Shanghai Bobby Saturday settled for second, albeit with a good effort, in the $400,000, Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He joined Beholder, who finished second in her 3-year-old debut at Santa Anita Jan. 21.
Meanwhile, Santa Anita and Sam Houston had weekend stakes galore and jockey Rosie Napravnik took to the air to ride some top horses Saturday in both Florida and Texas.
Hong Kong turned up a potential runner for Dubai's World Cup night while a former Macau winner proved victorious in the third weekend of the Dubai World Cup Carnival.
And those races were only the tip of the iceberg on a week that was cold in most places and wet in many -- but far from devoid of hot action. Pull a chair up to the fireside and give a listen:
The Derby trail:
Shanghai Bobby came into the Holy Bull undefeated in five starts and, just a week earlier, had been crowned the Eclipse Award winner in his division. But he broke from the rail in a big field Saturday and was pressured all the way as he set the pace. At the end, he was unable to hold off Itsmyluckyday, who blew by to win by 2 lengths.
After Shanghai Bobby, it was 11 1/2 lengths back to 42-1 shot Clearly Now in third, then another 1/2 length to 132-1 chance Joshua's Compromise in fourth. Disappointments included Bern Identity, Frac Daddy and Dewey Square, who finished fifth, sixth and seventh. Itsmyluckyday, a Lawyer Ron colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles in track-record time of 1:41.81 under Elvis Trujillo.
Itsmyluckyday had the advantage of a stalking trip and what's known in racing as "recency." He won the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day while Shanghai Bobby hadn't raced since his Breeders' Cup win in November.
"Everybody's excited because of the Kentucky Derby," said winning trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. "It's hard not to get wrapped up in that." He added he will "lean to" the $1 million Florida Derby on March 30 as Itsmyluckyday's next race. "But he's going to tell me what he wants to do. Then I'll sit down with our partners and we'll discuss it."
The issue is complicated by the new Churchill Downs points system for getting into the Kentucky Derby field. Itsmyluckyday earned only 10 points for Saturday's win and will need a lot more than that to get into the starting gate for the Run for the Roses. A poor choice for -- or a poor performance in -- his next race could find him out in the cold.
Shanghai Bobby's trainer, Todd Pletcher, seemed unfazed by his colt's first loss.
"The winner was very good today. We were second best," he said. "We got a good trip and didn't expect to break the track record by three-fifths of a second in order to win. I was happy. We got the trip. We got the trip we anticipated."
A couple others to watch: Cerro, an Irish-bred colt who raced in Italy last year and easily won Saturday's third race at Gulfstream for trainer Graham Motion; and Orb, a Malibu Moon colt who overcame traffic problems to win the fifth race on the same card for trainer Shug McGaughey.
The Grade II Fountain of Youth on Feb. 23 could be an opportunity for either of those -- or others -- to race their way into Derby contention. The winner of that race gets 50 points toward the Kentucky Derby start; the winner of the Florida Derby, 100 points.
No one seems to have a good feel yet about how many points will be needed to get into the Run for the Roses although the 100 points offered in the Florida Derby and other top "final prep" races around the nation presumably would do the job. The situation poses significant problems, especially for trainers like Pletcher, who have multiple prospects for the Churchill Downs classic.
Kauai Katie looks destined to be a sprinter -- and a brilliant one at that. The Malibu Moon filly blasted out of the gate in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park and was never seriously threatened. Racing comfortably while setting a quick pace, she added to her advantage through the turn and the stretch run, winning by 5 1/2 lengths with minimal urging by jockey John Velazquez. My Happy Face was happy to settle for second with 48-1 chance Pow Wow Wow taking third for trainer Nick Zito and owner Marylou Whitney. Previously undefeated Puerto Rican import Fusaichiwonderful ran evenly to finish fourth. Kauai Katie ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.13. She now has five wins from six starts with the only defeat coming in the 1 1/16-miles Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
"She ran the race we were hoping for," Pletcher said of Kauai Katie. "We really weren't sure whether she would be on the lead or not, but once she broke so alertly there was no point to try and take her back."
He said he won't try to stretch the filly out for the longer races on the Gulfstream Park stakes schedule.
"As I've said before, the major summer goals for her will be the Prioress and Test at Saratoga. She'll freshen up a little for now," he said.
Velazquez said he believes Kauai Katie could handle a one-turn mile at the end of her distance range.
Looking to the longer distances, like the Kentucky Oaks, brings attention to Saturday's $100,000, Grade Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita and the cleverly named Fiftyshadesofhay. The Bob Baffert trainee, a daughter of Tapit, sat nicely behind a quick early pace over a wet-fast track, surged to the lead on the turn and drew off to win by 5 3/4 lengths. Heir Kitty was second, followed by the favorite, Scarlet Strike. The other two starters were eased in the stretch. Fiftyshadesofhay, with Rafael Bejarano in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.89.
"She can run all day long," Baffert said. "She's fast and she wants to be out there. We had a big advantage the way the track is playing today. We were very high on her early in the year and it's taken her a while to come around. But she ran like she's supposed to do."
(By RICHARD GROSS)
Fresh off winning an Eclipse Award as last year's top U.S. owner, Sheik Mohammed bin Rasheed al Maktoum's Godolphin Racing dominated Thursday's Meydan feature as Sajjhaa earned a 3 3/4-lengths win over Amanee and last year's winner First City in the 1,600-meters Group 2 Cape Verdi for fillies and mares.
Foaled in England by Sheik Mohammed's Darley, which picked up the Eclipse Award as top 2012 U.S. breeder, the 6-year-old Kings Best mare took the lead with 400 meters to go and ran easily to her fifth win in 14 starts and second graded-stakes victory.
"She has been working very well and has thrived in the Dubai weather," said trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "We will be back in four weeks for the Balanchine Stakes."
Sajjhaa's was one of three turf wins on the night for the Godolphin team in a 6-race meet sponsored by Meydan Group, and the second for bin Suroor and retained jockey Silvestre de Sousa. The pair earlier won the 1,800-meters turf handicap with Ireland's Masteroftherolls gaining a 3/4-lengths victory over Burano. Mandaean earned Godolphin's third win on the evening guided by Mickael Barzalona in a 1 1/2-lengths win over Don't Call Me in the closing race for trainer Mahmoud al Zarooni.
The Carnival meet proved truly international, as Macau Derby winner Elderly Paradise won the 2,000-meters handicap by 1 1/4 lengths over Jamr on the all-weather Tapeta with Christophe Soumillon up. Trainer Man Chau Tam made a victorious return to the UAE after saddling Change The Grange to double wins in 2005.
"Everything depends on how he comes out of this race," said Tam when asked about the next start for the 6-year-old Danewin gelding, who has nine wins in 15 starts and more than $3 million in lifetime earnings.
The card opened with Bay Willow holding in the final strides to earn a 1/2-length victory over Layali Al Andalus in the 2,200-meters all-weather handicap. Local trainer Satish Seemar and jockey Richard Mullen combined for a double when Reynaldothewizard overtook Ganas 500 meters from the wire and gained a 1/2-length win over runner up Balmont Mast.
Eagle Regiment bounced back Sunday from an almost one-year absence to win his second straight running of the HK G1 Kent & Curwen Centenary Sprint Cup at Sha Tin -- and likely a return trip to Dubai. Eagle Regiment, a 5-year-old Australian-bred, got going midway through the 1,000-meters event, run on the straight, and was home free at the end, winning by 1 1/2 lengths for jockey Olivier Doleuze and trainer Manfred Man. After winning this race last year, Eagle Regiment headed for Dubai and the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint but injured a hind leg in training there and has been idle since.
"When we got back to Hong Kong, I asked the owner to give me enough time to rest the horse," Man said. "So we just prepared him for this race and in the last few months, we only trialed him. We'll try to get him ready for Dubai again."
Frederick Engels was second Sunday, Best Eleven finished third, Lucky Nine was a disappointing fifth and Joy and Fun had neither, reporting home eighth. The race was clocked in 56.32 seconds over good going.
Joyful Victory, piloted by the jet-setting Napravnik, led virtually all the way to a 4 1/4 lengths victory in Saturday night's $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic Stakes. Brushed by a Star was second and Sisterly Love finished third. Joyful Victory, a 5-year-old Tapit mare, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in track-record time of 1:42.30. Napravnick flew in for the ride for trainer Larry Jones after settling for second on Shanghai Bobby at Gulfstream Park on Saturday afternoon for Pletcher.
"It wasn't necessarily my goal to go to the lead," Napravnik said. "I expected to sit off the pace a little. But, when no one came with us, I said 'we'll take it'. She was on her game today and ran an excellent race."
Jones said the plan "was to get her to relax, not to fight her and just let her run. I can't take credit for setting two track records (see below). Rosie had everything to do with that. But if there was one I really wanted, it was this race."
Napravnik arrived in time to ride in the previous race but settled for second as Swift Warrior proved uncatchable in the $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup. At the wire, Napravnik and King David were still chasing and 2 3/4 lengths behind the winner. Wilcox Inn was another 3/4 length back with a good run from the rear. Swift Warrior, with Jose Espinoza up, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.21. The winner is a 5-year-old son of First Samurai.
Napravnik got to Texas in time for the race before that, too, and piloted Icon Ike to a nose victory over Chamberlain Bridge in the $75,000 Champion Energy Services Stakes. Canuletmedowneasy, running coupled with Chamberlain Bridge, led for a time, then faded to finish third. Que Posse filled out the trifecta. Icon Ike, a 4-year-old Yes It's True colt, ran 5 furlongs on the grass in course-record time of 56.48 seconds.
The first of the day's four stakes races, run without the aid of Napravnik, went to Tour Guide, who won a stretch battle with Hardrock Eleven to take the $50,000 Allen's Landing Stakes by 1/2 length. Holiday Mischief finished third. Tour Guide, a Broken Vow colt, ran 7 furlongs on the main track in 1:23.16 with Miguel Mena in the irons.
In all, riding at two tracks, Napravnik managed two wins and two seconds in four stakes races on Saturday and finished sixth in one other trip at Gulfstream. It's nice to be in demand.
Tiz Flirtatious toyed with six rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Valentine Dancer Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares, waiting until the top of the stretch before launching a bid that carried her to a 1 3/4-lengths win over Dancingtothestars. Toomanytomatoes finished third after leading early. Tiz Flirtatious, a 5-year-old Tizbud mare, got 1 mile on good turf in 1:35.17 under Rafael Bejarano. She has never finished out of the money in eight starts, including a second-place showing in her last race, the Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes over the same course.
"Hopefully we can get back into graded stakes after this," said winning trainer Marty Jones. "I was a little concerned about the rain the last couple days, no doubt. But this turf seems to handle the weather good, and the rain cleared out of here just in time to really put us at ease."
Teddy's Promise circled three-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Santa Monica Stakes for fillies and mares and went on to win by 3 lengths over Sugarinthemorning. Kindle was booking on the early lead, then faded to finish third. Teddy's Promise, a 5-year-old Salt Lake mare, ran 7 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:22.64 with Victor Espinoza aboard.
"She's really starting to relax and mature mentally," said winning trainer Ron Ellis. "Physically, she's always been quite a specimen but mentally she's really turned a corner for us."
Qiaona came from far back in a crowded field to win Saturday's $300,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies by 1/2 length over Unusual Way. The early leader, Marks Mine, got home third and the favorite, Doinghardtimeagain, ran evenly to finish fourth. Qiaona, a daughter of Wilco, ran 1 mile on the wet-fast surface in 1:37.75 with Garrett Gomez up for trainer Ed Moger Jr.
Tiz a Minister rallied from last of 10 to win Saturday's $300,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes for 3-year-olds by 1 1/4 lengths over Omega Star. Surfcup faded from the lead to finish third. Tiz a Minister, a Ministers Wild Cat colt, finished 1 mile on the wet-fast track in 1:36.56 with Gomez riding for trainer Paul Aguirre.
John Scott got to the lead in the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Crystal Water Stakes for California-breds and held on to win by a nose over an onrushing Huntsville. Jules Journey was along for third. John Scott, a 6-year-old Bertrando gelding, ran 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:47.08 with Martin Garcia in the irons.
Suddenly, venerable trainer D. Wayne Lukas is winning everything in sight. After scoring stakes victories with 3-year-olds at both Fair Grounds and Oaklawn last weekend, Lukas saddled Optimizer to a front-running win in Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Col. E.R. Bradley Stakes. At the wire, the 4-year-old English Channel colt was 3 1/2 lengths out front of String King with Bim Bam rolling from the clouds to take third. Optimizer got "about" 1 1/16 lengths on turf rated good in 1:46.22 with Jon Court at the controls. The race was postponed from last weekend because of rain-soaked sod.
"I thought he handled (the course) real well," Court said. "I knew he should run really good today and was counting on it. Mr. Lukas is having some luck there at Oaklawn so I wanted to make sure I could bring some of that luck with Optimizer here today."
Also run a week late was Saturday's $75,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial, also at about 1 1/16 miles on the good turf. In this delayed heat, prohibitive favorite Daisy Devine had no trouble with five rivals, coasting home first by 1 3/4 lengths after leading all the way. Ausus and Anniversary Girl were long-priced second and third. Daisy Devine, a 5-year-old Kafwain mare, finished in 1:46.60 under James Graham. It was her 10th win in 17 lifetime starts.
"She won on a soft course when she won the Pago Hop here two years ago, so I was confident she'd handle the soft going again," said winning trainer Andy McKeever.
He said he may stay at Fair Grounds for the Bayou Handicap on Feb. 23. "But our main objective will be the (Grade I) Jenny Wiley this spring" at Keeneland.
Animal Style came from far back, quickly, to upset Saturday's $75,000 Van Berg Stakes for 3-year-olds, blowing by Strong Response late to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Evan's Calling finished third. Animal Style, a Kentucky-bred Spanish Steps colt, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the good turf in 1:05.88 with Shaun Bridgmohan in the irons.
And in Saturday's $75,000 F.W. Gaudin Memorial, Delaunay went quickly to the lead and won off by 4 1/4 lengths. Gantry was second and Hamiltonian finished third. Delaunay, a 6-year-old Smoke Glacken gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:09.06 with Bridgmohan up.
Premier Steps stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Sweetest Chant Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, engaged pacesetting Discreet Marq in the lane and prevailed by a neck after a tough battle. Caroline Thomas was running best late but finished another neck back in third. Premier Steps, an Irish-bred Footstepsinthesand filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.20 with Javier Castellano in the irons. She raced in England last summer, moved to Belmont Park, then shipped to California where she got home sixth in the Grade III Miesque Stakes at Hollywood Park in November. Sunday's win was only her second from seven career starts.
"I thought she ran well," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "She's still learning the game going two turns over here. But I was proud of her effort. I think when she felt that horse coming on her right side, it kind of gave her an extra gear and she was game to win."
Tampa Bay Downs
Smartys Emperoress was up just in time to win Saturday's $75,000 Lightning City Stakes in a thrilling finish that saw the entire field of 10 fillies and mares separated by little more than 2 lengths. Trippin' Along was a nose behind the winner in second, Christina d'Oro was another nose back in third and a neck separated the fourth- and fifth-place finishers as the placing judges earned their keep. The punters sweated out the photo as the $2 trifecta returned $2,951.20 and the $1 superfecta paid $8,522.40. Smartys Emperoress, a 5-year-old daughter of Holy Roman Emperor, got 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.50 seconds with Angel Serpa riding.
"She was coming into the race very nicely and I thought she should have a good shot," said James Spicknall, who saddled Smartys Emperoress for regular trainer Eric Reed. "She does everything right, doesn't make any mistakes and is very gutty. The final time shows they were really clipping. The Serpa kid can really ride, no holds barred. He is phenomenal."
Twice the Lady rallied to the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Affectionately Stakes for fillies and mares and won by 2 lengths over Withgreatpleasure. Stephanie Jayne finished third and the odds-on favorite, R Gypsy Gold, ran last of four all the way around. Twice the Lady, a 5-year-old Quiet American mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:44.05 with Cornelio Velasquez up.
Moon Philly flew by pacesetting Touch the Birds in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Nellie Morse Stakes for fillies and mares and went on to win by 3 1/4 lengths over that rival. Access to Charlie finished third. Moon Philly, a 4-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon, ran about 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.67 under jockey Jeremy Rose.
Apprehender went to the lead quickly in Saturday's $60,000 King Cotton Stakes and was not apprehended, winning by 1 length over Alsvid. Lukas suffered a rare setback when his charge, Laurie's Rocket, was shuffled back and finished third. Another Lukas charge, Hamazing Destiny, finished next-last of six. Apprehender, a 4-year-old Posse gelding, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.08 with Alex Birzer up for trainer Chris Richard.
Melody Lady took charge early in Saturday's $50,000 El Paso Times Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and won by 6 1/4 lengths over Fraudulentfootnote. Flamboyance was third. Melody Lady, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Unbridled's Song, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.76 for jockey Casey Lambert. Steve Asmussen trains the winner.