The running of the Japan Cup Dirt and preparations for Hong Kong's big races dominated racing news on a slow weekend for American racing.
Only a smattering of graded stakes and a few races for juveniles spiced up the domestic menu.
Transcend led all the way in Sunday's $3 million Japan Cup Dirt, winning by a neck over Glorious Noah. Admire Subaru was third with Birdie Birdie fourth. The 16-horse field did not include any foreign horses. Transcend, with Shinji Fujita up, set the pace to the final turn when Birdie Birdie came to challenge. After repulsing that effort, Transcend was able to hold off the two late-running challengers. The 4-year-old Wild Rush colt finished the 1,800 meters over a Hanshin Racecourse track labeled "good" in 1:48.9. Defending champion Vermillion beat only two other horses. "Transcend is a colt with big strides," said Fujita, "so he has more speed than what meets the eye. I am looking forward to more big titles with him."
Next weekend's Cathay Pacific races are shaping up to be memorable year-end challenges with the Mile especially intriguing. Paco Boy, the fourth-place finisher in the recent Breeders' Cup Mile and twice second to the great Goldikova in Europe, will be making his final start in the Mile. Trainer Richard Hannon said he has been having trouble training Paco Boy in England because of the extreme winter weather but has confidence he will run well in Hong Kong. "He seems to have come home from the U.S. in even better nick than when he went out (to the Breeders' Cup)," Hannon said early last week, prompting a decision to postpone his retirement by one race. "He wasn't suited to the tight turns at Churchill Downs and he was far better than his finishing position in fourth. His finishing time in the straight there was reported to have been a record." Hannon said he has no worries about shipping Paco Boy to Hong Kong. "He is such an easy horse to travel," he said. Although the 5-year-old Desert Style horse is likely to be the favorite Sunday, he will have to contend with the likes of Able One, winner of the Group 1 Champions Mile in April and the Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Mile, the final local prep for the big event; Fellowship, who was second in the Champions Mile; and the always-promising Euro invader Beethoven. In the featured Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup, Vision d'Etat is the likely favorite. Sacred Kingdom, Rocket Man and J J the Jet Plane are likely to vie for support in the Sprint and the multinational Americain, winner of the recent Melbourne Cup, is well-fancied among the stayers in the Vase.
Washington Bridge rallied from last of seven to win Sunday's $150,000, Grade II Bayakoa Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths over pacesetting Sister Dawn. Zardana, stablemate of the recently retired Zenyatta, went to the post as the favorite but finished third, another 1 length in arrears. Washington Bridge, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred Yankee Gentleman filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.25. "After the first turn she got into a comfortable stride and I liked my position," said winning jockey Rafael Bejarano. "So I just decided to stay behind the other horses. I thought Sister Dawn was still running, but I knew it was going to be a little too far for her." It was her third straight win and victorious trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said Washington Bridge has begun to figure out her job. "She was very nervous earlier in her career but she's settled down quite a bit lately," he said. "We just took our time, schooled her a lot and stood her at the gate a lot." He said he will try to keep her and Blind Luck "separated" going forward.
Aggie Engineer was quickly on the engine in Saturday's $100,000 Native Diver Handicap, opened a comfortable margin and held well, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Spurrier. Soul Candy was third and the favorite, Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Dakota Prince, settled for fourth. Aggie Engineer, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred E Dubai gelding, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.04 with Joe Talamo aboard. "He had a magnificent trip," said Talamo. "Obviously on paper he was the speed of the race. He's such a great horse to ride and I tried to be a good pilot. I just let him do his own thing. He was just cruising around there and when I asked him to go he did."
Team Block, fresh off an acclaimed performance at Churchill Downs, started up in South Florida where it left off in Louisville. Askbut I Won'ttell rallied from well back in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III My Charmer Handicap, caught pacesetting Trip for A J late in the stretch run and won by 3/4 length. Evading Tempete finished third, lacking a late bid. Askbut I Won'ttell, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Horse Chestnut filly, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.91 under Shaun Bridgmohan. Askbut I Won'ttell came into the My Charmer off a win in the Grade III Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 7, one of a pair of big stakes wins for Chicago-based trainer Chris Block under the twin spires this fall. "She's had a good year for us now winning back-to-back stakes," said David Block, Chris's father and co-owner of the winner. "She'll stay in training next year and will go to Gulfstream now."
In Saturday' $100,000, Grade III Tropical Park Turf Handicap, Twilight Meteor got the lead and refused to relinquish it, hanging on to post an upset win by a head over Rahy's Attorney. Baletti finished third. Twilight Meteor, a 6-year-old, Ontario-bred son of Smart Strike, ran the 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:46.85 for Luis Saez. Twilight Meteor had been retired for nearly two years before a comeback race. "That one race after being off 19 months obviously did him a lot of good," said winning trainer Marty Wolfson. "The plan was for him to go to stud after his career with Todd (Pletcher), but the market just wasn't there, particularly for a turf horse."
Inglorious rallied six-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Lassie for 2-year-old, Ontario-bred fillies, then quickly put paid to eight rivals, winning off by 5 3/4 lengths, ridden out. Baganara was best of the rest, 3/4 length ahead of Sense of Pride. Inglorious, a daughter of Hennessey out of the Smart Strike mare Noble Strike, got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:46.23 under Chantal Sutherland. The filly came into the Ontario Lassie off a victory in her career bow, a 1 3/4-lengths triumph in the 6-furlong Fanfreluche Stakes on Oct. 24. "We've worked a lot with this filly in behind horses trying to get her to relax," said winning trainer Josie Carroll. "She's been very, very simple for us because anything you ask of this filly, she just does it. She's very easy to train."
The Ontario oval called it a season with Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Valedictory Stakes as Pool Play outgamed Eye of the Leopard for the win. At the end, jockey Patrick Husbands had Pool Play 3/4 length better with Helicopter finishing third. Pool Play, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred son of Silver Deputy, finished the 1 3/4 miles on the all-weather track in 3:01.42.
Stachys stalked in mid-pack in Saturday's $150,000 Zia Park Derby, took the outside path around the leaders turning for home and outfinished Skip a Smile to win by 1/2 length. Saratoga Yankee was third. Stachys, a Kentucky-bred Candy Ride gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.42 with Eddie Martin Jr. up for trainer Michael Biehler. Biehler said Stachys may be headed for Oaklawn Park.
Imco Spirit caught pacesetting longshot Schramsberg late in the stretch run to win Sunday's $200,000 Zia Park Distance Championship by 1/2 length. Quindici Man, the favorite, staged a mild stretch rally to salvage third. Imco Spirit, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred Invincible Spirit gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.36 with Alejandro Medellin up.
Jannas Pride got past some traffic in the stretch in Sunday's $120,000 New Mexico Eddy County Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds and quickly drew clear to win by 3 3/4 lengths over Beau Wizer. Texas Silver was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Jannas Pride, a Desert God gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.13 for jockey Juan Ochoa.
Nicole H disputed the pace early in Saturday's $65,000 Garland of Roses Handicap for fillies and mares, took charge midway around the turn and held well through the stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Meese Rocks. Tar Heel Mom was the early leader and stuck around gamely to finish third. Nicole H, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred Mr. Greeley filly, got the 6 furllongs on a fast track in 1:10.44 with Ramon Dominguez up. "I made it my mission to get her to the outside as soon as possible," said Dominguez. Winning trainer Mike Hushion said he does not know where the filly will surface next.
Beau de Beaupre pressed the pace in Sunday's $65,000 Damon Runyan Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds, put away the early leader and then fought it out with Artie Luvsto Party before prevailing by 1/2 length. Preachintothedevil rallied from well back to finish third, a neck in front of the favorite, Sky Music. Beau de Beaupre, a Holy Bull colt out of the Mighty Magee mare Cassette Case, got the 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast inner track in 1:45.33. Alan Garcia had the mount.
In the companion East View Stakes for state-bred juvenile fillies, 26-1 longshot Queen's Harbor shot out to a big lead and held on well, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over odds-on favorite Miss Valentine. Saltamontes finished third. Queen's Harbor, a Mizzen Mast filly out of the Line In The Sand mare Lineage, finished the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:44.11, also under Garcia.
Strike Again took the outside route in Saturday's $60,000 Buddy Diliberto Memerial Handicap, spotted even-money favorite Gran Estrano a big lead in the stretch but still managed to make up the ground and finish first, 3/4 lengths ahead of that rival. Vanquisher rallied from last of seven to finish third. Strike Again, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Dixie Union colt, ran the "about" 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:45.03 with Miguel Mena in the irons. "I had a good trip and was able to keep off the pace and make my late run on the outside," said Mena.
Valli With a Vow dallied at the back of a big field early in Saturday's $60,000 Pago Hop Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, rallied wide under James Graham and outfinished Silver La Belle to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Caminadora finished third. Valli With a Vow, a Kentucky-bred Broken Vow filly, ran the "about" 1 mile on the grass in 1:38.68. Winning rider James Graham said he would have liked to have been closer early but it worked out when his mount "came running like a bear."
Golden Gate Fields
Cathy's Crunches was blocked early in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Corte Madera Stakes for 2-year-old fillies but when she got room, accelerated past the leaders nicely to win by 1/2 length. Lilacs and Lace, who led at mid-stretch, dead-heated with Game To Run for second and third. Cathy's Crunches, a Florida-bred West Acre filly, got the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:40.01 with Chade Schvaneveldt in the irons.
Hawthorne Race Course
Seans Silverdancer shot right to the lead in the $100,000 Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante Stakes for Illinois-bred 2-year-old fillies, controlled a pedestrian pace and drew off smartly in the stretch to win by 9 1/2 lengths. Point Your Finger finished second with Nikaluk third. Seans Silverdancer, a daughter of Najran, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.41. "When I asked her, she just took off," said winning rider Timothy Thornton. "I never even had to uncock my stick. She just did it so easily. I knew she was a game filly because she got bounced around the first time I rode her and she never batted an eye. But, this was impressive." Trainer Lisa Meritt said she is still pondering a winter campaign for Seans Silverdancer. "She just started racing so she doesn't need time off. We'll probably head south for the winter," Meritt said. "I'd like to try her out on grass."
Music Please rallied from last of six to win Saturday's $50,000 Squan Song Stakes for Maryland-bred fillies and mares, scoring by 3/4 length over Heaven's Voice – a nice exacta combination for choir fans. My Misty's Echo continued the theme in third. Music Please, a 3-year-old Bowman's Band filly, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.97. Eric Camacho had the mount for trainer Rodney Jenkins.
Perfect for You was perfect for the longshot players in Saturday's $50,000 Holiday Inaugural Stakes for fillies and mares, rallying wide into the stretch and getting up to win by 1 1/2 lengths at odds of 25-1. The favorite, Waccamaw, showed the way and held on for second, 1/2 length better than Mindwander. Perfect for You, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Giant's Causeway filly, got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.52 with Fabio Arguello Jr. riding. Arguello acknowledged a historical trend for late-runners to do well early in Turfway's Holiday Meet. "I was aware of that," he said. "And that was our strategy -- just to be sure she broke good, got a chance to go to the outside, and make the run."
News and Notes:
The National Turf Writers Association has voted to expand its membership to broadcasters covering the sport. The organization, one of three that votes on the annual Eclipse Awards, also approved a name change to the National Thoroughbred Writers and Broadcasters Association and will have four types of members – writers, broadcasters, associate and honorary. The changes were approved by a membership vote on the recommendation of the organization's board of directors. "These changes will not only strengthen our organization but also help us maintain a relevant and important position in the racing industry," said Tom Law, president of the NTWAB and managing editor of the Thoroughbred Times.