Pencil in Sabercat for next year's Kentucky Derby -- if, as Tennessee Ernie Ford used to say, "The good Lord's willing and the crick don't rise."
The 2-year-old Bluegrass Cat colt survived a rough start and traffic at the top of the stretch to win Saturday night's $1 million, Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes by 4 lengths. Basmati was second and Longview Drive finished third.
The $600,000 winner's share pushed Sabercat's earnings over $681,000. The Kentucky Derby field is limited to 20 starters and if more than that number are entered, the field is determined by graded stakes earnings. With that qualification ticked off the list, owner Ron Winchell remained appropriately cautious about his colt's chances for the Run for the Roses.
"We still have a long way to go," Winchell said. "But this was a good start."
Since the first running in 2002, five horses have gone on from the Delta Jackpot to the Run for the Roses the following year. The best showing of that lot was Closing Argument, who was second to Giacomo in the 2005 Derby.
Trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Gerard Melancon, Sabercat ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.62. The favorite, Drill, made the early going but faded late, getting home seventh of 10 starters.
"We had a terrible start out of the gate," Melancon said. "I got slammed hard but once I got his feet back under him, we were able to save some ground. I knew the front runners were moving pretty fast and when we got to the three-eighths pole, we were moving. He got to the horses pretty quick. Once I got the lead, I thought, 'Just hold on, baby.'"
Sabercat now has won half of his six lifetime starts. His first two starts were at Churchill Downs and he handled that quirky track well, finishing fourth and a close third.
The rich Jackpot, with its Kentucky Derby implications, was the highlight of a weekend that also included a major race in Japan, three important events in Hong Kong and three graded turf races in the United States.
Eishin Apollon got home first, a neck in front of Fifth Petal, in Sunday's US$2.6 million Mile Championship at Kyoto. The better showing of the two British starters was Sahpresa, who rallied to take third, another 1 1/2 lengths in arrears. Immortal Verse finished seventh. Eishin Apollon, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Giant's Causeway colt, ran the 1 mile over the right-handed turf course in 1:33.9. He came into the race off a victory in the Group 3 Fuji Stakes. Sahpresa's trainer, Rodolphe Collet, commented, "We were unlucky again with the draw for the third year running. But I am extremely proud with the mare, at age 6, for maintaining her form to meet the high level of competition in this Japanese mile race. We may be headed to Hong Kong for our next target, but I will have to discuss this with the owners."
Things did not go as expected in Sunday's Cathay Pacific Jockey Club races -- a trio of Group 2 events that point directly to the Hong Kong International Races in three weeks' time. With some of the SAR's top runners finding troubled trips, upsets were the rule rather than the exception.
The Hong Kong horse with the biggest reputation, Ambitious Dragon, was thrice victimized -- running at less than his best distance in the Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Mile, caught wide throughout and stuck near the lead on a pedestrian pace. Still, jockey Maxime Guyon got Ambitious Dragon to the front halfway down the straight but was unable to hold off Destined For Glory, who just nailed the favorite on the wire. Flying Blue was another 3/4 length back in third. "He hadn't run for seven weeks and as things panned out we didn't win. But the horse ran a great race," said Ambitious Dragon's trainer, Tony Millard. "He was right on the day and of course we were hoping to win, but that was a great lead up to the (CXHK) Cup." "He's still a champion. Don't worry about that," added Guyon. He also won't have to contend with Destined For Glory in the 2,000-meters Cup on Dec. 11. The latter's trainer, John Moore, said Destined For Glory "deserved that win. He's finished really strongly and now he'll go for the CXHK Mile next month."
In the Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Sprint, Little Bridge got first run at the leaders and was too far on the lead for the favorite, Entrapment, to make up the margin. At the end, it was Little Bridge by 3/4 length. The pair is likely to meet again in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint and jockey Gerald Mosse said he likes Little Bridge's chances after Sunday's upset. "He was always traveling very easily," Mosse said of the winner. "I didn't have to make him work too hard and I think we were able to leave something for the big race." Trainer Danny Shum said Little Bridge, after a long break, "has been improving race by race. Now I hope we can win the big one in December."
Another heavy favorite, California Memory, went down in the Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Cup, finishing fourth after twice finding his way blocked in the straight. California Memory and Ambitious Dragon were expected to be the toughest members of the home team for the upcoming Group 1 Cup. Now, seasoned veteran Thumbs Up may join that group after Sunday's win, with Pure Champion, Irian and California Memory in his wake. "The plan was to send him for the (Cathay Pacific Hong Kong) Vase (at 2,400 meters) rather than the Cup because Ambitious Dragon just looks too strong and the gray (California Memory) looked very unlucky today, too," said winning Caspar Fownes. "But we'll have a think about it." California Memory's trainer, Tony Cruz, lamented his horse "never had a run in the straight. He was boxed in all the time and just never had a run."
Macau has shot to leadership in gaming in the past decade as mega casinos have bloomed throughout the former Portuguese enclave. But horse racing goes far back into Macau's history and now also is make a move to the international limelight with the inaugural running Friday of the US$300,000 Macau Sand Premier Cup. Two European-trained horses started in the event but were non-factors at the end as Golden Star, trained by local conditioner Gary Moore and ridden by Louis Corrales, dominated the running. World Fortune, another based in Macau, finished 4 1/2 lengths back in second with Hong Kong's Dynamic Blitz third. Moore celebrated the win, particularly over Dynamic Blitz, who won the Group 3 Al Shindagha at Meydan earlier this year. "We'll aim for that race as well ourselves early next year," he said. "He might not be good enough for the Golden Shaheen on World Cup night but we'll take what chance we can." Golden Star is an Australian-bred, 6-year-old gelding by Statue of Liberty. The Macau "sand" track, tucked inside the main grass oval, has been rebuilt to resemble the all-weather tracks in the United States, Dubai and elsewhere.
Jackpot night provided big payoffs in seven other stakes besides the big one, with the $500,000, Grade III Delta Downs Princess for juvenile fillies at the top of the list. And in that event, Oklahoma invader Now I Know remained undefeated, leading all the way to score her fifth straight win. Inny Minnie, a Steve Margolis trainee coming off a maiden win at Keeneland, was second, 4 lengths back of the winner, and Mexican-bred Yvete Sangalo finished third. Now I Know is an Oklahoma-bred Pure Prize filly out of the Maria's Mon mare Now U Know. She got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.79 with Perry Compton up. Her previous wins were all in Remington Park sprints.
Bella Medaglia got the lead on the turn for home in the $125,000 Treasure Chest Stakes for fillies and mares, was headed early in the stretch run but came back strongly to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Remit. The odds-on favorite, Spirit Seeker, rallied from last to finish third. Bella Megaglia, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Megadlia d'Oro filly, ran the 1 mile in 1:38.29 with John Jacinto up.
Decisive Moment had one at the top of the stretch in the $125,000 Delta Mile when he was headed by Hoorayforhollywood. But Decisive Moment, a 3-year-old, Florida-bred With Distinction colt, was up to the challenge, regaining the lead to win by a neck. Matto Mondo finished third. Decisive Moment, with Kerwin Clark aboard, finished in 1:38.49.
Cajun Charlie was an easy winner running against fellow 2-year-old state-breds in the $150,000 Louisiana Legacy. With Tracy Hebert in the irons, the Afternoon Deelites gelding quickly surged to the fore and kicked clear, winning by 5 3/4 lengths. Freddie One Bite was second with Validfromthegitgo third. Cajun Charlie got the 1 mile in 1:40.24.
In the $150,000 Louisiana Jewl for state-bred 2-year-old fillies, Little Ms Protocol rallied from the back of the pack to catch pacesetter Effie in the stretch and win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Tensas Salt finished third. Little Ms Protocol, a daughter of El Corredor, ran the Jewl's 1 mile in 1:41.41 with Diego Saenz riding.
Nacho Business was by far the best in the $60,000 Sam's Town for 3-year-olds, dusting seven rivals with a powerful stretch drive. Herp got home second, 7 3/4 lengths back, and Smokethruakeyhole finished third. Nacho Business, a Kentucky-bred Rahy colt, ran 7 furlongs in 1:24.74 with Elvis Trujillo up.
And in the $60,000 Orleans Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Mollys Missb'havin dueled down the lane with favorite Tapatia before prevailing by 1/2 length. Moon Larry was third. Mollys Missb'havin, Pennsylvania-bred Silver Train filly, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:26.60.
Sanagas tracked the pace in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Hollywood Turf Cup, swung out three-wide to take the lead and drew off smartly to win by a convincing 3 1/4 lengths. Bourbon Bay rallied behind the winner to take second and Falcon Rock was up late, too, for third. Sanagas, a 5-year-old, German-bred Lomitas gelding, finished the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.50 with Rajiv Maragh riding for trainer Graham Motion. The race was no more eventful than his trip from New York to California, said assistant trainer Alice Clapham. "There wasn't a Tex Sutton charter flight so we came on the Fed Ex flight with all the packages," she said. "It's a big cargo plane but they loaded him last and took him off first." Maragh said once the gate opened, Sanagas was ready to run. "It was a little earlier than I wanted initially. But he really wanted to go and I didn't want to dishearten him. He always runs big and we've always had high hopes for him." Sanagas now has won four of his six U.S. starts since shipping in from his native Germany.
Made to Love Her pulled her way to the lead in Sunday's $100,000 Moccasin Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, then easily distanced a quartet of rivals, winning by 4 lengths. Evelyn's Dancer was second and the favorite, Eva's Joy, finished third. Made to Love Her, a Florida-bred Stevie Wonderboy filly out of the Storm Boot mare Love Boot, got the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.88 with Rafael Bejarano up. "I wanted to run her 7 furlongs," said winning trainer James Kasparoff. "I thought it would be an excellent distance for her and the timing was perfect. She got an excellent trip and ran fantastic. We'll see how she comes out of the race and we'll look at the Hollywood Starlet."
Blues Street raced near the back of the pack early in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III River City Handicap, came wide around the stretch turn and quickly got clear, winning off by 4 1/2 lengths. Allie's Event was second with Gleam of Hope Third. The favorite, Tajaaweed, saved ground but then was blocked through much of the stretch run and finished fourth. Blues Street, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred Street Cry gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in a quite slow 1:51.72 for jockey Robby Albarado. It was his 10th victory in 30 starts and first stakes victory since the Grade II Marvin Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds in March 2010. "He handled the turf," said winning trainer Eddie Kenneally. "There was a little give in the ground, even though it was listed as firm. He relaxed nicely behind the pace and he's got a lot of class -- he's got a lot of back class, this horse. He's good right now and it worked out well."
Redeemed stalked the early pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Discovery Handicap, took over the lead nearing the stretch turn and wasn't challenged thereafter, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Socialsaul. Raison d'Etat got home third. Redeemed, coming off a narrow win the Oklahoma Derby, ran Saturday's 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.22 with Edgar Prado riding. "The last time he ran, he was behind horses and split horses. Today, he stalked them," said winning trainer Rick Dutrow. "He's run on every single different racetrack. I keep throwing scenarios at him, and he keeps answering the bell." Dutrow said Redeemed probably will answer his next bell in Florida, at Gulfstream Park.
Kindergarden Kid rallied from well back in Saturday's $60,000 Pay the Butler Stakes, split rivals at the sixteenth pole and outfinished Sal the Barber to win by a neck. The odds-on favorite, Right One, settled for third with a late rush after some traffic issues in the lane. Kindergarten Kid, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Dynaformer gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:43.66 with Junior Alvarado in the irons.
Rail Trip's woes continued in Thursday's $60,000 Sunny and Mild Stakes, which should have been a confidence-booster after a string of setbacks since relocation from California to New York. The odds-on favorite, Rail Trip stumbled badly at the start, unseating Ramon Dominguez. Ron the Greek went on to win by 5 lengths, followed by Bigger Is Better and Most Happy Fella. Ron the Greek, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Full Mandate colt, ran the 9 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:51.83 for Jose Lezcano. For Rail Trip, it was his fifth straight try in the New York without a win. Last year in California, he won the Mervyn Leroy and the Californian before finishing second to Awesome Gem in the Hollywood Gold Cup.
Half of the original field of 10 scratched when Tuesday's $60,000 May Night Stakes for 2-year-old fillies came off the turf. Of those left, Lady Cohiba proved easily the best, rallying to the lead with a quarter mile to go and winning off by 3 1/2 lengths. Lasamanamamma was second and Court of Dreams finished third. Lady Cohiba, a Kentucky-bred Broken Vow filly out of the Cat Thief mare Cohiba miss, ran 1 mile on a sloppy main track in 1:41.38 with Lezcano up.
Groomedforvictory rallied by the tiring pacesetter in Sunday's $60,000 Adirondack Holme Stakes for New York-breds and outfinished Johannesburg Smile to win by a head. Icabad Crane was 1 length farther back in third. Groomedforvictory, a 6-year-old Victory Gallop gelding, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.73 for jockey Ramon Dominguez.
Atlantic Hurricane hit Force 5 in the stretch run in Sunday's $150,000 Bessarabian Stakes for fillies and mares, flying by the early leaders and blowing away to a 5-lengths victory Mullins Beach was second and the favorite, Embur's Song, settled for third, Atlantic Hurricane, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Halo's Image filly, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.77 under Emile Ramsammy. The winner was claimed for $40,000 in June by trainer Stuart Simon and since has won three stakes. "I had a lot of faith in her today, she's probably better than she's been all year," Simon said. "You're still leery because you have to run the race and things can happen, but I'm so confident in her right now."
Essence Hit Man led all the way in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Kennedy Road Stakes and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Gypsy Ring. Signature Red finished third and the favorite, Paso Doble, got home last of six without ever contending. Essence Hit Man, a 4-year-old, Ontario-bred Speightstown gelding, rationed his early speed more than usual in the opening quarter, but still ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in a quick 1:08.75 under Jesse Campbell. Trainer Audre Cappuccitti said she made a change in Essence Hit Man's bit after his last race and Campbell reported "it really worked. He had a tiny bit more control. It's not that he's tough. He just wants to go and if you try to strangle him, it just doesn't work."
Athena Rose took a clear lead at the top of the stretch in Wednesday's $125,000 (Canadian) Jammed Lovely Stakes for Ontario-foaled 3-year-old fillies, then held off Wonderfully to win by a neck. The odds-on favorite, Weekend Romance, led early and held third. Athena Rose, a Mutakddim filly, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.46 with Steven Behen aboard.
Plantation opened a big lead turning for home in Saturday's $50,000 A Huevo Stakes for West Virginia-breds and coasted to the wire, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over Tup Take' Please. Son of a Bear finished third and the odds-on favorite, Russell Road, was fourth. Plantation, a 4-year-old Luftikus gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.02 with Travis Dunkelberger handling the reins.
Lay Line Force surged to a big lead in the lane in Monday's $75,000 Sophomore Sprint Stakes and odds-on favorite Matthewsburg could only chase him home futilely. At the wire, Lay Line Force was 4 3/4 lengths the winner with Aaron's Way third. Lay Line Force, a Kentucky-bred Forest Grove colt out of the Seattle Slew mare Intriguing Slew, ran the 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:10.49 with Pablo Tolentino in the irons.
Defy Gravity waited behind a pace duel early in Saturday's $50,000 Smart Halo Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, got through in the stretch run and won by 1/2 length over Dance to Bristol. Terralba finished third. Defy Gravity, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Bandini out of the Forest Wildcat mare Quickest, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.16 with Sheldon Russell up. "She has a tremendous amount of natural speed," said winning trainer Lori Testerman. "We have been trying to get her to relax and save it for the end. Each race seems more promising and we are looking forward to a great 3-year-old year."
Bankers Haulover had it all over eight rivals in Saturday's $50,000 Ohio Freshman Stakes for Ohio-bred 2-year-olds, leading most of the way to a 4-lengths win. Uncle Virgil was the best of the rest with I'm Kiddin third. Bankers Haulover, a Habayeb gelding out of the Pioneering mare Cait, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13.92 under Perry Ouzts.
Wild Toy Lake came from last of seven to win Saturday's $50,000 Oklahoma Stallion Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies by a neck over Scrappy Coco. Fancy Wine finished third. Wild Toy Lake, a Wild Tale filly, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.19 with Belen Quinonez in the irons.
Ted's Folly came from last of just four starters to win Friday's $50,000 Oklahoma Stallion Stakes for state-bred juveniles 5 1/4 lengths. Yukonrun was second. K Company and Big Red Okie completed the order of finish. Ted's Folly, a Wild Tale gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.28 with Jose Medina up.
News and notes:
Rapid Redux will try for his 20th straight win Monday night at Mountaineer Racetrack in West Virginia. A victory in the two-turn mile would move Rapid Redux out of a three-way tie with Zenyatta and Pepper's Pride for the most consecutive victories by a North American horse in modern times. Like most of his wins in the streak, the Monday race is a starter allowance and owner Robert Cole Jr. is taking advantage of the condition -- which will expire for Rapid Redux at the end of the year. He already has three wins at Mountaineer, by a combined margin of 23 1/2 lengths.
The Turf Publicists of America announced Friday that trainer Graham Motion has been chosen as the 2011 winner of the organization's Big Sport of Turfdom Award. The honor is bestowed annually upon a person or group of people who enhance coverage of Thoroughbred racing through cooperation with media and Thoroughbred racing publicists. Motion not only saddled this year's Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, but also Grade I winners Toby's Corner, Summer Soiree, Aruna -- and Sanagas in Saturday's Hollywood Turf Cup. "I'm flattered by the award," Motion said. I've always felt strongly about making yourself available and we need as much cooperation in the game as possible -- whether it's with the racetrack, the media or the fans."