Two-year-olds were running all across the United States. Louisiana Champions Day at Fair Grounds provided a mix of favorites and long shots in the winner's circle.
In Florida, winter racing continued its buildup toward the frenzied times of spring.
And check out the mutuels after Sunday's feature for 2-year-olds at Remington Park.
That's the nickel tour. Here's the whole guidebook:
The Hong Kong International Races are self-styled the "world turf championships" and the results of this year's four international Group 1 events support the boast. After raiders from England and Japan took the top prize in the first two events, it took a pair of veteran Hong Kong stars to save the day for a cheering crowd of more than 70,000 at Sha Tin Racecourse.
The $1.9 million Longines Hong Kong Vase provided a tip that the day would have an unusual flavor. Red Cadeaux, making his third Group 1 start in five weeks for British trainer Ed Dunlop -- and in three different countries -- outfinished Japan's Jaguar Mail down the stretch to win by a short head. Meandre, in from France, took third and Liberator was the fourth as the best Hong Kong could do. The 2,400 meters of the Vase is an unusual distance for Hong Kong racing.
Jockey Gerald Mosse said despite the narrow margin, "If he had to go one more lap, no one would catch him."
Red Cadeaux finished eighth in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup in Australia on Nov. 6, victimized by a slow pace. He again finished eight in the Group 1 Japan Cup in Tokyo on Nov. 25, the victim of bumping and cuts on his legs.
"He's an iron horse," Dunlop said. "He deserved to win this race." He said he will target the Melbourne Cup again in 2013 but will consider starting the season in Dubai.
Japan broke through in the $1.9 million Longines Hong Kong Sprint -- a race won by local horses nine of the last 10 years. This time, Lord Kanaloa stepped onto the international stage with a dramatic stretch run that found him winning by 2 1/2 lengths over pacesetting Cerise Cherry. Captain Sweet finished third.
The 4-year-old had been sprinting well in top company in Japan all year, finishing with a win in the Group 1 Sprinters Stakes in September. Asked if Sunday's win will give him confidence to take Lord Kanaloa to other international venues, jockey Yasunari Iwata said, "He's a very talented sprinter, so he could. Trainer Takayuki Yasuda noted Japan had never won a Hong Kong Sprint but predicted Lord Kanaloa "will be a pioneer for Japanese in this race. There will be others."
It was Hong Kong's turn in the $2.6 million Longines Hong Kong Mile. Ambitious Dragon, the two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year came into the race with a lot of question marks -- a recent defeat, a wide draw and an injury on Saturday that required trainer Tony Millard to walk him in the stable area until nearly midnight on the eve of the race.
But the 6-year-old overcame it all. Breaking out of the No. 11 gate, he settled at the back of the field and waited until the field was ready to turn into the stretch. When jockey Zac Purton was ready, he swung around the entire field and "the Dragon," as he's known in Hong Kong, unleashed a powerful kick that saw him home first by 3/4 of a length over Glorious Days, the horse who upset him in the final local prep. Packing OK made it a clean sweep of the top spots for the Hong Kong team.
"It was really trying," Millard said of Ambitious Dragon's unfortunately timed leg injury. "Up to 11 last night, we were walking the horse. He got better, hour by hour. When I left at midnight, I felt good about his chances."
Purton said his mount didn't show any lingering effects of the injury. "He felt fine when he was out there on the track," the jockey said. "I just had to let him roll into gear. I never hit him with the whip. It was a pretty soft win."
The final Group 1 race, the $2.8 million Longines Hong Kong Cup went the defending champion, California Memory -- and in decisive fashion.
Breaking from the inside post, jockey Matthew Chadwick positioned the light gray 6-year-old nicely on the rail, letting others do the early work. It appeared briefly at the top of the lane that pacesetter Dan Excel might have stolen the race but first California Memory, then French raider Giofra and then Australian Alcopop came calling and they finished in that order. California Memory was in front by a length and won decisively.
The race lost its prospective star, Cirrus des Aigles, to a minor injury at mid-week. Another local hopeful, Sweet Orange, was scratched on Friday.
Chadwick said the No. 1 draw "was the best draw you could pick out of a hat. He can jump [from the gate] really well. From there on out, it was a patient game."
Of the stretch move, Chadwick added, "Really, he put them to bed in three or four strides."
Trainer Tony Cruze, noting unsuccessful trips to Group 1 races in Dubai and Singapore earlier this year, said he expects to keep California Memory home in 2013. "We have a sure thing here," he said.
Texas Bling, at odds of 129-1, rallied to win Sunday's $300,000 Remington Springboard Mile at Remington Park by 1 3/4 lengths. Fellow long shots Will Take Charge and Worldventurer completed a trifecta that returned $18,827.20 for a $2 investment -- plenty to provide a bounty of bling. Texas Bling, a Texas-bred colt by Too Much Bling, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:39.96 with Erik McNeil up. The favorite, Exploring, showed nothing. The winner took eight tries to break his maiden, first at Lone Star, then at Remington. He then immediately moved up to the finish sixth in the El Jovan Stakes at Retama in his last previous start. One to watch.
Zeewat had to work for the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate Fields but, once he got there, the Pennsylvania-bred colt quickly shook free and won by 3 1/4 lengths. Condiment was best of the rest and My Best Bet was third. The favorite, Royal Barrister, led the way but faded to finish next-last of six. Zeewat, a Harlan's Holiday colt, ran the mile on the all-weather track in 1:38.13 with Russell Baze riding for owner/trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. He previously won the Cavonnier Juvenile Stakes at Santa Rosa.
Chatfield Road led all the way to an 11-1 upset win in Saturday's $125,000 Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity at Hawthorne Race Course, holding on to beat Lassell by a head. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to Tall Grass Cat in third. The favorite, Smokin Glock, misfired, finishing fourth. Chatfield Road, a Bellamy Road gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:49.45 with Seth Martinez at the controls. His only previous win was by 14 lengths -- but in a $15,000 maiden claimer. He earned $71,775 for Saturday's win. The race is named for the former Illinois governor, who also is a major owner and breeder.
Officer Alex outfinished the odds-on favorite, Res Judicata, to win Saturday's $75,000 Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes for state-breds by a length. Siete de Oros was a distant third. Officer Alex, an Officer gelding, got 7 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:23.94 under jockey Stewart Elliott.
Estrickator led from the start in Saturday night's $75,000 My Dandy Texas Stallion Stakes at Retama Park and won by 1 3/4 lengths over Breathefire. Pop Chart topped out at third. Estrickator, a Pennsylvania-bred Intimidator gelding, got 6 furlongs in 1:11.63 with Glen Murphy in the irons.
Vyjack thrashed three rivals in Sunday's $75,000 Traskwood Stakes at Aqueduct, drawing off at the end to win by 5 3/4 lengths over Always in a Tiz. Black Hornet and Tweet Me completed the order of finish. Vyjack, a Kentucky-bred Into Mischief gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:24.38. Keep the Canoli was a late scratch.
Smooth Bert tracked the pace in Sunday's $80,000 Damon Runyon Stakes for state-breds at Aqueduct, rallied to the lead in the lane and got home first by 3/4 of a length over Notacatbutallama. James Jingle jingled the pockets of show bettors. Smooth Bert, a Smooth Jazz colt, ran the mile on a sloppy track in 1:39.70 for jockey Mike Luzzi.
Doinghardtimeagain stalked the pace in Sunday's $200,000 Soviet Problem Stakes for state-breds at Hollywood Park, came four-wide in the lane to take the lead and edged clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Unusual Way was second with Awe Golly Molly rockin' in third. Doinghardtimeagain, a Ministers Wild Cat filly, got 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.93 with Martin Garcia up. She has never been worse than second in four starts. "The race came up exactly how I thought it would," Garcia said. "There were a few speed horses and I wanted to lay on the outside where she could be really comfortable."
Aunt Els led from the start in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Lassie for Ontario-foaled fillies at Woodbine and got home first by a length over the odds-on favorite, Original Script. Rutherford Rd checked in third. Aunt Els, a Consolidator filly out of the Flame Thrower mare Frivolous Flo, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:46.17 with Justin Stein riding.
Kelli Got Frosty iced her competition in Sunday's $80,000 East View Stakes for 2-year-old New York-bred fillies at Aqueduct, leading most of the way to a 9 1/2-length win. Agilion and Bit Bustin completed the trifecta. Kelli Got Frosty, a Frost Giant miss, ran the mile on a sloppy track in 1:39.19 under Cornelio Velasquez.
Esscalator skimmed the rail on the lead in Saturday night's $75,000 Darby's Daughter Texas Stallion Stakes and went on at the end to win by 4 1/2 lengths over Tastefullyxcessive. Platinum Song finished third. Esscalator, a Texas-bred daughter of Intimidator, finished 6 furlongs in 1:11.16 under Glen Murphy.
Cat Five' O put a nose in front of Sister Ginger on the wire to win Sunday's $50,000 Mistletoe Stakes at Remington Park in Oklahoma. Shenandoah Lady finished third. Cat Five' O, an Iowa-bred Pleasantly Perfect filly, got the mile on a fast track in 1:40.48 with Cliff Berry in the irons.
Executiveprivilege was poised to make her case for an Eclipse Award in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Hollywood Starlet. But a funny thing happened along the say, as often is the case in the racing game. Pure Fun, shipped in by trainer Kenny McPeek for her first try on an all-weather surface as a $20,000 supplement, responded with a dramatic run from last of eight to upset the West Coast contingent, winning by a length over lightly raced Blonde Fog. Scarlet Strike finished third. Executiveprivilege, meanwhile, had every chance at the top of the lane but didn't find the needed late oomph and settled for fourth as the odds-on favorite. The poor showing caught some bridge-jumpers and resulted in slightly inflated show payoffs. Pure Fun, a Pure Prize filly ridden by Garrett Gomez, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.65. After racing on turf and dirt, she won for the third time in eight career starts. McPeek assistant Matt Shirer said Pure Fun "was a little farther back than I thought she was going to be. But at the quarter pole, she came flying." He said McPeek will ship her back to Kentucky and point for the Kentucky Oaks. Executiveprivilege came into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies undefeated in five prior starts but was bested by Beholder -- one of trainer Bob Baffert's toughest beats on an overall bad day. "Extremely disappointed," said Executiveprivilege's rider, Mike Smith. "I had a beautiful trip but she got her head way up and did not menace. I just hope everything is okay with her after the race." Baffert salvaged something Saturday as he also trains Blonde Fog, a Divine Park filly who was making just her second start.
An eager Lady of Fifty rallied outside the early leaders in the stretch run of Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Bayakoa Stakes and got home first by 3 1/4 lengths. Open Water also ran well late to take second and the favorite, Inglorious, settled for third. Lady of Fifty, a 3-year-old After Market mare running against older competition, got 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.36. "I wanted to take the lead," winning rider Martin Garcia said. "But those other horses, they kept sending and sending. I let them all go and when I finally moved out, she relaxed. I just kept her on the outside because I didn't want to get into any more trouble. When I asked her to go, she just exploded. She was much the best." Winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said he hadn't yet selected a next race for Lady of Fifty.
Dust and Diamonds bounced back nicely from a second-place finish in the Breeder's Cup with a handy win in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Sugar Swirl Stakes for fillies and mares. The 4-year-old Vindication filly pretty much had things her own way, leading most of the way and winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Golden Mystery. Nakano finished third. Dust and Diamonds, a 4-year-old Vindication filly, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in a quick 1:08.66 with John Velazquez up for trainer Todd Pletcher. "I don't know what else she could have done," Pletcher said by phone from New York, "running 6 furlongs in 1:08 and 3 [fifths] and winning under a hand ride." He said she will stay at Gulfstream with the $150,000, Grade III Hurricane Bertie her next likely target.
Romacaca joined a multihorse fray in the stretch run in Sunday's $100,000 South Beach Stakes for fillies and mares and was just up to win by a neck over Chokurei. Hooh Why finished third. Romacaca, a 6-year-old Running Stag mare, got the 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:29.37 for jockey Francisco Torres. Romacaca failed to meet her reserve price at last month's Fasig-Tipton sale in Kentucky and was returned to owner Frank Calabrese and trainer Danny Miller, who was happy to keep her running. "All you have to do is take good care of her and keep her healthy," Miller said. "She's a nice mare. She likes to run."
San Pablo pressed the pace set by Gallant Fields in Saturday's $75,000 Queen's County Stakes, took the lead with a furlong to go and rebuffed a renewed bid by that rival to score by a half length. Isn't He Perfect finished third. San Pablo, a 4-year-old Jump Start colt, ran 9 furlongs on a muddy, sealed track in 1:51.84 with Christopher DeCarlo riding for Todd Pletcher. "He's one of those horses who is just steadily improving, a horse we've always liked," Pletcher said. "He seems like he is kind of putting it together. If he can take another step forward, then he could fit with the top echelon."
Tampa Bay Downs
Action Andy drew off like an odds-on favorite should in Saturday's $60,000 Pelican Stakes and won by 2 1/4 lengths, ridden out. Indiano finished second and Black Belt was a surprise third. Action Andy, with Daniel Coa in the irons, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.14 -- 0.47 seconds shy of the track record. "I expected him to be a little faster than that," winning trainer Carlos Garcia said of the 5-year-old Gators and Bears gelding, who also won this race last year.
Brigand led from the start in Saturday's $100,000 City of Laurel Stakes for 3-year-olds, edged clear in the lane and won by a length over Bellefire. Javerre finished third. Brigand, a New York-bred Flatter colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.08 with Abel Castellano Jr. in the irons. Brigand is the first horse that trainer Bob Baffert has started at Laurel, though he has won five editions of the Peakness Stakes up the road at Pimlico. "Bob chose this spot," said owner Kaleem Shah, who lives in nearby Vienna, Va. "He told me this was a good spot. He thought he would win and that was good enough for me."
Safe Trip raced safely on the lead in Saturday's $50,000 KLAQ Handicap, then held off long shot challenger Lion Hall to win by 3/4 of a length. Jam'n Jackson picked up show money. Safe Trip, a Kentucky-bred Tale of the Cat gelding, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.00 under Miguel Hernandez.
Rose's Desert, the heavy odds-on favorite, won Sunday's $85,000 New Mexico Racing Commission Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares with ease, finishing 5 lengths better than runner-up Gossip Dome. Iplaytricks was third under the wire. Rose's Desert, a 4-year-old Desert God filly, did 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.02 with Casey Lambert up.
Nuggets Please came from last of nine to win Sunday's $85,000 Johnie L. Jamison Stakes for New Mexico-breds by 2 1/4 lengths over Our Choice. Most Dust was third and the favorite, Attitude E Racer, finished fourth. Nuggets Please, a 5-year-old Prospector Jones gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.30 with Derek Bell riding.
Z Rockstar held off the favorite, Imahit, to win Sunday's $50,000 Jim Thorpe Stakes for Oklahoma-bred 3-year-olds by a length. Johnny Whip raced evenly to finish third. Z Rockstar, a Rockport Harbor gelding, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.72 with Luis Quinonez up.
Lady Jensen came from far back to take Sunday's $50,000 Useeit Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies, winning off by 4 1/2 lengths over Kimbell's Bling. Diamond Disco finished third. Lady Jensen, by Bob and John, ran 7 furlongs in 1:25.67, also under Quinonez.
Saturday was Louisiana Champions Day, with a card full of races for state-bred Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. The main track was fast, the turf was yielding and the day produced a fair mix of wins by long shots and favorites.
Heavy On Themister produced a minor upset in the climactic race, the $150,000 Classic, stalking the pace before taking over to win by a length over Watch My Smoke. Get in Da House finished third and the favorite, Populist Politics, faded to finish last of 10. Heavy On Themister, a 4-year-old Lion Tamer gelding, ran 9 furlongs in 1:53.00 with Rosie Napravnik up.
Hero Force, also under Napravnik, battled for supremacy in the $100,000 Juvenile before prevailing by a half length over late-running Lattin Devil. Heitai was third and the favorite, Westernator, settled for fourth. Hero Force, a Political Force colt, got 6 furlongs in 1:11.62.
Su Casa G Casa came wide to the lead in the stretch run in the $100,000 Sprint and went on to win by 2 lengths over Productive Envoy. The odds-on favorite, Amanecer de Oro, finished third after setting an ambitious pace. Su Casa G Casa, a 4-year-old During gelding, got home in 1:11.14 under Miguel Mena.
Sittin At the Bar hoisted one for the chalk players in the $100,000 Lassie for juvenile fillies, kicking to win by 8 lengths for jockey Mark Guidry. She Loves Runnin' was best of the rest and Taralicious finished third. The eight-filly field was strung out almost 60 lengths down the long Fair Grounds stretch at the finish. Sittin At the Bar, an Into Mischief filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.10.
String King rallied by pacesetter Lovely Vin in the late going of the $100,000 Turf and won by a length over that rival. Sadie's Soldier finished third. String King, a 4-year-old Crowned King gelding set to the post as the odds-on choice, ran the "about" 1 1/16 miles on the yielding green in 1:45.92 with James Graham up.
Ladyzarbridge showed the way in the $100,000 Ladies and held on to win by a length over Little Ms Protocol. Silent Legacy was a distant third. Ladyzarbridge, a 5-year-old Zarbyev mare, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.94 for Napravnik.
Harlie's Dreams outfinished Warrior Maid to win the $100,000 Ladies Sprint by a half length with Foreign Girl third. Harlie's Dreams, with Diego Saenz up, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.26. She is a 5-year-old Pleasant Tap mare.
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