Mo Donegal wins the Belmont Stakes. Photo by Janet Garaguso, courtesy of New York Racing Association
June 13 (UPI) -- Mo Donegal's victory in the Belmont Stakes opens the door to a wild scramble for year-end honors in the Classic division -- a struggle that probably won't be resolved until the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland in November.
Not only were the three Triple Crown races won by three different horses, but also several others, including Epicenter, Zandon and Simplification, the second- third- and fourth-place finishers in the Kentucky Derby, went winless in that series and have legitimate claims to be at least as good as the victorious trio.
Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife also is back in the picture with a Sunday win at Churchill Downs.
Look forward to the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park, the Travers at Saratoga and a few other potential targets in the months to come. But Todd Pletcher, who trains both Mo Donegal and Belmont runner-up Nest, was wasting no time lobbying for the early favorite's role for Mo Donegal.
"I think with his win in the Wood and the Belmont, the fact that he beat the Preakness winner [Early Voting] in the Wood, that puts him right at the top of the list," Pletcher said.
The Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga, Pletcher said, could be the logical targets for Mo Donegal. And the Haskell could be the next target for Jack Christopher, a 10-lengths winner Saturday in the Woody Stephens.
Derby winner Rich Strike, who skipped the Preakness only to finish sixth of eight in the Belmont, is headed to the Travers, trainer Eric Reed said.
"We were going there, win lose or draw," Reed said. "The track will play to his liking and we'll run another bang-up race."
And the 3-year-old filly competition could be exciting, too, with Nest headed back to her own division and likely to lock horns with Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath, who did not run in the Belmont after contesting the Preakness Stakes. Nest finished second in the Kentucky Oaks.
And, of course, at the end of the year, those 3-year-olds will be running against older rivals, including such stellar weekend performers as Flightline and Fearless.
Step right up and read all about those weekend results and much more. And we'll also have a sneak peek at the Royal Ascot meeting just to get the excitement level ratcheted back up.
Classic / Dirt Mile
Mo Donegal's impressive victory in the Belmont Stakes was far from the only action in this division during the weekend.
By his standards, it was a close call for Flightline in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Hill 'n' Dale Metropolitan Handicap, the "Met Mile" at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
The 4-year-old Tapit colt "only" won by 6 lengths, while remaining undefeated after four career starts. Each of the previous wins involved double-digit margins.
Flightline was off a step slowly Saturday and raced behind Speaker's Corner, who was defending a three-race winning streak of his own. Flightline had to take up twice when that rival closed up his path.
But when asked by jockey Flavien Prat, Flightline showed he's in a class of his own, blowing by his rival with 3 furlongs to run and winning while geared down inside the sixteenth pole.
Happy Saver was along to finish second with Speaker's Corner third. Flightline, making his first start outside California, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:33.59.
"Things didn't really go well for him early in the race," trainer John Sadler said of Flightline. "He suffered from a slow start because of the [inside] post. Then he got cut off a little bit going down the backside. He overcame trouble.
"That's the storyline. He had a rough trip and took up a couple times, but still circled around and proved much the best."
Sadler said there's no firm game plan for Flightline, adding the possibilities are wide open.
"Flavien says distance is no issue, and we want to try two turns. That's in the plans. But we go one step at a time. He'll go back to California on Tuesday. Ask me what we're going to do from there and I don't know."
Fearless bravely moved to challenge for the lead turning into the stretch in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Brooklyn Stakes, a test for older horses at the Belmont Stakes distance of 1 1/2 miles, and kicked away to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Warrant.
The favorite, Lone Rock, bobbled at the start, was never able to gain his accustomed lead and settled for third. Fearless, a 6-year-old Ghostzapper gelding, was timed in 2:30.45 with Luis Saez up for trainer Todd Pletcher.
He won the Grade III Ghostzapper Stakes at Gulfstream Park in April, and then ran second to Last Samurai in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap in April.
"The horse can go six furlongs to a mile and a half," owner Mike Repole said of Fearless. "He's a fun horse to own. What we do is we look at all our horses, put them in their spots, and whatever spots are left over, we throw Fearless in there and he fits in competitively."
Out west at Santa Anita, Hopper hopped right to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Affirmed Stakes for 3-year-olds and was never headed, drawing off to win by 5 1/4 lengths over High Connections. Doppelganger and Pioneering Papa completed the order of finish. Fast Draw Munnings and Newgrange were scratched.
Hopper, a Declaration of War colt out of the South Africa-bred mare Irridescence, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track, winning for the second time after finishing sixth in his initial start when in the Bob Baffert barn.
Abel Cedillo rode for trainer Sean McCarthy, who said of plans for Hopper, "It'll be a Del Mar plan, I would imagine. What it is, I don't know, but I would assume that's where they're going to be heading and you know, by that time, I'm out of the picture."
Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife didn't fire in the Kentucky Derby, but he sure did in Sunday's $225,000 Grade III Matt Winn Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs.
The Gun Runner colt tracked pacesetter Howling Time, found that one to be a stubborn foe, but wore him down at the end to win by a nose. It was another 6 lengths to Rattle N Roll, another one-time Triple Crown contender, in third.
Cyberknife ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.98 with Florent Geroux up for trainer Brad Cox.
Cox said Cyberknife, who finished 18th in the Run for the Roses, "is a horse that I think we are looking to take the next step. He's a sound, happy horse and he's growing up. We're excited about him as a prospect throughout the rest of the year."
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park at 1 1/16 miles, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff, turned up a bit of a shocker -- not because Clairiere outfinished Malathat to win a stretch duel by a head, but because the odds-on favorite, Letruska, was eased through the stretch to finish last of five.
In their last race, the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, Letruska led all the way and won by 1 1/4 lengths with Clairiere second.
Saturday's race was the second surprising loss for Letruska after her distant 10th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Other than that, she had won nine of her previous 10.
Take nothing from Clairiere, a 4-year-old Curlin filly who has danced every dance, most of them graded stakes, through her career and won for the fifth time. She was a fast-closing fourth, beaten less than 1 length, in the 2021 Breeders' Cup at Del Mar.
"I always felt Clairiere was coming on strong and if she got a little bit of pace she would do it, and she did it," said Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables, Clairiere's owner.
"She got pace and she did it. I was happy to see Malathaat right behind her. Those are two Stonestreet homebred Curlin fillies. You can't beat that."
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Acorn for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park figured to be between Echo Zulu and Matareya and when Echo Zulu, the 2021 Breeders' Cup and Eclipse Award champion, was a late scratch, the race opened up for the latter.
With Flavien Prat up, Matareya, a Godolphin homebred Pioneerof the Nile filly, led from the start and won off by 6 1/4 lengths. Divine Huntress, Dream Lith and Inventing completed the order of finish.
Echo Zulu finished fourth in the Kentucky Oaks, her first defeat. None of the starters in the Acorn competed in that race at Churchill Downs.
"It was unfortunate what happened right before the race with the scratch, and a little unusual," winning trainer Brad Cox said. "But Matareya handled it all and ran her race. She ran great and we're really proud of her."
Echo Zulu was scratched on veterinarian orders when she was found to be lame in her left fore leg. Trainer Steve Asmussen said she X-rayed clean after the race, adding, "The main thing is she's OK."
At Monmouth Park on Saturday, Leader of the Band dueled to the line with the favorite, Beth's Dream, before getting the better of that one by a head in the $100,000 Lady's Secret Stakes. It was 8 1/4 lengths to Boston Post Road in third.
Leader of the Band, a 4-year-old Bandbox filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:45.87 with Isaac Castillo in the irons for trainer John Servis.
Under the Stars tracked the pace in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita, assumed the point in the stretch and ran on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Lady T. The odds-on favorite, Desert Dawn, was another 9 lengths back in third.
Under the Stars, a Pioneerof the Nile filly racing for the Irish Coolmore lads, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.41 with Juan Hernandez aboard.
Another of those previously trained by Bob Baffert, she earlier won the Grade II Santa Ynez, finished second in the Grade III Santa Ysabel and fourth in the Grade II Santa Anita Oaks.
"This filly is really game because around the three eighths, she felt the outside horse and she started to pick it up on her own and I felt like she was good so, I just let her go," Hernandez said.
Jackie's Warrior is not the reigning North American male sprinter for nothing and showed it in spades in Friday's $300,000 Grade II True North Stakes at Belmont Park.
With Joel Rosario basically along for the ride, the 4-year-old Maclean's Music colt was bumped out of the gate, but quickly found his way to the front, extended the advantage throughout the 6 1/2 furlongs and got home first by 5 lengths, eased up through the final yards.
Sound Money and extreme long shot War Tocsin were second and third in the six-horse field as Jackie's Warrior reported in 1:15.09.
Jackie's Warrior locked up his Eclipse Award with four victories through 2021 before an uncharacteristic sixth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
He won both his previous starts this year easily and trainer Steve Asmussen said he's looking forward to taking him to Saratoga and onward to another trip to the Breeders's Cup.
"It's as simple as he's very fast," Asmussen said. "It's a race and he's a very fast horse that has a tremendous amount of poise and confidence about himself."
Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Woody Stephens Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park was another case of a heavy favorite in a short field as Jack Christopher dominated five rivals at odds-on.
The Munnings colt, with Jose Ortiz up for trainer Chad Brown, pressed the pace made by Provocateur, took over when given his cue and quickly shot away to win by 10 lengths, ridden out. Pappacap got by Provocateur to finish second.
Jack Christoper ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.18, winning for the fourth time without a loss and drawing exceptional praise from the boss.
"This horse is an exceptional talent," Brown said. "This is my 15th year of training, and I've never had a dirt horse with this much pure brilliance. He reminds me a lot of Ghostzapper when I worked for Bobby Frankel.
"He's a brilliant horse that can probably run any distance. Everybody wants to have horses like this -- horse of a lifetime -- including me.
Filly & Mare Sprint
No one challenged Bella Sofia early in Friday's $300,000 Grade II Bed o' Roses at Belmont Park and that left the 4-year-old Awesome Patriot filly just enough in the tank to get home first by 1/2 length over the late-running Obligatory.
Glass Ceiling and Easy to Bless completed the order of finish, well up the track.
Bella Sofia, with Luis Saez in the irons, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.36, scoring her sixth victory from eight starts.
Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said he was a little worried about bringing Bella Sofia back on four weeks' rest, but Saez said it was no issue.
"That was easy for her," Saez said. "She finished like nothing. She came back like she didn't race. A lot of credit to Rudy. Last time, she was a little tired at the end, off a layoff. But today, she won easy."
Hot Peppers was on fire in Sunday's $150,000 Jersey Girl Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park, leading from the first jumps and rolling home first by 6 3/4 lengths. Stand Up Comic and Sweet Solare filled out the trifecta.
Hot Peppers, a Florida-bred Khozan filly, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.24 with Luis Saez up. She now has won four of her last five.
Wicked Halo chased down the odds-on favorite, Pretty Birdy, in the final furlong of Sunday's $165,000 Leslie's Lady Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over that one. The other three were well back.
Wicked Halo, another Winchell Thoroughbreds-Steve Asmussen Gun Runner progeny, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.61 with Tyler Gaffalione up. She won the Grade II Adirondack last summer at Saratoga but struggled earlier this year at Oaklawn and Churchill Downs.
Loft, making his first start outside Germany, showed the locals how staying races are done and won in Friday's $400,000 Grade II Belmont Gold Cup.
The 4-year-old Adlerflug gelding waited patiently at the back of the eight-horse field through the first 1 1/2 miles of the 2-mile event, picked things up as the rest of the field began to feel the effects and drove by them all to win by 3 1/4 lengths.
British Royalty and Strong Tide were second and third with the favorite, Abaan, fourth.
Loft, with Andrasch Starke up for trainer Marcel Weiss, finished in 3:16.68 -- a course record for the seldom-run distance.
"There was a lot of pace during the race and I trusted my horse," Starke said. "I didn't want to get in a hurry. I was travelling well around the bend. I had a horse in front of me and I had to shift out. He made no consequences and he ran a good race."
Loft was a Group 2 winner in Germany last season, but hadn't faced any of Europe's pre-eminent stayers, indicating he and other Europeans likely can have his way with anything North America has to offer at those conditions. Weiss said, "Amazing. If we have a chance, we will come back."
Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park turned into another stop on the Chad Brown turf tour as Tribhuvan and Adhamo, two of the four he saddled for the 1 1/4-mile event reported first and second.
Tribhuvan, under Manny Franco, led all the way and scored by 3 1/2 lengths, while Adhamo came from mid-field to finish 1 length in front of the favorite, Gufo.
The only foreign-trained starter, Tokyo Gold, finished last. Tribhuvan, a 6-year-old Toronado gelding, had been in a slump in three starts since winning the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park last July. He was second in the Manhattan in the race before that.
Filly & Mare Turf
Consumer Spending got the weekend off to a good start for trainer Chad Brown in Thursday's $200,000 Grade II Wonder Again Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park, running by the early leader in the stretch to win the 1 1/8-miles run over yielding turf by 2 lengths over Myriskyaffair. Skins was just a neck farther back in third.
Consumer Spending, a More Than Ready filly, won for the fourth time in her last five starts -- a streak interrupted only by a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Del Mar.
Bleecker Street remains undefeated after rallying from last of seven to win Friday's $750,000 Grade I New York Stakes at Belmont Park by 1/2 length over Family Way in a race dominated by Chad Brown trainees.
Family Way, handled by Brendan Walsh, prevented Brown's runners from scoring a first-through-fourth sweep of the 1 1/4-miles event with the first six finishers separated by only 2 lengths. Rougir, the odds-on favorite, finished fifth.
Bleecker Street, a 4-year-old Quality Road filly, finished in 2:02.58 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. She now has won all seven starts for the Brown juggernaut while racing at five different tracks.
"What a remarkable horse," Brown said, "where she started and where she came from. She's moving up in the ranks of one of the better ones I've had." Rougir, he said, "just didn't fire" and may want softer ground.
The Brown forces struck again in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Longines Just a Game Stakes at 1 mile on the Belmont Park greensward as Regal Glory took command turning for home and ran on strongly to win by 3 1/2 lengths.
The Bill Mott-trained Wakanaka was second with Brown runners In Italian and Speak of the Devil third and fourth. Regal Glory, a 6-year-old Animal Kingdom mare, ran her win streak to four as she got home in 1:32.00 with Jose Ortiz in the irons.
Casa Creed, showing no signs of wear and tear from his early-season trip to Saudi Arabia and Dubai, closed nicely through the final furlong to capture Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Jaipur Stakes at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint by 1/2 length from the favorite, Arrest Me Red.
It was just another 1/2 length to the pacesetter, True Valor.
Casa Creed, a 6-year-old son of Jimmy Creed, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:07.44 with Luis Saez riding, winning the Jaipur in back-to-back seasons.
"He's a real warrior who's gotten better with age," trainer Bill Mott said. "We finally found out what he wants to do. He wants to run in the Jaipur every year."
Casa Creed finished second in the Group 3 Turf Sprint in Saudi Arabia, beaten only a neck by Japanese star filly Songline. He moved along to Dubai to finish a close fifth in the Al Quoz Sprint on the Meydan turf.
Although his win qualified him for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, Mott said he may need more ground than the 5 1/2 furlongs of this year's event at Keeneland.
Friday's $200,000 Grade III Intercontinental for fillies and mares at Belmont Park always figured to be a wide-open affair with one of the largest fields of the weekend and lots of well-matched talent.
But the punters got it right as the favorite, Caravel survived constant pressure while racing on the lead and edged clear at the end of the 6 furlongs for a 1-length victory. Star Devine and Jouster were second and third as Caravel, a 5-year-old Mizzen Mast mare was clocked in 1:07.59 over firm turf.
Saturday's $160,000 Mighty Beau Stakes at Churchill Downs came off the turf but that didn't trouble Just Might, who certainly could handle the fast main track.
After opening a lead, the 6-year-old Justin Phillip gelding turned back a challenge and rolled home first by 2 lengths over Charcoal, finishing 5 furlongs in 56.74 seconds, just 0.33 second off the track record. Rafael Bejarano rode for trainer Michelle Lovell.
Two of a Kind was on the lead early in Thursday's $150,000 Tremont at Belmont Park and all alone at the end, winning by 2 lengths over Putthepastbehind. Valenzan Day was third. Two of a Kind, an Overanalyze colt out of the Freud mare Freud's Irish Miss, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.35 with Luis Saez up.
Devious Dame, the odds-on favorite, dominated four rivals in Thursday's $150,000 Astoria Stakes at Bemont Park, emerging from near the rear of the field through the stretch run to win by 5 1/4 lengths, eased up by jockey Joel Rosario.
Alexis's Storm was second, 9 3/4 lengths in front of Girl Bye in an easy race for the placing judges.
Devious Dame, a Florida-bred Girvin filly out of the Quality Road filly The Shady Lady, ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.75.
Around the world, around the clock:
Racing at the glamour event of the year starts Tuesday with the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at a straight mile and we'll get an immediate blast of excitement as Baaeed makes his appearance as the overwhelming odds-on favorite.
The Shadwell homebred is undefeated after seven starts and quickly approaching rarified air.
Tuesday's card also includes the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at 5 furlongs where the Wesley Ward-trained Golden Pal is a solid favorite, but faces 17 rivals, including crack Australian sprinter Nature Strip; Godolphin's 2000 Guineas winner Coroebus as a massive favorite in the Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes for 3-year-olds; and the Group 2 Coventry Stakes for 2-year-olds.
Wednesday's program is highlighted by the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes. Going forward with final declarations yet to come, Ward is dually represented in the Group 2 Norfolk for 2-year-olds Thursday and check back with the weekend preview for the rest.
The Queen is expected to be represented on the course, if not in the Royal Enclosure.