There are still four months to go before the 34th running of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, set to be held for the first time at the historic seaside oval of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, but that hasn’t stopped several horses from making their intentions for the first Friday and Saturday of November known.
Saturday’s rich Stars and Stripes Festival card at Belmont Park, which offered $3.7 million in stakes purses spread out over five graded events, provided racing fans with nothing but prospects for the biggest days in thoroughbred racing, including two Grade 1s for 3-year-olds worth at least $1 million each and preps for several other divisions, including a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge event for sprinters.
Oscar Performance Wows in Belmont Derby
Amerman Racing’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GIT) winner Oscar Performance put on a show worthy of a gold statue on Saturday, wiring the $1.2 million Belmont Derby (GI) and soundly defeating a field that included some of the best sophomore turf runners in the world.
Under jockey Jose Ortiz, the Brian Lynch-trained son of Kittens Joy broke alertly and was hustled up to the front of the pack and led at every call through splits of :23.96, :49.48, 1:14.37 and 1:37.35 before galloping to the wire to victory by two lengths, finishing up the 1 ¼-mile event in 2:00.25 over a firm course.
“He broke slow and I had to chase him the first quarter of a mile, but then in the backside he relaxed real well,” Ortiz said. “I backed the pace down a little and he was full of run when I asked him to go.
“I was a little concerned [about the turf condition] because he didn’t run well in Kentucky on the soft ground, but if you look back, he won the Pilgrim on soft ground here, so I think it was the Kentucky course.
“This horse gave me my first Breeder’s Cup. He’s in the top three of my favorites,” Oritz concluded.
Bred in Kentucky by his owners, Oscar Performance earned his fifth win in his eighth career start and boosted his bankroll to $1,497,632. In addition to capturing last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf he also won the Penine Ridge Stakes (GIIIT) in his most recent start and the Pilgrim Stakes (GIIIT) last year.
“When he broke a tad slow and [Ortiz] urged him a little bit to run up there and I saw the :23 and change, I thought, ‘I hope it doesn’t turn into one of these sort of deals,’” Lynch said. “When the :49 and change came up, I started to grin a little bit and when I saw the 1:14 and change come up, I broke into a big smile. When he inched away from them in the lane, I could see they were all throwing leather behind him. I thought, ‘He’s going to be tough to catch from here.’
“He proved he can get the mile and a quarter and I think he beat a quality field of horses today.
“We’ll take a deep breath here and talk with the Amermans and see where we go from here. He’s obviously turned his spring form around and he’s on the right track. At this stage, we’ll just enjoy that.”
At odds of nearly 6-1, Oscar Performance paid $13, $6.90 and $4.80. Called to the Bar completed the Lasix-free exacta and was worth $8.10 and $5.10 at odds of nearly 7-1. Homesman was good for $8.30 at odds of almost 12-1.
Good Samaritan, Yoshida, Makarios, Whitecliffsofdover, Big Score, Ticonderoga, Senior Investment and Arklow completed the order of finish.
Brown-Trained Fillies Sweep Belmont Oaks
Reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown sent out what amounts to an army of sophomore fillies for Saturday’s $1 million Belmont Oaks (GI) and his battle plan worked out perfectly, as the trainer’s troops dominated the 1 ¼-mile test in a 1-2-3 finish, with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GIT) heroine New Money Honey narrowly holding recent European import Sistercharlie safe by a neck, with fellow recent international shipper Uni checking in third after a hard-luck and traffic-filled trip. New Money Honey’s victory marked the trainer’s fourth win in event the past five years
Under jockey Javier Castellano, New Money Honey stalked the early pace set by European shipper Key To My Heart while racing well out into the middle of the course, rounded the far bend while further out still, made a move toward the lead at the top of the stretch, took command with a furlong out and was under an all-out drive to hold off the late charge of Sistercharlie, who rallied from dead last in the early going. Uni made up ground down the lane to earn third after blowing the break a bit and encountering nothing but traffic from the 3/8-pole to the wire.
“They all ran terrific,” Brown said.” I have to watch it again to see all three trips. I was trying to watch it the best I can.
“Obviously, [New Money Honey] ran terrific, got position early, and they were moving along pretty good. Javier just backed off a little bit and had first run, and she kept going. My other two horses were two first-time Euros, they broke a little slow and were pretty far back. Both of them ran terrific, they look like they’re going to have outstanding careers as well. I haven’t really planned beyond this race, actually — they’ll probably all go in different directions.”
Daddys Lil Darling, Grizzel, Beau Recall, Coasted, Journey Home, Violet Blue, Dynatail and Key To My Heart followed the top three under the wire to complete the order of finish.
“I’m very lucky to ride for Mr. Brown and the opportunity he gives me to ride the filly,” Castellano said. “We’ve been really lucky except for the last couple of races with the filly. I think she is very straight-forward and today she broke well out of the gate and got a good spot in the race. Chad and I talked about our strategy before the race and I tried to follow procedure. It worked out great. It was a beautiful spot in the beginning of the race. When it was time to go, she responded and finished really well today.”
Owned by eFive Racing, New Money Honey earned her fourth win in her sixth career start with the Belmont Oaks win and her bankroll now totals $1,342,017. The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro was bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm and was a $450,000 Keeneland September yearling in 2015.
New Money Honey was worth $7, $3.30 and $2.90 as the 5-2 second choice. Favored Sistercharlie paid $3.30 and $2.80 at odds of just under 9-5. Uni returned $4 at nearly 8-1.
Mind Your Biscuits Secures Breeders’ Cup Sprint Spot, May Eye Different Race
As if he really needed to secure a spot while sitting in the position as the nation’s top sprinter, J Stable, Head of Plains Partners, Summers, Summers and Kisber et al’s Mind Your Biscuits powered home to a 3 ½-length romp in the $350,000 Belmont Sprint Championship (GII), a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series event that guaranteed the winner a spot in the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI). The New York-bred son represented trainer Chad Summers’ first winner at Belmont Park.
Under regular jockey Joel Rosario, Mind Your Biscuits got his typical off-the-pace trip, though closer to the pace than usual, and sat behind the half-mile that went in :22.67 and :45.64 with Green Gratto on the front before launching his move as he straightened out for the drive. In a matter of a few strides, Mind Your Biscuits was on the lead at the top of the stretch and powering toward the wire a clear winner long before the race was over, passing six furlongs in 1:09.90 before stopping the clock in 1:21.84.
Mind Your Biscuits paid $4.80, $3.30 and $2.10. Awesome Slew closed well to earn second at odds of almost 6-1 and was good for $4.90 and $3.40. Tommy Macho paid $3.80 to show at 7-1. Stallwalkin Dude, Green Gratto, Fellowship and Unified completed the order of finish.
“We were going seven furlongs, so I thought maybe he should be a little bit closer,” Rosario said. “He broke very well and we settled behind some horses and then the 7-horse [Unified] came a little bit over me so I just had to be there and follow. I was in the perfect spot.
“He does everything on his own, easy. Everything he does is just right. He’s great. He went to Dubai and won there and he comes back and wins again,” Rosario noted.
According to Summers, Mind Your Biscuit won’t start until the Aug. 26 Forego Stakes (GI) at Saratoga, with the ultimate goal obviously being the first Saturday of November in Del Mar, California and, though qualified for the Sprint, maybe in another event.
“We know how good he was training going into this,” Summers said. “There were still some doubters who said it was a sub-par Dubai. We didn’t think so. We know what he’s capable of and we’re ready for the rest of the year.
“It makes me think a mile won’t be a problem for him, maybe a little bit further. He kept going and going and kicked away.
Mind Your Biscuits now owns a record of 16-6-6-2, $2,207,166.
Practical Joke Slays Foes in Dwyer
Perhaps eyeing a start in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI), Klaravich Stables’ and William Lawrence’s Practical Joke posted an impressive two-length score in the $400,000 Dwyer Stakes (GIII).
As the 3-5 post-time favorite under jockey Joel Rosario, the Chad Brown-trained son of Into Mischief stalked the early pace of 23.12 and :47.15 set by Battalion Runner before cutting the corner for home, taking over at the top of the stretch just after the leader logged six furlongs in 1:11.55 and powering home to win, stopping the clock in 1:35.16 over a fast main track.
“I had a good trip,” Rosario said. “There weren’t a lot of horses in the race, so I stayed inside for a bit. I looked like [Battalion Runner] was probably going to go, so I just kept an eye on him. [Practical Joke] ran a big race today. He was the best horse in the race. He looked good and finished really strongly. That’s what we were hoping for.”
Practical Joke paid $3.50, $2.80 and $2.10. Longshot Tale of Silence capped off a generous $54.50 exacta when he finished second at 43-1 and was worth $12 and $4.10. Batallion Runner held on to third and was good for $2.10.
“The pace wasn’t that strong,” Brown said. “On top of that, the horse was giving six to eight pounds to every horse in the race. He really ran well today. I certainly think it’s the best race he’s ever won.”
Giuseppe the Great and True Timber rounded out the order of finish.
Keen Ice Breaks Two-Year Drought with Suburban Win
Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice finally got off a nearly two-year schneid on Saturday by capturing the he 131st running of the $750,000 Suburban Handicap (GII) by three widening lengths. The Todd Pletcher-trained 5-year-old was last seen in the winner’s circle after upsetting Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers Stakes (GI), but has hit the board a number of times since.
Under jockey Jose Ortiz, Keen Ice sat well off the early and pedestrian pace of :25.28, :50.01 and 1:13.61 set by Matt King Coal with favored Shaman Ghost racing closest to the early pacesetter. Keen Ice began his rally as the early flight rounded the bend and just after a mile went in 1:37. 89 he took command and galloped to the wire, completing the 1 ¼-mile fast main track test in 2:02.02.
Shaman Ghost held on to second, while California shipper Follow Me Crev rallied from last early to claim third, finishing three more lengths behind the runner-up. Watershed and Matt King Coal completed the order of finish after Sunny Ridge was withdrawn.
“I know that Shaman Ghost is a really good horse but how the race developed, my horse pulled me really close to him,” Ortiz said of one of his five winners on the day. “I thought I was going to be a little farther [behind]. When we hit the three-eighths pole, I was right next to [Shaman Ghost], on his heels, without asking, so I was in a very good position. Keen Ice gave me everything he had. He was full of run today.”
At odds of 5-1, Keen Ice paid $12, $3.90 and $2.80. Shaman Ghost was worth $2.80 and $2.10 as the 1-2 favorite while Follow Me Crev returned $3.70 at more than 11-1.
“That was a great effort, he really ran a huge race,” Pletcher said. “Coming into it, we were a bit concerned with the lack of pace on paper. We thought he might have to be a little bit more forwardly placed and Jose gave him a great ride in able to position him towards to the rail. The fractions weren’t fast up front, but Jose had him in a perfect position and when he was able to swing out you really saw him extend to the wire.”
Pletcher said the Kentucky bred could next target the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational on October 7 at Belmont Park and then the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“We were hoping he’d be able to run fresh coming from Dubai and we gave him a little freshening at Calumet following [the Dubai World Cup] and he was coming into this race training well. We’ll see how he comes out of this but the Jockey Club Gold Cup would most likely logically be his next step.”
Keen Ice, who is a Kentucky-bred son of Curlin, is a two-time Keeneland sales graduate having sold for $48,000 Keeneland weanling in 2012 and a $120,000 yearling the following September. He now owns a record of 22-3-2-5 for earnings of $3,037.245.