It was a big weekend of racing for the big stars as California Chrome, Songbird and Winx all posted dominating wins in action from New York to California to Australia.
It's three different winners in Canada's Triple Crown.
And Ben's Cat came up short in his effort to score a seventh straight win in the Mister Diz Stakes at Laurel Park.
The weekend also included a successful, four-race program staged by the China Horse Club in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, in China, showcasing its international reach and hopes for the future of the sport there.
Nothing short about the following:
California Chrome turned Saturday's $1 million Grade I Pacific Classic into a rout, leading from the start and winning by 5 lengths, well in hand. Beholder, last year's winner, tracked the pace but had no answer in the stretch and settled for second. The Bob Baffert-trained duo of Dortmund and Hoppertunity filled the superfecta positions. Five others were in a different area code.
California Chrome, with Victor Espinoza enjoying the ride, finished 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:00.13.
"Before the race, no matter what strategy I have, everything changes when the gate opens," Espinoza said. "So, right when I was behind the gate I thought 'You know what, I'm going to send out of here. I'm going to send hard out of the gate and then move out just a little toward the middle of the track.' I tapped California Chrome a couple of times and I was surprised I opened up two or three lengths right away. By that time I was very confident and happy. That's where I won."
Trainer Art Sherman added, "I saw the hold Victor had on him and he was just cruising, I thought, 'It's all over.' She (Beholder) was driving to catch him and I knew that if Victor had to get after him he was just going to rebreak and pull away. What can you say about him? He's just a super horse. That's why he's the best horse in the country."
Gary Stevens, who watched California Chrome from atop Beholder, said, "Victor was playing with us. I don't think he really let him run. That's scary to think about."
The 5-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit, winner of the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, is 5-for-5 this year with the Dubai World Cup a crowning achievement. The Pacific Classic win increased his lifetime earnings to $13,252,650. The race was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Songbird took flight again in Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Alabama for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga, waiting nicely just off the pace until she got her cue from jockey Mike Smith, then surging to a 7-lengths victory -- her 10th without a loss or even a serious challenge. Going For Broke and Family Tree were second and third. Songbird, a Medaglia d'Oro filly, ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.00 without being asked for her best.
Pending the results of the Travers Stakes, Songbird's owner, Rick Porter, has a compelling case that she is the best of all this year's 3-year-olds. Six of her 10 wins have come in Grade I events and she has earned more than $2.76 million -- all despite missing the Kentucky Oaks with an ill-timed fever. Smith, who has ridden many good ones, is running out of descriptions for Songbird's talent.
"She's got it all," he said. "She's got the 'it' factor. Not only can she run, she is extremely intelligent, her mechanics are incredible and her balance is impeccable. You feel like you are lying on a big king-sized bed, that's how smooth she is."
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said Porter appears to be leaning to running Songbird back in the Cotillion at Delaware Park, "so we'll look at that."
Unbridled Mo settled just behind pacesetting favorite Tejana in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Monmouth Oaks, mounted a sustained drive down the lane and got by late to win by a neck. Tejana held second, 3/4 length in front of Mo d'Amour.
One of three Uncle Mo fillies in the race, Unbridled Mo ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.35. It was her third straight win.
"My filly doesn't have too much speed so I wanted to just sit off the pace," said winning rider Paco Lopez. "She didn't have too much patience and wanted to go pressure the horse on the lead in the backstretch. She ran very well today and had to work for the win."
Ashleyluvssugar went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Del Mar Handicap, presented by the Japan Racing Association, opened a big lead and just held on, winning by a nose over Metaboss, who closed from the clouds far outside the winner. Texas Ryano was third at trifecta-busting odds.
"He was waiting on horses," said winning rider Gary Stevens. "I tried to stay busy on him, but he was waiting. They (the other riders) know it and know him. They came at him out in the middle of the track. He never saw them."
Trainer Peter Eurton credited Stevens.
"That was so close," Eurton said. "The other horse was so far from ours to the outside that I really couldn't tell if we'd won or not. Gary just rode an amazing race. God that was great. That was a Hall of Fame ride. I didn't tell him anything. That was all Gary."
Ashleyluvssugar, a 5-year-old gelding by Game Plan, ran 11 furlongs on firm turf in 2:16.11. He was coming off a second-place finish in the Grade II Eddie Read at Santa Anita.
Messi dueled to the lead in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian) Grade II Sky Classic Stakes at Woodbine, then edged clear in the late going, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. Are You Kidding Me was second, 1 3/4 lengths to the good of Up With the Birds. Messi, a 6-year-old, German-bred gelding by New Approach, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:00.89 with Edgar Prado riding. A consistent graded stakes performer, Messi passed up the Grade I Arlington Million a week earlier in favor of this race and rewarded trainer Graham Motion with his fourth U.S. victory. He raced earlier in the handicap ranks in Germany.
"I really like this horse and most of his disappointing races I have a pretty good explanation for," Motion said.
Can'thelpbelieving came around the front runners turning for home in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Cliff Hanger Stakes and went on to score a 2 3/4-lengths victory over Hothersal. Il Segreto finished third. Can'thelpbelieving, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Duke of Marmalade, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:46.77 with Trevor McCarthy up.
Tourist turned left from the outside stall at start of Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga, bumping with A Lot and Ring Weekend, then took up a stalking position behind King Kreesa. He moved up on the far turn, recovered from a bad step and stumble, took the lead and held off A Lot by 1 1/4 lengths for the win. Grand Arch ran evenly to be third and King Kreesa faded to finish fourth. Javier Castellano, aboard A Lot, filed an objection based on the start but the stewards let the result stand. Tourist, with Joel Rosario up, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.29.
"He was very impressive," said winning trainer Bill Mott. "He had a good trip. Looking at the race, on paper, that looked like the type of trip he would probably get. He was laying second, came on, drew away from the field, and ran very well."
Midnight Storm led all the way in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Del Mar Mile and held off Om at the end by 1/2 length for the victory. Ohio was 4 1/4 lengths farther back in third.
A 5-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile, Midnight Storm finished in 1:33.92 on firm turf with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. It was his third straight win, following the Grade I Shoemaker Mile and the Grade II Eddie Read.
"I felt he had it under control the whole way," said winning trainer Phil D'Amato. "But I was kind of surprised to see that big kick Om had in the stretch and it got pretty close for a while. Raf said he rode him confidently there at the end. We'll definitely give him some time off now and then get him ready for the Breeders' Cup Mile."
Filly & Mare Turf
Harmonize sang a pleasant tune for her backers in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Del Mar Oaks, presented by the Jockey Club, rallying from well off the pace to win by a head over Decked Out and another nose from Stays in Vegas. The favorite, Mokat, was just another 1/2 length back in fourth.
Harmonize, a Scat Daddy filly trained by Bill Mott, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.71 with Junior Alvarado riding his first-ever race at Del Mar. She was coming off a fifth-place finish in the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational, which quickly has shaped up a key race in this division.
"She had some trouble last time, but she ran just right today," Alvarado said. "Bill didn't give me any special instructions before I came out (from Saratoga). He rarely does. But she was full of run today and showed everyone just how good she is."
Time and Motion caught odds-on favorite Catch a Glimpse in the final yards to win Sunday's $300,000 Grade II Lake Placid Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga by a neck. Diamond Fields was third. Time and Motion, a Tapit filly, ran 9 furlongs over the firm inner turf course in 1:48.39 with John Velazquez up.
Time and Motion scored her fourth victory from her last five starts, a string interrupted by a second-place showing in the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational. The loss snapped an eight-race winning skein for Catch a Glimpse, who won the Belmont heat by 1/2 length.
"Johnny rode a perfect race and did everything right," said winning trainer Jimmy Toner. "We had to keep her in contention. There's no way you're going to make up five or six lengths on a filly like Catch a Glimpse. She hits that turn and she takes off. We knew it and Johnny knew it. You have to be able to execute it and she was able to do it."
Frenzified tracked the early pace established by Fanticola in Friday's $75,000 CTT & TOC Handicap at Del Mar, took over the lead turning into the stretch and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Generosidade. Annulment was up for show money and Fanicola, the favorite, faded to finish fourth. Frenzified, a 4-year-old British-bred daughter of Yeats, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:14.84 with Santiago Gonzalez riding. Previously campaigned in England, this was her first win in three U.S. starts for trainer Jim Cassidy.
Glenville Gardens won a tight, four-way battle to the finish in Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Grade II Play the King Stakes at Woodbine, beating Tower of Texas by 1/2 length and the favorite and pacesetter, Conquest Enforcer, by the same margin. Passion for Action was another 1/2 length back in fourth. Glenville Gardens, a 4-year-old Street Cry gelding, ran 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:20.82.
"He put me in a great position," said winning rider Gary Boulanger. "He's just a fighter. Coming down the lane, he doesn't give up. He grinds all the way to the wire. He tries really hard. He's pretty push-button to ride. He gives you a good feeling."
Claimed by Sid and Janice Attard for $40,000 (Canadian) just short of a year ago, the son of a Storm Cat mare may be coming into his own, with three straight wins to his credit.
Disco Partner won a four-horse dance to the line in Saturday's $100,000 Troy Stakes at Saratoga, putting a neck in front of Green Mask with Rainbow Heir and Long On Value another pair of noses in arrears.
Disco Partner, a 4-year-old colt by Disco Risco, raced off the pace and came five-wide to challenge, getting the advantage only in the final strides. With Jose Ortiz up, he got 5 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:00.93, just 0.47 second off the course record set by Lady Shipman last season.
On the turf at Saratoga, Harlan's Harmony rallied from far back to win Friday's $100,000 Skidmore Stakes by a head over pacesetting favorite Wellabled. Freud's Friend finished third. Harlan's Harmony, a Spring at Last colt, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.26 with Angel Arroyo in the irons.
Nonna Mela shadowed pacesetting Silvertoni in Friday's $200,000 Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga, got by that rival with ease and drew off to win by 6 lengths. Silvertoni, who stumbled at the start, held second, 3 1/4 lengths better than Olive Branch. The favorite, Libby's Tail, finished fourth. Nonna Mela, a daughter of Arch, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.83 with Javier Castellano in the irons. She had two previous races, both at Monmouth Park, finishing third and then winning on July 2.
"We weren't completely surprised," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher, "although this was a pretty dominating performance, really."
Winx had no trouble at all in her comeback race, notching her 10th straight win in Saturday's Group 2 Warwick Stakes at Randwick by 3 1/2 lengths. The 5-year-old Street Cry mare took the point a furlong and a half out and from then on, jockey Hugh Bowman just had to keep her pointed in the right direction. Hartnell beat the others, with Rebel Dane and Lucia Valentina in third and fourth.
"It's a relief," said trainer Mark Waller, adding that he believed he had his star mare in shape for the race but, after a couple of easy efforts in works and trials, he was grateful for the proof. Waller has a stiff spring campaign planned for Winx in pursuit of a defense of her 2015 Cox Plate championship.
Lady Aurelia ran her record to 3-for-3 with a front-running score in Sunday's Group 1 Darley Prix Morny for 2-year-olds at Deauville. The Wesley Ward trainee finished 3/4 length to the good of previously unbeaten Alrhma with Peace Envoy third. Frankie Dettori rode the winner, finishing 6 furlongs on good turf in 1:10.61. The Scat Daddy filly won at first asking at Keeneland, then won the Group 2 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot. Ward said Lady Aurelia will ship back to England to contest the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket next month in a final prep for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly Turf at Santa Anita in November.
"To have a filly like this is once in a lifetime," Ward told Racing Post. "I think she's going to really show what she's got in the coming few races and we're very excited."
Speedy Boarding took the lead with something less than 2 furlongs to run in Sunday's Group 1 Darley Prix Jean Romanet for fillies and mares at Deauville and ran on well, winning by 1 3/4 lengths from Ame Bleue. Steip Amach finished third and the favorite, Bocca Baciata, tired badly, finishing last of 10. Speedy Boarding, a 4-year-old Shamardal filly, finished fifth behind Minding in the Pretty Polly at the Curragh in her previous assignment for trainer James Fanshawe.
Mecca's Angel made it two straight victories in the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes with a dominating win in Friday's renewal. With Paul Mulrennan aboard, the 5-year-old Dark Angel mare raced close to the pace, asserted herself in the final two furlongs and held off Limato, winning by 2 lengths. Take Cover was third in the 5-furlongs event, run over good turf. She was nowhere to be found at the end of the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, finishing 16th. But she scored rather impressively in the Group 2 Sapphire Stakes at the Curragh last month -- a race in which Sole Power was fourth. Winning Trainer Michael Dods said he might point Mecca's Angel to the Sprint feature on Champions Day before she is retired to be bred.
Blue Point was the pearl in the oyster in Saturday's Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes for 2-year-olds at York, drawing clear to a 3-lengths victory and earning consideration for next year's 2,000 Guineas despite trainer Charlie Appleby's assertion the Godolphin-owned colt is unlikely to handle a mile of ground. With William Buick up for Saturday's 6-furlongs test, Blue Point traveled well early and was devastating late. The Shamardal colt reported in 1:09.00, earning his third win from four starts.
Churchill took the lead with a furlong left in Sunday's Group 2 Galileo European Breeders' Fund Futurity at the Curragh, shook off all pursuit in the final 100 yards and won by 2 lengths over Radio Silence. Arcada and Lancaster Bomber completed the order of finish. Churchill, a Galileo colt from the Coolmore, Aidan O'Brien machine, scored his third straight win, covering 7 yielding to soft furlongs under Seamie Heffernan in 1:27.36. The trainer said he believes Churchill will have no trouble negotiating a mile and might stretch to 1 1/2 miles, warning that remains to be seen.
Rhododendron tracked the leaders in Sunday's Group 2 Breast Cancer Research Debutante at the Curragh, moved to the lead inside the final furlong and was just up to win by a head over Hydrangea, giving Heffernan a riding double. The top two are both from Coolmore, both by Galileo and both trained by O'Brien. Rhododendron scored her second win from three outings. O'Brien said both are likely for the Moyglare Stud Stakes next month.
The China Turf Club staged another successful race meeting Sunday in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China, with four races for horses owned by the club and ridden by both local and international jockeys. The visiting riders won three of the races, one each for Russia, Australia and England. The day's success was better measured, however, by the enthusiastic crowd, estimated at some 26,000, and a Chinese audience for live streaming reported as high as 1.4 million viewers. About 60 happy club members got the royal treatment.
The club offers its members, particularly wealthy Chinese, a "lifestyle experience" centered on horse racing. The day was a chance for them to sample the pleasures that surround high-class racing while networking with their peers. The club's founder, Teo Ah Khing, pronounced the day a success and said the Club looks forward to improving the experience as the Yiqi Race Course now will be its permanent home -- and the site of a prospective breeding operation.
In other action:
A third party was heard from in the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown as long shot Camp Creek rallied from last of 11 in Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Breeders' Stakes and outfinished Queen's Plate winner Sir Dudley Digges by 1 1/4 lengths. Leavem In Malibu was third and Prince of Wales's Stakes winner Amis Gizmo finished sixth. The favorite, Conquest Daddyo was an unlucky fifth with traffic issues.
Camp Creek, a Dunkirk gelding trained by Rachel Halden, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:29.45 with Rafael Hernandez in the irons.
"I can't say I was expecting it, but we were hopeful and thought he deserved a chance," said Halden. "To me, he was just an improving horse. I'd been looking to get him on the grass for a while and when we did he won quite nicely and it looked like a stretch out in distance wouldn't be an issue for him. Sometimes, when you have a 3-year-old Canadian-bred you need to take a chance at these kinds of races."
Ben's Cat couldn't find his customary late kick in Saturday's $75,000 Mister Diz Stakes and settled for third while attempting a seventh straight win in the race. John Jones, an extreme long shot, got the uncontested lead and took heart, holding through the stretch for the win. Just Jack was second and Ben's Cat was 4 lengths behind the winner in third.
"I don't know," said King Leatherbury, owner/trainer of the 10-year-old Parker's Storm Cat gelding. "His last three races, he's had that same kick. He didn't have that big kick at the end. There's really no excuse ... Being pushed wide might not have been perfect for him. It's disappointing of course, but I guess he's doing the best he can."
Loveable Lady reeled in favored front-runner Everything Lovely in deep stretch and surged by that one in the shadow of the wire to upset Saturday's $75,000 Jameela Stakes for Maryland-bred fillies and mares. The 5-year-old Not For Love mare ran 6 furlongs on good turf in 1:11.14. Everything Lovely and Monster Sleeping filled the trifecta.
Ready Intaglio rallied from next-last of a dozen to win Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Canadian Derby by 3/4 length over Solve. The Accuser was a similar margin back in third. Ready Intaglio, a Kentucky-bred Indygo Shiner colt, ran 1 3/8 miles on a fast track in 2:19.16 with Shamaree Muir in the irons. It was his third straight win, all at Northlands.
On the Saturday undercard: Killin Me Smalls was always close in the $50,000 (Canadian) Westerner Handicap and finished well to win by a neck over Royal Warrior; Hero's Amor led all the way to a 2 1/2-lengths win over Truvi in the $75,000 (Canadian) City of Edmonton Distaff; and Onestaratatime drew off easily to win the $50,000 (Canadian) Sonoma Handicap for 3-year-old fillies by 4 1/2 lengths over Smart Fix.
Shipmate led from the start in Saturday's $85,000 Northern Lights Debutante Stakes for Minnesota-bred 2-year-old fillies, enjoyed a daylight advantage and survived a late run by Pinup Girl to win by 3/4 length. The Midshipman filly covered 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.75 with Scott Stevens aboard.
Fireman Oscar went right to the lead in Saturday's $85,000 Northern Lights Futurity for state-bred 2-year-old colts and gelding and drew off to score by 6 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Devil's Teeth. Fireman Oscar, a Law Enforcement gelding, was clocked in 1:10.95 with Larren Delorme in the irons.
Also Saturday: Hold for More held on at the end of the $60,000 Crocrock Minnesota Sprint Championship, winning by a neck over Bourbon County; Honey's Sox Appeal easily handled five rivals in the $50,000 Bella Notte Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship, winning by 2 1/4 lengths; Sioux Appeal was a front-running winner in the $60,000 Glitter Star Minnesota Distaff Championship, beating Blues Edge by 2 1/2 lengths; and Speed Is Life rallied by pacesetting favorite A P Is Loose to win the $60,000 Wally's Choice Minnesota Classic Championship by a neck.
Great Majestic rallied from last of six to win Saturday's $60,000 Owners Cup Distaff, drawing off from pacesetting Wonderful Star to a 3-lengths victory. White Oak Swamp was well back in third. Great Majestic, a Florida-bred, 4-year-old filly by Majestic Warrior, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:47.20 under Alfredo Contreras. The race was moved off the turf.
Sir Genghis led from gate to wire in Saturday's $60,000 Owners Day Cup, winning by 4 lengths from Future Express. It was another 5 3/4 lengths back to Four Leaf Chief in third. Sir Genghis, a 5-year-old Tale of the Cat gelding, ran the off-the-turf 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.14 with Kerwin Clark riding.