Accelerate, possibly Mind Your Biscuits and improbably Discreet Lover all earned Breeders' Cup Classic berths with victories on a weekend filled with "Win and You're In" events reaching from England to Japan.
Among the other huge favorites, Imperial Hint won and Abel Tasman didn't.
There's so much to cover, we'll jump right in, with apologies for a bit of an abbreviated report due to unforeseen circumstances.
Speaking of unforeseen:
The old saying goes, they run these races for a reason. And you'll find no better example than Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. On paper, there was no way Discreet Lover could win the race and his 45-1 odds looked generous. But as the favorite, Diversify, gave way after setting a suicidal pace, there was Discreet Lover ranging up on the outside to win by a neck.
Thunder Snow made the first run at the leaders to take the advantage at mid-stretch and finished second. Mendelssohn, who hounded Diversify all the way, held on gamely for third with Carlino edging Diversify for fourth. Discreet Lover, in a career effort by any standard, finished the 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.99 with Manny Franco riding for owner/trainer Uriah St. Louis. He had not been close to victory in six starts since taking the Grade III Excelsior at Aqueduct April 7.
St. Louis vanned Discreet Lover back to his base at Parx Racing near Philadelphia and said he had only a brief time to celebrate his first Grade I win while caring for his other 20 horses. As to the Breeders' Cup, now a free shot for him, he said Sunday, "I think we've got plenty of time, but we'll probably give it another four or five days and then we'll make a decision."
Diversify's owner, Ralph Evans, said Sunday, "I've gotten nothing but good reports on him this morning. He scoped clean and hopefully, we'll fight another day. We have no apparent excuse, it seems, except just going too fast early." Diversify earned a starting spot in the Classic by winning the Whitney Aug. 5 at Saratoga.
Thunder Snow' trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, said the early pace was too quick but his horse, who refused to run at all in last year's Kentucky Derby, ran well this time and will carry the Godolphin banner in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He echoed the general sentiment: "I was surprised at the winner. He surprised me, really."
At Santa Anita on Saturday, Accelerate didn't out of the gate, spotting the field a few lengths and treating himself to a wide trip through the 1 1/8-mile Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" event. Still, he got the job done, battling past West Coast and Isotherm to win by 2 1/4 lengths. West Coast, making his first start since finishing second in the Dubai World Cup behind Thunder Snow, ran on gamely in the final sixteenth to hold second, despite being headed by Isotherm. Still, the day was Accelerate's and the win, accomplished in 1:50.38 with Joel Rosario up for trainer John Sadler, will put him among the Breeders' Cup favorites.
"Breeders' Cup is obviously next up," Sadler said. "We'll train here at home and then go and follow Bob Baffert over there to Churchill about a week before. We'll kind of walk behind Bob and creep up on him."
Baffert's horse, West Coast, "really ran a huge race and had an incredible run," said jockey Mike Smith, predicting he will "move forward."
Mind Your Biscuits proved -- in spades -- he's not just a sprinter with a decisive 4 3/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs. The 5-year-old son of Posse, headed for a stud career in Japan, made his case for a start in the Breeders' Cup Classic with a respectable time of 1:48.64 with Tyler Gaffalione up. The only potential knock is the quality of the field he beat. Toast of New York, making only his third start since November of 2014, finished second. Honorable Duty was third.
Mind Your Biscuits came out of the race in excellent form, trainer Chad Summers said Sunday morning. "Is there another race for him today?" he joked, adding the veteran is under consideration now for the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Turf Mile and the TwinSpires Sprint. "I just want to keep my options open," he said. "The owners and I will come up with a plan but we are in a spot right now that we don't have a 'Win and You're In' entry for the Classic. That's going to cost $150,000 to enter the race. While we've won a lot of money with the horse, it's still a big chunk of change."
Yes. But everything's relative. Mind Your Biscuits has banked $4,279,566 in his career, including $1,770,400 this year alone. They can't scrape up 150 large to burnish his image for the owners of those top Japanese mares?
Toast of New York's trainer, Jamie Osborne, said his horse will remain at Churchill Downs while decisions are made about his future. He finished second in the controversial 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.
Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, Lone Sailor rallied five-wide from the back of the field to win Sunday's $440,000 Grade III Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park by a head-bob nose over 20-1 shot Believe in Royalty. Diamond King led most of the way and was pipped for second in the final strides. Lone Sailor, a Majestic Warrior colt, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.97 with James Graham riding for trainer Tom Amoss. Lone Sailor was prominent at the finish of some of the year's top races including eighth in the Kentucky Derby, fifth in the Preakness and third in the Haskell. The Oklahoma Derby, however, was only his second career win.
In another example of "why they run them," Vale Dori posted a stunning upset in Sunday's $300,000 Grade I Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita as the heavy favorite, Abel Tasman, under Mike Smith, never recovered from a slow start and finished fifth of six. Vale Dori, a 6-year-old Asiatic Boy mare, took full advantage, tracking Shenandoah Queen's early pace before taking charge in the lane. She won by 3/4 length over German-bred La Force with Shenandoah Queen third. The 1 1/16 miles on a fast track took 1:44.88 with Joe Talamo on the winner.
Bob Baffert, who trains both Vale Dori and Abel Tasman, said, "I'm worried about that mare (Abel Tasman) because Mike said she was lethargic. She's up there where all these sick horses are (flu on the backside), so I hope she's not getting sick." Smith said the "good thing is that she didn't run a get-out run. She didn't run. Period."
She's a Julie pressed the pace in Sunday's $220,000 Remington Park Oaks, took over and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths as the lukewarm favorite. The early leader, Remedy, held second, a nose in front of Cosmic Burst. She's a Julie, an Elusive Quality filly trained by Steve Asmussen, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.36 with Ricardo Santana Jr. up. The winner of the Iowa Oaks earlier in the summer, she was coming off a second-place finish in the Grade I Alabama at Saratoga, albeit 6 1/2 lengths in arrears of winner Eskimo Kisses.
Channel Maker punched his ticket to the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf with a gate-to-wire victory in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old English Channel gelding drew clear in the lane, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Robert Bruce. Sadler's Joy was third. Channel Maker had been knocking on the door, finishing eighth but beaten just 1 1/2 lengths in the Grade I Manhattan in June, dead-heating for the win in the Grade II Bowling Green at Saratoga in July and finishing second to Glorious Empire in the Grade I Sword Dancer last month at the Spa.
"A horse couldn't be doing better than he's been doing," trainer Bill Mott said of Channel Maker. "I don't know if he can stay this good for another four or five weeks (for the Breeders' Cup), but he's just gotten better and better since we had those two runs at Saratoga."
Hot Springs tracked pacesetter Discovered through most of Saturday's $100,000 Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs, then caught that rival in deep stretch to win by 1 length. Captivating Moon ran from last to finish third. Hot Springs, an Uncle Mo colt, ran 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:54.18 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons. It was his third career win, first in a stakes.
Liam the Charmer raced at the back of a six-horse field in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II John Henry Turf Championship at Santa Anita, passed them all with a four-wide move into the stretch and won by 1/2 length from pacesetting Ashleyluvssugar. You Gotta Wanna was another 1 length back in third. Liam the Charmer, a 5-year-old Smart Strike gelding, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm going in 1:58.01 with Tyler Gaffalione up for trainer Michael McCarthy. Liam the Charmer was bred by Ron and Deborah McAnally. Ron trained John Henry, the first, and only two-time, winner of the Arlington Million.
McCarthy said, "I'll go ahead and talk to (owner) Sol Kumin and everybody else and who knows, maybe he bought himself a ticket to the Breeders' Cup. I can't say enough about this horse. He's like the furniture. Everybody loves him. Everybody loves riding him."
Things went swimmingly for Channel Cat over yielding turf at Laurel Park in Saturday's $150,000 Bald Eagle Derby. The English Channel colt shadowed the favorite, Neepawa, through the first furlongs, then took over and won as he pleased. At the line, he was 5 3/4 lengths in front of Admission Office with Nakamura third. Channel Cat, with Feargal Lynch riding, got 1 1/2 miles on the soggy course in 2:40.47.
At Laurel Park in Maryland, Doctor Mounty seized the lead in the lane in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup and just did hold off the odds-on favorite, Projected, winning by a nose. Irish Strait was third. Doctor Mounty, a 5-year-old son of Street Sense, ran 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:41.78 with Forest Boyce riding.
Filly & Mare Turf
Vasilika looked like the one to beat in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita and no one could get that job done. The 4-year-old Skipshot filly tracked the pace, shot into contention turning for home and battled to the wire before winning by 1/2 length over Paved. Cambodia was another 1/2 length back in the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" event. Vasilika, claimed for $40,000 at Santa Anita in February, now has seven wins in a row and notched her first Grade I triumph. She finished 1 1/4 miles on firm going in 1:59.04 with Flavien Prat riding.
Of claiming the filly, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said, "Sometimes everything comes down to luck. We were looking for a horse to put in the barn and ended up getting her and we got the luck of it. We were just looking for a horse that can win a race." As Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee has been heard to announce, "It's an easy game."
Hollendorfer noted Vasilika would have to be nominated to the Breeders' Cup program to take advantage of the "Win and You're In" but said that's not an impossibility.
Travezia opened a big lead at the top of the stretch and easily held off the favorite, Ms Bad Behavior, to win Saturday's $75,000 Unzip Me Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita by 1 1/4 lengths. Spiced Perfection was third. Travezia, a daughter of Into Mischief, ran the gravity-aided 6 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:12.42 with Raphael Bejarano riding.
Imperial Hint was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Vosburg at Belmont Park and was clearly the best, winning by 1 1/4 lengths while saving something in the stretch run. Mr. Crow and Silver Ride were second and third. Imperial Hint, a 5-year-old son of Imperialism, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.27 with Javier Castellano up but could have done better if asked.
Prior to Saturday, he won the Grade II True North and the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt. Now he will try to better his second-place finish behind Roy H in last year's TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint. The Vosburg is a "Win and You're In" for that race. "We wanted to try to get an easy race before the Breeders' Cup as a prep, because you don't really want to go into that race having to run really hard and I was happy the way the field for this race came out," said winning trainer Luis Carvajal Jr..
Seeking the Soul took back early in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Ack Ack at Churchill Downs, came out around the turn and ran them down in the lane, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Nice But Not Nice was a long shot second, a nose in front of Giant Expectations and another head better than the favorite, C Z Rocket. Seeking the Soul got the one-turn mile on fast track in 1:35.01 under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. He has never been worse than third at the distance.
"That was a legit race with a legit final time," said Seeking the Soul's trainer, Dallas Stewart. He reported all well Sunday and said he and owner Charles Fipke will put their heads together to discuss the future. Immediately after the race, Stewart said, "We'll definitely look at the Breeders' Cup but we'll decide on the Dirt Mile or Classic."
Game Winner eased by pacesetting Rowayton heading into the stretch in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita and kicked away to a 4 1/4 lengths victory. Gunmetal Gray found a late burst of speed to edge Rowayton for second. Game Winner, a Candy Ride colt trained by Bob Baffert, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.77 with Joel Rosario barely touching him through the lane.
"I had one bullet here and I just want to keep him healthy," Baffert said of Game Winner. "I don't plan to do too much with him before the Breeders' Cup. The good ones get there. I was very happy to win the first American Pharoah. Pretty cool and nice of Santa Anita to name a race after him. We had the same groom on this horse as American Pharoah (Eduardo Luna)."
In Florida, Well Defined led most of the way in the $400,000 In Reality Division of the Florida Sire Stakes and kicked away late to win by 7 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Garter and Tie. Gump was third at a huge price. Well Defined, a With Distinction gelding trained by Kathleen O'Connell, completed the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.97 under Carlos Montalvo. He finished second to Garter and Tie in the previous leg of the series.
Forty Under rallied down the stretch to take Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Pilgrim over the yielding inner turf course. Somelikeithotbrown appeared to have the race in hand early in the stretch run, opening a big lead. But Forty Under, with Manny Franco up, closed to lead inside the sixteenth pole and won by 3/4 length. Social Paranoia was third and the favorite, Opry, settled for fourth. Forty Under, an Uncle Mo colt from the Black Tie Affair mare Argent Affair, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.37. "If everything goes well from here," said winning trainer Jeremiah Englehart, "I would definitely want the Breeders' Cup to be his next start."
At Gulfstream Park on Saturday, Louder Than Bombs came running from the back of the pack, caught the favorite, Timmy M. in the stretch run and went on to win by 2 lengths over that one. Stirling Drive was a non-threatening third. Louder Than Bombs, a Violence colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:38.01 with Miguel Vasquez in the irons.
Belafinia stayed right on the flank of pacesetting Vibrance through the stretch turn in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita, then easily drew off to win by 6 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Vibrance held second, well in front of Brill in third. Belafina, a Quality Road filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.59. Flavien Prat had the winning ride for trainer Simon Callaghan.
"I hope she goes far from this day forward," said owner Kaleem Shah. "Going in this business you have to take it one race at a time so certainly next is the Breeders' Cup so let's see how she does there."
All the way across the continent, Cookie Dough's backers were in the chips after Saturday's $400,000 My Dear Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes. The Bretheren filly spotted most of her rivals the lead, advanced steadily under Jeffrey Sanchez and won going away. Starship Nala was second, 7 1/2 lengths behind the winner, with late-running Blazing Brooke third. Cookie Dough covered 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:47.50. She won the second and third legs of the series for trainer Stanley Gold.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Newspaperofrecord showed something extra in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Miss Grillo at Belmont Park. Leading all the way, the Irish-bred daughter of Lope de Vega shook loose for good at mid-stretch, winning off by 6 1/2 lengths. Varenka was second and Stellar Agent third. Newspaperofrecord ran 1 1/16 miles on yielding turf in 1:42.12 with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard for trainer Chad Brown.
A Bit Special ran right by pacesetter Dream On Jilly in the stretch drive of Saturday's $100,000 Our Dear Peggy at Gulfstream Park, running on to win by 2 lengths. Dream on finished second, 6 lengths to the good of Miss Unbridled Cat. A Bit Special, a British-bred filly by Mukhadram, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:37.97 with Romero Maragh up.
Rocketry shot from last of five to win Sunday's $200,000 Temperence Hill Stakes at Belmont Park by 1 1/2 lengths over You're To Blame. The favorite, War Story, led, faded and finished third. Rocketry, a 4-year-old Hard Spun colt, finished 1 5/8 miles on a fast track in 2:40.18 under Joel Rosario.
On the international scene:
Fine Needle swept up on the outside in the final yards to snare his second Grade I Japanese Sprint victory of the year in Sunday's Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama. Sent off as the favorite after winning the Grade 1 Takamatsunomia Kinen in March and finishing fourth in the Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize in Hong Kong in April, the 5-year-old son of Admire Moon prevailed by a neck over Love Kampf, whose rider probably thought he had the race in the bag. Rhein Spirit was third and the winner of the last two runnings of the Sprinters Stakes, Red Falx, continued his disappointing year by finishing 10th. Hong Kong invader Lucky Bubbles was pulled up at the top of the stretch with a career-ending injury.
The Sprinters Stakes is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" but trainer Yoshidada Takahashi is looking elsewhere for the Darley-bred Godophin runner. "I'll have to see how he pulls up from this race to determine his future starts, including a choice to run in the Hong Kong Sprint," Takahashi said. "But if we do, I hope to show the fans there how much stronger he's become." That race is Dec. 9 at Sha Tin.
A big weekend for 2-year-olds at Newmarket included a pair of Breeders' Cup Challenge qualifiers.
Just Wonderful opened the proceedings with a win for Coolmore, Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore in Friday's Group 2 Shadwell Rockfel Stakes at 7 furlongs. The Dansili filly took over in the final furlong and won off by 1 3/4 lengths over Dandhu with minimal coaxing. Main Editon was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. She earned a berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile which might be questionable. While Just Wonderful has won three of her six starts but finished seventh in the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh in her only try at the Group 1 level and beyond 7 furlongs.
Saturday it was Coolmore, Aidan O'Brien and son Donacha O'Brien sending out to win a Breeders' Cup bid in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes at 1 mile. The Galileo colt, out of the Encosta De Lago mare Empowering, scored just his second career win but did it impressively, taking the lead from Sydney Opera House a furlong out and winning by 1 1/4 lengths over that one. Another O'Brien charge, Cape of Good Hope, was third.
Saturday's card also had the races of more importance to the locals -- the Juddmonte Middle Park for colts and the Juddmonte Cheveley Park for fillies, each at 1,200 meters and each a Group 1. Ten Sovereigns, with Donacha O'Brien up, took the Middle Park by 1/2 length over Jash and Fairyland made it a complete sweep for the Coolmore team with a 1/2-length victory in the Cheveley Park. Pretty Pollyana and Signora Cabella, first and second in the Group 2 Prix Morny at Deauville, were big disappointments in the Cheveley Park.