Tom Pedulla presents five takeaways from a huge Labor Day weekend that featured major races from coast to coast and in between.
BLOSSOMING SOPHOMORE: Arabian Knight showed every sign of being a 3-year-old that can be a prime contender in the Nov. 4 Longines Breeders' Cup Classic when he fought hard to hold off Geaux Rocket Ride by a neck in the $1 million FanDuel Racing Pacific Classic on Saturday at Del Mar. The Uncle Mo colt, coming off a third-place effort in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes in July at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park, was making only the fourth start of his career. He was ridden by Flavien Prat and is trained by Bob Baffert, who earned a record seventh Pacific Classic triumph. Baffert had been tied with fellow Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel with six apiece. Baffert said of Arabian Knight, a $2.3 million purchase as a 2-year-old for Zedan Racing Stables, “I loved the way he digs in and fought. He’s only going to get better.”
AGAINST THE ODDS: Trainer Gary Contessa closed the Saratoga Race Course meet the way he opened it – saddling a longshot in a significant stakes race for juveniles. Contessa sent out 21.20-1 maiden Becky's Joker to take the Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes on Opening Day. He outdid himself when 54.50-1 Nutella Fella, last in the early going, rallied to deliver an upset in the Hopeful Stakes for jockey Junior Alvarado to help wrap up the action at the iconic upstate New York track. “It’s kind of like Becky’s Joker,” Contessa said. “He had the workouts and the question was, ‘Is he good enough?’ Sure enough, he is.” Nutella Fella overcame a poor start and bested Timberlake by 1 ½ lengths.
PATIENCE REWARDED: Owners Mike Repole and Vinnie Viola have been playing a waiting game with Bright Future since they purchased him for $350,000 at Keeneland’s September yearling sale and assigned him to Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. They did not race him at 2. They asked him to make only a pair of starts at 3, giving him an extended layoff from last June 11 until April of this year. It all paid off when the son of Curlin held off Proxy by a nostril in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga, a “Win and You’re In” contest for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The 1 ¼-mile Gold Cup represented the colt’s first Grade 1 race. “I named the horse Bright Future for a reason,” said a jubilant Repole. “I knew he was going to be a later 3-year-old, 4-year-old horse and so far his name is fitting right now.”
LOSING STREAK SNAPPED: Fans of international racing are very familiar with the ability of Jamie Spencer, a top rider in England and Ireland. But he had not fared well at Kentucky Downs since he first ventured there in 2019. He had gone winless in his first 10 starts, including a pair of last-place finishes on Saturday, before he broke through with Ancient Rome in the $2 million Mint Millions Stakes. The Grade 3 Mint Millions ranks as the richest grass race in the United States other than the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Ancient Rome had shipped in from England and prevailed by half a length. When Spencer was asked after his breakthrough victory whether he likes Kentucky Downs, he replied, “I do now. A half hour ago, I was calling it every name under the sun.”
ONE TO WATCH: Do not be fooled by Clapton’s fourth-place effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. in his first start for trainer Chad Summers since he was acquired by RRR Racing, he lost ground throughout and, understandably, fell short following a seven-wide move at the top of the stretch. “He had to go very wide in the stretch but was closing throughout,” Summers said via a text. “He had the fastest last quarter and we are very excited for his future.” The connections must decide whether to target either the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile or the Classic at the Breeders’ Cup or to place the 4-year-old Brethren colt in quarantine now ahead of a journey to Dubai.