From Dubai to Hong Kong to the United States, weekend events pointed the way toward climactic showdowns looming in springtime.
Dubai's International Carnival of Racing got under way, leading toward the sport's richest single day, the Dubai World Cup and its supporting events March 29. Across the United States, 3-year-olds battled for consideration for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. And in Hong Kong, some of the world's top milers were warily eyeing an ultimate showdown.
At Sha Tin in Hong Kong, Good Ba Ba, winner of Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile in December, returned with at least as good an effort to win Sunday's HK$8 million Citi Stewards' Cup, first leg of the Citi Triple Crown. Beating Floral Pegasus by 1 1/4 lengths, Good Ba Ba cemented his status as one of the world's top milers and may be headed for a showdown later this year with the highly regarded Sacred Kingdom.
"There is no horse in Hong Kong with the same kind of acceleration as Good Ba Ba -- except for Sacred Kingdom," said Good Ba Ba's trainer, Andreas Schutz. "We'll see who's best if they meet each other."
Both Good Ba Ba and race favorite Viva Pataca sat behind the pace until the stretch run in Sunday's race. When Good Ba Ba accelerated, he quickly caught Floral Pegasus. "I've never seen a miler who can relax off the pace and kick home in 22 seconds like he does," Schutz said. "He's something special. I'd say that run was even better than winning the international mile because he didn't idle in front like he can do."
Also on Sunday's card, Helene Mascot, making his local debut, raced close to the pace and then wore down longshot Horace's Choice to win the HK$8 million Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Classic Mile by a neck. Fearness was third while favorite Never Look Back faded to the back after leading early.
Helene Mascot, trained by Tony Cruz, is a likely candidate for the March 16 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby. He raced in England last year as Salford Mill.
The Dubai International Racing Carnival kicked off this week, starting the run-up to the Super Thursday finals on March 6. That day then leads to the Dubai World Cup meeting, set this year for March 29 at Nad Al Sheba.
More than US$31 million in purse money is at stake in the DIRC, with 263 horses accepted for the competition, from 94 trainers, representing 19 countries. Of that total, 36 percent are rated internationally at 105 or higher, indicating Group stakes ability.
Frank Gabriel Jr., CEO of the Dubai Racing Club, said the broad range of class horses ensures this year's Carnival will "build on the success of last year's event, which was hailed as a truly groundbreaking spectacle."
One of last year's Carnival winners, Asiatic Boy, went on to win the UAE Derby.
Kentucky Derby preps:
Honey Honey Honey turned in a honey of an effort in Saturday's $75,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, leading from the break and winning off by 5 1/2 lengths. Gentleman James was second and Surrealdeal finished third. The favorite, Run Sully Run, didn't run enough and finished fifth. Honey Honey Honey, a Florida-bred colt by Awesome of Course, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.75 under Jose Lopez. Stanley Gold trains the colt. "He's improving every time," Lopez said. And owner Fred Brei added, "Nobody seems to believe in this horse. Do you think they'll start believing?" He said the colt probably will stay for the Sam F. Davis Stakes.
Gayego chased down pace-setting favorite Sea of Pleasure in the late going to win Sunday's $75,000 San Pedro Stakes at Santa Anita by 2 3/4 lengths. Cardinal Zin was third under the wire. Gayego, a Kentucky-bred colt by Gilded Time, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:13.07 with Mike Smith up for trainer Paulo Lobo.
Sunday at Turf Paradise in Arizona, Ez Dreamer rolled down the stretch to a 9 3/4-lengths victory in the $50,000 Rattlesnake Stakes for 3-year-olds. The Arizona-bred In Excess colt, with Glenn Corbett up, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.6. Stormy Highland was second at a big price and Campeone finished third. The odds-on favorite, White Spar, led but weakened to finish fourth.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Pure and Simple, at odds of 23-1, led a parade of longshots across the wire in Saturday's $50,000 Sun Devil Stakes at Turf Paradise in Arizona. After taking the lead on the backstretch, the Florida-bred Trippi filly surged to a huge lead at the top of the stretch and ran home 4 lengths ahead of Bitterbutsweet (15-1). La Misma (50-1) completed the $3,627.70 return for a $1 trifecta ticket. Pure and Simple ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.82. Glenn Corbett had the mount for trainer Molly Pearson.
Valentine Fever got a jump on her holiday with a dominating, 8-lengths victory in Saturday's $50,000 Cincinnati Trophy Stakes at Turfway Park in Kentucky. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Stormin Fever, with Thomas Tompell in the irons, stalked the leaders while saving ground, came to challenge on the inside and took over completely by mid-stretch. Mrs Petoski was best of the rest with Love Buzz third. Valentine Fever, trained by Greg Foley, finished the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:19.6 on the all-weather track. Foley said he will keep the filly at Turfway Park, eyeing the Bourbonette Oaks on Lane's End Stakes day, March 22.
Awesome Chic broke on top in Saturday's $65,000 Gasparilla Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, took back and then came again late in the stretch run to win by a 1/2 length over interim leader Formal Arrangement. The favorite, Unfolding Wish, finished third after enduring a tough trip. With Irwin Rosendo aboard, the Florida-bred daughter of Awesome Again ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.98. "She's the same breeding as Ginger Punch," said owner Jose Acero. "In my opinion, this filly is going all the way."
Askmetodance set the pace in Saturday's $125,000 La Senora Handicap for state-breds at Sunland Park in New Mexico, winning easily by 2 1/4 lengths over One Bad Ghost. The odds-on favorite, Etoile de Dome, broke on top but weakened to finish third. Askmetodance, a daughter of Ghostly Moves, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.99, three ticks off the track record.
In other weekend action:
Champs Elysees rallied from last of six to win Saturday's $150,000 San Marcos Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over Rocket Legs. Obrigado was third. Champs Elysees, a 5-year-old, British-bred horse by Danehill, was making his second U.S. start for trainer Bobby Frankel, following a second-place finish to Sunriver in the Hollywood Turf Cup last month. Saturday, jockey Garrett Gomez had his hands full keeping Champs Elysees on a straight course down the stretch but got the job done, finishing the 1 1/4 mile on firm turf in 2:00.88. "I thought he ran well," Frankel said. "The pace was slow and he had to come five- or six-wide but he finished good. He's a true professional."
Trick's Pic rolled three-wide around the turn into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Tuzla Handicap for fillies and mares and ran on to a 2-lengths victory over longshot I Can See. Good Mood, the favorite, finished third. Trick's Pic, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Favorite Trick, was clocked in 1:35.09 for the 1 mile on firm turf. Victor Espinoza had the mount for trainer Doug O'Neill, who took her into his barn just a few weeks ago. "She was dropping way down in class," the trainer noted, "and that seemed like it would help. She ran dynamite and Victor gave her a great ride."
Doyouwanttodance, winner of her four previous starts, apparently wanted to run some more in Saturday's $50,000 American Beauty Stakes for fillies and mares. The 4-year-old, West Virginia-bred filly led from the start and won by 2 3/4 lengths, never really challenged. Fast Deal was fast enough to be second with Lady Takum completing an all-longshot trifecta. Doyouwanttodance, by Disco Rico, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.14 with Kirk LeBlanc up. The filly won twice this winter at Delta Downs. Prior to that, she was 2-for-4 in Oaklawn's 2007 meeting, taking her last two starts there. The American Beauty was her first stakes try.
Ah Day, the odds-on favorite, sat behind the dueling leaders early in Saturday's $60,000 Fire Plug Stakes, came four-wide into the stretch to take the lead and won by 4 3/4 lengths over Cognac Kisses. Lemons of Love was third. Ah Day, a 5-year-old, Maryland-bred gelding by Malibu Moon, got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.95 with Jeremy Rose handling the reins. Ah Day, now the winner of eight stakes races, had some time off after trainer King Leatherbury found some problems this spring. "We just gave him the necessary time and brought him back very slowly," Leatherbury said. "It was a textbook training schedule."
Spirited Away ran out to a big lead in Saturday's $60,000 Truly Bound Handicap for fillies and mares, then held on well at the end, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Unforgotten. Kathleens Reel finished third and the favorite, Tammy's Victress, finished fifth. Spirited Away, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Awesome Again, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:45.81. Miguel Mena had the mount for trainer Paul McGee.
Angliana came from just off the pace to win Saturday's $75,000 Aqueduct Handicap by 1 length over Evening Attire. Judiths Wild Rush, the favorite, finished third. Angliana, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Giant's Causeway, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.25 with Alan Garcia up for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.