Midnight Miley drives home a front-running winner in Sunday's Ontario Matron at Woodbine. (Woodbine photo)
I'm a Chatterbox and Cupid posted big wins during the weekend, promising more for the second half of the year, while Aidan O'Brien saddled his fifth Irish Oaks winner -- but not with the filly many expected to win.
There were some major upsets around North America and a satisfying comeback win in South Africa, too.
Pay attention to the supporting races on the Indiana Derby card. Some of those competitors could have an impact later in the season.
Meanwhile, pay attention to this:
I'm a Chatterbox ducked in at the start of Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Delaware Handicap for fillies and mares, raced just behind pacesetting Mei Ling, then took charge in the stretch, winning off by 2 1/2 lengths. Paid Up Subscriber and Penwith rallied to fill out the exacta and Mei Ling faded to finish fourth. Ricardo Santana Jr., aboard Paid Up Subscriber, claimed foul for the incident just after the start but the stewards took no action. I'm a Chatterbox, a 4-year-old Munnings filly, toured 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:02.64 with Florent Geroux up. The multiple graded stakes winner now has a two-race win streak going. The stewards said after the race that, while I'm a Chatterbox initiated bumping that affected the three fillies to her inside, she "lost ground as much as anyone else."
Winning trainer Larry Jones agreed the incident at the start should not have disqualified his filly.
"It was not pretty a start," he admitted. "It reminded me of the Breeders' Cup Classic with Behrens. But you had time to overcome it and we were down in and behind horses too. With as much as she won by, I think it was pretty decisive victory and she was much the best."
He said he will consider sending I'm a Chatterbox to Saratoga but added, "This was the key race."
(Jones' Breeders' Cup reference may have been to the 2014 Classic, when Bayern -- not Behrens -- came over at the start, impeding California Chrome, Tonalist, Imperative and others, but was allowed to keep the victory).
Family Tree rallied three-wide into the stretch in Saturday night's $200,000 Grade II Indiana Oaks at Indiana Grand and kicked clear, winning by 3 lengths over Emmzy. Mines and Magic finished third. Family Tree, a Smart Strike filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.46 with Julien Leparoux in the irons for trainer Wayne Catalano. It was her second straight Oaks victory, following last month's triumph in the Grade III Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows.
"With the post we had (No. 7), there was some speed in the race but we had a good post, so we sat right next to it," Leparoux said. "We didn't want to be too far from Baffert (Emmzy's trainer). We got a great trip but, with that post, we were expecting it and she won very easily today."
Catalano said he expects owners Gary and Mary West "will be looking for a Grade I somewhere. But we'll see."
Midnight Miley opened a big lead early in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Matron at Woodbine, set a modest clip and eased home first by 4 lengths. Miss Chatelaine was best of the rest with Moon Rainbow finding a minor pot of gold in third. The favorite, Flipcup, was eased in the stretch but walked off. Two rival riders claimed foul for some bumping shortly after the start but the stewards were having none of that. Midnight Miley, a 4-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:43.74 with Rafael Hernandez in the irons. She was let go at odds of 27-1 despite having finished third in her last start, the Sweet Briar Too Stakes.
"I couldn't believe it when I saw them so far in front and in slow fractions," said winning trainer Julia Carey. "She was doing so well, I would have been shocked if she hadn't run a good race. It looked tough on paper, but it worked out."
Cupid got the job done in Saturday night's $500,000, Grade II Indiana Derby. But he had to work for it, battling for the early lead, then holding gamely in the stretch run to defeat The Player by 3/4 length. Star Hill finished third and Cupid's early rivals fell back in the lane to finish well beaten.
Cupid, a Tapit colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.30 with Rafael Bejarano in for the ride. After winning the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn this spring, the light grey colt finished 10th in the Arkansas Derby. After two months off for throat surgery, he returned to finish fifth and last in the Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont last month. Winning trainer Bob Baffert was at a wedding in Mexico -- actually at the ceremony when the race was run.
"I didn't see it. I was in the church there and I was just hoping that my phone would start going off a lot because that's a sign of victory," Baffert said by phone. "All of a sudden, I felt it buzz and buzz and buzz."
Bejarano said Cupid "needed to win this race. He wasn't having too much luck, breaking from the gate and having bad trips." Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said Cupid will ship back to California where Baffert will consider his next start.
Meanwhile, looking ahead, 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome kicked things up a notch Saturday at Del Mar as he prepares to make his first start since winning the Dubai World Cup in March. The 5-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit had been a tad sluggish in recent works at Los Alamitos but when shown the surfside layout, he responded with 5 furlongs in 1:59 1/5.
The Blood-Horse quoted his regular rider, Victor Espinoza, who watched from the rail: "It looked like he was doing it in 1:01. To work 59 like that, it's impressive." He's expected back in the San Diego over the same course this coming weekend.
Midnight Storm led all the way, albeit under pressure, in Sunday's $250,000, Grade II Eddie Read Stakes at Santa Anita, turning back several rivals before winning by 1/2 length over Ashleyluvssugar. Flamboyant was third and one-time Singapore Airlines International Cup contender Si Sage finished fourth. Midnight Storm, a 5-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.88 for jockey Rafael Bejarano. He also won the Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita in his last start.
"The reason I ran him in here is he came out of the last race like he hadn't even run," said winning trainer Phil D'Amato. "His confidence is just sky high right now. When he gets good he gets really good and he's just coming into his own."
D'Amato said he will consider the $200,000, Grade II Del Mar Mile on Aug. 21, "If he comes out of this race like he came out of his last one ... but we'll see what he tells us."
American Patriot bobbled slightly at the start in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Kent Stakes for 3-year-olds at Delaware Park, took position just behind the leaders, then ran by pacesetting He'll Pay to score by 1 1/2 lengths over that one. Inspector Lynley was a neck farther back in third. American Patriot, a War Front colt owned and bred by WinStar Farms, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in course-record time of 1:47.19. He now has three wins from his last four outings.
"I asked him to go at quarter pole, he gave me a great run from the quarter pole to the wire," said winning rider Jose Ortiz. "I think he is a really nice and he will improve. You are going to hear more about this horse."
The Todd Pletcher trainee seems a likely candidate for next month's Grade I Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park.
Filly & Mare Turf
She's Not Here was there just in time to upset Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Yellow Ribbon for fillies and mares at Del Mar, taking the lead turning into the short stretch run and outfinishing fellow long shot Fresh Feline by a neck. The favorite, Nancy From Nairobi, bobbled at the start, raced last and finished third, another 1/2 length in arrears. She's Not Here, a 5-year-old Street Cry mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.70 with Drayden Van Dyke in the irons. She also won this race last year but had been off the board in five intervening starts -- all graded stakes.
"She runs well on that turf course," said winning trainer Vicki Oliver, who watched from Indiana Grand. "I don't know exactly why. Maybe she just likes it because it's a little more firm than most. We'll bring her back to Kentucky. There's not another race for her out there. But we're sending some other horses out to run at the meeting."
King Kreesa had 'em all the way in Saturday's $150,000 Forbidden Apple Stakes at Belmont Park and held off the favorite, Force the Pass, by a nose at the wire. Tapitation finished third with Lubash and Brickyard Kitten completing the order of finish. King Kreesa, a 7-year-old gelding by King Cougat, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.06 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. Last year he won the Grade III Poker Stakes, then came back to win the Forbidden Apple. This year, he finished fifth in the Poker. Trainer David "Slam" Donk said he will look at the West Point at Saratoga on Aug. 26.
Green Gratto needed a confidence boost and got one in Saturday's $50,000 Hockessin Stakes at Delaware Park. The 6-year-old son of Here's Zealous, the odds-on favorite, pressed the pace, took over in the lane and edged away to win by 3/4 length. Big Guy Ian led the way and yielded only grudgingly and Sir Rockport was 3/4 length behind him in third. Green Gratto, with Jose Ortiz riding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.82. The winner of last year's Grade III Fall Heighweight Handicap at Aqueduct, he had not visited the winner's circle in seven intervening trips and only a week ago finished fifth in the Grade III Belmont Sprint Championship.
Runaway Lute ran away and hid from four rivals in the stretch run of Saturday's $125,000 Rockville Center Stakes for New York-breds at Belmont Park. The Midnight Lute colt stumbled out of the gate, rated off the pace and blew by the leaders without much urging and went on to win by 8 1/2 lengths over Ethan Hunt. The favorite, faded to finish third. Runaway Lute completed 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.82 with Javier Castellano up. He's now 2-for-2.
"Obviously, after the fact, I'm glad he got left a little bit," said winning trainer Gary Contessa, "because he showed us a new dimension. If you want to have a good horse, he's got to have that ability to not have things go his way and win anyway. So I'm glad to see this."
He said Runaway Lute is a likely candidate for Saratoga's 2-year-old graded stakes.
Lokinforpursemonee rallied from last of eight to win Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Victoria Stakes for 2-year-olds at Woodbine. Junket was second and State of Honor third. Lokinforpursemonee, an Ontario-bred colt by Silent Name, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:11.17 with Gary Boulanger up. He was coming off a second-place showing in the Frost King Stakes, his first career outing.
Crosscheck Carlos, coming off a win at Santa Anita, just barely held on to win Saturday night's $100,000 D.S. Shine Young Futurity for Louisiana-breds at Evangeline Downs by a head over 46-1 long shot Street Honor. Queeten filled the trifecta. Crosscheck Carlos, a Custom for Carlos colt, ran 5 1/2 sloppy furlongs in 1:06.22 under Jamie Theriot.
Actif Storm gradually inched past pacesetting Rach'slastscarf in the final yards of Saturday's $100,000 D.S. Shine Young Futurity for Louisiana-bred 2-year-old fillies at Evangeline Downs, winning by 1/2 length at odds of 35-1. Chases Dixie Belle made a late run a bit too late and finished third while the favorite, Jazz Lady, finished fifth. Actif Storm, a daughter of Interactif, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:06.59 for jockey Roberto Morales.
Miss Freeze, a first-time starter, found a wide-open rail in the stretch drive of Sunday's $125,000 Lynbook Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-old fillies at Belmont Park and drove through, cruising to a 6 1/4-lengths victory. Wilburnmoney ran evenly to finish second and the favorite, Paz the Bourbon, passed several rivals in the lane but could do no better than third. Miss Freeze, a daughter of Frost Giant, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.98 with Jose Ortiz in the irons.
On the international front:
Trainer Aidan O'Brien landed his fifth Irish Oaks on Saturday but not with the horse he might have expected to accompany to the winner's enclosure. In a fact, it was Seventh Heaven, a sixth-place disappointment in the Epsom Oaks, who got clear in the lane in Saturday's Group 1 event at the Curragh, winning by 2 3/4 lengths under Seamie Heffernan. Architecture and Harliqueen were second and third. The favorite, O'Brien trainee and Ribblesdale winner Even Song, was never involved after a slow start and jockey Ryan Moore essentially eased her in the late going, finishing seventh. Seventh Heaven, a Galileo filly out of a Johannesburg mare, ran 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:34.53. It was her third win from six starts.
"We always thought she had the makings of a high-class filly," O'Brien said of the winner, adding the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks might be on Seventh Heaven's agenda. He added he may have trained Even Song too hard before the Ribblesdale and predicted better for her.
Mrs Danvers, coming off two victories earlier in her career, drove to a decisive win in Saturday's Weatherbys Super Sprint at Newbury. The 2-year-old grey went to the front with a furlong left and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:19 with Luke Morris at the controls. Stormy Clouds came from midfield to take second. Clem Fandango, joint-favorite with the winner, secured third.
Winning trainer Jonathan said, "It's lovely when a plan comes off. This was the plan in February and here we are." He said he will resist suggestions to test group company until the fall when the ground is likely to have more give. Mrs Danvers, purchased for 1,000 pounds sterling at the Tattersalls Ireland Ascot Sale in February, notched her first two wins on soft going.
Red Ray, who lost some two years to an unsuccessful international campaign, bounced back to the form of his youth to land Saturday's Grade I Mercury Sprint at Greyville. With Anton Markus up for trainer Joey Ramsden, Red Ray was away alertly in the big field and parked just behind the early leader. When Ramsden asked him for run as the field straightened away, he immediately shot to the lead and the race was all but over. Night Trip, guided by amazing apprentice Callan Murray, was up for second and Real Princess was third. Red Ray finished second in a pair of Grade I events in early 2014 before going on the road. He was seventh in the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort at Meydan in Dubai in January of 2015 and did not reappear until June of this year, finishing fourth in the Grade I Tsogo Sun Sprint at Scoville in one of his two comeback races.
Calling Rhy Rhy dueled to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Damsel for Ontario-bred 3-year-old fillies, then held off Swoop and Strike to win by 3/4 length. Miss Metropolitan finished third. Calling Rhy Rhy, a City Zip filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.04 for jockey Alan Garcia. It was her third win from six starts but first in a stakes event.
"She's a pretty nice filly," Garcia said. "She showed last time she could come from behind, so today with post 1, if we broke good, we're gone. If not, we can sit."
Lovely Loyree stalked the pace in Saturday evening's $100,000 Indiana General Assembly Distaff, moved to a lead in the lane and held off the odds-on favorite, Cash Control, by a neck at the end. Annulment finished third. Lovely Loyree, a 5-year-old, Illinois-bred mare by Cactus Ridge, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.80 under Fernando De La Cruz.
Watchyourownbobber pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Warrior Veterans Stakes, edged to the front and held nicely to defeat a late-running Conquest Typhoon by 1 1/4 lenghts. Thatcher Street was third and the favorite, Pleuven, finished a dull seventh after banging the gate. Watchyourownbobber, a 4-year-old Hard Spun colt, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.73 with Luis Saez up.
Brooklynsway had things all her own way in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 Mari Hulman George Stakes for fillies and mares, dusting six rivals en route to an 8 1/2-lengths victory. Pangburn beat the others with Conquest Curlgirl a nose behind her. Brooklynsway, a 4-year-old Giant Gizmo filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.02 with Robby Albarado riding.
Departing tracked the leaders in Saturday evening's $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Memorial, swapped the lead a couple of time and finally put the issue to rest in the final furlong, winning by 2 lengths over Rocket Time. Bordini and Geothermal were third and fourth. The favorite, General a Rod, stopped in the stretch run and finished last of eight. Departing, a 6-year-old War Front gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the main track in 1:40.96 under Brian Hernandez Jr.
Barley Sugar got first run to the lead in the stretch in Sunday's $75,000 Sandy Blue Handicap for 3-year-old fillies and held on to win by 2 3/4 lengths. The late-running favorite, Cheekaboo and Mrs. Norris dead-heated for second and third. Barley Sugar, an Irish-bred daughter of Kyllachy, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.70 with Gary Stevens in the irons.
Toowindytohaulrox came three-wide in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Wickerr Stakes to catch the dueling leaders and put a neck in front at the end for the victory. Forever Juanito was second, a nose better than Little Curlin. Toowindytohaulrox, a 5-year-old son of Harlan's Holiday, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.09 under Tiago Periera.
Appealing Maggie dueled to the lead in Sunday's $75,000 Miss Woodford Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and carried on, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. Giddy Up added some giddy-up to the exotic payouts, finishing second at 34-1. Bodacious Babe was third. Appealing Maggie, a Successful Appeal filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.23 with Christopher DeCarlo at the controls.
Bodhisattva rallied from far back in Saturday's $50,000 Carl Hanford Memorial Stakes, hit the front 50 yards from the wire and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Savoy Stomp. Kid Cruz cruised home third. Bodhisattva, a 4-year-old colt by Student Council, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.20.
Gorgeous Bird tracked the leaders in Saturday's $50,000 Don Bernhardt Stakes, split rivals in the stretch run and was up to win by 1/2 length over Black Bear. Tanner's Popsicle finished third after leading in the lane. The favorite, Barbados, finished seventh. Gorgeous Bird, a 4-year-old colt by Unbridled's Song, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.70 with Chris Landeros in the irons.
One Fine Dream took control in the stretch drive of Saturday's $85,000 Iowa Stallion Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds and drew off to win by 11 lengths. Scrutinizer rallied from the back to finish second, a neck in front of Count N Gold. One Fine Dream, with Shane Laviolette in the irons, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.62.
Six stakes races, each worth $50,000 (Canadian), graded Saturday's card and none of them was much of a challenge for the placing judges.
Onestaratatime, a Cape Canaveral filly, led all the way to an 8-lengths victory in the Northlands Oaks. Ruffenuff, by Dialed In, ran away from just two rivals to win the Princess Margaret Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by 6 3/4 lengths. Fall at Last, a Spring at Last gelding, went that one better in the Edmonton Juvenile for 2-year-old colts and geldings, winning by 12 1/2 lengths.
Hero's Amor, a 4-year-old Street Hero filly, led from the start in the Madamoiselle Handicap at 1 1/16 miles and won by 9 lengths. Ready Intaglio came from off the pace and scored a relatively tight 1 1/2-lengths win in the Count Latham Handicap for 3-year-olds. And Blue Dancer scored a gate-to-wire win in the Fred Jones Handicap, beating Killin Me Smalls by 2 3/4 lengths with Go Max another 10 lengths back in third.
The Seattle-area track had four stakes events on Sunday's program, each worth $50,000. The track was fast.
So Lucky held a big lead throughout the Emerald Express for 2-year-old colts and geldings and coasted home first by 3 lengths while the odds-on favorite, The Chilli Man, was pulled up shortly after the start and vanned off. In the Angie C. Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, first-timer Karaula, a Colonel John filly, jetted off to an 11-lengths victory at odds of 31-1.
Guinevere's Finale upset the Boeing Stakes for fillies and mares, rallying from mid-pack to win by 3/4 length over Morning Coffee. And O.B. Harbor led from the gitgo in the Mt. Rainier Stakes, winning by 2 lengths over Dedicated to You.
On a clear day, Mt. Rainier is visible from the track.