A short schedule in weekend racing nonetheless produced some winners worth watching in the coming months.
In Louisiana and New Mexico, some 2-year-olds with potential won early preliminaries for the Kentucky Derby trail. An up-and coming filly won her first stakes try at Laurel Park. And a top Japanese 3-year-old beat some tough rivals, promising good things to come on the international scene.
They were practically giving away money in Saturday's feature at Gulfstream Park -- at least if you liked the horse moving up from a victory in the Claiming Crown.
Here's a little closer look at the short but sweet list of results:
The fans vote on who should start in the Group 1 Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse and this year, Gold Ship was the No. 6 vote-getter. When Sunday's race was done, though, the 3-year-old Stay Gold colt -- earlier the winner of two legs of the Japanese Triple Crown -- was on top, 1 1/2 lengths better than runner-up Ocean Blue. Rulership, the top vote-getter who actually started the race, finished third after breaking in the air and spotting his rivals a good head start. Gold Ship raced well back in the field and was forced to fan extremely wide into the short stretch run. With encouragement from jockey Hirouki Uchida, he quickly made up ground, collared the leaders with about 50 yards to go and strode by for the victory. "It was an amazing win," said winning trainer Naosuke Sugai, "and he really showed how tough he is. He turned out to become Santa Claus for the fans ... . He will probably head for the Tenno Sho [Spring] in April and the Takarazuka Kinen in June next season." Orvefre, the top fan vote-getter, and Japan Cup winner Gentildonna, who was voted fourth, both skipped the race.
Tour Guide stalked the early pace in Saturday's $75,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes for 2-year-olds, took the lead easily when asked and quickly asserted supremacy, winning by 3 1/2 lengths. Ive Struck a Nerve came from last to finish second, 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Brown Laddie. Tour Guide, a Kentucky-bred Broken Vow colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.20 with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons. Trainer Bret Calhoun said he hopes to stretch the colt out. "He's a very fast horse, for sure," Calhoun said. "We'll just have to see if we can harness some of that speed and stretch it out. I do think there's more left in the tank." He did not specify Tour Guide's next race.
Finding More got to the lead on the turn in Saturday's $75,000 Letellier Memorial Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, then found more in the stretch run, holding well to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Irish Lute. The even-money favorite, Brotherhood Singer, settled for third. Finding More, a Washington-bred Trickey Trevor filly, stopped the timer in 1:11.80 under jockey John Jacinto. Evan Downing, assistant to trainer Kellyn Gorder, said the filly likely will get a chance at two turns. "It does sound like she has more sprint breeding," Downing said. "But she won going seven-eighths last time so we'll probably try."
China had to battle all the way but managed to pull off a 36-1 upset win over Ikon Ike in Saturday's $75,000 Bonapaw Stakes. After battling for the lead, the 5-year-old son of Tale of the Cat put away fellow long shot Cash Refund, then just did get home first by a neck over the late-running Ikon Ike. Global Power finished third and one-time Breeders' Cup champ Chamberlain Bridge, the favorite, was fourth. China, with Jacinto riding, finished 5 1/2 furlongs of firm turf in 1:04.76. "I never thought I'd be on the lead," Jacinto said. "But he broke so sharp, I just let him go."
Daisy Devine ran like an odds-on favorite should in Saturday's $75,000 Blushing K.D. Handicap, leading the way, then drawing off late to win by 6 lengths, virtually eased by Hernandez. Forest was next under the wire, and 10 3/4 lengths better than Francisca in third. Daisy Devine, a 4-year-old Kafwain filly, ran the "about" 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.12. "A paid workout," Hernandez said.
Strike Impact stalked the pace in the $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap, then seized the lead in the stretch and went on to win by a length over Hotep. Dubious Miss finished third. Strike Impact, an 8-year-old Smart Strike gelding, go the "about" 1 1/16 miles on the grass in 1:46.34 for jockey Shaun Bridgmohan.
Nikki's Sandcastle bounced right back from a victory in the Claiming Crown to win Saturday's $100,000 El Prado Stakes -- at generous odds of 5-1.With Corey Laneire in the irons, the 5-year-old Castledale gelding started slowly enough from an outside gate, trailing most of the 13-horse field. He improved his position down the backstretch and put in a bid around the stretch turn with a five-wide move, then outfinished Kharafa to win by 3/4 of a length. The favorite, Salto, finished third after leading briefly at the top of the stretch. Nikki's Sandcastle finished the mile on firm turf in 1:34.48. He has been no worse than second in his last five starts, including a runner-up showing in the Grade II Fayette at Keeneland. Trainer David Kassen said he considered scratching when Nikki's Sandcastle drew No. 14 but reconsidered. "We were really serious about scratching because of that," he said. "We had another race down the road in Texas we're kind of planning for so I said, 'This will be just a good prep for it even if we don't win.' Rather than having to do a lot of training I'd just as soon run him. So it worked out good." The Texas race is the $200,000, Grade III John Connally on Jan. 26.
Onepointthreekarats tracked the pace into the turn in Saturday's $100,000 Thirty-Eight Go Go Stakes for fillies and mares, quickly took charge turning into the stretch and got away to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Withgreatpleasure finished second, 2 lengths ahead of odds-on favorite Bold Affair. Onepointthreekarats, a 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:38.42 with Jeremy Rose up. It was her first stakes run by followed a 4 1/2-length win over the same course and distance last month for trainer Graham Motion. "She's getting special right now," Rose said. "My filly was comfortable the whole way, where I thought I had horse to finish and if Bold Affair had enough horse, we would have had a race of it."
Show Some Magic took the lead in the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Riley Allison Futurity for 2-year-olds and, despite drifting a bit down the lane, held on to win by a half length over Stormdriver. Stoneridge Gold finished third. Show Some Magic, a Kentucky-bred Any Given Saturday colt, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:38.19 under Miguel Hernandez and survived a claim of foul before the result was posted as official. Show Some Magic started his career with some promise during the spring meeting at Churchill Downs, broke his maiden at Saratoga, finished fifth in the Grade II Three Chimneys Hopeful and then tossed in two woeful performances at Delta Downs in October and November before shipping west. Trainer Henry Dominguez said he Show Some Magic might stick around the Land of Enchantment for the Mine That Bird Derby at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 23, a prep for the $800,000, Grade III Sunland Derby on March 24.
Hennessey Smash stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Bold Ego Handicap for fillies and mares, surged to the lead in the upper stretch and held on well to win by 3/4 of a length over Pyrite On My Mind. Alydarla finished third. Hennessey Smash, a 3-year-old daughter of Roll Hennessey Roll, finished 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.93 with Casey Lambert in the irons.
Why Not Be Perfect kicked clear in the lane in Saturday's $35,000 Hank Mills Sr. Handicap and won off by 3 1/2 lengths. Touch the Sun was second and Where's the Remote clicked in third. Why Not Be Perfect, a 5-year-old son of Whywhywhy, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:35.26 with Anne Sanguinetti riding.