Tapwrit captured Saturday's Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, but jockey Mike Smith and trainer Bob Baffert were the big winners on a warm, sunny day at Belmont Park.
Smith rode four stakes winners for Baffert and added a fifth for Jerry Hollendorfer -- a day most riders and conditioners only dream about.
There were other stars during the high-class, high-stakes program, too. Songbird returned to the races with a hard-fought win. French import Antonoe served notice she will be a force among grass-running fillies and mares. More Spirit and American Anthem proved they will run with the best.
But Baffert and Smith had smiles as big as anyone's as they exited the Long Island track.
"It's a pretty incredible day for us," Baffert said. "To be able to pull this off, and I wish I had another horse in. On a big day like this, for them to run like this, it's pretty incredible.
"It's just a blast," Smith added. "You point the good ones in the right direction and they get the job done."
There was plenty more Thoroughbred action around the world during the weekend, including some final preparations for the Durban July in South Africa. But we'll start with:
The Belmont Stakes
With the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes sitting it out, Saturday's $1.5 million Grade I Belmont Stakes looked like a wide-open affair -- even before Japanese star Epicharis was scratched the morning of the race with a sore foot.
That left Irish War Cry, who was a fading 10th in the Kentucky Derby, as the lukewarm favorite. He did his best to deliver, leading the field into the stretch and yielding only grudgingly to Tapwrit in the final sixteenth. Patch, the one-eyed horse who was 14th in Louisville, was third in the Belmont.
Tapwrit, who closed well to finish sixth in the Run for the Roses, stuck closer to the pace Saturday. By the end of the 1 1/2 miles, however, the Tapit colt was all out, weaving down the stretch, bumping Irish War Cry at one point. None of the others seemed fond of the distance and Patch did his best to get home 5 3/4 lengths behind Irish War Cry.
Tapwrit finished the 1 1/2 miles in 2:30.02 under jockey Jose Ortiz, 6 full seconds off Secretariat's course record.
Todd Pletcher, who trained both the winner and Patch, as well as Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, said he's looking forward to a good summer and fall.
"We'll enjoy this for now," Pletcher said. "I really hope I'm in a position where I have to make some decisions on where all these horses are going to run this summer and who's going to go to the Haskell and who's going to go to the Jim Dandy. And I think the Travers will be on everybody's mind. So, yeah, it's a fortunate position to be in, and we'll have decisions to make this summer."
Tapwrit takes Saturday's Belmont Stakes, picture NYRA/Adam Mooshian
Other races in the Classic and/or Dirt Mile division:
Mor Spirit, with Smith up for Baffert, battled Sharp Azteca into submission after three quarters in Saturday's $1.2 million Grade I Mohegan Sun Met Mile, then kicked away to win by 6 1/4 lengths, giving Baffert his fourth stakes win on the day and Smith, his fifth. Mor Spirit, a 4-year-old by Eskendereya, came to the race off victories in Arkansas and Texas. Sharp Azteca was last seen finishing third, beaten just 1 length, in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on World Cup night. The pair made the 124th running of the Met Mile a two-horse race -- until Mor Spirit made it a solo affair, finishing in 1:33.71. "That was pretty impressive, I have to admit," Baffert said.
West Coast came east to Belmont Park and scored an easy win in Saturday's $150,000 Easy Goer Stakes for 3-year-olds. After tracking a wicked pace set by Wicked Macho, Mike Smith let West Coast start making up ground around the turn and he commanded the stretch run, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. You're to Blame ran well late to take second from Outplay. West Coast, a Baffert-trained Flatter colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.50. He now has three wins and two seconds from five starts. "He's ready to take on the top races," Baffert said. "I wanted to run him in the Belmont, but he just didn't sell me."
War Story rallied by pacesetter Tu Brutus and early challenger Sunny Ridge in deep stretch to win Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Brooklyn Invitational at Belmont Park by 2 1/2lengths. Sunny Ridge held second and Tu Brutus, the odds-on favorite, was third. War Story finished the 1 1/2-miles marathon in 2:31.02 with Javier Castellano up. It was his first try at the distance. Trainer Jorge Navarro said he wasn't surprised with the win because War Story "has been training like that." He said he has no firm plans for the 5-year-old Northern Afleet gelding.
It was no walk in the park but Songbird made her comeback a winning one Saturday, taking the $750,000 Grade I Ogden Phipps by 1 length over Paid Up Subscriber. The latter actually put a head in front of the two-time champion as they entered the stretch but Songbird responded to the challenge and jockey Mike Smith hand-rode her to the line. Highway Star was 2 1/2 lengths farther back in third as Songbird finished in 1:42.24. Smith said he was never really concerned despite the pressure. "Not really. You say not really but, yeah, they all get beat. I saw the great Secretariat get beat. But she was ready, mentally and physically." Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer added, "Mike knew what he had under him. We're running to win every time and we don't care what the odds are." He said there has been talk about bringing Songbird back east again this summer for the Delaware Handicap or for Saratoga. "But don't forget we have the Breeders' Cup on the West Coast this year," he added. "That's an important consideration." The Phipps was a "Win and You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Del Mar. Songbird suffered her only career loss in the Distaff last year when she was caught at the wire by Beholder.
Abel Tasman, the Kentucky Oaks winner, lagged the field early in Saturday's $700,000 Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park, found a nice opening on the rail turning for home and shot to the lead, winning off by 1 length. The rail did not seem the best place to be early on Belmont Stakes day but Smith, riding for Baffert, couldn't pass up the opening and Abel Tasman was good enough to overcome any bias. Salty was second and Benner Island was third. Able Tasman finished the one-turn mile in 1:35.37 in her first start since the Oaks. The Quality Road filly, owned by China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms, scored her fifth win from eight starts and her third Grade I. "She's just getting really good and she showed that the Oaks was not a fluke," Baffert said. He said he sees Abel Tasman's future including the $600,000 Grade I Alabama at Saratoga on Aug. 19 "or something like that."
Holy Helena escaped the frenzy of Belmont weekend as trainer Jimmy Jerkens shipped the Ghostzapper filly north -- and was rewarded with victory in Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Oaks. Holy Helena, with Luis Contreras in the irons, waited in mid-pack down the backstretch, advanced through the turn and took over halfway down the lane, winning by 1 length over Mythical Mission. Another New York shipper, Inflexibility, was 6 lengths farther back in third as the favorite. Holy Helena ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:50.15. It was her second win in only her third career start. "The filly helped me a lot the whole way," Contreras said. "I was nice and comfortable, sitting outside and then she gave me everything."
Power of Snunner pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Obeah Stakes at Delaware Park, took over the lead, swapped it with Martini Glass and then came again to win by a neck. Lady Fog Horn was third with the favorite, Mo' Green, fading late to finish fifth. Power of Snunner, a 7-year-old Pennsylvania-bred mare, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.26. The race is the local prep for the Grade I Delaware Handicap. "I waited until about the quarter pole before asking my filly to run," said winning rider Edwin Gonzalez. "When I asked her, she went. When the other filly took the lead, my filly responded gamely and came back. She is tough."
American Anthem did his part for the Baffert-Smith road show Saturday at Belmont Park, circling the leaders on the turn in the $500,000 Grade II Woody Stephens for 3-year-olds and drawing off decisively in the final furlong to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Giuseppe the Great was second and Recruiting Ready finished third. American Anthem, a Bodemeister colt owned by WinStar Farm and China Horse Club, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.14. He was a Kentucky Derby candidate until he finished 10th in the Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park and 12th in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. Baffert turned him back to 7 furlongs for the Grade II Laz Barrera and he won that with a move similar to Saturday's. But the trainer said he's not sure American Anthem has major distance limits. "Mike Smith has always thought he'd go longer," Baffert said. "The way he sat there, and when he pushed the button I thought, 'wow.' It was pretty impressive."
Roy H arrived from Santa Anita for Friday's $250,000 Grade II True North Stakes with a bunch of question marks. The 5-year-old More Than Ready gelding was making his first stakes start and his first start outside California. His best Beyer Speed Figure was his first in triple digits but earned over a wet-fast track. No matter. Jockey Paco Lopez got Roy H to the front at the top of the stretch and he stretched out to a 2 1/2-lengths victory over Stallwalkin' Dude. The favorite, Whitmore, lagged early and barely salvaged third with a late run, snapping a five-race winning streak. Roy H ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.59. "I wasn't intimidated at all by this field," said winning trainer Peter Miller. "I thought that if he ran his race, he'd win."
Big Macher, making his first start since November, rallied to the lead in the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Thor's Echo Stakes for California-breds at Santa Anita and edged off to win by 1 length over K Thirty Eight. The early leader, Got Even, faded badly in the lane, finishing third, another 6 1/4 lengths behind. Big Macher, a 7-year-old Beau Genius gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.98 with Rafael Bejarano up. A multiple graded stakes winner earlier in his career, Big Macher finished ninth and 10th in the last two editions of the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Filly & Mare Sprint
By the Moon pressed the pace set by Mia Torre in Friday's $250,000 Grade III Bed o' Roses Invitational at Belmont Park, edged by that rival in the late going and won by 3/4 length. Lightstream put in a late bid to finish third, a head behind Mia Torre. By the Moon, a 5-year-old Indian Charlie mare, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.46 for jockey Rajiv Maragh. The win backed up her victory last month in the Grade III Vagrancy over the same course. "She always tries and it was another great effort," said winning trainer Michelle Nevin.
Chalon showed the way in Sunday's $150,000 Jersey Girl Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park, extended the advantage at each pole and won off by 6 1/2 lengths under Paco Lopez. Golden Mischief was second, 3/4 length ahead of Sadie Be Good. Vertical Oak, winner of the Grade III Miss Preakness Stakes in her last race, was declared a non-starter after an incident immediately after the barrier was sprung. Chalon, a daughter of Dialed In, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.60. She was 2-for-3 at Santa Anita before coming east for the weekend.
Ascend, an outside chance in a talented field, got first run to the lead in the stretch in Saturday's $1.2 million Grade I Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park and held off the favorite, Time Test, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Sadler's Joy, Beach Patrol and World Approval were right behind in that order. After an uninspired early pace, Ascend, a 5-year-old Candy Ride gelding, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:59.97. It was his third straight win but he was taking a huge jump in class, making his first-ever appearance in a graded stakes. "He gave him a beautiful ride," winning trainer Graham Motion said of jockey Jose Ortiz. "He was in a great spot, a good set up. Pretty much how we thought it'd set up. He ran a great race, but you don't expect to win at 25-1." Javier Castellano, who rode Time Test, lamented, "I wish I could have a little more speed in the race, more pace. It could have been close in the end."
Belmont struck gold with its offer of a berth in Friday's $400,000 Gold Cup Invitational to the winner of last month's Group 2 Comer Group International Oleander-Rennen at Hoppegarten in Germany. Red Cardinal, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred Monjeu gelding, won the German race, his connections accepted the invitation and Red Cardinal rolled by the leaders in the stretch to win Friday's race by a neck. St Michel rallied from even farther back to take second, 2 lengths in front of Now We Can, last year's runner-up for his owner, Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. Red Cardinal's trainer, Andreas Wohler, said the Group 1 Melbourne Cup in November is the main target. "He'll probably have his next race in France," Wohler said. "He then could race in Germany or in Australia itself. We want to give him a little break before he comes back. He'll be fresh for the campaign then."
Sharp Samurai got a smooth rail trip in the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Rainbow Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita and got by the favorite, Conquest Farenheit, for a 1 1/4-lengths victory. Conquest Farenheit had collared pacesetting Monster Man earlier in the stretch run and held second over that foe despite a claim of foul by Monster Man's rider, Santiago Gonzalez. Sharp Samurai avoided the traffic issues and finished 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.51 with Gary Stevens up for trainer Mark Glatt. The First Samurai gelding now is 3-for-6.
Filly & Mare Turf
Hawksmoor sprinted out to a big lead in Friday's $500,000 Grade II New York Stakes at Belmont, got a breather toward the end of the backstretch, then found more in the stretch and won by 1 length. Quidura ran second all the way and finished in that spot, 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Kitten's Roar. The three big favorites, Sea Calisi, Suffused and Dacita, made no impression while finishing fourth, fifth and sixth. Hawksmoor, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred Azamour filly, toured 1 1/4 miles on the firm inner turf course in 2:01.18. "She proved today that she can go a mile and a quarter," said winning rider Julien Leparoux. "I think she can go even longer if we need to, so she's very versatile with distance and how the track is."
Dona Bruja drove by pacesetting favorite Believe In Bertie in the final sixteenth to win Saturday's $100,000 Old Forester Mint Julep at Churchill Downs by 1 1/2 lengths. Sky My Sky was third, 5 1/4 length behind Believe in Bertie. Dona Bruja, a 5-year-old Argentine-bred mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.46 for jockey Declan Cannon. She posted eight wins and two seconds in 10 starts at San Isidro. Saturday's race was her first U.S. start. "She was bred in Argentina and was a champion over there," said winning trainer Ignacio Correas IV. "The turf courses are different here than in Argentina but she handled everything great." He said he is eyeing the Grade I Beverly D. on Arlington Million weekend.
Disco Partner made up a ton of ground around the turn and snuck through a spot on the rail turning for home in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Jaipur Invitational at Belmont Park, finished with vigor to win by 1/2 length over Green Mask and shattered the course record, finishing 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:05.67 under Irad Ortiz Jr. The old mark was 1:06 3/5. He ran the final quarter in 21.87 seconds. Holding Gold finished third. Disco Partner, a 5-year-old son of Disco Rico, picked up his third win from his last four starts and first in a graded stakes. "Irad had him placed in a good position and he was able to take advantage and move forward to finish in the end," said winning trainer Christophe Clement.
Queen Del Valle stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Alywow Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine, engaged pacesetting Will She in a tight stretch duel and prevailed by 1/2 length. India Mantuana was third. Queen Del Valle, a Baryshnikov filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in course-record time of 1:12.93 under Edgard Zayas. She has won nine of 11 starts, all the previous races coming in Florida.
Antonoe made it 2-for-2 in her U.S. career, sneaking up the hedge to win Saturday's $700,000 Grade I Longines Just a Game for fillies and mares by 3/4 length over Sassy Lil Lila. Dickinson challenged pacesetter Sassy Lil Lila for the lead through mid-stretch, then finished third. Antonoe, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of First Defence out of the Dynaformer mare Ixora, was last of seven at the top of the lane before jockey Javier Castellano swung her to the inside for the winning move. She ran 1 mile out of the backstretch chute in 1:32.12 with Javier Castellano up for owner Juddmonte Farms. "I don't think that I've ever had a horse in my training career come home that fast on turf, at any distance, at any level," said winning trainer Chad Brown, who has handled more than a few good ones. Antonoe won a Group 3 event in France as a 2-year-old but found the waters there a little deep and was sent to Brown after the 2016 season. She won an allowance race at Keeneland in April in her first start on these shores.
After stalking the pace, He Hate Me came roaring down the stretch to win Friday's $150,000 Tremont at Belmont Park by 3 1/2 lengths over pacesetter Direct Dial. Admiral Jimmy was just a nose shy of that one. The favorite, Salmanazar, left his race behind the gate, refusing to load and causing a brief delay. He also tracked the pace but was empty by the time the stretch loomed. All eight starters came into the Tremont with 1-for-1 records and only He Hate Me, a Florida-bred Algorithms colt, exits undefeated, running 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.47 for jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. The colt acted up before his first race, just two weeks ago, and trainer Horacio DePaz said he hoped that by bringing him back quickly, He Hate Me would act more professionally, which he did. DePaz said he will go to Saratoga.
A brief spin to the international scene:
Elusive Silva edged Crowd Pleaser in a head-bobbing finish with Black Arthur in close attendance in Saturday's Grade 3 Cup Trial at Greyville, shedding some light on prospects for the Grade I Vodacom Durban July in three weeks' time. Elusive Silva, a 4-year-old son of Silvano, was below his best in his previous start but offered every hope for the July to his trainer Justin Snaith, with Saturday's performance.
One race later, Captain America saw off Trip to Heaven by 1 1/2 lengths in the Grade 1 Rising Sun Gold Challenge with Bela-Bela third and The Conglomerate, last year's July winner, fifth. Captain America stayed close to the pace, took over in the stretch and was too good to catch. Trip to Heaven had missed the break slightly and found that handicap too much to oversome.
Back in North America:
If Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Plate Trial was supposed to firm things up for next month's Queen's Plate -- well, it didn't. Instead, Guy Caballero, at 20-1, rallied down the stretch from last to win by 1/2 length. King and His Court was second, a neck in front of State of Honor. Guy Caballero, a Quality Road gelding out the Rahy mare Dixie Chicken, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.32 with Rafael Hernandez riding. It was his first win since his maiden-breaker last Oct. 8. Catherine Day Phillips trains the gelding for owners/breeders Sean and Dorothy Fitzhenry. "I was confident that he'd run a good race," the trainer said. "But I wasn't sure how he would stack up."
Pink Lloyd broke through the gate before Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Achievement Stakes for Ontario-breds and, per Equibase, galloped a good furlong before being caught and brought back. The unusual warm up seemed to do no harm as the 5-year-old Old Forester gelding was quickly on the lead in the real race and dominated the stretch run, winning by 5 1/4 lengths. Sweet Grass Creek was best of the rest, 3/4 length ahead of Boreal Spirit. Pink Lloyd, with Eurico Da Silva up, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.76. The pre-race work was not clocked.
Master Plan, last of six early, got home first in Saturday's $50,000 Stanton Stakes for 3-year-olds, beating Adonis Creed by 1 1/2 lengths and Super Dude by the same margin. Master Plan, a Twirling Candy colt, was the favorite and cleared about 1 1/16 miles of firm turf in 1:43.63 for jockey Carol Cedeno.
El Deal was the real deal favorite in Sunday's $60,000 Decathlon Stakes and ran to notices, winning by an unchallenged 3 lengths. Ostrolenka was second, 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Still Krz. El Deal, a 5-year-old son of Munnings, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.59 with Jose Ferrer up.
Deer Valley prompted the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Crank It Up Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then outfinished Hidden Mystery for a 1/2-length victory. The pacesetting favorite, Big City Dreamin, settled for show money. Deer Valley, a Speightstown filly, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.02 seconds with Antonio Gallardo riding.
Golden Gate Fields
Krsto Skye rallied boldly from mid-pack to take Saturday's $50,000 Albany Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths -- at odds of better than 62-1. Horse Laugh also had good late kick, finishing second, 1/2 length ahead of pacesetter Rocket Heat. Krsto Skye, a 5-year-old City Zip gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.70 seconds with Aaron Gryder up.
One Liz stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Isaac Murphy Handicap for Illinois-bred fillies and mares, took over the in the lane and went on to win by 3 lengths over pacesetter Puntsville. My Mertie was another 2 lengths back in third. One Liz, a 6-year-old daughter of Kitalpha, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.85 with Jose Valdivia Jr. up.
Gone Too Soon, at the longest odds in the field, waited pretty late to get going in Saturday's $75,000 Sydney Gendelman Memorial Handicap for Ohio-breds. The 5-year-old Belong to Me gelding was last of eight turning for home, passed them all going sevent-wide and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Mo Dont No was second with Gliding Alone third. Gone Too Soon, with Juan Velez in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.47.
Wings Locked Up was out and flying in Saturday's $50,000 Dark Star Cup Stakes and was not caught, winning by 1/2 length over Saturdaynitelites. Wabel finished third and the favorite, Rated R Superstar, struggled home fifth. Wings Locked Up, a 5-year-old Munnings gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.72 with Orlando Mojica riding.
A P Is Loose won a three-horse scramble to the wire in Saturday's $50,000 Minnesota Turf Stakes for state-breds, defeating fellow closer Plenty of Sun by a head. The early leader, Pennant Fever, finished third, another neck behind. A P Is Loose, a 6-year-old Monarchos gelding, ran about 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:30.54 with Dean Butler riding.
Some Say So dictated the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Minnesota Turf Distaff for state-breds and held on well to win by 1 3/4 lengths over First Hunter. The favorite, Honey's Sox Appeal, settled for show money. Some Say So, a 4-year-old Belong to Me filly, ran about 7 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:29.85 with Mojica in the irons.
Evader was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $75,000 ITOBA Stallion Season Herb Hoover Memorial for qualified state-bred 3-year-old colts and geldings and went on to win by 3 1/4 lengths from Octavian Rush. Interference was third. Evader, a Star Cat gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.60 with Marcelino Pedroza riding.
In the companion race for similarly qualified 3-year-old fillies, Defining Hope was the overwhelming favorite and justified the optimism, winning by 11 1/4 lengths. No Bluff Just Hope was second with Pass and Go third. Defining Hope, a daughter of Strong Hope, finished in 1:39.00 with Malcolm Franklin up.