For the second year in a row, Bob Baffert came to the Travers Stakes with an improving but unheralded 3-year-old and left with a potential star.
Last year, Arrogate won the Travers and went on to international glory. Saturday, West Coast turned the same trick. Could those two meet in just over two months' time in the Breeders' Cup Classic? Read on ...
On balance, Saturday was not the best day for favorites at Saratoga -- known as the "graveyard of favorites" -- as Songbird, Paulassilverlining, Irish invader Idaho, and the winners of all three Triple Crown races went down to defeat.
On the flip side, sprint champion Drefong was an easy winner, Lady Eli did it again, and Practical Joke put one in the win column for the chalk players.
Elsewhere during a busy and important weekend, there was more graded stakes action at Del Mar, Woodbine and Monmouth Park.
Internationally, the Ebor meeting at York in the north of England featured a favorite for the Arc d'Triomphe and three qualifiers for the Breeders' Cup World Championships. And the reigning Melbourne Cup winner was back in action Down Under.
Over, under and all around, here we go:
Last year, trainer Bob Baffert sent Arrogate from California to win the Travers at Saratoga and on to take the Breeders' Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup in succession. This year, West Coast could be off on that same trajectory after coasting home an easy gate-to-wire winner in the $1 million Travers -- the "Midsummer Derby" -- at Saratoga. Gunnevera was second with a late run but 3 1/4 lengths shy of the winner and Irap was third.
The race was unkind to the three Triple Crown race victors. Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit was fourth. Preakness winner Cloud Computing checked in eighth and Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming continued his slide, reporting ninth. The favorite, Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan, struggled early, then rallied from last of 12 to finish fifth.
West Coast, under Mike Smith, was never seriously challenged and not really asked for his best run at any point in the 1 1/4 miles. He set a comfortable clip and finished in 2:01.19, upping his record to five wins and two seconds from seven starts. With the rest of the division a total shambles, year-end honors seem his to lose.
"We got control of the canoe for one more year," Baffert said by phone from California. Saratoga each year repaints the infield canoe with the colors carried by the Travers winner.
With the prospect of West Coast meeting Arrogate in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Smith has a decision to make: Which of the Baffert-trained stars will he ride? "I'll tell you who he's going to ride," said West Coast's owner, Gary West. "It's not going to be our horse, and I fully understand that."
That said, neither West nor Baffert would fully commit even to running West Coast against Arrogate in the Classic. "We don't know what we're going to do with our horse yet is the truth of the matter," West said. "Way too early," Baffert added.
But with Arrogate riding two straight losses, there will be a mighty temptation to take the plunge.
West, who paid $425,000 for the Flatter colt as a yearling, said he was confident going into the Travers but by no means certain of the outcome.
"I thought he had a decent shot in here," West said. "But you've got to remember you've got the winner of the Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont, the first and second finishers of the Haskell, the first and second finishers of the Jim Dandy. You have to go back a lot of years in history to see a Travers with this many quality horses in it."
Sadler's Joy started last and raced well back, then came absolutely flying outside of rivals in the stretch run of Saturday's $1 million Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga and came away with a 1/2-length victory. Money Multiplier settled for second, a nose in front of Bigger Picture. Sadler's Joy ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:24.58 with Julien Leparoux in the irons.
Two well-fancied Europeans, Idaho and Erupt, finished sixth and fifth, respectively. Idaho contested the early pace outside long shot Frank Conversation and neither of them had nothing left for the stretch drive. Erupt chased the pace and was swallowed up in the final sixteenth.
Sadler's Joy, a 4-year-old Kitten's Joy colt out of the Dynaformer mare Dynaire, won the Grade III Pan American at Gulfstream Park in April, then posted three consecutive third-place finishes in the Grade I Man o' War, Grade I Manhattan and Grade II Bowling Green.
"This horse has that tremendous kick and he did it today," said winning trainer Dallas Green, who said the $500,000 Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont on Sept. 30 is next on the card.
Idaho, a Royal Ascot winner and full brother to defending Breeders' Cup Turf winner Highland Reel, was a disappointment for both jockey Ryan Moore and T.J. Comerford, assistant to trainer Aidan O'Brien. "He just ran a little disappointing for us, that's all," Comerford said. " I was happy with how he was going," Moore added. "Just disappointed in the end."
Filly & Mare Turf
Lady Eli waited behind pacesetting Dickinson around the turn and into the stretch in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa Stakes at Saratoga, came to even terms with a furlong to go and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Dickinson held second, a neck ahead of Roca Rojo. Lady Eli, with Irad Ortiz Jr. piloting, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:39.70, picking up her third straight win and 10th from 13 starts in a career interrupted by a near-fatal bout of laminitis. She was second in each of her three losses, each time by less than 1 length.
"I have so much confidence in her," trainer Chad Brown said of Lady Eli. "You never really know until they cross the wire, but when she tipped out I know how devastating her turn-of-foot is, and I felt confident she would get it done. She really is a horse of a lifetime. Everything she's overcome. Just her natural abilities are remarkable, and she's just a rare, rare horse."
Enstone got first crack at the lead in the stretch run of Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Colleen for 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine and made the advantage stick, beating the favorite, Grizzel, by 1 1/4 lengths. Reverse was third with a late run at a big price. Enstone, a Tiznow filly from the Mark Casse stable, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.28. Winning rider Patrick Husbands said he's been waiting for a stalk-and-pounce trip with the filly. "Today, I had a nice pace in front of me and she did what she does in the morning running them down, and when I asked her, she just took off," Husbands said. Enstone now has four wins and five seconds from a dozen career starts but Sunday's was her first graded score.
Bar of Gold got a ground-saving trip under Irad Ortiz Jr. in Friday's $150,000 Yaddo Stakes for New York-bred distaffers at Saratoga and that was enough advantage to defeat the favorite, Fourstar Crook, by 1 1/4 lengths. Flipcup was third. Bar of Gold, a 5-year-old Medaglia d'Oro mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:40.12. The John Kimmel trainee has been effective on the main track in graded stakes but was making just her fourth start -- and getting her first win -- on the green course. Fourstar Crook saw an eight-race winner streak go by the boards.
At Canterbury Park in Minnesota, Giant Payday trailed the field early in Saturday's $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby, advanced around the turn and was up in the final sixteenth to win by 1 length over My Bariley. Sakonneet was third. Giant Payday, a Giant's Causeway colt, ran 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:40.29 with Chris Landeros riding. Trained at Churchill Downs by Ian Wilkes, the colt posted his second straight win following a score on the Ellis Park greensward Aug. 4.
Ginger N Rye rallied up the hedge in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 Smart N Fancy Stakes for fillies and mares at Saratoga. Miss Ella came from far back to snatch second, 1 length ahead of Wheatfield. The favorite, Fair Point, got home sixth. Ginger N Rye, a 5-year-old More Than Ready mare, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:00.75 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons. That time was only 0.29 second shy of the course record. "She ran great," said Hunter Rankin, president of owner Sagamore Farm. "We were bringing her back to go 5 1/2 and then stretch her out to a mile, but she ran so well the first time, we decided to keep her at 5 1/2."
Forever Unbridled ran down the middle of the track through the final furlong of Saturday's $700,000 Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga and caught Songbird in the shadow of the wire, winning by a neck. Eskenformoney was third and Going for Broke completed the order of finish. Forever Unbridled, a 5-year-old mare by Unbridled's Song, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.16 with Joel Rosario up. It was only the second career loss for Songbird. The first came in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff, when Beholder caught her in the final strides with Forever Unbridled third.
Forever Unbridled, owned and bred by Charles Fipke and trained by Dallas Stewart, now is 2-for-2 this season. She won the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs in June in her first race since the Breeders' Cup. Saturday's race was a "Win and You're In" for this year's Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff at Del Mar.
"I decided to stay away from Songbird because I was moving very well today, so I stayed away a little bit and let her run," Rosario said. Mike Smith, who rode Songbird, said that decision "was a great move on his part. Maybe I should have come out to him."
Stewart said Forever Unbridled likely will go to the $400,000 Grade I Beldame at Belmont Park on Sept. 30 before the Breeders' Cup. "The way she's training and the way she's always trained, she's a great mare," he added. "She's powerful and strong like (1988 Kentucky Derby winner) Winning Colors was. She's that type of mare."
Songbird's owner, Rick Porter, said his filly didn't seem herself in the race. Sunday morning, however, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said the filly checked out "absolutely fine."
Defending Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Drefong served notice he's ready to defend his title, winning Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Forego at Saratoga by an easy 4 lengths. Awesome Slew was second with Tom's Ready third but none of his rivals was a match for Drefong, who finished in 1:21.12 under Mike Smith.
In his only previous start as a 4-year-old, the Gio Ponti colt ducked in at the start of the Grade I Bing Crosby at Del Mar and dumped Smith, resulting in only his second career loss. Last year at this time, he won the Grade I King's Bishop at the Spa -- the 3-year-old sprint race now known as the H. Allen Jerkens.
"He just absolutely loves it here," Smith said. "He ran dynamite today."
"We put a lot of time into that horse," winning trainer Bob Baffert said by phone from California. "We gave him a lot of time off and brought him back. It was a lot of patience there. To bring him back to the Breeders' Cup we wanted to get two good runs in him. Sometimes things work out for the best."
In this year's $500,000 Grade I H. Allen Jerkens, formerly known as the King's Bishop ...
Practical Joke rode the rail well behind pacesetting Takaful, kicked into gear on the turn, came around Takaful at the top of the lane and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that one. American Anthem made a late, wide run and was just up for third. Practical Joke, an Into Mischief colt, finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby, making no progress in the final furlongs. "At one turn, he's 100 percent," said winning jockey Joel Rosario. "He always tries hard."
Practical Joke's five victories, from nine starts, have all come at 1 mile or less and winning trainer Chad Brown said he has a tough decision to make about the Breeders' Cup races for Defong.
"Looking at the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, it's a tricky race because it's around two turns. He's undefeated on one turn, but the mile distance seems perfect for him, so if I had to guess right now, that's where we'll end up. But I'll talk to the owners about it, enjoy this and of course observe the horse."
Back out in California, Giant Expectations angled six-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Pat O'Brien Stakes at Del Mar, ran by Calculator and won by 1 1/2 length over that rival. Silent Bird finished third and the lukewarm favorite, Moe Candy, finished last of 10 after showing the way for the first few furlongs. Giant Expectations, a 4-year-old colt by Frost Giant, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.02 with Gary Stevens aboard. The Peter Eurton trainee took seven tries to find the winner's circle but now has won three of his last four starts. He also won a spot in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile through the "Win and You're In" program. "I think he'll actually be better off if they run him a mile," Stevens said. "He'll have more time to settle going into the first turn and I expect he'll run big."
Battle of Midway, the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, kicked away in the stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes for 3-year-olds at Del Mar by 6 1/4 lengths. Gato Del Oro was second, 4 1/4 lengths to the good of Klimt. Battle of Midway, a Smart Strike colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.94 with Flavien Prat up. After his excellent effort in the Run for the Roses, Battle of Midway returned to California to win the Grade III Affirmed at Santa Anita, then journeyed east again to fade from the lead and finish sixth in the Grade I Haskell, running against many of the also-rans in Saturday's Travers. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer added blinkers for the Shared Belief. "Much better today," Prat said. "The blinkers had to help. He seemed much more focused. He did just what I asked him to do. He's a good horse. We know that. He ran third in the Derby. You know he's a good horse."
Filly & Mare Sprint
By the Moon took the lead right out of the gate in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Ketel One Ballerina at Saratoga, slowed things right down and then held on late to win by a head over Highway Star. Carina Mia was third. The 7 furlongs went in 1:22.97. By the Moon, a 5-year-old Indian Charlie mare, won a pair of Grade III events at Belmont Park this spring, then finished behind Paulassilverlining and Finley'sluckycharm in the Grade II Honorable Miss earlier in the Saratoga meeting. Rajiv Maragh said he and trainer Michelle Nevin eyed the possibility By the Moon could get away with setting a soft early pace. "I was just really happy that my filly could adapt," he said. "It worked out perfectly."
By the Moon earned a spot in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Del Mar through the "Win and You're In" program. "We just have to regroup and plan out our next couple of months and decide what way to do it best," Nevin said.
Ami's Mesa took the lead at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Seaway Stakes at Woodbine and quickly put matters to rest, winning off by 6 1/4 lengths over Sky My Sky. Tulsa Queen finished third. Ami's Mesa, a 4-year-old Sky Mesa filly, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:22.17 with Luis Contreras in the irons. It was her third straight win.
Aveenu Malcainu emerged from a pace-stalking trip to win Friday's $200,000 Funny Cide Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-olds by 2 1/2 lengths over Inalienable Rights. The favorite, previously undefeated What a Catch, settled for third. Aveenu Malcainu, an Into Mischief colt, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.69 with Luis Saez up for trainer Jeremiah Englehart. He now is 2-for-2. He hasn't done anything spectacular. He just kind of does it and it seems like it's real easy," Englehart said. He said Aveenu Malcainu bumped his head before the race, suffering minor injuries. The owners, he added, want to start him in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Oct. 7. "I just want to get him back in the stall."
Cause We Are Loyal came from off the pace in Friday's $200,000 Seeking the Ante Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-old fillies at Saratoga and outfinished Newport Breeze and Miss Mystique for the win. The favorite, I Still Miss You, contested the lead, then faded to finish last of nine. Cause We Are Loyal, a Creative Cause filly, started her career in California for trainer Doug O'Neill and got her first win at Los Alamitos July 15. With Mario Gutierrez in the irons, she finished Friday's 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:20.21. O'Neill said he's not sure what path the filly will follow. "There are a lot of options for her," he added.
On the international front
The Group 1 fixtures at York's prestigious Ebor meeting wound up with a bang as Marsha nailed heavily favored Lady Aurelia in the final jump of the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes on Friday. Frankie Dettori had Lady Aurelia on the lead through most of the 5 furlongs and raised an arm in celebration after crossing the wire. Well to his right, however, the camera found Marsha a whisker in front. Marsha, a daughter of Acclamation, finished third behind Lady Aurelia and Profitable in the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot. In the interim she was second and third in a pair of Group 2 events, resulting in 8-1 odds for the Nunthorpe.
Earlier in the all-too-brief meeting, super filly Enable continued her march to year-end honors with a dominating victory in the Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks. And Ulysses came from off the pace to win the Group 1 Juddmonte International, defeating 3-year-old stars Churchill and Barney Roy.
Marsha, Enable and Ulysses all earned spots in the Breeders' Cup World Championships in November through the Breeders' Cup Challenge program. Enable's main target, however, is the Group 1 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly Oct. 1.
Sunday's Group 3 Snow Fairy Fillies Stakes at the Curragh was a bounceback race for both Rain Goddess and her rider, Ryan Moore. Rain Goddess, a 3-year-old daughter of Galileo, seized the lead after a stalking trip and held on to win by 1/2 length over Intimidation. It was her first outing since an eighth-place finish in the Grade I Beverly D. on the Arlington Million undercard Aug. 12. Before that, she had three straight seconds, including the Group 1 Darley Irish Oaks, behind only Enable. Moore flew back across the Atlantic after piloting Idaho to his substandard finish at Saratoga (see above: Turf).
Two races earlier, Moore guided U S Navy Flag to a dominating, 6-lengths win in the Group 3 Plusvital Round Tower Stakes for 2-year-olds. U S Navy Flag, by War Front out of the Galileo mare Misty For Me, is a full brother to star 3-year-old filly Roly Poly.
Melbourne Cup winner Almandin could do no better than second in his seasonal debut in the MSC Signs Handicap Saturday at Moonee Valley -- good enough under the circumstances for those backing him for a Melbourne Cup repeat. The 8-year-old German-bred gelding by Monsun did manage to get to the lead late but, handicapped by a significant weight shift, cold not hold off Pacodali, finishing 3/4 length behind that rival. Almandin capped a three-race winning streak with the narrow victory over Heartbreak City in Australia's top race last Nov. 1 and started Saturday without benefit of an official trial heat.
Around the ovals:
Twisted Tom, the heavy favorite, drew off in the stretch to win Friday's $250,000 Albany Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds by 4 1/2 lengths. Can You Diggit was second, followed by Pat On the Back. Twisted Tom, a Creative Cause gelding, got 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.25 with Javier Castellano riding for trainer Chad Brown. Twisted Tom now has won five of his last six starts, a string interrupted only by a sixth-place finish, beaten 27 3/4 lengths, in the Belmont Stakes, where he was cut badly during a first-turn traffic mishap.
Sunset Ridge pressed the pace in Friday's $200,000 Fleet Indian Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies, took over when given some rein by Jose Ortiz and won off by 6 1/4 lengths. Bonita Bianca was second, 15 1/2 lengths ahead of Somekindasexy. Sunset Ridge, a daughter of Algorithms, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.28, scoring her fourth win from as many starts. Trainer Chad Brown undoubtedly will have bigger plans for her.
Get Jets hit the afterburners in the stretch run in Friday's $150,000 West Point Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds and was up in time to win by 1/2 length over Offering Plan. Kharafa finished third. Get Jets, a Scat Daddy colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:39.49, just 0.42 second off the course record, for jockey John Velazquez and trainer Tony Dutrow. He now has won half his 10 starts.
Defiant Honor trailed only a breakaway leader early in Thursday's $100,000 Riskaverse Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, reeled in that one and went on to win by 1/2 length over Fizzy Friday. Bernavida finished third. Defiant Honor, a Speightstown filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.67 with Jose Lezcano in the irons.
Munny Spunt won Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Torrey Pines Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on a disqualification as Zapperkat drifted out and bumped her rival in deep stretch before getting to the wire a head in front. Bernina Star, closing stoutly in the late going, finished third, 3 lengths farther back. Munny Spunt, a Munnings filly, was ridden by Drayden Van Dyke. The 1 mile on a fast track went in 1:37.20.
Shenandoah Queen got first run to the lead in the stretch in Friday's $100,000 Tranquility Lake Stakes for fillies and mares and held off the favorite, Faithfully, for a 3/4-length victory. Motown Lady was well back in third. Shenandoah Queen, a 5-year-old Henny Hughes mare, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.30 with Victor Espinoza in the irons.
Bustin Out busted right out of the gate in Sunday's $60,000 Eleven North Handicap for New Jersey-bred fillies and mares, led all the way and won by 2 lengths over Love Came to Town. It's the Truth was third. Bustin Out, a 5-year-old mare by Bustin Stones, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.28 with Jose Ferrer in the irons.
Rainbow Heir waited behind the pace, slipped through a hole along the rail and went on to win Sunday's $60,000 New Jersey Breeders' Handicap for state-breds by 1 1/4 lengths over Saucy Don. Visionary Ruler led early and saved show money. Rainbow Heir, a 7-year-old entire son of Wildcat Heir, finished about 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.82 with Antonio Gallardo up.
Fuzzy Muzzle, under Nik Juarez, rallied from last of nine to win Sunday's $60,000 Charles Hesse II Handicap for 3-year-old New Jersey-breds by 3 1/4 lengths. The favorite, Chubilicious, beat the others and early leader Jerandson finished third. Fuzzy Muzzle, a Closing Argument gelding, closed things out in 1:42.74.
Diabolical Dame saved ground early in Saturday's $70,000 Carlos Salazar Stakes for New Mexico-bred fillies and mares, advanced along the rail into the stretch and kicked away to win by a neck from Tijuana. Tilla Cat was third. Diabolical Dame, a 5-year-old mare by Diabolical, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.68 with Riomes Chirinos in the irons.
Patriots Rule came from last of six to take Saturday's off-the-turf $50,000 Brooks Fields Stakes by 1/2 length over Way Striking. Malibu Pro finished third. Patriots Rule, a 6-year-old Tribal Rule gelding, ran 1 mile on a good main track in 1:36.17 under Andrew Ramgeet.
Saturday's Minnesota H.B.P.A Distaff also came off the turf only to have Beach Flower rally for a 3/4-length upset win. Seeking Paradise and Kera Kera filled the trifecta spots. Beach Flower, a 4-year-old Flower Alley filly, got home in 1:38.22 with Martin Escobar up.
Moonlit Song raced behind the early leader in Saturday's $50,000 Sylvia Bishop Memorial for West Virginia-bred 3-year-old fillies, took over when that one stopped badly and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Lies and Scandals. Tricky Windsor was third. Moonlit Song, a Fiber Sonde filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.31 with Christian Hiraldo in the irons.
Blu Moon Ace led comfortably throughout Saturday's $75,000 Coalition Stakes and went on to win by 3 1/2 length over Struth. Rockinn On Bye was third in the 6 1/2-furlongs race. Blu Moon Ace, a 4-year-old Malibu Moon gelding, finished in 1:15.28 with Gerald Almodovar in the irons.
Mo Don't know had things all his own way in Saturday's $75,000 Governor's Buckeye Stakes for Ohio-breds. Leading from the break, the 4-year-old Uncle Mo gelding won by 1 1/2 lengths over Eightthehardway. Cake Pop was third. Mo Don't know ran 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:06.22 under Ricardo Feliciano.
Tango Run was first from gate to wire in Sunday's $75,000 Ta Dah Stakes for 2-year-old Ohio-breds, winning by 2 lengths over the favorite Missap. Emmy's Candy finished third in the 6-furlong test over a fast strip. Rex Stokes III rode the winning Run Away and Hide filly, who finished in 1:10.33.
Six races for Washington-breds, each worth $50,000, comprised Sunday's Washington Cup program. The track was fast.
Bella Mia, the prohibitive favorite, led all the way to a 1-length victory over Frisky Bear in the Juvenile Fillies. Sippin Fire came from off the pace to a popular win in the Colts & Geldings Juvenile, winning by 5 1/2 lengths from Elliott Bay.
Grace Bay stalked the pace in the Sophomore Fillies, then took over and won by 8 1/4 lengths over Targa. Pulpit's Power outfinished Keller's Gold in the Sophomore for 3-year-olds, scoring by 1 1/2 lengths.
Exit Sixty Slew found her best run in the stretch and took the Filly & Mare Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths over Citizen Kitty. And Mach One Rules ran down pacesetting Dedicated to You to win the Muckleshoot Tribal Classic by 1 1/4 lengths.