While astronomers watched the Geminid meteor shower's "shooting stars" this weekend, racing fans had eyes on budding stars of their own.
The two biggest races of the weekend, both at Hollywood Park in California, produced a potential 2013 Kentucky Derby contender and a British import likely to become a force on the turf -- somewhere, if not in America.
Elsewhere, Zenyatta's younger half-sister missed her scheduled second career start with a minor race-day injury.
And in Japan, a key 2-year-old race produced a minor upset.
The Geminid meteor shower, by the way, is an annual winter sky display of debris thought to come from an asteroid-like object called 3200 Phaethon. It appears to originate in the constellation Gemini and the reference here is purely gratuitous.
Nonetheless, the horoscopes of some of these youngsters look pretty promising:
The punters at Hollywood Park knew a good thing when they saw it, betting down undefeated East Coast invader Violence to near even odds before Saturday's $750,000, Grade I CashCall Hollywood Futurity. The Medaglia d'Oro colt responded, answering a laundry list of questions while winning by 1 1/4 lengths.
With Javier Castellano up for trainer Todd Pletcher, Violence waited in mid-pack behind a quick early pace, advanced around the far turn and took the lead away from pacesetting Fury Kapkori as they straightened out into the stretch. He easily went on to win, with Den's Legacy 2 1/2 lengths farther back in third. The 1 1/16 miles went in 1:43.50
Violence was making his first start after shipping cross-country, his first start on an all-weather track and his first start around two turns. All of those things are warning flags for serious bettors, but proved no barrier to the well-bred, dark brown colt.
Trainer Bob Baffert saddled four of the 11 starters. Den's Legacy finished best of those with Carving making a little progress late to finish sixth. Early leaders Really Mr Greeley and Title Contender faded to finish ninth and last, respectively.
Violence started his career with a win at first asking at Saratoga, then moved right up to win the Naushua Stakes at Aqueduct in his next start. Pletcher said he decided against rushing Violence into the Breeders' Cup last month at Santa Anita and even considered calling it a year.
"We decided that if we were going to run him once more this year, this race made the most sense," Pletcher said. "Another factor in deciding to ship out here is that he's the kind of horse that has such a great disposition and good mind that shipping wouldn't bother him at all. He'll probably start again at the end of February or the beginning of March."
Baffert, who is used to winning this race, suffered yet another in a year-long series of setbacks and likely will be happy to see the calendar turn to 2013.
"You always hope for a 1-2-3-4," he said of his four runners. "But I was most disappointed with Title Contender. Really Mr Greely just can't go this far. Title Contender, we were trying to get him back today, but he just used himself up. Den's Legacy is getting better. I liked his race today. He's solid and tough."
For those keeping track -- and who isn't? -- the win moved Violence into a seven-way dead heat for the third spot on the 2013 Kentucky Derby point standings. He has 10 points. Shanghai Bobby leads with 20 and Goldencents has 14. The list already includes 35 horses and the big-point races won't start until the tulips blossom in the Midwest and Florida's snowbirds are planning their northward migration.
Elsewhere among the juveniles:
-- On Sunday at Hollywood Park, the bettors had a bit harder time figuring out 11 California-bred juveniles. In fact, it was 60-1 shot Weewinnin who took the lead in the stretch and held off Fighting Hussar for a half-length win. The favorite, Monument, was always close but lacked the needed late punch and settled for third. Wewinnin, a Comic Strip colt trained by Brian Koriner, raced 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.54 with Jose Valdivia Jr. riding. He ran fourth in the Aug. 1 Graduation Stakes at Del Mar but had shin issues after that. Valdivia said, "I told Brian he's been working like a good horse and if you run him in a starter allowance, I think you'll be giving away a good effort. He said, 'Come on, let's take a shot.' This colt is going to come back and show that he's the real deal. I don't think this race was a fluke."
-- On the turf at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, Mystic Love ran to the front in the $100,000 Dania Beach Stakes and held on to beat the favorite, Charming Kitten, by a half length. Newfound Zapper came from far back to finish third. Mystic Love, a Maryland-bred Not For Love filly running against males, finished the mile on good turf in 1:38.81 under Elvis Trujillo. "We believed in her," winning trainer Jessica Campitelli said. "It was more that we really didn't want to go a mile and a sixteenth for her first time going two turns," she said, the option being the Jan. 1 Ginger Brew Stakes at 1 1/16 miles for fillies. "So we chose to run against the boys." But Campitelli said it will be back to filly company in Mystic Love's next start.
Back Seat Roll surged to a big lead at the top of the stretch in Sunday's $85,000 Enchantress Stakes for New Mexico-bred juvenile fillies at Sunland Park, then cruised on home first by 3 1/2 lengths. Deserts Magic finished ahead of the rest with Dandy Devona R third. Back Seat Roll, a daughter of Roll Hennessey Roll, rolled the mile on a fast track in 1:40.95 with Enrique Gomez handling the reins.
On the grass:
Two races before Saturday's Futurity, recent British import Grandeur made a grand impression in the $250,000, Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup. After working his way out of traffic entering the stretch, the 3-year-old, Irish-bred Verglas colt sprinted home quickly, easily passing pacesetter Slim Shadey. He went on to win by 3/4 of a length over Interaction, who made a good, late move along the rail. Optimizer was third after attending the lead and Slim Shadey finished fourth. The race was run at a moderate pace and Grandeur finished 1 1/2 miles on firm going in 2:27.95 with Garrett Gomez riding for trainer Patrick Gallagher. The win was his second in three starts since shipping in from England. Earlier, he won the Grade II Twilight Derby at Santa Anita on Breeders' Cup Friday, then finished second with a too-late run in the Grade I Hollywood Derby three weeks later. Saturday's win was visually impressive and Grandeur left no doubt he was the best of the bunch. Gomez said he had a hard time deciding how to get running room. "But when I asked him, he went on with it without a problem." Gallagher, however, said he may have seen the last of the talented colt. He said owner Yvonne Jacques "lives in Europe and I believe the plan was to take him back there, depending on what he did today, and eventually run him in Dubai. I'd sure like to keep him, but he's going back to [former trainer] Jeremy Noseda."
Logotype held off heavy favorite Codino in the final furlong to win Sunday's Group 1 Asahi Hai Futurity at Nakayama Racecourse by a neck. Gottfried finished third. Logotype, a Lohengrin colt, stayed close to the lead with jockey Mirco Demuro calling the shots. He moved outside the leaders on the stretch turn and got to the front, then battled fiercely with Codino before securing his first group victory. The 1,600 meters went in 1:33.4. Godolphin Racing's Knowledge, a Street Sense colt, finished sixth. A Shin Top finished eighth. Logotype had picked up his second career win in his last previous race and trainer Tsuyoshi Tanaka said he felt his charge was ready for the jump in class. "We pushed him pretty hard in this week's fast work and his responses in the wrap were really good," Tanaka said before the race. "I'm reassured."
Heathcote led them a merry chase all 1 3/4 miles of Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Valedictory Stakes. At the end, the 4-year-old Niigon gelding was out front by 12 1/4 lengths. Peyton was next across the finish line, 1 3/4 lengths better than Quaesitor. Heathcote, with Emma-Jayne Wilson steering, finished the extended tour of the all-weather track in 2:59.42. "He just started getting going at the three-eighths pole," said Wilson. "No matter how good they are, and how much they handle that distance, they do seem to get a little tired. But he would have went around again."
Winning Image recovered quickly from a bobble at the start of Saturday's $100,000 Willa On the Move Stakes for fillies and mares, took a big lead a coasted home first by 1 3/4 lengths over Withgreatpleasure. Made to Love Her finished third. Winning Image, a 5-year-old Southern Image mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.24 under Jose Caraballo. "This filly is as honest a filly as you could be on," Caraballo said. "I had a lot of horse left. I never rode her. I just tapped her on the shoulder. Nothing. She's a lot of horse."
Csaba settled just off the pace early in Sunday's $100,000 Harlan's Holiday Stakes, came to the lead in the lane and drew off to a 3 3/4-length win. Delegation finished second and Cash Rules got home third. Csaba, a 3-year-old Kitten's Joy colt, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.51 with Luis Saez in the irons. Csaba won the Tropical Park Derby by 14 lengths and scored a dead-head victory in the Grade III Fred Hooper in his last two starts, both at Calder. He has had issues traveling and was visibly nervous in the receiving barn, paddock and post parade. Now, trainer Phil Gleaves is looking for another Gulfstream start. "I wouldn't mind turning him back to a one-turn mile and run him back in the Hal's Hope [on Jan. 13]," he said. "But we'll see."
Saginaw pressed the pace set by Royal Currier in Saturday's $75,000 Gravesend Handicap, got by late and went on to win by a length over that rival. Isn't He Perfect finished third and Frazil completed the order of finish. Saginaw, the odds-on favorite, got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.40 with Junior Alvarado up. It was the 10th win of the year for Saginaw. NYRA said he now is tied with Clean Jean and Winning Dubai for most wins in North America this year and trainer David Jacobson said he will shoot for No. 11 on Dec. 26 in the $75,000 Alex M. Robb over the same track.
Wildcat's Smile got to the front turning for home in Saturday's $80,000 Sarcastic Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and led the way home, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Morrow Cove. Los Ojitos finished third. Wildcat's Smile, a New York-bred Forest Wildcat filly, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast inner track in 1:41.98 with Irad Ortiz Jr. riding.
Hurricane Ike got the lead early in Saturday's $75,000 Tenacious Handicap and would not let the favorite, Brethern, get by in the stretch, hanging on to win by a neck. It Happened Again was 2 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Hurricane Ike, a 5-year-old son of Graeme Hall, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.70 for jockey James Graham. Trainer Michael Stidhamsaid said he was happy to see his charge go the two turns. "Certainly he'll be nominated to all these [Fair Grounds] stakes," Stidham said. "We'll definitely stay here at the Fair Grounds and we will run in the other stakes that come up for him and we'll try him in a little further if he continues to do well."
Golden Gate Fields
Gig Harbor led from the early stages in Saturday's $50,000 Oakland Stakes and worked clear at the end to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Shrug. The favorite, Ain't No Other, settled for third. Gig Harbor, a 4-year-old City Zip colt, negotiated the 6 furlongs on the all-weather surface in 1:09.07 with Frank Alvarado in the irons.
Night Party showed the way in Saturday's $50,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes and easily held off the favorite, Twinspired, to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Wealth to Me finished third. Night Party, a 4-year-old Rahy colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.68 with Shane Sellers up.
Eblouissante, a half-sister to 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, was scratched Saturday at Hollywood Park, less than 30 minutes before her scheduled second career start. Stewards said the filly banged her hip leaving the receiving barn, losing a patch of hide. Trainer John Shirreffs said the hip is bruised and he is not sure whether it will force Eblouissante to miss any training. She won her first career start impressively.