Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

4th Of July Weekend Racing: Top Five

Posted by Brian Appleton on July 5, 2011

So You Think (right) defeats Workforce in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes - Bill Selwyn

The Fourth of July weekend punctuated a powerful, elongated weekend of spectacular that spanned the United States and Europe as well. There were more than 20 graded stakes races contested across the nation from Saturday through Monday and many more overseas, making for a highly competitive and entertaining holiday weekend. With so many high profile races run over the last three days it took a little time for me to catch up on all the news and watch all the replays after work and family picnics. After I was able to review the results I came away with some decisive conclusions; 1) every weekend should feel like fourth of July weekend in racing, 2) it was great to see the Matron and Futurity back at Belmont, and 3) there were five performances that really stood out to me. So here, in ascending order, are my top five:

5) Wise Dan winning the Firecracker Handicap (Gr.2) – In his very first try on turf, Wise Dan left a very favorable impression when capturing the Fircracker Handicap on Monday at Churchill Downs. Breaking very wide in the Firecracker Handicap before angling to the inside, the Wiseman’s Ferry gelding secured third place into the first turn, just in behind Plutonium and Strike Impact. The top three remained the same through unhurried fractions of :23.89 for the opening quarter, :47.19 for the half and 1:11.12 for the three quarters. Coming around the far turn Wise Dan accelerated with eye catching ease, taking over the lead and drawing off to an impressive 2 ¾ length win. The four year old gelding has now won five of ten starts and it appears his best efforts could lie ahead on the turf.

4) Smiling Tiger wins the Triple Bend Handicap (Gr.1) – Smiling Tiger won his third graded stakes of the year, third Grad 1 of his career and missed the track record by less than a second in the Triple Bend Handicap (gr.1) and won by more than three lengths. M One Rifle was fastest out of the gate in the Triple Bend but it was Smiling Tiger who pounced to the lead in a few jumps and stayed there the entire trip. Coming off the turn Smiling Tiger extended his one length advantage with ease, opening up by two lengths in the blink of an eye and looking full of run. Jockey Joel Rosario gave two quick taps of the whip halfway down the stretch to keep his mount focused and then hand rode his charge to the wire, a winner by 3 ¼ lengths. In five tries this year, all graded stakes sprints, the 4-year-old Hold that Tiger colt has won three races, all graded stakes. I’d say he’s got a leg up on Big Drama in the Sprint Division right now and at the very least is one of the leading sprinters in the country.

3) Her Smile wins the Prioress Stakes (Gr.1) – Her Smile made celebrity chef owner Bobby Flay a very happy man on Monday when she delivered the first Grade 1 triumph of her career and Flay’s first Grade 1 win as an owner. After finishing 11th in the Kentucky Oaks and a distance third in the Acorn Stakes, both Grade 1’s Her Smile went off as the fifth favorite in the Prioress and absolutely dominated with a stunning last-to-first move. Breaking slowly, the daughter of Include dropped well off the back of the field, a good four lengths behind Pomeroy’s Pistol in fifth, as Roman Treasure and Quantum Miss blazed through a first quarter in :21.78. Halfway around the far turn Her Smile and Pomeroy’s Pistol both began their runs, quickly disposing of Our Year while Alienation moved up to third, making a three horse wall with Roman Treasure and Quantum Miss as the field charged into the homestretch. Pomeroy’s Pistol went five wide off the turn while Javier Castellano  guided Her Smile to the inside where a small gap had opened up on the rail. The game filly darted eagerly into the hole and burst through to the lead, just holding off an equally game Pomeroy’s Pistol by half a length for the win.

2) Courageous Cat Defeats Caracortado in the Shoemaker Mile (Gr.1) – The Shoemaker Mile (gr.1) was run as a “Win and You’re In” race, offering the winner a free berth in the Breeder’s Cup Mile (gr.1) at Churchill Downs on November 5th. After watching the 2011 renewal there was little doubt in my mind that the best horse won hands down by a slim margin over the second best horse. Courageous Cat ran his guts out for the very first Grade 1 win of his career, long overdue if you ask me. Back in 2009 Courageous Cat ran one of the best races of his career to finish second to the great Goldikova by half a length in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr.1) and now it appears he could be headed to Churchill Downs for another try. In the Shoemaker Mile Courageous Cat rated comfortably in second, just behind pacesetting Liberian Freighter, with Caracortado a length behind in third. As they entered the far turn Courageous Cat got the jump on Caracortado, moving up to take the lead entering the stretch as his younger opponent rolled up to take second on his outside. Those two slugged it out like true champions down the wire, never separated by more than half a length. Caracortado ran a great race but it was clear Courageous Cat had more to offer at each point in the race. He ran a fantastic final time of 1:33.19, just a shade off from the course record of 1:32.59 set by Montery Jazz in 2009. I think the United States is well positioned to give the Europeans a run for their money in the Mile if Courageous Cat and Caracortado continue towards that goal.

1) So You Think wins the Coral-Eclipse Stakes (Eng-1) – So You Think and 2010 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-1) winner Workforce, put on one of the most exhilarating stretch duels I have witnessed in European racing this year. In a short field of just five runners that also included the English and Irish Oaks winning filly Snow Fairy, Confront took the lead in the early stages of the race, setting a solid pace for stablemate Workforce.  So You Think sat just behind the front two with Snow Fairy and Sri Putra brining up the rear. The field positions remained relatively unchanged through the first six furlongs as Workforce and jockey Ryan Moore gradually began to inch forward. As the field began to round the far turn Workforce moved up along the rail and seized the lead with three furlongs to go. Leading the way into the long homestretch Workforce was under no pressure from Moore as So You Think and jockey Seamie Heffernan appeared pinned down on the inside of Confront. A third of the way down the stretch Ryan Moore suddenly came alive on Workforce, rousing his mount to produce his best effort. Suddenly two lengths behind the flashy move by Workforce, So You Think was finally given some breathing room as Confront fell back and bore out. Heffernan instantly steered his mount into the clear and rode for all he was worth. For a moment it appeared So You Think was about to be handed a solid beating from Workforce as the Australian champion failed to close the gap. With four right handed smacks Heffernan finally got the response he was waiting for. So You Think thrust his head forward, lowered his neck and burst forward like he had just re-broken from the gates. In ten giant strides he overtook Workforce and won by half a length. Workforce was exceptionally game in defeat, leading the field for almost the entire final half mile of the race.

Aside from the top five I mentioned there were several other excellent races that I liked. It was great seeing Kensei hold off Soaring Empire to win the Salvator Mile (gr.3) and Dominus take the Dwyer (gr.2) and it was really nice to see Flashpoint run away with the Jersey Shore Stakes (gr.3) at Monmouth Park. Also I am very excited to hear Uncle Mo is going back to training with Todd Pletcher next Monday.

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3 Responses to “4th Of July Weekend Racing: Top Five”

  1. Susan said

    Hi Brian,
    Very good re-cap of the big races over the weekend. And I know how you like the fillies, so keep an eye on Hungry Island, the winner of the Recording Stakes at Belmont on Saturday. She will be headed for bigger and better.

    • Thanks Susan,

      I do love the fillies, thanks for the heads up, I missed her race Saturday! Just watched after you told me on Equibase, she looks really, really good. Very nice acceleration!
      BTW – I can’t post comments on your blog, I’m not sure if it’s my computer or not, but I was going to say “Well done with your Wise Dan analysis.” You were right on the money.

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