Desert Encounter and Rushing Fall won the weekend's Grade I turf races in North America while Almond Eye nailed down the Japanese filly Triple Crown and Redzel won the rich Everest Stakes in Australia for the second time.
In England, some of the most promising 2-year-olds strutted their stuff at Newmarket in previews of next year's Guineas, Derby and Oaks.
Jumping right into the grassy weekend:
Desert Encounter found his best stride in deep stretch in Saturday's $800,000 (Canadian) Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine, got by the favorite, Thundering Blue, and won by a widening 1 length. Thundering Blue, after lacking room early in the stretch run, got through between horses to take the lead at mid-stretch but then did not have enough left to hold off the winner. He did salvage second, 4 1/2 lengths better than the late-running Focus Group.
Desert Encounter, a 5-year-old Halling gelding, was last of 11 on the final turn, came around rivals and then lugged in after taking the lead, forcing Fran Berry to take up on Thundering Blue. At that point, however, the issue had been decided. With Andrea Atzeni up for trainer David Simcock, the English invader finished 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:28.88
Prior to his victory in the Canadian International, Desert Encounter's best showing at the top level was a third-place finish in the 2017 Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.
"You can't get to the front too soon because once he gets to the front, he thinks he's had enough," Atzeni said. "But he's a horse that has a lot of ability and it's great for the team at home, great for David and the owner and everybody involved."
Berry said his trip was perfect and once Thundering Blue got through and hit the front, "That's when I said, 'It's game over. I'm going to win here.' But I couldn't believe (Desert Encounter) joined us as quickly as he did and then went by us … That kick surprised me."
On Sunday at Belmont Park, Hello Don Julio pressed the pace in the restricted $100,000 Point of Entry Stakes, then took charge and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Postulation. Patterson Cross was third. Hello Don Julio, a 6-year-old Afleet Alex gelding, finished 1 1/2 miles on soft turf in 2:31.53 with John Velazquez riding. He made it two straight wins following a score in the Laurel Turf Cup Sept. 22. "He's worked out a couple of nice trips in his last two races and it's very encouraging going forward from here," said winning trainer Michael Dilger.
Filly & Mare Turf
Rushing Fall lived up to her notices and then some in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland. Surging to the lead from the outside gate the first time down the stretch, the More Than Ready filly showed the way, easily turned back a challenge from Mission Impassible at the top of the stretch and strode out to a 1 1/4-lengths victory over that rival. It was well back to Nyaleti in third and Princess Warrior in fourth. Rushing Fall, with Javier Castellano up, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:50.42 -- just as President Trump's party was landing at Blue Grass Airport across the road from Keeneland en route to a campaign rally.
Rushing Fall went to the post as the odds-on favorite in a field of seven after the scratch of Daddy Is a Legend. The 2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner improved her record to six wins and a second from seven starts for trainer Chad Brown.
"I didn't see much speed," Castellano said. "That's the reason I dictated the pace with slow fractions. She's just a good filly. I just enjoyed the ride."
At Woodbine, Sheikha Reika rallied from mid-field to win Saturday's $500,000 (Canadian) E.P. Taylor Stakes for fillies and mares by 3/4 length, outfinishing Golden Legend. The favorite, Santa Monica, finished a neck farther in arrears for show money. Sheikha Reika, a 3-year-old, French-bred filly by Shamardal, ran 1 1/4 miles on good turf in 2:05.10 with Atzeni making a day of it at the Canadian track. Roger Varian trains the filly for Sheik Mohammed Obaid al Maktoum.
Sheikha Reika had been contesting lower-level events in England before shipping across the pond for the E.P. Taylor. In her previous race, she won the E.B.F Stallions John Musker Stakes at Great Yarmouth.
"I think she would've won a bit more comfortable if the race had gone a bit faster," said assistant trainer Michael McGowan. "The ground was a bit loose, which doesn't suit her. She likes fast ground, so I was a bit worried because the leaders went slow enough to stay where they were. The last 50 yards, she really picked up and took off."
Stella di Camelot assumed control in the stretch run of Saturday's $200,000 Pebbles Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park and got away to a 2 3/4-lengths victory over Andina Del Sur. The favorite, Victorine, checked in third. Stella di Camelot, a British-bred daughter of Camelot, ran 1 mile on soft turf in 1:38.58 with Eric Cancel riding. The race was her North American debut for Chad Brown after a campaign in Europe that peaked with a third-place finish in a Group 3 in Rome. "The filly ran super first time in the country," Brown said. "She had been training really well so I'm not surprised she ran this good."
Rushing Fall charges down the straight to win Saturday's Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, Keeneland photo
Hembree came from well back in the field with a wide, late move and was up just in time to take Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Nearctic Stakes at Woodbine, a neck over pacesetting Yorkton. Hemp Hemp Hurray was third, only a nose farther back. Hembree, a 4-year-old Proud Citizen colt, was coming off an allowance win at Kentucky Downs. With Irad Ortiz Jr. up, he finished the Nearctic's 6 furlongs on good turf in 1:08.95. Hembree, a stakes horse at 3, was claimed twice for $50,000 earlier this year and has worked his way back up through the ranks.
Chanteline found running room at the top of the stretch in Friday's $100,000 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland and ran on to win by 3/4 length over the favorite, Belvoir Bay. Morticia was third, followed by the pacesetter, Girls Know Best. Chanteline, a 5-year-old Majesticprefection mare, finished 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.89 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons. Scott Blasi, assistant to winning trainer Steve Asmussen, said Chanteline is a potential candidate for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. "She's probably in the best physical condition of her life," he said. "That's impressive for her age. She just seems to keep getting better."
Fire Key was along in the late going in Saturday's $100,000 Floral Park Stakes for fillies and mares over the yielding Belmont Park inner turf, outfinishing Fear No Evil by 3/4 length for the win. Black Canary was third and the favorite, Tilly's Lily, reported fifth. Fire Key, a daughter of Friesan Fire, ran 6 furlongs in 1:13.03.
Chasing Yesterday, the odds-on favorite, chased the early leader in Sunday's $100,000 Anoakia Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Santa Anita, got by under urging from jockey Drayden Van Dyke and won by 1/2 length. Justanillusion, the early leader, held second, 4 1/2 lengths to the good of Andyoushallreceive. Chasing Yesterday, by Tapit out of Littleprincessemma, is a half sister to American Pharoah. The Bob Baffert trainee ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.86. She now has two wins in California, sandwiching a seventh-place finish in the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga.
On the international beat:
Almond Eye came widest of all with a late rush to win Sunday's Grade 1 Shuka Sho at Kyoto Racecourse, becoming only the fifth to sweep the Japanese Triple Crown for 3-year-old fillies. With Christophe Lemaire riding, the daughter of the mighty Lord Kanaloa was away a step slowly and raced in mid-pack until the final turn. She was blocked at that point, forcing Lemaire to take the overland route. But Almond Eye was up to the task, quickly closing ground on pacesetting Mikki Charm and taking the lead some 50 meters from the wire. She won by 1 1/2 lengths, going clear. Mikki Charm led a quartet of Deep Impact fillies who finished second, third, fourth and fifth. Almond Eye was the first to sweep the Triple Crown since Gentildonna in 2012 and she went on to win the Japan Cup and Horse of the Year honors.
Lemaire acknowledged the training acumen of Sakae Kunieda, who brought Almond Eye ready to run after a five-months layoff. "The start wasn't that good," the rider said. "Then our path was blocked and we had to go wide. But from there, she just showed just how exceptional she was … It's so difficult to maintain a horse's condition at the top of her form throughout the season. So becoming a Triple Crown winner isn't easy, even with the best horse."
Redzel made it back-to-back wins in the Group 1 Everest Stakes at Royal Randwick -- billed as the world's richest race on turf, leading from the start and holding well through the stretch run. Trapeze Artist was best of the rest in a race run over a surface softened by a pre-race downpour. Osborne Bulls was third after moving to better ground on the outside rail and the foreign invader, U S Navy Flag, could do no better than ninth with Ryan Moore up for Aiden O'Brien and the Coolmore lads.
"To do it once I thought we were very lucky but again it is just unbelievable," trainer Peter Snowden told Australia's ThoroughbredNews. I knew we had the horse. I was confident he would make improvement. He (Jockey Kerrin McEvoy) judged the pace perfectly to give him the chance to finish off hard and the last furlong was his best."
Too Darn Hot was too darn good for his half dozen rivals in Saturday's Group 1 Darley Dewhurst for 2-year-olds at Newmarket. Jockey Frankie Dettori made the Dubawi colt wait until the final furlongs, whereupon he immediately asserted himself, drawing clear quickly to win by 2 3/4 lengths, remaining undefeated after four outings. Dettori was in celebration mode well before the finish and Too Darn Hot clearly had more to offer. Advertise was second, 1 1/4 lengths to the good of Anthony Van Dyke.
Trainer John Gosden said Too Darn Hot "was not comfortable at all" heading into the dip before the Newmarket finish. "But as soon as he came out of the dip and met the rising ground, he had the class to overcome it," Gosden told Racing Post. British bookmakers cemented his status as favorite for the 2019 Guineas and shaved his odds for the Derby, although Gosden said he may be shaping up as a miler. The colt runs in the colors of his breeder, Andrew Lloyd-Weber.
Iridessa found room between horses a furlong out in Friday's Group 1 bet365 Fillies Mile at Newmarket, shot through when prompted by jockey Wayne Lordan and got home first by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Hermosa. Pretty Pollyanna was third. Iridessa, a daughter of Ruler Of the World, is trained by Joseph Patrick O'Brien. Hermosa is conditioned by his father, Aidan O'Brien, for Coolmore. Iridessa notched her second win from four starts, the first in a Pattern race. Hermosa, a Galileo filly, was coming off a win in a Group 3 event.
The Fillies Mile was the younger O'Brien's first British Group 1 win and his father allowed, "I'm delighted for Joseph." Trainer and owners indicated she will be prepped for the Guineas and likely the Oaks in 2019.
Back in North America, around the ovals:
Devine Mischief was up just in time to score by a head over Glamanation and another neck from Jean Elizabeth in Sunday's $100,000 Ruling Angel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Devine Mischief, a daughter of Into Mischief, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:16.44 for jockey Luis Contreras. It was her fourth win of the year, all coming on different tracks and on both dirt and the all-weather. Joe Sharp trains.
Lookin to Strike waited until the field hit the stretch before striking, then ran by the early leader and on to a neck victory over Curlin's Honor in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Ontario Derby. The favorite, Mr. Ritz, finished third, 1 1/4 lengths farther back. Lookin to Strike, a Lookin at Lucky colt, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:49.30 with Gary Boulanger up. Mark Casse trains the first two finishers.
Love a Honeybadger was quickly out front in Saturday's $100,000 California Distaff Handicap for state-breds and wasn't caught, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, S Y Sky. Family Girl was well back in third. Love a Honeybadger, a 4-year-old Bushwacker filly, got 5 furlongs on the good main track in 56.56 seconds with Tiago Pereira in the irons. The race was shifted off the turf.
Saturday's "Best of Ohio" races were run, sadly, on a sloppy track. Each was worth $150,000 and restricted to Ohio-breds.
The wet track didn't bother Altissimo, a 5-year-old Noble Causeway gelding who drew off in the stretch to win the Sprint by 9 lengths over Coincidentally. It was even less of a problem for Drillit, a Drill filly who kicked away to win the John W. Galbreath Memorial for 2-year-old fillies by 16 1/4 lengths from Totally Obsessed and 11 others. Diamond Dust led most of the way in the Juvenile Stakes and the Paynter gelding went on to win by 4 lengths with Captain Corn second.
Mo Don't No splashed through the slop to win the Endurance Stakes by 12 lengths over Let'scalliteven. And Takechargedelilah rallied from far back to take the Distaff by a relatively close 1 1/4 lengths over Leona's Reward.
Gabo's Macando led under pressure in Sunday's $65,000 Bull Dog Handicap and held on gamely at the end to win by a neck over More Power to Him. Kitten's Royal was third. Gabo's Macando, a 5-year-old Cape Blanco gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.74 with Abel Cedillo up.