The drumbeat of Kentucky Derby preps was augmented during the weekend by a potential prep for an even bigger race -- the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
In Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, 7-1 long shot Giant Oak rallied by the leaders past the 16th pole and drew away handily to win by 2 lengths. Morning Line, a promising late-bloomer from trainer Nick Zito's barn, dueled for the lead most of the way around, couldn't go with Giant Oak late and settled for second, a nose in front of Rule.
The favorite, Fly Down, who was third in the Breeders' Cup Classic last time out, behind only Zenyatta and Blame, raced back in the pack and finished fifth.
Giant Oak, a 5-year-old, Illinois-bred son of Giant's Causeway, cruised the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.23 with Shaun Bridgmohan up for trainer Chris Block.
"There was plenty of speed in the race so I was able to sit back and ride a patient race," Bridgmohan said. "He's just really growing up. He's come such a long way. "It's so good to see because he's always had a ton of ability and I'm happy he's finally getting to show that."
Giant Oak was awarded victory via disqualification in last fall's Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. But the Donn win marked the first time he had finished first on a main track since he broke his maiden against three rivals at Arlington Park on Sept. 18, 2008. He also won the Arlington Classic on the grass and has been competitive in several races against top company and now has earned $1.25 million.
"He's a Giant's Causeway and I think he's just gotten better with age and maturation as that line seems to do," Block said. "He trained very well over the track and seemed to like the change of scenery." Block said he will consider an even more radical change in scenery -- possibly targeting the March 26 Dubai World Cup for his Illinois-bred.
Toby's Corner rallied by pacesetting favorite J J's Lucky Train with about a 16th of a mile left in Saturday's $100,000 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct and went on to win by 2 lengths over that rival. Preachintothedevil finished third, 3 3/4 lengths farther back. Toby's Corner, a Florida-bred Bellamy Road colt out of the Mister Frisky mare Brandon's Ride, finished the 1 1/16 miles on the muddy inner track in 1:45.66 under Eddie Castro. It was his third straight win. "I think he's a nice horse," Castro said. "And I think he'll go the distance, too." The Whirlaway is a stepping stone toward the Gotham and the Wood Memorial. But Adrian Rolls, assistant to winning trainer H. Graham Motion, said, "We'll see how he comes out of this before looking ahead to his next race."
Twinspired, certainly well-named for a Derby hopeful, showed some talent, too in Saturday's $50,000 WEBN Stakes at Turfway Park, an early prep for the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes on March 26. With Jozbin Santana up, the Kentucky-bred Harlan's Holiday colt stayed close early, came out five-wide into the turn and drew off, winning by 4 1/4 lengths. R Fast Cat finished second, beating Taptowne by a head. Twinspired got the mile on the all-weather track in 1:41.57. "I was sitting in a perfect spot around the first turn," Santana said. "I was on the best horse and I was on the outside, just waiting until the three-eighths pole to let the horse run. But the 11 horse (Taptowne) came at me a little bit earlier so I had to move so I wouldn't be stuck behind heels. But my horse responded really well." Asked if Twinspired will continue along the Derby prep trail, co-owner David Koenig said, "He ran a big race, but we'll defer those questions to (trainer) Mike Maker. But how's this: When we bought him, the plan was the Kentucky Derby and we're working backwards from there."
Trubs pulled off a mild upset in Saturday's $60,000 Black Gold Stakes at Fair Grounds, winning a stretch duel with Divine Music by a neck. The favorite, Changing the Rules, led early and faded to finish third, another 3 1/2 lengths up the track. Trubs, a Kentucky-bred First Samurai colt out of the Seeking the Gold mare Hit, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.18 with Jesse Campbell in the irons for trainer Al Stall Jr.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Zazu got the lead turning for home in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita and easily held off the odds-on favorite, Turbulent Descent, to win by 1 1/4 lengths. It was another 4 1/4 lengths back to Plum Pretty in third. Zazu, a Kentucky-bred Tapit filly out of the Mr. Greeley mare Rumb Line, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:34.86 with Joel Rosario up for trainer John Sadler. It was just her second win in six starts. "She has a short run and she wants to close, and in some of those other races, it hasn't played that way for her," said winning trainer John Sadler. "So there was a fast pace in front of her, and that's what we were hoping for." Mike Puype, who trains previously undefeated Turbulent Descent, said his filly "probably got a little tired. She hasn't run in eight weeks. She ran good. She just got outrun today."
Wicked Deed opened a sizable lead turning for home in Saturday's $60,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes at Fair Grounds, then extended the advantage through the stretch, winning by 5 1/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Flash Mash. Unbridled Praise and Lost My Halo completed the order of finish after a pair of late scratches. Wicked Deed, a Kentucky-bred Harlan's Holiday filly out of the Marfa mare Marfa's Squall, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.75 with Rosie Napravnik up.
Red's Round Table drew off in the stretch run to easily win Saturday's $50,000 Marshua Stakes at Laurel Park, scoring by 4 3/4 lengths over Heather. Sweet Susan finished third. Red's Round Table, a Kentucky-bred Cuvee filly out of the High Yield mare Carol D., ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:13.40 with Sheldon Russell handling the reins.
In other weekend racing:
(By Richard Gross)
Four was the lucky number for South African Trainer Mike de Kock, who saddled that many winners in the eight-race card on night four of the Dubai Racing Carnival at Meydan Thursday.
His biggest win of the evening was a decisive, 2-length victory by favorite Bold Silvano with Christophe Soumillon aboard in the featured $200,000, 9 1/2-furlong Al Maktoum Challenge Round II (UAE-III) on the all-weather Tapeta. "The World Cup is his aim," said de Kock of the $10 million March 26 race. "He will be back for the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge on Super Thursday (March 3)." Spring of Fame, with Frankie Dettori up, took a brief lead on the backstretch, but settled for second just ahead of Interaction.
De Kock's big night also included an easy 3 3/4-length win by 4-year-old Australia-bred filly Mahbooba, again with Soumillon up, over stablemate Reem and third-place Chocolicious in the UAE 1000 Guineas, the trainer's first win in this race. Star Empire captured the 1 1/2-mile Etisalat eLife on the all-weather surface and Warsaw set up the trainer's fourth win with a 7-furlong turf victory in the Etisalat MyPlan.
Australia-bred Dynamic Blitz gave Hong Kong an upset first win at this year's Carnival in the Al Shindagha Sprint (UAE-III). Trainer Roger Yiu said the 7-year-old gelded son of Elusive Quality will be targeted for the Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) on World Cup night.
UK-based runners enjoyed a good showing as Lord of the Stars ruled in the 7-furlong Meydan Classic trial on the turf, giving UK trainer David Simcock his first-ever UAE win. Lolamar provided a thrilling finish to the evening under Mickael Barzalona, holding on for a short head win over Shimmering Moment in the 1 1/4-miles Etisalat Wasel.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club ushered in the Year of the Rabbit with a highly successful Saturday program at Sha Tin Race Course -- successful, that is, for all by the connections of the Sacred Kingdom, who went down to defeat in the featured HKG1 Chairman's Sprint Prize. Dim Sum, trained by John Moore and ridden by Olivier Doleuze, got the jump on the champ and held him off easily in the final 50 meters. The, outcome, which denied Sacred Kingdom a record-tying 18th career Hong Kong win, wasn't a total surprise as Dim Sum won the same race two years back. "He's been running so well," Moore said. "And when he was able to hold onto Sacred Kingdom after being headed in the 1,000-meter race last month (the HKG1 Kent & Curwen Centenary Sprint Cup), you had to give him a real chance in this race." Moore also saddled the third- and fourth-place finishers, Let Me Fight and One World. The holiday card saw 96,000 fans at the track and total turnover of about $162 million. "This was the best Chinese New Year meeting I've seen in Hong Kong," said HKJC Chief Executive Officer Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. "It's a really great start to the Year of the Rabbit."
In Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, Teaks North rallied from far back to post a 25-1 upset victory, beating Smart Bid by a nose on the wire. Get Stormy was third and the high-weight and favorite, Battle of Hastings, continued his tales of woe, gaining too late and finishing fourth. Teaks North, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Northern Afleet gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.39 with Jose Valdivia Jr. aboard. "We were between running him in the Sunshine Millions Turf last weekend at Santa Anita or this race and decided this race might come up easier," winning trainer Justin Sallusto said. "And it looks like we made the right decision."
Cherokee Queen stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Suwannee River Stakes for fillies and mares, got to even terms with the leader a furlong out and drew clear to win by 2 lengths. Never Retreat charged from well back to take second with the pacesetter, Persuading, holding on for third. Cherokee Queen, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Cherokee Run mare, finished the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.62 with Alex Solis riding. "This is her first graded-stakes win for us, which means a lot to her," Marty Wolfson, the winning trainer, said.
King Congie crossed the finish line first in Sunday's $100,000 Hallandale Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds over the Gulfstream Park turf but was set down to third for interference after drifting out badly in deep stretch. That promoted Master Dunker to the winner's circle and Brilliant Speed to place money. Master Dunker, a Florida-bred Imperialism colt, was ridden by Luis Saez. The 1 1/16 miles went in 1:41.30. It was the third career victory in seven starts for Master Dunker, with two of those victories coming on the turf. "He's definitely a lot better on turf," winning trainer David Fawkes said.
Another horse potentially good enough but unlikely for Dubai, once-beaten Twirling Candy, tracked the pace in Saturday's $200,000, Grade I Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds, then simply took charge when asked by jockey Joel Rosario. Tweebster, always close, finished second and Make Music for Me put in a late bid to take show money. Twirling Candy, a Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt, got the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:46.53, winning for the sixth time in seven starts. He is likely to go favorite now in the March 5 Santa Anita Handicap. "He's such a nice horse," Sadler said. "My job is just to be a good steward and take good care of him because he's a natural runner. My only concern is that I do a good job because I really feel this is the best horse in the county. He's a really good horse, so I feel a strong sense of stewardship, that I do the right things and pick the races carefully. I just don't want to make any mistakes because he's that good."
Fluke rallied by pacesetting favorite Proudinsky in the stretch run to win Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Thunder Road Handicap by 3/4 of a length. Proudinsky held second, 3/4 length better than Victor's Cry. Fluke, a 6-year-old, Brazilian-bred son of Wild Event, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:33.79 with Joe Talamo up. Humberto Ascanio, who trains both Fluke and Proudinsky and broke an 0-for-46 streak with the win, said his contenders had been "running good, but not good enough to win. "I didn't think Proudinsky would be in front, but he was, and he ran good. I liked both of them. I thought either one could win."
Gladding showed the way in Sunday's $150,000, Grade II San Antonio Stakes, beat back all challenges and got home first by a length over Spurrier. Aggie Engineer finished third. Gladding, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Sarava gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.00 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. "We thought it would be us or Aggie Engineer for the lead," winning trainer John Sadler said. "Bejarano wanted to bounce out of there a little bit and see what [Joe] Talamo would do [aboard Aggie Engineer.] He took back a little bit and [we] inherited the trip we thought we might get. It's fun when it works out like you think it might."
Tampa Bay Downs
Capt. Candyman Can, despite coming off a 15-month layoff, could indeed in Saturday's $75,000 Super Stakes, rallying through the lane to out-finish 123-1 shot Legal Move by a half length. A Diehl finished well back in third. Capt. Candyman Can, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Candy Ride gelding, ran the 7 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:23.25 with Frederic Lenclud in the irons. Owner David Zell, noting the long layoff, said, "If he's only half-cranked, I'd hate to see what he's like when he's fully fit. We've got some Grade I plans for him throughout the year." Trainer Ian Wilkes said those plans include the Breeders' Cup this fall.
Spa City Princess set a moderate pace in Saturday's $60,000 Belle Born Stakes for NewYork-bred fillies and mares, then held on well at the end, winning by a half length over Eager Emma. Laylaben finished third. Spa City Princess, a 4-year-old Roaring Fever filly, covered the mile on a good main track in 1:41.51 with Jorge Chavez riding.
Wiredfortwotwenty flipped the switch to "on" in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 Budweiser Handicap, drawing clear quickly to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Loves Bonus. Facil Catana finished third. Wiredfortwotwenty, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Greatness gelding, ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 56.68 seconds with Isaias Enriquez up.
Star Guitar promised to be the star of Delta's "Premier Night" for Louisiana-breds and the 6-year-old son of Quiet American lived up to his notices. With Corey Lanerie up, Star Guitar bided his time until the field hit the stretch, then quickly surged to the lead and got home first, 1 3/4 lengths better than Snug. Lee's Spirit came from way back to take third. Star Guitar finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.15.
My Star Runner got clear in the stretch to win the $100,000 Sprint by 1 1/2 lengths over Tortuga Straits, covering 5 furlongs in 57.08 seconds under Miguel Mena. Cat's Production stalked the pace in the $100,000 Starlet for 3-year-old fillies, then got by the leaders to post and upset victory by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Tensas Punch with Lawyer Tiffany third. Speedacious lived up to her name in the $100,000 Matron, leading all the way to a 6 1/2-length victory over Cajun Conference.
Su Casa G Casa led comfortably through much of the $100,000 Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds, then held on to win by a neck over Loranger Native. And Shezacrazygirl came from last of 10 to win the $150,000 Distaff by 2 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Superior Storm.
Sam Houston Race Park
Ice Mist led all the way to a 2-lengths win over War Tigress in Saturday's $50,000 Jersey Lilly Stakes for fillies and mares. Blushing Dixie rallied through the stretch to take third while the favorite, Slide On Bye, faded throughout and finished last of 11. Ice Mist, a 4-year-old, Maryland-bred Forest Danger filly, got the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:45.29 under Chris Landeros.