While waiting to see if Empire Maker can give him his first Triple Crown win, trainer Bobby Frankel was a bicoastal force Monday, winning Grade I races at Belmont Park and Hollywood Park.
At Belmont, Frankel saddled Aldebaran for an upset win against 4-5 shot Congaree in the $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap. About two hours later, Frankel’s assistant, Humberto Ascanio, saddled Tates Creek -- and two more of their horses -- for a one-length win over favored Dublino in the $421,000 Gamely Handicap.
The Gamely was the first of three stakes on the holiday card at Hollywood. In the others, Redattore beat eight others in the $415,000 renewal of the stake; and Blazonry, a British import making his second U.S. start for trainer Kathy Walsh, won the $150,000 Laz Barrera Memorial.
Congaree, considered in some quarters to be the nation’s best older horse on dirt, had beaten Aldebaran twice before at Aqueduct, but ran sixth in the Met Mile. Ridden by Gary Stevens, Congaree broke awkwardly but had good early position on a sloppy track and took a brief lead at the top of the stretch. It was Congaree’s first loss in four starts at a mile on dirt.
“He was basically all-out at the quarter pole,” Stevens said. “I’m baffled.... I squeezed him at the three-eighths pole. He was running as well as he could. He just didn’t have it.”
Aldebaran, who races for the family of the late Stavros Niarchos, has won three of four starts -- at different tracks -- this year, the only loss coming against Congaree in the Carter Handicap. Ridden by Jerry Bailey, Aldebaran carried 119 pounds, five fewer than Congaree, and paid $10.80 as the third choice, hitting the wire in 1:33 1/5.
With intent, Aldebaran was next to last, nine lengths behind Najran, after the first half-mile.
“Jerry has learned to take him back a little farther than he has been,” Frankel said. “That’s what he wants to do. I had a real good feeling about him all day.”
Frankel is in the Racing Hall of Fame, but he’s winless in 11 Triple Crown races. He has finished second twice in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont, and with Empire Maker will try to foil Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid on June 7 in the Belmont.
Saarland finished second in the Met, beaten by a neck, and Peeping Tom was third.
"[Saarland] was flying on the outside,” Bailey said. “My horse ducked out when I hit him left-handed. I had to straighten him out real fast, and he gave me another surge, which was good enough to win.”
Tates Creek, with Pat Valenzuela aboard, rallied through the stretch of the Gamely for her first Grade I win. The 5-year-old mare, the oldest horse in the field, paid $9, running 1 1/8 miles on grass in 1:46 4/5 to give Frankel his sixth Gamely win and his ninth Grade I of the year. Tates Creek, owned by Khalid Abdullah, who also races Empire Maker, went over the $1 million mark in earnings with the winner’s purse share of $263,400.
Late money apparently poured in on Redattore, who went from 7-2 near post time to the 2-1 favorite in the Shoemaker. Ridden by Alex Solis, the Brazilian-bred is the oldest horse to win the race since Cyclotron, another 8-year-old, won the stake when it was called the Premiere Handicap in 1956. Ladies Din, also an 8-year-old, ran sixth in only his second start since last year’s Shoemaker win.
At Lone Star Park, trainer Cole Norman had a big day, winning the $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap with Pie N Burger, the $200,000 WinStar Distaff Handicap with Eagle Lake and the $100,000 Beck Auto Group Turf with That Tat. Pie N Burger, a 6-1 shot, was 2 3/4 lengths better than Bluesthestandard, who dead-heated for second with Maysville Slew. Eagle Lake, at 8-1, beat Little Treasure by 2 1/4 lengths.... Crowned King won the $200,000 U.S.A. Stakes at Lone Star.... At Churchill Downs, Cuvee won the $150,000 Kentucky Breeders’ Cup Stakes, and at Bay Meadows, Reba’s Gold won the $100,000 Seabiscuit Handicap.... Wild And Wicked, owned by Marilyn and David Randal of Fallbrook, and unbeaten in his only two starts, might run in the Belmont. Another possible is Outta Here, who worked five furlongs in :58 4/5 at Hollywood Park.