Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (Grade 1)

THE 2023 Saratoga meeting will stay in the minds of US racefans for many of the wrong reasons so it was somewhat ironic that the final weekend’s feature race was won by a horse named Bright Future.

The Todd Pletcher-trained son of Curlin just held off Godolphin’s Proxy to take the $550,000 first prize by a nose in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes. It was two and a quarter lengths back to Tyson. The favourite Rattle N Roll proved a disappointment finishing sixth of the eight runners.

Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s four-year-old colt was ridden by Javier Castellano, adding to a tremendous year with wins already in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes.

From the widest stall, Bright Future and Castellano tracked the early pacesetter, Warrior Johny through even fractions of 22.25secs, 48.86, and a mile in 1m14.10secs. At the top of the stretch, Bright Future surged to the lead and went clear while Proxy needed a clear run. Bright Future looked set for a clear victory until Proxy’s run made it close in the final strides.

“I really like the way he did it and the way he finished,” Javier Castellano said afterwards. “I had a lot of confidence after the way I rode the horse last time. He gave me the impression he was going to step up the ladder a little bit.”

Going through the sales ring for $350,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Bright Future did not race at two and had won three of six starts before the Gold Cup, including a dominant victory in a July 21st allowance race at Saratoga. Both first and second are intended runners in the Breeders’ Cup.

The fillies’ feature was the Grade 2 Flower Bowl Stakes over the turf mile and three furlongs and it produced a bit of a surprise with the defeat of Chad Brown’s Grade 1 winner McKulick by the Christophe Clement-trained Parnac ridden by Dylan Davis.

Parnac set slow fractions of a half mile in 51.33secs, the mile in 1m 18.82sec, before jockey Dylan Davis hit the gas on the front-running filly and she got first run on her three rivals. The victory began a great weekend for the Aga Khan sire Zarak who also got his first Group 1 winner in Germany on Sunday. Moyglare Stud’s Amazing Grace finished third of the four.

Baffett makes it seven in Classic

Del Mar

Fanduel Racing Pacific Classic (Grade 1)

THE west coast feature, the Grade 1 Fanduel Racing Pacific Classic at Del Mar, went to the Bob Baffert-trained favourite Arabian Knight.

It was another Grade 1 win for Zedan Racing Stables as the Uncle Mo three-year-old held off the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes winner Geaux Rocket Ride by a neck, under Flavien Prat.

The two three-year-olds had met at nine furlongs in the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park, when Geaux Rocket Ride beat Kentucky Derby winner Mage by a length and three quarters with Arabian Knight finishing two lengths back in third after setting the early pace.

Arabian Knight again set the pace over this furlong longer distance. Mike Smith elected to take Geaux Rocket Ride to the outside of Arabian Knight and as Baffert’s colt had seen off Slow Down Andy around the second turn he then dealt with Geaux Rocket Ride’s challenge.

The two raced to the wire together, and Arabian Knight managed to hold off a determined Geaux Rocket Ride by a neck, stopping the clock in 2m 03.19. Slow Down Andy held on for third.

“The mile and a quarter I wasn’t sure about,” Baffert was quoted by BloodHorse. “You don’t know until they do it. And he got it done, but he got it done with a lot of grit at the end. That was a lot of heart; he dug in.”

Seventh Pacific Classic

The winner was a $2.3 million two-year-old purchase at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training last year. Baffert, winning his seventh Pacific Classic, said he would wait to see how the colt recovered before committing him to his next race and then to the Breeders’ Cup.

There was Irish-bred success in the mile and three furlongs Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap Presented By The Japan Racing Association, when Belardo’s five-year-old son Gold Phoenix came through with a fine late run to head Nineeleventurbo and add to his already impressive US haul for Phil D’Amato and rider Juan Hernandez.

It was a second win in a row in the race for the gelding who also won the Grade 1 Frank E Kilroe Mile Stakes at Santa Anita in March.

“I had a lot of horse all the race,” jockey Hernandez said. “But this horse, he’s so patient and I just have to trust him and stay with him as long as I can. I tried to wait a little longer and then a spot opened for me. He picked it up right away.”

The win secured a “Win and You’re In” spot in November’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.

The Grade 2 Del Mar Mile provided another win for the Baffert team with Du Jour, a five-year-old by Temple City part owned by Baffert’s wife, running out a two and quarter-length winner under Flavien Plat.

Spencer grabs share at big money meeting

Kentucky Downs

IT might not have the ancient prestige of the Grade 1s at Saratoga and Del Mar but Kentucky Downs rivalled them for prize money when it staged three Grade 3 contests over the weekend on its turf course.

The Charlie Hills-trained, Jamie Spencer-ridden Ancient Rome could be set for further adventures overseas having scooped almost £1 million when victorious in the Mint Millions Stakes over a mile and with a prize fund of $1,994,285.

A four-time winner and fourth in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains when trained in France by Andre Fabre, the son of War Front is two from two since switched to Charlie Hills for new owner Fitri Hay.

He came through late to take the spoils by half a length from Stitched and Smokin’ T.

Ancient Rome could now go in search of further riches stateside, with international outings in both France and Bahrain also possibly on the agenda.

Hills told the Press Association: “You have to give full credit to Fitri Hay and her team for finding that race over there and he’s Kentucky-bred so it made sense with that amount of prize money for a Grade 3 to go for it.

“We could look at the Coolmore Turf Mile at Keeneland or we could go to France for the Prix Dollar and maybe the Bahrain Trophy a little bit later on.


“I’m sure he will get a bit further as well. I don’t see a mile and a quarter being a problem and he’s a really exciting horse to have in the yard, it’s great.”

The other Grade 3 feature was the Big Ass Fans Music City Stakes over six and a half furlongs. It went to the three-year-old Secret Money, trained by Brendan Walsh. Richard Hannon’s Mammas Girl made little show beating only one home, the Jamie Spencer-ridden Queen Picasso.

On Sunday, the Grade 3 National Thoroughbred League Dueling Grounds Derby had total prize money of $998,000 for the three-year-old contest over a mile and two and half furlongs.

It was Anglophile, a son of English Channel who prevailed by half a length over the odds-on favourite Far Bridge, winner of the Grade 1 Belmont Derby earlier in the summer. The winner was trained by Brian Lynch and ridden by Declan Cannon.

Jamie Spencer partnered the former Charlie Johnston-trained Lion Of War for Qatar Racing but the now Brendan Walsh-trained colt made no show finishing last.

Top two-year-olds

SARATOGA featured the first Grade 1 two-year-old races of the season and Labor Day Monday’s feature was the Hopeful Stakes over seven furlongs on a fast track.

Trainer Gary Contessa pulled off a 54/1 shock in the colts’ Grade 1 as Nutella Fella broke last but surged to the front in the final yards, giving his sire, Breeders’ Cup winner Runhappy, his first Grade 1 winner.

Ten runners faced the starter after Bob Baffert withdrew morning-line favourite Muth.

The 2/1 favourite was Brad Cox’s Timberlake but Nutella Fella, who was ninth in the early stages after a blistering 44.89secs half-mile, moved widest and fastest in the stretch to come past and win by a length and a half from the favourite.

The fillies’ equivalent last Sunday, the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes, went to the second favourite, the John Ortiz-trained Brightwork, also a first Grade 1 win for the trainer.

The Outwork filly had won the Adirondack Stakes at the track earlier in the meeting and this was her fourth win from four starts. She beat the favourite Ways And Means by half a length, under Irad Ortiz Jr.

“Training is training at the end of the day. If you got talent, you got talent, and the filly has the talent,” trainer Ortiz was quoted after the win.

Round up

THE 155th meeting at Saratoga was marred by seven breakdowns during races including the fatal injuries to Maple Leaf Mel in the Test Stakes and New York Thunder in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes when both horses were looking like winners.

Attendance over the whole meeting was 1,105,683 (up 2.8%), topping 1.1 million for the first time since 2018, despite a lot of wet weather.

All-sources wagering was $799,229,288, down nearly 9% after a record handle of $878 million last year. It was the track’s third-highest handle figure.