A smattering of important grass races -- not to mention the Spring Fever Stakes at Oaklawn -- gave racetrackers some hope during the weekend that the groundhog was wrong and winter might end someday soon.
Spring House got the jump on the field in the stretch run of Sunday's $150,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap at Santa Anita and won by 1/2 length over Church Service -- his second straight year as victor in this race. Attempted Humor was third. Spring House, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Chester House, ran the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.26. Alex Solis had the mount for trainer Julio Canani. Canani said there's no thought of sending Spring House to Dubai. "He's staying here," Canani said, eyeing the San Luis Rey Handicap at the same distance on March 21. Solis said his ride was uneventful. "He was on the bit the whole way and when that hole opened up in the stretch, he went through it like a bullet."
At Gulfstream Park in Florida, Presious Passion got loose on the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes, opened up a huge advantage and then just held on to win by 1/2 length over Quasicobra. The favorite, Spice Route, had some traffic trouble on the second turn, then settled for third. Presious Passion, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Royal Anthem, finished the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:12.1. Elvis Trujillo had the mount for trainer Mary Hartmann. Presious Passion, often at long odds, has won such turf routes as last year's Pan American Handicap, the United Nations at Monmouth Park and the last two editions of the W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder. Hartman said she was a little concerned when she saw a brisk pace early in Saturday's effort. "But he was running relaxed and had enough left to hold them off," Hartman said, adding Trujillo "gave him a perfect ride. He ran a great race to finish second in California on the wet ground last out (in Sunshine Millions Turf). They say it never rains in California, but it did for that race. We're back home now and we'll stay here and try to win the Pan American again."
Victory Alleged came flying down the middle of the course to snatch an upset victory in Saturday's $150,000 Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, beating Classic Campaign by a neck. Society's Chairman was only a nose farther back in third. The favorite, Furthest Land, finished seventh. Victory Alleged, an 8-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Victory Gallop, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.35 under Carlos Marquez Jr. Trainer Dennis Manning said he wasn't worried about bringing Victory Alleged back from a three-month layoff in the stakes event. "I wasn't worried about the horse running out of trainer at the sixteenth pole," he said. "I was worried about the horse running out of horse." He said Victory Alleged may run back in the Kinsman Stable Turf Classic on Florida Cup day, April 4.
Filly and mare grass racing:
At Fair Gounds in New Orleans, with Mardi Gras looming, Love to Tell got the jump on the field in Saturday's $125,000 Bayou Handicap, practically walked through the early furlongs and then held on gamely to post the upset, beating Mizzcan'tbewrong to the wire by 2 1/4 lengths. Sharbat and Nans Joy dead-headed for third and fourth and the favorite, Shytoe Lafeet, finished fifth. Love to Tell, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Stage Colony filly, ran the "about" 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:56.48 with Justin Shepherd riding. "She can come from off the pace or go to the lead," said winning trainer Mike Burgess. "But when you see a half of 54 (seconds), you'd better be on the engine. When I saw that split I said 'Okay. We're gone!'"
Criticism left little to find fault with in her victory in Sunday's $100,000 The Very One Stakes at Gulfstream Park, leading all the way to a 2 1/2-lengths victory. Dress Rehearsal rallied late to finish second and Backseat Rhythm was third. Criticism, a 5-year-old, British-bred mare by Machiavellian, ran the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:15.23. She is a Darley Stable homebred out of the Caerleon mare Innuendo. "We knew there wasn't much speed in the race, said winning trainer Tom Albertrani. "I was not surprised she was in front. My main concern was that she would settle and relax."
Saturday's $100,000 Valentine Dancer Handicap for California-bred distaffers at Santa Anita wound up a dead-heat between Bel Air Sizzle and Onebadkitty, with pace-setting Gambler's Justice holding on for third, 1 1/4 lengths behind the embattled winners. The favorite, Tiz a Blend, showed little and finished seventh. Onebadkitty is a 4-year-old daughter of Street Cry. Garrett Gomez rode her for trainer Barry Abrams. Bel Air Sizzle is a 4-year-old Unusual Heat filly and Aaron Gryder was up for Brian Kornier.
Kentucky Derby trail
There wasn't much in the way of stakes events for the 3-year-olds this week but there was some action:
-- A Thursday allowance event at Gulfstream Park certainly turned up another budding star. Dunkirk, a gray son of Unbridled's Song out of the A.P. Indy mare Secret Status, survived a wide trip around the first turn and went on to win easily, by 4 1/2 lengths. Garrett Gomez was in from California to ride the Todd Pletcher trainee, a $3.7 million Keeneland yearling owned by Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. Dunkirk now is 2-for-2 with the first win coming earlier in the meeting at 7 furlongs. "I'm very pleased with the way he ran," Pletcher said. "It was a lot to ask to go from one seven-eighths race to a mile and an eighth against a stakes-quality field, and then get carried very wide in the first turn. But he overcame it all with no problem. Right now, I'd say it's most likely that he won't (run again) before going straight into the Florida Derby. He's here and he's 2-for-2 over the track. That would be my first choice right now." The Florida Derby is March 28.
-- Charitable Man, winner of last fall's Futurity at Belmont Park, worked Thursday at the Palm Meadows facility in Florida, prepping for a possible late start on the Derby trail for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "We will be looking to run somewhere in early April," the trainer said of the Lemon Drop Kid colt. "Whether it's a stakes or some kind of allowance, we don't know. But it all depends on everything going perfectly. We're up against it to make the first Saturday in May … We can't have any setbacks."
-- Mayor Marv was quickly in front in Saturday's $100,000 Turf Paradise Derby in Arizona, turned back a challenge from Hidden Bounty on the turn and coasted home first, 4 1/2 lengths ahead of that rival. Just Jebicah finished third. Mayor Marv, a Kentucky-bred colt by Distorted Humor, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.23. The Turf Paradise Derby normally isn't an important stop on the Road to the Roses but Mayor Marv is trained by Bob Baffert for his Derby-savvy owner, Mike Pegram and David Flores was in for the ride. So, despite his record of just two wins from seven starts, it would not be surprising to see him get another chance to prove himself against tougher competition -- especially since two of his losses were second-place finishes behind The Pamplemousse and Papa Clem. Baffert's main Derby hope, of course, is Pioneerof the Nile, scheduled to start next in the San Felipe March 14. He also has Ventana teed up for next Saturday's Sham Stakes.
On the Kentucky Oaks trail:
-- What a Pear stalked the pace, then ran away and hid from a half dozen rivals in Sunday's $65,000 Busher Stakes at Aqueduct, finishing 10 1/4 lengths ahead of Subprime. The favorite, Pumpkin Shell, was third. What a Pear, a New York-bred daughter of E Dubai out of the Pine Bluff mare Perfect Pear, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.17 under Channing Hill. Joseph Parker trains the filly, who remains undefeated in four starts. Parker said she is ticketed for the $400,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on April 4. "It was ridiculous -- in a great way," Parker said of the huge margin in the Busher. "I can't believe it. To go away from them like this, she ran huge. I'm ecstatic. When a horse performs like that, what do you need to say? The horse speaks for itself. A horse like that comes along only once in a while."
-- Walloon rallied four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Valdale Stakes at Turfway Park and drew off smartly to post the upset, beating She's Due by 3 1/4 lengths. Satans Quick Chick completed an all-longshot trifecta that paid $4,662.80. Walloon, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Alphabet Soup, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:40.83 under Hector Rosario Jr. "My instructions were to take advantage of a long hold and get a good spot going into the first turn," Rosario said. "We were in the clear. Nobody was on the rail so nothing was hitting her down the whole backside, and she was full of run at the end. I had a lot of horse. Saving ground was a good thing."
In other weekend racing:
Viva Pataca captured the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup for the second straight year in Sunday's renewal, winning by a neck. Then 50-1 longshot Dim Sum upset the Chairman's Sprint Prize. Both are trained by John Moore.
Viva Pataca, a fixture on the Hong Kong stakes circuit, used last year's Gold Cup as a springboard to a second-place finish in the Dubai Sheema Classic. This year, Moore and owner Stanley Ho Hung-sun have their doubts. "We will have to consider it," Ho said. "But I'm afraid the horse may not be at his best when he comes back. So we need to discuss it further."
Dim Sum scored by a head over Enthused in the Chairman's Sprint Prize, the second leg of the Hong Kong Sprint Series. The favorite, Sacred Kingdom, ran third. Moore said new Hong Kong rider James Winks "gave him a great ride. He had him settled in third or fourth and then Dim Sum showed great heart." He also credited the addition of blinkers with providing a boost.
In Japan, Success Brocken took the lead at mid-stretch in Sunday's February Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse and just held off Casino Drive by a neck for the win. Kane Hekili was third, another head back while pace-setting Espoir City held on to finish a close-up fourth. Vermillion finished sixth. Success Brocken, a 4-year-old colt, finished the 1,600 meters in stakes-record time of 1:34.6. "I didn't think he would win today," said victorious trainer Hideaki Fujiwara. "He has potential. But I just thought a victory like this would come a lot farther down the line." The win could put Success Brocken, a Japanese-bred, into the Dubai World Cup picture.
Georgie Boy sat off the pace in Saturday's $150,000 San Carlos Handicap, came around the leaders to gain the advantage at mid-stretch and drew clear easily, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Halo Najib. Pass the Point was third. Georgie Boy, a 4-year-old, California-bred gelding by Tribal Rule, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.85 under Garrett Gomez. The victory reprised his win in last month's Sunshine Millions Sprint and followed three stakes victories at the end of his 3-year-old season. "He was very workmanlike today," Gomez said. "He's a better horse when he can sit back and settle like we did." Winning trainer Kathy Walsh said she may consider longer distances for Georgie Boy, already among the nation's top sprinters. "I think he'll stretch out, especially with Garrett riding him," Walsh said. "He gets him to settle right away. No reflection on anybody else who rode him."
One Caroline was plenty in Friday's $100,000 Sabine Stakes for fillies and mares. The 4-year-old Unbridled's Song filly, with Edgar Prado up, dueled for the lead, then got clear and won by a handy 1 length over Swift Temper, remaining undefeated after four trips to the track. Stormin Mon was far back in third. One Caroline, trained by Rusty Arnold, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.87. "I kind of left it up to Edgar as to where to be," Arnold said. "I thought she'd probably be one-two. She's got plenty of speed, but it's relaxed speed … . She's probably even better around two turns than one. I think she's pretty special." Arnold said One Caroline will go for her fifth straight win in the $150,000 Rampart here at 9 furlongs on March 29.
Weathered took the lead on her own in Saturday's $70,695 Rare Treat Handicap, set a measured pace and then drew off to win by 7 1/4 lengths. Aristo was the best of the rest and Bourbon Maid finished third. Weathered, a 4-year-old, New York-bred filly by Key Contender, ran the 1 1/8 miles on the fast inner track in 1:49.84 with Mike Luzzi aboard.
Daddy O set a pressured pace through the early furlongs of Saturday's $125,000 New Mexico State University Handicap for state-breds, then opened up in the stretch to win by 3 lengths over Romeos Wilson. Z Z Dome was third. Daddy O, a 4-year-old Chimes Band gelding, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.96 with Alejandro Medellin in the irons.
Palanka City saved ground into the turn in Saturday's $50,000 Spring Fever Stakes for fillies and mares, got to the outside for the stretch run and won off by 1 1/2 lengths over Rated Feisty. Temple Street rallied from last to finish third. Palanka City, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Carson City, got the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.98. Chris Emigh had the mount for trainer Terry Gestes.
Carlsbad led from gate to wire in Saturday's $50,000 Arizona Oaks, winning by a comfortable 13 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Miss Bodine was second and Vikkilee finished third. Carlsbad, an Arizona-bred daughter of Rocky Bar, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.55 under Daniel Vergara.
Hello Poochi Pooh led all the way to an odds-on victory in Saturday's $50,000 Maryland Racing Media Handicap, beating Peachy Kiss to the wire by 2 3/4 lengths. Clara's Song finished third. Hello Poochi Pooh, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Halos and Horns, ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.78 on a fast track with Erick Rodriguez in the irons.