In Saturday's $350,000 Jim Murray Memorial at Hollywood Park Rhythm Mad was both good and fortunate.
After tracking the pace through most of the 1 1/2-mile turf feature, the 4-year-old French-bred colt got to the outside for the stretch run and collared Continental Red in time to win by a neck. The son of King's Theater finished in 2:26.73 in an early test for this fall's $2 million John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf.
While Continental Red wasn't good enough at the end, the third-place finisher, Gassan Royal, may just have lacked good fortune. Caught behind Rhythm Mad and Continental Red at the key juncture, Gassan Royal got home 1/2 length behind Continental Red.
Commenting of Rhythm Mad's reversal of a second-place finish in the San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita last month, trainer Bruce Headley said, "In a smaller field, it was easier to stay out of traffic. ... He was trapped a little bit last time, had to check at the head of the stretch. This time, he had clear sailing."
But Gassan Royal's conditioner, Bobby Frankel, said the size of the field didn't work to his horse's advantage. Frankel said his jockey, Javier Santiago, "was trying to weave through them with a horse that needs time to get going."
In the co-featured $150,000 Los Angeles Times Handicap, Pohave was always close to the lead, put in his bid on the turn and edged clear to win by 1 length over the favorite, Marino Marini. Summer Service was well back in third.
Pohave, a 6-year-old Holy Bull gelding, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.12 for Jon Court. He is trained by Doug O'Neill.
Also Saturday, Even the Score used a pace-stalking trip to capture the $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap by 2 lengths over Ender's Shadow. Total Impact, led for much of the way but faded to finish third and the favorite, Olmodavor, was never in the mix and got home fourth of eight.
Even the Score, a 6-year-old son of Unbridled's Song from the Rahy mare Ashtabula, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:40.81. "I would think that the (Hollywood) Gold Cup would be the target," said winning jockey David Flores. The $750,000 Gold Cup is scheduled for July 10.
Sunday, Victory Encounter upset the $250,000 Vanity Handicap, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over last fall's Breeders' Cup Distaff champ, Adoration. Star Parade was third. Victory Encounter sat behind Adoration and Star Parade during the early stages of the race, then got through on the rail as the pace duo tired. She finished in 1:48.28. Winning jockey Alex Solis said Victory Encounter "broke really good and, as soon as I got to drop in, she was able to relax a little bit -- a lot more, in fact, than I wanted her to." But he said when he asked her, Victory Enounter "gave me a nice kick."
In other weekend racing:
Smarty Jones apparently will have at least nine opponents Saturday as he tries to nail down the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.
Pimlico officials also list as likely starters four other rivals who also ran in the Kentucky Derby -- runner-up Lion Heart, Imperialism (third), The Cliff's Edge (fifth) and Borrego (10th). In addition, Eddington and Rock Hard Ten, who did not have enough earnings to crack the Derby field, are scheduled to run Saturday.
New shooters include Sir Shackleton, winner of the Derby Trial; Water Cannon, winner of the local Federico Tesio Stakes; and Little Matth Man, winner of the Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct.
Smarty Jones is stabled at Philadelphia Park and due to arrive at Pimlico Wednesday. His owners, Roy and Patricia Chapman, will receive a $5 million bonus check Monday from Oaklawn Park owner Charles Cella for winning the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, then the Kentucky Derby. The Pennsylvania-bred colt would win another $5 million bonus from VISA if he wins the Preakness and the final jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.
A B Noodle put away Hippogator on the second turn in Saturday's $125,000 Yerba Buena Breeders' Cup Handicap, then took charge into the stretch and won by 3 lengths in a mild upset. Marwood was second and Hooked on Niners third. The favorite, Arabic Song came from last to be fourth. A B Noodle, a 5-year-old son of 1996 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup, ran the "about" 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.66.
With a quarter mile to go in Saturday's $175,000 Nassau County Breeders' Cup Stakes, Bending Strings ranged up on the outside in a four-filly chorus line -- briefly. Then, under urging from jockey Jerry Bailey, the American Chance filly quickly took charge and ran off to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Grey Traffic, who contested the early pace as the pari-mutuel favorite, held on for second and A Lulu Ofa Menifee came from the back of the six-filly field to take third. The 7 furlongs went in 1:22.70. "Jerry rode her great and it turned out well," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who took charge of Bending Strings when she was shipped from California by owner John Gunther. "I think she will go a little farther. We'll look at the Acorn because we think she is a top filly."
Also Saturday, after favorite Shake You Down stumbled and was bumped at the break, Canadian Frontier romped home a 3 3/4-lengths winner in the $100,000 Bold Ruler Handicap at odds of 20-1. Key Deputy was second and First Blush third. Canadian Frontier, a 5-year-old son of Gone West, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.97. Shake You Down, one of the nation's top sprinters, was taken up sharply after the bad break, came wide from his inside post position and was unable to recover from the mishap.
Sunday, Bear Fan found running room on the rail when she needed it and went on to post a 5-length victory in the $150,000 Genuine Risk. Harmony Lodge was second and Kitty Knight third. "I was just there for the ride," said winning rider John Velazquez. "I gave her a chance during the first part and was happy with my trip." Bear Fan, a 5-year-old Pine Bluff mare, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08 4/5.
Twisted Wit endured an outside trip to win Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Queenston Stakes for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds by 2 1/2 lengths. A Bit O'Gold was second and Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk was third. Twisted Wit, a gelded son of Distorted Humor, got the best of a four-way pace battle on the turn and then held off a late run by A Bit O'Gold. "I was expecting a good race from him today," said winning trainer Bob Tiller. "We tried to get him to relax and he ran his race. He was A-Okay today." The Queenston is the second of five Woodbine preps for the June 27 Queen's Plate. Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk won the first of them, the April 24 Woodstock, but had trouble with an off track in the Queenston. Remaining preps are the Marine on May 22, the Plate Trial on June 6 and the Victoria Park Stakes on June 13.
Sunday, Eye of the Sphynx went right to the front in the $150,000 (Canadian) Fury Stakes, fought off a bid from Silver Bird and went on to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Silver Bird held second and My Vintage Port was third. Eye of the Sphynx, who won her first career start at Keeneland only last month, ran the 7 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:23.32. and now has an eye on the Labatt Woodbine Oaks on June 13.
Fire Slam caught Cuvee a furlong out in Saturday's $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes for 3-year-olds and went on to win by an impressive 5 1/4 lengths. Cuvee, after running a quarter in 20.68 seconds and a half in 43.69, held second and Hasselfree was third. Fire Slam, a son of Grand Slam, improved over his second-place finish in the Coolmore Lexington at Keeneland last time out and finished the 6 furlongs in 1:09.64. Pat Day turned in the winning ride for trainer David Carroll. "The fractions make the race and when they run as fast as they did up front, it's going to set up for a fast race," Day said. He said Fire Slam has an "explosive" run for about 3/16 of a mile. "You just need to bide your time and time your move so that he's running through the wire."
Lone Star Park
Beau's Town won a three-way battle for the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Ford Express, then worked clear at the quarter pole and held on to win by 1 1/4 length. That Tat came from behind the pace duel to finish second and Gold Storm held third, 4 1/4 lengths farther back. Beau's Town, a 6-year-old, Arkansas-bred gelding by Beau Genius, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:07.89 over the track that will host this year's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
Only At Night stole Saturday night's $60,000 Mamie Eisenhower Stakes on the front end, leading all the way. With David Essman aboard, the 5-year-old daughter of Olympio got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.79. Sharky's Review was second and One Fine Shweetie finished third. "She keeps getting a little stronger every time, but she has short legs," said winning trainer Suzanne Evans. "She tries hard. She had a better place on the track tonight."
Western Ransom came off the rail on the turn in Saturday's $50,000 Hilltop Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, scampered by pace-setting Star of Anziyan and rolled home first, 3/4 length in front of Art Fan. Star of Anziyan held third. Western Ransom, trained by Michael Dickinson, finished the 1 1/16 mile on the grass in 1:43.22. Dickinson said he told jockey Ryan Fogelsonger, "'The owner doesn't want you on the lead and I don't want you last.' So he had a fairly big window of opportunity there."
Max Forever missed the break, moved up to striking distance around the far turn and just got up at the wire to nip Private Lap for the win in Saturday's $50,000 Quick Card Stakes. Country Be Gold was third. Max Forever, a 4-year-old Montbrook colt, ran the 1-mile on a fast track in 1:36.62. "Other than walking out of the gate, we got a real good trip," said winning rider Jeremy Rose.