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UPI Horse Racing Roundup

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer   |   Jan. 13, 2016 at 4:42 PM

The cast is starting to assemble for this year's Dubai World Cup program and, if Saturday's result is an indication, California Chrome is auditioning for a starring role.

"Chrome" wasn't the only internationally credentialed runner in the weekend spotlight, though. Mshawish, third in last year's Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night, won on the dirt in Florida, giving trainer Todd Pletcher a whole host of options for his next race and for Dubai.

At Meydan itself, the World Cup Carnival staged Act I, Scene 1 of the drama that will wrap up on March 26 under the desert stars.

Back in North America, Bob Baffert saddled the top two finishers in the weekend's only potential Kentucky Derby prep.

And in South Africa, one of the world's top mile races went to a horse even his trainer thought was running too short.

We won't short you in this report, so read on.

The Big Guns

When he lined up for Saturday's Grade II San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita, California Chrome had not raced since last year's Dubai World Cup, where he finished a game second to Prince Bishop. Nonetheless, trainer Alan Sherman pronounced his 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner fit and ready and that's just how California Chrome showed up. Away sharply, the 5-year-old tracked the long shot pacesetter, moved to the lead on the turn when asked by jockey Victor Espinoza and sprinted away to a comfortable lead. Under a hand ride, he was home first by 1 1/4 lengths over a persistent Imperative. Hoppertunity made a late run from the back of the field to finish third, another 1 length in arrears. California Chrome finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.39. He looked the part, too -- on his toes in the post parade and eagerly shooting from the gate before relaxing into the run down the backstretch. And Imperative and Hoppertunity are not insignificant rivals. "I think you're going to see a whole new horse this year. I've never seen him train the way he is now," Sherman said. "You can look at him in the paddock and he's a man among men. I'm looking for 2016 to be a great year." Espinoza now has the prospect of riding California Chrome to his 2014 Horse of the Year title, American Pharoah to an expected Horse of the Year title for 2015 and -- who knows? -- California Chrome to a repeat in 2016. Not bad for a "Dancing With the Stars" also-ran. California Chrome's 2015 campaign was a mess. After the World Cup, he was sent to England in the expectation of a start at Royal Ascot. That never developed. Nor did a planned comeback in August in the Grade I Arlington Million. Sherman then sent the horse to Kentucky to let him recover and mature. Co-owner Steve Coburn, meanwhile, sold his interest to Taylor Made Farm, which has breeding rights to the horse. For now, Sherman is ready to send California Chrome to Dubai to get at least one race under his girth there before another run at the World Cup. Then, it would be back to California with the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 5 as the final stop.

Mshawish was all out to win Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Hal's Hope at Gulfstream Park, besting the pacesetter, Valid, by a neck. Grande Shores finished 3 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Mshawish, a 6-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.61 with Javier Castellano up for trainer Todd Pletcher. Mshawish last year posted three straight wins at Gulfstream before traveling to Dubai, where he finished third behind Solow and The Grey Gatsby in the Group 1 Dubai Turf. He finished fourth in this year's Breeders' Cup Turf Mile, then switched to the main track at Aqueduct to get home fourth again in the Grade I Cigar Mile, beaten little more than 1 length by Tonalist. "I think in the Cigar Mile, when he ran the first time on the dirt, I may have moved too soon and tried to ride him like a dirt horse and he hung," Castellano said. "I paid my price and learned something good out of my mistake." Pletcher said he will consider both the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and the Grade I Donn Handicap on the main track -- both on Feb. 6. "It's kind of why we wanted to run today, to find out if in fact he is a dirt horse and if the Donn is an option. If not, we'd just fall back on the turf," Pletcher said. "Now, we have both options." The Donn is a logical prep for the Dubai World Cup. {b: The Road to the Kentucky Derby}

Collected was forced five-wide on the first turn in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Sham Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita and chased the early lead before finally taking charge entering the stretch turn. Then, he had to contend with a dramatic late run by Let's Meet in Rio before winning by 1 1/4 lengths over that one. Laoban was third. Collected, a City Zip colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.00 with Martin Garcia in the irons. He was making his third career start and picked up his second victory. In the intervening start, he finished second behind Dressed in Hermes, who was a late scratch from the Sham after spiking a fever. Collected picked up 10 points toward a potential Kentucky Derby start. Bob Baffert, who trains the top two, was impressed with both. "I was hoping for a little easier trip, hoping to be the lone speed, but that didn't work out," the trainer said of Collected's trip. "Everybody had the same instructions, but Martin did a great job. He stayed patient with him and still had something left at the end after all that, so that was pretty impressive ... Let's Meet in Rio looks like he'll go longer. He was really coming late. It's the time of year when you want to see something like that, so it's exciting," Baffert said. Let's Meet in Rio took three tries -- and a stretch out to 1 mile -- to find the winner's circle a month ago at Los Alamitos.

Turf

Heart to Heart made all the going in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Fort Lauderdale Stakes at Gulfstream Park, opened a clear lead in the stretch run and fended off latecomer Lukes Alley for a 1/2-length win. All Included was third and the favorite, Lochte, settled for fourth. Heart to Heart, a 5-year-old son of English Channel, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.71 with Julien Leparoux in the irons. He now has won three of his last four starts, also including the Grade III Oceanport at Monmouth Park and the Grade III River City at Churchill Downs. "The key to him is to stay quiet on him and get him to relax," Leparoux said. "We got a perfect trip today. I thought I would have to fight for it a little bit more but I was happy leaving there to get the lead that easy." Trainer Brian Lynch said the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on Feb. 6 is "on the radar," though Heart to Heart may need a bit more time between races.

Filly & Mare Turf

Sandiva dueled to the lead in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Marshua's River Stakes at Gulfstream Park, started to edge clear inside the eighth pole and held on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over A Little Bit Sassy. Tuttipaesi was third. Sandiva, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Footstepsinthesand, traveled 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.04 with Javier Castellano riding. It was her first win since the Grade III Suwanee River over the same turf course 11 months earlier and followed a third-place showing in the Grade III My Charmer at Gulfstream Park West in November. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Sandiva was discomfited by unfamiliar surroundings before her last race so he shipped her in a few days early for Saturday's heat. "I thought it paid off with the way she behaved," he said. "She was perfect in the paddock and she ran to her capabilities today ... She just seems to love this turf course, so we won't try to create anything new or do anything too off-the-wall, just try to take advantage of her fondness for the Gulfstream course," he added. {b: Filly & Mare Sprint}

La Verdad truly was too much for a quintet of rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Interborough Stakes at Aqueduct. The 6-year-old Yes It's True mare raced right with the early lead, pulled ahead on the turn and reported home first by 2 3/4 lengths. Dancing House was the best of the rest, 1 length to the good of Room for Me. La Verdad, with Jose Ortiz at the controls, ran 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:10.65 as the odds-on favorite. She finished second in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, then was unable to handle some talented male rivals in the Grade III Fall Highweight in her last start, finishing sixth. Trainer Linda Rice said La Verdad has a date with Medaglia d'Oro but she and the owner agreed, "She's doing so well, let's see if we can win a race or two with her before she goes.'" She said La Verdad now will point to the Grade II Barbara Fritchie on Feb. 13 at Laurel Park. "So, hopefully, she can get another win and go out a winner."

{b:Distaff } Saythreehailmary's rallied wide into the stretch and outfinished the early leaders to take Sunday's $100,000 Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct by 3/4 length over Mei Ling. The odds-on favorite, Wonder Gal, was third. Saythreehailmary's, a 5-year-old Repent mare, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the sloppy, sealed inner track in 1:44.91 with Manny Franco in the irons. "She's just been doing great," said winning trainer John Morrison. "She started turning around in October and has been getting better ever since. I kind of thought she was on top of her game today and she was." The bad weather in New York produced fog that forced the cancellation of the last two races on the Sunday card.

Turf Sprint

Fast Flying Rumor flew right to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Turf Dash at Tampa Bay Downs while the favorite, Power Alert, broke slowly. Five furlongs later, Power Alert wasn't able to overcome the disadvantage as Fast Flying Rumor got home first by 4 3/4 lengths. Power Alert salvaged second, 1 length ahead of Night Officer. The winner, a 4-year-old West Acre gelding, finished the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.06 seconds with Ronald Allen Jr. in the irons. The time was less than 0.5 second off the course record and Allen said Fast Flying Rumor could have eclipsed that mark had he been asked for his best. The 108 Beyer Speed Figure earned for the effort is believed to be the highest in the history of Tampa Bay Downs. It was his second straight win at the course and distance. "He's given us a lot of fun so far," said winning trainer Gerald Bennett, who claimed Fast Flying Rumor for $25,000 out of his maiden win at Tampa Bay Downs last Jan. 24. "I would have liked to have had an outside post and just kind of sat off it a little, but he's been so sharp training to this race that we were happy to play it however the race shaped up." {b: International}

Dubai By Richard Gross

The Al Maktoum Challenge series at Dubai's Meydan Racecourse is a great place to start if you are aiming your horse for a victory on Dubai World Cup day and Thursday's kickoff to the Dubai World Cup Carnival season saw the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 over 1,600 meters go to the favorite, Le Bernardin, closely pursued by Layl, Prayer For Relief and Faulkner, each a head behind the winner. Emerati trainer Ali Rashid Al Raihe saddled the 7-year-old son of Bernardini along with three other Thoroughbred victors on a seven-race, opening-night card.

"That was close," said the handler of the head win. "But he is a horse who likes a challenge." So, too, does the trainer, who already was looking ahead to an ambitious plan for his charge. "The mile is his maximum trip," explained Al Raihe, "so we will look at races like the Zabeel Mile Feb. 25 and the Al Bastakiya March 6, but his target is the Godolphin Mile on World Cup night. We will keep him fresh."

Jockey Tadhq O'Shea rode the winner along with two others on the evening. "He has a high cruising speed," O'Shea said of Le Bernardin. "The big thing with him is to space his races out."

Al Raihe scored two victories immediately preceding Le Bernardin's win in the evening feature with Nawwaar in the 1,200-meters Conquest on the dirt track and Ertijaal over 1,000 meters in the Dolce Vita on the green course to saddle a perfect hat trick on a Carnival-opening card sponsored by Longines. Ghaamer mastered 15 turf rivals over 1,400-meters in the evening's closing Master to give the trainer four winners on the evening. Little known outside the UAE, Al Raihe has twice won the season champion trainer's trophy in the UAE.

South African Mike de Kock is the UAE's most successful overseas trainer and began his Carnival campaign with a 2,000-meters win for Star Empire in the turf Master while Doug Watson scored one with One Man Band, breaking the track record for 1,900 meters in a swift 1:57:85 to win the dirt Conquest Classic.

De Kock was in a cheerful mood following the victory of his evening's star, Star Empire. "He hasn't won first up at the Carnival before," recalled de Kock, "so this was a very satisfying win. I'm surprised they didn't give him an attendance award tonight! We complain sometimes about training older horses, but I wouldn't mind a few more 9-year-olds like him. He was fresh as a daisy."

While Le Bernardin's victory in the 1-mile Round 1 of the Al Maktoum Challenge was impressive, the longer succeeding Rounds 2 and 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge are better measures of World Cup contenders. Only 2010 World Cup winner Gloria de Campeao previously began his victorious Dubai World Cup run with a win in this race in its first running at Meydan on the old Tapeta course. The track was returned to dirt beginning last season and the 21st edition of the Dubai World Cup on March 26 is expected to attract a larger contingent of American-based challengers as a result.

In addition to California Chrome (see above), the American contingent could include Keen Ice, upset victor over Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup Classic Champion American Pharoah in this year's Travers Stakes at Saratoga; Darley-bred Wood Memorial and Pennsylvania Derby winner Frosted; and Hoppertunity. All are managed by connections with significant international credentials.

The 2016 Dubai World Cup Carnival consists of 11 meetings, including Super Saturday March 6. It concludes with Dubai World Cup day Saturday, March 26 when eight Thoroughbred races will be run for prize money totaling $29 million including the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the single richest day in horseracing. {i: South Africa } Legal Eagle had things his own way in Saturday's Group 1 L'Ormarins Queen's Plate, chasing right behind the early pace, then opening up in the final few hundred meters to put issue to rest. At the line, he was 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Legislate with Noah from Goa up for third. Last year's winner, Futura, finished fifth. Legal Eagle ran the 1,600 meters on the Kenilworth turf in 1:39.23 with Anton Marcus in the irons. Trainer Sean Tarry said he was happy with Legal Eagle's conditioning going into the race but had questions about his chances against the competition at a distance he felt was too short. "Confident about the likes of beating Futura at 1,600 meters? No. But very confident in his preparation and ability," Tarry said. The courageous effort should send Legal Eagle among the favorites in the Group 1 J&B Met at Kenilworth on Jan. 30. It also landed the 4-year-old a spot in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 5 through the Breeders' Cup Challenge Series. Legal Eagle and Legislate were among five Tarry-trained runners in last year's Group 1 Durban July -- most of whom were compromised by some serious traffic issues during the stretch run.

Smart Call, under Weichong Marwing, captured Saturday's second feature, the Group 1 Maine Chance Farms Paddock Stakes for fillies and mares at 9 furlongs. Inara was second, two lengths back, with Bela-Bela third and the favorite, Same Jurisdiction, fourth.

Otherwise:

Sunland Park

Jonesey Who got clear in the stretch run in Sunday's $85,000 Pepsi Cola Stakes for New Mexico-bred 3-year-olds and won off by 5 lengths under Ken Tohill. Dmrestlesswarrior was second. Dyno Dorn and Back Seat Hero dead-heated for third and fourth. Jonesey Who, a Quinton's Gold gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.49. He now has three wins from five starts, all in the Land of Enchantment.

Delta Downs

Sea Vow led all the way to a comfortable upset win in Saturday's $75,000 Big Drama Stakes for 3-year-olds, getting to the line 2 lengths in front of runner-up Drakarys. Mr. N was just up for show money and the favorite, Wild Man, was sixth and last in a dull effort. Sea Vow, a Private Vow gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.04 with Alexander Castillo in the irons.

Brooke's a Bookin stalked the pace in Friday night's $75,000 By the Light Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, rallied to the lead in the lane and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths at 22-1 odds. Another Bond Girl, another long shot, finished second and Go No Go was third. The favorite, Princess Kennedy, checked in fifth as Brooke's a Bookin, a Jonesboro filly, ran 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:27.77 with Rico Flores aboard. The evening's final two races were canceled because of the adverse weather.

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