California Chrome won but had to work for it, Songbird asserted herself in the stretch to win easily after a bit of a scare and globetrotting Highland Reel reeled in another Group 1 win in England -- the highlights of weekend Thoroughbred racing.
Bitumen and Sweet Loretta were the big winners among the 2-year-old set.
With Saratoga in full swing and Del Mar hitting its stride, there was no shortage of supporting plots. Woodbine and Monmouth Park also chipped in with important races.
Without further ado:
California Chrome, making his first start since winning the Dubai World Cup in March, found all he could handle in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. Dortmund, racing for the first time since November, jumped out to the lead and maintained a slim advantage into the stretch turn. At that point, jockey Victor Espinoza asked California Chrome and, for a moment, it appeared he would put the issue to rest quickly. But Dortmund, with Gary Stevens in the irons, kept finding more and it was not until the final yards that California Chrome inched away to win by 1/2 length. It was another 7 1/4 lengths back to Win the Space in third.
California Chrome, conceding 5 pounds to Dortmund, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:40.84, setting up a rematch in the $1 million Pacific Classic later in the meeting -- and probably another in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita in November.
"I saved something for the end," Espinoza said. "I knew I'd have to. I have a lot of respect for Dortmund and he made me run hard."
Trainer Art Sherman added, "It's going to be an interesting few races coming up. I told Victor the track has been playing to speed all day long and you can't let a horse like Dortmund get away. So press him as much as you can." Stevens called Dortmund's effort "a tremendous comeback race for him."
Hard Aces was on the lead the whole way in Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar but under constant pressure from Quick Casablanca. With Santiago Gonzalez up, Hard Aces dug in down the stretch and held on to win by 1/2 length while finishing 1 1/2 miles on a fast track in 2:30.55. Seve's Road and Energia Fribby completed the order of finish without threatening the top two.
Hard Aces, a 6-year-old son of Hard Spun, finished second in the Grade II Californian in May and third in the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita in June. But the win was his first since last June.
Songbird shot out of the inside gate in Sunday's $300,000 Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga, led into the stretch turn under pressure from Carina Mia most of the way and yielded to even terms with that one at the top of the stretch. But if anyone was worried about an end to the Medaglia d'Oro filly's undefeated record, those fears were put to rest in the final furlong as Mike Smith calmly rode Songbird up and away to a 5 1/4-lengths victory. Carina Mia held second, 4 lengths ahead of Flora Dora. Mo d'Amour and Weep No More completed the order of finish. Songbird got the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.56.
The win was her ninth without a loss and despite the pressure in Sunday's race, she never really has been tested.
"Songbird's got a big, beautiful stride. I didn't panic," said Smith. "The more she (Carina Mia) got on top of her, the more it made her aggressive. I got after her a couple times right then, and that was pretty much it."
Smith, who has ridden some of the best, said he thinks meeting and handling the challenge will move Songbird to a new level.
"If this race moves her up like I think it will, there's no telling how good this filly is," he said.
"We thought we were going to get tested," added trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "We got a chance to test our filly and she dug in."
Mokat tracked the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Clemente for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar, moved to the lead entering the stretch and kicked away to a 3 3/4-lengths victory. Lady Valeur contested the pace though most of the race and held second, 3/4 length to the good of Stays in Vegas. The favorite, Be Mine, reported fourth. Mokat, an Uncle Mo filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.23 with Kent Desormeaux in the irons. Mokat finished second behind Songbird in the Santa Anita Oaks but then was 13th in the Kentucky Oaks. She had not raced since then.
"She's just a different horse on the turf," said winning trainer Richard Baltas. "I said, 'I hope we have her fit enough,' and she was. The Del Mar Oaks is next."
Bitumen started on the outside of all four rivals in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Sanford Stakes, moved up midway around the turn and came to the lead four-wide entering the stretch. Getting by Random Walk, he went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over that rival with Zartera third. Bitumen, a Mineshaft colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.68 with Javier Castellano riding. He's now 2-for-2 having won at first asking last month at Churchill Downs.
"I'm delighted with the performance," said winning trainer Eddie Kenneally. "He ran really, really well. He got a great education today because he was in behind and took so much dirt. He overcame that and that goes to show how much class he has. He's a really nice horse. He galloped out good and ran a huge race. Today was a great foundation and education and will help him going forward."
Sweet Loretta was off a step slowly in Friday's $150,000 Grade III Schuylerville at Saratoga, then bided her time behind a blistering early pace. When jockey John Velazquez gave her an opening inside the furlong marker, she quickly swept by the leaders and opened up, romping to a 4 1/4-lengths victory. Fun and Harland's Thunder also found their best stride late to finish second and third. The favorite, Make Me Shiver, attended the early pace and finished fourth. Sweet Loretta, a Tapit filly trained by Todd Pletcher, ran 6 furlongs on a fast Opening Day track in 1:10.89. She won at first asking at Monmouth Park a month earlier.
"We didn't know what she ran against at Monmouth but we liked the way she did it," Pletcher said. "She looked like she did it with something in reserve but we knew this was a big step up in class."
Velvet Mood stalked the pace in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) My Dear Stakes at Woodbine, moved smartly to the lead with a sixteenth to run and held on gamely to win by a neck over Stormy Perfection. Raglan Road finished third and the favorite, Forest Circle, was fifth, beaten less than a neck for it all after hopping at the start. Velvet Mood, a daughter of Lonhro, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:12.41 for jockey Pablo Morales. She's 3-for-3 after the My Dear effort. Winning trainer Timothy Hamm said the race went to plan.
"From her first race, we decided to tuck her in and teach her how to rate rather than sending her and I think that paid off big today," said Hamm.
Up With the Birds, Canada's 2013 Horse of the Year, was up in the final furlong to take Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian) Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine by 1 1/4 lengths from Button Down. Halo Nation was third. Kaigun and Dynamic Sky completed the order of finish. Up With the Birds, a 6-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.18 for jocky Eurico Da Silva. He won the same race 2 years ago but had not won in 12 intervening starts.
Da Silva said trainer Malcolm Pierce "brought this horse over happy and fit. I just rode him with a lot of confidence. He was focused all the way, and he made a nice run at the end. He's a very nice horse."
Pierce, in turn, said Up With the Birds "just loves this course, with the long stretch. It suits his style of running."
Conquest Daddyo flew down the lane, passing all five rivals to win Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Toronto Cup for 3-year-olds at Woodbine. Dragon Bay finished second but was disqualified to fourth. That promoted Rocket Plan and Runningfromthefeds to fill the trifecta slots. Conquest Daddyo, a Scat Daddy colt, ran 9 furlong on firm going in 1:47.12 -- more than 2 seconds faster than Up With the Birds five races later. The colt won the Grade II Summer Stakes over the course last fall, then finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and missed the photographer in three starts between that race and Sunday's.
"I had to keep chirping at him the whole way," said winning rider Patrick Husbands. "But when he swings for home he's a whole different horse. By the time I hit the bottom of the lane I was on a different horse."
Filly & Mare Turf
Dacita won Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Diana at Saratoga in a thrilling dash to the wire. The 5-year-old, Chilean-bred mare raced into the stretch widest of all and outfinished Recepta in a photo. Rainha Da Bateria was third. The stewards took a look at some bumping in the final sixteenth but did not make any changes. She finished in 1:46.25 as rain fell at the Spa. Chad Brown trains Dacita, Rainha Da Bateria, Mrs McDougal and Wekeela -- the latter two finishing seventh and last, respectively. Miss Temple City, coming off a fourth-place finish in the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge at Royal Ascot, again finished fourth, unable to sustain a bold rail move to the lead in the final furlong. Brown professed confidence in all four of his starters.
"It was Dacita's day today," he said. "But all of them will probably head in different directions from here."
Ancient Secret sat behind the leading trio in Friday's $200,000 Grade II Lake George at Saratoga, moved three-wide to the lead in the lane and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths as the favorite. Elysea's World and Outsider Art rallied from well back in the field of eight 3-year-old fillies to take second and third. Ancient Secret, a New York-bred Kantharos filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.35 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. The Chad Brown trainee remains undefeated in four starts.
"I wasn't quite sure about the two turns," Pletcher said. "I know she's a top class horse but I was curious to see what she was going to do when the gates opened and she passed the test."
Tin Type Gal overcame some traffic issues during a late stretch run in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Boiling Springs Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Monmouth Park and got there first, a neck in front of the favorite, Galileo's Song. Verbouwen was third. Tin Type Gal, a Tapit filly, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.71 with Trevor McCarthy riding. The winner of last year's Grade III Miss Grillo at Belmont Park, she was making her second start of 2016 for trainer Graham Motion.
Front Pocket Money pocketed the winners' share of the $100,000 purse after Saturday's Grade III Jersey Shore for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park. The Uncle Mo gelding was quickly on the lead and won by 3/4 length over Yellow Chips. Colonel Sharp was third. Front Pocket Money ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.93. He has three wins and a second in his last four starts for trainer Steve Asmussen. "My horse broke sharp and he felt comfortable on the lead," said winning rider Antonio Gallardo. "I had a lot of pressure the whole way, but my horse loves to fight and he fought until the end. When he felt the horse coming on the inside down the stretch, I felt that he wanted to go again."
Puntrooskie got first run to the lead in the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Bold Venture Stakes at Woodbine and held on to win by 1/2 length over the favorite, Noholdingback Bear. Calgary Cat was another 2 1/4 lengths back in third. Puntrooskie, a 5-year-old In Summation gelding, toured 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather cushion in 1:16.06 with Patrick Husbands up. It was his second straight win at Woodbine. He finished third in this event last season. Trainer Donald MacRae claimed Puntrooski for $40,000 in May. "He's a horse we had been watching for a while," said MacRae. "He's run against the best here before and only been beat 3 or 4 lengths and we thought if we could improve him a bit."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Enola Gray dueled to the lead in Friday's $150,000 Fleet Treat Stakes for California-bred 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar, left a quartet of rivals behind turning for home and won off by 7 3/4 lengths, finishing 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.24. Allsquare beat the others, 1 1/4 lengths to the good of Fantasy of Luck. Tyler Baze rode Enola Gray, a gray daughter of Grazen. The Phil D'Amato filly now is 3-for-3. After winning her first start by 16 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita in April, she went right to the Melair Stakes, where she again beat Cal-bred rivals, scoring by 2 1/4 lengths while going 1 1/16 miles.
"There's still a lot of room for improvement and development in her," D'Amato said. "We're just going to take it step by step and see what happens. I don't have any plans for her next race yet."
Highland Reel, a top-level winner on three continents, earned a berth in November's Breeders' Cup Turf -- along with the winner's share -- in Saturday's Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. Under Ryan Moore, the 4-year-old set a good early gallop on the lead, caught a brief breather midway through and then wasn't to be denied in the final furlongs, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Wings of Desire. Her Majesty's supplemented runner, Dartmouth, was third, followed in order by Sir Isaac Newton, Erupt, Western Hymn and Second Step.
"He made it easy for me," Moore said. "He was very comfortable."
Trainer Aidan O'Brien said Highland Reel has proven his ability to travel with success, winning last year's Grade I Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park and the Group I Longines Hong Kong Vase in December. He said the Galileo colt can excel anywhere from 10 to 12 furlongs, giving him all sorts of potential intermediate goals. But, he added, he would "definitely have" the Breeders' Cup Turf on his dance card.
Fair Eva took charge in the final furlong in Saturday's Group 3 Princess Margaret Juddmonte Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and kicked away to a 4-lengths victory as the solid favorite. Kilmah was second with Dainty Dandy third.
Franklin Towers showed the way in Saturday's $60,000 Lamplighter Stakes for 3-year-olds, turned back one challenge and then held off the favorite, Noble Quality, winning by a neck at 20-1 odds. Vulcan's Forge finished third. Franklin Towers, a City Zip gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.80 for jockey Nik Juarez.
Exposure pressed the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Albuquerque Distaff Handicap, took over when asked by jockey Ry Eikleberry and held off Warrens Puppy Love by a neck at the wire. Lady Contender was third. Exposure, a 4-year-old Colonel John filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.57.
Hit It Once More left from the No. 1 gate in Saturday's $150,000 New York Derby for state-breds, raced on the lead and drew off late, winning by 6 1/2 lengths over Extinct Charm. Taoiseach rallied from last to finish third. Hit It Once More, a Hard Spun colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.02 with Kendrick Carmouche up.
Super Allison was anything but super at the start of Saturday's $75,000 New York Oaks for state-bred fillies but picked it up quickly, rallied from last of seven and won by a head over Mecke's Madalyn. The favorite, Katniss the Victor, settled for third. Super Allison, a Super Saver filly, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.79 under Jacqueline Davis.
Saratoga Jack quickly opened a comfortable lead in Saturday's $100,000 Crowd Pleaser Stakes for Pennsylvania-bred 3-year-olds and displeased the chalk players by running on to win by 5 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Wychmere. Smarty Mr D was third. Saratoga Jack, an Emperor Tiberius colt, ran about 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.47 with Jose Flores riding.
Fat Kat led from the start in Saturday's $100,000 Power by Far Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares and edged clear in the final furlong to score by 2 3/4 lengths. Royal Renege was second, a nose in front of Persnickity. The final five placings in the six-horse field were decided by less than 1/2 length, total. Fat Kat, a 5-year-old mare by Weigelia, ran about 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.18 seconds with Edwin Rivera up.
Toomuchisnotenough had just enough at the end to land Saturday's $50,000 California Governor's Cup Handicap by 1 length over Coniah. The early leader, Marynetta, faded to get home third. Toomuchisnotenough, a 5-year-old Trapper mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.92 with Juan Hernandez up.
Blanconia led from the start in Saturday's $75,000 Miss Ohio Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies and held off fellow long shot True Cinder by a head at the end. Halona finished third and the favorite, Nikki My Darling, was sixth. Blanconia, a Vaquero filly, scampered 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:06.86 with Jeffrey Skerrett up.
School Board Prez stalked the pace in Sunday's $75,000 Norm Barron Queen City Oaks for Ohio-breds, then breezed to the lead late and won by 2 1/2 lengths over Tune Up. Katalust finished third. School Board Prez, a Courageous Cat filly, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.19 with Olaf Hernandez up.
Princess Kennedy caught pacesetting long shot Brookys Star in the final yards of Sunday's $75,000 Washington Oaks, winning by a neck over that rival. Find Joy finished third. Princess Kennedy, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Sun King, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.79 with Rocco Bowen in the irons.