American Pharoah may be headed for an early retirement after defeat in the Travers but Flintshire is on to the Arc d'Triomphe after dominating the Sword Dancer on one of the biggest racing weekends of the summer.
There were some upsets and some favorite winners at Saratoga as the huge crowd waited to see the Triple Crown champ. In California, Gimme Da Lute and Stellar Wind continued their winning ways.
Back at Saratoga, Sheer Drama won the Personal Ensign and her trainer says she's ready to take on Beholder -- especially outside California. Dacita won in her first start since arriving from Chile. And the first two under the wire in the King's Bishop were making their first start since Ellis Park.
But, speaking of unlikely, let's start with ...
It was pretty clear as he neared the stretch turn that American Pharoah was not on his usual form in Saturday's $1.6 million, Grade I Travers -- the Mid-Summer Derby. Jockey Victor Espinoza and trainer Bob Baffert both said they knew they were in trouble. Still, the Triple Crown champ had enough class to finally get clear of Frosted, who had pressed him from the start, and had every chance to notch his ninth straight win. But then Keen Ice, who had finished third behind American Pharoah in the Belmont and second behind that rival in the Haskell, flew by on the outside under Javier Castellano, winning by 3/4 length from the spent favorite. Frosted finished 2 1/4 lengths farther back in third and Upstart was fourth. It was the first defeat for American Pharoah since his career opener at Del Mar almost 13 months ago and owner Ahmed Zayat said afterward it may be time to retire his champion. "My gut feeling right now, without being outspoken, is to retire," he said at the post-race news conference. "My gut's saying, if the horse showed me that he tailed off, he's not the Pharaoh I know, then there's no question in my mind that the right thing is to retire him." Espinoza, however, said there was nothing wrong with American Pharoah. "Maybe it was just a little too much for him, those three weeks (since the Haskell), flying back and forth … By the half-mile pole, I knew I was in trouble." So, presumably, Zayat, Baffert, Espinoza and their families will give the Pioneerof the Nile colt time to recover, reassess and decide whether the Breeders' Cup Classic is still on the agenda. That race definitely is in the cards for the improving Keen Ice. It was only the second career win for the Curlin colt, owned by Donegal Racing and trained by Dale Romans. Romans said Donegal's Jerry Crawford "called me this morning and said, 'Let's put him in the race. We don't need to run second again in a Grade I. Let's try to win.' We put him in the race and Javier rode him perfect … American Pharoah's legacy is not tarnished in any way," Romans added. "Secretariat got beat, Seattle Slew got beat, Affirmed got beat." "They all get beat," Baffert agreed Sunday morning as he led American Pharoah to the fence outside his barn to greet some fans. He said the colt seems fine. "He was himself. He was his sweet self."
In other action in the Classic division:
Island Town stalked the pace established by Souper Colossal in Saturday's $300,000, Grade III Smarty Jones at Parx Racing, scooted right by that one when asked and sailed off to win by 6 3/4 lengths. Souper Colossal finished second, 2 3/4 lengths better than Battle Midway, and the favorite, Divining Rod, beat only one rival while fading late. Island Town, a Hard Spun gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:44.10 with Brian Hernandez Jr. up. Island Town, trained by Ian Wilkes, won the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs in June but finished fifth in the Grade II Indiana Derby last month.
Valid engaged Bradester early in the stretch run in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Philip H. Iselin Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at Monmouth Park, then shook loose and went on to win by 3 1/2 length over that rival. Matterhorn was third, a neck farther back, with a late rally. Valid, a 5-year-old Medaglia d'Oro gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.14 under Nik Juarez, who surrendered his apprentice allowance just four days earlier. It was his first win since the Grade III Fred W. Hooper Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February, although he has been in the money consistently in the interim. "Down the backside, he was just dragging me," Juarez said. "at the three-eighths pole, Bradester started to make his run so I asked my horse and he really just ran strong and held him off all the way to the wire."
Good Luck Gus emerged from behind a tepid pace battle to win Friday's $250,000 Albany Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds at Saratoga, outfinishing One Sided by 1/2 length. Bellamy Way was third and New York Derby winner Force, after contesting the lead, tired to finish fourth. Good Luck Gus, a Lookin at Lucky colt, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.81 with Luis Saez in the irons. He posted his first win of the year in his third start. "When we came to the stretch, I tried to look for the room, but everyone was moving in and out," said Saez, who was riding his third straight winner. "When I had a little opportunity, we grabbed it, and he kept going."
Flintshire dominated a very good field in Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga, saving ground throughout after starting a step slow, shooting to the lead on the turn for home and drawing off to win by 2 1/2 lengths without much encouragement from jockey Vincent Cheminaud. The 5-year-old son of Dansili finished 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in near-record time of 2:23.77 and appears well set to try to deny Treve her third straight win in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in little more than a month. Flintshire finished second to Treve in last year's Arc, then was second to Main Sequence in the Breeders' Cup Turf and went on to win the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin in December. He came into Saturday's race off a second place -- again behind Treve -- in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on June 20. "He loves fast ground, a mile and a half, so from that point of view he's ideal," said Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager for the owner/breeder Juddmonte Farms. "It's hugely important to get a win like this before the Arc … He's a remarkable horse. He's just so unbelievably consistent. He's traveled the world. He's won in Hong Kong, he's won in Dubai, and now he's won here. He's a remarkable horse." Jose Ortiz, who rode Red Rifle, said Flintshire "was much the best." The course record, by the way, is 2:23.20, established in 1997 by the vastly underappreciated Awad.
Lubash rallied by the favorite, King Kreesa, inside the sixteenth pole in Friday's $150,000 West Point Stakes for New York-breds at Saratoga and went on to win by 1 length over that rival. Notacatbutallama was well back in third. Lubash, an 8-year-old son of Freud, ran 1 1/16 miles over the firm inner turf course in 1:43.04 with Junior Alvarado up. He now has won four of his last five starts, including the Grade III Tropical Turf Handicap at Gulfstream Park West last November. He was second to King Kreesa in this race last year. "It's fun," said winning trainer Christophe Clement. "I'm not going to be around many horses who win stakes when they're 8 years old. I thoroughly enjoy it and I'm very grateful. I don't do anything special with him. He's that good. He's been overcoming me for the past four years."
Nun the Less, in from Arlington Park, rallied from last to win Saturday's $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury Park by 1 length over Gallery. The favorite, Syntax, saved ground, made a bid in the lane and settled for third. Barbados continued a string of rum runs by getting home fourth. Nun the Less, a Candy Ride colt, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.82 with Florent Geroux in for trainer Chris Block and the owner, Lothenbach Stables. The winner finished third in the Grade III American Derby at Arlington in July and picked up his first stakes victory. "This way exceeded my expectations," said Minnesota resident Robert Lothenbach. "I really expected to finish fourth. The pace set up perfectly for us."
Sheer Drama came three-wide to the early leaders in the stretch drive in Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga and edged clear in the final sixteenth to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Got Lucky also ran well late to take second with Untapable and Stopchargingmaria fading from their early pace battle to finish third and fourth. Sheer Drama, a 5-year-old Burning Roma mare, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.05 with Joe Bravo aboard. She now has been first or second in seven straight races, all graded stakes. "Joe rode a perfect race, which I asked him to do," said winning trainer David Fawkes. "I told him that most likely those two horses would go and to please sit behind them. It couldn't have gone any better. When I saw that neither of the other two was getting away from the other, it made me really comfortable. I loved the fact they were doing all of the work and that's how I hoped it would go." The race is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Distaff and Fawkes said that's where Sheer Drama is headed. He added he hopes division leader Beholder will opt for the Classic at Keeneland. "But if I've got to beat her, too, I'll do it," he said.
Stellar Wind had no problem with five rivals in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Torrey Pines Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar, rallying from a pace-stalking position to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Big Book was best of the rest, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Rattataptap. Stellar Wind, a Curlin filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.43 with Victor Espinoza at the controls after returning from Saratoga and practicing for five hours for the debut episode of "Dancing With the Stars." She now has five wins from seven starts and also finished fourth in the Kentucky Oaks. "We're happy," said winning trainer John Sadler. "I came with the idea of having one race down here so she'll have a big fall. We've got some big races ahead this fall, probably one prep before the Breeders' Cup. It could be the Zenyatta at Santa Anita. But this is a nice stepping off point." With a nod toward Beholder's barn, he indicated he will be keeping an eye on the competition.
Filly & Mare Turf
Dacita, making her first start of the year and first outside her native Chile, rallied from the back of the field to win Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Ketel One Ballston Spa Stakes at Saratoga by a head over the favorite, Tepin. My Miss Sophia put in a late run to take third. Dacita, foaled in October of 2011, is a Scat Daddy filly. She ran 1 1/16 miles on the firm inner turf course in 1:39.67 with Javier Castellano up, still fresh from his upset win in the Travers one race earlier. Dacita won six of her nine starts in Chile last year and finished fourth in the Chilean Derby. "This filly ran terrific," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "She's been a little difficult to figure out in the morning. She's a good-looking filly. She came into my barn in good shape. She's been steady in her works. I figured maybe she would need a race actually coming in here."
Photo Call tracked the early pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Violet Stakes at Monmouth Park, took over in the stretch and held off Cushion for a 3/4-length victory. The favorite, Granny Mc's Kitten, finished third. Photo Call, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Galileo, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.94. "The plan was to keep her covered up and relaxed as long as possible and that's what I was able to do," said winning rider Trevor McCarthy. "Around the far turn, I swung her out and she really ran on after that." It was her third win from 12 starts.
The Tea Cups rallied way wide from last of 10 to upset Friday's $150,000 Yaddo Stakes for state-bred distaffers at Saratoga, surging late to score by 1 length over Old Harbor. Selenite was third and the overwhelming favorite, Discreet Marq, faded in the final sixteenth to finish fifth. The Tea Cups, a 5-year-old daughter of Hard Spun, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:42.92 with Luis Saez timing the finish just right. It was her second win in three tries this year. "They were going quick up front and the closers seemed to have been having a better chance than the horses that were up front," said winning trainer Jeremiah Englehart. "I was a little worried that she was back so far, but he just gave her a really good ride. Luis did a phenomenal job."
Runhappy and Limousine Liberal, both last seen at Ellis Park in Kentucky, ran away to finish 1-2 in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I NYRA.com King's Bishop Stakes for 3-year-olds -- and in near-record time. Runhappy had a comfortable lead throughout the 7 furlongs, winning by 4 lengths, and Limousine Liberal turned back a stretch bid by the favorite, Holy Boss, for place money. Runhappy, a Super Saver colt, got home in 1:20.54 -- just 0.14 second off the track record set by Darby Creek Road in 1978. Edgar Prado was aboard the colt for the first time in his fifth career start, which earlier included wins at Turfway Park, Indiana Grand and Ellis. Trainer Maria Borel now has four wins from four starts this year. "We were pretty confident going in," Borel said. "He couldn't have been training any better and we wouldn't have spent the money to come up here if we thought he couldn't win. I was a little nervous at the early fractions but I knew he could do it. We really prepared him well at home. I knew he was good, but that was really good."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Unbridled Forever started last of seven in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Ballerina Stakes for fillies and mares, made her move outside the leaders in the stretch run and was up to win by 1 length. Kiss To Remember got second, also with a stretch run, and Room For Me was third. The favorite, Dame Dorothy, was never in the mix and finished sixth. Unbridled Forever, a 4-year-old filly by Unbridled's Song, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.54 for John Velazquez, making her 2-for-2 this year. She finished fifth in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff but the Ballerina is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Asked about his plans, trainer Dallas Stewart said, "We'll have to talk about it. It's a 'Win and You're In' and now we're in. Hard to change her now. I don't know about stretching her out and then dropping her back, so we'll see." Unbridled Forever was bred and is owned by Charles Fipke.
Lady Shipman pressed the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Smart N Fancy Stakes for fillies and mares at Saratoga, then took over and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Free as a Bird was second and Rumble Doll rumbled up from last to get show money. Lady Shipman, a 3-year-old Midshipman filly, got 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in course-record time of 1:00.46 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up for trainer Kathleen O'Connell. It was her eighth win from 10 career starts and fourth straight victory. "She handles herself well," O'Connell said, "especially for a 3-year-old. I asked Irad to use his own judgment. He's a good rider."
Gimme Da Lute continued his domination of Southern California with a pace-stalking victory in Saturday's $100,000 El Cajon Stakes for 3-year-olds at Del Mar. After tracking Fame and Power, jockey Martin Garcia sent Gimme Da Lute to the lead turning for home and he prevailed gamely between rivals by 1/2 length, running 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.79. Fame and Power was second, just a neck in front of Desert Dynamo. Thanksgiving Day, 22 1/4 length farther back, completed the order of finish. Bob Baffert got some consolation for American Pharoah's loss in the Travers as he trains the top two finishers in this heat. Gimme Da Lute, a Midnight Lute colt, now has won four straight races dating back to the Grade III Affirmed at Santa Anita in June. "He ran a game race," said Baffert assistant Mike Marlow. "He ran tough. He had every reason to get beat and he didn't."
Sudden Surprise was no surprise at all in Friday's $200,000 Funny Cide for New York-bred 2-year-olds at Saratoga. The Giant Surprise colt, much as he did while winning at first asking a month ago, went out to the lead and never looked back, winning by 2 lengths over Manipulated, another first-out winner from earlier in the meeting. It was another 5 1/2 lengths back to Dr. Shane in third. Sudden Surprise, with John Velazquez up, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.42. He was very professional in his debut and he came back and ran another big race today," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "I'm very proud of him." Pletcher said the colt will be pointed toward the $250,000 Sleepy Hollow at Belmont Park on Oct. 24.
Zackarooney dueled the favorite, Copper Cajun, into submission in Saturday's $75,000 Evangeline Downs Star Stakes and went on to win by 5 3/4 lengths over that rival. Won Again finished third. Zackarooney, a K One King colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.01 with Donald Simington aboard.