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UPI Horse Racing Roundup

By ROBERT KIECKHEFER, UPI Racing Writer   |   Feb. 9, 2016 at 10:10 AM

If weekend racing is any indication, next month's Dubai World Cup is going to be a doozy.

An American-trained horse won in Dubai. Two runners from the Donn Handicap in Florida are set to advance to the big race, including one who already has run in Dubai at the highest level. Bob Baffert is set to return to the desert after Hoppertunity finally found his way back to the winner's circle in California.

And 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome already is in Dubai, preparing to improve on his second-place finish in the 2015 World Cup.

Saturday's racing also produced an American contender for the Al Quoz Sprint on the World Cup undercard. The Pizza Man, however, failed to deliver in Saturday's Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, finishing out of the money in a potential prep for the big turf race on the March 26 program at Meydan.

Meanwhile, Mor Spirit won the year's first major West Coast prep for the Kentucky Derby. But Songbird, last year's 2-year-old filly champ, easily was the best 3-year-old in action this weekend.

Another promising Hong Kong horse triumphed in a harbinger race and England's All-Weather Championships entered their final six weeks before the Good Friday finals.

And, just four days before Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday or "Pancake Day," Pancake won the feature race at Fair Grounds in New Orleans -- at odds of 7-1. People!

The World Cup program

Dubai - Meydan (By Richard Gross)

Frosted's international debut performance was everything trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and Norwegian-born jockey William Buick could hope for as the American star smoked a quality field to gain a commanding 5-lengths, hand-ride win in Thursday's Maktoum Challenge Round 2 at Meydan. The multiple graded stakes-winning, fan-favorite grey son of super-sire Tapit raced exclusively in the United States until this fifth 2016 Dubai World Cup Carnival meeting. His performance made it clear California Chrome and any others who deign to challenge him in the March 26 Dubai World Cup will have their work cut out for them.

Running for the first time in hometown Godolphin colors, last year's Wood Memorial and Pennsylvania Derby winner and Belmont Stakes runner-up to American Pharoah was a fast cookie indeed. He shot out of the gate and overtook early leader Munaaser, then separated from the pack with a stunning turn of foot under gentle urging by Buick, cruising to victory in a race that has been the precursor to the previous two winners of the Dubai World Cup, African Story and last year's Prince Bishop, as well as to Moon Ballad in 2003. McLaughlin saddled Invasor for his 2007 World Cup win.

"We had planned to run on Super Saturday in Round 3 of the Maktoum Challenge," said the delighted McLaughlin, "but he won so well tonight we may just wait for the big night instead." No doubt the "Chromies" and the "Frosties" -- the popular horses' fan legions, not breakfast cereals -- can hardly wait to see their favorites matchup.

But it was not the only big win for the Godolphin team as McLaughlin and Buick again caught fire in the aptly named Firebreak Stakes when Confrontation bested One Man Band by two lengths over a dirt mile. It seemed a disappointing season-opening test by Mike de Kock's Cup hopeful, UAE Derby winner and American Triple Crown Challenger Mubtaahij, who finished fifth behind Le Bernardin with Watershed in third. De Kock, however, had a calming message. "Please relax!" implored the conditioner. "Mubtaahij is being prepared for the Dubai World Cup. He is around 80 to 85 percent fit and we are very happy with the way he ran, so what happens between now and March 26 is irrelevant."

The two big performances nearly overshadowed a basically perfect Cape Verdi performance by Very Special, a 3-lengths winner over Excilly in the turf-mile feature for fillies and mares. The closer saw Godolphin lead trainer Saeed bin Suroor take his second win on the evening with Think Ahead finishing 1/2 length ahead of Elleval in the 1 1/4-miles turf event with Zamaam a short head back. The evening's accounting saw the boys in Royal Blue compile four wins in the evening's six Thoroughbred events, reminding racegoers Meydan is still Godolphin's house despite the expected international invasion on World Cup day.

While invader news will begin to dominate remaining Carnival meetings, the rest of this Thursday evening belonged to local runners and trainers. Ertijaal was 2 lengths fitter over a mere 1,000 meters of turf than Fityaan with Roi De Vitesse a 3/4-length back in third. Battersea battled to a shorthead win over Paene Magnus after a long 1 3/4-mile turf stretchout with Famous Kid closing only a length back in third. Haajeb opened the card with a 3 3/4-length Purebred Arabian win over Versac Py across 2200 meters of dirt with Af Lafeh another 2 1/4 lengths back. {i: Meanwhile, back in the States:}

Keen Ice was the favorite in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park and a keen chance for the World Cup in seven weeks' time. But it was Mshawish, who mixed it up with the world's best on the Dubai turf earlier in his career, coming from off the pace to win by 2 lengths from Valid and probably earn a spot in the $10 million World Cup on March 26. Mexikoma was third. Keen Ice, making his first start since finishing fourth in the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in November, finished sixth, beaten a little more than 4 lengths. Mshawish, a 6-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.89 with John Velazquez up for trainer Todd Pletcher. Last year, Mshawish visited Meydan to finish third in the Group 1 Dubai Turf, beaten only by Solow and The Grey Gatsby. Pletcher said he will talk with the owners, Al Shaqab Racing, but looks forward to contesting the World Cup on the dirt this year. "I actually thought he ran the best race of his career really, and he's run some good ones before that," Pletcher said. "It was good to see him finish up like that. He got a great a trip. Johnny gave him a great ride and he delivered a big performance ... We'll go to Dubai and make a decision about his next race, but hopefully it will be the World Cup." Keen Ice, meanwhile, didn't do anything to dash his connections' hopes for the desert. "He passed the wire galloping out strong and passed the other horses," said jockey Javier Castellano. "I couldn't pull him up. A mile and a quarter will be good for him."

Hoppertunity and Imperative rallied side-by-side inside the final sixteenth in Saturday's $500,000, Grade II San Antonio with Hoppertunity winning by a head bob. Donworth, making his first start since last June, had the lead at mid-stretch and held on gamely for third. Hoppertunity, a 5-year-old son of Any Given Saturday, finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.47 with Flavien Pratt riding. Trainer Bob Baffert: "It was a good prep for him for Dubai. I just told Flavien, 'His first jump, he needs a little help leaving there.' After that, it's just a matter of if he gets up or not. That's about it ... This was a good day for us." Hoppertunity had not visited the winner's circle since the Grade II San Pasqual almost 13 months ago. Imperative now has been second in four of his last six starts and has not had his picture taken since taking the Grade II Charles Town Classic on April 19, 2014.

At Gulfstream Park, a relatively minor stakes race provided little more than a paid workout for Lady Shipman, who is being eyed by her new trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, for a slot in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night. Lady Shipman, last seen finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, appeared on paper to be the class of Saturday's $75,000 Ladies Turf Sprint at Gulfstream Park and proved it on the track. After dueling with Jewel of a Cat, Lady Shipman shook clear in the lane and won off by 2 3/4 length. Katie's Kiss outfinished Jewel of a Cat for place money. Lady Shipman, a 4-year-old daughter of Midshipman, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 58.14 seconds with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. "She made it look easy," McLaughlin said. "She broke well and Irad always had plenty of filly under him, so it was a very nice comeback race. We've had her just over a month. We're happy." {b: Kentucky Derby}

Mor Spirit staked out his spot among the elite Kentucky Derby contenders with a workmanlike victory in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. The Eskendereya ridgling, last seen winning the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity with a late run, duplicated that effort, scoring by 1 1/2 lengths over Uncle Lino. I Will Score led the way early and continued gamely to finish third. Mor Spirit, with Gary Stevens up for trainer Bob Baffert, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.21. "No, I never had any concerns," Stevens said. "I actually got there quicker than I wanted to. I was loaded going into the stretch. He's pretty special and I'm looking forward to facing more competition." Baffert said Mor Spirit is "a big, strong horse so these races will help him. He holds his weight really well and he's a good-feeling horse. We just have to keep him healthy. I feel like I have a really top 3-year-old, so now we just have to keep him healthy." He said he hasn't decided on Mor Spirit's next race. The colt's resume includes a good runner-up finish in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs last November. Mor Spirit earned 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby start and now trails only Nyquist, who has 30 points.

Governor Malibu tracked pacesetter Sudden Surprise in Saturday's $100,000 Gander Stakes for New York-breds, took over from that one at the sixteenth pole and was home first by 2 1/2 lengths. Sudden Surprise finished third, 3 3/4 lengths farther in arrears, and Taoiseach finished third. Governor Malibu, a Malibu Moon colt out of the Langfuhr mare Akilina, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast inner track in 1:44.78 with Manny Franco up. It was his second win in five starts and he has never finished worse than third. Christophe Clement trains the horse in Florida, shipped him up for the race and added blinkers. "The blinkers helped a lot. He put me up there," Franco said. {b: Kentucky Oaks}

Songbird, undefeated last year en route to a Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies victory and an Eclipse Award, looked even better in her first start as a 3-year-old, cruising to victory in Saturday's $300,000, Grade II Las Virgenes at Santa Anita. Without any overt urging from jockey Mike Smith, the Medaglia d'Oro filly opened up 10 lengths on the field while loping down the backstretch. She was very much under wraps while winning by 6 1/2 lengths in 1:36.84. Land Over Sea and She's a Warrior filed under the line second and third while Songbird was pulling up. "She just floats over the ground ... I just sit up there and smile all the way around," Smith said. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was nervous, just like any conditioner with a good 2-year-old making her first start at 3. "At least now we got a race in her and we can try to make some more plans," Hollendorfer said. "We want to run here at Santa Anita. What we do between now and the Santa Anita Oaks, I don't know." Owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farms brushed on the idea that Songbird is the best 3-year-old of either gender. "It would be nice to win the Kentucky Derby," he said. "But I'd like to do it with a nice colt ... I don't like the (Kentucky Derby) point system. We'd have to run in the Santa Anita Derby with her. I think it'd be great for your ego but the smart move is to stay on the path we're on to the Oaks." Songbird has 40 points toward a start in the Kentucky Oaks -- far more than any other filly. But, to be assured of a place in the Derby starting gate, she likely would need to win one of the big point-earning qualifiers against colts, such as the Santa Anita Derby.

Marquee Miss outfinished the favorite, Nickname, to win Saturday's $100,000 Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. Rallying from a pace-stalking position, Marquee Miss got by the early speed and just nailed Nickname in the final strides, scoring by 1/2 length. Dorodansa finished third. Marquee Miss, a Cowboy Cal filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.18 with Channing Hill up. The win made it two straight at the Arkansas oval, following a 2 1/2-lengths upset win in the Dixie Belle on Jan. 15. Nickname, who encountered some traffic in the lane in the Martha Washington, finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies after winning the Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park. "I thought she ran fantastic," said winning trainer Ingrid Mason. "I couldn't ask anything more for her. I thought Channing did an awesome job riding her and put her in an awesome spot that she needed to be in. She obviously has a lot more run in her than we thought. She ran really well and we are happy with how well she has developed this year."

Kiss N Scat pressed the pace in Saturday's $50,000 California Oaks on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather course, moved to the lead at mid-stretch and won off by 1 3/4 lengths. Right There rallied to be third. Kiss N Scat, a Scat Daddy filly, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.4 with Ricardo Gonzalez up. Hollendorfer is a part-owner and trains Kiss N Scat. {i: Detouring back to international waters:} {b: Hong Kong}

Secret Weapon looked like he'd need a ray gun to clear a path in the straight in Saturday's HK Group 3 Centenary Vase. After tracking the pace on the inside, jockey Douglas Whyte had to thread a path through rivals before easing through a small opening on the rail to score the victory. The 1/2-length margin over pacesetter Romantic Touch could have been more with clear sailing as Secret Weapon was firing on all cylinders at the end of the race, won last year by Designs On Rome and the year before the Akeed Mofeed -- both on their way to international Group 1 glory. Describing the stretch run, Whyte said, "Derek Leung (aboard Flame Hero) didn't know if he wanted to go left or right and I'd originally planned for a run between him and Bubble Chic. But he drifted out so I've eased and gone in and he's taken me right across to the rail." Trainer Dennis Yip saw a hint of better things to come for Secret Weapon, a Choisir gelding. "He is a lightly-raced 6-year-old and I hope he can improve further," Yip said, "If he keeps progressing well, hopefully he can run in Group 2 or even Group 1 races in future. Distance-wise, today he won over 1,800 meters and I will also try him over 2000 meters."

Dubai redux

Haatheq kicked away with 300 meters left in Friday's Jebel Ali Stakes Prep and went on to score his first win since taking the same event in November of 2013. At the end of that season, he finished second in March 2014 in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on the World Cup program, beaten only by Soft Falling Rain. In Friday's race, under Paul Hanagan, the Sheik Hamdan homebred 9-year-old tracked the leader and appeared headed for a stretch battle before his rival surrendered, leaving the old guy to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Bluff. "He's something of a legend in the yard," commented Hanagan, who also piloted Soft Falling Rain to victory over Haatheq in the 2013 Godolphin Mile.

England

Grendisar and Rivellino earned return trips to the All-Weather Championships Finals on Good Friday with victories in Fast-Track Qualifiers on Saturday at Lingfield Park. Grendisar captured the coral.co.uk Winter Derby at 10 furlongs on the Polytrack and secured a spot in the Coral Easter Classic at the same distance in the finals. He was third in that event a year ago. "He does just enough in his races," trainer Marco Botti said of Grendisar. "And, once he hits the front, he is not a horse that quickens away. He got the job done and we will head for the Winter Derby again." A side note: Lamar finished third and, according to trainer James Tate, "will go off to stud this week and get covered by Frankel as soon as she is in season." Rivellino won the 6-furlongs Unibet Cleves Stakes for the second time, earning a return engagement in the Unibet All-Weather Sprint Championships Conditions Stakes over the same distance on Good Friday. He was seventh in that event last year and third the year before. Of Rivellino, jockey Dougie Costello said, "He is back to his best and to get back-to-back wins in this race is brilliant."

On Sunday at Chelmsford City, Kadrizzi won the 5-furlongs totequadpot Conditions Stakes on Polytrack, earning a spot in the Unibet 3-year-old Sprint All-Weather Championships on Finals Day. Field of Vision was was second and the odds-on favorite, Gracious John, disappointed with a third-place showing.

Other handicap

Tommy Macho had only one rival beaten turning for home in Saturday's $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Stakes at Gulfstream. But, under under the guidance of Luis Saez, the 4-year-old Macho Uno colt rallied four-wide, passed them all and drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Stanford ran evenly to finish second with Grande Shores 6 lengths farther back in third. The favorite, Ami's Flatter, finished fourth. Tommy Macho ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:33.50, just 0.40 second off the track record. "I think it puts us in a position where we have a lot of options, the Gulfstream Handicap being one of them," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher, referring to the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 5 at 1 mile. "We think he's proven he's effective at a mile and a mile and an eighth. We like what he's done since he's been down here this winter."

Turf

Luke's Alley caught pacesetting Shining Copper in the final strides to win Saturday's $350,000, Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap by a neck as the even-money favorite, The Pizza Man, failed to show his normal late kick and finished fifth. Luke's Alley, a 6-year-old son of Flower Alley, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.20 under Paco Lopez. He now has been first or second in 12 of his 14 career starts, most of them on the all-weather track at Woodbine, where he is based. In his previous start, he switched to the Gulfstream turf and finished second in the Grade II Fort Lauderdale, beaten just 1/2 length. Shining Copper, who has been a rabbit for stablemate Big Blue Kitten in many of his recent starts, appeared ready to steal a victory after setting a relatively restrained pace.

"I wasn't sure if I was going to get there," Lopez said. "I didn't have a perfect trip. I had to go forward, then behind, but when I got him outside, nobody was coming. It was the perfect move for my horse. I got a little lucky and I had the best horse today." Javier Castellano, who rode The Pizza Man, said the Grade I Arlington Million winner had some strikes against him in the Donn. "It could be the combination of the slow pace and a track that carries speed. It took a little while for him to go forward and I think that's why he got beat today."

Tammy the Torpedo shot straight out of the tube in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Suwannee River for fillies and mares, skimmed the rail and had enough left late to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Rainha Da Bateria was second, followed by Habibi. Tammy the Torpedo, a 4-year-old More Than Ready filly trained by Chad Brown, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:48.28 for jockey Joel Rosario, backing up her victory in the Tropical Park Oaks in December. "It's a big deal for this filly," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "The last couple years she's been right behind Lady Eli, who has similar ownership. Now she's got her own graded win this time."

Flamboyant moved toward the leaders on the stretch turn in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II San Marcos on the Santa Anita turf, got through between rivals and outfinsihed Gaga A, winning by 3/4 length over that one. Quick Casablanca was another 3/4 length back in third. Flamboyant, a 5-year-old, French-bred gelding by Peer Gynt, got 1 1/4 miles on firm going in 2:01. 58 with Brice Blanc up. The same horse and rider combo took down the Grade II San Gabriel in their last start, at odds of 46-1. Saturday, the odds were less than 3-1. Brice said he had no worries about a regression. "He's doing really well in the mornings. Usually, I can tell when a horse has a tendency to bounce but he's actually doing as well, I don't know about better, but as well as he was doing before the San Gabriel. I know he loves this turf course," the happy rider said.

Power Alert battled for the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint, got clear in the stretch and held on to win by a neck over Amelia's Wild Ride and another head over an onrushing Night Officer. Do the Roar was fourth after being steadied midway around the 5 furlongs. Power Alert, a 6-year-old, Australia-bred gelding by Alert, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.74 under Julien Leparoux.

Sprint

Kobe's Back was off a step behind his four rivals in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Palos Verdes at Santa Anita. But he made up the ground four-wide in the stretch and eked out a 1/2-length victory over Salutos Amigos. Cautious Giant finished third. Kobe's Back, a 5-year-old son of Flatter, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.70 with Gary Stevens in the irons. The win was his first since the Grade III Commonwealth at Keeneland last April. "That's the way he's going to run," said winning trainer Peter Eurton. "They still ran pretty fast, eight and change. That's tough to catch. He can hold his own with anybody except maybe a Runhappy." In his last start, Kobe's Back finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, won by Runhappy.

Otherwise:

Fair Grounds

The day before Ash Wednesday is known in New Orleans as Mardi Gras. More historically and elsewhere, it's Shrove Tuesday and, in some places, Pancake Day. So Friday, four days before this year's Pancake Day, surely the 3-year-old bay filly named Pancake would be a logical bet in the Joseph E. Spanky Broussard Stakes at Fair Grounds. But not so. The Corinthian filly went right to the lead and stayed there while parading about 7 1/2 furlongs of good turf in 1:33.09. She held on to win by a head over Lope, with Princess Erindelle third and a $1 trifecta ticket returning $813.90. That buys a lotta beads.

Aqueduct

Storied Lady advanced into contention at the eighth pole in Sunday's $100,000 Biogio's Rose Stakes for New York-bred distaffers and fought to the wire before prevailing by a head over Saythreehailmary's. It was another 5 lengths back to Perfect Freud in third. Storied Lady, a 5-year-old daughter of Read the Footnotes, got 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:45.64 with Irad Ortiz Jr. back from Florida to handle the reins.

Louisiana Premier Night at Delta Downs

State-breds were on display in a night of stakes racing on the final weekend before Lent. The track was fast.

Stormdriver stalked the pace in the featured $200,000 Championship, then drove by the leaders and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over One Man's King. The favorite, The Pickett Factor, led for a brief time, then faded to finish third. Stormdriver, a 6-year-old son of Discreet Cat, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.67 under Diego Saez.

In the other races: Diamond Cutter led all the way to a 2 1/2-lengths victory over Lady Grantham in the $100,000 Matron at 5 furlongs; Smitty's Cougar beat the favorite, Jet Black Magic, by 3 lengths in the $125,000 Starlet for 3-year-old fillies at 7 furlongs; Heitai was a convincing winner as the odds-on favorite in the $100,000 Sprint; Forest Lake rallied late to post a close win in the $150,000 Distaff at 1 mile on the dirt; and Icy Gentleman led from gate to wire in upsetting the $125,000 Prince for 3-year-olds.

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