Some budding stars -- Songbird, Smooth Roller, Wedding Toast, Nyquist and Rock Fall -- joined the likes of super mare Beholder and Big Blue Kitten in winning weekend qualifying races for the upcoming Breeders' Cup.
Things get even more hectic next week with 12 Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" races -- at Keeneland, Santa Anita and Belmont Park -- and the climax of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
On the international front, 2-year-olds were all the rage at Newmarket, also with some stars in the making. And, in Australia, it was another tight finish as the spring classics loom on the horizon. Next week, Group 1 action returns to Japan with the Sprinters Stakes -- a leg of the Global Sprint Challenge.
Geothermal and Isotherm both won stakes races on Saturday. Sounds cool. But both words have to do with heat and those who had both of them on top were hot, indeed.
Speaking of hot, how about Beholder?
Beholder easily disposed of seven would-be rivals in the stretch run of Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita. Jockey Gary Stevens barely had to ask the super mare as she won by 3 1/4 lengths, well in hand, while finishing 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.83. My Sweet Addiction and Savings Account filled out the trifecta at big odds. Stevens said trainer Richard Mandella "told me yesterday, 'I want to win but by no means do I want to knock her out.' We couldn't have scripted it any better. I told him that he might have to tack-walk her in the morning because she pulled up full of it." Stevens was fanned wide on the first turn and simply elected to take that position and keep Beholder out of potential trouble rather than drop in and save ground. She was on the outside again turning for home. The victory provided a needed -- and well-paid -- workout for the 5-year-old Henny Hughes mare and did nothing to deter Mandella from his inclination to bypass the Breeders' Cup Distaff, which Beholder won in 2013, in favor of the Classic. She easily beat males in the Grade I Pacific Classic last month at Del Mar and Mandella said the Breeders' Cup Classic, right now, "would be the plan. Anything can change and nothing's in stone, but as of now there's no reason not to think of that." The Keeneland race, however, will feature stiffer competition. Beholder now has won six straight races and 10 of her last 11. The race was a "Win and You're In" for the Distaff but Beholder already had secured a spot in either the Distaff or the Classic by virtue of wins earlier in the year.
Out East, it was all Wedding Toast in Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park. The 5-year-old Street Sense mare took the lead right out of the gate and won comfortably by 2 3/4 lengths over Curalina. Catch My Drift was third. Wedding Toast, owned by Godolphin and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, ran 9 furlongs around one turn on the big Belmont oval in 1:47.67 under Jose Lezcano. She won the Grade II Ruffian and the Grade I Ogden Phipps in her two previous starts, showing marked improvement in each. McLaughlin said of his conversation with Lezcano, "I don't say it very often, but I asked him not to give her a hard race if he didn't have to because she looked that good on paper. We have a big race in five weeks. Couldn't have asked for better, it really went perfect." He said Wedding Toast likes the one-turn race but should have no trouble handling two turns in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Keeneland.
Include Betty, already a multiple graded stakes winner on the East Coast, rallied from last of six to win Sunday's $200,000 Remington Park Oaks in Oklahoma. But she had to work for it, winning a tough stretch tussle with Sweet Opportunity by only 1/2 length after veering left. Harlan's Romance finished third. Include Betty, an include filly, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.83 with Drayden Van Dyke in the irons but had survive a claim of foul before the result was made official. Van Dyke said Include Betty tends to loaf when she gets the lead and he had to apply the stick to keep her focused. "I really didn't want to hit her," he said. "But I had to and when I put my stick to her, she went down to the left a little bit." She won the Grade I Mother Goose in June, then finished third in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks and fifth in the Grade I Alabama at Saratoga.
Put a ring around the name Smooth Roller. The 4-year-old Hard Spun colt, making just his fourth career start, surged by pacesetting Bayern in the lane in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita and went on to win by 5 1/4 lengths. Hoppertunity was up for second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Bayern, giving trainer Bob Baffert the bottom two-thirds of the trifecta. Smooth Roller, with Tyler Baze up for trainer Victor Garcia, ran 1 3/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.08. He started his career in June, winning a maiden event handily at Santa Anita, then took an optional claimer at Del Mar in August. He stumbled at the start of the Harry F. Brubaker Stakes and rallied to finish fourth, beaten just over 1 length in his only other race. "I expected him to run big," Garcia said. "He had a lot of trouble in his last race. He was washed out, stumbled from the gate, was four or five wide both turns and only got beat a length and a quarter. I worked the horse twice and he worked real good. Tyler was real happy with it. We'll go to the Breeders' Cup. Absolutely." The race was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Martin Garcia, who rode last year's Classic winner, Bayern, said his mount is not the same horse he was a year ago. "If he was the same, he would have won," Garcia said. "Too quiet. He didn't show anything."
Geothermal was set down for the long stretch drive in Saturday's $175,000 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs and responded perfectly, dueling to the lead and drawing off late to score by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Departing. Smack Smack finished third. Geothermal, a 6-year-old gelding by Unbridled Energy, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.93 with Robby Albarado up. While he's unlikely to scare off American Pharoah, he has been improving while climbing the class ladder this season. "This horse has been doing better," said winning trainer Steve Margolis. "He's a gritty little horse. Ever since the Fair Grounds, he has run well on the turf but we looked back on his numbers and his numbers have been so much better on the dirt and he's healthy now - he's sound." He said he hasn't plotted the next step for Geothermal.
Shotgun Kowboy, the local favorite, outran all the invaders and one-time Triple Crown contenders to take Sunday's $400,000, Grade III Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park. The Kodiak Kowboy gelding, with Cliff Berry up, dueled New York invader Classy Class into submission, surged to the lead in the stretch and held off California-trained Desert Dynamo by 1/2 length. Among the better-known rivals, Souper Colossal finished fourth, The Truth Or Else seventh and Tale of Verve eighth. Shotgun Kowboy ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.91, winning for the fifth time in seven starts -- all at Remington Park. The Derby was only his second start as a 3-year-old. He was bred by his owner and trainer, C.R. Trout. "I wanted him to get out of the gates good and I was surprised I was there," said Berry, who plans to retire after the Remington meeting. "I took a big hold of him but nobody came up to him. He was cruising so I let him do it."
The final margin didn't reflect it but Rock Fall seemed in charge all the way in Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park. After pressing the pace three-wide into the stretch, the 4-year-old battled to a narrow lead with a sixteenth to run and won by a neck. Salutos Amigos was second, a head in front of Stallwalkin' Dude and another 1/2 length better than Palace. But Rock Falls seemed determined as he scored his seventh straight win, running 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.70 with Javier Castellano up. In his previous start, he won the Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga, beating The Big Beast, a rugged customer, by a nose. "He's blessed with a lot of natural talent but to go along with that he's got a lot of fight, which is great," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "I wanted to get this one and still have something for the Breeders' Cup, so I was hoping I didn't cut it too close and he pulled it out. It's a fine line between running well in the prep and hoping you have something left for the Breeders' Cup." The Vosburgh was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Valid had to battle down the stretch inside Falling Sky in Saturday's $75,000 Groomstick Stakes at Gulfstream Park before finally prevailing by a neck over that rival as the odds-on favorite. Grande Shores was along late to finish third. Valid, a 5-year-old Medaglia d'Oro gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.87 with Matthew Rispoli in the irons. Asked about the Breeders' Cup, trainer Marcus Vitali said, "We're talking about it. It's a conversation that (the owners) and I will have. We'll see how he comes out of this and put him back in training and we'll make a decision." He would have options as Valid won the Grade III Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park going 9 furlongs in his previous start.
Ivan Fallunovalot stalked the pace in Sunday's $150,000 Remington Park Sprint Cup, rallied by the leaders three-wide and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Candip. Imahit was up for third. Ivan Fallunovalot, a 5-year-old Texas-bred gelding by Valid Expectations, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.42 with Calvin Borel at the controls. He now has been first or second in 10 of his last 11 starts with the only break in that skein a fourth-place finish in last year's edition of this race. "He left there running today," Borel said. "The last time, I think it was the lights, he kind of looked around and then took off. Today he left and sat right off of them just like we wanted and finished. If he goes to the Breeders' Cup, I'll be there."
Filly and Mare Sprint
La Verdad showed the way in Saturday's $300,000, Grade II Gallant Bloom at Belmont Park, saved ground and held off Wavell Avenue at the end by 1/2 length. Dame Dorothy finished third after lunging at the start. La Verdad, a 5-year-old daughter of Yes It's True, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.16 under Jose Ortiz. She is undefeated in five starts this season, with the earlier wins including the Grade II Distaff Handicap, the Grade III Vagrancy and the Grade II Honorable Miss. She missed some training time at Saratoga and trainer Linda Rice said she needed the race. "I've had to work hard to get her here and we lost some time, but I think this race will do her a lot of good. She'll move forward and will be harder to beat next time," Rice said.
Big Blue Kitten got first run to the lead in Saturday's $600,000, Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park as frontrunning Shining Copper faded. And the 7-year-old Kitten's Joy ridgling made the late advantage stand, holding off Slumber at the end for a 3/4-length victory. Twilight Eclipse, caught in traffic on the turn, was only a nose farther in arrears and the favorite, Red Rifle, settled for fourth. Big Blue Kitten, a multiple Grade I winner, finished 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in course-record time of 2:23.39 with Joe Bravo at the controls. The winner just missed in his last try, losing the Grade I Arlington Million by a nose to The Pizza Man. Overall, he now has 14 wins, eight seconds and four thirds from 29 starts. Chad Brown trains Big Blue Kitten, Slumber and Shining Copper. The top two, he said, "ran terrific. Today, Big Blue Kitten got the better of Slumber at a mile and a half. I'm proud of both horses. The race pretty much went the way I expected ... We're in the process, these last round of preps, of trying to identify horses who belong in the Breeders' Cup. A horse like Big Blue Kitten would be one, and we have a big weekend of racing both here and at Keeneland next weekend." The race was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Cougar Ridge rallied three-wide down the stretch to win Sunday's $100,000 Remington Green Stakes at Remington Park by 1 length over Code West. Greengrassofyoming led briefly in the lane but finished third. Cougar Ridge, a 5-year-old Johannesburg gelding, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.06 with C.J. McMahon riding.
Filly & Mare Turf
Photo Call had her picture taken after upsetting Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Rodeo Drive Stakes for fillies and mares at Santa Anita. The 4-year-old, Irish-bred Galileo filly waited comfortably behind the early pace, got through between rivals with a sixteenth to run and won off by 2 1/4 lengths over Elektrum. Stormy Lucy was third and the favorite, Hard Not to Like, finished a dull eighth. Photo Call ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:00.76. Winning rider Drayden Van Dyke said the stretch run was "a bit hairy" when a hole on the rail vanished before he could get through it. "I had to cut back and luckily she was brave enough to go through. Not a lot of fillies are brave enough to go through a hole like that but she just rocketed through there and I was lucky to get the good trip. Photo Call was last seen winning the Grade III Violet at Monmouth Park -- just her second win since arriving from Ireland last fall. Anne Sinchak, assistant to winning trainer Graham Motion, noted the race is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Onus stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Commonwealth Oaks at Laurel Park, surged to the lead as the field turned for home and romped home first by 4 1/2 lengths. Lola Beaux was best of the rest, a nose in front of Stormy Regatta and another neck better than Rainha Da Bateria. Onus, a daughter of Blame out of the Forestry mare Silviculture, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.12 with Forest Boyce up. She has won three straight races, all at Laurel, starting with her first career win on July 1. "The last couple times I've been amazed how talented she is," said winning owner Stuart Janney III. "A horse that can carry on so easily just off the pace and then quicken like she does is very tough to beat." He said Onus likely will be put away for the winter but could run once more this fall "if there's another race that fits her."
Singing Kitty was along late to upset Saturday's $75,000 Unzip Me Stakes for 3-year-old fillies down the Santa Anita Hillside, besting Spirit of Xian by 1 1/4 length and the favorite, Curlin's Fox, by the same margin again. Singing Kitty, a daughter of Minister's Wild Cat, ran the gravity-assisted 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.34 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. Claimed for $32,000 last December, Singing Kitty now has three wins and a second from seven starts this year with earning of more than $250,000.
Alert Bay swung four-wide into the stretch in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II City of Hope Mile at Santa Anita and outfinished Big Cazanova to win by 1 length. It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to the favorite, Avanzare. Alert Bay, a 4-year-old City Zip gelding, finished 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.58 with Martin Garcia in the irons. He frequently has been in the money in stakes from New Mexico to Santa Anita to Golden Gate to Emerald Downs. "We had a tough time getting him going this year, getting back to form," said winning trainer Blaine Wright. "It's almost like the switch gets flipped ... I really hope the Breeder's Cup is a possibility. This race should certainly let us think about it."
Saham rallied from last of nine to win Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, defeating Watchyourownbobber by 3/4 length. Wayward Kitten was third and the favorite, Nun the Less, finished seventh as the field bunched up in the final yards. Saham, a Lemon Drop Kid colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.76 with Joe Rocco Jr. at the controls. It was his first win since his maiden victory in Florida in February. "I don't know where we would go next, to be honest," said winning trainer Brendan Walsh. "We ran him last at Indiana Grand and this was probably the main aim for the whole year. We might try to run him once more this year seeing as though he is on top of his game, and see how that goes."
Tapiture rebounded from a horrible run in the Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows to win Satuday's $100,000, Grade III Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill Downs by 1/2 length. It was a hard-won victory, after a long stretch battle with the favorite, Viva Majorca. Hat of Jacks was 4 lengths farther back in third. Tapiture, a 4-year-old Tapit colt, completed the one-turn mile over a fast track in 1:35.39 with Ricardo Santana Jr. up. He beat only one rival in the Iowa race and before that had missed the winner's circle in five straight races. "Nothing went well at Oaklawn with the weather early this year," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "I thought he hit a couple of tracks that were extremely laboring in his first races of the year. It got him a little flat, and then I thought the key to the race today was him getting away cleanly and not having to chase the spot."
Nyquist remained undefeated in four starts -- three of them stakes -- by winning Saturday's $300,000, Grade I FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita while negotiating two turns for the first time. The Uncle Mo colt, trained by Doug O'Neill for Paul Reddam, pressed the pace, took over in the lane and prevailed by 3/4 length over Swipe after two raced in close quarters late. Hollywood Don was a distant third. Mt Veder finished a fading sixth. Nyquist, with Mario Gutierrez aboard, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.89. Trainer Doug O'Neill said the race was tougher than he expected. "We were a little bit cocky before the race," he admitted. "But, at the end of the day, this is what we wanted to do. We wanted to win and we wanted to see if he'd two-turn in his own back yard ... Now with a two-turn win under his belt against the best 2-year-olds the West Coast has to offer, I think the plan will be for him to come out of it good and head back east in a few weeks, probably." The race was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Full Salute stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Hall of Fame Stakes at Parx Racing, moved by the leader when asked by jockey Paco Lopez and won under wraps, by 1 length over Bird of Trey. Discreet Lover and Formal Summation completed the order of finish. Full Salute, a Speightstown colt, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.43. He finished second in both the Tyro and the Sapling, both at Monmouth Park, before Saturday's effort.
Bring It On Dude went out to set the pace in Sunday's $75,000 Kip Deville Stakes at Remington Park and wasn't caught, winning by 2 lengths over the favorite, He's Comin' In Hot. Cale's Gold was third. Bring It On Dude, an Oklahoma-bred Munnings gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.85 with Jareth Loveberry in the irons. He was making just his third start and recently broke his maiden, running against fellow Oklahoma-breds.
Sudden Surprise led from the start in Sunday's $150,000 Bertram Bongard Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-olds at Belmont Park and held off Get Jets at the end by a neck. Championofthenile finished third. Sudden Surprise, a Giant Surprise colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.52 with John Velazquez in the irons. Asked about his next race, winning trainer Todd Pletcher was optimistic. "I think today's race was an open stakes caliber race. There were some very good colts in here so I think everything is in play," Pletcher said.
Isotherm rallied down the middle of the track in the closing yards of Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park and won by a neck over Azar and the same again over Ray's the Bar. The favorite, Eidmilaad, finished next-last of 10. Isotherm, sired by the Australian-bred Lonhro, ran 1 1/16 miles on the firm inner turf course in 1:41.98 under Jose Lezcano. It was his second win from three starts. "I kept telling everyone that he trains better than he ran last time," said winning owner Matthew Schera. "But he still won so we kind of expected something more today and it looks like he came out and he did it. We even think he likes the dirt too, so we'll see down the road for that. As long as he comes out good and he's healthy, we'll go to Keeneland for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf."
Songbird ran her record to 3-for-3 with an easy win in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita. With Mike Smith up, the Medaglia d'Oro filly sped quickly to the lead and was never threatened, winning by 4 1/2 lengths, ridden out, in her first try around two turns. She earlier won the Grade I Del Mar Debutante going 7 furlongs and a 6-furlongs maiden race, also at Del Mar. Land Over Sea was a clear second in Saturday's race, 9 3/4 lengths ahead of Right There. Songbird ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast track in 1:43.79. Smith said Songbird "lived up to the expectations" and has an easy disposition to complement her talent. Dan Ward, assistant to winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, said the effort was "just what we wanted. She showed she can go two turns and now we've got five weeks" until the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. The Chandelier was a "Win and You're In" for that event.
Melodic took command in the lane in Sunday's $125,000 Joseph A. Gimma Stakes for New York-bred juvenile fillies at Belmont, winning off by 3 lengths from Frosty Margarita. The early leader, Surprise Cameo, finished third. Melodic, a daughter of Tale of the Cat, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.01 with Kendrick Carmouche up.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Tin Type Gal won a ding-dong stretch duel with Thrilled at the end of Sunday's $200,000, Grade III Miss Grillo Stakes at Belmont Park, scoring by a nose. Time and Motion was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Tin Type Gal, a Tapit filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.41 with Luis Saez aboard. It was her second win from three starts. "You have to think about the Breeders' Cup," said winning trainer Graham Motion. "That's why we're here. We're all pointing for those races."
Foundation showed in Saturday's Group 2 Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes for 2-year-olds at Newmarket that he has a good one -- foundation, that is. With Frankie Dettori up for trainer John Gosden, Foundation took over the lead with a furlong left in the 1-mile test, then was well enough in command to be geared down at the end. Deauville was kept to his task and finished second, 3/4 length back. Foundation, an Irish-bred Zoffany colt, got home in a pedestrian 1:38.04 over good turf. He now is 3-for-3 and the victory shaved a few quid off his odds for next year's Derby.
Dettori and Gosden also combined for a similar showing by Shalaa in the Group 1 Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes for 2-year-olds at 6 furlongs. The Invincible Spirit colt, winner of the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville in his last start, made all the going Saturday, was a clear winner and was not being asked for more as he finished 3/4 length ahead of runner-up Buratino. Steady Pace finished third. Shalaa was clocked in 1:11.92. He now has posted five straight victories after a career-opening loss. Dettori said he's never ridden a faster 2-year-old and Gosden said sprinting clearly will be Shalaa's forte. "He's not crying out for a mile," the trainer explained.
On the filly side of the juvenile ledger, Saturday's Group 1 Connolly's Red Mills Cheveley Park Stakes may have shed some light on things as pacesetter Lumiere held off Illuminate by 1/2 length under the wire. Beshara was a close third. Lumiere, a Shamardal filly, scored her second win. In the intervening time, she finished second to Beshara in the Group 2 Lowther Stakes at York. With William Buick up for trainer Mark Johnston, Lumiere ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.98. Johnston said the filly's determination raised hopes she can stay a mile and puts the 1,000 Guineas back in the picture.
Third Time Lucky came running late to win by a short head in Saturday's Betfred Cambridgeshire Handicap at Newmarket. Master the World was the hard-luck second, 2 lengths to the good of examiner. Thirty four runners faced the starter but Brendan Brackan unseated rider Colin Keane at the start, leaving 33 to cross the finish in the heritage handicap.
They seem to like things close in Australian Group 1 events. For the second straight time, a similar bunch produced a bunched-up finish in Saturday's Underwood Stakes at Caulfield although Mourinho produced an upset win, defeating the favorite, Fawkner, by a short head. The Cleaner was another nostril back in third with Mongolian Khan, Volkstok'n'barrell, Contributor, Hi World and Dandino in order behind, all within 3 lengths of the winner and all running well late. Mourinho, an 8-year-old Oratorio gelding, scored his second win of the season. He did not participate in the Makybe Diva Stakes, which found the first 12 finishers all within 2 1/2 lengths of Fawkner. The Cox Plate and the Caufield Cup beckon several of these -- not to mention the Melbourne Cup.