With the Dubai World Cup just around the corner, older horses stole the thunder of Derby contenders in weekend racing action around the world.
In Dubai, "Super Thursday" provided an early look at some contenders for racing's richest night on March 26. Hong Kong offered a major prep for the big Dubai races. California tossed in one of the early controversies of the year in the Santa Anita Handicap. And Texas contributed a victory by old stalwart Z Humor.
And, there were a couple Kentucky Derby preps to round out the festivities.
(By Richard Gross)
Meydan's Super Thursday Maktoum Challenge Round Three (UAE-II) was billed as a dress rehearsal for the $10 million March 26 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) and last year's disappointing 10th-place World Cup finisher, Twice Over, emerged the best-dressed challenger for the big race. Twice Over's victory by 2 lengths over the 1 1/4 miles on the Tapeta gave trainer Henry Cecil his first UAE win. "We came out earlier this year and the plan has worked so far," Cecil said. "This is a quality horse."
There are quality competitors as well. Mike de Kock's Musir and Marco Botti-trained Gitano Hernando finished behind Group 1 winner Twice Over. De Kock's early World Cup favorite, Bold Silvano, sat out the race with a foot injury, meaning the South African may saddle up two with a good chance at the World Cup.
Godolphin's Mendip may find himself wooed by both the World Cup and Godolphin Mile (UAE-II) after the winner of the Maktoum Challenge Round One (UAE-III) got a neck up on Zafeen Speed in the 1-mile Burj Nahaar with Frankie Dettori up to give him a fifth win in only six starts.
Reem scored one for the ladies when the filly easily claimed the Bastakiya over 9 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather course with trainer de Kock pointing her toward the UAE Derby (UAE-II) on World Cup day. "The fillies seem better than the colts this year," de Kock affirmed. "Both Reem and Mahbooba will go to the UAE Derby."
Fellow South African trainer Herman Brown saw fragile charge Bankable deposit a strong win in the 6-furlong Mahab al-Shimaal over the all-weather. "This is a really good horse but keeping him sound has never been easy," said Brown, who will be able to choose the World Cup or Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I).
The Sheema Classic on turf gained an entry with Royal Ascot winner and Irish Derby fourth-place-finisher Monterosso winning his first UAE run for trainer Mahmoud al-Zarooni in the 1 1/2-mile Dubai City of Gold (UAE-II) on the turf.
The evening's last race has been the most exciting this Carnival season and the trend continued when trainer Michael Bell also got a first-time UAE winner his first time out as Wigmore Hall got the best of a three-way photo in the Jebel Hatta (UAE-II) over the same 9 furlongs on turf as the Dubai Duty Free, his next start.
Other handicap action:
-- Beauty Flash, winner in his previous two outings -- the G1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile and the HKG1 Stewards' Cup -- backed that up with a victory in Sunday's HKG1 Queen' Silver Jubilee Cup at Sha Tin. The hat trick serves as warning not to ignore the Hong Kong runner in the $5 million G1 Dubai Duty Free at the World Cup meeting 26 March. Beauty Flkash, a son of Golan, broke from the outside and raced behind the leaders. Early in the stretch, jockey Gerald Mosse turned him loose and Beauty Flash flashed to the lead, winning by a deceptively comfortable half length in 1:21.74. Sunny King and Lucky Nine trailed. "I was a bit worried about the drop down to 1,400 meters," Mosse said, "because of the different pace of the race. But this horse had enough speed so he was always there and always ready when I pressed the button. He's a superstar." Added winning trainer Tony Cruz, "Meydan is definitely where he's going next."
-- In Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, Game On Dude stalked the pace, then hooked up in a stretch duel with Setsuko that wasn't decided until the final jump, with Game On Dude a nose the better. Quindici Man rallied behind the embattled leaders to finish third, a half-length farther back. The favorite, Twirling Candy, was in the mix until he bumped hard with Game On Dude and Setsuko in the stretch run and then faded to finish fifth. After an inquiry, the stewards ruled Twirling Candy was the guilty party and let the result stand -- an unpopular result. But Scott Chaney, speaking for the three stewards, said it was the majority opinion that the inside horse, Game On Dude, was going straight and the contact was caused by the middle horse, Twirling Candy, "drifting in, causing contact and a whole chain of ping-ponging events." Game On Dude, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Awesome Again gelding, ran the 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 1:59.47 under Chantal Sutherland. Game On Dude ran fourth in the Belmont last year, then came back with a victory in an optional claimer at Santa Anita Jan. 27. He now has four win from eight career starts.
-- Z Humor set a measured pace under jockey Gerard Melancon in Saturday's $150,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park, then shot clear at the end to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Stachys. Join in the Dance provided the early pressure and finished third. The favorite, Max Me Out, faded to finish fourth. Z Humor, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Distorted Humor, finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.84.
The Derby Trail
Stay Thirsty, the odds-on favorite, broke last, then stalked the pace in Saturday's $250,000, Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, got to the lead at mid-stretch and drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths over long shot Norman Asbjornson. Toby's Corner finished third. Stay Thirsty, a Kentucky-bred Bernardini colt who was making his first start as a 3-year-old, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:44.78 with Ramon Dominguez up. Julian Pimentel, who rode the runner-up, alleged interference in the stretch but the stewards let the result stand. Stay Thirsty is owned by Mike Repole, who also has current Derby favorite Uncle Mo, and trained by Todd Pletcher. Assistant trainer Jonathan Thomas said Sunday Stay Thirsty came out of the race well and is headed back to his current home at the Palm Meadows training center. "As a fan of racing, to me, coming off a huge layoff, breaking poorly, going wide on the first turn, it was an impressive effort," Thomas said. "He ran like a horse asking for distance." He said Stay Thirsty likely will start next in either the Florida Derby April 3 or the Arkansas Derby April 16. Uncle Moe, due to make his first 3-year-old start Saturday in the Timely Writer at Gulfstream, is targeting the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct April 9.
Dialed In, winner of the Holy Bull in his last previous start, finished second to stablemate Equestrio in an allowance event Sunday at Gulfstream Park. Trainer Nick Zito needed a race -- almost any race -- as a bridge to the Florida Derby for Dialed In and said he ultimately wasn't discouraged by the result. "Naturally I'd have liked to have won but I've got to be happy," Zito said. "He broke well, he got to go two turns, he got to run a mile and an eighth over this track and he got a great education. Under the circumstances, I think it was a terrific performance. There will be more speed in the Derby. We'll just have to build on this and if he has a good month we'll be back for the Florida Derby."
Positive Response certainly lived up to his name in Saturday's $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park. Quickly out of the gate under Julien Couton, the Florida-bred Pomeroy gelding drew off smartly in the late going to win by 7 lengths. Taptowne was second and Son of Posse third. Positive Response finished the 1 1/16-mile final local prep for the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes in 1:45.13. The Battaglia was Positive Response's third stakes win in his last four starts. He won the Gold Rush Stakes in December and then captured the California Derby in January. In his last start he was third, beaten 2 lengths, in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby. "The only concern I had was flying him in here," said winning trainer William Morey, who shipped Positive Response from California to Turfway Tuesday. "But once I saw how he was acting and training here, I didn't think these horses had a chance with him. "Now, the next group (in the Spiral Stakes), they'll be a lot tougher. We came here intending to run two races -- this one and either the Spiral or the Rushaway (on the Spiral undercard). Obviously, with his performance tonight, we'd probably lean toward the Spiral."
Smoke It Right smoked a quartet of rivals in Saturday's $60,000 Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Leading all the way under pressure, the Kentucky-bred Smoke Glacken colt finally shook loose in the final furlong to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Keep On Giving. Glint was third. Smoke It Right, with Gabriel Saez in the irons, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.26. He now is undefeated in four starts, the last two stakes events, and trainer Benard Chatters said he will consider the stretchout in the Arkansas Derby if the colt continues to train well.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Turbulent Descent forged to a daylight lead at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Santa Anita Oaks, then held on at the end of 1 1/16 miles to win by a neck over Zazu. A Z Warrior contended, then faded in the stretch to finish third, beaten another 5 1/2 lengths. Turbulent Descent, a Florida-bred daughter of Congrats out of the Forestry mare Roger's Sue, finished in 1:41.05 under David Flores. Undefeated in three starts last year, Turbulent Descent began her 3-year-old campaign with a troubled second-place finish in the Las Virgenes. Despite her victory at 1 1/16 miles, winning trainer Mike Puype thinks Turbulent Descent will be better going short and is planning her campaign accordingly. "I have no doubt that she will be better going shorter," he said. "She has a brilliant amount of acceleration and is best going 7 furlongs or a one-turn mile with a target to run behind." With that in mind, he said, her summer campaign will be in New York, including the Acorn on Belmont Stakes Day June 11, and the Test at Saratoga Aug. 6. "Those are career-making races, both for winning an Eclipse award, and for a broodmare," he added.
Red's Round Table led all the way to a 3/4-length victory over Sweet Susan in Saturday's $50,000 Wide Country Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Laurel Park. Red's Round Table, a Kentucky-bred Cuvee filly out of the High Yield mare Carol D, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.99 with Sheldon Russell up for trainer Timothy Keefe.
In other weekend racing:
Saturday's Barbados Gold Cup, the premier race of the Caribbean, went to Zoom on a disqualification of fellow local runner Show Me the Money. Show Me the Money was set down for interfering with another Barbados-based runner early in the stretch. That left a 1-2-3 of Zoom, Bird Watch and Charge It. Zoom, trained by Eddie Walcott Jr., returned the Cup to local hands. Last year, Canadian-bred Sterwins won the race for owner Eugene Melnyk. This year, Melnyk sent out Safety Zone to finish fifth as the favorite. Grand Cash, trained by Wesley Ward, got home sixth.
Fluke rallied along the rail to gain the lead at midstretch in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile, then held on gamely to win by a head over the onrushing favorite, Caracortado. Jeranimo finished third. Fluke, a 6-year-old, Brazilian-bred son of Wild Event, got the mile on firm turf in 1:33.50 with Rafael Bejarano aboard. "You couldn't have a better trip than that," winning trainer Humberto Ascanio said. "He saved all the ground. If he went outside, I don't know what would have happened. But he stayed inside, and I had a lot of confidence in the horse. I was worried the horse might be a little short because, in one month, I only gave him two works. But I wanted a fresh horse, a happy horse, and it paid off." Fluke now has three wins and three seconds for Ascanio since he took over after the death of trainer Bobby Frankel.
Unzip Me zipped down the hillside turf course to win Saturday's $75,000 Clocker's Corner Handicap by 3/4 of a length over Broken Dreams. Reba Is Tops was third and She's Cheeky, who would have made a great exacta pairing with the winner, finished fifth. Unzip Me, a 5-year-old, California-bred City Zip mare, led all the way and completed the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:12.61 under Bejarano.
Sunday, Misremembered rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win the $75,000 Santana Mile by 3 lengths over Kensei. Honour the Deputy finished third. Misremembered, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Candy Ride ridgeling, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:33.50 with Martin Garcia riding.
Calibrachoa rated off the pace early in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Tom Fool Handicap, surged to the lead turning for home and drew off easily to win by 4 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite. It was his third consecutive stakes win. Fastus Cactus was up for second at odds of better than 50-1, 4 lengths better than Deputy Daney. Calibrachoa, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Southern Image colt, ran the 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:09.67 with Ramon Dominguez up. "I was trying to slow him down as much as I could," Dominguez said. "I knew the horses in front of me were going extremely fast, and I just didn't want to fall into chasing and then having someone close on me. I certainly at no point in the race wanted someone to take my position, but at the same time I was trying to reserve as much as I could. I was actually surprised at how much they opened on me. My horse finished up pretty strong." Owner Mike Repole had nothing by praise for trainer Todd Pletcher. "Here's a $40,000 claimer and now he's come back and won an ungraded stakes, a Grade 3, and a Grade 3," Repole said. "He looked like a monster. He's only moving up. Todd's done an amazing job with him."
Sensational Slam, owned by celebrity chef Bobby Flay, came from last of five to win Saturday's $65,000 Fred "Cappy" Caposola Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3/4 of a length over Diski Dance. Vengeful Wildcat finished third. Sensational Slam, an Ontario-bred Grand Slam colt out of the San Romano mare Roman Romance, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.61 under Dominguez. He was making his first start in six months and first over a conventional dirt surface for trainer Todd Pletcher. "Todd said to me, 'Ramon, there should be some speed in here, but you're going to have to ride him and you're going to have to help him,'" Dominguez said. "Sure enough, that's exactly the way he was. Pretty much every step of the way I had to encourage him a little bit, but when it was time to pick it up, he was there for me." Pletcher said Sensational Slam will be pointed toward the Bay Shore on the Wood Memorial undercard.
Meese Rocks led from the git-go in Saturday's $65,000 Broadway Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, winning by 1 1/2 lengths from Big Brownie. Lots of Stones finished third. Meese Rocks, a 6-year-old Rock and Roll mare out of the Grindstone mare Meeses Pieces, got the 6 furlongs in 1:10.62 with Junior Alvarado in the irons.
Never Retreat pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Honey Fox Stakes for fillies and mares, got past pacesetting Persuading in the stretch run and beat that one to the wire by a length. It was a neck back to Aviate in third and another neck to Trip for A.J. Never Retreat, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Smart Strike mare, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:34.24 with Julien Leparoux up.
Stormy Publisher dueled to the lead in Sunday's $60,000 Ladies Turf Sprint, finally opened a daylight lead and then held on at the end to win by a neck over D'Wild Ride. Freedom Land was third. Stormy Publisher, a 5-year-old, Argentine-bred Bernstein mare, got the 5 furlongs on a sloppy track -- the race was taken off the turf -- in 57.39 seconds with Alan Garcia in the irons.
Tampa Bay Downs
Colizeo sat behind the early pace set by Yummy With Butter in Saturday's $60,000 Challenger Stakes, took over on the second turn and won off by 4 lengths. Jardim was along to take second with Yummy With Butter settling for third. Colizeo, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Distorted Humor colt, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.94 under Willie Martinez.