Upsets in the first major races of the year for older horses shared the spotlight during the weekend with some early Kentucky Derby preps.
The day's biggest shocker was the $500,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park where Spring At Last held on to win by 1/2 length over A.P. Arrow while the odds-on favorite, Daaher, faded badly in the stretch to finish seventh of eight.
The victory by Spring At Last wasn't surprising in itself. The 5-year-old son of Silver Deputy won the Godolphin Mile in Dubai last spring -- and may be headed back there in two months for a repeat engagement. But after that, the Kentucky-bred went to the sidelines with an ankle chip, returning with a victory in an optional claimer in late December in California.
Saturday, Eibar Coa took Spring At Last back as Daaher set a pressured pace. Coa then steered outside at the quarter pole to take the lead, opened a clear advantage and held on. He ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.35.
Winning trainer Doug O'Neill said the victory at 9 furlongs opens the door to other opportunities for Spring At Last. "We all needed to see that before he stamped himself a classic distance horse," O'Neill said from California where he saddled a pair of unsuccessful runners Saturday. "When he trains in the morning, he doesn't get tired. But there are a lot of horses like that. When you put them in the afternoon, they don't hold up under the competition."
O'Neill and Elliott Walden, vice president of the breeder and co-owner, WinStar Farm, said it remains to be decided whether Spring At Last will be pointed back to the Godolphin Mile or attempt the 1 1/4-mile Dubai World Cup.
Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Daaher, who won his last three races in 2007, including the Jerome and the Cigar Mile, said his steed's performance was "very disappointing. It's obvious that something went wrong. The jock said it felt like he overheated." But he said Daaher appeared okay after the race, adding, "Hopefully, we'll live to fight another day."
Across the continent in Saturday's $300,000 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds at Santa Anita, Monterey Jazz led all the way to a mild upset of even-money favorite Tiago, who came from last in the eight-horse field but could get no closer than 4 1/2 lengths at the finish. Monzante was third.
Monterey Jazz, a Kentucky-bred colt by Thunderello, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:45.65 under David Flores. Craig Dollase trains the colt, who won his third straight and second straight graded stakes.
"He's really improved immensely," Dollase said, "and hopefully, we've got some bigger and better races down the road."
John Shirreffs, trainer of Tiago, said his horse "ran good." But he added, referring to Monterey Jazz, "Somebody let the tiger out on that one, huh?"
Both are likely candidates for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 1.
Kentucky Derby preps:
-- Crown of Thorns pulled rider Victor Espinoza into contention along the backstretch in Saturday's $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, got past the leader along the inside on the turn and drew off handily to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Coast Guard. Reflect Times finished third. Crown of Thorns, a Florida-bred son of Repent, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:40.76. Richard Mandella trains Crown of Thorns, who was coming off his maiden victory on New Year's Day. He now is 2-for-3 in his career. Asked what might be next for Crown of Thorns, Mandella said, "Maybe the Sham (March 1) and then the Santa Anita Derby (April 5)." Espinoza said the colt "is getting better with every race and he can do anything."
-- After a very slow pace, Barrier Reef and Roman Emperor turned for home in Saturday's $100,000 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct locked in a tight duel. Barrier Reef, with outside position, got a head in front and Roman Emperor could never recover, with Barrier Reef eventually winning by a 1/2 length. Texas Wildcatter finished third with a mild late bid while the favorite in a contentious field, Cave's Valley, never ran much and finished next-last of seven. Barrier Reef, a Kentucky-bred colt by Mizzen Mast, ran the 1 mile in 1:44.47 under Alan Garcia. Thomas Albertrani trains for Darley Stable. Barrier Reef came into the race off a fourth-place finish behind undefeated Giant Moon in the Count Fleet a month earlier. He now has won two of four starts. "He trained a lot better going into this race," Albertrani said. "He was really on his game in his last couple of works. He was always on the bridle." Both Barrier Reef and Roman Emperor are likely to contest the Gotham Stakes on March 8, the last local prep for the Wood Memorial.
-- Eaton's Gift jumped quickly to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park and kept running, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over extreme longshot Surrealdeal. Wincat, the favorite, was another neck farther back in third. Eaton's Gift, a Kentucky-bred colt by Johnannesburg, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.63 with Kent Desormeaux up for trainer Dale Romans. Eaton's Gift had won two straight sprints before fading badly at 1 1/16 mile in his last start, the Hollywood Futurity. Romans said he's not sure where Eaton's Gift will go next. "When you have a fast 3-year-old at this time of the year, you always think about stretching them out," he said.
-- Big Glen rallied from well back in a 10-horse field to win Saturday's $50,000 WEBN Stakes at Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky. Your Round also came from behind the moderate pace to take second with early leader Mr. Harry hanging on for show money. The favorite, U.S. Cavalry, winner of the Turfway Prevue in his last outing, raced close to the lead all the way but lacked a late punch and settled for fourth. Big Glen, a Kentucky-bred colt by Cactus Ridge, ran the 1 mile in 1:38.48 on the all-weather track. James Lopez rode for trainer Frank Brothers.
-- Vanderkaay rallied from far back to upset Saturday's $50,000 Dancing Count Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Ghostly Thunder. Vigors Storm was third. Vanderkaay, a Kentucky-bred colt by Malibu Moon, finished the 6 furlongs on a "good" track in 1:10.7 with 19-year-old Rosie Napravnik up. "We have been treating this horse like a come-front-behind sprinter," said winning trainer Ferris Allen. "We were more than happy there was speed in this race."
-- Doble Quebrado battled head-to-head with Pantara Phantom most of the way around in Saturday night's $125,000 Premier Night Prince Stakes for Louisiana-breds, winning by a head with a late surge. Cubera was third under the wire. Doble Quebrado, a gelded son of Ide, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:27.29 with Cody Meche aboard.
Kentucky Oaks preps
-- Passion battled for the lead in Saturday's $100,000 La Habra Stakes at Santa Anita, got to the front halfway down the hillside turf course, then battled through the stretch to hold off Ariege and win by a nose. Sweet August Moon was third. Passion, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Came Home, got the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the firm course in 1:13.52 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. Todd Pletcher trains the winner for the Tabor-Magnier-Smith combine. "I rode the best horse in the race," Bejarano said. "She broke sharp but she relaxed real well. I think that's the key with this race (down the hillside turf course.)"
-- Love Co was quickly on the lead in Sunday's $65,000 Glory in Motion Stakes at Aqueduct, opened up a 15-length lead and won by 12 3/4 lengths without being asked for her best. Philly Gal was second and Deities Day finished third. Love Co, a New York-bred daughter of Not For Love out of the Cozzene mare Cozzekiki, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast inner track in 1:42.43 for jockey Ramon Dominguez.
-- Superior Storm led from gate to wire in winning Saturday night's $125,000 Premier Night Starlet Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies at Delta Downs. The Stormy Atlantic filly, with Robby Albarado riding for trainer Richard Jackson, opened up a handy lead at the top of the lane and coasted home a 3-length winner over T C's Charmer. She ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.58.
In other weekend racing:
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor's four winners on a seven-race card Thursday at Nad al-Sheba in Dubai overshadowed the feature race -- the $200,000 al-Rashidiya, seen as a potential springboard to the $5 million Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night March 29. Bin Suroor captured both ends of Thursday's 1,600-meter turf handicap and both the 1,600-meter and the 2,000-meter dirt races. "We have a much bigger string than in previous years," the winning trainer allowed. "And the horses are simply better than last year." In the al-Rashidiya, however, it was long-time Dubai Carnival workhorse Lord Admiral first across the line in a bit of an upset. Winning trainer Charles O'Brien, son of former Irish conditioner Vincent O'Brien, said Lord Admiral likely will be less ambitiously placed than the Duty Free for his next start. "We'll have a look at the al-Fahidi Fort or Jebel Hatta next," he said.
Intangaroo rallied three-wide into the stretch and was just up at the wire to post a huge upset in Saturday's $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap, winning by a nose over Society Hostess. Overly Tempting was third and the heavy odds-on favorite, Hystericalady, faded to finish fourth. Hystericalady was making her first start since losing the Breeders' Cup Distaff by a nose to Ginger Punch last October at Monmouth Park and took some bridge-jumper money with her Saturday, inflating show payoffs for those who hit the board. Intangaroo, making her first start out of the allowance ranks, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:20.71 under Alonso Quinonez. "We were running for third," admitted winning trainer Gary Sherlock. "She's a nice filly and I would have been happy to hit the board." It was the first Grade I win for both trainer and rider.
Storm Military led most of the way in winning Saturday's $75,000 Thunder Road Handicap by 3 lengths over Mr Napper Tandy. Frank the Barber finished third. Storm Military, a 6-year-old, Argentine-bred son of Bernstein, set a quick pace, was headed on the turn and then quickly drew clear again. With Garrett Gomez riding, Storm Military finished the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.17.
Sunday, Green Girl had a rough trip in the $100,000 Suwannee River Handicap for fillies and mares but then managed to win a four-horse cavalry charge to the wire. As the photo was snapped, the 6-year-old, French-bred daughter of Green Sails was 1/2 length in front, with La Dolce Vita second and the favorite, J'ray, just a nose farther behind in third. Green Girl, with Rene Douglas up, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.46.
Jet Away Jane just caught pace-setting favorite S W Aly'svalentine in the final jumps of Saturday's $75,000 Foxy J.G.S Stakes, winning by a neck. Coffee Shop finished third. Jet Away Jane, a 5-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred mare by Unbridled Jet, got the 6 furlongs in 1:10.85 with Angel Rodriguez in the irons.
Marina Ballerina led from gate to wire in Saturday's $65,000 Manatee Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 1 length over Meredith Bee. Haddie Be Good was good enough for third while the favorite, Silk Candy, faded to finish fifth after contesting the pace. Marina Ballerina, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Outflanker, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.22 with Pedro Cotto Jr. up for trainer Steve Margolis.
Amazing Results rallied along the inside to win Saturday's $50,000 Black Gold Stakes for 3-year-olds by 1 length over the favorite, General G, with the favorite and early leader, Excessive Heat, holding on gamely for third. Amazing Results, an Illinois-bred colt by Grand Slam, ran the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:06.12. Julien Leparoux rode for trainer Richard Scherer and owners Team Block.
Semaphore Man led from the start and won the $50,000 King Cotton Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths over Junior College, the favorite. Probation Ready finished third. Semaphore Man, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Formal Gold, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.7 with Tim Doocy up for trainer Kelly Von Hemel.
Smitty's Sunshine drew clear in the stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Premier Night Matron Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares by 2 1/4 lengths over Coach Mike. Calmed was third. Smitty's Sunshine, a 5-year-old Seeking a Home mare, ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 59.05 seconds with Robby Albarado up.
All Wired Up led from gate to wire in winning the $100,000 Premier Night Sprint Stakes by 1 length over Myoldmansam. Bandido finished third. All Wired Up, a 6-year-old son of Wire Me Collect, got the 5 furlongs in 58.09 seconds under Joseph Patin Jr.
Zarb's Ballerina dueled for the early lead in the $150,000 Premier Night Distaff, got to the front and then battled to the wire with Cutie Sabrina before prevailing by a neck. Sammie Same was 1/2 length farther back in third. Zarb's Ballerina, a 4-year-old Zarbyev filly, ran 1 mile in 1:40.77 with Lonnie Meche in the irons.
Magic Sunset rallied from mid-pack and overcame a wide trip to win the $200,000 Premiere Night Championship by 1 3/4 lengths over Z Storm, with Chip Hunter finishing third. Magic Sunset, a 5-year-old Mutakddim gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.62. Donald Simington had the mount for trainer James Hudson.