Some champions indeed were crowned -- one by Her Majesty the Queen -- as British Champions Day at Ascot proved the highlight of weekend racing with Cracksman, Roaring Lion and Stradivarius among the victors.
A potential new star emerged in the finale of the Japanese Triple Crown. And, back in North America, some potential stragglers made their case for a spot in the Breeders' Cup World Championships in less than two weeks' time at Churchill Downs.
Time's a wastin' so lets go.
British Champions Day
The Queen Elizabeth II
On a day designed to crown champions, Roaring Lion unquestionably became one with a last-gasp victory in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes. If there was any question, Her Majesty the Queen presented the trophy.
With Oisin Murphy up, the 3-year-old Kitten's Joy colt came roaring from mid-pack, got to terms with the leaders well inside the final furlong and finally put a neck in front of the Coolmore-owned long shot I Can Fly. Century Dream, another long-odds chance, was 1/2 length farther back in third after leading most of the final 2 furlongs.
Roaring Lion made it four Group 1 wins in a row: The Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, the Juddmonte International at York and the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown before Saturday's victory. The earlier were all at 1 1/4 miles but trainer John Gosden had the colt just razor sharp enough to get the job done while scaling back to the straight mile despite soft going.
"He has proven his class and his guts to get there," Gosden said. "But I think he was hating every second of running on that ground. You could that see from his action and the way he was carrying himself. I would not work him on that ground."
Ascot officials reported after the race that owner Sheik Fahad Al Thani, whose Qatar-based business sponsors Champions Day, indicated Roaring Lion may travel to the Breeders' Cup Mile in November or the Longines Hong Kong Mile Dec. 9 before retiring to stud.
The Champion Stakes
Cracksman overcame a long layoff and unwanted soft going to emphatically land the Group 1 Qipco Champion Stakes for the second straight year. Under Frankie Dettori, the 4-year-old Frankel colt idled in the middle of the eight-horse horse field, came around the leaders heading for home and won by a dominating 6 lengths over Crystal Ocean. Dettori was celebrating well before the finish, as is his wont.
"When Cracksman is in the zone, he is a very good horse," said winning trainer John Gosden. "I would think it is quite likely he will go to stud as he is a 4-year-old turning 5. He is Frankel's best son and it is lovely to see him back with a bang."
Cracksman started 2018 with victories in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp and the Coronation Cup at Epsom before settling for second behind Poet's Word in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. He had not been seen in the afternoon since that race for lack of suitable running conditions.
Subway Dancer, trained in the Czech Republic, was a major surprise, finishing third in the Champion Stakes.
The Filly & Mare Stakes
Magical, under Ryan Moore, seized the lead midway down the stretch in the Group 1 Qipco British Champion Filly & Mare Stakes and held off a determined bid by Coronet to win by 1 length in a mild upset. The even-money favorite, Lah Ti Dar, settled for third, another 3/4 length in arrears.
Magical, a 3-year-old Galileo filly trained by Aidan O'Brien for the Coolmore connections, had only one victory this year coming into Champions Day -- that back in July in a Group 2 event at the Curragh. Still, her owners and trainer thought enough of her to attempt the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, where she finished 10th.
"We thought she would handle ease in the ground as she had form on a softer surface as a two-year-old so we are really delighted with her," O'Brien said. "She ran well in the Arc and she was only just coming back to full fitness in that race. Wayne Lordan rode her in that race and he said there was no doubt that she does stay a mile and a half as that was her first time over the trip."
As to a potential trip to the Breeders' Cup, O'Brien said, "She's had an injury already this year and she would have to be 100 percent if she went to America ... We'll see how she comes out of this and the lads, like they always do, will see how she is and then think about what race might suit her."
As predicted, the Group 1 Qipco British Champions Sprint was a lovely tossup with plenty of chances. Seizing the opportunity was 28-1 long shot Sands of Mali, a French-bred 3-year-old by Panis, who led from gate to wire. Most of the way, Harry Angel provided pressure on the leader and when those two finally worked clear of the pack in the final furlong, it was Sands of Mali who kept going to a 1-length victory. Don Juan Triumphant found a modest burst of speed to take third, another 1 1/4 lengths back, while the favorite, 2017 winner The Tin Man, labored home seventh after a tardy start.
Sands of Mali's Yorkshire-based trainer, Richard Fahey, called the earlier part of the year "very frustrating. He just got nailed at the Royal Meeting and things went pear-shaped after that. He's always worked like a nice horse at home, and today he's proven that he is. He's had a couple of goes (at Group 1 races) and today it's come good so I'm delighted."
The Long Distance Cup
Stradivarius confirmed his status as the top European -- perhaps world -- stayer with a hard-won victory in the Group 2 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at 2 miles. The 4-year-old Sea the Stars colt appeared well trapped as the field hit the final straight. But when jockey Frankie Dettori found a sliver of room on the rail. Stradivarius shot right through it and the race quickly was decided. Thomas Hobson followed Stradivarius through the opening but couldn't stay with him in the final furlong. Sir Eric and Flag of Honour, two of the three Coolmore entries, finished third and fourth. Stradivarius is unbeaten in five starts this year while taking on all comers, albeit with help from some retirements.
Trainer John Gosden said he predicted the traffic issues. "I said on Racing UK beforehand that the ground was one thing, but we are going to get put in the box from stall one and he'll have to be Houdini to get out of it. Well, he did." Gosden credited Dettori with a "very clever ride. If he'd tried to come round, he'd have been put back in that box."
Gosden said Stradivarius is done for the season but is to stay in training for another year.
Fierement, making just his fourth career start and first at a distance of ground, outfinished Etario after a stretch duel to win Sunday's Grade 1 Kikuka Sho or Japanese St. Leger at Kyoto Racecourse by a nose.
Fierement, a Deep Impact colt, settled in mid-pack under Christophe Lemaire while Etario raced closer to the pace through much of the 3,000 meters. As the field exited the final turn, Etario, under Mirco Demuro, came wide to take the lead while Lemaire threaded Fierement through rivals. They raced together to the wire. You Can Smile, a long shot in the big field, finished third for jockey Yutaka Take. The favorite, Blast Onepiece, was fourth.
Fierement finished in 3:06.1 over firm turf. It was his first start in a Grade 1 event and first beyond 1,800 meters. Despite Fierement's limited experience, Lemaire said he was confident going into the race -- but not confident he had won when it was over.
"He felt good during the training," the rider said. "We briefly met traffic in the straight but my mount stretched really well with his bursting kick. I congratulated Mirco right after crossing the wire, thinking that we had lost. So it's unbelievable that we were able to win the race."
Fierement won at first asking Jan. 28 at Tokyo, won again nearly three months later at Nakayama and suffered his only loss July 1 at Fukushima, finishing second in the Grade 3 Radio Nikkei Sho before taking the summer off.
The race was the third leg of the Japanese Triple Crown. Epoca d'Oro, winner of the Japanese 2,000 Guineas, finished eighth in the Kikuka Sho. The Japanese Derby winner, Wagnerian, passed up Sunday's race and is expected to take on older horses Oct. 28 in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) at Tokyo Racecourse.
Back in North America:
Filly & Mare Turf
Colonia and Get Explicit both closed sharply from far back in Friday's $150,000 Grade III Pin Oak Valley View for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland with Colonia getting the better of it by 1/2 length. The pacesetter, Cool Beans, apparently was spooked and slowed when rival Daddy Is a Legend jumped the inner rail just before the sixteenth pole but salvaged third, a head farther back. Colonia, a French-bred daughter of Champs Elysees, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:45.98 with Joe Bravo up for trainer Graham Motion. She's now 2-for-4 since coming from France mid-year.
Motion said he was concerned about Colonia's position behind a slow pace. "I thought she had a lot to do. She has a tremendous turn of foot. Joe gave her a great ride. He was very patient. It's a shame what happened in the stretch but it looks like everyone's okay. That's the main thing," Motion added.
Vexatious was promoted to the win in Sunday's $125,000 Grade III Rood & Riddle Dowager at Keeneland when Beach Flower, first past the finish, was demoted to third for stretch interference. The stewards' ruling also elevated English Affair to second. Beach Flower led all the way and got there first by a neck after interfering with English Affair. The winner, a 4-year-old Giant's Causeway filly who finished fourth in the 2017 Kentucky Oaks, is trained by Neil Drysdale. Florent Geroux had the mount.
Drysdale said, "I was very pleased with the race. It's not the best way to win a race on a DQ but we're just going to have to take it. She's a very elegant filly and she's talented. I would expect her to go and improve off this race."
Rymska blew by the favorite, New Money Honey, a furlong from home in Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Athenia at Belmont Park, opened up a decisive advantage and won by a comfortable 2 1/2 lengths over that foe. Indian Blessing was a similar margin farther back in third. Rymska, a 4-year-old, French-bred filly by Le Havre, ran 1 1/16 miles on the good inner turf course in 1:41.59 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. She now has won four of her last five starts and six of 20, stretching back to 2016 in France.
Rymska's trainer, Chad Brown, said, "Unfortunately, she's had some gaps in her racing due to some minor injuries here and there, but the ownership group has been very patient every time we've rested her to get her right. When she is right, she's very good."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Shamrock Rose drove by pacesetting Blamed in the final furlong of Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Lexus Raven Run Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Blamed held second with Take Charge Paula third. Shamrock Rose, a First Dude filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.98 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons, posting her third straight win.
"What will she do next?" mused Shamrock Rose's trainer, Mark Casse on Sunday morning. "That's a good question. I am flirting with the Breeders' Cup (Filly and Mare Sprint). The owners are all for it. However, she is not Breeders' Cup eligible and she would have to be supplemented. If so, she paid for it yesterday."
Brandothebartender collared the pacesetting favorite, Richard's Boy, in deep stretch in Saturday's $100,000 California Flag Handicap for California-breds at Santa Anita and went on to win by 1 length over that venerable opponent. Eddie Haskell was third. Brandothebartender, a 5-year-old Tribal Rule gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.11 seconds with Joe Talamo up.
Solidify rallied from last of eight to win Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Grey Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather course by 1/2 length over Tripwire. Sir Winston was another 3 1/2 lengths back in third. Solidify, a Kentucky-bred Tapizar colt, finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.94 with Emma-Jayne Wilson in the irons. The favorite, Nashtrick, mounted a bid mid-turn but flattened out to finish seventh. Solidify now is 2-for-2 for trainer Reade Baker.
Around the ovals:
Sparky Ville rallied from last of just four starters to win Sunday's $90,000 Sunny Slope Stakes for 2-year-olds by 1 1/4 lengths. Savagery was second, Seven Scents was third and Shark was eased but finished the race. Sparky Ville, a Candy Ride gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.56 with Gary Stevens in the kip.
Dixie Moon shadowed the pacesetting favorite, Avie's Mineshaft, in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Carotine Stakes for 3-year-old Ontario-bred fillies at Woodbine, eased past that one after a stretch duel and won by 1/2 length. Line of Vision was another 3/4 length back in third. Dixie Moon, a Curlin filly out of the Rahy mare Dixie Chicken, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.31 for jockey Eurico Da Silva.
Saturday was state-bred day in Elmont, N.Y. with seven stakes races for New York-breds.
Pat On the Back rallied three-wide down the lane to capture the $300,000 Empire Classic Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths over Can You Diggit. Mr. Buff was third. Pat On the Back, a 4-year-old Congrats colt trained by Jeremiah Englehart, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.76 with Dylan Davis riding.
Bonita Bianca easily overcame a slow start in the $250,000 Empire Distaff Handicap and asserted her superiority in the stretch run, drawing off to a 6-lengths victory over Split Time. Bonita Bianca, a 4-year-old Curlin filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the main track in 1:43.18 with Jose Lezcano up for trainer Jason Servis.
Bankit rolled from well back in the pack to take the $250,000 Sleepy Hollow Stakes for 2-year-olds by 5 3/4 lengths with Bustin Hoffman second and Strive For a Cure third. Bankit, a Central Banker colt, got 1 mile on a fast strip in 1:37.69 with Irad Ortiz Jr. at the controls.
Surge of Pride produced a late burst of speed to take the $250,000 Maid of the Mist Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, outfinishing Elegant Zip by 1 1/4 lengths. Kept True was third. Surge of Pride, a Kantharos filly, ran 1 mile in 1:38.05 for jockey Junior Alvarado.
Fifty Five came running late to win the $200,000 Ticonderoga Stakes for fillies and mares on the turf by 1 length over La Moneda. Conquest Hardcandy prompted the pace and finished third. Fifty Five, a 4-year-old Get Stormy filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on good going in 1:42.21 for jockey Javier Castellano.
Runaway Lute stalked the pace in the $150,000 Hudson Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs on the dirt, led in the lane and held off Gold For the King to win by 3/4 length. Runaway Lute, a 4-year-old Midnight Lute colt, reported in 1:15.70 with Castellano riding.
Offering Plan bypassed the leaders early in the stretch in the $200,000 Mohawk Stakes on the grass and kicked away to win by 6 lengths over Rapt. Offering Plan, a 6-year-old son of Spring At Last, covered 1 1/16 miles of good turf in 1:42.01 with Castellano up.
Highway Star outfinished Satisfy in the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes for filly and mare sprinters, winning by a neck from that rival. Pauseforthecause was third. Highway Star, a 5-year-old daughter of Girolamo, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.08 for jockey David Cohen.
Maryland Million Day returned to Laurel Saturday with seven state-bred stakes events on both surfaces. The main track was fast but the turf was yielding.
Crabcakes, a perennial favorite, took the lead in the lane in the $100,000 Distaff and held off My Magician to score a 1/2-length victory. Anna's Bandit was 2 1/2 lengths farther back in third. Crabcakes, a 4-year-old Great Notion filly, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.85 under Forest Boyce.
On the turf, Mysistersledge rallied from near the back of the pack in the $125,000 Ladies, dueled with pacesetting My Vixen and prevailed by a neck over that rival. Magician's Vanity got show money. Mysistersledge, a 4-year-old daughter of Etched, got 9 furlongs on the yielding going in 1:55.74 with Julian Pimentel up.
Lewisfield, the prohibitive favorite, ran to his notices in the $100,000 Sprint, jetting off late to score by 8 3/4 lengths. Greatbullsoffire beat the others, followed by Stolen Love. Lewisfield, a 4-year-old Great Notion gelding, finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.08 with Jevian Toledo in the irons.
Follow the Dog closely followed the early pace in the $100,000 Nursery for 2-year-olds, took over when asked by Pimentel and drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Sky Magician and Outofthepark collected the minor awards. Follow the Dog, a Bandbox colt, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.14. The favorite, Scrap Copper, stumbled out of the gate and finished seventh.
My Star Potential broke last of 12 in the $100,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies but hustled quickly to a big lead and coasted home first, 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Belial. Miss Philly Dilly was third. My Star Potential, a Tritap filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.73 with Jomar Torres riding.
Talk Show Man came five-wide in the stretch in the $125,000 Turf and outfinished the favorite, Phlash Phelps, by 1/2 length. Grandiflora was third at a big price. Talk Show Man, an 8-year-old gelding by Great Notion, got 1 mile in 1:38.64 with Toledo up.
Saratoga Bob dueled gamely for the lead in the $150,000 Classic, disposed of one rival, was headed and came again to win by 1/2 length over Dothat Dance. Clubman, the brief leader, settled for third. Saratoga Bob, a 4-year-old colt by Friesan Fire, ran 9 furlongs in 1:51.28 with Edgar Prado riding.
Friday's Oklahoma Classics Cup races comprised eight stakes events state-breds. The turf races were off the turf and all were contested on the sloppy, sealed main track.
Gianna's Dream got the proceedings off to a chalky start, edging clear at the end to win the $130,000 Distaff Turf by 1 1/4 lengths as the odds-on pick. Sunday Night Miss was second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Josie the E F Five. Gianna's Dream, a 5-year-old Twirling Candy mare out of the Rahy mare Untamed Beauty, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.40 with Corey Lanerie up.
Charlie Webb shadowed the pacesetter in the $130,000 Turf Classic, took the lead in the lane and worked clear to a 1 1/4-lengths victory. The early leader, Pacific Typhoon, held second. Charlie Webb, an 8-year-old Artie Schiller gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.21 with Richard Eramia up.
Welder took charge in the stretch run of the $130,000 Sprint, winning by 4 3/4 lengths over Shannon C. Mr. N was another 4 1/2 lengths back in third. Welder, a 5-year-old gelding by The Visualizer, finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.20 under David Cabrera.
Shotgun Kowboy easily outgunned his fellow state-breds in the $175,000 Classics Cup, dictating the pace before striding out to a 3 1/2-lengths victory. Rowdy the Warrior was up for second, 2 1/4 lengths to the good of Tuff kid. Shotgun Kowboy, a 6-year-old Kodiak Kowboy gelding, got the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.05 with Cabrera riding.
Three Chords upset the $130,000 Distaff, surviving a stretch battle with Okie Diva to win by 1/2 length. Va Va Va Boombaby got show money. Three Chords, a 3-year-old daughter of Euroears, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.24 with Alex Birzer aboard.
Sydney Freeman came from the clouds to capture the $145,000 Distaff by 2 1/2 lengths over long shot Master's Bouquet. Create a Star was another 5 1/2 lengths back in third. Sydney Freeman, a 3-year-old daughter of Tizway, finished 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:42.39 with Ramon Vazquez at the controls.
Starling opened a daylight lead in the $100,000 Juvenile, then held on to win by 1 3/4 length from the favorite, Fast Breakin Cash. It was another 5 3/4 lengths back to Cowboy Mischief. Starling, by Mister Lucky Cat, toured 6 furlongs in 1:11.27 with Garrett Steinberg in the irons.
She's Shiney, at odds of nearly 10-1, ran away with the $100,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies, scoring by 9 1/2 lengths over Stormieis Blue. Who's Fooling Who completed the all-long shot trifecta. She's Shiney, a daughter of Save Big Money, finished 6 furlongs in 1:11.53 with Bryan McNeil up.
Pacific Pink found her stride just in time to capture Friday's $100,000 Magnolia Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares by 3/4 length over Safari Calamari. Fleet Halo was third. Pacific Pink, a 6-year-old Private Vow mare, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.62 for Colby Hernandez.
Sir Ghengis led most of the way in Saturday's $100,000 Gold Cup for Louisiana-breds and held off Mageez in the final yards to score a 1/2-length victory. Sir Ghengis, a 7-year-old Tale of the Cat gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.43 with Thomas Pompell up.
Ninth Street dusted his rivals in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 Jean Laffitte Stakes for 2-year-olds, kicking away to win by 6 lengths. Shotsoft was second, 4 1/4 lengths to the good of Brother Richie. Ninth Street, a Kentucky-bred Street Boss colt, ran 7 furlongs in 1:27.86 with Diego Saenz in the irons.
Taylor's Spirit cleared his rivals early in Friday's $50,000 My Trusty Cat Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and ran on to win by 6 1/4 lengths, well in hand. Eskendar finished second. Taylor's Spirit, a 2-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Algorithms, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.83 under Pompell.