While there were some big races at Belmont Park and Hollywood Park, even those looked like preliminaries for the summertime fixtures that lead inevitably, as the leaves turn, to the Breeders' Cup in the fall.
Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another was firmly ensconced at Pimlico, waiting for his chance this coming Saturday to take a second step toward the elusive Triple Crown. Black Caviar won for laughs again in Australia, presumably en route to Royal Ascot. Three-year-olds also were gearing up for the big races in England and Canada.
And even though Cirrus Des Aigles is taking a pass on the longer race, outstanding fields were gathering in Singapore for next weekend's Singapore Airlines International Cup and KrisFlyer Sprint.
Here's how things looked -- overseas first -- through the ever-cloudy crystal ball:
Black Caviar won again -- for the 21st straight time without defeat -- in her final scheduled run against intramural competition Saturday in the AUS-Group 1 Good wood Stakes at Morphetville. With regular rider Luke Nolan's foot firmly on the brakes, the super mare made all the going and won by 1 1/2 lengths over We're Gonna Rock. "I'm not a punter," Nolan said. "I don't worry about margins. As long as she bloody wins, I don't care." The planned next stop for the 6-year-old Bel Esprit mare is the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 23. That would be her first try outside Australia and promises to be a more demanding challenge. Trainer Peter Moody, who considered but ultimately rejected a trip to Dubai for Black Caviar, noted Saturday that things must remain in order to keep the England trip on the agenda. "As long as she pleases us the next three weeks, we're on the plane to England," he said. "As long as she's happy, it's all systems go."
Epsom Derby preps
Saturday's Group 3 Derby Trial at Lingfield turned up at least one, and possibly two, candidates for the Epsom Derby as Main Sequence ran his undefeated streak to four with a win over the favorite, Shantaram. Shantaram got first run to the lead between horses turning for home but Main Sequence came right behind him and to his inside, got past and held well for the victory. That pair was clearly superior to the other six starters, with just 3/4 of a length separating them and six lengths separating Shantaram from the rest of the pack. Winning trainer David Lanigan said Main Sequence, owned by the Niarchos family, also is entered for the French Derby but has "earned his place at Epsom."
On Friday at Chester, Astrology easily bested three opponents in the Stobart Barristers Dee Stakes. At the end, he was 11 lengths better than Oxford Charlie with Kingsdesire and Uriah Heep strung out further behind. Astrology, a Galileo colt, ran the 13 1/2 furlongs in 2:21.57 over soft going. Joseph O'Brien rode for his father, Aidan O'Brien. The colt is not committed to the Derby. Bonfire was withdrawn from the race because of the soft going.
Akeed Mofeed, listed for months among the favorites for the Derby, has suffered a training setback and will be re-aimed at the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the Irish Derby, trainer John Oxx said. The Dubawi colt has a win and a second from three starts.
At Longchamp in Paris, a trio of long shots swept Sunday's Poule d'Essai des Poulains for 3-year-old colts, with the better-fancied starters caught up in tight traffic. Lucayan got home first, a short neck better than Veneto and another short neck ahead of Furner's Green, who suffered a fatal breakdown after crossing the finish line. Joseph O'Brien, riding for his father, Aidan, was thrown from Furner's Green when the colt fell but O'Brien was not injured. Dabirsim, the favorite with Christophe Soumillon up, was caught up in the bottleneck and finished sixth. Gregorian was fifth and Dragon Pulse finished ninth. The mile on good to soft going took 1:37.11. Winning trainer Francois Rohaut said he still sees room for improvement and will consider the St. James's Palance for Lucayan, a son of Turtle Bowl.
In the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches for 3-year-old fillies, Beauty Parlor ran her record to 4-0, surviving a late scare from the O'Brien invader, Up. Winning trainer Elie Lellouche said he is not sure he is ready to travel with Beauty Parlor just yet and may opt for Chantilly rather than Royal Ascot.
Whale Capture broke through to victory in Sunday's Group 1 Victoria Mile at Tokyo Race Course, catching pacesetting Queen's Barn midway through the stretch run and going on to win by a half length over Donau Blue. Marcellina finished third. Apapane, last year's winner, settled for fifth. Whale Capture was in the top three in each leg of last year's Japanese filly Triple Crown. The Victoria Mile, however, was her first win at the Group 1 level. With Norihiro Yokoyama aboard, Whale Capture finished in 1:32.40. She is a daughter of Kurofune.
Meanwhile, back in North America:
Trainer Larry Jones said Mark Valeski wasn't quite in peak form for last week's Kentucky Derby, so he didn't start him in the Run for the Roses. Early this past week, Jones said he thought his Proud Citizen colt was locked and loaded for Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Peter Pan Stakes and Mark Valeski proved him right. After waiting behind the pace, Mark Valeski and jockey Rosie Napravnik came to long shot pacesetter Right to Vote at the eighth pole and edged clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Street Life finished third, The Lumber Guy finished sixth and Le Bernardin was last of 10. The 9 furlongs went in 1:48.31. "I kept thinking to myself, Jones said, "'Well, if we win this thing by a bunch, I'm going to wonder if I should have been at the Derby,' but we made the right decision." He said he will consider the Belmont Stakes as Mark Valeski's next start, "especially if Bodemeister and them rip each other apart in the Preakness. We'll see how the Preakness turns out and who's left available. We're sure not going to rule it out. We know where Belmont is."
Currency Swap took the point in Saturday's $85,000 You and I Stakes for 3-year-olds, opened a daylight lead and got home first by 3/4 of a length over Brian. Hardened Wildcat finished third. Currency Swap, a High Cotton colt, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.43 with Raviv Maragh up.
Going to Kukaro set the pace in Saturday's $85,000 Genuine Devotion Stakes for fillies and mares, then was all-out to survive by a nose over Trix in the City. Miss Liberty finished third. Going to Kukaro, a 4-year-old Speightstown filly, ran the 6 furlongs over the firm inner turf course in 1:09.02 with Javier Castellano up.
Dhaamer came from far back to win Sunday's $70,000 Round Table Handicap by 4 1/2 lengths over Quaintly. Porfido finished third. Dhaamer, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred Dubai Destination gelding, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.65 for jockey Joel Rosario.
Drill worked to the lead between the leaders at the sixteenth pole in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Lazaro Barrera Memorial for 3-year-olds, then held on to beat American Act by a half length. Gun Boat finished third and Boompa completed the order of finish. Drill and Gun Boat were both saddled by Bob Baffert. Drill, a Lawyer Ron colt, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:22.88 with Martin Garcia in the irons. Mike Marlow, who saddled Drill in Baffert's absence, said his boss thought Drill "ran well and Gun Boat might need blinkers. He was hanging a little the last eighth of a mile. But I think Drill is just a better horse. It's a good thing Gun Boat was the other horse or he might not have let him out. Drill kind of likes a target, just like he got today."
Dixie Strike settled at the back of the field early in Sunday's $250,000, Can-Grade III Selene Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, moved up along the inside approaching the stretch turn and got by the pacesetting, odds-on favorite, Tu Endie Wei, to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Katie Get Excited finished third. Dixie Strike, an Ontario-bred Dixie Union filly, finished the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.79 with Patrick Husbands up. "I gunned her away and then she wasn't comfortable," winning rider Patrick Husbands said. "I just left her alone and she got her legs together. She showed me that she was the best today." Dixie Strike, trained by Mark Casse, was an early favorite for the June 24 Queen's Plate off her victory in the Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs. After Sunday's win, she will be among the favorites for both the Plate and for the Woodbine Oaks on June 3.
Strait of Dover stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Marine Stakes for 3-year-olds, took over when asked by jockey Justin Stein and drew off to win by 6 1/2 lengths over Classic Bryce. Holiday Promise finished third. Strait of Dover, a British Columbia-bred colt by English Channel, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.44, boosting his stock as a favorite for the June 24 Queen's Plate. "With him sitting that close, I knew he had to be doing it quite easy," winning trainer Dan Vella said. "We talked about settling him, and trying to get him off the bridle because we want to go a mile and a quarter. Obviously, he did that. It was very exciting the whole way."
Wild About Marie came from last in a field of eight fillies and mares to win Saturday's $68,000 Unbridled Sidney Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths. Smartys Emperoress was second and Honey Chile finished third. Wild About Marie, with Shaun Bridgmohan in the irons, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.24 seconds.
Calder Race Course
The odds-on favorite, Fort Louden, collared pacesetting Hello Prince with a furlong to run in Saturday's $75,000 In Summation Stakes for 3-year-olds and worked clear to win by 2 lengths over that rival. It was another 8 1/2 lengths back to Angelofdistinction in third. Fort Louden, an Awesome of Course colt, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.51 with Luis Jurado up.
Redbud Rose pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 French Village Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, came even with the early leader turning for home, led comfortably and held on to win by 3/4 of a length over Miss Quisqueya. Citizen Advocate finished third. Redbud Rose, a daughter of Awesome of Course, finished in 1:11.29 under Luis Saez.
Uno Caliente set a pressured pace in Saturday's $55,000 Champali Stakes, kicked clear briefly at the top of the lane and held on late to post a big upset by 1 1/2 lengths over Determinato. The odds-on favorite, Western Prospector, finished third. Uno Caliente, a 4-year-old Macho Uno colt, ran 5 furlongs on yielding turf in 57.89 seconds for jockey Orlando Bocachica.
Cresco Direct Hit set a pressured pace in Saturday's $75,000 John Wayne Stakes for Iowa-bred colts and geldings, got clear in the stretch and held off the late run of Cainam to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Kate's Main Man finished third. Cresco Direct Hit, a One Hundred Slews gelding, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.20 with Terry Thompson in the irons.
Sakakawea had things all her own way in Friday's $70,000 Mamie Eisenhower Stakes for Iowa-bred distaffers, then held well at the end to win by 1 1/2 lengths from Ginger Added. Rico's Posse finished third. The odds-on favorite, Someplace Else, finished someplace else -- fifth. Sakakawea, a 6-year-old Rossini mare, covered the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.36 under Alex Birzer.
North Freeway had them from entrance ramp to exit in Saturday's $50,000 Winter Melody Stakes for fillies and mares, eventually winning by 4 1/4 lengths over Brushed by Love. Bahia Beach finished third. North Freeway, a 4-year-old daughter of Jump Start, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.86 for Jose Caraballo.
Only three of the eight starters finished Saturday's $75,000 Decathlon Stakes after a pileup on the turn. Of those left running, Ponzi Scheme got home first, followed by Flat Bold and Soaring Stocks. Ponzi Scheme, a 5-year-old Sunday Break gelding, finished the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.16 with Elvis Trujillo up. The favorite, Zero Rate Policy, was leading when he fell. Four others either fell or were pulled up. However, none of the horses or jockeys was reported seriously injured.
Lone Star Park
Boca Bay stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 colts and geldings division of the Texas Stallion Stakes, hooked up with Sword Trick in the lane and prevailed over that rival by a half length. Patchwork finished third. Boca Bay, a Too Much Bling gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.98 over a fast track with Luis Quinonez up.
Im a Bear got a wide trip in the $75,000 filly division of the Texas Stallion Stakes but got to the lead in the lane and edged clear to win by 3/4 of a length over Perfect Meadow. Cowgirl N Up, the early leader, faded late and finished third 8 1/2 lengths farther back. The favorite, Color Code, settled for fourth. Im a Bear, a daughter of Touch Tone, got the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.68 with Quinonez taking both halves of the stakes feature.
Agressive Elegance ran by early leader and odds-on favorite Stamp Queen in the late going of Saturday's $50,000 Tomboy Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-old fillies and jetted off to win by 9 1/2 lengths over that rival. Kivi Khan was third. Agressive Elegance, a daughter of Macho Uno out of the In Excess mare Exclusive Event, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.42 with Albin Jiminez riding. She finished second, beaten only a neck, in her only other start going 5 1/2 furlongs at Mountaineer.
Hero of Order, the unlikely hero of this year's Louisiana Derby (at 109-1 odds), finished fifth in an optional claimer Sunday -- his second decisive loss since the Big Easy triumph. In Sunday's race, Hero of Order gave a little better account of himself than his last-of-13 showing April 14 at Keeneland. He attended the pace but lacked the needed kick in the final sixteenth, finishing about 3 lengths behind the winner, Forbidden Forest. Hero of Order was sent to the post as the second choice in the wagering.
Class Included, the odds-on favorite, just did catch pacesetting Elusive Noise in the late going of Sunday's $50,000 Hastings Handicap for fillies and mares, winning by a head. Special Holiday finished third. Class Included, a 4-year-old Include filly, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.17 with Juan Gutierrez up.