Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Afleet Express wins the Travers by a head bob: Kantharos retired

The Travers Stakes, run last Saturday at Saratoga, is called the ‘Midsummer Derby.’ Saratoga’s Saturday menu had three Grade I races and the Travers, a test for sophomores on the dirt, was the feature of the day with a million-dollar purse.

The fans were treated to a nail-biting finish and it was a head bob that decided the winner at the end of the 2000-metre contest. Miner’s Reserve led followed by First Dude. Trappe Shot, the 7-2 favorite, was held up. Super Saver, trying to regain that Kentucky Derby form, lay in the rear. Ice Box, runner-up in the Run For The Roses, was also kept in the back of the field. Afleet Express was in midpack. Fly Down also was several lengths off the pacesetters. While Javier Castella took the shortest way home by going for a fence-scraping trip, Fly Down was sent four and five-wide coming into the final turn. First Dude had taken the measure of Miner’s Reserve in the lane. Trappe Shot was not making headway. Ice Box was not making forward movement. Super Saver was nowhere his Derby form. Fly Down had a marginal advantage with 200 metres left and Afleet Express was advancing along the rail. It was a duel down to the line. The magic eye revealed that Afleet Express had prevailed.

The margin was a nose. The time was 2 03.28 seconds. Afleet Express returned $16.00. Afleet Alex, winner of the 2005 Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, is the sire of Afleet Express. Expanse is the dam and she’s by Distant View. The James Jerkens-trained Afleet Express, after winning the Pegasus at Monmouth, was coming off a third place finish in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 31.

Trainer Jerkens was thrilled. “Yes, this is it. This is the biggest career win for me. It is at Saratoga and it’s extra special.”

Jockey Javier Castellano, who won the 2006 Travers with Bernardini, spoke. “I thought I would win at the 1/8 pole but he (Afleet Express) hung up a little bit in the last part. I give credit to the horse for finishing very strong. I was very lucky to get the head bob.”

Lomitas, a well known German sire, has been euthanized. The son of Niniski was 22. His fear of and refusal to enter the starting gate resulted in his withdrawal from the 1991 German 2000 Guineas. As he overcame the fear with treatment, Lomitas won three Group I races and was voted 1991 Horse of the Year and the top sophomore male. Silvano, who won the 2001 Arlington Million with Andrew Suborics aboard, was a son of Lomitas. In 1994, Lomitas was retired with 10 wins from 19 outings for earnings of $918,656.

The Grade I King’s Bishop was run at Saratoga on Saturday. It was a speed-favoring track and John Velasquez had no hesitation in sending Discreetly Mine, the 105/100 favorite, to the front. The three year-old Mineshaft colt made it all to win by a length and a quarter. The 1400-metre King’s Bishop was run in 1 23.16. Bank Merger, seeking a hat trick, surged wide coming into the stretch and finished on. D’Funnybone, who had beaten Discreetly Mine in the Woody Stephens Stakes, tired and was eased.

Winning trainer Todd Pletcher thought aloud. “We felt we were a little handcuffed the way the track was playing. The fractions were demanding and I am just happy he was able to hold on.”

John Velasquez speaks fluently. “Todd said if I break well enough to just let him do it and go to the lead. We were able to do that.”

The third Grade I race ($250,000) at Saratoga on Saturday was the Ballerina Stakes for distaffers. Rightly So, ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, went start to finish. Warbling tracked the leader and held for second. Rightly So won by four lengths in a time of 1 22.58 for 1400 metres. Informed Decision, the 2-1 favorite, was a disappointment. Anthony Dutrow trains Rightly So, a four year-old filly by Read The Footnotes.

Jockey Cornelio Velasquez commented. “My filly broke good. She went to the lead easy. She finished good too. I had a lot of horse at the quarter (400 metres out) pole. She run a big one.”

There are two Del Mar races that deserve mention. On Saturday, Enriched made every post a winning one in the $250,000 Grade II (turf) Del Mar Mile Handicap. Enriched, a Joel Rosario mount, clocked 1 34.83 seconds and paid $6.40 on a $2.00 wager. Enriched won by three parts of a length. A slow half of 48.53 helped Enriched cling to the advantage. High Brite is Enriched’s sire. The dam is Li’l Ms Leonard by Nostalgia’s Star. Claimed in November for $32,000, Enriched has since made $340,676. With seven wins from 21 starts, Enriched has earned $494,656. Enriched now has a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Trainer Doug O’Neill stated, “the pace really helped and he came the last quarter in 22.51.”

Jockey Rosario explained his journey. “I did not choke him because he does not like that. He galloped really easily. That’s why he finished.”

It was another Joel Rosario-guided horse who won the Grade II Del Mar Handicap on Sunday. The 11-furlong race on the turf went to Richard Mandell-trained Champ Pegasus. The Del Mar Handicap had a $200,000 purse. The time was 2 11.93 seconds. Rosario had Champ Pegasus sixth of nine runners in the early part of the race. He took the route along the fence to win by a length and a quarter. Fusaichi Pegasus is the sire of Champ Pegasus. Salt Champ is the dam and she is by Salt Lake.

Trainer Mandella spoke about Champ Pegasus getting a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf on November 6 at Churchill Downs. “It gives us something to dream about. He acts like he will run all day.”

We will switch our attention to Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey. Sunday’s big race was the $294,000 Grade II Molly Pitcher Stakes for fillies and mares. Just Jenda was making her swan song and exit the racing scene with a smart victory. A 3-1 chance, Just Jenda, ridden by Terry Thompson, went in chase of Malibu Prayer, the 6/10 favorite, who had taken over early in the lane. Just Jenda won the argument in a time of 1 43.52 for the 1700-metre dirt race.

The owners are Cindy and Larry Jones. The latter retired from training last year. Cindy Jones is the trainer. Just Jenda is by Menifee out of Liberty School by Pine Bluff. Just Jenda leaves racing with eight wins from 17 starts. She has a 4-0-1 (five starts) record at the New Jersey track. Just Jenda will be bred to Proud Citizen.

Cindy Jones was anything but happy. “It is kind of sad. What a way to go out! Never did we imagine we would have a filly of this caliber.’

Jockey Thompson said, “She gave me a great punch when I asked her. I just think it was meant to be. She was on top of her game. She was determined to go out a winner.”

Smoke Glacken, the sire who is making a name for himself, was in the news again. Smokey Fire, a son of Smoke Glacken, won the Grade II Play The King Stakes at Woodbine on Sunday. The 1400-metre race was run in 1 20.83 seconds on the grass. It was third win in the Play King for trainer Sid Attard. He won the 2008 edition with Just Rushing and won the race in 2009 with Jungle Wave who played the bridesmaid role on Sunday.

The big race in Ireland on Saturday is the Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

Here is a news flash. I wrote about Kantharos, a freshman who has been hitting the headlines. The Lion Heart colt is three for three and has been winning by big margins. Kantharos has suffered a leg fracture during a regular workout. He has been retired. The announcement came on August 31.

Jess Jackson, the owner, said, “he was a magnificent athlete. We are stunned, shocked and terribly saddened. A healthy recovery is in the cards but his racing career is over.”

Chicago, September 1, 2010

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