Almanzor staked his claim to year-end honors with a dominating win over Found in England while Erupt and Al's Gal triumphed on the turf in Canada in highlights of weekend Thoroughbred racing.
Jameka defended local honor in the Caulfield Cup down under. Global internet sensation Pakistan Star couldn't quite pull off a hat trick in Hong Kong. And, in Japan, a potential budding star emerged in the final leg of the fillies' Triple Crown.
The big wins by Almanzor and Erupt made it a great weekend for France while the Irish contingent that had carried all before it in recent weeks hit a serious bump in the road.
And ... we're off, starting with the big doings at Ascot.
Almanzor found a seam between horses at the top of the straight in Saturday's Group 1 Qipco British Champions Stake, went through and on to victory.
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Found looked like giving Almanzor a battle for a few hundred yards but capitulated into her more familiar runner-up role, finishing 2 lengths behind the winner. Jack Hobbs was another 1 3/4 length in arrears in third.
"It was the right decision to run here as the track and ground were going to suit him well," said winning trainer Jean-Claude Rouget. "I love this horse. It was always the plan to come here since the summer. I didn't change my mind on what I was going to do and I'm glad I didn't."
Almanzor, a French-bred 3-year-old son of Wootton Bassett, bypassed the Arc as Rouget said he wanted to keep him shorter than the 1 1/2 miles -- at least until his 4-year-old season. That cleared the way for 4-year-old Galileo filly Found, the 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf winner who entered the Chantilly fixture after five straight second-place showings, including to Almanzor in the Irish Champion Stakes.
Found, trained by Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Christophe Soumillon, now has six wins and 11 seconds from 20 starts. Almanzor scored his fifth straight win and eighth from 10 trips. O'Brien's other starter, US Army Ranger, continued a season of disappointment while finishing eighth.
Found's future -- including a potential trip to Santa Anita to defend her Breeders' Cup Turf title -- is up in the air.
"She looks great and is very well in herself," O'Brien said. "I'm not sure about going to the Breeders' Cup with her. The lads will have to decide on that as Highland Reel will possibly go for the Turf so I don't know about that. The climate will be different there this time around and it will be very fast ground so I'm not sure whether she will go to America."
Cirrus Des Aigles, the hugely popular 2011 winner of the race, got a warm reception when he did a turn in the winner's enclosure under Soumillon earlier in the day.
"I hope in France they do something like that because we need people to love racing," the rider said. "We don't have that at home and it's great to come here and see the big crowd."
The outcome was better for O'Brien in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at 1 mile down the straight as Guineas and Oaks winner Minding opened a good lead in the final furlongs and held off a late run by Ribchester to score by 1/2 length. Lightning Spear was third.
Last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner, Hit It A Bomb, swung and missed in the QE II, finishing ninth and remaining winless since the Keeneland explosion.
Minding, another of the Galileo band from Coolmore, scored her fourth win from her last five starts. The sole defeat in that skein was a third-place finish -- behind Almanzor and Found -- in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes over yielding turf last month at Leopardstown.
"I can't say enough about her," O'Brien said. "I'd imagine that would be it now for her for the rest of the year. The plan was to come here and try and win and maybe the lads will now bring her back to race again next year ... She's an incredible filly. A filly who can get a mile and a half and then go and do that over this sort of trip is very special."
Jockey Ryan Moore rode Minding to his first win ever on Champions Day.
Journey kicked things up a notch in the Group 1 Qipco Fillies & Mares Stakes, running by the early leader, Pretty Perfect, in the final furlongs to score by 4 lengths. Speedy Boarding and and Queen's Trust were along in the final yards to finish second and third with the O'Brien-trained Pretty Perfect beaten into fourth.
Journey, a Dubawi filly, scored her first Group 1 win with Frankie Dettori at the controls for trainer John Gosden. Gosden commented, "I said to Frankie, 'Just try to settle where you can and she'll tell you when she's happy,' and he rode her beautifully. She showed great acceleration."
O'Brien also saddled the favorite, Seventh Heaven, who finished fifth, and Even Song, who was eighth at the end of 1 1/2 miles.
The Tin Man closed well in the final furlong to take the Group 1 Qipco Sprint Stakes, holding off 50-1 shot Growl by 1 length. Brando was only a short head farther back in third. The co-favorites, Quiet Reflection and Shalaa, finished seventh and 10th, respectively.
The Tin Man, a 4-year-old gelding by Equiano, recorded his seventh win but first at the top level.
"He's been a very difficult horse to get right this year," said winning trainer James Fanshaw. "In the spring he didn't really thrive, and while I thought I'd got him right for Royal Ascot, it didn't work out. Then the ground came up soft at Haydock and so this is the first time this year we've had a really clear run with him, although it's easy to say in hindsight."
As noted here on Friday, Sheikhzayedroad had more than proved his staying power in recent efforts and backed that up in the day's opening event, the Group 2 Qipco Long Distance Cup at 2 miles.
Dispatched at odds of 11-1, the 7-year-old Dubawi gelding made it two straight following a narrow victory in his last race, the 2 1/4-miles Doncaster Cup. He was third in the Group 1 Gold Cup in Honour of the Queen's 90th Birthday at Royal Ascot.
"He's genuine and he enjoys racing," said winning trainer David Simcock. "This is the first year we've gone staying with him ... As he's got a little bit older, he's got a little bit slower but he's got a massive appetite and that little bit of speed he's got over this trip helps."
In the day's final race, Yuften, under Andrea Atzeni, led a field of 19 across the line in the Balmoral Handicap, beating Remarkable by 1 length. Firmament was third.
Dashing back to North America:
Erupt tracked a slow early pace in Sunday's $1 million (Canadian) Grade I Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine, found room between rivals at the top of the lane and went through to win by 1 length over Her Majesty the Queen's first-ever Canadian runner, Dartmouth. Wake Forest was third and The Pizza Man was fourth.
The favorite, Idaho, finished fifth in the International with a mild late bid, completing a disappointing day for Coolmore, trainer Aidan O'Brien and jockey Ryan Moore -- all of who had been enjoying a cornucopia of success during the past few weeks.
Erupt, a 4-year-old Dubawi colt owned and bred by the Niarchos family, finished the 1 1/2 miles in 2:30.87 under Stephane Pasquier after World Approval led the field through a mile in 1:44.21 before tossing in the towel.
Erupt finished last year with a credible fifth-place finish in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe but had been winless in four previous starts this year.
"We took good position right behind the leader and the race was perfect today," Pasquier said. "I feel that I had a lot of gas, actually. It went easily ... We won a Group 1 in France at 3-years-old but it was a difficult start to this year," he added. "Today he came back very easily and I'm very happy to have found my horse again."
Pasquier said he feels the effort was worthy of a trip to California for the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Cavorting, who would have been in the mix in a tough renewal of the Breeders' Cup Longines Distaff next month, instead has been retired due to bruised cannon bones. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said the 4-year-old Bernardini filly was not 100 percent after a Sept. 26 work at Belmont Park. She had posted consecutive wins in the Grade I Ogden Phipps and the Grade I Personal Ensign. Stonestreet Farm said Cavorting will be retired there and added to the broodmare band.
The race took another blow when it was announced this week that Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia will pass up the trip to Santa Anita and be offered at the Fasig-Tipton November sale.
Filly & Mare Turf
Time and Motion came running late to win a three-way photo at the end of Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland. The picture showed the Tapit filly a Head in front of late-charging Harmonize with Hawksmoor a nose farther back in third.
The favorite, Catch a Glimpse, led into the stretch turn of the QE II while being pressured by Hawksmoor but then faded sharply and beat only one rival.
Time and Motion ended Catch a Glimpse's eight-race win streak in their last meeting, defeating that rival by a neck in the Grade II Lake Placid at Saratoga.
With John Velazquez up for trainer James Toner, Time and Motion finished the 1 1/8 miles of the QE II in 1:50.24 over firm turf. Jockey Florent Geroux said Catch a Glimpse was asked to do too much under pressure but trainer Mark Casse disagreed.
"I don't think the time was too fast," Casse said. "We just had a bad day."
Al's Gal sat right off the early pace in Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine, challenged for the lead around the turn and prevailed by a nose in a traffic-filled stretch run. Suffused just missed with a late effort. Banzari, recently purchased in France by Bobby Flay, finished third.
The favorite, Best In The World, trained by Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, saved ground and had every chance in the stretch but faded badly and finished last of the 12 starters.
Florent Geroux improved to 3-for-3 aboard Al's Gal, a 5-year-old English Channel mare owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey who was second in this year's Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington, just 1/2 length back of Sea Calisi.
Geroux said he was happy when Al's Gal jumped well and put him right into contention.
"Wherever she's comfortable. Wherever she's happy," he said. "I don't have any game plan, especially with horses like this who are very manageable and have tactical speed ... When we broke from the gate I was right there, second position all the way and when I asked her turning from home she just gave me a nice turn of foot and was very brave."
Miss Ella advanced past most of the field around the turn in Friday's $100,000 Grade III Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes at Keeneland, gained a short lead with a furlong to go and held off the favorite, Fair Point, by a neck at the wire. Smoke Signals was third at a big price.
Miss Ella, a 4-year-old Exchange Rate filly, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:04.52 with Joel Rosario up for trainer Graham Motion. It was her first stakes win on the green course even though Motion said he feels that's her best surface.
Calgary Cat dawdled at the back of the pack early in Sunday's $300,000 (Canadian) Grade II Nearctic Stakes at Woodbine, rallied four-wide into the lane and was up in time to win by a head over old rival Stacked Deck. Conquest Enforcer, the favorite after three straight wins, was another head back in third.
Calgary Cat, a 6-year-old gelding by Cowtown Cat, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:08.32 with Luis Contreras in the irons. It was only his second win of the year and first in a graded stakes since he took the Grade II Kennedy Road in November of 2014 on the Woodbine all-weather course. The Nearctic was only his sixth turf start and he has been in the money in five of those.
"I got a prefect trip," said Contreras, who rode Calgary Cat for trainer Kevin Attard. "My horse gave me anything from the quarter pole to the wire."
Enola Gray, making her first start on the grass, prompted the pace down the Santa Anita hill in Saturday's $100,000 California Distaff for state-breds, struck the lead midway down the stretch and edged out to win by 1 length. Pacesetter Desert Steel held on for second, a head better than Home Journey.
Enola Gray, a 3-year-old Grazen filly, got the about 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:11.57 with Tyler Baze riding.
"Tyler said going up the hill he could tell she liked it," trainer Phil D'Amato said of the turf course. "She was nice and relaxed. He just had a good feeling about her in the warm up."
Although the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint will run on the same course, D'Amato said he's not looking that way for Enola Gray, pointing instead to the Betty Grable Stakes at 7 furlongs on the Del Mar dirt on Nov 13 and then, "hopefully," the Grade I La Brea at the same distance at Santa Anita on Boxing Day.
Thundering Sky rallied wide from mid-pack to produce a thundering upset in Saturday's $200,000 Pebbles Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park. With Antonio Gallardo up, the Sky Mesa filly hit the lead at the top of the lane, edged clear and then had to dig in again before winning by 3/4 length over deep closing 51-1 shot Mom's On Strike. The favorite, Ancient Secret, was flat in the final furlong and settled for third.
Thundering Sky ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.47.
"The trainer told me that she was doing really good and after watching a replay of her last race I knew she would run at the end and I could relax her a little bit," Gallardo said. "She gave me everything at the end and she kicked on really good. The race setup perfectly for me."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Southern Ring outfinished pari-mutuel favorite Cactus Kris in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Ontario Fashion Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 3/4 length. River Maid was only 1/2 length farther back in third at the end of 6 furlongs on the all-weather track. Southern Ring, with Eurico Da Silva up, was clocked in 1:08.65. The 4-year-old Speightstown filly won the Ruling Angel Stakes on this card last season and has four wins from six starts, all at Woodbine.
Generous Touch waited behind the pace, took the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Ruling Angel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine, then held on to win by a neck over Cactus Copy. Sweet Crimson got home third and the favorite, Mom's Choice, settled for fourth. Generous Touch, an Ontario-bred daughter of Philanthropist, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:16.33.
"I had a lot of horse, said winning jockey Da Silva. "I was behind a wall and I'm glad I had room to split horses."
Theory shadowed pacesetter Moves Like Ali through the early furlongs of Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Futurity, challenged midway around the sweeping Belmont Park turn and jetted off in the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Star Empire was along for second and Moves Like Ali floated home third.
Theory, a Gemologist colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.91 with Javier Castellano up for trainer Todd Pletcher. The colt is owned by China Horse Club and WinStar Farm. It was his second win from as many starts following a 5 1/2-lengths romp at Saratoga in July against nine other first-time starters.
"The way he ran today, the way he finished, I think gives us a lot of options," Pletcher said. Asked if the options could include the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he said, "Today, with the way he ran, the way he galloped out and came back, I think we at least have to sit down and have that discussion." Gemologist won the 2012 Wood Memorial, promising some added ground for Theory.
Arella Rockstar pressed the pace in Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Matron at Belmont Park hit the front in the lane and battled to the wire with the favorite, Cherry Lodge, before prevailing by 3/4 length. Spirituality was up for third. Arella Rockstar, a daughter of Astrology, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.68 with Luis Saez up. She now is 2-for-2.
"We just wanted to take a chance and find a race for this filly," said winning trainer Rudy Rodriguez. "Once she broke her maiden, I didn't want to ship her out of town I wanted to keep her home."
Darting back over the waves:
Jameka was the favorite for Saturday's Group 1 Caulfield Cup -- but at a relatively long price as the punters were keeping a wary eye on the European invaders, including Scottish, Exospheric and Sir Isaac Newton. Jameka proved the public right about the outcome but put the lie to the conservatism, romping home a 3-lengths winner in the 2,400 meters.
Scottish and Exospheric were, in fact, second and third. But they were in no danger of threatening the winner, a 4-year-old filly by Myboycharlie, who went one better than her runner-up finish behind Hartnell earlier this month in the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington.
Jockey Nicholas Hall allowed Jameka to idle well off the leaders down the backstretch as Scottish suddenly shot out to the lead. But with 300 meters left, Jameka had rallied alongside that rival and drew away cleanly. Exospheric was along late to take third.
The handy win moved Jameka into the ranks of the favorites for the Group 1 Melbourne Cup and Hall allowed she can handle that task, too.
"Yeah, I think she can win it for sure, so I can't wait to ride her then," he said in a post-race television interview. Hall's father, Greg Hall, rode Melbourne Cup winner Subzero in 1992.
Vivlos tracked in the middle of a big field in Sunday's Group 1 Shuka Sho at Kyoto, the third leg of the Japanese fillies' Triple Crown, was set down outside rivals entering the stretch and shot by the leaders in the final 50 meters to score by 1/2 length over Pearl Code. Kaiserball was third and the favorite in a competitive field, Biche, finished 10th.
Vivlos, a Deep Impact filly, is a full sister to Verxina, who finished second behind Gentildonna in all three legs of the filly Triple Crown. Vivlos failed to qualify for either the Oka Sho (Japanese 1,000 Guineas) or the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) but has demonstrated steady progress throughout the year leading up to Sunday's result.
"We were in a perfect position and the trip was smooth and in good rhythm," said winning jockey Yuichi Fukunaga. "I was aware of Biche behind me at the third corner but we were able to pick our own timing for the move. Her sister (Verxina) had a lot of speed and staying power but this filly has a tremendous burst of speed."
Mr Bogart took the measure of the wildly popular Pakistan Star Sunday in the Class 2 Woodpecker Handicap at Sha Tin. After chasing a hot pace into the stretch in the 1,400-meters event, Mr Bogart reeled in the leader, Spicy Sure, and held off Pakistan Star by 2 1/2 lengths under the wire.
Pakistan Star had won his first two Hong Kong starts with dramatic stretch runs from far, far back in the field, drawing an international following on the internet. Sunday, the leaders were moving along quicker and jockey Matthew Chadwick had a different equation in the final few hundred meters.
"In Pakistan Star's other two races, I was travelling well as I entered the straight and cruised up before sprinting well," Chadwick said. "Today, I was off the bit chasing before straightening, because they were just flying along in front. In the end, he's made up at least 10 lengths, maybe more."
Still, the German-bred was far from disgraced and both he and Mr Bogart could have a future at higher levels. Trainer Tony Cruz said before the race that he had been thinking about the BMW Hong Kong Derby for Pakistan Star. And John Moore, Mr Bogart's trainer, said he will look at the Grade 1 Panasonic Cup, adding his charge "maybe could even be a Group horse later on."
And then there was ...
Americium pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 M2 Technology La Senorita Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, worked to the lead three-wide and was all out to hold off San Antonio Stroll for a 3/4-length win. High Fashion Diva was third and the favorite, Big Game Baby, checked in fourth. Americium, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Brilliant Speed, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.16 with Sasha Risenhoover in the irons.
Tiz a Melody came with a late run to take Saturday's $75,000 El Jovan Stakes for 2-year-olds, defeating the favorite, Kielbasa, by 3/4 length. The next three all were within a half length in a tight finish. Tiz a Melody, an Ohio-bred Tizway gelding, covered 1 mile on the grass in 1:36.46 with Ted Grondon up.
California Diamond rallied to the lead in the stretch drive in Sunday's $70,000 Speakeasy Stakes for 2-year-olds and cleared, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Right Hand Man. Silver Assault finished third. California Diamond, a Harbor the Gold colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.93 with Kent Desormeaux riding.
Bronze Star led from the start in Sunday's $50,000 Bull Dog Handicap and prevailed by 1 3/4 lengths over G.G. Ryder. Kelly With a Twist finished third. Bronze Star, a 4-year-old Tapit colt, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.13 with Juan Hernandez up.
Crazy Prophet stalked the pace in Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) British Columbia Cup Classic, then took command in the lane, winning off by 3 1/2 lengths. Fifer led early and held second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Twistgrips. Crazy Prophet, a 3-year-old Rosberg gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:51.14 under Denis Araujo. The race was restricted to horses bred or sired in Washington State or in British Columbia.
In the similarly restricted $50,000 (Canadian) Distaff, Touching Promise tracked the early speed, rallied to the lead late and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Sailingforthesun. Locket was third. Touching Promise, a 6-year-old Touch Gold mare, ran 9 sloppy furlongs in 1:51.49 with Amadeo Perez in the irons.
News and Notes
Horse Racing Radio Network advances its foray into the Spanish language world as renowned Venezuelan announcer Jose Arturo Sulbaran has been signed on to provide the live Spanish call of all 13 Breeders' Cup Races next month from Santa Anita Sulbaran was the official announcer of the Venezuelan Triple Crown in 1998 and provided the Spanish calls of major events such as the Clasico del Caribe in Puerto Rico as well as the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. HRRN en Espanol debuted under the HRRN banner at Saratoga in July. It offers live coverage of major stakes races throughout the year as well as a weekly Spanish language talk show "Hablando de Hipismo" which translates to "Talking Racing" in English.