Some hot prospects for the Kentucky Derby, led by Cairo Prince, showed their potential in weekend stakes races.
A couple likely Kentucky Oaks contenders also dominated 7-furlong events in Maryland and Florida.
Rose to Gold won the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic at Sam Houston Race Park in Texas and Admiral Kitten showed promise of advancing to the top of the turf ranks with a narrow win on the same card.
On the international front, another grass sprinter showed enough Sunday at Sha Tin in Hong Kong to move along to World Cup night in Dubai in two months' time. And South African trainer Mike de Kock continued to win in Dubai even while he was in South Africa.
Triple Crown trail
Cairo Prince moved into the top rank of Kentucky Derby prospects with a dominating, off-the-pace victory in Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The Kentucky-bred colt is a son of Pioneerof the Nile, fittingly out of a Holy Bull mare, Holy Bubbette. With Luis Saez up, Cairo Prince tracked a reasonable early pace, came three-wide into the stretch and easily kicked clear to win by 5 3/4 lengths. Conquest Titan rallied from last of 11 to finish second, 1/2 length in front of Intense Holiday. The promising Mr Speaker attended the early pace but surrendered the gavel early, fading to finish seventh. Cairo Prince ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.16. He now is 3-for-4 and his only defeat was by a desperate nose to Honor Code while giving weight to that rival in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct on Nov. 30. "Obviously, we're holding a strong hand with this colt," said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "We feel very confident moving forward." Asked about a potential rematch with Honor Code in the upcoming Fountain of Youth, McLaughlin noted, "We gave him six pounds and got beat a nose. We felt like we were the best horse and we're marching on." Trainer Mark Casse said Conquest Titan was squeezed early and took back, losing any chance to win. But he noted the Birdstone colt already has won at Churchill Downs and will move on down the Derby trail. The race's namesake and Cairo Prince's maternal granddam, Holy Bull, won 13 of 16 starts from 1993 to 1995 but suffered a career-ending injury in the 1995 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park -- a race which also was the fourth victory in Cigar's remarkable 16-race winning streak. Other than his final race, Holy Bull was defeated only in the 1994 Fountain of Youth, where he finished sixth, and the 1994 Kentucky Derby, where he inexplicably struggled home 12th as the favorite while Go For Gin won in the slop.
Extrasexyhippzster relaxed behind the early speed in Saturday's $100,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park, took to the fore when asked by jockey Julian Pimmental and kicked clear, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. The favorite, Joint Custody, was the best of the rest with Mr. Rover adding a spot of value to the trifecta. Extrasexyhippzster, a Pennsylvania-bred colt by Stroll out of the Freud mare Extra Sexy Psychic, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.75. He came into Saturday's race off a win in the Don Rickles Stakes at Aqueduct and now has three wins from five starts. "That was huge today," said winning trainer Mike Trombetta. "This time of year, you start trying them a little further to see if they're going to be able to get the longer distances and for me, today, he passed the test. I don't know where I'll run him back but the obvious is to continue to add distance and two turns."
California Chrome ran by the leaders at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $250,000 California Cup Derby for state-breds and ran on strongly to win by 5 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Tamarando, made up a lot of ground late to finish second and Life Is a Joy was third. Electric Eddie broke down in the stretch and Oh Billy Billy lost his rider avoiding the stricken horse. Aotearoa was distanced and eased. California Chrome, a Lucky Pulpit colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.22 with Victor Espinoza up.
Other news involving some of the current favorites for the Derby:
-- Shared Belief, the reigning 2-year-old champion, is recovering slowly from a quarter crack and will miss a start at Santa Anita -- never a good sign.
-- Cairo Prince's victory Saturday vaulted him into a three-way tie for Kentucky Derby qualifying points. He, Honor Code and Havana have earned 14 points each.
-- Next weekend's major qualifying race is the $250,000, Grade III Withers at 1 1/16 miles on Saturday at Aqueduct. Entries will be taken Monday but among those expected are Classic Giacnroll and Scotland, who were second and third in the Jerome Stakes earlier this month. Also likely is Samraat, who won the Damon Runyon by 16 3/4 lengths in December. That race was for New York-breds only.
A pair of odds-on favorites lived up to their billing in the weekend's two big races.
Taris, after hesitating at the start, quickly took control in Saturday's $100,000 Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland, opened a big advantage and eased home first in a hand ride. Steady N Love was 5 1/2 lengths back in second, followed by New Zone, 3 3/4 lengths farther in arrears. Taris, a Kentucky-bred Flatter filly out of the Theatrical mare Comedy, ran 7 furlongs in 1:24.71 with Clinton Potts up. She now is 2-for-2 and unchallenged. She won at first asking at Aqueduct, scoring by 11 3/4 lengths going 6 furlongs on Dec. 21. "She just continues to impress me," said winning trainer Todd Beattie. He said will freshen Taris in Florida and decide whether to return to Maryland for her next race or look at the $150,000, Grade III Honeybee at Oaklawn Park on March 8. That race is 1 1/16 miles.
At Gulfstream Park, Onlyforyou had things all her own way in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Forward Gal Stakes, showing the way and winning by a comfortable 2 3/4 lengths over Aurelia's Belle. Resistivity finished third. Onlyforyou, a Malibu Moon filly out of the Tactical Cat mare Erhu, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.50 with Javier Castellano in the irons. Onlyforyou remains undefeated in three starts and hasn't really been tested. "It's been a pretty straightforward introduction so far," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "She's trained like she'll run further ... That's pretty much it on the calendar here for sprints, so if we're going to run back at Gulfstream, we'll have to stretch her out." That likely would mean the Grade II Davona Dale at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 22.
On the Gulfstream Park turf, Ready to Act tracked the early speed in Sunday's $100,000 Sweetest Chant Stakes but appeared ready to act any time jockey Javier Castellano asked. When he did ask, the More Than Ready filly was more than ready, got by the leaders a sixteenth of a mile out and won by 1/2 length over pacesetter Party Now. Room Service delivered a late run to finish third. Ready to Act finished 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.97. It was only the second win of her short career. "She's been challenging," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "She was no problem until she went to Woodbine and ducked from the stick (veering in and dropping her rider). Ever since then, she's been difficult to train and her races have been sporadic." He said he doubts she will want to go more than a mile.
Susan's Express lit up the Santa Anita tote board with a pace-stalking win in Saturday's $200,000 California Cup Oaks for state-breds at odds of 65-1. The Decarchy filly got through between the leaders at mid-stretch and edged clear. Anniversary Kitty was second and Rovena completed a $1 trifecta that paid $20,093.30 and don't forget to tip the mutuel clerk. Susan's Express, with Kent Desormeaux up, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.72, winning for just the second time in six starts.
Fillies and mares
Rose to Gold settled early in Saturday night's $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic at Sam Houston Race Park, rallied to challenge along the inside in the stretch and got home first by 1 1/2 lengths. The favorites, Unusual Way and Class Included, finished second and third in an eight-horse field assembled from all points of the compass. Rose to Gold, a 4-year-old Friends Lake filly trained at Calder in South Florida, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.87 with Jesus Rios in the irons. Trainer Sal Santoro credited Rios with spotting the winning move. "He saw a little daylight and Rose was courageous," he said. She had not won since back-to-back victories in the Grade III Honeybee and the Grade III Fantasy at Oaklawn Park last spring and finished ninth in the Grade I Marshua's River at Gulfstream Park in her last start. Santoro said he will take Rose to Gold back to Calder but plans to ship back to Oaklawn "to look at the Azeri as a prep for the Apple Blossom Handicap."
If there was any doubt about supremacy in the distaff ranks in New York, Teen Pauline -- literally and figuratively -- distanced herself from that competition in Saturday's $100,000 Ladies Handicap at snowy Aqueduct. The 4-year-old Tapit filly, with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons, went right to the lead and won off by 10 3/4 lengths over Flash Forward. Centring, a one-time rival, finished third while the remaining member of the reigning triumvirate, Royal Lahaina, trailed the field under the wire. Teen Pauline got 1 1/8 miles on the fast inner track in 1:49.78. It was her second straight win at the Big A, following a third-place finish in the Grade II Comely. "She broke fast out of there and relaxed pretty good," Ortiz said. "When I asked, she picked it up." This was the 143rd running of the Ladies Handicap -- the oldest stakes race in the country restricted to fillies and mares, according to the New York Racing Association. Past winners include Shuvee, Flower Bowl and Vagrancy, all of whom lent their names to NYRA stakes races. August Belmont owned four of the early winners.
Scherzinger led early in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita. But when Victor Espinoza, aboard pacesetting Teddy's Promise, drifted out a bit at the top of the lane, Scherzinger rebid along the rail and was up in the final yards to win by 1 length. Iotapa ran by Teddy's Promise late to take second, 1/2 length in front of that rival. Scherzinger, a 4-year-old Tiz Wonderful filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.20 with Mike Smith at the controls. Smith said he actually backed Sherzinger out of a tight spot on the turn before taking advantage of the rail opening. "She went right back into a relaxed mode, though. And when I called on her, she jumped right through," Smith said. Winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer added, "We didn't know if we could beat Teddy's Promise. But we got lucky, got through and beat her." Scherzinger now has won four of seven starts but the Santa Monica was her first stakes try.
Fillies and mares sprinting
Winning Image got her picture taken after defeating the favorite, She's Ordained, in Saturday's $100,000 What a Summer Stakes at Laurel Park. Winning Image, a 7-year-old mare by Southern Image, led from the early jumps and won by 1 3/4 lengths. Vicki's Dancer finished third. Winning Image, with Anthony Black in the irons, covered 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.37. It was her eighth stakes win, including four in a row from December 2013 through last July.
Apropos stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 American Beauty Stakes at Oaklawn Park, took charge when prompted by Ricardo Santana Jr. and drew clear, winning by 3 1/4 lengths. Boss Barney's Babe rallied strongly to finish second, a neck ahead of Ms Anna Destiny. Apropos, a 5-year-old First Samurai mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.43. Miss Arkansas, Amy Crain, presented the trophy. "She's a good horse and obviously loves Oaklawn Park," said winning trainer Al Stall from New Orleans. "We'll get her back home and talk to the owners about what's next." The owners are Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider.
The Handicap horses
Bold Curlin worked his way through a narrow opening in the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Native Dancer Stakes at Laurel Park, then got clear to win by 2 lengths over Indian Jones. Managed Account was only a nose farther back in third. Bold Curlin, a 4-year-old Curlin gelding, ran about 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.62 under Victor Carrasco. "I just kept him moving and got pinched a little," Carrasco said. "But when I was able to get the opening, I put him in there and he went on." Winning trainer Mike Trombetta credited Carrasco. "That is about as good a ride as you are going to get," he said. "It was better than superb." Carrasco earlier this month took home the Eclipse Award as the top apprentice jockey of 2013. The Native Dancer was his first stakes win as a journeyman.
On the grass
Admiral Kitten lagged early in Saturday night's $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston Race Park, then was up just in time to score by a neck over pacesetter Fredericksburg. Vertiformer finished just 1/2 length farther back in third and King David was fourth. Admiral Kitten, a rising star in the turf division, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.80 under Julien Leparoux. The 4-year-old Kitten's Joy colt, owned and bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, won last year's Grade I Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park and finished second in six other races, five of them graded stakes. "He always runs well from behind," Leparoux said. "When I asked him to make his run, he did it nicely."
Cloud Scapes rallied by a stubborn Wholelottashakin in the final yards to win Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Endeavour Stakes by a neck over that one. It was 2 1/4 lengths farther back to Floral Romance in third. Cloud Scapes, a 5-year-old Smart Strike mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.75 under Erik Rodriguez. "She is just improving with age," said Pin Oak Stud General Manager Clifford Barry. "The mare had a couple of niggling injuries and that kind of slowed her down as a 3-year-old." Trainer Graham Motion said Cloud Scapes may return in the $150,000, Grade III Hillsborough Stakes on March 8.
Sprinting on the turf, Shrinking Violet rallied along the inside late to win Saturday's $100,000 Lightning City Stakes by 1 length over Allwewantforxmas. Ageless finished third and the favorite, Madame Giry, settled for fourth. Shrinking Violet, a 4-year-old Congaree filly, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.54 seconds with Quincy Hamilton riding.
(By RICHARD GROSS)
Anaerobio left 13 rivals breathless as he crossed the Meydan finish line an impressive 3/4-length winner in the featured Al Fahidi Fort Thursday, giving trainer Mike de Kock a sixth victory since 2003 in the 1,400-meters, Group 2 turf event, shortened 200 meters from its previous 1,600-meter length.
"He is not an easy horse," said winning jockey Christophe Soumillon of the 7-year-old son of Catcher In The Rye, "but he loves this 1,400-meter trip." It was horse, jockey and trainer's second win over this distance so far in this year's Dubai World Cup Carnival, following Anaerobio's week-one Carnival win in the Conquest Classic handicap, also on the turf.
De Kock was home in South Africa for that country's yearling sales and could not immediately announce plans going forward for the horse, a four-time Group 1 winner in his native Argentina.
The win completed a double on the night for de Kock and Soumillon after Alexandra Palace snared a 1/2-length victory over Free Wheeling in the 1,600-meters handicap over the all-weather Tapeta.
"He showed really good acceleration and is clearly a good horse," Soumillon said. "Mike may go back to turf with him."
The jockey and trainer came up just over a length short of a triple on the evening. Ireland's Jamesie opened the evening's card with a win over Merhee in the 1,200-meters sprint handicap over the all-weather surface.
The luck 'o the Irish carried over into the second race as Certerach was guided by fellow Irishman Shane Foley to a mere 1/2-length win over Topclas after a lengthy 2,435-meters trip in the turf handicap.
The good fortune followed three hard-luck losses in last year's Dubai World Cup Carnival for the 6-year-old gelded son of Halling.
"That was a much-deserved win after some good efforts in defeats last year," praised winning jockey Foley, who offered the hope the horse, running for trainer Michael Halford, "can build on this."
Windhoek scored a head win over Layali Al Andalus for Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor and jockey Silvestre De Sousa in the Xpress handicap over 2,000 meters on the all-weather. The surprise in this contest was the dead-last finish in a field of 10 by Daddy Long Legs, the winner of the 2012 UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup Day.
The card's final race saw Gabrial sounding a head-win over El Estruendoso, another de Kock horse, in the 1,800-meter turf handicap. But with two wins and two seconds on the night, absent trainer de Kock was still a formidable presence in this week's Carnival.
Amber Sky jumped right to the front in Sunday's HK Group 1 Kent & Curwen Centenary Sprint Cup and wasn't caught. The sprint win could turn into a long-distance ride to Dubai for the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night. With Joao Moreira up, the Exceed And Excel 4-year-old finished the 1,000 meters down the stands side of the Sha Tin straight and won by 2 1/4 lengths over Straight Gold. Cerise Cherry was 1 3/4 lengths farther back in third and Eagle Regiment, the two-time winner of this event, struggled home last of 10. Winning trainer Ricky Yiu said he will consult with owner Hung Kam Po, a lynchpin in the Hong Kong action movie scene, about future plans, which could include a try in the Feb. 16 HK Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize, the second leg of the rich Hong Kong Speed Series, before shipping to Dubai. "He's a bit of a one-dimensional horse," Yiu said. "One thousand straight is what he's best at, so we've entered for the 1,000-meters race in Dubai." The Chairman's Sprint Prize is a 1,200-meters test.
The purse money for the Hong Kong Speed Series races reflects the SAR's emergence as a top-shelf player on the world racing scene. Sunday's race was worth HK$6 million (about US$773,000). The Chairman's Sprint Prize now carries the same purse after each got a bump of HK$1.5 million this year. The third leg, the HK Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at 1,400 meters, is worth HK $8 million (just over US$1 million). And there is a bonus of HK$2 million for sweeping the series. The third race is scheduled for March 16, just 13 days before Dubai World Cup night.
Calder Race Course
Evolution Rocks rocketed through Saturday's $65,000 Thrillin Discovery Handicap, leading all the way to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Dad'z Laugh was a clear second with Jay Eye Cee making a late move to get show money. Evolution Rocks, a 5-year-old City Zip gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.33 with Edgard Zayas up.
Tampa Bay Downs
Palace Barista rallied to the lead four-wide in Saturday's $60,000 Pelican Stakes and ran on to post the 12-1 upset by 1 1/2 lengths over W.B. Smudge. One Buck Roma faded from the lead to finish third and the favorite, Sneaking Uponyou, snuck home last of eight. Palace Barista, a 4-year-old Lido Palace colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.94 under Harry Varga.
Delaunay, making his first start since Saratoga back when it was warm, led from the early stages in Saturday's $60,000 F.W. Gaudin Memorial Stakes and won by 3 1/4 lengths over Gantry. Hip Four Sixtynine finished third. Delaunay, a 7-year-old Smoke Glacken gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.58 under Rosie Napravnik. Delaunay completed his 2013 campaign with a fourth-place finish in the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga. He also won this race last year in the middle of a six-race winning skein for owner Maggi Moss.
For an ungraded, $75,000 race down the hillside turf course, Sunday's Clocker's Corner Stakes had some pretty recognizable names. However, it was 9-1 long shot Lakerville who rallied along the outside in the late going to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Sweet Swap with Di Giorgio third. Lakerville, a 6-year-old son of Unusual Heat, finished the about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:11.75 with Corey Nakatani riding. Among those who didn't figure in the outcome were the favorite, Ready For More, Drill, Handsome Mike, Boat Trip and El Commodore. With all of those out, the $1 trifecta payoff was $1,005.60 and if you forgot to tip your mutuel clerk after winning Saturday's $20,093.30 trifecta, now's the time.
Saturday was California Cup day at the Arcadia oval, with a nice slate of full fields for the state-breds. See the results of the 3-year-old races above. The others:
Weewinnin stalked the pace in the $250,000 Turf Classic, then got through along the rail and spurted clear to a 2 1/4-lengths win over Stoney Fleece. Jules Journey was a neck farther back in third. Weewinnin, a 4-year-old Comic Strip gelding, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.00 with Joe Talamo in the irons.
Big Macher parked right behind pacesetter Coach Bob early in the $125,000 Donald Valpredo Sprint, went by that one and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Coach Bob held second with Kate's Event another 1/2 length back in third. Big Macher, a 4-year-old Beau Genius gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.62 under Rafael Bejarano.
Ciao Bella Luna pressed the pace set by Marks Mine in the $125,000 Filly & Mare Turf Sprint down the hillside course, then dueled to the wire with that one, winning by 1/2 length. Tribal Spy closed to finish third, a head farther back. Ciao Bella Luna, a 4-year-old Tribal Rule filly, finished in 1:12.81 under Kent Desormeaux.
Alsono led throughout Sunday's $50,000 KHEY Y Country Sprint for 3-year-olds and won by 2-lengths over previously undefeated French-bred My Rochester. Blackout was well back in third. Alsono, a Kentucky-bred Limehouse colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.49 with Ry Eikleberry up.
Ramona's Wildcat distanced a half-dozen rivals in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 El Paso Times Handicap for 3-year-old fillies, winning by 9 1/2 lengths. Let Her Dance beat the others with Awesome Dama third. Ramona's Wildcat, a Wildcat Heir filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.83, also with Eikleberry in the irons.
F J Uncle Vic got the jump on the field in Saturday night's $50,000 Allen's Landing Stakes for 3-year-olds and drew off in the lane to in by 9 1/4 lengths. The favorite, Kowboy Boots, settled for second with Awesome J T third. F J Uncle Vic, a Texas-bred colt by Uncle Abbie, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.02 under Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez. Rosie Napravnik hustled in from riding the afternoon card at Fair Grounds to ride Kowboy Boots.
Napravnik steered Sum of the Parts to victory in the next race, the $75,000 Champion Energy Services Stakes, pressing the pace before edging clear. Artest put in a late bid but fell 3/4 length short with Perfect Parker third. Sum of the Parts, a 5-year-old son of Speightstown, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.21 seconds.