For the second straight week, it was all upsets in weekend Kentucky Derby preps and, as a result, the May 7 Run for the Roses looks exceptionally wide open.
Saturday's Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and Blue Grass at Keeneland both produced upside-down results.
The Factor went into the $1 million, Grade I Arkansas Derby with a chance to seize the initiative with only three weeks to go until the big race at Churchill Downs. Instead, his front-running style was pre-empted by a pair of long shots and The Factor proved unable to rally from off the pace, finishing seventh.
The winner, Archarcharch, did come from well back in the field to win but was all-out to hang on by a neck at the end of 9 furlongs. The Kentucky Derby is 10 furlongs with a seemingly endless stretch.
Nehro was putting pressure on at the end and Dance City survived the pace duel well enough to salvage third. Archarcharch, a Kentucky-bred colt by Arch, out of the Woodman mare Woodman's Dancer, finished in 1:49.34.
Archarcharch was third in the final local prep for the Arkansas Derby, the Rebel, won by The Factor. He now has three wins from six lifetime starts.
The victory was a family affair as trainer Jinx Fires and his son-in-law, Jon Court, teamed up.
"We had a good start," Court said. "We had a great position. Last time, we just had to go because no one else went with The Factor. This time, we were able to sit back and watch the speed duel unfold. We're just so excited … Kentucky Derby, here we come."
"This horse is something special," said winning owner Robert Yagos, who owns a junk salvage yard and a farm in Jacksonville, Ark., population 31,650. "Jinks gave us confidence in this horse since day one. We haven't gotten to take a deep breath since he crossed the wire. Jon and Jinks and the whole barn have done a great job with Archarcharch. This is a big thrill for the family and everyone involved."
In Kentucky, the $750,000, Grade I Toyota Blue Grass was a competitive heat. Santiva went to the post as the favorite after finishing second behind Mucho Macho Man in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds two months ago. But the race, over the all-weather surface, also attracted a slew of grass runners, scrambling the equation beyond rational analysis.
In the end, Brilliant Speed belied his name, coming from last to win in the final jumps by a nose over Twinspired. King Congie was third, another head back, followed by Newsdad. Of the top four finishers, all but Twinspired had been running on the turf.
Santiva was trapped at mid-stretch and lost all chance, finishing ninth.
Brilliant Speed, a Florida-bred Dynaformer colt out of the Gone West mare Speed Succeeds, finished the 9 furlongs in 1:50.92. Joel Rosario rode for trainer Thomas Albertrani, who also saddled King Congie. Brilliant Speed took five tries to break his maiden and the Blue Grass was just his second win.
Rosario said of the last-to-first ride, "He broke well and I found myself in behind. I just let him relax and make a big run on the outside." Asked if he knew he had won, the rider said, "That was close."
George Strawbridge Jr. spoke on behalf of owner Charlotte Weber of Live Oak Plantation, who was not at Keeneland.
"She said in a rather light-hearted moment, 'Oh, my goodness. I guess I might be going to the (Kentucky) Derby after all,'" Strawbridge said. "She had the disappointment of To Honor and Serve, who at one stage was the second-favorite for the Kentucky Derby (but was injured). That was crushing for her."
Julien Leparoux, who rode Santiva, said. "We just had no racing luck. I was down on the inside and never was able to let him run. The horse was good. He relaxed for me. I had a ton of horse but was never able to get off the rail."
Kentucky Oaks preps
May Day Rose led all the way to a 3/4-length victory over Hearts on Fire in Saturday's $100,000 Instant Racing Stakes at Oaklawn Park. With Martin Garcia up for trainer Bob Baffert, May Day Rose set a comfortable pace, responded when challenged and proved best. Dixie City finished third. May Day Rose, a Florida-bred daughter of Rockport Harbor out of the Pine Bluff mare May Day Bluff, got the mile on a fast track in 1:35.25.
Turbulent Descent rallied four-wide into the stretch in Sunday's $150,000, Grade II Beaumont Stakes and drew off smartly in the lane to win by 5 lengths. Honey Chile was best of the rest with Coax Liberty third. Turbulent Descent, a Florida-bred Congrats filly out of the Forestry mare Roger's Sue, ran the about 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:26.12 with David Flores up for trainer Mike Puype.
In other weekend racing:
Victoire Pisa, winner of last month's Dubai World Cup, headlines a cast of international stars entered for the May 1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup. The Japanese-trained runner would be the first World Cup winner to race at Sha Tin. Also headed for the race are four others who ran at Meydan on the World Cup card. Cape Blanco and Gitano Hernando finished fourth and sixth in the Cup itself and River Jetez and Wigmore Hall, who finished second and third behind Presvis in the Dubai Duty Free. Local contenders include Ambitious Dragon, winner of the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby, as well as something old -- Viva Pataca -- and something new -- California Memory. "This season's APQEII line-up is not only the strongest ever, but quite possibly one of the best races in the world this year," said William Nader, dxecutive director of racing for the Hong Kong Jockey Club. "There is terrific balance and great depth when evaluating the talented local runners against the five selected overseas runners, which include four G1 winners."
Duke of Mischief, with Joe Bravo up, came from far back to win Saturday night's $1 million Charles Town Classic by 2 1/2 lengths over Santa Anita Handicap victor Game On Dude. Tizway was third in a very competitive race that drew handicap horses from around the country. The favorite, Rule, finished ninth of 10. Duke of Mischief, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of Graeme Hall, got the 1 1/8 miles in the slop around three turns in 1:51.13.
Sweet Goodbye led all the way to an easy, 6 1/4-length victory in Saturday night's $250,000 Sugar Maple Stakes for fillies and mares. C C's Pal was second and Bwana Babe finished third. Sweet Goodbye, a 6-year-old, Maryland-bred Louis Quatorze mare, ran 7 furlongs on the sloppy track in 1:24.38 under J. Acosta.
Loranger Native rallied from well back to win Saturday night's $100,000 Blue and Gold Stakes for 3-year-olds by a half length over Diski Dance. Gators Choice was third. Loranger Native, a Louisiana-bred Good and Tough gelding, finished 7 furlongs in the slop in 1:25.72 for jockey John Velazquez.
Havre de Grace waited patiently behind the leaders in Friday's $500,000, Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap for fillies and mares, advanced easily when asked by jockey Ramon Dominguez turning into the stretch and was easily the best the rest of the way, winning by 3/4 of a length over Switch. Absinthe Minded, the early leader, finished third. Havre de Grace, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Saint Liam filly, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.19. She now has four wins, three seconds and two thirds from nine career starts. "We're just glad she ran to her ability and to the way she had been training," said winning trainer Larry Jones. "She's a top-quality filly and when we got her in the barn we quickly realized that she might be something special. I'm glad she's living up to what we feel she can be." He said the long-range goal is to get Havre de Grace to the Breeders' Cup, with the Delaware Handicap as an intermediate stop. "We are going to treat her like the champion we think she can be," Jones said. "You can't sew it up in April, but we feel we certainly have the leader and the horse ready to be the champion." For those with short memories -- this is the race which, for a short time last year, loomed as the showdown between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, before the latter's career went south.
Smiling Tiger was off a step slowly in Thursday's $200,000, Grade III Count Fleet Handicap but rallied around his rivals into the stretch and drew off to a 2 1/2-length victory. Silver Magnus, at odds of better than 30-1, had the lead at the top of the lane and then held on for second. The early leader, Chief of Affairs, settled for third. Smiling Tiger, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Hold That Tiger colt, completed the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.63 under Joel Rosario. Winning trainer Jeff Bonde noted Smiling Tiger was "very professional and he certainly wasn't like that early in his career at all. He's developed a new style and he's been very good in the gate." He said the Met Mile likely is the next target, adding, "what we are trying to do with him to get back to the Breeders' Cup this fall." He finished third in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, won by Big Drama.
Uncle Brent stayed close to the early speed in Saturday's $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes for 3-year-olds, spurted to the lead along the inside turning for home and drew clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Albergatti. Derivative finished third. Uncle Brent, a Kentucky-bred Pioneering gelding out of the Storm Brewing mare Beth's Brew, got the mile in 1:37.20 under Joe Rocco Jr.
Shotgun Gulch, last of nine in the early going in Thursday's $300,000, Grade I Vinery Madison Stakes for fillies and mares, rallied five-wide into the stretch and caught Amen Hallelujah in the final strides, winning by a head. Dr. Zic finished third. Shotgun Gulch, an 11-1 long shot, got the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:24.14 with Garrett Gomez up. She is a 4-year-old Thunder Gulch filly. "She's not very big," Gomez said. "Sometimes those little horses travel really well on a synthetic racetrack, and she did so today." Owner/trainer C.R. Trout said he plans to ship Shotgun Gulch to Churchill Downs and await the Humana Distaff on Derby Day.
Get Stormy led from start in Friday's $300,000, Grade I Maker's Mark Mile, turned back a challenge by Workin for Hops turning for home and worked clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Workin for Hops held second, a neck better than Society's Chairman. The favorite, Court Vision, make a late run but flattened out to finish fourth. Get Stormy, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Stormy Atlantic horse, ran the mile on "good" turf in 1:37.31 with Javier Castellano handling the reins. Winning trainer Tom Bush said he was happy to see some give in the grass. "I knew the turf was pretty soft," he said, "and I wasn't exactly sure how to read them. But the horse had a beautiful, bouncy stride going down the backside and I felt real good about that. Javier, he rides him like a dream. It was great."
Never Retreat was close to the leaders early in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Jenny Wiley Stakes for fillies and mares, too charge in the lane and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Fantasia. The favorite, Zagora, finished third. Never Retreat, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Smart Strike mare, got the 1 1/16 miles on yielding turf in 1:44.72 under Shaun Bridgmohan. "I knew the soft turf would be something she'd be all right on," said winning trainer Chris Block. "We ran her at Kentucky Downs last year in a real bog, and she handled it with no trouble. She's at the top of her game right now. We felt this was the best chance to go after a Grade II, especially at Keeneland."
Stratford Hill sat just off the pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Shakertown Stakes, moved three-wide toward the leaders in the stretch run and got home first by a half length over late-running Grand Adventure. Great Attack led briefly and finished third and the favorite, Chamberlain Bridge, the early pacesetter, slid to finish fourth. Stratford Hill, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred A.P. Indy colt, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:03.90 with John Velazquez in the irons. "Phil Hronek, the farm manager and racing manager for (breeder and owner Eugene Melnyk), told me this horse was better on the grass and thought he was a good sprinter on the grass," winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He turned out to be 100 percent right. He just keeps getting a little better, handled some soft ground today. He's just a real professional horse. He gives you the impression, being an A.P. Indy, that he might stretch out a bit. But he keeps running well short that we don't want to change what's working."
Pletcher came right back to saddle Aikenite, the winner of the next race, the $175,000, Grade II Commonwealth Stakes. Last in the early going, Aikenite came around four rivals for the win, scoring by 2 1/4 lengths over Cool Bullet. Le Grand Cu and Wise Dan completed the order of finish. Taqarub stopped in the stretch run and did not finish. Aikenite, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Yes It's True colt, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.35 under Velazquez. "Both of these horses have been training really well," Pletcher said of Chamberlain Bridge and Aikenite. "We've been looking forward to running Aikenite here for a while now. He seems to like the surface here and came into it really well."
Malibu Pier outfinished favorite Cozi Rosie to win Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Santa Barbara Handicap by a half length. Restless Soul finished third. Malibu Pier, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Malibu Moon filly, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:00.22. Bric Blanc rode for trainer Carla Gaines. "We were fairly confident she could get the distance," Gaines said. "She ran so well at a mile and an eighth (winning the Santa Ana March 19). She's done everything we've asked of her, so we were pretty confident. Brice did a great, great job with her today.
Regally Ready set a pressured pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III San Simeon Handicap, finally opened a lead in the stretch and held off Camp Victory by a nose on the wire. Supreme Summit finished third. Regally Ready, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred More Than Ready gelding, ran the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:12.33 with Mike Smith at the controls. "I knew the two outside horses had been away a while, so I was hoping I could shake loose of them and get a little breather," Smith said. "When we came to the dirt, they both fell back and that gave me the break I needed. My horse relaxed a bit and that was the difference."
Juniper Pass swung out for room entering the stretch in Sunday's $150,000, Grade II San Juan Capistrano Invitational, advanced through the lane and was just up at the wire to nip Impotente Purse by a neck. Celtic New Year was third and Quindici Man finished fourth. Juniper Pass, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Lemon Drop Kid colt, ran the "about" 1 3/4 miles on firm turf in 2:47.74 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons.
Nicole H stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Distaff Handicap, was turned loose to run at the top of the lane by jockey Channing Hill, and quickly drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Wild News was the early leader and held second, 2 lengths to the good of Kid Kate. Nicole H, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Mr. Greeley filly, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.29. "She was fresher than she usually is in the paddock," winning trainer Mike Hushion said. "But when the gates opened, that first quarter mile, thankfully, she got to settle the way you would have hoped." Asked what's next for Nicole H, he said, "We'll see how she comes back and discuss it with the owners."
Oh Canada raced in mid-pack early in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Woodstock Stakes for 3-year-olds, quickly worked into contention on the outside around the turn and proved best in the stretch, holding off Black N Beauty at the end by 3/4 of a length. Something Extra finished third and the favorite, Madman Diaries, got home fourth. Oh Canada, an Ontario-bred Proud Citizen gelding out of the Ascot Knight mare Oh Livia D, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.10 with Luis Contreras up for trainer Robert Tiller. It was his second win from three starts and it's a shame we're unlikely to see Oh Canada compete against international sprint star Starspangledbanner in a matchup of anthems.
Essence Hit Man led from the start in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Jacques Cartier Stakes, coasting home first by 2 lengths over Signature Red. Fatal Bullet finished third. Essence Hit Man, with Patrick Husbands up, got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.16. He is a 4-year-old, Ontario-bred Speightstown gelding.
Golden Gate Fields
Justenufappeal surrendered the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Golden Poppy for 3-year-old fillies, then came again in the stretch run and was up to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Windy Sails finished second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Alec's Moon. Justenufappeal, a Florida-bred Exchange Rate filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:46.06 with Russell Baze in the irons.
Miss Blakely stalked the pace in Saturday's $60,000 South Beach Stakes for fillies and mares, rallied three-wide and won a three-way sprint to the wire by a head over Bet on the Blue and another neck over Carem Crescent. Miss Blakely, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred Smart Strike mare, finished 7 1/2 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:32.18 under Paco Lopez.
Tar Heel Mom pressed the pace in Sunday's $75,000 Harmony Lodge Handicap for fillies and mares, quickly took charge when asked and easily drew clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Hour Glass was second with Bronx City Girl third. Tar Heel Mom, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Flatter mare, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:09.97 with Alex Solis aboard.
Lone Star Park
Lydia's Last Step led just about every step of the way to a 2 3/4-length victory in Thursday's $50,000 Premiere Stakes for Texas-breds. The 4-year-old Spanish Steps gelding surged quickly to the lead, turned back a challenge and drew off convincingly. He completed the mile on a fast track in 1:39.95. "He shot out of the gate," said winning rider Bryan McNeil. "He was pulling at me the whole way and when I let him go at the top of the stretch he was game to the finish."
Tin Top Cat came from well back to capture Saturday's $50,000 JEH Stallion Stakes for Texas-bred fillies and mares by 1 1/2 lengths over Blackie's Crown. Lady Giacomo finished third. Tin Top Cat, a 4-year-old Supreme Cat filly, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.33 with Justin Shepherd up.
Miss Fleetfoot pressed the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Primonetta Stakes for fillies and mares, got by the leader and went on to score by 2 1/4 lengths over Wind Caper. Tough Talkin Lady finished third. Miss Fleetfoot, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred Northern Afleet mare, finished the 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:12.02 under Abel Castellano Jr.
Black Hills rallied from last of seven to win Sunday's $100,000 Sunland Park Handicap by 5 lengths over Schramsburg. Quiet Again finished third. Black Hills, a 7 year-old, Florida-bred Judge T C gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.59 with Miguel Hernandez riding.
Roll Bloomers Roll broke slowly in Saturday's $125,000 Copper Top Futurity for New Mexico-bred 2-year-old fillies but finished fastest of all, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Miss Bullette. Worth a Pot Full was third. Roll Bloomers Roll, by Roll Hennessey Roll out of the Gilded Time mare Gold Bloomers, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 52.09 seconds with Vicente Grajeda riding.
In the $113,000 Copper Top for 2-year-old colts and geldings, I Play Dirty dueled down the lane with Apolitical Roll before winning by a neck. My Homey finished third. I Play Dirty, also by Roll Hennessey Roll but out of the Cherokee Run mare Runaway Set, was clocked in 51.93 seconds under Isaias Enriquez.
Trophy Boy led all the way to a 5-length victory over the favorite, Subtle Irony in Saturday's $50,000 Howard B. Noonan Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-olds. No Garlic was third. Trophy Boy, a Medalist colt, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:11.25 with Rafael Hernandez up.
Sweet Southern Moon shot right to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 John Henry Stakes and hung on at the end to win by a half length over Bauers Got Hours. And Music Came finished third. Sweet Southern Moon, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred Sweetsouthernsaint gelding, was clocked in 1:42.71 for 1 1/16 miles over firm turf. Tracy Hebert rode.