Upsets were the order of the day in weekend racing with The Conglomerate taking the Durban July in South Africa, Sir Dudley Digges winning the Queen's Plate in Canada and Dalmore beating Danzing Candy in California.
In addition, there were two Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" events in Florida and a tasty Group 1 event in France that produced ... wait for it ... yet another upset.
Let's not wait for this:
The Conglomerate came flashing down the stands side of the narrow Greyville turf course to snatch victory in Saturday's Grade I Vodacom Durban July, defeating Marinaresco by 1/4 length. Mac de Lago was third in the July, billed as Africa's greatest horseracing event and a major social event in Durban. The favorites, including local Triple Crown winner Abashiri and super filly Bela-Bela, were never truly in the picture in a cleanly run race. Abashiri, toting 130 pounds, finished 13th.
The Conglomerate, a 4-year-old, Australian-bred gelding, ran 2,200 meters on firm turf in 2:13.50 under Piere Strydom, who won the July for the fourth time. Trainer Joey Ramsden scored his first win in the continent's key race.
"I've owed him a couple of good rides for a while now," Strydom said.
"Yes, he has," Ramsden agreed. "You could say I've owed him a good ride, too. Between the pair of us, we've had a good race on the right day."
The jockey noted The Conglomerate has had his trouble getting clean starts and was handicapped by an outside draw.
"Today he jumped beautifully," he said. "The pace held up well for me. It was just a matter of finding enough kick in the stretch."
The Conglomerate came into the race winless in four previous starts this year, including a fourth-place showing in the Grade III Cup Trial last month over the course. He finished eighth in last year's July.
Inara, a 4-year-old daughter of Trippi, landed the Jonsson Workwear Garden Province Stakes by 1/2 length over the fast-closing Olma. Bichette set a good early clip and held on for third. Inara, trained by Mike Bass, posted her fifth Grade I win in South Africa.
Final Judgement just edged favorite Dawn Calling in the final yards to take the Grade II Gold Circle Golden Slipper for 2-year-old fillies. Sail finished third. Final Judgement, a daughter of Judpot, scored her second win from five starts. With Stuart Randolph in the irons, she covered the 1,400 meters in 1:23.22.
Zodiac Ruler, making just his second start, broke slowly in the Grade II Durban Golden Horseshoe for 2-year-olds and moved well to reach contention as the field hit the turn. Then, the seas parted, Zodiac Ruler shot through and dramatically drew clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Misty Birnham was second and Gunnar was third. Zodiac Ruler, with Richard Fourie up, finished in 1:22.23. The Australian-bred Zoffany colt is owned by Fred Crabbia, who campaigned Rocket Man to international glory early in the decade.
Hawkbill and The Gurkha battled the final furlong of Saturday's Group 1 Coral-Eclipse between themselves, with Hawkbill getting the better of the match by 1/2 length. The 3-year-olds were well clear of their older rivals with Time Test finishing third and the Prince of Wales' Stakes winner, My Dream Boat, getting in fifth.
Hawkbill, an American-bred colt by Kitten's Joy, scored his sixth straight win. With William Buick up, he ran 2,010 meters in 2:10.71 over turf soft enough to leave depressions in the wake of the field. Hawkbill became the fifth Godolphin Racing winner of the Coral-Eclipse but the first trained by Charlie Appleby.
"The important thing is for the team as a whole to be winning races worldwide," said Godolphin CEO John Ferguson. "That's what Godolphin is all about. We are having a great time in Australia and America so it's very important to be winning big races here, too, whoever they are trained by."
The Gurkha, winner of the French 2,000 Guineas and second in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, had a close encounter with Time Test midway in the race, appearing to exchange bumps while seeking the same spot before Ryan Moore conceded and took The Gurkha to the outside.
Silverwave raced near the pace in Sunday's Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, took over when asked by jockey Maxime Guyon and got clear, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Erupt. Siljan's Saga finished third and the strong favorite, Vazirabad, was a well-beaten seventh while cutting back to the 1 1/4-miles distance. Silverwave, a 4-year-old colt by Silver Frost, finished in 2:29.20. He came to the race off a third-place finish behind A Shin Hikari in the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Chantilly. The victory was his first at the highest level and first of any kind in 15 months.
Back in North America:
Sir Dudley Digges dug deep in the stretch run of Sunday's $1 million (Canadian) Queen's Plate at Woodbine and pulled out a 1/2-length victory over the favorite, Amis Gizmo. All On Red was third, another 1 3/4 length in arrears.
Sir Dudley Digges, a Gio Ponti colt, raced close to the pace, advanced on the inside on the stretch turn, then came out to make his winning move. With Julien Leparoux up for trainer Mike Maker, he completed 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather track in 2:04.09. The colt is owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey. In nine starts, he has finished out of the money only once but the Plate was only his second win. He finished third in the Plate Trial, won by Amis Gizmo.
"He's a laid-back horse," Maker said. "It took him a while to come around."
Leparoux said Sir Dudley Digges "broke good. He put me in a good spot. In the first turn they slowed down so much I was a little bit worried. In the backside they started picking it up. He just grinded and grinded the whole way."
Maker said Sir Dudley Digges likely will continue on to the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes on the dirt at Fort Erie on July 26.
"He's been on dirt before, and even although they were maiden races I think he'll be okay," Maker said.
American Freedom overcame some traffic issues on the first turn, dueled for the lead down the backstretch and kicked free in the lane to win Friday's $250,000, Grade III Iowa Derby by 4 3/4 length. Texas Chrome beat the others with Hint of Roses third. American Freedom, a Pulpit colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.62 with Rafael Bejarano up for trainer Bob Baffert. The victory was his third from four starts, the only loss coming in the Grade III Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. He returned to win the LARC Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico on Preakness Day.
Smack Smack came rolling five-wide down the stretch in Saturday's $300,000, Grade III Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap and reported just in time to win by a neck at odds of 16-1. Shotgun Kowboy was second, a head in front of Pain and Misery. The favorite, S'maverlous, led in the stretch run but weakened to finish fourth. Smack Smack, a 5-year-old Closing Argument gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.28 with Shane Laviolette in the irons. It was his first win since the Zia Park Championship in New Mexico last November.
Dalmore rallied past the favorite, Danzing Candy, a furlong out in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Affirmed Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita and went on to win by 1/2 length over that one. Prince of Arabia was third, 8 1/2 lengths farther up the stretch.
Dalmore, a Colonel John colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:40.84 with Kent Desormeaux up. It was his third straight win after a rather lengthy string of disappointments for trainer and part owner Keith Desormeaux. Danzing Candy, fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, was giving 4 pounds to the winner in his first start since a 15th-place showing in the Kentucky Derby.
"It's been a nice three-race series here with this horse," said Keith Desormeaux. "Each race, he's had a perfect trip. I think that's attributed not only to Kent's prowess but also the fact that he's had small fields and it's always ended up a decent pace. Although, in the two previous races, the pace was slower and today it was quick, so good job by Kent judging the pace today."
Meimich rallied from last of five to take Friday's $150,000 Dominion Day Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over Breaking Lucky. Scuba finished third. Meimich, a 5-year-old Wilco gelding, ran 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather track in 2:04.06 with Eurico Da Silva in the irons.
Off the Tracks was on track all the way in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Mother Goose for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park. With Jose Ortiz up, the Curlin filly led all the way and won by 3 1/2 lengths over Lewis Bay. Lightstream finished third and Rachel's Valentina settled for fourth after stumbling out of the gate. Off the Tracks ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.01. She won her first three starts, then finished third in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks and second in the Grade I Acorn before Saturday's victory.
"I was a little concerned going as fast as they were," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "But she seemed to be doing it comfortably and in good rhythm. I was happy to see her have something left to finish."
Pletcher also handles Rachel's Valentina and said neither he nor jockey John Velazquez could explain her subpar effort.
"We'll see how she comes out of it and try to regroup," Pletcher said.
Innovative Idea tracked pacesetting favorite Super Majesty through most of Friday's $100,000 Iowa Distaff, then wore down that rival in the stretch run, winning by 3/4 length. It was another 10 1/4 lengths back to Ghost Locket in third. Innovative Idea, a 4-year-old Bernardini filly, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.30 under Rafael Bejarano.
World Approval shadowed the early leader in Sunday's $300,000, Grade I United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park, moved to the lead entering the stretch and eased away to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Money Multiplier. The favorite, Wake Forest, was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third.
World Approval, a 4-year-old Northern Afleet gelding, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:14.66 with Florent Geroux up. He finished second in the Grade I Turf Classic on Derby Day at Churchill Downs, then third in the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes day before Sunday's win.
"We sat the perfect trip," Geroux said. "The only question was whether he could go that far since this was his first time going that much distance. But he showed he can do it and he did it well. When I asked him at the quarter pole, he responded nicely."
Danish Dynaformer tracked the early leaders in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Singspiel Stakes at Woodbine, worked his way to the lead with three-sixteenths left and outfinished Hardest Core to score by 1 length. Aldous Snow finished third. Danish Dynaformer, a 4-year-old son of the late Dynaformer, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.20 with Patrick Husbands up. The colt was second to Lexie Lou in last year's Queen's Plate but had not won since last August's Breeders' Stakes over the Woodbine greensward.
Dimension surged from far back in Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II King Edward Stakes at Woodbine, opened a big lead and held off Solemn Tribute in the late going for a 1 1/4-lengths victory. Tower of Texas was third and the favorite, Full Mast, flattened out to finish fourth. Dimension, an 8-year-old, British-bred gelding by Medicean, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.19 with David Moran up. An infrequent winner, he nonetheless took down the Grade II Connaught Cup over the course in his last outing.
"We just wanted to do the same as last time -- get him happy, and comfortable," said trainer Conor Murphy. "At the three-eighths pole he was running over the back of them. He quickened up smart, and he ran right to the wire. He's confident right now. He's really back to himself."
Conquest Enforcer led from the start in Sunday's $100,000 Charlie Barley Stakes for 3-year-olds at Woodbine and held sway, winning by 1 1/4 lengths, ridden out by Patrick Husbands. Springhouse and Conquest Daddyo rounded out the triactor. Conquest Enforcer, an Into Mischief colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.63. He scored his third straight win, all at Woodbine.
Filly & Mare Turf
Lexie Lou, last year's Woodbine Oaks and Queen's Plate winner, led throughout Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Dance Smartly Stakes for fillies and mares and coasted home a winner by 1 1/4 lengths over Strut the Course. Nakuti finished third. Lexie Lou, with Patrick Husbands up, ran about 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:44.89. She is by Sligo Bay out of an In Excess mare. Earlier this year, she won the Grade II Nassau over the Woodbine strip, then finished 10th at Belmont Park in the Grade I Just a Game Stakes.
Delta Bluesman got first run to the lead in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Smile Sprint Handicap at Gulfstream Park, then drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Limousine Liberal. Chief Lion finished third.
Delta Bluesman, a 6-year-old Wagon Limit gelding, earned a berth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, thanks to the "Win and You're In" program. He also took the $150,000 winners's share of the purse. He finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.94 with Emisael Jaramillo in the irons. The late bloomer has won three of his last four starts but the Smile was his first stakes win.
"The owner's dream is to go to the Breeders' Cup," said winning trainer Jorge Navarro, "so that's why we came here. I wasn't sure if we would win and I told him, 'Just being in the race is a pleasure. And if he wins it, then, hey, I'll make your dreams come true.' I'm going to give him 50-60 days and then find one or two races before the Breeders' Cup."
Rated R Superstar caught the pacesetting, odds-on favorite, Awesome Banner, just before the finish in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Carry Back Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park and won by 3/4 length over that rival. Bullet Gone Astray was along for third. Rated R Superstar, a Kodiak Kowboy gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.09 with Cornelio Velasquez in the irons. He had only two previous wins, including a victory in his most recent outing, an optional claimer.
Awesome Banner, by contrast, had been on the Triple Crown trail, then seemed to find a new life after returning to sprinting.
"This is a horse that always showed talent," said winning trainer Ken McPeek. "He ran respectable in some of those big races last year as a 2-year-old. It seemed like he couldn't get over the hump in them and we decided to shorten him up. He has pedigree that says sprint. He's a good, handy horse."
He said the Grade I King's Bishop on Aug. 27 at Saratoga will be the next race.
Candip wrested the lead from Dream Saturday early in the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap, then battled to the wire with that foe before prevailing by 3/4 length. Wilbo was third and the favorite, Storm Power, finished fifth. Candip, a 5-year-old Candy Ride gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.98 with Terry Thompson up.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Spelling Again rallied to the lead in the lane in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Princess Rooney Stakes at Gulfstream Park and held on to win by a neck over Cali Star. Birdatthewire was third.
Spelling Again, a 5-year-old Awesome Again mare, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.09 with Luis Saez aboard and earned a trip to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint through the "Win and You're In" program.
"I'm a one-race-at-a-time kind of guy," said winning trainer Brad Cox. "I was thinking the Groupie Doll at Ellis (a Grade III on Aug. 6) but I'll let her totally dictate where she'll run next time." As for using the Breeders' Cup entry, he added, "It will be totally up to her how she's doing if we go that far with her."
Dearest stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Azalea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Gulfstream Park, took the lead and opened a daylight advantage, then carried on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Smartly Agree. Ballet Diva finished third.
A Midshipman filly, Dearest ran 7 furlongs on a good track in 1:22.81 with Emisael Jaramillo riding. She now has four wins from five starts and finished third in the Grade II Davona Dale in February.
"She'll go to Saratoga," said winning trainer Gilberto Zerpa, pointing to the Grade I Test on Aug. 6 and ultimately the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Passion for Action raced well off the pace early in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian) Highlander Stakes at Woodbine, had to jostle for position in the stretch and then outfinished Green Mask for a neck victory. Those two were followed by early leader Something Extra, Hootenanny, odds-on favorite Lady Shipman and Black Hornet. Passion for Action, a 4-year-old Speightstown colt, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:08.05 with Eurico Da Silva in the irons. It was his third win from his last four starts.
Res Judicata, the longest shot in the four-horse field for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park, led all the way and won going away. Allied Air Raid was second-best, 3 3/4 lengths in arrears, followed by the favorite, Mr. Jordan, and Nonna's Boy. Res Judicata, a 6-year-old Smarty Jones gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.07 with Nik Juarez at the controls. Comfort and Green Gratto were late scratches.
Classic Empire started last of nine in Saturday night's $100,000 Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs, moved up nicely for jockey Julien Leparoux and rolled by the pacesetting favorite, Recruiting Ready, in deep stretch to win by 3/4 length over that rival. Tip Tap Tapizar finished third.
Classic Empire, a Pioneerof the Nile colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.39. He won at first asking over the same course on May 4.
"I really have a whole lot of respect for the horse that he beat and this is something we can all look forward to," said assistant trainer Norman Casse. "I think that the way that he breezes and trains in the morning, he is more effective when he's able to go out and relax and settle into stride. Sprinting is obviously something where you aren't able to do that so going forward, he's going to be more effective around two turns. He'll go up and train at Saratoga and we'll look for a race up there for him."
Pretty City Dancer overcame a slow start with a nice move through the stretch to land Saturday night's $100,000 Debutante at Churchill Downs by 3 1/4 lengths. Anna's Bandit came from even farther back to get place money, 1 1/4 lengths to the good of Country Candy. The favorite, China Grove, faded throughout to finish eighth. Pretty City Dancer, a Tapit filly, toured 6 furongs under Julien Leparoux in 1:11.01. It was her third start, all at the Churchill Downs meeting, and her second win.
"She's super talented," said assistant trainer Norman Casse. "I think that she may take a little bit longer to become a true professional but the sky is the limit for her. She has all the ability to be a really good racehorse."