Sunday's Japan Cup was dominated by local runners while, in the United States, much of the spotlight went to the 2-year-olds pointing to springtime and the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
In California, Hollywood Park hosted its 17th Turf Festival and in Kentucky, Turfway Park kicked off the long winter season.
Among the youngsters:
-- Old Fashioned remained undefeated in three starts and served notice he will be a player among spring's 3-year-olds with a 7 1/4-lengths romp in Saturday's $200,000 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. The gray son of Unbridled's Song shot right to the lead under Ramon Dominguez and never looked back. Dominguez looked back only once. "Once he made the lead, I took a peek back, hit him one time and he took off," Dominguez said. "It was pretty impressive … Judging by today, there is no telling how far he can go." The two-turn, 9-furlong Remsen went in 1:50.33 after Old Fashioned was allowed to dictate a slow pace. "They let us run out there pretty easy," said winning trainer L. Larry Jones. "I was very grateful to see the fractions, especially as they came around the far turn."
-- Beethoven composed a pace-stalking, stretch running upset in Saturday's $150,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs, winning a three-horse chase to the wire by a neck over Giant Oak. The favorite, Capt. Candyman Can, couldn't hold the lead and finished third. Beethoven, a Kentucky-bred son of Sky Mesa, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.14 with Calvin Borel in the irons for trainer John Ward and owner John Oxley. "I told racing secretary Ben Huffman before this race, 'One thing they'll have to say about him is that he has had three different races over this race track and there is no other horse in the country who is going to get another try before the Derby," Oxley said. The twin spires will not see racing again until the week before the 2009 Run for the Roses. Ward added the Kentucky Derby "is always on my mind and Mr. Oxley's mind."
-- At Woodbine, near Toronto, Parabola had to wait behind traffic in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Kingarvie Stakes for Ontario-sired juveniles but had a full head of steam when he found room in the stretch and was up to win by 1/2 length over Mean Green. Wildcat Fashion was third and the favorite, Shut It Down, shut it down early, fading to finish ninth of 11. Parabola, a cleverly named, Ontario-bred Trajectory gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.32. Justin Stein rode for trainer Barbara Minshall. When he found room, Stein said, "I hadn't moved on him yet and he was still pulling on me pretty good … I got a clean run through the lane. He kicked on nicely. I knew we were in good shape at that point. He's a pretty decent 2-year-old. He's well-developed and professional." He also is 2-for-6 for his young career.
-- Proceed Bee rallied four-wide around the turn in Saturday's $56,000 Grand Canyon Handicap at Churchill Downs, got the lead, surrendered it and came again to win by 3/4 length over Smart Shot. The favorite, Jack Spratt, led briefly at the top of the lane but faded to finish third. Proceed Bee, a cleverly named, Kentucky-bred Bernstein gelding out of the Private Terms mare Procession, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:46.61 with Miguel Mena in the irons.
-- Russell Road left four rivals in the dust in Saturday night's $50,000 West Virginia Futurity for state-breds, winning off by 8 1/2 lengths as the prohibitive favorite. Pagan Cat was the best of the rest, followed by Camp Saginaw, I'm Fuhr Real and Whatadane. Russell Road, a gelded son of Wheaton, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.02 under Luis Perez.
Springside rallied from last of six to win Saturday's $200,000 Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct by 9 1/2 lengths but then was pulled up and vanned off. Boleyn made progress through the stretch run and finished a nose ahead of the odds-on favorite, Sky Diva. Springside, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Awesome Again, ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.71 under Garrett Gomez. Dr. Anthony Verderosa, chief examining veterinarian for the New York Racing Association, said Springside suffered an apparent fracture of the right-front pastern and was taken for X-rays. "When she was galloping out, she swapped leads and I heard a pop," Gomez said. "She never indicated that anything was wrong. Hopefully, I got her stopped in time."
-- Rachel Alexandra led all the way to a mild upset victory in Saturday's $150,000 Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs, finishing 4 3/4 lengths ahead of runner-up Sara Louise in stakes-record time of 1:43.08. War Echo finished third. Rachel Alexandra, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Medaglia d'Oro out of the Roar mare Lotta Kim, is trained by Hal Wiggins. Calvin Borel rode.
-- Habaya sat well off the pace in Friday's $100,000 Miesque Stakes on the Hollywood Park turf, came three-wide into the lane and was up in time to win by 3/4 length over Internallyflawless. Eloquently finished third and the favorite, Emmy Darling, faded to finish fourth after leading at mid-stretch. Habaya, a Kentucky-bred filly by Storm Cat, ran the 1 mile on firm going in 1:37.07 for jockey Richard Migliore. She now is 2-for-3, following a maiden win at Belmont and a second-place finish in the Jessamine at Keeneland. "We're going to space out her races a little bit, look after her, and have big goals in mind next summer like the American Oaks," said Neal McLaughlin, assistant and brother to winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "I really feel like she is a filly that wants to go a mile and a quarter. Our main worry was the mile might be a little short for her because she really is bred to go a mile and an eighth or a mile and a quarter."
-- Milwaukee Appeal stalked the pace in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Lassie at Woodbine, restricted to Ontario-breds, then got to the front with a furlong to run and won by 1 1/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Retraceable. D' Country was third. Milwaukee Appeal, a bay daughter of Milwaukee Brew, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.43 under Na Somsanith. She now has three wins from six starts. "This filly has improved from day one. She's matured and always gotten better with each race," said winning trainer Scott Fairlie.
-- At Calder Race Course, Oilgonewile led 11 rivals a merry chase in Saturday's $75,000 Live Oak GTOBA Debutante, for progeny of Georgia-nominated stallions. The Florida-bred daughter of Montbrook shook clear early and wasn't challenged, winning by 4 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Tailbytherail. Hot Chili Pepper finished third. Oilgonewile, with Wesley Henry Sr. up, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.83.
-- Justwhistledixie disputed the early pace in Friday's $65,000 Love Affair Stakes at Aqueduct, got loose as the field turned for home and went on to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Chocolate Pop came from last to take second, a neck in front of Casanova Move. Justwhistledixie, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Dixie Union, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.12 with Alan Garcia up for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
--War Tigress stalked the pace in Saturday's $56,000 Caressing Handicap on the grass at Churchill Downs, got the lead on the turn and held on to win by 3/4 length over the favorite, Striking Dancer. Abbott Hall finished third. War Tigress, a Kentucky-bred daughter of War Chant, ran the 1 mile on firm footing in 1:38.83 with Julio Garcia handling the reins.
The first eight horses across the wire in Sunday's Japan Cup were local, with Irish standard-bearer the best of the invaders, finishing ninth. British participants Sixties Icon and Papal Bull got home 13th and 14th of the 18 starters. The winner, Screen Hero, was making his first start in a Grade 1 race. And the event was slowly run, with Screen Hero and jockey Mirco Demuro finishing the 2,400 meters in 2:25.5. Screen Hero made his winning run as the field swept through the long turn into the stretch and held on to win by 1/2 length over Deep Sky. The only filly in the race, Vodka, finished third, another 3/4 length back. "The race was slow-paced," said Demuro, "but I was able to position well from an outside stall." Winning trainer Yuichi Shikato said winning the Japan Cup might indicate 2,400 meters is Screen Hero's best distance. "But I think that maybe he can handle a little extra. His racing plans after this will be decided after consulting with the owner."
In Australia, Takeover Target held off a late run by Apache Cat to win Saturday's Winterbottom Stakes at Ascot in Perth by a nose. Takeover Target, already a winner in Japan, Singapore and Royal Ascot in England, finished the 1,200 meters in 1:09.15 over "good" going. Either or both of the top two could be considered for the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint in two weeks' time.
In other weekend racing:
Einstein stalked the pace set by odds-on favorite Commentator in Friday's $400,000 Clark Handicap, came to challenge entering the stretch and went by to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Delightful Kiss ran well late to take second and Commentator was third. Einstein, a 6-year-old, Brazilian-bred son of 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.79. Julien Leparoux rode for trainer Helen Pitts. "I knew I had to stay close to Commentator and he broke sharp," Leparoux said. "I just kind of eased up a little bit on the outside. I just ran behind him all the way. When I asked him, he stuck his head in front of him and we were gone. It was done." The victory avenged a second-place finish in the Stephen Foster.
Jockey Calvin Borel kept Miss Isabella right on the rail down the backstretch in Thursday's $150,000 Falls City Handicap for fillies and mares, found an opening on the inside turning for home and went through to win by 1 length. Skylighter was second with an outside move and Tell It as It Is came from near the rear to finish third. The favorite, Spring Waltz, didn't fire and got home sixth. Miss Isabella, a 3-year-old daughter of 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.78, winning for the fourth time in 11 career starts. She is trained by Ian Wilkes. "I think five or six months from now, you're going to see a really good filly, this filly, because she's just coming around," Borel said.
Harlem Rocker took the lead entering the stretch run in Saturday's $300,000 Hill 'N' Dale Cigar Mile Handicap and got home first, beating Tale of Ekati by a nose. But the stewards reversed that order of finish, finding Harlem Rocker lugged in, interfering with Tale of Ekati in mid-stretch. Bribon finished third. The 1 mile went in 1:35.01. Tale of Ekati is a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Tale of the Cat. His only other victories this year were in the Wood Memorial and the Jerome Handicap. The review leading to the Harlem Rocker's disqualification was a lengthy one and the loser's trainer, Todd Pletcher, disagreed with the verdict, arguing that Tale of Ekati "didn't appear to really check and he had every opportunity to go by our horse. And, in my opinion, he was never going by. It's a tough call in a Grade 1. I'll talk to (owner Frank Stronach) and see if he wants to appeal the ruling."
Fabulous Strike rebounded from a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, leading all the way to a 1 1/2-length victory in Thursday's $100,000 Fall Highweight Handicap. He's So Chic saved ground and got up for second with a late run and Ferocious Fires finished third. Fabulous Strike, a 5-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred gelding by Smart Strike, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.02 while carrying -- what else? -- high weight of 136 pounds. "I've been very excited about this horse," said winning rider Ramon Dominguez. "I have no doubt in my mind that he didn't like the synthetic surface (at Santa Anita in the Breeders' Cup). Today, he showed who he is. In the second quarter, I sensed they were putting a lot of pressure on. But he has a real high cruising speed and is able to relax, which is unusual. He is a superb horse." Trainer Todd Beattie said he will consider the Gravesend Handicap on Dec. 27 as Fabulous Strike's next race.
Leah's Secret rallied four-wide around the leaders in Friday's $150,000 Top Flight Handicap for fillies and mares and went on to win by 3/4 length over Slewfoundmoney. Boca Grande finished third. Leah's Secret, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred mare by Tiger Ridge, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.4 with Eibar Coa at the controls for trainer Todd Pletcher. Pletcher said the win might delay Leah's Secret's trip to the breeding shed. "I'm pretty sure she has a date with Distorted Humor," he said. "But she is eligible for the Sunshine Millions. She is in such good form now that I might ask WinStar (owner Winstar Farm) for one more race."
Here Comes Rita rallied to the lead turning for home in Sunday's $75,000 Montauk Handicap for fillies and mares and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Point Me to It was up for second and My Dinah was third. Here Comes Rita, a 3-year-old, New York-bred daughter of Raffie's Majesty, got the 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:54.4 with Pablo Fragoso in the irons.
Weathered waited behind pace-setting Tar Heel Mom until asked to run in Sunday's $65,000 Kamikazie Rick Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then went to the lead easily and won by 6 lengths. Tar Heel Mom held second, 10 lengths ahead of Hamsa. Weathered, a New York-bred daughter of Key Contender, ran the 1 mile on a muddy track in 1:38.79 under Michael Luzzi.
Court Vision raced last of nine down the backstretch in Sunday's $500,000 Hollywood Derby, advanced three-wide into the stretch and was up in time to win by 3/4 length over Cowboy Cal. Midships was third and the favorite, Gio Ponti, got home seventh. Court Vision, a Kentucky-bred Gulch colt, ran the 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:01.43 with Ramon Dominguez up for trainer Bill Mott. "I was concentrating on getting my horse to relax," Dominguez said. "I really didn't want to be that far back. Ideally I would have been laying a little closer, but at the same time he was carrying himself well … Once I got him going at the quarter pole, I thought I had just as good a chance as anybody." Court Vision now has won five of his 12 starts.
Earlier on the Sunday card, Cocoa Beach rallied from well back to catch pace-setting Precious Kitten and win the $500,000 Matriarch Stakes for fillies and mares by 3/4 length. Visit was third. Cocoa Beach, a Chilean-bred and Dubai-raced daughter of Doneraile Court, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.49. Ramon Dominguez rode for trainer Saeed bin Suroor. It was the first start on grass for Cocoa Beach since her career debut in Chile in January of 2007 and her first time back since finishing second to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic in October. " She seems to be getting better every time I've ridden her," Dominguez said. "She's run well on every surface. They weren't going that fast up front, but my filly has quite a turn of foot."
Hyperbaric hadn't run in four months coming into Friday's $400,000 Citation Handicap at the start of Hollywood's 17th Turf Festival. But that didn't stop the 5-year-old Sky Classic gelding from picking up his fourth straight win -- and possibly a ticket overseas. With Tyler Baze in the irons, Hyperbaric went right to the lead from the inside post position, got a breather down the backstretch when no challengers appeared and held gamely down the stretch to win by 3/4 length over Formal Decree. Becrux was third. Hyperbaric ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.29. "There wasn't much speed in the race. That's why I passed the Breeders Cup,'" said winning trainer Julio Canani. "He was invited to Hong Kong to run Dec. 15, but I preferred to run him in here. My horse came fresh into the race, so I felt he had a pretty good chance. I think we're going to point him towards the Duty Free in Dubai."
California Flag led from gate to wire in Saturday's $150,000 Hollywood Turf Express, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Racketeer. Delta Storm was third, another 1/2 length back. California Flag, a 4-year-old, California-bred gelding by Avenue of Flags, ran the 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:08.81 with Joe Talamo up for trainer Brian Koriner. California Flag was 10th in the Breeders' Cup Sprint after disputing the hot pace. Talamo said Saturday's task was not as tough. "I don't think I've ever won a race that easily," he said. "When a horse is running that fast and that good for you, there's no sense using him up. Just as soon save him for next time."
Mr. Rod led all the way to a 1 1/2-lengths victory in Saturday's $100,000 Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park. The favorite, Bittel Road, put in a late run to finish second and Hype and Bourbon Bay dead-heated for third and fourth. Mr. Rod, a Kentucky-bred colt by Scrimshaw, got the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.04 under Chantal Sutherland, improving his record to two wins from six starts. "I thought he'd get the distance because last time he galloped out so well and he accelerated from the field," Sutherland said. "It was just a matter of being left alone from the other horses."
Slew's Tiznow took command in the stretch run of Thursday's $65,000 War Chant Stakes for 3-year-olds, drawing off easily with little urging from jockey Rafael Bejarano to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Pistol Pete Afleet was second and Fifteen Love took third. Slew's Tiznow, a Kentucky-bred colt by Tiznow, completed the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:40.34. He is trained by Doug O'Neill.
Bsharpsonata got to the lead well down the stretch in Thursday's $65,000 Playa del Rey Stakes for fillies and mares and edged clear, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Peppermint Lounge Coco Belle finished third. Bsharpsonata, a 3-year-old, Florida-bred filly by Pulpit, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:07.95 with Garrett Gomez in the irons for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Golden Gate Fields
Dakota Phone came from last in a field of only four starters to win Friday's $75,000 Forty Niner Stakes by 1/2 length over Gallon. The odds-on favorite, Pass the Heat, was third and Holy Thunder rounded out the order of finish. Dakota Phone, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred Zavata gelding, ran the 1 1/2 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.37 with Frank Alvarado up.
Sok Sok delivered a late punch, passing the leaders in the stretch run, to win Thursday's $60,000 Thanksgiving Handicap by 3 1/4 lengths. Devereux was second and the favorite, Roi Maudit, finished third. Sok Sok, a 3-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Trippi, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.98. Brian Hernandez Jr. had the mount for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Classic Campaign rallied past pace-setting favorite Wise River in the stretch run to win Friday's $60,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths. Gun Salute was third and General Charley completed the order of finish. Classic Campaign, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Rahy gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:44.83 for jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. Three of the original starters scratched when the event came off the grass.
Secret Getaway got away from the field in the stretch run of Saturday's $60,000 Tenacious Handicap, drawing off to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Good and Lucky. The favorite, Mambo in Seattle, finished third. Secret Getaway, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Skip Away, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy, sealed surface in 1:45.06 with James Graham in the irons.
Afleet Angel was fleetest down the lane in Sunday's $50,000 Holiday Inaugural Stakes as the northern Kentucky oval kicked off its Holiday meet and long winter season. At the wire, the 8-year-old, Florida-bred mare was 1 3/4 lengths to the good of Vote Early, with Simply Seattle third. The favorite, Tequilas Dajyur, was last at the start and last at the finish. Afleet Angel, with Willie Martinez riding, got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:11.94.
Sassy Blend went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $58,360 Zia Park Distaff and wasn't caught, winning by 1 length over Five Star Daydream. Goodbye Norma Jean was third. Sassy Blend, a 3-year-old, California-bred daughter of Richly Blended, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.4 with Alfredo Juarez Jr. in the irons.