1 of 3 | Cyberknife wins the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park. Photo courtesy of Monmouth Park
July 25 (UPI) -- Some classic confrontations livened weekend horse racing, but when the dust had settled, battles for year-end honors still were very much up in the air.
Cyberknife won the Haskell but Taiba and Jack Christopher were good enough that the 3-year-old division race is still much in play.
Clairiere defeated Malathaat for the second time in a row, this time decisively, but Malathaat still holds the edge in their personal series.
And Nest defeated Secret Oath, reversing their finish in the Kentucky Oaks.
As previewed here, trainer Chad Brown had another bang-up weekend on the turf up and down the East Coast. In Canada, it looks like another filly has a good shot at the Queen's Plate after a sparkling effort in Sunday's Woodbine Oaks.
Internationally speaking, underappreciated Pyledriver stormed to victory in the King George at Ascot as the "star" 3-year-olds trailed four older rivals to the finish.
And we storm to the post with ...
Saturday's $1 million Grade I TVG.com Haskell at Monmouth Park didn't go very far toward determining who's best among this year's 3-year-olds.
But it certainly did confirm there are quite a few good ones in the bunch. You know it's a good field when the winners of the Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby and Santa Anita Derby are all in the starting gate -- and none of them is the favorite.
One of them did, however, win the Haskell.
Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife, after rolling along in mid-pack, dove to the rail inside the furlong marker and charged by the favorite, Jack Christopher, to take the lead and held off Santa Anita Derby winner Taiba by a head.
Jack Christopher was third and Florida Derby winner White Abarrio finished next-last of eight.
Cyberknife, a Gun Runner colt trained by Brad Cox, finished the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in course-record time of 1:46.24 with Florent Geroux up.
Cyberknife followed the Arkansas win with an 18th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and bounced back from that to win the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs.
He now most likely heads to the $1.25 million Grade I Travers on Aug. 27 at Saratoga, the "Midsummer Derby," which might help sort out the pecking order in the division. The Haskell also was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"I think this is his best race to date," Cox said. "Throughout the race I thought he looked very professional with the way he handled himself. At the quarter pole, Florent had a nice hold of him and he was loaded. He responded well when asked. He flew at the end."
Taiba, also sired by Gun Runner, was making just his fourth start, and Jimmy Barnes, assistant to winning trainer Bob Baffert, said his lack of experience "might have had something to do with" his narrow loss. "He made a gallant effort, that's for sure."
The older set faced the same challenge as the Haskell field earlier on the card in the $400,000 Grade III Monmouth Cup -- 1 1/8 miles and a tough competitor in Highly Motivated.
The 4-year-old Into Mischief colt, also benefitting from the Brown-Prat connection, came three-wide into the stretch to reach the front and won by 1 3/4 lengths, ridden out.
Pipeline was second, giving Brown the exacta finish, and it was another 2 1/4 lengths to Informative in third.
Highly Motivated was second in the 2021 Blue Grass and 10th in the Kentucky Derby. He was out of action for 11 months after that, and just now seems to be rounding into form.
Sunday at Del Mar, Heywoods Beach pressed the pace made by odds-on favorite Tizamagician in the $125,000 Grade III Cougar II Stakes, eased by that one between the quarter pole and eighth pole and edged away, winning by 1 length. Tizamagician held second by a neck over Extra Hope.
Heywoods Beach, a 5-year-old son of Speightstown, ran 1 1/2 miles on a fast track in 2:30.09 with Ramon Vasquez up. John Sadler trains.
Nest had a score to settle with Secret Oath in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga and settle it she did.
Meeting for the first time since Secret Oath won the Kentucky Oaks by 2 lengths over Nest, it was the latter's turn to shine. After racing close to the lead, Nest took command on the far turn only to find her old rival mounting a challenge.
Having none of that, Nest quickly found the needed boost, shook clear and got away to win by 12 1/4 lengths, winning for the fifth time in eight starts. She finished 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:51.04 with Irad Ortiz Jr. getting the leg up from Todd Pletcher.
"She's showed up every race of her life," Pletcher said of Nest. "The last two trips, she was sort of bottled up in both the Oaks and the Belmont [finished third], and she had no place to go.
"She could have advanced sooner than she did, but she still closed well. That was one of the things we were working on today."
This war is not over, either. Nest and Secret Oath are likely to eyeball each other again in the $600,000 Grade I Alabama at the Spa Aug. 20 and Secret Oath's trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, acknowledged it will be his filly's turn to prove something.
"Yes, I think they'll team up again," Lukas said. "She (Nest) will have the edge but maybe we'll get better."
The 4-year-old fillies had a showdown of their own Sunday at Saratoga as Clairiere and Malathaat faced off for the sixth time in the $200,000 Grade II Shuvee Stakes.
And for the second straight race, it was Clairiere getting the better of that rival. Turning for home, jockey Joel Rosario had to wait a few beats behind the tiring Crazy Beautiful, but then dropped Clairiere to the rail and drove on by.
Meanwhile, John Velazquez had Malathaat rolling on the outside and for a brief moment it looked like a battle to the finish. Instead, Clairiere drew off smartly to win by 1 1/2 lengths, improving on the head defeat she hung on Malathaat in their last race, the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park.
Clairiere, a Stonestreet homebred daughter of Curlin, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.10. Crazy Beautiful held third and Exotic West was a distant fourth and last after making the early pace.
"She was there for me," Rosario said of Clairiere. "I was always looking to see where there was room to go and it looked like it opened up inside, and I just had to go with that. She did great."
Clairiere finished behind Malathaat in the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama last season at the Spa and trainer Steve Asmussen said the Shuvee was her prep for another try to land a Grade I at the summertime track -- the $600,000 Personal Ensign on Aug. 27.
"The Personal Ensign was the reason to be here," Asmussen said. "She ran two solid races last year at Saratoga and we expect better this year."
Search Results, another of the Brown-Prat brigade, went off odds-on favorite in the $400,000 Molly Pitcher Stakes at Monmouth Park and came home the easiest of winners.
After patiently shadowing the pace, the 4-year-old Flatter filly rolled down the stretch to pass the leading pair and won off by 3 lengths. Leader of the Band was second, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Army Wife.
Search Results ran 1 1/16 miles on the dirt in 1:40.47, just 0.28 second off the track record. It was her sixth win from 10 starts with four of those victories coming in graded stakes. Brown said the Breeders' Cup Distaff is the long-range goal.
At Gulfstream Park, Omixochitl pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Miss Gracie Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got first run to the lead in the stretch and held off the favorite, Miss You Ella, to win by 1 length. Therearenorules was third.
Omixochitl, a More Than Ready filly trained by Fausto Gutierrez, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.18 for jockey Edgar Perez. It was her fifth win from nine starts, all this year.
Turf / Turf Mile
By the time the $600,000 Grade I United Nations Stakes rolled around Saturday at Monmouth Park, trainer Chad Brown and jockey Flavien Prat already had collaborated on three straight graded stakes wins.
Make that four as Adhamo rallied by his pacesetting stablemate, Tribhuvan, and went on to win the U.N. by 1 1/2 lengths. Epic Bromance prompted the pace all the way and held on for second, a head in front of Temple with Tribhuvan another head back in fourth.
Tribhuvan and Adhamo had finished 1-2 in their previous race, the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park. The U.N. was the first U.S. win for Adhamo, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred colt by the German sire Intello. Tribhuvan, a 6-year-old Toronado gelding, won the 2021 U.N.
"I was pretty confident going in to today that if he was able to get out in the clear and with a little bit extra ground to work with that he could run down a horse as good as Tribhuvan," Brown said.
"And he did. He's a pretty talented horse. We're still figuring the horse out. Flavien worked out a beautiful, patient trip. It's not like he had a fast pace to run into today either, so he earned this win today."
Balnikhov was last of 13 and stuck in plenty of traffic heading into the far turn in Friday's $100,000 Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds on Opening Day at Del Mar.
But the seas parted on the turn and the Irish-bred Adaay gelding quickly moved up into contention. Dropping to the rail for the drive, he shot by the few remaining rivals and ran on to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Anmer Hall was second, Barsabas third and the favorite, McKinnon, fourth. Balnikhov ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.85 with Umberto Rispoli up for trainer Phil D'Amato, winning for the first time in four U.S. starts.
Irideo saved ground at the rear of the field in Sunday's $100,000 Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar, closed quickly when given a clear shot in the lane and was along in time to win by 3/4 length over the favorite, Gregorian Chant. Bran finished third, just a head farther back.
Irideo, a 6-year-old, Brazilian-bred gelding by Easing Along, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.50 with Hector Berrios aboard.
Filly & Mare Turf / Turf Mile
You can't win 'em all if you don't win the first one and Chad Brown got his weekend going, by his reckoning, by almost scoring two wins in one race, posting a 1-2 finish in the $175,000 Grade III Lake George Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga.
Turning into the stretch run, both Dolce Zel and the favorite, Eminent Victor, had work to do. Dolce Zel, caught behind horses, had to squeeze through on the rail to bid for the lead while her stablemate was taking the outside route.
Once shown daylight, they battled to the wire with Dolce Zel victorious by a nose while finishing 1 mile on the firm turf in 1:35.64. Koala Princess was third.
"People asked me all day walking around the track, 'Who do you like? Who do you like in this race between them?'" Brown said. "I think I told them all the truth -- it's close.
"And it proved to almost be a dead heat. These situations are unfortunate that there has to be a loser because both horses ran so good. We almost got that. I'll get it one day. A dead heat here at Saratoga. You get two wins for that."
Brown had three starters in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III WinStar Matchmaker at Monmouth Park and all they did is finish first, second and fourth.
Lemista, with Prat in the irons, sat just behind the pace, gradually drew even in the lane and edged clear in the late going to win by 1/2 length over Fluffy Socks. Vigilantes Way, trained by Shug McGaughey, broke up the Brown party by finishing third, 1 1/4 lengths in front of pacesetting Flighty Lady.
Lemista, an Irish-bred daughter of Raven's Pass, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:47.07, notching her first U.S. win.
At Del Mar on Saturday, Bellabel was in the right place at the right time in the $200,000 Grade II San Clemente for 3-year-old fillies and used the racing fortune to post a 2-length victory over long shot Sixteen Arches.
Bellabel, an Irish-bred filly by Belardo, was making a move inside pacesetting Lucky Girl at mid-stretch when that one suddenly veered outward, causing a chain reaction that involved several other runners, clearing the way for Bellabel and Sixteen Arches.
Island of Love survived the traffic to get up for third, giving trainer Phil D'Amato a Chad Brown-like sweep of the trifecta.
Lucky Girl finished fifth and was disqualified to ninth for the right turn, no signal. Bellabel, with Umberto Rispoli up, finished the 1 mile on firm going in 1:35.32. She now is 2-for-2 in the United States.
"They were jostling all around there," D'Amato said. "Luckily she got a smooth trip on the inside and kept going. I give him a general idea about the race but at the end of day, Umberto's going to do what Umberto wants to do. It's been working out so we'll just roll with it. We'll run her next in the Del Mar Oaks."
Avenue de France came running from the back of the pack late in Saturday's restricted $130,000 Osunitas Stakes at Del Mar, caught up with breakaway leader Hamwood Flier in the stretch and pulled away to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that one. Rocking Redhead was third.
Avenue de France, a 5-year-old, French-bred mare by Cityscape, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.57 for jockey Juan Hernandez.
Sunday at Woodbine, New York invader Wakanaka ran by pacesetting Fev Rover in the stretch drive of the $200,000 (Canadian) Grade II Dance Smartly Stakes and drew off smartly to a 1 3/4-lengths victory over that rival. Munnyfo Ro was third.
Wakanaka, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly by Power, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:39.46 with Rafael Hernandez riding for trainer Bill Mott. Fev Rover's rider, Patrick Husbands, claimed foul but the stewards took no action.
Wakanaka, winner of last year's Italian 1000 Guineas in Rome, had posted two seconds and a third since Mott took over this year, most recently finishing behind only the outstanding Regal Glory in the Grade I Longines Just a Game Stakes at Belmont.
Fev Rover was making her first start since finishing fourth in the Bahrain International Trophy last November.
"Keeping her forward and turning for home, she saw the daylight and just ran off," Hernandez said.
"She just looked a little bit at the grandstand. We've got a long stretch here and when horses come here new, they like to look at the grandstand too much. I just try to keep their attention on the race."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Hazelbrook rallied from the back of the field to win Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Hendrie Stakes at Woodbine by a neck over Amalfi Coast. La Libertee was third and the favorite, Boardroom, ran evenly through the stretch to finish fourth.
Hazelbrook, a 4-year-old Bayern filly, toured 6 1/2 furlongs of all-weather track in 1:15.68 with Jason Hoyte aboard.
Robin Sparkles shot right to the lead in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Caress Stakes for fillies and mares at Saratoga, led comfortably until deep stretch and held on through the closing strides to win by a head from Souper Sensational. It was another 1/2 length to Lady Edith in third, and the favorite, Caravel, chugged home last of nine.
Robin Sparkles, a 5-year-old Elusive Quality mare, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:01.98 under Javier Castellano. She notched her ninth win from 16 starts and winning trainer Bruce Brown said her future looks shiny.
"She's had different things and just different issues. Colds, throat infections and different things going on," Brown said. "So she's really gotten all that behind her, and she's coming into her own now."
Saturday at Woodbine, Filo Di Arianna, a dual group stakes winner in South America, continued to show prowess north of the border posting a front-running, 2 1/2-length victory over a tough field in the $210,000 (Canadian) Connaught Stakes.
With Luis Contreras up, the 6-year-old, Brazilian-bred son of Drosselmeyer ran 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:20.36. March to the Arch was second, just getting a nose in front of Silent Poet at the wire. Filo Di Arianna. He now is 3-for-3 at Woodbine.
At Monmouth Park, Breakthrough got going early to set the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Wolf Hill Stakes, disposed of his last serious challenge at the furlong marker and rolled home first by 1/2 length over Belgrano. Admiral Abe was third and the favorite, Critical Way, was never in the mix, finishing fifth.
Breakthrough, a 4-year-old Nyquist gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:00.99, just 0.32 second outside the course record, with Samy Camacho up. Brown did not have a horse in the race.
Sweet Harmony pressed the pace in Sunday's $104,000 Colleen Stakes on the Monmouth Park turf, emerged from that tussle and drew off through the stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths, leading a parade of long shots past the post.
Alternate Rock and Motown Mischief filled out a trifecta that paid $611.80 for a 50-cent investment while the favorite, Kerry, finished in a dead heat for last of seven.
Sweet Harmony, a Bayern filly out of the Marino Marini mare Sweet Marini, ran 5 furlongs on firm going in 56.37 seconds. Camacho rode for trainer John Terranova II.
Around the world, around the clock
Saturday's Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot was billed as an early showdown between two of the best of this year's 3-year-olds and four more experienced elders.
If that's an accurate assessment, maybe the newcomers are a little lacking because the runaway Irish Derby winner, Westover, and Cazoo Oaks runner-up, Emily Upjohn, finished next-last and last when all was said and done.
The well-fancied older horses also came up short as long shot Pyledriver drove to the lead at mid-stretch and wasn't for catching, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over reigning Qipco Prix de l'Arc de Triomph winner Torquator Tasso.
Mishriff missed the start badly, spotting the field 5 lengths, and could recover only to finish third. Broome led briefly turning into the stretch and weakened to report fourth, beating only the youngsters.
Pyledriver, a 5-year-old son of Harbour Watch, came to Ascot with a record that should have produced better than his actual 18-1 odds.
He was second in his last start, the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom, and before that was fourth, beaten just 1 length, in the Group 1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic against some of the world's best middle-distance runners.
In December, he was second behind Glory Vase in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin.
"I knew he was going to win two weeks ago," said trainer William Muir, according to Racing Post. "I didn't care who was running. I know they said Westover was fantastic in the Irish Derby and they thought Emily Upjohn was terrific, but we also knew our horse was very talented."
Torquator Tasso's connections also were encouraged by the effort so look for them to hook up again in October at Longchamp. The race also was a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf.
With not much to shout about in the Plate Trial earlier in the day (see below), Moira's victory in Sunday's $500,000 Woodbine Oaks looks like it also was a nice prep for the Queen's Plate on Aug. 21 over the same course.
Sent off the even-money favorite, the Ghostzapper filly trailed much of the field through the early furlongs, made a quick, three-wide move turning for home and hit the afterburners in the stretch, winning by 10 3/4 lengths.
Sister Seagull was second, 4 3/4 lengths in front of Sahlabiya in third.
Moira, with Rafael Hernandez up for trainer Kevin Attard, ran 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:49.78.
Moira now has three wins from four starts and was second in the Grade III Mazarine Stakes in the sole loss. And to make Sunday's win all the more impressive, Attard said the filly ran in the Oaks without her hind shoes after a paddock incident dislodged one and bent the other.
Will she try to join the ranks of Oaks-Plate double winners such as Lexie Lou, Inglorious, Holy Helena and Dancethruthedawn?
"We've discussed that," Attard said. "We spaced this race out with the possibility if things went well today that we could see her there."
Sir For Sure reminded one and all that nothing's for sure in the racing game, rallying from a wide and bumpy trip to win Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Plate Trial by 2 lengths at odds of nearly 22-1.
The previously undefeated favorite, The Minkster, vied early, but then evened out to finish sixth.
Sir For Sure, a Sligo Bay gelding trained by Mark Casse, ran 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:50.62 with Declan Carroll up and automatically becomes one to consider for the Queen's Plate itself.
Meanwhile, back in the States
Necker Island was up in the final yards to win Sunday's $75,000 Jeff Hall Memorial Memorial Stakes by a neck over Tut's Revenge. Surveillance grabbed third, another neck in arrears, with a late rush.
Necker Island, a 5-year-old Hard Spun entire, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.23. Mitchell Murrill had the mount for trainer Chris Hartman.
Fair and Square rated behind the first two in Friday's $75,000 Hoover Stakes for Ohio-bred 2-year-olds, came four-wide to take the lead and won by 2 lengths over Grand Isle. It was another 6 1/4 lengths to the favorite, John Grey, in third.
Fair and Square, a Super Saver colt out of the Drosselmeyer mare Marathon, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.52 with Jeffrey Sanchez up.
What a Rush stalked the pace in Friday's $75,000 Buckeye Native Stakes for state-breds, then outfinished the favorite, Big Truck, by a neck with Relish the Ride just another neck back in third. What a Rush, a 4-year-old Flagship gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.82 with David Haldar in the irons.
Aint' Life Grand, dropping way down in class after winning the Iowa Derby in his previous start, kicked away in the stretch run to win Saturday's $70,000 Iowa Stallion Stakes for state-breds by 7 lengths.
Late for Lunch was on time to get place money, with Rowdy Rascal another head back in third.
Ain't Life Grand, a Not This Time colt, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.76 with Elvin Gonzalez up.
Miss Peach rallied from last of nine to capture Friday's $70,000 Iowa Stallion Filly Stakes by a nose over Interstella. Majestic Ways was third.
Miss Peach, a daughter of Dominus, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:45.12 under Glenn Corbett.
Free Sailin waited patiently in mid-pack in Saturday's $75,000 Robert G. Leavitt Stakes for West Virginia-bred 3-year-olds, came around rivals to take the lead and won by 2 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Jungle Beast.
Free Sailin, a Freedom Child gelding, got 7 furlongs on the sloppy track in 1:27.46 with Angel Diaz in the irons.
The Sky Is Falling stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Sylvia Bishop Memorial for West Virginia-bred 3-year-old fillies, went by when asked and won off by 2 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite. The pacesetter, Hessica, held on for second.
The Sky Is Falling, a Cupid filly, negotiated 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:27.47 with Arnaldo Bocachica up.
Slew's Tiz Whiz dueled with odds-on favorite Papa's Golden Boy in the stretch run of Sunday's $50,000 Governor's Stakes before putting that one away and running on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Papa's Golden Boy just held second by a nose over Spittin Image.
Slew's Tiz Whiz, a 4-year-old gelding by Slew's Tiznow, got 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.73 with Jose Zunino up.
Dontkissntell chased down pacesetting You Go Girl in the closing yards of Sunday's $50,000 Washington State Legislators Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by a head. Lets Declare Peace was third.
Dontkissntell, a 7-year-old Rosberg mare, finished in 1:15.65, also with Zunino aboard.
Empire House pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 California Governor's Cup for fillies and mares, hooked up with pacesetting Carolina Mia through the final furlong and prevailed by 3/4 length. The favorite, Day Plan, was third.
Empire House, a 4-year-old Empire Maker filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.64 with Brayan Pena riding.