June 1 (UPI) -- Memorial Day racing wound up with a bang at Santa Anita with Smooth Like Strait earning the first U.S. Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" berth and Country Grammer and Maxim Rate landing the other Group 1 races.
Along the way, Lone Star Park, Churchill Downs, Belmont Park and Monmouth Park contributed to the graded stakes action although way too much of the turf racing was washed off the green courses by nasty early-weekend weather.
Several Kentucky Derby also-rans were in action, but only Sainthood managed to make a successful comeback.
On the international scene, there was an upset in the Japanese Derby and we have other results from as far afield as South Africa, Australia and Hong Kong.
With much to cover and a remembrance of the meaning of Memorial Day, we're off and running.
Award Winner raced second behind early leader Acclimate in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Charles Whittingham Stakes at Santa Anita, started cutting into the margin through the stretch and got by late to win by a head. Red King was another 2 1/2 lengths back in third and United completed the order of finish.
Award Winner, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper gelding, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:59.27 for jockey Juan Hernandez, starting on the downhill course. Trained by David Hofmans, the horse now has two wins and two seconds from four starts since he resettled in California after the 2020 season.
Sainthood led early in Saturday's off-the-turf $200,000 Grade III Pennine Ridge for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park, gave up the lead, regained it, lost it to a different foe and finally battled on to win by 1 length over The Reds. Shawdyshawdyshawdy finished third, 5 lengths farther back.
Sainthood finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby in his previous start after a runner-up showing in the Grade III Jeff Ruby Stakes on the Turfway Park all-weather course. The Pennine Ridge was to have been his turf debut.
"We came into today hoping to get him on the turf, but it's also great to have one as versatile as he is who can run on just about anything, said Pletcher, adding the $1 million Grade I Belmont Derby at 1 1/4 miles on the turf July 10 "will be toward the top of the list."
Cellist showed the way in Saturday's $150,000 Audubon Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, dug in gamely through the stretch and held for a 3/4-length victory. Palazzi was along late to finish second, 2 1/2 lengths in front of Royal Prince. The favorite, Like the King, last seen finishing 12th in the Kentucky Derby, was fifth.
Cellist, a Calumet Farm homebred colt by Big Blue Kitten, ran 1 1/8 miles on good turf in 1:51.53 for jockey Julien Leparoux.
Set Piece rallied from far back to take Saturday's $110,000 Douglas Park Stakes at Churchill Downs by 4 lengths, going away. Ramsey Solution was second with Another Mystery another 1 length back in third.
Set Piece, a 5-year-old, British-bred gelding by Dansili, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:44.13 with Florent Geroux in the irons.
Filly & Mare Turf
Maxim Rate and La Signare, both last seen at Keeneland, battled through the stretch run in Monday's $300,000 Grade I Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita with Maxim Rate first by 1/2 length. Bodhicitta was third, another 1/2 length in arrears while making her first start since last November at Del Mar.
Maxim Rate, a 5-year-old Exchange Rate mare, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:46.61 with Juan Hernandez up. It was her first win since last October.
"The Grade I was our main aim and to pull it off is fantastic for all of the owners, all of the Slam Dunk Team, everyone involved," said Maxim Rate's trainer, Simon Callaghan. "Now we'll just space the races out and it will be nice to get to the Breeders' Cup."
Gam's Mission was along in the final strides to take Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs to edge the favorite, Spanish Loveaffair, by 3/4 length. Flown was just a head farther back in third.
Gam's Mission, a Noble Mission filly, completed her 1 1/8-miles mission over good turf in 1:51.02 with Adam Beschizza riding for trainer Cherie DeVaux. She now is 3-for-3 in 2021 while quickly climbing the class ladder.
Monday's $200,000 Ouija Board Distaff at Lone Star Park came off the turf with no apparent impact on the winner, California invader Laura's Light. The 4-year-old Constitution filly stalked the early pace, kicked in heading for home and ran on to win by 4 3/4 lengths.
Early leader Raven's Cry was second with Curlin's Journey another 6 lengths back in third. Laura's Light ran 1 mile on the sloppy main track in 1:38.07 with Florent Geroux in the irons.
It's a Gamble took the inside path down the stretch to win Friday's off-the-turf, $100,000 Jersey Derby at Monmouth Park by 1 3/4 lengths. Indian Lake seized the lead turning for home but settled for second with Spectatorless third. It's a Gamble, an English Channel colt, ran 1 mile on a sealed track in 1:40.70 with Jose Baez riding.
Friday's $300,000 Grade III Penn Mile for 3-year-olds at Penn National also came off the turf but the sloppy main track didn't seem to bother Gershwin, who composed himself after a stalking trip to win by 2 lengths. The King Cheek was second, 6 1/4 lengths in front of Chess's Dream.
In Friday's $100,000 Penn Oaks, another victim of the rain, Orbs Baby Girl led all the way to a 5 1/4-lengths victory with Amalfi Princess second and Tic Tic Tic Boom third. Orbs Baby Girl, an Orb filly, splashed the 1 mile in 1:39.53 for jockey Junior Alvarado.
Bombard quickly worked to the front in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Daytona Stakes at Santa Anita, set a pressured pace and inched away late to score by 1 1/4 lengths over Majestic Eagle.
Commander was just another head behind in third. Bombard, an 8-year-old War Front gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:14.47 with Flavien Prat riding. It was his first win since July of 2019.
Sunday's $100,000 Paradise Creek Stakes for 3-year-olds was washed off the Belmont Park turf with three resulting scratches, including Outadore.
That left it to Beren, the even-money favorite among the remaining four, to lead all the way to a 10 3/4-lengths victory over the sloppy main track. Three Two Zone, Thin White Duke and Fauci completed the order of finish. Beren, a Weigelia colt, finished the 7 furlongs in 1:23.12 with Eric Cancel up.
Rain also forced Monmouth Park to move Sunday's $76,500 Politely Stakes for fillies and mares from the turf to the sloppy main track and that prompted five scratches.
Miss Auramet, with Dylan Davis up, emerged from the pack in the stretch run to win by 2 lengths over Bronx Beauty with No Mercy another 6 lengths back in third. Miss Auramet, a 5-year-old Uncaptured mare, got 5 furlongs in 57.60.
The "off the turf" problem extended into Texas on Monday as the $100,000 Chamberlain Bridge Stakes at Lone Star Park was washed onto the sloppy main track.
My Boanerges dueled through the 5 furlongs with the favorite, Share the Upside, before edging away to win by 3/4 length. It was another 1/2 length to Texas Wedge in third. My Boanerges, a 5-year-old, New Mexico-bred gelding by Diabolical, ran 5 furlongs in 57.34 seconds with Rodolfo Guerra up.
Country Grammer and Royal Ship hooked up in a ding-dong duel in the stretch run of Monday's $300,000 Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita, swapping the lead before Country Grammer prevailed by a head. It was another 4 1/4 lengths to Express Train in third.
Country Grammer, a 4-year-old Tonalist colt, completed the 1 1/4 miles over a fast track in 2:02.23 with Flavien Prat riding.
Counry Grammer won the Grade III Peter Pan last summer at Saratoga before finishing fifth in the Grade I Travers. Sold to WinStar Farm after that, he returned from a long layoff to finish second in the Grade II Californian in April.
"Elliot Walden and WinStar bought him to bring to California because they figured a mile and a quarter was his distance," Baffert said. "His form on the dirt was really good last year. It looked like he was beat today, but he kicked it in.
"He ran a big race last time and just got beat. He was really ready to go today and I think the distance was the key. He got it done with a lot of class and determination."
Meanwhile, horses returning from the Kentucky Derby didn't quite get the job done Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Fulsome, last seen at Oaklawn Park, rallied from last of seven to win the $150,000 Grade III Matt Winn Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3 3/4 lengths.
He was trailed by O Besos, fifth in the Run for the Roses, and Helium, who finished eighth on the first Saturday in May. Fulsome, with Florent Geroux up, came around rivals into the stretch while launching his winning drive.
The Into Mischief colt, a Juddmonte Farms homebred, completed 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.88. He now has a three straight wins since trainer Brad Cox moved him off the turf, where he was 1-for-4.
Mighty Heart battled on the front end all around the 1 1/8 miles of Saturday's $150,000 Blame Stakes at Churchill Downs, then won a three-way photo by a nose over the favorite, Night Ops, and another head from Sprawl.
Mighty Heart, an Ontario-bred, 4-year-old colt by Dramedy, finished in 1:50.00 with James Graham aboard. It was his fourth win in his 10th start.
Warrant and Mr. Wireless, both down from Oaklawn Park, duked it out in the final furlong of Monday's $300,000 Texas Derby at Lone Star Park with Warrant prevailing by 3/4 length. Rightandjust was third and another Kentucky Derby also-ran, Super Stock, finished fourth.
Warrant, a Constitution colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:45.03. Get Her Number clipped heels with Super Stock going into the first turn and was eased but the stewards took no action on a claim of foul.
Smooth Like Strait went straight to the front in Monday's $300,000 Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita and never gave up the lead, winning by 1 1/2 lengths as the odds on favorite and earnings a "Win and You're In" spot in the Breeders' Cup Mile in November at Del Mar.
Say the Word was second with Restrainedvengeance third. Smooth Like Strait, a 4-year-old Midnight Lute colt, finished in 1:34.19 over a fast track with Umberto Rispoli at the controls. He was rebounding from a third-place finish in the Grade I Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in his last start.
"I don't think he was getting the respect he deserved earlier in the year," said winning trainer Michael McCarthy. "But he showed up and put together a nice campaign. The horse responded beautifully to Umberto.
"They have become quite the partnership. "I've had an immense amount of faith in this horse all along and I really believe that there are big things coming for him later in the year."
On the Memorial Day program at Lone Star Park, Mo Mosa rallied strongly down the stretch to post a 23-1 upset win in the $400,000 Grade III Steve Sexton Mile, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over the favorite, C Z Rocket. Silver Prospector was third as Mo Mosa, with Ramon Vazquez up, finished in 1:37.15.
The 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt was last seen winning the Bosselman Pump and Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes at Fonner Park while C Z Rocket had been mixing it up with the nation's best sprinters for the past six months.
Monday at Golden Gate Fields, Navy Armed Guard emerged from a pace-stalking trip to win the $100,000 All American Stakes by 3/4 length. Cupid's Claws was second, 2 1/2 lengths in front of the favorite, Zestful.
Navy Armed Guard, a 6-year-old Midshipman gelding, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:36.31 with Frank Alvarado riding.
Crazy Beautiful trailed all three rivals midway through Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita, angled out at the quarter pole and took charge, winning off by 1 3/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Soothsay. Lady Aces and Plum Sexy completed the order of finish. Crazy Beautiful, a Liam's Map filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.85 with Mike Smith up.
Trainer Kenny McPeek shipped Crazy Beautiful to California after a 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks. Prior to that, she won the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks.
Envoutante tracked the early leader in Saturday's $150,000 Shawnee Stakes at Churchill Downs, took over when prompted by jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. and won off easily as the odds-on favorite. Miss Bigly led early and finished second, 4 1/4 lengths back and 3 1/4 lengths in front of Paris Lights in third.
Envoutante, who had been involved in a long string of graded stakes, clearly enjoyed the relative class relief and got 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in 1:42.59.
Magic on Tap, the lesser-regarded of two Bob Baffert runners, rallied to the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita and went on to win by 2 lengths. Shooters Shoot was second, Exaulted third and "other Baffert," Eight Belles, finished fourth as the favorite.
Magic On Tap, a 5-year-old son of Tapit, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.54 under Juan Hernandez. He had missed a year and a half before returning to action with an allowance win March 28 but then finished fourth, beaten more then 23 lengths, in the Grade II Californian in his previous start.
"I was looking for an allowance race for the horse," Baffert said of Magic On Tap, "and then I decided to throw him into the stakes race. He is bred to be a good one. It was good to get a stakes win for him after he disappointed in the Californian.
"I was disappointed in Eight Rings, but you gotta get the trip. I thought we could run one-two today."
Wind of Change splashed his way to the lead early in Saturday's $100,000 Mr. Prospector Stakes on Opening Day at Monmouth Park, then extended the advantage all the way to a 6 1/4-lengths victory. Golden Brown was best of the rest, finishing 3/4 length in front of Always Sunshine.
Wind of Change, a Brazilian-bred son of Forestry, ran 6 furlongs on the sloppy, sealed track in 1:09.60 with J.C. Diaz Jr. in the irons.
Bango raced near the back of the 10-horse field in Saturday's $150,000 Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs, swung six-wide into the stretch and ran by them all to win by 1/2 lengths. Long Range Toddy was a long-shot second, 3/4 lengths better than Sir Alfred James.
The favorite, Tap It to Win, beat only one rival. Bango, a 4-year-old Congrats colt, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.65 with Marcelino Pedroza in the irons.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Our Iris Rose worked quickly to the lead in Monday's $100,000 Memorial Day Sprint Stakes at Lone Star Park and held off the odds-on favorite, Mundaye Call, to win by 3/4 length. Ain't No Elmers was third. Our Iris Rose, a 4-year-old Ghostzapper filly, ran 6 furlongs on a good, sealed track in 1:10.27 for jockey Richard Eramia.
Around the ovals:
Six rich races for New York-breds decorated the Memorial Day program at the Elmont oval. Sadly, the two races carded for the turf were washed off and run on the muddy main track.
River Dog dogged the pace in the $125,000 Mike Lee Stakes for 3-year-olds, then went by and on to win by 1 3/4 lengths with Market Alert along for second. River Dog, a Twirling Candy colt, got 7 muddy furlongs in 1:23.38 with Jose Ortiz in the irons Betsy Blue dominated the stretch run of the $125,000 Bouwerie Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
The Tonalist filly rallied outside the leaders and went on to win by 5 1/4 lengths over Secret Love, finishing 7 furlongs in 1:24.33 for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
Bankit chased the early pace in the $200,000 Commentator Handicap, then said goodbye in the stretch run, winning by 13 1/4 lengths. Danny California beat the other four as Bankit, a 5-year-old son of Central Banker, ran 1 mile in 1:34.52 with Jose Lezcano up.
Critical Eye led all the way to a 1 1/4-lengths victory over Good Credence in the $200,000 Critical Eye Handicap for fillies and mares. The Central Banker filly got 1 mile in 1:36.34 under Kendrick Carmouche.
In the off-the-turf events, Robin Sparkles won the $125,000 Mount Vernon for fillies and mares by 3/4 length over Kilkea and, with only three left after seven scratches, Vintage Hollywood prevailed by 5 1/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Control Group, in the $125,000 Kingston Stakes.
Sound Machine found a seam along the rail turning for home in Saturday's $75,000 Musical Romance Stakes for Florida-bred fillies and mares, shot through and ran on to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Bramble Berry, the early leader, held second with Merseyside third.
Sound Machine, a 4-year-old Into Mischief filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.74 with Edgard Zayes up.
Princess Georgia had only one rival beat turning for home in Monday's $76,500 Spruce Fir Handicap for New Jersey-bred fillies and mares, circled them and arrived just in time, winning by 3/4 length. Diamond Play led briefly and held second, 1/2 length better than the favorite, Groovy Surprise.
Princess Georgia, a 6-year-old El Padrino mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.93 with Carlos Hernandez up.
Friday's "Best of Ohio" ran into the worst of weather -- so foul the Equibase chart caller couldn't see the field through one of the five $100,000 stakes events for Ohio-breds and the turf races had to be transferred to the sloppy main track. Through it all:
Wicked Warrior romped in the off-the-turf Sydney Gendelman Stakes, winning the 1 1/16-miles event by 10 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Forewarned. Altisimo closed well to take the 6-furlongs Babst/Palacios Memorial by 1 1/4 length from Chief Randall.
Buckeye Magic rallied from last of 10 to win the off-the-grass Green Carpet Stakes for 3-year-olds by 1 1/4 lengths. Alexandria kicked loose to win the Queen City Oaks by 10 3/4 lengths. Esplanade took the 6-furlongs Diana Stakes for fillies and mares by 12 1/2 lengths.
The rotten weather dampened proceedings here, too. Trolley Ride got the better of a long stretch battle to win the off-the-turf, $100,000 Lyphard Stakes for Pennsylvania-bred fillies and mares by 1/2 length over Midnight Obsession.
Raven's Delight held off the favorite, Chilly In Charge, to win the off-the turf, $100,000 With Anticipation for state-bred fillies and mares by 1 length.
Our Diamond Girl battled for the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Fancy Buckles Stakes for West Virginia-bred fillies and mares, finally gained dominance and won off by 1 1/2 lengths. College Kid was second, another 1 1/2 lengths better than Good Karma.
Our Diamond Girl, a 4-year-old daughter of Windsor Castle, finished 5 furlongs on a muddy track in 52.97 seconds with Fredy Peltroche riding.
Sir Wally Wally launched a four-wide bid turning for home in Monday's $62,250 Gray's Lake Stakes for Iowa-bred 3-year-old colts and geldings and got the job done, drawing off to win by 3 3/4 lengths over Time Goes By. The favorite, Greedy Creedy, finished third but was disqualified to sixth, promoting Cowboy Casanova to show money.
Sir Wally Wally, a Revolutionary gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.11 with Glenn Corbett up.
Kela's Turn was bet down to virtually nothing before the start of Saturday's $62,225 Bob Bryant Stakes for Iowa-bred 3-year-old fillies, then justified every dime.
The Kela filly quickly put away a challenge from Shesabidformidable and rolled on to a 5 3/4-lengths victory. Shesabidformidable held on for second, 4 lengths in front of Bossy Moment. Kela's Turn ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.06 with Shane Laviolette in the irons.
Around the world, around the clock:
Shahryar found another gear in the final 200 meters of Sunday's Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby and just nailed the favorite, Efforia, by a nose at the finish. The defeat ended Efforia's undefeated run at four and put an end to his Triple Crown hopes.
Efforia, an Epiphaneia colt, was an easy winner in the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2000 Guineas, April 18 at Nakayama and was the heavy favorite in Sunday's race.
Shahryar entered the Derby with only three previous starts, none of them above the Grade 3 level and none beyond 1,800 meters. As it turned out, he needed the whole 2,400 meters of the Derby.
Jockey Yuichi Fukunaga admitted he was forced to improvise in the latter stages of the race.
"We were keeping an eye on the race favorite but the race didn't go as smoothly as planned," he said. "We were in a tight spot so we were forced to make our charge late but this colt really gave a terrific effort. It's so great to have won the Derby, which I had made it my target with this colt ever since his debut."
Shahryar became the seventh Tokyo Yushun winner for his late sire, Deep Impact, who was one of only three in Japan Racing Association history to complete a sweep of the Triple Crown while undefeated.
The final leg of he Triple Crown is the Grade 1 Kikuka Sho or Japanese St. Leger at Hanshin on Oct. 24. That race is contested at 3,000 meters (about 1 7/8 miles).
Skaletti was along in the final strides to edge Tilsit by a head in Sunday's Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp.
My Oberon was third. Skaletti, a 6-year-old gelding by Ken Dargent, was held up in the rear of the field by jockey Gerald Mosse, came to challenge in the final 100 meters and put a head in front just before the finish. It was his third in in as many starts this year, following on the Group 3 Prix Exbury and the Group 2 Prix d'Harcourt.
BMW Hong Kong Derby winner Sky Darci returned to the races with a win Sunday, taking the Lion Rock Trophy in a return to a distance that looks to be more his future. But he had to work for it, battling with Healthy Happy through the final 200 meters before winning by a short head.
The Derby win came at 2,000 meters, the longest race of Sky Darci's career. Sunday's fray was a one-turn 1,600 meters and trainer Caspar Fownes said even shorter may be better for the 4-year-old as he looks to avoid a showdown anytime soon with Golden Sixty. That could indicate a campaign leading to the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint in December.
"It looks like we've got something to work with going forward to December," Fownes said. "He's a good horse and he's probably still got another length and a half to two lengths in him over the next 12 months.
"If he can do that, all of sudden he's a serious and proper horse. He's a sprinter-miler in my mind and he's showing us that, so we'll just try to pick the best possible options and avoid the champions."
Saturday's Group 1 TAB Kingsford-Smith Cup at Eagle Farm in Queensland always shaped up as a wide-open affair and trainer Tony Golan took full advantage as his runners reported first and second -- both at double-digit odds.
Vega One, with Jamie Kah in the kip, got there first, 1/2 length in front of stablemate Jonker, who was a similar margin better than Signore Fox in third. The favorite, Savatiano, got home ninth in a field of 15 as Vega One finished 1,300 meters on good going in 1:16.91.
Chris Waller saddled a 1-2 of his own in the Group 1 Moet & Chandon Queensland Derby as Kukeracha edged stablemate Senor Toba. The favorite, Explosive Jack, was another 1 length back in third.
Linebacker was the front end of a 1-2 finish for trainer Vaughan Marshall in the Grade 1 Daily News 2000 for 3-year-olds Saturday at Hollywood Bets Greyville.
Linebacker, a Captain of All gelding, got home first by nearly 3/4 length over Rascallion with Grant van Niekerk riding. He now has four wins and four seconds from eight starts.
War of Athena won the companion Grade 1 Woolavington 2000 for 3-year-old fillies by 2 lengths as the heavy favorite. The Act of War filly scored her sixth straight win and ninth from 15 starts.