Max Player wins Gold Cup as holiday racing sets up big Breeders' Cup clashes

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Max Player wins Gold Cup as holiday racing sets up big Breeders' Cup clashes
Max Player, ridden by Ricardo Santana, Jr., wins The Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Saturday. Photo by Mark Wyville/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 7 (UPI) -- The last big weekend of the summer provided not only some thrilling horse racing, but also good pointers about how the rest of the year, including the Breeders' Cup World Champions, will shape up.

The weekend saw the finale of Saratoga's and Del Mar's summer meetings. But it also ushered in Kentucky Downs' richly endowed and highly competitive racing. For trainer Steve Asmussen, it brought a "three-peat" of Grade I victories at Saratoga.


On the international front, Hong Kong kicked off its 2021-22 season.

What did we learn? Details to follow, but here are some headlines:

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Max Player answered all the questions in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and is on his way to the Breeders' Cup Classic.

War Like Goddess cemented her status in the top rank among U.S. filly and mare turf competitors and will be waiting at Del Mar to see what Europe sends to face her in the Breeders' Cup.

Echo Zulu, Grace Adler, Turnerloose and Runup all emerged as potential stars among the juvenile fillies with impressive wins across the continent.

RELATED 3-year-old fillies Malathaat, Sodashi star a world apart

Freshman sire Gun Runner and trainer Steve Asmussen are going to make some noise in the Breeders' Cup 2-year-old races. But, then, so is trainer Bob Baffert, who had two upset winners on the weekend.


Now, those details we mentioned:


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Max Player sailed along right behind pacesetting favorite Forza Di Oro in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga, moved by to take the lead early in the stretch run and got away to a 4-length victory. Happy Saver also got past Forza Di Oro to earn place money.

Max Player, a 4-year-old Honor Code colt, ran 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:02.49, earning a "Win and You're In" spot in the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Del Mar.

Trained by Steve Asmussen, Max Player won two of his first three races last year, including the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct. He then finished third in the Belmont Stakes and the Grade I Travers and fifth in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

This year, he showed little in the $20 million Saudi Cup in February and the Grade III Pimlico Special in May, but jumped up to win the Grade II Suburban on a sloppy track at Belmont in June in his most recent start.

"There were questions," Asmussen admitted. "His Suburban was so much better than his four previous races for us -- more than considerable.


"But it was on an off track and an odd configuration. To do it here at a more traditional mile and a quarter on a fast racetrack more than validates his Suburban."

Asked about plans for getting Max Player to the Breeders' Cup, he added, "I think the right thing to do is to go out there [Del Mar] early and wait for the Classic."


Public Sector chased down pacesetting Never Surprised a furlong from the finish in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Sarnac for 3-year-olds at Saratoga and ran on to win by 1 length over that one. Like the King was third, another 1 length back.

Public Sector, a British-bred Kingman colt trained by Chad Brown, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.78 for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. He improved to four wins and three seconds from eight starts with the only out-of-the-money finish coming in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.

Brown said he was thrilled to beat Never Surprised, whom he called "a really, really good horse." Now, he said, Public Sector is pointed toward the $400,000 Grade I Hollywood Derby at 1 1/18 miles Nov. 27.


"For this year, that's as far as I'll run him. Then down the road, we'll see," he said.

None Above the Law outfinished Flashiest for the win in a battle of long shots in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Del Mar Derby. The early leader, Hockey Dad, held on for third and the favorite, Hudson Ridge, was ninth, victimized by some traffic and beaten only about 3 lengths for it all.

None Above the Law, a Karakontie gelding, finished 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:48.97 with Joe Bravo riding.

It was the sixth win from 14 starts and first in a graded stakes for None Above the Law, who has been given an unusual schedule by trainer Peter Miller.

"I know he went from a mile on turf to 7 furlongs on the dirt to a mile and an eighth on the turf to win this," Miller said. "You won't find that in any training manual. That's not the way you do it. But this horse just does everything well. He's just an overachiever, and I just love this horse."

Back at Saratoga on Monday, Tell Your Daddy took the early lead in the $200,000 Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap, responded when challenged by Dreams of Tomorrow and held off a late run by No Word to win by 1/2 length. L'Imperator was up for third, and Dreams of Tomorrow finished fourth and last.


Tell Your Daddy, a 5-year-old Scat Daddy gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on yielding turf in 1:44.61 with John Velazquez riding for trainer Thomas Morley. The win was his first since Valentine's Day of 2020.

On Sunday at Kentucky Downs, Accredit and jockey Martin Garcia surged to a good early lead in the $750,000 Big Ass Fans Dueling Grounds Derby and made that advantage stand up throughout the 1 5/8-miles trip, winning by 1 length at odds of 36-1. Yes This Time and Cellist filled out the trifecta.

Accredit, a Flatter colt trained by Pavel Matejka, reported in 2:10.58 over yielding turf. He posted his third win from seven starts and also was second in the American Derby at Arlington Park.

"The last couple of races, he just didn't have a very good trip," Matejka said. "He got stuck behind horses, nowhere to go, and today it turned out perfect. It was a great ride. This is a free-running horse. No traffic and he'll give you his best."

Filly & Mare Turf

War Like Goddess raced a little closer to the pace than she usually does in Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Flower Bowl at Saratoga, came out to launch her challenge at the top of the stretch and got away to a 2 1/4-lengths victory.


The win earned a spot in Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mar -- a race likely to feature some of the world's best turf females.

Great Island raced second through the early furlongs of the Flower Bowl and held on to finish second. My Sister Nat rallied from last of six to finish third, a nose farther in arrears.

War Like Goddess, a lightly raced 4-year-old English Channel filly, finished 1 3/8 miles on the firm inner turf course in 2:13.07. Julien Leparoux had the mount for trainer Bill Mott and owner George Krikorian. It was her fourth straight win, but first at the Grade I level.

"She was tucked in most of the way," Mott said. "He tipped her out and got running room. She's won on the inside before. If you can get a clear run, that's all you need."

Asked if he might train War Like Goddess up to the Breeders' Cup, he said, "We'll talk about it, but there's a good possibility of that. She seems to run pretty well fresh, so maybe that's what we'll do."

At Del Mar on Saturday, Going to Vegas stalked long shot pacesetter Nasty through the early furlongs of the $200,000 Grade II John C. Mabee, took the lead as that one threw in the towel and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Dogtag came running late to get second, 1 1/4 lengths in front of Bohicitta.


Going to Vegas, a 4-year-old Goldencents filly, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm going in 1:48.14 with Flavien Prat riding for trainer Richard Baltas.

"I had a good post and a good break," Prat said. "I got right where I wanted to be and we weren't going that fast. When I asked her, she had a really good turn of foot. She was a winner all the way today."

On Sunday at Kentucky Downs, Adventuring got away with the early lead in the $500,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks, beat back a challenge from Oliviaofthedesert and ran on down the long stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Viburnum was along for second with Oliviaofthedesert holding third.

Adventuring, a Godolphin homebred filly by Pioneerof the Nile, ran 1 5/8 miles on yielding turf in 2:12.33 with Joel Rosario riding for trainer Brad Cox. It was her third win from eight trips. One of the victories came in the Bourbonette Oaks on the Turfway Park all-weather.

She's had quite a few attempts at getting to the turf," said Jimmy Bell, president of Godolphin USA, referencing repeated "off the turf" efforts. "She's shown quite an affinity to it and is well-bred for it. Overall, it was a very professional effort."


Turf Mile

Pixilate had to swing seven-wide into the stretch to get a clear run in Monday's $1 million Grade III WinStar Mint Million Stakes at Kentucky Downs. But once clear, the 4-year-old Godolphin homebred, a son of City Zip, zipped right by Somelikeithotbrown and won by 2 1/2 lengths.

Somelikeithotbrown finished second, 2 lengths better than Monarchs Glen, while the favorite, Flavius, could only manage fifth.

With Joel Rosario riding for trainer Michael Stidham, Pixilate ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.04. Pixilate had finished in the money in 15 of 19 previous starts, but the Mint Million was only his second graded stakes win, following the Grade I Del Mar Derby in 2020.

"He deserves it because he finally got his day in the sun and got to make up for some of those times when we reached out and ran in some of the big races and he was only beaten by 2 or 3 lengths," Stidham said. "And today was his day. It was a beautiful thing."

It was beautiful, too, for Rosario, who won five races on the card for the second straight day.

Value Proposition raced behind a few rivals into the turn in Saturday's $150,000 Red Bank Stakes at Monmouth Park, responded when asked by jockey Paco Lopez and won off by 2 3/4 lengths -- another turf stakes score for the Chad Brown machine. Proven Strategies was second, Reconvene third and Vanzzy completed the order of finish.


Value Proposition, a 5-year-old, British-bred Dansili ridgling, was timed in 1:38.18 over good turf while notching his first stakes win and fifth overall from 11 starts.

Turf Sprint

Pulsate got to the lead in the stretch run in Friday's $120,000 Lucky Coin Stakes at Saratoga, then outfinished Backtohisroots, winning by a neck. Guildsman was third and the favorite, Maven, making his first start since Royal Ascot, faded from the lead to finish sixth, beaten less than 3 lengths.

Pulsate, a 5-year-old son of Speightstown, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.39 with Manny Franco up.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Cilla outfinished the favorite, Souper Sensational, in a back-and-forth stretch battle in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Prioress Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga. Cilla, a daughter of California Chrome, was always in the mix in the 6-furlongs sprint.

First, she chased down the early pacesetter, Edie Meeny Miny Mo, and then saw Souper Sensational grab a narrow lead and finally eased past that one at the wire, winning by 1/2 length. Li'l Tootsie came from last of five to get show money.

Cillia finished in 1:10.05 with Tyler Gaffalione up. She made it three straight wins while rising from the state-bred ranks at Evangeline Downs.


"She's fast and she's a 3-year-old," said Cilla's trainer, Brett Brinkman. "There's limited opportunities for those fillies. We felt like after we got her on track a couple of races ago that we were going to let her step along and buy her way to the next one. She's obviously bought her way to this one."


Gunite, at odds of 11-1, romped to a 5 3/4-lengths victory in Monday's $300,000 Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga, capping a monster meeting for his trainer, Steve Asmussen, providing his sire, Gun Runner, with his second Grade I win a day after the first, and stamping himself a top-rank contender for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Gunite dueled to the early lead in the Hopeful and there was nothing more to the race as he kicked away with authority in the stretch, finishing 7 furlongs on a good track in 1:23.08 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons.

He now has two wins, two seconds and a third from five starts. The odds-on favorite, Wit, was second after stumbling badly out of the gate and Kevin's Folly was another 3 lengths back in third.

"I love him for more 2-year-old races this year," Asmussen said. "We know what we want his next two races to be and we feel really good about them.


"The Champagne [$500,000 Grade I on Oct. 2 at Belmont Park] and the Breeders' Cup are what we're hoping his next two races are. I love his style for the Juvenile. He's going to travel and we'll try to take it."

A few hours after the Hopeful and a continent away, Pinehurst jumped up to win the $300,000 Grade I Runhappy Del Mar Futurity, romping home first by 4 1/2 lengths after leading most of the way. Finneus was second at long odds, 1/2 length in front of American Xperiment.

The odds-on favorite, Murray, a stablemate of Pinehurst in the Bob Baffert barn, weakened through the stretch to finish fifth.

Pinehurst, a Twirling Candy colt out of the Giant's Causeway mare Giant Win, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.55 with Mike Smith in the irons, improving to 2-for-2.

"When we ran last time," Smith said, "he stumbled pretty badly coming out of there, but he still made the lead. So I knew he was plenty quick. We beat a horse that day named Enbarr and I knew they were real high on him. So I figured I was sitting on a good horse."

Double Thunder, the heavy favorite, rallied through some traffic down the stretch to win Sunday's $200,000 Sapling at Monmouth Park by 1/2 length over American Sanctuary. Midnight Worker was third.


Double Thunder, a Super Saver colt out of the Tapit mare Rattataptap, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.76 in his first start around two turns. Paco Lopez had the mount for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Double Thunder now has three wins from four starts, including a victory in the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs in June.

Saturday at Del Mar, Joker Boy dueled to the lead in the $100,000 I'm Smokin' Stakes for California-bred 2-year-olds, then kicked away from his rivals to win by 3 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Rock N Rye, was second with Thirsty Always third.

Joker Boy, a Practical Joke colt, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.77 for jockey Edwin Maldonado and remains undefeated after two starts.

Juvenile Turf

Mackinnon waited behind the lead trio in Monday's $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Turf, came three-wide to reach contention and got by pacesetting longshot Thirty Four Coupe to win by 1 3/4 lengths over that one. Silver Server and Optimizing were right there in third and fourth, respectively.

Mackinnon, an American Pharoah colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.24 with Juan Hernandez riding for trainer Doug O'Neill. After an unimpressive start on the dirt, the colt now has a second and two straight wins on the green course.


Tiz the Bomb got things going in the stretch run in Monday's $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile, rallying by the early leaders and finally inching clear to win by 3/4 length.

The favorite, Kiss the Sky, also put in a late run but couldn't quite match the winner's late stride, settling for second.

Play Action Pass disputed the early lead and finished third. Tiz the Bomb, a Hit It a Bomb colt out of the Tiznow mare Tiz the Key, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.83 with Brian Hernandez Jr. riding for trainer Kenny McPeek, making it two straight wins.

Juvenile Fillies

A big-time favorite and a long shot made their mark in this division -- one at Saratoga and one just hours later Sunday at Del Mar.

Echo Zulu, the odds-on favorite, kept trainer Steve Asmussen's dream meeting going with a workmanlike victory in Sunday's $300,000 Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga.

The Gun Runner filly got quickly to the front for jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., saved ground into the stretch turn and then accelerated away to win by 4 lengths. Tarabi beat the other seven with Saucy Lady T finishing third. Echo Zulu ran 7 furlongs on a good track in 1:22.51.


Echo Zulu now is 2-for-2 with the earlier winner also coming during the Saratoga meeting.

Asmussen, who also trained Gun Runner, said, "I can't measure how much I wanted to have Gun Runner's first Grade 1 winner. Everything he did for the barn, he's obviously a tremendous sire and somebody had to be first. But I'm glad it was us."

The trainer said the Spinaway win "looked like it would translate pretty good" to the $400,000 Grade I Frizette on Oct. 3 at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. "To suggest what she can't do right now would probably be a mistake," he added.

Grace Adler opened some eyes wide in Sunday's $300,000 Grade I TVG Del Mar Debutante, rallying from well back of a hot early pace and circling most of the field before drawing off to win by 11 1/4 lengths in just her second career start. Dance to the Music and Bicameral filled out the trifecta.

The race played out much like the Juvenile a day later for trainer Bob Baffert, who not only saddled the upset winner but also the favorite, Eda, who faded through the stretch after hooking up the speed duel.


"I wasn't happy with [Eda's] position early because they were going way too fast up front," Baffert said. "They're both good fillies. It's just too bad that [Eda] got caught up in a speed duel. It was set up for [Grace Adler]."

Baffert won the Debutante for a record 10th time and for the third year in a row. He also put together a "threepeat" from 1997 through 1999.

Turnerloose was easiest of winners in Monday's $500,000 Aristocrat Juvenile Fillies at Kentucky Downs, rolling down the long stretch and, as the Equibase chart had it, "won for fun," by 5 lengths. Stablemate Yin Yang recovered from a stumbling start to finish second, 7 1/4 lengths ahead of Verylittlecents in third.

Turnerloose, a Nyquist filly trained by Brad Cox, got 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.19 with Florent Geroux along for the ride, improving her record to 2-for-2.

"Now is the time to look for a graded stakes," Cox assistant Jorje Abrego said. "We'll see how she is tomorrow and, if everything is good, maybe get her ready for Keeneland. Yin Yang just got beat by what, today, was a better horse."

Monday at Monmouth Park, Runup ran away with the $200,000 Sorority Stakes. Leading all the way, the Runhappy filly turned back a mid-race bid by Jumeirah and went on to score by 3 lengths. Jumeirah held second by 1/2 length over the favorite, Gimmick.


Runup, with Joseph Ramos up, finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.32. Owned and bred by her owner, Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale, who also owns Runhappy, Runup now has two straight wins.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Liam's Dove, at odds of 35-1, led all the way in Sunday's $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf Stakes and held on at the end to win by a head over the favorite, Helen's Well. Dolly May finished third.

Liam's Dove, a Liam's Map filly, finished 1 mile of firm turf in 1:36.65 with Lyle Fry riding for trainer Peter Miller. It was her third start, all at the Del Mar meeting. She finished seventh in her debut sprinting on the dirt, and then third when Miller put her on the grass at 1 mile Aug. 15.

Friday at Del Mar, Connie Swingle stalked the pace in the $100,000 Generous Portion Stakes for state-breds, assumed command when asked by jockey Geovanni Franco and won by 3 1/4 lengths. Carmen Miranda was second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of Big Novel.

Connie Swingle, a Grazen filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.89.

Around the world, around the clock:


Baaeed took up the chase in earnest in the final 300 meters of Sunday's Group 1 Prix de Moulin de Longchamp, quickly rolled by pacesetting German filly Novemba to take the lead and held on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Order of Australia. Victor Ludorum was third, followed by Snow Lantern, Novemba and Lope Y Fernandez.


Baaeed, a Shadwell homebred Sea the Stars colt trained by William Haggas, remains undefeated after five starts.

Maureen Haggas, the trainer's wife and assistant, said the next likely target, the QE II Stakes on British Champions' Day next month at Ascot, isn't guaranteed pending ground conditions.

For the past few years, the course has been quite challenging after autumn rains. If he runs, he might have to face superstar milers Palace Pier and Poetic Flair in what then would be one of the year's best races anywhere.


Torquator Tasso, the solid favorite, moved to the lead inside the 200-meters mark in Sunday's Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden at the Black Forest spa track, and then held gamely to win by 1 length over Sisfahan. Godolphin raider Passion and Glory led, but couldn't maintain the effort and settled for third.

Torquator Tasso, a 4-year-old Adlerflug colt, moved up a notch after finishing second in his last start, the Group 1 Longines Grosser Preis von Berlin.


Emaraaty Ana moved to the lead a furlong out in Saturday's Group 1 Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock, then held desperately at the finish to win by a short head from the favorite, Starman. Chil Chil was third in the 6-furlongs dash, clocked in a speedy 1:09.10.


Emaraaty Ana, a 5-year-old Shamardal gelding, scored his fifth win and first at the Group 1 level. Kevin Ryan trains for Sheik Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum.


Geoglyph served notice he's going to be one to reckon with as he dominated Saturday's Grade 3 Sapporo Nisai Stakes for 2-year-olds, winning by 4 lengths despite getting away last. He remains undefeated after two starts.

Geoglyph, a Drefong colt, spotted the early leaders a dozen lengths in the 1,800-meters race. He started to move midway down the backstretch, picking off rivals at will, and by the time the field was midway around the turn, he has headed for the lead.

From there, jockey Christophe Lemaire enjoyed the ride as Geoglyph easily sprinted home, geared down through the final yards. He finished in 1:49.1.

Bred by Northern Farm and toting the colors of Sunday Racing Ltd., the colt is trained by Takaki Iwato. It's worth noting his sire was a dirt sprinter who won the 2016 Breeders' Cup Sprint and the Grade I Forego the following year.

Hong Kong

More than 16,000 fans were on hand for Sunday's season-opener at Sha Tin Racecourse, as pandemic restrictions were loosened a bit. And they were betting with both hands, contributing much of the all-sources turnover of HK$1.441 billion (almost US$200 million) on the 10-race program -- a record for an opening day.


"I personally think it was the start we could not have hoped for," said Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. "I am very optimistic going forward. We could not have hoped for a better start from the sporting point of view and the business point of view."

The season continues Wednesday at the iconic, in-town Happy Valley Racecourse.

Meanwhile, back in the States:


One Mark shot right out to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Casino at the Downs Thoroughbred Derby for New Mexico-breds, blazed right away and got home first by 8 1/4 lengths. Cheese Tray was second, another 6 lengths to the good of Dan Who.

One Mark, a Marking gelding, ran 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:38.96 with Rodolfo Guerra in the irons.

Magic Mosco stalked the pace in Saturday's $65,000 Budweiser Special Stakes, hooked up with Stakin Silver in the final furlong and won by 1/2 length over that one.

Magic Mosco, a 4-year-old gelding by Musketier, ran 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:23.54 for jockey Francisco Amparan.

Gulfstream Park

Sunshine City showed the way in Saturday's $75,000 Miss Gracie Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and ran on to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Tik Tok Famous was second, a head in front of her stablemate, Champagne Ivy.


Sunshine City, a Creative Cause filly, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:28.16 with Leonel Reyes aboard.

Parx Racing

Chub Wagon, the odds-on favorite, took charge in the final furlong of Monday's $100,000 Roamin Rachel Stakes for fillies and mares, drawing off to a 4-length victory. Pacific Gale was second with Regal Retort third.

Chub Wagon, a 4-year-old Chub filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.91 with Jomar Torrez in the irons.

Monday's $100,000 Salvatore M. Debunda PTHA President's Cup for fillies and mares came off the turf onto the fast main track, a switch that didn't bother Sweet Willemina one little bit.

The 4-year-old Raison d'Etat filly emerged from a stalking trip in the lane and shot away to win by 7 lengths over her closest pursurer, B B's Busted, finishing 1 1/8 miles in 1:54.47 for jockey Silvestre Gonzalez.

Golden Gate Fields

Camino Del Paraiso and Jungle Cry battled to the finish in Monday's $65,000 Rolling Green Stakes with Camino Del Paraiso getting there first by a neck. Harmon was third, another 1 length in arrears.

Camino Del Paraiso, an 8-year-old Suances gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.70 with Catalino Martinez up.


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