Horse racing blossomed, springlike, around the world during the weekend with excitement from South Africa to France to Hong Kong.
It was age before beauty in a dramatic stretch battle between a young, Arc-winning filly and a wily old veteran in a French Group 1. Designs on Rome now has designs on the world after a Group 1 victory in Hong Kong.
A Japanese-based mare triumphed in an Australian Group 1. There was a Triple Crown winner -- in South Africa.
And the Kentucky Derby field continued to evolve as the days tick down to Saturday's Derby 140.
There hardly could have been a more dramatic ending to Sunday's Group 1 Prix Ganay at Longchamp in Paris as Cirrus Des Aigles, the globetrotting, 8-year-old gelding, held off previously undefeated 4-year-old filly Treve to win by, officially, a short neck. The rest of the field might as well have been in a different race. Cirrus Des Aigles was conceding 3 pounds to Treve. But Treve had not raced since winning the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in a smashing romp last October. Cirrus Des Aigles was making his third start of the season. In the end, fitness may have told the story and the pair likely will try again in the Prince of Wales's Stakes during Royal Ascot. "I have always had confidence in him," trainer Corine Barande-Barbe said of the winner, who finished second to another superstar distaffer, Japan's Gentildonna, in the Grade I Dubai Sheema Classic in his previous start. Treve's trainer, Criquette Head-Maarek, said, "That's racing. If she comes out of the race well, we'll continue as planned and on faster ground, she will be better. She needed the race." Cirrus Des Aigles covered the 1 mile, 2 1/2 furlongs on turf rated "very soft" in 2:14.13 with Christophe Soumillon up. It was his fourth Group 1 win and 18th overall.
Hong Kong's two best horses battled it out in the final 200 meters of Sunday's Group 1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin, with Designs on Rome getting the better by a neck of stablemate and defending champion Military Attack. Designs On Rome roamed from the back of the field to the fore with a strong move during the first half of the stretch run, was put to the test by Military Attack with 200 meters left and proved up to the task. As is often the case at the Sha Tin course, two talented foreigners were left to fight over the scraps. In this case it was Australia's Vercingetorix, runner-up in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free a month ago, who finished 2 lengths farther back in third, and Japanese star Epiphaneia, another 2 lengths behind in fourth. "He loves a dogfight, this horse," said winning rider Tommy Berry. "I'll be surprised the day he gets beat because he never gives up and the day he does get beat it'll be because one was too good for him." Designs on Rome, trained by John Moore, ran 2,000 meters in 2:01.06. He became only the third horse to win the HK Group 1 BMW Hong Kong Derby and the QE II Cup in the same season, joining Vengeance of Rain and Ambitious Dragon. "He is outstanding," Moore said of Designs On Rome. I've got my hands on a very good one. But I told all the public quite a while ago that I thought he was international Group 1 class." Moore said Designs On Rome will run back in the 2,400-meters, HK Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup to wind up his local season, hoping to cement Hong Kong's "Horse of the Year" honors. Military Attack is headed for Singapore to defend his title in the Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup.
In the HK Group 2 Sprint Cup, Charles The Great got home first, 1 length ahead of Lucky Nine, with Bullish Friend a neck farther back in third. Charles The Great, with Douglas Whyte up, ran 6 furlongs on the good to firm turf in 1:09.09. The top two are expected to resurface in Singapore for the Group 1 KrisFlyer International Sprint at Kranji on May 18 -- a race Lucky Nine won last season. Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Sterling City, a stablemate of Charles The Great under the tutelage of John Moore, also is expected to try the Singapore 1,200 meters. "First things first," Moore said. "It was great to see Charles The Great pick up a Hong Kong feature. He's been trying for a while and Gate 9 was a worry. But he got the job done. He got back and he really closed off well. He showed a terrific turn of foot off a slow pace."
Japanese mare Hana's Goal rallied down the stretch to score an emphatic win in Saturday's Group 1 All-Aged Stakes at Randwick, winning by 2 lengths from Weary. Tiger Tees was 1/2 length farther back in third. Hana's Goal, a 5-year-old mare, ran 7 furlongs over good to soft ground in 1:24.74 under Nash Rawiller. She last won at Kyoto some 15 months ago.
Louis The King won Saturday's Grade I South African Derby at Turffontein, becoming the first South African Triple Crown winner since Horse Chestnut turned the hat trick 15 seasons ago. With jockey Robbie Fradd returning from Australia to take the mount, Louis The King went to the front with 2 furlongs to run and scored by 1 length over As You Like. The victory followed triumph in the South Africa Guineas and the South Africa Classic. Louis The King is by Black Minnaloushe.
Ash Cloud, another by Black Minnaloushe, won Saturday's South African Oaks by a lengthening 2 3/4 lengths over Mohave Princess. The favorite, Zephira, struggled home seventh.
Back in North America:
Those wacky 3-year-olds
If trainer Bob Baffert had any lingering little itch to run Bayern back in the Kentucky Derby on one week's rest, the Churchill Downs stewards saved him from himself. Bayern got home first in Saturday night's $150,000, Grade III Derby Trial under the floodlit Twin Spires, beating Embellishing Bob by a nose and Myositis Dan by another nostril after a long stretch battle. But the officials upheld an objection by Embellishing Bob's rider, Brian Hernandez Jr. and demoted Bayern and jockey Rosie Napravnik to second for drifting out in deep stretch, floating his rival along with him. "She was getting out the whole way. She bumped us," Hernandez said. Replied Napravnik: "It wasn't any more me than him." Baffert, after watching the replay: "They made the right call." The victory would have moved Bayern into the 19th spot on the qualifying list for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby. Asked whether he now might start in the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, Baffert said, "We'll see. We'll play it by ear." Winning trainer Steve Margolis said Embellishing Bob's pedigree might dictate against the Triple Crown races. "We've got to look at his family and take a little more conservative of a route," Margolis said. "His family is a lot of 7-furlong horses, maybe milers." Embellishing Bob is a Northern Afleet colt out of the Defrere mare Kirsche. He took three tries to break his maiden at Fair Grounds before shipping north. The 1-mile Trial, his first race longer than 6 furlongs, went in 1:36.73 over a fast strip as the self-styled "World's Most Legendary Racetrack" opened its spring season with a "Downs After Dark" session.
Ring Weekend, who had been No. 14 on the list of Derby qualifiers, was ruled out Sunday with an injury. That moved Commanding Curve into the No. 20 position.
Unitarian rallied from the very back of the big field in Friday's $250,000, Grade II Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland, came eight-wide to find running room and went on to post the 18-1 upset. War Dancer led briefly in the stretch but finished 1 1/4 lengths back of the winner. The favorite, Temeraine, was third. As noted here Thursday, the rewards for successful handicapping were generous as the $2 trifecta returned $2,379.80 and the $2 superfecta, with Suntracer in fourth, paid $82,793.80. Unitarian, a 4-year-old Pulpit colt out of the Dynaformer mare Minimalist, ran 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:32.60 under Javier Castellano. He was coming off a seventh-place finish in the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap in February. "We just felt the race fit, timing-wise," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher of the surprise win. "He really improved this winter at Gulfstream … I think he fits these kind of races and, with a little more improvement, maybe he can step up a notch."
Quick Casablanca was quickest late in Friday's $100,000, Grade III Last Tycoon Stakes at Santa Anita. After lagging well off the pace, the 6-year-old Chilean-bred rallied between horses in the final yards to win by a head over pacesetting Fire With Fire. The favorite, also came with a late rush but settled for third, another neck in arrears. Quick Casablanca, trained by Ron McAnally and ridden by Joe Talamo, ran 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:48.62.
Filly & Mare Turf
Inimitable Romanee worked her way around a traffic jam at the top of the stretch in Thursday's $150,000, Grade III Bewitch Stakes at Keeneland and was up just in time to nip Aigue Marine by a head. Caroline Thomas was another neck back in third and the favorite, Romantica, was a close fourth. Inimitable Romanee, a 6-year-old Maria's Mon mare, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:32.29 with Alan Garcia in the irons. Garcia said starting from the No. 12 spot was "a little difficult. I had to use my filly a little bit in the first part of the race. After that, I wanted to save all the ground I could."
Grand Contender, close to the lead all the way, edged off to win Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Texas Mile at Lone Star Park by 1/2 length over Taptowne. The favorite, Bourbon Courage, rallied late to take third, another 3/4 length in arrears. Grand Contender, a 6-year-old Strong Contender gelding from the powerful Maggi Moss string, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.68 with Richard Eramia in the irons. Tom Amoss trains the winner, who worked his way up from the claiming ranks and scored his first graded stakes victory. Eramia said when he saw a quick pace, he took back and waited for Calvin Borel to make his move on Taptowne. "When he started letting go of his horse, I tried to go together, cause, you know, this is the horse I gotta beat," he said.
In Saturday's $100,000, Grade III San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate Fields, Pepper Crown, at odds of 46-1, got through on the rail in deep stretch and caught pacesetting favorite Summer Hit, winning by 3/4 length over that one. Hudson Landing was along late to take third. Pepper Crown, a 4-year-old colt by Peppered Cat, finished in 1:36.90 over the all-weather course with Abel Cedillo in the irons. It was his fifth win from 10 starts but his first try in a stakes event. His breeder, owner and trainer, Alex Paszkeicz, said he thought Pepper Crown had a chance Saturday because "the turf was soft and he was the lightest horse in there." Winning rider Abel Cedillo added, "This horse likes to be close. There was a lot of speed in the race with the two favorites so I just wanted to ease off of them. Coming into the stretch there was nowhere to go but then the rail opened up a little bit and we came on through. I got lucky. He never hesitated and went right through."
Vyjack won an optional claimer Sunday at Aqueduct and trainer Rudy Rodriguez said the victory keeps him on track for the Grade I Met Mile on June 7. "We'll try to keep him happy until then," he said. Vyjack won the Grade II Jerome and the Grade III Gotham last year at Aqueduct before getting home third in the Wood Memorial and 18th in the Kentucky Derby. The 4-year-old Into Mischief colt had not raced since finishing sixth in the Grade Haskell at Monmouth Park last July 28.
On the Santa Anita turf, Parranda came from off the pace to win Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Wilshire Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1 1/2 lengths over Moone's My Name. Premier Steps stepped home third. Parranda, an English Channel filly out of the Rahy mare Dynamic Feature, ran 1 mile on the firm going in 1:33.48. Rafael Bejarano had the mount for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Parranda opened her season with two straight stakes wins at Gulfstream Park but then finished eighth in the Honey Fox Stakes. This was her first California start. "She's really blossomed since she got here," said Hollendorfer. "Some horses don't like the Florida weather and her coat has really brightened here. She's won a lot of races, so we knew she was a good mare."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Purely Hot moved to the lead turning for home in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Whimsical Stakes for fillies and mares at Woodbine, then quickly kicked away to a 3 1/2-lengths victory. Spring in the Air was best of the rest, 1 3/4 lengths better than Mekong Delta. The favorite, Goldstryke Glory, led into the final furlong but faded to finish fourth. Purely Hot, a 6-year-old Pure Prize mare, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.8. It was the first graded stakes win for the long-time claimer. "She was easy to ride," said winning rider Chantal Sutherland Kruse, who subbed for Eurico Da Silva, who was injured in a paddock mishap before the preceding race. "We figured the track was playing a little stalking today and it all worked out. When she wanted to run, it was great."
In other racing:
Saturday's program included five races for California-breds over the fast main track and the firm turf.
Awesome Return returned a nice, but not awesome, $10.20 to win after taking the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds. Rallying from mid-pack, the Decarchy colt came four-wide into the stretch to take the lead and held on to score by 3/4 length over Patriots Rule. Alert Bay finished third and the favorite, Tamarando, was fourth. Awesome Return, with Joe Talamo in the irons, ran 9 furlongs on the grass in 1:48.88
Rovenna tackled pacesetting Wonderful Lie early in the stretch run in the $250,000 Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and edged that one by a neck. It was another 5 1/4 lengths back to Swiss Lake Yodeler in third. Rovenna, a daughter of Vronsky, got 1 1/16 miles on the main track in 1:43.86 with Victor Espinoza in the irons.
Storm Fighter led from the start in the $125,000 Tiznow Stakes at 1 mile on the dirt and odds-on favorite Rousing Sermon couldn't rouse enough energy to catch him. At the wire, Storm Fighter was 3 1/4 lengths in front with China Prince taking third. Storm Fighter, a 4-year-old Stormin Fever colt, ran 1 mile on the main track in 1:35.06 under Edwin Maldonado.
Top Kisser kissed goodbye to the rest of the field in the stretch run of the $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. Marks Mine was second, Warren's Veneda finished third and the favorite, Our Pure Creation, got home fifth. Top Kisser, a 5-year-old Old Topper mare, ran 6 furlongs on the dirt in 1:08.89 with Corey Nakatani at the controls.
Dancingtothestars rallied from last in a tightly bunched field of four to win the $100,000 Fran's Valentine Stakes for fillies and mares by 3 1/2 lengths. Unusual Hottie, Halo Dolly and the favorite, Unusual Way, compldsaeted the order of finish. Dancingtothestars, a 6-year-old Good Journey mare, ran 1 mile on the lawn in 1:35.09 with Mario Gutierrez riding.
Sunday's card at the Big A included a pair of New York Stallion Stakes races, each worth $100,000.
In the Park Avenue Division for 3-year-old fillies, odds-on favorite Henry's Gal led from the start and left no doubt at the end, winning by 4 lengths despite drifting out late. Champagne Ruby came from last to finish second, 3/4 length in front of Storied Lady. Henry's Gal, a Disco Rico filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.70 with Cornelio Velasquez aboard.
The Times Square Division, for 3-year-old colts and gelding, went to another odds-on favorite, Loki's Vengeance, who rallied from just behind the pace to score by 1 1/4 lengths over Empire Dreams. Double Gold got show money. Loki's Vengeance, a Frost Giant colt, finished the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.80 for jockey Manuel Franco.
Hawthorne Race Course
Four $100,000 races restricted to Illinois-breds closed out Hawthorne's spring stakes schedule on Saturday.
I Got It All got first run to the lead in the Land of Lincoln Stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings and got home first by 2 3/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Easy Solution. Solar Flair was well back in third. I Got It All, a Tiz Wonderful gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.36 with Emanuel Cosme in the irons.
Diva's Diamond surged to the lead at mid-stretch in the Peach Of It Handicap for fillies and mares and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Sydneyrella. The favorite, Our Domaine, got home third. Diva's Diamond, a 5-year-old Crafty Shaw mare, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.61 with Rafael Hernandez up.
Pistols Drawn dominated in the stretch in the Pretty Jenny Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, clearing out to a 6 1/4-lengths score. Brazyn Appeal was best of the rest with Gabio third. Pistols Drawn, a First Defence filly, got 6 furlongs in 1:11.59 with Hernandez riding.
Big Looie led all the way to a 2 1/2-lengths win over the favorite, Luv Bandit, in the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap. Dad Are We Here was there third. Big Looie, a 7-year-old Military gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.64 for jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr.
Celtic Katie found running room at the rail early in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Geisha Stakes for Maryland-bred fillies and mares, went through and won by 5 1/2 lengths over early leader Brenda's Way. Addison Run ran third. Celtic Katie, a 5-year-old Posse mare, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.67 with Javier Santiago up.
Let Her Dance dueled for the lead early in Saturday's $75,000 Goldfinch Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then took over late to post a 19-1 upset win. Midnight Eclipse ran well late to take second, 3 1/2 lengths in arrears of the winner but 1 length ahead of the favorite, Dream Spinner. Let Her Dance, an Eddington filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.66 with Shane Laviolette in the irons.
Benwill rallied late to post an upset win in Saturday's $60,000 John Henry Stakes, besting the favorite, Bauers Got Hours, by 2 1/2 lengths. Bauers Got Hours then was disqualified to sixth for interference, promoting Cavalero and Lucky Rave to place and show money, respectively. Benwill, a 5-year-old son of Leestown out the Dynaformer mare Dynaspice, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.56 for jockey Diego Saez. The race is named for the two-time winner of the Arlington Million.
Hot Tempo came from near the rear to win Friday night's $60,000 Matron Stakes for fillies and mares by a neck over pacesetting All Woman. Little Ms Protocol finished 1 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Hot Tempo, a 4-year-old Heatseeker filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.73 with Gerard Melancon in the irons.
Leadem In Ken took charge in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Bosselman 'Pump & Pantry'/Gus Fonner Stakes, winning off by 9 lengths over Midnite Poppa. Unsaddled Glory was 3 lengths farther back in third and the favorite, Joy Boy, finished fourth. Leadem In Ken, a 4-year-old Sky Mesa colt owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45 4/5 under Azael De Leon.
Itsmyluckyday stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Best of the Rest Stakes, then quickly put the issue to rest with a stretch move that got him home first by 3 lengths. Sr. Quisqueyano led early and finished second. Joshua's Compromise settled for show money. Itsmyluckyday, a 4-year-old Lawyer Ron colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.38 with Paco Lopez up. This year's Kentucky Derby contenders long since have headed north but Saturday's race was an echo of last year's Triple Crown wars. Itsmyluckyday was second to eventual Kentucky Derby winner Orb in the 2013 Florida Derby before finishing 15th in the Run for the Roses, then came back to finish second in the Preakness. Sr. Quisqueyano finished second in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day in 2013 but then finished seventh in the Fountain of Youth and detoured off the Triple Crown trail.
J P Rocker stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Gene Fleming Breeders' Derby for Arizona-bred 3-year-olds, got the lead in the lane and survived by a nose over G Faikir. Lawly's Goal finished third. J P Rocker, a Rocky Bar gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.57 with Juan Rivera up.
Title Contender tracked the pace in Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) George Royal Stakes, went to the lead when asked and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Twistgrips. Senor Rojo finished third. Title Contender, a 4-year-old Pulpit gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.25 with Rico Walcott up.
Hollywood Miss was a hit with the bettors after Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) Brighouse Belles Stakes for fillies and mares. The odds-on favorite outfinished Madeira Park to win by a head with Bamboo Dream third. Hollywood Miss, a 4-year-old daughter of Second in Command, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.32 with Aaron Gryder in the irons.
News and Notes
Two champion horses, Ashado and Curlin, will join trainer Gary Jones and jockey Alex Solis for induction this summer into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame, the Hall announced Friday. Solis, still active, had 4,986 victories and earnings of nearly $235 million at the time of the announcement. His victories include three in the Breeders' Cup World Championships and the 1986 Preakness Stakes. Jones, who trained from 1975 to 1996, sent out 1,465 winners and compiled $52.6 million in purse money. His horses included Turkoman, Best Pal and Kostroma. Ashado was champion 3-year-old filly in 2004 and champion older female of 2005 and earned $3.9 million while winning 12 of 21 career starts including the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders' Cup Distaff. Curlin won 11 of 16 starts and dethroned Cigar as the top purse earner in North American racing history with $10,501,800 banked. His victories included the Dubai World Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic. He was Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008. The selections made by a panel of 185 racing journalists, industry officials and historians who chose from nine candidates picked by the Hall of Fame's elite nominating committee. The induction ceremony will be Aug. 8 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Horse Racing Radio Network has reached agreement with Yahoo! Sports Radio to carry the HRRN 2014 Triple Crown broadcasts on more than 70 affiliate stations around the United States. The deal "will significantly enhance our distribution of the broadcasts and allow us to expose these premier events to an even greater audience across the country," said Mike Penna, president of the Eclipse Award-winning HRRN.
The Breeders' Cup Marathon is no more. The organization announced this past week the race will be dropped after six years running because it had failed to attract sufficiently impressive fields. The 1 1/2-mile test on the dirt suffered from the lack of American-bred stayers while European owners and trainers easily opted for the richer Breeders' Cup Turf over a surface more familiar to their horses.