Week of October 21, 2013
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

As Breeders’ Cup contenders continued their preparation, state-bred championships were the focus this weekend.

With the Breeders’ Cup now less than two weeks away, graded stakes action has come to a virtual standstill, with just three races this past week, all at Keeneland—the Grade 3 Sycamore Stakes last Thursday, the Grade 3 Valley View Stakes on Friday, and Saturday’s Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes. Since it was forced off the turf, the Sycamore Stakes lost its graded status pending review by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

The switch to the Polytrack (and increase in distance from 1 1/2 miles to 1 5/8 miles) in the Sycamore led to three scratches: Grade 1-placed Nutello, veteran Rahystrada, and last-out Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup winner Temeraine. In all honesty, they were hardly missed as the top four finishers—Najjaar, Eagle Poise, Tricky Hat and Suntracer, respectively—gave us one helluva race, hitting the wire nearly simultaneously. The winner, Najjaar, came into this event off a narrow third-place finish in the American St. Leger (behind Suntracer, who he defeated this day), while 7-year-old Eagle Poise (making his third start off a lengthy 13-month break for trainer Graham Motion) narrowly defeated Tricky Hat who had beat him by a neck last-out in the Laurel Turf Cup.

Off her narrow fifth-place finish behind recent Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup runner-up Alterite in the Grade 1 Garden City Stakes, Summer of Fun was made the 9-5 post-time favorite for the 1 1/16 miles Valley View. However, the best she could muster was a third-place finish, 1 3/4 lengths behind runner-up Nellie Cashman who was passed late by Overheard. You might remember Nellie Cashman from her shock 20-1 victory in the Grade 3 Virginia Oaks (just one race removed from breaking her maiden against state-bred competition at Penn National), and her unfortunate disqualification from first to third-place in the Grade 2 Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga. With a trip-saving rail ride here from regular jockey Forest Boyce, Nellie Cashman had every chance, but was ultimately no match for the Canadian invader who won by a length. Overheard also came in with a good form line, including a victory in the Alywow Stakes and two runner-up finishes behind Leigh Court—after leading for much of the race, Leigh Court faltered late in the 1 1/8 miles QE II, finishing fourth and just a length back of the winner Kitten’s Dumplings.

In the 7-furlong Raven Run, two scratches were necessary for Madame Cactus to draw in from the also-eligible list, and even then she had the misfortune of breaking from the far outside post in the 14-horse field. Still, under veteran jockey Joe Rocco, Jr., she had enough steam to circle the field nine-wide around the turn and outhustle runner-up Eden Prairie and third-place finisher My Option for the win. Fortuitously, she gained the services of Rocco only after the scratch of Grade 1 Prioress winner Lighthouse Bay. Interestingly, in her last race, Madame Cactus ran a close second to last year’s Raven Run winner Gypsy Robin, a filly who two weeks ago was just beaten by Judy the Beauty in the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes. That kind of past form should have made her better than the 11-1 seventh choice that she was on Saturday.

Other than missing a broad blaze down her face, the chestnut Madame Cactus looks an awful lot like her direct damline descendent, the great champion and Triple Tiara winner Chris Evert. Ironically, Valley View winner Overheard also hails from the same family. Her fourth dam Miss Carmie is Chris Evert’s dam—and another of Miss Carmie’s daughters, All Rainbows, gave us the great filly Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors.

State-bred championship races were contested in Oklahoma (Remington Park) on Friday, and in Indiana (Indiana Downs), Maryland (Laurel Park), New York (Belmont Park) and West Virginia (Charles Town) on Saturday. Among the highlights: She’s All In winning her fourth consecutive Oklahoma Classics Distaff in her career finale; 7-year-old Eighttofasttocatch capturing his second Maryland Millions Classic in three years; and undefeated filly Cluster of Stars stretching her win streak to seven races in taking out the Iroquois Stakes at Belmont in wire-to-wire fashion.

There were plenty of upsets too. With the 5 1/2 furlong Maryland Million Turf Sprint eliminated this year, three-time winner Ben’s Cat was forced to stretch out to 8 furlongs in the one-mile Maryland Million Turf Stakes—and for awhile there it appeared victory was his, but the veteran failed to hold and was beaten by a neck by the late-closing Roadhog, the race’s defending champion. The story many fans will remember from the Maryland Million Starter Handicap is the runner-up performance of Spicer Cub, most famous for his extraordinary second-place effort in a maiden claiming race at Pimlico back on April 13—you’ve doubtlessly seen it on YouTube.com. No misadventures like that on Saturday, as he was just outfinished by late-closing Tooth N Claw.

In the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic at Charles Town, defending champion Lucy’s Bob Boy went off as the 3-5 favorite, but faded to ninth in the 10-horse field after engaging in a bit of a speed duel with Russell Road for much of the early going. Two-time victor Russell Road, runner-up in last year’s race, survived the early battle and looked to add a third Breeders’ Classic to his vast resume, but, alas, he was caught late by 5-1 third-choice Fred High.

At Ascot on Saturday it was British Champions Day, including three Group 1 events. In the British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes, it was the longest shot in field, 16-1 Seal of Approval who sprang the huge four length upset, with Group 1 English Oaks winner Talent and French Group 1 Prix de l’Opera victress Dalkala finishing third and fourth, respectively. Favorite Dawn Approach, winner of the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes during the Royal Ascot meet earlier this year, failed to hit the board in the British Champions Mile (the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes), with the clear victory going to Irish-bred Olympic Glory, fresh off two French Group 1 runner-up finishes, including a narrow loss to Moonlight Cloud in the Jacques Le Marois. Finally, in the British Champion Middle Distance race, the Champion Stakes, Godolphin-owned Farhh—making only his second start of the year—shocked favorite Cirrus Des Aigles and Group 1 English Derby victor Ruler of the World, winning by a neck over the French veteran. Ruler of the World was another half-length back in third.

On Sunday, in the non-graded 1 1/16 miles Cup and Saucer Stakes at Woodbine—a historically-important juvenile contest for Canadian-breds—the race’s only filly Cool Faith (Pulpit) very nearly pulled off the upset but, after battling Grade 2-placed Matador (Malibu Moon) the entire trip, fell just a nose short after gaining the lead, losing it and then gaining it again. What a gutsy performance! A maiden winner over males last out, Cool Faith looks to have a promising turf career ahead of her—and she’s certainly bred for it, with her Grade 1-placed dam Ambitious Cat being Canada’s champion Turf Female in 2005. Matador too should be one to look for next year.

Internationally, this coming weekend’s best racing includes Australia’s premier weight-for-age race, the Group 1 Cox Plate at Moonee Valley on Saturday, and Woodbine’s Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International and the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes on Sunday.

In racing, one must always expect to take the good with the bad, and this week the bad news included two tragic losses. On Thursday, the first foal of champion and Hall of Fame race mare Azeri, Take Control was euthanized after breaking his right front leg while training at Santa Anita; he was being considered for a start in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon despite a distant last-place finish behind Mucho Macho Man and Paynter in the Grade 1 Awesome Again (formerly Goodwood) Stakes. On Friday it was announced that Hill ‘n Dale Farm privately purchased his half-sister Wine Princess for their broodmare band.

On Sunday morning, race fans woke to the terrible news that recently-retired Dullahan had perished following emergency surgery for severe colic. The three-time Grade 1 winner will best be remembered for his track-record setting victory over Game On Dude in last year’s Grade 1 Pacific Classic. Although he never quite realized greatness, bouncing around from synthetic, dirt and turf, Dullahan’s future as a stallion was extremely promising, based not only on his own achievements, but also those of his gelded half-brother, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. He will be missed.

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

Last Week’s Races

2013 Sycamore Stakes Replay
Najaar takes the inside route to victory.

Video courtesy of Trakus

2013 Valley View Stakes Replay
Overheard, ya heard?

Video courtesy of Trakus

2013 Raven Run Stakes Replay
Madame Cactus gets up in time.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2013 Champion Stakes Replay
Farhh fights on for the win.

Video courtesy of Racingpostdotcom

2013 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes Replay
Olympic Glory pulls away for the win.

Video courtesy of Racingpostdotcom

2013 Iroquois Stakes Replay
Cluster of Stars remains undefeated.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Maryland Million Classic Replay
Eighttofasttocatch could not be caught.

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Maryland Million Turf Replay
Road Hog defeats Ben’s Cat.

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Maryland Million Maryland Starter Handicap Replay
Spicer Cub is still running straight!

This video must be viewed at YouTube

Download Brisnet.com Results Charts
2013 Raven Run Stakes Chart
2013 Sycamore Stakes Chart
2013 Valley View Stakes Chart

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

See you at the track!

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Charts and PPs provided by Brisnet