The Claiming Crown made its first appearance at Gulfstream Park, and Tampa Bay Downs and Turfway Park joined the ranks of tracks settling in for the long winter's run. And, just to spice things up, there was a rare three-way dead heat for second, third and fourth in Sunday's feature at Hollywood Park.
We're in the home stretch of the year but that's no excuse for not paying attention. Here goes:
The home team proved once again Sunday it's tough to beat Hong Kong horses at their own game.
The local contingent appeared slightly depleted for this year's Longines Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin Racecourse and the foreign invaders were imposing.
But, when the day was done, Hong Kong runners won three of the four Group 1 races, losing only to Japan's dominating sprinter, Lord Kanaloa, who was unbeatable on the day.
Dominant got the home team off to a surprising victory in the 2,400-meters Longines Hong Kong Vase -- a race in which local runners seldom have found success. Under leading Hong Kong rider Zac Purton, Dominant raced at the back of the field until the final turn. When Purton gave him the go-ahead, Dominant quickly picked it up, briefly trapping the favorite, The Fugue, and surged between horses to the lead. By the time jockey William Buick got The Fugue back into stride, it was too late and Dominant went on to win by 3/4 of a length over the hard-luck filly, who represented Ireland. The 2011 winner of the Vase, Dunaden, finished third and last year's winner, Red Cadeaux, got home fourth. The race went in 2:27.29 -- a good clip. "It was one I didn't expect but we'll take all of them," said Purton, Hong Kong's leading jockey. Winning trainer John Moore added, "It's a big surprise, I can tell you." Hong Kong runners had taken only one of the previous 19 runnings of the Vase. The Fugue's rider, William Buick, said, "A horse just stopped and took me with him. The winner got first run on me and I had lost momentum."
The Longines Hong Kong Sprint was a tour de force for Japanese star Lord Kanaloa, who easily drew off in the stretch run to win the event for the second straight year, confirming his position among the world's top sprinters. Ireland's Sole Power was second, 5 lengths back of the Japanese superstar, with a pair of Hong Kong runners -- Frederick Engels and Cerise Cherry, finishing third and fourth. Lord Kanaloa, a 5-year-old son of King Kamehameha, heads to his second career in the breeding shed with two wins in the Hong Kong race and two in the premier Japanese sprint, the Group 1 Sprinters Stakes. He closes out his career with 13 wins from 19 starts. "This was the best performance of his career," winning rider Yasunari Iwata said. "Once the gates opened, he was just brilliant."
Glorious Days, after a six-month layoff and from a far outside gate, came running from behind a fast pace to win the Longines Hong Kong Mile by 3/4 of a length. Gold-Fun and Packing Whiz finished second and third in a sweep for the locals. The race had been billed as a showdown between the French-bred mare Moonlight Cloud and 3-year-old British filly Sky Lantern but neither showed up in the running. Moonlight Cloud finished sixth and Sky Lantern got home last of 14. Glorious Days, who last raced in June in Japan, finished in a quick 1:33.60 with Douglas Whyte up for trainer John Size. "A great training job by John Size," Whyte said, noting the long layoff without a prep race. Glorious Days in previous seasons had done battle with former Hong Kong champion Ambitious Dragon. "We've been a bridesmaid quite a few times," Whyte said.
The day's final race, the 2,000-meters Longines Hong Kong Cup, appeared to be wide open, with runners from France, England, Germany, Japan and even the United States having a shot at the day's biggest purse. But it was Hong Kong's Akeed Mofeed who fought his way through a traffic problem in the stretch and got home first, beating Japanese pacesetter Tokei Halo by a length. France's Cirrus Des Aigles, the world's top-rated horse at the start of the year, was another neck back in third with Hong Kong's reigning Horse of the Year, Military Attack, in fourth. Jockey Douglas Whyte had an anxious moment before booting home the winner. As he was about to go inside Tokei Halo at mid-stretch, that one shifted back to the rail while Cirrus Des Aigles ranged up alongside Akeed Mofeed, leaving Whyte nowhere to go. "I had just enough horse to go back [a] 1/2 length and go around," he said.
Back in North America
Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Hollywood Starlet was the richest U.S. race of the weekend and, obviously, a portent of things to come in next year's 3-year-old ranks. Even though it resulted in an upset, it's no surprise the upsetter is trained by Bob Baffert. Streaming drove by pacesetting Taste Like Candy through the stretch run and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over that rival. Untapable finished third and the favorite, Rosalind, got home fourth with a late run after a wide trip from the back of the pack. Streaming, a Smart Strike filly out of the Storm Cat mare Teeming, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.96 with Martin Garcia up at odds of 10-1. "She's really special," said winning trainer Bob Baffert, who convinced owner John Sikura to put up $20,000 to get her into the race. "We've really been high on this filly. It was too late to get a race into her to run her to run her in the Breeders' Cup." Streaming was making just her second start after winning at first asking over the same track a month earlier. In that race, she went to post as the odds-on favorite and beat a filly who had finished second in her previous start.
My Sweet Dove flew to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and held off the odds-on favorite, Enquete, in the final sixteenth to win by a half length. Secret Kitten was a distant third. My Sweet Dove, a Florida-bred daughter of Hello Broadway out of the Dove Hunt mare Royal Dove, negotiated 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.42 with Fernando De La Cruz in the irons.
Mamdooha raced near the back of the field early in Saturday's $100,000 Gin Talking Stakes at Laurel Park, came wide around the leaders and quickly took charge. At the wire, she was 4 1/2 lengths to the good of the runner-up, Tupancy Links. Venice Queen finished third. Mamdooha, a Daaher filly out of the Rahy mare Marraasi, ran 7 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:26.93 with Eddie Castro up. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee broke her maiden in her last previous start at Aqueduct.
Lakotadreamcatcher rallied from last of seven to win Saturday's restricted $100,000 Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante Stakes by a half length over pacesetting Sasy Ms Elizabeth. Tangueray Miss was third with an even effort. Lakotadreamcatcher, a Fort Prado filly out of the Smoke Glacken mare Lakota Girl, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:48.80 with Tim Thornton in the irons.
Forever Since stalked pacesetting Bakken Baby in Saturday's restricted $75,000 Darby's Daughter Texas Stallion Stakes at Retama Park, then put a head in front of that rival under the wire despite drifting in late. Thegirlinthatsong finished third. Forever Since, a Supreme Cat filly, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13.02 with Gerardo Mora up.
Jose Sea View battled down the lane with Coltimus Prime in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Display Stakes at Woodbine before prevailing by a neck over that rival. It was 4 3/4 lengths farther back to the favorite, Ami's Holiday, in third. Jose Sea View, a Kentucky-bred Badge of Silver gelding, finished 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.39 with Emma-Jayne Wilson up. He won at first asking and then captured a stakes at Presque Isle Downs before finishing fifth in the Grade II Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct in his first try on dirt. "He didn't really handle the surface in New York," Wilson said. "But I really think it helped him out as a maturing horse, sitting behind and getting some dirt in his face. I think that's an advantage we had for today."
Joint Custody was a gate-to-wire winner in Saturday's $100,000 Marylander Stakes at Laurel Park, getting there 1 3/4 lengths ahead of the favorite, Jessethemarine. Classic Giacnroll finished third. Joint Custody, a Maryland-bred Outflanker gelding from the Malibu Moon mare Paying Off, ran 7 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:25.38 for jockey Wesley Ho. It was his first stakes win and trainer John Robb said he is aiming for the Maryland Juvenile Championship on Dec. 28.
Cool Cowboy quickly overcame the outside post position in Saturday's $100,000 Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, led the rest of the way and won by 3 1/2 lengths over Early Entry. Tricia's Trove was another 2 lengths back in third. Cool Cowboy, the odds-on favorite, covered 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.13 with Eduardo Perez riding. The winner is a Kentucky-bred colt by Kodiak Kowboy out of the Grand Slam mare Grand Breeze.
At Woodbine, Spadina Road stalked the pace in Saturday's $125,000 Kingarvie Stakes for Ontario-sired juveniles, then won a dash to the wire by 3/4 of a length over the favorite, Asserting Bear. Spin the King was well back in fourth. Spadina Road, a Where's the Ring gelding, finished 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:46.06 with Eurico Da Silva in the irons. It was his first stakes win after some promising earlier efforts going shorter. "Last time, when he ran seven-eighths (of a mile), I thought that was a good distance for him to win," Da Silva said. "But it was not enough. Today, at a mile and a sixteenth, I was confident."
Exit Stage Left exited to the winner's circle after Saturday's $75,000 Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate Fields. The New Jersey-bred Noonmark colt stuck close to the pace, came three-wide into the lane and held off the late-running Argyle Cut to win by a length. Rockford led briefly in the stretch run and finished third. Exit Stage Left, with Russell Baze in the irons, ran the mile on the all-weather track in 1:38.53.
Time Iz Flyin did some flying of his own in the stretch drive in Saturday's restricted $75,000 My Dandy Texas Stallion Stakes at Retama Park, kicking clear to a 6-length victory. Circustown Flyer beat the rest of them with F J Uncle Vic third. Time Iz Flyin, an Early Flyer colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.27 with Bryan McNeil up.
Boat Trip rallied from last of five to win Sunday's $100,000 Hollywood Turf Express with three rivals dead-heated just a half length behind him. The embattled trio consisted of the favorite, Unbridled's Note, the pacesetter, Chips All In, and No Silent. They had contested the lead all the way to the final yards before Boat Trip floated by. Jonny's Choice was an undisputed last. Boat Trip, a 4-year-old Harlan's Holiday colt, finished the 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:08.45 with Joe Talamo up. It was only the third triple dead heat in the 75-year history of Hollywood Park, the others coming in 1957 and 1977. Those were for the win, however. Boat Trip was coming off a 12th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint and trainer Michael Pender said as he matures, he will be looking for longer distances for the colt.
Broken Sword led from the break in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Bayakoa Stakes and easily held off the favorite, Fiftyshadesofhay, to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Warren's Vendetta was third. Broken Sword, a 3-year-old Broken Vow filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.98 with Joel Rosario in the irons. "When this filly broke her maiden," said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, "we thought she could be any kind of horse. Then she didn't do what we wanted her to do right away. Now she is. Sometimes they just turn around. Trainer Bob Baffert said Fiftyshadesofhay lost all chance when she stumbled at the start. "I'm surprised she ran second, as far back as she was," he said.
Calder Race Course
Speaking of Which outfinished the favorite, Tetradrachm, to win Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Tropical Turf Handicap by a length. Bad Debt was third. Speaking of Which, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred colt by Invincible Spirit with Joe Bravo up, got the 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:50.03. It was his second U.S. win, and first stakes win, since his arrival from Ireland late last year. Bravo said trainer Christophe Clement told him, "'Joe, do me a favor. Just try to put him in the game early. He's got a very good turn of foot. It just doesn't last that long.' Look what happened. He knows his horse."
Csaba rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win Saturday's $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths over Valid. On the Loose Again came from well back to finish third. Csaba, a 4-year-old Kitten's Joy colt, finished 9 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:52.93 with Luis Saez in the irons. A consistent winner on the South Florida circuit, including nine wins from 12 starts at Calder, Csaba also won the Hooper last year. "Luis and I discussed it in the paddock," winning trainer Philip Gleaves said. "We thought there would be some speed. But he broke well and kept his position. He's a grinder. He just grinds away."
Valiant Girl saved all the ground in Saturday's $100,000 My Charmer Handicap for fillies and mares on the grass, got through along the hedge with a sixteenth left and won by a half length over Angelica Zapata. Strathnaver was third. Valiant Girl, dispatched at 42-1 odds, ran 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:52.71 with Matthew Rispoli up. It was her fourth win and first score in a graded stakes. "We have been targeting this race," said Dave Rock, assistant to trainer H. Graham Motion. "She shouldn't have been that much of a long shot."
Ullapool got the lead over a muddy track in Saturday's $100,000 Garland of Roses Handicap for fillies and mares and made the advantage stand up, winning by 2 lengths over Delightful Quality. Baby J finished third. Ullapool, a 4-year-old Langfuhr filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.03 under Irad Ortiz Jr. It was her third straight win and she has not lost this year. Leonard Dunne, assistant to winning trainer Eddie Kenneally, said the Florida Millions is under consideration. "She's happy and she's fit so we'll see what the boss draws up next," he said.
Willet rallied four-wide into the stretch in Friday's $100,000 Touch of Love Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares and quickly put paid to five rivals, winning off by 5 1/4 lengths. Miss Valentine rallied behind the winner to take second and pacesetting Harbor Mist finished third. Willet, a 5-year-old Jump Start mare, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:32.12 with Angel Arroyo riding.
Eighttofasttocatch had things all his own way in Saturday's $100,000 Broad Brush Stakes, stalking the pace and then finding no competition in the stretch run. At the wire, the 7-year-old Not For Love gelding was first by 2 lengths over A.P. Cino with Gourmet Dinner another 3 lengths in arrears in third. Eighttofasttocatch, with Forest Boyce up, got 1 1/8 miles on a muddy track in 1:53.01. It was his 10th stakes win and third stakes victory in a row at Laurel Park. "There were a couple of horses in there today that had a lot of speed so we knew that they would try him early today," Boyce said. "His best races -- yes, they have been when he is in front. But you know that at some point, they're coming after him. I just keep him happy and try not to let him get too aggressive."
Dreamin Big came running late in Saturday's $50,000 Holiday Inaugural for fillies and mares, circled the field and went on to win by 3 lengths over Lady Diva Ga Ga. Soft Whisper completed the trifecta. Dreamin Big, let go at 17-1 odds, got 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.58 with Jon Court in the irons. The favorite, Ire, finished sixth after racing wide the whole way.
Ultimate Destiny stuck a head in front of Urban Forester at the wire in Wednesday's $125,000 (Canadian) Sir Barton Stakes. Pender Harbour was third. The winner, a 4-year-old Dance to Destiny gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.18 with Eurico Da Silva up.
Homerun Berti had an easy time of it in Saturday's $50,000 KLAQ Handicap, leading quickly and winning by 2 1/2 lengths, ridden out. Ize in Command commanded place money and City Sage finished third. Homerun Berti, a 7-year-old Forestry gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.50. Ry Eikleberry had the mount.
Rose's Desert worked her way to the lead in Sunday's $85,000 New Mexico State Racing Commission Handicap for state-bred distaffers, then went clear to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Little Vidalia. Gossip Dome finished third. Rose's Desert, a 5-year-old Desert God mare, covered 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.24 for jockey Dusty Shepherd.
Hush's Storm raced well back in a big field in Sunday's $85,000 Johnie L. Jamison Stakes for New Mexico-breds, split rivals with a furlong left and got home first by 1 length. Thermal was second and Gotta Move pumped up the trifecta payout. Hush's Storm, a 3-year-old Attila's Storm gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.78 with Aldo Arboleda riding.
The Claiming Crown came to Gulfstream Park this year -- a series for horses that have started for a tag within the recent past. As usual, there were full and competitive fields. As a bonus, the skies were sunny and the track fast.
In the $110,000 Iron Lady, Carolina Lizard pressed the pace set by Courtney Ryan before taking over late to win by a neck over that rival. Daddys Jewel came running late to finish third, only a nose farther back. Carolina Lizard, a 4-year-old Saint Anddan filly, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.30 for jockey Pedro Monterrey Jr.
In the $110,000 Glass Slipper for fillies and mares, Centrique pressed the pace, then went on about her business to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the late-running Lexington Pearl. Ainsley was well up the track in third. Centrique, a 4-year-old Malibu Moon filly, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.21 with Javier Castellano up.
Ribo Bobo was a popular winner in the $110,000 Express, leading throughout and scoring by 2 1/2 lenths over Never Stop Looking. J B's Unc finished third. Ribo Bobo, the odds-on favorite, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.02 with Paco Lopez up. He is a 5-year-old Louis Quatorze gelding.
Goodtimehadbyall provided a good time at the windows for his backers after the $110,000 Rapid Transit. The 5-year-old Quiet American gelding took his time getting going, swung four-wide into the lane and charged home first by 4 1/2 lengths over Ghost Is Clear. The latter was 3 3/4 lengths clear of Grande Shores in third. Goodtimehadbyall, a 5-1 mutuel choice, ran 7 furlongs under Kendrick Carmouche in 1:22.11.
The $110,000 Tiara for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the firm turf course was all about the closers. Deanaallen'skitten, under Javier Castellano, closed from next-last of 11 to win by 3/4 of a length over Rock On Baby, who was last through the early going. The pacesetter, Brandys Secret, held third. Deanaallen'skitten, a 6-year-old Kitten's Joy mare owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, got home in 1:42.12.
Point Finish pressed the pace in the $110,000 Iron Horse, surged to the lead in the lane and won by 4 lengths, covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.43 with Lopez up. Francois raced close to the pace and held on for second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Toh's Grey Cat. Point Finish is a 4-year-old Point Given gelding.
Major Marvel shadowed the leader in the $110,000 Emerald on the green course before edging clear and winning by 1 1/2 lengths over North Star Boy. Best Actor was best of the rest. Major Marvel, a 7-year-old Bernstein gelding, got the 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:43.72 with Julien Leparoux in the irons.
The final leg of the series, the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel, went to Nevada Kid, who set a pressured pace, then took over late and won by 2 1/4 lengths over Dominant Jeannes. Flatter This was third and the favorite, Bernie the Maestro, faded to finish sixth. Those who bet the obvious exacta of Nevada Kid with Nevada saw the other half of their ticket stumble at the start and finish next-last of 10. Nevada Kid ran 9 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:50.41 under Luis Saez.
There was no shortage of back class firepower in Sunday's $100,000 Sunshine State Stakes for Florida-breds. But it was Star Harbour who set a pressured pace, then shot clear late and held on to win by a half length over Jackson Bend. Bahamian Squall finished third with Close It Out and Fort Loudon completing the order of finish. Cat Five Hurricane was eased and vanned off. Star Harbour, a 5-year-old son of Indian Charlie, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.55 for jockey Paco Lopez. It was his first stakes win. Among the others, Fort Loudon swept the Florida Stallion Stakes series in 2011 and subsequently racked up several graded stakes placings, including two wins. Jackson Bend swept the 2009 FSS series, then finished second in the Grade II Fountain of Youth and Grade I Wood Memorial. He subsequently won the Grade I Forego, the Grade I Carter, along with other graded stakes. Bahamian Squall won the Grade I Alfred Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga this past summer.