Machen pulled off a mild upset in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs. Ambitious Dragon emerged as a rising international star with a victory in the Audemars Piguet QE II in Hong Kong. And Planteur won the Continent's first Group 1 of the year.
Perhaps most impressive of all, Frankel ran away with the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket quicker than Kate and William skedaddled off to their secret wedding weekend hideout.
Despite the frenzy around Saturday's 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, it might well be the best 3-year-old in the world won't be in that field. In fact, it would take a truly spectacular performance in the Run for the Roses to rival the exploits of Frankel in Saturday's 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in England -- a race first contested in 1809.
The undefeated, prohibitive favorite shot out of the stalls, opened a huge lead before his rivals realized what was happening and coasted home first by about 6 lengths. Tom Queally, more a passenger for this ride than a jockey, said Frankel was waiting on his rivals for the last furlong.
Frankel, named for the late American trainer Bobby Frankel, now is undefeated in six starts and looking around for meaningful competition.
Queally said it's a task to judge pace aboard Frankel, who finished the straight mile in 1:37.3.
"The first thing you think is, 'What speed are we going?', because to him it feels like a cruising canter," the rider told the Daily Mail. "He quickened up and went away."
Dubawi Gold was second in the 2000 Guineas, with Native Khan third.
Trainer Henry Cecil said he will confer with owner Khalid Abdulla before committing to the Epsom Derby.
There is some question of Frankel's ability to go the 1 1/2 miles of the Derby. But a little more ambitious route than the 2000 Guineas' mile might be dictated by the fact the woods are thick with excellent milers this season, including Canford Cliffs, Dick Turpin and, of course, the incomparable Goldikova.
Kentucky Derby preparations:
Machen raced well off the pace in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Cliff's Edge Derby Trial on opening night at Churchill Downs, hit some rough going while making up ground around the turn but finally got to the outside with a big run and prevailed by a neck over Dominus. J J's Lucky Train also survived some bumping for a game third and the favorite, Travelin Man, faded from the pace to get home sixth. Machen, a Kentucky-bred Distorted Humor colt, finished the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.47 with Edgar Prado up. Despite the nice effort, winning trainer Neil Howard said it's unlikely Machen will be pointed for the Preakness. "He's been a nice colt, but I think maybe we were pushing just slightly with the two turns," Howard said. "Once we accepted the fact that we thought maybe shortening up a little bit would help him -- because it was all speculation at that time -- but now that he has done it we'll probably try to be careful about not going too far with him."
-- The Factor, who faltered in the Arkansas Derby after shining in California for trainer Bob Baffert, will not be a factor in the Kentucky Derby. Baffert and owner George Bolton on Tuesday ruled the colt out of the Run for the Roses, also revealing he had surgery for a displaced palate. J P's Gusto, another transplanted Californian who didn't cut the mustard in Arkansas, also has been withdrawn from consideration.
-- Many of the remaining contenders got in work at Churchill Downs, where the weather has improved and the forecast indicates a likely fast track on Saturday.
-- Tom Durkin has called it a day as the race-caller for the Triple Crown. Durkin announced this week he has not renewed his contract with NBC and the television network is seeking a replacement for the amiable Oak Park, Ill., native. Durkin said the strain and pressure had come to be too much to handle. "It was an extremely difficult decision to make and one that came after almost a year of reflection," Durkin said. Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports Group, added, "It's rare in this business that you find someone who has such extraordinary talent, who works relentlessly, and never ceases to be the nicest person in any room he is in. We will truly miss Tom on our Triple Crown broadcasts."
Ambitious Dragon, the winner of the Hong Kong Derby earlier in the year, charged down the straight past a wall of horses to win Sunday's Group 1 Audemars Piguet QE II Cup at Sha Tin, holding off fellow Hong Kong runner California Memory by 3/4 of a length. With South African rider Douglas Whyte up, Ambitious Dragon missed the break, then took back from his outside post position and dropped to the rail to save ground, coming with his run at mid-stretch. While Hong Kong Gold Cup winner California Memory also was making up ground in the final yards, he was no threat at the end. Ambitious Dragon, a 4-year-old gelding by the Australian sire Pins, finished the 2,000 meters over good going in 2:02.23. The bad start, Whyte said, "changed my complete tactics and I decided to run for luck." It helped, he said, that trainer Tony Millard "left every single inch of the ride up to myself," giving him the option to ride to circumstances. Mighty High, Irian and two-time QE II winner Viva Pataca made it a clean sweep of the first five placings for the home team. Among the foreigners, River Jetez finished sixth, Gitano Hernando eighth and Wigmore Hall 11th. Ambitious Dragon now has seven wins for the season in Hong Kong, equaling a local record, and seems destined for international competition -- at Sha Tin for the Hong Kong Cup in December if not before. Millard said he has had "lots of offers from all over. But the horse needs a rest" and isn't likely to show up in Europe or the United States this summer.
In the HK Group 2 Sprint Cup, Multiglory swept to the lead entering the turn and held on by a neck over Sacred Kingdom, who was bidding for a record-tying 18th Hong Kong win. Sacred Kingdom was boxed in at the top of the lane and jockey Brett Pribble couldn't get him going in time to quite close the gap. Final Answer finished third. Multiglory, a 4-year-old King of Danes gelding, was dropping in distance after an abortive try in the Hong Kong Derby and finished the 1,200 meters over good going in 1:08.95 with Matthew Chadwick up. Either he or Sacred Kingdom or both now could be a candidate for the KrisFlyer Sprint in Singapore in three weeks time.
Planteur rallied between pacesetter Cape Blanco and Cirrus Des Aigles in the late going of Saturday's Group 1 Prix Ganay at Longchamp, then held off Sarafina in the late going for the victory. The margin was a length with Christophe Soumillon up on the winner for trainer Elie Lellouche. The 4-year-old Danehill Dancer colt was eighth behind Snow Fairy in last December's Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin. He returned to action with a victory in the Group 2 Prix d'Harcourt at Longchamp three weeks ago.
Blue Bunting, toting the blue colors of Godolphin, ran smartly by the leaders in the late going of Sunday's 1000 Guineas at Newmarket to score a 3/4-length vicory over Together and forge into top contention for the upcoming Oaks. Maqaasid was third and the favorite, Memory, never fired and finished 18th. Mahmood al Zarooni, Godolphin's up-and-coming new trainer, handles the U.S.-bred Dynaformer filly and Frankie Detorri took the customary flying leap off her back in the winner's enclosure. "A furlong out, I thought I would be placed," Dettori said. "But the first two were hands on knees, they were so tired. She will definitely get the mile and a half at Epsom." Blue Bunting, unlike most of Godolphin's string, remained in Newmarket over the winter. Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said that was not by design but to deal with a small bone chip in her ankle.
Saturday's Group 2 Jockey Club at Newmarket came down to a final-furlong battle between the heavy favorite, Dandino, and extreme long shot Native Ruler. With just jumps left, it appeared the long shot was the winner but with jockey Paul Mulrennen urging him onward, Dandino found just enough to put his nose in front under the wire. The tight photo denied another Group win to the team that sent out Frankel -- jockey Tom Queally and trainer Henry Cecil. Winning conditioner James Given said Dandino, a 4-year-old son of Dansili, will be pointed for the Coronation Cup. He now has three straight wins and seven from 12 starts.
Hiruno d'Amour saved ground most of the way and then found clear sailing in the final stages to get home first by a half length to Eishin Flash in Sunday's open Group 1 Tenno Sho at Kyoto Race Course. Namura Crescent was third. The only foreign entry, dual French Group 1 winner Gentoo, finished a disappointing ninth. Hiruno d'Amour, a son of Manhattan Café, who won the same race nine years ago, finished the 3,200 meters on good turf in 3:20l.6. He now has won two straight and four of his 14 career starts.
Keertana was reserved well off the pace early in Thursday's $150,000, Grade III Grey Goose Bewitch Stakes, came six-wide around the field turning for home and got by the crowd to win by 1 1/4 lengths. My Baby Baby broke in the air, trailed them all but finished second with a late move along the inside. Honimiere, the early leader, got home third. Keertana, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Johar mare, got the 1 1/2 miles on yielding turf in 2:33.08 with Jose Lezcano handling the reins. "She probably just likes to have the three turns," said winning trainer Tom Proctor. "She's run some pretty powerful races when we've run her there." Asked about the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, where Keertana finished third last year, he added, "One race at a time. I don't think you can look too far ahead with these horses."
Friday's $150,000, Grade II Elkhorn Stakes looked a bit like Woodbine rather than Keeneland as the top five finishers all have Canadian connections. Musketier, last year's winner, rallied from well back to win by 1 1/4 lengths with Pool Play also running well late to take second. Windward Islands ran evenly to finish third and Simmard and Rahy's Attorney were fourth and fifth. Musketier and Simmard are both trained by Roger Attfield. Pool Play, conditioned by Mark Casse, wintered in Florida after spending 2010 at Woodbine, as did Windward Islands and Rahy's Attorney. Musketier, a 9-year-old, German-bred son of Archenango, covered the 1 1/2 miles on yielding turf in 2:32.04 with John Velazquez riding. "He's a wonderful old guy, isn't he?" Attfield marveled. "You look after them and keep them happy, they usually give you everything they've got and he certainly does."
Calder Race Course
Successful Mission stalked the pace set by Little Nick in Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Miami Mile, got to the lead outside while turning for home and held off Voodo Swinge in the late going to win by a neck. Little Nick held on for third. Successful Mission, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Successful Appeal gelding, got the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.01 with Elvis Trujillo riding. "This was the third race in a three-race cycle," said winning trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. "His first race was a dynamite race, but then got caught wide in a tougher race last time. Everything went his way today ... . He'll go with my division at Monmouth for the summer. There really isn't anything on the schedule for awhile."
Caixa Electronica bided his time behind a hot pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Westchester Stakes, moved into contention quickly when allowed to run by jockey Cornelio Velasquez and worked clear through the stretch, scoring by 3 lengths over Convocation. Schoolyard Dreams finished third and the odds-on favorite, Haynesfield, faded to finish fourth in his seasonal debut. Christmas for Liam completed the order of finish. Caixa Electronica, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Arromanches out of the Skip Away mare Edyta, finished the mile on a fast track in 1:34.26. Todd Pletcher trains. "I had a good trip," said Velasquez. "When I asked him, I had a lot of horse." Ramon Dominguez, aboard Haynesfield, by contrast said he had "just an awful setup ... . I was doing everything under my full power when I realized I couldn't match strides with the horse on the outside (Christmas for Liam). I wasn't able to get him back as he was too fresh." Winning owner Mike Repole, who will start Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, quipped, "It's great winning a graded stake on the last Saturday of April. My goal is to win a graded stake on the first Saturday in May."
Chorus Music settled behind the leaders in Friday's $60,000 Irish Linnet Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares, swept around the leaders turning for home and drew off smartly to win by 5 1/2 lengths. The early leader, Exclusive Scheme, held second, 3/4 of a length better than Akilina. Chorus Music, a 6-year-old Strategic Mission mare, ran the mile on yielding turf in 1:38.71 for jockey Alex Solis.
Dubawi Heights raced close to the pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Wilshire Handicap for fillies and mares, made an initial run into the turn and then found another gear at mid-stretch and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Lilly La Pootz. Miss Pleasant was third at a big price and the favorite, Well Monied, settled for fourth. A pair of noses and a head separated the second, third and fourth placings. Dubawi Heights, a 4-year-old, British-bred Dubawi filly, got the mile on firm turf in 1:35.21 with Joel Rosario up. Unable to win in England, Dubawi Heights also lost her first two starts in the United States before reeling off what now is three straight wins. "It's been quite a long road with this filly," said winning trainer Simon Callaghan. "Since she came here, she got colic off the plane, she had a tibia injury and she had knee surgery. This filly is unbelievably tough." He said he will consider the Grade I Gamely Stakes on May 30.
Saint Isabelle waited behind the speed in Sunday's $70,000 Time To Leave Stakes for fillies and mares, rallied three-wide into the stretch when asked for run by jockey Rafael Bejarano and outfinished Irish Gypsy to win by a length. Shakenwithanolive finished third. Saint Isabelle, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Saint Liam filly, negotiated the 5 furlongs on a fast track in 57.09 seconds. "I thought there was too much speed in the race and I knew we needed to change her tactics," winning trainer Mike Puype said. "She was a little late switching her leads. But when she did, she kicked on." He said he is eyeing other sprints at the Hollywood meet.
Check Your Soul broke slowly and trailed the field in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Wando Stakes for 3-year-olds. But with Patrick Husbands up, the Ontario-bred Perfect Soul colt came around rivals into the stretch, opened a comfortable lead and eased home first, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Whippit. Top Prospect was third. The stewards dismissed a claim of foul involving Check Your Soul on the stretch turn. The Queen's Plate prospect, trained by Roger Attfield, finished Sunday's 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.29. "He ran well, didn't he?" Attfield asked rhetorically. "He'll run all day, this horse, for sure. And he's been training very, very well. He ran a little greenly down the lane today, but he was very dominant and I'm
very pleased with him."
Roxy Gap attended the pace in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Fury Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got the lead with a sharp move at the top of the lane and withstood a late bid by Marketing Mix to win by 3/4 of a length. Bingo and Hoi An completed the order of finish. Roxy Gap, an Ontario-bred Indian Charlie filly out of the Saint Ballado mare Hearts Gap, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.95 with Patrick Husbands in the irons. She now has won four of five starts and came into the Fury off a third-place finish in the Grade III Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream Park. "She's really funny," said winning trainer Mark Casse. "This is the first time Patrick has ridden her and he said that you have to ride her the whole way. That's the way she is. She's very laid back. She does what she has to do."
Golden Gate Fields
Our Nautique led from go to whoa in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III San Francisco Mile, holding off Gallant Son in the late going by 1 1/4 lengths. The favorite, Sebastian Flyte, had some trouble while making a move around the turn from off the pace, then closed to finish third. All three top finishers exited races at Santa Anita. Our Nautique, a 6-year-old, New Zealand-bred Pins gelding, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:35.70 for jockey Kevin Krigger. "I went over the race with Kevin," said Hollendorfer. "We thought we'd probably be the speed in the race and with the rail post we decided to go with it."
Andiolus rallied from last of seven in Saturday's $75,000 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes, hit the jets in the stretch and won off by 5 lengths over Paseo Allegro. Sebastian County was third and the favorite, Chicago invader Shadowbdancing, faded badly after pressing the pace and got home a distant fourth. Andiolus, a 5-year-old, British Columbia-bred Stephanotis gelding, completed the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:47 4/5 with Jordan Olesiak in the irons.
Little Drama ran down pacesetting Royal Currier in the final sixteenth to win Wednesday's $75,000 Philmont Stakes for 3-year-olds by a half length. Rush Now prompted the pace but couldn't produce a late run and settled for third. Little Drama, with Kendrick Carmouche up, covered the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.82. David Fawkes trains the Florida-bred Burning Roma colt.
Pocket Patch tracked the early leader in Saturday's $50,000 Henry S. Clark Stakes, easily went to the lead when turned loose by jockey Jonathan Joyce and drew off to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Safety Valve. Lonely Whistle was third and the favorite, Balette, finished fourth with a wide trip. Pocket Patch, a 6-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred Partner's Hero gelding, ran the mile on "good" turf in 1:40.04.
Southern Style didn't need to show much speed in Friday's $50,000 Need for Speed Stakes, tracking the leader into the stretch, then winning a long duel by a head over Chief Jay. The pacesetter, Sparkling Keat, faded to finish third, 1 1/4 lengths farther back. Southern Style, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Forestry gelding, ran the 5 furlongs on a fast track in 57.26 seconds with Carlos Marquez in the irons.
Indian Ink surged to the lead with a quick move along the rail a furlong out in Saturday's $50,000 Dr. T.F. Classen Memorial for Ohio-bred distaffers, then had things all her own way in the stretch run, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over Derby Day Storm. Gathering Dreams finished third. Indian Ink, a 6-year-old Gold Market mare, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.80 with Luis Gonzalez up.
Lewkacy led all the way in Saturday's $50,000 Gene Fleming Breeders' Derby for Arizona-breds and won by 2 1/4 lengths, ridden out. Salado Tribe and Jamaican Memories completed the order of finish. Lewkacy, a Rocky Bar gelding, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.69 with Vince Guerra up.