1 of 2 | Arcangelo wins Saturday's Grade I Travers Stakes, the "Midsummer Derby" at Saratoga. Photo by Walter Wlodarczyk, Coglianese Photography, courtesy of New York Racing Association
Aug. 28 (UPI) -- Arcangelo won Saturday's Travers Stakes at Saratoga fair and square over all the other major players in the 3-year-old division to claim bragging rights and the inside path to year-end glory.
The Travers was the cherry atop the sundae of top-class racing around North America. But the weekend also brought tragedy, as two horses were fatally injured during races on the Travers undercard.
With respect, we'll get right to business.
Who could have imagined when Arcangelo scored his first win March 18 at Gulfstream Park that just more than five months later he would be the king of the hill among 3-year-olds, ruling over the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes as well as last year's juvenile champion?
The Arrogate colt went on from that initial win to capture the Grade II Peter Pan at Belmont Park in May, and then beat last year's juvenile champ, Forte, by 1 1/2 lengths in the Belmont Stakes.
On Saturday at Saratoga, Arcangelo doubled down on that score, kicking away in the stretch run of the $1.25 million Grade I Travers to open a daylight lead, and then held on to win by 1 length over another unheralded player, Disarm.
Tapit Trice was third. Forte was fourth. Preakness winner National Treasure was fifth, followed by pacesetter Scotland and, in last, Kentucky Derby winner Mage.
With jockey Javier Castellano winning his remarkable seventh Travers, Arcangelo ran 1 1/4 miles on a track rated muddy in 1:02.23.
Winning trainer Jena Antonucci pointed out she had taken flak for giving Arcangelo an 11-weeks break between the June 10 Belmont and the Travers, adding, basically, that she knew what she was doing.
"I understand the traditionalists of this sport are always going to view gaps in that manner," Antonucci said. "This horse has had his entire career that way because [owner Jon Ebbert] wants this horse to be brought along slowly, correctly and be given the time he needs to grow up."
Given that approach, it's worth noting the Breeders' Cup Classic is 10 weeks after the Travers. It's also worth noting that Arcangelo's sire, Arrogate, won the 2016 Travers and went on to victory in the Classic without an intervening race, earning the 3-year-old championship. Bob Baffert was the guy who knew what he was doing that year.
So now who's No. 1 in the division? Forte's owner, Mike Repole, had no trouble pointing to Arcangelo.
"I'm not afraid to say it. That's the top 3-year-old in the country. No doubt," Repole said.
Meanwhile, Repole already is loading up for the 2024 Classics. See the Juvenile section.
Skippylongstocking got the early lead in Friday night's $1 million Grade III West Virginia Classic at Charles Town and kicked away around the third turn to win by 5 easy lengths.
O'Connor recovered from a slow start to make a bold run for second with Dash Attack another 1/2 length back in third.
Skippylongstocking, a 4-year-old Exaggerator colt, ran 1 1/8 miles on a wet-fast track in 1:51.37 with Tyler Gaffalione up for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. He was coming off a second-place finish in the Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows and also won the Grade III West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer last year.
The Saratoga track was a sloppy mess Friday afternoon but Idiomatic and jockey Florent Geroux returned spotless after leading all the way to 4-lengths victory in the $500,000 Grade I Personal Ensign.
Secret Oath got by the favorite, Nest, in the final sixteenth to nail down second by a neck. The others were well up the track and muddy from the kickback. Idiomatic, a 4-year-old Juddmonte homebred by Curlin, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.12.
It was her third straight win and sixth from her last seven starts. The Personal Ensign was her first go in a Grade I.
Trainer Brad Cox praised the rivals in the Personal Ensign as "champions. They've accomplished so much and they're still in good form." He said the $600,000 Grade I Spinster at Keeneland Oct. 8 is a "strong possibility" for Idiomatic.
"I think she would like Keeneland," he said. "Breeders' Cup is obviously the main goal, but how we get there, I'm not sure yet."
One in Vermillion goes down in the books as winner of Saturday's $500,000 Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Memorial for 3-year-olds at Saratoga but only because New York Thunder, an undefeated budding superstar, fell with a fatal injury inside the sixteenth pole while holding a huge lead.
One in Vermillion, an Army Mule colt based at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, got his sixth win from 12 starts while coming off a third-place finish in the Grade III West Virginia Derby on Aug. 6.
New York Thunder, a Nyquist colt, had won all four previous starts by wide margins including the Grade II Amsterdam over the Saratoga track July 28.
Irad Ortiz Jr., who rode One in Vermillion, said New York Thunder already had the race in the bag before falling. "You don't want to win a Grade 1 that way, but it is what it is," Ortiz said. "Speechless. Nothing you can say about it. It's so sad for everybody who loved this horse."
Earlier on the same program, Nobel, a 4-year-old Lope de Vega colt, suffered a catastrophic injury while galloping out after the fifth race and, like New York Thunder, was euthanized on the track.
David O' Rourke, president and CEO of the New York Racing Association, issued a statement similar to those produced by Churchill Downs officials after 12 horse fatalities in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
NYRA promised investigation of the deaths, a group of outside experts to look into things and further examination of the Saragoga racing surfaces.
"While NYRA has made meaningful and sustained progress reducing the frequency of serious injuries over the last 10 years, there is always more work to be done to build upon that progress now and in the future," the statement said.
State regulators expressed concern over the deaths and PETA, after distributing a video of New York Thunder's injury, again called for suspension of racing at Saratoga.
Churchill Downs did halt its spring meeting early and shifted racing to the co-owned Ellis Park down the Ohio River in Kentucky.
Older sprinters met in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Forego Stakes at the Spa with Gunite turning the tables on Elite Power after finishing second to that rival in each of their last two meetings.
This time around, Gunite, a 4-year-old Gun Runner colt, was sent immediately to the lead by jockey Tyler Gaffalione and Elite Power, the odds-on favorite, couldn't catch him after a stalking trip.
The margin of victory was 1 3/4 lengths with another 4 lengths separating Elite Power from the show horse, High Oak. Gunite, trained by Steve Asmussen, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.53.
Elite Power had won eight straight races coming into the Forego, including the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint in Saudi Arabia.
"Gunite is just a very special horse to race at the level he has for as long as he has and do it consistently," Asmussen said. "Elite Power is a great Champion. I can't say how much I respect him, being by the unbelievable Curlin. But Gunite has seen good horses and he doesn't blink. That's what makes him so special."
On Saturday at Del Mar, Anarchist rolled up outside the early leaders turning for home in the $250,000 Grade II Pat O'Brien Stakes, got to the front at the top of the lane and won by 3/4 length over Bye Bye Bobby, who came like a shot from far back.
C Z Rocket was third in the 7-furlongs heat, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Sprint in November up the road at Santa Anita.
Anarchist, a 4-year-old Distorted Humor colt, stopped the clock at 1:23.21 with Ramon Vazquez riding for trainer Doug O'Neill.
Since breaking his maiden on his fourth try at Ellis Park in July 2022, Anarchist has posted two wins and six seconds from eight starts, the last six of those in graded stakes as far afield as Belmont Park and Woodbine.
"If you can win the quarter pole, you've got a chance to win," said O'Neill, who last won the Pat O'Brien in 2014 with Goldencents, who went on to win the Breeders' Cup Mile for the second straight year.
"He doesn't have a big stretch run but he grinds it out and we were hoping if he was leading turning for home we'd have a big chance and it worked out perfectly."
Coastal Mission stalked the pace in Friday's $250,000 Russell Road Stakes at Charles Town, grabbed the lead in the stretch and won his fifth straight race by 2 3/4 lengths. Mish and Sir Alfred James were second and third, with the favorite, Benevengo, sixth.
Coastal Mission, a 4-year-old Great Mission gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:23.78 for jockey Arnaldo Bocachica. Trainer Jeff Runco has Coastal Mission headquarted at Charles Town.
Damon's Mound dueled to the lead in Friday's $350,000 Robert Hilton Memorial for 3-year-olds at Charles Town and scooted away to win by 2 lengths.
Wood Memorial winner Lord Miles, shortening up significantly to this 7 furlongs, ran well late to finish second as Damon's Mound and jockey Junior Alvarado finished in 1:25.88 over the wet-fast track.
Damon's Mound had not won since taking the Grade II Saratoga Special just more than a year ago.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Echo Zulu and jockey Florent Geroux were taking no prisoners in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga, a "Win and You're In" for the PNC Bank Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Last year's winner and defending Eclipse Award champion Goodnight Olive tried to go with Echo Zulu and might have put a nose in front on the turn. But when Geroux asked the winner to turn it up, she suddenly was all alone for a 2 1/2-length victory.
Goodnight Olive was second, with Matareya well back in third. The 7 furlongs on a drying-out track officially labeled "muddy" was 1:20.95.
Trainer Steve Asmussen turned Echo Zulu, a Gun Runner filly, back to sprints after she finished fourth in the 2022 Kentucky Oaks. Her only defeat since then was a second, 2 1/2 lengths behind Goodnight Olive, in the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland.
Echo Zulu now has nine wins from 11 starts; Goodnight Olive, eight from 11.
Quoth Asmussen: "It's as simple as she's faster than other horses and it's such a special thing."
Eda pressed the pace in Sunday's $125,000 Grade III Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar, shot by Princess Adaleigh when prompted by jockey Juan Hernandez and ran on to win by 1 1/2 lengths -- her seventh straight win.
Kirstenbosch was along to take second from Princess Adaleigh by 2 1/2 lengths.
Eda, a 4-year-old Munnings filly trained by Baffert, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.49. Four of the wins have come in graded stakes, including the Grade I Starlet last December at Los Alamitos.
"She's solid," Baffert said of Eda. "This is the distance she likes. She's very competitive and some horses, they know how to win. I had a filly, Silverbulletday, who won like 10 in a row so you're lucky to have fillies like this."
Silverbulletday actually won eight straight races in 1998 and 1989 including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Kentucky Oaks. Not 10, but not bad.
Vahva swung out around the dueling leaders heading for home in Friday night's $750,000 Grade III Charles Town Oaks and worked by them in the final yards to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Undervalued Asset was all out to take second by a nose from pacesetting 96-1 long shot Late Frost.
Vahva, a Gun Runner filly, ran 7 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:25.01 with John Velazquez in the irons for trainer Cherie DeVaux. She scored her third career win, first in a graded event, to go with two seconds and two thirds.
Society, winner of the 2022 Charles Town Oaks, returned to the scene of that triumph and turned in a virtual replay, leading all the way to a 5 1/2-length victory as the favorite in Friday's $250,000 Misty Bennett Pink Ribbon Stakes.
The Gun Runner filly, last seen winning the Grade III Chicago Stakes at Ellis Park by 10 1/4 lengths, left Frank's Rockette to pick up the pieces in second 3 1/2 lengths in front of Heartyconstitution.
Society, with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons, ran 7 furlongs on the wet-fast track in 1:23.11.
Until Saturday, Bolshoi Ballet hadn't been seen in the United States since finishing sixth in the 2021 Longines Breeders' Cup Turf at Del Mar. Since then, he'd been winless in six starts in Hong Kong, Ireland and England, most recently finishing sixth, 21 1/2 lengths back of the winner, in the Group 1 King George at Ascot.
That all changed in the $750,000 Grade I Sword Dancer, a "Win and You're In" for this year's Breeders' Cup.
After tracking the embattled duo of 9-year-old Channel Maker and fellow Irish invader Stone Age, jockey John Velazquez shook up Bolshoi Ballet round the final turn and the 5-year-old son of Galileo took off like a shot, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over late-running Soldier Rising. Pioneering Spirit was third.
Irish-bred Bolshoi Ballet, trained by Aidan O'Brien for the Coolmore finished the 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:29.29.
O'Brien assistant T.J. Comerford said Bolshoi Ballet seems to prefer the typically firmer turf available in America and might like things even more hoof-rattling than he found Saturday. Given, that, might he accept the Breeders' Cup freebie?
"I think so. It's late in the year and there's probably not much [else] he can do," Comerford said.
Filly & Mare Turf
On Sunday at Ellis Park, Mouffy had to wait for room in the $125,000 Ellis Park Turf Stakes, finally split rivals nearing the eighth pole and outfinished the favorite, Lovely Princess, by 1 length.
Mouffy, a 4-year-old Uncle Mo filly trained by Jonathan Thomas, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:43.46 with Emmanuel Esquivel in the irons.
Roses for Debra, the prohibitive favorite, rallied outside rivals to take the lead in Friday's $150,000 Smart N Fancy Stakes for fillies and mares at Saratoga and drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Bubble Rock. Train to Artemus and Talkin Tipsy completed the order of finish.
Roses for Debra, a 4-year-old daughter of Liam's Map, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:01.82. Irad Ortiz Jr. rode for trainer Christophe Clement. She now has seven wins from nine starts.
Legit candidates for the Breeders' Cup are starting to emerge from late-summer racing.
Owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher were disappointed by Forte's flop in Saturday's Travers, but got some "wait 'till next year" hope as Noted, despite a wide trip, was up late to win Saturday's $200,000 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park by 1 length over the favorite, Dornoch.
Noted, a Cairo Prince colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.91 with Jairo Rendon up. Noted finished second in his initial appearance in June at Belmont Park, and then won last month at Saratoga at 1 1/16 miles. Both of those heats were on the grass.
"Having a good 2-year-old and the opportunity to come here on dirt is always going to be appealing, especially with the bigger races coming up on dirt in the future. And everyone always dreams about the first Saturday in May as well," Pletcher assistant Stu Hampson said.
"So we wanted to give him his fair shot on dirt. He did his part today. We'll see what the next step is. That's up to Todd."
The Wine Steward stumbled and was bumped around at the start of Sunday's $200,000 Funny Cide Stakes for New York-breds at Saratoga, and then drifted around through the stretch, but still managed to win a late duel with El Grando O by a desperate head.
The Wine Steward, a Vino Rosso colt trained by Mike Maker, was clocked in 1:10.92 for 6 furlongs on a fast track with Manny Franco up. He improved to 3-for-3 with the last win coming in the Bashford Manor Stakes, transplanted from Louisville to Ellis Park.
Asked about chances The Wine Steward will contest the $500,000 Grade I Champagne on Oct. 7, Maker said, "Our initial plan was either the Breeders' Futurity [$600,000 Grade I Oct. 7 at Keeneland], Champagne and hopefully the Breeders' Cup if he continues to progress."
General Shipman showed the way up the backstretch in Saturday's $100,000 Prairie Meadows Freshman, opened up a big lead and got home first by 3/4 length over Dawson's Storm. Odds-on favorite Whatdoyouthinkmark faded throughout to finish last of eight.
General Shipman, a Nebraska-bred colt by Midshipman, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.49 for jockey Ken Tohill.
Kant Resist It went quickly to the front in Friday's $100,000 Prairie Meadows Debutante and cruised home first by 4 1/2 lengths over Gypsy Tales. The favorite, Dorothy Crowfoot, was third.
Kant Resist It, a Kantharos filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.65 with Alex Birzer in the irons.
On Sunday at Saratoga, Caldwell Luvs Gold started last of six in the $200,000 Seeking the Ante Stakes for New York-breds but quickly improved and came with a four-wide move to defeat the favorite, Stellamaris, by 1/2 length.
It was another 7 3/4 lengths back to the nearest rival.
Caldwell Luvs Gold, a Goldencents filly, covered the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.29 with Florent Geroux riding, and improved to 2-for-2. "We'll probably stay with the state-breds," trainer Brad Cox said.
Around the world, around the clock
Frankie Dettori put together back-to-back victories Saturday as he bid farewell to York's Ebor festival by urging Kinross home first in the Group 2 Skybet City of York Stakes, then, a half hour later, seemingly carrying Absurde on his back to an upset win in the Skybet Ebor Heritage Handicap.
Kinross, third in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile and third again in the Group 1 July Cup last month, led inside the final furlong and held well to win by 3/4 length from Audience.
Absurde was another story altogether in the 1 3/4-mile handicap. Dettori got the 5-year-old Fastnet Rock gelding to the lead inside the final furlong, seemed to drop back slightly in the cavalry charge to the finish and then rallied to win by 1/2 length from Sweet William.
"I thought I'd been beaten," Dettori said, according to Racing Post. "Full credit to Absurde. He showed some guts and stuck his neck out. He needs cover and I was in front at the three pole. I thought I'd messed it up."
Winning trainer Willie Mullins, a more familiar face in jumps racing, added: "I thought we were beaten half a furlong out. I don't know where Frankie found the energy to get up in the final 100 yards.
"He pulled that out of the fire. What a remarkable jockey. You guys have known it for years, but I thought he was just brilliant."
Live In The Dream made the dreams come true for his connections with a front-running upset win in Friday's Group 1 Coolmore Wootton Bassett Nunthorpe Stakes at York.
The 4-year-old Prince of Lir gelding, having his first-ever go at a Group 1, bravely held off the heavy favorite, Highfield Princess by 1 length with Bradsell third.
Sixteen ran in one of those goofy races open to 2-year-olds and up. Live In The Dream ran 5 furlongs on good to firm turf in 56.87 seconds with Sean Kirrane up for trainer Adam West, earning a "Win and You're In" spot in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
All the connections were novices at the Group 1 level and all seemed in shock to win the race.
Also Friday on the Knavesmire, Lake Forest outfinished Johannes Brahms to take the Group 2 Al Basti Equiworld Gimcrack Stakes for 2-year-olds by 1 length despite drifting out through the final yards.
In the extended 2-mile Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Stakes, Coltrane and jockey Oisin Murphy got to the front some 2 furlongs from home and held well to win by 1 1/2 lengths from the favorite, Ascot Gold Cup winner Courage Mon Ami, ridden by Dettori.
Ascoli Piceno ran her record to 2-for-2 with a relentless stretch drive to victory in Sunday's Grade 3 Niigata Nisai Stakes for 2-year-olds.
The Daiwa Major filly, from the familiar owner-breeder combination of Sunday Racing and Northern Farm, needed just about every step of the long stretch to reel in extreme long shot Shonan Manuela and win by 1 length.
Godolphin runner Clean Air was gaining late, but finished third, another 1 length back.
South Africa's Equus Awards, announced during the past week, found Trip of Fortune and Princess Calla atop the Older Male and Older Female results.
Princess Calla, a daughter of Flower Alley, also was named Horse of the Year after three straight victories, all Grade 1 races.
Isivunguvungu was honored at top sprinter, Charles Dickens as champion miler and Winchester Mansion as champion middle distance horse.
The latter choice received criticism from some quarters, as Winchester Mansion's credential came primarily as winner of the Group 1 Durban July, a handicap in which he was in receipt of weight from the higher-rated rivals.
Drackenstein Stud and owner Gaynor Rupert swept an armful of awards as owner and breeder.