Those were just some of the highlights of a full weekend of racing excitement. Also on the docket were the successful return of Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Beholder, the first-ever All-Weather Championships in England, a "Dundeel" in Australia and a couple promising young stars in Japan.
With only two weeks until the Kentucky Derby, let's start with the 3-year-olds.
You know it's a rough weekend when the team you coach loses its first two games in the NHL playoffs, both in overtime; you get whacked with a $25,000 fine for making a nasty gesture; AND your horse is caught at the wire to lose the Illinois Derby by a nose. That's how it went for Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville.
Saturday's $500,000, Grade III Illinois Derby wasn't an official Kentucky Derby prep. But it did seem like a perfect fit for Midnight Hawk, a Midnight Lute colt owned, in part, by Quenneville. And by the time the race went to the post, Quenneville needed a day-brightener as the Hawks had just suffered their second straight overtime defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. He was fined for overreacting to a non-call that might have cost the Hawks the first game. And it looked like Midnight Hawk would deliver, leading most of the way -- until jockey Miguel Mena shifted the pace-stalking Dynamic Impact off the rail and onto the leader's trail. He just got there in time, winning a head-bob at the wire. Dynamic Impact finished in 1:49.07 over a fast track on a picture-perfect day. Irish You Well finished 8 1/2 lengths farther back in third at a big price. Mena said he decided to pressure Midnight Hawk because none of the other six runners went after him. "I thought, 'If he doesn't run good, I'll be in trouble,'" Mena said. "But I was happy once we got to the outside. That's when he really started running." The Tiznow colt, trained by Mark Casse, broke his maiden on his fifth try last month at Oaklawn Park and had been working since then over the Keeneland Polytrack. Asked if he thinks the colt could handle the Pimlico track in the Preakness, Mena added, "Yes. He's easy to ride. You can do what you want with him."
At Keeneland, Mr Speaker always looked to be in control of Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes. After stalking the pace while saving ground, jockey Jose Lezcano got the Pulpit colt out of traffic at the top of the stretch and he quickly asserted himself, winning off by 4 lengths. Divine Oath was the best of the rest with Supermonic just a head farther back in third after contesting the early pace. Mr Speaker got 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.18. Mr Speaker has posted three wins and a second on the turf for trainer Shug McGaughey but quickly aborted a Kentucky Derby effort when he finished seventh in the Grade II Holy Bull. "I don't think that was a true indication of his dirt form," McGaughey said. "I think he probably will handle the dirt. He laid up maybe a bit closer than we wanted him to, maybe a little eager, and I don't think Jose wanted him eating the dirt. So I think one of these days we'll try him again. But it's not going to be in two weeks (in the Kentucky Derby)."
Incidentally, Mr Speaker's victory means the horses who finished seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th in the Holy Bull now have all come back to win stakes, three of them graded stakes. The 11th- and last-place finisher in the Holy Bull, Big Bazinga, was a fast-closing fourth in last weekend's Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland. Intense Holiday, who finished third in the Holy Bull, then won the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Cairo Prince, who won the Holy Bull, finished fourth in the Grade I Florida Derby in his only start since. However, on Saturday trainer Kiaran McLaughlin reported Cairo Prince has been ruled out of the Kentucky Derby with an ankle injury -- another setback for Sheik Mohammed bin Rasheed al Maktoum, who purchased a majority interest in the colt in furtherance of his long and so far fruitless quest to land the Run for the Roses for his Godolphin Racing empire. "It's a very sad day," McLaughlin said. "For all the owners, it's so sad and so tough."
Kid Cruz rallied from well back, then cruised to a 3 1/2-lenghts victory in Saturday's $100,000 Federico Tessio Stakes at Pimlico -- a race that frequently turns up Preakness Stakes candidates. Joint Custody finished third, a head farther back. Kid Cruz, a Lemon Drop Kid colt trained by Linda Rice, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:47.38 with Julian Pimentel in the irons. Kid Kruz picked up his third win from five starts. He also won the Private Terms at Laurel. "This horse really ran a terrific race even though we had to miss a work," said assistant trainer Marsha Barrs. "We got knocked off the Derby trail after the Private Terms but after some time off he's back to his old self and our long-range options include the Preakness, pending how he comes out of this race today." The Preakness is the second jewel of the Triple Crown, run May 17 at Old Hilltop.
If the question before Saturday's $1.5 million, Grade III Charles Town Classic was whether Game On Dude was still on his game … well, the race probably didn't answer the question definitively. Game On Dude, winner of last year's edition and most recently the winner of the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, led under pressure much of the way. But it was Imperative who came and got him in the late going, eventually kicking away to a 1 1/2-lengths victory. Game On Dude held second, finishing 1 1/2 lengths ahead of his early tormentor, Moreno. Battling that foe early may have put paid to the favorite's chances at the end. Imperative, dispatched at odds of 26-1, ran 1 1/8 miles around three turns in 1:50.56. Winning rider Kent Desormeaux said Imperative was fired up and ready to run. "By the time we got to the eighth pole I hadn't even asked him yet," Desormeaux said. "He was already passing them and when I cued him, he just exploded. I restrained him the first three-quarters. I actually had to slow him down. I took a deep pull in the second turn and then once the horse that was laying third got outrun, I pitched him into that spot and turned him loose." Trainer George Papaproudromou said he claimed Imperative last December for $50,000 because he liked his pedigree, by Bernardini, and because he thought he would run well on dirt. "We saw the horse was running on the turf, the synthetic … We just got him because of that, to run him on the dirt at Santa Anita," he said. He responded with a second-place finish in the Grade II San Antonio but finished seventh in the Santa Anita Handicap.
Frac Daddy pressed the pace in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland, took over with 3 furlongs left to run and kicked clear to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Stealcase was second and Nikki's Sandcastle and the favorite, Newsdad, came from the back of the 10-horse field to finish third and fourth, respectively. Frac Daddy, a 4-year-old Scat Daddy colt, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:49.61 with Alan Garcia in the irons. Frac Daddy, who finished 16th in last year's Kentucky Derby, was coming off a second-place finish in the Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston and, before that, a runner-up effort in the Grade III Commonwealth Turf at Churchill Downs. "He's been training freaky good lately," said winning trainer Kenny McPeek. "From the beginning, he's been an extremely talented horse but mentally he was a horse that was a little fragile. I think the Derby was a little tough on him because of the big field and it came up muddy, but the older he's getting, the better he's getting." With Keeneland scrapping its Polytrack after this meeting, McPeek said by fall he will be looking for races on the grass for Frac Daddy.
Beholder got her 2014 campaign off to a rousing start, albeit in a controlled setting, winning Sunday's restricted $75,000 Santa Lucia Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths. Legacy finished second and Irish Presence was third but neither represented a threat to Beholder, who finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.67, handily, with Gary Stevens managing things. The 5-year-old Henny Hughes mare won five of seven starts last year, including three in a row culminating in an easy victory over Close Hatches in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Close Hatches, in turn, has kicked off her campaign with back-to-back wins in the Grade II Azeri and Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, promising some interesting matchups later in the year. "We're just happy to be back," Beholder's trainer, Richard Mandella, said before the race.
Sisterly Love dogged the pacesetting, odds-on favorite, Emollient, through the early furlongs of Friday's $100,000, Grade III Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland, got by and went on to win by a neck. Moment In Dixie flew down the middle of the track to take second, a neck in front of Emollient. Sisterly Love, a 6-year-old Bellamy Road mare, covered 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.82. "I had a great trip," said winning rider Stewart Elliott. "She was comfortable the whole way. On the far turn, I looked over and saw Mike (Smith on the favorite, Emollient) and it looked like he was asking her already. I said, 'Man, I got a chance. I still have some horse left.' And I did. She finished up." Sisterly Love was making just the 14th start of her career and picked up her first graded stakes win but seventh overall. Emollient, who easily bested Sisterly Love and other good ones last fall in the Grade I Juddmonte Spinster over the same track, continued to be a mystery for trainer Bill Mott and Smith. "She just didn't fire her 'A' race at all," Smith said.
Flashy American and Sonja's Angel looked like the class in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne Race Course and that's how the race played out. Sonja's Angel made all the going but ran wide on both turns, then had no answer as Flashy American flashed by to win by 3/4 length. Gamay Noir was 3 3/4 lengths farther back in third. Flashy American, a 5-year-old Flashy Bull mare, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.36. It was her first graded stakes win. "I was in a perfect spot," said winning jockey Chris Emigh. "I was smiling the whole way. It was luck, the speed stayed wide. I went as slow as I could go and then went through … I had a little better trip than I expected, but I'll take it."
Filly & Mare Turf
Daring Dancer had to wait for room at mid-stretch in Thursday's $100,000, Grade III Appalachian Stakes, presented by the Japan Racing Association, at Keeneland. But once jockey Alan Garcia found her a narrow seam, the Empire Maker filly boldly shot through and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths, remaining undefeated. Sweet Acclaim came from last to finish second and Recepta was third. The 1 mile on firm turf, restricted to 3-year-old fillies, went in 1:36.04. "The focus was to get her to finish well," Garcia said. "She broke great. She saved all the ground. We were waiting at the top of the stretch for a hole to open, and it did. She finished very strong." Daring Dancer won at first asking at Laurel Park last September, then captured an allowance event at Churchill Downs before hibernating.
Rise Up went quickly to the lead in the Robert Hilton Memorial Stakes for 3-year-olds on Saturday at Charles Town and dominated in the stretch, drawing off to win by 10 3/4 lengths. Elevated was second and Interchange completed the trifecta. Rise Up, a Rockport Harbor colt trained by Tom Amoss, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.00 with Leandro Goncalves in the irons. It was his first win since finishing first in the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot last November. In the interim, he finished seventh in the Grade II Risen Star and 10th in the Grade II Louisiana Derby, both at Fair Grounds. "He broke good, but it took a while to get to the lead, and then he relaxed," said Goncalves, adding his instructions from trainer Tom Amoss were, "break and try to get the lead."
Puntrooski rallied from last of six in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Woodstock Stakes for 3-year-olds at Woodbine and ran away from his rivals in the lane, winning by 5 lengths over the favorite, Jose Sea View. Go Greeley finished third. Puntrooski, a Florida-bred In Summation gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:09.31 with Jesse Campbell in the irons.
Filly & Mare Sprint
La Verdad took the lead right out of the gate in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct and was never seriously challenged, winning off by 3 1/2 lengths. Kauai Katie, making her first start since last July at Saratoga, showed good interest late to finish second. My Pal Chrisy got show money. La Verdad, a 4-year-old filly by Yes It's True, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.10 under Jose Ortiz. She now has seven wins and one second from nine career starts. It was her first graded stakes win. "I love that horse, and New York loves that horse," said winning owner Sheila Rosenblum. "She's a New York horse. There were great horses, but she was the best one today." John Velazquez, who rode Kauai Katie, said her run was "a good effort" after the long layoff.
Flattering Bea stalked the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Sugar Maple Stakes presented by CANTER Mid-Atlantic at Charles Town, took the lead turning for home and held on to win by a neck over the odds-on favorite, Quiet Success. More Than a Cruise was third. Flattering Bea, a 4-year-old Flatter filly, ran 7 furlongs in 1:26.00 with Garry Cruise in the irons. It was her fifth win from 14 career starts, a skein plagued by difficulty out of the gate. "In the past she's had trouble breaking. She was cautious," Cruise said. "Tonight, I wasn't going to get outrun." Trainer Crystal Pickett worked Flattering Bea out of the gate last week, saying, "We knew we had to fix that problem of slow starts."
Winning Image set a pressured pace in Saturday's $100,000 Primonetta Stakes at Pimlico, then finally edged clear to win by 3/4 length. Do Somethin was gaining late but settled for second and Red's Round Table finished third. The favorite, I'm Mom's Favorite, faded to get home fifth. Winning Image, a 7-year-old Southern Image mare, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.16 with Anthony Black up. She has been a dependable check-earner for years in stakes races around the northeast. Black, who has 5,206 career wins for No. 23 on the North American jockey leader list, let Winning Image take the lead but kept her out toward the center of the track. "If I gave them a passing lane, they would have to come down the rail, where it's a little deeper … A fun ride for a 62-year-old."
Zensational Bunny -- an Easter hunch bet for sure -- stalked the pace in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Star Shoot Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then hopped off to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Paladin Bay. Shanagarry got show money and the favorite, Norquay, finished seventh with a troubled trip. Zensational Bunny, a Zensational filly, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.22 with Patrick Husbands in the irons. "She handled it good down the backside, she was relaxed, and when I called on her she gave me 100 percent," Husbands said. It was her third win from five career starts, with all the victories coming at Woodbine. She was third in the Grade III Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream Park in her seasonal debut.
Ageless rallied from last of nine to win Saturday's $100,000 Giant's Causeway Stakes at Keeneland by 3/4 length over Free as a Bird. Sweet Cassiopeia finished third. Ageless, a 5-year-old Successful Appeal mare, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.18 for jockey Julien Leparoux. She has won half of her 12 career starts but the Giant's Causeway was her first stakes score. "We know she has a good kick and she just doesn't want to go out in front," said winning trainer Roy Jackson. "She wants to kick on from the back. It was a nice ride from Julien."
Knit One Purr Too caught pacesetting Hot Squeeze in the final jumps to win Saturday's $100,000 Stormy Blues Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Pimlico by a neck. Miss Behaviour was third and the odds-on favorite, Sweet Emma Rose, faded late to finish next-last of seven. Knit One Purr Too, an Ontario-bred daughter of Tale of the Cat, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 59.65 seconds under Grant Whittaker. She has three wins and two seconds from five starts, all in Maryland. She was bouncing back from a second-place finish last Friday. "She’s bred for nothing but turf," said winning trainer Dane Kobiskie, "and you’re so limited with straight 3-year old filly sprint turf stakes that I really couldn't let this opportunity get by. This filly's very talented."
Hamp rallied from last to upset Saturday's $100,000 Henry S. Clark Stakes at Pimlico, scoring by a head over Roadhog. Nutello was a tasty third whilst the favorite, Under Control, settled for fourth after some traffic issues on the roundabout. Hamp, a 4-year-old Sky Mesa gelding, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:39.66 with Javier Santiago in the irons. He had not won since last July at Colonial Downs. "We had a great race," Santiago said. "The trainer told me to stay behind and wait for my time."
Grand Tito shadowed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Miami Mile at Calder Race Course, led through the stretch and held on despite drifting out to win by 3/4 length over Midnight Cello. Csaba was another 3/4 length in arrears in third and the favorite, Hey Leroy, never fired, finishing next-last of 11. Grand Tito, a 4-year-old Candy Ride colt, got home in 1:38.60 under Santiago Gonzalez. He finished fifth in the Grade III Appleton at Gulfstream Park in his last previous start.
It's a Dundeel reeled in pacesetting Carlton House late in Saturday's Group 1 Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick and then held off Sacred Falls for a narrow win. Carlton House held third and Silent Achiever was fourth. It's a Dundeel, a 5-year-old, New Zealand-bred son of High Chapparal, had finished second and third, both times while seeing Silent Achiever win, in the Group 1 BMW and the Group 1 Ranvet. "We've been aiming at this all along," said winning trainer Murray Baker. "He's still getting better," added winning rider James McDonald. "We probably haven't seen the best of him." It's a Dundeel qualified with the victory for a berth in this fall's Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita but likely is headed in the shorter run for Royal Ascot. Sacred Falls last week qualified for the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Also on Saturday, The Offer bounced back from a Group 2 win just a week earlier to take the Group 1 Sydney Cup at 2 miles on the grass, beating long shot Opinion by 3 3/4 lengths with a late move. Sertorius was third. Trainer Gai Waterhouse proclaimed the 5-year-old a top chance for this fall's Group 1 Melbourne Cup.
Isla Bonita rallied strongly outside the leaders midway through the stretch in Sunday's Group 1 Satsuki Sho, or Japanese 2,000 Guineas, and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over To The World. Win Full Bloom was third. Isla Bonita, a Fuji Kiseki colt, won for the third time in four starts. He has finished behind only Harp Star, the filly who won the Group 1 Oka Sho, or Japanese 1,000 Guineas, last weekend. With Masayoshi Ebina up, Isla Bonita ran Sunday's 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.6 over firm turf. "I tried to race him with his own pace until the first corner and took him to the outside to avoid the crowd," Ebina said. "He was responding well and as I was able to race him towards the front, I urged him to go earlier. Although he seemed a bit distracted, he was able rally strongly with the other horses. He is able to run a smooth race and I think the Tokyo racecourse, where the Japanese Derby is held, will suit him well."
Grandeur survived a slow pace to win the featured race in Friday's All-Weather Championships card at Lingfield and may be headed to Belmont Park to pick up an earlier successful career in America. Grandeur had disappointed in the Winter Derby in his previous start in the series and trainer Jeremy Noseda said it looked for a time like Friday's Coral Easter Classic All-Weather Middle-Distance Championship might be a repeat. "Everything went wrong last time [in the Winter Derby], but to be honest I don’t think too much went right today. There was no real pace for him – I’m thrilled that he’s won but it’s just a shame that he’s made such hard work of it." Ryan Moore rode Grandeur to win by a head over Dick Doughtywylie, finishing in 2:05.59. "He's shown that he likes racing in America, so we'll probably head to Belmont Park in May and June to race on the turf there," Noseda said. The Verglas gelding, now 5, the Grade II Twilight Derby at Santa Anita in 2012, then finished second in the Grade I Hollywood Derby before capturing the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup. He returned to the States last year, finishing seventh in the Grade I Arlington Million at Arlington Park. The Lingfield races, with total purses of 1 million pounds sterling, were staged before a sellout crowd announced at 8,777 and Tom Kelly, managing director of the ARC, proclaimed the event "a great success." Friday's runners had to qualify through a series of races at ARC tracks around the U.K. during the winter months.
Hawthorne Race Course
C'mon Feet got her feet going in the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Third Chance Handicap for Illinois-bred distaffers and prevailed by a neck over the pacesetter, Missjeanlouise. The favorite, My Option, checked in third with a late, wide bid. C'mon Feet, a 4-year-old Purge filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.78 with Tim Thornton in the irons.
River Bear rallied from the back of the pack with a wide move to win Saturday's $100,000 Robert S. Molaro Handicap for state-breds by 1/2 length over Four Left Feet. Sacred Gift got show money. River Bear, a 9-year-old Unreal Zeal gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.18 with Thornton up.
Flamboyant was just up at the wire to win Saturday's $75,000 La Puente Stakes for 3-year-olds by a neck over Home Run Kitten. The favorite, Enterprising, finished third, 1 1/2 lengths farther back. Flamboyant, a French-bred colt by Peer Gynt, got 1 1/8 miles over firm turf in 1:47.45 for jockey Corey Nakatani. He was making his first U.S. start for trainer Patrick Gallagher. In France last year, Flamboyant had two wins, two seconds and two thirds from six starts, albeit at minor tracks.
Stormy Rush collared pacesetting Bold Thunder in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Lincoln Stakes and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Bon Accord finished third. Stormy Rush, a 6-year-old Stormy Atlantic gelding, finished 5 furlongs on good turf in 55.58 seconds under Gabriel Saez.
Coarsegold rallied wide into the stretch in Sunday's $75,000 Safari Queen Stakes for fillies and mares and was just up in time to win by a head over What a Party. The favorite, Madame Giry, was just another neck back in third. Coarsegold, a 4-year-old Giant's Causeway filly, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.18 seconds with Joe Bravo riding.
Uncle Todd got the first run to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Webb Snyder Charles Town Dash and the odds-on favorite, Immortal Eyes, couldn't catch him. Uncle Todd, a 5-year-old Jump Start ridgling, won by 5 lengths, finishing 4 1/2 furlongs in 51.21 seconds under Gerald Almodovar.
Down Town Allen took the lead on the backstretch in Saturday's $50,000 Original Gold Stakes for West Virginia-bred distaffers, turned back a challenge and won off by 3 1/4 lengths. Margaret High was the best of the rest. Down Town Allen, a 7-year-old Windsor Castle mare, ran 7 furlongs in 1:26.84 with Mathew McGowan up.
In the Fairway drove straight down the lane to a 4 1/2-lenths victory over Wise Mac in Saturday's $50,000 Confucius Say Stakes for state-breds. Jose Montano guided the winner over 7 furlongs in 1:26.36. In the Fairway is a 4-year-old Posse colt.
Will Rogers Downs
More Than Even was more than the equal of six rivals in Monday's $55,000 Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs Classic Distaff Sprint. After lingering off the pace early, the 4-year-old Stephen Got Even filly surged to the lead and won off by 4 lengths over Diamond Disco. Cliff Berry guided More Than Even over 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:11.62.
Z Rockstar was up just in time to nip pacesetting Chifforobe by a neck under the wire in Tuesday's $55,000 TRAO Classic Sprint. Johnny Whip was 2 1/2 lengths farther back in third. Z Rockstar, a 5-year-old Rockport Harbor gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.69 with Luis Quinonez up.
Conniption Fit led all the way to a 1-length victory over Doctoriat in Saturday's $50,000 Howard B. Noonan Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-olds. The odds-on favorite, Needmore Flattery, rallied late to finish third. Conniption Fit, a Dunkirk gelding, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.55 with Rodney Prescott riding.