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Epicenter back in picture for 3-year-olds after Jim Dandy win

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
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Sharp Aza Tack wins the Tyro Stakes for 2-year-olds on the Monmouth Park grass. Photo courtesy of Monmouth Park
Sharp Aza Tack wins the Tyro Stakes for 2-year-olds on the Monmouth Park grass. Photo courtesy of Monmouth Park

Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Epicenter jumped right back into the middle of the 3-year-old picture with a sturdy victory in the Jim Dandy Stakes on a busy weekend of racing that also saw Jackie's Warrior, Twilight Gleaming and Royal Ship win big races.

A couple of new names surfaced in the 3-year-old division, too, as Artorius notched a big win at Saratoga and Accretive finished a close second against some heavy hitters in only his second career outing. Both are trained by Chad Brown.

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Sharp Azteca, standing at Three Chimneys Farm, continued his success as a young sire with impressive stakes winners in New Jersey and Iowa during the weekend.

On the global scene, Khaadem won the King George at Goodwood, another potential star emerged in Germany and English and Irish challengers would seem to have the French locals at their mercy in this week's Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville.

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Showing no mercy, we jump right in with:

The 3-year-olds

Epicenter, denied in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, made up some valuable ground in the 3-year-old division with a workmanlike victory in Saturday's $600,000 Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga.

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After rating at the back of the four-horse field, the Not This Time colt got rolling turning into the stretch, gradually got by the rivals and ran on to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Zandon, third in the Derby, was second in the Jim Dandy with Ohio Derby winner Tawny Port third and Preakness winner Early Voting fourth and last after leading into the stretch.

Epicenter ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.99 with Joel Rosario up for trainer Steve Asmussen.

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Despite the important victory, Epicenter's resume still lacks a Grade I win, a situation that could be addressed in the 1 1/4-miles Travers Stakes on Aug. 27.

"What I loved about it," Asmussen said of Epicenter's Jim Dandy effort, "is the fact that [there is] another eighth in the Travers. It was his first race ever over Saratoga, and we know what's on the menu next. We want to be as ready as we possibly can for it."

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Brown, who trains Early Voting and Zandon, said of plans for the Travers: "I'd have to evaluate the horses before I spoke out of turn." But he said it appeared Early Voting "just didn't handle this track."

Another country heard from in this division and, not surprisingly, from the Brown barn: Artorius. Making just his third start and coming off his maiden win at Belmont Park, the Arrogate colt inhaled the early leaders in Friday's $135,000 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga and romped home first by 4 3/4 lengths.

Gilded Age was second and one-time Kentucky Derby hopeful Creative Minister was third as the favorite.

Artorius, with Irad Ortiz Jr. up, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.34. The Juddmonte homebred, out of the multiple graded stakes-winning Ghostzapper mare Paulassilverlining, looks like a force to be reckoned with going forward.

"I always thought he could be in the conversation with some of my better 3-year-olds getting on the Derby trail and he just had a few minor things but we were patient with him," Brown said.

"To see him finally start to develop, albeit late, hopefully a little like his father, maybe better late than never. If he can show up on the big day like his sire did, I would be honored."

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Arrogate jumped up from the allowance ranks in 2016 to win the Grade I Travers in his first stakes try -- by 13 1/2 lengths, with Gun Runner third (and bonus points for knowing American Freedom finished second). He then won the Breeders' Cup Classic and the 3-year-old championship.

The name? Something called the "Sarmatian Hypothesis" has it that a second century Roman military leader named Lucius Artorius Castus was the inspiration for the King Arthur legends. Horses were involved.

Classic

While the 3-year-olds were duking it out in Saratoga Springs, older horses had a battle of their own in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

Royal Ship approached the stretch as one of four strung out in a line across the track, then quickly ran on to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

Country Grammer, making his first start since winning the Dubai World Cup four months earlier, finished second, 4 1/4 lengths in front of Stiletto Boy.

The 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, Mandaloun, was another 3/4 length back in fourth.

Royal Ship, a 6-year-old, Brazilian-bred gelding by Midshipman, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.75 with Mike Smith up for trainer Richard Mandella.

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A consistent performer since his arrival in California, Royal Ship was last seen finishing third in the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita in May.

"We're going to enjoy this and figure the next race after that," said Gary Mandella, subbing for his father, who is recovering from COVID. "This is a good one and we're gonna enjoy it for a while.

He [Smith] had a lot of horse under him, and he's keeping the favorite in his sights. That's what makes Mike great. He made all the right calls, put the horse in position he could win and got it done."

On Saturday at Laurel Park, Ridin With Biden led all the way to a 6 1/4-length victory over the favorite, Plot the Dots, in the $100,000 Deputed Testamony Stakes. It was another 2 3/4 lengths to Magic Michael in third.

Ridin With Biden, a 4-year-old Constitution gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.30. Frankie Pennington rode for trainer Robert Reid Jr. It was the first stakes win for the gelding, who finished second in the Battery Park Stakes at Delaware Park in his previous outing.

Distaff

The 3-year-old colts who made all the early pace in this year's Kentucky Derby may not have been the best of the 3-year-olds arriving from Dubai this spring.

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The best may turn out to be Shahama, the Munnings filly who won the Grade III UAE Oaks and then finished sixth in the Kentucky Oaks and second in the Grade I Mother Goose.

Now trained by Todd Pletcher, Shahama pressed the pace made by Juju's Map in Sunday's $250,000 Grade III Monmouth Oaks, breezed by that one and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths with jockey Jorge Vargas Jr. letting her idle through the closing yards.

Shotgun Hottie was up for second by 3/4 length over Juju's Map.

"It was kind of a two-horse race," Vargas said. "No disrespect to the others, but Shahama and Juju's Map were the classiest horses going in.

"I put my horse right on Juju's Map early. I was traveling good the whole time and I kept her just outside because Todd told me she doesn't like kickback from the dirt. She has a pretty face. She doesn't want to get that dirty."

Sprint

Jackie's Warrior romped to an easy victory in Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga.

The 4-year-old son of Maclean's Music disposed of an early challenger midway around the turn and was in complete command through the stretch.

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Jockey Joel Rosario had him virtually pulled up by the time he crossed the finish line. Kneedeepinsnow made up ground late to finish second with Willy Boi third.

Jackie's Warrior made it 4-for-4 in 2022 and 5-for-5 at Saratoga. That last record includes Grade I wins in three consecutive seasons -- a feat no other horse has accomplished and one that trainer Steve Asmussen said he holds dear.

"Saratoga! The great racehorses that have won here and he's the only one to do that," Asmussen said. "I just can't say how much I have wanted that for him and am proud of it and Jackie's Warrior has done it.

"He's the whole package. He just has a tremendous amount of ability and confidence in himself. A game horse."

Asmussen said Jackie's Warrior will move on to the Grade I Forego on Aug. 27 at the Spa and then the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Keeneland and on to the breeding shed. So there will be no "four-peat."

At Del Mar, American Theorem came widest in a line of five across the track turning for home in Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes, took the lead in upper stretch then held on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Get Her Number.

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Letsgetlucky was third with the favorite, Shaaz, fourth.

American Theorem, a 5-year-old American Pharoah ridgling, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.67 with Joe Bravo riding. After three disappointing performances early in the year, he now has won two straight, also including the Grade Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita on May 29.

"I dropped my stick on the turn and that will make you nervous," Bravo said. "But he didn't need it."

Three-year-olds were sprinting in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga, with Gunite pulling off a mild upset victory.

The Gun Runner colt, with Tyler Gaffalione up, raced right behind the pacesetter, Saudi Derby winner Pinehurst, who was making his first start since finishing last in the UAE Derby in Dubai.

As the leader tired, Gunite took over and held off the late run of Accretive by a neck. Runningsonofagun was third at a big price and Pappacap was fourth. The favorite, Corniche, never reached contention after a stumbling start and was eased.

"Extremely good win and obviously we're on to the Allen Jerkens," said winning trainer Asmussen, referring to the $500,000 Grade I on Aug. 27 on the same track.

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Accretive, a large Practical Joke gelding trained by Chad Brown, was making just his second career start after winning at first asking at Belmont Park. "It's a big jump up and a big improvement," said his rider, Irad Ortiz Jr.

Turf

Rockemperor rallied around the leading trio heading into the stretch the second time in Sunday's $250,000 Grade II Bowling Green Stakes at Saratoga, quickly surged to the lead and held off the late rush of Arklow to win by 1/2 length.

L'Imperator led the way into the final turn and held on for third, giving trainer Chad Brown the first and third spots in the placings.

Rockemperor, a 6-year-old, Irish-bred son of Holy Roman Emperor, ran 1 3/8 miles on the firm inner turf course in 2:15.81 with Flavien Prat aboard.

Rockemperor had been in a slump since winning the Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park last October, finishing off the board in four straight races, all graded stakes.

"The key to this horse is getting him on firm turf like today," said Brown, noting firm going might be harder to find heading into autumn. "He had a really good trip today and I was really pleased with the way it worked out."

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Who's the Star rallied from last of 11 to win Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Niagara Stakes at Woodbine, outfinishing fellow long shot Collective Force by 1/2 length, even though jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson lost her whip a furlong and a half out.

Like the King was third and the favorite, British Royalty, reported seventh.

Who's the Star, a 4-year-old Tonalist gelding trained by Mark Casse, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in course-record time of 1:59.77 although the distance was listed as "about" and the race was hand-timed.

"I was watching it all unfold," Wilson said. "On paper, it was an interesting race, a mile and a quarter and top-heavy with speed.

"When Mark called me this morning to say I was going to ride this one, I had a quick chance to go back through his replays. I was quite confident when we turned for home that he was going to quicken with a ferocious kick."

Turf Sprint

Twilight Gleaming, the 2021 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint winner, flew cross-country to take on older fillies and mares in Friday's $100,000 Daisycutter Handicap at Del Mar and made the trip worthwhile.

After a spirited duel with the favorite, Leggs Galore, Twilight Gleaming and jockey Juan Hernandez took a slim advantage into the stretch and held on to win by 1/2 length.

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Xmas Surprise edged Leggs Galore for second as Twilight Gleaming, an Irish-bred National Defence mare, ran 5 furlongs in firm turf in 56.90 seconds. She now has five wins and three seconds from eight starts.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Divine Huntress was getting some serious class relief in Saturday's $75,000 Miss Disco Stakes for Maryland-bred 3-year-old fillies at Laurel Park.

Nonetheless, she had to hold on gamely through the final sixteenth. Sweet Gracie just missed by a nose with a late surge and Petition Prayer was another neck back in third.

Divine Huntress, a Divining Rod filly trained by Graham Motion, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.23 with Victor Carrasco up.

In her previous start, Divine Huntress finished second in the Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park and before that was fourth in the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico.

"We didn't take the race too lightly," co-owner Rick Buckley said. "We kind of figured it was going to be a little bit of a battle and it was a battle. But that's what racing is about."

Juvenile Turf

Sharp Aza Tack flew in from the West Coast and forgot to stop flying in Saturday's $100,000 Tyro Stakes at Monmouth Park.

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With Jairo Rendon taking the mount for trainer Doug O'Neill, the Sharp Azteca colt quickly shook free of six rivals and won by 7 1/4 lengths, ridden out. He covered 5 furlongs of firm turf in 55.71 seconds, improving to 2-for-2.

The first win came on the turf at Santa Anita June 10, by 2 1/4 lengths.

"I would be lying if I didn't say I was shocked at how well he raced that day," O'Neill said. "He came out of it great so why would we mess around with surfaces? We didn't overthink it. It's not brain surgery."

Around the ovals

Gulfstream Park

Grand David pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Bear's Den Stakes for 3-year-olds, took over when called upon by jockey Edwin Gonzalez and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths over the favorite, California Frolic. Marwad was third, another 3/4 length in arrears.

Grand David, a Tapiture colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.75.

Laurel Park

Spun Glass split rivals near the sixteenth pole to get the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Jameela Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares and won by 1/2 length from Ellanation. Island Philo and Whiteknuckleflyer were in close pursuit in third and fourth.

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Spun Glass, a 5-year-old Hard Spun mare, got 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:04.28 with Feargal Lynch riding.

Alottahope did a lotta running in Saturday's $75,000 Star De Naskra Stakes for Maryland-bred 3-year-olds, kicking away from four rivals in the lane to score by 15 lengths. Buff Hello was second, 2 1/4 lengths better than Al Loves Josie.

Alottahope, a gelded son of Editorial, ran 7 furlongs on the main track in 1:22.91 with Jevian Toledo in the irons.

Justwaveandsmile was along in the final yards to take Saturday's $75,000 Ben's Cat Stakes for state-breds at 5 1/2 furlongs on the lawn, winning by a neck over Grateful Bred. Jaxon Traveler was another 1 length back in third.

Justwaveandsmile, a 5-year-old Secret Circle gelding, reported in 1:04.46. Jean Alvelo rode for trainer Dale Capuano.

Prairie Meadows

Tyler's Tribe, the heavy favorite, had no trouble handling five rivals in Saturday's $94,605 Iowa Stallion Futurity for state-bred 2-year-olds, romping home first by 12 1/2 lengths. C R Insta Gator was best of the rest, 5 lengths in front of Succession.

Tyler's Tribe, a Sharp Azteca gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.18 with Kylee Jordan in the irons. He's won all three starts, all at the Iowa track, and has never been threatened.

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Albuquerque

Diabolical Storm surged to a clear lead well into the stretch run in Saturday's $50,000 Duke City Sprint for 3-year-olds and clung tenaciously to the advantage, winning by a nose over late-running Keen Cat.

Diabolical Storm, a New Mexico-bred gelding by Attila's Storm, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.42 with Alfredo Juarez Jr. up.

Competitive Idea came three-wide to take the lead in Sunday's $50,000 JR Malouf Stakes and got clear to score a 2 1/4-lengths victory over the favorite, Mine That Star.

Competitive Idea, a 5-year-old gelding by Competitive Edge, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.98, also with Juarez in the irons.

Around the world, around the clock

England

Khaadem, under Ryan Moore, got through in the middle of the field to take the lead inside the final furlong of Friday's Group 2 King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood and held off a late bid from the favorite, Raasel, winning by a neck. Caturra was third.

Khaadem, a 6-year-old Dark Angel gelding, was last seen -- officially, anyway -- winning the Group 3 Palace House Stakes at Newmarket in April.

He lost his rider at the start of the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot and then, riderless, nearly beat the superstar winner Nature Strip although ruled a non-starter.

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"He's growing up and putting his races together," winning trainer Charlie Hills said. "We have to go to the top level and will now look at the Nunthorpe and Prix de l'Abbaye."

In Friday's secondary feature at the Glorious meeting, Rebel's Romance led home a Godolphin 1-2 in the Group 3 L'Ormarin's Queen's Plate Glorious Stakes.

Frankie Dettori let Kimari make the going into the final furlong of the 1 1/2-miles Glorious, and then just failed to hold off William Buick and his stablemate as Rebel's Romance eased by on the outside to win by 1 length. Fancy Man was third.

Rebel's Romance, a 4-year-old Godolphin homebred by Dubawi out of the Street Cry mare Minidress, backed up a victory in June at Newmarket and appears to have turned a corner after a disappointing season in Dubai.

In 2021, he finished fourth in the Saudi Derby, then won the Group 2 UAE Derby before taking to the sidelines for 10 months.

"That is only his second run on turf," said Alex Merriam, assistant to Charlie Appleby, who trains the top two.

"He won the UAE Derby and we sort of went down the dirt route this year thinking that might be his way forward. It didn't quite work out, so Charlie brought him back to the turf last time at Newmarket and it seems to have gone well."

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Germany

Sammarco had to alter course in the stretch run of Sunday's Group 1 Grosser Dalmayer-Preis-Bayerisches Zuchtrennen in Munich but got the job done anyway, closing to win by 3/4 length over Amazing Grace. Ebaiyra was third.

Sammarco, a 3-year-old, Irish-bred colt by Camelot, was making his first start since a hard-fought victory in the Deutches Derby July 3 and now has three straight wins.

After last year's surprise win by Torquator Tasso, Sammarco becomes one to watch for this year's autumn feature in Paris.

France

Saffron Beach, Tenebrism and Pearls Galore drop into Deauville Tuesday as top challengers in the Group 1 Prix Rothschild -- a straight mile.

Saffron Beach is a 4-year-old New Bay filly, won the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge at Royal Ascot in her last. Tenebrism, a 3-year-old Caravagio filly from Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard, returns to the scene of her triumph July 10 in the 1,400-meter Group 1 Prix Jean Prat.

Before that, she was fourth in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot. Pearls Galore, a 5-year-old Invincible Spirit mare, comes from Ireland where she was last seen second in a Group 2 at the Curragh. She was sixth in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile at Del Mar.

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