Photo: NYRA / Adam Mooshian
Lemonade at the Spa
I could be tarred and feathered for uttering such words, but opening weekend at Del Mar and Saratoga could have been better. I thought Sunday’s pair of grade 1 races at two of the finest racetracks in the nation, the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Eddie Read, frankly, both came up a bit light. That left only Saturday’s Diana as the weekend’s lone true grade 1, and the ten horse field of excellent turf fillies did not disappoint. Loaded with ability from one to ten, it looked like the pretty gray, Discreet Marq might bound away from the rest midway through the lane, but Somali Lemonade would have none of that. Deftly maneuvered off the rail for the sprint to the wire by Luis Saez, the five-year-old daughter of Lemon Drop Kid found a grade 1 gear to reel in Discreet Marq in the late stages. Not long after she had forged to the lead, though, Stephanie’s Kitten uncorked a huge turn of foot, but it never looked like Somali Lemonade was in danger before the Diana wire arrived. Always a nice turf filly, Somali Lemonade has really turned things around in 2014 to become one of the best distaff turfers in the land. In her five races this year, she has won three times, and her two losses were fine efforts. Her resurgence coincides with trainer Michael Matz equipping the new grade 1 winner with blinkers. It seems all the mare needed was a little more focus. I suspect the Diana likely will not be the only grade 1 win for ZATT's Star of the Week.
Up With The Birds Soars
Speaking of resurgent turf power, Up With The Birds is back. On January 1, the four-year-son of Stormy Atlantic was my winterbook choice to be the 2014 Turf Champion. That prognostication looked to be little more than a bad joke when the Sam-Son runner finished out of the money in his first two starts of the year, a Keeneland allowance, and the Dixie at Pimlico. It still may be a long way from fruition, but at least we got to see a glimpse of what I believe Up With The Birds can be on Saturday at Woodbine. The Grade 2 Nijinsky, like the Diana, run at nine furlongs on the turf, attracted a solid field of stakes winners north of the border, but in the end, Up With The Birds treated them all badly. Back in last early, the defending Canadian Horse of the Year, waited until late in the far turn to begin picking off horses. Still last as the field hit the stretch, Up With The Birds was now in full flight, and the only question was whether he would find room. He made his own room by bulling his way through a small hole, while pushing out last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Za Approval in the process. The race was over in a matter of a few strides. Hand ridden to the wire, Up With The Birds won by four lengths in a sparkling time of 1:45.74. If he makes the trip to Chicago next month, he will be my play in the Arlington Million.
Tom’s Tribute continues to progress
I know I’ve already mentioned that this year’s Eddie Read was not quite up to snuff, but there wasn’t anything wrong with the performance of the winner, Tom’s Tribute. An unraced maiden just over a year ago, the Jim Cassidy charge really has come a long way in a short amount of time. As the Eddie Read field turned for home, you could tell that Mike Smith was sitting on a ton of horse. Sure enough, Tom’s Tribute ambled to the lead, before bracing for the coming challenge of the race favorite, Summer Front. As it turns out, it was not much of a challenge at all. The son of Lion Heart had plenty left to repulse the bid, as he cruised to a rather easy victory. Middle distances on the turf really seems to be his game, and although he has been turned away in top fields before, he looks like he is still getting better. Like another Cassidy trainee from a few years ago, The Usual QT, he also seems like the type who fires every time. Because of all this, I see Tom’s Tribute as a horse who could come in with more than a punter’s chance when the Breeders’ Cup Mile rolls into Santa Anita in just over three months.
Maria is Grade 1
Truth be told, even when Stopchargingmaria was winning a pair of graded stakes last November at the Big A, I was less than a believer. Sure she was game in victory, but I thought she was taking advantage of her early experience against questionable fields. So when the Todd Pletcher trainee started 2014 with a pair of uninspiring performances, a 5th in Gulfstream Park’s Davona Dale and a 4th place run in the Grade 3 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park, I figured that the Tempted and Demoiselle form would not hold up. Looks like I was dead wrong. First she kicked it in late to get to the wire first in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan on Preakness Eve, and now yesterday she took it up another notch in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks. While it certainly was not a strong edition of the historic race by any means, Stopchargingmaria never looked better. Pletcher remarked that the filly has flourished since arriving at the upstate oasis, and as she crused to a dominant five-length victory over Unbridled Forever on Sunday, it is apparent that I can no longer take the four-time graded stakes winner lightly. Now with Untapable preparing to take on the boys in New Jersey, and several other good ones looking at the Test, I wonder if Stopchargingmaria isn’t destined to become a dual grade 1 winner at this meet. The $600,000 Alabama on August 16 may well be Maria’s for the taking with no credit needed.
Other Bits and Pieces
In watching the opening day action from Saratoga, I believe I saw a few horses we need to keep an eye on moving forward. A first time starter for West Point Thoroughbreds, I thought Ring Knocker ran huge in a losing maiden special weight effort. She broke a little slow, made a big move to grab the lead, before gamely succumbing to By The Moon late, as the rest of the field was left far behind. I suspect the daughter of Birdstone will only get better with maturity for her patient connections. In the next race, Fashion Alert won the Schuylerville as expected, but the runner-up Take Charge Brandi took all the worst of it down on the rail. The well bred filly has an interesting running style, and was extremely game on Friday. I think we will be hearing from her a lot during her promising career. Finally, the opening day feature produced another solid effort from Tourist. Now 3-for-3 on turf, his strong front running victory may have only come in a listed stakes race, but I believe that Bill Mott has the real deal in the son of Tiznow. A successful graded stakes career should be in the making. As I prepare to embark on my four day racetrack odyssey (Presque Isle-Finger Lakes-Saratoga-Monmouth), it’s time to start looking forward to some of the big races I will see. Saturday’s Jim Dandy looks like it will not be a large field. Tonalist’s tactical speed should suit him well as he seeks to join Palace Malice as recent horses to complete the Belmont-Jim Dandy double. Sadly, Samraat would have been in with a real chance, but has been put of the shelf after a stress fracture was found yesterday. After that it is on to Monmouth for the race of the month, The Haskell. Having watched East Hall get up against a solid field in the Ohio Derby on Saturday, it’s hard not to wonder if Wildcat Red isn’t sitting on a big one after beating East Hall by a pole in his comeback race. The Haskell will be loaded, but Wildcat Red, clearly, should not be underestimated.