Although there were several major stakes this past weekend, it actually was a bit of a lull leading up to three dynamite weekends at Saratoga, the Arlington Million (gr. IT) and Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) this coming weekend, and the Aug. 28 Pacific Classic (gr. I).
The recent focus was more on the 2-year-olds, as we saw magnificent performances by Kantharos in the Saratoga Special (gr. II) and Position Limit in the Adirondack Stakes (gr. II), both of whom have won all their races by huge margins. We also witnessed impressive maiden victories by the Todd Pletcher-trained Bernardini colt Stay Thirsty and the Delaware Park-based I'm Steppin' It Up.
But two races that left lasting impressions were the victories by Sidney's Candy in the La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIT) and Wasted Tears in the John C. Mabee Stakes (gr. IIT). These races complimented each other perfectly, providing the very best of speed and courage.
Sidney’s Candy looked like a runaway at the head of the stretch, running a classy and fast horse in Macias into the ground with a dazzling display of staying speed. This was no ordinary field he was beating, but he turned what looked like a solid, evenly matched race into a one-horse affair, easily defeating five proven stakes horses and an up-and-comer trying for his third straight victory. And he did it in course-record time of 1:39.52 for the 1 1/16 miles after blazing through fractions of 1:08.91 and 1:33.09.
With his 5 ½-length score, while being geared down after opening up a 13-length lead at the eighth pole, Sidney’s Candy looks like he could be a major force in either the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) or Dirt Mile (gr. I).
Wasted Tears could not have been gamer, doggedly holding off the challenges of Lilly Fa Pootz and Gotta Have Her to win by a nose, while running 1 1/8 miles for the first time and shipping to California for the first time. The daughter of Najran has now won 10 consecutive races on the turf, on the lead every step of the way in all of them, while being ridden by seven different jockeys at five different racetracks in five different states. Oddly enough, of those 10 races, this was only the second time she went off as the favorite.
(Read more about Wasted Tears here).
So, it looks as if we’ve got two new exciting stars to watch in the summer and fall races.
Getting back to the 2-year-olds, as impressive as all the winners were, they have no place to run unless they wait eight weeks for the grade I Champagne and Frizette Stakes. With NYRA getting rid of the Futurity and Matron Stakes, both long-running, prestigious stakes run in September, it leaves 2-year-olds who have run short in mid-August pretty much out in the cold. The Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) comes too soon, which means trainers not only have to wait two months to run their horses back, they have to stretch them out from 6 ½ furlongs to one mile in a grade I.
If anyone has concerns about Kantharos, a son of Lion Heart, going long, his sire did win the Haskell (gr. I) and run second to Smarty Jones in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), and his broodmare sire, the Super Derby (gr. I) and Swaps (gr. I) runner-up Southern Halo, was the leading sire in Argentina eight times, siring 120 stakes winners, 88 graded or group winners, and 12 champions.
Kantharos’ female side of his pedigree includes Halo (sire of two Kentucky Derby winners), Conquistador Cielo (winner of the Belmont Stakes), Northern Dancer (winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness), Mr. Prospector (sire of a Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner), Codex (winner of the Preakness), Arts and Letters (winner of the Belmont Stakes), and Hail to Reason (sire of a Kentucky Derby winner). And Kantharos is inbred to three of these sires (Hail to Reason, Mr. Prospector, and Northern Dancer). Going back a bit farther, you have two doses of Ribot, through Arts and Letters and Graustark, as well as Kentucky Derby winner Dark Star.
Stay Thirsty has a pedigree to die for, being by A.P. Indy’s son Bernardini, one of the most talented and magnificent-looking horses we’ve ever laid eyes on. His dam, Marozia, is by Storm Bird, out of Make Change, a daughter of the classic-winning Roberto, out of Equal Change, who finished a strong second to Ruffian in the 1 ½-mile CCA Oaks (gr. I). Equal Change, by Arts and Letters, is out of Fairness, a half-sister to Prove Out and other major stakes winners Heartland and Saidam – all out of the mare Equal Venture. This is the cream of King Ranch breeding, and you have one horse who beat Secretariat convincingly and another who was beaten only 2 ¾ lengths by Ruffian, both at 1 ½ miles. Oh, yes, Equal Venture is a full sister to Triple Crown winner Assault.
I’m Steppin’ It Up has an interesting pedigree, being by Congrats , a winner of almost $1 million, who is by A.P. Indy, out of Praise, a daughter of Diana Handicap (gr. IIT) and Test Stakes (gr. II) runner-up Wild Applause. Praise is a half-sister to Roar, the broodmare sire of Rachel Alexandra. Wild Applause is out of Glowing Tribute, winner of the Diana and Sheepshead Bay Handicap (gr. IIT) twice, who also produced Kentucky Derby and Travers (gr. I) winner Sea Hero and multiple grade I winner Hero’s Honor.
On the female side, I’m Steppin’ It Up’s dam, Cindy Woo Who, is by dual classic winner Thunder Gulch, sire of dual classic winner and recent Hall of Fame inductee Point Given. Cindy Woo Who’s dam, Jeb, is a half sister to $2 million earners Beautiful Pleasure, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) and champion older mare, and Mecke, winner of the Arlington Million (gr. IT).
Rachel looks great in work
The Rachel Alexandra who worked six furlongs in 1:13 1/5 Monday looked nothing at all like the Rachel Alexandra of early in the year. This was the best we’ve seen her work. She did absolutely nothing wrong – she cornered well, ran straight the length of the stretch with no head movement, and was striding out beautifully in the final furlong. And she was extremely strong in her gallop-out, in which she just kept going, and it wasn’t until she had gone more than 1 1/8 miles at a decent clip that Shaun Bridgmohan finally was able to get her pulled up.
The Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I) looks like a terrific match-up between Rachel Alexandra and Life At Ten, who is riding a six-race winning streak and has already been victorious at 1 ¼ miles. This could very well turn into a jockey’s race, with strategy likely to play a major role in the outcome, especially with a classy filly like Unrivaled Belle sitting behind them, waiting to take advantage of any speed duel that might develop.
The feeling here is that we’ll see a much-improved Rachel Alexandra, capable of winning the Personal Ensign, but the finished product won’t be on display until the Beldame Stakes (gr. I). The Personal Ensign, her first attempt at 10 furlongs, will give her the bottom she needs when taking on the best horses in the country in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I).
No Telling how good he is
Well, we know Telling loves the Sword Dancer Stakes (gr. IT), winning the 12-furlong race for the second straight year and doing it in a snappy 2:25.29. But those were his only two wins in his last nine starts, finishing out of the money in six of them. The son of A.P. Indy has to show some consistency and prove he can handle better horses if he is to be taken seriously as a Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) contender.
Bob Baffert may have himself another top-quality sprinter in the 3-year-old Bulldogger, who returned from a layoff to win a six-furlong allowance race at Saratoga by 4 ¾ lengths in 1:09.47. Another 3-year-old sprinter to watch closely is Godolphin’s Tahitian Warrior, who could not have won a seven-furlong optional claimer at Saratoga any easier. The son of Maria’s Mon won eased up by 2 ¼ lengths in 1:22.95 for his second straight overpowering performance.
Another Zenyatta Classic victim wins grade I
For whatever it's worth, with his victory in the Aug. 17 Juddmonte International (Eng-I), Rip Van Winkle became the fourth beaten horse from last year's Breeders' Cup Classic to win a grade or group I stakes this year, the others being Gio Ponti, Awesome Gem, and Twice Over. The last named also was second in the Juddmonte International. Of the seven horses from that race who are still in training, four have won grade or group I stakes, while Richard's Kid placed in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) behind Awesome Gem.