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DRF Breeding Weekend Wrap: Game On Dude, Flat Out bring their best games, Midnight Aria breaks through in Queen’s Plate
Two of the best horses in the handicap division returned last Saturday in familiar venues and echoed past glories with explosive performances, setting up a contentious second half of the year on both coasts that should result in an exciting Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park.
Game On Dude, three for four at Hollywood Park for his career entering Saturday, took his second consecutive Hollywood Gold Cup in typical front-running fashion. The 6-year-old Awesome Again gelding picked up his sixth career Grade 1 win in a final time of 2:01.88 for 1 1/4 miles over Hollywood’s synthetic Cushion Track surface, earning a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 114. He will stay on the West Coast and possibly contest the Grade 1 Pacific Classic next month at Del Mar before pointing to the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, according to trainer Bob Baffert. Game On Dude finished a disappointing seventh as the favorite in last year’s Classic after failing to make the early lead.
The gelding, who has not lost since that Classic disappointment, toyed with four opponents in the Hollywood Gold Cup for his fifth consecutive win under jockey Mike Smith. He is just short of boasting three straight Gold Cup wins, having lost the 2011 edition by a nose to stablemate First Dude. Overall, Game On Dude has won 14 of 26 starts and earned $5,002,128.
Out of the stakes-winning Devil His Due mare Worldly Pleasure, Game On Dude is one of several elite runners by Awesome Again, whose roster of Grade 1 winners includes this year’s Preakness winner and Belmont runner-up Oxbow, recent comeback king Paynter, and a bushel of top-level fillies led by champion Ginger Punch. Arguably Awesome Again’s best son, 2004 Horse of the Year and fellow Adena Springs stallion Ghostzapper, will be profiled as DRF Breeding’s Hot Sire after three of his progeny scored graded stakes wins on Saturday in less than an hour: Starship Truffles in the Grade 1 Princess Rooney (96 Beyer), Moreno in the Grade 2 Dwyer (100 Beyer), and Schiaparelli on Hollywood’s card in the Grade 2 Royal Heroine Mile (97 Beyer).
Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, Flat Out, third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, shook off his only career loss at Belmont with an authoritative 2 1/2-length win over Last Gunfighter in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap. The 7-year-old Flatter horse took command at the top of the lane and coasted to victory, completing the one-turn 1 1/8 mile race in 1:46.87. That translated into a preliminary Beyer of 107. He picked up his second Suburban win following his breakthrough score in 2011, and overall has won eight of 26 starts for earnings of $2,945,383.
Flat Out is five for six at Belmont - with his only loss coming in the Metropolitan Handicap in May - and among current top-level horses is likely affected the most by the Breeders’ Cup’s scheduling in recent years. The event has not visited New York since 2005. Flat Out ran a non-threatening third in last year’s Classic at Santa Anita, and will prep for a possible return trip by contesting top Grade 1 races in the Empire State over the next three months, starting at Saratoga Race Course. He has won the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, scheduled for Sept. 28 this fall, in each of the last two years.
Bred by Nikolaus Bock in Florida, Flat Out is out of the stakes-winning Cresta Rider mare Cresta Lil. Both Flat Out and Game On Dude appear to be in peak form based on last weekend’s performances, but so does recent Stephen Foster winner and defending Classic winner Fort Larned. At this stage, the potential matchup at Santa Anita on Nov. 2 between these three and other notables such as Ron the Greek is enticing, but there is plenty of work to be done.
All eyes turned northward to Ontario on Sunday for the 154th Queen’s Plate at Woodbine, and longshot Midnight Aria added to what has become a standout first crop of runners from champion Midnight Lute by gamely taking the 1 1/4-mile classic by a half-length over favorite Up With the Birds, who charged from near the back of the 12-horse field but ran out of real estate.
Breaking from the inside post, Midnight Aria ($35.20) led throughout and finished in 2:04.72 over Woodbine’s synthetic Polytrack surface. Winless in his first three starts, all in maiden claiming events, Midnight Aria was claimed by current owner Tucci Stables in January and broke his maiden next out Feb. 16 at Gulfstream Park. A string of four third-place finishes followed—the last two in the Wando Stakes and Plate Trial at Woodbine—before the 3-year-old colt broke through in Canada’s most prestigious race.
Midnight Aria becomes the fifth stakes winner from Midnight Lute’s first crop, joining Midnight Lucky, Shakin It Up, Govenor Charlie, and Midnight Ballet. That crop also includes classic-placed Mylute, who has earned over $587,000 to date. Midnight Lute, who won back-to-back editions of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2007 and 2008, stands at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm in Lexington, Ky., for a $20,000 fee.
Ontario-bred Midnight Aria is out of the winning Mt. Magazine mare Shebandowana, who has produced five other winners, including Grade 3 Lone Star Derby winner Wanna Runner and stakes-placed How Far Is Heaven. Shebandowana is a half-sister to Grade 2 winners Time Limit and Miss Indy Anna and to multiple stakes producer Suzanna Anna.
Weekend notes: In a weekend when stallions such as Awesome Again and Midnight Lute continued to embellish their already impressive résumés for the year, Ramsey Farm stalwart sire and champion Kitten’s Joy kept pace with Grade 1 United Nations winner Big Blue Kitten.
The 5-year-old rallied stoutly along the inside under Joe Bravo and bested 2011 winner Teaks North by 1 1/4 lengths, covering 1 3/8 miles over Monmouth’s firm turf in 2:11.98 and earning a 93 Beyer. Big Blue Kitten tallied his second graded stakes win following the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga in 2011. Aside from a 10th-place finish in the 2012 Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, he has finished in the money in each of his other 15 career starts, winning nine times and earning $698,530. He earned an automatic berth to the Breeders’ Cup with his United Nations win as part of the “Win and You’re In” qualifying series.
The Ramsey homebred is out of the Unaccounted For mare Spent Gold and is from the family of Grade 2 winner and sire Spare Judgment and stakes winners Linda Coqueta and River Tish.
Among the slate of stakes races on Thursday’s July 4 holiday, Paul Makin’s Chief Havoc stamped himself a late-developing 3-year-old contender with a sharp 2 1/2-length win in the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood. Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, the son of leading sire Giant’s Causeway was not headed in the race and stopped the clock at 1:50.17 for 1 1/8 miles, earning a 99 Beyer. The Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga or the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth, both later this month, are options for the colt’s next start, trainer Peter Miller said.
Bred by Emory Hamilton, Chief Havoc is out of Grade 3 winner La Reina, by A.P. Indy. His second dam, 1991’s champion older mare Queena, is dam of Grade 1 winner and sire Brahms and stakes winner Olympic. Queena is a full sister to Grade 1 winner Chic Shirine, the second dam of recent Grade 1 winner Verrazano and last year’s Grade 3 winner El Padrino.