Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez swept two grade III turf stakes at Calder Race Course Saturday when the Chilean-bred Host won the Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT). Host came from mid-pack in the 1 1/8-mile grass event to defeat Silver Tree by a neck, finally inching ahead in the final yards of a gruelding stretch duel. Host completed the distance in 1:45 3/5. He was coming off a similar come-from-behind win in the Knickerbocker Handicap (gr. IIT) at Aqueduct in October. Pletcher and Velazquez teamed for a mild upset in winning the My Charmer Handicap (gr. IIIT) with Something Ventured earlier on the card.In the Tropical Turf, Velazquez said he was primarily concerned with keeping Host out of trouble."As soon as I got to the backside, I put him to the outside," Velazquez said. "I was in good position on the far turn and he was there. In the stretch, I had to pull him out and hit him left handed."
Host paid $5.40, 2.80, 2.80 (prices OK). Silver Tree returned $2.80 and 2.60, while Demeteor paid $11.20 to show. Host, owned by Laura and Eugene Melnyk, has won seven of 12 starts with earnings of $255,119.Pletcher said Host could return to the dirt in the future, but will compete on the turf for the time being."He's still learning and ducked in a little bit when Johnny hit him right handed in the stretch, but he's got that explosive turn of foot," Pletcher said. "He showed a lot of promise early this year when he was still actually a 3-year-old by South American standards, running against older horses like Del Mar Show and Funny Cide."Mogador finished fourth, with In Hand, Keep Cool, Private Scandal, Sea Pleasure, Bob's Proud Moment, Final Prophecy, Colonial Bay and Pah completing the order.(Chart, Equibase)Besides the My Charmer, there were two other $100,000 stakes races on the Grand Slam I Calder card Saturday.Rose Family Stable's Leona's Knight won the Three Ring Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, giving trainer Barry Rose, the son of deceased Calder Hall of Famer Harold Rose, his first stakes win.The Florida-bred daughter of Suave Prospect set all the pace in the 1 1/16 miles event and held off the challenge of New York invader Smuggler down the stretch to win by three-quarters of a length in 1:49 1/5."He'll be really enjoying this up there," Rose said of his father, who died last year. Jockey Carlos Olivero rode Leona's Knight in what settled into a two-horse race. Smuggler, the favorite ridden by John Velazquez, never could get past the winner, but finished 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Southern Serenity in third. Leona's Knight paid $38.60, 7.80, 2.10. Smuggler returned $2.40 and 2.10, while Southern Serenity paid $2.10 for the show. (Chart, Equibase)Robert Abbo's favored 2-year-old colt Better Than Bonds notched his first stakes victory in determined style, taking the What A Pleasure Stakes.Trained by Robert Reinacher Jr., the son of former Calder runner Sweetsouthernsaint had placed twice in two previous stakes in New York. Brice Blanc rode him for the first time. Better Than Bonds earned his victory by running down G P's Black Knight in the stretch to win by three-quarters of a length. He covered the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:48 4/5. Cherokee Chase finished third. "I asked him to pick it up around the turn and he came to them readily," said Blanc, who won his first stakes race at Calder. "When I swung him out and he switched his leads down the lane, he finished up beautifully." Better Than Bonds paid $4.40, 4.40 and 3.40. G P's Black Knight returned $11.20 and 5.40, with Cherokee Chase paying $7.20 for the show. (Chart, Equibase)