Week of November 26, 2012
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

Satisfying results abounded this Thanksgiving weekend, as sturdy Shackleford ended his career on a high note and Groupie Doll gamely proved her mettle against the boys, even in a losing effort. Who says sportsmanship in horse racing is dead?

After his disappointing seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, 4-year-old Shackleford could have been retired. Instead, his connections brought him back for one more try before stud duty at Darby Dan Farm called. Thus, it was hard to find a dry eye in the crowd at Churchill on Friday, when the chestnut Forestry colt took the easy lead and never looked back, winning the Grade 1 Clark Handicap (chart) by a length over the “comeback kid” Take Charge Indy. Grade 2 Super Derby winner Bourbon Courage was a mere head back in third. For Shackleford’s dam Oatsee, his victory capped a two-day win-fest, as her daughter (and his half-sister) Afleeting Lady had captured the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap (chart) on Thanksgiving Day.

Even before her start in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap (chart), Groupie Doll had enjoyed an award-winning year, including Grade 1 victories in the Madison and Humana Distaff, not to mention the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint earlier this month. Yet, rather than put her out to pasture prematurely, trainer Buff Bradley recognized his Bowman’s Band filly had run left in her this year, and sent her to Aqueduct to take on the likes of Grade 1 winners Coil, Hymn Book and Stay Thirsty. Another brilliant ride by Rajiv Maragh put her on the lead as they approached the wire, but an ever-battling Stay Thirsty heartbreakingly won the head bob at the wire. Like Shackleford, it was a career-topping victory for Stay Thirsty who is headed off to stud duty at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud. But the connections of expected Eclipse female sprint winner Groupie Doll can hold their heads high as their filly gave it her all.

Stay Thirsty’s Cigar Mile win topped a boon weekend for his native-New Yorker owner Mike Repole at Aqueduct. His one-time claimer Caixa Eletronica impressively captured the Grade 2 Fall Highweight Handicap (chart) on Thanksgiving Day – toting 133 pounds! On Saturday, Repole won both juvenile events: the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes (chart) with the Street Sense filly Unlimited Budget, and the Grade 2 Remsen (chart) with the Dixie Union colt Overanalyze. He didn’t have a runner in the other important Aqueduct stakes race, the Grade 1 Gazelle Stakes which Godolphin captured with their stretch-wandering Tapit filly Dance Card.

Juveniles took center stage at Churchill on Saturday, with Canadian invaders dominating. In the Grade 2 Golden Rod (chart), 31-1 Seaneen Girl (Spring At Last) outlasted favorite Gal About Town (City Zip). For Seaneen Girl, it marked her first start on dirt, having made all of her previous five starts on Woodbine’s Polytrack, including a last-out runner-up performance in the Grade 3 Mazarine Stakes. Grade 2 Pocahontas runner-up in her last race, Gal About Town couldn’t hold on to the lead late, but she was five lengths ahead of third-place finisher Liberated (Curlin), a promising daughter of Grade 1 runner-up Lady Melesi – watch for her going longer.

In the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (chart), it was last-out Grade 3 Iroquois victor Uncaptured (Lion Heart) who held on to defeat impressive maiden winner Frac Daddy (Scat Daddy). For Ontario-bred Uncaptured, it was his sixth win in seven starts, including several important juvenile stakes at Woodbine. Given that his Arch dam Captivating is a half-sister to 10-1/2 furlong world record holder Gold Star Deputy – and his Grade 1 Haskell-winning sire Lion Heart finished second to Smarty Jones in the Kentucky Derby – it’s no wonder his connection are already touting his chances come the First Saturday in May. By the same token, watch out for the lightly-raced Frac Daddy going longer – his second dam Power Play captured the 10-furlong Grade 3 Delaware Handicap.

In other holiday action, the 4-year-old Empire Maker filly Nefertini franked the good form line of Afleeting Lady by winning the Grade 2 Go For Wand Handicap at Aqueduct. Making only his sixth lifetime start, 3-year-old Twilight Eclipse (Purim) upset the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder, going 1-1/2 miles on turf.

Trainer Shug McGaughey sent his Grade 1 winner Data Link to the West Coast, where the War Front colt rewarded him with a clear victory in the Grade 2 Citation Handicap (chart) over Ultimate Eagle. Rallying for third was the Todd Pletcher trainee Doubles Partner. Also at Hollywood Park, on Sunday, in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes (chart), bettors inexplicably let Better Lucky go to post at odds of 35-1. Given her solid turf efforts this year (including an even third-place finish behind Dayatthespa last-out in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup), the Ghostzapper filly was surely an underlay, especially against the likes of Tiz Flirtatious who was a generous 7-1. Still, her $72.20 victory came only after favorite Dayatthespa’s early misadventures led to that filly nearly tossing her rider Javier Castellano. While he did regain control, it was too late for Chad Brown’s talented trainee, who could only manage a fifth-place finish. Early frontrunner Summer Soiree hung on to third, with Better Lucky finishing a length in front of Tiz Flirtatious for the win.

Castellano redeemed himself in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby (chart), as New York invader Unbridled Command extended his 5-race win streak for trainer Tom Bush. The 14-horse field included Grade 2 Virginia Derby runner-up Lucky Chappy who finished third, just a head behind favored European-import Grandeur. Other contestants of note included Grade 1-placed Summer Front (sixth); Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby winner Handsome Mike (tenth); and Grade 1 Travers dead-heat winner Golden Ticket (eleventh). The sole filly entrant, Rjwa – a narrow runner-up in the French Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary in May, and third-place finisher in June’s Prix de Diane (French Oaks) – ran a credible fourth.

On the other side of the world, another 3-year-old filly had better success. After winning the Japanese filly Triple Crown earlier this year, Gentildonna attempted to best her elders in the Grade 1 Japan Cup going 12-furlongs on turf. Among her list of illustrious foes: 4-year-old filly Solemia, winner of this year’s French Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe; reigning Japanese Horse of the Year, Triple Crown winner and Arc runner-up Orfevre; Hong Kong Group 1 QE II Cup winner Rulership; American St. Leger victor Jakkalberry, coming in off a credible third-place finish in the 2-mile long Group 1 Melbourne Cup; and last year’s Melbourne Cup runner-up Red Cadeaux. Thanks to a well-crafted rail trip, Gentildonna put on a masterful performance, surviving an inquiry and beating Orfevre by a nose. For the record, it was at least the 44th Group/Grade 1 victory by a filly or mare against open company in 2012.

With plenty of ups and downs, 2012 was certainly a year to remember (and, for some, to forget). We’ll return sometime in January, refreshed and ever hopeful for yet another Triple Crown winner. Happy holidays!

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


Last Week’s Races


2012 Hollywood Prevue Replay
Really Mr Greely takes them all the way.


Video courtesy of Hollywood Park


2012 Go For Wand Replay
Nefertini digs in for the win.


Video courtesy of NYRA


2012 Clark Handicap Replay
Shack goes out with a strong front running score.


2012 Citation Handicap Replay
Data Link connects.


Video courtesy of Hollywood Park


2012 Demoiselle Stakes Replay
Unlimited Budget all the way!


Video courtesy of NYRA


2012 Remsen Stakes Replay
Overanalyze holds off Normandy’s Invasion.


Video courtesy of NYRA


2012 Gazelle Stakes Replay
Dance Card makes it look easy.


Video courtesy of NYRA


2012 Cigar Mile Replay
Stay Thirsty outgames Groupie Doll at the wire.


Video courtesy of NYRA


2012 Generous Stakes Replay
Den’s Legacy sneaks through on the rail.


Video courtesy of Hollywood Park


2012 Miesque Stakes Replay
Travesura takes them all the way for the upset.


Video courtesy of Hollywood Park


2012 Matriarch Stakes Replay
Better Lucky was just that.


Video courtesy of Hollywood Park


2012 Hollywood Derby Replay
Unbridled Command takes command.


Video courtesy of Hollywood Park


Upcoming Graded Stakes Races

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

See you at the track!

Stay in the loop, subscribe to the Weekly Roundup

Last 5 posts by Valerie Grash
Charts and PPs provided by Brisnet