Preakness winner Exaggerator caught another sloppy track and won again in Sunday's Haskell, Stellar Wind edged Beholder in a battle of champions out west, Flintshire was not to be denied on the Saratoga turf and a maiden won the Jim Dandy at the Spa, all in another topsy turvy weekend of Thoroughbred racing.
On the international front, Minding won again in England. Lexie Lou continued her winning ways in Canada. Al Shaqab Racing's impressive filly Qemah won the Prix Rothschild in France but the Rothschild Family owns the weekend's Group 1 winner in Germany. And Winx got off to a good start on her season as the promise of spring is in the air in Australia.
Seeking the Gold passed away at age 31.
After a moment of silence for a great runner and arguably greater sire, read on:
Exaggerator won the Santa Anita Derby with a flair over a rare sloppy Southern California track, caught slop again at Pimlico and won the Preakness and once again had the skies open before taking Sunday's $1 million Grade I betfair.com Haskell Invitational, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Jockey Kent Desormeaux, knowing a good thing when he sees it, took full advantage of the splashy surface. First Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, then lightly raced American Freedom made the lead. Desormeaux kept Exaggerator last and well back until midway down the backstretch, then started a steady move that brought him to the leaders as the field exited the turn.
"They were going very well," said Desormeaux, who rides the Curlin colt for his trainer brother, Keith. "They were all head and head in front of me and it reminded me of the Preakness. So I just tried to put him in a fast track and bide my time. I know my brother was panicking down there in Del Mar on the beach with his sandals on. But I was asking him to wait."
Keith Desormeaux later said he was happy with the tactics.
Exaggerator surged to the front with a wide move entering the stretch, then veered sharply in toward the rail while continuing to make progress. American Freedom's rider, Rafael Bejarano, claimed foul but Desormeaux said he was sure he was clear at the time and the stewards agreed. American Freedom held on for second, 1 1/2 lengths behind Exaggerator. Sunny Ridge was just up to snatch show money from Nyquist, who was making his first start since the Derby loss ended his undefeated record. Gun Runner and Awesome Slew completed the order of finish. Exaggerator, after the Preakness win, finished 11th in the Belmont Stakes, run on a fast track. Four of his six wins have come over wet tracks.
Bob Baffert, who has won the Haskell eight times, trains American Freedom.
"Too bad it rained," Baffert said. "It changed the whole race and the complexity of it. We got stuck outside ... But Exaggerator is a really good horse. We got beat by a really good horse."
It's not a misstatement to say upsets are no surprise at Saratoga. But even by the standards of the Spa, the outcome of Saturday's $600,000 Grade II Jim Dandy was, well, a dandy. Laoban, winless in seven previous starts and a 27-1 long shot, led all the way and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Governor Malibu. Destin, second by a nose in the Belmont Stakes, finished third. Mohaymen, winner of the Grade II Fountain of Youth, was fourth. And Creator, winner of the Grade I Arkansas Derby and the Belmont, finished sixth and last.
Laoban, an Uncle Mo colt, set a reasonable pace and there was no apparent reason the others couldn't catch him -- other than he was too good on the day. He completed the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.39 with Jose Ortiz riding. His previous best effort in a major race was second in the Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct on March 5. Trainer Eric Guillot said he has always had faith in Laoban, whom he described as a 17.1-hands "monster."
"I thought, 'All the speed's across town tomorrow, in the Haskell. I'm going to take a shot ... We don't dance to elevator music. We dance to Zydeco. Who wants to run in a maiden?"
Spoken like a man with a horse for the Grade I Travers.
Ortiz added: "He broke great and they let me go easy enough. He was relaxed, pulling me a little bit with his ears prickling and when I asked him to go by the quarter pole he really took off."
As Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee has been heard to mutter, "It's an easy game."
Bradester led from the start in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Monmouth Cup, opened up a big lead in the lane and won by 2 lengths, well geared down. Scuba and Mr. Jordan got the minor awards. Bradester, a 6-year-old son of Lion Heart, cruised over the sloppy 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.21 with Joe Bravo at the controls. He won this race last year en route to a start in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, where he finished ninth. He got a long rest, then returned to win both his previous 2016 starts, including the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs in June.
"We never breeze in the mud," said winning trainer Eddie Kenneally. "But he does go out in the mornings in the mud ... We know he loves a dry Monmouth but we weren't sure if he would love a wet Monmouth. Evidently he handled it quite well."
John Velazquez sent Connected right to the lead in Friday's $100,000 Curlin Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga and the colt, a son of Curlin, made the advantage stand up, winning by 1 length over the even-money favorite, Gift Box. Forever d'Oro ranged up from last of seven to finish third. Connected ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.69. Chad Brown trains the top two.
"I hate to run them both against each other," Brown said. "But with limited opportunities, I thought this race worked out well for both of them as a prep heading towards the Travers."
The upset bug migrated all the way from Upstate New York to Southern California on Saturday. In a meeting of champions Stellar Wind pressed Beholder throughout the $300,000 Grade I Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar and came away with a game upset win. After the pair traded leads in the stretch, jockey Victor Espinoza found a little more from Stellar Wind and she inched clear in the final yards to win by 1/2 length, ending Beholder's eight-race winning streak. Divina Comedia collected show money while finishing 9 3/4 lengths behind Beholder. Stellar Wind, the champion 3-year-old filly for 2015, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.24. She earned her crown with a second to Stopchargingmaria in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Beholder was champion 2012 2-year-old filly, 2013 3-year-old filly and 2015 older mare.
"It's good for her and she's an improving, lightly-raced horse," said winning trainer John Sadler. "We're kind of following Beholder a little bit. She's a lightly raced mare and we'd like to race her two more years. She's not a horse to run every month, so we'll probably run her in the Zenyatta and then the Breeders' Cup Distaff."
The race was, in fact, a "Win and You're In" for this year's Distaff, at Santa Anita.
Curalina, third in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff, dominated Sunday's $200,000, Grade III Shuvee Handicap at Saratoga, shadowing Carrumba, then kicking away to win by 9 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Carrumba held on to finish second with Sweetgrass and Joint Return completing the order of finish. Curalina, a 4-year-old Curlin filly, ran 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:49.85 under John Velazquez. It was her second win from three starts this season, also including the Grade I La Troienne at Churchill Downs.
"I think Curalina is a little bit of an underrated filly," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "She's a good filly and I think she's getting better."
Genre stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park, took the lead on the turn, gave it up to Eskenformoney, then came again to win by a neck over that foe. Birdatthewire was third after a slow start. Genre, a 4-year-old Bernardini filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:43.12 with Paco Lopez in the irons, picking up her first stakes win. Todd Pletcher trains the top two.
"She's all heart," Pletcher assistant Anthony Sciametta said of Genre. "She was headed in the lane and fought back all the way to the wire. We wanted to be sitting second early but she looked to be real keen today. I think she really liked the off going."
Flintshire finally got the job done -- and with flair -- but Grand Tito almost stole Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Bowling Green at Saratoga. Grand Tito went right to the lead and slowed down the pace to a walk through the first mile and more -- 53.14, 1:19.44 and 1:44.20. Worse, Flintshire was boxed in on the turn and dropped to last, then had to swing well wide to get room in the stretch. Problem? No. Jockey Javier Castellano never touched his whip as Flintshire switched out and easily worked by Grand Tito to take the lead inside the sixteenth pole. For the final 100 yards, Castellano was hardly riding the heavy favorite, instead looking to his left at Grand Tito's jockey, Jose Ortiz, as if to say, "You didn't really think you'd get away with that, did you?"
Flintshire finished 1 3/8 miles in 2:07.34. It was his second start since being relocated from France to New York and turned over to trainer Chad Brown. In the first, he won the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park in June.
"He's the best horse on the turf in the world," said Castellano in not too much of an overstatement.
"He likes to run and cover and Javier has a really good feel for him, so I wasn't too worried," Brown said of the pace and the traffic. "When Twilight Eclipse finally made the move and they all went, it was a pretty easy decision to steer him outside for home ... Javier showed a lot of poise. He didn't panic. The horse ran terrific. He's a true champion. They're a great team."
Brown said he wants to keep Flintshire in New York until the Breeders' Cup so he opted for this Grade II event, then the Grade I Sword Dancer later in the Saratoga meeting rather than the Grade I Arlington Million in Chicago in two weeks.
Blacktype outfinished Kharafa in Sunday's $150,000 Grade III Oceanport at Monmouth Park, winning by a neck as both rallied from behind the pace. War Dancer also found his best stride late to get show money. Blacktype, a 5-year-old, French-bred gelding by Dunkerque, ran 1 1/16 miles on yielding turf in 1:45.64 with Jersey Joe Bravo in the irons. Blacktype, trained by Christophe Clement, was an allowance winner in France and since his arrival in the United States but scored his first stakes victory.
"We thought we had the best horse in the race and that turned out to be true," Bravo said. "The turf was in great shape even with all the rain and I was just happy to be aboard the best horse. He really dug in the final eighth and was able to push by late."
Filly & Mare Turf
Lexie Lou showed the way in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Victoriana Stakes for Ontario-sired distaffers at Woodbine, shook off a bold challenge by Internal Bourbon and went on to win by 1 length over that foe. It was another 2 1/2 lengths back to Shesanaturalblonde in third. Lexie Lou, Canada's 2014 Horse of the Year, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.05 with Patrick Husbands riding. She is a 5-year-old mare by Sligo Bay, owned by Gary Barber and trained by Mark Casse. After making only one start as a 4-year-old, Lexie Lou has been busy this season, posting three wins and two thirds from seven starts. In her previous race, she won the Grade II Dance Smartly at 1 1/8 miles over the same course, defeating some talented invaders.
"Everyone knows she's a real champion and she's tough," Husbands said. "She has such a high cruising speed and you can't fight with her. That horse (Internal Bourbon) came to her and I said, 'Come on baby, let's go,' and she just took off. After the race, the outrider had to pull her up for me. She's just a racehorse."
Itsonlyactingdad rallied strongly outside rivals in the final sixteenth to win Sunday's $100,000, Grade III WinStar Matchmaker Stakes at Monmouth Park by 1 1/4 lengths over Tammy the Torpedo. Uchenna finished third. Itsonlyactingdad, a 4-year-old daughter of Giant's Causeway, ran 9 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:52.27 with Joe Bravo up. It was her first stakes win although she finished second behind Lady Eli in the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational just over a year ago.
Lord Nelson sat close behind the pace in Sunday's $300,000 Grade I Bing Crosby at Del Mar, came out entering the stretch and kicked away to a 4-lengths win, earning a berth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint through the "Win and You're In" program. Indexical was second, at 42-1 odds, and the always-trying Alsvid snatched third with a late burst. Lord Nelson, a 4-year-old Pulpit colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track with Flavien Prat up in 1:07.65 -- just 0.05 second off the 43-year-old track record. It was his third straight win, second in a row in Grade I company.
"I woke up this morning thinking we could win them all," said winning trainer Bob Baffert, who was 3-for-3 Sunday at Del Mar. "But unfortunately we got beat in the Haskell. But the others ran well, they ran like they've been training and that's all you can ask for."
A.P. Indian swung into the stretch run in Saturday's $350,000, Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga in a duel with the favorite, Holy Boss. Catalina Red joined the fray but A.P. Indian, with Joe Bravo up, kept finding more and edged away to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Holy Boss held second and Catalina Red was third. A.P. Indian, a 6-year-old Indian Charlie gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.25.
"He's pretty nice, isn't he?" Bravo asked rhetorically. It was his fourth straight win and followed by three weeks a victory in the Grade III Belmont Sprint Championship.
Asked about the potential for a Breeders' Cup start, trainer Arnaud Delacour said, "We'll see how he comes back. He ran three weeks and three weeks before. We'd love to see how he comes back. It's a little too far away. We'll see." So we'll have to wait to see.
Mind Your Biscuits snuck through on the rail in the stretch run in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Amsterdam for 3-year-olds at Saratoga and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over the pacemaker, Manaical. Its All Relevant was third. Mind Your Biscuits, a Posse colt, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.25.
"He's a racehorse," said winning trainer Robert Falcone Jr. "He loves his job. This means a lot. I'm just happy to be here. It's the greatest horses, the best trainers and the best jockeys, it's just great."
Mind Your Biscuits, however, was not interested in having his picture taken after the race, initially refusing to pose.
Gold Rush Dancer was in no rush in Wednesday's $150,000 Real Good Deal Stakes for California-breds at Del Mar, tracking the pace before surging to the lead in the lane and an eventual 1/2 length victory. Tough It Out was flying late and just missed. The favorite, Mrazek, was third. Gold Rush Dancer, a 6-year-old Private Gold colt ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.90 with Flavien Pratt up.
Moonlight Song led all the way in Thursday's $100,000 John Morrissey Stakes for New York-breds at Saratoga and held off Ostrolenka by 3/4 length at the end. Crackerjack Jones edged the favorite, Weekend Hideaway, by a nose for show money. Moonlight Song, a 9-year-old gelding by Unbridled's Song, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.99 with Jose Ortiz in the irons.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Stonetastic, the odds-on favorite, quickly worked to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Regret Stakes at Monmouth Park and drew off to win by 6 3/4 lengths. Bustin Out and Sky Gold were along for second and third. Stonetastic, a 5-year-old Mizzen Mast mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.37 with Paco Lopez riding. She was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint two years ago but eighth last year at Keeneland.
"We have a couple of races in mind for her," said winning trainer Kelly Breen. "Nothing set in stone right now. Our goal is to get back to the Breeders' Cup."
Lady Shipman led the way in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Royal North Stakes for fillies and mares at Woodbine and wasn't seriously threatened and won by 1 3/4 length. She's Explosive and Mississippi Delta got the minor awards. Lady Shipman, a 4-year-old Midshipman filly, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:07.70 with Jesse Campbell in the irons. That's just 0.53 second off the course record. Lady Shipman finished second in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, just a neck behind Mongolian Saturday. She has won four of six starts this year and over her career, has won at eight different tracks -- Belmont Park, Gulfstream Park, Gulfstream Park West, Monmouth Park, Ocala Training Center, Pimlico, Saratoga and Woodbine.
"To win at eight different tracks is something in itself," said owner-breeder Randall E. Lowe.
Raising Rumors rallied from last of six to take Friday's $65,000 Prairie Gold Juvenile Stakes at Prairie Meadows by a neck over Warrior's Kid. Envoyer led briefly in the lane and faded to finish third. Raising Rumors, a Sing Baby Sing gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13.06 with Ken Tohill up.
Ignored was, in fact, the even-money favorite for Sunday's restricted, $176,000 Mountain Top New Mexico Bred Futurity at Ruidoso Downs. And he lived up to his notices, dueling to the lead, working clear and then prevailing by a nose over a late-running Another Brother. Ignored, a chestnut gelding by The Way Home, got home in 58.74 seconds over a fast track with Francisco Giles in the irons.
You're Late was right on time in Friday's $100,000 CBTA Stakes for California-bred 2-year-old fillies, surging by the leaders entering the lane and winning off by 3 1/4 lengths. Love a Honeybadger was a surprise second with the favorite, My California, another 3 1/4 lengths back in third. You're Late ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.64 with Stewart Elliot up, posting her second straight win. She's by Lucky Pulpit, who also sired California Chrome.
Grandma's Princess had to work for the lead in Thursday's $65,000 Prairie Gold Lassie at Prairie Meadows, then got no respite as she battle to the wire with the favorite, Country Candy, before posting a 1/2-length score. Christina's Comet was third. Grandma's Princess, a Texas-bred daughter of Sing Baby Sing, ran 6 furlongs in 1:13.19 with Ken Tohill up for trainer Randy Morse.
Over the waves
Oaks winner Minding had no trouble with a quartet of rivals in Saturday's Group 1 Qatar Nassau Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, surging to the front when nudged by jockey Ryan Moore and winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Queen's Trust was second, another 1 1/4 lengths to the good of Jemayel. Minding ran 1 1/4 miles on good to firm going in 2:05.05 as the prohibitive favorite. It was the third straight win at the highest level for the Galileo filly as she also landed the Group 1 Sea the Stars Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh a month earlier. It was her sixth overall Group 1 victory. Moore said the effort was not visually impressive because the small field made it a tactical race.
"It was always going to be a messy sort of race today and it was just a question of keeping it as simple as we could," he said. "She has got an awful lot of class, she only does what she has to do and that's why she is able to keep winning."
Justin Durant vs. Anthony HitchensTrainer Aidan O' Brien said he and the Coolmore owners are overwhelmed with possibilities for Minding's immediate future. "I'm not sure what the lads will do with her now but she can go down plenty of different ways," he said. "They'll probably decide in a week or so but she has plenty of options. She is getting a lot of experience." O'Brien also offered hope Minding could remain in training as a 4-year-old. "The lads love their racing and I imagine if she is well there would be a chance. Everyone gets a lot of enjoyment out of her. I think there is a good chance."
Take Cover dealt the O'Brien-Moore-Coolmore juggernaut a rare setback, winning Friday's Group 2 Qatar King George Stakes by a neck over Washington DC. Take Cover, under David Allen, led all 5 furlongs and held on to win by a neck. Goldream was another head behind in third. Take Cover, a 9-year-old gelding by 1996 Japan Cup winner Singspiel, covered 5 furlongs on good to firm going in a speedy 56.86 seconds.
Qemah took the lead with something less than 2 furlongs left in Sunday's Group 1 Prix Rothschild for fillies and mares at Deauville and simply asserted her superiority, winning by 1 1/4 lengths from Volta. Steip Amach was third and Esoterique, who stumbled badly at the start, got home fourth. Qemah, a 3-year-old Danehill Dancer mare, finished the straight mile in 1:38.09 with Gregory Benoist riding for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget. Al Shaqab Racing owns the filly, who now has won half her six starts and never finished worse than third.
"She is really good," Rouget said. "We have seen other good fillies here in recent years like Goldikova and Moonlight Cloud. I think that she is up there in that kind of company."
French invader Elliptique got the lead late and held on to land Sunday's Group 1 Grosser Dallmeyeer-Preis Bayerisches Zuchtrennen by 1/2 length from Royal Solitare. Potemkin steamed in third. Elliptique, trained by Andre Fabre and ridden by Frankie Dettori, took 2:07.83 to finish 10 furlongs over turf rated good, picking up his first win at the top level. The 5-year-old son of New Approach, owned by the Rothschild Family, came second in the Group 3 La Coupe at Chantilly in his last start.
The spring season is on the horizon and Winx looks ready to shine. The Street Cry filly, winner of nine straight races, kicked off some winter rust Friday at Randwick, doing just what trainer Chris Waller wanted to see while finishing fourth in a trial. Waller said the run was as much to ease his nerves as to get his star going again. Winx may trial again before contesting the Group 2 Warwick stakes on Aug. 30, he said.
In other action:
Miss Ella didn't seem to mind at all that Sunday's $100,000 Caress Stakes for fillies and mares came off the turf. Leading all the way, the 4-year-old Exchange Rate filly reported home first by 2 1/2 lengths over Fusaichi Red with Miss Matzoball another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. Joel Rosario rode Miss Ella over 5 1/2 sloppy furlongs on the main track in 1:04.05.
Pensador rallied by pacesetting Smooth Stroke on the stretch turn in Saturday's $85,000 Minnesota Derby for state-breds and ran on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Reigning Warrior was third and the favorite, X L Tee, finished fourth after some traffic issues. Pensador, an Einstein gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.92 with Orlando Mojico aboard.
Blazing Angel, a 29-1 chance, hit the lead turning for home in Saturday's $85,000 Minnesota Oaks for state-bred fillies and cruised home first by 2 1/2 lengths over Honey's Sox Appeal. Unbridled Mayhem completed an all-long shot trifecta that returned $2,101.80 for a $1 investment. Blazing Angel, a daughter of Angliana, got 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:43.25 with Geovanni Franco in the irons.
News and notes
Multiple grade I winner and top sire Seeking the Gold has died at the age of 31. He was euthanized July 28, suffering from infirmities of old age, according to Claiborne Farm. The son of Mr. Prospector, out of the Buckpasser mare Con Game, was owned and bred by Ogden Phipps. Shug McGaughey saddled him to eight wins and six seconds and 14 starts and more than $2.3 million in earnings. He won the Grade I Super Derby, Grade I Dwyer, Grade II Peter Pan and the Swale Stakes. He was second to Alysheba in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Classic and also second in the Travers, Wood Memorial, Haskell and Met Mile. He sired 91 stakes winners including Dubai Millennium, Seeking the Pearl, Heavenly Prize, Flanders and Catch the Ring, and three Breeders' Cup winners. In 2000, he ranked No. 2 on the general sire list, behind only Storm Cat.
Oaklawn Park continues to enhance its purse structure. Recent changes include hiking the purse of the Grade III Razorback Handicap from $350,000 to $500,000 and moving it from March to Feb. 20 to make it an attractive prep for the Dubai World Cup. The Essex Handicap purse was raised from $100,000 to $250,000 and reslotted to March 18, sharing a card with the $900,000 Grade II Rebel and the $350,000 Grade II Azeri.
Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., will offer a lucrative alternative to horsemen looking for a race in advance of the Dubai World Cup by increasing the purse of the Razorback Handicap (gr. III) from $350,000 to $500,000 and moving the race from March to Monday, Feb. 20, where it will share the card with the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (gr. III) on Presidents' Day. Ten other stakes received purse increases of at least $25,000.
"We've become known for attracting the best 3-year-olds in the nation," director of racing David Longinotti said. "Now, we want to complement that by attracting the best older horses, too."