Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Happy Saver's rapid rise to the top ranks, capped by his weekend victory in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup, adds a whole new dimension to this year's Breeders' Cup Classic.
The Gold Cup was one of five Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" races highlighting weekend horse racing. The others helped set the fields for three of the juvenile races and the Filly &Mare Turf.
The latter race also got some added interest as 3-year-olds Harvey's Lil Goil and Micheline renewed a rivalry in the QE II at Keeneland.
On the international front, Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien's week got worse before it got better. Arcadia Queen and Ole Kirk were among the Group 1 winners in Australia. Salios and Glory Vase prepped for bigger races down the road with nice wins in Japan.
Let's get this show on the road.
Well, well, well. Here's another country heard from in the Classic Division. Happy Saver, making just his fourth career start, jumped up to win Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
The 3-year-old Souper Saver colt outfinished Mystic Guide as the favorite, Tacitus, faded from the lead and finished third. Happy Saver, a Wertheimer homebred trained by Todd Pletcher, remains undefeated after four starts and proved he easily can handle 1 1/4 miles against older rivals.
Winning rider Irad Ortiz Jr. said Happy Saver wasn't comfortable when he was stuck inside, behind horses, through much of the race.
"I had horse. I just didn't have anywhere to go," he said. "When we turned for home, I knew he would be there for me and, if the hole was still open, I'd go for it."
Happy Saver won at first asking in June at Belmont, going 7 furlongs. He moved right up to a 1 1/8-miles allowance event at Saratoga on July 26 and won by 4 lengths. In his first stakes assignment, he won the Federico Tesio at Laurel Park on Sept. 7, again going 1 1/8 miles.
"When we started getting serious with his breezes, he was breezing with Dr Post and some horses we knew had talent and he was staying right with them," Pletcher said. "But I couldn't have imagined on June 20 he'd be winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup and be 4-for-4. That's hard to do, but it's a tribute to his quality."
The Gold Cup was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic but Pletcher said that isn't a given since Happy Saver is so lightly raced and exerted himself Saturday's win. "I wouldn't say we're definite for it. But I wouldn't rule it out, either," he said.
On Saturday at Keeneland, site of the 2020 Breeders' Cup World Championships, Mr Freeze stalked the early pace in the $200,000 Grade II Hagyard Fayette Stakes, took over in the lane and then held on to win by a neck from Aurelius Maximus. Title Ready was along for third.
Mr Freeze, a 5-year-old son of To Honor and Serve, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.71 with Javier Castellano in the irons.
Trainer Dale Romans said he was happy to see a turnaround for Mr Freeze, who had hit a rough patch after a good run through the second half of 2019 and this spring.
"Today he ran like his old self," Romans said. "That was a rough trip for him. I wasn't expecting him to be four wide on both turns and stalking horses, but he showed what a good horse he really is."
Romans said he's facing a decision now about which Breeders' Cup race would best suit his horse with the Classic, Dirt Mile and the Mile on the turf all under consideration. "He's a good horse to run on anything," the trainer said.
Filly & Mare Turf
Even with a couple of late scratches, Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland had a stellar field, assembled from around the continent.
Full marks, then, to Harvey's Lil Goil, who stalked the pace, assumed the lead from the tiring pacesetter in the lane and defended that advantage to win by 3/4 length over Micheline.
The favorite, Magic Attitude, settled for third, another 1/2 length back. Harvey's Lil Goil, a daughter of American Pharoah, ran 1 1/8 miles on good turf in 1:48.72 with Martin Garcia riding for trainer Bill Mott.
While the QE II combatants came from all points of the compass, the top two just journeyed some 173 miles up from the Tennessee border.
In their last start, Micheline defeated Harvey's Lil Goil by a late-running neck in the $500,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs. Before that, Harvey's Lil Goil was third in the Grade I Alabama at Saratoga.
"We were pretty confident with her," said Mott assistant Kenny McCarthy. "She ran a super race for us at Kentucky Downs in her last out and had trained really well in between.
"She's a little superstar. She pretty much goes on any surface for us. At least in my mind, I think the turf probably is a little bit easier for her to handle."
About a Breeders' Cup bid, McCarthy said, "I read a comment that Mr. Mott wasn't ruling anything out. I'll leave it at that."
Civil Union led a parade of closers under the wire in Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Flower Bowl Stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park. My Sister Nat was a head behind the winner, trailed by Nay Lady Nay and the favorite, Cambier Park.
The second- through fourth-place finishers all were saddled by Chad Brown's team. Civil Union, with Joel Rosario riding for trainer Shug McGaughey, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:01.28. It was the fourth straight win for the 5-year-old War Front mare.
"When she started off this winter in Florida, I never imagined that she would be a Grade I winner," McGaughey said. "She was taking everything that we did with her and getting bigger and stronger."
The Flower Bowl was a "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, but McGaughey typically sounded a "wait and see" note.
"It was probably a hard race on her, but she's a big and strong mare," he said. "If she was doing as well as she's done all summer, it's probably worth giving a whirl."
Brown rebounded from the Flower Bowl defeat as Tamahere rallied from next-last in the $150,000 Grade II Sands Point Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park, and then edged away to win by 2 lengths.
Speaktomeofsummer was second after some traffic problems and Drop a Hint ran evenly to finish third. Tamahere, a French-bred daughter of Wootton Bassett, covered 1 mile of firm turf in 1:35.12 with Irad Ortiz up. She was having her first U.S. go after scoring two wins and two seconds from six starts in France.
"She trained super and we momentarily thought about running in the Queen Elizabeth for her first start in the country," Brown said of Tamahere. "I thought that would have been a little ambitious.
"She can be a little temperamental and a little keen early, so I wanted to run her out of her own stall right here at home at Belmont with our crew here. I thought it was the safest way to get her started in the States, and she delivered. ... She's a really exciting horse to have for the future."
Turf Mile / Turf
The Breeders' Cup World Championships and racing in general took another hit this week as Godolphin announced the retirement, with immediate effect, of last year's 2-year-old champion, Pinatubo.
While the Shamardal colt never quite lived up to his undefeated 2019 record, he did win the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat in July and finished second to Persian King in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin last month at Longchamp.
Trainer Charlie Appleby said retirement was the other option from shipping to Lexington for the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Saturday at Monmouth Park, Almanaar rallied four-wide into the stretch in the $150,000 Grade III Monmouth Stakes and rolled by most the of field to win by 1 length.
Serve the King was second with Bal Harbour third. Almanaar, an 8-year-old, British-bred gelding by Dubawi, ran 1 1/8 miles on a firm turf in 1:49.22 with Joe Bravo in the irons.
Trained in New York by Chad Brown, Almanaar now has raided the Jersey Shore successfully twice in a row -- with 16 months in between. He last raced May 25, 2019, at Monmouth Park when he also won the Monmouth Stakes.
"Only Chad Brown does this," Bravo said. "He's amazing."
Got Stormy got away slowly in Friday's $150,000 Grade III Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland, came wide into the stretch and made up all the ground in the final furlong to win by nose over Into Mystic. Jakarta was third as Got Stormy, a 5-year-old Get Stormy mare, finished 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:02.33 with Tyler Gaffalione up.
"She didn't get away the cleanest and I didn't want to rush her up," Gaffalione said. "I figured she was much the best here and we'll come with our run. Man, she really finished up nice."
We keep noticing how well horses run after being tested at Kentucky Downs and this race is another example. Got Stormy and Into Mystic finished first and third in their last start, the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint.
"The first and second [at Keeneland] coming out of that race at Kentucky Downs just shows how strong the racing is down there," said David Carroll, assistant to winning trainer Mark Casse. "Hopefully this will get her to the Breeders' Cup in great shape."
Which Breeders' Cup race, however, will "depend on the weather," Casse said by telephone hookup, indicating the turf condition will decide between the Mile and the Turf Sprint.
Jackie's Warrior strolled easily through Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park and kicked away in the stretch run to win by 5 1/2 lengths over his main threat, Reinvestment Risk.
As the chairman of Blades said after watching James Bond win a hand of bridge against Hugo Drax, "That was a bit of a beetle-crusher."
With Joel Rosario up, the Maclean's Music colt finished in 1:35.42 without being asked for much. He remains undefeated after four starts, also including the Grade II Saratoga Special and the Grade I Hopeful, also at the Spa. Reinvestment Risk was second in the Hopeful.
The Champagne was a one-turn mile and the win earned Jackie's Warrior a "Win and You're In" spot for the 1 1/16-miles Breeders' Cup Juvenile, his first chance around two turns. "We'll see," Rosario said. "I don't think he'll have any problems."
Six of the seven starters finished separated by less then 2 lengths in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Futurity at Belmont Park with Second of July 1/2 length in front of the favorite, After Five.
Momos was third in the "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. Second of July, a Jack Milton gelding, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:09.33 with Dylan Davis riding for trainer Phil Gleaves.
"All being well and if the horse is OK, we will head to the Breeders' Cup," Gleaves said.
Master Spy, a moderate favorite, took a short early lead in Saturday's $250,000 (Canadian) Cup and Saucer Stakes for Canadian-bred 2-year-olds, improved through the final furlong and won by 3 1/4 lengths.
Threefiftyseven was second with Giant Waters another 2 1/4 lengths back in third. Master Spy, a Silent Name colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:42.67 for jockey Patrick Husbands.
He now has two straight wins on the turf and was second in the Victoria Stakes on the all-weather track in August, so there is some Queen's Plate potential.
"The riders saw the first two races run on the turf today that the winners came from behind so I was telling myself, 'I hope the [other] riders stick with that plan and I can get an easy lead,'" Husbands said.
Dayoutoftheoffice got the jump on the favorite, Vequist, at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park and made that advantage stand up, winning by 2 lengths.
It was another 10 1/4 lengths back of Vequist to Cilla in third. Dayoutoftheoffice, an Into Mischief filly, finished the mile in 1:35.82 for jockey Junior Alvarado.
Dayoutoftheoffice remained undefeated after three starts while returning from a nearly three-months break after the Grade III Schuylerville at Saratoga. Vequist won the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga in her previous start. Saturday's race was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
"The plan was to have a fresh horse for this time of the year," Tim Hamm, trainer and part-owner, said of Dayoutoftheoffice's mini vacation.
"We wanted to just train her a little lightly and have her fresh for the fall run. Everything went according to plan. Hopefully everything comes back well. Unless there's some unforeseen circumstances, we'll be at the Breeders' Cup."
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Royal Approval raced just behind pacesetter Union Gables in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Matron at Belmont Park, took the lead at the sixteenth pole and edged clear, winning by 3/4 length. Union Gables held second, 3/4 length in front of Magisterium.
Royal Approval, a Tiznow filly, ran 6 furlongs on firm going in 1:09.10 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up, earning a "Win and You're In" berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. The Wesley Ward-trained miss now is 2-for-2 since returning from Royal Ascot, where she finished 17th in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes.
Ward said the Breeders' Cup looks like a good bet, either stretching Royal Approval out to take the spot she earned, or saying at the sprint distance. But, he said, "As we get a little closer, we'll have to really watch the weather, as this filly doesn't handle the soft turf. At Keeneland in the fall, sometimes you'll get that."
Around the ovals:
Salute With Honor worked quickly to the front in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Durham Cup Stakes, maintained a daylight lead into the stretch and got home first by 1 length over a fast-closing Skywire.
Timeskip also ran late but finished third, another 3 lengths back. Salute With Honor, a 6-year-old To Honor and Serve gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.35 with Patrick Husbands riding.
Galilean hooked up with Ultimate Bango in a stretch duel in Sunday's $100,000 California Flag Handicap for state-bred fillies and mares, ultimately prevailing a head over that rival.
Rookie Mistake was third. Galilean, a 4-year-old filly by Uncle Mo, ran about 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.13 for jockey Umberto Rispoli.
Just Grazed Me rallied by pacesetting Gypsy Blu in the stretch run to win Saturday's $100,000 California Distaff for state-bred fillies and mares by 3/4 length.
Nardini was third. Just Grazed Me, a 5-year-old Grazen mare, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.99 with Rispoli in the irons.
Star Mabee stalked the pace in Thursday's $75,000 Scarlet and Gray Handicap for Ohio-bred fillies and mares, moved to the lead in the stretch and got home first, 1 length before Moonlit Mission.
It was another 4 1/2 lengths to Ali Blue in third. Star Mabee, a 7-year-old Mr. Mabee mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.06 with Luis Rivera up.
There was all kinds of action for the West Virginia-bred steeds Saturday.
Awesome Faith, a 7-year-old Friesan Fire gelding, came from last of nine to post a 37-1 upset win in the $150,000 West Virginia Breeders' Classic with Buff's Eye View second and the favorite, Runnin'toluvya, sixth. Long shot She Figures (apparently she didn't) upset the Breeders' Classic Distaff, winning by 7 3/4 lengths at odds of 11-1.
Star of Night was a popular, 4 1/2-lengths victor in the 7-furlongs Breeders' Classic for 3-year-old fillies. In the open companion race, Fancy Concho led the way and won by 1 length.
Penguin Power kicked away late to take the Onion Juice Breeders' Classic at 7 furlongs by 14 1/2 lengths and the companion race for fillies and mares went to Bridging the Gap, by 6 1/4 lengths.
Amongst the 2-year-olds, Youthinkthatsfunny, a Fiber Sonde gelding, won the 6 1/2-furlongs open division by 3 1/2 lengths. That Kenny Kid, by Speightster, rallied to win the all-fillies event by 1 length.
Dr. Feelgood led all the way to take the 4 1/2-furlongs Dash For Cash Classic by 2 1/4 lengths.
Around the world, around the clock:
The crazy year of 2020 just keeps throwing screwballs. Local staff at Newmarket mixed up Aidan O'Brien's two fillies, Snowfall and Mother Earth, before Friday's Group 1 bet35 Fillies Mile and sent them to the post with the wrong riders and saddlecloth numbers.
As a result, the initial results showed Snowfall finishing third with Mother Earth eighth. In fact, it was Mother Earth third and Snowfall eighth.
"We have a team based in England these days because of the coronavirus restrictions," Racing Post quoted the Ireland-stuck trainer, "so the problem is the lads that are with the horses at home can't always go racing with them. ... It's no excuse. I don't know what to say other than I am so sorry it happened."
None of that affected the winner, Pretty Gorgeous, trained by Aidan's son, Joseph Patrick O'Brien. The French-bred daughter of Lawman came from mid-field to challenge for the lead in the final furlong and won by 1/2 length over Indigo Girl. Dubai Fountain, who finished fourth, will be promoted to third.
Pretty Gorgeous now has three wins and two seconds from five starts.
The mixup, on the heels of the contaminated feed debacle that saw all of the O'Brien horses withdrawn from the Arc card the previous weekend, got somewhat better Saturday in the Group 1 Darley Dewhurst for 2-year-olds.
St Mark's Basilica started at the back of the field and, with half of the 7-furlong distance to go, was all dressed up with nowhere to go. Then, the seas parted directly in front of the Siyouni colt, Frankie Dettori found him plenty willing to plug the gap and he ran on to outfinish Wembley by 3/4 length for the win.
"I was in the middle of the group and I got all the splits," Dettori told the Racing Post. "In fairness, when I asked him to go he went and he never stopped. He didn't put a foot wrong."
Both St Mark's Basilica and Wembley are trained by Aidan O'Brien. The favorite, Thunder Moon, reported third for son Donnacha O'Brien. St Mark's Basilica came to the race off a third in the Vincent O'Brien National Stakes at the Curragh -- a race won by Thunder Moon with Wembley second, so a pattern emerges that could repeat next spring over the same grass.
"You'd think the first three look like they are proper Guineas horses, don't they? They have speed and were getting seven furlongs well," RP quoted Aidan O'Brien, who added about his recent adversity:
"It was one of those weeks but that's the way the cards have fallen for us all week. That's the way it is. We do our best to try to make it happen but there are things that happen that are beyond our control."
Arcadia Queen, from the back of the field, and favorite Russian Camelot, from a stalking position, both moved to the front 200 meters out in Saturday's Group 1 Neds Caulfield Cup.
Arcadia Queen then found more, leading at the 100-meters mark and winning by 1 1/4 lengths. It was another 2 1/2 lengths back from Russian Camelot to Humidor in third. Arcadia Queen, with William Pike riding, finished the 2,000 meters in 2:03.38, reversing the order of finish from the Group 1 Underwood Stakes Sept. 26.
Trainer Danny O'Brien said he still has his hopes up for Russian Camelot for the Ladbrokes Cox Plate on Oct. 24.
"He's been beaten by an exceptional performance by Arcadia Queen," the trainer said. "She's been comprehensively better than him today and we wouldn't be making any excuses. Hopefully when we go to Moonee Valley there might be more pressure in the race and our guy might be looking for a bit further now."
The Cup was the first of four Group 1 events on the card. Pike struck again in the Neds Caulfield Guineas, riding the co-favorite, Ole Kirk, to a 1/2-length victory.
In the Schweppes Thousand Guineas, Odeum, trained by Michael Walker, scored her third win from four starts in a minor upset. Both Ole Kirk and Odeum were sired by Written Tycoon. And Mr Quickie, the 2019 Queensland Derby winner, ended a long dry spell with a late-running, 2-lengths victory in the Lexus Toorak Handicap at 21-1 odds.
At Randwick on Saturday, Montefilia became the first filly to win both the Flight Stakes and the Spring Champion when she saw off Lion's Roar by nearly 1 length in the latter.
The daughter of Kermadec bumped up her record to four wins from seven starts and trainer David Payne said she may have earned a trip to Melbourne for the VRC Oaks on Nov. 5.
Things are starting to heat up for the big autumn races in Japan.
Salios, winner of last year's Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity and runner up to Contrail in both the Satuski Sho (Japanese 2,000 Guineas) and Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) early this year, returned from a five-months layoff to win Sunday's Grade 2 Mainichi Okan at Tokyo Racecourse by a cozy 3 lengths as the solid favorite.
The Heart's Cry colt, taking on older rivals for the first time, completed 1,800 meters on good turf in 1:45.5 with Christophe Lemaire up for trainer Noriyuki Hori. Much is expected in the coming months from both him and Contrail.
At Kyoto on Sunday, Glory Vase, winner of last December's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase, outfinished Kiseki to take the Grade 2 Kyoto Daishoten by 3/4 length. Glory Vase, a 5-year-old by Deep Impact, tracked the early pace, finished well and covered 2,400 meters on good turf in 2:25.6 for jockey Yuga Kawada.
It was a handy turnabout for the Silk Racing Co. color bearer, who was a badly fading 17th in the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin in June, his first start since the Hong Kong triumph.
Kiseki, a 6-year-old son of Rulership, has finished second in some of Japan's biggest races but has not won since taking the Grade 1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) in 2017.
Stella Veloce made up a lot of ground late to capture Saturday's Grade 3 Saudi Arabia Royal Cup for 2-year-olds over soft turf at Tokyo.
Infinite, the only filly in the 10-horse field, went favorite but finished second, 3 lengths back of the winner, with Seiun Diemos third. Stella Voloce, a Bago colt, finished 1,600 meters in 1:39.6 and remains undefeated after two starts.