Week of August 20, 2012
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

Terrific turf performances highlighted this week’s graded stakes action, with Americans holding their own against European invaders.

At Arlington, the International Festival of Racing lived up to its billing, with plenty of well-traveled contenders. The inaugural running of the American St. Leger (chart) was captured by Irish-bred, Aussie-owned globetrotter Jakkalberry, who ran third in this year’s Grade 1 Dubai Sheema Classic. Carrying four pounds more, Illinois-bred Ioya Bigtime (Dynaformer) set the early pace, but couldn’t hold the lead when Jakkalberry made his move. Still, it was an impressive showing for the American horse. Both he and Jakkalberry finished well ahead of third-place German-bred Zuider Zee and fourth-place Lake Drop, a Kentucky-bred who’s been raced mostly in Italy.

With only four races under his belt, French-bred Bayrir was easily the lightest-raced horse in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes (chart), but you couldn’t tell that from the professional way he handled some of the best American 3-year-old turf horses, including Dale Romans’ trio of Cozzetti, Finnegans Wake and Silver Max. Riding a six-race win streak, Silver Max was made the post-time favorite, but the front-runner began to fade when they hit the mile-marker, ultimately finished well-back in fifth, 1/2 length ahead of his stablemate Cozzetti. Runner-up Finnegans Wake ran big, though, passing Grade 3 Hill Prince victor Summer Front in the stretch, although still finishing more than a length back of Bayrir.

Another European bested America’s top turf females in the Grade 1 Beverly D (chart), a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” challenge race. Graham Motion-trained Aruna was favored slightly over red-hot Marketing Mix and recent Grade 2 New York Handicap winner Mystical Star. However, it was Irish-bred I’m A Dreamer who won by a head, giving jockey Hayley Turner her first North American Grade 1 victory. Most recently third in the Irish Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh, I’m A Dreamer had excellent form against the likes of Izzi Top and the Queen’s own Carlton House, not to mention she’d performed superbly in her previous North American appearance, just being nipped at the wire by Miss Keller in last year’s Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine. At just over 6-1 odds, I’m A Dreamer paid a generous $14.60 to win. Marketing Mix ran on well late to get second, with English-bred Joviality and German-bred Kapitale finishing third and fourth respectively. Kapitale will remain in North America and next appear in the September 16 Grade 2 Canadian Stakes at Woodbine before perhaps attempting the Breeders’ Cup.

Just when it looked like a European sweep, brave little Florida-bred gelding Little Mike jumped to the lead in the Grade 1 Arlington Million (chart) – and never looked back, holding off English-bred Afsare for the win. Wily 8-year-old veteran Rahystrada and Irish-bred Colombian finished in a dead-heat for third, just a nose ahead of post-time favorite (and “wise guy” play) Crackerjack King. Little Mike’s trainer Dale Romans has indicated the possibility he may next appear in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont on September 29.

If Little Mike does take that path, chances are good that we will witness a monster showdown between him and Point of Entry (Dynaformer) who absolutely dominated the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (chart) at Saratoga on Saturday. The half-brother to tragic Grade 1 Alabama winner Pine Island left no question that he is one of the top American turf horses, easily disposing of veteran Al Khali and Brilliant Speed, who finished second and third respectively, but never threatened the winner. It was a breathtaking performance.

One race later, though, the Hard Spun filly Questing utterly crushed a superb field of 3-year-old fillies in winning the Grade 1 Alabama (chart) by nine lengths. Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan winner In Lingerie ran second, eight lengths in front of third-place finisher Via Villaggio, a Bernardini filly who had last finished second behind Grace Hall in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks. As for that filly, Grace Hall appeared to have been taken completely out of her element, raced closely to the lead in a fast paced race — and had nothing left for the stretch, finishing a well-beaten fifth, more than 31 lengths back of the winner. Finishing nearly 13 lengths ahead of her in fourth-place was Zo Impressive, who suffered a career-threatening (but apparently not life-threatening) condylar fracture in her right front leg during the race and had to be vanned off. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has indicated Questing’s next step en route to the Breeders’ Cup is likely the Grade 1 Cotillion at Parx on September 22.

In the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks (chart) on turf, 3-year-old Scat Daddy filly Lady of Shamrock continued her winning ways, following up her victory in the Grade 1 American Oaks with another win over nearly the same cast of characters. This time, 43-1 longshot Stormy Lucy finished second, 2-1/2 lengths ahead of 26-1 longshot with Open Water, with American Oaks runner-up My Gi Gi and Grade 2 San Clemente victress Eden’s Moon out of the money, in fourth and fifth respectively.

At Saratoga on Sunday, Stephanie’s Kitten smartly captured the Grade 2 Lake Placid Stakes (chart) over Centre Court who came in riding a three-race win streak. After enduring traffic issues in the Grade 2 Lake George last out, jockey John Velasquez patiently wait and timed his move perfectly to get the win. Grade 3 winner Somali Lemonade overcame similar traffic problems to finish third. Considering the performances of Questing, Lady of Shamrock and Stephanie’s Kitten, maybe it’s time to concede that this year’s crop of 3-year-old fillies might just surpass their male counterparts in terms of consistency and providing excitement on the track.

Another 3-year-old filly on her way up is Winding Way, a full sister to recent Grade 2 Adirondack winner Kauai Kate, who successfully stepped up in class on Sunday, coming from last to first in the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo Handicap (chart) at Del Mar. Grade 1-placed Sugarinthemorning led most of the way, but couldn’t hold off the late-charging daughter of Malibu Moon who survived a stewards’ inquiry for cutting off third-place finisher Rumor in the stretch. The lightly-raced Winding Way may be aimed at the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint for trainer Carla Gaines.

All eyes will be on Saratoga this coming Saturday, with a trio of Grade 1 races: the 7-furlong Test for 3-year-old fillies; the 7-furlong King’s Bishop; and the 10-furlong Travers Stakes. On Sunday, the Spa hosts the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, but the real action moves to the West Coast, with Del Mar hosting the 7-furlong Grade 2 Pat O’Brien; the grassy Grade 2 Del Mar Mile; and the 10-furlong Grade 1 Pacific Classic, where star Chilean Group 1 mare Amani will take on the boys. It should make for some exciting racing.

Keep up with all the Del Mar and Saratoga racing commentary
and news at Raceday 360 Wire!

Last Week’s Races

2012 Sword Dancer Stakes Replay
Point of Entry continues his winning streak.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2012 Alabama Stakes Replay
Questing blows the doors of the Alabama.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2012 Beverly D Stakes Replay
I’m a Dreamer holds off Marketing Mix.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2012 Arlington Million Replay
Little Mike takes them all the way.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2012 Del Mar Oaks Replay
Lady of Shamrock battles for the win.

2012 Lake Placid Stakes Replay
Stephanie’s Kitten with an emphatic win.

Video courtesy of NYRA

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