Time-honored racing programs in Ireland, France and England competed for attention during weekend horse racing with an upstart track on the Kentucky-Tennessee border that has quickly assumed a major role in U.S. racing.
Kentucky Downs, the former Dueling Grounds, wrapped up its brief but lucrative meeting Sunday with record wagering of just more than $74 million over six days, $16 million in purses paid and Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" events in the books.
Slotting in perfectly after the Saratoga and Del Mar meetings, the all-turf Kentucky Downs racing has grown exponentially with funding from historical racing machines pumping purses. Top owners, trainers and jockeys have caught on quickly.
"Our goal," said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs' vice president for racing, "is to serve as a mini all-turf Breeders’ Cup and to stamp ourselves as truly an international launching pad to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. We took a big step in that direction this year."
Meanwhile, who goes on to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe after Sunday's trials at Longchamp? See the international section for clues. The same section also has results from Ireland's huge weekend, including even more Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" affairs.
Stradivarius won again. Japan is gearing up for resumption of its Grade 1 program.
Away we go.
Imperador came with a rush from well back to reach contention in Saturday's $1 million Grade II Calumet Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs, dueled Glynn County into submission through the stretch and then held off the favorite, Arklow, by a neck for the win. Glynn County salvaged third. Arklow was checked and steadied behind horses early in the stretch run, likely costing him an easy win. Zulu Alpha, the 2019 winner, was scratched and will be retired. Imperador, a 5-year-old, Argentine-bred son of Treasure Beach, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:25.70 -- a course record. Joe Talamo had the ride for trainer Paulo Lobo.
Imperador was a Group 1 winner in his native land but had made five previous starts in North America without a win. He was second in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park in his previous start and secured a "Win and You're In" spot in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf thanks to Saturday's win.
Lobo said he plans to train Imperador up to the Breeders' Cup Turf, adding, "In the Breeders' Cup we are going to be in deeper waters but this horse I think is peaking at the right time. I think he is going to enjoy Del Mar."
Filly & Mare Turf
Princess Grace was a rare favorite winner on Saturday's Kentucky Downs program. Starting last of nine in the $750,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf Stakes, the 4-year-old daughter of Karakonte saved ground around the sweeping turn and hit another gear in the long stretch to take the lead. She then had to hold off late-running Dalika to win by 1/2 length. Abscond was just a nose behind that one in third. Princess Grace, with Florent Geroux in the irons, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34. The victory was her sixth from seven starts at seven different tracks.
"The credit for this race goes to (owner) Susan Moore," said Princess Grace's trainer, Michael Stidham. "We weren't really planning on entering. Entry morning she called and said, 'You sure you don't want to enter? Let's just enter and take a look.'
"The plan was to wait and go in the First Lady (at Keeneland) and go for the Grade I," Stidham continued. "And she said, 'Well let's enter and take a look'. That's where this race came from."
Sunday at Kentucky Downs, Family Way stalked the pace in the $550,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Marathon, rallied to the lead three-wide and drove home first by a neck over La Lune. Go Big Blue Nation, who led through much of the stretch run, was third by another nose. Family Way, an Uncle Mo filly, finished 1 5/16 miles on firm turf in 2:07.83 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons. Brendan Walsh trains Family Way, a Kentucky-bred who started her career in France.
"This was going to be our plan at the end of the year," Walsh said. "It was always on the cards. We thought that the distance was maybe going to stretch her a little bit but she seemed like she got it pretty good. She loved the track here today."
They're off and running in the Ladies Marathon at Kentucky Downs, which wrapped up a record meeting Sunday, photo by Coady photography, courtesy of Kentucky Downs
If Saturday's $1 million FanDuel Turf Sprint at Kentucky Downs is any measure, Gear Jockey appears to have found his niche. Since the Twirling Candy colt was cut back in distance this spring by trainer Rusty Arnold, he has steadily improved right up to a 2 1/2-lengths score in Saturday's rich event. Diamond Oops and Bombard were second and third as Gear Jockey and jockey Jose Lezcano completed 6 furlongs on firm going in course-record time of 1:07.90.
Gear Jockey took nine tries to find the winner's circle as he dabbled in the 2020 Triple Crown chase. He then had several tries at 1 mile and more before Arnold hit on sprinting. Now he gets a chance to move up another notch as Saturday's race was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
"The depth of this field was unbelievable," Arnold said. "It was a Breeders' Cup (quality) race. To show up today was just huge."
In Good Spirits stalked the pace in Saturday's $600,000 Mint Ladies Sprint at Kentucky Downs, ran to the lead about 1 furlong out and went on to win by 2 lengths over Catch a Bid. Lagertha, a 69-1 long shot, led a good part of the way and held on for third. In Good Spirits, a 4-year-old Ghostzapper filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.35 after drawing in from the also-eligible list. John Velazquez had the mount for trainer Al Stall Jr. She was second in the Grade II Caress at Saratoga in her previous start and clearly seems headed in the right direction.
Stall said he was hoping for a scratch and a chance to get In Good Spirits into the race and loaded her into the trailer at Churchill Downs Saturday morning when he got the call from Kentucky Downs' racing office.
"It was worth the trip," he deadpanned.
Three-year-olds were sprinting in Saturday's $600,000 Grade II Franklin Simpson Stakes at Kentucky Downs and, as was the case through much of the card, favorites were not winner's circle-bound. Instead, The Lir Jet drafted behind the speed, found a way through at the top of the stretch and won off by 1 3/4 lengths at odds of nearly 9-1. Easy Time and Fauci were second and third, both at double-digit odds, The Lir Jet, an Irish-bred gelding by Prince of Lir, got 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.38 for jockey Tyler Gaffalione.
Raced previously in England and Ireland, The Lir Jet visited the United States once before, finishing seventh in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland, and was virtually just off the plane and into the care of trainer Brendan Walsh. It was the third straight year a horse campaigned by Sheikh Fahad Al Thani's Qatar Racing Ltd. has won the race. The sheik was on hand to celebrate.
Sunday at Kentucky Downs, Tobys Heart trailed much of the field into the turn in the $500,000 Nelson's Green Brier Whiskey Music City Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, cut the corner and got going through the stretch. After 6 1/2 furlongs, she was out front by 2 1/2 lengths at the finish with Alwayz Late second with a late run. Risky Reward rewarded her backers by holding third after leading into the lane. Tobys Heart, a Jack Milton filly trained by Brian Lynch, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.36 with Joel Rosario up. She was coming off a third in the Grade III Lake George at Saratoga.
"It was perfect," Rosario said. "The horse ran really well there. I was waiting to see if something would open up for her. They just decided to stay off the rail, and she just outran them when she was clear."
War Bomber drove to the lead in the stretch drive of Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Toronto Cup for 3-year-olds at Woodbine, turned back a challenge from the favorite, Gretzky the Great, and went on to win by 2 lengths. Arties Storm and Riptide Rock were up for second and third with Gretzky the Great fading to finish fourth. War Bomber, a War Front gelding, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.14 with Shaun Bridgmohan aboard. The $75,000 (Canadian) winner's share of the purse was an immediate dividend for owner Bruno Schickedanz and trainer Norman McKnight, who claimed War Bomber out of his last race for $25,000 (Canadian).
Tap It To Win wasted no time taking the lead in Saturday's $180,000 (Canadian) Grade III Seagram Cup on the Woodbine all-weather course and was never seriously threatened as he went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths. The favorite, last year's Queen's Plate winner Mighty Heart, finished second, 1/2 length better than Special Forces. Tap It To Win, a 4-year-old Tapit ridgling, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.79 with Rafael Hernandez in the irons.
Skygaze pressed the pace in Sunday's $120,000 (Canadian) Belle Mahoney Stakes at Woobine, surged to the lead and cleared to win by 3 lengths. Crystal Glacier rallied from last of six to finish second, a neck in front of No Mo Lady. Skygaze, a 4-year-old American Pharoah filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.73 with Patrick Husbands in the irons.
Francatelli set a pressured pace in Saturday's $100,000 Rumson Stakes, shook off rival Sagamore Mischief, then held off Quick Tempo to win by a neck. Sagamore Mischief finished third. Francatelli, a 4-year-old City Zip gelding, dashed 5 furlongs on a fast track in 57.26 seconds. Mychel Sanchez rode.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Koala Princess chased down pacesetting Mystic Eyes during the long stretch run in Sunday's $500,000 Ainsworth Stakes at Kentucky Downs and kept running to score by 2 1/4 lengths. Mystic Eyes eked out a second-place finish, 1/2 length in front of Poppy Flower. Koala Princess, a More Than Ready filly, covered 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:15.25. Joel Rosario had the mount for trainer Arnaud Delacour. Koala Princess won her only previous start by 6 1/2 lengths on the Monmouth Park turf.
"It's good to win races. They're tough to win here," Delacour said. "Everybody shows up with what they think is their best stock at the time. Whoever will handle the track, that is always a question mark."
Around the world, around the clock:
Saturday's Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown always promised to be a battle royale despite a field of only four. The finish lived up to the promise with St Mark's Basilica rolling past a game Poetic Flair in the final 100 yards to win by 3/4 length. Tarnawa, winner of the 2020 Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, settled for third after being carried well across the track by the winner in the late going and the stewards reviewed that action before making the result official. Patrick Sarsfield was an uninvolved fourth at the finish after leading the way through the early furlongs.
St Mark's Basilica, a Siyouni colt, scored his fifth straight win dating back to the Group 1 Darley Dewhurst last October. This year, he was victorious in the French Guineas and Derby and the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse. The Aidan O'Brien trainee missed a scheduled start in the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York with a minor training setback.
The Irish Champion Stakes was a "Win and You're In" for November's Breeders' Cup Turf at Del Mar and O'Brien insisted no firm plan is in place for the remainder of the colt's year.
Another inquiry was needed to finalize the Group 1 Coolmore "Justify" Matron Stakes, this time to the disappointment of the Coolmore forces. The winner, No Speak Alexander, with Shane Foley up, edged left in the final furlong, rudely shutting off Mother Earth and jockey Ryan Moore. No Speak Alexander went on to win by a neck with Pearls Galore second, another 1 1/4 lengths in front of the luckless favorite.
The Matron was a "Win and You're In" for the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf Nov. 6 at Del Mar.
Atomic Jones earned a "Win and You're In" spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf with a late-running victory in Saturday's Group 2 KPMG Champions Juvenile at Leopardstown. The French-bred Wootton Bassett colt made it 2-for-2, defeating joint favorite Stone Age by a head. Absolute Ruler was a close third.
The action shifted to the Curragh on Sunday, highlighted by the Group 1 Comer Group International Irish St. Leger. In that, Sonnyboyliston was always prominent, put in his bid in the final two furlongs and got the job done by 3/4 length. Twilight Payment was best of the rest, 1 1/2 lengths better than Baron Samedi. Joseph Patrick O'Brien saddled both Twilight Payment and Baron Samedi. Aidan O'Brien trains King of the Castle, who reported fourth. Donnacha O'Brien handles Emperor of the Sun, who finished fifth.
Sonnyboyliston, a 4-year-old gelding by Power, backed up a victory in the Sky Bet Ebor Handicap in his previous start while landing his first Group race win.
Romantic Proposal earned a "Win and You're In" spot in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint with a 16-1 upset win in the Group 1 Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes. The 5-year-old Raven's Pass mare overcame traffic to take the advantage inside the final furlong and won by 1/2 length from A Case of You. Her sire was primarily a miler but also won the 2008 Breeders' Cup Classic on the old Santa Anita all-weather surface.
Discoveries chased down Agartha in the final yards to win the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by 3/4 length. Sunset Shiraz was third and the favorite, Cairde Go Deo, was sixth. Discoveries, a Niarchos Family homebred Mastercraftsman filly out of the Rahy mare Alpha Lupi, avenged a third-place finish behind Agartha in their last start. Her sire was fourth in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita and she earned a "Win and You're In" spot in this year's Juvenile Fillies Turf at Del Mar.
Native Trail found more in the final furlong of the Group 1 Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes for 2-year-olds and got clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths from the favorite, Point Lonsdale, in another tough beat for Coolmore. Native Trail, an Oasis Dream colt racing for Godolphin and trainer Charlie Appleby, improved his record to 3-for-3. Point Lonsdale, by Australia, suffered his first defeat in his fifth start.
La Petit Coco was up in the final strides to defeat favorite Love by a nose in the Group 2 Moyglare "Jewels" Blandford Stakes. La Petit Coco, a 3-year-old filly by Ruler of the World, won her third straight race while stepping well up in class. Love won the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot and was third in both the Group 1 King George and the Group 1 Juddmonte International in her last two starts.
Who advances from Sunday's trials to next month's Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe? As always, weather and the condition of the Longchamp turf will play a major role. But there are what Americans might call some "new shooters" in the mix after Teona defeated Snowfall and Deep Bond and Bubble Gift also posted upsets Sunday.
Teona, who chased Snowfall home twice in the springtime, reversed that form in the Group 1 Qatar Prix Vermeille for fillies and mares. The 3-year-old Sea the Stars filly got by pacesetting La Joconde with some 200 meters to run and had no problem holding the lead while Snowfall labored to get up for second. There was a great deal of chatter after the race about the pace jockey Hollie Doyle set on La Joconde and Frankie Dettori was able to make up some ground with Snowfall. But the result nonetheless was quite clear.
"I think we should consider it," winning trainer Roger Varian said of the Arc, per Racing Post. "But I don't think she'd like an Arc on soft ground. The nice thing is she's in the race and we don't have to make these decisions for another couple of weeks."
Snowfall, a Deep Impact filly out of the Galileo mare Best in the World, drifted higher in bookmakers' Arc odds list sans any immediate commitments from the Coolmore connections.
Deep Bond, a 4-year-old Kizuna colt, arrived from Japan with just two wins from nine starts back home. But his recent form was better, including a second in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) in his last start and he ran to that, and then some, in Sunday's Group 2 Qatar Prix Foy. Leading from the start under Cristian Demuro, Deep Bond rolled home first by 1 1/2 lengths, ridden out. Again, it was Dettori settling for second aboard Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner Broome, a 5-year-old son of Australia owned in partnership by Coolmore and Japanese interests. The favorite, Skalleti, got home fourth.
Although his sire won the Niel in 2013, then finished fourth behind Treve in the Arc, trainer Ryuji Okubo wasn't in a rush to commit Deep Bond to the Arc.
Bubble Gift returned from a brief vacation to win the Group 2 Qatar Prix Niel for 3-year-olds in the final stride over Baby Rider. The favorite, Pretty Tiger, finished fifth and last, beaten just 3 1/2 lengths. Bubble Gift, a Nathaniel colt, won for the second time. He was last seen finishing sixth in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris over the same course on Bastille Day.
The Niel was run devoid of its primary interest when Bolshoi Ballet was ordered scratched, reportedly for missing a vaccination deadline by three days earlier in the year amid changes in French regulations. The Galileo colt won the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational two starts back.
Bubble Gift remained along shot for the Arc with the bookmakers and Aidan O'Brien said the Coolmore lads will have to reassess Bolshoi Ballet's plans since he was denied the chance to show what he could do with 1 1/2 miles.
Friday's question was: Who's the best stayer anywhere? And the answer: Stradivarius. It was an easy quiz, evinced by the fact the 7-year-old son of Sea the Stars was odds-on as he strode out confidently under Frankie Dettori to win the Group 2 Doncaster Cup by 2 1/2 lengths, geared down through the final strides. Alerta Roja was second and Nayef Road third, adding their names to the long list of quality horses who have seen the wrong end of Stradivarius. Stradivarius has won three of his last four starts after ground-related defeats in last year's Arc and Champions Long Distance Cup.
Goodwood Cup winner Trueshan was a late non-runner in the Doncaster Cup when ground-softening rain came too late to suit his strong suit but, looked at from the other side of the glass, held off just long enough to work to the advantage of Stradivarius. Those two are the most likely for British Champions Long Distance Cup next month at Ascot, with the going likely to be the same type of factor.
Regardless of decisions about Ascot, Stradivarius, who moved into a tie with the legendary Cirrus des Aigles for most worldwide Group-race wins by a European-trained horse (17), may not be done. Trainer John Gosden said the veteran clearly still enjoys his life and "he will race" until he tells his humans he's done.
Hurricane Lane made a statement of his own in Saturday's Group 1 Cazoo St Leger at Doncaster, the final Classic of the British season. With William Buick riding the Frankel colt for Godolphin and trainer Charlie Appleby, the result was clear some 2 furlongs from home as Hurricane Lane blew down the stretch clear of his rivals to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Mojo Star and The Mediterranean were second and third at the end of the 1 mile, 6 1/2 furlongs.
Hurricane Lane has won six of seven starts, his only loss a third in the Cazoo Derby at Epsom, where he reportedly lost both front shoes.
Incentivise had the lead on the rail thundering down the stretch in Saturday's Group 1 PFD Food Services Makybe Diva Stakes at Farmington, handled a challenge by the favorite, Tofane, then gamely held off Mo'unga and Sir Dragonet by a neck and a nose. Tofane had to be content with fourth. Incentivise, a lightly raced 5-year-old gelding by Shamus Award, won for the seventh straight time while facing rivals vastly superior to those he'd seen previously.
Fine Rouge, a filly who looked like a good thing until she finished 11th in the Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks when asked to go 1 1/2 miles, looked good again Saturday in winning the 1 1/4-miles Grade 3 Shion Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Nakayama by 1 3/4 lengths. The Kizuna filly rolled past the leaders five-wide on the second turn, accelerated to the front just inside the 200-meters mark and held the late bids of Through Seven Seas and Miss Figaro. It was her third win from six starts with the Yushun Himba her only finish outside the first three.
Sunday. Resistencia took a daylight lead at mid-stretch in the Grade 2 Sankei Sho Centaur Stakes at Chukyo Racecourse, then was all out to preserve the win by a neck over Pixie Knight. Kurino Gaudi was third. Resistencia, a 4-year-old Daiwa Major filly, won the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in 2019 and has been second in three subsequent top-level races, most at 1 mile. Her final time of 1:07.2 in Sunday's race could point toward continued efforts at the 1,600-meters trip.
Meanwhile, back in North America:
Number One Dude, set off as the prohibitive favorite, justified his fans' faith with a stretch-running, 7-lengths victory in Friday's $50,000 Oklahoma Stallion Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds. Just Chillin was best of the rest, a nose in front of Rosie's Outlaw. Number One Dude, an American Lion gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.44 with Leandro Goncalves up.
Gotta See Red led all the way to a 3 1/2-lengths victory in the companion $50,000 Oklahoma Stallion Filly Stakes. Run Slewpy Run and Courtly completed the exacta. Gotta See Red, a Pollard's Vision filly, was timed in 1:24.76, also with Goncalves aboard.
Starship Bonita and Starship Nala came home first and second in Saturday's $100,000 Sheer Drama Stakes for Florida-bred fillies and mares, 3/4 lengths apart. It was another 3/4 length to Thismytime in third. Starship Bonita, a 6-year-old Gone Astray mare, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.92 under Jesus Rios. The first two finishers are owned by Starship Stables and trainer Steven Dwoskin.
Slammed slammed four rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Petticoat Stakes for New Mexico-bred 3-year-old fillies, dominating the stretch run en route to a 6 1/2-lengths victory. Proofsinthepuddin was second, another 4 1/2 lengths in front of Line Call. Slammed, a Marking filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.67 with Tracy Hebert up.
Not So Quiet swept by pacesetting long shot Rockcrest in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Vice Regent Stakes for Ontario-breds and got away to a 1 1/2-length score. Rockcrest held second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of City Boy. Not So Quiet, a 6-year-old Silent Name gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.25 seconds for jockey Rafael Hernandez.
Uncharacteristic and Myopic both came running late to finish 1-2 in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Canadian Derby, 3/4 length apart. The pacesetting long shot, Smart Play, yielded grudgingly to finish third, a neck back of Myopic. Uncharacteristic, a Kentucky-bred Texas Wildcatter gelding, ran 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:04.16 with Alexander Marti up.
Heidi was along late to win Saturday's $75,000 Century Casino Oaks by 1/2 length over Plum Blue. Heidi, a Bayern filly, got the 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.29 for jockey Silvino Morales.
News and Notes
Churchill Downs on Friday unveiled the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" schedules, keeping the three competitions basically the same as last year's but adding a ban on horses trained by six-time Derby winner Bob Baffert. While the rule doesn't specifically name Baffert, it says points will not be awarded to a horse "trained by any individual who is suspended from racing in the 2022 Kentucky Derby or any trainer directly or indirectly employed, supervised, or advised by a suspended trainer." Baffert was suspended by Churchill Downs after a drug positive was reported for his Medina Spirit, who finished first in the 2021 Derby.
Also last week, the New York Racing Association announced a hearing schedule concerning its decision to ban Baffert from Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga. That ruling was put on hold by court order.