The way things are going, the Kentucky Derby could come down to a replay of last year's dramatic Breeders' Cup Juvenile -- Hansen vs. Union Rags.
Union Rags, second in the Juvenile, confirmed his class with a dominant victory in last weekend's Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, winning by a comfortable 4 lengths. Saturday, it was Hansen's turn.
After experiencing his first career defeat in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream last month, the almost-white Tapit colt rebounded as promised in the $400,000, Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. Despite breaking from the No. 12 post and racing wide around the first turn, Hansen rated behind the early speed, moved up around the stretch turn and won easily by 3 lengths. My Adonis was second and Finnegan's Wake edged Tiger Walk in a battle of long shots for show money.
Hansen, racing for the first time without blinkers and for the first time from behind horses, finished the 1 1/16 miles on the "good" inner track in 1:43.84 with Ramon Dominguez up.
Both Hansen and Union Rags made quick work of rivals who also were regarded as potential Derby candidates. In the Fountain of Youth, in fact, Discreet Dancer went to the post as the favorite but faded to finish third after showing the way. In the Gotham, My Adonis was viewed as the potential spoiler.
Dominguez said Hansen overcame both the bad gate and a slightly hesitant start, showing progress and promise.
"He really took the step forward as far as maturing," Dominguez said. "He actually did it better than I expected. He was so relaxed.
"Coming to the three-eighths pole, when he switched to his left lead and I got after him, he went on beautiful. He really did it as nice as I could expect. I was hoping that he could take the step forward, mind-wise, but he really took it further than I expected. Awesome."
Trainer Mike Maker, who noted the outriders had to come get Hansen as he continued past the wire, said he is planning to return to New York for the $1 million, Grade I Wood Memorial on April 7.
In the weekend's other Derby Prep, State of Play scored a hard-won victory in Saturday's $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in storm-tossed northern Kentucky. After battling with Ill Conceived through most of the 1 1/16-mile event, State of Play prevailed by a head. Dynamical was third and the favorite, Mr. Prankster, threw in a clunker after winning two straight Turfway stakes, finishing a dull fourth, beaten by more than 12 lengths.
With Victor Lebron up, State of Play finished in 1:46.55 on the all-weather surface. He now has three wins from five starts but was off the board in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and the Sam F. Davis Stakes earlier this year at Tampa Bay.
But ignore State of Play at your own risk. He is owned by Team Valor International and trained by Graham Motion -- Animal Kingdom's team.
Eden's Moon was quickly out front in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita and drew off late to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Reneesgotzip. Open Water was third at a big price. Eden's Moon, a Malibu Moon filly, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:35.27 under Martin Garcia. Bob Baffert trains the filly, who was coming off her maiden win and now has two victories from three trips to the track. She finished second to Reneesgotzip in the first start for both back in December. "She's getting better and better at a distance," Baffert said. "Distance is not a problem for her." He said he's not sure if he will run Eden's Moon back in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks on March 31. "We'll see how she comes out of this and keep her happy. We want to take her to the Kentucky Oaks, so that's what we're pointing for." Corey Nakatani, up on Reneesgotzip, said Garcia's whip hit his mount in the face twice during some bumping in the stretch but the stewards disallowed a claim of interference.
Millionreasonswhy took the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park and shook clear, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Dance to Bristol. It was another 12 3/4 lengths back to Officer's Holiday in third. Millionreasonswhy, a Grand Slam filly, ran 7 furlongs on the "good" main track in 1:24.08 with Horacio Karamanos up. Trainer Ignacio Correas IV said he will point Millionreasonswhy to the Grade III Comely Stakes at Aqueduct April 7 with an eye to the Kentucky Oaks. "We are going to do this step by step," he said. "The Comely is a mile and if it goes the way it should, then we'll point to the Oaks. That doesn't mean she has to win but she finished good today and was able to relax, which will help me prepare for the next start."
Elsewhere around the brown and green ovals:
(By RICHARD GROSS)
It was a big week for the boys in royal blue Godolphin silks as The Dubai World Cup Carnival had two meetings during the week for the fourth and final time this season. Thursday saw Godolphin and lead jockey Frankie Dettori each get three wins, while trainers Mahmoud al-Zarooni and Saeed bin Suroor both had doubles on the night.
Dettori rode Counterglow to a short-head victory over Right To Dream in the opening Al Dana Infinite 1,400-meter conditions turf race. He led Godolphin to a second victory aboard Soul in the 1,200-meter Rewards Program turf handicap by 1 1/4 lengths over Invincible Ash. The Italian rider closed the evening's program with a 2 1/2-length victory aboard Sheikh Hamdan's Fox Hunt over Opinion Poll to snare the $200,000, Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Trophy over 2,810 meters on the turf.
Dettori's big night was bettered slightly by Goldolphin with Silvestre De Souza in the irons as Do It All did it all from the 9 gate to win the $250,000 featured 1,600-meter Group 2 turf Zabeel Mile, bettering a field in which 10 of 11 foes were higher rated. Dettori opted for stablemate Sandagiyr in the race and finished fourth.
Bronze Cannon shot to victory by 2 1/4 lengths over Sarrsar in the 2,000-meter Al Dana Wealth Handicap on the all-weather while Barbeque Eddie smoked a full field of 13 opponents to cash a win in the 1,400-meter all-weather CBD World MasterCard handicap.
Saturday was an uncontested triumph for Godolphin as it scored another triple when Mikael Barzalona guided Simon De Montfort over the 2,000-meter turf to win the $175,000 Al Dana feature handicap in the Mahmoud al-Zarooni-trained colt's first win since setting a course record last January. "He's a very good horse with an excellent turn of foot," said Barzalona. "I was always confident I would win as long as I could find racing room."
Dettori rode for Godolphin to earn his personal 100th Carnival win aboard Saeed bin Suroor-trained Tahaamah in the 2,200-meter Mustaqbali all-weather handicap. "It's been a real team effort since our first Carnival in 2004," said a grateful Dettori.
Irish runner Wealthy was saddled by bin Suroor and added to the Godolphin's success by taking the 1,900-meter all-weather Infinite Card handicap by 3 1/4 lengths to cement the stable's three-win evening.
In other results, Hadba broke her maiden in the opening 1,900-meter Al Islami race for trainer A.A. Raihe who followed up with another win with Rutland Boy in the 1,600-meter World MasterCard. Celtic King took the 1,200-meter Rewards Program handicap on the all-weather under Mirco Demuro.
The upcoming Super Saturday program will serve as the prep for several horses expected to run on Dubai World Cup day. It will be followed by the Carnival's final running Saturday, March 17, before the two-week preparation for Dubai World Cup day, Saturday, March 31.
Lucky Nine had all he could do to get home first by a whisker over Glorious Days in Sunday's HK-Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup but already is looking forward -- first to the Dubai Golden Shaheen on the final day of this month, then to the Group 1 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Classic Mile a month later. Lucky Nine, winner of last December's Group 1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint, had not won in two starts earlier this year. Brett Prebble, rebounding from a broken collarbone, put Lucky Nine on the lead turning for home but Glorious Days quickly joined the fray and the duo battled to the finish, brushing partway down the stretch before Lucky Nine prevailed in a time of 1:29.30. Sunny King and Admiration finished third and fourth. Trainer Caspar Fownes said Lucky Nine "is one of the best milers in Hong Kong and we will see that, probably at the end of the season. At this stage, all being well, we will go to Dubai and see what happens there." He admitted the cutback to the 1,200 meters of the Golden Shaheen is "a little bit of a query. But he will probably appreciate the long straight on the [Tapeta] surface."
Mosheen survived the No. 20 post, off going and a field of top colts to win Saturday's Group 1 Australian Guineas at Flemington. Mosheen, who won the VRC Oaks last spring easily, worked her way through the field under jockey Danny Nikolic, then went on to a 3-length victory. Strike The Stars finished second and Mister Milton was third, 2 1/4 lengths farther back. Trainer Robert Smerdon said it "was a remarkable ride from Danny to get her across from that gate and to the middle of the field. I don't know how he did it." The daughter of Fastnet Rock is owned in part by Katsumi Yoshida, who reportedly intends to campaign her next year in Japan.Before that, Smerdon said, she will be pointed to Group 1 events in Sydney.
Silent Achiever got to the front nearing the stretch in Saturday's NZ-Group 1 New Zealand Derby at Ellerslie, rejected a bid by Carrick midway down the lane and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Rock 'n' Pop edged Carrick for second. Trainer Roger James, who picked up his fifth win in the historic race, said Silent Achiever likely will head to Australia for the Storm Queen Stakes and the Australian Oaks. She is the first filly to win the New Zealand Derby since 1993.
Dancin David, a late entry replacing Mingun Temple, got home first by 4 lengths in Saturday's Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup at Garrison Savannah. Running from off the pace, the 5-year-old took charge late with John Brian finishing second and Zoom third. Winning jockey Jalon Samuel also finished first in the Gold Cup last year only to have his number taken down for interference. The race was run over soft going.
Ron the Greek appears to be coming into his own for trainer Bill Mott. After winning two minor stakes at Aqueduct late last year, the son of Full Mandate started his 5-year-old campaign with a good second to Mucho Macho Man in the Sunshine Millions Classic. Saturday, he ran into a tough field after shipping across the country for the $750,000, Grade I Santa Anita Handicap -- and handled it perfectly. With Jose Lescano up, Ron the Greek saved ground in mid-pack down the backstretch, advanced between horses around the final turn and got up outside Setsuko to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Uh Oh Bango rallied from far back to take third. The favorite, Ultimate Eagle, was pushed to a suicidal early pace, then faded badly from the lead and finished 10th. The pace slowed to a walk in the final furlong and the 1 1/4 miles over a fast track took 2:00.41. "There was a lot of speed in the race," said Rudolphe Brisset, who saddled Ron the Greek for Mott. "We just wanted to stalk the pace and see what happens. We were not expecting 44 [seconds] on the lead. That's sprinting."
Willyconker surged to the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile and held off the favorite, Mr. Commons, for a neck win. Compari finished third. Willyconker, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred Pyrus gelding, finished the mile on firm going in 1:33.88 with Joel Rosario up. He stepped up to the stakes ranks last time out, finishing a good second behind Mr. Commons in the Grade II Arcadia Stakes last month after racing for a tag most of last year. He now has seven wins from 20 starts. Winning trainer Doug O'Neill credited a "great ride" by Rosario. "He just had him in a perfect spot and then as soon as they turned for home, he got in the right line and just got it done," O'Neill said. Mike Smith, up on Mr. Commons, said, "I had an eighth of a mile to get by him, and I didn't do it. That's pretty much what it is."
Mr Gruff dueled for the lead in Sunday's $70,000 Joe Hernandez Handicap, got to a daylight lead in the stretch run, then had to dig for more to win by a half length over the second effort of Ain't No Other. Pressday finished third. Mr Gruff, an 8-year-old Mr. Greeley gelding, ran the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the firm hillside turf course in 1:12.06 with Rosario riding.
There was nothing tricky about Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Top Flight Handicap for It's Tricky. All she had to do was wait for the signal from jockey Ramon Dominguez, take flight and draw clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Love and Pride carved out the early fractions and held second, 2 lengths in front of Bahama Bound. It's Tricky, a 4-year-old Mineshaft filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the muddy, sealed inner track in 1:45.30. It was her first start since finishing second to Royal Delta in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. It's Tricky now has six wins and three seconds from 10 lifetime starts.
Calibrachoa won a battle of heavyweight sprinters in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Tom Fool Handicap, surging to the lead in the stretch and holding off Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Caleb's Posse to win by a neck. Emcee was just 3/4 of a length farther back in third. Capt. Candyman Can, Royal Currier and Justin Philip completed the order of finish. Calibrachoa covered the 6 furlongs over a "good," drying-out track in 1:09.07 for jockey Cornelio Velasquez and now has won both the Toboggan and Tom Fool in two successive years. "He doesn't have the big name," winning owner Mike Repole said. "But I think this is his year. I think he's going to be one of the best sprinters in the country this year." Trainer Todd Pletcher claimed Calibrachoa for $40,000 in November, 2010, and since has won seven races with him, including five stakes, four at the Grade 3 level. As Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee says, "It's an easy game."
Doubles Partner saved ground early in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Canadian Turf Stakes, switched to the outside for the stretch run and got home first by 3/4 of a length over Trend. Data Link was third and the favorite, Little Mike, faded from the pressured lead to finish fourth. Doubles Partner, a 5-year-old son of Rock Hard Ten out of the Rahy mare Serena's Sister, got the mile on firm turf in 1:32.56 with Julien Leparoux aboard. He was making his first start since May. Trainer Todd Pletcher said by phone from New York the race went according to plan for Doubles Partner. "We anticipated Little Mike would go to the lead," Pletcher said. "There didn't appear to be much speed, but there was a little more than we anticipated. But when he kicked in and got clear, he finished strong." Pletcher said Doubles Partner will resurface in the Grade I Maker's Mark April 13 at Keeneland or May 5 at Churchill Downs in the Grade I Woodford Reserve.
A pair of former Triple Crown candidates hooked up in a high-prices allowance race on Saturday's card and it was Pants On Fire the winner with the favorite, Dialed In, settling for fourth with a less-than-ideal trip. Pants On Fire, with Paco Lopez up, stalked the pace and then drew off easily in the lane to win by 4 1/2 lengths over Hunters Bay, running the mile on a fast track in 1:35.94 after a pedestrian early pace. Dialed In, meanwhile, was squeezed at the start and then raced wide. "I thought he was about as ready as I could get him," said winning trainer Kelly Breen from New York. "I thought he was training so well I didn't think he'd need a race. It's always pleasant when they run like you think they should." Dialed In's trainer, Nick Zito, said, "He likes to come from way out of it and kick in, but they were going so slow." Dialed In finished eighth in the 2011 Kentucky Derby; Pants On Fire, ninth.
Inspired led all the way to a 1-length victory over Classy Zip in Sunday's $70,000 Ladies' Turf Sprint. Honey Chile was third. Inspired, a 5-year-old Unbridled's Song mare, ran the 5 furlongs of firm turf in 55.41 seconds with John Velazquez in the irons.
Sam Houston Race Park
Cease got by pacesetting Coyote Legend in the final furlong and went on to win Saturday's $150,000 Maxxam Gold Cup by 2 3/4 lengths over that rival. J J's Indy held off the favorite, Gleam of Hope, to take third by a neck. Cease, a 5-year-old War Chant gelding, got the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.52 with Glen Murphy riding. Cease was third in the Grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup last fall and fifth in the Breeders' Cup Marathon. He started his year's efforts with a good second-place finish in an optional claimer at Fair Grounds. "You can just take one look at this horse and see that he is made for 9 furlongs and beyond," said Glen Brookfield, assistant to winning trainer Al Stall Jr. "He's a classic horse, just bred for the distance. Al felt that the Fair Grounds race set him up beautifully for this. That is what we were pointing for."
Fastestwhogetspaid, at nearly 40-1 odds, outfinished Lake Victor to win Saturday's $60,000 Gazebo Stakes for 3-year-olds by a nose. Mr Bluegrass Music finished third and the favorite, Exfactor, was no factor, getting home seventh. Fastestwhogetspaid, a Henny Hughes colt, finished the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.68 with Channing Hill in the irons.
Tampa Bay Downs
Fort Larned stalked the pace in Saturday's $60,000 Challenger Stakes, went to the front after 5 furlongs and turned back a challenge from the runner-up, Wiki, to win by 1 1/4 lengths. It was another 9 lengths back to Imperial Czar in third. Fort Larned, a 4-year-old E Dubai colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.93 with Ronald Allen Jr. up.
Top Cat Boogie got by Courtesy Cat after a long stretch battle in Saturday's $75,000 Pelican Stakes for 3-year-olds and won by a head over that rival. Hurricane Bluff finished third. Top Cat Boogie, a Big Top Cat gelding out of the Deerhound mare Dancing Deer, ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 57.95 seconds with Randall Toups in the irons.
Flirty Fitz accelerated quickly to the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Azalea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and got clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths over fellow long shot Miss Stone Express. Wire Me Bessie finished third. Flirty Fitz, a daughter of Seattle Fitz, got the 5 furlongs in 59.78 seconds with Jansen Melancon up.
Sunday's Child dueled down the lane with She's Prado's Idol in Saturday's $60,000 Sarah Lane's Oats Stakes for Louisiana-bred 3-year-old fillies before posting the win by a nose. The odds-on favorite, Little Ms Protocol, finished 1 1/2 lengths back in third. With Rosie Napravnik up, Sunday's Child ran the "about" 1 mile on firm turf in 1:41.79.
News and notes:
Not only is the New York Racing Association planning huge, casino-fueled purse increases for the Belmont and Saratoga meetings, it's also offering a $100,000 bonus for any 2-year-old who breaks its maiden at the 2012 Belmont Park spring meet and goes on to win a graded stakes at Saratoga, Belmont, or Aqueduct later in the year. Moreover, the bonus will be written into the conditions of NYRA graded juvenile races and therefore will count toward graded stakes earnings. The bonus, said Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, "underlines that New York is THE place for horsemen to run their 2-year-olds."
Five newcomers and five returning finalists comprise the National Museum of Racing's 2012 Hall of Fame ballot. New to the ballot are trainer Roger Attfield and Thoroughbreds Ashado, Ghostzapper , Housebuster, and Xtra Heat. Returning are 2011 finalists jockeys Calvin Borel, Garrett Gomez, Alex Solis, and John Velazquez, and trainer Robert Wheeler. The 16-member nominating committee considered 82 suggestions. Among those not making the cut -- again -- was Black Tie Affair.
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