Week of July 29, 2013
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

Dynamic performances by Palace Malice and Verrazano topped this weekend’s action, as the post-Triple Crown season for 3-year-olds began with a bang.

At Saratoga on Saturday, in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes, Belmont Stakes victor Palace Malice showed no mercy in dispatching a talented field of eight competitors. His time for the 1 1/8 mile contest (1:47.37) was the second-fastest ever for the race, and not that far off Lawyer Ron’s track record (1:46.64). Front-runner Moreno (last-out winner of the Grade 2 Dwyer) hung on for third, as he was passed first by the winner and then late-closing Will Take Charge, the Grade 2 Rebel victor whose three Triple Crown race starts were beyond disappointing—he seems to have now turned a corner and once more be a strong contender. It was another 5 lengths back to Midwest invader Bashaar, who finished fourth. While the efforts of both Palace Malice and Will Take Charge bode well for their chances in the 1 1/4 miles Grade 1 Travers Stakes on August 24, the connections of both Mylute and Freedom Child have to be concerned with their horses’ lackluster performances.

No track records were in danger of being broken in Sunday’s Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes, but the ease with which Verrazano thrashed his competition was impressive to say the least. Early speed horses Oxbow and Vyjack broke best to take the early lead, but it wasn’t long before Vyjack’s distance limitations were found out—he finished a distant sixth of seven horses, beating only Kentucky Derby runner-up Golden Soul who was always outrun. When jockey John Velazquez asked, Verrazano easily made the lead as they were rounding the final turn, and never looked back, winning by nearly 10 lengths. Grade 1 juvenile winner Power Broker may have faltered earlier this year, but followed up an impressive win in the non-graded Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont with a solid runner-up finish in the Haskell, six lengths ahead of third-place finisher Micromanage who he had also beaten in the Easy Goer. It was a mere nose back to Oxbow who may have suffered a soft tissue injury during the race. If all goes as planned, we should have one heck of a match-up in the Travers, with stablemates Palace Malice and Verrazano likely favorites.

While no Triple Crown contenders were entered in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby, it did feature a clear favorite—former Bob Baffert trainee Title Contender who once defeated Grade 2 runner-up Code West as well as Grade 2 Risen Star winner Ive Struck a Nerve. Battling on the lead, he outlasted late-blooming Braveman to win by a length. A son of the recently-deceased sire Unbridled’s Song, Braveman had never raced over real dirt before, having been campaigned mostly over Presque Isle’s Tapeta surface; he’s also deceivingly well-bred, being closely related to his dam’s half sister Kentucky Oaks runner-up Santa Catarina. The Ohio Derby third-place finisher, Handsome Tiger is also regally-bred—the Ghostzapper colt is the second foal of multiple Grade 1 turfster Honey Ryder, a mare who was twice a Grade 1 runner-up against males, including against the great English Channel in the 2007 United Nations.

In Sunday’s Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga, Forty Tales solidified his position as one of the top 3-year-old sprinters, as he closed with a rush to defeat Grade 3 Carry Back victor Mico Margarita by nearly a length. Unheralded 21-1 longshot Salutos Amigos held on for third, while previously undefeated New Jersey-bred Rainbow Heir endured a terrible trip, ultimately finishing next-to-last. An even bigger upset occurred in Saturday’s Grade 1 Prioress Stakes when 2-5 favorite Kauai Katie finished dead-last, leaving the victory to the second longest shot in the field, 21-1 Lighthouse Bay. The Speightstown filly was last seen capturing the ungraded Jostle Stakes at Parx, but she began her racing career (on turf) at Saratoga last summer. With veteran Joe Rocco aboard, she got a brilliant inside ride, gaining the lead at just the right time and defeating front-runner Wildcat Lily, a Florida-bred Grade 3 Azalea winner making her first start outside the Sunshine State. Irish Lute got third, turning the tables on fourth-place finisher So Many Ways who had defeated her in the Grade 3 Eight Belles.

This year’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents flopped in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but after a two-month break, he returned to action on Sunday taking on older sprinters in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes. A berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint was on the line (even though the Bing Crosby is run over Polytrack—go figure), and the youngster nearly got it done, falling just a head short behind the relatively unheralded Points Offthebench, a 4-year-old Benchmark gelding making his first stakes appearance—indicative of just how weak this field was for a supposedly Grade 1 race. It was 3 1/4 lengths back to Grade 1 Malibu winner Jimmy Creed in third.

With the dearth of true staying races in this country, the 1 1/2 miles Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar is, unfortunately, relegated to Grade 3 status and relatively little hype (it’s even run on a Friday). That said, over the past half decade one horse has put his stamp on this event: Richard’s Kid. Nosed out by Unusual Suspect in 2009 and a somewhat disappointing third in 2010, the Lemon Drop Kid horse skipped the 2011 race after a horrid Dubai jaunt, but in 2012 he won the race after a strong second-place finish behind Game on Dude in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. Following that race he was sold and removed from the care of Bob Baffert. What followed was a 10-race losing streak—and most of those losses were by double-digit lengths. However, first up after a 13-length loss in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special, the 8-year-old Doug O’Neill trainee was ready to run as he came on widest of all to win by 1/2 length over favorite Sky Kingdom; early frontrunner Blueskiesnrainbows gamely held on for third. Richard’s Kid is likely now for the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, a race he won in 2009 and 2010.

Kettle Corn, a surprising runner-up behind Game on Dude in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup last out, was scratched from the Cougar II and instead ran in Saturday’s Grade 2 San Diego Handicap—a wise move, as he handled the 1 1/16 miles distance with ease, defeating everyone’s feel-good horse, Paynter by a half length. The final time (1:41.83) was just a tick off the track record (1:41.48) set by Zenyatta in 2008, which must make Kettle Corn’s connections pleased. While he will likely meet Richard’s Kid in the Pacific Classic, Paynter’s connections have indicated a return to dirt—and the East Coast—are likely for him, with the August 31 Woodward in mind.

The Haskell undercard included four other graded stakes races—two on dirt, and two on turf. In the 1 1/16 miles Grade 2 Molly Pitcher Stakes, Joyful Victory absolutely dominated the 5-horse field, romping by 7 1/2 lengths with jockey Rosie Napravnik giving her merely a hand ride. According to trainer Larry Jones, next up for her: the September 28 Grade 1 Zenyatta (formerly Lady’s Secret) Stakes at Santa Anita, en route to the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. Take Charge Indy similarly looked to have the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup field at his mercy—that is, until jockey Gary Stevens heard a loud “pop” and pulled the favorite out of the race (he was later found to have suffered a condylar fracture to his left foreleg and subsequently retired to WinStar after a successful surgery). With the race now wide-open, Paco Lopez on Pants On Fire took first advantage, moving to the lead that he would never relinquish, defeating second-choice Hymn Book by nearly two lengths. Rosie Napravnik on Ponzi Scheme fleshed out the rather paltry $178.20 trifecta.

On turf, Napravnik captured the 1 1/8 miles Grade 3 Matchmaker Stakes with another Larry Jones’ trainee, the Irish-bred Galileo filly Starstruck, while Silver Max obviously relished his return to turf, winning the Grade 3 Oceanport Stakes in wire-to-wire fashion. Last-out Grade 3 Poker Stakes runner-up Howe Great was nearly six lengths back in second, but 1 3/4 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Hudson Steele.

Last year’s Matchmaker victress, Laughing successfully challenged the likes of Centre Court and Stephanie’s Kitten in Saturday’s Grade 1 Diana Stakes at Saratoga, also winning in wire-to-wire fashion. Albeit, she was aided tremendously by the scratch of pacesetting Dayatthespa, but not every horse could take as full advantage of the situation as she did with wily turf jockey Jose Lezcano aboard. Another Dansili filly, Dream Peace finished a narrow second, while the talented Stephanie’s Kitten got up for third—and the favorite Centre Court was last. For Laughing, her connections have indicated either the August 24 Grade 2 Ballston Spa or the September 28 Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational is next.

Finally, at Woodbine on Sunday, the 6-furlong Grade 3 Royal North Stakes was upset by the Smarty Jones filly Nikkis Smartypants, after the favorite Sensible Lady missed the start, got up into contention late in the stretch and then capitulated, finishing last. For Nikkis Smartypants, it was her first graded stakes attempt (not to mention her first turf race), but it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise—her dam is a half-sister to two-time Grade 1 turf victress Diamondrella.

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

Last Week’s Races

2013 Lake George Stakes Replay
Kitten’s Dumplings for the win.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Cougar II Handicap Replay
Richard’s Kid finds his way back to the winners’ circle.

Video courtesy of Del Mar

2013 Prioress Stakes Replay
Lighthouse pulls the upset.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Diana Stakes Replay
Laughing gets the last laugh.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 JIm Dandy Stakes Replay
Palace Malice continues on the upswing.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 San Diego Handicap Replay
Kettle Corn gets the best of Paynter.

Video courtesy of Del Mar

2013 Amsterdam Stakes Replay
Forty Tales wins on the wire.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Haskell Invitational Replay
Verrazano pulls away as Oxbow is pulled-up.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

2013 Monmouth Cup Replay
Pants on Fire affirms his affinity for Monmouth Park.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

2013 Bing Crosby Handicap Replay
Points Offthebench holds off Goldencents.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2013 Honorable Stakes Replay
Dance to Bristol keeps her win streak alive.

Video courtesy of NYRA

Download Brisnet.com Results Charts
2013 Bing Crosby Stakes Chart
2013 Cougar II Handicap Chart
2013 Diana Stakes Chart
2013 Haskell Invitational Chart
2013 Honorable Miss Stakes Chart
2013 Jim Dandy Stakes Chart
2013 Lake George Stakes Chart
2013 Matchmakers Stakes Chart
2013 Molly Pitcher Stakes Chart
2013 Monmouth Cup Chart
2013 Oceanport Stakes Chart
2013 Prioress Stakes Chart
2013 Oceanport Stakes Chart

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

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