Week of August 6, 2012
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

In terms of horses and jockeys, rising stars shone brightly this week in the unlikeliest races.

Seemingly everywhere you looked this week, favorites failed, but the new contenders who victoriously rose to the challenge rewarded their backers with generous payouts. We also enjoyed a peek into the future as the two-year-old progeny of Big Brown and Curlin found the spotlight, and two stablemate fillies nearly upstaged all the boys in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar.

Let’s begin with the juveniles, including Big Brown’s first stakes winner, Brown Almighty who captured the 7.5 furlong Sunny’s Halo Stakes (chart) at Louisiana Downs on Saturday. Trained by Tim Ice, he broke his maiden at Arlington going a mile on turf July 14, before traveling to Ice’s old stomping grounds to win again on turf. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Curlin‘s first winner Palace Malice won going 6.5-furlongs on dirt at Saratoga on Saturday (chart). In Sunday’s Best Pal (chart), the connections of I’ll Have Another (trainer Doug O’Neill and owner Paul Reddam) confidently sent out first-time starter Know More (Lion Heart), and at nearly 9-1, Garrett Gomez booted him home a winner. The two fillies in the field, 10-1 maiden winner Heir Kitty and 16-1 Cinderella Stakes victress Miss Empire ran a clear second and third, while odds-on favorite (and Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship victor) Scherer Magic finished out of the money in fifth. As for Know More, his victory was the first stakes win by a first-time starter in any age group in Southern California since 1974.

Coming in off a dominating 10-length, geared-down victory in the Grade 3 Iowa Derby, last year’s juvenile champion Hansen seemingly towered above his competition class-wise in the Grade 2 West Virgina Derby (chart). And the bridgejumpers unloaded on him, ultimately sending him to post as the 3-5 favorite. Unfortunately for the blue-tailed colt, things did not go as planned. He was challenged early by Grade 2 Louisiana Derby winner Hero of Order as the two set soft fractions, and in the final yards he had nothing left, failing to hit the board and triggering huge show payouts. Steve Asmussen-trainee Macho Macho followed up his narrow second-place finish behind My Adonis in the Long Branch Stakes to win here with Corey Nakatani aboard, giving Asmussen his fourth West Virginia Derby victory. Local legend Deshawn Parker guided Bourbon’s Courage to a game second along the rail, while 12-1 West Coast invader Called to Serve finished third. The show payouts were impressive, returning $11.00, $15.40 and $23.00, respectively.

On paper, the Grade 1 Whitney (chart) contenders appeared closely matched, so it wasn’t surprising that Ron The Greek (3-1), Flat Out (4-1) and Hymn Book (4-1) found favor with the betting public. In the end, however, it was up-and-comer Fort Larned — fresh off his win in the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows — that popped the upset, giving his jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. his first Grade 1 victory.

Neither the muddy Saratoga surface, nor his shortening up to six furlongs dissuaded bettors from backing Shackleford in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (chart), but he was never a serious threat and faded to finish last as the even-money favorite. Recent Grade 2 True North runner-up Justin Phillip closed well late, but it wasn’t enough, as 36-1 longshot Poseidon’s Warrior pulled off the shocking upset, his first graded stakes victory. For his 19-year-old jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., it was only his second Grade 1 winner, having captured the Coaching Club American Oaks two weeks ago aboard Questing. For his trainer Robert Reid, Poseidon’s Warrior was his first Grade 1 winner. The Speightstown colt returned $74.50, $25.60, and $8.10, while the $2 exacta paid a whopping $359.

On Thursday, jockey Joe Talamo booted home five winners at Del Mar, and on Saturday he guided Include Me Out to her second Grade 1 win, in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (chart), a “Win and You’re In” contest for the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. She gamely held off Grade 1 Matriarch winner Star Billing who was making her first off-turf start for John Shirreffs. After trailing the field much of the race, Chilean champion Amani closed impressively to get third over Switch, and with another furlong she may have caught the top two.

The 12-furlong distance certainly suited 3-year-old filly Irish Mission, as she defeated the boys and captured the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Breeders’ Stakes over the Woodbine turf. The Giant’s Causeway filly won the Woodbine Oaks in early June, just before running second to Strait of Dover in the Queen’s Plate. She didn’t take to the dirt, however, finishing a disappointing sixth last out in the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie. The winning filly that day, Dixie Strike was made the post-time favorite for the Breeders’ Stakes, but her distance limitations showed, and she faded to finish sixth. Second choice Aldous Snow finished second, with 29-1 longshot Quaesitor filling out a generous $1,131.40 triactor (trifecta).

At the other end of the distance spectrum, on Friday at Saratoga, C C’s Pal ran into all kinds of trouble in terms of racing room, but still came on to win the Grade 2 Honorable Miss (chart) by a neck over Ian Wilkes’ Speightstown mare Island Bound. It’s Me Mom went to post the 2-1 favorite, but could not sustain her lead after setting blazing early fractions (21.14, 43.78, 56.65), and faded to seventh. Last year’s Honorable Miss runner-up Beat The Blues ran on nicely for third.

Perhaps the most satisfying “upset” of the week was The Chief, 83-year-old H. Allen Jerkens’ victory in the Grade 1 Prioress (chart) with Emma’s Encore who emphatically demonstrated that her 39-1 upset win in the Grade 3 Victory Ride was no fluke. Despite her clear victory that day over Agave Kiss, the latter filly was again made the odds-on favorite on Saturday, but it didn’t matter, as Emma’s Encore came flying late and hung on to win by a nose over last year’s Grade 1 Spinaway runner-up Judy The Beauty. For Jerkens, it was his first Grade 1 winner since 2007, when Miss Shop won the Personal Ensign. It just goes to show what a quality trainer (and a little luck) can do with a $2,000 horse.

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

Last Week’s Races

2012 Honorable Miss Handicap Replay
CC’s Pal picks up the pieces.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2012 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes Replay
Include Me Out holds off Star Billing.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2012 West Virginia Derby Replay
Macho Macho pulls an upset

2012 Whitney Invitational Replay
Fort Larned pulls away.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2012 Prioress Stakes Replay
Emma’s Encore closes like a freight train for an encore

Video courtesy of NYRA

Palace Malice Maiden Replay
Curlin gets his first U.S. winner with Palace Malice.

Video courtesy of NYRA

Fortify Maiden Replay
Fortify makes an impressive debut.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2012 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap Replay
Poseidon’s Warrior turns the Vanderbilt into a longshot adventure.

Video courtesy of NYRA

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