Black Caviar's younger brother won in Australia and a promising star finally delivered the goods in Japan.
There were impressive performances at the 1-mile distance on both the turf and the dirt around North America. Hollywood Park hosted an early-meeting state-bred festival while Hawthorne Race Course wound up its spring stakes schedule with an Illinois-bred carnival.
And two iconic U.S. tracks -- Will Rogers Downs in Oklahoma and Fonner Park in Nebraska -- surfaced for their once-a-year place in the sun.
Like a horse going seven-wide into the stretch, we have a lot of ground to cover. Let's start back with the Derby Trial.
One mile on the dirt
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Derby Trial at Churchill Downs was, in fact, an embarrassment of riches for trainer Todd Pletcher, who already has as many as six horses qualified for next weekend's Kentucky Derby. Pletcher saddled the top two finishers in Derby Trial -- Forty Tales and Capo Bastone. While neither of them may advance to the big race, the result did prevent trainer D. Wayne Lukas from qualifying Titletown Five, who might have wheeled back in the Derby with a win in the Trial. His hopes were dashed with a fourth-place finish. Forty Tales, the lukewarm favorite for the Trial, raced well off the pace under Joel Rosario, came five-wide to take the lead with a sixteenth of a mile to run and held off his stablemate by a neck under the wire. Ruler of Love got home third. Forty Tales, a Tale of the Cat colt, ran the one-turn mile in 1:35.77. Pletcher said it's unlikely that Forty Tales would wheel back in the Run for the Roses.
"Both colts would seem beset in a one-turn situation," he said, adding, "We'll talk to the owner."
There were two other graded stakes at 1 mile on the dirt during the weekend.
Flat Out remains undefeated in his Belmont Park career after rallying to win Saturday's $150,000, Grade 3 Westchester Stakes by a head over pacesetting favorite Cross Traffic. Rattlesnake Bridge slithered home third. Flat Out, a 7-year-old son of Flatter, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:32.99 with Junior Alvarado in the irons. In his three previous starts at the Long Island track, Flat Out won the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup in each of the past two years and the Grade II Suburban in 2011. He now has seven wins from 23 starts and earnings in excess of $2.6 million.
"He does have an affinity for this racetrack, and he showed it today," said Leana Willaford, assistant to winning trainer Bill Mott. "He had won going a mile before. Sometimes when you shorten them up, they finish a little stronger."
At Lone Star Park, Master Rick outfinished stablemate Prayer for Relief to win Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Texas Mile by 1 1/4 lengths. Good Lord finished third. Master Rick, a 4-year-old Master Command colt, finished in 1:36.01 over a fast track with Ricardo Santana Jr. aboard. The top two are trained by Steve Asmussen. Prayer for Relief, the favorite in Saturday's race, was making his first start since last September at Arlington Park.
"When I let him go, he ran perfect," Santana said of the winner. "At the three-eighths, I moved him a little bit, I knew I had a lot of horse and when I moved my horse in the stretch, I won the race."
Owner Richard L. Davis called the win: "Absolutely the best. Obviously a mile is his distance and that's where he's the strongest and we're gonna keep him there."
Internationally, two of the weekend's biggest races produced prospective starters for the Singapore Cup three weeks down the road.
Military Attack beat a pair of local champions and a clutch of international runners to win Sunday's Group 1 Audemars Piguet QE II Cup. Ridden by young Australian Tommy Berry, Military Attack raced close to the leaders, swung out at the top of the stretch and was 1 3/4 lengths to the good at the finish on the Sha Tin turf course. California Memory, winner of the last two runnings of the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup, finished second. Eishin Flash, a top Japanese runner, was along for third and Sajjhaa, a Dubai-based Godolphin Racing entrant, finished fourth. The other foreigners, South Africa's Igugu and Treasure Beach, finished eighth and 11th, respectively. The 2,000 meters went in 2:02.15 over good turf. Akeed Mofeed, winner of the Hong Kong Derby earlier in the meeting, finished fifth and Ambitious Dragon, the two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year, settled for sixth after being shut off in mid-stretch by California Memory. Trainer John Moore said he had learned from recent races that Military Attack could run close to the pace and still deliver a winning run. That is exactly how Berry placed him.
"They really ran into the first corner, probably quicker than I expected," said Berry, a 22-year-old who landed in Hong Kong Sunday morning in his first-ever trip outside Australia. "I came out (at the top of the stretch) a little earlier than I wanted to."
Moore agreed the move was slightly premature but said it worked when Military Attack "showed a lot of fight." He added, "Now we're off to Singapore," referring to the Group 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Cup at Kranji in three weeks' time.
In the supporting feature, the HK-Group 2 Sprint Cup, long shot Rich Tapestry got the better of Go Baby Go in the final strides to win by a short head. Time After Time finished third as the two favorites, Lucky Nine and Frederick Engels, didn't fire. Rich Tapestry, a 5-year-old Holy Roman Emperor gelding, came to challenge Go Baby Go shortly after the field turned into the straight and the two ran together to the wire. Rich Tapestry ran the 1,200 meters over good turf in 1:09.51 with Olivier Deluze aboard.
Fenomeno, second in both last year's Japan Derby and Tenno Sho (Autumn), broke through with a clean victory in Sunday's Group 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) at Kyoto Racecourse. After racing well back, the 4-year-old Stay Gold colt moved up around the final two turns, hit the stretch in company with Tokai Paradise and Tosen Ra and quickly kicked away from those two to win by 1 1/4 lengths, picking up his first Group 1 win. Tosen Ra held second and the favorite, Gold Ship, finished a dull fifth. The only foreigner in the race, Red Cadeaux, was up for third. Red Cadeaux was last seen finishing second to Animal Kingdom in the Dubai World Cup and, while he was unable to make up enough ground for the win on Sunday, his connections were pleased with the run.
"He ran a super race on ground that was probably a bit too quick for him," said Robin Trevor-Jones, traveling foreman for trainer Ed Dunlop. "But we're very pleased with him. He never lets us down. From a wide draw like that, we got stuck out a bit wide, but even so, he ran a super race and we're proud of him. After this, we'll go to Singapore, which we're invited to go. His fall program will probably be to Australia, Japan and then to Hong Kong again."
All Too Hard, a half brother to recently retired superstar Black Caviar, rallied for a 1/2-length victory in Saturday's AUS-Group 1 All Aged Stakes at Randwick, possibly earning a trip to Royal Ascot this June. All Too Hard tracked down Rain Affair with a sharp turn of foot in the stretch run Saturday while his expected toughest opponent, More Joyous, did not fire and never entered the fray. Trainer Michael Hawkes said he wants to see how All Too Hard comes out of the race before making any decisions about Royal Ascot -- where Black Caviar last year barely managed to avoid what would have been the only blemish on her undefeated career record.
Meanwhile, back in North America:
Tigah rallied from last of 10 to win Saturday's $100,000, Grade III San Francisco Mile by a neck over early leader Summer Hit. Gallant Son finished third. Tigah, a 5-year-old, British-bred son of Dalakhani, finished the 1 mile on firm going in 1:36.64 for jockey Alonzo Quinonez. It was his second win in the United States after a career in Germany and France.
"He just exploded when I swung him out," said Quinonez. "At first I thought I was going to go right by but when the six horse (Summer Hit) felt my horse, he responded. But my horse had all the momentum and kept on going."
Tigah is trained in Southern California by John Sadler.
Sunday at Hollywood Park, Halo Dolly stalked the pace in the $100,000, Grade III Wilshire Handicap for fillies and mares, took over entering the stretch and went about her business, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Long Face. The favorite, Moone's My Name, rallied from last but could get no closer than third at the wire. Halo Dolly, a 5-year-old Popular mare, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.18 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. It was her first win since the Miss America Stakes last October at Golden Gate Fields. She now boasts 15 victories from 29 starts.
Dark Cove raced close to the lead in the $150,000, Grade II Elkhorn Stakes on closing day Friday, surged to the lead at the top of the stretch and won by 4 1/2 lengths at odds of nearly 9-1. Side Road snatched second by a nose over Sky Blazer, completing a $2 trifecta payoff of $2,133. Dark Cove, a 6-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:30.84 with Joel Rosario up and gave owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey their record 24th win of the meet.
"I can't believe we've doubled the old record of 12 wins," Ken Ramsey said. "To win 24 is unbelievable."
They also won the 10th race to conclude with 24 winners in 16 racing days.
Strathnaver gave the long shot players some gettin' home money as the Lexington track offered the penultimate stakes event of the spring meet in Thursday's $125,000, Grade III Bewitch Stakes for fillies and mares. The 4-year-old, British-bred Oasis Dream filly raced well back, came seven-wide to get the lead at the top of the lane and won by 1 length over Regalo Mia. Qushchi finished third. The favorite, Gathering, faded from the lead to finish ninth. Strathnaver, with Joel Rosario up, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:30.65 after being dismissed at odds of 18-1. This was her second start in the U.S. following a win in a Gulfstream allowance event.
"I thought she was very impressive that day at Gulfstream," said winning trainer Graham Motion. "Like I said to Joel, I just wasn't sure about the mile and a half. But clearly she handled it pretty good."
Saturday's card featured six rich stakes for California-breds -- three of them won by jockey Rafael Bejarano.
Surfcup tracked the pace in the $300,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds, worked to the lead at the furlong pole and held on gamely to win by 1/2 length over Fighting Hussar. The favorite, Tiz a Minister, rallied from last of eight but had to settle for third, 4 lengths farther in arrears. Surfcup, a Bob Baffert-trained colt by Unusual Heat, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:50.80 under Bejarano.
"It was kind of a surprising race, really," said Baffert assistant Mike Marlow. "We always thought he likes the turf, but this gives us options. His only bad race was his second start, which was sprinting He's definitely a two-turn horse."
Doinghardtimeagain collared pacesetting Sweet Marini in the final furlong of the $250,000 Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Unusual Way finished third. Doinghardtimeagain, a daughter of Ministers Wild Cat, got 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:43.55 with Bejarano riding.
Curvy Cat raced well back early in the $125,000 B Thoughtful Stakes for fillies and mares, came around rivals to the lead and won by 1 length over the early leader, Ismene. Dancingtothestars was third and Sugarinthemorning fourth. Curvy Cat, a 4-year-old daughter of Ministers Wild Cat, got 7 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:29.65 for jockey Corey Nakatani.
Kate's Event came four-wide in the final yards of the $125,000 Tiznow Stakes to win by 1/2 length in a four-way photo. Noses separated Rock Me Baby, Planet Sunshine and the favorite, Mel's Game, in second through fourth. Kate's Event, a 6-year-old son of Event of the Year, got 7 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:29.31 with Bejarano in the irons.
Super Ability led from the early stages of the $70,000 Grey Memo Stakes and kicked clear at the end to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Raised a Secret was second and Memphis finished third. Super Ability, a 5-year-old Langfuhr gelding, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:22.83 with Martin Garcia aboard.
Summer Exclusive was the odds-on favorite in Thursday's $70,000 Harry Henson Stakes for 3-year-olds but gave his supporters a few anxious moments before putting a head in front in the final jumps. Pacesetter Sacred Ovation settled for second and Colburn finished third. Summer Exclusive, an Exclusive Quality colt, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:08.96 with Garrett Gomez up.
Illinois-bred steeds were on display Saturday in six races, each worth $100,000.
Diva's Diamond led from the start in the Peach Of It Handicap for fillies and mares, was headed by Braden's Dreams, then came again to win by a neck over that rival. Chain of Destiny was well back in third. Diva's Diamond, a 4-year-old Crafty Shaw filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.53 with Timothy Thornton up.
Signsealndeliver rallied from well back in the $100,000 Robert S. Molaro Handicap, survived some bumping in the stretch run and won by 1/2 length over B Two Special. Static Kill finished third. Signsealndeliver, a 7-year-old Private Terms gelding, finished 6 furlongs in 1:10.28 with Florent Geroux in the irons.
Algonquin Posse battled to the lead in the Third Chance Stakes for fillies and mares, then took command and won by 4 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Missjeanlouise. Wild Hope ran from far back to finish a long shot third. Algonquin Posse, a 5-year-old Posse mare, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.25 with Christopher Emigh up.
My Option was slow out of the gate in the Pretty Jenny Stakes for 3-year-old fillies but more than made up for it at the end, passing all nine rivals to win by a comfortable 5 lengths. Beeway finished second with Scarlet Power completing the trifecta. My Option, a Belong to Me filly, got 6 furlongs in 1:11.15 under Eddie Perez.
Luv Bandit advanced from mid-pack with a steady move to win the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap going away. Coalport was 2 1/2 lengths back in second at the wire with Dad Are We Here a late-running third. Luv Bandit, a 4-year-old Yonaguska gelding, finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.86 under Noel Vigil.
Purging the Stone was last of 12 at the start of the Land of Lincoln Stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings, but first by 2 1/4 lengths at the finish after a seven-wide move into the stretch. Emile also ran well late to finish second and Flathead River was along for third. Purging the Stone, a Purge gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.10 with Uriel Lopez calling the shots.
Acting Naughty engaged Starship Universe a furlong from the wire in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade II Whimsical Stakes for fillies and mares and prevailed by a head after a long duel. Katie Get Excited got going on the outside late and was up for third. Acting Naughty, a 4-year-old Offlee Wild filly, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:09.76 with Tyler Pizarro in the irons for her first stakes win.
"She's a model of consistency. Every time we lead her over, she runs well," said winning trainer Donald MacRae. "I did think she was a bit outclassed today but she's improved from (age) 3 to 4. Today was a lot of fun."
Essence Hit Man left the gate like a shot in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Jacques Cartier Stakes and led to the wire, finishing 4 lengths better than runner-up Bear Tough Tiger. Upgrade finished third. Essence Hit Man, a 6-year-old Speightstown gelding, got 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.83 under Jesse Campbell. It was the third straight year Essence Hit Man has won the Jacques Cartier.
"I've never seen this horse act the way he acted in post (parade), and all for the good," said Campbell. "He was a calm customer today, very well behaved in the gate. I had no concerns leaving the gate and I know third or fourth jump he's going to be on his way."
Abstraction was caught in traffic most of the way, then ran by the leaders late in Saturday's $75,000 Federico Tesio Stakes for 3-year-olds and won by 2 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Heat Press was second and the pacesetter, Rienzi, held third. Abstraction, a Pulpit colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.16 under Leandro Goncalves.
"I was trapped the whole way and he gave me everything he had," Goncalves said. "He helped me push horses out of my way and get out. When I got him outside at the three-sixteenths pole, I asked him. That's the key. You get him outside and he has that big kick and he switched leads and it was pretty much over. He keeps getting better and better as he has matured. He has a lot of talent."
He is not nominated to the Triple Crown said trainer David Carroll, who last visited Pimlico as exercise rider for Easy Goer, said he has no specific plans for the colt.
Daydreamin Gracie put the competition to sleep in Saturday's $50,000 Shine Again Stakes for fillies and mares, drawing off in the stretch to win by 8 lengths. The favorite, Touch the Birds, finished second and his rider lost a claim of foul against the winner. Franstein finished third. Daydreamin Gracie, a 5-year-old Domestic Dispute mare, got 1 1/16 miles on the main track in 1:46.30 with Gary Cruise in the irons.
Bella Castani came to the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $90,000 Tweedside Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and worked clear to score by 1 1/2 lengths over Exchange Cat. Riverboat Queen was third. Bella Castani, a daughter of Big Brown, covered 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.50 under Jose Lezcano.
Diamond Joe stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes, surged to the lead nearing the final turn and went on to win by 1 length over late-running Kate's Main Man. The early leader, Joy Boy, finished third. Diamond Joe, a 4-year-old, Nebraska-bred gelding by Dazzling Falls, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.20 with Jake Olesiak.
Will Rogers Downs
Humble Smarty went smartly to the lead in Tuesday's $50,000 Clem McSpadden Memorial Route 66 Stakes for colts and geldings, extended the advantage and got home first by 4 1/2 lengths. Solar Charge was second and Johnny Whip finished third. Humble Smarty, a 9-year-old Mutakddim gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a good, sealed track in 1:10.20 with Belen Quinonez up.
Lookinforchange rallied from well back in Wednesday's $50,000 Wilma Mankiller Memorial Stakes for fillies and mares, then took command in the stretch to win by 4 1/4 lengths over Givhans Ferry. Storm's Promise finished third. Lookinforchange, a 5-year-old Gilded Time mare, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.82 under Benny Landeros.
Calder Race Course
City of Weston caught pacesetting favorite Brave Dave in the late going of Saturday's $55,000 Big Drama Stakes for 3-year-olds and went on to win by 3/4 length over that one. Singanothersong finished third. City of Weston, a Holy Bull colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.42 under Jesus Rios.
American Sugar, the even-money favorite, rallied in the final jumps to win Saturday's $60,000 Goldfinch Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a head over pacesetter Livin Peace. It was another 5 1/2 lengths back to Wilhelmina in third. American Sugar, a daughter of Harlan's Holiday, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.39 with Alex Birzer up.
Sadie's Soldier rallied to the lead turning for home in Saturday's $50,000 John Henry Stakes and charged clear to win by 5 1/4 lengths over Bauers Got Hours. Its Mr Slew to You finished third. Sadie's Soldier, a 6-year-old son of Lost Soldier, ran about 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.91 with Diego Saenz up.
Evelyn's Dancer led from the start in Saturdays $50,000 (Canadian) Brighouse Belle Stakes for fillies and mares, skimmed the rail and got home first by 1 3/4 lengths over Overvalued, who wasn't. Terlani finished third. Evelyn's Dancer, a 4-year-old filly by Songandaprayer, got 6 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:17.08 with Aaron Gryder riding.
Groushy Apadana set a pressured pace in Saturday's $65,000 Jack Cole Handicap for New Mexico-breds, then worked clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths over On Down the Road. Beau Wizer finished third. Groushy Apadana, an 8-year-old Mr. Groush gelding, handled 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.34 with Enrique Garcia up.
Red Zeus reeled in the leader, Claypool, in the late going to win Saturday's $55,000 Gene Fleming Breeders' Derby by 3/4 length. Lewiston finished third. Red Zeus, a Red Sky's colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.65 with Kelly Bridges up.
News and Notes
Calvin Borel, Lure, Invasor and Housebuster are the newest members of the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame. Those four eclipsed five other human and equine candidates in voting by 179 of 182 eligible voters. In addition, the Hall's steeplechase committee, which meets every four years, voted in McDynamo and Tuscalee. The selections were announced exclusively through Horse Racing Radio Network. Borel's 5,012 wins include three in the Kentucky Derby during the four-year period of 2007 through 2010. Housebuster was a gangbusters sprinter whose record shows 15 wins from 22 starts, including a clutch of Grade I events. He won the Eclipse Award in 1990 and 1991. Invasor won 11 of 12 starts, including the 2006 Breeders' Cup Classic and the 2007 Dubai World Cup. Early in his career he swept the Uruguayan Triple Crown. Lure won 14 of 25 starts, including the 1992 and 1993 Breeders' Cup Mile. Induction will be in August.
Country music star Martina McBride, a four-time the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year, will sing the National Anthem prior to the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby May 4. The 113th Army Band from Fort Knox will start the racing day by playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the start of the NBC-TV broadcast.