The reigning U.S. Horse of the Year, Wise Dan, also notched a win -- but should be looking over his shoulder for a challenge from South African champ Variety Club, who scored a resounding triumph Sunday in Hong Kong and is Breeders' Cup-bound.
The favorite, Untapable, won the Kentucky Oaks with ease but another champion was soundly beaten during Derby weekend under the Twin Spires.
Internationally, a huge upset rattled the ranks of the European 3-year-olds with just a month to go before the Epsom Derby. And in Japan there was a repeat winner in the Group 1 Tenno Sho.
First, the Kentucky Derby.
The Run for the Roses
California Chrome looked every bit a potential Triple Crown winner -- despite some post-race reservations on the part of his trainer -- as he outran his modest pedigree to score a dominating victory in Saturday's $2 million, Grade I Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. Starting from a sweet No. 5 post position, the Santa Anita Derby winner took station right behind the early leaders, in the clear outside traffic. When jockey Victor Espinoza gave him his cue at the top of the long Churchill Downs stretch, he quickly exploded to a 5-lengths lead and Espinoza was up in his irons, celebrating, as California Chrome coasted past the wire in a workmanlike time of 2:03.66. Commanding Curve, who was third in the Louisiana Derby, was gaining late but finished 1 3/4 lengths back of the leader. Arkansas Derby winner Danza was another 1 1/4 lengths in arrears in third. California Chrome now has five straight wins, dating back to December -- all by 5 lengths or more. The first two were against fellow California-breds in the Golden State. But he stepped up his game in taking the Grade 2 San Felipe by 7 1/4 lengths and the Grade I Santa Anita Derby by 5 1/4 lengths for 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman, who saddled his first Kentucky Derby starter. "This was a typical race for him," Espinoza said. "He ran like he always does. Art just said: 'You know him, ride him.' I had the trip I wanted. I don't mess with him too much. I just stretch his legs and little bit and then let him do his thing. Pressure will be back on for the Preakness, but that's okay." Sherman said Sunday morning California Chrome seemed fine after his Derby effort. But the trainer said he has reservations about the rigors of the Triple Crown trail. "To be honest, I'm not real comfortable with running him back in two weeks," Sherman said. "But I know that's what we’re bound to do. I don't normally run any kind of horse back in two weeks, not even lowly claimers. I'm more the kind of guy who likes to wait seven or eight weeks between races. These horses run hard and they need time to recover."
The Kentucky Oaks
Untapable was unbeatable in Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Kentucky Oaks, overcoming an outside post position and a delayed start to win by 4 1/2 lengths. My Miss Sophia led briefly turning for home and held on for second, 6 lengths clear of Unbridled Forever. Rosalind passed tiring fillies to finish fourth. Untapable started from the far outside, from gate No. 13, after a loading mishap caused the late scratch of Empress of Midway and prompted a reload. Jockey Rosie Napravnik quickly guided Untapable into a contending position behind the leading trio and held that spot until the final turn. At that point, she quickly accelerated and was clearly the best, finishing 9 furlongs in 1:48.68. Untapable finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last November, then third in the Grade I Hollywood Starlet in December. But the A.P. Indy filly blossomed this winter in New Orleans, winning the Grade III Rachel Alexandra and Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks with authority. Trainer Steve Asmussen said maturity and Napravnik were the difference. "Rosie has been a key part of it," he said, labeling the filly and rider "a perfect match … After the bad race in the Breeders' Cup, I think the filly got back on track, ran a little bit better in the Starlet, but once we moved her to New Orleans, I thought the filly grew up a lot, filled out considerably," Asmussen added. The other jockeys and trainers unanimously agreed they were beaten by a better rival. Empress of Midway reportedly was not injured in the gate incident.
Derby Day undercard
Two-time and reigning U.S. Horse of the Year Wise Dan got the job done but was all out for the win in the $500,000, Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic in the race before the Derby. Taken back between rivals the first time under the wire, Wise Dan waited in third position until the field turned for home, took the lead and then found European import Seek Again rallying along his inside. The two fought to the wire, with Wise Dan taking the victory by a head. Boisterous finished third, 1 1/4 lengths farther back. Wise Dan ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.73, winning the race for the second straight year. Velazquez said he felt he had to take Wise Dan back early in the race or risk him going too fast on the lead and trainer Charles Lo Presti said that move was a winning one. "It wasn't very pretty," Lo Presti said. "But it got him in the spot where he needed to be." Wise Dan now has won 14 of his last 16 races. Velazquez said the 7-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding "hasn’t been training as good as he was last year." But Lo Presti said he thinks his star is just running against better horses than he faced in 2013. He said he has "thought a little bit" about trying the Grade I Stephen Foster again to avenge one of Wise Dan's losses but more likely will wait until this summer at Saratoga to run Wise Dan again.
Central Banker rallied outside the early leaders turning for home in the $400,000, Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes, then found Shakin It Up on his outside as they straightened out for the stretch run. The two then dueled to the wire, with Central Banker winning by a head. Clearly Now, who did not enjoy the best of trips, was 1 3/4 lengths farther back at the end. Central Banker, a 4-year-old Speightstown colt, scampered 7 furlongs out of the chute in 1:21.15 under Corey Nakatani. It was his first win since taking a turf sprint at Saratoga last summer and only his fourth victory in 12 career starts. Chicago-based River Bear was never in the mix and finished last, eased in the stretch. "Corey said when that horse came up on him on the outside that he could literally feel (Central Banker) gritting his teeth and fighting," said winning trainer Al Stall Jr. "This horse has as big of a heart of any horse I've ever had in my career, by far. He's a racehorse, that's exactly what he is."
Midnight Lucky appeared fully recovered from a nagging injury as she roared off to win the $300,000, Grade I Humana Distaff by 4 1/2 lengths. The rivals who chased her through the early furlongs faded late, leaving Street Girl and Scherzinger to take second and third. Judy the Beauty finished fourth. Midnight Lucky, a light gray, 4-year-old Midnight Lute filly, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.23 with Rosie Napravnik up. It was her first start since a victory in the Grade I Acorn at Belmont last May. Before that, she won her first two starts, then finished fifth in a strong edition of the Kentucky Oaks. "She's a great filly. A great filly," said winning trainer Bob Baffert. "I wasn't concerned about putting her in a race like this off the layoff. She's that kind." He said he plans to keep her running less than a mile with an eye on the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint in the fall. "Going a mile or less, this filly is as good as I've ever had," he added.
Global View had a good view of most of his rivals early in the $250,000, Grade II American Turf for 3-year-olds as he ran near the back of the field. But jockey Gary Stevens got the Galileo colt going in the middle of the track heading into the stretch and he was along to nip pacesetter Storming Inti by a neck at the wire. Quotient finished third. Global View scored his third win from six career starts, finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.65. Stevens said trainer Tom Proctor told him, "'Enjoy yourself. Have a good time. I want you to concentrate just on the finish. I don't care where you're at early.' I think he's going to be a top, top turf horse. I'm talking Grade I," Stevens said. About his next race, Proctor said, "I'll just give him a bath and worry about that later."
Coffee Clique was along late to win the $300,000, Grade II Distaff Turf Mile presented by Longines by 1/2 length over Dame Marie. Effie Trinket raced evenly to finish third. Coffee Clique, a 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly, finished in 1:34.66 with Javier Castellano in the irons. It was her second straight win after a long layoff. "We'll be taking her up to Canada this summer for the grass program up there," said winning trainer Brian Lynch. "This spring she has really come to herself."
Moonshine Mullin led from the start in the $300,000, Grade II Alysheba, was headed by Golden Ticket early in the stretch, then battled back gamely along the rail under Calvin Borel to win by 1/2 length over that rival. Coin Broker was a long shot third and the prohibitive favorite, 2013 champion 3-year-old Will Take Charge, finished a dull sixth in the eight-horse field -- his first non-exacta finish since last year's Belmont Stakes. Moonshine Mullin, a 6-year-old son of Albert the Great, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.83. It was his fourth straight win while stepping up from the optional claiming ranks at Oaklawn Park and trainer Randy Morse said he has no firm plans for the horse. Borel said he rode the race as he planned -- in the front, on the rail and as slowly as he could get away with. "That other horse came up outside me and actually stuck his head in front. I was giving my horse a breather, but I picked his head up and went at 'em again. He was game and we got it done," Borel said. Gary Stevens, who rode Will Take Charge, said his mount was forced inside horses repeatedly and didn't respond. "He's had a good last couple of efforts so I really don't have any excuse for him," Stevens said.
On Fire Baby pressed the pace set by Devil's Cave in the $300,000, Grade I La Troienne Stakes for fillies and mares, took the lead in the stretch and won off by 2 3/4 lengths. Molly Morgan was along for second and Devil's Cave held third. On Fire Baby, a 5-year-old Smoke Glacken mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:43.48 with Joe Johnson in the irons. Last season, On Fire Baby won the Grade Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, then finished second in the La Troienne. This year, she reversed that pattern, finishing second in the Arkansas race before Saturday's triumph. Winning trainer Gary Hartlage said Johnson "did a super job riding her. He asked her and she went on. I've always thought she was one of the top horses in the country and hopefully she showed that today."
Marchman pressured pacesetting favorite Sum of the Parts through the first few furlongs of the $150,000, Grade III Twin Spires Turf Sprint, took over the lead and won by 1 1/2 lengths over late-running Undrafted. Positive Side was a neck farther back in third. Marchman, a 4-year-old colt by Sharp Humor, ran 5 furlongs in 56.04 for jockey Robby Albarado. The colt came into the race off a win in the Grade III Shakertown at Keeneland. Trainer Bret Calhoun said Marchman can perform on dirt but, for now, will stay sprinting on the grass. "I don't have a race in mind yet," he said. "But I'll keep the Breeders' Cup in the back of my mind."
Fiftyshadesofgold was reserved right behind the early leaders in the $175,000, Grade III Eight Belles for 3-year-old fillies, took over with a wide move entering the stretch and went on to win by 1/2 length over Milam. Cash Control was third at a big price. She's A Tiger, who was making her first start since being disqualified from the win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filles, was unprepared at the start and never reached contention, finishing seventh. Fiftyshadesofgold, a daughter of My Golden Song, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.50 with Mike Smith up and posted her fourth win from six starts. Trainer Bret Calhoun was rewarded for his decision to bypass the Kentucky Oaks for this start. "You don't have a lot of opportunities to run in the Oaks," he said. "But at the end of the day, we wanted to win a graded stakes with this filly, and we think gave us the best chance." She's A Tiger's trainer, Jeff Bonde, said his filly "got left and eliminated at the start … It's a throw-out race."
A Little Bit Sassy tracked the pace established by Istanford early in the $150,000 Edgewood for 3-year-old fillies on the turf, dueled her way to the lead and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Istanford. A Little Journey, making her first U.S. start, finished third, a neck farther back. The favorite, Candy Kitty, faded to finish next-last of nine. A Little Bit Sassy, a More Than Ready filly, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.79 with Luis Saez riding. She now has two wins and two seconds from five starts. Saez said the key was taking back and getting A Little Bit Sassy to relax. "When I got to the stretch, she responded to me very well. I had so much horse." Winning owner Ramona Bass said she fell in love with the filly at the 2012 September Keenland sale. "I had to have her. Thankfully, she's run really well," Bass said.
Since the Champions Mile was opened to foreign competition nine years ago, no invader has been able to break the locals' stranglehold on the race. But in Sunday's renewal of the Group 1 event, it was South Africa's Variety Club, fresh off a major victory in Dubai, who swept to the lead turning for home and easily kicked clear. At the line, the 5-year-old Mike De Kock trainee was 4 1/4 lengths in front of his nearest challenger and local favorite, Able Friend. Last year's winner, Dan Excel, was third, just a nose in front of Glorious Days, winner of the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile last December. The other invaders were Gordon Lord Byron, who finished seventh for his Irish connections; Mshawish, eighth for France; and Meiner Lacrima, who got home 10th under Japanese colors. Variety Club, breaking from the disadvantageous No. 12 gate, quickly established position right behind the early leader. When jockey Anton Marcus asked him to go turning for home, he had plenty left and quickly ended any suspense. "He's an absolute professional and I'm merely the pilot … It's probably the crowning moment of my career," Marcus said. Derek Brugman, racing manager for the owners, said Variety Club will ship to De Kock's yard at Newmarket in England for a break. “Ultimately, we will probably be thinking about the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp and then probably the Breeders' Cup Mile," Brugman said. "I'm not sure if he will have a race in England. We'll see how he pulls up. But we want to give him a break. The Prix de la Foret is a qualifying race for the Breeders' Cup, so it makes sense to go there." At the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, Variety Club likely would meet two-time American Horse of the Year Wise Dan in a race that would be of worldwide note. Variety Club came into Sunday's race off a victory in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on World Cup night at Meydan. He now has four wins and a second from five starts since clearing the onerous customs regulations required to leave South Africa.
Fenomeno successfully defended his title in Sunday's Group 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) at Kyoto Racecourse. The 5-year-old son of Stay Gold raced midfield early, steered to the outside as the field rounded the final turn and outfinished Win Variation and Hokko Brave, who got home second and third. The favorite, Kizuna, finished fourth with a rally from the rear. The only foreign runner, Red Cadeaux, finished 14th, beating only four horses, and jockey Gerald Mosse said the 8-year-old world traveler couldn't handle the hard surface. "It's difficult now for him to bring out his best when the ground is too firm," the rider said. Fenomeno, with Masayoshi Ebina up for trainer Hirofumi Toda, finished 3,200 meters, or about 2 miles, in 3:15.1 before a crowd of more than 81,000 fans. After winning last year's Tenno Sho (Spring), Fenomeno finished fourth in his next race, then suffered tendon problems that sidelined him for the fall season. He finished fifth in a Group 2 warmup in March.
For a time, it appeared Saturday's Group 1 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket would be a battle between the favorites -- the John Gosden-trained Kingman and Aidan O'Brien's main hope, Australia. The field had split, with Kingman leading the far-side group and Australia winning the race among those on the stands' side. But then the underbet Night of Thunder began an erratic journey to victory. Originally running with Kingman, he veered sharply to the left when jockey Kieren Fallon cracked him right-handed with the whip. In short order, he was over with the other group but, despite taking the diagonal path, he got home first, 1/2 length to the good of Kingman. Australia was a head farther back in third. Night of Thunder, trained by Richard Hannon, is a Dubawi colt out of the Galileo mare Forest Storm. He had finished second to Kingman, 4 1/2 lengths in arrears, in their last start at Newbury. That was at 7 furlongs and Saturday's added furlong seemed to suit. "I have to say, I thought he would run very well," Hannon said. "We were disappointed after Newbury and it is lovely to see him come back and turn the form around on Kingman."
Thunder almost rumbled again on Sunday at Newmarket in the Group 1 1,000 Guineas. But it was French-based Miss France finally holding off Lightning Thunder by a neck to give trainer Andre Fabre his first win in the race. Ihtamal was third. Jockey Maxime Guyon kept Miss France close to the pace before surging to the lead and looked like a good thing until Lightning Thunder rolled up along the stands side and made it a close issue. Fabre said the Prix de Diane at Chantilly and the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot are more likely targets than the Epsom Oaks for Miss France, a Dansili filly.
Five Iron jumped out to a huge lead in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Fort Marcy Stakes and made the advantage stand up, winning by 1 length over Summer Front at odds of almost 20-1. Tetradrachm finished third, 2 lengths farther back. Five Iron, a 4-year-old Sharp Humor colt, ran 9 furlongs on the good inner turf course in 1:48.30. Jockey Mike Luzzi said trainer Brian Lynch "basically told me he's a quirky, really strong horse. If you try to rate him, or take hold of him, he'll fight you and he'll run off. It probably looked like he ran off, but I had him."
Waterway Run came from a stalking trip to take Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Beaugay Stakes for fillies and mares by a neck over Orion Moon. Byrama finished 1 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Waterway Run, a 4-year-old daughter of Arch, ran 1 1/16 miles on the turf in 1:42.75 with Jose Lezcano handling the reins. "When she got in the clear she showed the kick that she has," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "We were very pleased with the performance and the ride. The distance was key for her. A mile or a mile and a sixteenth is her game."
Sunday's $100,000 Drosselmeyer Stakes came up tough and Ground Transport's gritty victory is duly noted for later in the Classic Division. Ground Transport, a 4-year-old son of Big Brown, led from the start, set a reasonable pace and then held off long shot Ever Rider to win by a neck. The favorite, Micromanage, got away last, endured a wide trip and settled for third, 1 1/4 lengths farther back. Ground Transport ran 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:02.78 with John Velazquez up for trainer Michael Stidham. He came to the race off a stakes win at Laurel Park and before that was fourth in the Grade III Mineshaft Handicap in New Orleans. Micromanage won the Grade III Skip Away at Gulfstream Park in his last start after finishing seventh in the Mineshaft.
Favorite Tale stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Gold Fever Stakes for 3-year-olds, took a narrow lead in the stretch and edged clear to win by 1 length over Pure Sensation. Havana and The Admiral ran third and fourth as an entry representing the Coolmore interests -- Havana trained by Todd Pletcher and The Admiral by Bob Baffert. Three and three-quarters lengths separated those two. There was no show betting but bridge-jumper money on the entry in the place pool resulted in inflated payoffs there. Favorite Tale is by Tale of the Cat out of the Grindstone mare Tricky Elaine. He ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.25 with Jose Flores up.
Thursday's $100,000 Elusive Quality Stakes came off the turf and all but four entrants were scratched. Integrity proved best of that lot, leading all the way and winning by 3 lengths as jockey Javier Castellano had trouble keeping him on a straight line in the final sixteenth. Tenango, Cease and Emkanaat completed the order of finish. Integrity, a 4-year-old Hard Spun colt, ran 7 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:22.90.
Marriedtothemusic won a three-way battle to the wire in Friday's $100,000 Affirmed Success Stakes for New York-breds. Night Maneuver led much of the way but came up a head short at the wire and just another head in front of Weekend Hideaway. Marriedtothemusic, a 4-year-old Disco Rico colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.54 with Cornelio Velasquez up.
Nashoba's Gold rallied four-wide into the stretch in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Honeymoon Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, surged by the leader inside the sixteenth pole and went on to win by 1 length over Sweet Bliss, who also closed late. Diversy Harbor lost second by a nose. Nashoba's Gold, a Smart Strike filly, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.61 with Joe Talamo up.
Fury Kapcori dictated the pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade II Precisionist Stakes, worked clear when asked by jockey Rafael Bejarano and won off by 5 3/4 lengths. Handsome Mike chased in second all the way to the wire and Majestic City took show money. Fury Kapcori, a 4-year-old Tiznow colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.11.
Forever Juanito set a pressured pace in Saturday's $75,000 Desert Code Stakes for 3-year-olds down the hillside turf course, kept going and won by 1/2 length from Schoolofhardknocks. Home School was third. Forever Juanito, a Badge of Silver gelding, ran about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:12.45 with Agapito Delgadillo in the irons.
Silent Treat started a step slowly in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Ballade Stakes for fillies and mares, hustled to the lead and ran right on to a 2-lengths victory. Tootham Triple E's proved best of the rest and I'm a Kittyhawk flew home third. Silent Treat, a 4-year-old filly by Silent Name, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.79 with Michelle Rainford riding.
C. Zee led all the way to a mild upset win in Saturday's $75,000 Sir Bear Stakes for 3-year-olds, scoring by 3/4 length over East Hall. The favorite, Little Daddy, finished third. C. Zee, a Florida-bred colt by Elusive Bluff, ran 1 mile on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:36.99 with Edgard Zayas riding.
Cool Cowboy went quickly to the lead in Friday's $75,000 Golden Circle Stakes for 3-year-olds and steadily edged clear, winning by 5 1/2 lengths. Russellin was best of the rest with Lotsa Mischef third. Cool Cowboy, a Kodiak Kowboy colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.84 with Eddie Perez aboard.
Officer Alex came from far back to win Saturday's $75,000 Lyman Handicap for Pennsylvania-breds by 1 1/2 lenths. Zipped Code finished second and Rustler Hustler finished third. Officer Alex, a 4-year-old Officer colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.67 with Frankie Pennington up.
Where's Rosie B was right out front of the pack throughout Saturday's $75,000 Foxy J.G. Stakes for state-bred distaffers and held on to win by a neck over Villett. Zippity got show money. Where's Rosie B, a 5-year-old Real Quiet mare, finished 7 furlongs in 1:23.44 under Hector Caballaro.
Heitai cleared to an early lead in Saturday's $60,000 Need For Speed Stakes, opened a daylight advantage and lasted, winning by a diminishing 1 length over Solar Charge. Unitas was third. Heitai, the prohibitive favorite, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.74 seconds with Diego Saenz in the irons.
Snappy Girl charged to the lead in Friday's $60,000 Tellike Stakes for fillies and mares, turned back an early challenge and won by 1/2 length over late-charging Little Ms Veta. Seeking Ms Shelley finished third. Snappy Girl, a 4-year-old daughter of Student Council, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.81 seconds with Saenz up.
Derby Day Storm should have been a good hunch bet on the day before the Kentucky Derby. Instead, 7-year-old mare was let go at odds of 12-1 in the $50,000 Dr. T.F. Classen Memorial for Ohio-bred distaffers and promptly rallied from well off the pace to win by 3 lengths. Deniro's Saint was second, followed by the odds-on favorite, Startin Something. With Alberto Pusac in the irons, Derby Day Storm blew through 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13.40.
Rookie Gladden stuck his nose in front of Candy Bites at the wire to win Saturday's $50,000 Babst/Palacios Memorial Handicap for Ohio-breds. Pyrite Green finished third. Rookie Gladden, a 4-year-old Spring At Last colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.89 with Edgar Paucar aboard.
Aspen Getaway shadowed the pace in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Jim Coleman Province Stakes for 3-year-olds, got by and won off by 1 1/2 lengths. Tempest was second and Richter Red was up for third. Aspen Getaway, a Gilded Time colt, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.15 with Joseph Steiner riding.
Ole's Miss rallied from last of six to win Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Ross McLeod Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a neck from Arabella's Muse. Today is the Day finished third. Ole's Miss, a daughter of Officer, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.16 under Amadeo Perez.
Will Rogers Downs
Fesstune was odds-on for a reason in the $50,000 colts and geldings division of the Oklahoma Stallion Stakes on Saturday. The Omega Code gelding was right on the lead and went on to win by 14 3/4 lengths. Shaketheincredible finished best of the rest and Charlie's Deere got show money. Fesstune ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.38 with Justin Shepherd steering.
In the $50,000 fillies division, Heykittykittykitty went to the post with similar strong backing. But she was all out to hold on after taking the lead in the stretch. At the wire, she survived by 1 length over Imadancingslew. Lingering Smoke finished third. Heykittykittykitty, a Tactical Cat filly, finished in 1:39.40 with Jose Medina up.
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