If this seems like a Weekend Wrap of a year ago or so, it should.
Sistercharlie, the 2018 Eclipse Award winner as champion older mare, returned to the races after an eight-month layoff and won the $500,000 Diana (G1) for the second year in a row at Saratoga Race Course for trainer Chad Brown, who has won this race four years in a row and five times overall.
Elate, in her third race this year after a seven-month break, won the $750,000 Delaware Handicap (G2) for the second year in a row for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
Game Winner returned to his winning ways, capturing the $150,000 Los Alamitos Derby for Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert, giving the Hall of Famer his third straight victory and ninth overall in this race.
It was a busy weekend of stakes races in many divisions, and the results will likely impact fields for the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 1-2.
The first weekend of Saratoga produced a pair of 2-year-olds to watch in Comical ($8.20), who took the $150,000 Schuylerville (G3) for fillies for trainer Doug O’Neill, and By Your Side ($4.80), winner of the $150,000 Sanford (G3) for trainer Eddie Kenneally.
By Your Side, a son of Constitution, is now 2-for-2 and heading for longer distances, with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) a likely goal.
“He came to me at Keeneland in April and just continued on from there. He has a very efficient stride, and his pedigree says that he wants to go longer,’’ said Kenneally. “The way he relaxed will help the horse go longer as well.”
A few races later at the Spa on Saturday, Peter Brant’s Sistercharlie ran down stablemate and 8-5 favorite Rushing Fall in the final furlong and took the Diana, winning by 1 ¾ lengths in the first of 18 Grade 1 races during the meet.
Brown, among the nation’s top trainers, saddled the first three finishers in the race in which he had four of the six entrants. Homerique, also owned by Brant, was third.
Sistercharlie ($5.80), ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, won her fourth in a row, all Grade 1’s including her previous start, the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) in November at Churchill Downs.
“Another great performance from a great mare. She showed why she’s the best,” said Brown. “We were going to start her campaign a little earlier in the year, and she got sick on us. We had to wait and he (Brant) was very patient.”
The next stop for Sistercharlie could be the $600,000 Beverly D (G1) at Arlington Park on Aug. 10. E Five Racing Thoroughbreds’ Rushing Fall could also end up in the same race.
“She ran a good race as well,” said Brown. “A mile and an eighth may be stretching it for her, and she went all the way to the wire with Sistercharlie. It’s unfortunate one of them had to lose, but that’s the way I do it. I want the horses to run against each other. I don’t want any speculation on who might have won, I just like to let them settle it on the track.”
In this one, Elate ($2.60) made it two Delaware Handicaps in a row when she overpowered eight opponents and won by 4 ½ lengths as the 3-10 favorite.
Owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider, the 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro took charge on the turn for home and cruised to the win under Jose Ortiz. Her time for the 1 ¼ miles was 2:02.51.
After winning last year’s Delaware Handicap, Elate ran second in the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga, but came away with a splint issue and was given time off to recover. Elate came into Delaware off a win in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2) at Churchill Downs on June 15.
“She loves a mile and a quarter,” Ortiz said. “I am a little disappointed that there are not more races at the distance. She is the best horse in the filly and mare division going a mile and a quarter, but I also think she can cut back to a mile and an eighth and make it work.”
What else is new out here in California? Baffert sends a 3-year-old to Los Alamitos, and he goes out and wins another Derby. This time it was 2018’s 2-year-old champion Game Winner.
Sent off as the 1-20 favorite in a four-horse field, Game Winner ($2.10) cruised to a five-length victory in the Los Al Derby, his first win this year after a pair of runner-up finishes in the Rebel (G2) and the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1), followed by some time off with a bad back. Now, Game Winner, owned by Gary and Mary West, could make his next start in the Travers (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 24.
The Wests also own disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security (he was placed 17th), who runs this weekend in the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park.
Game Winner, with Joel Rosario aboard, made his move going three wide on the turn. By mid-stretch he was in command.
“I think this was a perfect race for him,” said Baffert. “I put the blinkers back on him because I wanted him to get a little bit more focused leaving the gate and into the race a little bit more. The plan right now is the Travers.”
Mr. Money just may be starting to live up to the high hopes of his connections. The 3-year-old son of Goldencents made it three graded stakes wins in a row by taking the $500,000 Indiana Derby (G3) at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino.
The 1-5 favorite owned by Chester Thomas’ Allied Racing Stable and trained by Bret Calhoun did not have an easy time of this with a loose horse running to his outside.
The rider-less horse was Eskenforit, who stumbled badly at the start and dropped jockey Julien Leparoux. The horse continued to race close to the field for the remainder of the 1 1/16-mile race. Gabriel Saez, aboard Mr. Money, had to move inside slightly to avoid Eskenforit, then shifted back out to make his run to the wire off the turn for home.
“I saw a horse next to me and I was like, ‘Who’s moving too early?'” Saez said. “And when I looked around, I saw it was the loose horse. I gave my horse a little break again, and when I asked him to pick it up and get the job done down the lane, he responded really well to it.”
The 11-horse field had some familiar names from the Triple Crown trail, including runner-up Gray Magician; Math Wizard (third), Long Range Toddy (fifth), and Alwaysmining (ninth).
Next up for Mr. Money is not definite, but the Travers is an option. Other possibilities include the West Virginia Derby (G3) on Aug. 3 or the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) on Sept. 21.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.