An exciting weekend of racing was highlighted on both sides of the country by Game On Dude's and Royal Delta's performances in their respective races on Sunday. Will Take Charge was the brightest star on Saturday when he got up just in time to win the Travers Stakes, throwing his hat in the ring as a contender for 3-year-old male championship honors.
The Dude demolished 12 overmatched opponents who looked in the stretch like they were running the wrong way on a conveyor belt compared with Game On Dude. He surged away from the field on the turn and rolled to an 8 1/2-length romp under Martin Garcia.
Before Sunday, Game On Dude had not performed at his best on the synthetic Polytrack surface at Del Mar, where he was second and fourth, respectively, in the 2012 and 2011 editions of the Pacific Classic. Perhaps, he is beginning to appreciate the surface more or, perhaps, he is just that good right now. I opt for the latter.
Game On Dude improved to five wins from as many starts in 2013 and extended his overall winning streak to six for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and an ownership group that includes former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre.
This year alone he has earned $2.47 million with three Grade 1 wins on three different surfaces – the dirt main track at Santa Anita (host of the Breeders’ Cup this year), the synthetic Cushion Track surface at Hollywood Park, and the Polytrack at Del Mar. Having previously won the Santa Anita Handicap twice and Hollywood Gold Cup twice, Game On Dude also completed a sweep of the three signature races for older horses in Southern California with the Pacific Classic score.
GAME ON DUDE AND MARTIN GARCIA BOTH GRIN AS THEY CROSS THE WIRE IN THE PACIFIC CLASSIC
Photo courtesy of Benoit & Associates
With 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan still in training and undefeated as well this year, Sunday’s Pacific Classic figures ignite quite a debate about who is the best older horse in the U.S. At this point, I’d say you’d have to give an edge to Game On Dude’s 2013 résumé. He has one more Grade 1 win than Wise Dan and he’s been the more versatile horse, winning on multiple surfaces at 1 1/8 miles and 1 ¼ miles. Wise Dan, although also perfect, has two Grade 1s and two Grade 2s but really has been kept in his comfort zone at a mile on turf, with the exception of the 1 1/8-mile Woodford Reserve Turf Classic in May.
Horse of the Year most likely will come down to the Breeders’ Cup. Last year, Wise Dan got it done on Breeders’ Cup day in the Mile while Game On Dude came up short in the Classic when he had an opportunity to stake his claim on U.S. racing’s top prize. This year it looks like Game On Dude will have another chance at Horse of the Year in November at Santa Anita.
Best part is: they are both 6-year-old geldings who could very well continue racing at seven. Wise Dan has won 17 of 24 starts and earned more than $4.4 million; Game On Dude has won 15 of 27 starts and banked more than $5.6 million. It really is an embarrassment of riches for the racing fan, but when it comes to great racing I’m a glutton.
The Travers Stakes was expected to bring the hierarchy of the 3-year-old division into focus after three different horses won Triple Crown races and Verrazano delivered a superb performance in the Haskell Invitational Stakes.
Instead the picture became even murkier in the Eclipse Award race when Will Take Charge reeled in tough pacesetter Moreno and Kentucky Derby winner Orb in the closing strides to win the signature race of the prestigious summer meet at Saratoga Race Course.
WILL TAKE CHARGE AND MORENO IN THE CLOSING STRIDES OF THE TRAVERS
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Orb had been training well leading up to the Travers and Palace Malice paired his Belmont Stakes win with a visually impressive victory in the local Travers prep, the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes. But it was Verrazano who went off as the 8-to-5 favorite following a 9 ¾-length romp in the Haskell.
Had one of those three added the Travers to his résumé, we could be talking about a new clear leader in the division. Instead, the Eclipse Award is up for grabs and it sure looks like it could be a down-to-the-wire mad scramble for the prized trophy.
Will Take Charge raced in each of the three Triple Crown races with his best finish a troubled seventh in the Kentucky Derby. He delivered a much-improved effort in his first race without blinkers in the Jim Dandy when second to Palace Malice and then delivered a career-best performance in the Travers – a nice spot for a 3-year-old to fire his best shot. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said that equipment change made a significant difference.
For Lukas it was his third Travers win – Corporate Report (1991) and Thunder Gulch (1995) – with his first starter in the “mid-summer Derby” since 2002.
“It feels pretty good,” Lukas said. “They were reminding me it's been a long time between drinks, but when they come like this, they come double.”
The winner of the Rebel Stakes back in March, Will Take Charge can now stake a claim as one of the top horses in his division. By Unbridled’s Song, Will Take Charge is out of Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady and is a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to 2012 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy.
WILL TAKE CHARGE IN THE TRAVERS
Racing fans learned in the Travers that pacesetter Moreno has plenty of heart. He battled back after Orb momentarily pushed his head in front in the stretch and regained control from the Derby winner. I have a hunch Moreno - this year’s Dwyer Stakes winner - will be heard from again soon.
As for the big three, Palace Malice got off to a lousy start and raced at the back of the field throughout. Usually close to or on the pace, the Curlin colt was taken out of his game but still ran determinedly for fourth.
Orb looked like he might have been just a little short for a 1 ¼-mile race in his first start since the Belmont. Had it been 1 1/8 miles, Orb might have won, but he showed plenty to encourage Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey that he can build off the Travers third-place finish.
“We got him back on the right track,” McGaughey said, “and now we'll point for something else.”
Verrazano has been an absolute beast in his six victories and looked like a colt on the path to becoming the dominant horse of his generation. He was near the lead with a half-mile remaining in the Travers but faded badly to finish seventh. Verrazano’s two defeats both have come at 1 ¼ miles and he was soundly defeated both times. If 1 1/8 miles is as far as Verrazano wants to go, he will have plenty of opportunities to win big races and amass a nice bankroll for his connections.
The first thing that jumped into my mind after watching Royal Delta’s dominant 4 ½-length win in the Personal Ensign Stakes was how grateful I am that owner Ben Leon brought her back to race in 2013 (and in 2012, for that matter, after buying her at auction for $8.5 million). Royal Delta improved to 12 wins from 20 career starts. She earned her seventh Grade 1 win, including a pair of wins in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, and boosted her career earnings past $4.6 million. This, folks, is a future Hall of Famer. Enjoy watching her while you can.
“She's a machine,” Hall of Fame jockey and regular rider Mike Smith said.
Chances are we’ll get two more chances to see her race. Her Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, said she will target the Beldame Invitational Stakes on Sept. 28 at Belmont Park. From there she is a candidate for either the Breeders’ Cup Classic against the males or a three-peat attempt in the Distaff (formerly the Ladies’ Classic).
Obviously went into the starting gate for the Del Mar Mile Handicap as the 3-to-10 favorite and needed to dig into his stamina reserve to hold on for a half-length win. If you want to nit-pick, the margin of victory was probably not as wide as expected, but the reality is Obviously led the way through three-quarters of a mile in 1:09.72 and seven furlongs in 1:21.15 – so he was cruising at a very high speed – and he still came home quickly to win in 1:32.64. This is a high-quality turf miler who almost certainly would be the favorite for the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Mile … if not for 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan.
Much had been expected of Capo Bastone after he finished third in the Frontrunner Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as a 2-year-old, but he had failed to deliver on that promise in 2013 … until Saturday.
The Street Boss colt charged from well off the pace – he was 11th of 14 after a quarter-mile – to win the Grade 1 King’s Bishop Stakes by two lengths at 28.25-to-1 odds for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners.
CAPO BASTONE IN THE KING'S BISHOP
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
After spending some time on the Triple Crown trail this season, it looks like Capo Bastone has found his calling sprinting and certainly the seven furlongs of the King’s Bishop seemed like a nice fit. The Breeders’ Cup Sprint has been kind to 3-year-olds with six sophomores winning the race and Squirtle Squirt completing the King’s Bishop-Sprint double in 2001. While Capo Bastone would certainly get plenty of pace to run at in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, that seems like it might be a little short for him. Perhaps the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile would be a better fit as a long-range target.
Sweet Lulu flashed a dangerous combination of speed and determination when holding off Wildcat Lily to win the Grade 1 Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the Travers undercard. The seven-eighths of a mile Test was Sweet Lulu’s stakes debut for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, and she was plenty game to prevail by a head after pressing a brisk pace. The Mr. Greely filly was making her first start on dirt in the Test and the victory could set her up for a bid in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, also on dirt at seven furlongs.
“I think we would look at something like that,” Hollendorfer said of the Breeders’ Cup. “I didn't make any other long-term plans. This was my point race; my owner agreed to it, and here we are.”
No 3-year-old has won the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in the six editions since it was created for the 2007 Breeders’ Cup.
Irish-bred Laughing outfinished Pianist to record her third straight graded stakes win in the 1 1/16-mile Ballston Spa Stakes on the Travers undercard. A stakes winner in her native Ireland as a 3-year-old, the 5-year-old Dansili mare improved to 3-for-3 in 2013 for trainer Alan Goldberg and owner Richard Santulli.
“It was a great race. She ran well, and hopefully she'll come back well,” Goldberg said. “She's real healthy now and I think she'll be a pretty good force in the filly and mare division. She's pretty tough.”
LAUGHING DUELS PIANIST IN THE BALLSTON SPA STAKES
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Laughing won the Diana Stakes at 1 1/8 miles but she was unplaced in her only try at the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. If she proves she can get the extra eighth of a mile, Laughing could position herself as a serious threat in the Filly and Mare Turf.
In the Pat O’Brien Stakes on Sunday, Fed Biz earned his first win since January, posted his first career Grade 1 victory, set a new track record at Del Mar, and punched his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup all with one powerful late surge. The 4-year-old by Giant’s Causeway gobbled up ground late to catch Goldencents in the Pat O’Brien, finishing the seven furlongs in 1:21.12 to establish a track record at Del Mar for the distance. While Fed Biz earned a “Win and You’re In” automatic starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with the victory, Baffert could very well point to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with Fed Biz, as he did in 2012.
FED BIZ (outside) CAUGHT GOLDENCENTS TO WIN THE PAT O'BRIEN
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Dance to Bristol held off Book Review by a head to win the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes on Aug. 23. A 4-year-old Speightstown filly trained by Ollie Figgins, Dance to Bristol won her seventh straight race in the Ballerina.
“It's very special, very special,” Figgins said of the Grade 1 win. “The filly, she's done everything right, nothing wrong. She's a good horse, and I hope the world knows that.”
Dance to Bristol won the Grade 2 Honorable Miss earlier in the Saratoga meet and looks like a strong contender for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. So, too, does Ballerina runner-up Book Review as the two could be headed for a November rematch.
Also during the weekend:
- Vagabond Shoes, a 6-year-old, Irish-bred Beat Hollow gelding, won the Del Mar Handicap on Saturday to earn a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge series.
- Valiant Girl set a new turf course record for 1 3/8 miles when winning the Omnibus Stakes in 2:21.95 at Monmouth Park for trainer Graham Motion and owner Antoinette Oppenheimer.
- Havana delivered a smashing performance in his career debut on Aug. 23 at Saratoga, winning by 2 ¾ lengths for trainer Todd Pletcher. Havana is from the first crop of 2009 Belmont Stakes runner-up Dunkirk and could be pointed towards the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes.