Elate won the Delaware Handicap and Axelrod flew in from California to upset the Indiana Derby in the highlights of weekend racing action.
Two-year-old action started to heat up from coast to coast with even some of the state-bred races worth a look.
On the international front, Alpha Centauri and U S Navy Flag starred at Newmarket's July meet and both now are pointed toward international travel. Hong Kong wound up its season with Zac Purton unseating Joao Moreira as top jockey and a bonanza of commingling money boosting the turnover total.
Elate, showing no signs of rust from an eight-months layoff, dominated Saturday's $750,000 Grade II Delaware Handicap, taking over turning for home and kicking away through the lane. At the wire, the 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly was 3 1/4 lengths in front. Long shot Sneaky Betty held on for second, a neck in front of Teresa Z. Farrell was scratched.
Elate had not raced since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last fall at Del Mar. Going into that race, she had won the Grade I Alabama and the Grade I Beldame at Saratoga.
"I thought it was a good performance," said winning trainer Bill Mott. "She went early, she held on well and she did what she had to do. It looked like when she took over, she did it with authority and she finished up. Was she getting a little tired at the end? Well, she could have been. But she had a right to."
Mott said the Personal Ensign at Saratoga is the next target with a return to the Breeders' Cup the ultimate goal for the season.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Indiana Oaks was a tour de force for the 1-10 favorite Talk Veuve to Me. The Violence filly waited behind the long shot leader, took over when asked by jockey Julien Leparoux and promptly dashed off to win by 4 3/4 lengths, ridden out. Figarella's Queen was second, 6 3/4 lengths better than Kelly's Humor. Talk Veuve to Me ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast Indiana Grand main track in 1:43.15.
Talk Veuve to Me achieved a breakthrough after second-place finishes in the Grade II Eight Belles at Churchill Downs and Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park and trainer Rodolphe Brisette said his filly has some roadblocks to success.
"She's very unlucky being born in one of the best years," he said. "How many good fillies do we have this year between Monomoy Girl, Midnight Bisou and Red Ruby and I'm sure I've left some out. It's a very, very strong year for 3-year-old fillies. I don't know where everybody wants to go. She may have to face them and turn the tables on some to be in the top three. But we are what we are."
Also at Indiana Grand on Saturday evening, Pinch Hit shadowed the pace in the $100,000 Mari Hulman George Stakes for fillies and mares, dueled with pacesetting Awestruck through the first half of the stretch run, then edged clear to win by 3/4 length. Awestruck was second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Dutch Parrot. Pinch Hit, a 4-year-old Harlan's Holiday filly, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.92 with Julien Leparoux riding for trainer Brad Cox.
At Woodbine, Gamble's Ghost was along late to deny Let It Ride Mom by a neck in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Ontario Matron at Woodbine. My Arch Enemy, the early leader, surrendered first to Let It Ride Mom, then held on to third by a head over Malibu Bonnie. Gamble's Ghost, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.88 with Eurico Da Silva riding. She now has won six of her last eight starts.
"I had a little concern because it was an awful nice horse that was on the lead and it looked like she was going to win it," said Gamble's Ghost's trainer, Josie Carroll. "This mare, when she sees a horse in front of her, she's going to catch it. That's what I said to Eurico, 'Don't try to change her style. I know they're probably going to back the pace up, but you can't change her.' She likes to make that one run."
Axelrod flew in from California, then came flying from the back of a nine-horse field to win Saturday evening's $500,000 Grade III Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand by a head over pacesetter Trigger Warning. Title Ready was third and the favorite, King Zachary, settled for fourth. Axelrod, a Florida-bred Warrior's Reward colt, finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.00 with Florent Geroux riding.
Trained by Michael McCarthy, Axelrod was coming off a second-place finish in the Grade III Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita June 10.
"We felt confident about him going into the race," said McCarthy assistant Natalie Roberts. "He's a very classy, laid back and easy-going horse. We knew he was a closer and with a lot of speed in the race, we thought he would race well. As far as I know, he'll be shipping back to California pretty soon unless the owners and trainer decide something else."
Pioneer Spirit held a short lead through the opening furlongs of Friday night's $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Memorial at Indiana Grand, then battled the rest of the way with Seeking the Soul before prevailing by a head over that rival. Guest Suite was third with Lookin At Lee and Papa Zulu rounding out the order of finish. Pioneer Spirit, a 5-year-old son of Malibu Moon, got 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:39.82 with Florent Geroux in the irons. Brad Cox trains the winner.
Even when things don't go quite right for trainer Bob Baffert these days, he still can manage to come up roses. Thus it was in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Los Alamitos Derby. The Baffert-trained favorite, Ax Man, led into the stretch but then decided enough was enough and gave up the lead to Draft Pick. But who's that coming from last down the lane to edge Draft Pick by a head? Why, that's Once On Whiskey, the "B team" from the Baffert barn.
Ax Man did hold on for third, 5 lengths behind Draft Pick, as Once On Whiskey finished 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.93 with Flavien Prat in the irons. Once On Whiskey, a Bodemeister colt, scored his second win from four starts.
"He's been working well and we've been wanting to stretch him out," Baffert said of Once On Whiskey, "so we decided to put him in here. In the stretch I could tell Ax Man was starting to get tired and I saw a horse coming and I said, 'That's me', so that was good. He needed the whole stretch to get there ... I like what I saw from him today."
Golden Brown, taking a big step up from state-bred competition in New Jersey, tracked the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Kent Stakes for 3-year-olds at Delaware Park, advanced between rivals on the turn and got clear in the lane to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Hot Springs. Carrick was third and the favorite, Untamed Domain, finished sixth after being checked on the turn in a traffic jam that result in a disqualification for a rival.
Golden Brown, an Offlee Wild colt, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.06 with Jairo Rendon in the irons. It was his third career win but first against winners in open company, let alone in a graded stakes.
"After his first time on turf, where he ran a fantastic race against tough older horses, we were looking for a straight 3-year-old race," said winning trainer Patrick McBurney. "This was a Grade III but we thought we would take a shot. We looked at the numbers and his stacked up within a couple points of the highest number. We thought he would improve and he could only help himself by running 1-2-3 a race like this."
McBurney said he will look for "something at Saratoga" going long on the grass for 3-year-olds for Golden Brown's next race.
Dot Matrix rallied by pacesetting Siem Riep in deep stretch to take Saturday's $100,000 Warrior Veterans Stakes at Indiana Grand by 1 length. Siem Riep finished second with One Mean Man third, another 1 1/4 lengths in arrears. Dot Matrix, with Florent Geroux riding for trainer Brad Cox, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.10. The winner is a 5-year-old New York-bred Freud gelding.
Filly & Mare Turf
Lovely Loyree pressed the pace established by Hachi in Saturday's $100,000 Indiana General Assembly Distaff Stakes, took the point at the quarter pole and battled on to win by a neck. Hachi was second, just 1 length ahead of Kyllachy Queen. The favorite, Lovely Bernadette, finished sixth. Lovely Loyree, a 7-year-old Illinois-bred mare by Cactus Ridge, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.54 under Fernando De La Cruz. Michelle Boyce is the winning trainer.
Voodoo Song led from gate to wire in Saturday's $150,000 Forbidden Apple Stakes at Belmont Park, winning by 1 length over Projected. Offering Plan was third. The favorite, Disco Partner, flattened out late and reported fifth. Voodoo Song, a 4-year-old English Channel colt, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:31.68 with Manny Franco up. That's just 0.44 second off the course record. Voodoo Song, winner of the Grade III Saranac last year at the Spa, finished third in the Grade III Poker last month at Belmont.
"As a 4-year-old he's really matured," trainer Linda Rice said of Forbidden Apple. "Last year, running from the dirt and switching to turf he was really rank and running at two turns has really benefitted him." Rice said the colt is a candidate for the $500,000 Grade I Fourstardave at Saratoga Aug. 11 or, less ambitiously, the $150,000 West Point on Aug. 24.
Majestic Dunhill rated patiently in Saturday's $63,300 My Frenchman Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park, made his move when jockey Joe Bravo found him room and won off by 1 1/2 lengths. Like What I See was second at a big price and Reed Kan ran evenly to finish third. Majestic Dunhill, a Majestic Perfection gelding, got 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.35.
La Fuerza, the odds-on favorite, scampered off to a 4 1/2-lengths victory in Saturday's $100,000 Rockville Center Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-olds at Belmont Park. Bustin Mach Four led much of the way and held second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of Red Zinger. La Fuerza, a Flatter colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.27 with Manny Franco up for trainer Todd Pletcher. He now is 2-for-2 with both wins at Belmont. "He's a nice horse," Franco said. "I knew the horse can run and I had a lot of confidence in him and I just waited for the time and he did it."
Big Drink of Water fought his way to an early lead in Saturday's $120,000 (Canadian) Victoria Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather course, then got clear on the turn and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Armistice Day. First-time starter Crawl From the Bar was third. Big Drink of Water, a Florida-bred Soldat gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs under Pablo Morales in 1:03.74. He was second in his career debut at Gulfstream Park in May, then won at Presque Isle Downs later that month in his only other start.
Pickett charged right to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 D.S. Shine Young Futurity for 2-year-old Louisiana-bred colts and geldings and extended his advantage throughout, winning by 9 lengths. Victory Trip and the favorite, Beto, completed the trifecta placings. Pickett, a Goldencents gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.35 while toting Tim Thornton.
Wakefield pressed the pace in Sunday's $50,000 Texas Thoroughbred Futurity for eligible colts and geldings at Lone Star Park, got by pacesetter E Rated at the furlong pole and went on to win by 1 length over that rival. Wakefield, a Munnings gelding, got home in 58.46 seconds with Richard Eramia riding.
Baja Sur, the odds-on favorite, ran to his notices in Sunday's $50,000 King County Express Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings at Emerald Downs. Leading all the way, the Washington-bred Smiling Tiger gelding drew off down the lane to win by 10 1/2 lengths. Ridden by Erick Lopez, he ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.13.
Summerland, the prohibitive favorite, drew off in the stretch to win Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) Spaghetti Mouse Stakes at Hastings Park by 7 1/4 lengths over Vintage Man. Bugsy was third. Summerland, a Kentucky-bred filly by He's Tops, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.82 with Enrique Gonzalez up.
Maiden Beauty turned in a beauty of a maiden effort Sunday at Belmont Park, asserting herself in the stretch run to win the $100,000 Lynbrook stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies by 3 1/4 lengths over another first-timer, Tossup. Midnitesalright was third. Maiden Beauty, a daughter of Revolutionary, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:13.41 with Joel Rosario up for trainer Gary Contessa.
Atchata, the heavy favorite after an earlier win at Belmont Park, cruised to another score Saturday at Evangeline Downs, winning the $75,000 D.S. Shine Young Futurity for Louisiana-bred 2-year-old fillies by 6 1/2 lengths. D'rockette beat the others with Scat At Ms Pat's a further 1/2 length back in third. Atchata, a daughter of Apriority, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:06.25 with Digo Saenz up for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Northwest Factor tracked the pace in Sunday's $50,000 Angie C. Stakes at Emerald Downs, was turned back once but came again to win by 3/4 length over the even-money favorite, Aikman Juliet. Northwest Factor, a Kentucky-bred filly by The Factor, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.41 with Julien Couton riding.
Adventurous Lady set a pressured pace in Sunday's $50,000 Texas Thoroughbred Futurity for eligible 2-year-old fillies at Lone Star Park, then worked clear in the lane to win by 3 3/4 lengths over Silvercents. Adventurous Lady, a Kantharos filly, went to the post as the odds-on pick and finished 5 furlongs in 58.60 seconds with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons.
With a worldview:
U S Navy Flag, returned to 6 furlongs and to Newmarket, steamed boldly down the center of the course in Saturday's Group 1 Darley July Cup, winning by 1 3/4 lengths from Brando. Fleet Review, a stablemate of U S Navy Flag in Aidan O'Brien's yard, finished third at long odds while the favorite, Blue Point, was a huge disappointment for Godolphin and Charlie Appleby, finishing seventh.
U S Navy Flag, a War Front colt and full brother to Roly Poly, complete a "Newmarket Group 1 triple" of the Dewhurst, Middle Park and July and earned a long voyage Down Under for the rich Group 1 Everest Stakes in October.
O'Brien said he had persisted in sending U S Navy Flag in mile races because he seemed to be trying and coming close. Now, he said, sprinting is the colt's game and Australia is the target. "He'll probably have a little rest now -- he's had a tough time -- then we'll train him for the Everest," O'Brien said.
While U S Navy Flag seems partial to Newmarket and 3/4 mile, Appleby said he plans to return Blue Point to 5 furlongs and Ascot, the conditions that suited him in the Group 1 King's Stand during the Royal meeting. He's 3-for-4 on Her Majesty's home grounds.
On Friday at Newmarket, Alpha Centauri continued to blaze a path of glory with a dominant win in the Group 1 Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes. With Colm O'Donoghue riding confidently, Alpha Centauri showed the way while racing on the far side rail, shot out to a daylight advantage with 2 furlongs left in the 1-mile test and won by 4 1/2 lengths. Altyn Orda was second, 1 length to the good of Clemmie.
Alpha Centauri, a Mastercraftsman filly from the Rahy mare Alpa Lupi, made it three straight Group 1 wins, following the Irish 1,000 Guineas and the Coronation Stakes at Ascot. She, too, has international goals in her future.
Trainer Jessica Harrington, who admitted to a bad case of nerves before the Falmouth, said the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville is next up. That race is sponsored by Alpha Centauri's owner-breeders, the Niarchos family. And, Harrington added, "I know the Niarchos family love the Breeders' Cup so that's an option for her too. It'd be fantastic if it happens."
Kew Gardens worked to the lead inside the final few furlongs in Saturday's Group 1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp, then turned back a challenge from Neufbosc, winning by 1 1/4 lengths from that rival. Dee Ex Bee was third. Kew Gardens, another from the seemingly endless procession of Galileo progeny, was backing up his win in the Group 2 Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot. Before that, he was ninth in the Investec Derby at Epsom, where Dee Ex Bee finished second behind Masar.
Trainer Aiden O'Brien said he brought Kew Gardens back to the 1 1/2-miles distance with an eye to tackling the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Ascot July 28. The colt already is a favorite with some bookmakers for the St Leger in September at Doncaster.
Racing Post reported Kew Gardens is Galileo's 72nd Group 1 or Grade I winner, leaving the sire only one shy of the record posted by his own sire, Sadler's Wells.
The Hong Kong season wrapped up Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse with Zac Purton holding on to his lead and ending Joao Moreira's three-season run as champion jockey. Purton ended the term with 136 winners to 134 for Moreira, who is moving to Japan to continue his career.
It was a good financial year for the Hong Kong Jockey Club as a massive increase in commingling wagering easily offset a dip in Hong Kong turnover. In toto, the HKJC Handled HK$124.282 billion or about US$15.9 billion -- up 5.6 percent compared with the 2016-17 campaign.
"Commingling is quickly changing the global landscape and that is seen in the fact that it made up 13.3 percent of our season's turnover this year compared to 5.5 percent last year," said HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. "It is now a significant driver to Hong Kong's turnover and that is due to the ever-increasing international interest in our racing product, which is proving to be attractive as an exciting sports option founded upon the highest integrity."
Engelbrecht-Bresges said the club soon will announce a new sponsor for the "Champions Day" run for the first time this past April. The festival combines three international Group 1 races and serves as a seasonal bookend to the Longines Hong Kong International Races in December.
Back in North America and around the ovals:
Prince of Hempt hooked up in a back-and-forth stretch duel with long shot Monongahela in Saturday's $50,000 Carl Hanford Memorial, eventually prevailing by 1/2 length over that one. Name Changer was third, 5 lengths in front of the favorite, Hoffenheim. Prince of Hempt, a 4-year-old Majestic Warrior gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.22 with Dana Whitney in the irons.
Always Sunshine took charge in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Hockessin Stakes, drawing off to win by 3 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Stallwalkin' Dude. The Man was a nose behind that one in third. Always Sunshine, a 6-year-old West Acre horse, finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.99 with Frankie Pennington aboard.
Lone Star Park
Supermason led from gate to wire in Sunday's $50,000 Assault Stakes for Texas-breds, winning by 4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Rumpole was best of the rest. Supermason, a 6-year-old Grasshopper gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.51 with Lindey Wade in the irons.
Brave Daisey made a bold move down the stretch to win Sunday's $50,000 Valor Farm Stakes for Texas-bred fillies and mares by 4 1/2 lengths from Valid Bride. The favorite, Flight Queen, finished third. Brave Daisey, a 3-year-old filly by Hidden Blessing, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.82 with Sasha Risenhoover aboard.
Victress saved ground, then rallied along the rail in the stretch to win Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Monashee Handicap for fillies and mares by 3/4 length over Yukon Belle. Victress, a 5-year-old Include mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.98 with Amadeo Perez up.
Calgary Caper came from last of nine to take Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) Lieutenant Governor's Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths over Modern. Calgary Caper, a 7-year-old El Corredor gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.65. Sahin Civaci rode.
Apalachee Bay led from the early strides in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Count Latham Handicap for 3-year-olds and kept going, winning by 5 lengths, well under wraps. Regal Max was second, 4 1/2 lengths in front of Fort Mac. Apalachee Bay, a Malibu Moon colt, finished 1 1/16 miles on a good track in 1:46.46 with Rigo Sarmiento in the irons.
Riser showed the way in Sunday's $50,000 Mt. Rainier Stakes and coasted home first by 2 1/4 lengths over Barkley. The 4-year-old Ohio-bred colt by Mizzen Mast finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:40.08 with Juan Hernandez riding.
Top Quality ralled four-wide into the stretch in Sunday's $50,000 Boeing Stakes for fillies and mares and kicked away to a 3 3/4-lengths victory. Reginella was easily best of the rest. Top Quality, a 4-year-old Quality Road filly, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.39 with Kevin Orozco at the controls.