Contrail landed the Japanese Triple Crown in Japan but Mighty Heart fell short in Canada in highlights of weekend horse racing while Irish-bred horses flexed their muscles in Australia, sweeping the top four spots in the Cox Plate.
There was no shortage of 2-year-old action in France and England, though the rain-soaked ground might make it tough to gauge what it all meant.
And while U.S. racing interest focused on preparations for the Breeders' Cup World Championships two weeks down the road, Belmont Park and Laurel Park hosted lucrative festivals for state-bred animals.
We'll host this and hope you enjoy the visit:
Contrail became the eighth Japanese Triple Crown winner -- and the first to do so undefeated -- with a hard-won victory in Sunday's Grade 1 Kikuka Sho or Japanese St. Leger at Kyoto Racecourse.
Racing in the middle of the big field through most of the 3,000-meters, the Deep Impact colt joined a line of horses vying for the lead turning into the stretch run. He quickly found the front, only to see Aristoteles, who had shadowed him from the start, virtually glued to his flank.
The two raced together for the final 100 meters with Contrail never conceding anything and Aristoteles never giving up. The final margin of victory was a neck with Satono Flag third, 3 1/2 lengths farther back.
Contrail's victory also completed the first father-son sweep of the Triple Crown. And following last week's triumph in the Japanese fillies Triple Crown by Daring Tact, it promises some interesting competition in the big Grade 1 races that enrich the rest of the season.
"I can't say that I was successful in keeping him relaxed during the race with so much pressure from Aristoteles," winning rider Yuichi Fukunaga said of Contrail's effort in the Kikuka Sho.
"It turned out to be a tough race for us with Aristoteles looking quite strong and persistent, and this race may not have been his best performance," Fukunaga added. "But I kept my faith in Contrail and he certainly showed how strong he is to have maintained his position up to the end of the 3,000-meter trip."
Contrail, out of the Unbridled's Song mare Rhodochrosite, was bred by North Hills Co. Ltd. and races for Shinji Maeda.
The surprise of the Kikuka Sho was Aristoteles, an Epiphaneia colt who was overlooked at 23-1 despite having leading rider Christophe Lemaire in the irons. He entered the race with three wins and four seconds from eight starts, albeit at lower class levels.
Contrail (blue and rad silks) wins Sunday's Kikuka Sho or Japanese St. Leger, completing a sweep of the Japanese Triple Crown, picture Japan Racing Association
Sir Dragonette threaded through between rivals into the short stretch run and went on to win Saturday's Group 1 Ladbrokes Cox Plate at Moonee Valley, leading a 1-2-3-4 sweep by Irish-bred horses. Armory was second and Russian Camelot third as things sorted out in the final 100 meters. Sir Dragonette, with Glen Boss up, finished the 2,040 meters on soft going in 2:08.46.
Sir Dragonet, a 5-year-old son of Camelot, was trained in Ireland by Aidan O'Brien and finished second to then-stablemate Magical in his last start, the Group 1 Gold Cup at the Curragh July 26. After that, he was sold to his new Australian interests with the stated ambition of swinging at the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup.
O'Brien retains command of Armory, a 4-year-old son of Galileo, last seen finishing third behind Magical and Ghaiyyath in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown Sept. 13. Russian Camelot, another Camelot 4-year-old, salvaged a smidgeon of local pride as he has spent his racing career in Australia.
Boss said Sir Dragonet's performance might herald an even better performance in the 3,200-meters Melbourne Cup Nov. 3.
"He was actually just starting to get warmed up towards the line, this horse," Boss said in post-race interviews. "He was actually getting quicker just near the post … He might be running in the Melbourne Cup, and might be running very well in one, I tell you."
The dominance of the Coolmore Irish bloodlines in Saturday's race put a bit of an exclamation point to a local social media uproar about a fictional, computer-generated Cox Plate involving some of recent history's best runners from around the globe. England's Frankel was declared the winner, catching America's Secretariat in the late going. Winx, the Australian super mare who won three real Cox Plates but never took on international competition, finished third in the simulation to howls of protest from local punters.
On Friday, Hey Doc got a narrow lead at the top of the stretch in the Group 1 Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes and held on to win by about 3/4 length from the favorite, Trekking. Dirty Work, always in the mix, finished third. Hey Doc, a 7-year-old gelding, won the Manikato in 2017 but visited the winner's enclosure for the first time since last November, when he captured the Group 1 Winterbottom Stakes at Ascot. He was well beaten by some of Friday's rivals in each of his last two starts.
England / France 2-year-olds
It's usually tough to sort out the late-season 2-year-old races in the UK and Europe as the ground often is well below good and some late-bloomers can pull off surprises. All of that was true again during the weekend at Saint-Cloud in France and Doncaster in England.
Saturday's Group 1 Vertem Futurity at Doncaster closed out the Group 1 racing season in England with Mac Swiney turning in a professional win over the favorite, One Ruler. Baradar made a late bid outside rivals to be third with Cobh, the early leader, running on well enough to secure fourth after a rough moment some 2 furlongs out. Mac Swiney, a New Approach colt, finished the straight 1 mile over heavy going in 1:41.98.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien scratched the heavy favorite, Wembley, saying jockey Ryan Moore reported after an earlier race the ground at Saint-Cloud was the "worst he had rode on all season," per Racing Post -- a verdict borne out by the time of the Futurity.
Mac Swiney has been dramatically in-and-out through his six starts, finishing, in order, fifth, first, ninth, first, eighth and now first again. The best efforts have come over ground less than good. One Ruler, by contrast, has not been worse than third in five outings.
Jockey Kevin Manning said he feels the Jim Bolger trainee is a candidate for the 2020 Epsom Derby. "I think when he steps up again in trip next year, with a winter under his belt, he'll be a real one. The better the race, the better you're going to see from him," the rider said.
While Manning was focused on the Derby in England, Mac Swiney was earning 10 points on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, where he now leads in a four-way tie with Sealiway, New Mandate and High Definition. Cobh earned 1 point to go with 2 collected via a third-place finish in the Royal Lodge Stakes. And remember, it's just more than six months until the first Saturday in May.
The other juvenile action was at Saint-Cloud in France, where Van Gogh provided huge promise for Coolmore with a 4-lengths victory in the Group 1 Criterium International and Gear Up led and bravely held on to win the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud at 2,000 meters.
Van Gogh provided his sire, American Pharoah, with his first European Group 1 win and did it easily. Parked at the back of the compact field into the stretch run, jockey Pierre-Charles Boudot found room on the inside rail, shook the reins and the issue quickly was put to rest. Boudot gave Van Gogh one tap with the whip, then let him coast home, 4 lengths in front of Normandy Bridge. The favorite, Jadoomi, was third, followed by the promising filly Tiger Tanaka. The 1 mile went in 1:48.31 (correct), reflecting the state of the racing surface, officially described as "heavy".
Van Gogh was produced by the Sadler's Wells mare Imagine, the 2001 Epsom Oaks winner. It was the colt's second win from seven starts and followed a second behind the aforementioned One Ruler in the Group 3 Autumn Stakes at Newmarket Oct. 10.
Gear Up, a Teofilo colt trained by Mark Johnston, went postward at odds of 27-1 despite having won twice and finished fourth in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes. He obviously couldn't translate those odds from French to English and led all the way to a hard-fought victory by a short neck over Botanik. The favorite, Makaloun, was third with a late run. Gear Up ran 2,000 meters on the heavy going in 2:21.99 -- nearly 18.5 seconds short of par for the distance.
Notes: Gear Up and Mac Swiney were both bred by Jim Bolger … the Hong Kong Jockey Club purchased a full brother to Gear Up at the Newmarket sales this month … Saturday's race was not blessed by Churchill Downs but Gear Up has 1 point on the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" thanks to an earlier win.
Subjectivist led every step of the nearly 2 miles of Sunday's Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak at Longchamp and held on gamely to win by 2 lengths. The favorite, Valia, made up significant ground to finish second without threatening the winner. Holdthaisgreen was third. Subjectivist finished in 3:38.68, some 20 second slower than par, over the heavy going with Joe Fanning riding for trainer Mark Johnston.
Subjectivist, a 3-year-old Teofilo colt, won a Group 3 race at Goodwood in August but otherwise had not previously covered himself with glory. Now, Johnston said he could challenge Stradivarius next season for supremacy among stayers.
"Staying has always been the plan for him, and he's just done it a little bit sooner than we had originally planned," Racing Post quoted the trainer. "The idea was that he would always be a Cup horse for next year and he's proved himself a Cup horse already."
Meanwhile, back in the North America:
There is no Triple Crown in Canada in 2020 as Mighty Heart, winner of the first two legs, burnt himself out in a pace duel down the Woodbine backstretch in Saturday's $400,000 Breeders' Stakes, then caved, finishing seventh, beaten more than 20 lengths. While that performance was a disappointment to his connections and fans, it opened the door for his stablemate, Belichick, who rallied from mid-pace, took charge at the top of the lane and roared home first by 4 lengths. A pair of long shots, Meyer and English Conquerer, filled out the trifecta.
Belichick, a Lemon Drop Kid colt out of the Montjeu mare Game, entered the race still maiden after finishing second in the Queen's Plate. While trainer Josie Carroll sent Mighty Heart on to win the second leg of the Triple Crown at Fort Erie, she kept Belichick home to regain strength for the 1 1/2 miles of the Breeders' Stakes. The plan worked.
"Turning for home, I was just in hand all the way to the quarter pole and I asked him to run from the stretch home and he did," said winning rider Luis Contreras. "I was just watching, just feeling my horse at the same time. And he was doing great the whole way. He came into this race very ready, good thing for Josie and all the crew."
Mighty Heart's rider, Daisuke Fukomoto, said he hadn't planned to lead. When he found himself there and under pressure, "I tried to take hold, too…but that's racing."
Maxim Rate trailed most of the field down the backstretch in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Goldikova Stakes for fillies and mares, began to make up the difference on the turn and dominated the stretch run to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Zee Drop was second at a big price with Tonahutu third and the favorite, Raymundos Secret, fourth. Maxim Rate, a 4-year-old Exchange Rate filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.85 for jockey Umberto Rispoli. She entered off a runner-up showing in the Grade I Rodeo Drive Stakes Sept. 26 and now has three wins from her last four starts.
"I'm thinking the Matriarch at Del Mar," said Maxim Rate's trainer, Simon Callaghan. "That was actually our initial plan. After her last race I sat down with all the owners and that was the plan. She came out of her last race so well so I said, 'To be honest, we kinda need to run this filly because she is doing great.' Thankfully it worked out."
Biddy Duke got away with an uncontested lead in Saturday's $100,000 Senator Ken Maddy Stakes for fillies and mares, then held on through the closing strides to win by a head over Jo Jo Air. An Eddie Surprise was third and the favorite, Magic At Midnight, finished fifth with traffic issues. Biddy Duke, a 3-year-old Bayern filly, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.03 with Juan Hernandez up. She won for the third time in her last four starts while moving up to graded stakes company for the first time.
One Bad Boy led from the start in Sunday's restricted $70,000 Lure Stakes at 1 mile on the turf, then held off the late swoop of Majestic Eagle to win by 3/4 length. Gregorian Chant was third. One Bad Boy, a 4-year-old Twirling Candy Ridgling, finished in 1:33.27 with Flavien Prat riding.
The Lure was carded for "3-year-olds and upward which have not won a sweepstakes of $55,000 at 1 mile or over in 2020 other than state-bred." For short, that's "NW $SB X". And we wonder why this game is challenging for newcomers.
Merveilleux raced in mid-pack through the first mile of Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Wonder Where Stakes for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, surged to the lead by the sixteenth pole and drew off to a 3-lengths victory. Gun Society was third, 1 length in front of the favorite, Curlin's Voyage. Merveilleux, a Paynter filly out of the Holy Bull mare Breech Inlet, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:05.34 with Rafael Hernandez in the irons.
King Fury, under Brian Hernandez Jr., dueled Super Stock into submission in the stretch run of Sunday's $98,000 Street Sense Stakes for 2-year-olds, winning by 1/2 length. Oncoming Train was third, 3 3/4 lengths farther back. King Fury, a Curlin colt out of the Flatter mare Taris, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.30 and the Kenny McPeek trainee clearly is one to watch.
In Sunday's $98,000 Rags to Riches Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, Coach waited behind the pace, took the lead turning for home and held off Lady Traveler to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Oliviaofthedesert was third. Coach, a Commissioner filly, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.14 with Florent Geroux in the irons.
Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Athenia for fillies and mares looked wide open and played out that way although trainer Chad Brown came away with yet another graded stakes win on the New York turf. Tapit Today, three-wide on the turns, engaged front-runner Mitchell Road inside the final furlong and finally got by to win by 1 length over that foe. She's Got You, another of Brown's charges, finished third, another 1 length back. Tapit Today, a 5-year-old Tapit mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on the firm inner turf course in 1:42.56 with Jose Ortiz riding.
Worth noting: Tapit Today and Mitchell Road were third and second, respectively, in their last start, the Grade III Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf. Regal Glory, who won that race, also is trained by Brown.
Saturday was Empire Showcase Day in Elmont with a hefty program dedicated to the New York-breds.
Mr. Buff assumed a quick early lead in the $175,000 Empire Classic at 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track and wasn't caught, winning by 3 1/4 lengths over Bankit. Sea Foam was third and the favorite, Funny Guy, was fourth after a bobbling start. Mr. Buff, a 6-year-old gelding by Friend or Foe, finished in 1:48.75 with Junior Alvarado riding.
Lucky Move moved from last of seven to win the $175,000 Empire Distaff by 1 3/4 lengths over Mrs. Orb. Makingcents was third and the favorite, Ratajkowski, faded from the lead to finish fourth. Lucky Move, a 6-year-old mare by Lookin at Lucky, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.36. Irad Ortiz Jr. had the mount for trainer Juan Guerrero.
Laobanonaprayer took back early in the $150,000 Maid of the Mist Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, then was stuck wide but survived all of that with ease, drawing away late to win by 5 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Frost Me, ran evenly to finish second with Chasing Cara third. Laobanonaprayer, a Leoban filly, got 1 mile in 1:38.06 with Kendrick Carmouche in the irons.
Brooklyn Strong ran past the two pacesetters in the final furlong to capture the $150,000 Sleepy Hollow Stakes for 2-year-olds, winning by 2 1/4 lengths. Eagle Orb and the favorite, Breadman, dueled for the lead and finished second and third. Brooklyn Strong, a Wicked Strong gelding, finished in 1:37.16 under Jose Ortiz.
On the firm turf, Myhartblongstodaddy went quickly to the lead in the $150,000 Ticonderoga Stakes for fillies and mares, loped along nicely for jockey Jose Lezcano and edged away at the end to win by 3 lengths. War Canoe came from last of six to finish second, a neck in front of Niko's Dream. Myhartblongstodaddy, a 5-year-old Scat Daddy mare, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.66.
Somelikeithotbrown was a popular, front-running victor in the $150,000 Mohawk on the lawn. The 4-year-old Big Brown colt, with Javier Castellano at the controls, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.02 and reported 1 1/2 lengths in front of runner-up Therapist. It was 2 1/2 lengths more to Cross Border in third.
The Hudson Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs went to Tribecca, a 6-year-old Bustin Stones gelding to led from gate to wire. Big Engine was second, 3 lengths back and 1/2 length in front of the favorite, Captain Bombastic. Tribecca, with Karmouche up, finished in 1:16.01.
Collegeville Girl could see all nine rivals early in the $125,000 Iroquois, a sprint for the distaffers, but came seven-wide around most of them to get the job done, winning by 1/2 length. Prairie Fire was second, a neck better than Timely Tradition. Collegeville Girl, a 4-year-old daughter of Central Banker, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.48 for jockey Joel Rosario.
Saturday was Maryland Million Day at Laurel, one of the most-anticipated dates of the season for the local racing fraternity.
Monday Morning found another gear in the stretch run of the $150,000 Classic and was long gone by the time the favorite, Harpers First Ride, got going from the back of the pack. At the line, Monday Morning was 3 1/4 lengths out front of Harpers First Ride with 45-1 shot Tattooed third. Monday Morning, a 3-year-old colt by Imagining, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:4813 with Sheldon Russell up.
Hello Beautiful dueled to the lead in the $100,000 Distaff, then kicked in as an odds-on favorite should, winning off by 11 1/4 lengths. Quiet Imagination beat the other seven with Le Weekend third. Hello Beautiful, a 3-year-old Golden Lad filly, ran 7 furlongs in 1:21.84 with Russell in the irons for trainer Brittany Russell.
Karan's Notion had 'em all the way in the $100,000 Sprint and won by 1 length over fellow longshot Baptize the Boy. Lewisfield was third with the favorite, Onemoregreattime, fourth. Karan's Notion, a 3-year-old Great Notion gelding, got 6 furlongs in 1:09.15 with Yomar Ortiz up.
Epic Idea dueled for the lead in the $100,000 Ladies Stakes at 9 furlongs on the turf, put away that rival and then fought to the wire against new rivals, winning by 3/4 length. Gennie Highway was second, another 3/4 length better than Mosalah. Epic Idea, a 4-year-old Great Notion filly, was clocked in 1:55.06 over turf rated "good".
Pretty Good Year, a 15-1 chance, came from last of 12 to win the $100,000 Turf, finishing 1 length to the good of Cannon's Roar. Nick Papagiorgio ("National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation" reference) was third. Pretty Good Year, a 4-year-old Great Notion gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm going in 1:52.32 under Russell.
Fiya, a 3-year-old Friesan Fire gelding, kicked away from the field in the final furlong of the $75,000 Turf Sprint, winning by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:03.56. So Street was best of the rest.
Among the 2-year-olds, Miss Nondescript, a Mosley filly, rallied from a stalking spot to win the $100,000 Lassie by a neck over the favorite, Street Lute. Kenny Had a Notion stalked the pace in the $100,000 Nursery, then got the idea in the lane, sprinting off to win by 5 lengths over Alwaysinahurry.
Common Knowledge came running late to win Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) CTHS Sales Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings by 5 1/2 lengths over Shotthrutheheart. The odds-on favorite, Bang On, ran evenly but lacked any late punch, finishing third. Common Knowledge, a Mank gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.78 for jockey Antonio Whitehall.
In Friday's $50,000 (Canadian) 2-year-old fillies division, Grandma Jo rallied from next-last of eight to win by 3/4 length over Count On It. It was another 5 lengths to Alberta Moon in third. Grandma Jo, a daughter of Exhi, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.63 with Rigo Sarmiento in the irons.