Week of June 10, 2013
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

Engaging storylines abounded this weekend, as a son outdid his father, an old timer proved age is never an obstacle when the will is strong, and a turf star found agony in victory.

As the third jewel of America’s 3-year-old Triple Crown, the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes has historically produced some of the most exciting results in American thoroughbred racing history. Who can forget the 1978 battle royal between Affirmed and Alydar, or Secretariat’s dominating 31 lengths victory 40 years ago? More recently, the Kentucky Oaks-winning filly Rags to Riches gave subsequent 2-time Horse of the Year Curlin all he could handle, battling him through the stretch to the wire before winning the 2007 Belmont Stakes by a nose.

How fitting it is that from his first crop Curlin produced a Belmont Stakes winner in Palace Malice! Minus the blinkers that he wore in the Kentucky Derby, Palace Malice did not immediately go to the lead. Instead, the two inside horses, Frac Daddy and Freedom Child went to the front, with Oxbow and Palace Malice just behind them. In the backstretch, Frac Daddy faded first, followed by Freedom Child who lost the lead to Oxbow while rounding the final turn. Somewhat surprisingly given the rather quick early fractions, both Palace Malice and Oxbow validated their stamina pedigrees by finishing one-two, well ahead of late-closing Orb who just didn’t have enough left to make much of an impact late. It was just a length back to lightly-regarded (but extremely well-bred) Incognito in fourth, the only entrant not running on the anti-bleeding medication Lasix. Revolutionary weakened to finish fifth.

The Belmont’s sole filly entrant Unlimited Budget outran her questionable damside stamina pedigree, finishing a respectable sixth, just behind stablemate Revolutionary. For the Street Sense filly, the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 20 appears to be her next target, where she will once again face her stablemates Princess of Sylmar and Dreaming of Julia. For the other Belmont top-finishers, summer campaigns that culminate in the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga on August 24 are on the agenda.

One race prior to the Belmont, the 10-furlong Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap featured a tremendous stretch battle between 1-2 favorite Point of Entry and Oxbow’s stablemate Optimizer. On Derby Day, trainer Shug McGaughey had scratched Point of Entry from the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic due to the yielding turf (and perhaps the presence of Horse of the Year, Wise Dan), but that was apparently not an option on Saturday. Toting 124 lbs. (to Optimizer’s 118), the Dynaformer horse gamely fought on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Optimizer; the Italian-raced Kitten’s Joy colt Real Solution (obviously relishing the wet going) was just a neck back in third. Less than 24 hours later, it was discovered that the half brother to ill-fated Pine Island (who had to be euthanized following her breakdown in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Distaff) had suffered a non-displaced condylar fracture to his left-hind cannon bone and will undergo surgery, putting him on the shelf for a time, although his connections are hopefully he’ll be able to return for another tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Turf in November.

The other Grade 1 turf stakes on the Belmont undercard was the 8-furlong Grade 1 Just a Game Stakes, where 4-year-old Stephanie’s Kitten affirmed the wet turf prowess of her sire’s progeny, capturing her second consecutive race. She did not, however, go off as the post-time favorite; that honor went to last-out Grade 1 Jenny Wiley winner Centre Court who this day ran into some traffic problems and finished out of the money in fourth. Just a half length behind Stephanie’s Kitten was Grade 1 Matriarch victress Better Lucky; it was another 3 lengths back to Hungry Island. Last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Mizdirection ran well on the lead early, but the yielding turf tired her, and she finished a disappointing fifth, although well ahead of last-place Laugh Out Loud, an English Group 1-placed filly making her American debut.

Due to the diligence of Belmont’s track groomers, the dirt surface was upgraded to good for both the 6-furlong Grade 2 True North Handicap and 7-furlong Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes. In the True North, the Zayat Stables entry of Fast Bullet and Justin Phillip ran a clear one-two, with D. Wayne Lukas-trained Laurie’s Rocket a distant third. A large field of 11 3-year-olds went to post in the Woody Stephens, with Grade 3 Derby Trial victor Forty Tales motoring late to get up for the win over Declan’s Warrior and Clearly Now, with favorite (and early leader) Let Em Shine fading to fourth.

Friday’s heavy rains resulted in the Grade 3 Jaipur Stakes being taken off the turf and 7 scratches, leaving only 2 original runners and 3 main-track-only entries going to post over a sloppy track. Big Screen immediately went to the lead, tracked by the Hard Spun colt Reload. As they entered the stretch, Reload faded and a new challenger took on Big Screen—his stablemate Souper Speedy. After some bumping, Big Screen crossed the line first, only to be placed behind his stablemate due to disqualification in a rather questionable call given the state of the track and the horses’ ability to maneuver in the horrible conditions.

The same miserable rainy environment prevailed in the 12-furlong Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap where no track records were threatened, but a tremendous performance was turned in nonetheless. It was Percussion who went to the early lead, followed by 2011 Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice and Chilean Grade 1 winner Quick Casablanca. As is his modus operandi, 10-year-old Argentine-import Calidoscopio dropped back—WAY back—to run at least 22 lengths behind of the front-runners. In the grand tradition of the best deep closers, Calidoscopio started his relentless assault as they rounded the final turn and with the long Belmont stretch at his mercy, he gobbled up ground, sailing past Percussion to win by a length. It was another 5 lengths back to favorite Fast Falcon in third. The performance certainly validated his victory in last year’s Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Marathon, a race for which he will undoubtedly be aimed once again.

Two turf routes highlighted the action at Hollywood Park on Saturday, beginning with the 10-furlong Grade 2 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap. The last three runnings of this race were won by Acclamation who is now retired from racing, so the two who appeared most likely to take up the crown were last year’s runner-up Slim Shadey and in-form 4-year-old All Squared Away. Both had met up most recently in the 10-furlong Grade 2 San Marcos at Santa Anita, with the veteran 5-year-old Val Royal gelding coming out on top, with All Squared Away in third. Here, Lucky Primo went to the lead, with Slim Shadey tracking in second with Tale of a Champion just inside him in third. As they rounded the final turn, Slim Shadey had nothing left, ultimately finishing last. It was Tale of a Champion that grabbed the lead and held on under Joe Talamo, defeating All Squared Away by a length, with Lucky Primo finishing third. The likely next start for Tale of a Champion is the July 14 Grade 3 Sunset Handicap.

Already three times Grade 1-placed, 3-year-old Scarlet Strike came into the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap with a victory in the 9-furlong Grade 3 Providencia and a narrow second-place finish in the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes. A half sister to Grade 1 King’s Bishop winner Visionaire, Scarlet Strike had never finished out of the money in 11 lifetime starts on all three racing surfaces (dirt, synthetics and turf). Made the odds-on favorite here, she had to rally from dead-last, roaring up the stretch from the far outside but it wasn’t quite enough to catch front-running Sarach who held on to win by one length. Macha held on to third, with the late-closing Becky Lou up for fourth-place. All four top finishers from the Honeymoon are now likely for the July 14 Grade 1 American Oaks.

Given her excellent form against the best East Coast turf mares (Stephanie’s Kitten, Hungry Island and Centre Court), it’s no wonder that Daisy Devine went to post in the Grade 3 Mint Julep Handicap as the 4-5 favorite. After Soft Whisper set rather soft early fractions with Daisy Devine just off her right flank, the favorite made her move mid-way through the stretch, but Miz Ida came roaring from the outside to win by 1 1/4 lengths. For last year’s Grade 3 Valley View winner Miz Ida, it was only her second start after a nearly 6-month layoff and one in which she enjoyed a 3-pound weight advantage over the favorite. Making her first start of the year, Grade 3 winner Colonial Flag finished third, a neck in front of Soft Whisper.

For awhile it appeared that 55-1 longshot Two Notch Road would steal the Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes on the front-end, but, alas, it was not to be, as odds-on favorite Boisterous came on late for the win. Second-choice Big Blue Kitten prevailed in the photo for second, with Two Notch Road getting third. With John Velazquez aboard, Boisterous captured his first victory since last November’s Grade 2 Red Smith Handicap; he finished second behind Successful Dan in the Grade 3 Ben Ali most recently. Big Blue Kitten, on the other hand, had his two-race win streak broken, while gutsy 6-year-old Two Notch Road continued his comeback off a 31-month break.

Sunday’s trio of stakes races at Woodbine began with the Alywow Stakes, a 6 1/2 furlong turf sprint for 3-year-old fillies. In a bizarre turn of events, the 6-5 favorite Spring Venture broke from the gate—and then stopped, refusing to run! The heads-on view showed no impediment to her effort, so those who wagered on her were just out of luck as no refunds where warranted. Instead, front-running Akron Moon took control, only to be nosed out by late-charging Overheard in the final strides. A Grade 3 runner-up earlier this year in the Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland, Overheard actually improved upon the performance of her dam Whisper to Me who ran third in the 2007 Alywow. In an interesting twist, Overheard and third-place finisher Savvy Hester (who went off at odds of 61-1) are actually closely related, as their third dams are half sisters to the great New York Filly Triple Tiara winner Chris Evert.

The Plate Trial Stakes was not without its own early race drama, as last year’s Grade 3 Grey Stakes victor River Seven stumbled out of the gate, landing directly on his nose. Unfortunately, the race’s third-choice among handicappers would not recover enough to make an impact on the outcome. Neither did post-time favorite Pyrite Mountain who finished just out of the money in fourth-place. It was River Seven’s stablemate, Midnight Aria (a son of Midnight Lute) who went to the early lead and held on gamely along the rail as the field entered the stretch. Unfortunately, he was passed late by the battling duo of Dynamic Sky and His Race to Win, with the former nosing out the latter in a photo finish. The final time for the 9-furlong event (1:50.59) was bested one race later (1:50.34) by the best 3-year-old fillies in Canada.

In the restricted Woodbine Oaks, Canadian-bred Nipissing recovered nicely from her disappointing loss in the Grade 3 Selene Stakes to win over 7-5 favorite Spring in the Air, last year’s Sovereign Award-winning champion 2-year-old filly. For Nipissing, a daughter of Queen’s Plate winner Niigon, a tilt at Canada’s oldest thoroughbred horse race on July 7 appears likely, with Spring in the Air possibly joining her. For every one of the past five years, at least one filly has finished in the Queen’s Plate top three, including Inglorious winning in 2011. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues.

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

Last Week’s Races

2013 Brooklyn Handicap Replay
Calioscopio comes from a whopping 22-legths from off the pace!

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 True North Stakes Replay
Fast Bullet all the way!

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Woody Stephens Stakes Replay
Forty Tales runs them down.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Just a Game Stakes Replay
Stephanie’s Kitten fights back.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Manhattan Handicap Replay
Point of Entry continues his winning streak.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Belmont Stakes Replay
Palace Malice puts it all together.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Honeymoon Handicap Replay
Sarach takes them all the way.

Video courtesy of Hollywood Park

2013 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap Replay
Tale of a Champion pulls an upset.

Video courtesy of Hollywood Park

2013 Woodbine Oaks Replay
Nipissing holds off a fast closing Spring in the Air.

Video courtesy of Woodbine

Download Brisnet.com Results Charts
2013 Belmont Stakes Chart
2013 Brooklyn Handicap Chart
2013 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap Chart
2013 Honeymoon Handicap Chart
2013 Jaipur Stakes Chart
2013 Just a Game Stakes Chart
2013 Manhattan Handicap Chart
2013 Mint Julep Handicap Chart
2013 Monmouth Stakes Chart
2013 Woody Stephens Stakes Chart

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

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