Big Blue Kitten earned himself a spot in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Turf with a win in the United Nations Stakes (Photos courtesy Eclipse Sportswire)
With 17 graded stakes races taking place over the holiday weekend, North America was the place to be for good racing this week. Like last weekend, two victors received a ticket to the Breeders’ Cup by hitting the wire first in “Win And You’re In” races. Bahamian Squall became the first horse to earn entry into the Breeders’ Cup Sprint gate while Big Blue Kitten became the first North American runner to get a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf gate.
But the most emotional race of the weekend had to come at Betfair Hollywood Park with Game On Dude winning the Hollywood Gold Cup. The 2013 edition of the race was its last as Hollywood Park is closing at the end of the year.
Letting Game On Dude get away with a first quarter in 25 seconds flat wasn’t a smart move by the jockeys. While Game On Dude was carrying anywhere from 8 to 11 pounds more than the other four horses in the field, you just can’t let a front running horse like that go that slow. The other fractions did speed up a bit but after the first quarter, you knew it was over.
GAME ON DUDE WON THE LAST TWO EDITIONS OF THE HOLLYWOOD GOLD CUP
It wasn’t surprising to see Game On Dude win his second Gold Cup in as many years but it was surprising to see the performance from Kettle Corn. Kettle Corn has proved to be a decent horse but I don’t think anyone expected him to get so close to the Dude. He came within a length of one of the top geldings racing, putting in a gutsy performance.
Game On Dude’s wire-to-wire victory took him to 4-for-4 on the year with the gelding winning over $1.8 million this year alone, not too bad for a 6-year-old gelding.
Little Mike looked like he was back to pre-Dubai form in the erly stages of the United Nations but Big Blue Kitten was the star of the show. Big Blue Kitten ran near the back of the pack for most of the race and took the lead down the stretch after running up the rail to take the Grade 1 by 1 ¼ lengths.
Teaks North finished second, almost making a major update to his page as he sells next week at Fasig-Tipton’s July Sale, and Hangover Kid made a big splash by finishing third in his first graded stakes appearance. The best he had been able to do in stakes company before this race was a sixth in his only career stakes appearance last September. Little Mike faded to forth but that can be somewhat excused as it is his first start after running at the Dubai World Cup meet back in March.
Big Blue Kitten was already a graded stakes winner but that win was two years ago. However, he has been consistently on the board in graded stakes since that win other than a failed trip to Royal Ascot last year so it isn’t too surprising that he won here.
“Another memorable ride from [jockey] Joe Bravo,” said Chad Brown, Big Blue Kitten’s trainer. “That was one for his highlight reel. I had so much confidence in Joe riding this horse. I came down when he ran at Monmouth last out, and Joe told me if he knew this horse a little bit more he would have probably won that one.”
Starship Truffles owned the third Grade 1 event of the weekend when she blitzed home 3 ¾ lengths ahead in the Princess Rooney Handicap at Calder. The win was a huge step up for the Ghostzapper filly, as she hadn’t even won an ungraded stakes before the race.
Favorite Judy the Beauty had some issues during the race to finish second but no matter what she did, it’s likely she still would have been beat as Starship Truffles was on fire. Her sire Ghostzapper was also hot on Saturday, getting three graded stakes winners in a little over an hour. It was a great day for Adena Springs who stands Ghostzapper in addition to Ghostzapper’s sire Awesome Again, who is also the sire of Game On Dude.
Like Starship Truffle, Bahamian Squall made a big step up at Calder’s Summit of Speed, winning the Smile Sprint Handicap on Saturday for a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. While he is a very consistent horse that has only been off the board three times in 12 starts, he had never won a graded stakes race before.
BAHAMIAN SQUALL TOOK ON A LARGE FIELD IN THE SMILE SPRINT
Bahamian Squall sat in third for the early stages of the race but in the stretch he took on Trinniberg and flew past last year’s Champion Sprinter to win the race by 1 ¾ lengths for owner-breeder Donald Dizney.
Other than a close fourth in his last out, Bahamian Squall has hit the board in every race since April 2012. He could be a dangerous horse in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint as the division is somewhat weak this year and he is getting good at the right time.
Bahamian Squall’s trainer David Fawkes knows how to prepare a horse for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint as he won the race with Big Drama in 2010, Big Drama also won the Smile that year.
"It's tough to keep them healthy for a long time," Fawkes said. "We'll look at something at Saratoga [for his next race]. Every horse is different but we'll follow a similar path. Fortunately good horses stay good for a long time."
Bahamian Squall and Starship Truffles weren’t the only ones to win during Calder’s Summit of Speed as Wildcat Lily and Mico Margarita won the Azalea Stakes and Carryback Stakes, Calder’s other two graded stakes races.
Thirteen hundred miles north of Calder, Flat Out showed his love for Belmont Park again when he won the Suburban Handicap on Saturday, his fifth win on the track in six starts. Sitting off of Percussion, who led for most of the race, Flat Out looked like he was in no danger of losing at even-money odds. Running the 1 1/8 mile race in a time of 1:46.87, Flat Out won his second Suburban in three years.
“I was happy to see him break as well as he did, and then I thought, ‘Maybe he broke too well.’ You worry about him going head and head,” said Bill Mott, his trainer. “But then, he eased off the other horse and had a nice trip down the backside. He looked like he did it the right way. He just eased back, and when [jockey Junior Alvarado] wanted him, it looked like he went right to the leader when he asked him.”
Flat Out is definitely racing in the wrong era as he would be a sure bet to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic if it was run at Belmont. However, with the series at Santa Anita for 2013 and 2014, it doesn’t look like he will get a chance to run in the race on his home track. He has proved he doesn't need Belmont to do well in the Classic, finishing third last year and fifth in 2011.
FLAT OUT IS EXTREMELY FAMILAR WITH THE BELMONT WINNER'S CIRCLE
If all goes well Flat Out could enter the Whitney Invitational, a “Win and You’re In” event, before going on to the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. Flat Out hasn’t been able to win the Whitney in two tries at the race but he did win the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2011 and 2012.
Chief Havoc pulled a surprise in the four horse Swaps Stakes field when he beat three former Triple Crown contenders to the wire. Chief Havoc had only entered one stakes race before the Swaps, finishing sixth in last year’s Foxwoods Champagne Stakes. He won the race in a time of 1:50.17 while Tiz A Minister, who had enough points to consider running in the Kentucky Derby, finished second. Blue Grass Stakes winner Java’s War, last seen running 13th in the Kentucky Derby, finished last.
King Kreesa took on six others in the Poker Stakes and won his second in a row going wire-to-wire in the race. The New York-bred won the one-mile event by 1 ½ lengths in a time of 1:33.65 over third choice Howe Great.
The 4-year-old gelding is a multiple stakes winner but captured his first graded stakes win in the Poker after finishing second in two graded stakes races this year. While King Kreesa went off as the second choice, he may have been even more regarded if it wasn’t for the ½ length that kept him from winning a Grade 1 race last year.
The most surprising finish for me in this race was Data Link. He last finished second to Wise Dan in April, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but could only pull off a fourth place in this field. He had a two race winning streak going into his match with Wise Dan and I don’t doubt that he’ll be back and ready to roll in his next start. Trainer Shug McGaughey is good about giving horses what they need and I expect that he’ll be an interesting one to watch in the fall, especially if he goes in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Ben’s Cat continued his domination of the east coast turf sprint circuit this weekend when he won the Parx Dash Handicap by 1 ¼ lengths. Somewhat surprising, he didn’t go off as the favorite even though he has three stakes wins this year, although the favorite did beat him in his last start.
While Ben’s Cat’s record is impressive, this was just his fourth graded stakes appearance. However, it is fair to point out that he won this race last year when it was an ungraded event. Overall, this is his 17th stakes victory and 22nd victory overall.
On the other coast, a possible contender in the Distaff turf division stepped up on Saturday when Schiaparelli won the Royal Heroine Mile Stakes at Hollywood Park. Schiaparelli is another one of those Ghostzappers that got her sire a graded stakes win on Saturday, this time on the turf. She is now on a two race winning streak, last winning an ungraded stakes and finishing second to Mizdirection in her only other graded stakes appearance, also this year.
SCHIAPARELLI WAS THE QUEEN OF THE TURF AT HOLLYWOOD ON SATURDAY
One worry for Schiaparelli’s Breeders’ Cup prospects is that there are no female restricted races that fit her. All of her wins and stakes placings have come at a mile or less on the turf, leaving her only the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint or Mile if they want to keep her in her comfort zone. Both are races against males and the Mile usually draws the toughest field of the Breeders’ Cup weekend.
In Canada, Solid Appeal improved her record to 3-for-3 on the year after she won the Dance Smartly Stakes at Woodbine on Sunday for her second stakes win of the year. Winning by two lengths in a time of 1:46.19 over the 1 1/8 miles, Solid Appeal was in perfect stalking position for most of the race, sitting in third. Julie’s Love, partially owned by Bobby Flay finished second with No Explaining finishing third.
The last major race of the weekend wasn't a graded stakes race but was one the racing world had its eyes turned toward. The Queen's Plate, run at Woodbine every year is Canada's Kentucky Derby. Restricted to 3-year-olds bred in Canada, this year's edition attracted 12 horses on the rainy day. Going off at odds of 16.60-to-1, Midnight Aria was the wire to wire winner of the 1 1/4 mile race.