Weekend racing included Florida races pointing to Dubai, an Australian race pointing to England and many eyes on Louisville.
The two top finishers of Saturday's big grass race at Gulfstream Park are expected to resurface on World Cup night, March 30, at Meydan in Dubai. Black Caviar's half-brother is on track in Australia to visit Royal Ascot this spring.
And the first round of the Kentucky Derby futures pool ended Sunday with bettors more excited about "none of the above" than any of the early favorites.
As the horses circle the globe in search of glory, read on in search of details:
If, as hoped, the top two runners from Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Kittens Joy Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap go on to Dubai, fans there may have a hard time figuring out what's what. The race was a strange one. Salto went out to set a slow pace, apparently prompting Joel Rosario to send Animal Kingdom to the lead with nearly a half mile yet to run. The 2011 Kentucky Derby winner willingly moved to the front. But he then was unable to withstand a withering late run by Point of Entry, a much more seasoned turf veteran who enjoyed a perfect trip under John Velazquez. At the wire, it was Point of Entry by 1 1/4 lengths over Animal Kingdom, with Unbridled Command another 1 1/4 lengths back in third and the other three well back. Point of Entry, a 5-year-old entire son Dynaformer, finished 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:47.00. He now has won six of his last seven races -- a record marred only by a second-place finish behind Little Mike in last fall's Breeders' Cup Turf. Four of those six wins have been Grade I affairs. Animal Kingdom, beset by injuries, finished second to eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Breeders' Cup Mile while making his first start in nearly nine months. Velazquez said Animal Kingdom's early move gave the edge to Point of Entry. "If he would have waited behind me, he probably would have beaten me from the quarter pole home," Velazquez said. "He made a move so big that he changed his style to my horse's style, so it worked out to my advantage." Animal Kingdom's trainer, H. Graham Motion, basically agreed. "I thought it was a good run," he said. "I think Joel was worried the speed was a little slow, so he moved a little early, which cost us the race. It gave Point of Entry a chance to follow him. He was beaten by a very good horse under awkward circumstances." It was Rosario's first ride on Animal Kingdom, who earlier was piloted by Velazquez. Ironically, Velazquez also had the mount on Wise Dan in the Breeders' Cup. Motion said earlier in the week the race was a stepping stone to the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 30 and Animal Kingdom certainly got a good physical effort under his belt in preparation for that test. Point of Entry reportedly is under consideration for the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night at Meydan.
The $500,000, Grade I Donn Handicap was another slightly odd affair. Graydar, a 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song making just his fourth career start, took the lead, set a reasonable pace and coasted home first by 3 lengths as none of the better-fancied rivals could find enough acceleration in the stretch run. Bourbon Courage came from well back to finish second but Take Charge Indy faded badly in the final sixteenth, settling for third, 5 lengths farther back and just a neck in front of the favorite, Flat Out. Another late runner, Hawthorne Gold Cup winner Pool Play, also spun his wheels in the stretch and finished sixth. California invader Ultimate Eagle was pulled up in the stretch and vanned off. Graydar, with Edgar Prado up, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.25. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Graydar has had physical issues that have limited his opportunities. "You see horses win Grade I's early in their careers, like 2-year-olds, with not very many starts," Pletcher said. "But I'd say it's extremely rare for a horse in his fourth lifetime start against seasoned horses like this to be able to do it. It's a real tribute to the horse." He said he has not yet planned Graydar's next start.
Fort Loudon surged to the lead midway down the stretch in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Gulfstream Park Sprint Handicap and then was all out to survive for the win by a half length over Swagger Jack and another nose over Bahamian Squall. Fort Loudon, a 4-year-old Awesome of Course colt, got 7 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:21.84 under Jose Lezcano. "He broke very well and I know he runs the way he did," Lezcano said. "I used him the whole way and got lucky." The win was his first since last July at Calder and came on the heels of a third-place finish in the 9-furlong Sunshine Millions Classic last month. "It was a game performance and great to win a race like this on Donn Day," said winning trainer Nick Zito. "I think it helped that he was coming off a distance race, but I think we'll probably keep him at seven-eighths to a mile for now." He said the 1-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 9 is likely.
It was all Channel Lady in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Suwannee River Stakes for fillies and mares on the turf. With Javier Castellano up, Channel Lady set an uncontested and moderate pace from the start and won by 3/4 of a length over Abaco. Inglorious, Kya One and Hard Not to Like finished in a close bunch behind the top two. Channel Lady got 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:48.82, more than 4 seconds off the course record set by her sire, English Channel, in 2007. She was coming off a second-place finish behind Hard Not To Like in the Grade III Marshua's River Stakes at 1 1/16 miles last month and now has four wins and two seconds in her last six starts. "She's been a very good, reliable filly for us from the start," said Pletcher, who added another graded stakes to his bulging trophy case. "We think she might be best settling in behind the pace, but when we looked at this race, there didn't look like there was much speed in there. As it turned out there was no pace and Javier did the right thing to let her go ahead to the front. English Channel was so good at a mile and a half that I think she'll go longer when we ask her. Right now, we still have the Honey Fox [March 16] turning back to a mile here and we'll seriously consider that."
Golden Mystery tracked the pace in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Wishing Well Stakes for fillies and mares, took over in the stretch run and kicked clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Fantasy of Flight. Nakano finished third. Golden Mystery, a 7-year-old Awesome Again mare, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.96 for jockey Luis Saez. She had shipped to Kentucky to be sold in Monday's Fasig-Tipton mixed sale but trainer Marty Wolfson asked to have her back temporarily for the Wishing Well when Dust and Diamonds was withdrawn. "That was the filly to beat," Wolfson said, adding he would be happy to have Golden Mystery's new owners return her to his stable after the sale. "I think she's a Breeder's Cup type," he said. "She's gotten so good. The older she gets, the better she's gotten."
The first weekend of the Kentucky Derby futures pool closed Sunday evening with "all others" the 8-5 choice. Verrazano ended up at 11-1, Flashback at 12-1, Revolutionary and Itsmyluckyday at 13-1, Breeders' Cup and Eclipse champion Shanghai Bobby at 14-1, Normandy Invasion at 15-1 and Goldencents at 20-1. You do not get your money back if your horse doesn't make the field. Shanghai Bobby and Goldencents lead in the point standings to make the Derby starting gate with 24 points each. Oxbow has 11 points and 10 others are tied at 10 points each. The big point-scoring races start next month.
Dynamic Strike rallied from off the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park, battled in deep stretch with Where's Dominic and finally edged clear to win by a length over that rival. Lunar Rock came from last of six to finish third. Dynamic Strike, a Pennsylvania-bred Smart Strike colt, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:40.58. In his two previous starts, Dynamic Strike had won on the lead. Now 3-for-4, the Miracle Wood was his first added-money victory. "The race set up good," said winning rider Forrest Boyce. "He's been going to the lead and this was our chance to find out if he could do it another way. He dug in against that other horse and he did it pretty well."
Aqueduct reopened after Blizzard Nemo in time for Rubysandpearls to lead most of the way to a half-length win in Sunday's $75,000 Java Gold Stakes. The Truth and K G put in a bid in the stretch but couldn't sustain it, settling for second. West Hills Giant was third and the odds-on favorite, Winning Cause, trailed throughout and finished last. Rubysandpearls, a Florida-bred Pomeroy gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a track rated good in 1:09.88 under Christopher DeCarlo. He now has three wins from six starts in Florida, California and New York.
Sister Ginger emerged from a tight duel with the favorite, Rose to Gold, in Saturday's $75,000 Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park, eventually drawing off to prevail by 2 3/4 lengths over that rival. Broken Spell and American Sugar competed the superfecta. Sister Ginger, dismissed at almost 20-1 odds, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.51 under Ricardo Santana Jr. The daughter of Student Council is trained by Steve Asmussen. She now has two wins from six starts.
Redressthebalance caught pacesetting favorite Marks Mine in the late going to win Saturday's $50,000 California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields by a half length. Sweet Tess and Macha were just another nose and head back in third and fourth. Redressthebalance, an Irish-bred daughter of Ramonti, got 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.40 with Christian Santiago Reyes in the irons.
(By RICHARD GROSS)
A win by Godolphin runner Hunter's Light in the UAE-Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round II over the 1,900- meter Tapeta all-weather Meydan course Thursday lit the way for a possible Dubai World Cup berth.
The Darley-bred, 5-year-old son of Dubawi earned a record ninth Al Maktoum Challenge Round II victory for trainer Saeed bin Suroor and a perfect 3-for-3 record with retained jockey Silvestre de Souza aboard. The pair teamed up for de Souza's first Group 1 win in Italy's Premio Roma on turf Nov. 4 following an Aug. 11 turf win in the Group 3 Rose of Lancaster Stakes in England.
"He is one of my favorite horses," said de Sousa, understandably. "We will have to see where he goes next," added trainer bin Suroor. That could be anywhere as the international traveler has raced in Italy, France, Turkey and England in his most recent four starts, and now owns eight wins and two places, including a second against last year's Dubai Sheema Classic winner Cirrus des Aigles in the Prix Dollar at Longchamp in Paris last June. The two could face a rematch with both nominated for this year's Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup Day March 30.
The big surprise in the race was the last-place finish by Darley-bred stablemate Alpha, dead-heat winner with Golden Ticket of last summer's Grade I Travers at Saratoga and runner-up in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. The 4-year-old Bernardini colt could do little wrong in New York, but was never better than mid-pack in his first run on the Dubai all-weather.
Disappointment was also the result for 5-year-old Indian supermare In the Spotlight with a sixth-place finish in the 2,810-meter turf handicap won by South African gelding Star Empire. The Mike de Kock charge settled back early but closed fast to snatch a quarter-length win from Ahzeemah in the final strides with just under a length separating the top four. In the Spotlight tracked the leaders but never mounted a challenge and faded in her second losing run on the Meydan turf after eight wins in 11 starts in her home country.
In other results, Lovely Pass got past leaders Music Chart and runner-up Shuruq to give trainer Mahmoud al Zarooni and jockey Ahmed Ajtebi a half-length win in the all-weather UAE 1000 Guineas; Ottoman Empire conquered Arthur's Tale in the 2,000-meter all-weather handicap; Elleval ran down El Estruendoso for a half-length victory in the 1,400-meter turf conditions run; and de Kock-trained Royal Ridge scored a double for the trainer to close out the night with a head win over British runner Producer.
Godolphin, the racing arm of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's equine operation, announced Friday U.S. Eclipse Award-winning filly Questing has been retired from racing and will be bred this spring to Darley's Bernardini. The 4-year-old Alabama Stakes-winning daughter of Hard Spun was eased in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic Nov. 2 after suffering an eye injury, finishing a last-place eighth. She later had a bone chip successfully removed, but developed pneumonia, preventing her return to training and resulting in the retirement decision after posting four wins in 11 starts.
All Too Hard, a half-brother to Black Caviar, reeled in the leaders in the final few hundred yards to win Saturday's AUS-Group 1 C.F. Orr Stakes at Caulfield by a half length over Marwingo. Mr Moet finished third. The 7 furlongs on good turf went in 1:22.83. All Too Hard, second in the Cox Plate last October, was racing for Vinery Stud for the first time and the win not only validated his standing as one of Australia's top runners, but likely also cemented a trip to Royal Ascot and perhaps Europe in the Northern Hemisphere spring and summer. Meantime, he has a few races left in the Australian summer season.
Slim Shadey, toting jockey/actor/analyst Gary Stevens, led all the way to a 1-length victory over the favorite, Interaction, in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II San Marcos Stakes. All Squared Away finished third. Richard's Kid finished tenth in the big field. Slim Shadey, a 5-year-old, British-bred Val Royal gelding, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:59.17. He also won the San Marcos last year but in the intervening nine races, his only victory came in the Grade II John Henry Turf Championship at Santa Anita last September. Stevens, who had been struggling to find the wire since coming out of retirement, was happy. "I've had a bad case of the seconditises," he said. "I knew things would turn around and this is a good race to have them turn around in." Winning trainer Simon Callaghan said he will "wait and go straight to Churchill" for the $500,000, Grade I Woodford Reserve Stakes on Kentucky Derby Day, May 4. Slim Shadey was second in that race last year.
Purim's Dancer, also with Stevens up, stalked the pace in Sunday's $75,000 Wishing Well Stakes for fillies and mares, got through inside the leaders turning for home and won off by 3 1/4 lengths. Dancingtothestars finished second and the favorite, Byrama, was third. Purim's Dancer, a 4-year-old Purim filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:12.25. Stevens said he is happy to be winning stakes races again and grateful to his supporters. "But," he added, "it's good horses that put you in the winner's circle."
Tampa Bay Downs
Spectacular Sky went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Manatee Stakes for fillies and mares and held off long shot challenger Cheechako late to win by a neck. Appealing Stella finished third. Spectacular Sky, a 5-year-old Sky Mesa mare, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.51 with Daniel Centeno in the irons.
Sam Houston Race Park
Manyriverstocross stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Tomball Stakes for Texas-breds, then won a three-horse photo at the wire. Vilao was second, a neck back, as the favorite and pacesetting Sera's Tunnel was another neck back in third. Manyriverstocross, a 4-year-old Minister Eric filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.56 with Gerardo Mora up.
Sudden Ghost outfinished Pyrite On My Mind to win Saturday's $50,000 El Diario Handicap for fillies and mares by 3/4 length. Patty's Pulpit got home third. Sudden Ghost, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Ghostzapper filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.68 with Nancy Summers riding.
Red Lead tracked the early leaders in Sunday's $50,000 Curribot Stakes, took charge on the turn and kicked clear, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Hurricane Lake. Global Stage was third as the favorite. Red Lead, a 7-year-old Red Bullet gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.84 with Enrique Gomez in the irons.