On Saturday in England, Juddmonte Farm's Frankel wrapped up his extraordinary career with victory in the Group 1 Champions Stakes at Ascot. Later in the day and across the Atlantic in New York, the organization's Lunar Victory helped prolong the festivities with a 1 1/4-length score in the $250,000 Empire Classic at Belmont Park.
"(Juddmonte Farms is) still celebrating Frankel, I believe," trainer Bill Mott noted following Lunar Victory's win. "You know what, they pay attention to all of them, so I'm sure they're happy to have this one. Every once in a while they'll buy a yearling at auction, and apparently they liked the looks and the pedigree of this one. I guess he had his chance (in England), but fortunately they brought him back (to the United States)."
Lunar Victory did not disappoint as the 4-5 favorite in the Empire Classic, returning $3.60, $2.30 and $2.10 to his supporters for taking the highlight of the seven stakes for New York-breds on Belmont's New York Showcase program.
The five-year-old horse sat in midpack before running down pacesetter, and eventual runner-up, Saratoga Snacks in the stretch following fractions of :23 2/5, :46 3/5 and 1:11. Ridden by Junior Alvarado, Lunar Victory covered 1 1/8 miles over the good main track in 1:49 3/5.
"If I was the connections of (Saratoga Snacks), I'd be pretty pleased," Mott praised the runner-up. "He battled on hard, and (he is) a pretty doggone good horse. Our horse is a tough horse. I think they had a good horse race. They hooked it up a little ways, and our horse is more seasoned and (had) been the mile and an eighth. (Saratoga Snacks) will be a horse to contend with in the future, that's for sure."
"(Lunar Victory) broke really good and then I just tried to settle him down and relax because I knew there would be a little speed in the race," Alvarado said. "He has so much class, though, turning for home I just tried to stay away from (Saratoga Snacks) and he gave me a nice kick at the end."
Coming in third another 6 1/2 lengths back was Sailmate. Johannesburg Smile, Fiddlers Afleet, Bigger is Bettor and Haldane rounded out the order of finish. Saxophone Len was eased and Big Business was scratched from the race.
Lunar Victory entered the Empire Classic off a second-place finish over this track in the Promenade All Stakes last time out. Racking up his second stakes victory, the son of Speightstown boosted his lifetime earnings to $424,992 and he now has a career mark which reads 16-7-4-2.
"I'm glad it turned out this way and we'll keep him in training and try him next year. I'm not sure (what we'll do next)," Mott said. "This is just a long ball -- I'm speaking for myself -- we might have a look at the (Grade 1) Clark (on November 23 at Churchill Downs). It would be open company and a good race, but we might consider it. I'll discuss it with the connections, and then we'll figure it out.
"I don't care if it's a $20,000 maiden claiming race, I enjoy winning. I like it all. I don't downplay any of it. It's all important, and it's important for this horse."
William Punk Jr. and Philip DiLeo's Hessonite captured her seventh stakes victory while defending her title in the $175,000 Ticonderoga. The David Donk trainee kicked clear in the end to claim a 3 3/4-length victory. The Freud four-year-old filly went 1 1/16 miles over the yielding turf in 1:47 2/5. Ramon Dominguez was aboard as Hessonite boosted her bankroll to $713,310. The chestnut miss now has a career mark of 18-9-3-1.
"Today, she was just taking me there," Dominguez said. "Turning for home I was behind a wall of horses, but I felt that one way or another, I was confident she would find a way through, and she did.
"Honest to God -- and I'm not just saying this because she won the race, I've been saying it for a while -- she's one of my all-time favorite horses to ride. Whatever you want her to do, she will do it. Such a nice, nice horse to ride."
Dominguez closed out the stakes action with yet another win, this time in the $175,000 Mohawk. Lakland Farm's Unbridled Command provided the rider with his third score on the program when romping by 6 3/4 lengths to finish 1 1/16 miles over the yielding turf in 1:47. Tom Bush trains the three-year-old son of Master Command, who is now two-for-two in stakes, having captured his black-type debut in the Grade 3 Saranac Stakes on September 2 at Saratoga. Unbridled Command improved his career mark to 9-5-1-2, $319,040, with the Mohawk victory.
"The trip was beautiful and I loved when (Dominguez) moved him up just a couple of spots down the backside when they were going pretty slow," Bush said. "He's just a horse that continues to move forward, and it's exciting. Visually it certainly was his best race...and he's improved in the morning as well. He's just a smoother, kinder horse and his breezes are more professional. He's coming the right way.
"If he's healthy and nothing's amiss, we haven't ruled out running him in the (Grade 1) Hollywood Derby (going 1 1/4 miles on November 25 over Hollywood Park's turf)."
Willet kicked off the first stakes race on the Belmont card with victory in the $150,000 Iroquois. Jockey Rajiv Maragh rode the four-year-old filly to a 9 1/4-length first stakes victory. Owned by Charlotte Assoulin, Eli Gindi and trainer James Iselin, the bay daughter of Jump Start covered seven furlongs over the sealed, muddy track in 1:23 1/5. Willet now has a career line which reads 7-4-2-1, $205,400.
"I wanted to be a little more forwardly placed looking at it coming into the race, but she wasn't keeping up early, so I kind of had to go to Plan B," Maragh said. "At the quarter-pole, she just jumped in like a different horse and sprinted home. In the early part of the race I was a little worried because it seemed like she wasn't quite getting hold of the track, but in the end she just took off."
Later in the card, Mine Over Matter pulled off the upset over 3-5 favorite Saginaw in the $150,000 Hudson, the brother race to the Iroquois. The Mineshaft five-year-old pulled away at the finish to win by a length over the good main track. Campaigned by breeders Mary and Chester Bowman Sr., Mine Over Matter covered six furlongs in 1:10 1/5 with Dominguez aboard. The Michael Hushion trainee boosted his lifetime earnings to $368,184 and now sports a career line which reads 34-6-3-9.
"Initially I was laying a little bit closer than what I was envisioning," Dominguez said. "I thought they would have run away from me a little bit more, but I was happy with the fact that he was relaxed where he was. Around the three-eighths pole when I had to ask him a little bit to save my spot, he jumped onto the bridle. Right then and there I realized that I had a lot of horse, and sure enough when I angled out turning for home he finished up pretty nicely."
Red and Black Stable's Weekend Hideaway captured the $125,000 Bertram F. Bongard for two-year-olds as the even-money favorite. Trained by Phil Serpe, the chestnut colt took over at the furlong marker and won by 2 1/2 lengths over the good main track. The son of Speightstown stopped the clock in 1:24 2/5 going seven furlongs with Jose Lezcano aboard. Weekend Hideaway entered this one, his second stakes victory, off a third in the Grade 2 Futurity Stakes on September 30, and now has a career mark which reads 5-3-1-1, $203,000.
"I actually did all the breeding with (Carl Lizza, breeder of Weekend Hideaway), so this has a lot of meaning to me more than just winning this race because we bred all these horses," Serpe said. "Fortunately, Mike Hoffman of Red and Black Stable stepped up and bought four of the yearlings (at the dispersal sale). This is one of them. We liked him a lot, he was a nice-looking colt, and I knew him since he was born.
"Flying Zee was the largest breeder in New York before Mr. Lizza's death, so he had a lot of mares to work with. We would just sit down and go over mares. It's easy to punch some mare's name into a computer and come up with a nick and let some electronic system do it. Mr. Lizza and I used to like to sit down, we'd go over four or five sires we thought might fit a particular mare and how those horses were on the track, and that's how we would base our decision."
Merrylegs Farm's homebred Matchmadeinheaven remained undefeated in three career starts when taking the $125,000 Joseph A. Gimma for two-year-old fillies. The Chris Englehart trainee was swung six wide heading into the stretch but was able to run down the leaders for a three-quarter length win. The daughter of Utopia covered seven furlongs over the good main track in 1:26 1/5 with Lezcano aboard. Matchmadeinheaven, whose other two wins came in the Lady Finger Stakes and Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Finger Lakes, has now earned $180,592.
"It was my father (Seymour Cohen's) mare, Open Marriage, and she was our foundation broodmare and used to have a lot of nice horses, Chasin' Wimmin, Pentelis, and See More Spirit, who is named after my dad," said Penny Hallman, winning owner and breeder of Matchmadeinheaven. "The mare died when this foal was born, and that's kind of where we got the name, Matchmadeinheaven, and it was also named after my (late) parents, who are not with me but are always with me."