A clutch of Breeders' Cup champions went down to defeat in weekend racing while Golden Horn proved his star power in England and South Africa celebrated its biggest day of the year with an upset.
Lady Eli, winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, was an impressive winner at Belmont Park. But other winners from last fall at Santa Anita -- Work All Week, Main Sequence and Texas Red -- all failed to find the winner's circle.
Shaman Ghost ran by Danish Dynaformer in the stretch to win Canada's biggest race, the Queen's Plate.
Speaking of big, read on:
Force the Pass forced the pace in Saturday's $1.25 million, Grade I Belmont Park Derby Invitational, racing closely behind the two early leaders. When asked for run midway around the turn, Force the Pass surged to the lead and wasn't challenged in the stretch, winning by 3 3/4 lengths over Candal, one of two foreign invaders. Startup Nation was third and the favorite, Bolo, faded from the lead to finish last and was vanned off. Force the Pass, a Speightstown colt out of the Dynaformer mare Social Queen, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:01.16 with Joel Rosario handling the reins. He now has four wins and two seconds from six starts and two straight graded stakes wins, including the Grade III Penn Mile in his previous start. It was his first try at more than 1 mile. "We were hoping for a dirt horse because he handled everything so well," said winning trainer Alan Goldberg. "Very professional. We brought him up here three days ago -- he'd never been here before -- and he never turned a hair. We'll give him the summer off and look towards the fall."
Sunday's $500,000, Grade I United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park evolved into a three-horse rally from the back of the pack with Big Blue Kitten getting there first by 1 1/2 lengths from Slumber, who was a neck better than Twilight Eclipse. Shining Copper, who jetted out to an 8-lengths lead, salvaged fourth. The reigning Breeders' Cup Turf winner and 2014 division champ, Main Sequence, was bumped at the start, raced well off the pace and finished seventh in his first start since racing in Dubai on World Cup night. Big Blue Kitten, an 8-year-old Kitten's Joy ridgling bred and owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:11.82 with Joe Bravo up. The winner of the 2013 United Nations, he was coming off a second-place finish behind Slumber in the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park last month. "Joe knows this horse and rides him best," said winning trainer Chad Brown, who trained the top two finishers. "This is Joe's mount and I hope there's several more Grade I's in their future. This horse is just so consistent. What a great runner." Bravo added, "He got beat less than 5 lengths in the Breeders' Cup and I thought that was the worst race he ever ran. And this year, he's just come back bigger and stronger and it looks like better than ever."
Aldous Snow moved to the lead in the upper stretch in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Singspiel Stakes at Woodbine and held on to score by a head over Dynamic Sky. The favorite, Hyper, rallied outside to finish third, 2 1/2 lengths farther in arrears. Aldous Snow, a 6-year-old Theatrical gelding, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.55 under Eurico Da Silva. He won this race last year but was winless in five intervening starts.
Filly & Mare Turf
Lady Eli bided her time in Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational, came five-wide into the stretch and went by to win by 2 3/4 length with a powerful late kick. Itsonlyactingdad was a long shot second and Irish raider Outstanding finished third. Lady Eli, a daughter of Divine Park, ran 1 1/4 miles on the firm inner turf course in 1:59.27 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. She is undefeated in six starts, including last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Winning trainer Chad Brown said Ortiz' ability to get Lady Eli outside position was key. "I didn't know how he was going to do it with the two post, but I figured if the pace was quick enough, which it was, there'd be some separation and he could do it." That was our game plan and that was what happened. Once she got outside - there's never any certainties - I knew it wouldn't be the trip that got her beat ... Not only the ones I've had in my career but the best horses I have been around, she's way up there, probably at the top of the list. She certainly has the most devastating turn of foot I've ever worked around." He said the Breeders' Cup is the target, with the Queen Elizabeth at Keeneland as a prep. More immediately, he said he will look at the Grade II Lake Placid at Saratoga on Aug. 14 or, if he decides to take on older horses, the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington on Aug. 15.
Strut the Course settled in mid-pack early in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Dance Smartly Stakes at Woodbine, then outfinished the from-the-clouds rally of Watsdachances to win by a head over that one. Solid Appeal led briefly and held on for third. Strut the Course, a 5-year-old mare by Strut the Stage, strutted about 1 1/8 miles on firm going in 1:45.1 with Luis Contreras in the irons.
Coffee Clique stalked the pace in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap at Parx Racing, got to the lead in the lane and won by 1 1/4 lengths despite drifting out late. Testa Rossi and Pink Poppy filled out the trifecta. Coffee Clique, a 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.64 under Manuel Franco. She won a pair of graded stakes last year, including the Grade I Just a Game at Belmont Park, and finished second in the Grade II Churchill Distaff Turf Mile earlier this season.
Goldy Espony led all the way to a 2 1/2-lengths win over Dido in Sunday's $100,000 River Memories Stakes at Belmont Park. Granny Mc's Kitten finished third and the favorite, White Rose, was fourth. Goldy Espony, a 4-year-old, French-bred daughter of Vespone, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:29.77 for jockey Kendrick Carmouche.
Kharafa had to battle traffic issues twice during Saturday's $75,000 Elkwood Stakes at Monmouth Park, finally split rivals and got home first in a five-horse blanket finish. Lochte was second, a neck in front of Inchcape, followed by Clement Clement and Rose Brian. Kharafa, a 6-year-old Kitalpha gelding, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.39 with Paco Lopez up.
Samuel Dechamplain led from the start in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Charlie Barley Stakes for 3-year-olds, was headed by the favorite, Flashaway, but came again to win by 1/2 length over that one. Decision Day was 2 lengths farther back in third. Samuel Dechamplain, a Henrythenavigator gelding, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.73 with Emma-Jayne Wilson riding.
Effinex and Tonalist battled down the stretch in Saturday's $500,000, Grade II Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park with Effinex a head in front of the odds-on favorite at the wire. The early leader, Coach Inge, was swallowed up by the embattled duo and settled for third, another 1 1/2 lengths back. Effinex, a 4-year-old Mineshaft colt, ran 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:01.55 for jockey Junior Alvarado. Effinex won the Grade III Excelsior at Aqueduct in April but then did not finish the Grade II Brooklyn Handicap last month after bearing out on both turns. "During the stretch run, I was just happy he was going to run good," said winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens. "If he got beat by Tonalist, that wasn't going to be a crime. And then when he gutted it out, golly, and Junior got the stick over in his left hand, and that's what made the difference." He said he will be pointing to the Grade I Whitney on Aug. 8 at Saratoga or the Grade I Woodward on Sept. 5, also at the Spa.
Speightster prompted the pace in Saturday's $500,000, Grade III Dwyer Stakes for 3-year-olds, came into the stretch to take the lead and won by 2 1/2 lengths over the favorite and 2014 U.S. juvenile champ Texas Red. Tommy Macho was another 2 1/2 lengths back in third. Speightster, a Speightstown colt, remains undefeated in three starts after covering 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.13 with Jose Lezcano up. "We identified him as a nice 2-year-old last year, and then we had to give him time because he had bucked his shins," said winning trainer Bill Mott. "We sent him home for a good while and finally got him back to the races, and he's been perfect." Mott said he's considering the Grade I King's Bishop on Aug. 29 at Saratoga. "The sky's the limit," he added. Texas Red's trainer, Keith Desormeaux, said his colt's effort was "awesome ... a beautiful step to our ultimate goal, which is the Travers." That's also at Saratoga on Aug. 29.
Gimme Da Lute drafted behind the favorite, Kentuckian, through the early furlongs of Saturday's $350,000, Grade II Los Alamitos Derby, took over the lead turning for home and then was all out to win by a nose over Prospect Park. Kentuckian salvaged third, 7 3/4 lengths farther back. Gimme Da Lute, a Midnight Lute colt, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.09, just 0.08 seconds off the track record set by Shared Belief a year ago. "He's getting better and better and Martin rode him flawlessly today," said winning trainer Bob Baffert. "This horse had been working really well, so we were confident. But we just didn't know what Kentuckian was going to do because you never know how they're going to react when you stretch them out." Kentuckian's trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, said only, "Disappointed."
Shaman Ghost rallied by Danish Dynaformer late to win Sunday's $1 million (Canadian) Queen's Plate at Woodbine by 4 3/4 lengths. Danish Dynaformer, who came from well back to take the lead a furlong out, held on for second, 1/2 length to the good of Conquest Boogaloo. Billy's Star, who had first run to the lead, finished fourth. Shaman Ghost, a Ghostzapper colt, ran 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather track in 2:03.45 under Rafael Hernandez. The colt was bred by Adena Springs, owned by Stronach Stables and trained by Brian Hernandez. It was his fourth straight win, including the Marine Stakes in his previous start. "I just wanted to make sure, just by the quarter pole, try to be outside the horses," Hernandez said. "He (Danish Dynaformer) make a move too early. I let him pass me. I know my horse has always got a kick. So he did his thing. He made his kick down the lane. He gave me everything today."
Got Lucky emerged from a pace-stalking trip as the field entered the stretch run in Friday's $150,000, Grade III Molly Pitcher Stakes at Monmouth Park and kicked away to a 5 1/2-lengths victory. Stiffed, who upset Got Lucky last time out, rallied from last to finish second and the long shot pacesetter, J's Two Step Halo, held on for third. Got Lucky, a 4-year-old A.P. Indy filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.12. "I knew Stiffed would be coming to the outside," said winning rider Paco Lopez. "This time, the pace was a little easier for us." Todd Pletcher trains the winner, who now has four victories and five seconds from 13 starts. It was her first graded stakes win.
Temper Mint Patty, the overwhelming favorite, ran to her notices in Friday's $75,000 New York Oaks. After tracking the pace, jockey John Velazquez turned the Congrats filly loose and she immediately shot away from the field, winning by 9 1/4 lengths, ridden out. Jc's Shooting Star beat the others, with Hail Mary's Gold third. Temper Mint Patty ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.12.
Private Zone led from the start in Saturday's $400,000, Grade III Belmont Sprint Championship and ran on to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Clearly Now. Stallwalkin' Dude was third with Green Gratto and C. Zee completing the order of finish. Private Zone, a 6-year-old Macho Uno gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.57 under Martin Pedroza. "Good performance. We were expecting this," said winning trainer Jorge Navarro." He said he's looking at the Grade I Forego on Aug. 29 at Saratoga.
Favorite Tale led from the start in Sunday's $250,000, Grade II Smile Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream Park and defending Breeders' Cup champ Work All Week couldn't catch him, finishing second by 4 1/4 lengths. Last year's Fountain of Youth winner, Wildcat Red, finished third. Favorite Tale, a 4-year-old Tale of the Cat gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.85 with Edgard Zayas riding. "We hoped he could run a good race here, because last year the owners wanted to go to the Breeders' Cup, but he's not eligible and it costs a lot of money," said winning trainer Guadalupe Preciado. "I told them, 'Let's wait a year because hopefully he could win a race and get in. So this was perfect." The Smile was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Grand Bili pressed the pace in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Carry Back Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park, then held off the late run of Barbados to win by 1 length from that rival. Juan and Bina finished 4 1/2 lengths farther back in third. Grand Bili, a City Zip colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.11 with Javier Castellano handling the reins.
Calgary Cat took the lead at mid-stretch in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Achievement Stakes for Ontario-sired runners and went on to win by 1/2 length from Phil's Dream. Speightsong was third. Calgary Cat, a 5-year-old gelding by Cowtown Cat, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.95 with Eurico Da Silva in the irons.
Seeking the Sherif pressed the pace made by Quick and Silver in Sunday's $50,000 Oak Tree Sprint at Pleasanton, got by and won by 1 1/4 lengths over that one. Aalsmeer was third and the favorite, Streamside, finished seventh after a bad start. Seeking the Sherif, a 6-year-old Officer gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.25 with Mario Gutierrez up.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Merry Meadow pressed the pace established by Flutterby in Sunday's $250,000, Grade II Princess Rooney Stakes at Gulfstream Park, dueled to the lead and got clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Flutterby held second by 2 1/2 lengths over Kiss to Remember. Merry Meadow, a 5-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.29 under Javier Castellano. She has won four of her last five starts. "Seven-eighths isn't her best distance, especially if you take her out of her game," said winning trainer Mark Hennig. "She'd rather not be the one having to chase the pace. Last time she kind of just got caught up in the battle early, and Javier, to his credit, didn't beat her up." The Princess Rooney was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Irish Jasper got first run to the lead in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Victory Ride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park and kicked clear, winning by 3 lengths from the favorite, Enchanting Lady. Kathballu finished third. Irish Jasper, a First Defence filly, got 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.70 under Javier Castellano. It was her third straight win sprinting. "I think she's the best 3-year-old filly in the country," said winning owner/trainer Derek Ryan, adding the Grade I Longines Test Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 8 is the next goal. "The seven-eighths is going to be perfect. That's the next thing for her. We'll see where we are after that."
Dogwood Trail went right to the front in Sunday's $150,000 Azalea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park and kept on running, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Huasca. I'm a Looker finished third. Dogwood Trail, a daughter of Awesome of Course, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.12 under Jesus Rios. It was his third win from six starts and first stakes score.
Go Blue or Go Home shadowed the pace in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Highlander Stakes at Woodbine, got by and held off Katie's Eyes to win by a neck at 17-1 odds. Mosler finished third. Go Blue or Go Home, a 6-year-old Bluegrass Cat gelding, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in course-record time of 1:07.8 with Alan Garcia riding. The Virginia-bred posted his first victory since the 2013 Highlander.
Successful Native wore down pacesetting Noble Prince in the final sixteenth of Sunday's $75,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint at Gulfstream Park, winning by a neck over that rival. Breitling Flyer finished third. Successful native, a 4-year-old Successful Appeal colt, ran 5 furlongs on firm going in 56.01 seconds with Juan Leyva up.
Bradester stalked the pace in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park, took over the lead on the turn and edged clear, winning by 2 lengths from Red Vine. Valid finished third and the odds-on favorite, Race Day, beat only one rival after exchanging bumps at the start. Bradester, a 5-year-old son of Lion Heart, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.32 with Corey Lanerie up.
Beliveau stalked the pace in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Clarendon Stakes for Ontario-bred 2-year-olds at Woodbine, swept past the leaders in the final furlong and went on to win by 1 1/4 length. Ruth Less Blue was second as a first-time starter and Neil's Diamond got show money, ditto. Beliveau, a Where's the Ring gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:04.36 with Patrick Husbands in the irons.
Francesco Blue outfinished the favorite, Fellowship, to win Sunday's $100,000 Birdonthewire Stakes at Gulfstream Park by 1 length with Silent Prayer third. Francesco Blue, a Leroidesanimaux colt out of the Holy Bull mare Nicey Nice, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.55 under Edgar Prado.
Smokey Image drew off in the lane to win Sunday's $50,000 Everett Nevin Stakes at Pleasanton by 6 1/2 lengths over Quantum of Joy. Algenon finished third. Smokey Image, a Southern Image colt, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.73 with Juan Hernandez up.
First-time starter Stays in Vegas broke last of six in Saturday's $50,000 Juan Gonzalez Memorial Stakes at Pleasanton, circled three-wide to gain the lead turning for home and kicked away to win by 6 lengths. Ibelievewewillwin led early and held second with She's So Vain third. The favorite, Sambamzajammin, was fourth. Stays in Vegas, a City Zip filly, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.14 with Ricardo Gonzalez up for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Ballet Diva was quickly out front in Sunday's $100,000 Cassidy Stakes at Gulfstream Park and cruised home first by 4 1/2 lengths over Above Fashion. It's High Time was a further 3 1/2 lengths back in third. Ballet Diva, a Hear No Evil filly, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.06 with Jose Caraballo riding.
Power King powered to the lead at mid-stretch in Saturday's Group 1 Vodacom Durban July, bumped briefly with eventual runner-up Punta Arenas just inside the 100-meters mark and held on to win by 3/4 length. Tellina finished third, completing a sweep of the top three placings for the sire, 2001 Arlington Million winner Silvano, and breeder, Main Chance Farms. Power King, with Stuart Randolph up, covered the 2,200 meters on firm turf in 2:15.17. "I thought it was too far for him," said the winning owner, Lady Christine Laidlaw. "Now we're going to take that boy and campaign him internationally." She mentioned Australia, Hong Kong and Dubai as targets but trainer Dean Kannemeyer introduced a dose of reality, pointing out that onerous South African quarantine requirements likely would delay any such campaign until 2016. The bump near the finish produced an objection and a lengthy official review before the result was made official. "I was confident," Randolph said. "We came together but my horse was not at fault." Randolph does, however, face a disciplinary hearing and possible suspension for swerving left earlier in the stretch, impeding the favorite, Legal Eagle, and Gold Onyx, both trainer by Sean Terry. "He cleaned up half the field," Terry said of the winner. Power King now has six wins from 19 career starts.
Chestnuts N Pearls got through between rivals in the final 100 meters to take Saturday's Group 1 Golden Slipper for 2-year-old fillies by 1 1/2 lengths over Almashooqa. Sapstan was third. Chestnuts N Pearls, a daughter of Horse Chestnut, won at first asking but failed to fire in one intervening race. Sean Cormack rode the winner for trainer Dennis Drier. "She's a lovely filly," Drier said, not committing to her future campaign. Sheikh Hamdan al Rasheed al Maktoum had two in the race -- Almashooqa and Captain's Song. The latter finished sixth.
Seventh Plain was just up in a three-horse finish to win the Grade I Golden Horseshoe for 2-year-olds by a nose over Brazuka. Arabian Beat, who appeared a winner with just jumps to go, settled for third. Seventh Plain, by Seventh Rock, picked up his fourth win from five starts, with the victories also including the Gold Medallion. With Anton Marcus up, Seventh Plain ran 1,400 meters in 1:14.70. "You dream about these winners. But to have two in one day -- unbelievable," said Drier, the winning trainer. "He just took so long to get going, I thought it was impossible for him to get there."
Ultimate Dollar led the way in the Grade 3 TabGold and won by 3 1/4 lengths despite drifting to the stands side in the late going. St Tropez was up for second in the 2,200-meters grass event, with Dynamic fading to finish third. Ultimate Dollar, a 3-year-old Jet Master gelding, was ridden by S'Manga Khumalo, finishing in 2:17.53. St Tropez was ridden by Chad Schofield, whose father and grandfather rode in South Africa. It was the first ride in South Africa for the younger Schofield, who came fifth in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes last month at Royal Ascot aboard Criterion. Schofield is committed to ride the coming season in Hong Kong.
Heart of a Lion, always keen to go, struck the lead midway down the stretch in the Grade II SABC Gold Vase and prevailed in a driving finish over Wild Ash and Solid Speed. Heart of a Lion, a 4-year-old gelding by Seul Amour, was ridden over 3,000 meters of firm turf by Muzi Yeni in 3:14.40.
Undefeated Derby winner Golden Horn led the way in Saturday's Group 1 Coral Eclipse at Sandown, then met and decisively defeated a challenge from The Grey Gatsby, eventually winning by 3 1/2 lengths over that rival. "He's really asserted," said winning trainer John Gosden. "I have enormous respect for the second." And winning rider Frankie Dettori said at this stage of the colt's career, "He's the best I've ever ridden." The Cape Cross colt now has run five times and won five times, including the Group 2 Dante Stakes at York and the Derby. The Grey Gatsby, a 4-year-old Mastercraftsman colt, ran second to Free Eagle in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot in his last previous outing. Gosden said Golden Horn is a candidate for the King George and should be in the picture for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. British bookmakers already have pounded down his odds for the Arc, in which the French mare Treve is expected to be gunning for an unprecedented "threepeat."