The highlight of last Sunday’s high quality card at Del Mar was the grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes and it was won in great style by the evens favorite, Lord Nelson. Not only did he bag the $180,000 first prize but also an automatic berth into this year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint. In truth, Lord Nelson didn’t just win, he smashed the opposition by 4 lengths in a time of 1 minute 7.65 seconds, very close to the track record.
In a race where there was a lot of pace, you needed a horse that would stay the trip and Lord Nelson, being a proven performer over 7 furlongs fitted that bill well. Subtle Indian and Justin Squared took them along at a hot pace for half a mile, after which Lord Nelson (who had been stalking with menace in third) took over and stretched away for his four length win and favouritism in the BC Sprint.
Over at Monmouth, they were hosting the biggest value race of the weekend in the form of the Haskell Invitational, a grade 1 worth $1,015,000. This race for the classic generation fielded, for the first time in its 49 year history, the first three home in the Kentucky Derby. However, the running of this race was very much a carbon copy of another Triple Crown race, the Preakness.
Once again, perhaps because of the inside draw in one, it was decided to gun Nyquist from the off and, once again, he was taken on, this time by American Freedom. Exaggerator sat chilly at the back on his favoured sloppy going, moved up in the home straight before taking command in the final furlong for a comfortable length and a half win.
Exaggerator could now lay claim to being the top three year old in the USA. However, his two big wins have been gained on his favoured going and where the pace has fallen apart. How would he have fared in a moderately run race on fast going? I thought this race would be educational but, in truth, I’m not sure what we learned!
On Saturday, the richest race of the day was Saratoga’s Jim Dandy. As with the Haskell, the race was for three year olds only and was over a mile and an eighth of the dirt track. While the Haskell had the top 3 from the Kentucky Derby, the Jim Dandy had more of the minor celebrities from the “Run for the Roses”, such as Mohaymen, Destin and Creator.
However, none of these three made it to the win/place podium and the race produced a shock result as it was won in fine front-running style by Laoban at odds of 27/1. Up until this race, Laoban had looked a decent horse without appearing to have the class to win a top class event such as this. However, here he was allowed his own way in front and none of the opposition got within a length of him. He will now head for the $1.25m Travers Stakes on 27th August.
Disappointment of the race was Mohaymen, who trailed in fourth after being backed in to 6/4 favoritism. I may be wrong but it looks like this horse was a very precocious and well-developed 2 and early season 3 year old, who stopped improving early this year while the best of his generation have improved past him.
Just before the Jim Dandy, Saratoga hosted the Alfred G Vanderbilt Handicap, a Grade 1 sprint over 6 furlongs for three year olds and above worth $350,000. This looked a very hot race so the win of AP Indian can be given even greater plaudits.
AP Indian broke through the graded class barrier last time out when winning the grade 3 Belmont Sprint Championship three weeks ago. He didn’t look to have much in hand in that race so this represents a further step up in performance.
We move to beautiful Del Mar for the last race of this weekend’s review and it’s a Grade 1 in the form of the $300,000 Clement L Hirsch Stakes for 3 year old and above fillies and mares over a mile and a sixteenth of the dirt track.
This looked to be a two horse affair between Beholder (winner of this race last year) and Stellar Wind and so it proved to be. However, the result was still a shock with Stellar Wind (9/2) beating the 1/10 favorite by ½ a length.
There seems to be no fluke about the result. Beholder set the pace throughout the first ¾ of a mile with Stellar Wind stalking. The two then duelled throughout the stretch drive with Stellar prevailing by a hard fought length with over 9 lengths back to the third. Two quality horses battling it out for the call in a Grade 1 is what racing is all about.