By the margin of a basketball field goal or a football two-point conversion, the Bluegrass State turned back the Sunshine State in the first-ever Thoroughbred "Great State Challenge" at Sam Houston Race Park in Texas.
The event was open to states whose horsemen's associations support the sponsoring National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Horses were awarded points at the rate of 10, 8, 6, 4 and 2 for finishing in the top five positions in the six races. Each race was worth $275,000 in purse money.
On the last spin of the calculators, Kentucky nudged into the lead with 4 points awarded when appropriately named Big Number finished fourth in the final race, the NTRA Great State Challenge Classic. Florida was not represented in that race. Maryland finished third in the competition with 29 points. California scored 21, Texas 12, Illinois 10, Washington and Indiana 9 each and Iowa and New York 1 each.
Continental Red, a California-bred, won the Classic by 1 length over pace-setting Pass Rush, then survived an objection resulting from some bumping in the stretch run. The stewards let the result stand, with Pickupspeed finishing third. The favored entry of Big Numbers and Easyfromthegitgo finished fourth and fifth, triggering big show payoffs for the non-bridge-jumpers.
Florida jumped off to an early lead as Elegant Designer came from far back to win the Juvenile Fillies. With Mario Pino up, the daughter of Suave Prospect came five-wide into the stretch and drew off to win by 2 lengths. She finished 7 furlongs in 1:23.48.
Crackup, A California-bred son of Distorted Humor, rated behind the early pace in the Juvenile before taking command in the stretch to win by 1 ¼ lengths over Supah Blitz. Cherokee's Boy was third. Crackup, bearing Tyler Baze, got the 7 furlongs in 1:22.73.
My Cousin Matt was too much for seven rivals in the Sprint. The Florida-bred son of Matty G hit the afterburners in the final furlong to win by 7 lengths over Dash for Daylight, with Deer Run third. My Cousin Matt ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.06.
Kentucky picked up its only win of the competition in the Distaff, as Take Charge Lady did the expected, beating three rivals easily. The margin was 3 ½ lengths over Mystic Lady, followed by Coastalota and Graceful Cat. With Prado in the irons, Take Charge Lady, a 3-year-old daughter of Dehere, finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.40 without being asked for her best.
La Reine's Terms gave Maryland a top score with a mild upset in the Turf. The 7-year-old son of Private Terms tracked the leaders and then outdueled Mystery Giver in the closing strides to win by ½ length. The favorite, Forbidden Apple, led briefly but faded to finish third. The 9 furlongs on firm turf went in 1:51.61.
In other weekend racing:
Thoroughbred racing's leading female rider, Julie Krone, Saturday scored the first stakes victory of her month-long riding comeback -- on a 52-1 shot. "I don't want to bring God into this or anything," Krone chirped after winning Saturday's $100,000 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes aboard Debonair Joe. "But sometimes you just feel grateful. Literally, while galloping out, I said, 'Thank you, God, so much for this.'"
Krone returned to the saddle Nov. 1 after a "retirement" of more than three years, sparked by injuries. She had been riding regularly at Southern California tracks since then. "It's fun to find a nut once in a while," Krone said. "When a longshot like this wins, it just goes to show you can't have any preconceived notions."
Debonair Joe, a 3-year-old son of Ole, broke near the back of the pack, moved up through the turn and wore down pace-setting F J's Place to win by ½ length. American System was third and defending champion Men's Exclusive was fourth. The favorite, Mellow Fellow, finished seventh.
Sunday, Madame Pietra chased the early pace and then went on to win the $70,000 Corona Handicap for fillies and mares by an easy 2 ½ lengths over Habibti. Wild Tickle was third. Sent off as the favorite, Madame Pietra finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.17 under Pat Valenzuela. She is a Florida-bred daughter of Roy.
Calder Race Course -- Grand Slam I
Eibar Coa rode three of the four winners in Saturday's Grand Slam I stakes, going to the front in each of the three events.
In the $100,000 Tropical Turf Handicap, Coa capped off the great day by hustling Krieger to the lead and had no trouble hanging on to beat Stokosky by 1 length, with Serial Bride third. Krieger, 4-year-old Lord At War colt trained by Joe Orseno, ran the 9 furlongs on a firm course in 1:47.02. "Today was a lucky day and everything went by way," said Coa. "I'm happy for that."
In the $100,000 Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap, Coa directed Built Up quickly to the fore and stayed there, defeating favorite Tour of the Cat by 1 length. Sea of Tranquility was third as the 7 furlongs went in 1:23.30. The story was similar in the $100,0000 My Charmer Handicap for fillies and mares at 9 furlongs on the grass. Wander Mom opened up a lead on the far turn and held on to win by a head over Strawberry Blonde with favorite Babae third. And Uruguayan import, Abuela Exther, was fourth. Wander Mom, a 4-year-old daughter of Maria's Mon, finished in 1:48.43.
The only stakes event Coa didn't win Saturday was the $100,000 Chaposa Springs Handicap for fillies and mares at 7 furlongs. Chispiski, with Julia Garcia in the irons, got a big lead in that event and just did hold on to win by a neck over Abundantly Blessed, with Away third. Platinum Tiara was sixth as the favorite and Coa finished seventh on Interest Only. Chispiski, a 3-year-old daughter of Appealing Skier, was clocked in 1:25.14. "She ran to the end. She didn't quit," said Garcia.
Ciento rolled from near the back of the pack to win Sunday's $125,000 Johnie L. Jamison Handicap by 1 ¾ lengths over Runmore Mema. Star Smasher was third in the 6 ½ furlong event for state-breds. Ciento, a son of Prospector Jones, ran six-wide into the stretch and got home in 1:17.21.
Premeditation launched a run at the leaders as the field turned for home in Saturday's $50,000 Sunland Park Yuletide Derby and won off by 1 ¾ lengths over Lou's Expectation. Pacer was third. Premeditation, a son of Afternoon Deelites out of the Jade Hunter mare Berga, was bred in Kentucky by the late Allen Paulson. He finished 6 ½ furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.01.
Snake Mountain took charge in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 Queen's County Handicap, scoring by 1 ¼ lengths over Docent. Cat's At Home finished third. Snake Mountain, a 4-year-old by A.P. Indy, ran the 1 3/16 mile in 1:56.84 under Jose Santos. "We fell into a good trip," said Santos. "He just relaxed on the backstretch. We had to go a little wide today but it doesn't matter. This horse keeps digging and digging." Trainer Jimmy Jerkins said Snake Mountain my resurface in the Aqueduct Handicap on Jan. 18.
Marc's Rainbow led all the way to a 2 ¾-length win in Sunday's $75,000 East View Stakes for NY-bred 2-year-old fillies. The daughter of Summer Squall, with Richard Migliore up, battled heavily favored Beautiful America through most of the race before drawing clear in the stretch. Combanchera was third. Marc's Rainbow ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:46.64. "I think she'll be a nice fit in open-company races over the winter here," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher.
Rock Slide won Sunday's $75,000 Tenacious Handicap in a head bob over Discreet Hero. Winning rider Robby Albarado took Rock Slide to the lead in the 1 1/16-mile event. Discreet Hero closed on the outside through the stretch and just missed. Both Albarado and Discreet Hero's rider, Willie Martinez, said they thought Discreet Hero had won the head bob. "I'm speechless," Martinez said. "I honestly thought I won the race." Rock Slide, a 4-year-old A.P. Indy colt, finished in 1:42.98.
Leslie's Love, with Shane Sellers singing all the right notes, came from behind the leaders to win Saturday's $60,000 Dr. A.B. Leggio Memorial by a neck over Lady of Peace. The former $25,000 claimer, a 5-year-old daughter of Combat Ready, ran the "about" 5 ½ furlongs over firm turf in 1:04.61. "I think she is one of the best turf sprinting fillies in the country," said winning owner Donald Foret.
Golden Gate Fields
El Dorado Shooter led from gate to wire in Saturday's $60,000 Oakland Handicap, winning by 1 length over the favorite, Halo Cat. Profound Secret finished third. El Dorado Shooter, a 5-year-old son of Man From Eldorado, atoned for a poor effort in the Cal Cup Sprint by running Saturday's 6 furlongs in 1:08.36. "The only reason he ran so bad last time," said winning trainer Cliff Delima, "was because he was soaking wet coming out of the receiving barn. I really should have scratched him." He said El Dorado Shooter will point for the Montclair Handicap at Golden Gate on Jan. 19.
Emily Ring sprinted clear in Saturday's $50,000 Holiday Inaugural Stakes and coasted home first, 3 lengths in front of Freefourracing. Don't Countess Out, the favorite in the 6-furlong event for fillies and mares, got home third, another 7 ¾ lengths behind. Emily Ring, a 4-year-old by Fit to Fight, finished in 1:11.72.
Raymond's Dream pressured the early leaders in Saturday's $50,000 Golden Triangle Stakes, took command on the turn and won by 2 ¼ lengths over Lake Charles. Long Leg Lou was third in the 6 ½-length race for fillies and mares and the favorite, Becky Virtue, struggled home fifth. Raymond's Dream is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Prospect Bay.
Colorful Tour found a hole on the inside turning for home in Saturday's $40,000 Demetri's Boy Stakes for IL-bred 3-year-olds and went on to win by 3 ½ lengths over Happiness. Garesche was far back in third. Colorful Tour, a son of Tour d'Or, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:46.54 for Randy Meier. Trainer P. Noel Hickey, lamenting a tough meeting at Hawthorne, noted the victory has "been a long time coming."
Crafty Guy jumped right out of the gate in Saturday's $40,000 Primer Stakes for 2-year-olds, clipped right along and crossed the wire first, 3 ½ lengths in front of Gators N Bears. Gimmeawink was third. Crafty Guy, a Kentucky-bred son of Crafty Prospctor, picked up his third win in four trips to the track, finishing the 6 furlongs in a quick 1:08.98.
Just Swell was just up in Saturday's $40,000 St. Nick Stakes for 2-year-olds, beating Creative's Dream by ½ length after 7 furlongs. Dan's Advantage was third. Just Swell, a South Carolina-bred son of Kokand, was clocked in 1:27.15.