Gun Runner, Forever Unbridled and McCraken all ran to their stellar notices, making Saturday night's Churchill Downs card a centerpiece of weekend racing and a good guidepost to this fall's Breeders' Cup.
Belmont Park, Santa Anita and a few others contributed big races to the weekend's festivities.
Internationally, a win for the Niarchos family in the Prix Diane in France on Sunday clears the way for the opening on Tuesday of what promises to be a stellar Royal Ascot meeting.
Next week is about Ascot. So let's start this week's report with:
Gun Runner dusted seven rivals in Saturday evening's $500,000 Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. Quickly on the lead, the heavy favorite easily turned back a challenge from Stanford and drew off to win by 7 lengths, running 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.28 for jockey Florent Geroux. That time was just 0.28 second off the track mark set by Victory Gallop in 1999 and earned a spot in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic through the "Win and You're In" program. Honorable Duty and Breaking Lucky filled out the trifecta slots Saturday.
"I was loaded the entire trip around there," Geroux said. Winning trainer Steve Asmussen said the key to success with Gun Runner has been giving him time. "We always thought he would get better with age and he's proving that to us right now," Asmussen said. "It's special to win a Grade I but now we have our ticket punched to the Breeders' Cup. We got him to the winner's circle here at home and we set ourselves up for a great second-half campaign."
Gun Runner, a 4-year-old son of Candy Ride, was making his first start since finishing second in the March 25 Dubai World Cup, behind only Arrogate's remarkable last-to-first effort. He missed a chance to try that rival in January in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park because of quarantine at his Fair Grounds winter base. Instead, he traveled to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas in February and won the Grade III Razorback Handicap by 5 3/4 lengths.
Also in the handicap division:
McCraken, eighth in the Kentucky Derby, returned to the winner's circle Saturday night after a somewhat eventful victory in the $100,000 Grade III Matt Winn Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs. The Ghostzapper colt lost his footing at the start and jockey Brian Hernandez let him settle near the rear of the six-horse field. But when asked, McCraken circled rivals on the turn, took the lead at mid-stretch and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Colonelsdarktemper and Society Beau completed the order of finish. McCraken ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.84. "I loved that he relaxed," said winning trainer Ian Wilkes. "I loved everything about it." He said he hasn't considered McCraken's next race.
Timeline remains undefeated in four starts after taking Sunday's $100,000 Grade III betfair.com Pegasus Stakes in front-running fashion. The Hard Spun colt, trained by Chad Brown, was never threatened and worked clear in the final furlong to win by 3 1/2 lengths, ridden out by Javier Castellano. Talk Logistics was second, 13 1/4 lengths ahead of Honor the Fleet. Timeline finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.32. He was coming off a win in the Grade III Peter Pan at Belmont Park a month ago after earlier victories at Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park. "He was brilliant again," Brown said after the win.
Forever Unbridled returned to the races successfully in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs -- her first start since a gutsy third-place finish in last fall's Breeders' Cup Distaff. With Joel Rosario riding, the 5-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song raced well back early, came five-wide into the stretch and eventually worked by pacesetting Apologynotaccepted to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Carrumba was third, another 3 1/2 lengths in arrears. Forever Unbridled covered 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.94. Trainer Dallas Stewart already is looking forward to a Breeders' Cup Distaff reprise. "I told Joel to get her settled early and keep her out of trouble," Stewart said. "He was barely moving on her and she won easily. We just need to keep her happy and healthy and we'll have her ready for the Breeders' Cup." She earned a berth in that race at Del Mar through the "Win and You're In" scheme.
Faypien won a stretch duel in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita, holding off a late charge by Mopotism by a head at the wire. Spooky Woods was right there until deep stretch and finished third but was set down to fourth for drifting in and out, interfering with Majestic Quality. The latter was promoted to show money. Faypien, a Ghostzapper filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.17 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. She now has three straight wins. "There's always concerns going into a race but she really grinds it out every race and she's tough," said winning trainer Bob Baffert. "She's all heart and she was all heart that last hundred yards." Baffert also trains Noted and Quoted, who finished last of eight.
Kasaqui rallied around rivals into the stretch in Saturday evening's $200,000 Grade II Wise Dan Stakes, shook clear of pacesetter Chocolate Ride and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths over that rival. Conquest Panthera showed some late speed to take third while the favorite, Pleuven, lacked running room in the stretch and struggled home sixth. Kasaqui, a Brazilian-bred 7-year-old by Lasting Approval, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:40.26 for jockey James Graham, picking up his first win since last year's Grade III Arlington Handicap. He was second in last year's Wise Dan, beaten only 3/4 length by Pleuven. "I wish all of my races were this simple," Graham said. "Once I got him in the clear, he had his mind on winning. He ran a great race and I'm so proud of him."
Filly & Mare Turf
Sircat Sally roared to her seventh win without a loss Saturday at Santa Anita, winning the $200,000 Grade II Honeymoon Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a neck with a late move. The Surf Cat filly, with Mike Smith up, pressed the pace, got the lead turning for home and had just enough to prevail over Beau Recall. Pacific Wind blew in third. Sircat Sally ran 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:46.92, scoring her third graded stakes win. Asked if he was surprised to find his filly 7-for-7, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer replied, "Not really. She's a beautiful horse to train and she just does everything very professionally. You saddle her and she never turns a hair. She's very delightful to work with." He said her next race is undecided but will be at Del Mar.
Sweeping Paddy swept to the lead in the lane in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs and kept running, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Proctor's Ledge. Summer Luck was third after pressing the early pace. Sweeping Paddy, a Paddy O'Prado filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:47.62 with Luis Saez up. It was only her second career win but followed a close third in the Grade III Edgewood behind only La Coronel and Dream Dancing. "This horse is so special to us," said winning trainer Dale Romans. "I've trained her mother, grandmother and father. What a great win for us and the owners. She just came flying home at the end. I thought Luis gave her a perfect ride. What more could you ask for?"
Ballagh Rocks let Catapault fling out of the gate to a big lead in Sunday's $300,000 Grade III Poker Stakes at Belmont Park, took the lead from that one after a half mile and opened a daylight advantage of his own. In the final yards, Ballagh Rocks veered outside and back in but still managed to hold off a late surge by Projected by a neck. Night Prowler was third and Catapault faded to finish fourth. Ballagh Rocks, a 4-year-old colt by Stormy Atlantic, ran 1 mile on yielding turf after a Saturday deluge in 1:34.98 with Jose Lezcano in the irons. Owner Jerry Crawford of Donegal Racing said he and trainer Bill Mott discussed whether to run in the Poker or a $100,000 stakes in Minnesota. "Bill said we're running in the Poker. So I thought, 'Okay, I'm buying a plane ticket if he's that confident.'"
Filly & Mare Sprint
Bendable waited behind a quick early pace duel in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Desert Stormer at Santa Anita, advanced three-wide into the lane and picked up the pieces, winning by 1/2 length over Coniah. The early leaders, Pretty N Cool and Invested Prospect, finished third and fifth, respectively. Bendable, a 4-year-old filly by Horse Greeley, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.04 under a well-timed ride by Mike Smith. The Claiborne Farm homebred now has four wins, a second and a third from six starts. "I've come out to work her a couple of times and her works were just better and better and I knew from her last work that she'd run big today," Smith said.
Shimmering Aspen prompted the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Alma North Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Laurel Park, then gave her rivals the slip, winning off by 5 3/4 lengths. The early leader, Crabcakes, held on for second, 1/2 length ahead of Follow No One. Yellow Agate, making her first start since last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, was fourth. Shimmering Aspen, a daughter of Malibu Moon, ran 7 furlongs on a good, sealed track in 1:23.12 with Steve Hamilton riding for trainer Rodney Jenkins. She has won four of her last five starts with a fading, seventh-place finish in the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan the only blemish in that stretch. "My people did a great job after the Black-Eyed Susan. They got her confidence back," Jenkins said.
Classy Class was all class in Saturday's $100,000 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park. Leading all the way, the 5-year-old son of Discreetly Mine was never challenged in the stretch and won by 2 3/4 lengths over Just Call Kenny. Adirondack King was a neck farther back in third. Classy Class ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.27. Antonio Gallardo picked up the mount after Paco Lopez was kicked in the paddock prior to the day's first race. "He enjoyed being on the front and had a nice, long stride and never stopped," Gallardo said. "He hit the quarter pole and gave me another kick in the stretch."
The International Scene:
Senga, making her fourth start in just eight weeks, rallied down the straight to win Sunday's Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines at Chantilly by 1 length over another pair of late-runners -- Sister Charlie and Terrakova. Shutter Speed, with Frankie Dettori up, had moved to the lead with 2 furlongs to run in the Diane but could not hold the advantage and settled for fourth. Rhododendron, carrying the Ballydoyle hopes, was pulled up by jockey Ryan Moore halfway through, reportedly having bled. Senga, representing a fifth generation of Niarchos breeding, is an American-bred filly by Blame out of the A.P. Indy mare Beta Leo and her bloodlines are bluer than the ocean on a calm day. She won a Group 3 event over the same course to start her 3-year-old season but then struggled home 11th as the favorite in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, or French 1,000 Guineas on May 13. On June 4, she could do no better than third in a field of five in the Group 2 Prix de Sandringham. But jockey Stephane Pasquier and trainer Pascal Bary reckoned she had another run in her and that, despite her family history at the mile distance, could go longer. She proved them right in the Diane, run at 1 mile plus 2 1/2 furlongs. Bary said Senga is due a rest and might resume her campaign at Deauville in August.
Royal Ascot gets under way with a bang on Tuesday. The first race is one of the best of the five-day festival -- the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes featuring the fearsome Ribchester against a field of quality rivals including American invaders Miss Temple City (trained by Graham Motion) and American Patriot (Todd Pletcher).
The quality racing continues through Saturday, with group stakes each day and significant American participation in most of the big ones.
Tune back in Thursday for early results and a preview of the final two days of the Royal meeting.
God Save the Queen.
Around the ovals:
Hay Dakota came out atop a three-way stretch battle in Saturday's $100,000 Mystic Lake Mile, defeating Majestic Pride by a head with the pacesetter, Way Striking, fading to finish third, another 1/2 length back. The favorite, One Mean Man, finished fourth and Hootenanny was scratched. Hay Dakota, a 4-year-old Haynesfield gelding, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:35.37 with Denny Velazquez in the irons. This is the race that Bill Mott rejected in favor of the Poker Handicap for Ballagh Rocks.
Sweet Tapper was along just in time to nip the favorite, Ista Erma, by a neck in Saturday's $100,000 Lady Canterbury Stakes. Seeking Treasure was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. Sweet Tapper, a 4-year-old Tapit filly, got 1 mile on the grass in 1:35.88 with Orlando Mojica up.
Presque Isle Downs
Natural Wonder, at odds of 15-1, ran down pacesetting favorite Pretty Perfection in the final yards to take Sunday's $100,000 Satin and Lace Stakes for fillies and mares by 1/2 length. Miss Gossip was third. Natural Wonder, a 5-year-old Summer Bird mare, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:02.85 with Luis Garcia riding.
Minks Aprise rallied from the middle of the 10-horse field to win Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Trillium Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 length over Ice Festival. Lilly's Goldie was up for third. Minks Aprise, a 5-year-old Northern Afleet mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.72 while toting Rafael Hernandez.
Wonderment tracked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Dancin Renee Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares, circled the leaders and kicked away to a 5-lengths victory. Absatootly finished second with Court Dancer third. The odds-on favorite, Clipthecouponannie, finished fourth. Wonderment, a 4-year-old Cosmonaut filly, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:11.63 with Dylan Davis riding. The race was the third on the card and the remaining races were canceled due to a downpour.
Something Else stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Ginger Punch Stakes for Florida-bred fillies and mares, made her move in the lane and then defeated a late surge by Bitacora to win by 1/2 length. The favorite, Family Meeting, finished a neck farther back in third. Something Else, a 4-year-old daughter of Leroidesanimaux, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.58 with Edgard Zayas up.
Mystic Sky rallied from last of 10 to win Saturday's $100,000 Soldier's Dream Stakes for Florida-breds by a neck over front-running My Point Exactly. The latter then was disqualified to fourth for drifting out late, promoting Two Step Time to second and Galleon Mast to show money. Mystic Sky, with Luca Panici in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on the grass in 1:43.42.
Lovely Loyree went quickly to the lead under Jose Valdivia Jr. in Saturday's $50,000 Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap for Illinois-bred fillies and mares and edged away in the lane, winning by 2 1/4 lengths. America Mon Ami was second, another 2 1/4 lengths to the good of the favorite, Prado's Sweet Ride. Lovely Loyree, a 7-year-old Cactus Ridge mare, ran 1 1/16 miles over yielding turf in 1:49.13.
Oak Brook led from the start in Saturday's $50,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap for state-breds and held off a stretch challenge from Cammack to win by 3/4 length. Super Soldier was third and the big favorite -- and local legend -- The Pizza Man, settled for fourth with a late run since last November. Oak Brook, a 5-year-old Giant's Causeway gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on yielding turf in 1:47.87, well off the course record of 1:39.33 set in 2012 by The Pizza Man.
Net Gain posted a big gain in the late running of Saturday's $65,000 Cyclones Handicap for Iowa-bred colts, geldings and horses, advancing from last of eight to win by a head over the favorite, One Fine Dream. Scrutinizer led briefly and salvaged third, another 1 1/4 lengths back. Net Gain, a 5-year-old Include gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.38 under Terry Thompson.
Mach One Rules got by the early leader, Prime Engine, in the final yards of Sunday's $50,000 Budweiser Stakes, winning by 3/4 length. Togrammashousewego hi-ho'ed late and wide to take down show money. Mach One Rules, a 4-year-old Harbor the Gold gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13.94 with Isaias Enriquez in the irons.
Profound Moment worked her way to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Washington State Legislators Stakes for fillies and mares and kicked away in the stretch, winning by 2 lengths from the favorite, Citizen Kitty. Perhaps a Pie rallied for third. Profound Moment, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred filly by Haynesfield, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.90 with Javier Matias up.
Trooper John rallied past Bar No Q in the late going to win Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Ky Alta Handicap for 3-year-olds by 3/4 length. Xtreme Lyra finished third, another 2 1/2 lengths back. Trooper John, a Pennsylvania-bred Colonel John gelding, got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.64 with Keishan Balgobin in the irons.
Ready Intaglio was along late to post a 16-1 upset win in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Spangled Jimmy Handicap. Hemlock Channel also showed late foot to take second and Hold the Giant was third. Ready Intaglio, a Kentucky-bred Indygo Shiner colt, finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.72 under Kyle Carter.