Some Breeders' Cup champions were back on the track, with very mixed results while a star was born in Japan.
And the big winners in Saturday's racing were trainers Kenny McPeek and Todd Pletcher, who between them accounted for five of the top six placings in the last two big Kentucky Derby preps. Pletcher conceivably could have five starters in the Run for the Roses.
Here's how things looked, from top to bottom:
Kentucky Derby preps
At least five 3-year-olds may have earned their way Saturday into the field for the May 4 Run for the Roses. (See sidebar for current Derby rankings).
Java's War strolled out of the Keeneland starting gate at the start of Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Toyota Blue Grass, dead last of the 14 starters. He was still at the back of the pack nearing the end of the backstretch run when jockey Julien Leparoux gave the War Pass colt his cue to run. Then he circled the field, charged determinedly down the stretch and outfinished Palace Malice to win by a neck. It was only another neck back to Charming Kitten, who also rallied from well back. Early leader Rydilluc held on for fourth. Java's War ran the 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather surface in 1:50.27. The win ensured a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate for the colt who finished a good second in the Tampa Bay Derby to the likely favorite in the Run for the Roses, Verrazano. Java's War is trained by Kenny McPeek for owner Charles Fipke. "We didn't know coming into his 3-year-old year whether he was a turf horse or a Polytrack horse," McPeek said. "But obviously he's running over about anything we put him on. That race at Tampa gave us the idea that, okay, we really do fit. Today's race was huge." Todd Pletcher, who trains both Palace Malice and Charming Kitten, now could have as many as five starters in the Kentucky Derby -- Verazzano, Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary and Saturday's Arkansas Derby winner, Overanalyze, along with his Blue Grass runners. Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable, which owns Palace Malice, said, "I am inclined to do it. What he did today was an accomplishment." And Pletcher said he "would say" that Charming Kitten's owner, Ken Ramsey, "would be very enthusiastic about running in the Derby" should he get in. He currently is No. 23 on the list for 20 starting gate spots.
Pletcher might be even more enthusiastic about Overanalyze after that colt ran away with Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. The Dixie Union colt sat well behind the moderate early pace but had no trouble reeling in the leaders when called on by jockey Rafael Bejarano in the stretch run. At the wire, Overanalyze was 4 1/4 lengths clear of his nearest rival, Frac Daddy, with Carve third, early leader Falling Sky fourth and Oxbow fifth. Trainer Bob Baffert, whose Kentucky Derby hopes flicker dimly, saw Den's Legacy finish sixth and War Academy, the betting favorite, pulled up on the backstretch. Overanalyze ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in a slow 1:51.94. Overanalyze has won every other race he has started, with his record showing 1-4-1-3-1-5-1. The wins included the Grade II Futurity last fall at Belmont Park and the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct in November. "I wasn't surprised that he won," owner Mike Repole said of Saturday's effort. "But I was shocked at how easy he won." Java's War's trainer, McPeek, also handles Frac Daddy, who also qualified for the Kentucky Derby based on the Arkansas performance. "The day was excellent," McPeek said. "It makes all of the hard work you put in worth it." Mike Smith, who rode War Academy, said he felt the colt take a couple bad steps and figured, "Better safe than sorry. So I pulled him up." War Academy walked off the track on his own.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Rose to Gold joined a list of impressive fillies likely for the Kentucky Oaks when she overcame a sloppy track to take Wednesday's $400,000, Grade III Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park by 4 1/2 lengths. Manuka Honey was second and Marathon Lady finished third. Rose to Gold, a Friends Lake filly, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.8 with Calvin Borel up. Rose to Gold now has five wins and one second from seven starts with her only disappointing performance coming over the Keeneland all-weather last fall. Rose to Gold is tied with Beholder for the No. 1 spot on the Kentucky Oaks preference list with 164 points. "She's proven she wants to go there and we're going to give her every opportunity to get there," winning trainer Sal Santoro said. "I'm extremely proud of her. If my daughter had just won the Nobel Prize, that's how proud of her I am."
Street Girl was up in the last jumps to win Saturday's $100,000, off-the-turf Calder Oaks in Florida by a nose over E B Ryder. Faerie Queen was third. Street Girl, a daughter of Street Hero, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:46.90 with Edgard Zayas up. The race is not part of the Churchill Downs qualifying series for the Kentucky Oaks. "It was close at the end, but I felt that I got there," Zayas said after scoring his first career stakes win. "My filly knew where the wire was."
The handicap horses
Wise Dan, the reigning U.S. Horse of the Year, scored an easy win Friday in his first race since winning the Breeders' Cup Mile last fall. Wise Dan, eager to run, took over the lead in the $300,000, Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland when turned loose on the bend by jockey Jose Lezcano. He won by a length over Data Link. Mr. Commons was 2 lengths farther back in third as the mile on firm turf went in 1:36.37. Wise Dan, a 7-year-old gelding by Wiseman's Ferry, has won eight of his last nine races and nine of his last 12 -- a string dating back nearly two years. Those wins include last November's Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita, in which he held off Animal Kingdom, the winner of last month's $10 million Dubai World Cup, to sew up Horse of the Year honors. "People asked me earlier, 'What horse do you fear?'" winning trainer Charles Lopresti said. "I said, 'I fear the layoff the most.' I didn't crank him as tight as he needed to be for this race. Turning for home, I hoped he was going to win, but I knew he might get a little tired. He kicked in on heart alone." Lopresti said he is targeting the Breeders' Cup again. Holding out the possibility he might target the Classic this year, rather than the Mile on the grass, Lopresti said he might return Wise Dan to the dirt for his next start in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap June 15 at Churchill Downs. That 9-furlongs event is the only race Wise Dan lost last year, finishing second to Ron the Greek after a rough trip. "People don't realize what this horse can do. There's no telling what he will do the next time he runs," Lopresti said.
Cyber Secret drew off in the stretch to upset Saturday's $500,000, Grade II Oaklawn Handicap in Arkansas as Fort Larned, the Breeders' Cup Classic champ, tossed in a clunker and finished fifth. Cyber Secret, a 4-year-old Broken Vow colt, went to the post at odds of 6-1, stalked the pace and was dominant late. Taptowne was a big price for place and Sabercat completed a $2 trifecta payoff of $2,249.10. Optimizer finished fourth. Cyber Secret, a 4-year-old Broken Vow colt, covered 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.67 with Robby Albarado at the controls. Despite the generous odds, Cyber Secret had won all three of his previous 2013 starts -- all at Oaklawn and culminating in the Grade III Razorback in his last start. "I thought he ran great today," Albarado said. "They were clipping right along up front, but at every part of the race I felt like he was in my hands. He wanted to do it. Turning for home, he exploded for me and then held off some very nice horses." Fort Larned was making his second start of the year -- the first an aborted effort when he stumbled out of the starting gate in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, dumping jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. "I don't know what to think," trainer Ian Wilkes said. "He ran a little flat. I just want to get him back to the barn and make sure he's OK. He didn't run his race."
Fillies and mares
On Fire Baby posted a big upset in Friday's $500,000, Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park while the favorite, Grace Hall, faded badly in the stretch to finish last of seven. On Fire Baby came over from an outside gate shortly after the start, causing Grace Hall to steady. On Fire Baby, a 4-year-old Smoke Glacken filly, then led the way and turned back a couple of challenges before winning by a half length over Tiz Miz Sue. Don't Tell Sophia finished third. On Fire Baby, with Joe Johnson in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.13. "I'm really, really proud," winning owner Anita Crowley said. "I needed her to act like a racehorse today. I didn't necessarily need the win. This was icing on the cake. We want to have her around for a while." Joel Rosario, who rode Grace Hall, said, "I tried to keep her in the clear after what happened on the first turn. She didn't try after that. It was not her best day." There was no inquiry or objection but the stewards later suspended winning rider Joe Johnson for three days for impeding Grace Hall.
Justin Phillip started last of seven in Saturday's $250,000, Grade III Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park, came four-wide into the stretch and was just up to win by 3/4 of a length over Picko's Pride. Gentlemen's Best finished third. Justin Phillip, a 5-year-old son of First Samurai, finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.63 under Ricardo Santana Jr. It was the second straight win for Justin Phillip since he arrived in Hot Springs from California. "The key was getting this horse the win last time. He walked over like a winner today," trainer Steve Asmussen said.
Handsome Mike got a break Saturday at Keeneland, going short after lots of tough, longer races against imposing foes. The 4-year-old Scat Daddy colt dueled for the lead through the early furlongs of the $175,000, Grade III Commonwealth Stakes, then edged clear late to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Gantry. Candyman was third, Bind finished fourth and the favorite, Bernie the Maestro, got home fifth and last. Handsome Mike ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.14 under Mario Gutierrez. He better not get used to sprinting, though. "Because we train at Del Mar," said Leandro Mora, assistant to trainer Doug O'Neill, "we're hoping we can keep him healthy and sound for the Pacific Classic." That Grade I at Del Mar on Aug. 25 is run at 1 1/4 miles.
Last Full Measure gave her all in the late going in Saturday's $300,000, Grade 1 Madison Stakes at Keeneland, running by all nine rivals and outfinishing Byrama to win by a neck at 18-1 odds. Jamaican Smoke finished third in a big and competitive field. Last Full Measure, a 5-year-old Empire Maker mare, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.32 with Corey Nakatani up, then survived a claim of foul relating to the traffic at the top of the stretch. Last Full Measure had not won since the last time she stepped onto the Keeneland track in an allowance event last October and had been running at longer distances. "I guess it just took me a while to figure out she wanted to sprint," winning trainer Phil Oliver said. "The race didn't seem like it was coming up that tough so we just decided we'd take a shot and it turned out pretty good."
Cluster of Stars remained undefeated in five career starts, handling a trio of rivals with relative ease in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct. After contesting the lead, she drew clear in the late going to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Miss d'Oro. Los Ojitos and Nakano completed the order of finish after three late scratches. Cluster of Stars, a 4-year-old daughter of Greeley's Galaxy, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.14 with Junior Alvarado up. Toby Sheets, assistant to winning trainer Steve Asmussen, said he told Alvarado "to be patient and not get in a hurry. I didn't know what anybody else was going to do. I didn't like it scratched down to four. You know how it changes everything. You have some obvious speed horses, and then you don't have any." He said he does not know what's next for Cluster of Stars, who notched her first four wins on the Aqueduct inner track.
Ciao Bella Luna put in a wide run around the turn and into the stretch in Sunday's $150,000 Beaumont Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland, raced right by pacesetter Magical Moon and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over that one in a nicely moon-related exacta worth a heavenly $400.60. The favorite, Judy in Disguise, broke slowly and was able to manage only a third-place finish. Ciao Bella Luna, a daughter of Tribal Rule, shipped in from California for the race and finished the 7 furlongs in 1:26.92 under Joel Rosario. "She shipped beautifully," said Christina Jelm, assistant to winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "She settled right in, and she's been very comfortable. It's been great to get her back on the synthetic surface. Jerry and racing manager Mark Cornett have found her niche, I think."
Ladies on the lawn
Centre Court parked just off the pace set by Daisy Devine through the early stages of Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Jenny Wiley Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland, then took over in the stretch to win by 2 lengths. Daisy Devine held second, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Samitar. Centre Court, a 4-year-old Smart Strike filly, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.73 with Julien Leparoux up. She now has made 11 career starts and has not missed the exacta in her last 10. She also has three graded stakes wins in a row but the Jenny Wiley was her first Grade I score. "She's a better horse this year than last year," winning trainer Rusty Arnold said. "She's easier to deal with. She got here easy. She got it on her own." Arnold said he will point Centre Court either to the Grade I Diana at Saratoga in July or the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington Park on Arlington Million day.
Sprinting on the grass
Havelock started ninth and last in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland, got through between horses to advance on the turn and again split rivals in the stretch run before putting a nose in front of the favorite, Something Extra, at the wire. Perfect Officer was just a head farther back in third with the next two also in the photo. Havelock, a 6-year-old Great Notion gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.02 with Garrett Gomez riding. "He loves it here," winning trainer Darrin Miller said. "Garrett was humble, and I want to say that was all him. He made every decision the right decision. He [Havelock] is a great horse. He's a lot of fun. He always shows up. Garrett did a fantastic job."
Breeders' Cup champion Mizdirection looked like the class of the five-filly field at the top of the Santa Anita hillside before Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Las Cienegas Stakes. It worked out that way, too, but just barely. Mizdirection was all out to catch pacesetting Schiaparelli in the final jumps -- and only after Schiaparelli took a funny step inside the sixteenth pole, losing some momentum. At the wire, it was Mizdirection by a half length. Schiaparelli, wearing earmuffs and blinkers, was 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Purim's Dancer in third. The 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going took 1:12.61 with David Flores supplying the winning ride. Mizdirection has won eight of her last nine races and has never lost in six starts down the unique Santa Anita hillside course. Mike Smith took off Mizdirection to ride War Academy in Saturday's Arkansas Derby, only to pull that one up on the backstretch. Trainer Mike Puype, who trains both Mizdirection and Schiaparelli, said Smith will regain the mount when Mizdirection resurfaces in the 1-mile Just a Game at Belmont Park in June. "But David did a great job today," he added.
Black Caviar won her 25th straight race Saturday, exploding down the straight to take the Aus-Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick by 3 lengths.
The undefeated mare overcame an inside post position and slightly giving turf, leaving Epaulette to chase her home in second. Bel Sprinter was third and Black Caviar's oldest and toughest rival, Hay List, struggled home next-last of 11 on the heels of a string of injuries.
Black Caviar, a 7-year-old daughter of Bel Esprit, finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.65 and jockey Luke Nolen was not asking for her best in the final 100 yards when the result was already clear.
Trainer Peter Moody said he and Black Caviar's owners will meet to decide on the mare's schedule, which could include a return trip to Royal Ascot in two months' time.
Also on Saturday at Randwick, It's A Dundeel rallied from the back of the field to win the Aus-Group 1 AJC Australian Derby by 6 easy lengths, becoming just the fifth horse to win Sydney's 3-year-old Triple Crown. Philippi and Kingdoms chased the winner home. The victory in the 2,400-meters test confirmed High Chaparral colt's ability to get a distance of ground after he got home a poor seventh in the 1 1/2-mile Victoria Derby last November.
And in the Aus-Group 1 Sires' Produce Stakes, Guelph surprised with a 3/4-length victory as last weekend's Golden Slipper winner Overreach could do no better than third. Guelph, a Darley filly with Kerrin McEvoy up, now eyes the Champagne Stakes at Randwick in two weeks' time.
Logotype, last year's top 2-year-old colt, confirmed his status as a rising star with a well-timed victory in Sunday's Jpn-Group 1 Satsuki Sho, or Japanese 2,000 Guineas, at Nakayama Racecourse. Jockey Mirco Demuro kept the Lohengrin colt in mid-pack down the backstretch, saving ground all the way to the final turn on the right-handed turf course. He then swung Logotype out for the stretch run, hit the front less than 200 meters from the finish and held off Epiphaneia to win by 3/4 of a length. Codino was third. Logotype, winning for the second time this season, finished the 2,000 meters or about 1 1/4 miles in a very quick 1:58.0. The race was the first leg of the Japanese Triple Crown, to be followed by the Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby and the Kikuka Sho or Japanese St Leger. Earlier winners of the Satsuki Sho include such international stars as Orfevre and Victoire Pisa.
Get Happy Mister led all the way to a 2 1/4-length win in Saturday's $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes for 3-year-olds. Looking Cool was second and Red Wings finished third. Get Happy Mister, a Colorado-bred colt by First Samurai, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:38.37 with Glenn Corbett up.
Blueeyesintherein found a hole along the rail in the stretch run of Friday's $75,000 Instant Racing Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got through and went on to win by 3 3/4 lengths over Boss Barney's Babe. American Sugar finished third. Blueeyesintherein, a daughter of Magna Graduate, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.76 with Jon Court riding.
Vuitton bagged her opposition in Thursday's $100,000 Carousel Stakes for fillies and mares, rallying from last of eight to win by a nose over the favorite, Beat the Blues. Lady Diva Ga Ga finished third. Vuitton, a 4-year-old Smart Strike filly, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.03 under Ricardo Santana Jr.
Sister Kate worked by a stubborn Candrea in the stretch run to win Sunday's $70,000 Santa Lucia Stakes for fillies and mares by 3/4 length. Sister Glady Oh La rallied to take third and the favorite, Maker or Breaker, settled for fourth. Sister Kate, a 5-year-old Benchmark mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:45.22 with Corey Nakatani riding.
Jubliant Girl stalked the pace down the hillside turf course in Saturday's $70,000 Runway Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got to the lead after crossing the dirt course and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Wednesday. Upbeat Mood led early and salvaged third. Jubliant Girl, a daughter of Henrythenavigator, finished 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:12.89 with Martin Pedroza in the irons.
Sunny Desert rallied from last of five to win Sunday's $75,000 Shot Berry Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares by 3/4 length over Erin Enchanted. The early leader, Harbor Mist, settled for third. Sunny Desert, a 4-year-old Wild Desert filly, ran the mile on a good track in 1:37.23 with Rajiv Maragh up.
Street Game led from the first jumps of Sunday's $75,000 Dave Stakes, found no significant challenge and got home first by 2 3/4 lengths over Lubash. Hyper rallied to take show money. Street Game is a 5-year-old son of Street Cry out of the Thunder Puddles mare Thunder Achiever. He finished 1 1/16 miles over yielding turf in 1:44.56 with Alex Solis in the irons.
Lone Star Park
Lasting Bubbles ran by pacesetting favorite Cowgirl N Up with authority in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 JEH Stallion Station Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares and jetted off to win by 5 1/2 lengths over that rival. Im a Bear was third. Lasting Bubbles, a 5-year-old Pulling Punches mare, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.32 with Lindey Wade up.
Triumph and Song led from the start in Thursday's $50,000 Premiere Stakes for Texas-breds and romped home a 4 1/4-lengths winner. Texas Air was second and it was another 5 3/4 lengths back to Solar Charge in third. Triumph and Song, the odds-on favorite, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.45 for jockey Jamie Theriot.
Villette stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Foxy J.G.S. Stakes for Pennsylvania-bred fillies and mares, then kicked clear in the lane to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Lisa Stannard. The favorite, Ann's Smart Dancer, led early and held on for show money. Villette, a 4-year-old Petionville filly, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.85 with Stewart Elliott up.
Tujoes rallied outside rivals in the stretch run to win Saturday's $75,000 Lyman Handicap for state-breds by 2 1/4 lengths over Arlo. Layers was just a nose farther back in third and a nose in front of Braulio. Tujoes, a 6-year-old Oratory gelding, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.88 with John Bisono in the irons.
Forest Mouse crept in from Southern California and made off with Sunday's $75,000 Sunland Park Handicap, roaring by pacesetter Red Lead for a 2 1/2-length win. Tiz Gianni, another Santa Anita visitor, took third. Forest Mouse, a 5-year-old son of Teton Forest, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.09 under Ry Eikleberry. Forest Mouse had been running in graded stakes at Santa Anita but earlier in his career was a regular in New Mexico.
Dandy Don Who edged away late to post a 3/4-length win in Saturday's $50,000 colt and gelding division of the Copper Top Futurity for 2-year-old New Mexico-breds. Vernissage was second and Fonzerelli finished third. Dandy Don Who, a Quinton's Gold gelding, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 52.21 seconds with Aldo Arboleda in the irons.
Lady Genius was dominant in the $50,000 filly division, leading all the way and winning off by 8 3/4 lengths. Cattle Act and Tizzy Devil completed the trifecta. Lady Genius, also by Quinton's Gold, got home in 51.70 under Carlos Madeira.