With no clear-cut favorite for the May 4 Kentucky Derby, contenders keep coming from all directions. This weekend, they came from close-by Turfway Park in northern Kentucky and from far-away Nad Al Sheba racecourse in Dubai. Whispers were heard in Arkansas and Maryland.
Saturday's $500,000 Spiral Stakes blew up a Perfect Drift -- a Dynaformer colt who had run second behind Request for Parole in his last two starts at Turfway. With new rider Eddie Delahoussaye up, Perfect Drift sat well off the pace and didn't take control until deep stretch. Closing on the outside, Perfect Drift beat California invader Azillion by a neck. Request for Parole was third, only a nose farther back.
The 1 1/8 mile went in 1:48.83 over a fast track.
Perfect Drift has never been worse than second in six lifetime starts and trainer Murray W. Johnson said he is "not really sure" where the colt will make his next start. All three of the top finishers, however, remain potential contenders for the KentuckyDerby.
Johnson said Delahoussaye reported Perfect Drift "did everything fine and did it easily." He said the colt began "loafing on the lead so he's got a lot to learn. But we can go on."
Pat Day was second-guessing his ride on Request for Parole. "Maybe I should have taken him back, but I didn't," he said. When Azillion challenged at the top of the stretch, Day said, he put Request for Parole to the task. "He weakened a little bit late."
Delahoussaye took over the mount on Perfect Drift from Tony D'Amico. He is the third top Derby prospect D'Amico rode early in the year, only to lose to better-known riders. The others are Repent and Harlan's Holiday.
In other Triple Crown preps:
--In Dubai, Essence of Dubai moved from dead last on the backstretch to win Saturday's UAE Derby. The son of Pulpit, owned by Godolphin Racing and trained by Saeed bin Suroor, now has won both his Dubai starts. He finished his 2-year-old campaign with a last-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after racing well in California. "Essence of Dubai had been training very well coming into the race," said Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford, "and he has obviously emerged as a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby right now. We will see how he does over the next month. The good thing is that we know that a mile and a quarter is right for him." Godolphin has another Derby prospect in Ibn Al Haitham, who was third Saturday, behind the winner and Total Impact.
--While Day came up short in Turfway's big race, he won the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes for 3-year-olds, urging Mr. Mellon to the lead near the top of the stretch and scoring by 2 1/4 lengths over Wild Horses. Derby Drive was third. Mr. Mellon, a son of Red Ransom, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.90 in his first effort since winning a maiden race at Gulfstream Park on March 2. "I was impressed by this horse. His last race at Gulfstream was very professional and it carried over to this afternoon," Day said. "Onward and upward." Trainer W. Elliott Walden said taking a chance in the Rushaway and winning gives him the option to put the colt on the road to the Kentucky Derby. "We may want to take the the next step and run him in one of the Derby preps in the middle of April," Walden said, mentioning the Blue Grass or the Lexington at Keeneland or the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
--Windward Passage won Saturday's $100,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, working past pace-setting Ocean Sound on the turn for home and edging clear by 1 length at the wire. The Captain Bodgit colt ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.06 and trainer Steve Asmussen said he "will stay here for the Arkansas Derby. It was only the second victory in six starts for Windward Passage but Asmussen said he was victimized by a slow pace and traffic while finishing third in the Southwest in his last start.
--Outstander was outstanding in Sunday's $50,000 Horatius Stakes for 3-year-olds at Laurel Park in Maryland. Moving quickly to the lead, jockey Mark Johnson got Outlander home 3 lengths in front of President Butler. Jo Jo Dancer was third. "He got real comfortable, got in a nice position and kicked hard at the end," said Johnson. Trainer Rodney Jenkins said the "logical next target" is the Federico Tesio at Pimlico.
Next weekend: No major preps. Two weeks down the road, the Santa Anita Derby and the Illinois Derby.
World Series Racing Championship
The series has two additional races this year and one less sponsor after the defection of Dubai-based Emirates Airlines. Dubai retained its prominent position, however, as Godolphin Racing took first and third in Saturday night's Dubai World Cup -- the first leg of the series -- with Street Cry and Sakhee.
Jerry Bailey, winning his fourth World Cup, kept Street Cry in mid-pack until the turn for home, then found running room on the rail and won by a surprisingly easy 4 1/4 lengths. Sei Mi, an Argentine-bred owned by Saudi Prince Sultan Mohammed Saud al Kabeer, closed sharply on the outside to finish second and Sakhee was third.
"Street Cry is an exceptional horse," said Crisford. "He showed it as a 2-year-old in the Breeders' Cup (finishing a close third behind Macho Uno and Point Given). The Breeders' Cup Classic (Oct. 26 at Arlington Park near Chicago) is his ultimate goal and his race program will be worked out around it."
Crisford said it is unlikely Street Cry will race in Europe this year. Instead, he said, the colt probably will be headquartered at Belmont Park and Saratoga.
Bailey won the inaugural World Cup aboard Cigar, then also scored with Singspiel and Captain Steve. He picked up the ride on Street Cry as Godolphin's regular jockey, Frankie Dettori, stuck with Sakhee. "I have been very lucky in this race as I have had some really good horses to ride," Bailey said. Crisford said he put Bailey on Street Cry because he expects the American rider to stick with him during the remainder of season.
Among the biggest disappointments in the World Cup was Japanese-based superstar Agnes Digital, who never challenged and finished sixth.
The World Series this year has 14 races in 11 countries on four continents with the addition of the Audemars Piquet Queen Elizabeth II Cup on April 21 at Sha Tin in Hong Kong and the Singapore Airlines International Cup at Kranji in Singapore on May 11.
James E. Bassett III, Chairman of World Racing Championships Ltd., said negotiations continue with potential sponsors for the series. The group's next meeting is July 26 at Ascot. In the interim, each event will be promoted by local venues in coordination with WRC.
In other weekend racing:
Nad Al Sheba
--Caller One rang up a second straight victory in the Dubai Golden Shaheen at 1200 meters on the straight course. With Gary Stevens up, Caller One got home a head in front of Echo Eddie. The filly Xtra Heat faded in the late going but held on for third, giving U.S. horses a sweep. Caller One, a 5-year-old Phone Trick gelding, stopped the timer in 1:09.91.
--Terre A Terre held off a late run by Noverre to win Saturday's $2 million Dubai Duty Free at 9 furlongs on the grass. The 5-year-old French-bred mare was ¾ length in front at the wire, benefiting from some traffic. "I had to check Noverre twice because of another horse and that cost me the race," said jockey Frankie Dettori. "I would have won otherwise." The time was 1:48.75.
--Nayef, an American-bred son of Gulch, was a 2-length winner in the Dubai Sheema Classic at 2400 meters. Helene Vitality, a New Zealand product, was second, with German-bred Boreal third. Nayef was clocked in 2:29.64.
Sarafan got outside running room when he needed it in the stretch drive of Sunday's $700,000 Explosive Bid Handicap and used the opportunity to beat Beat Hollow in a photo finish. Even The Score was third in the last big stakes event of the season in New Orleans. Sarafan, with Corey Nakatani in for the ride, tied the stakes record for about 9 furlongs on the lawn in 1:48 4/5. "I just put him in the spot to where I think I could win it," said Nakatani. "I had Beat Hollow right in front of me and I was real patient. When I brought out around the eighth pole, he kicked on and was pretty impressive." Sarafan, a 5-year-old Lear Fan gelding, now has six wins from 21 lifetime starts. Beat Hollow, the mutuel favorite, "got a little tired on me," said rider Alex Solis.
Saturday, You'llbeinmyheart defended her unbeaten record with a victory against males in the $100,000 Gentilly Handicap. Jockey Larry Melancon kept his mount behind the early pace, then took command to win by 1 ¾ lengths over Silent Goodbye. Ruff Flight was third. You'llbeinmyheart ran the about 1 mile on the grass in 1:39 4/5. "She was professional," said Melancon. "Once I called on her, she picked it up." Trainer Gary Palmisano said the filly, now 4-for-4, "can go short, she can go long, turf, dirt. It leaves us with a lot of good options."
Pat Day got Colonial Glitter rolling on the turn for home in Saturday's $150,000 Bourbonette Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and the daughter of Glitterman did the rest, winning off by 10 1/2 lengths. Southey was second and Madame X Ski was third. Colonial Gal, coming off a second in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream, ran the 1 mile in 1:37.06. Despite the margin, Day said Colonial Glitter "was pretty much all out coming down to the wire. But she was very game in victory." Trainer Paul McGee said he hasn't decided yet about the Kentucky Oaks.
Storm Commander caught pace-setting World Champion inside the sixteenth pole in Saturday's $60,000 Hansel Stakes for 3-year-olds and held the advantage to win by a neck. World Trade, the mutuel favorite, was third, 2 1/4 lengths farther back. Storm Commander, a son of Storm Cat, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:10.95 after tracking a quick early pace. He is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who always seems to find a way to impact Turfway's big days.
Senorita Ziggy also stalked the early pace in the $60,000 Queen for fillies and mares, then got the advantae turning for home and held on to beat Enchanted Woods by a neck. City Fair was third after experiencing traffic trouble. Senorita Ziggy, a 4-year-old, Indiana-bred daughter of Senor Speedy, got the 6 furlongs in 1:10.78.
With five of the nine starters already Grade I winners, Saturday's $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap provided an early look at prospects for the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Arlington Park. At the end of the 9 furlongs, it was Golden Apples in front by 1 ¼ lengths over Starine, with Astra third and Tout Charmont fourth. Golden Apples, an Irish-bred 4-year-old by Pivotal, raced last in the early going and had to catch Starine, a 5-year-old, French-bred daughter of Mendocino, in the lane. Tout Charmant also led midway through the race. "It's been a long wait," said winning trainer Ben Cecil, who has had Golden Apples on the shelf since she finished third in the Matriarch last November. "It's hard when you've got your best horse sitting in the barn. But it was worth it at the end."
Also Saturday, Roman Dancer waltzed home a 3 ½-lengths winner in the $75,000 San Pedro Stakes for 3-year-olds. The Polish Numbers colt led all the way and ran 1 ½ furlongs in 1:16.36. Werblin was second and Saturday Hero third. "He's really wonderfully bred for the grass," said winning trainer Christopher Paasch, "but I haven't given any thought to his next race."
Sunday, Hugh Hefner won a long duel with Flying Rudolph, then was all out to hold off Spinelessjellyfish to win the $125,000 Crystal Water Handicap by a nose. Native Desert was third. Hugh Hefner, a 5-year-old son of Bertrando, ran 1 mile on the grass in 1:34.39 with the advantage of 6 pounds from Spinelessjellyfish. "He really relaxed really well. That was the key," said winning rider Mike Smith. "Even when he was getting pressed, he was relaxed." Jenine Sahadi, trainer of Spinelessjellyfish, said, "I think the 6 pounds got me."
Also Sunday, Bella Bellucci got a "tightener" en route to the Kentucky Oaks, winning the 6 ½-furlong Santa Paula Stakes by ½ length over Shameful. Spring Meadow was third. Bella Belluci, a French Deputy filly, was clocked in 1:16.36. "We haven't put any speed into her at all because her goal is the Kentucky Oaks, which is 9 furlongs," said winning trainer Neil Drysdale. He said Bella Bellucci will go next in the 1-mile Comely at Aqueduct on April 14.
Saturday's $200,000 Pan American Handicap at 1 ½ mile on the green course points the way to the Breeders' Cup Turf and it was Deeliteful Irving first at the line. The 4-year-old colt, by Afternoon Deelites out of Irving's Girl, sat in mid-pack as Backatitagain blazed through the first mile in 1:35.00. As Backatitagain faded from contention, jockey Christopher DeCarlo gave Deeliteful Irving the go-ahead and he easily outfinished the favorite, Cetewayo, to win by 2 lengths. Mr. Livingston was third. Deeliteful Irving got home in 2:24.14. "It was an oddly run race with that horse setting those early fractions," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "He's a versatile horse. Now he's won from a mile to a mile and a half. I'm not sure where he will run next."
Distaffers tried the same conditions on Sunday, with Julie Jalouse posting a mild upset over Sweetest Thing. Refugee was third. Julie Jalouse, with Jose Santos up, took an outside path into the stretch and was just up at the wire to win by a neck. She then survived a foul claim resulting from a first-turn traffic jam. The 4-year-old Kris S. filly got home in 2:25.89. "I didn't get up until the final jumps but I thought I had it won when I crossed the finish line," said Santos.
Also Saturday, Macho Uno had to work for it but won his first start since finishing fourth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Classic. Although the 2000 juvenile champ won by only ½ length, he ran the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:41, the fastest time for that distance during the current meeting. Trainer Joe Orseno said he was pleased with the effort and will point Macho Uno for the Westchester Handicap on April 27 and the Met Mile on May 27, both in New York.
On Friday, Bold World destroyed three other 3-year-old fillies in the $75,000 Charon Stakes, winning by 6 ¼ lengths over Miss Dixie Chick. The Fortunate Prospect filly ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.78 and trainer Ron Taylor said she will surface next in the $250,000 Stonerside Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland on April 26.
McMahon got to the lead in Sunday's $100,000 Sportsman's Park Breeders' Cup Handicap and held on in the long stretch run to beat the late-closing Chicago Six by a neck. McMahon, a 4-year-old son of Salt Lake, race the 1 mile in 1:38.07 on a fast track. Jockey Randall Meier said McMahon got the advantage on the first turn. "He just went down there and cut the corner so comfortably. He left me sitting right where I wanted to be," Meier said. Alfredo Juarez Jr. said Chicago Six "ran good. The speed was holding up all day. That's what beat me." Kombat Kid was third.
The question about odds-on favorite Forest Heiress in Saturday's $100,000 Cicada Stakes for 3-year-old fillies was: Can she go 7 furlongs? The answer -- on Saturday, at least -- was: No. Leading into the stretch through quick fractions and under pressure from Short Note, Forest Heiress weakened, and Proper Gamble came along to pick up the pieces, winning by 2 ¾ lengths. Short Note held second and Forest Heiress third. Proper Gamble, a daughter of Prospectors Gamble, finished in 1:23.32. "The pace was so fast today, I wanted to take hold of my filly and come with one run," said winning rider Javier Castellano. "We had a good trip."
Racing returned to the Toronto suburbs Saturday, with Wake At Noon in a familiar role. The 5-year-old son of Cure The Blues scored a ¾-length victory in the $100,000 Briartic Stakes, running 5 furlongs in 56.48 seconds. This is the third straight year that Wake at Noon has started his racing season with a stakes victory. Last year it was the Jacques Cartier Stakes and in 1999, the Achievement Stakes.
Golden Gate Fields
Madame Pietra kicked loose in the stretch run of Saturday's $55,000 Soviet Problem Handicap, winning by 2 ½ lengths over Fancee Bargain. The favorite, Bullish Miss, checked in third, another ½ length back. Madame Pietra, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Roy, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.21. "I let her settle a little and she pulled me to them at the three-eighths pole," said winning jockey Joey Castro.
Sunday, Mellow Fellow ran off with the $55,000 Danville Handicap, winning by 6 ½ lengths with a powerful stretch kick. Tony's Royalty was second and Today a Star was third. The 6 furlongs went in 1:08.66. Mellow Fellow is a 7-year-old son of Belek. "It's some kind of fun when he kicks it in like that," said winning rider Russell Baze.
Tampa Bay Downs
Classic Case dueled down the stretch with Red Masque in Saturday's $50,000 Budweiser Challenge for 3-year-olds on the turf before prevailing by a neck at the line. Awol Soldier was 2 lengths back in third. Classic Case, a Canadian-bred son of Gold Case, got the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.16. Winning jockey T.D. Houghton said when Red Masque put a head in front in the stretch, "it kind of intimidated my horse and at the final jump, he just surged to the wire."