June 14 (UPI) -- Maybe it's a little early to crown Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality as best 3-year-old in the nation, especially after Mandaloun's impressive victory in Sunday's Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park.
Kentucky Derby runner-up Mandaloun and the Pegasus itself took a star turn in a sharply limited U.S. weekend stakes schedule and we'll get to that race and the rest of the program in just a bit. First, though, we turn our attention just a tad west of London, where Ascot Racecourse is all decked out and ready for ...
The gates spring open Tuesday on arguably the most important, fashionable, prestigious week of racing anywhere in the world: Royal Ascot.
Other race meetings have claims but, at a minimum, Royal Ascot was there first -- so far back in history that the best the racecourse can say is, "The precise origin of the Royal Meeting is unclear." Racing at the site dates to 1711.
After a year behind closed doors thanks to pandemic precautions, Ascot welcomes spectators this year at the reduced clip of 12,000 a day -- although it's a bit of short-selling to call the fashionably clad, here-to-be-seen bunch as mere "spectators." It is, after all, a high-class entertainment.
This year's twist is the 10th anniversary "Royal Ascot Style Guide" urging (presumably non-royal) racegoers to consider "garments sourced from charity shops, nearly new boutiques, vintage emporiums and resale websites."
Glad rags aside, the week is big business for the horse business. Royal Ascot winners are valuable commodities for the prestige and breeding potential. Into the bargain, four slots in November's Breeders' Cup World Championships at Del Mar are up for grabs during the five days of racing.
American trainer Wesley Ward, whose visionary initial incursions opened up Royal Ascot to now-common raids from the United States, has favorites on most days of the meeting. Hayley Turner and Hollie Doyle will look to continue last year's Royal Ascot breakthrough for female riders.
There will be a few pieces missing from this year's renewal as Ascot remembers the passing of lynchpin breeders and owners Prince Khalid Abdullah and Sheik Hamdan Al Maktoum.
Sheik Hamdan was leading owner at 2020 Royal Ascot. Prince Khalid owned 41 Royal Ascot winners, dating to 1979. Their heirs and assigns have two of this year's favorites in Palace Pier and Battaash (see below).
Proceedings start with a bang. Tuesday's first race is the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes down the straight mile -- a golden opportunity for jockey Frankie Dettori and the father-son training team of John and Thady Gosden to hit the board first with Palace Pier, winner of last year's St James's Palace Stakes for 3-year-olds.
Dettori, 50 and still in peak form, is seeking his third straight Royal Ascot riding crown and has a running start with Palace Pier, Lord North in the Prince of Wales's Stakes and Gold Cup chance Stradivarius (see below) all among the week's hottest prospects.
The Queen Anne also is the first of the Breeders' Cup Challenge races, offering a fees-paid, travel-aided spot in the gate for the FanDuel Breeders' Cup Mile
Two other Group 1 events grace Day One. This year's renewal of the St James's Palace is a wide-open affair with Poetic Flair getting the antepost nod from most bookmakers. Battaash is the big favorite in the 5-furlongs King's Stand Stakes with U.S.-trained Extravagant Kid a potential upsetter.
Ward gets going in the second race of Day 1 as Kaufymaker is the favorite in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes for 2-year-olds although the colt also is entered later in the week in the Albany Stakes.
The Wednesday program has only one Group 1 race, the 1 1/4-miles Prince of Wales's Stakes, but that one is a corker. The Gosden-Dettori combine has last year's winner, Lord North, who finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Keeneland and most recently won the Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night.
The Coolmore folks send along two, including Prix de l'Arc de Triomph prospect Love. William Haggas will saddle Addeybb, second to Lord North a year ago and, just like a year ago, is returning from victory in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick in Australia.
The Prince of Wales's winner gets entrée to the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf in November.
The Group 2 events on Day 2 are the Queen Mary Stakes for 2-year-old fillies with Ward's Twilight Gleaming topping the antepost list; the Queen's Vase for 3-year-olds at 1 3/4 miles; and the Duke of Cambridge Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 mile. Ward has another favorite, Ruthin, in the Listed Windsor Castle Stakes for 2-year-olds.
Day 3 on Thursday always is a Royal Ascot highlight with the Group 1 Gold Cup as the centerpiece. Stradivarius won the Queen's Vase in 2017 and then reeled off three straight victories in the Gold Cup. He's back and the overwhelming early favorite to make it four in a row.
The 2020 Investec Derby winner, Serpentine, is a supplement to the Gold Cup but he hasn't won since that massive, front-running upset on Epsom Downs and will be asked to go a mile farther than he's ever tried before.
The Group 2 events on Thursday are the 5-furlongs Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds with no prize for guessing the trainer of the antepost favorite (yes, Ward, with Lucci); and the Ribblesdale for 3-year-old fillies. The Norfolk is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeder's Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Ward features again Friday with Campanelle as the favorite in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at 6 furlongs -- a race that could be tough or a light touch depending on whether some of the Coolmore horses are held out earlier to compete in this one.
Either way, Ireland has a couple good ones set for the Group 1 Coronation Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Coolmore's Qipco 1000 Guinesas winner Mother Earth looms the favorite and Pretty Gorgeous, trained by Joseph Patrick O'Brien, also is well-regarded.
The aforementioned Kaufymaker also is cross-entered in Friday's 6-furlong Albany Stakes for 2-year-olds.
Saturday's finale features the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Cup at 6 furlongs, with the tentative field looking well matched and the winner getting an automatic "Win and You're In" bid for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
In other international action:
Rainbow Bridge edged Catch Twentytwo in Saturday's Group 1 Hollywoodbets Gold Challenge at Greyville in Durban, continuing his stellar career at age 6.
The Ideal World gelding, trained by Eric Sands, posted his third straight win and, before that, had three straight seconds -- all in Group 1 races. He was second in the 2019 Durban July and sixth as the favorite last year.
Converge was the convincing winner in Saturday's Group 1 Treasury Brisbane J.J. Atkins Stakes for 2-year-olds. The Frankel gelding posted his third win from seven starts. He was second in his previous outing, the James Squire BRC Sires' Produce Stakes.
With Tim Clark in the irons, Converge finished 1,600 meters on good turf in 1:35.86 with 3 1/4 lengths between him and runner-up Giannis.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Classic / Dirt Mile
When Essential Quality returned to the winner's circle after finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby -- his only career defeat -- his trainer was ready to crown him best in the division, and fans were looking forward to a long rivalry with runner-up Hot Rod Charlie.
Sunday at Monmouth Park, Mandaloun put up a hoof, insisting he be added to that equation.
The Juddmonte Farms homebred colt by Into Mischief was shuffled back at the start of the $150,000 TVG.com Pegasus Stakes, advanced willingly when asked by jockey Florent Geroux and won a rather spirited fight to the finish by a neck over Weyburn. Dr Jack was a promising but not threatening third.
Mandaloun could be thought of as the Kentucky Derby winner in waiting as a positive drug test threatens the status of Medina Spirit -- the only rival who beat him to the wire in Louisville.
Coupled with a win in the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds and the gritty Pegasus win, Mandaloun seems entitled to a role in the rest of the year's big races.
The Pegasus is the local prep for the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes on July 17, but trainer Brad Cox wasn't being drawn into any early commitments.
"I think ultimately we're going to figure out what toll it took on him once we get back home," Cox said. "The ship over for the race, the ship back, things such as that. We'll put it all together and process it and let him tell us where he is over the next couple of weeks."
Ultimately, the Grade I Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 28 looms as an early 3-year-old showdown on the way to the Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Del Mar.
Mandaloun was the favorite in the Pegasus. When the older horses clashed on the same track a day earlier, "the chalk" bit the dust.
Informative, at odds of nearly 80-1, rallied from last of 10 and got by odds-on favorite Ny Traffic in the closing yards to win Saturday's $160,000 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park. The margin was 1 length with Galerio another 1 1/2 lengths back in third.
Informative, a 4-year-old Bodemeister colt, finished in 1:37.01 over a fast track with Jose Ferrer aboard for trainer Uriah St. Lewis. He scored just his third win from 25 starts while Ny Traffic finished second in last year's Grade I Haskell and contested to of the 2020 Triple Crown races.
"I expected this because this horse has been training so good," said St. Lewis. "The last race he ran at Pimlico [second in a $35,000 optional claimer May 15], he got blocked, checked and stopped and ran a huge number. I said to myself, 'If he can run that number again, he can win.' And he did."
As Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee is fond of saying, "It's an easy game." Well, sometimes.
Sunday at Santa Anita, The Chosen Vron took full advantage of an early pace duel in the $100,000 Grade III Affirmed Stakes for 3-year-olds, rallied from last of five and won by 1 1/4 lengths. Defunded chased the early speed, led and then paid the price, finishing second.
The favorite, Classier, stumbled at the start, stuck around for a while and then faded to finish third, 11 lengths back of Defunded. The Chosen Vron, a Vronsky gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.01 with Umberto Rispoli riding.
Don't look for The Chosen Vron in the big open races for the rest of the year, as trainer Eric Kruljak said he will be "going for the easy money now" against fellow California-breds.
Defunded and Classier are both trained by Bob Baffert, who also is under the cloud of that Kentucky Derby drug positive. If that's put on hold, one or both could work their way into some of the major 3-year-old contests.
Filly & Mare Turf
Mintd chased down heavy favorite Juliet Foxtrot in the final sixteenth to win Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Old Forester Mint Julep Stakes at Churchill Downs. It was another 2 1/2 lengths to She'sonthewarpath in third.
Mintd, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Olympic Glory, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.92 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons for trainer Brendan Walsh. The lightly race mare now is 4-for-9 and 2-for-3 on U.S. shores. And, yes, it does seem she needs to visit Vanna to "buy an 'e'."
"It was a tough field on paper with a lot of nice fillies and mares entered," Walsh said. "This horse has been very progressive in her development. ... I thought we had a good chance against some very nice fillies and Ricardo gave her a fantastic ride."
Out west, Rideforthecause launched a late bid in Sunday's $105,000 Possibly Perfect Stakes at Santa Anita, caught pacesetting Dogtag in deep stretch and won by a head over that one. Neige Blanch was another 3/4 length back in third.
Rideforthecause, a 5-year-old Candy Ride mare, finished 1 1/4 miles starting on the downhill course in 2:02.45 with Mario Gutierrez in the irons.
Blame Debbie was quickly out front in Sunday's $100,000 Searching Stakes at Pimlico, maintained the advantage and won by 3 1/2 lengths while finishing 1 1/2 miles of firm turf in 2:38.50.
The favorite, Luck Money, checked in second, 2 lengths in front of Crystale. Blame Debbie, a Blame filly, is trained by Graham Motion. Victor Carrasco rode.
Pixelate had to work through some traffic in Sunday's $100,000 Prince George's County Stakes at Pimlico, but once jockey Joe Bravo showed him some daylight, the 4-year-old City Zip colt went on about his business, winning by 1 length over Logical Myth. The 1 1/8 miles on good turf was clocked in 1:53.56.
Pixelate, a Godolphin homebred, is trained by Mike Stidham.
Give Me the Lute jumped out to an early lead in Saturday's $66,800 Albany Stakes at Golden Gate Fields and held off Southern California invader Brandothebartender by 3/4 length at the end of 5 furlongs. Bettor Trip Nick was well back of those two in third.
Give Me the Lute, a 5-year-old Boisterous gelding, finished the trip over firm going in 56.26 seconds under Irving Orozco. It was his fourth win from his last six starts and first stakes score.
Chub Wagon retained her undefeated record, by just a neck, with a late-running move in Sunday's $100,000 Shine Again Stakes at Pimlico.
The 4-year-old Hey Chub filly raced in second most of the way under Jomar Torres, and then advanced with perfect timing to nail down her seventh victory without a loss. She ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.21.
Around the ovals:
Brickyard Ride cruised like an open-wheel racer in Saturday's $100,000 Thor's Echo Stakes for California-breds, leading from the start and smoothly increasing the advantage to a 4 3/4-lengths victory.
Colt Fiction and Fashionably Fast completed the trifecta as Brickyard Ride finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.34. Juan Hernandez had the mount for trainer Craig Lewis.
Sadie Lady led from gate to wire in Saturday's $100,000 Dancin Renee Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares, scoring by 1 1/2 lengths over Fierce Lady. Ruvies in Time was third.
Sadie Lady, a 5-year-old Freud mare, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.05 with Jose Ortiz riding.
Shifty She had 'em all the way in Saturday's $75,000 Ginger Punch Stakes for Florida-bred fillies and mares, leading the whole 1 1/16 miles and winning by 1/2 length. Sun Summers gave chase and settled for second, 3/4 length in front of Lovely Luvy.
Shifty She, a 5-year-old daughter of Gone Astray, finished in 1:40.13 over firm going with Edwin Gonzalez in the irons.
Lone Star Park
Sunday's program featured five events for Texas-breds.
The word obviously was out about Tengo Mis Papeles. The My Golden Song colt went to the post for his first career start in the $75,000 colt-gelding division of the Texsas Stallion Stakes as the odds-on favorite and won by 9 3/4 lengths, under firm wraps. The colt is trained by part-owner Bret Calhoun.
In the filly division, Eagle Express tracked the early speed, moved easily to the lead in the lane and won off by 5 lengths. The daughter of Eagle is owned and bred by Will Farish and trained by Steve Asmussen.
The Farish-Asmussen combine struck again in the $75,000 Wayne Hanks Memorial as Direct Dial chased down the favorite, Mr. Moneybags, in deep stretch, winning by 1/2 length over that rival. The 6-year-old son of Too Much Bling ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.63.
Sunlit Song was along late to take the $50,000 Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame Stakes by 2 lengths over Moojab Jr.
The 6-year-old My Golden Song gelding toured 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.53. In the $75,000 Lane's End Danny Shifflett Scholarship Stakes for fillies and mares, Boerne pressed the early pace, took command in the stretch and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Zarelda.
The 4-year-old Fed Biz filly ran 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf in 1:28.83 with Ramon Vazquez up.
Valued Notion maintained a comfortable advantage through most of Sunday's $75,000, off-the-turf Ben's Cat Stakes for Maryland-breds and won by 2 lengths over Air Token. Oldies but Goodies was third.
Valued Notion, a Great Notion gelding, ran 5 furlongs on the fast main track in 58.19 seconds with Xavier Perez riding.
News and notes
There are a couple milestones to note.
Trainer Karl Broberg notched his 4,000th win Friday at Prairie Meadows -- an accomplishment for sure, but still well less than half the total of 9,371 victories amassed by the late Dale Baird.
That record could fall soon, too, as Steve Asmussen entered the weekend with 9,371 wins. All those figures are according to Equibase.
On Thursday in Opelousas, La., Gerard Melancon rode his 5,000th winner. He recently passed Ramon Dominguez on the wins list and sets his sights on Alex Solis's total of 5,035.
Again, the 5,000 is nowhere near halfway to the record of 12,842 wins held by Russell Baze.