Several down on their luck graded stakes winners found their way back to the winner’s circle on Saturday while Memorial Day was full of standout performances.
On Saturday Aruna, Simmard, Wilkinson and Pants on Fire all found their way back to the winner’s circle. In April Aruna kicked off her 5-year-old season with a last place finish in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland. She ended last year with a fifth place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf after scoring a win in the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland in the fall. Until Saturday it was unclear if Aruna’s best days were behind her or if she needed a race. It proved to be the latter when the impending victress made an eye-catching move early to score an emphatic win in the Grade 3 Sheepshead Bay (chart) at Belmont Park. The race was not without a bit of drama when Mystical Star broke through the gate as the race started and Magical Cat missed the break because she was tangled with the starter. Mystical Star put in a strong run for third but was disqualified and Magical Cat was declared a non-starter. Aruna may try the Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga on July 28 and/or the Beverly D at Arlington Park on August 18, but our Contributing Editor Valerie Grash points out that the Sheepshead Bay Stakes has a long history of producing top broodmares.
Simmard kicked off his 7-year-old season by scoring his first graded win in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida in February but has since run third in his last two efforts. On Saturday Simmard, the oldest starter in a field of eight, held off a game Joinem to notch his second graded win the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap (chart) at Churchill Downs. No word on what’s next for Simmard but he did van back to home to Woodbine after the race.
Wilkinson may have finally found a fitting home as a turf miler after pulling an authoritative win over Mr. Commons in the Grade 2 American Handicap (chart) at Hollywood Park at odds of 44-1. The son of Lemon Drop Kid, a renown turf sire, spent much of 3-year-old campaign on the dirt after winning the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes early in the Fair Grounds derby prep season. He did not fair well in his other two Derby preps, but after a confidence building allowance win made one more attempt for graded dirt glory in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby but finished last. He’s been knocking on the door after scoring his turf win in an allowance at Saratoga last summer with two shows and a place in graded company. In his first start for new trainer Jeff Mullins all the pieces came together as he held off the charge of favorite Mr. Commons. The two will probably meet again in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park on June 30. Pants on Fire, who ran second to Wilkinson the Lecomte, also found his way back to the winner’s circle at Monmouth Park in the Skip Away Stakes (chart), beating Norman Abjornson, no word on what’s next for either.
Darley homebred Better Lucky kicked off the Memorial Day graded stakes action at Belmont Park with a bang when she took the lead at the top of the stretch and held off the fast closing Regalo Mia to pay $18.20 in the Grade 2 Sands Point (chart). The Ghostzapper filly was making her first start over the turf, no word on what her next move will be but trainer Tom Albertrani noted that they’re excited to have to have new some new options. Awesome Maria did not become the fourth horse to win the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps (chart) twice. It’s Tricky ended Awesome Maria’s awesome six win streak by bringing her 4-year-old campaign to 3-3 and giving her owners their third consecutive win on the card. No word on what’s next for It’s Tricky, trainer Todd Pletcher, who blamed himself, said that Awesome Maria would go to Saratoga. Update: Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin told DRF’s Dave Grening that It’s Tricky might ship to Delaware Park for the Delaware Handicap while she waits around for a Grade 1 in New York. The next Grade 1 for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up is either the 7-furlong Ballerina or the 1 1/8 mile Personal Ensign, both in August. The Molly Pitcher at Monmouth is another interim option for It’s Tricky.
Stallion Ghostzapper had a good day when favored filly Contested won the Grade 1 Acorn (chart) going wire to wire under a handride for his second graded win of the day. The Bob Baffert trainee shipped in for the win with no problem, but second choice On Fire Baby, who also shipped in, did not hit the board. Zo Impressive, half-sister to 2008 Acorn winner Zaftig who upset sprint champion Indian Blessing, ran second but was no match for the winner.
2011 Preakness winner Shackleford and 2011 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Caleb’s Posse saved the best for last in the Grade 1 Met Mile (chart) when Caleb’s Posse tried to collar front-running Shackleford. Fresh off a win over sprint champion Amazombie at Churchill Downs, Shackleford turned the tables on his Carter Handicap foes and stayed to the wire. Caleb’s Posse, game in defeat, particularly given that the track was speed favoring, notched his third consecutive 2nd place photo finish. No word on what’s next but let’s hope Shack and Caleb’s Posse meet again! Update: Trainer Dale Romans said that Shack is likely to stretch out at least once, but his goal is the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
At Hollywood Park Roman Threat, a half to the aforementioned Indian Blessing, wired the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap (chart) for his first stakes win in only his third start. He ran second to Amazombie in his only defeat in the Grade 2 Potrero Grande Stakes in April and he may get a chance to exact his revenge in the Triple Bend Handicap on June 30. In the Grade 1 Gamely (chart) Belle Royale got in the final moments to score her fifth consecutive win, making her second start in the U.S. the Beverly D on August 18 might be her next start.
And finally, 9-year-old veteran campaigner Awesome Gem caught a lucky break in his 50th start in the Berkeley Handicap (chart) at Golden Gate Fields. Positive Response was disqualified and second place Awesome Gem was declared the winner.
Update: How could we forget Nate’s Mineshaft? The game 5-year-old brought his 2012 record to 5 for 6 when he took them all the way in the Lone Star Handicap (chart). Last out he ran an uncharacteristic sixth in the Grade 2 Alysheba. No word yet on what’s next.
On the Belmont Stakes front, contenders continued to prepare, here’s a link round-up of the latest updates.
Brisnet: O’Neill: I’ll Have Another ‘looks fantastic'; Dullahan arrives at Belmont
Brisnet: Ravelo’s Boy clocks seven furlongs, confirmed for Belmont
Brisnet: Paynter, Alpha breeze five-eighths at Belmont
Brisnet: I’ll Have Another continues routine exercise at Belmont
Brisnet: I’ll Have Another posts ‘fantastic’ gallop under sunny skies at Belmont
Brisnet: Dullahan, Street Life breeze; Atigun, Unstoppable U probable for Belmont
Brisnet: I’ll Have Another ‘hard to pull up’
DRF: Dullahan arrives in New York
DRF: Baffert still a Belmont player with Paynter
DRF: Street Life, McPeek pair drill over main track
Keep up with all the commentary on the Belmont Stakes, the Triple Crown and I’ll Have Another at Raceday 360 Wire. And be sure to check out the probable starters for the 2012 Belmont Stakes at Horse Racing Nation.
Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker
See you at the track!