Week of September 30, 2013
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

Super Saturday lived up to its billing, with thrilling finishes, shocking upsets and a princess dethroning a queen.

The 10 Grade 1 events contested on Saturday—five at Belmont and five at Santa Anita—were all Breeders’ Cup “Win-and-You’re-In” challenge races, perfectly positioned five weeks out from the big event. While a number of this weekend’s winners and also-rans will return to fight another day, we may have seen the last races of the year for others.

The day began at Belmont Park with, arguably, the best performance of the weekend. The Grade 1 Beldame was billed as a virtual match-race between the reigning queen of distaffers, Royal Delta, and the budding superstar, Princess of Sylmar. It ended up being a coup d’état as Princess of Sylmar ranged up alongside Royal Delta as they exited the final turn—and after a slight battle confidently went right by her, winning easily by two lengths.

Having already captured the three most prestigious Grade 1 stamina tests for 3-year-old fillies (the Kentucky Oaks, the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama), Princess of Sylmar’s conquest of the 2-time Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner—while that one is still in peak racing form, given her facile wins in the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap and Grade 1 Personal Ensign—appears to have solidified her credentials as champion 3-year-old filly. At this point in time, the other two finalists would have to be 2-time Grade 1 (Mother Goose and Cotillion) winner Close Hatches who defeated Princess of Sylmar in the Grade 2 Gazelle back in early April, and Kentucky Oaks runner-up Beholder. Last year’s champion juvenile filly won the Grade 1 Las Virgenes and Grade 1 Santa Oaks before failing to withstand Princess of Sylmar’s determined Kentucky Oaks effort.

Sent to the sidelines after that race, Beholder returned in September with an easy minor stakes victory at Del Mar and followed that up with an impressive victory on Saturday in the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes (formerly Lady’s Secret) Stakes at Santa Anita. Sent to the early lead, Beholder never looked like anything but the winner, powerfully reacting to any minor challenge without appearing to be asked. Geared down, she won by 1 1/4 lengths over Authenticity, distant runner-up to Royal Delta in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign last out. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Joyful Victory. Update: Joyful Victory has been retired and will be offered for sale the Fasig-Tipton November auction.

While Beholder is headed to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, plans are still up in the air for Royal Delta as her connections choose between the Distaff and the Classic. Princess of Sylmar is not Breeders’ Cup nominated, and her owner has previously indicated he is more inclined to put her away for the year in order to continue her racing career in 2014 and beyond.

Saturday’s two major races for turf distaffers—the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational and Grade 1 Rodeo Drive (formerly Yellow Ribbon) Stakes—both turned out to be formfully-run events. In the Flower Bowl, the paired entry of Grade 1 Diana winner Laughing and Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay victress Tannery, ran one-two, as Laughing took the early lead while her stablemate Tannery made a late run at her, falling just a half length short, but a neck ahead of third-place finisher Mystical Star. In the Rodeo Drive, I’m not sure what’s more surprising—the fact that 28-1 longshot Vionnet was gunned to the early lead, or that she nearly withstood the challenge of two far more accomplished opponents. In the end, she finished an impressive third, a half length behind winner Tiz Flirtatious and runner-up Marketing Mix. As for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, last year’s runner-up Marketing Mix and locally-based Tiz Flirtatious appear set, but Irish-bred Laughing isn’t Breeders’ Cup eligible and may skip the event.

Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Little Mike had been winless in four starts since that race—until this past weekend, that is, when he prevailed by a nose over Big Blue Kitten in a thrilling edition of the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont. It was just a short length back to recent Grade 1 Arlington Million victor Real Solution. All three top finishers are headed to Santa Anita next. On Sunday, multiple Argentine Group 1 winner Indy Point redeemed his poor last-place performance in the Arlington Million with a clear victory in the Grade 2 John Henry Turf Championship. The 2-1 favorite finished 1 1/4 lengths ahead of last-out Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap winner Vagabond Shoes, who was just under a length back of third-place finisher Lucayan. The final time for the 1 1/4 miles (1:57.47) was just a tick off the course record (1:57.16). Both of the top two finishers, Indy Point and Vagabond Shoes, are pointed to the BC Turf.

The only Grade 1 contest for dirt sprinters this weekend, the 6-furlong Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes saw a bit of an upset, with trainer Doug O’Neill’s California invader Private Zone wiring the field, finishing a neck in front of favored Justin Phillip. It was another 4 1/2 lengths back to last-out Grade 1 Forego winner Strapping Groom, while last year’s Vosburgh victor (and Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up), The Lumber Guy finished last in the 7-horse field. For dirt milers, the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap was the weekend’s only non-Grade 1 event that also served as a BC challenge race. However, the lightly-raced winner Graydar may be aimed for the Classic instead, according to his connections. Wiring the field, Graydar finished a mere 3/4 length ahead of gutsy 11-1 longshot Brujo de Olleros, a Group 1 winner in Uruguay who, after an unsuccessful tryst on turf last fall was switched to trainer Richard Mettee for whom he had produced two strong efforts prior to this start. Perhaps closing best of all was third-place finisher Hymn Book, while the paired entry of Easter Gift and Jackson Bend proved hugely disappointing, as the 2-1 second choices finished fifth and seventh, respectively, in the 7-horse field.

There were two Grade 1 juvenile stamina tests at Santa Anita on Saturday. In the 1 1/16 miles Chandelier (formerly Oak Leaf) Stakes, three of the top four finishers from the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante returned, this time stretching out in distance, and with entirely different results. Debutante victress She’s a Tiger (Tale of the Cat) did gain the lead for a time, but she was eventually worn down by the persistent 10-1 longshot Secret Compass, a beautifully-bred Discreet Cat filly out of a Maria’s Mon mare who, under the expert handling of jockey Rosie Napravnik, improved off her fourth-place effort at Del Mar. The post-time favorite, Fascinating (Smart Strike) had rallied nicely in the Debutante to gain second, but this time all the half sister to Bodemeister could manage was third-place. It was nearly 19 lengths back to the fourth-place finisher and the rest of the 7-horse field.

The top three finishers in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity—Tamarando (Bertrando), Dance With Fate (Two Step Salsa) and Can the Man (Into Mischief)—likewise made an impressive showing when stretching out in the 1 1/16 miles FrontRunner (formerly Norfolk) Stakes, although this time Dance With Fate finished ahead of Tamarando. All three, however, were upset by 10-1 maiden longshot Bond Holder (Mineshaft) who came on late to get up for the 2 1/4 length win.

The graded stakes action for juvenile at Belmont on Sunday included the 6-furlong Grade 2 Matron Stakes. Like fellow Pennsylvania-bred Princess of Sylmar who also began her career in the Keystone State, Miss Behaviour (Jump Start) had thrashed her previous competition, first at Parx and then in the Sorority Stakes at Monmouth in New Jersey. The odds-on post-time favorite Sweet Whiskey (Old Fashioned) was coming out of the sloppy Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga where, also as the post-time favorite, she finished a distant fourth after weakening late. The other major player was another Pennsylvania bred, Gracer (Exchange Rate) who Miss Behaviour had beaten in their first meeting, but had then impressive won a maiden special weight sprint at Saratoga. After battling one another for much of the race, Miss Behaviour pulled ahead to stay, winning by one length over the favorite, with Gracer a diminishing 1 3/4 lengths back in third. The 6-furlong Grade 2 Futurity Stakes featured a similar battle royal between In Trouble (Tiz Wonderful) and the favorite Corfu (Malibu Moon), with the maiden winner In Trouble ultimately pulling away to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

As for the Breeders’ Cup Classic picture, Game on Dude has clearly established himself as the horse to beat in 2013, given his predilection for Santa Anita and his five straight wins this year, including the three biggest classics for older horses in California—the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup and the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. Expected to be among his challengers: last year’s BC Classic runner-up Mucho Macho Man who captured Saturday’s Grade 1 Awesome Again (formerly Goodwood) Stakes with authority, winning by 4 1/4 lengths over an extremely gutsy Paynter. In the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational, Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice put himself firmly back into the 3-year-old male champion picture with a runner-up finish that saw him defeat last year’s JCGC winner Flat Out by nearly two lengths. The only other 3-year-old entered, Kentucky Derby winner Orb once again failed to perform over Big Sandy, finished dead-last in the 8-horse field (Update: and might be done for the year). The winner? At 21-1, virtually no one gave veteran Ron the Greek a chance, but with an absolutely perfect rail ride by Jose Lezcano, the forwardly-placed 6-year-old effortlessly moved to the lead rounding the final turn and coasted home, winning by nearly seven lengths. Given his strong late-closing effort in last year’s BC Classic, where he finished fourth and missed third by less than a length, Ron the Greek shouldn’t be lightly considered this year. After all, he finished third, just a half length behind Game on Dude in this year’s Grade 2 Charles Town Classic.

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

Last Week’s Races

2013 Beldame Invitational Replay
Princess of Sylmar overtakes Royal Delta in deep stretch.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Kelso Handicap Replay
Graydar goes all the way.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Vosburgh Invitational Replay
Private Zone survives a streth duel and inquiry to win.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Flower Bowl Invitational Replay
Laughing makes it four in a row.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Replay
Little Mike returns to form.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Jockey Club Gold Cup Replay
Ron the Greek rides the rail to upset glory.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Chandelier Stakes Replay
Secret Compass runs down She’s a Tiger.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2013 Rodeo Drive Stakes Replay
Tiz Flirtatious lives up to her odds.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2013 FrontRunner Stakes Replay
Bond Holder breaks his maiden.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2013 Zenyatta Stakes Replay
Beholder takes them all the way.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2013 Awesome Again Stakes Replay
Mucho Macho Man was awesome, again!

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2013 Homecoming Classic Replay
Fort Larned takes them all the way.

Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

2013 Matron Stakes Replay
Miss Behavior holds on.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Futurity Stakes Replay
In Trouble wears down Corfu.

Video courtesy of NYRA

Download Brisnet.com Results Charts
2013 Awesome Again Stakes Chart
2013 Beldame Invitational Chart
2013 Chandelier Stakes Chart
2013 Flower Bowl Invitational Chart
2013 FrontRunner Stakes Chart
2013 Futurity Stakes Chart
2013 Jefferson Cup Chart
2013 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Chart
2013 John Henry Turf Championship Chart
2013 Jockey Club Gold Cup Chart
2013 Kelso Handicap Chart
2013 Matron Stakes Chart
2013 Oklahoma Derby Chart
2013 Rodeo Drive Stakes Chart
2013 Vosburgh Invitational Chart
2013 Zenyatta Stakes Chart

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

See you at the track!

Stay in the loop, subscribe to the Weekly Roundup

Charts and PPs provided by Brisnet