The top Kentucky Derby preps ran to form during the weekend but some Breeders' Cup champions were taken down a notch in their seasonal debuts.
Internationally, Ambitious Dragon was dominant again in Hong Kong, a potential new star blazed in Dubai and Black Caviar took the weekend off in Australia.
Union Rags, second to Hansen in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, won the $400,000, Grade II Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park after Algorithms was scratched with an injury. And El Padrino won -- but just barely -- in the $300,000, Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
Those victories set up the winners as likely favorites in the Florida and Louisiana derbies.
Union Rags went to the post in the Fountain of Youth as the second choice in the mutuels behind Discreet Dancer. Making his first start of the year, Union Rags waited patiently under jockey Julien Leparoux until the stretch turn, then moved to the lead three-wide and drew off to win by 4 lengths.
News Pending, a 27-1 long shot, ran second most of the way and finished in that position. Discreet Dancer made the early pace but couldn't stay in the lane and had all he could do to salvage show money by a half length.
Union Rags, a Dixie Union colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.68.
Algorithms, the morning-line favorite, was scratched with what trainer Todd Pletcher described as a popped splint, leaving his Derby status in serious question. "It's an unfortunate situation," Pletcher said. "We'll monitor him closely and see how he responds."
The future looks much more promising for Union Rags' connections.
"I was hoping he would run a good race, but I was not expecting that," Leparoux said of the dominating performance. "He's such an easy horse to ride and did everything so easily. I didn't hit him once. I just showed him the stick a couple times. I'm sure he was not 100 percent today, which means he should just get better."
Leparoux got the mount aboard Union Rags when Javier Castellano opted to ride Algorithms.
Owner/breeder Phyllis Wyeth added, "We were just out for a practice run. Can you believe that one? We were not expecting him to win."
Trainer Michael Matz said to expect Union Rags to run back in the March 31 Florida Derby.
In New Orleans, El Padrino ran professionally in Saturday's Risen Star Stakes and got the job done -- but just.
After rating nicely for jockey Javier Castellano, El Padrino, another Pletcher trainee, engaged Mark Valeski in a prolonged stretch duel, finally prevailing by just a nose. Z Dager was third, 5 1/2 lengths farther back. El Padrino, a Pulpit colt, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.96.
El Padrino now is 3-for-5 but the Risen Star was his first stakes win. Mark Valeski has two wins from four starts and was making his stakes debut Saturday. Pletcher and Mark Valeski's trainer, Larry Jones, said the Louisiana Derby could be the next shot for both colts.
"We're certainly happy enough with the race today that that will be one of our first options," Pletcher said by phone from Florida. "You hope it's the kind of race that he'll improve forward and become battle-tested a little bit and he's getting a little bit more professional all the time and, hopefully, learning how to win."
Jones said about the April 1 Louisiana Derby, "We can see no reason not to."
Elsewhere among the 3-year-olds:
-- At Laurel Park in Maryland, odds-on favorite The Lumber Guy bobbled at the start of Saturday's $75,000 Miracle Wood Stakes but quickly recovered and went on to win by 4 1/4 lengths, ridden out. Brimstone Island was second and it was another 5 3/4 lengths back to Rocky Gap in third. The Lumber Guy, a Grand Slam colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.22 with Julian Pimentel up for trainer Mike Hushion. It was his second win in as many starts, following a maiden score last month at Aqueduct. "He did that very easily. It was impressive," Pimentel said.
-- Isn't He Clever came around the leaders three-wide on the stretch turn in Saturday's $150,000 Borderland Derby and drew off smartly to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Zackn'mat was best of the rest with Major Hope 10 lengths farther back in third. Isn't He Clever, a Smarty Jones gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.00 with Alejandro Medellin riding for trainer Henry Dominguez. He now has four win from six starts. He also finished fourth in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita earlier this month and second in the Clever Trevor Stakes at Remington Park last November.
-- Taylor's Deal had to come seven-wide around the leaders entering the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Turf Paradise Derby but still got the job done with some ease, drawing off late to score by 2 1/4 lengths over Makors Finale. Born Force ran best late to take third. Taylor's Deal, a British Columbia-bred Second In Command gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.82 with Mario Gutierrez up.
Yara, at odds of 64-1, outfinished odds-on favorite Grace Hall to win Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park by a neck. Captivating Lass was a non-threatening third. Yara, a Put It Back filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.41 with Jesus Castenon up for trainer Jose Garoffalo. She came into Saturday's contest as the winner of just two of five sprints. "My filly was just waiting for me to push the button," Castenon said. "And when I did, she ran on really well. I was actually very confident coming into the race. I saw her race last time and I knew she had run some good races before that." Yara finished fourth, beaten 22 1/2 lengths, in the 7-furlong Forward Gal Stakes Jan. 29 over a sloppy Gulfstream track. Garoffalo added, "The goal is the Kentucky Oaks with maybe a race before then. I usually wait to see how they come out of a race to make more immediate plans."
Summer Applause used a late, wide move to score an off-the-pace upset win in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds. With Robby Albarado up, the Harlan's Holiday filly overtook pacesetting Avie's Sense in the lane and went on to win by a length over that rival. Inny Minny finished third and the favorite, Believe You Can, couldn't match strides in the stretch and finished fourth. Summer Applause got the 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:43.30. "Our filly ran a great race," winning trainer Bret Calhoun said. "She's going the right direction. She's maturing mentally and physically all the time, getting good at the right time. I think she's developed the kind of style that will keep her going. There's going to be more speed in these races coming up and hopefully that will serve us better down the line." He would not commit to the Louisiana Oaks, saying, "The ultimate goal is the Kentucky Oaks and we want to figure out the best way to get her there."
Sweet Seventeen sat just off the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Busher Stakes at Aqueduct, got by the long shot leader when asked by jockey Alan Garcia and held off the late charge of Off Limits to win by a half length. Better Lucky was well back in third. Sweet Seventeen, a Hard Spun filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:46.05. Beaten a neck in last month's Busanda when she had trouble changing leads, Sweet Seventeen performed admirably Saturday and is now 3-2-0 from five starts with previous wins at Laurel Park and Keeneland. Garcia said he changed tactics for the Busher. "I wanted to leave her alone and then hope she could switch leads in the stretch," he said. "That was how she got beat last time. But today she switched the lead and she did it."
Lotta Lovin rallied through the stretch to win Saturday's $50,000 Valdale Stakes at Turfway Park -- her third straight stakes win at the northern Kentucky oval. Sweetnessngoodness led briefly and finished second and Dixie Jackpot was a long shot third. Lotta Lovin, a Repent filly, got the mile on a fast track in 1:39.59 with Victor Lebron riding and earned a spot in the Grade III Bourbonette Oaks on Spiral Stakes day, March 24. "She's won three in a row there now and each one more impressively than the last, so it looks like a wise move," winning trainer Mike Maker said by phone from New Orleans, where he saddled five starters Saturday.
Glinda the Good was good enough to justify her odds-on favorite status in Sunday's $50,000 Island Fashion Stakes at Sunland Park in New Mexico, rallying from off the pace to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Ize in Trouble. Lotto Ticket clicked for third. Glinda the Good, a Hard Spun filly making her first start since the Churchill Downs fall meet, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.21 with Roman Chapa aboard.
Ambitious Dragon made short work of a nice field in Sunday's HK Group 1 Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup, turning on a burst of speed in the final 200 meters to win by a comfortable 1 1/2 lengths over Xtension. Last year's winner, California Memory, was a short head farther back in third. The win gave Ambitious Dragon two legs of the local Triple Crown and opened up possibilities on Dubai World Cup night for the top two. Ambitious Dragon is nominated to both the World Cup itself on Tapeta and the Dubai Duty Free on turf. But trainer Tony Millard said he and owner Johnson Lam are taking a cautious approach. "Next week we will look at where we go next," Millard said. "We need to see how the horse pulls up and we'll discuss with Johnson before we decide. He's so versatile that there are different races to consider." Lam said he worries about taking too much out of his horse by shipping overseas when there still are tempting targets at home. Xtension's trainer, John Moore, was not so cautious. "That was a nice trial for the Dubai Duty Free," Moore said of Xtension's effort. "It would have been nice to have got the run on Ambitious Dragon but he just got going before we did and Xtension got held up at a crucial stage, which didn't help our cause."
(By RICHARD GROSS)
Perhaps a star was born Thursday night at Meydan when Falls of Lora mounted a Zenyatta-like stretch run along the rail under the urging of Mickael Barzalona to overcome a 12-length deficit and win the featured $250,000, Group 3 UAE Oaks over 1,900 meters on the all-weather Tapeta in her first UAE start.
The 3-year-old daughter of 2002 Dubai World Cup winner Street Cry overcame tiring Irish runaway leader Mary Fildes to capture her third win in seven starts by 2 3/4 lengths in a leisurely 2:01.12. Mary Fildes held on for second while favored Pimpernel, who threw a head out of the starting gate and was never in contention, finished fifth in the six-horse field.
"I thought the leader had the race at one point," winning Godolphin trainer Mahmoud al-Zarooni said. "But Mickael moved her at the right moment." The UAE Derby on World Cup night is a possibility for the winner.
The triumph was second among a hat trick for al-Zarooni who saddled winner Capponi in the opening Goodyear Handicap over 1,900 meters on the all-weather and closed the evening with a 1,800-meter turf win for City Style with Barzalona again in the irons to complete a jockey double on the night.
Jamr got a third Carnival win in the 2,200-meter Peugeot all-weather handicap by a neck over favored Godolphin runner Spring of Fame. "This horse has been a revelation," jockey Pat Cosgrove said of the 4-year old son of Singspiel. Trainer Mubarak bin Shafya offered no immediate plan for the colt as Dubai World Cup night approaches.
South Africa's Nocturnal Affair took the evening's 1,000-meter turf handicap with Ryan Moore aboard, and Jockey Frankie Dettori scored a double on the night, guiding Capponi in the opener and taking the 1,600-meter Meydan Classic on turf aboard Ireland's Burano.
With Black Caviar taking a week off and the speedy Danzylum a late scratch, New Zealand invader King Mufhasa had things all his own way in Saturday's Group 1 Cathay Pacific Futurity Stakes at Caulfield. Leading from the start, the 7-year-old held Pinker Pinker safe through much of the race, then edged clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Adamantium, the only 3-year-old in the event, finished third. King Mufhasa finished the 1,400 meters in 1:23.82. Winning trainer Steve McKee said he would have enjoyed testing King Mufhasa against Black Caviar but also enjoyed the victory. "I was excited to take her on and see how close we got to her. But to not have to worry about that and get a Group 1 in the bag is great," he said. Black Caviar had scored easy wins in each of the last two weekends.
Also Saturday, Woorim captured the Group 1 Sportingbet Oakleigh Plate, unleashing a powerful stretch run to just nip Elite Falls with Facile Tigre a close third. And Samaready, a More Than Ready filly, remained undefeated in three starts by clearing the field to take the Group 1 Patinack Farm Blue Diamond Stakes by 3 lengths over No Looking Back. Armed for Action finished third.
Awesome Maria thoroughly spoiled Breeders' Cup and Eclipse Award winner Royal Delta's seasonal debut in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Sabin Stakes. After tracking the early pace, Awesome Maria shot to the lead with an awesome move and easily shook clear to win by 8 lengths. Royal Delta, who stumbled at the start, was the best of the rest, edging Groupie Doll by a head for the place money. Awesome Maria, a 5-year-old Maria's Mon mare, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.82 with John Velazquez riding. The performance was doubly awesome considering Awesome Maria had not raced since last June 18. "Naturally, we had some concern coming off a June layoff and carrying topweight that she might need a prep," winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. "But she's top class and got it done." Royal Delta's trainer, Bill Mott, said the defeat doesn't change any plans to send her to the Dubai World Cup on March 31. "I think the 10 furlongs is going to be to her benefit," Mott said. "And we know that she runs well on synthetic surfaces, which they have in Dubai. I'm really not at all disappointed because we're going to a totally different race next time."
Here to Win came from last of 11 to win Saturday's $100,000, Grade III The Very One Stakes for fillies and mares. With Joe Bravo up, Here to Win got racing room along the inside heading for home, hooked up with Keertana down the stretch and won by a length. Woodford Belle was third at a big price and the favorite, Perfect Shirl, trailed home eighth in her first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Here to Win, a Brazilian-bred, 6-year-old Roi Normand mare, ran the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:13.22. Here to Win previously raced in South Africa and Dubai and struggled in her first two U.S. starts. "It's a pleasant surprise for her to beat a field like this," winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "But she was a Grade 1 winner in South Africa and we knew she had some quality. … If everything is OK we'll probably bring her back in the Orchid" on March 31. Trainer Roger Attfield said Perfect Shirl "just got tired. She probably needed the race, which is what I thought was going on. She's had a bit of a disruptive winter, but she should move forward off this race."
Simmard worked his way to the lead in the stretch run of Sunday's $150,000, Grade II Mac Diarmida Stakes and held on to win by a nose over Newsdad. Musketier finished third. Simmard, a 7-year-old son of Dixieland Band, ran the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:11.71 with Javier Castellano in the irons. "He's a horse that's developed really late in his career," winning trainer Roger Attfield said. "He's gotten better and better. He's been knocking on the door in so many races I knew he'd have to win a stakes eventually. It was a great effort."
The Factor has had his ups and downs for trainer Bob Baffert. Saturday's $200,000, Grade II San Carlos was one of the ups. With Martin Garcia up, the 4-year-old War Front colt shot right to the front, set a brisk pace and held on at the end to win by a half length over Sway Away despite drifting in late. Last year's Eclipse Award winner Amazombie finished third, 1 3/4 lengths farther back in his first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint. The Factor finished the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:20.56. Santa Anita officials noted that with the San Carlos victory, Baffert had won 16 of his last 17 races at Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields and Oaklawn Park. "I'm just glad The Factor showed up today," Baffert said. "He ran really hard. He was pretty tired when he came back, but we're excited the way he ran. He's always been brilliant from Day 1 … . It looked like they were going to come to him a little bit, then he took off again." Asked about his remarkable recent victory skein, he shared the credit with his "great staff," adding, "We're picking the right spots for these horses, and that's the most important thing." Amazombie's rider, Mike Smith, said, "The first race back going seven-eighths is always really tough, especially with those caliber of horses."
Mizdirection got the early lead in Saturday's $70,000 Clocker's Corner Handicap and made the advantage stand,winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Givine. Remit was home third. Mizdirection, a 4-year-old Mizzen Mast filly, ran the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:12.22 under Mike Smith.
Tones got the best of a multi-horse scramble at the end of Sunday's $70,000 Baffle Stakes for 3-year-olds down the hillside turf course. After a head-to-head tussle late, the photo found Tones a neck in front of Stoney Fleece with Passing Game a nose farther back in third. Tones, an Irish-bred Strategic Prince colt, finished in 1:13.47 with Eswan Flores in the irons.
Smart Bid bided his time in Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap, came around the leaders turning for home and caught pacesetting Mr. Vegas in the final jumps, winning by a head. Dubious Miss finished third with a late effort. Smart Bid, a 6-year-old son of Smart Strike, finished the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:51.91 with Edgar Prado riding.
Nates Mineshaft was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Mineshaft Handicap and worked clear in the stretch run to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Fast Alex. Alma d'Oro finished third. The favorite, Thiskyhasnolimit, broke down after tracking the pace for 1/2 mile. There were three scratches, including Pants On Fire. Nates Mineshaft, a 5-year-old ridgling sired by the race's namesake, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.01 for jockey Jesse Campbell. "The horse is getting good," said winning trainer Austin Smith. "If you saw the last race, he was worth the opportunity to try him in here. He just dominated that bunch. Wasn't anything like this bunch but he is 4-for-4 on the racetrack. But we were here and didn't have to ship anywhere. Took a shot."
Country Day came to the lead three-wide on the turn in Saturday's $75,000 Colonel Power Stakes and won by a length over the late-running Chamberlain Bridge. Cactus Son finished third. Country Day, a 6-year-old son of Speightstown, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on the "good" turf course in 1:04.24 with James Graham up.
Look At the Time took command in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Gentilly Stakes for Louisiana-bred 3-year-olds and got clear to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Benwill. Beckyboy came from far back to finish third. Look At the Time, a Brahms gelding, finished the "about" 1 mile on "good" turf in 1:39.95 with Corie Lanerie in the irons.
Daisy Devine stalked the pace in Fat Tuesday's $75,000 Mardi Gras Handicap for fillies and mares, got the lead four-wide turning for home and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Cherokee Queen, was wide around both turns and finished second. Rose Medallion got home third. Daisy Devine, a 4-year-old Kafwain filly, ran the "about" 1 1/16 miles over yielding turf in 1:47.19 under James Graham.
Tampa Bay Downs
Roman Tiger found running room along the inside at mid-stretch in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes and was just up in time to nail pacesetting El Commodore by a nose. Swift Warrior made up a lot of ground in the stretch run and finished third, a half length farther back. Allie's Event was fourth, completing a $141,764 superfecta. The 4-1 favorite in a wide-open field, Moryba, finished seventh. Roman Tiger, a 7-year-old Tiger Ridge gelding, got the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.42, scoring his first win in nearly two years. Although he had won only three times in 24 starts, Roman Tiger was not without credentials. As a 3-year-old, he finished third in the Jersey Derby and second in the Grade III Kent Stakes, and as a 5-year-old he was second and third in a pair of Grade III races at Monmouth. Besides his maiden victory, his only other triumph came in April, 2010, in the Island Whirl Florida Thoroughbred Charities Stakes at Gulfstream. Owner/trainer Dennis Manning said he told jockey Angel Serpa "to save all the ground on the inside and sit five or six lengths off the lead, and when you ask him, he'll run. Then it was a matter of whether he was good enough, and today he was."
All About Allie scooted away from the rest of the field in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 Downthedustyroad Breeders' Stakes for Arkansas-bred distaffers, winning off by a comfortable 3 lengths over the early leader, Explosive Disco. Bikini Bella finished third. All About Allie, a 4-year-old Storm and a Half filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.54 with Cliff Berry in the irons.
In the companion $50,000 Nodouble Breeders' Stakes for state-breds, Comedero, making his first start since mid-October at Charles Town, led all the way to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Destinare. The Mallard Man quacked home third. Comedero, a 5-year-old Posse gelding, finished in 1:10.52, also with Berry up.
Opus A led throughout Sunday's $75,000 Hildy's Grey Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares and came home first by 2 lengths over Great Gracie Dane. Risk a Chance was third. Opus A, a 5-year-old Read the Footnotes mare, got the 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast inner track in 1:41.78 with Alan Garcia riding.
Sam Houston Race Park
Always in My Heart stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Sam Houston Distaff, got through inside the leaders at mid-stretch and went on to win by 3/4 of a length. The odds-on favorite, Puddy Tap, led early and held second. Standbyyourmangirl was third. Always in My Heart, a 6-year-old Hennessey mare, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.91 with Glen Murphy up.