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Songbird takes her walk down Victory Lane after winning the Ogden Phipps
Of the three Triple Crown races, the undercard of the Belmont Stakes has the most prestigious races on its undercard. This year, the 57,729 fans in attendance at "Big Sandy" on Long Island were also treated to 10 stakes (9 graded) which preceded the main event including five Grade 1 events. Conditions were excellent with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 80's, with the main track rated fast and the two turf courses rated firm. Jockey Mike Smith won 5 of the stakes races on the card, 4 for trainer Bob Baffert.
Ascend leads down the stretch
Jockey Paco Lopez sent 69-1 longest shot Applicator to the lead first time by through fractions of 24.60, 50.09, 1:14.39, and 1:37.98 while pressed by World Approval and stalked by Beach Patrol. Applicator tired at the top of the lane while 27-1 Ascend, 4th early under Jose Ortiz, came out 4 wide for room and rallied to win by 1 1/4 lengths over late-running Time Test in 1:59.97 over the firm going. It was a neck back to 8-1 Sadler's Joy third.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 5 Ascend Ortiz 57.00 15.60 8.60 4 Time Test Castellano 3.50 2.90 9 Sadler's Joy Smith 4.50 Winning Time: 1:59.97 $2 Exacta 5-4 244.20 $2 Trifecta 5-4-9 1,582.00 $2 Superfecta 5-4-9-1 7,094.00
Left: Ascend in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Graham Motion said, "He gave him a beautiful ride. He was in a great spot, a good set up. It's pretty much how we thought it'd set up. He ran a great race, but you don't expect to win at 25-1. As of now we don't have any plans with him. It was just this race for now." Jockey Jose Ortiz added, "In the first turn I tried to go in between horses to save ground. But I couldn't do it because they were going so slow. I stayed behind horses for as long as I could and when they passed the 5/8 pole, I put my horse in the clear. On the second turn, I went out because I knew they were going too slow. He was trying to go. By the 3/8 pole I knew that Applicator was going to pick them up so I wanted to be close to him. When I was ready to move, I did and he responded very well.
Right: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Time Test returns. Trainer Chad Brown said, "I'm disappointed with the lack of finish. I thought he had a good trip. The race didn't unfold as quite as I anticipated. No pace, then again it was not like he was stopped. We had every opportunity to kick on and try to run down the winner and he couldn't. I'm proud of him, that he got up for second. I think he's a really nice horse."
The $1.2 million Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap (G1) featured a field of 12 older horses going 1 mile around 1 turn of the main track. Steve Sexton Mile (G3) winner Mor Spirit was the 5-2 favorite over 3-1 Sharp Azteca, 3rd in the Godolphin Mile (G2), and 9-2 Awesome Slew, 2nd in the Churchill Downs (G2).
Jockey Paco Lopez sent Sharp Azteca to the lead exiting the chute through fractions of 23.20 and 46.05 while pressed by Mor Spirit and stalked by 8-1 Rally Cry. Entering the lane jockey Mike Smith sent Mor Spirit to the lead and he took over through 3/4 in 1:10.10. Kept to task by Smith down the stretch, Mor Spirit drew off to win by 6 1/4 lengths in 1:33.71 over the fast main track. It was another 3 1/4 length back to 15-1 Tommy Macho third.
Full results chart
Left: Mor Spirit heads out to the track. Winning trainer Bob Baffert said, "the way he ran today, how fast he ran it was incredible. Turning for home I felt pretty good about it because it was a manageable pace. Especially him with a horse in front I could tell Mike was just sitting. He couldn't have looked any better in the paddock. If it was a show he would've won best in show. He's a beautiful horse." Jockey Mike Smith added, "I was so happy we were coming here. I said this horse is really getting good right now. I thought the horse that was in front would be in front. I didn't want to him to have too much of an easy lead and not hinder myself and it worked out wonderful. It's incredible. I'm happy to be back home."
Right: Second place finisher Sharp Azteca returns after the race. Jockey Paco Lopez said, "I had a perfect break and we were right there. She's a little tired filly but she tried very hard. They told me, 'Paco, maybe she needed one more work.' Next race, she'll be ready." Trainer Jorge Navarro added, "You know, you can't ask for more. He ran a huge race. I have a good horse."
A field of 7 older fillies and mares went 1 mile on the Widener turf course in the $700,000 Longines Just a Game Stakes (G1). Distaff Turf Mile (G2) winner Roca Rojo was the 2-1 favorite over 3-1 Antonoe, an allowance winner at Keeneland last out, and 7-2 Celestine, winner of the Honey Fox (G2).
Jockey Luis Saez sent 8-1 Sassy Little Lila to the lead exiting the chute through fractions of 23.70, 46.92, and 1:09.75 while pressed by Celestine and stalked by 4-1 Dickinson. Sassy Little Lila continued to lead to the 1/8 pole through 7f in 1:20.45, but Antonoe, last through 3/4 mile, came out 4 wide into the stretch and rallied to win by 3/4 length in 1:32.12 over the firm course. It was a nose back to Dickinson third, while favorite Roca Rojo failed to fire and was last.
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Left: Antonoe in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Chad Brown said, "I don't think that I've ever had a horse in my training career come home that fast on turf, at any distance, at any level. I confess that at the 3/8 pole, even the 1/4 pole, I was a little concerned. My horses were last and second-to-last. I didn't see a scenario where they'd be able to close that much ground on a quality field in front of them. This filly was very impressive today to make up that much ground." Jockey Javier Castellano added, "We got the post on the outside and I had to let her go a little bit because she didn't show a lot of speed. I had to ride her European style; a lot of patience and save all the ground the best I could. She cut the corner turning for home. It worked in the finish."
Right: Beaten favorite Roca Rojo crossing the finish line in last. Jockey Florent Geroux said, "She never fired at the end. I thought I was too far behind but the winner was behind me. She worked so hard in her first race, so maybe it took something out of her."
The $750,000 Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) featuring a field of 7 older fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles around 1 turn of the main track. Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) runner-up and 2016 three-year-old champion filly Songbird was sent off as the prohibitive 3-10 favorite over 7-1 Carina Mia, 3rd in the Humana Distaff (G1), and 15-2 Paid Up Subscriber, 4th in the La Troienne (G1).
Jockey Mike Smith sent Songbird to the lead exiting the chute through fractions of 23.99 and 47.27 while pressed by Paid Up Subscriber and stalked by Carina Mia. On the far turn Paid Up Subscriber gained a short lead on the favorite through 3/4 in 1:11.25. However, Songbird easily fought her off down the stretch to win by a length in 1:42.24. It was another 2 1/2 lengths back to 9-1 Highway Star third.
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Left: Songbird in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said, "A good horse takes to all the tracks, it seems like, and she's a good one. We're blessed to have her. I didn't have any second thoughts during the week about keeping her at home and running her in the Beholder instead. I talked to (owner) Rick Porter about that and we were pretty much unanimous that we should come here, not to duck (Vale Dori and Stellar Wind) on the West Coast, but Rick likes to run for the money and he likes to run in New York. That's why we did that. Let's call this a great race off the layoff. I'm not sure she's at the top of her game right now, but she did very well today."
Right: Songbird heads back to the barn. Jockey Mike Smith added, "She jumped really, really well out of the gate and I stayed off the fence today, just because it's her first race back. If someone wanted to get brave and move early at her, I'd rather move in to my inside so that I could wait and keep my position. That part worked out and after that, I hand rode her home. She got a little tired but she is supposed to. She is so much smarter as a 4-year-old. She is one of the most intelligent horses you'll ever be on. You can ride her with your fingers."
The first Grade 1 stakes on Saturday was the $700,000 Acorn Stakes (G1) featuring top 3-year-old fillies going 1 mile on the main track. Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Abel Tasman was sent off as the 2-1 favorite over 9-4 Salty, 5th in the Oaks, and 4-1 Sweet Loretta, winner of the Beaumont (G3).
Jockey Paco Lopez sent 11-1 Florida Fabulous to the lead through fractions of 23.32 and 46.79 while pressed by 6-1 Benner Island and 47-1 Nikki My Darling. At the top of the stretch Florida Fabulous tired allowing Benner Island to inherit a short lead through 3/4 in 1:11.35. However, Abel Tasman, last early under Mike Smith, moved up on the turn and rallied late to win by a length over Salty in 1:35.37. It was a long 4 1/2 lengths back to Benner Island third.
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Left: Abel Tasman in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Bob Baffert said, "With this filly here, she's just getting really good and she showed that the Oaks was not a fluke. She's that good a horse. I didn't like the post. My other horses drew great except for her. It was pretty exciting. The quality she has, I just see it in the mornings. She's just getting better and better. I'm pretty happy for her. I think a race like the Alabama is definitely in the works for her
Right: Abel Tasman takes her walk down Victory Lane. Jockey Mike Smith added, "I was a little bit concerned in the first 1/8 mile because she's so off the bridle. But the scary thing about her is if you work too hard to get her on it, then it's from almost one extreme to the next. I was trying not to do that because of the big turns. I finally got her going easy enough and I thought, 'OK, this is great.' I got out in the clear where she kind of likes it, but then they all saw me out there and everyone stayed out. I stayed behind and I tipped out outside of Joel (Rosario, aboard Salty) so he could really see me, and when he looked back I ducked to the inside. Otherwise, I would have lost too much ground out there. It worked. If it didn't work I'd have been an idiot."
The $500,000 Woody Stephens Stakes (G2) featured 11 three-year-olds sprinting 7 furlongs on the main track. Laz Barrera (G3) winner American Anthem was sent off as the 2-1 favorite over 9-2 Recruiting Ready, winner of the Chick Lang, and 5-1 Wild Shot, winner of the Pat Day Mile (G3).
Jockey Horacio Karamanos sent Recruiting Ready to the front down the backstretch through fractions of 21.79 amd 44.81 while pressed by 47-1 Hard Scramble and stalked by Wild Shot and American Anthem. At the top of the lane, jockey Mike Smith sent American Anthem to the front and he soon opened up by 3 1/2 lengths through 3/4 in 1:09.35. 30-1 Giuseppe the Great rallied late but American Anthem cruised to win by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:22.14. It was another 2 1/2 lengths back to Recruiting Ready third.
Full results chart
Left: American Anthem in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Bob Baffert said, "The odds are usually against you, but so far we've had good trips and good horses. They came in here, prepped well and shipped well. All you can ask for is that they run as well as they ship. There's a lot of pressure on a big day. You don't want to embarrass a good horse on a big day. Mike Smith has always thought he'd go longer. The way he sat there, and when he pushed the button I thought, 'wow.' It was pretty impressive."
Right: American Anthem gets hosed down after the race. Jockey Mike Smith said, "We kept trying to jump into the Triple Crown thing with him. It might have been a little too much for him at the time. Bob did a great job of assessing that and knowing that and backing way off on him. He started back and got him back running short and we'll go from there; see if we can stretch him out later. He was moving around the turn but the wind picked up and, man, it's a big, bad headwind around the turn. I was out in the open and I just started getting my little body as low as I could just to kind of get through the wind. It was really slowing us. But once I got through it, boom, he took off."
A field of 10 older horses contested the $300,000 Jaipur Invitational Stakes (G3) at 6 furlongs on the Widener turf. TwinSpires Turf Sprint (G3) winner Green Mask was the 5-2 favorite over 7-2 Pure Sensation, 4th in the Turf Sprint, and 9-2 Disco Partner, winner of the Elusive Quality.
Jockey Jose Ortiz sent Pure Sensation to the lead down the backstretch through fractions of 21.43 and 43.04 while pressed by 9-1 Loose on the Town and 11-2 Stormy Liberal. Pure Sensation continued to lead through 5f in 54.35 but weakened late, as Disco Partner, 8th early, and favored reen Mask, 5th early, rallied late with Disco Partner outfinishing the favorite by 1/2 a length, stopping the timer in a new world record for 6 furlongs on turf of 1:05.67. It was another 1/2 length back to 18-1 Holding Gold third.
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Left: Disco Partner in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Christophe Clement said, "Disco Partner had a great trip. Irad had him placed in a good position and he was able to take advantage and move forward to finish in the end. Irad has been riding great and he did a good job again here today." Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. added, "I saved all the ground and when I had horse, I got through. We split horses and he got there. He's a nice horse. He's doing so well."
Right: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Green Mask in the post parade with jockey Javier Castellano. The Brad Cox trainee improved his record to 6 wins, 8 seconds, and 3 thirds in 25 starts, earning $799,06 for owner Abdullah Saeed Almaddah.
The $400,000 Brooklyn Invitational Stakes (G2) featured a field of 10 older horses going the Belmont Stakes trip of 1 1/2 miles on the main track. Flat Out Stakes winner Tu Brutus was the 1-2 favorite over 7-2 Governor Malibu, 3rd in the Commentator, and 4-1 War Story, 2nd in the Charles Town Classic (G2).
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. sent Tu Brutus to a clear lead first time by through fractions of 24.69, 50.06, 1:15.85, an 1:41.16 while 3 lengths ahead of War Story and 9-1 Sunny Ridge. Turning for home, Tu Brutus tired as Sunny Ridge gained a short lead through 1 1/4 miles in 2:05.56 and 1 3/8 in 2:18.30. War Story rallied past Sunny Ridge inside the final furlong to win going away by 2 1/2 lengths in 2:31.02. It was another 2 lengths back to pacesetting favorite Tu Brutus third.
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Left: War Story in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Jorge Navarro said, "When he was just galloping along like that, I wasn't all confident that he was in the right position. This is a fast track. I told Javier, 'You can do anything you want, but keep him in the clear. Do not let a horse come outside of you. He doesn't like that.' As that horse came outside of him, he kind of stopped and I was thinking 'What are you doing?' Then Javier said he remembered what I told him and we won the race. He kicked it into another gear.|
Right: War Story heads back to the barn. Winning jockey Javier Castellano said, "It was beautiful. He rode a perfect race. That's what I was looking for today. There wasn't much speed; there was only one target and I didn't want to wait because this is a mile and a half and they're not used to these type of races. I put him in the game, but at the same time, I took up a little and gave him a break all the way down the backside. At the top of the stretch, when I asked him again, he took off."
The first stakes race was the $150,000 Easy Goer Stakes for 3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles around one turn of the main track. West Coast was the 9-5 favorite over 3-1 You're to Blame and 6-1 Wicked Macho. Wicked Macho led through fractions of 22.79, 45.62, and 1:10.09 while pressed by 13-2 Local Hero and 7-1 Outplay. West Coast, 6th early under Mike Smith, circled the field 4 wide to gain a 4 length advantage through 1 mile in 1:34.91. You're to Blame rallied from 9th but West Coast easily held him off by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:41.50. It was another 2 lengths back to 7-1 Outplay third.
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West Coast in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Bob Baffert said, "We were debating running in the Belmont. He didn't convince us yet but he's figuring it out. Today he got pinched off a little bit at the start, so it was a good thing because they were rolling up front. He's really developing the right way. He can handle the distance well. He's ready to take on the top races. You have races like the Haskell or Travers." Jockey Mike Smith added, "It was my first time on him, and after the way he ran, I kind of wish they entered him in the Belmont. That was a great race to get some confidence in him shipping from out of town. He loved this racetrack. He was squealing and playing, I thought 'man don't you know we have to run here?' But he just loved it. I got squeezed at the start, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because they were going way too quick and I might have got caught up into it."
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