While the most fancied Kentucky Derby prospects stayed in the barn, the ranks of the would-be contenders roiled during weekend racing.
Soldat charged into the Derby picture with a victory in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park but a couple of rivals emerged from that race with question marks. And Flashpoint, making just his second career start, was very impressive in the Hutcheson Stakes over the same strip. But does he have enough experience? And does his soundly beaten rival, Travelin Man, have the capacity to rebound?
Meanwhile, Breeders' Cup Juvenile champ and Derby favorite Uncle Mo continued to work toward his first start of the year, scheduled to be the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes at 1 mile March 12 at Gulfstream. Uncle Mo worked Sunday morning at Palm Meadows training center with stablemate Stay Thirsty, a likely starter in next Saturday's Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.
And Mucho Macho Man, who shipped from Florida to win the Risen Star at Fair Grounds, is close to a decision about his next race.
With just over two month to go before the Kentucky Derby, owners and trainers now have no room for error in plotting their horses' campaigns.
Soldat went right to the lead in Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth, turned back a challenge from To Honor and Serve while turning for home and kicked clear late to win by 2 lengths. Gourmet Dinner, always close, finished a persistent second and To Honor and Serve, making his first start of the year, held on for third.
Soldat, second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last fall, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.23, backing up his easy win last month over a sloppy Gulfstream Park main track.
"I just went to the lead and tried to slow it down as much as possible," winning rider Alan Garcia said. "My horse just kept on going today. I don't think anyone was going to get by us today the way he ran. He was really good today."
"It's on to the Florida Derby now," said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin." He's always done everything right and today we got the fast track we wanted. The timing of the program here is perfect for us. Five weeks from now to the Florida Derby and another five weeks to the Kentucky Derby."
McLaughlin added Sunday that Soldat came out of the Fountain in good condition. And, he said, he doesn't think his colt needs the lead to win. "He absolutely could rate," McLaughlin said. "We have no worries about that."
Soldat is a Kentucky-bred colt by War Front out of the Coronado's Quest mare Le Relais. He now has three wins and four seconds from seven starts.
Gourmet Dinner's jockey, Ramon Dominguez, said his horse "could have used a little more speed in the race" to facilitate a late run. Gourmet Dinner's claim to fame and fortune was a victory in the Delta Jackpot last November but he has not won in two starts this year.
To Honor and Serve, victor in the Nashua and Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct last fall, "just didn't have the closing kick he usually does," jockey Ramon Dominguez said. "I think, off the layoff, that is to be expected."
Another potential Derby star flashed brightly in the race immediately prior to the Fountain of Youth. Flashpoint pressed the pace set by heavy favorite Travelin Man, kicked into another gear heading for home and won off convincingly by 7 1/4 lengths.
Making just his second career start, the Florida-bred Pomeroy colt, out of the Two Punch mare Two Punch Lil, finished 7 furlongs in 1:22.03 under Cornelio Velasquez.
"He was sensational the first time and sensational today," said Rick Dutrow, the winning trainer who guided Big Brown to Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby success three years ago.
"I thought he'd be in front, but broke a step slow and sat off (Travelin Man), so I'm happy to know that he can do that," Dutrow added. "We'll discuss the options, including the Florida Derby. Personally, I like the 7/8ths to a mile-and-an-eighth angle, but we'll see … You never know if they can go long until they do it. But naturally with the (Kentucky) Derby coming up, everybody thinks about it."
Another horse to watch is Arch Traveler, impressive winner of a tough allowance race on the Fountain of Youth undercard. It was the second straight Gulfstream win for Arch Traveler, a Sky Mesa colt out of a Silver Deputy mare, Mettle. He ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.36.
Asked about the Florida Derby possibilities, winning trainer James Jerkens said, "He's nominated. We'll see if they get some defections along the way and he kicks in and does extra good. We'll certainly give it a thought."
Other weekend races for 3-year-olds:
-- J J's Lucky Train pressed the pace set by favorite Bandbox in Saturday's $50,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland, challenged for the lead on the turn for home and won a prolonged stretch duel by a neck. Wicked Thunder was far back in third. J J's Lucky Train, a Kentucky-bred Silver Train colt out of the Thunder Gulch mare Delta Sensation, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.06 with Jose Ferrer up for trainer William Anderson.
-- Fusa Code shipped in from California to upset Saturday's $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico. With Justin Shepherd up, the Fusaichi Pegasus colt settled off a moderate pace, got the first jump on the leaders turning for home and held well to defeat longshot Behold de Buy by 3/4 length. The favorite, Special Kid, ran evenly to finish third. Fusa Code, trained by Steve Asmussen, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.06.
-- Beer Meister brewed up a huge upset in Saturday's $50,000 Turf Paradise Derby in Arizona, rallying from last of eight to win by 2 lengths at odds of 40-1. Twice the Appeal finished second but was set down to fourth for stretch interference. That promoted Indian Winter and Mister Artistic M D to second and third, respectively. Beer Meister has the pedigree to be good. He is a Kentucky-bred colt by Pleasant Tap out of the Langfuhr mare Nana's Cozy Account. He ran Saturday's 1 1/16 mile over a fast track in a respectable 1:41.99 with Glenn Corbett riding.
-- Man of Strife got a wide trip in Saturday's $60,000 Gentilly Stakes for Louisiana-breds at Fair Grounds but still managed to squeeze out a narrow win, beating Populist Politics by a neck. The favorite, Loranger Native, finished third, 3/4 length farther back. Man of Strife, a Leestown gelding, ran "about" 1 1/16 miles on "good" turf in 1:47.77 under Rosie Napravnik.
-- Rattlesnake Holler got by pacesetting Ile St. Roy in the final jumps to win Saturday's $60,000 Rainbow Stakes for Arkansas-breds at Oaklawn Park by a head. The Favorite, Codes Diamond, settled for third. Rattlesnake Hollar, a Hesabull gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.05 with Eddie Razo Jr. in the irons. Woo Pig Sooie, a first-time starter who would have made a great-sounding Arkansas-type exacta with Rattlesnake Holler, faded to finish 10th of 11.
-- In France, trainer Christophe Ferland had hoped a good run by Mont Pelato in Saturday's Prix Policeman over the Cagnes-sur-Mer Fibresand track would be a stepping stone to the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Kentucky Derby. Oops. Mont Pelato, winner of two previous stars over the all-weather surface, shot out to the lead and faded in the stretch to finish ninth. "It was a very bad ride," Ferland told Daily Racing Form. "We haven't seen anything like his true self today. We'll send him back home (to Bordeaux). A decision about whether he will go to Keeneland will be made later in the week."
Kentucky Oaks preps
R Heat Lightning relaxed nicely behind the leaders in Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park, accelerated to the lead when asked by jockey John Velazquez and easily drew clear, winning by 7 1/4 lengths. The favorite, Dancinginherdreams, was poised to go at the top of the lane but couldn't stay with the winner and finished second. Pomeroy's Pistol set the early pace and finished third. R Heat Lightning, a Florida-bred Trippi filly out of the Gold Fever mare Yellow Heat, got the mile on a fast track in 1:36.25. The victory atoned for a fourth-place finish in her seasonal debut, the Forward Gal, also at Gulfstream. "She had a much smoother trip today," winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. "Last time she got bumped pretty hard at the start and never settled down in the backstretch. Today, she had a clean trip, relaxed, and then went on with it … . We'll naturally consider the Gulfstream Oaks here," Pletcher added. "The main goal is the Kentucky Oaks. She's run well at Churchill." R Heat Lightning finished second to Awesome Feather last fall in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies over the Louisville strip.
Harlan's Ruby survived a wide trip to win Saturday's $50,000 Valdale Stakes at Turfway Park by 1 1/2 lengths over Kitten's Dancer. Jelly Cable, who had the lead briefly, held on for third. Harlan's Ruby, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Harlan's Holiday out of the Saint Ballado mare Smiling Eyes, ran the mile on the all-weather track in 1:40.34 with Perry Ouztz aboard.
Golden Springs and Icelain Diva -- two of the longest shots on the board -- dueled through the first six furlongs of Sunday's $50,000 Island Fashion Stakes at Sunland Park in New Mexico. Icelain Diva then opened up a 2-length lead in the stretch but faded and Golden Springs came again to win by a nose over the late-closing Formal Plan Icelain Diva held third. Golden Springs, a Florida-bred daughter of Pomeroy, got the mile on a fast track in 1:41.51 under Kelsi Purcell.
Lovenotlost was rank early, steadied in traffic at the top of the lane and still got home first in Saturday's $60,000 Sarah Lane's Oates Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies at Fair Grounds. Tensas Punch was brave on the lead but failed by a nose. Take Me Home Too was 3/4 of a length farther back in third. Lovenotlost, a Lost Soldier filly, ran the "about" 1 mile on "good" turf in 1:43.08 with Shaun Bridgmohan in the irons.
All About Allie ran by pacesetting favorite Explosive Disco in the stretch run of Sunday's $50,000 Rainbow Miss for Arkansas-breds at Oaklawn Park and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Bulindamarie finished third, 5 1/4 lengths back of Explosive Disco. All About Allie, a Storm and a Half filly, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.57.
In other weekend racing:
In a race featuring some of the SAR's most accomplished runners, it was an upstart, California Memory, who swept to victory in Sunday's HKG1 Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup, the second leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown. With Matthew Chadwick up for trainer Tony Cruz, the 5-year-old was stepping up both the a G1 event and 2,000 meters for the first time. It proved no problem as California Memory, held up near the back of the field early, came easily past the lot to win going away. King Dancer saw victory snatched away at the end. Mighty High and veteran Viva Pataca finished third and fourth respectively. Irian finished sixth. Viva Pataca had won the race twice previously. And Irian was just nipped on the wire in last December's Hong Kong Gold Cup by the super filly, Snow Fairy. Cruz said Sunday's win could be the start of a similar run to stardom for California Memory. "It was always in our plans," he said. "We believed in this horse and believed this was the distance for him as he'd run well in a 2,000-meter race in France before coming here. Now, after this performance, I think this is a serious horse and one to be looked on as the next big horse in Hong Kong. We'll definitely go to the (G1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup) with him on 1 May and the (HKG1 Standard Chartered) Champions & Chater Cup, and some international races too." He could be right as the Gold Cup seemed truly run, and quickly, too. California Memory finished in 2.01.63 and ran the final 400 meters in 21.63, bettering even Snow Fairy's finishing time of 21.97 in December's dramatic victory. Stay tuned.
(By Richard Gross)
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor saddled three winners in the eighth meeting of the International Racing Carnival Thursday, highlighted with a 1 1/4-length win by local filly Khawlah in the featured 9 1/2-furlong UAE Oaks (UAE-III) on the all-weather Tapeta with Frankie Dettori aboard. It was the trainer's seventh win of the meet. Bin Suroor said the filly probably will ship to Europe for the start of the U.K. racing season at York.
Dettori also enjoyed a good night steering Bay Willow over 11 furlongs to a 2 1/2-length advantage over Meeriss on the all-weather for the Jaguar XK Trophy. The jockey was denied a personal triple when Global City fell by a length to stablemate Charlie's Moment in the 6-furlong, all-weather Range Rover Sport Trophy sprint. Murfarrh, under Richard Hills, also got the better of Dettori aboard Sahara Kingdom, speeding away with the 9 1/2-furlong, all-weather Jaguar XJ Trophy by 4 1/2 lengths in a blazing finish over the last quarter mile.
Mike de Kock started the evening by continuing his winning Carnival ways with 1 3/4-length win by Wonder Lawn in the opening mile-and-a-quarter Jaguar XF Trophy turf run. That brought the South African's 2011 Carnival winning total so far to 15. Ireland's Introvert gave extra effort to breeze to a 3 1/4-length win over Ahlaain in the listed Meydan Classic turf mile under local jockey favorite Ahmed Ajtebi.
The meet ended with the evening's most exciting finish. Navajo Chief, in his fourth 2011 Carnival start, got the better of a final lunge with a short head win in the concluding mile-long Range Rover Trophy turf run over Kavango after being denied in a photo finish last week. Fareer and Munaddam hit the wire together to close the night a scant 3/4 length behind the winner.
The Carnival's biggest evening is next week's Super Thursday, the best chance for horses on the bubble to get a gate for one of the March 26 Dubai World Cup day races.
One of the potential condenders for the $10 million World Cup, Victoire Pisa, warmed up with a come-from-behind victory Sunday in the Group 2 Nakayama Kinen. With Mirco Demuro up, the 4-year-old Neo Universe colt started near the back of the 12-horse field, advanced steadily and produced a winning late effort, getting home first by 2 1/2 lengths over Captain Thule. Reach the Crown finished third. Victoire Pisa covered the 1,800 meters on firm turf in 1:46.0. In his last outing, Victoire Pisa defeated reigning Japanese Horse of the Year Buena Vista by a nose in the Dec. 26 Arima Kinen. Before that, he finished third in the Japan Cup and seventh in the Arc. "He felt a bit nervous today," Demuro told the Racing Post. "So I decided to relax him in the rear, getting him to take it easy. He is very good horse and a good horse to take to Dubai." Victoire Pisa and Buena Vista both are expected to ship to the UAE for the World Cup.
Little Mike led them a merry chase in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Canadian Turf Stakes, then held well in the final 16th to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Society's Chairman. Yankee Fortune, the favorite, was third. Little Mike, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Spanish Steps gelding, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:32.37 with Joe Bravo handling the reins. The win backed up his victory in the Grade III Fort Lauderdale last month. "As long as he's happy and flipping his ears around, how fast he's going doesn't really matter," Bravo said. "Time only matters when you're in jail." Winning trainer Dale Romans said the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland April 15 is a possible next target. But, he added, "There are a lot of good races at a mile, but I think he'll go farther if we ask him."
Goombada Guska closed into a moderate pace to win Saturday's $65,000 Stymie Handicap by a half length over More Than a Reason. Masala and Remand, who contested the early lead, completed the order of finish. Goombada Guska, a 4-year-old, New Jersey-bred Yonaguska filly, ran 9 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:51.53 with Jose Valdivia Jr. up.
Five Grand Girl took over from pacesetter Wild News in the stretch run of Sunday's $60,000 Patty's Positive Stakes and got clear to win by 2 lengths. Wild News held second by a nose over the odds-on favorite, Wind Caper. Five Grand Girl, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Five Star Day, got the 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:10.32, also with Valdivia in the irons.
Upperline got the upper hand in the stretch run in Saturday's $60,000 Allen Lacombe Memorial Handicap for fillies and mares, then coasted home first, a length better than Category Seven. The favorite, Forest Uproar, ran wide on both turns and got home third. Upperline, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Maria's Mon filly, ran "about" 1 1/16 miles on "good" turf in 1:46.68 with Rosie Napravnik in the irons.
Sam Houston Race Park
Afleet Deceit outfinished favorite Bella Medaglia to win Saturday's $50,000 Sam Houston Distaff by 1 1/2 lengths. Mayhaw was third. Afleet Deceit, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Northern Afleet mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.59 with Eguard Tejera riding.
Southern California's unseasonably bad weather forced Saturday's $100,000 Valentine Dancer Handicap off the turf, with seven resulting scratches. Of the remaining four runners, Ultra Blend was best, getting home 1 1/4 lengths better than the odds-on favorite, Evening Jewel. La Nez and Camille C completed the order of finish. Ultra Blend, a 5-year-old, California-bred mare by Richly Blended, finished the mile on the fast main track in 1:35.58 with Joel Rosario up.
Quick Enough battled with Amazombie down the hillside, across the dirt and well into the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Sensational Star Handicap for California-breds, then finally edged clear late on the inside to win by a half length. Dancing In Silks finished third. Quick Enough, a 7-year-old High Brite gelding, completed the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:13.52 with Patrick Valenzuela in the irons.
Tampa Bay Downs
Choragus rallied to challenge for the lead turning for home in Saturday's $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes, then won a long stretch battle by 3/4 length over C C's Pal. Striking Dancer finished third. Choragus, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Harlan's Holiday mare, got the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:44.39 under Leandro Goncalves.