It was a weekend of upsets from Dubai to California but none was more stunning than a 109-1 chance winning the Louisiana Derby.
The Florida Derby also produced an upset, albeit less dramatic. One of the leading Kentucky Oaks candidates was defeated at Santa Anita. And while there is no wagering at the Meydan Race Course in Dubai, many of the horses who won on World Cup night Saturday would have been held at long odds if there had been a tote board.
Meanwhile, don't look now but Black Caviar, the undefeated Australian super sprinter, has a younger brother who also is undefeated and looks to be following in his big sister's hoofprints.
Here's what happened on one of the biggest weekends of the racing calendar and what the results might portend for the rest of the year:
Kentucky Derby preps
Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Florida Derby was supposed to have been the next thing to a walkover for Union Rags. But he was caught in traffic, moved too late and couldn't get the job done. Sunday's $1 million, Grade II Louisiana Derby found Mark Valeski as the 2-1 favorite and he, also, couldn't find the winner's circle.
In each case, while missing the $600,000 winner's check undoubtedly stings, the favorites raced well enough to provide encouragement for their chances in the May 5 Kentucky Derby.
The "Who dat?" mantra must have been transplanted from the Superdome to the Fair Grounds grandstand Sunday as the unheralded Hero of Order, at 109-1 odds, became the hero of the day in the Louisiana Derby. With Eddie Martin Jr. up, the Sharp Humor colt stalked the early pace, took the lead midway around the turn and was all out to beat the late-running Mark Valeski by 1/2 length. Rousing Sermon finished third.
Despite the boxcar odds, Hero of Order had been knocking on the door. He finished fifth in the Grade III LeComte Stakes in January, fourth in the Grade II Risen Star in February and fourth in the Black Gold Stakes in March before Sunday's win.
Mark Valeski, under Rosie Napravnik, was caught wide on both turns after starting from the No. 12 gate, losing more than enough ground to account for the final margin. Also, the pace slowed significantly through the middle furlongs of the race, allowing Hebert to conserve Hero of Order's energy.
The final time for the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track was 1:50.13. By contrast, the New Orleans Handicap on the same card was run in 1:47.64.
"My horse broke running," Martin said. "Once I got the lead I gave my horse a little breather. He was getting a little tired late but he hung in there."
Napravnik said Mark Valeski "ran great. He tries hard. I still have confidence going forward. He is a hard-knocking horse and he ran very well."
Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Florida Derby was popularly thought to be a perfunctory stop for Union Rags along the road to Louisville. In a weekend of upsets, it wasn't so.
Instead, Take Charge Indy, with frequent Derby sneak thief Calvin Borel up, jumped out to the lead and refused to be caught. After 9 furlongs, Take Charge Indy was the winner, 1 length better than Reveron, who chased him all the way. El Padrino, winner of the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, finished fourth.
Still, it was a credible performance by Union Rags, who was second to Hansen in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in his only previous loss. Union Rags was caught in traffic and late in making his move but kicked into gear when he got room and finished just a neck farther back in third.
Take Charge Indy, who earned $600,000 in 1:48.79, picked up just his second career win. He finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and second in a Jan. 29 optional claiming race that trainer Patrick Byrne used as a prep for the Florida Derby. Last year, he also finished second in the Arlington-Washington Futurity and fourth in the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.
"We knew he liked the racetrack. We're not surprised," Byrne said of Take Charge Indy's upset win. "It's a great result with that pedigree and a Grade 1."
Take Charge Indy is a son of A.P. Indy out of the Dehere mare Take Charge Lady.
El Padrino's trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he had no immediate explanation for his colt's failure to make up any ground. "He just didn't finish," Pletcher said. "We'll see how he comes out of it and decide where to go from there."
The victories by Take Charge Indy and Hero of Order give them more than enough graded stakes earnings to ensure a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Either or both could prevent other 3-year-olds with more experience but less earnings from making the race.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Willa B. Awesome rallied by pace setting Reneesgotzip in the final yards to win Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Santa Anita Oaks by a nose as odds-on favorite Eden's Moon tossed in a clunker, finishing 1 1/2 lengths farther back in third. Overlooked at 13-1 in the five-filly field, Willa B. Awesome got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.47 with Martin Pedroza riding. Eden's Moon came into the race off a victory in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes last month -- a race in which Willa B. Awesome finished a well-beaten fourth. Eden's Moon is trained by Bob Baffert, who was in Dubai not only recovering from a heart attack but also watching two of his stars, Game On Dude and The Factor, beaten badly. Phil Daniels, part owner of Willa B. Awesome, already was looking past any Oaks run to the Breeders' Cup to be run in November at Santa Anita. "This horse is a fighter," Daniels said. "Willa knows no bounds. This horse loves this track, and God willing, if she stays all together, she's going to be reckoned with in November."
The "Jones Boys" struck again as Believe You Can opened a big lead in Saturday's $500,000, Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks and then just did hold on to upset the odds-on favorite, Summer Applause, by a head. Disposablepleasure was 9 lengths farther back in third. Believe You Can, a Proud Citizen filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.94 with Rosie Napravnik up for trainer Larry Jones. The winner was bred and is owned by former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones. "That was probably about the most uncomfortable pace scenario we could have gotten today," Napravnik said. "But I've got to give all the credit to my horse. She overcame a lot, and as far as breast cancer survivors are concerned, who could have been a better horse to win this race than Believe You Can?" Fair Grounds partnered with Susan B. Koman to raise money for breast cancer research on its Oaks day.
Grace Hall bucked the weekend's theme of upsets by dominating Saturday's $300,000, Grade II Gulfstream Oak, kicking clear in the stretch to score by 6 1/2 lengths over Zo Impressive. Hearts of Red added some value to the trifecta by getting home third at 40-1 odds. Grace Hall, an Empire Maker filly trained by Tony Dutrow, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.36 with Javier Castellano up. She now has four wins and two seconds from six career starts -- one of the seconds coming in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, behind My Miss Aurelia. She also was defeated by a neck by Yara in her last start in the Grade II Davona Dale on Feb. 25. "I didn't make any excuses for her getting beat last time and gave the winner credit," Dutrow said. "Today, I was confident that she would run a big race and it set up perfect. She is happier outside in the clear. We'll point her for the Kentucky Oaks."
(Additional reporting by RICHARD GROSS)
The winners of the Dubai World Cup races already are being slotted to take on some of the top events on the racing calendar -- some possibly quite soon in Hong Kong, Singapore and Kentucky.
Daddy Long Legs, winner of the $2 million UAE Derby, may target the Kentucky Derby, trainer Aidan O'Brien said. If so, the Scat Daddy colt, who got home 1 1/4 lengths better than French-based rival Yang Tse Kiang Saturday at Meydan, would be returning to the scene of his only bad race, a 12th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November.
In that race, where he started from an outside gate, Daddy Long Legs "was all at sea," O'Brien said. "But this time, he's shown how capable he is." O'Brien said he came to Dubai with Daddy Long Legs and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Wrote "with the view to going to the Kentucky Derby if they ran well." Wrote finished third but none ran better than Daddy Long Legs.
The KrisFlyer International Sprint on May 20 at Kranji in Singapore now looms as a potential rematch between the first two finishers in Saturday's $2 million Golden Shaheen. Singapore's star sprinter, Rocket Man, the defending champion in the Golden Shaheen, was compromised by a speed duel and overtaken in deep stretch by Bahraini runner Krypton Factor, who won by 2 1/4 lengths. Rocket Man saved second.
Krypton Factor has been racing in Dubai but owner/trainer Fawzi Nass said he now is ready for a bigger stage. "We'll probably take him to Singapore and see what happens and take it from there," he said.
The Golden Shaheen and KrisFlyer are both legs of the Global Sprint Challenge, which requires victories in three different countries to trigger a $1 million bonus payout. Black Caviar won the first leg in Australia. Curren Chan captured the second leg in Japan a week ago. The series now moves on to the KrisFlyer and then to the sprints at Royal Ascot.
The Singapore Airlines International Cup, also on May 20, or the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup in Hong Kong later the month are potential destination for Cityscape, the impressive winner of Saturday's $5 million Dubai Duty Free, one of the most competitive races on the World Cup card. The Juddmonte Farms homebred got away from the field in the stretch and won by 4 1/4 lengths. Trainer Roger Charleton said a program has yet to be set for the 6-year-old son of Selkirk, who finished an unlucky second to Able One in December's Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile in his last race before the Dubai contest.
"Or he could stay at home," Charleton added. "But he'll go back to England and I think we'll look at that. Obviously, the owners will have to choose where he has to go, which is a very happy option right now."
Cirrus des Aigles, who confirmed his position in the top rank of the world's stayers with a victory in Saturday's $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic, will seek further conquest internationally, said trainer Corrine Barande Barbe, who became the first female trainer to win on World Cup night.
"I would like to win the Champion Stakes (in England) again," she said, "and maybe after, I would like to come here and win again. Maybe he will go to Longchamp because he loves Longchamp, too."
Australian-based Ortensia, who won the Al Quoz Sprint down the grassy Meydan stretch, also will target the sprint races at Royal Ascot, said part-owner Alister Fraser. "She definitely goes to England now for a couple of runs and then she's retired," he said of the 7-year-old mare.
Godolphin did not immediately define plans for its three winners on the night -- Monterosso in the $10 million World Cup, Opinion Poll in the injury-plagued $1 million Dubai Gold Cup or African Story, winner of the $1 million Godolphin Mile.
But trainer Mahmood al Zarooni said Monterosso will go back to England for the Prince of Wales at Royal Ascot. "But first he needs some rest," said the up-and-coming Godolphin conditioner.
African Story, who raced last summer in France, is slated to ship to England, according to Sheik Mohammed bin Rasheed al Maktoum, master of Godolphin and ruler of Dubai. Opinion Poll also is likely to ship to England and be targeted there and on the continent.
Awesome Maria continued her dominance in the filly and mare division with a 2 1/4-lengths win in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Rampart Stakes. Beloveda was the best of the rest with Canadian Mistress third. Awesome Maria now has won six straight races, all graded stakes, including an 8-lengths trouncing of Breeders' Cup winner Royal Delta in her previous start. She ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.19, ridden out by John Velazquez. The winner is a 5-year-old, gray daughter of Maria's Mon. "There is a little more pressure when you send one out like this," said Pletcher, the winning trainer. "Anything less than a win is really unacceptable. She was giving them all six pounds and she ran another great race." Awesome Maria had surgery last June to repair a fracture in her left front ankle and returned to action winning the Grade III Sabin Stakes at Gulfstream Feb. 25. Pletcher said he plans to give Awesome Maria a brief respite until the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on May 28, "and have her fresh for the second half of the year."
Hit It Rich caught pace setting Aqsaam in the final yards of Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Orchid Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 1/ 2 length. The favorite, Keertana, came from last to finish third, another head back. Hit It Rich, a 5-year-old Smart Strike mare, ran the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:28.06 with Javier Castellano up.
Corporate Jungle raced off the pace into the turn in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Appleton Stakes, came around the front-runners at the top of the lane to take the lead and prevailed under a hard drive by 1 length over Trend. Monument Hill was third. Corporate Jungle, a 4-year-old Giant's Causeway colt, covered the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.99 with Castellano picking up another win.
Fort Larned shadowed the early leader in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Skip Away Stakes, inherited the lead on the turn and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Alma d'Oro. Self Control finished third and the favorite, Where's Sterling, settled for fourth. Fort Larned, a 4-year-old E Dubai colt, ran 1 3/16 miles on a fast track in 1:53.92 with Julien Leparoux in the irons.
Some of last year's early Derby contenders mixed it up again in Saturday's $70,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes with Travelin Man getting the best of it, beating Jersey Town by 1/2 length. Nathan's HQ finished third. Travelin Man, a 4-year-old Trippi colt, got the 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track in 1:14.62 with John Velazquez riding.
Nate's Mineshaft pulled yet another upset in Sunday's $400,000, Grade II New Orleans Handicap, leading all the way and getting clear late to win by 7 1/4 lengths over Mission Impazible. Toby's Corner was third, Mister Mardi Gras fourth and Pants on Fire fifth. Nate's Mineshaft, a 5-year-old Mineshaft ridgeling, was dispatched at better than 9-1 odds despite having won the Grade III Mineshaft Handicap in his last outing. He finished Sunday's 9 furlongs on the fast main track in track-record time of 1:47.64. "I was a little concerned in the first turn that we were going too fast and I actually tried to take him back a little bit," said winning jockey Jesse Campbell. "He wasn't really having it so you know how good horses are -- you let them be happy and run their race."
Casino Host continued the upset theme in the $400,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes at 9 furlongs on the turf, rallying five-wide into the stretch and outfinishing Papaw Brodie to win by 1/2 length. Joinem was third and the favorite, Slow Pace, was fifth under the wire. Casino Host, a 4-year-old Dynaformer colt, finished in 1:50.87. Winning rider John Velazquez said trainer Chad Brown told him, "'If he's close enough, within 2 lengths, he is going to finish.' He was right. He was right there on the money and when I asked him he responded and put a good fight down the lane."
Gantry closed sharply through the stretch and caught pace setting Joe Hollywood in the late going to win the $150,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes by 3/4 length. Sweetsouthernmoon finished third and the favorite, Soaring Stocks, got home last of six. Gantry, a 5-year-old Pulpit gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on the main track in 1:08.58 with Richard Eramia up.
Star Guitar was one of the few big favorites winning during the weekend and his triumph was both tense and meaningful. Fair Grounds pumped up the purse for the Southern Oaks Plantation Costa Rising Stakes for state-breds to $90,000 specifically to get Start Guitar enough earnings to become leading Louisiana-bred money-winner of all time -- provided he won. It took all his effort to get the job done, kicking into gear in the final furlong to outfinish Populist Politics by a head and Get in Da House by another neck. With Corey Lanerie riding, Star Guitar ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.01. He now has earned $1,689,862, pushing him past Happy Ticket on the state-bred earners' list. "I must say that there's no owner that could actually imagine this happening to them," said owner Evelyn Benoit. "He's simply the best and today we get to say he proved it." Star Guitar has won 23 of his 29 starts.
Look At the Time came from well back in Sunday's $75,000 Crescent City Derby for Louisiana-breds, overcame some traffic problems and went on to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Event Center. Benwill finished third. Look At the Time, a Brahms gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the main track in 1:44.76 with Lanerie up.
Kissimmmee Kyle got through on the inside on the turn in Sunday's $60,000 Bayou St. John Stakes for Louisiana-breds and shot clear, winning by 3 3/4 lengths over Classy Deelites. Sweet Little Sleet and Amanecer de Oro dead-heated for third and fourth. Kissimmee Kyle, a 6-year-old Gold Tribute gelding, got the 5 1/5 furlongs on good turf in 1:04.45 with Robby Albarado riding.
Artemus Kitten worked worked her way to the lead at the top of the lane in Saturday's $100,000 Bayou Handicap for fillies and mares and then held off the favorite, Upperline, to win by a neck. Bet on the Blue finished third. Artemus Kitten, a 4-year-old Kitten's Joy filly, ran the "about" 1 1/16 miles on turf rated "good' in 1:44.89 under Rosie Napravnik.
She's Prado's Idol battled to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Crescent City Derby, then got clear in the stretch, drawing off to win by 4 lengths over Little Ms Protocol. The favorite, Sunday's Child, finished third. She's Prado's Idol, a daughter of Screen Idol, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.80 with Tracy Hebert riding.
Beverly Belle came four-wide around the leaders in the stretch run of Saturday's $60,000 Red Camelia Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares and got by to post a 43-1 upset win by 1 length over the favorite, Little Polka Dot. Divine Lorretta finished third. Beverly Belle, a 7-year-old Far Out Wadleigh mare, covered the "about" 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:45.78 with Miguel Mena riding.
Derby Gold drew off in the stretch run of Saturday's $200,000 Echo Eddie Stakes for 3-year-old, California-bred colts and geldings, winning by 3 lengths over The Black. Real Conundrum was a longshot third. Derby Gold, a Bertrando colt, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.77 with Martin Garcia up as Baffert salvaged something on the day.
Warren's Amber ambled along from the back of the pack to win Saturday's $200,000 Evening Jewel Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies by 3/4 length over the favorite, Starlight Magic. River Kiss finished third at 60-1 odds. Warren's Amber, a Broadway Moon filly, raced 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.97 with Eswan Flores in the irons.
Catch a Thief rallied five-wide through the stretch and outfinished Indian Burn to win Saturday's $75,000 Plugged Nickle Stakes for fillies and mares. With Eddie Castro up, the 5-year-old Flatter mare scored by 1 1/4 lengths and finished the 1 mile on a muddy, sealed track in 1:38.84. The favorite, Opus, made the early going and held third.
Devil and a Half rated off the pace in Sunday's $60,000 Arkansas Breeders' Stakes for state-breds, took the lead in the stretch and won by 1 length over The Mallard Man. Doin Big Bidness finished third. Devil and a Half, a 5-year-old Storm and a Half gelding, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.59 under Carlos Marquez Jr.
Primetime Dreamer emerged from a five-horse scrum on the turn in Saturday's $60,000 Rainbow Stakes for 3-year-old Arkansas-breds and cleared to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Brassy and Proud. Summer Robin finished third. Primetime Dreamer, a Primary Suspect colt, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.48 for jockey Alex Birzer.
Spadra opened a big lead in Saturday's $60,000 Rainbow Miss Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies and survived the late run of Sunday Grace, winning by 1/2 length. Beautiful Shoes was third. Spadra, a Wildcat Shoes filly, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.63, with Birzer scoring the stakes double in the irons.
Sneaky Lil snuck by the leaders entering the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Shine Again Stakes for Maryland-breds and drew off to win by 4 lengths over All About Her. The favorite, Touch the Birds, finished third. Sneaky Lil, a 6-year-old Louis Quatorze mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:47.01 with Abel Castellano Jr. in the irons.
While Black Caviar sat out the Dubai World Cup card, waiting for Royal Ascot, her younger brother, All Too Hard, was in action -- impressively -- Saturday at Rosehill. With Dwayne Dunn aboard, the 2-year-old by Casino Prince out of Helsinge waited behind rivals until the field turned for home in the Aus-Group 2 Pago Pago Stakes, then simply overpowered the rest of the field down the lane. He won geared down by 1 length over Narcissus but the margin could have been much more. Trainer John Hawkes said he is "50-50" whether to run All Too Hard back in next weekend's Golden Slipper Stakes, where he would have to meet a proven young filly in Samaready.