If sudden hoards of sweatshirt-clad pedestrians and the faint sheen of rust in the treetops are any indication, summer is coming to an end. The grand old Spa has shuttered its doors on one more season, and Del Mar has put away its seersucker suits. With the racing calendar beginning to wind down toward the big fall championships, it’s time to look back at some of the highlights from a memorable summer at the races.
June 26, the Grade I Queen’s Plate at Woodbine: Inglorious beats the boys
Any time a female race horse goes up against the boys, there’s an added level of drama. Even though plenty of fillies have recently proven they can not only compete with the boys, but show them up on their own turf, there will always be an underdog overtone when it comes down to the battle of the sexes. It’s hard not to feel a rush from the crowd cheering the filly home in Canada’s version of the Kentucky Derby. Inglorious gave them a show that will be remembered for years to come.
July 9, the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup: First Dude wins his first Grade I
Under the tutelage of new trainer Bob Baffert, First Dude blossomed. The horse with the beloved jug head went from a Grade I joke to a Grade I winner, thanks to a change in running style and jockey. At the top of the stretch, the Dude seemed to have no chance, but with a flying rush, First Dude caught the formidable Game on Dude and Twirling Candy to toss himself into the top of the West Coast division. Unfortunately, his crowning achievement would mark his last start, as the 4-year-old colt sustained a career-ending injury during the race.
July 16, the Grade II Delaware Handicap: The race of the year?
To date, no race this year has matched the anticipation and bone-rattling drama of the 2011 Del Cap. The race was everything a fan could have hoped for: turning into the stretch, it was the two rivals setting it down on the line, heads apart, trading blows the length of the stretch until only one survived. The race meant vengeance for Blind Luck, who had been toppled by Havre de Grace earlier in the year, and has set up what will surely be a heated re-rematch come Breeders’ Cup time.
July 23, the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks: The 3-year-old fillies try to emulate their elders.
Just as in the Delaware Handicap, the CCAO turned into a crowd-pleaser. The top two fillies in the race, Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty and Acorn winner It’s Tricky, were alone in the stretch, battling for division rights all the way to the finish line. It doesn’t get any more exciting than two champs locking horns and gutting it out before a teeming, roaring grandstand in the middle of summer.
July 27, the Grade II Lake George Stakes: Wow on the turf.
The gray filly Winter Memories seemed to have no hope of making her patented late-run when she was checked entering the final turn and jockey Jose Lezcano was forced to slam on the breaks. But so full of run was this talented filly, one swing out of the pack and into the daylight propelled her like a slingshot past the wire. This goosebump-inducing performance remains one of the most memorable of the entire Saratoga meet.
August 6, the Grade I Whitney: Tizway’s triumph
Tizway let his bid for Horse of the Year be known as he strolled to a 3-length win over Flat Out to win the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga. In doing so, he became the first horse since In Excess in 1991 to win the Met Mile and Whitney in the same year. Look for him to try another big score in the Jockey Club Gold Cup this October.
August 27, the Grade I King’s Bishop: Caleb’s Posse out-duels Uncle Mo
Overlooked even after wins in the Grade II Amsterdam and the Grade III Ohio Derby, Caleb’s Posse would not bow to the hometown hero and denied Uncle Mo victory in the champ’s comeback race. This test proved that Mo was returning to form, but that he was still a few notches short of his 2-year-old glory days.
August 27, the Grade I Travers: Stay Thirsty comes into his own
After living in the shadow of stablemate Uncle Mo for over a year, Stay Thirsty proved his win in the Jim Dandy was no fluke. Stay Thirsty threw off his red-headed stepchild sash in the shadow of Saratoga’s storied grandstands and never looked back. With the 3-year-old division title up for grabs, this Todd Pletcher trainee has every chance to keep moving up.
August 28, the Grade I Pacific Classic: Acclamation keeps on rolling.
Acclamation stayed hot under the pressure of a charging Twirling Candy to win his fourth race in a row, and his third back-to-back Grade I test. Rising from the ashes of a muddled past, Acclamation has turned into a different horse with maturity and is now poised as the best of the West. Can he keep that streak alive when he must inevitably travel East for the Breeders’ Cup?
September 3, the Grade I Woodward: Havre de Grace pulls a Rachel
With the older horse division wide-open in the East, it was all Havre de Grace in the Woodward. The 4-year-old filly flat-out embarrassed her foes with an easy win to become only the second female, after Rachel Alexandra, ever to win the historic race. With this win, Havre de Grace stamped herself as a threat for Horse of the Year honors, and must now defeat her rival Blind Luck to settle the score.