The Monday Special – June 15

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It not often that any barn runs horses in Grade 1 stakes in back-to-back weekends, let alone a barn with just 40 horses. For trainer George Weaver that was just the tip of the iceberg over the last week.

An exciting seven-day run for the barn started last weekend when Vekoma romped to a 7 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Runhappy Carter Handicap at Belmont Park only an hour after Up In Smoke won the Game Face Stakes at Gulfstream Park for her fourth victory in five starts. The following day the barn nearly added a third stakes victory when Majestic Dunhill finished second by a head in the First Defence Stakes at Belmont.

Majestic Dunhill’s narrow loss was a sign of things to come this past weekend.

Weaver nearly added a second Grade 1 Saturday when Point Of Honor ran in the Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont. The Curlin filly just ran out of time to get her nose in front and finished second to She’s A Julie.

Even with the seconds Weaver was excited about how his horses performed.

“It’s been a real exciting week for the whole team,” he said. “My wife Cindy and our staff and our owners, of course, have put so much into both these horses and it’s been a really exciting week. It’s not often we get to run in G1s with horses this good so we feel blessed to have two good horses in our barn and go out there and try so hard for us.”

Vekoma’s victory was the first Grade 1 Weaver posted since Lighthouse Bay’s win in the 2013 Prioress Stakes. The Carter win meant more to Weaver than ending that dry spell. In Weaver’s barn since his debut, Vekoma has become a barn favorite over the last two years.

“He’s just a cool horse,” Weaver said. “He’s always been very special and has tons of talent. He’s always been kind of a freaky horse. It didn’t surprise me that he did that but I was getting goose bumps as he drew away down there. It was just an impressive race to watch and in some ways I’m proud to watch him run just like a father watching his son. We’ve had him in the barn now for a few years and I’m just so happy to see him go over there and perform like that.”

Weaver’s team hoped for another Vekoma-like performance in the Ogden Phipps. Point Of Honor again ran out of ground to finish second, her fourth second or third in a Grade 1 in four tries. After she closed on the winner Weaver believes if the wire had come just a stride or two later, Point Of Honor would have ended her dry spell.

“I was hoping the wire was going to come up a little later than it did,” he said. “It was just another stride that we would have had our nose in front. You can see visually just how determined she was to get her nose in front and it just didn’t happen by the time the wire got there. But she gave 110 percent as I knew she would, she has always been that way in every one of her races. We finished second and got second-place money but as far as I’m concerned, she’s a winner at heart. It was very exciting to watch.”

All four stakes performances point to an exciting few months ahead with more high-level appearances to come. Vekoma is penciled in for the Grade 1 Met Mile July 4 but the trainer said if that race comes up too soon, Saratoga will be the next place the colt races. Weaver said both the Grade 1 Alfred Vanderbilt Handicap and Forego Stakes are next in line with the ultimate goal the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November.

Up In Smoke could join Vekoma if the latter runs at Saratoga. The filly has won all but one outing and Weaver feels she deserves a chance at graded stakes competition. There’s a chance that she made more than one start at the meet in the Test Stakes and Prioress but it all depends on how the yet-to-be-released stakes schedule turns out.

Point Of Honor’s immediate goal is for that elusive Grade 1 victory. While Saratoga is the obvious first choice, Weaver said that he isn’t opposed to sending her to other parts of the country if that’s what it takes.

“Our main goal would be to take whatever path is necessary to win a Grade 1 this year,” he said. “We’re going to look at the stakes schedule at Saratoga once it comes out and look at other places around the country. When we think she’s doing well and there’s a Grade 1 race she has a chance to win we’re going to run her.”

While Weaver is already making plans, he’s also taking the opportunity to enjoy having multiple top-class horses in his stable.

“I love all of [the horses] and we treat all of them with love and respect and take care of them,” he said. “But we have such appreciation for the good ones when they come along. They’re just very special animals and we just feel grateful to have them.”

Maiden Winner of the Week: Making her debut at the track where her sire had his biggest success, My Girl Red became Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red’s first winner Sunday in the second race at Santa Anita Park.

Owned and bred by Texas Red’s co-owner, Erich Brehm, and trained by the stallion’s former trainer, Keith Desormeaux, My Girl Red was primed for a big debut. The filly bolted out of the gate in the 4 1/2-furlong race and entered a duel with Jeanne B almost immediately. With Flavien Prat aboard, My Girl Red looked to be racing easily as she pulled away from Jeanne B. Miss Baylee made a late run in the stretch but couldn’t catch the winner.

Out of Grade 1 Spinaway fourth Morakami, the filly is a half sister to Smarty Jones winner Gold Street and Grade 3 Longacres Mile third Oh Marvelous Me among three stakes horses. Passed in for $70,000 as a yearling, My Girl Red has already paid her dam’s purchase price back to Brehm with the owner paying just $21,000 for Morakami at the 2017 Keeneland January horses of all ages sale.

Stakes of the Week: In a weekend that saw only three graded stakes contested, the races did nothing by entertain with the winners all decided by a head or less.

Saturday night at Churchill Downs, Admission Office was able to nab his first stakes victory in 10 attempts when sticking his head in front in the Grade 3 Louisville under the twin spires. Running over 1 1/2 miles on the turf, the Brian Lynch trainee was making his fourth start of the year and seemed prime for a big effort after registering two bullets in his last four works.

The Amerman Racing-homebred was the last to load and quickly angled toward the rail from his outside post to race in midpack. Lombo set an easy pace up front that let everyone gallop during the early part of the race with no real pressure on any runner.

Racing next to favorite Arklow throughout, Admission Office started his move to get closer to the pace as Tiz A Slam took over entering the far turn. The winner went widest of all around the turn but that worked out well for him as he took the lead when they raced into the stretch. With a furlong left to go, Admission Office had to dig down deep as Arklow found a seam on the rail and challenged for the lead but the 4-year-old wasn’t going down without a fight.

Admission Office lost the lead for a few strides but was able to get his nose back in front just in time and cross the line a head in front of Arklow.

Registering his fourth career victory with seven other on-the-board finishes in 14 starts, Admission Office became the third graded stakes winner for Point Of Entry after previously being one of 15 stakes horses for the Adena Springs stallion.

Sire Of The Week: One of the top stallions for more than a decade, Galileo secured his superiority on Saturday when Irish One Thousand Guineas winner Peaceful became his 85th individual Group/Grade 1 winner, the most Group 1 winners of any stallion.

Passing his sire Sadler’s Wells mark of 74 top level winners in October 2018, the Coolmore stalwart then had Danehill’s mark of 84 Grade/Group 1 winners to catch. He managed to tie that mark only a year later when Magic Wand registered a well-earned first Group 1 victory in Australia’s Mackinnon Stakes last November.

It was always known Galileo would likely have to wait until 2020 to break the record but COVID-19 cancelations forced him to wait a little longer with European racing not truly getting started until a few weeks ago. While Love gave him a Guineas win last weekend, she had already won a Group 1 as a 2-year-old so it came down to this weekend’s Irish classic.

Peaceful was one of four winners on the card for the 22-year-old Galileo, who showed his prowess as a sire-of-sires as the grandsire of one other winner on the card.

Jump Horse of the Week: Steeplechase racing fans celebrated the belated return in the U.S. Saturday at the Middleburg Spring Races, which featured the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey Handicap. Perhaps Sean Clancy’s piece on jockey Mikey Mitchell was good luck or perhaps Jack Fisher just had Moscato ready to run, regardless the 9-year-old gelding impressed when romping to a defense of his title in the feature.

Not afraid to sit off a hot pace set by Iranistan, Moscato was more than 17 lengths behind the leader at one point in the 2 1/2-mile race with runner-up Belisarius more than 20 lengths behind at the same point. But when it was time to get serious, Mitchell’s comment that the gelding was coming in fit and ready to go rang true.

Moscato didn’t give anyone else a chance to even attempt to fight for the lead, bolting away from the field to win by an easy 11 lengths over Belisarius, who also finished second behind him at Middleburg in 2019.

Moscato won this race by 3 1/2 lengths in 2019 before finishing third in a pair of Grade 1s in four starts that season.

Handicapper’s Report: John Shapazian led The Saratoga Special’s handicappers for the weekend with 10 winners from the 30 races at Belmont, Churchill and Santa Anita. John picked three apiece at Belmont and Churchill and four at Santa Anita to raise his spring season total to 77-for-234 (32.9 percent).

Rob Whitlock used a strong showing at Churchill – picking five of the 11 winners, including the opening four races – and finished the day 9-for-30. He improved to 59-for-234 (25.2 percent) and remains in fourth on the standings.

Charles Bedard cut into Tom Law in second with eight winners Saturday. Charles improved to 67-for-234 (28.6 percent). Tom managed only seven winners and sits at 71-for-234 (30.3 percent) on the season.

The handicappers will be back Saturday in the third digital edition of The 2020 Special, featuring the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes.

Quote of the Week: “He’s a really cool horse. He’s not the biggest horse. He’s small compared to most of the horses in this race, but he likes to run.”

Jeremiah Englehart on Captain Bombastic, winner of Sunday’s Mike Lee Stakes at Belmont.

Bits and Pieces: Juddmonte homebred Siskin stayed undefeated Friday with a 1 3/4- length victory in the Group 1 Tattersalls Irish Two Thousand Guineas. The First Defence colt is bred extremely similarly to Juddmonte’s champion Close Hatches – by her sire and out of a half-sister to her dam. … The American-bred and owned Crossfirehurricane looks like he’s on his way to the Group 1 Irish Derby in a few weeks after a win in the Group 3 Coolmore Ten Sovereigns Gallinule at the Curragh. The Kitten’s Joy son was bred by Glen Hill Farm and Scott Heider and is still owned by Heider.