Countdown to the Cup (Cont.)

Albarado, instead of wrapping up on Mineshaft, as he had done in the Suburban, listened to Howard's instructions and threw a couple of crosses on the colt, letting him work up a little sweat in the final furlong. Mineshaft, running straight as an arrow down the stretch, drew off on his own to win by 4 1/4 lengths, with Hold That Tiger, a winner in most any other year, finishing 4 3/4 lengths ahead of Puzzlement. Co-owner Michael Tabor got just what he was looking for. "We're just looking to see if we fit for the Classic," he said before the race. "He seems to be coming back to himself, and today will give us some sort of idea."

Hold That Tiger actually ran a sensational race, and it makes one ponder even more now what would have happened had they sent him here for, let's say the Wood Memorial (gr. I) and Blue Grass (gr. I), then the Kentucky Derby. Coming off three mediocre performances in Europe and a two-month layoff, he still managed to run nine furlongs in under 1:47. And he looked sensational in the paddock.

An understated Aidan O'Brien said Monday he thought the horse "ran well," and the plan remains to bring him back for the Classic, which would be his next start.

Following the race, the comparisons began between Mineshaft and Candy Ride, who had set a new track record two weeks earlier in the Pacific Classic, running the 1 1/4 miles in 1:59 flat.

"I haven't ridden Candy Ride or Medaglia d'Oro, or any of the other top prospects," Albarado said. "But the way he feels and the way he's been winning, I can't imagine any horse getting to him at the eighth pole."

Howard added, "To be around a horse like him, the way he acts, I can honestly say I've been around a real class horse, and that word gets thrown around way too often. But there are still a couple more tough races out there, and that horse from California wasn't exactly standing around the other day."

Later that evening, as a beautiful salmon-pink sunset illuminated the sky, Mineshaft returned to his stall, which now was being occupied by a chicken and her seven baby chicks, who had nestled themselves comfortably in the straw in the corner of the stall. Apparently, even the chickens know which is the most special stall in New York right now.

Quite a Buy

A New York-bred wins a major graded stakes. Ho hum. But, unlike 2003 graded stakes winners Funny Cide, Whitmore's Conn, Go Rockin Robin, and Spite the Devil, Gazelle Handicap (gr. I) winner Buy the Sport is not your typical New York-bred.

After all, New York-breds are not supposed to be sold at a 2-year-old auction in Florida and purchased by a British-based trainer, then sent to England, debuting at Windsor Race Course. They're not supposed to be winning on the all-weather dirt track at Lingfield, then sold privately and brought back to America, winning a grade I stakes first out against one of the best fields of 3-year-old fillies assembled all year. The only thing that did make sense was the $98 win price.

The Sep. 6 Gazelle brought together grade I winners Lady Tak, Island Fashion, and Spoken Fur, as well as the UAE Oaks winner Danuta and the undefeated Alchemist. But it was Buy the Sport, bred about an hour from Belmont Park by Patricia Calandro, who came charging down the stretch under Pat Day to collar Lady Tak and Spoken Fur to win by a half-length.

Peter Minikes, who had been interested in purchasing Buy the Sport for the past year, finally made the deal with Gold Group International Ltd, bringing the daughter of Devil's Bag to America five days before the Gazelle, along with her trainer, Brian Meehan. Although she was to be turned over to Bobby Barbara, Minikes felt having Meehan saddle her he was "the right thing to do."

"We decided to buy her about a month ago," said Minikes, who races under the name Georgica Stable. "At the eighth pole, I was excited when it looked like we were going to be third in a grade I. Then it looked like we were going to be second. After that, it was a blur. This is my first graded stakes winner. I thought it would come tomorrow (in the grade I Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap) with Indy Five Hundred."

Well, he was wrong. Indy Five Hundred became his second graded stakes winner, and his second grade I winner, when she exploded down the stretch from last to defeat the heavily favored Dimitrova by four lengths, again with Pat Day in the saddle. This time, it was Barbara who got to do the saddling, and the win price was a mere $17.80. Indy Five Hundred covered the 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:48.44.

"This has been the best weekend of my life," said Minikes, who overnight has contenders for the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) and Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT).

Frankly, though, it just doesn't look as if the 3-year-old fillies can stack up against their elders this year; not with Azeri, Sightseek, Wild Spirit, and Take Charge Lady around. And frankly, we still feel as if Azeri stands above the others. After all, Sightseek, who has been invincible in the East, was beaten three times at Santa Anita this winter, and all three fillies who beat her couldn't get anywhere near Azeri when they took her on. And Azeri also has already beaten Take Charge Lady, coming off a 5 1/2-month layoff and giving her 5 pounds.

Moon Shot

Although Lunar Sovereign blew open the Man o'War Stakes (gr. IT) with one sweeping move nearing the quarter pole, too many major stakes winners ran poorly to label the race a clear assessment of the American-based turf horses. The more we see here, the more we feel the Americans will be overmatched when the the cream of Europe arrive. Perhaps the only thing that can stop them will be a hard Santa Anita turf course. Perhaps, the Turf Classic, with Sulamani heading the race, will shed more light on the turf situation.

Although the Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) ended in controversy, with a 25-minute claim of foul by Falbrav against High Chaparral, one has to think last year's Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) winner and Eclipse champion will only keep improving, and will be very tough in the Arc, a race he should have won last year.

Now that Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) winner Moon Ballad has shown he can at least hold his own against these kind of horses on the grass, wait until they spring him back on the dirt. Although this is a tough year for a European to come over for the Classic, don't throw this horse out by any means.

There doesn't seem to be a European standout for the Mile (gr. IT), as French Oaks (Fra-I) winner Nebraska Tornado captured the Prix du Moulin (Fra-I) over Japanese invader Lohengrin. Last year's upset Turf winner Domedriver didn't get a clear run until late and was never a threat, finishing seventh. Even the top European sprinter Oasis Dream tasted defeat over the weekend, getting beat by Somnus in the Haydock Sprint Cup (Eng-I).