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Flightline is Breeders' Cup Classic favorite, but there's competition

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Flightline romps in the $1 million Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Benoit photo courtesy of Del Mar Turf Club
1 of 2 | Flightline romps in the $1 million Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Benoit photo courtesy of Del Mar Turf Club

Sept. 6 (UPI) -- Going in, the weekend's big races gave every promise of shaping up a vintage Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland in November, and Flightline's dominant, historic victory in the $1 million Grade I TVG Pacific Classic certainly delivered on that promise.

It did not, however, seem to frighten off the top competition for the "Showdown in the Bluegrass."

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Winning by a record 19 1/4 lengths in near-record time, Flightline remained undefeated and untested after five starts.

At Saratoga a few hours earlier, Olympiad was impressive, too, in winning the $1 million Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup.

"They usually run more than one horse in the race," said his trainer, Bill Mott, indicating Olympiad will be ready for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Those, of course, were not the only big races on the weekend program.

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Virginia Joy upset War Like Goddess to earn a Breeders' Cup berth, Forte upset Gulfport in the Hopeful for 2-year-olds in the Saratoga slop. Leave No Trace won the Spinaway for 2-year-old fillies as Saratoga wrapped up another record meeting.

There was a lot more action in the turf divisions from coast to coast, including another "Win and You're In" for Keeneland.

Kentucky Downs lost a chunk of Saturday's program, including two stakes races, and all of Sunday's card to heavy rains. But Sunday's card was moved to Monday, and next Saturday will be a day to remember.

And, on the international front, Mendocino upset defending Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe champ Torquato Tasso, probably setting them both up for the October classic.

There's more from England to Korea, too, in the "Around the world ... " section. And don't look now, but the Hong Kong season opens Sunday.

There's only one place to start this report.

Classic

There was some minor concern coming into the race whether Flightline would be able to handle the 1 1/4 miles of the Pacific Classic. It was clear turning for home that he not only could handle it, but had been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to show what he could do at the American classic distance.

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As the colt turned for home, track announcer Trevor Denman called Flightline's lead "embarrassing." At the sixteenth pole, jockey Flavien Prat looked back over his shoulder, saw no one and wrapped up on his colt.

That's all that prevented Flightline from breaking the Del Mar track record as he finished in 1:59.29, just 0.17 second off the mark.

Those were not bums he was beating, either. Runner-up Country Grammer finished second in the $20 million Grade I Saudi Cup in February and won the $6 million Group 1 Dubai World Cup the following month. He won the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita last season.

Royal Ship, who finished third Saturday, was second, a head back of Country Grammer, in that Gold Cup and defeated that rival in their last race, the Grade II San Diego Handicap July 30.

Bob Baffert, who trains Country Grammer, said, "We got beat by an incredible horse. It was nice to see the crowd clapping for him and it was fun watching the performance even as a competing trainer. It's something you don't see every day.

From Royal Ship's trainer, Richard Mandella: "Unbelievable winner. There's not words to describe him. He's really something."

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From John Velazquez, up on Country Grammer: "Wow. What can you say? We were in another race and I was riding my horse trying to win it."

From Royal Ship's rider, Mike Smith: "What can you say about the winner? I just know he was gone. I was trying my best for second. That's all you can do in a race like this."

Prat and Flightline's trainer, John Sadler, said they knew what they were leading to the starting gate.

"As soon as I looked back and saw how far in front he was, I wrapped up on him," Prat said. "Obviously, this is the best horse I ever rode."

"Did I think he could do that -- win like that? Kinda yeah," Sadler said. "You don't want to say it in front of the race but ... now that he's done it. ... The thing about him is that he's fast and he can carry it. Some horses are fast, but they can't go on. This horse can. He's an exceptional horse."

Were it not for Flightline's exploits, Olympiad would have been a deserving weekend headliner. The 4-year-old Speightstown colt bounced back from a fourth-place finish in his previous start, the Grade I Whitney, to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup by 2 lengths.

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Americanrevolution applied some pressure around the turn, but couldn't close the deal through the stretch, finishing second. It was another 1 3/4 lengths back to First Captain in third.

Olympiad had won five straight before the Whitney loss. That win streak started after he finished fourth in the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in December -- a race won by Americanrevolution.

Olympiad's trainer, Mott, said his charge looked fit to fight on Sunday morning and he didn't seem put off by the prospect of facing Flightline.

"Of course, the next question is going to be, 'What about Flightline, who ran in California?'" Mott said. "They usually run more than one horse in the race, and we'll probably be a participant.

"We won two 'Win and You're In' races and we won at a mile and a quarter. It's the end of the year with a big purse. We'll probably have a lot of interest in going to the Breeders' Cup Classic."

Trainer Todd Pletcher wasn't ruling out of the Breeders' Cup Classic any of the four he saddled Saturday, citing the slow pace as a factor in their defeat. Besides Americanrevolution, he had Untreated (fourth), Keepmeinmind (fifth) and Dynamic One (sixth).

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He said any or all of them could have one more prep race in either the $500,000 Grade I Woodward at Aqueduct or the $500,000 Grade II Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs, both Oct. 1.

Turf

Kitodan hit the front in the stretch run in Monday's $750,000 Grade III Big Ass Fans Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs and kicked away smartly to win by 4 lengths at odds of 20-1.

Grand Sonata was second, 3 1/2 lengths better than Mount Rundle. The favorite, Ready to Purform, got home sixth.

Kitodan, a Point of Entry colt trained by Eric Foster, ran 1 5/16 miles on good turf in 2:15.41 with Gerardo Corrales in the irons. It was his first graded stakes win.

Jockey Flavien Prat let Emaraaty run right out of the gate in Monday's $200,000 Grade III Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga, established a comfortable pace and ran right on to win by 3 1/2 lengths over City Man.

Winters Back was third and the favorite, Mouillage, never fired, finishing last of six. Emaraaty, a 7-year-old Dubawi gelding, was fourth in the 2019 Baruch but had been toiling in the allowance ranks since. Trainer Chad Brown did not offer clues about his future.

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Annapolis, the prohibitive favorite in a field of just four, showed the way in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Sarnac Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga, and then easily glided away from his rivals in the stretch, winning by 5 1/2 lengths, geared down by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.

Celestial City and Fuerteventura dead-heated for second and third and Ethereal Road was another 12 lengths back in last.

Annapolis, a War Front Colt trained by Pletcher, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.57. He now has four wins and two seconds from six starts, and Pletcher said Sunday that his next task will be the $1 million Grade I Coolmore Turf Mile at Keeneland on Oct. 8, against older rivals.

Law Professor kicked off the stakes schedule at Kentucky Downs on Thursday, rallying by Spanish Kingdom during the long stretch run to hit the wire first by 1/2 length in the $400,000 FanDuel Tapit Stakes. Shadow Sphinx came from near the back of the field to get third.

Law Professor, with Julien Leparoux up, ran the 1 mile, 70 yards on a fast track in 1:38.10. The 4-year-old Constitution gelding was making his first appearance since April at Oaklawn Park.

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Slow Down Andy took the lead in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Caesar's Sportsbook Del Mar Derby, slowed things down a little and had enough left to prevail by 1/2 length over extreme longshot Spycatcher. War at Sea was third and the favorite, Balnikhov, settled for fourth.

Slow Down Andy, a Nyquist colt, finished 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:48.27 for jockey Mario Gutierrez. The winner of the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity last year and the Grade III Sunland Derby in New Mexico this season, Slow Down Andy was making his first start on the green course.

Gold Phoenix outfinished favorite Master Piece by a head in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Del Mar Handicap presented by the Japan Racing Association, a "Win and You're In" race for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf. Both came from well off the pace, along with third-place finisher Dicey Mo Chara.

Gold Phoenix, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Belardo, ran 1 3/8 miles in 2:14.51 with Prat up. He won his only start in Ireland as a 2-year-old and this season has two wins, three seconds and two thirds from seven starts.

"He came out of the race really good," trainer Philip D'Amato said Sunday. "Another horse we can entertain running in the John Henry Stakes [at Santa Anita], or just wait for the Breeders' Cup."

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Filly & Mare Turf

Virginia Joy seized the lead right out of the gate in Saturday's $600,000 Grade II Flower Bowl at Saratoga, cruised through slow early fractions and held on bravely through the final sixteenth to win by a neck over the overwhelming favorite, War Like Goddess. Coastana was third.

Virginia Joy, a 5-year-old, German-bred mare by Soldier Hollow, ran 1 3/8 miles on the firm inner turf course in 2:19.51. Irad Ortiz Jr. rode for trainer Chad Brown.

Virginia Joy started her year with victories at Gulfstream Park and Belmont Park, but finished fourth in the Grade I New York Stakes in June and third in the Grade II Glens Falls, won by War Like Goddess, in her most recent start.

Saturday's score earned a "Win and You're In" spot in the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, but Brown said he will have to consult with owner Peter Brant before charting a course for the mare.

"I'm not sure yet. I haven't decided," Brown said. "I haven't put much thought into that yet."

Vergara and Skims dueled down the long Kentucky Downs stretch in Monday's rescheduled $500,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks before Vergara got a head in front at the end of 1 5/16 miles.

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California Angel was third, another 2 1/2 lengths back, with the favorite, New Year's Eve, fourth. Vergara and jockey Joel Rosario reported in 2:14.95 over good turf.

Vigilantes Way, the odds-on favorite, raced near the back of the compact field through most of Saturday's $100,000 Violet Stakes at Monmouth Park, split rivals a furlong out and drove home first by 1/2 length over Runaway Rumor. Flighty Lady was just a neck farther back in third.

Vigilantes Way, a 5-year-old Phipps Stable homebred mare by Medaglia d'Oro, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.78. Paco Lopez rode for trainer Shug McGaughey. She was second in last year's Violet and hasn't missed a top-three finish in any of her last six starts.

Turf Mile

Hong Kong Harry returned to the winner's circle after a brief absence, winning Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Del Mar Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths.

The 5-year-old, Irish-bred gelding survived some bumping in the stretch and along in plenty of time to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Irideo was second, 1 1/4 lengths better than Cathkin Peak. Hong Kong Harry and jockey Prat finished in 1:33.15.

Hong Kong Harry won his first three U.S. starts for trainer D'Amato this year but then was second behind Master Piece in the Grade II Eddie Read in his previous start. He is not Breeders' Cup nominated, so D'Amato said he'll be looking around for other options.

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Winfromwithin won from the front in Monday's $100,000 Red Bank Stakes at Monmouth Park, leading from the early stages to score by 1 1/4 lengths over Nothing Better. Hot Blooded was third and the favorite, Good Governance, settled for fourth.

Winfromwithin, a 4-year-old colt by Into Mischief, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.59 with Carlos Rojas in the irons.

Turf Sprint

Lieutenant Dan found an opening at the top of the stretch in Sunday's $150,000 Grade III Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar, shot through and ran on to win by 1 1/4 lengths, earning a "Win and You're In" spot in November's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Lane Way was second, a head in front of Coulthard.

Lieutenant Dan, a 6-year old Grazen gelding, was having his first start since last year's Breeders' Cup, in which he reported second behind Golden Pal. Before that race, he won both the Green Flash and the Grade II Eddie D. at Santa Anita.

Thin White Duke put a nose in front of Dancing Buck at just the right time to win Friday's $150,000 Lucky Coin Stakes at Saratoga by nose. Fauci was 3/4 length behind in third.

Thin White Duke, a 4-year-old, New York-bred gelding by Dominus, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.43 with John Velazquez in the irons.

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Distaff

Midnight Memories led through the early furlongs of Sunday's $125,000 Grade III Torrey Pines Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar, turned back a challenge from the favorite, Desert Dawn, and ran on to win by 3/4 length over that rival. Grace Adler was third.

Midnight Memories is a daughter of Mastery out of the Midnight Lute filly Midnight Tiz. She now has three wins from four starts for trainer Baffert and his loyal team of owners, Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Wellman, who also owned Midnight Lute and several other past Baffert-trained stars.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Wicked Halo worked to the lead inside the furlong pole in Friday's $250,000 Grade II Prioress Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga and kept on gamely to get home first by a neck over Sterling Silver. Union Lake was another 2 3/4 lengths back in third.

Wicked Halo, another of the Gun Runner progeny trained by Steve Asmussen for Winchell Thoroughbreds, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.16. Tyler Gaffalione had the mount. Wicked Halo got her third straight win.

Dirt Mile

Go Joe Won and odds-on favorite High Connection did battle throughout Saturday's $125,000 Shared Belief Stakes for 3-year-olds, exchanging a few light bumps along the way, before Go Joe Won prevailed by a nose after 1 mile.

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It was another 10 1/4 lengths to Newgrange, a one-time Triple Crown threat making his return from a six-month layoff.

Go Joe Won, a Protonico ridgling, finished in 1:37.69 with Jose Valdivia Jr. in the irons. The stewards looked at the contact between the first two finishers but took no action.

Juvenile Fillies

Leave No Trace took no prisoners in Sunday's $300,000 Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga, pressing the early pace and then blowing by to win by 1 1/2 lengths at odds just shy of 15-1. The favorite, Wonder Wheel, made up some ground late, but couldn't get to the winner.

Leave No Trace, an Outwork filly trained by Phil Serpe, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.03 with Jose Lezcano up.

As to her next start, Serpe said, "You just don't know who these fillies are yet and some of them are going to get better. Some of these in these races haven't even broken their maidens yet. So, it's a crapshoot. We'll see how she is and come up with a plan."

Lynx rallied four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park, got to the front near the sixteenth pole and quickly drew off to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Guardian Angel and early leader Cajun Tease filled out the trifecta.

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Lynx, a Brethren filly, also won the initial Desert Vixen Division, remains undefeated after three starts and seems untroubled by increasing distances.

Chismosa opened a big lead in the stretch in Monday's $125,000 Generous Portion Stakes for California-bred fillies at Del Mar and hung on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Uncontrollable.

A daughter of Clubhouse Ride, Chismosa remains undefeated after three starts, all during the Del Mar meeting.

Bound by Destiny rolled quickly to the lead in Wednesday's $50,000 Blue Hen Stakes at Delaware Park and wasn't for catching, winning off by 5 3/4 lengths with Jeremy Rose up for trainer Anthony Pecoraro. The Lord Nelson filly remains undefeated after three starts.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Chop Chop improved to 2-for-2 with a hard-won victory over Towhead in Saturday's $500,000 Aristocrat Gaming Juvenile Fillies Stakes at Kentucky Downs. Those two battled it out, side-by-side, over yielding turf before a head bob decided the outcome. It was another 9 lengths to C C Cruise Control in third.

Chop Chop, a daughter of City of Light trained by Brad Cox, slogged the 1 mile in 1:43.86 and track officials canceled the remainder of the program because of track conditions. Cox said he's not ruling out a run on the dirt for Chop Chop.

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Juvenile

Forte took the inside route to victory in Monday's $300,000 Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. The Violence colt cornered nicely into the turn on the sloppy track, while front-running favorite Gulfport drifted out seven-wide and that was enough of an edge to see Forte home first by 3 lengths. It was another 9 lengths to Blazing Sevens.

Forte, trained by Pletcher, won his first start at Belmont Park, and then was fourth in the Grade III Sanford Stakes earlier in the Spa meeting.

"There were a lot of good indications that he was going to rebound and run to his capabilities," Pletcher said. "But you never know until you see it. I felt like the added distance was in his favor and he's a nice colt."

Awesome Strong attended the early pace in Saturday's $200,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Sire Stakes, assumed command by the three-eighths pole and kicked away impressively to win by 3 lengths. Turbo was next-best and Apocalypso was third.

Awesome Strong, an Awesome Slew colt, also won the initial Dr. Fager Division of the FSS and hasn't lost any of his three starts.

Bandits Heart got out to a daylight lead in Thursday's $50,000 Dover Stakes at Delaware Park and easily held off the odds-on favorite, Riccio, winning by 2 lengths. The Mosler colt, with Angel Cruz riding for trainer John Robb, was fifth at Colonial Downs in his only previous outing.

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Around the world, around the clock

England

Minzaal emerged from a line abreast in the final furlong and jetted away from rivals to win Saturday's Group 1 Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock by 3 3/4 lengths.

Minzaal, runner-up in the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest, scored his second win of the season with Jim Crowley up for trainer Owen Burrows.

Last year's winner, Emaraaty Ana, was second, a whisker in front of Rohann. Minzaal now is ticketed for the Champions Sprint next month at Ascot.

The Sprint Cup was run on going rated "good to firm" with four late defections and some controversy over course officials' decision to not water before the program. Crowley said Minzaal had no issue with the going at Haydock, but also would have no trouble if things are, as usual, on the softer side at Ascot.

France

Dreamloper took command in the final 100 meters of Sunday's Group 1 Moulin de Longchamp, drawing off to a 5 1/2-lengths victory over Order of Australia. The race was marred by a fatal injury to the highly regarded favorite, Coroebus.

Dreamloper, a 5-year-old Lope de Vega mare trained by Ed Walker, won the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp in May but fell short of the mark in intervening Group 1 runs in Ireland and England.

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"We'd love to have a go at the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf," Walker said, according to Racing Post.

Coroebus, winner of the Qipco 2000 Guineas and the Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, took an awkward step while maneuvering for room and fell heavily. Jockey William Buick was reported OK, but Coroebus, a Godolphin homebred colt by Dubawi, did not survive.

Germany

Mendocino rallied from the rear of the field to upset Sunday's Group 1 Longines Grosser Prix von Baden in the Black Forest spa town, inserting a bump in Torquator Tasso's road to a repeat try in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Mendocino, a 4-year-old Adlerflug colt, was winless in three previous starts this year after winning a minor race a year ago at Baden Baden.

In Sunday's race, he came running late to pass Torquator Tasso inside the final 50 meters and win by a head with Rene Piechulek in the irons.

Frankie Dettori was handed a 14-day suspension for hitting Torquator Tasso one time more than permitted, but would be free of that ban in time for a ride in the Arc -- if it's available.

Piechulek is Torquator Tasso's regular partner and rode him in the 2021 Arc, but might be required to stick with Mendocino next month.

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Dettori said Mendocino "passed me like I was standing still" Sunday, but predicted Torquator Tasso will perform better on expected softer ground at Longchamp.

"It depends on Rene," Dettori said of his chance of a repeat ride. "If his horse runs, I'm free."

Korea

The international visitors certainly had plenty of hospitality before Sunday's two international races but their horses got none in either the Group 3 Korea Cup at 1,800 meters or the Group 3 Korea Sprint at 1,200 meters. Local runners dominated both races.

Winner's Man captured the Cup by 1 length over Raon the Fighter with Japan's Sekifu's third-place finish by far the best showing of any visitor. In February, Sekifu finished second to Pinehurst in the Group 3 Saudi Derby and he subsequently was eighth in the Group 2 Saudi Derby.

The first eight past the judge in the Sprint were all locals. Hong Kong's King's Shield was the best of three invaders, finishing ninth while beaten by 24 1/4 lengths.

See ya next year?

Japan

The 2-year-olds mixed things up during the weekend at Sapporo and Kokura.

On Saturday at Sapporo, Dura and Doe Eyes, two of five fillies in the 14-horse field, finished 1-2 after a brief stretch battle in the Grade 3 Sapporo Nisai Stakes.

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Dura, a daughter of Duramente, got her second straight win after finishing fourth in her debut July 24. All three starts were at Sapporo over 1,800 meters of turf.

Sunday's Grade 3 Kokura Nisai Stakes at 1,200 meters produced a remarkable effort by London Plan, a Greater London colt who entered off a win in a newcomer event.

He broke in the air from the inside gate, started far behind the rest of the field and was forced to come out to the center of the course turning for home to reach contention. Despite all that, he was up to win by 3/4 length over Ballerina, and clearly is one to watch.

Meanwhile, back in North America:

Woodbine

Forester's Fortune was a fortunate victor in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Vice Regent Stakes for Ontario-breds, scoring by a head over Wedgewood.

The odds-on favorite, Silent Poet, lost all chance when he was abruptly cut off in a traffic jam entering the turn, checking sharply and dropping to last. Rockcrest was set down from third to last for causing the trouble while drifting in.

Lorena worked past the early leaders in the stretch run to win Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Zadracarta Stakes for Ontario-bred distaffers by 1/2 length over Stormy Silence. The pacesetter, Marie McKay, finished third.

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Lorena, a 4-year-old Souper Speedy filly, got 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.29 seconds.

Del Mar

Teddy's Barino hooked up with pacesetting Samurai Charm in the stretch run of Monday's $130,000 Tranquility Lake Stakes for fillies and mares and put her head in front of that rival at the wire. It was another 10 1/4 lengths to Velvet Slippers in third.

Monmouth Park

Feast battled all the way to a 1/2-length victory over the favorite, Hollis, in Sunday's $100,000 Rumson Stakes, finishing 5 furlongs on a fast track in 57.47 seconds. Baytown Bear was another 2 3/4 lengths back in third.

Albuquerque

Zestful made the early going in Saturday's $65,000 Budweiser Special Stakes, repulsed a strong bid by Sheriff Brown and dueled to the wire with that rival to prevail by a head. The favorite, Mine That Star, was third.

Zestful, a 7-year-old Ghostzapper gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.89, winning for the 13th time in his 43rd start.

Corrina Corrina rallied from mid-field in Sunday's $100,000 Casino at the Downs Derby, took command in the lane and won by 7 3/4 length over I Think I'm Here.

Corrina Corrina, a Mr. Trieste filly, has missed a top-two finish only once in 11 starts.

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Golden Gate Fields

I'mgonnabesomebody led under pressure throughout Monday's $65,000 Sam Spear Memorial and won by 3/4 length over Jimmy Blue Jeans. The winner, a 4-year-old Will Take Charge gelding, reported in 1:43.76 after 1 1/16 miles of firm turf.

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