The "home team" had a monster day on Super Saturday in Dubai while Verrazano was having an equally super day on the Kentucky Derby trail.
The going wasn't so peachy for a couple of other Derby contenders on the West Coast, thanks to a fast early pace.
And the defending Breeders' Cup Classic champ would have shattered the world record for the mile in his 2013 debut at Gulfstream Park -- if only he'd kept his jockey aboard.
All in all, an interesting week and, with less than three weeks until World Cup night and less than eight weeks until Kentucky Derby Day, it's time to focus, focus, focus. Let's start with the most focused bunch of all, Sheik Mohammed bin Rasheed al-Maktoum's Godolphin minions.
(By RICHARD GROSS)
Some of the world's best horses came to Dubai to prepare for the March 30 World Cup Day in what was billed as Super Saturday at Meydan. But the day ended with the locals making the most of their home-course advantage.
Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor enjoyed his most super Super Saturday ever, saddling four of the seven Thoroughbred winners. His mounts and the "boys in blue" completed a 1-2-3 finish in the featured 2,000-meter, Group 1 Al Maktoum Round 3 Challenge that serves as the preview of the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
Hunter's Light will be among the Dubai World Cup favorites after the globetrotting son of Dubawi stretched 100 meters further on the all-weather Tapeta surface to replicate his Group 2 Al Maktoum Round 2 triumph with Silvestre de Sousa aboard. The duo enjoyed their undefeated fourth pairing together and provided Godolphin with its 200th Group or Grade 1 win worldwide.
"He is clearly a real favorite of mine," said de Sousa of their successful teaming. "Hopefully, he has a big chance in the Dubai World Cup."
German-bred Kassiano finished 2 3/4 lengths back, losing his first Carnival start after three wins but continuing to improve and impress after moving up in grade. Bin Suroor's hardest choice after an otherwise easy day may be in what race to start the 4-year-old gelded son of Soldier Hollow in three weeks. Prince Bishop was a neck back in third, a neck ahead of Surfer.
Daddy Long Legs set a fast pace and last year's Group 2 UAE Derby winner took a big early lead while America's Dubai World Cup hope Little Mike tracked the leader, moving swiftly off the rail position in his Meydan and Tapeta debut. The 2012 Breeders' Cup Turf-winning gelding took the lead briefly in the stretch as Daddy Long Legs gave way to Surfer, but neither could hold off the speed of Hunter's Light and the steady resolve of Kassiano.
A spent Little Mike faded to eighth after a game run with Daddy Long Legs getting home last in the 13-horse field. Last year's Dubai World Cup winner, Monterosso, was never a factor in the race, finishing tenth.
Little Mike was one of two American stars saddled by reigning U.S. Eclipse Award-winning trainer Dale Romans. His other runner, Grade I Pacific Classic winner and artificial surface specialist Dullahan, got a tune-up and a first taste of Tapeta in the 1,600-meter Group 3 Burj Nahaar, but bin Suroor's African Story rewrote a page from his triumph last year in this race with a win over Capital Attraction and Moonwalk in Paris in preparation for a defense of his 2012 Group 2 Godolphin Mile title. Dullahan had a dull start and never ran better than seventh, finishing 11th in the crowded 14-horse field.
Bin Suroor said earlier Sajjhaa was thriving in the Dubai weather after wins in the Group 2 Balanchine and Cape Verde Stakes races. The 6-year-old King's Best mare again proved her trainer right with a thrilling win in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta, run over the same 1,800 meters on turf as the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free. Jockey William Buick gained a paper-thin opening and squeezed through the leaders in the stretch to author a thrilling 3/4-length win over South Africa's The Apache and trainer Mike de Kock. City Style ran third for Godolphin.
"She has pleasantly surprised us," bin Suroor said of his fourth evening winner. "William had to be patient waiting for a gap and he gave her a great ride."
South Africa's 2011 Horse of the Year Igugu went off as the favorite and is still looking for her first win in more than a year after finishing a disappointing sixth.
Secret Number was another of bin Suroor's not-so-secret weapons, giving the home-bred trainer the first of his four winners by 2 lengths over de Kock's Zahee and stablemate Snowboarder in the Al Bastakiya, the 1,900-meter all-weather prep for the Group 2 UAE Derby.
While bin Suroor was triumphant on the evening, de Kock did not go away completely empty-handed as Shea Shea claimed the turf course record of 57.02 for 1,000 meters in a blistering 2 1/2-length win over 2012 Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint winner Sole Power and Russian Soul in the Meydan Sprint.
Reynaldothewizard worked his magic over 1,200 meters in the Mahab Al Shimaal on the all-weather to destroy Krypton Factor by four lengths. Krypton Factor failed in defense of his 2012 win in this race but may get a rematch when he defends his 2012 Group 1 Golden Shaheen score against the winning wizard. Carnival winner Balmont Mast could hoist only the third-place flag.
Jakkalberry came up in the last 100 meters of turf to prevent the rise of favorite Await the Dawn and the charge of Godolphin's Cavalryman in the 2,410-meter Dubai City of Gold. The 7-year-old son of Storming Home stormed home in last year's Group 3 Nad Al Sheeba Trophy at Meydan before finishing third to Cirrus des Aigles in last year's 2,400-meter Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic. The victor was making his first start for trainer Marco Botti, who could saddle up his winner for a retry in the Sheema Classic or the 3,200-meter Group 3 Dubai Gold Cup on World Cup Day.
Little Mike and Dullahan were the first American horses shipped solely to compete in a UAE prep race since Curlin won the Jaguar Trophy in advance of his 2008 Dubai World Cup win at Nad Al Sheeba racecourse. American runners Animal Kingdom and Royal Delta both are expected to ship soon to compete in the Dubai World Cup after prepping in the U.S.
All that remains of this year's Carnival after the impressive day for Godolphin and its lead trainer is the world's richest race day on Mar. 30 when $27.25 million will be waiting at the finish line of the day's nine-race card headlined by the 18th running of the world's richest horse race, the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
Kentucky Derby preps:
The favorites got caught chasing a speedy long shot in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita and paid the price at the end. Hear the Ghost, a 6-1 chance, came like a shot on the outside to steal a half-length victory over the odds-on favorite, Flashback. Tiz a Minister rallied from far, far back in the eight-horse field to finish third and Goldencents is likely to drop down some Kentucky Derby "Top 10" lists as he faded from contention to get home fourth. Hear the Ghost, a gelded son of Ghostzapper out of the Coronado's Quest mare Rehear, looked ready for a good effort while stretching out to two turns and likely will rise on those same lists. Following the hot early fractions, he finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.34 with Corey Nakatani up for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Hear the Ghost won at first asking in a 6-furlong maiden event at Hollywood Park in December, then finished second in the 6-furlong San Pedro on Jan. 21. Flashback, meanwhile, had been undefeated in two starts for trainer Bob Baffert, including the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita last month. Goldencents had won three of four, including the Grade Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot and the Grade III Sham. He also was second in the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont last fall. Nakatani said the early pace was the key to the San Felipe outcome. "I felt that they were going to go fast. So I thought, 'Let's get away good and make someone commit to going to the pace we need for him.' He's a tremendous horse." Both Nakatani and Kevin Krigger, who rode Goldencents, said they were surprised that Julien Leparoux sent Flashback into the early speed duel. "I think he ran well despite all that," Baffert said of Flashback. "He had a nice, tough race and he got tired at the end, considering he went so fast. But I think we learned a lot about him today ... . I think we were just intimidated by the free speed today, and the rail, so you learn from racing. That's what these preps are all about." The top three are likely to reconvene for the Santa Anita Derby. Baffert's other horse, Carving, showed little and likely will be sprinting in the future for owners Jill Baffert and Bode Miller.
There was no surprise in Saturday's $350,000, Grade II Tampa Bay Derby -- unless it was the ease with which Verrazano dominated eight rivals as he stepped up into stakes company for the first time. With John Velazquez up for trainer Todd Pletcher, the More Than Ready colt moved to the lead on the backstretch, briefly tapped the accelerator on the stretch turn and then won ridden out, picking up his third win without a loss. It was 3 lengths back to Java's War, who ran from the back of the field and bears watching. Falling Sky led early and finished third with Dynamic Sky completing the superfecta. Purple Egg finished last. Verrazano finished in 1:43.96 without being asked for his best. Pletcher, not given to hype, couldn't avoid veering in that direction after watching his star easily handle his first trip around two turns. "He has had some freakishly good performances and some of the things he does in the morning in his training, we don't see too often," Pletcher said. "The way he has finished his mile and mile-and-a-sixteenth races, I don't see another sixteenth being much of an issue. To come here and get 50 Kentucky Derby points, everyone can take a deep breath and see what happens next." He added he will select Verrazano's next start from among the Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby and Wood Memorial. Java's War, meanwhile, was making only his second start on the dirt and his first start as a 3-year-old. "I let them run away from us early and we were way back," jockey Willie Martinez said. "But when I asked him for run, it was sure there. If anything, I may have underestimated how he could accelerate," Martinez said. "The winner was gone, so consider this race a major step forward."
Mr. Palmer had a bit of a rough trip in Saturday's $150,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland, but still won with ease, besting runner-up Battier by 3 1/2 lengths. Seventeenohsix finished third. Mr. Palmer, a Pulpit colt trained by Bill Mott, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.35 with Junior Alvarado up. The colt, evidently a slow learner, took five tries to break his maiden, finally scoring at Aqueduct on Feb. 17. "We're going to try to put this horse on the Derby and Preakness trail if he's good enough," said owner Michael Lauffer. "He's a horse that's getting better every race. He finally woke up. Now he's won two in a row. He loves the distance. He's just a horse with a lot of heart that gives you everything he's got."
Noble Tune could move into Derby contention after a dramatic stretch move brought him victory in a Saturday allowance race on the Tampa Bay Downs turf. The Unbridled's Song colt, making his first start since finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, will get a chance to work on the Keeneland all-weather surface with an eye toward the Grade I Blue Grass, trainer Chad Brown said. Beyond that, "I'll probably stay short of speculating right now," Brown said. Noble Tune has three wins from four starts but likely would need to win the Blue Grass to make the Derby field.
Ive Struck a Nerve, the 135-1 upset winner of the Feb. 23 $400,000, Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, sustained an ankle injury during a workout Saturday morning and will miss both the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby. "We X-rayed it and it looks like he's got a fracture of a sesamoid," trainer Keith Desormeaux said of Ive Struck a Nerve. "Not shattered. It is a serious injury but the prognosis is very favorable for a return to racing. But it's going to be a while, maybe six months."
Four horses now are tied atop the points list that will be used to make up the Kentucky Derby field. Vyjack, Orb, Verrazano and Hear the Ghost each have 50 points. Flashback has 30, Goldencents 29, Shanghai Bobby 24 and Java's War 22. Three others have 20 points. The points races continue Saturday with the Rebel at Oaklawn Park, with 50 points awarded to first, 20 to second, 10 to third and 5 to fourth.
Kentucky Oaks candidates
Manuka Honey led from the start in Saturday's $100,000 Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and coasted home a 7 1/4-length winner. Wild About Irene ran second all the way and Cindy's Casino ground out a third-place finish after sustaining some early bumps. Manuka Honey, a Borrego filly, got 1 mile and 40 yards on a fast track in 1:41.75 with Edgar Prado in the irons. Another slow learner, Manuka Honey took six tries to find the winner's circle, finally graduating at Gulfstream Park last month when trainer John Terranova III moved her from turf to the dirt track. She did run third in the Grade III Miss Grillo last fall at Belmont Park in her second career try. "What led us to the dirt was she had shown good, high cruising speed, but just didn't have that quick turn of foot like a good turf filly who could put them away," Terranova said. "She was always competitive but we felt she didn't have that burst she needed to get to the next level on the turf."
Rose to Gold led all the way in the $150,000, Grade III Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park and easily held off the favorite, Gulfstream Park invader Flashy Gray, for a 2 3/4-length win. It was a long, long way back to American Sugar in third. Rose to Gold, a Friends Lake filly, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.06. Winning rider Calvin Borel celebrated his 5,001st official win, having hit the 5,000 mark earlier in the week. Rose to Gold now has four wins and a second from six starts. Her only sub-par effort was a 12th-place showing in the Grade I Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland in her only start on a synthetic surface. Flashy Gray now has two wins and two seconds from four trips. Borel said Flashy Gray, with Mike Smith up, "tried to come to me at the three-eighths pole but my filly pulled away. I knew we would be double tough. She came home strong." She earned 50 points toward getting into the Kentucky Oaks field and, with 64 overall points in the bank, trainer Sal Santoro said he may train Rose to Gold up to the Louisville race.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Razorback Handicap was a virtual replay of an allowance event over the same Oaklawn Park track. After a virtually identical running pattern, it was the same finish -- Cyber Secret overtaking pacesetting Golden Ron for the win, this time by a head, with Atigun settling for third. The favorite, Alternation, finished fifth while making his first start since the Hawthorne Gold Cup in October. Despite the repeat order of finish from their last race, the $1 trifecta yielded $508.90. Cyber Secret, a 4-year-old Broken Vow colt, now has won all three of his starts this year. With Robby Albarado up, he toured 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.80. "At the half mile pole he was in the clear and it was his race to win or lose from that point," said winning trainer Lynn Whiting. "He was able to grind them down. It was a good win, but I've never had a bad one." Asked about the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap on April 13, he added, "I'd think he'd deserve a chance in a race like that."
Saturday's $300,000, Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap got off to a scary start as Fort Larned, the Breeders' Cup Classic winner, stumbled badly at the start, unseating rider Brian Hernandez. Neither horse nor rider was hurt and Discreet Dancer proved the beneficiary, taking complete charge in the stretch run to win the 1-mile race by 5 1/4 lengths. Fort Larned, after regaining his footing, shot to the front of the field and outfinished everyone by nearly a sixteenth of a mile, enjoying the 115-pound weight break. Discreet Dancer, a 4-year-old Discreet Cat colt, was clocked in 1:35.17 with Javier Castellano in the irons. Swagger Jack was second and Fort Loudon third. "Obviously, we benefited from the bad luck for the Breeders' Cup Classic winner," said Discreet Dancer's trainer, Todd Pletcher. "But we're happy to win and we felt he was going to give us a good effort today." Fort Larned's trainer, Ian Wilkes, was counting his blessings Sunday as his star appeared to be in relative good shape after the fall. "How lucky do we get? The horse fell on his head. He's lucky he didn't really hurt himself," Wilkes said. "He could have ripped his whole heel off or he could have broken his leg. The way he fell, his whole head hit the ground." He said he will be looking for a return spot during the Churchill Downs spring meeting. Hernandez, back at Fair Grounds Sunday, said only his pride was injured in the mishap. "They tell me they clocked the horse in something like 1:30 for the mile. The horse ran huge without me," he said.
Believe You Can dominated Saturday's $150,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes, leading the way and drawing off through the stretch to win by 5 3/4 lengths in a hand ride. Imposing Grace and Young and Lovely filled out the skimpy trifecta. Believe You Can, a 4-year-old Proud Citizen filly, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.48 under Rosie Napravnik. She won last year's Fair Grounds Oaks, then went on to win the Kentucky Oaks before being sidelined with an injury but now has won her first two starts as a 4-year-old. "Our main objective is to get her to the Breeders' Cup and get her a championship this year," winning trainer Larry Jones said. "We missed that opportunity last year when we had to take her out of training early in the summer. Something like the La Troienne at Churchill might be a good next race for her."
Delaunay, the heavy favorite, drew off down the lane to make short work of Saturday's $150,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes, winning by a comfortable 4 1/2 lengths. Gantry was second and Ghost Is Clear finished third. Hero of Order, the 109-1 upset winner of last year's Louisiana Derby, finished last of six and still has not won in 10 tries since that year-ago shocker. Delaunay, a 6-year-old Smoke Glacken gelding, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:08.36, less than a half second off the track record. He now has won five straight races and seven of his last eight. "The horse came out of his race fine and is doing good this morning," winning trainer Tom Amoss said Sunday. He said he and owner Maggi Moss were having a "light discussion" about next steps and, "We'll probably be having a more serious discussion about what we want to do next on Tuesday or Wednesday."
Tampa Bay Downs
Old Tune looks like she's becoming a force in the turf ranks after a front-running win in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares. With Joel Rosario up, the 5-year-old Brazilian-bred mare had to battle a stubborn Hooh Why into submission, then kicked on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over a late-running Forces of Darkness. Mystical Star ran evenly to finished third. Old Tune got 9 furlongs of firm turf in 1:48.92. It was her second straight win since she was shipped up from South America and housed with Pletcher, who said it was an improvement over her first triumph in the Endeavour Stakes. "There were some very good quality fillies coming from Europe, and you always worry about the second time after a big effort her first time in the U.S. She is a lovely mare and easy to train," Pletcher said. He added he might look at a race at Keeneland as Old Tune's next start.
Maleeh rallied through traffic in the lane to win Saturday's $100,000 Fred "Cappy" Capossela Stakes for 3-year-olds by 2 3/4 lengths over long shot Tenango. The odds-on favorite, Clawback, was a head farther back in third. Maleeh, a Virginia-bred Indian Charlie colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.43 for jockey Eddie Castro. Art Magnuson, assistant to winning trainer Kieren McLaughlin, said, "He's a little fragile. We don't train him very hard. We were happy to show up today ... . He looks like a sprinter and his mom [Gold Mover] was a sprinter. For right now, we'll probably stay at one turn."
Rumor got the best of odds-on favorite Teddy's Promise in a nip-and-tuck stretch run in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Las Flores Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by a half length. After the top pair, it was another 6 1/2 lengths back to Shumoos in third. Sugarinthemorning finished fourth. Rumor, a 5-year-old Indian Charlie mare, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.44 for jockey Mike Smith. It was her first graded stakes win. "I didn't really think we'd beat Teddy's Promise, because she's such a good mare," winning trainer Richard Mandella said. "But my mare ran her heart out today ... . She's not the best mare in the world, but she's not far off." Smith, who rode at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, said the win made a nightmare morning worthwhile. "I came from Arkansas this morning, my flight was canceled and I've been on standbys since four this morning," he rider said. "I've never been so happy to catch a standby in my life."
Birdlover got the lead in Saturday's $75,000 China Doll Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and nobody could catch the 10-1 long shot as she flew off to a 1 1/2-length win. Magnificent Shirl finished second and 99-1 shot Akiss Forarose made a nice run to finish third and pump the $1 trifecta return to $5,499. Birdlover, a British-bred filly by Byron, ran the mile on firm going in 1:35.23 with Edwin Maldonado up. It was her first win in the United States and second overall.
Guadalupe High, the odds-on favorite, won Thursday's $75,000 Azalea Stakes for Louisiana-bred 3-year-old fillies with authority. Leading all the way, the Cuvee miss got home 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Ante Up Annie. She Loves Runnin' got home third. Guadalupe High, with Gerard Melancon up, finished 7 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:32.65.
Hero Force took over the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Pelican Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds and kicked clear, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Heitai. Unbridled's Score finished third. Hero Force, a Political Force colt, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:33.36 with Colby Hernandez in the irons.
Lester's Echo won a hotly contested, if brief, battle in Saturday's $85,000 Mt. Cristo Rey Handicap for New Mexico-breds, getting to the wire 3/4 of a length in front of the favorite, Kiss My Hennessey. Agiba Yulla finished third. Lester's Echo, a 6-year-old gelded son of The Trader's Echo, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 50.64 seconds under Isaias Cardenas.
Golden Gate Fields
Hidinginplainsight was on full display in Saturday's $55,000 Camilla Urso Stakes for fillies and mares, leading all the way to a handy, 2-length win over Distinctive Yolie. Cathy's Crunches finished third and the favorite, English Royal, finished sixth. Hidinginplainsight, a 4-year-old Elusive Quality filly, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.17 with William Antongeorgi III aboard.