Halfway around the globe, however, the Dubai International Racing Carnival was off to a successful start without any worries about ice or snow. Mike de Kock, invading from South Africa, walked off with two wins on Thursday's opening night, including the opening round of the $200,000 Al Maktoum Challenge, sponsored by Shadwell.
In that feature, de Kock saddled Grand Emporium, winner of the 2,000 Guineas in South Africa. With Weichong Marwing in the irons, Grand Emporium was fourth coming into the stretch, gaining on the leaders. He got to the front with less than a sixteenth to go and won by 1 3/4 lengths. Kaneko, a Turkish runner, finished second with Jack Sullivan third.
The favorite, Tropical Star, never threatened despite the riding services of Frankie Dettori and finished 11th.
The Carnival culminates on Dubai World Cup Day, March 26. The Dubai Racing Club announced 989 horses have been nominated to the seven-race program, worth a total of more than $15 million in purse money.
In Hong Kong, the newly convened World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings Conference announced the top 50 horses in the world for 2004.
Ghostzapper, undefeated in 2004 and winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic, was at the top of the list and also ranked atop the world's milers (in a three-way tie with Australia's Lonhro and Britain's Rakti) and dirt horses. Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Smarty Jones topped the list of 3-year-olds. Ouija Board was ranked top filly or mare, Hong Kong star Silent Witness and Brazilian-bred, American-raced Pico Central tied for the title of top sprinter. Rule of Law, winner of the St. Leger, was named top stayer.
The WTRRC, convened under the auspices of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, superseded the International Classifications Conference, sponsored by the European Pattern Committee.
Silent Witness promptly validated his selection by winning Sunday's Group 1 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy at Sha Tin in Hong Kong. Posting his 14th win in 14 starts, Silent Witness went to the post at odds of 1-10, with the next-favorite listed at 33-1. Able Prince set the early pace but was no match for Silent Witness when winning jockey Felix Coetzee asked his mount to run. At the end, it was Silent Witness by 3/4 length over Country Music. "He hit the front early but he was always in control," Coetzee said.
The race was the initial leg of the Hong Kong sprint series and trainer Tony Cruz said he expects Silent Witness will move along to the next leg, the Centenary Sprint Cup on Feb. 27. The Chairman's Sprint Prize on April 3 completes that series.
In other weekend racing:
Whilly jumped right to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 San Marcos Stakes and never looked back. After leading all the way, the 4-year-old Irish-bred colt won by 1/2 length over Puppeteer. T.H. Approval was third in the 1 1/4-mile turf event, clocked in 2:00.68. Trainer Doug O'Neill said he hoped someone else would take the lead but instructed jockey Felipe Martinez: "Don't gear him down. If you get an easy lead, take it." He said Whilly may contest the San Luis Obispo on Feb. 19 and then head for Dubai. The favorite, License To Run, apparently let the license expire and finished fifth, beating only one horse. Jockey Garrett Gomez said the South American import is "adjusting slowly," adding he will let trainer Bobby Frankel "talk to him and see if Bobby can convince him to be a race horse."
Saint Afleet rallied from a stalking position in Sunday's $150,000 Palos Verde Handicap, got by the pace setter and edged clear to win by 3/4 length over Hombre Rapido. Bluesthestandard was third and the favorite, McCann's Mojave, finished last of eight, never in the mix. Saint Afleet, a 4-year-old son of Northern Afleet, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.15 with Patrick Valenzuela up. "It was a tough race today," said Valenzuela. "There were some old, tough veterans." Trainer Jeff Mullins said he may stretch Saint Afleet out to 7 furlongs for the San Carlos Handicap on Feb. 26.
Savorthetime tracked pace-setting Cologny until the sixteenth pole in Saturday's $100,000 First Lady Handicap, then went on by when asked by jockey John Velazquez and won by 2 1/2 lengths. Cologny held second and Ebony Breeze was along late to take third. Savorthetime, a 6-year-old daughter of Gilded Time, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.21. "This was an easy trip," said Velazquez. "Stalk the speed and chirp at her when it was time. Totally a piece of cake."
In Sunday's $60,000 Banshee Breeze Stakes for fillies and mares, Pampered Princess was headed by Isola Piu Bella at the top of the lane, but rallied to regain the lead and then outfinished Adobe Gold by a head. Isola Piu Bella, the favorite, flattened out to finish third. Pampered Princess, with Eddie Castro in the irons, ran 1 1/8 mile on a fast track in 1:51.25. Marty Wolfson, trains the top two finishers, said when he saw Isola Piu Bella's move off the turn, "I thought I was running for second, believe me." He said he hopes to keep his two fillies separate for now. Pampered Princess is a 5-year-old mare by Indian Charlie.
Sam Houston Race Park
Alumni Hall, the odds-on favorite, got the job done in Saturday's $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup, edging away in the late going to beat a stubborn Colonial Colony by 3/4 length. Toratora, who led early, stuck around for third-place money. Alumni Hall, a 6-year-old son of A.P. Indy, had Robby Albarado up for trainer Neil Howard. He got the 9 furlongs over a fast track in 1:51.10.
Academic Angel won Saturday's $50,000 Sam Houston Distaff Handicap, getting the better of a stretch duel with the favorite, Native Annie. The margin under the wire was a neck, with Bonnie J. completing the trifecta. Adademic Angel, ridden by Donnie Meche, was home in 1:46.14 after 1 1/16 mile.
Two Down Automatic won a long stretch battle with High Strike Zone in Saturday's $50,000 Sam Houston Sprint Handicap, getting home first by a head. Charming Socialite was third. Two Down Automatic, sent off as the favorite, completed 7 furlongs in 1:24.02, also with Donnie Meche up. He is a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Smoke Glacken.
Tampa Bay Downs
Electric Light lit the top line on the tote board after Saturday's $60,000 Pasco Stakes for 3-year-olds. The gray, Kentucky-bred son of Silver Ghost was trapped in traffic in the early going and had to swing out six-wide for room. When he got clear, the colt sprinted off to a 6 3/4-length win over Captain Lindsay. Dazzling Dr. Cevin was third. Electric Light ran the 7 furlongs in stakes-record time of 1:23.67 under Winston Thompson. Eric Hamelback, general manager of Live Oak Plantation, which owns the colt, said he is "Triple Crown nominated and we hope to be one of the many entrants from the Zito barn."
Shadow Cast took her time getting going in Saturday's $60,000 Truly Bound Handicap. But when Robby Albarado eased the 4-year-old Smart Strike filly outside for running room, she responded sharply and got home first, 1/2 length ahead of Family Business. Miss Confusion was a longshot third while the favorite, Storm's Darling, faded in the lane to finish fourth. Shadow Cast ran the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:44.09.
While points east were having weather problems, Hot Springs was a pleasant venue for a change. On Friday, Razor kicked things off at the site of Smarty Jones's 2004 spring preps by winning the $50,000 Dixieland Stakes for 3-year-olds with a nice stretch move. The Florida-bred son of Concorde's Tune raced near the front, worked through traffic to the lead and won off by 1 1/2 lengths over Smoke Smoke Smoke. Cherokee Path was third. The 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track took 1:05.16.
Saturday, Souris drew clear in the stretch run to win the $50,000 American Beauty Stakes for fillies and mares by 3 3/4 lengths over Saltwater Runner. Southern Surprise was a surprise third at 13-1 odds. Souris, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Defrere, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:10.83.
Hollywood Gone stole off to an easy lead in Saturday's $125,000 La Senora Handicap for New Mexico-bred 3-year-old fillies, then just held on to beat the favorite, Bay View Sue, by a head. My Desert Lady finished third. Hollywood Gone is a daughter of Gone Hollywood. She ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.30.
Virden sat just back of the early pace in Saturday's $40,000 Sun Devils Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then moved on pace-setting She Sings entering the final turn. In the stretch, Virden worked clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths. She Sings held second and Country Kat rallied from last to finish third, still well back of the first two. Virden, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Tactical Cat, ran 1 mile in 1:37.01.
In Sunday's $40,000 Rattlesnake Stakes for 3-year-olds, Lead for Speed used his speed to get the lead and then just held on after a long stretch battle to beat Scottsbluff by a nose. It was 11 lengths farther back to Night Gig in third. Lead for Speed, a Kentucky-bred son of Indian Charlie, ran 1 mile in 1:37.25.
News and Notes
Russell Baze's 8,834th career win Saturday at Golden Gate Fields moved him past the late Bill Shoemaker into second place on the list. Laffit Pincay Jr., retired in 2003 with a record 9,530 victories. Baze, 46, has been among the most active and most consistent of jockeys during the past decade.