Hunt earns berth in Breeders’ Cup Turf with Del Mar win

Bob Kieckhefer rounds up the past week’s turf stakes with an eye on the Breeders’ Cup grass races Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar:

Michael House’s Hunt and jockey Flavien Prat, left, outgame Itsinthepost (Tyler Baze up), left to win the Grade II $250,000 Del Mar Handicap Saturday, August 19, 2017 at Del Mar. Benoit Photo

Turf Hunt tracked down the leader at mid-stretch in Saturday’s $250,000 Grade II Del Mar Handicap and fended off a late bit by Itsinthepost to win by 3/4 length. Flamboyant was just a head farther back in third. Hunt, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Dark Angel, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:14.93 under Flavien Prat, earning a “Win and You’re In” berth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf in November over the same course. The win backed up his victory a month earlier in the Grade I Eddie Read Stakes. “It was a masterful ride,” said winning trainer Phil D’Amato. Flavien just bided his time, let the race develop a little, found a seam on the inside and turned him loose. He got it done.”

Can’thelpbelieving settled in mid-pack through most of Sunday’s $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Sky Classic Stakes at Woodbine, made his move turning for home and prevailed in the final furlong, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Noble Thought. Pumpkin Rumble finished third. Can’thelpbelieving, a 6-year-old Irish-bred gelding by Duke of Marmalade, ran 11 furlongs on the firm turf in 2:14.95 with Joe Bravo in to take the ride for trainer Graham Motion. In his two previous starts he was second in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park and second again in the Grade II Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine. Woodbine’s Northern Dancer and Pattison Canadian International are among the upcoming stakes possibilities for Can’thelpbelieving. “You’ve got a really nice turf program here so I’m sure,” said Jane Buchanan, racing manager for Motion. “We’ll just see how he comes back and I’m pretty sure we’ll probably reconsider coming back up here.”

Channel Maker, hard to handle in the early going, rallied through the stretch to take the lead in Sunday’s$400,000 (Canadian) Breeders’ Stakes for Canadian-foaled 3-year-olds at Woodbine, then fought off a bid by Final Copy to win by a nose. King and His Court finished third. The result wasn’t posted official until the stewards had sorted through — and disallowed — three separate claims of foul. Channel Maker, an English Channel gelding, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:29.70 with Rafael Hernandez up for trainer Bill Mott. He finished fourth in the Queen’s Plate.

Turf Sprint

Conquest Panthera challenged pacesetting Dowse’s Beach in the stretch run in Saturday’s $175,000 (Canadian) Play the King Stakes at Woodbine, survived some bumping in deep stretch and won by a neck over that rival. Glenville Gardens was 1 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Conquest Panthera, a 5-year-old Kitten’s Joy gelding, ran 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:21.20 with Patrick Husbands in the irons. After several in-the-money finishes, it was his first graded stakes win for trainer Mark Casse. “The only two bad races from looking at the form were when he went long,” Husbands said. “You take away that, he had two Grade I races there and he didn’t get beat far. He showed that he was the best horse today.”

Filly & Mare Turf

Proctor’s Ledge waited behind several rivals through most of Saturday’s $300,000 Grade II Lake Placid Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, came wide into the stretch under Javier Castellano and inched to the lead and clear, winning by 3/4 length. The favorite, Uni, trailed right behind the winner all the way and finished second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Party Boat. La Coronel and Coasted completed the order of finish. Proctor’s Ledge, a Ghostzapper filly, ran 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:47.74, doubling down on her victory in the Grade III Lake George at the Spa on July 21.

“She’s something else, to beat fillies like that so impressively,” said Proctor’s Lodge’s trainer, Brendan Walsh. “She’s been threatening all the time to do this and getting better and better … I don’t know about the Breeders’ Cup,” he added. But he mentioned the possibility of the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland on Oct. 14.

On paper, Saturday’s $300,000 Grade II Del Mar Oaks looked wide open and that’s just how it played out on the turf. Dream Dancing, Beau Recall and Madame

Dream Dancing winning the Grade 2 Del Mar Oaks under Julien Leparoux. Benoit Photo

Dancealot, all rallying from near the back of the 12-filly field, duked it out down the lane before Dream Dancing prevailed by a nose over Beau Recall with Madam Dancealot, the favorite, just another neck behind in third. Dream Dancing, a Tapit filly, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:48.06 under Julien Leparoux. Julie Stormfelt, assistant to winning trainer Mark Casse, said, “There was a very good pace up front, which she likes. She has more than one run and a very good kick and when I saw her coming down the stretch I was just screaming, very happy. This is my first time travelling with a horse and it’s nice to be a winner.”

Turf Sprint

Tribalist undoubtedly set some kind of record with his victory in Friday’s $100,000 Green Flash Stakes at Del Mar. The 6-year-old Tribal Rules gelding broke his maiden in July 2014 at Del Mar, then did not race again until August 2015, when he won an allowance event over the same track. Idle for another year, he made his next start in a Del Mar allowance in 2016 and won that, too. He again took the full year off before Friday’s win. He did it the hard way, too.  Squeezed at the start, Victor Espinoza finally found room between rivals at mid-stretch and got Tribalist up to win by a head over pacesetting Gutsy Ruler. The favorite, Richard’s Boy, was another 1/2 length in arrears in third. Tribalist ran 5 furlongs on firm going in 56.93 seconds.

Turf Mile

Al and Sandee Kirkwood’s Blackjackcat and Kent Desormeaux, right, outgame Vyjack and Flavien Prat for victory in the Grade II $200,000 Del Mar Mile Sunday at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. BENOIT PHOTO

Blackjackcat stalked the pace set by the favorite, Midnight Storm, in Sunday’s $200,000, Grade II Del Mar Mile, rallied by that one and then won a three-way scramble to the wire, beating Vyjack by a head and Om by another length. Midnight Storm faded to finish fourth. Blackjackcat, a 4-year-old Tale of the Cat gelding, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.06 with Kent Desormeaux up.

Tricky Escape came from last of seven to post a minor upset win in Saturday’s $100,000 Grade III Violet Stakes for fillies and mares at Monmouth Park. The favorite, Light Up Our World, was second, 1 1/4 lengths back and a head in front of Gianna’s Dream. Tricky Escape, a 4-year-old Hat Trick filly, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.91 with Chris DeCarlo in the irons for trainer Lynn Ashby.

Juvenile Turf

Flameaway tracked the pace in Friday’s off-the-turf $100,000 Skidmore Stakes at Saratoga, launched a bid after the field straightened out into the stretch and was along to win by 1 1/2 lengths over El Dulce. Dial One found some late foot to get up for show money. Flameaway, a Scat Daddy colt trained by Mark Casse, finished 5 1/2 furlongs on a muddy, sealed track in 1:06.69 with Javier Castellano in the irons.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

March X Press overcame a messy start and traffic issues in the stretch to win Wednesday’s $100,000 Bolton Landing Stakes at Saratoga by 1/2 length over Fairyland. Sugar Queen was another 1/2 length behind in third. March X Press, a Shanghai Bobby filly trained by Todd Pletcher, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:01.69 with Jose Ortiz piloting.


Supermare Winx got her season off to a successful start, winning her 18th straight race in the Bob Ingham Warwick Stakes. But to do it, she virtually had to replicate Arrogate’s stunning performance in this year’s Dubai World Cup. Like Arrogate at Meydan, Winx was off last in Saturday’s Group 2 event, spotting the field some 5 lengths. At the top of the lane, with stablemate Foxplay taking the lead along the rail, jockey Hugh Bowman got Winx going into the face of a headwind and got her there for the narrow victory. Foxplay held third. “Hugh never panicked,” said trainer Chris Waller. “We know she is going to get beat someday but when it happens, you wouldn’t want her to have excuses.” Bowman said he “wasn’t nervous” and knew the start was in the past and the stretch run was the future. “All I could do was get her into her rhythm and ride the race,” he said. Waller has the 6-year-old Street Cry mare primed for another lucrative campaign during the Australian springtime.


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