Modern Games Romps in Woodbine Mile to Secure Breeders’ Cup Berth

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Modern Games was much the best in the Sept. 17 Woodbine Mile, rolling to a 5 ¼-length victory under William Buick. (Eclipse Sportswire)

It appears Breeders’ Cup fans will get another chance in November to back Modern Games, the colt who won the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf while his frustrated backers settled for refunds as he ran for purse money only.

The Godolphin homebred colt, a son of Dubawi, earned his way back to the World Championships with a dominating victory Sept. 17 in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes. The $1,017,200 race was a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile Nov. 5 on the Keeneland grass.

Modern Games was no surprise at Woodbine, sent off as the heavy 3-4 favorite as he came off a second-place finish in the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in England, behind only the mighty Baaeed. Earlier in the season, he was victorious in the Emirates Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French Two Thousand Guineas) at Longchamp in Paris.

Early in the Woodbine Mile, it appeared jockey William Buick might have to work a little magic to get the favorite home on top. Racing well back in the 11-horse field and near the inside rail, Modern Games took a wide swing into the stretch to find daylight. He then was pushed even farther outside by a rallying Finest Sound.

Buick said he wasn’t concerned.

“He was very comfortable throughout. He traveled nice and the pace was good. I just had to figure out a route, really. But I had plenty of horse and he was brave when he had to be.”

Once he had daylight, Modern Games was plenty brave, indeed. Quickly putting distance on the field, he sprinted away to win by 5 ¼ lengths, scoring for the sixth time in 11 career starts.

Ivar also found late speed to get up for second with Finest Sound third. Shirl’s Speight was fourth. Town Cruise, who stole the race last year on the lead, was prominent early in this year’s edition but couldn’t finish the effort, reporting fifth.

Ivar, third in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Mile and fourth a year earlier, remains a viable candidate for a third try and trainer Paulo Lobo lamented his schedule was disrupted this year, leading to a detour to Horseshoe Indianapolis, where he won a 1 1/16-mile grass stakes in course-record time, then the trip to Canada for a Breeders’ Cup prep race.

“Unfortunately, he was ready to run earlier this year at Churchill Downs,” Lobo said. “But he had a little problem with a hoof. That was a setback for us.”

Despite his European accomplishments, Modern Games sticks in American memories as a result of the controversial mix-up last November behind the starting gate at Del Mar. In the Juvenile Turf, the colt first was scratched, then “unscratched,” but not before he had been dropped from the betting pools.

As a result, his backers got refunds or substitutions on exotic wagers and watched in frustration as he was a 1 ½-length winner.

If Modern Games indeed makes the trip to Keeneland in November, fans will find an improved horse there, Buick said.

“He’s got bigger. He’s filled out. He’s very strong, a very strong horse. He was last year but he’s got bigger and stronger this year. He retains all the ability in the world.

“He’s a real fast horse,” Buick said. “The faster, the better for him. As you saw there, when he changes gears, he’s got a lot of speed. So, yeah. He’s a real fast miler.”

Modern Games finished the Woodbine Mile in 1:32.77 over firm going, a bit more than one second outside the course record. He was not asked for his best in the final sixteenth.

The victory capped a perfect two-for-two afternoon at the suburban Toronto track for Godolphin, Buick and trainer Charlie Appleby (see below), although the trainer did not attend. Godolphin and Appleby’s Nations Pride also impressed on these shores Saturday, scoring a 6 ¼-length win in the Caesars Jockey Club Derby Invitational Stakes at the “Belmont at the Big A” meet in New York.–Bob Kieckhefer


Mysterious Night Soars Last-to-First in Summer Stakes

Mysterious Night wins easily. (Michael Burns/Woodbine)

In the first of the three “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup preps Saturday at Woodbine, Godolphin’s homebred Mysterious Night, patiently handled by William Buick, impressed with a 5 ¾-length last-to-first win in the $516,000 Pattison Summer Stakes.

The 2-year-old Dark Angel colt was sent off as the 0.55-1 favorite in a seven-horse field coming off an Aug. 14 victory in the Group 3 Circus Maximus Prix Francois Boutin at Deauville – his first group stakes score for trainer Charlie Appleby – and won for the first time at the highest level. He is a full brother to Althiqa, winner of the Longines Just a Game Stakes and Diana Stakes for the same connections last year.

While some may have worried after Mysterious Night broke a step slow Saturday in the one-mile Summer Stakes, assistant trainer Alex Merriam was pleased to see the race play to plan as longshot Ninetyfour Expos set out for the lead.

“We were keen to get a bit of cover on him, so it worked well that (Ninetyfour Expos) went forward and (Mysterious Night) slotted in nicely,” Merriam said. “He got a nice trip around and he was getting him settled, getting to switch off and travel around nicely. He’s a lovely horse.”

Ninetyfour Expos kept the lead through a half-mile as Buick allowed Mysterious Night to gallop naturally on up to fourth along the inside. The eventual winner received the cue to go turning for home, and tipped out three-wide to take aim at the leader.

Mysterious Night widened his advantage at will down the long lane, with Appraise running on from fifth to finish second, 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Philip My Dear.

The final time was 1:34.98 on a firm course. Mysterious Night earned an automatic berth to the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland with the victory.

“He rode beautiful and the track is in great condition,” Buick said. “I walked it before, and it’s as good as it always is. We knew the horse was going to like it, fast ground. He travelled through the race beautifully. He was giving me plenty of confidence throughout the race and he was happy travelling away, so it was perfect for him and hopefully he can go on from here.” 

Mysterious Night improved his record to 3-1-2 from six starts, with earnings of $308,358.

It was the second straight Summer triumph for Appleby and Godolphin, who took last year’s running with Albahr.–Claire Crosby


Last Call Breaks Maiden in Natalma Shocker

Last Call pulls the upset. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Last Call is a maiden no more after surging to a 21.15-1 upset in the $508,000 Johnnie Walker Natalma Stakes, the final Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race at Woodbine Saturday.

The 2-year-old daughter of turf champion English Channel settled off the early pace under jockey Rafael Hernandez before launching a sweeping four-wide move around the final turn. Under strong urging by Hernandez Last Call powered to the wire, holding 1.65-1 favorite Cairo Consort at bay by a length as she raced the turf mile in 1:36.49.

Colonial Downs shipper G Laurie closed to finish third, three-quarters of a length behind Cairo Consort.

Owned in partnership by X-Men Racing 2 and SF Racing and trained by Kevin Attard, Last Call made her third career start in the Natalma. She earned an automatic slot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf Nov. 4 at Keeneland through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series.

“Yeah, obviously that’s very exciting,” said Attard, while considering the tantalizing prospect of a Breeders’ Cup run with Last Call. “You know what I mean, a filly like her should get better with a little more time and a little more distance. It’s something we’re obviously going to have to discuss with the ownership group but I’m sure if all goes well, she’s earned her way there, so hopefully we have a date in Keeneland.”–Molly Rollins

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