Sunday's Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup, a worthy goal in its own right as the final major international event of the year, also became a potential preview for the first major race of 2008 as Godolphin Racing's Ramonti emerged triumphant.
Ramonti, a 5-year-old horse by Martino Alonso, came to challenge early leader Viva Pataca at the top of the stretch at Sha Tin racecourse and went on to win by a 1/2 length. It was the fourth win of the year for Ramonti, who also has captured the Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot, the Sussex at Goodwood and the Queen Elizabeth II at Ascot.
Indications are, he now will be pointed for the Dubai World Cup in March -- the home court for Godolphin.
"It was his first time over 10 furlongs," said winning jockey Frankie Dettori, who won the Hong Kong event for the third time. "He was a bit keen because of the slow pace. But when I set him alight, I knew it would take a very good one to get past him. He's one of the best."
Racing Manager Simon Crisford said Godolphin bought Ramonti after last year's Hong Kong Mile "in the hope that he would develop into the Godolphin mold of an international horse."
Now, Crisford said, "He'll have an entry for the 10-furlong Dubai World Cup on the sand. With hindsight, we made a good decision to miss the Breeders' Cup for this race. It has paid dividends today."
Mick Kinane, who rode Viva Pataca, said: "The slow pace was the problem. It was no help to me at all. I had some trouble in the straight but it was really the lack of pace that was his undoing."
The Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase proved a disappointment for favorite Dylan Thomas, who struggled home seventh of 13 as Doctor Dino took the top honors. After being caught in traffic down the backstretch, jockey Olivier Peslier moved Doctor Dino to the leaders late in the stretch run and prevailed by 1 1/2 lengths over Quijano. Bussoni was third, a neck farther back.
"You need luck in running," said winning trainer Richard Gibson, "and things didn't look good early in the straight. But when you have the likes of Olivier Peslier riding for you, then you don't worry."
Noting the Vase was Doctor Dino's first trip at a mile and a half, Gibson added: "Who knows what's next? If he comes out of this fine, then Dubai is a possible."
Dylan Thomas' trainer, Aidan O'Brien, noted his steed has had "a long, hard season and got caught in quarantine for a long time."
Sacred Kingdom, a 4-year-old, Australian-bred gelding now trained in Hong Kong, picked up his third straight victory in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint, defeating last year's winner, Absolute Champion, by 2 1/4 lengths. Royal Delight finished third, providing a sweep for the locals in a race dominated by the home team for the past six years.
Sacred Kingdom sat behind the early pace and easily ran past the leaders in the stretch when asked by jockey Gerald Mosse. "Coming off the final bend, I had all the horse in the world but not the room," Mosse said. "Once we found the gap -- boom!"
Trainer Ricky Yiu said Sacred Kingdom has "proved he is one of the best sprinters in the world … It would be nice to take him overseas at some point but there are big races to go for in Hong Kong first."
Godolphin almost got a second winner on the day with Creachadoir in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile -- losing on the wire to locally based Good Ba Ba with the French filly Darjina, third.
Dettori sent Creachadoir to the lead as the early pace-setters faded. But jockey Olivier Doleuze then attacked in the final yards aboard Good Ba Ba and just got there in time.
"The thing with him is not to hit the front too soon," said Doleuze. "He has such great acceleration and he gives you everything in the finish just like he did there."
Trainer Andreas Schutz said Good Ba Ba "was trained for this race and it's great to bring it off … We might think about sending him for the Breeders' Cup next year (at Santa Anita)." Meantime, he said, the Champions Mile next April back in Hong Kong might be another goal.
In U.S. weekend racing:
Z Humor, coming off a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and Turf War, coming in from Canada, dead-heated for the win in Friday night's $1 million Boyd Gaming's Delta Jackpot -- Louisiana's richest race. Golden Yank, caught between horses in deep stretch, finished third and an objection by jockey Gerard Melancon was to no avail. Z Humor, a Kentucky-bred colt by Distorted Humor, was always close to the honest pace. Turf War, a Dixie Union colt, came from the clouds, then was eight-wide through the final turn as Golden Yank took an inside path. The final furlong featured some tight quarters and bumping among the trio before Z Humor and Turf War got home a neck in front of Golden Yank. The final time for the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track was 1:45.43. Bill Mott trains Z Humor and Mark Casse handles Turf War. "I really thought I got beat," Z Humor's jockey, Calvin Borel, told TVG. "I've raced here all my life. But I got hung wide and I thought I cost my horse the race." Garret Gomez said his mount, Z Humor, "ran a very good race. Bill has done a terrific job. We knew he was talented enough for this field but he had to prove it."
In the companion $300,000 Boyd Gaming's Delta Princess Powered by Youbet.com, By the Light remained undefeated, coasting home a 5 1/4-lengths winner over Miss Missile. Lady On Holiday checked in third. By the Light, a New York-bred daughter of Malibu Moon, ran the 1 mile in 1:40.21 for jockey Rafael Bejarano. Dick Dutrow Jr. trains.
Sunriver, ignoring the slightly damp turf and benefiting from some traffic problems behind him, rolled to an easy, 2 3/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup. Champs Elysees, trapped on the rail when he needed to run, finished second as the favorite and Spring House collected show money. The 1 1/2 miles on "good" turf went in 2:27.07 and Garrett Gomez rode the winner. Sunriver, a 4-year-old Saint Ballado colt, finished third in last year's Belmont Stakes. Since trainer Todd Pletcher shifted him to the green course, he is 3-for-6, including Saturday's win. "I left the ride up to Garrett," Pletcher said. "We felt like we could very well be on the lead, but we weren't intent on having it. It worked out that we were." Julien Leparoux, who rode Champs Elysees, said his mount "had a good race. But the winner was in front and I was behind some horses who weren't going anywhere."
In Saturday's $100,000 Native Diver Handicap, Heatseeker came four-wide into the stretch to challenge the leaders, then went on to score a 30-1 upset win by 1 1/4 lengths over Racketeer. Isipingo was third and the favorite, Ravel, got home fourth. Heatseeker, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred colt by Giant's Causeway, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in a course-record 1:47.23 under Michael Baze. Heatseeker now is 5-for-12 lifetime.
Sunday, Lady Gamer led most of the way to a 3/4-length win in the $65,000 Playa del Rey Stakes for fillies and mares. You Are the Answer came up short with a late run. Selvatica finished third after prompting the pace. Lady Gamer, a 4-year-old, California-bred filly by Game Plan, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.99 with Garrett Gomez in the irons.
Evening Attire, a 9-year-old Black Tie Affair gelding, came alongside pace-setter Barcola in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 Queens County Handicap and prevailed by a head after a long duel to the wire. The favorite, Hunting, was third, 3 lengths back. Evening Attire, with Edgar Prado up for trainer Patrick Kelly, ran the 1 3/16 miles in 2:58.01 on a fast track.
In Sunday's $75,000 Damon Runyan Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-olds, Giant Moon battled for the lead until deep stretch, then drew clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Spanky Fischbein pressed the pace until late, then held on for second with Alexandros finishing third. Giant Moon, a son of Giant's Causeway, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the inner track in 1:46.07. Ramon Dominguez rode for trainer Richard Schosberg.
Hawthorne Race Course
Link to My Heart, the most experienced of 11 2-year-old fillies in the field, rallied through the stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante by 1 1/4 lengths over Apple Martini. The favorite, Carabella, ran third. Link to My Heart, an Illinois-bred daughter of Stravinsky, out of the Sky Classic mare Sky Link, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:47.14. Eusebio Razo Jr. rode for trainer Chris Block.
Executive Choice stalked the pace in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Sir Barton Stakes, got the lead at the top of the stretch and drew off to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Archers Alyancer. Dancer's Bajan finished third and the favorite, Arch Hall, settled for sixth. Executive Choice, a 6-year-old gelding by Birdonthewire, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.85 under James McAleney. "He was very, very happy," said McAleney. "It was like playing with a loaded gun. Aim and shoot."
In Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Valedictory Stakes, Torquay took charge turning for home and easily drove home a 3 1/2-lengths winner over Tap Show. Encinas finished third. Torquay, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Deputy Commander, completed the 1 3/4-mile marathon on the all-weather track in 3:01.08 with Eurico Da Silva riding.
Wednesday, Krz Exec caught Tip Toe Annie in the final jumps to win the $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Lassie Stakes by a head. It was another 2 3/4 lengths back to Salomea in third. The race was rescheduled from the canceled Dec. 2 program. Despite winning the South Ocean Stakes in her last start, Krz Exec went off at 15-1 odds in the Lassie and paid $32.70 straight when she got home in 1:46.19 under Jerry Baird. "We made a nice run. She knows how to win," said Baird.
Golden Gate Fields
La Mina got clear in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Corte Madera Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and rolled home a 2 1/2-lengths winner over Christmas Ship. Ice Lady was third and the favorite, Sky Mystic, finished fourth. La Mina, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Mineshaft, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:38.07 under Carlos Gonzalez.
Tampa Bay Downs
Royal Regan started last of 10 in Saturday's $65,000 Lightning City Stakes for fillies and mares, advanced down the backstretch and came wide into the stretch. In the stretch drive, the 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Royal Academy filly ranged up outside the leaders and went on to win by 1 length. Bucky's Prayer was second, a head in front of Message of a Myth. Royal Regan ran the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.61 seconds with Pedro Cotto Jr. in the irons.
In Louisiana Champions Day races Saturday, with each race except the Classic worth $100,000:
Ahead of Her Time led most of the way to a popular, 11 1/2-lengths domination of the Ladies Stakes. Ridden out, the Leestown filly finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.77 with Shaun Bridgmohan up. Tensas Yucatan was second and Tar Pot was another 8 3/4 lengths back in third as the photo-finish camera got a rest.
Superior Storm got the lead turning for home in the Lassie Stakes for juvenile fillies and won off by 3 1/2 lengths over Hisse. The favorite, Claudia Bertha, was all out to hold on for third money after her late rally fell short. Superior Storm, a daughter of Stormy Atlantic, got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.63 under John Jacinto.
Willist stayed close to the pace in the Turf Stakes, took over on the stretch turn and got home first by 1 3/4 lengths over Wildrally. The odds-on favorite, Desert Wheat, rallied from last to finish third, a neck farther back. Willist, a 4-year-old Dance Brightly gelding, ran 1 1/6 miles on firm footing in 1:44.18. Robby Albarado had the mount.
Star Guitar played the right tune in the Juvenile Stakes, rallying on the outside in the stretch run to score by 1 1/2 lengths over Cubera. Pantara Phantom was third. Star Guitar, a Quiet American colt, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.18 with Curt Borque up.
Carl's Frosty Girl captured the Ladies Sprint with a pace-stalking effort and a winning stretch bid. At the wire, the 4-year-old Pulling Punches filly was 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Calmed, with favorite Ida Marie third. The 6 furlongs went in 1:10.67 and John Jacinto rode the winner.
Fass Feat, always close to the pace, took over in the stretch and went on to win the Sprint Stakes by 2 lengths over the favorite, Tortuga Straits. Magic Sunset rallied from far back to finish third. Fass Feat, a 4-year-old Placid Fund gelding, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.62, toting Kerwin Clark.
Costa Rising, with the exception of an unpleasant detour to the turf, has been dominating local competition since late summer and it was no surprise he went off at 40 cents to the dollar in the $150,000 Champions Day Classic. And it was less of a surprise to see the 4-year-old Royal Strand colt gallop out the final sixteenth and still win Saturday's marquee event by 15 1/4 lengths. Hallway beat three others, including Lash, who finished third. Costa Rising, with Robby Albarado in the irons, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:50.76. Glenn Delahoussaye is the trainer.
Reporting for Duty, the odds-on favorite, took complete charge in the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Zia Park Derby and won by 4 1/2 lengths over Devil Red. Forty Acres was third. Reporting for Duty, a Kentucky-bred colt by Deputy Commander, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.4 with Luis Quinonez up for trainer Steve Asmussen.
In Sunday's $175,000 Zia Park Distance Championship, Tap Dancing Mauk came three-wide around the leaders on the turn and drew clear, scoring by 1 1/4 lengths over Red Rock Creek. Guiding Hand was third home while the favorite, Rollicking Caller, faded to finish seventh. Tap Dancing Mauk, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Louis Quatorze, finished the 9 furlongs in 1:51 under Casey Lambert.
Half Heaven got the whole enchilada in Saturday's $50,000 My Charmer Stakes for fillies and mares, rallying from mid-pack to win by 3/4 length over Marquee Delivery. April Frost finished third. Half Heaven, a 5-year-old, New York-bred mare by Regal Classic, covered the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.34. Dean Sarvis rode for trainer Dale Romans.