueduct in November and the Grade II Long Island at Belmont om June 27.
"We found that last year it took all the way to the end of the year for her to really acclimate," Brown said.
"We got her in a three-turn race at the end of the year in the Long Island at Aqueduct and she should have won but she got in a lot of trouble. In only her second three-turn race, we saw what she can do, and we're going to try and keep her in races like this."
Smooth Like Strait went straight to the lead in Sunday's $125,000 Grade III La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds at Del Mar, was headed briefly but then regained the advantage and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths.
Last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, Storm the Court, making his first start on the green course, finished second, a head in front of K P All Sytems Go. Smooth Like Strait ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:40.29 with Umberto Rispoli up.
A graded stakes winner at 2, the Midnight Lute colt was coming off a win in the War Chant Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 23.
American Sailor did all the hard work in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Troy Stakes, only to finish second as Imprimis flashed by to report first by 2 1/4 lengths.
That result was reversed in the stewards' booth, though, as the officials ruled Imprimis interfered with Shekky Shebaz, who finished third, a furlong out.
The ruling placed Imprimis third. The 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf went in 1:01.27 with Tyler Gaffalione on American Sailor and Jose Ortiz on Imprimis.
American Sailor, an 8-year-old City Zip gelding, won for the fifth time in his last eight starts but many of those came far down the class ladder.
Imprimis, a 6-year-old Broken Vow gelding, had been on the sidelines since finishing sixth in the Breeder's Cup Turf Sprint last fall at Santa Anita.
"I'm speechless," spoke winning trainer Wayne Potts. "This is my first graded win. My clients have stood behind me through the years with claimers and this is where we're at."
Weston battled for the lead through most of Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar, then finally inched in front of main rival Girther to score by a neck.
Ambivalent was third, but demoted to fourth by the stewards, elevating Sonic Brees to the show position.
Roderick, shipped from New York by trainer Wesley Ward, broke on top but then steadily retreated, finishing last of seven, beaten some 26 lengths. Weston, a Hit It a Bomb gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.72 with Drayden Van Dyke in the irons.
Trained by Ryan Hanson, Weston now is 2-for-2. Sold to Hanson and a partner for $7,000 last September at Keeneland, he won at first asking at Santa Anita on June 21 at odds of 21-1 and has earned $120,000. As Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee has been known to mutter, "It's an easy game."
Hanson said he will see how Weston returns before making a decision about the $250,000 Grade I Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 7.
Jackie's Warrior was first out of the gate and first home in Friday's $150,000 Grade II Saratoga Special Presented by Miller Lite.
The Mclean's Music colt, with Joel Rosario up, was never really challenged in the 6-furlongs sprint, reporting first by 3 lengths over Therideofalifetime.
Momos was third and the favorite, Cazadero, was never in contention and finished fifth. The Saratoga Special, run without Lasix, was clocked in 1:09.62.
Jackie's Warrior won at first asking at Churchill Downs on June 19 in his only previous start and trainer Steve Asmussen said stretching him out to 7 furlongs, possibly in the $250,000 Grade I Runhappy Hopeful Sept. 7, is the next order of business.
At Ellis Park, Pico d'Oro, with Joe Talamo up, ran by pacesetting Medicine Tail and on to win Sunday's $100,000 Ellis Park Juvenile by 2 lengths. Medicine Tail had no trouble finishing second, 7 lengths better than Perfect Mistake.
Pico d'Oro, a Curlin colt out of the Bernardini mare Michelle d'Oro, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.95.
Saturday's $75,000 Tyro Stakes at Monmouth Park was moved off the grass onto the fast main track where County Final blew by pacesetter Spicy Marg in the late going to win by 4 1/4 lengths over that rival.
Newyearsblockparty and Beau Bridge completed the order of finish after four "off the turf" scratches.
County Final, an Oxbow colt, ran 5 furlongs in 58.16 seconds with Joe Bravo at the controls. He was making his first start since finishing a fading second to Cazadero in the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs in June.
Some other promising performances during the weekend:
Saturday's Race 10 at Del Mar was supposed to have been the unveiling of $1 million yearling purchase Spielberg and, indeed, the Union Rags colt looked like a million bucks when he took the lead at the top of the stretch.
But then he dropped anchor and it was Dr. Schivel who blew by to win by 5 3/4 lengths. The Violence colt, sold for $37,000, is trained by Luis Mendez. Under Juan Hernandez, he got 6 furlongs in a respectable 1:10.49. Spielberg held on for second, 2 1/2 lengths in front of early leader Noble Reflection.
Mutasaabeq, an Into Mischief colt out of the Scat Daddy mare Downside Scenario, painted nothing but upside potential in Race 5 Saturday at Saratoga.
The Shadwell-owned colt, a $425,000 yearling purchase trained by Todd Pletcher, made his first start an impressive winning one.
After breaking a half-step slowly from the outside gate, Mutasaabeq took the outside path to gain the lead, then drew away in the lane to win by 4 1/2 lengths. It was the kind of performance for which the cliché "much the best" was invented.
Saturday's Race 6 at the Spa was for 2-year-old maidens going 1 1/16 miles on the grass.
American Monarch, an American Pharoah colt making his first start, raced nicely behind the lead trio, came wide around them at the top of the stretch and went on to win by 1/2 length over the favorite, Secret Potion.
American Monarch, out of the Giant's Causeway mare Front Range, is trained by Bill Mott for his owner/breeder Mike Rutherford.
My Girl Red jumped out to an early lead in Friday's $150,000 Grade II Sorrento Stakes at Del Mar, extended the advantage throughout and won by 4 3/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite.
Get On the Bus, a first-time starter, kept running to finish second, 5 lengths better than Exchange Vows. My Girl Red, a daughter of Texas Red, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.12 with Flavien Prat up. She won her only other start June 14 at Santa Anita.
"I know it's still early and the [winning] time is average," said My Girl Red's trainer, Keith Desormeaux. "But I think she can go even quicker and I sure don't want to complain."
Desormeaux said the next stop for My Girl Red will be the $250,000 Grade I Del Mar Debutante at 7 furlongs Sept. 6.
At Ellis Park on Sunday, Crazy Beautiful rallied from next-last of 12 to win the $100,000 Ellis Park Debutante by 3 3/4 lengths, and then had to sweat out an inquiry before the result was posted as official.
Mania led briefly and was second and Fabricate came from well back to be third. Crazy Beautiful, a Liam's Map filly, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.71 for jockey Rafael Bejarano.
Esplanande led most of the way to a romping, 4 1/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $100,000 Cleveland Kindergarten Stakes for Ohio-breds at Thistledown.
The Daredevil filly, running against overmatched males, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.66 with jockey John McKee not asking for her best in the closing stages. Esplanande now is 3-for-3.
With Esplanande tackling the boys, Alexandria was the heavy favorite in Saturday's $100,000 Miss Ohio Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies and ran like it.
The Constitution filly won by 9 lengths, also with McKee up. Both Esplanande and Alexandria are owned by WinStar Farm, Blazing Meadows Farm and Michael Lewis.
Elsewhere around North America:
Spinoff surged to a quick lead late in Sunday's $100,000 Alydar Stakes and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths, eased up late. The favorite, Endorsed, was second with Bodexpress another 4 1/2 lengths back in third.
Spinoff, a 4-year-old Hard Spun colt, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.60 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons.
Givemetwenty rallied by Monforte in the final furlong to win Saturday's $100,000 Not Surprising Stakes for 3-year-olds by 1 1/2 lengths over that foe. Natural Power was third.
Givemetwenty, a Declaration of War colt trained by Ralph Nicks, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.71 with Emisael Jaramillo riding.
Lucky Polly put a nose in front of long-time leader Blue Mistress to win Saturday's $100,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Tournesal was third. Lucky Polly, a daughter of Lookin at Lucky, ran 1 mile on the grass in 1:35.46, also with Jaramillo in the irons.
Sacred Life stormed home in Sunday's $100,000 Oceanport Stakes, quickly blowing by the early speed and winning off by 4 lengths. Hawkish was second, a nose better than Irish Strait.
The favorite, Synchrony, finished fifth. Sacred Life, a 5-year-old, French-bred son of Siyouni, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:42.13 under Paco Lopez.
Lady Kate wired the field in Sunday's $100,000 Groupie Doll Stakes, clearing through the final furlong to finish first by 4 3/4 lengths.
New Roo and Istan Council were second and third as Lady Kate, a 4-year-old Bernardini filly, finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.89 under Florent Geroux. Trainer Eddie Kenneally said he will point Lady Kate to one of the stakes on Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs.
Mo Dont No raced close to the early leaders in Saturday's $100,000 Best of Ohio Governor's Buckeye Cup for state-breds, took over easily in the stretch run and won by 2 1/4 lengths over I Wanna Win.
Forewarned was another 1 length back in third. Mo Dont No, a 7-year-old Uncle Mo gelding, ran 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:05.80 with Jose Bracho riding.
Cake Pop rallied late along the rail to take Saturday's $100,000 Best of Ohio Honey Jay Stakes for Ohio-breds by a neck over Atlissimo. Cake Pop, a 6-year-old Notional gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.00 for Bracho.
Here's a tough DQ: Moonlit Mission came from next-last to finish first by 8 lengths in Saturday's $100,000 Best of Ohio Pay the Man Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, and then was set down to seventh after two other riders claimed foul for an incident entering the far turn.
That left Circus Rings, who finished second, 11 1/2 length in front of Leona's Reward, to earn the $60,000 winner's share while Moonlit Mission came back to the barn empty-handed.
Raagheb chased down pacesetting Secular nation late in Sunday's $60,000 JR Malouff Handicap and won by 2 1/4 lengths over that one. American Dubai was another 4 1/2 lengths back in third. Raagheb, an 8-year-old Street Cry gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.98 with Luis Negron up.
Snow Man was up in the final yards to take Saturday's $50,000 Duke City Sprint for 3-year-olds by a neck from front-running Competitive Idea. Tappin Fora Dance was third. Snow Man, a Congrats gelding, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.28 with Shane Laviolette riding.
Judge Phillip M led from the early jumps in Saturday's $50,000 Iowa Stallion Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds and won off by 4 lengths. Go Admiral Go was next-best, 8 3/4 lengths in front of the favorite, Southgate. Judge Phillip M, a Justin Phillip gelding, got 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:41.88 with Glenn Corbett up.
Bid for Power dominated three rivals in Saturday's $50,000 Iowa Stallion Filly Stakes, leading all the way to an 8-lengths victory. Little Slew, Daring Damsel and Helfast Girl picked up the minor checks. Bid for Power, a Power Broker filly, finished 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:44.21 with Ken Tohill aboard.
Around the world, around the clock:
Space Blues, the lesser-regarded of a Godolphin duo, found a seam and another gear to exploit it in the final furlong of Sunday's Group 1 LARC Prix Maurice de Gheest.
With William Buick up, the 4-year-old Dubawi colt raced near the back of the pack, accelerated quickly when shown daylight and won by 3/4 length over Hello Youmzain. Lope y Fernandez also found late speed to edge the favorite and Godolphin No. 1, Earthlight, for third.
Space Blues posted his fourth straight win and first in a Group 1. Stablemate Earthlight entered undefeated in six previous runs. Andre Fabre trains Earthlight. Charlie Appleby handles Space Blues.
Appleby suggested to Racing Post he would have no trouble pitching Space Blues against Godolphin's 3-year-old star Pinatubo in the Prix de la Foret. He trains both horses.
"Seven furlongs is his trip," Appleby said of Space Blues. "I'm happy to have as many good horses as we can and if it means running them together, then it's a sport. One thing His Highness [Sheik Mohammed] likes to see is sport and competition. We'll see who is best in the Foret."
Lucky Vega came with a burst of speed in the final furlong of the Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes for 2-year-olds Sunday at the Curragh and quickly found the line 3 1/2 lengths in front of Aloha Star.
The Lir Jet was third, followed by Laws of Indices and the favorite, St Mark's Basilica. Lucky Vega, a Lope de Vega colt with Shane Foley up, was rebounding from a second-place finish behind Laws of Indices in the Group 2 GAIN Railway Stakes over the same 6-furlongs trip July 18.
Tarnawa, racing in the Aga Khan's colors, got to the front early enough in Saturday's Group 3 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Give Thanks Stakes for fillies and mares and held well to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Cayenne Pepper.
Tarnawa, a 4-year-old daughter of Shamardal, also won this race last year. Cayenne Pepper finished third for the third straight time -- the previous two bridesmaid's appearances coming in the Group 1 Pretty Polly and the Juddmonte Irish Oaks.
Thunder Moon was an easy winner against some promising sorts in a maidens event Sunday at the Curragh, reporting 3 3/4 lengths to the good of Juddmonte Farms' Colour Sargeant with Coolmore runners Baton Rouge and Iowa third and fourth. Joseph Patrick O'Brien trains the winner, a Zoffany colt, for his mother, Annmarie O'Brien.
Star of Emaraaty picked things up in the final furlongs of Saturday's Group 3 Betway Sweet Solara Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Newmarket and kicked clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths from co-favorite Dubai Fountain. Star of Emaraaty, a daughter of Pride of Dubai, was let go at odds of 66-1 and won for the second time from five starts.