By Richard Rosenblatt
Turf racing rarely has the stage to itself in the United States, but that was not the case over the weekend when it was all turf (stakes and sprints with a Derby and Oaks thrown in) all the time at Belmont Park and Kentucky Downs
With purses totaling nearly $5 million for seven turf races (two at Belmont, five at Kentucky Downs), the results saw 3-year-old Spanish Mission and 4-year-old Totally Boss win races that earned them automatic berths in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on Nov. 1-2.
At Belmont, the final legs of the newly created Turf Triple Series was completed, with favorite Spanish Mission nosing out 38-1 long shot Pedro Cara in the $1 million Jockey Club Derby at 1 ½ miles after Edisa edged Wonderment by three-quarters of a length in capturing $750,000 Jockey Club Oaks at 1 3/8 miles.
Both horses were sent off as favorites, even though both were racing in the U.S. for the first time. Team Valor and Earl Mack’s Spanish Mission was sent over from England; HH Aga Kahn’s Edisa from France.
At Kentucky Downs, the big money race was the $1 million Kentucky Turf Cup, which was won by 6-year-old Zulu Alpha, who defeated Arklow by 3 ¼ lengths under Jose Ortiz. It was the $700,000 Runhappy Turf Sprint, though, that carried a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” tag, and that was won by second betting choice Totally Boss, ridden by Florent Geroux.
European horses tend to fare well on the turf in the U.S. since that’s the surface they primarily run on. Which has U.S. racing officials writing more turf races, and why Euros are being shipped over as it gets closer to the $30 million Breeders’ Cup, with half of the 14 races run on the turf, topped by the $4 million BC Turf.
This year, the New York Racing Association created the Triple Trinity for males and the Turf Tiara for females.
Henley’s Joy won the Belmont Derby, the first leg of the Trinity series, and A Thread of Blue won the Saratoga Derby, the second leg. Henley’s Joy was fifth and A Thread of Blue fourth in the Jockey Club Derby. On the girl’s side, Concrete Rose took the first two races, the Belmont Oaks and the Saratoga Oaks, but did run on Saturday.
Kentucky Downs’ short meet is all turf races, and Saturday’s card featured four Grade 3’s, including the Turf Sprint.
A summary of the graded stakes
Ladies Sprint (G3): Morticia ($12) led from gate to wire in posting a 1 ¾-length victory over A Little Bit Me in the $500,000, 6 ½-furlong test for 3-year-olds and up fillies and mares. The 5-year-old mare also is trained by Arnold. With earnings of nearly $1 million, plans call for one more career race.
Ladies Turf (G3): Canada-bred Ms Bad Behavior ($16.60) was pretty good on this day, winning the one-mile test by 1 ½ lengths. In her last start, in the Royal Heroine (G2) at Santa Anita, she bore out at the start and was pulled up by Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith. This time, with Jose Ortiz aboard, the 4-year-old filly settled in a little better after a tough start. Mitchel Road was second. Co-owner Brooke Hubbard says Keeneland is the next stop, and then she’s entered in the Fasig-Tipton Night of Stars sale in early November. However, co-owner Greg Hall said, “but who knows? After this, maybe we’ll change our mind.”
Turf Sprint (G3): Totally Boss ($10.80) stayed just off pacesetter Smart Remark, about four wide, then put a head in front when the field hit the stretch and won by 1 ¼ lengths for trainer Rusty Arnold, who also trains Concrete Rose.
Turf Cup (G3): Zulu Alpha ($6.20) took charge with a furlong to go and pulled away for the victory for trainer Mike Maker, who said owner Michael Hui will make the final decision whether the horse winds up in the BC Turf.
Let’s not forget the $300,000 Super Derby (G3), a once formidable race for 3-year-olds, at Louisiana Downs. Hall of Famer trainer Steve Asmussen sent out Rotation and Vangilder to run 1-2 in the 1 1/16 miles race on the dirt.
Rotation ($13.40) was given a well-timed run by jockey Richard Eramia, who steadily moved up his colt and won by three-quarters of a length over his stablemate.
Next weekend brings the opening of the fall meeting at Churchill Downs, with four stakes races Saturday, including two “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup races – the Iroquois (G3) for 2-year-olds and the Pocahontas (G2) for 2-year-old fillies.
Woodbine steps up, too, with a pair of Grade 1’s on turf – the “Win and You’re In” Woodbine Mile and the Northern Dancer Turf. Also Saturday is the Bold Venture (G3) on the all-weather surface and the Canadian Stakes (G2) on turf.
On Sunday at Woodbine, there’s two more “Win and You’re In’’ BC races, the Natalma Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and the Summer Stakes for 2-year-olds, broth Grade 1’s on the turf.
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.