Life Is Good warms up for Breeders' Cup with a win in Saturday's Grade I Woodward at Aqueduct. Photo by Dom Napolitano, courtesy of New York Racing Association
Oct. 3 (UPI) -- Some monumental showdowns loom in next month's Breeders' Cup World Championships after impressive weekend performances by the likes of Life Is Good, Hot Rod Charlie, Ce Ce and Midnight Memories.
Just about every division of the Keeneland finale saw some action at one spot or another around North America. Some top 2-year-olds were on display, but those races remain to be sorted out in the championship round.
The avalanche of domestic action was complemented in France, where five Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" slots were awarded, including one for Alpinista, the classy winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. We'll cover those separately so don't miss that.
But back in the States ...
The weekend's two big preps for the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic produced a confirmed candidate in Life Is Good, winner of the Grade I Woodward at Aqueduct, and a potential runner in Defunded, victorious in the Grade I Awesome Again at Santa Anita.
Life Is Good, already a three-time Grade I winner including the 2021 Breeders' Cup Mile, teed up his Classic bid with a 1 1/4-lengths victory in the Woodward.
The effort was not as visually impressive as most of his wins as he scored by "only" 1 1/4 lengths over 26-1 long shot Law Professor, who challenged him most of the way.
Looks are deceiving, though, and the shape and outcome of the race were determined by a sloppy, sealed track and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.'s determination to get Life Is Good to relax off his usual blazing speed.
"Part of his brilliance is being able to go fast and keep going," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "It [relaxing on the lead] was the logical tactics for today, but I don't think it's his preferred running style. His real weapon is his high-cruising speed and the ability to keep going."
Out west, Defunded got to the front early and never looked back. The 4-year-old Dialed In gelding had to turn back two challenges from long shot Turn Back Andy but got that done and won by 1 3/4 lengths.
Dubai World Cup winner Country Grammer was second for the third straight race, with Turn Back Andy third.
Bob Baffert, who trains the top two finishers, said Defunded's two recent losses at Del Mar stemmed from his inability handle the paddock atmosphere there. Asked about a potential Breeders' Cup bid, Baffert told BloodHorse, "I don't know if he's mentally capable of handling that Keeneland paddock."
The weekend's third potential Classic prep went to Hot Rod Charlie, the second-place finisher in the Dubai World Cup, who got the lead in the lane and dueled with Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike before winning by a head. Both have had trouble winning while racing prominently in big events.
Hot Rod Charlie's part owner, Bill Strauss, may have summed up the totality of the weekend action, commenting, "The Breeders' Cup is setting up to be a great race as a fan and, as an owner, it's great to have a game horse like this."
Midnight Memories led, gave it up and then came again to win Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita by 3 1/4 lengths. Awake At Midnyte was second, a neck in front of Empire House.
Midnight Memories, a 3-year-old Mastery filly trained by Bob Baffert, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.07 under Ramon Vazquez. She entered off a win in the Grade III Torrey Pines at Del Mar and now has four wins from five starts.
Senor Buscador started last of eight in Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Ack Ack Stakes at Churchill Downs, worked his way steadily forward and dominated in the stretch, winning by 1 1/2 lengths despite drifting late. The favorite, Speaker's Corner, retreated steadily to finish next-last.
Senor Buscador, a 4-year-old Mineshaft colt, finished the one-turn mile on a fast track in 1:34.60. "He showed his talent today," winning trainer Todd Fincher said.
"We knew he was a talented horse by the way he won the Springboard Mile in 2020 and he's now maturing and I think is coming into his own."
Howbeit came rolling down the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Anita Sprint Championship, got the lead and just barely lasted, winning by a vanishingly small nose over C Z Rocket.
The win was a consolation for his connections, who had suffered through earlier races this year when he did not get a clean trip. "He's been very unlucky in his races," trainer Mark Glatt said. Something was always going wrong."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Defending Eclipse Award champ Ce Ce took over in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Chillingworth Stakes at Santa Anita and cruised home first by 2 1/4 lengths. Under the Stars was the closest competition, finishing second.
Ce Ce, a 6-year-old Elusive Quality mare, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.36 with Victor Espinoza riding for trainer Michael McCarth and seems set up to defend her title in next month's Breeders' Cup.
Masteroffoxhounds led from the first strides in Saturday's $200,000 John Henry Turf Championship at Santa Anita, set a measured pace under jockey Umberto Rispoli and just did hold on to win by a neck over Dicey Mo Chara.
Masteroffoxhounds, a 5-year-old by War Front, had not won since February of 2021 while racing in top company. Phil D'Amato trains both Masteroffoxhounds and Gold Phoenix, who finished third and already has qualified for the Breeders' Cup Turf.
"I think this race sets him up for the Breeders' Cup," D' Amato said.
Filly & Mare Turf
Rocky Sky found clear sailing in the stretch run in Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Fasig-Tipton Waya Stakes at Aqueduct, rolling from a stalking position to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Capital Structure.
Rocky Sky, an Irish-bred 4-year-old filly by Rock of Gibraltar, ran 1 3/8 miles on yielding turf in 2:21.42 with Manny Franco riding for trainer Chad Brown, who also trains the runner-up. Rocky Sky got her first U.S. win after starting her career in Ireland.
Beyond Brilliant led from gate to wire in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II City of Hope Mile at Santa Anita, winning by 3/4 length as the odds-on favorite.
It was only his second try at 1 mile on the grass, following the Grade I Frank Kilroe Mile in March. In that, he led most of the way but yielded to finish fourth, beaten 1 length, but whatever the distance, speed is strength.
"As far as the Breeders' Cup, we will wait and see," winning trainer John Shirreffs said.
Dancing Buck waltzed to the early lead in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Belmont Turf Sprint and strolled home first by 5 lengths over the yielding turf. Voodoo Zip, Yes and Yes and the favorite, Arzak, were tightly bunched behind the winner in that order.
Dancing Buck, a 4-year-old War Dancer gelding, was making his first start in a graded stakes. Asked about the Breeders' Cup, trainer Michelle Nevin said, "I'd really like that."
Whatmakessammyrun? Apparently a run down the Santa Anita hillside course. After a steady diet of 5- and 6-furlongs races, trainer Mark Glatt finally got him on that layout in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Eddie D Stakes and the 4-year-old We Miss Artie gelding responded with a 3/4-length victory at odds of 18-1.
Blazing Sevens took over the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Champagne Stakes at Aqueduct and won off by 3 1/4 lengths, earning a "Win and You're In" Spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Verifying and the favorite, Gulfport, trailed in second and third over the sloppy, sealed track.
Blazing Sevens, a Good Magic colt, finished third, beaten 12 lengths in the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga in his previous start but trainer Chad Brown said he "didn't run bad ... he just wasn't himself" in that race.
"Today, he was moving through perfectly. ... If he comes out healthy, it's on to the Breeders' Cup," Brown said.
Awesome Strong clinched a sweep of the Florida Sire Series with a 1 1/2-lengths victory in Saturday's $400,000 In Reality Division and may have earned a trip to the Breeders' Cup.
The Awesome Slew colt is undefeated after four starts, and part-owner Alex Childs said, "We talked about it, if he can do it here, possibly we go to the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland ... If he can come back good, we may give it a shot."
Can an Iowa-bred juvenile move from Prairie Meadows to the Breeders' Cup. If anyone can, it's Tyler's Tribe, a Sharp Azteca colt who ran his record to 5-for-5 with a 6 1/2-lengths victory in Saturday's $100,000 Iowa Cradle Stakes for state-breds.
He's been untouchable against the locals and owner-trainer Tim Martin said before his fourth race he is hoping to take him to the grass for the first time in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
"I've seen some Sharp Aztecas that went well on the turf," he told BloodHorse. "One or two." He said he intends to keep local rider Kylee Jordan on the gelding for the big race.
Major Dude got first run to the lead in the stretch in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Pilgrim Stakes and held on to win by 1 length over the late-running, odds-on favorite, I'm Very Busy. Lachaise was third, as Major Dude ran 1 1/16 miles on the yielding outer turf course in 1:46.60 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Major Dude, a Bolt d'Oro colt, was making his first start on the grass after finishing third in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth. He was granted a "Win and You're In" spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Pleasant Passage, fresh off a maiden win at the Saratoga meeting, went quickly to the front in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Miss Grillo Stakes at Aqueduct and ran on to win by 3/4 length at 9-1 odds. Free Look finished second and the favorite, previously undefeated stakes winner Be Your Best, was third.
Trainer Shug McGaughey called the victory "very professional." But, noting the race was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, McGaughey added, "We'll see. It's a big step up."
Chocolate Gelato earned a "Win and You're In" spot in the NetJets Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies with a stretch-running victory in Sunday's $400,000 Grade I Frizette at Aqueduct.
The Practical Joke filly, trained by Todd Pletcher, rallied four-wide into the stretch and was along to win by 1 length over You're My Girl. After a third-place finish in her debut at Saratoga, Chocolate Gelato now has back-to-back wins.
Atomically drew off in the stretch run of Saturday's $400,000 My Dear Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes, winning by 6 3/4 lengths and denying runner-up Lynx as sweep of the series. A Girvin filly, Atomically made it two straight wins in her first stakes start.
Juvenile Turf Sprint
Speed Boat Beach pressed the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Speakeasy Stakes at Santa Anita, took the lead in the lane and ran on to win by 1 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. That was worth a "Win and You're In" spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Juan Hernandez, the Bayern colt ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.25 seconds.
In other action:
Sir For Sure rallied from near the back of the nine-horse field to win Sunday's $400,000 (Canadian) Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine, the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. Hall of Dreams was second in the 1 1/2-mile race, which switches the series from two dirt contests to the turf.
There was no chance of a series sweep this year with different winners in the Queen's Plate, in which Sir For Sure finished third, and the Prince of Wales Stakes, in which he lost his rider on backstretch run.
Hawthorne Race Course
Speaking Scout raced just off the early pace in Saturday's $100,000 Hawthorne Derby, rallied inside the leader on the stretch turn and cut loose to a 5-lengths victory. Tonka Warrior was second, 1/2 length in front of Xavey David.
Speaking Scout, a Mr Speaker gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:48.80 with Jareth Loveberry riding for trainer Graham Motion.
The race was a first step toward restoration of the Hawthorne stakes program after several lean years, as ownership looks forward to completion of a purse-boosting racino at the suburban Chicago location.