A monumental weekend of international racing featured epic battles between Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior and between Laurens and Alpha Centauri, only to end with two of those superstars forced into retirement with injuries.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien said Saxon Warrior suffered a tendon injury in his narrow defeat. Alpha Centauri sustained a bone chip in her loss and Niarchos family racing manager Alan Cooper said retirement was the best option.
Most of the weekend news, however, came without the "bitter" part of bittersweet.
Winx proved yet again that she has no competition within Australia. At Churchill Downs, Serengeti Empress had the race of the week in an early prep for the 2019 Kentucky Oaks. Oscar Performance rebounded to win the Woodbine Mile.
And Justify's owners have finalized the deal to have Justify stand at Coolmore, where he will join American Pharoah.
(Fair warning: Some Breeders' Cup qualifying races are scattered through the "International" section below).
Oscar Performance showed the way in Saturday's $800,000 (Canadian) Grade I Ricoh Woodbine Mile, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", then dueled through the final furlong with Mr Havercamp before edging away to a 1 1/2-lengths victory. Mr Havercamp held second, a neck in front of Stormy Antarctic. Oscar Performance, a 4-year-old Kitten's Joy colt, finished in 1:33.12 with Jose Ortiz at the controls.
The win was a relief for trainer Brian Lynch and Amerman Racing as Ortiz had pulled the colt up in the stretch run of his last start, the Arlington Million.
"I thought Jose rode him beautifully and his last quarter was sensational," Lynch said. "It's nice to see him back and it's a 'Win and You're In' and we've got six weeks to the Breeders' Cup. Now we can take a deep breath and do the best we can to have him right on that day."
Johnny Bear emerged on top after a furious stretch run in Saturday's $300,000 (Canadian) Grade I Northern Dancer Turf at Woodbine, defeating Mekhtaal by 1/2 length. The next four all were within 1 length. Johnny Bear, a 7-year-old English Channel gelding, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:25.74 with Luis Contreras up. He won this race last year in an upset but had not won in six intervening starts.
Filly & Mare Turf
Californiagoldrush took the lead at the top of the lane in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Sands Point for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park and gamely held off a late run by Secret Message, winning by 1/2 length. Colonia was third. Californiagoldrush, a Cape Blanco filly, ran 9 furlongs over the yielding inner turf course in 1:54.06 with Flavien Prat aboard. Her only loss in four starts was a third in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks. Secret Message came off a victory in the Grade III Pucker Up at Arlington.
Starship Jubilee rallied from last of six to win Saturday's $250,000 (Canadian) Grade II Canadian at Woodbine, drawing off in the final furlong to finish 3 1/4 lengths to the good of runner-up New Money Honey. The favorite, Inflexibility, was third. Starship Jubilee, a 5-year-old daughter of Indy Wind, ran 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:42.91, just 0.04 second short of the course record, under Luis Contreras.
Cairo Cat skimmed the paint well back of the leaders in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Iroquois at Churchill Downs, came out late and eked out a 1/2-length victory over the pacesetting favorite, Tight Ten. Pole Setter had every chance in the late going but settled for third. Cairo Cat, a Kentucky-bred colt by Cairo Prince, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.35. The colt broke his maiden in his second start, winning an off-the-turf event at Saratoga. "He certainly didn't travel like he was a 2-year-old," said winning rider Brian Hernandez Jr. "It's easy to put in those type of rides with a horse that has that much confidence to put himself in spots like that."
The Iroquois is not only a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" but also the first in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series. It's only 7 1/2 months until Derby Day. Greg Geir, assistant to winning trainer Kenny McPeek, said, "We'll see how he comes out of things but it's nice the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is right here in our backyard."
Fog of War found his best foot late in Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Grade I Summer Stakes at Woodbine, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". With Javier Castellano up, the War Front colt ran by the leaders and on to a 3/4-length victory over War of Will. Nashtrick was third. Fog of War ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.90. "The fact that he's bred to go longer, and won at 5 1/2 (furlongs) like that, and showed that burst of speed, that was very encouraging," said owner Peter Brandt. "But, you never know until you get further down the road like here and run in a Group 1 ... You always hope, and this is a game of great hopes and that's what keeps us all in."
Serengeti Princess led from the start in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Pocahontas at Churchill Downs, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", then kicked away impressively, winning by 19 1/2 lengths with Corey Lanerie hand-riding her home. Splashy Kisses was best of the rest with Lightscameraaction third. But the buzz was all about the winner, an Alternation filly who finished in 1:45.47 while posting her second straight win, both by double-digit lengths.
"I've been coming to the races since I was 5 years old and I've never seen anything like this," said winning owner Joe Politi. Trainer Tom Amoss added, "We'll just let her be her until the Breeders' Cup and I think we'll be just fine."
Out west at Los Alamitos, Kim K blew by the dueling leaders a furlong and a half out in Saturday's $100,000 Barrett's Debutante for California-breds and jetted away to a 3-lengths victory. The favorite, Square Peggy, contested the pace and held on for third, 2 1/2 lengths in front of her early rival, Naughty Tiger. Kim K, a Will Take Charge filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.28 with Heriberto Figueroa in the irons.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
La Pelosa came from near the back of the pack to take Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Grade I Natalma at Woodbine, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", by 1 length from My Gal Betty. Bold Script was third. La Pelosa, a daughter of Dandy Man trained by Charlie Appleby for Godolphin, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.70.
"She's a lovely filly," said assistant trainer Alex Merriam. "I think she's turned a few heads this week. She shipped well, she travelled well, and she's done everything right, which is a big ask for a 2-year-old filly. So we're really pleased with her." It's unlikely the filly, last seen at Newmarket, would have been in the field other than for a ticket to the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs.
Blue Prize stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Locust Grove at Churchill Downs, dueled through the stretch run with Champagne Problems and edged that one at the wire by a nose. Mannerly was third, 6 1/4 lengths farther back. Blue Prize, a 5-year-old daughter of Pure Prize, toured 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:43.69 with Julien Leparoux up.
The Argentine-bred mare has missed a top-three finish only once in 11 U.S. starts -- including three wins and two seconds from five starts under the Twin Spires. Trainer Ignacio Correas IV said, "We know one thing is for sure. She loves this track. She's done so well in all of her starts here and it's great the Breeders' Cup is here. We're going and we're excited."
Yorkton was off a step slow in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Bold Venture at Woodbine but immediately made up the lost ground, crossed to the lead and drew off to win by 5 1/4 lengths. Sweet Little Man was second, a nose in front of Battle in Seattle, and the favorite, Canada's reigning Horse of the Year Pink Lloyd, finished fifth without reaching contention after breaking through the gate before the race, then hopping at the official start. Yorkton, a 4-year-old Speightstown colt, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:15.05 with Jesse Campbell riding.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Vertical Oak prevailed by 3/4 length after a long stretch drive in Saturday's $100,000 Open Mind Stakes at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old Giant Oak filly, with Ricardo Santana Jr. riding, came from next-last of seven and just got by Astrollinthepark in the final yards to win by 3/4 length. P Boo was third. Vertical Oak ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.16. She has not finished out of the money this year while compiling a 2-for-5 record for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Dabster sat comfortably behind a long shot leader in Sunday's $100,000 Los Alamitos Special, assumed command when asked by jockey Joe Talamo and won off by 2 lengths. Divisor and Colonist filled the trifecta. Dabster, a 4-year-old Curlin colt trained by Bob Baffert for Sheik Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, ran 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:00.45.
Decorated Soldier tracked the pace in Sunday's $200,000 Presque Isle Mile, then outfinished Ghost Hunter to win by 3/4 length. Matrooh was third. Decorated Soldier, a 5-year-old Proud Citizen gelding, finished the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:35.81 with Willie Martinez up.
Roaring Lion got by Saxon Warrior in the closing yards of Saturday's Group 1 QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, winning by a hard-fought head to continue his dominance over his frequent rival. Deauville and Athena were third and fourth for the Aidan O'Brien-Coolmore combine and French Derby winner Study of Man finished fifth, never a factor.
Roaring Lion, a Kentucky-bred Kitten's Joy colt, and Saxon Warrior, a Deep Impact colt bred in Japan, are familiar rivals. They finished third and fourth in the Derby with Roaring Lion well in front of Saxon Warrior to avenge a drubbing by that rival in the 2000 Guineas. Roaring Lion then nipped Saxon Warrior by a neck in a nip-and-tuck finish to the Coral-Eclipse and Roaring Lion dominated the Juddmonte International at York as Saxon Warrior reported fourth.
The Irish Champion Stakes is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" event and owner Sheik Fahad and trainer John Gosden have discussed a potential trip to Louisville for Roaring Lion. But Sheik Fahad, who with his brothers sponsors the race, was thinking more of plans for 2019. "Plans haven't been finalized yet," the Sheik said. "He might stay in the training and he might not."
O'Brien said after the race it was likely Saxon Warrior would be dropped back to a mile. Instead, he will be dropped into an early retirement.
In a battle of Oaks winners, it was French invader Laurens on top in Saturday's Group 1 Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron at Leopardstown. With Danny Tudhope aboard, the Siyouni filly went right to the front, showed the way with Magical in her wake and held off a late bid by the heavy favorite, multiple English and Irish Oaks winner Alpha Centauri, winning by 3/4 lengths. The Coolmore-Aidan O'Brien fillies Clemmie, Magical and Happy were third, fourth and fifth with some interference in the stretch let stand by the judges.
The Matron is a "Win and You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Alpha Centauri's rider, Colm O'Donoghue, said a bad few seconds cost the race. "She did everything right. She quickened up and went half a length up, but for whatever reason she lost her action and half knuckled over for a stride or two. Then she recovered and did it a second time, so that was it."
Sadly, the misstep apparently was caused by her injury and that was enough to cost not only the race but her racing career as well.
On the Champion Stakes undercard, Madhmoon took the lead more than a furlong from home in the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes and Chris Hayes rode home an easy winner on the Dawn Approach colt, earning a guaranteed spot in the Breeders' Cup should Sheik Hamdan and trainer Kevin Prendergast so choose. Broome was away very tardily for Donnacha O'Brien, made a good move to reach second but could do no better, finishing 2 1/2 lengths adrift. Masaff was third. Madhmoon now is 2-for-2, both wins coming at 1 mile at Leopardstown.
Rostropovich, a Frankel colt, returned to the winners' enclosure for the first time since winning the Dee Stakes on May 10, capturing the Group 3 Paddy's Reward Club Stakes by 1/2 length over Ballydoyle stablemate Giuseppe Garibaldi. The King was another 1/2 length back in third.
On Sunday, the Irish action shifted to The Curragh.
There, the decision-making after Kew Gardens' victory at Doncaster (see below) might have been made more difficult as the Coolmore lads and O'Brien returned Sunday to win the Group 1 Comer Group Irish St. Leger. Flag of Honour, the 2-1 favorite, led all the way and found plenty left to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Irish Derby winner Latrobe. Weekender was third. Idaho, the full brother to Highland Reel, finished fifth and clearly was bypassed by the other Coolmore runners as the top potential successor to their retired top-level stayers.
Also at the Curragh, Havana Grey made virtually all the going in the Group 1 Derrinstown Stud Flying Five, won by 1/2 length over Son of Rest and earned a "Win and You're In" spot for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Sioux Nation was third. Havana Grey, a 3-year-old Havana Gold colt, scored his second win of the season -- both over the Curragh grass. Winning trainer Karl Burke told Racing Post: "He's entered in the Prix de l'Abbaye but this race was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders Cup Turf Sprint and I'd say he could go there."
The day's other Breeders' Cup qualifier, the Moyglare Stud Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, went to Skitter Scatter, who took back after a clean break and came again when asked to win by 2 lengths from Lady Kaya. Hermosa was third. Skitter Scatter, by Scat Daddy out of the Street Sense mare Dane Street, picked up her third straight win, all by comfortable margins. Trainer Patrick Prendergrast indicated he will stay home to point Skitter Scatter to next year's Guineas rather than accept the invitation to the Breeders' Cup.
Quorto, with William Buick up for trainer Charlie Appleby, held well in the final yards to land the Group 1 Goffs Vincent O'Brien National for 2-year-olds by 1 1/4 lengths over Anthony Van Dyck and Ryan Moore. Two other Coolmore runners, Christmas and Mohawk, were third and fourth. Quorto, another by Dubawi, now is 3-for-3. Appleby said the Group 1 Darley Dewhurst "is the most logical route." But he noted Quorto is the first colt by Dubawi to win a Group 1 at age 2.
Kew Gardens rallied to the lead a bit more than a furlong out in Saturday's Group 1 William Hill St Leger at Doncaster, the final Classic of the British racing season, and rather easily held off a late bid by Lah Ti Dar, winning by 2 1/4 lengths. Southern France was third. Kew Gardens, a 3-year-old Galileo colt, furthered his promise to fill the role in the Coolmore-Ballydoyle roster left by the retirements of Order of St George and Highland Reel. Earlier this year, the bay colt accounted for the Group 2 Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot and the Group 1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris.
Ryan Moore rode Kew Gardens to Aidan O'Brien's sixth St Leger triumph. Both then sprinted to a waiting helicopter to continue their day at Leopardstown.
"He's looked a Leger horse for a long time but he's always had plenty of pace," said owner Derrick Smith said. "I'm not sure what he'll do next so we'll see what Aidan is thinking and sort it out."
Waldgeist scored his fourth straight win with a 2 1/2-lengths victory over Talismanic in Sunday's Group 2 Qatar Prix Foy at Longchamp -- a highlight of Arc trials weekend. Cloth of Stars finished third, a neck back of his Godolphin stablemate. Andre Fabre trains all three top finishers. Waldgeist, a Galileo 4-year-old, was winless in 2018 but started the current win skein in his second start of this season. He entered Sunday's race off a victory in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. Talismanic was third in the 2017 Prix Foy before winning the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf at Del Mar.
After defeating the Godolphin runners in the Foy, Fabre joined the team to land the Group 1 Qatar Prix Vermeille with Kitesurf, who edged the Coolmore-owned Magic Wand by a head. Zarkamia was third. Kitesurf, a 4-year-old Dubawi filly, won a Group 2 event at Deauville in August. The Vermeille was her first score at the top level.
Godolphin, this time with trainer Charlie Appleby, took the Group 2 Qatar Prix Niel for 3-year-olds with Bruntland, who got home a short head in front of the Coolmore entry, Hunting Horn. Neufbosc was third. Bruntland, another by Dubawi, remains undefeated after three lifetime starts.
Winx rolled to her 27th straight win in Saturday's Group 1 Colgate Optic White Stakes -- aka the George Main Stakes -- Saturday at Randwick. Coming from last to first under regular rider Hugh Bowman, the mighty mare won by 4 lengths, going away, over Le Romain. Bowman admitted he actually got to enjoy the final 100 meters as it was clear Winx still has no meaningful competition within Australia.
"To win 27 races you have to go through some quite intense work 27 times, you have to bring a horse to the races 27 times, and you have to go home safely 27 times," trainer Chris Waller said. "That is quite remarkable and she can only do it before of her ability. It must be her exceptional skill that allows her to do this."
The waters get deeper quickly, however, as Waller points the 6-year-old toward a shot at an historic fourth straight win in the Group 1 Cox Plate.
Grunt upset Saturday's Group 1 PFD Food Services Makybe Diva Stakes at Flemington, getting the better of such as Happy Clapper, Black Heart Bart, Humidor and Tosen Basil. Under Damien Oliver, the 11-1 chance reported 2 lengths in front of Kings Will Dream with Jon Snow a long shot third. The favorite, Kementari, could only manage fourth. Grunt, a 4-year-old from New Zealand, scored just his third win from five career starts, promising more for trainer Mick Price.
Back in North America, touring the ovals:
Silent Poet pressed the pace in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Vice Regent Stakes for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds, took over the lead turning for home and won by 1 length over Royal Laser. Carmenootz was third with Be Vewy Vewy Quiet fourth. Silent Poet, a Silent Name colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.74 with Gary Boulanger riding.
American Frolic took back to last of eight in Saturday's $75,000 Miss Gracie Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, rallied five wide and outfinished Midnight Soiree for a 1 1/2-lengths victory. Florida Fuego was third. American Frolic, a daughter of Blame, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:31.58 under Miguel Vasquez.
Liz's Cable Girl dominated Saturday's $100,000 Roamin Rachel Stakes for fillies and mares, winning off by 4 lengths over Jessica Krupnick. Yorkiepoo Princess was third. Liz's Cable Girl, a 4-year-old daughter of Cable Boy, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.73 with Jose Ferrer riding.
Mobil Solution opened a big lead in the lane in Saturday's $75,000 Catlaunch Stakes for Ohio-breds, then held off Funnel Cake by 3/4 length. Mobil Solution, a 3-year-old Mobil gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:48.00 with Luis Rivera up. Jeffrey Radosevich trains the first two.
Presque Isle Downs
Amy Farah Fowler took over in the lane in Sunday's $100,000 Mrs. Henry D. Paxson Memorial for Pennsylvania-bred 2-year-old fillies and coasted home a 1-length winner over Amandasromeo. Pemaquid Sally was well back in third. Amy Farah Fowler, a daughter of Astrology, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.03 with Huber Villa-Gomez in the irons.
News and Notes:
After months of speculation, the deal is done for Triple Crown winner Justify to stand at Coolmore's Ashford Stud, where he will join the only other living U.S. Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah. His fee was not immediately announced. Justify was raced by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Head of Plans Partners and Starlight Racing. WinStar's Elliott Walden said the owners retained breeding rights.
The deal provides Coolmore's worldwide operation with another potential complement to its Ireland-based superstar, Galileo. Justify's sire, the late Scat Daddy, provides Coolmore with added diversity.