Week of June 20, 2011
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

Last week’s three Grade 1 races underscore the radical difference between the handicap (older male) division and the distaff (older female) division. The Stephen Foster Handicap, frequently thought of as a key race in the handicap division, was won by a 6-year-old making his first start on dirt after 27 career starts while the Ogden Phipps and Vanity Handicaps were won by the favorite and close second choice respectively. The handicap division is as wide open as the distaff division is deep.

Churchill Downs hosted several graded stakes races as a part of Stephen Foster day. The Jefferson Cup was slashed from nine starters for four with scratches but overwhelming favorite Banned was impressive nonetheless. Scotus sprung a mild upset in the Matt Winn Stakes, also for 3-year-olds. Trainer Ken McPeek almost scratched him out of the race but won his fourth and fifth consecutive graded stakes races at Churchill with Scotus and Bizzy Caroline in the Regret Stakes. Stablemate Kathmanblu was also entered in the Regret but came in fourth.

The Stephen Foster was a wide open affair with 11 entries and the post time favorite, Regal Ransom, going off around 9-2. In the final furlong it looked like 7-1 Mission Impazible was going to hold off the cavalry charge of Duke of Mischief, Apart, and Giant Oak but it was turf specialist Pool Play who thundered up on the outside to nip Mission Impazible on the wire (replay). Apparently the upset wasn’t only a surprise to those watching, when trainer Mark Casse spoke to owner William Farish on the phone after the race, his reply was “you’re kidding!” when he learned of the win. The newly minted Grade 1 dirt winner will now be pointing the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 5 at Churchill Downs.

At Belmont Park 8-1 Street Game got his first graded win in the Grade 3 Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf. His rider, apprentice Ryan Curatolo, also got his first graded win thanks to a savvy speed controlling ride. Curatolo was unseated on Sunday and off his mounts for the rest of the day but appears to be OK. In the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap, Awesome Maria earned her first Grade 1 and brought her 4-year-old campaign record to four for four with a dominating win over a fast closing Payton d’Oro. Life At Ten, who won the Phipps last year, might have done a bit better had new rider Cornelio Velazquez not fought her down the backstretch, but at least she was in the race. 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic winner Unrivaled Belle flipped in the paddock and was scratched from the race and subsequently retired. She’s expected to make a full recovery and start a career as a broodmare next year. Awesome Maria is likely to make her next start in the Ruffian at Saratoga on July 31.

Blind Luck gave recently inducted Hall of Fame trainer a great 65th birthday when she unleashed her usual come from behind stretch run to nail her sixth Grade 1 win in the Vanity Handicap. Slightly favored Switch was a close second followed by longshot American Story. The next stop for Blind Luck might be a rematch with rival Havre de Grace in the July 16 Delaware Handicap. Switch is likely to make her next start in the August 6 Clement Hirsch at Del Mar.

Pants on Fire and Rosie Napravnik scored an authoritative win the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park in preparation for a potential start in the Grade 1 Haskell on July 31. The Louisiana Derby winner was given time off after it was discovered that he had bleed substantially after finishing a disappointing ninth in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Kelly Breen, who saddled Belmont Stakes winner Ruler on Ice, hadn’t planned on bringing Pants on Fire back so soon but he was training well and showed no signs of bleeding. It was discovered this week that Derby winner Animal Kingdom sustained a slight injury in the Belmont Stakes but is only expected miss a few weeks of training.

Others from the Kentucky Derby trail were successful this week as well. Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude switched to turf and scored a win in the first running of the Tsunami Slew Stakes at Hollywood Park. In addition to his first run on turf, they removed the blinkers. Oaklawn circuit speedster JP’s Gusto cut in back in distance in the Red Legend Stakes at Charles Town and annihilated the field. He had won the Southwest Stakes but finished well back in both the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby. Decisive Moment, who finished 14th in the Derby, was also entered in the Red Legend but finished sixth. Sway Away, who ran second to The Factor in the San Vicente Stakes and passed through the Oaklawn preps, also cut back to 7-furlongs for a win at Hollywood Park on Sunday in an allowance race (replay).

At Colonial Downs 7-year-old Rahystrada showed no signs of slowing down when he won the Colonial Turf Cup (replay). Favored Aruna won the All Along Stakes, also at Colonial Downs. At Emerald Downs, local celebrity 12-year-old West Seattle Boy became the record holder for wins at the track with 19! Also at Emerald Downs, Noosa Beach tied the record for stakes win at the track in the Budweiser Handicap. He’ll go for the record in the Longacres Mile on Aug 21.

In addition to brawls and crazy hats, there were several things at Royal Ascot that we’re not accustom to seeing here in the states. For example, the Ascot Gold Cup is a 2 1/2 mile race, the two biggest headliners, Canford Cliffs and Goldikova, faced off in the first race of the multi-day race festival and jockey Frankie Detorri received a nine day ban for excessive use of the whip. Other noteworthy moments included undefeated 3-year-old Frankel bringing his record to seven for seven, despite an odd early move. We might get to see Canford Cliffs meet Goldikova in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in the fall. Here’s hoping that match-up pans out!

This week we’ll profile Triple Tiara winner Sky Beauty in honor of the upcoming Mother Goose. Check out our Ten Things You Should Know about the Mother Goose to learn more about the historic race for 3-year-old fillies. We’ll also have a new Ten Things for upcoming the Hollywood Oaks, also for 3-year-old fillies.

Upcoming races next weekend include the Grade 1 Queen’s Plate at Woodbine, the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks at Hollywood Park, the Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park, the Grade 3 Debutant for juveniles (pdf) at Churchill Downs and the Iowa Festival of Racing at Prairie Meadows. As always, we have a full listing of next weekend’s graded races at the bottom of the article.

Keep with racing commentary and news at Raceday 360 Wire!

Last Week’s Races

2011 Hill Prince Stakes Replay
Street Game controls a slow pace and sprints away from the field in the stretch.

2011 Ogden Phipps Handicap Replay
Awesome Maria makes it four for four for her 4-year-old campaign by easily taking over in stretch.

2011 Pegasus Stakes Replay
Pants on Fire and Rosie Napravnik get back to business with an easy win.

2011 Vanity Handicap Replay
Blind Luck came widest of all and got up with almost a length to spare.

2011 Tsunami Stakes Replay
Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude battled Surrey Star to win his turf debut.

2011 Red Legend Stakes Replay
JP’s Gusto annihilates the field.

2011 Stephen Foster Handicap Replay
Pool Play makes his dirt debut a winning one.

West Seattle Boy Sets the Record
12-year-old West Seattle Boy employs Zenyatta-like come from behind technique to become all time most winning horse at Emerald Downs with 19 wins.

2011 Queen Anne Stakes Replay
Canford Cliffs gets the best of Goldikova, and we could potential see a rematch stateside in the Breeder’s Cup Mile!

2011 St. James Palace Stakes Replay
Undefeated Frankel brings his record to 7-7 despite making an odd early move.

2011 St. Prince Wales Stakes Replay
Rewilding gets up in the final strides and super jock Frankie Dettori gets a NUMBER day ban for excessive use of the whip.

2011 Ascot Gold Cup Replay
Fame and Glory ran them into the ground in the 2 1/2 mile marathon but will cut back to a mere 1 1/2 miles in Prix de l’Arc d’Triomphein the fall.

Upcoming Graded Stakes Races

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

See you at the track!

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