Jack's in the Deck (blue blinkers) defeats a stubborn Ben's Cat in Saturday's (Oct. 17) Maryland Million Sprint. (Laurel Park photo)
Solow, Simple Verse and Muhaarar starred in British Champions' Day, Mongolian Khan won the Caulfield Cup, Mikki Queen was regal in Japan and Cannock Chase upset the Canadian International -- all in weekend racing.
George Strawbridge had a wonderful day, winning races at Ascot in England and Hawthorne near Chicago, even if he did admit in jest to threatening one of his winners with a one-way trip to the cavalry.
There was plenty more action, including state-bred festivals in Maryland and Oklahoma.
Let's rush right into it.
Qipco British Champions' Day
Attendance at Saturday's fifth running of England's year-end showpiece enjoyed hot competition and increased attendance and Rod Street, Chief Executive of the series, declared it a success.
"QIPCO British Champions Day is a long-term commitment and we are delighted with its progress," Street said. "We think this year has been the best yet in terms of quality, strength and depth and it is fantastic to see some of the best horses in Europe winning these Championship races on Britain's richest race day, including Murhaarar, Solow and Simple Verse.
Attendance was pegged at 30,697, up from last year's 28,714 and second only to Frankel's year in the 2012 event, which drew an estimated 32,000.
On the track:
Solow continued his majestic march through Group 1 events, winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes by 3/4 length over long shot Belardo. Gleneagles, allowed to run despite ground less than firm, backed up late to finish sixth and has not been ruled out of the Breeders' Cup Classic on the Keeneland dirt. "What can you say? He's always the same, gives the same sort of race," said winning trainer Freddy Head. "He's a brilliant horse." Head said Solow will remaining in training at age 6. "We'll come back and try to win the same races next year," he said. Those would be the Sussex Stakes, the Queen Anne, the Prix d'Ispahan and the Dubai Turf. At the other end of the spectrum, Aidan O'Brien repeatedly held Gleneagles out of big races this summer when the ground came up unsuitably soft and said he regretted letting the colt run Saturday. "We were brave and this is a big day in English racing, much like Irish Champions Weekend is in Irish racing, so we took our chance here," O'Brien said. "We knew it would be tough to come here. He'd not had a break from training all summer and, with the benefit of hindsight, I should have said we won't run him and wait again, like the other times. But we had our eye on the Breeders' Cup Classic and we felt to run him there, we had to run him today."
In the Fillies' & Mares' Stakes, Simple Verse wore down Journey in the late going and went on to win by 3/4 length from that rival, backing up her controversial victory in last month's St Leger. Beautiful Romance was third. The winner, ridden by Andrea Atzeni, is owned by Sheik Fahad al Thani, whose family business, Qipco, sponsors the British Champions series. It was his first-ever win on a Champions' Day. "This feels like the best day's racing ever, and this race means a lot to us," the sheik said. "Having a winner on Champions' Day is wonderful, and we've waited five years." He said Simple Verse, trained by Ralph Beckett, will remain in training "and will be in all the top mile and a half races." Journey and Beautiful Romance also will remain in training next year, their connections said.
Muhaarar bagged his fourth Group 1 event of the season in the Sprint Stakes, handing Twilight Son his first loss by a tidy 2 lengths. Danzeno was third, another 1 1/2 lengths in arrears. Jockey Paul Hanagan rode the colt confidently, taking him to the front and avoiding any meaningful challenge. Muhaarar, owned by Sheik Hamdan, trained by Charlie Hills earlier accounted for the Commonwealth Cup, the July Cup and the Prix Maurice De Gheest. Twilight Son had won all five of his previous starts. Muharrar, a 3-year-old colt by Oasis Dream, now is expected to enter stud. "We had been thinking of America" for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint," Sheik Hamdan said. "But whereas European sprinters race in a straight line, in America they go round a bend and that tends to slow the Europeans up, and at Keeneland it is one furlong and then turn and turn," he added. The second and third from the Sprint Stakes are expected back next season.
Fascinating Rock upsest the Champion Stakes, defeating Found by 1/2 length. Jack Hobbs, held out of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe for this event, finished another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Fascinating Rock, a 4-year-old by Fastnet Rock, came from well off a quick pace under Pat Smullen to win at 10-1 odds after disappointing in his first start after a long layoff. "Then he won by 6 lengths on Irish Champions' Day at Leopardstown," said winning trainer Dermot Weld, "and I was impressed with the way he did it, and then we stuck with the original plan which was this race today. The plan was to ride him off the pace and I told Pat to give him time and hunt away on him and he came home in front. That will be his final run this season."
Flying Officer, under threat of being handed off the cavalry if he didn't win, in fact did win the Group 2 Long Distance Cup, scoring 1 length over Clever Cookie. The 5-year-old, a full brother to St Leger winner Lucarno was bred by his owner, George Strawbridge. The owner said Flying Officer, who stands 18 hands tall, is a nervous sort. "He's very suspicious of everything," Strawbridge said, "and we did say to him before the race that if he didn't win he would be sent to the cavalry and would be leaving here ridden by one of the hussars. He's nervous of having armor put on."
Moving on around the world, through Canada to Japan and Australia:
Cannock Chase, fresh off a minor stakes win at Newmarket a month ago, came from well off the pace to win Sunday's $1 million (Canadian), Grade I Pattison Canadian International, defeating Up With the Birds by 1 1/2 lengths. Sheikhzaeydroad was third, completing a lucrative triactor. Cannock Chase, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Lemon Drop Kid, was off slowly, closed ranks around the stretch turn and closed quickly to outfinish the runner-up. Sent off as a narrow favorite, he ran 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:29.26 with Ryan Moore riding. Trained by Sir Michael Stoute, the colt now has five wins from 10 starts but the Canadian International was his first victory at the highest level.
Curvy overcame a slightly tardy start and some traffic issues to land Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian), Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/2 lengths. Talmada was along late to nip pacesetting Rosalind for second. Curvy, a 3-year-old Galileo filly rated among the best of the European 3-year-old fillies, ran 1 1/4 miles on good turf in 2:02.88 with Moore posting the big stakes double. The win atoned for a disappointing fifth-place finish in her first North American start, the Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont earlier in the month. She now has five wins from 11 starts.
Bye Bye Bernie was up in the final jumps to upset the $300,000 (Canadian), Grade II Nearctic Stakes for 3-year-olds, beating Summation Time by a head and The Great War by another nose. The favorite, Cyclogenisis, was last of 10. Bye Bye Bernie, a Bernstein gelding, ran 6 furlongs on good turf in 1:09.00 with Rafael Hernandez up. Bye Bye Bernie finished third in the Kentucky Downs Turf Dash in his last start.
Cactus Kris came from last of eight to win the $150,000, Grade III Ontario Fashion Stakes for fillies and mares, scoring by a neck over the favorite, Endless Light. Scotty's Model was third. Cactus Kris, a 4-year-old Cactus Ridge filly, got 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.06 under Huber Villa-Gomez. Based at Presque Isle Downs, she finished third in the Grade III Seaway Stakes earlier in the Woodbine meeting.
Mikki Queen, winner of the Yushun Himba, or Japanese Oaks, last spring, added the third leg of the fillies' Triple Crown on Sunday at Kyoto Racecourse, rallying from close to the pace to score by a neck over Queen's Ring. Maximum de Paris finished third and Lets Go Donki beat only one of the 18 fillies who answered the starter. Mikki Queen, a Deep Impact filly, ran 2,000 meters on firm turf in 1:56.9 seconds, shaving 0.1 second off the race record. "Her usual slow start wasn't that bad today and since the pace and surface was fast, I intentionally kept her near the pace," said winning rider Suguru Hamanaka. "At the top of the stretch, I asked her to go right through the group of horses instead of going wide because I had faith in her strength and she responded beautifully."
Mongolian Khan, peaking at the right time, took Saturday's Caulfield Cup by 1/2 length over Trip to Paris, with Our Ivanhowe third. Snow Sky was a disappointment for trainer Sir Michael Stoute, finishing fifth. Mongolian Khan, a 4-year-old by Holy Roman Emperor, finished in 2:27.76 with Opie Bosson up for trainer Murray Baker. Bosson said he may have made an early move but added, "I knew he'd run the trip right out and I didn't want to be boxed up. He just keeps going and won't let anything past him." Mongolian Khan, a New Zealander, was third in the Caulfield Stakes a week earlier and was fourth in the Underwood last month. Trip to Paris, trained by Ed Dunlop, was making his first start since reporting home fifth in the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup at York in England on Aug. 15 but earlier won the Group 1 Gold Cup at Ascot.
Kitten's Point took command in the lane in Sunday's $125,000, Grade III Rood & Riddle Dowager Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Ceisteach. Modernstone was third at a big price. Kitten's Point, a 5-year-old Kitten's Joy mare, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:30.37 with Edgar Prado up. "I had a beautiful trip," Prado said. "She broke running out of there. I was able to sit right behind the speed. She gave me everything she had in the stretch."
Sarah Sis tracked the pace made by the favorite, Bar of Gold, in Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Lexus Raven Run Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got by that rival with a determined drive through the final furlong and won by 1/2 length. Bar of Gold was second, a nose in front of I'm a Looker. Sarah Sis, a Sharp Humor filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.96 for jockey Florent Geroux. "She's run some brilliant races and has come from off the pace in the past," said winning trainer Ingrid Mason. "We all knew she had it, and that's why I hire jockeys to make that decision out of the gate ... She obviously can come from off the pace." Mason said Sarah Sis gets a short vacation now.
Annual Report came to the lead four-wide entering the stretch in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Futurity at Belmont Park, drifted in some during the final furlong and worked his way clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, King Kranz. Manhattan Dan finished third. Annual Report, a Harlan's Holiday colt bred by Gainsway and owned by Godolphin, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.82 with Joe Bravo up. He won at first asking at Parx and now is 2-for-2. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin noted that, although Annual Report won on the lead in his first start, in Saturday's race "he took the dirt well and finished strong. We'll probably stretch him out before too long. I loved the way he moved through the turn," the trainer added. Any promising 2-year-old is worth watching because, despite his worldwide success, Sheik Mohammed bin Rasheed al Maktoum still wouldn't mind winning his first Kentucky Derby.
Pretty N Cool was on the lead but under pressure through most of Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Matron for 2-year-old fillies, then finally edged clear of a persistent Constellation to win by 1 length over that rival. Tonasah finished third. Pretty N Cool, a Scat Daddy filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.73 with Martin Garcia riding for trainer Bob Baffert. She won the Grade II Sorrento at Del Mar in August, then finished second in the Grade I Del Mar Debutante. "She's pretty fast," Baffert said. "She could have rated but Martin just kept her where she was comfortable. She was doing it the right way and he knows her really well, which is why we had him ride her."
Hawthorne Race Course
Lucky Lindy saved ground well behind the leaders through the early stages of Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Hawthorne Derby, came out on the turn for running room and made his bid five-wide to get into contention. With Robby Albarado up, the Harlan's Holiday colt maintained his momentum to the wire, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Saham with Nun the Less third. Lucky Lindy ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.26. He is owned by George Strawbridge, who also won the Group II Long Distance Cup Saturday at British Champions' Day at Ascot. "I took him out when I saw them bunching up and the traffic jam on the turn," Albarado said. "I had to swing him out and make a longer run than I wanted to but that is what circumstances dictated I do. He's an extremely talented horse and I thought he could do it. They went quick up front which was conducive to our situation today."
Belle Hill rallied from just off the pace to take Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Autumn Miss Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1/2 length over Paulina's Love. The favorite, Singing Kitty, finished third. Belle Hill, a Sky Mesa filly, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:35.10 with Leslie Mawing up.
Dr. Shane surged to the lead through the turn in Saturday's $200,000 New York Breeders' Futurity for state-bred 2-year-olds and drew off to a 2-lengths victory over the favorite, Championofthenile. Mind Your Biscuits got show money. Dr. Shane, a Freud colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.85 with Jaime Rodriguez in the irons.
Saturday was Jim McKay Maryland Million Day. The main track was fast and the turf was firm.
Owner and trainer King Leatherbury said he entered his venerable star, Ben's Cat, in the $100,000 Sprint on the dirt because he kept getting nosed out in the Maryland Million grass sprints. So, of course, Ben's Cat fell exactly a nose short of catching Jack's in the Deck in the final strides of the Sprint and again settled for second. D C Dancer was 2 lengths farther back in third. Jack's in the Deck, a 6-year-old Love of Money gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.74 with Forest Boyce up. "He looked like he was going to win at the eighth-pole," recent Hall of Fame inductee Leatherbury said of Ben's Cat. "Then he (Jack's in the Deck) came up with the super race. They fought it out and they bested us."
Lexington Street stalked the pace in the $100,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies, then kicked away from eight rivals in the stretch, winning by 5 3/4 length over Fly Girl. Lexington Street, a Street Sense filly, got 6 furlongs in 1:11.13 with Jevian Toledo up. In the $100,000 Nursery for 2-year-olds, first-time starter Corvus was under early pressure on the lead, then jetted away to post a 25-1 upset victory over Flash McCaul. Corvus, a Dance With Ravens gelding, finished in 1:12.15, also with Toledo in the irons.
Monster Sleeping tracked the pace in the $100,000 Ladies Stakes on the turf, quickly shot out to a daylight lead early in the stretch run and won by 3 3/4 lengths from Lucy Boo. Monster Sleeping, a 6-year-old Oratory mare, ran 9 furlongs in 1:51.39 under Sheldon Russell. In the $125,000 Turf, Phlash Phelps sat patiently behind the early lead, took command and then had to battle back against Roadhog before defeating that rival by 3/4 length. Phlash Phelps, a 4-year-old Great Notion gelding, ran 1 mile on the grass in 1:35.35 with Victor Carrasco up.
Lionhearted Lady prompted the pace in the $100,000 Distaff, moved to contend on the turn and got home first by 2 lengths over Aix En Provence. Lionhearted Lady, a 4-year-old filly by Lion Hearted, ran 7 furlongs on the main track in 1:24.31 for jockey Xavier Perez. And in the $150,000 Classic, Admirals War Chest led from the start, was urged to a big lead by jockey Taylor Hole and held on at the end, winning by a neck over Bullheaded Boy. I'm Mr. Blue was third. Admirals War Chest, a 4-year-old gelding by Elusive Charlie, ran 9 furlongs in 1:51.49.
Friday was Oklahoma Classics Night.
Heykittykittykitty blasted by For All You Know in the stretch run to win the $130,000 Distaff Sprint by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. More Than Even was under pressure all the way in the $145,000 Distaff, then edged away and won by 1 length over Ribbon of Darkness. Okie Ride dueled to the lead in the lane in the $130,000 Sprint and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Chifforobe with the favorite, Imahit, third. Zeta Zody rallied to the lead in the $130,000 Distaff Turf and held on to win by a neck over Harpers Princess. Another Bond Girl outfinished Go No Go in the $100,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies, winning by a neck over that rival at 16-1 odds. Bring It On Dude was an easy winner at a short price in the $100,000 Juvenile, beating Mr. N by 4 1/2 lengths. In the $130,000 Turf Classic, Ibaka romped home 2 lengths in front at 21-1 odds with the favorite, Perfect to Please, second. And in the $175,000 Oklahoma Classics Cup, Shotgun Kowboy drew off late at prohibitive odds to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Z Rockstar with Evansville Storm third.