Week of August 5, 2013
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

It was a light schedule of graded stakes on the first weekend of August as we take a little breather before the hectic end of summer.

A small field of five sprinters met in Sunday’s Grade 1 Vanderbilt Handicap at the Spa, including last year’s runner-up Justin Phillip. One of the first rules of handicapping is to consider overall class, even if more recent results are questionable. That’s not the case with Justin Phillip, though, so it’s rather interesting that he went off as only the third choice. Instead, the top two finishers in the ungraded Iowa Sprint at Prairie Meadows—Gentlemen’s Bet and Delaunay—went to post as the second and first choice respectively, even though neither had the extensive back-class that Justin Phillip did. At Saratoga, that form is always critical, and so those who stuck with the First Samurai horse enjoyed a profitable $8.30 win. It was two lengths back to runner-up Bahamian Squall, a Florida-bred making his first start outside the Sunshine State. Both of the top two finishers came out of the same race—the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder. Gentlemen’s Bet was a neck back in third, and it was another neck back to favorite Delaunay. Poor Caixa Eletronica looked completely disinterested early on, easily falling a dozen lengths back of the field before making a decent late run to finish 2 3/4 lengths back in last place. For Justin Phillip it was his first Grade 1 win—the August 31 Grade 1 Forego is possible next.

Topping the field of eight challengers in the 1 1/8 miles Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap was last year’s victor, Fort Larned, fresh off an impressively facile win in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster. Unfortunately, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner met a much tougher field here and, though he raced well on pace early, in the stretch he tired to finish fifth. It was lightly-raced Cross Traffic who (stretching out beyond 1 mile for the first time) took the early lead and never looked back, winning by 3/4 length over a fast-closing and relentless Successful Dan—a horse whose pre-race antics and nightmare trip only punctuated how impressive his runner-up finish was. Also gallant in defeat was third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man making only his second start since being pulled up in the sloppy Sunshine Millions Classic back in January. For last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up it was certainly a step in the right direction, as he finished a clear 2 lengths ahead of Ron the Greek who nosed out Fort Larned for fourth. For Cross Traffic, his Whitney win assured him a start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but for both he and Successful Dan, the August 31 Woodward Handicap loom as a potential rematch.

If you like late closers, then you must have loved Saturday’s Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar. 10-1 longshot Lady of Fifty was placed perfectly along the rail early, but well back of the main field and only ahead of trailer Via Villaggio. As they rounded the final turn, Corey Nakatani angle her to the far outside, at least five wide, and she finished strongly to win by 1 1/2 lengths over More Chocolate. It was another 1/2 length back to Byrama while the post-time favorite Include Me Out was a disappointing eighth in the 9-horse field. For the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee it was her first Grade 1 victory and one that insures her a starting place in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (as a “Win-and-You’re-In” Challenge race). Her next start is not certain although her connections indicated that it would probably be at Santa Anita.

On Sunday, up-and-coming juveniles strutted their stuff in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar, and unlike in his maiden win at Hollywood three weeks ago, Alberts Hope (Run Away and Hide) did not go off a huge longshot. Instead, a tepid 5-2 favorite, he made a big move around the leaders as they rounded the final turn and fended off a game challenge by 11-1 longshot Celtic Moon (Denis of Cork) to win by a half length. It was 2 1/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Guns Loaded (D’Wildcat), while the three entrants with prior stakes experience—Ontology (Tapit), Alpine Luck (Lucky J. H.) and Skydreamin (Sky Mesa)—finished out the field. Next up for Alberts Hope: the September 4 Del Mar Futurity.

Saturday was West Virginia Derby Day at Mountaineer, but the entire card was stacked with stakes races, beginning with the Mountaineer Juvenile Stakes which was rather poignantly won by Rosie Napravnik aboard Rise Up. It was announced earlier in the day that his sire Rockport Harbor had been euthanized due to laminitis. A last-out maiden winner at Presque Isle, Rise Up toyed with this field, winning by nearly five lengths. Three races later, Silver Valley (Silver Train) rebounded from her disappointing fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes to easily top the Mountaineer Juvenile Fillies Stakes.

Coming out of that same Iowa Sprint Handicap as Vanderbilt contenders Gentlemen’s Bet and Delaunay, Jasizzle looked to have the 6-furlong Senator Robert C. Byrd Memorial field at his mercy, winning by nearly 8 lengths. That is until he was disqualified to second-place for jamming Russell Road inward at the break. For the 7-year-old gelding Russell Road, it was his 26th win in 44 starts—what a trooper! In the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes, Calvin Borel aboard Taptowne survived an inquiry lodged by jockey Alan Garcia on runner-up Whatthecatdrugin.

There was no doubt who was the victor, though, in the marquee event, the 1 1/8 miles Grade 2 West Virginia Derby. Making his first start since his disappointing sixth-place effort in the Preakness, Grade 3 Illinois Derby winner Departing demonstrated he is once again a force to be reckoned with, coming from far back to take the lead as they rounded the far turn and emphatically drew away to win by nearly nine lengths. Early frontrunner Ruler of Love hung on bravely for second, while it was another 3 1/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Overanalyze. For Departing, his connections have indicated the Travers is unlikely, instead favoring either the Pennsylvania Derby, Indiana Derby or Super Derby for the Claiborne son of War Front.

In Saturday’s Grade 3 Seagram Cup Stakes at Woodbine, Alpha Bettor repeated his winning effort from last year’s race, albeit not without some controversy regarding Ultimate Destiny who crossed the wire in second-place, but was eventually declared a non-starter since his gate had opened prematurely, giving him an unfair advantage over the rest of the field. That meant the lightly-raced Awesome Overture moved up to the runner-up position and Peyton in third.

On Sunday, Woodbine Oaks winner Nipissing broke down during the running of the grassy 1 1/4 miles Wonder Where Stakes at Woodbine, the final leg of Canada’s Filly Triple Crown. She was making a move against the front-runners, Smartyfly and post-time favorite Spring in the Air, on the backstretch when something obviously went wrong. Smartyfly went on to win the race, but—though no fault of her own—what a bittersweet way to win. Rest in peace, Nipissing.

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

Last Week’s Races

2013 Whitney Invitational Handicap Replay
Cross Traffic gets away with an unexpectedly easy lead.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2013 West Virginia Derby Replay
Departing dominates.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

2013 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes Replay
Lady of Fifty rallies for the upset victory.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2013 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap Replay
Justin Phillip gets up and earns his first Grade 1 victory.

Video courtesy of NYRA

Download Brisnet.com Results Charts
2013 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap Chart
2013 Best Pal Stakes Chart
2013 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes Chart
2013 West Virginia Derby Chart
2013 Whitney Invitational Handicap Chart

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

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