Monday Morning Trainer: Puzzle pieces

- -

The action around the country added a few more pieces to the big puzzle that annually is the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

The juvenile races – turf and dirt, males and females – started to fill out a bit thanks to strong performances at Belmont Park, and a variety of other divisions landed bona fide contenders thanks to some compelling performances both in victory and defeat.

Since we live in such a “What have you done for me lately?” society, we might as well get things started with Sunday’s action, which featured a sweep by Chad Brown, yet another victory by an ageless star of the Todd Pletcher barn that did not carry Breeders’ Cup implications (most likely) and a bookend synthetic romp by a Bill Mott-trained sophomore filly.

Brown saddled his first Breeders’ Cup winner back in 2008 when Maram won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and he added a few contenders for that race and the male equivalent with victories at Belmont Park in Sunday’s Pilgrim and Miss Grillo.

Bobby’s Kitten, who posted an impressive victory on the Travers undercard, followed that up with a victory in the Grade 3 Pilgrim by 6 ¼ lengths. The win was the second in three starts for the son of (who else?) Kitten’s Joy, and secured him the Ken and Sarah Ramsey-owned colt a spot in the Grade 1 Juvenile Turf through the Breeders’ Cup “Win And You’re In” program.

Bobby’s Kitten showed a ton of early speed in his maiden win, essentially running off, but was more relaxed as the favorite in the Pilgrim. The colt’s stablemate and the race’s second choice, Shadow Banking, was second and also appears headed to Santa Anita in four weeks.

Brown, who swept the Pilgrim and Miss Grillo a year ago, wasn’t done with the opening graded stakes Sunday and added another Miss Grillo victory as French import Testa Rossi came from last to win by a nose over Sky Painter.

– Racing fans who constantly grumble about with horses retiring too early for their liking must have been thrilled watching Sunday’s seventh race at Belmont, the almost appropriately named Duck Dance Stakes.

The reason for that approval? How about a 23rdcareer victory for the ageless Caixa Eletronica?

The 8-year-old Arromanches horse added the $100,000 Duck Dance to his win earlier this season in the Uncle Mo at Aqueduct and was his fourth win in eight starts in 2013. For the record he’s got a record of 68-23-9-11 and a bankroll of $1,848,505.

Oh, and about Duck Dance. He was a star of the Hobeau Farm-Allen Jerkens juggernaut of the 1970s and won 11 of 13 starts, including several sprint stakes on the New York circuit.

– Keeneland opened its rich fall meeting Friday (with a dynamite performance by My Conquestadory in the Darley Alcibiades) and saw the weekend capped with a powerful victory by Juddmonte’s Emollient in the Juddmonte Spinster.

The buzz on Emollient started strong last spring when she blitzed the field in the Grade 1 Ashland and will undoubtedly pick up with her latest tour de force on Keeneland’s Polytrack. The versatile 3-year-old Empire Maker filly bounced back from a loss in the Grade 1 Garden City last time out on turf with a 1 ¼-length over elders in the Spinster.

Not exactly in the true essence of an “on-again, off-again” type, Emollient does follow losses with a victory in each of her career starts, giving her five wins in 10 career tries.

Raves about the temperate conditions for Friday’s opening-day card were quelled quite a bit Saturday as the skies opened up and the fans hit the exits before the last couple of the five stakes were run Saturday.

One of those races was the Shadwell Turf Mile, expected to be Wise Dan’s for the taking until an interesting sequence of events led to the race moved from the grass to the Polytrack and Silver Max go gate-to-wire in an upset of the defending Shadwell winner and Horse of the Year.

The story behind the naming of Silver Max is neat and the 4-year-old Badge of Silver colt is even cooler when he’s right.

Trainer Dale Romans said he mismanaged Silver Max late last year, leading to a string of defeats that extended into this year, but he’s got him right and possible on the path to the Breeders’ Cup Mile. The Shadwell went from a Grade 1 turf stakes and a WAYI race for the Breeders’ Cup to a Grade 2 race on the main track, without an automatic berth for the Breeders’ Cup Mile when track management, listening to Keeneland’s jockey colony, moved it off the turf.

Charlie LoPresti and John Velazquez were diplomatic in talking about Wise Dan’s loss, saying Silver Max “won fair and square,” with the caveat that “he just got loose on the front end.”

Wise Dan can certainly be forgiven for the loss, which followed nine straight wins going back to August 2012.

Bashart, winner of back-to-back starts at Saratoga over an 11-day span, saw that brief win streak come to an end at the hands of streaking track Wayne Catalano in the Bourbon Stakes. Originally scheduled for the turf going the same 1 1/16-mile distance and a WAYI race, the Bourbon was run on Polytrack and won by the 23-1 Poker Player.

– The Grade 1 juvenile stakes at Belmont Saturday – the Champagne and Frizette – yielded at two serious Breeders’ Cup contenders apiece if all four head West for their respective races.

The Champagne and Frizette were similar in that both featured deserving and classy winners in Havana and Artemis Agrotera, respectively, and strong runner-ups in Honor Code and Sweet Reason, respectively. Starting with the latter, it’s hard to sort out which runner-up was better, but we’ll give the nod to Sweet Reason just because of the tough trip.

The Street Sense filly, so professional in her Spinaway and maiden wins at Saratoga, ducked in bad at the star, dropped back to last and was out of the race through the early stages. Alex Solis never panicked, stayed patient and sliced his way through the field, catching all his rivals except the winner.

Speaking of the winner, we remember her as one of the worst-kept secrets at the Saratoga meet when she won her debut the day before the Alabama Stakes for Mike Hushion. Never one to tout his horses too much, Hushion said after she won by 11 ¾ lengths in her debut that the barn was “expecting it” from the New York-bred Roman Ruler filly. Not sure if he was expecting as strong an effort in the Frizette but he got it.

Havana, the second most expensive horse sold at this year’s Barretts March 2-year-olds in training sale, handled the jump from a 5 ½-furlong maiden at Saratoga to the 1-mile Champagne. The Dunkirk colt, who could have been bought for $50,000 at last fall’s Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling sale before selling for $575,000 at Barretts, held off Honor Code by a diminishing neck to win the Champagne in 1:35.81.

Honor Code, who lost contact with the field in his debut before storming to victory in the slop at Saratoga, was way back again early and was widest of all in the eight path as he finished second. Trainer Shug McGaughey said he wasn’t sure about the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, hinting that the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct might be another option for the A.P. Indy colt.

Pletcher acknowledged that “it’s a long way from a 5 ½-furlong maiden to a Grade 1” but also indicated the Juvenile was next for Havana.

“He’ll improve off this race,” said Pletcher, winning the Champagne for the fifth time. “Santa Anita [and] two turns should suit him well.”