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Game On Dude got a much better trip in Saturday's $250,000, Grade III Native Diver Stakes than he endured in his seventh-place finish in last month's Breeders' Cup Classic and ground out a hard-fought, 1 1/4-length win over Nonios. Kettle Corn finished third, 4 1/4 lengths farther back and it was 10 more lengths to Richard's Kid in fourth. Make Music for Me completed the order of finish. Game On Dude, with Mike Smith up, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:52.27.
Game On Dude, a 5-year-old Awesome Again gelding has had an interesting year, worthy of a Hollywood B-movie plot, with five wins -- all in graded stakes -- but a 12th-place showing in the Dubai World Cup, that Breeders' Cup flop caused by a bad start and a tough beat by Dullahan in the Pacific Classic. He also was the subject of a high-visibility jockey change from the now-retired Chantal Sutherland, first to Rafael Bejarano and then, Saturday, to Smith while Bejarano moved to Richard's Kid -- a horse Baffert lost in another controversial, mid-year ownership change. "It's just a shame," Baffert said, "that he had all those great races all year long and then had a bad trip in the Breeders' Cup. But it's a new day today."
Smiling Tiger came from off the pace to win Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Vernon O. Underwood Stakes by a length over the early leader, Private Zone. Capital Account finished third. Fast Bullet was a late scratch. Smiling Tiger, a 5-year-old son of Hold That Tiger who finished third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:11.24 with Bejarano in the irons. It was his first win in exactly 18 months, dating back to the Grade I Triple Bend Handicap over the same track. Trainer Jeff Bonde said the horse has had recurring throat issues and he was all-out to make it back to the races for the Breeders' Cup. "We'll try to space his races," he added, "because we're hoping to take him to Dubai."
Reneesgotzip stalked the pace in Saturday's $65,000, off-the-turf Skillful Joy Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then caught pacesetting Nachez Dawn in the final strides to win by a neck. Curvy Cat finished third. Reneesgotzip, a Kentucky-bred City Zip filly, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather surface in 1:13.05 with Garrett Gomez up.
Saturday's Claiming Crown series was not kind to the chalk players as only one of the seven favorites won and only two even made it into the money. It was, however, an excellent day for trainer Mike Maker, who brought a small herd to the first-ever Gulfstream Park edition of the Claiming Crown and came away with four wins.
The races all were for horses who had raced for a specified-level claiming tag during 2011or 2012. With added purse money and the allure of opening day at Gulfstream, the series drew unprecedented attention, including live broadcast on the Horse Racing Radio Network.
The series got off to a formful enough start as Tiban, the favorite under Calvin Borel, rallied from a rough start and was up in time to win the $100,000 Express by a half length over Pot of Gold. Country Gun finished third. Tiban, who last started at Churchill Downs for trainer Tim Glyshaw, finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.91. He is a 5-year-old Flatter gelding.
Things started to go south for the chalk players, and well for Maker, in the second race as Brother Bird came from just behind early leader Jazzit to win the $100,000 Iron Horse by 3/4 of a length over that rival. The favorite, Follow the Leader, finished third and that was the last time a favorite would be seen in the top three finishers for the remainder of the day. Brother Bird, a 5-year-old Yonaguska gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.58 with Joel Rosario up. He last raced at Keeneland.
Maker, Rosario and Keeneland scored another mild upset in the $100,000 Rapid Transit as Bernie the Maestro drew off in the stretch to win by 3 3/4 lengths over Off the Jak. Won Fast Bullet finished third and the favorite, Peb Hughes, struggled home eighth. Bernie the Maestro, a 5-year-old Bernstein gelding, ran 7 furlongs in 1:21.60.
The home team got in a lick in the $100,000 Glass Slipper for fillies and mares going 7 furlongs as Starship Truffles upset nine rivals, kicking clear late to win by 4 lengths over Come Sunday. Ridden by Luis Saez, Starship Truffles was clocked in 1:22.26. Trained by Marty Wolfson, she had made her last-previous start at Calder.
It was Maker again as Starsilhouette surged from last of 12 to upset the $125,000 Tiara, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Malibu Yankee. Fleur de Lilly finished third while the favorite, Silver Screamer, quietly checked in 10th. Starsilhouette, a 5-year-old Orientate mare coming off a Keeneland race, got the 1 1/16 miles on firm Gulfstream turf in 1:42.85 while toting Alan Garcia.
Nikki's Sandcastle rallied from a pace-stalking trip to post a minor upset in the $125,000 Emerald, winning by a head over Major Marvel with Exclusive Strike third. The favorite, King David, finished third and fellow graded-stakes veteran King Kreesa finished 10th after clipping heels shortly after the start. Nikki's Sandcastle, a 5-year-old Castledale gelding, got the 1 1/16 miles on the green course in 1:43.13 for Corey Lanerie.
Maker closed out the day with his fourth win as Parent's Honor rallied from far back in the featured $200,000 Jewel, split rivals in the stretch run and won by 3/4 of a length over Dominant Jeannes. Flatter This was third and the favorite, Private Tale, settled for fourth after bobbling at the start and then leading briefly in the late going. Parent's Honor, a 4-year-old Elusive Quality gelding, ran 9 furlongs with Garcia up in 1:50.03.
Owner Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey also had a good day in the Florida sun, winning four of the seven races, including the Jewel.
On Sunday, Bahamian Squall took over in the stretch run of the $60,000 Sunshine State Sdtakes for Florida-breds, drawing off to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Fort Loudon. Close it Out finished third. Bahamian Squall, a 3-year-old Gone West colt, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.12 with Luis Saez up.
Calder Race Course
Philly Ace nailed pacesetting favorite Hollinger approaching the wire in Friday's $100,000, Grade III Tropical Turf Handicap, winning by a half length. Empire Builder chugged in third. Philly Ace a 4-year-old Smart Strike gelding, raced off the pace until early in the stretch run, came out to get a clear shot and the run was timed just right by jockey Luis Saez. The 9 furlongs on firm turf went in 1:49.22. "The trainer told me that the horse liked being along the rail," Saez said. "So I broke good and I took him right there."
Earlier on the program, long shot Closing Range led all the way to a handy, 2 3/4-length victory over Ciao Bella in the $100,000, Grade III La Prevoyante Handicap for fillies and mares, completing the 1 1/2 miles on the grass in 2:27.54. Ciao Bella finished second and the favorite, Havant, settled for third. Closing Range paid $41.80 to win. "That was the plan, to put her on the lead," winning rider Elvis Trujillo said. "She broke sharp and I got her to relax as best she could."
Forest Mouse surged to the lead turning for home in Sunday's $200,000 Zia Parak Distance Championship, opened a daylight lead and coasted home first by 3/4 of a length over Red Lead. California invader Hurricane Lake finished third. Forest Mouse, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Teton Forest, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.76 with Ry Eikleberry riding.
In Sunday's $120,000 New Mexico Eddy County Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds, Jenson's Miracle dueled down the lane with Indication N M before posting the upset win by a nose. Keagan's Way finished third. Jenson's Miracle, a Rocket Included gelding, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:41.40 with Enrique Gomez in the irons.
Ole Winedrinker Who came from off the pace to win Saturday's $150,000 Zia Park Derby by 3 3/4 lengths over Master Rick. Alsvid, the favorite, settled for third. Ole Winedrinker Who, a Texas-bred Sligo Bay gelding, finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.42 with Carlos Madeira up.
Whiskey Romeo, the prohibitive favorite, stumbled at the start of Saturday's $100,000 Marylander Stakes for 2-year-olds but then had no further problem. The Kentucky-bred Forestry colt rallied quickly to the front and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Amerigo Vespucci. Hamp finished third. Whiskey Romeo, with Stewart Elliott up, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.10. He now has three straight wins, all by substantial margins, for trainer Richard Dutrow and needs to be included in any discussion of next year's Kentucky Derby.
Eighttofasttocatch lived up to his name in Saturday's $100,000 Jennings Handicap fr Maryland-breds, leading most of the way to a 5 1/2-length win over the favorite, Hello Lover. Charge finished third. Eighttofasttocatch, a 6-year-old Not for Love gelding, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:37.86 under Sheldon Russell. He was winning for the 11th time in 37 starts but the first time since last March.
Hawthorne Race Course
My Option raced just behind the first flight early in Saturday's $125,000 Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante for state-bred 2-year-old fillies, came four-wide to the lead and went on to win by 4 1/2 lengths over Indygo Kiss. C'mon Feet failed her win and place backers, finishing third. My Option, by Belong to Me, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:48.75 with Eddie Perez up. It was her first start on the dirt but trainer Chris Block said he worked My Option carefully for the start and was not surprised at the result. "In those works, she handled the dirt well," he said. "My biggest concern was how she would settle today."
Avie's Quality rallied from well back to win Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Display Stakes for 2-year-olds by 1 1/4 lengths over My Name is Michael. Clearly Now finished third. Avie's Quality, a Kentucky-bred Elusive Quality colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.25 with Luis Contreras in the irons.
Pyrite Mountain put a nose in front of the early leader, Power Phil, at just the right time to win Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Kingarvie Stakes for Ontario-sired 2-year-olds by a nose. Jade Dragon finished 4 lengths further in arrears in third. Pyrite Mountain, a Silent Name colt, got 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.46 with Patrick Husbands riding.
Fifty Proof led the way in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Sir Barton Stakes for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and up and held the advantage to the wire. Head Honcho finished second, 1 1/4 lengths behind, and Bobcaygeon was third. Fifty Proof, a 6-year-old Whiskey Wisdom gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.46 for jockey Justin Stein.
Miss Valentine got by pacesetting Jitney in the stretch drive in Sunday's $75,000 Lotsa Talc Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Lady on the Run finished third. Miss Valentine, a 4-year-old Afleet Alex filly, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.38 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons.
Singlet moved to the lead on the stretch turn in Saturday's $75,000 Garland of Roses Handicap for fillies and mares and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Kid Kate. Delightful Quality was home third. Singlet, a 3-year-old Real Quiet filly, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.75 with Mike Luzzi in the irons.
Tampa Bay Downs
Purple Egg wore down pacesetting favorite Brave Dave in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-olds and won by a length over that rival. Capital City was a length farther back in third. Purple Egg, a Kentucky-bred Lion Heart gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.93 for jockey Roberto Alvarado Jr. He now has won all three of his starts and, if he can handle the stretch out to two turns, could enter the Derby picture. "This is really going to be a two-turn horse, I believe," winning trainer Jane Cibelli said. "Today was a very impressive performance -- 1:09 on this race track -- and I think he is the real deal." She said Purple Egg will be pointed to the $250,000, Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes on the same track on Groundhog Day.
Cor Cor set a blistering pace in Saturday's $75,000 Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, then held on in the lane to win by a half length over Vitameta. It was another half length back to R Free Roll in third. Cor Cor, a Florida-bred Smoke Glacken filly, got the 6 furlongs in 1:10.02 with Scott Spieth up. She now has two wins from two starts, the first coming over the Keeneland all-weather track. "She could be any kind of good," Spieth said. "She is so fast getting out of the gate and wants to run -- not crazy fast but kind of controlled fast."
Golden Gate Fields
Marks Mine was quickly in front in Saturday's $50,000 Golden Gate Debutante for 2-year-old fillies and held off the odds-on favorite, Ciao Bella Luna, at the end for a 1 1/4-length victory. My Lil Shamrock finished third. Marks Mine, a daughter of Benchmark, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.78 with Abel Cedillo handling the reins.
Slim Shadey's Lady opened up a big lead early in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 Holiday Inaugural Stakes for fillies and mares, then survived the late run of the favorite, Queen's Award, to win by a neck. Lotta Lovin finished third. Slim Shadey's Lady, dispatched at odds of 36-1, covered 6 furlongs on the northern Kentucky all-weather track in five aces -- 1:11.11 -- with Ben Creed up. She is a 3-year-old, Indiana-bred Spanish Steps filly.
Queen'o'daball came from the back of the pack in Saturday's $50,000 West Virginia Futurity for state-bred juvenile fillies and kicked clear in the stretch to win by 5 3/4 lengths over Landon Did It. Golden Style finished third. Queen'o'daball, a Windsor Castle filly, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.56 under Antonio Lopez.
In the males division, Cinderella'spalace also came from off the pace and went on to win by a length over Roy's Song. Mr. Ripken finished third. Cinderella'spalace, a Windsor Castle gelding, got home in 1:28.26, also with Lopez in the irons.
Chuck rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win Friday's $50,000 Oklahoma Stallion Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds by 1 1/4 lengths over the pacesetting favorite, Shirley Elizabeth. Bob Fudge took show money. Chuck, an Evansville Slew colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.32 with Lindey Wade up.
Rah Rah Rachel came from far back in Friday's $50,000 Oklahoma Stallion Stakes Fillies and put a nose in front on the wire to post the win. Black Ocean just missed after a tough stretch battle and Really Okie finished third. Rah Rah Rachel, a daughter of Air Commander, ran 6 furlongs in 1:13.80 under David Cardoso.
Nihonpiro Ours sprung the upset in Sunday's Group 1 Japan Cup Dirt at Hanshin, shooting to the front with 200 meters to go and drawing off easily to win by 3 1/2 lengths in course-record time of 1:48.8. Wonder Acute finished second and Hokko Tarumae got home third. It was the first Group 1 win for Nihonpiro Ours, a 5-year-old son of White Muzzle. "The race development was just perfect," winning trainer Yuki Ohashi said. "The jockey waited to make [his] bid, which was later than usual, and this is when I was sure that our horse was going to win the race. We took ample time to improve his form, and our efforts have at last been rewarded."