Quality Road's mild upset of Dunkirk in Saturday's Florida Derby may have previewed a key matchup in the Kentucky Derby while Well Armed's runaway win in the Dubai World Cup brought back memories of Cigar's victory for America in the first-ever running of that rich event.
There were questions aplenty before the Florida Derby.
Dunkirk, a $3.7 million yearling purchase, was making just his third lifetime start and first in a stakes race. He was dominating in two earlier wins and looked like the real thing but remained untested. Quality Road had won the Fountain of Youth by daylight in his last start but had never raced beyond 1 mile. Could he go the extra furlong?
When the gates opened, things went about as expected: Quality Road prompted the pace while Dunkirk bided his time. Turning for home, Quality Road, with John Velazquez up, took the lead and Garrett Gomez set Dunkirk down for the drive.
Quality Road, a Virginia-bred colt by Elusive Quality, answered the distance and stamina question, easily turning back the challenge to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Dunkirk, a Kentucky-bred colt by Unbridled's Song, never quit fighting and finished second, 6 lengths ahead of Theregoesjojo. On a day when the track seemed groomed for speed, Quality Road finished the 9 furlongs in 1:47.72 and was still running at the end.
"He ran terrific. He relaxed, went on when John asked him and finished very strong," said winning trainer James Jerkens. "He won't race again until the (Kentucky) Derby."
Dunkirk's trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he was happy with his colt's performance but felt he was handicapped by a souped-up racing surface.
"It's a shame," he said. "This has been a fair, safe surface for the whole meet and today they sped it up. There were two or three track records set. Obviously it was to our disadvantage, considering our horse's style.
"If I knew the track was going to be like this, I would have gone to Aqueduct (for next week's Wood Memorial). But I thought my horse ran terrific. He's made huge strides in a short time."
The $150,000 winner's share of the purse, however, may not be enough to get Dunkirk into the Kentucky Derby field. "If he gets in, fine," Pletcher said. "If not, we'll concentrate on big races down the line."
In other Kentucky Derby news:
-- In Dubai, Saturday night's $2 million UAE Derby was supposed to be a coronation for Godolphin Racing's Desert Party and that colt's ticket to the Kentucky Derby. But in the running, stablemate Regal Ransom got the jump on Desert Party and held on at the end to win by 1/2 length over his Godolphin rival. Now, either or both of the colts could be Kentucky-bound. In their last meeting, Desert Party had beaten Regal Ransom by 4 3/4 lengths. Alan Garcia, riding Regal Ransom in his first experience in Dubai, said, "The plan worked perfectly. He relaxed in front and when the other horse came to him, he dug deep and found a bit more." Frankie Dettori, up on Desert Party, had just the opposite story. "He ran flat. We beat the winner 4 3/4 lengths last time, but tonight I just could not get to him. I was only half a length down at the two-furlong pole, but he had no fizz," Dettori said. "I always said this horse could be a surprise horse," said Godolphin trainer Saeed Bin Surror. "I am happy with that." Asked about the Kentucky Derby, he said only, "We'll see. No plan." Local hopeful Soy Libriano was third under Jockey Ahmed Ajtebi. Regal Ransom is a Kentucky-bred son of Distorted Humor out of the Red Ransom mare Kelli's Ransom.
-- Kelly Leak came from mid-pack to take the lead at the top of the stretch in Sunday's $800,000 Sunland Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico and drew off, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Mythical Power. Scorewithcater finished third. Kelly Leak, a Florida-bred colt by Runaway Groom, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:50.02 on a fast track. Mike Smith had the mount for trainer Michael Machowsky. Although the winner's share of the purse was $500,000, the race is not yet graded and the earnings would not count toward getting Kelly Leak into the Kentucky Derby field. The colt is not nominated to the Triple Crown races and Machowsky said he may look instead at the Lone Star Derby or the Peter Pan Stakes during Belmont Park's upcoming meeting.
-- In Saturday's $150,000 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Big Drama got the best of This Ones for Phil in the stretch run and went on to win by 1/2 length, only to be set down by the stewards for stretch interference. The replay showed Big Drama, making his 3-year-old debut, came out twice, bumping This Ones for Phil both times. The second contact appeared significant. "I was asking the horse for a little at the half point and we got going some," said winning rider Garrett Gomez. "He (Big Drama) clearly bumped me. All you have to do is watch the tape. In fact, he bumped me twice. He did it at the eighth pole and again about 50 yards before the wire." This Ones for Phil is a Florida-bred gelding by Untuttable. The 7 furlongs went in track-record time of 1:20.88.
Dubai World Cup Programme
Saturday's was the final Dubai World Cup ever to be run at Nad al-Sheba Race Course and Well Armed quickly left no doubt that he would join Cigar, the winner of the first-ever World Cup, in book-ending the event. Quickly on the lead in the $6 million event, Well Armed was never challenged and won off by 14 lengths. Gloria De Campaeo was the best of the other dozen, with Saudi longshots Paris Perfect and Muller third and fourth.
"It's the biggest win of the career," said winning trainer Eoin Harty. "This horse chipped a bone in the UAE Derby and then he fractured his pelvis and the vets wanted to put him down. Two years on he's won the richest race in the world."
Well Armed, based in Southern California, also led last year's Dubai World Cup until the final furlongs, then faded to finish third behind Curlin and A.P. Arrow. Saturday, there was no match for the 6-year-old Tiznow gelding. The early favorites, Albertus Maximus and Asiatic Boy, showed little, finishing sixth and 12th respectively.
Next year, the World Cup will be run at Dubai's new race track, a state-of-the-art facility in the all-new Meydan City, right next door to Nad al-Sheba. The track has been under construction for the past two years.
Star American filly Indian Blessing was off a step slowly in the $2 million Golden Shaheen, got close to the front with several hundred meters to run but then couldn't hold off Big City Man in the last yards, surrendering by 1 1/4 lengths. It was 5 more lengths back to Diabolical in third. Big City Man, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred son of Northern Afleet, ran the 1,200 meters in 1:08.93 under Jose Verenzuela. The colt is owned by Prince Sultan Mohd al-Kabeer and prepped for World Cup night with two wins and a second earlier this year at Nad al-Sheba. He raced at Calder in South Florida as a 2-year-old but was unraced last year. "People say I should take him to the Breeders' Cup," said winning trainer Jerry Barton. "But that will be up to the prince." Edgar Prado, who rode Indian Blessing, said she never gave up. "My filly was trying really hard. Every time I asked her for something she was giving it me," Prado said.
Rookie trainer Mubarak bin Shafya and Emirati apprentice rider Ahmed Ajtebi, an Emirati native, thrilled the Nad al-Sheba crowd by winning the Dubai Duty Free easily with Gladiatorius, then surviving a three-way photo to take the Dubai Sheema Classic with Eastern Anthem.
Eastern Anthem rallied from last in the field of 15. "I had to get him switched off at the back and when I pulled him out, he really went for me," said Ajtebi who celebrated immediately after crossing the wire, then sweated out the examination of the photo. "This is just fantastic. I can't believe it," Ajtebi said after the result was made official. The final time for the 2,400 meters was 2:31.8, more than 4 seconds off the course record.
Eastern Anthem, a 5-year-old son of Singspiel, raced in England last year in minor stakes. He won two lesser events at Nad al-Sheba while prepping for Saturday's event.
It was the other way around in the Sheema Classic, with Ajtebi standing in the irons and celebrating well before Gladiatorius hit the wire. Gladiatorius won by 3 1/4 lengths but he was well-eased before the finish. Presvis, a British runner, closed from near the back of the 16-horse field to finish second. Alexandros saved a placing for Godolphin by taking third and Australian Niconero was fourth after a troubled trip.
Gladiatorius, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Silic, raced last year in Italy, finishing second in the Gran Criterium at San Siro. He won two prep races in Dubai earlier this year.
"We were always going to attack from the front as that's how he won last time," said Ajtebi. "This is a dream come true and I am so grateful to everyone in helping me get where I am now."
According to the Dubai Jockey Club, Ajtebi was riding camels four years ago when Sheikh Mohammed approached him about switching to Thoroughbreds in the hope a local rider could rise to the top ranks of racing.
It was Godolphin's go-to international rider, Frankie Dettori, who guided Two Step Salsa to victory in Saturday's $1 million Godolphin Mile, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over stablemate Gayego. Two Step Salsa had to battle for the lead with Cat Junior before getting the advantage. Once in front, he was far too much horse for any of the rivals. He finished in 1:36.82. Saudi Arabian entry Don Renato was third with Wigberto Ramos in the irons.
"I was lucky that they allowed me a soft lead in front and nothing was snapping at my heels," Dettori said. "But this is a good horse and he quickened up really well. I hoped I was on the right one and fortunately I was."
Kentucky Oaks preps
-- Justwhistledixie surged to the lead leaving the stretch turn in Friday's $200,000 Bonnie Miss Stakes at Gulfstream Park and drew off smartly to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Casanova Move. Hopeful Image finished third. Justwhistledixie, a Kentucky-bred Dixie Union filly, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:49.25 with Julien Leparoux up for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "We had the outside post, which let him see everything develop," said Neil McLaughlin, assistant to his brother, who was in Dubai. "We felt all along that she would handle the two turns with no problem and she did. She'll fly to Kentucky Monday and train at Keeneland until we move over to Churchill and get ready to run in the Oaks."
-- Gabby's Golden Gal ran away from five rivals in Sunday's $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks in New Mexico, winning by 13 lengths at odds of better than 5-1. One for Jim was third and the even-money favorite, Century Park, settled for third. Gabby's Golden Gal, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Medaglia d'Oro out of the Ashkalani mare Gabriella Giof, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.31 with Victor Espinoza in for the ride. Bob Baffert trains the first- and third-place finishers.
In other weekend racing:
Stream Cat sat near the back of the field until the final turn of Saturday's $100,000 Tokyo City Cup, moved up along the inside and then got outside to run down the leaders and win by a neck over Big Booster. Medjool finished third. Stream Cat, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Black Minnaloushe, ran the 1 1/2 miles on the all-weather track in 2:31.92. Joe Talamo had the ride for trainer Patrick Biancone. Stream Cat was coming off a 10th place finish in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap March 7. "I knew Big Booster was going to be coming," Talamo said, "So at the quarter pole, I wanted to kick away from him and hold on if I could. It worked out great." Biancone added, "Two years ago he nearly won the Arlington Million (fourth, just 1 length from the winner). So maybe we'll take a shot at that later on."
Liberian Freighter got the lead at mid-stretch in Sunday's $125,000Sensational Star Handicap for California-breds and edged clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Mr. Wolverine. My City by the Bay was third. Liberian Freighter, a 4-year-old Bertrando gelding, sailed home in 1:13.02 after the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf.
Carlsbad led from gate to wire in Sunday's $100,000 Santa Paula Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, extending her margin to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Ultra Blend. Pinkarella finished third. Carlsbad, an Arizona-bred daughter of Rocky Bar, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.65 with Tyler Baze riding.
Triumphant Flight set all the pace in Saturday's $70,000 San Miguel Stakes for 3-year-olds, then held on at the end to win by 1/2 length over Charlie's Moment. The favorite, Turk, finished third. Triumphant Flight, a California-bred Chullo colt, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.54 with Victor Espinoza in the irons. "Everybody's taking back because the speed isn't holding," said winning trainer Eric Kruljac. "All I told Victor is, 'There's a lot of speed in here, but you have speed. Do whatever you want.' He made the right choice. He rode a great race."
One Caroline was No. 1 all the way around in Sunday's $150,000 Rampart Stakes for fillies and mares, distancing a half dozen rivals to win by 6 1/2 lengths and running her career record to five wins in five starts. See Chanter was second, 2 lengths to the good of Ginger Brew. One Caroline, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Unbridled's Song filly, ran the 9 furlongs on a "good" main track in 1:48.88 with Edgar Prado up for trainer Rusty Arnold. "She couldn't run at 2," Arnold said. "She was so big, she wasn't ready for it. If she's all right she'll run on Oaks Day at Churchill Downs. I believe it's the Louisville Distaff."
Weathered pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Next Move Stakes for fillies and mares before moving to the lead at the top of the stretch and drawing off to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Winning Point. Successful Sarah was third. Weathered, a 4-year-old, New York-bred daughter of Key Contender, ran the 1 1/8 mile in 1:52.44 under Mike Luzzi. "With the speed horse on the rail, on paper, we figured the race would unfold as it did," Luzzi said. "I've been working with her in the mornings, teaching her to slow down -- she got away from me a little bit -- but I got her to relax on the backside. In the stretch, when I needed her to fight, she did."
Mother Russia dominated six satellite starters in Sunday's $100,000 Park Avenue Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for 3-year-old, state-bred fillies, leading most of the way to a 4 3/4-lengths victory. Hanna Can Fly was second and Kiss and Fly finished third. Mother Russia, by Mayakovsky, ran the 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:13.19 under Ramon Dominguez.
Uncle T Seven pressed the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Times Square Division for 3-year-old, state-bred colts and geldings, then drew off in the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Empty Wallet was second and Katskill Bay third. Uncle T Seven, by Freud, got the 6 furlongs in 1:12.58, also with Dominguez handling the reins.
Prairie Charm raced close to the early pace in Sunday's $100,000 Harry W. Henson Handicap for fillies and mares, then closed stoutly through the stretch to collar front-running R Charlie's Angel, winning by a neck. More Accord was third. Prairie Charm, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Silver Charm, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.8 with Ken Tohill in the irons.
Runnin Red did all his running in the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby for state-breds, snatching the lead with a furlong to run and beating favorite Lefty Who to the wire by 2 1/4 lengths. Lesters Secret was third. Runnin Red, a Desert God gelding, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.49 under John Velazquez.
Oh My Ghost stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Oaks for state-breds, then edged past pace-setter Winter Mist and held on to post a big upset by 3/4 length. Wild Alaska finished third. Oh My Ghost, a gray daughter of Ghostly Moves, ran the 1 mile in 1:38.73 with Casey Lambert up.
Milwaukee Miracle broke near the back of the field in Saturday's $75,00 Crescent City Derby for Louisiana-bred, circled most of his rivals when he found his best effort and drew off in the stretch to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Break Up was second and Silent Pipe finished third. With Gabriel Saez up, the Milwaukee Brew colt ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.4.
Seven Seventythree rallied from last of nine to win Saturday's $75,000 Crescent City Oaks for state-bred fillies, scoring by a neck over Muffin. Warrior Maid finished third as the favorite. Seven Seventythree, a daughter of Little Expectations, ran the 1 /16 miles in 1:46.39 with Robby Albarado in the irons.
Mr. Porter got through between rivals in the final furlong of Saturday's $60,000 John E. Jackson Jr. Memorial Stakes for Louisiana-breds and got home first, 1/2 length ahead of Myoldmansam. Ide Like a Double finished third. Mr. Porter, a 5-year-old Road Rush gelding, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.6 under James Graham.
Alphadoodle led from gate to wire in Saturday's $60,000 Happy Ticket Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares, finishing 2 lengths ahead of Coach Mike with Sax Appeal third. Alphadoodle, a 4-year-old daughter of Cape Canaveral, got the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.66 with Albarado riding.
Tensas Yucatan stalked the pace in Sunday's $60,000 Red Camelia Stakes for state-bred distaffers, then surged to the lead on the second turn and won off by 2 1/4 lengths. Sarah Almighty ran well late to take second and Exciting Empress was third. Tensas Yucatan, a 5-year-old Ide mare, got the "about" 1 1/16 miles on "good" turf in 1:46.36 with Jamie Theriot riding.
Hawthorne Race Course
Kathleens Reel prompted the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Strate Sunshine Stakes for fillies and mares, got to the front turning for home and drew clear, winning by 3 1/4 lengths. Home's the Best got home second and De Star Xpress finished third. Kathleens Reel, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Lemon Drop Kid, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.19. Inez Karlsson rode for trainer Frank Kirby.
Palanka City stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Carousel Stakes for fillies and mares, engaged pace-setting Solarana with a furlong to go and worked clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Solarana held second, 4 lengths to the good of Blowing Kisses. Palanka City, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Carson City, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.73 under Chris Emigh.
Affirmed Truth battled Time Well Spent for the lead through much of Saturday's $50,000 Rainbow Miss Stakes for Arkansas-bred, 3-year-old fillies, then finally shook clear in the final sixteenth to win by 1 length over that rival. Smell the Roses was far back in third. Affirmed Truth, a daughter of Proudest Romeo, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.11 with Jon Court up.
Texas Birdstone rallied form well back to win Sunday's $50,000 Rainbow Stakes for 3-year-old, Arkansas-bred fillies by a neck over Coyotepass. Blushing Romeo, the early leader, was another neck back in third at the wire. Texas Birdstone, an Arkansas-bred daughter of Birdstone, got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.25 under Luis Quinonez.
Ain't He a Pistol rallied from near the back of the field to win Sunday's $50,000 Nodouble Breeders' Stakes for Arkansas-breds by 1 1/4 lengths over Sheriff Hotdog. Roll On Roll On was third. Ain't He a Pistol, a 7-year-old Country Store gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.58 with Perry Compton in the irons.
Bullsbay dropped to the rail at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Handicap, got by the leaders and went on to win by 3/4 length over Senior. Admiral's Cruise was third. Bullsbay, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Tiznow, ran the 9 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:50.33. Jeremy Rose rode for trainer H. Graham Motion.