There was a thrilling finish to the Japan Cup and an intriguing few steps along the Kentucky Derby trail spiced the weekend's racing.
There were juvenile races all across the United States and some major upsets in other events, notably under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs.
And don't lose focus because there's some nice racing on Thanksgiving Day and through the weekend.
But first, that lovely Japan Cup.
Gentildonna held off Denim and Ruby in the final strides to win Sunday's $5.8 million, Group 1 Japan Cup by a nose, notching her first win in four starts this year but her second straight Japan Cup -- a first in the 33-year history of the race. Eishin Flash was a close third and Admire Rakti fourth, leaving France's runner, Dunaden, as the best-finishing foreign horse in fifth.
Gentildonna is a 4-year-old daughter of Deep Impact. Denim and Ruby is a 3-year-old filly by the same sire. They join Treve, the 3-year-old filly who took Europe by storm this season, including a victory in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, in stamping 2014 as a banner year for the distaff set.
Gentildonna, with Ryan Moore replacing Yusanari Iwata as rider, got the 2,400 meters in 2:26.1 as the favorite among an on-track crowd of nearly 90,000 at Tokyo Race Course.
With the sun setting behind Mount Fuji in the background of the first turn, Moore kept his filly close to the lead through a moderate pace, guided her to the leaders early in the stretch run and, with about 200 meters to run, appeared to have a clear way to the historic second straight win.
But jockey Suguru Hamanaka had Denim and Ruby on a roll on the far outside and just missed at the wire.
"I found myself in front a little earlier than I'd have liked," Moore said. "Once we were there, it was a matter of hanging on long enough. She showed what a massive will to win she has. It was too close, really, for my liking."
Gentildonna was winless in three previous starts this year, but ran well in each race. Still, the string of defeats led to the jockey switch.
Trainer Sei Ishizaka said he plans to rest Gentildonna for the remainder of the year but keep her in training in 2014. He said he has not formulated a schedule for her but indicated the Dubai Sheema Classic, in which she finished second to St Nicholas Abbey this year, "would be a very big possibility."
Moore said he judges Gentildonna a possibility for Royal Ascot in June but not for the Paris races in the fall, where she likely would encounter the type of heavy going she seems to dislike.
The disappointments of Sunday's race were local runners Gold Ship, who finished 15th, and Eishin Flash, who was 10th. The other two foreigners, Simenon and Joshua Tree, were never in contention and finished 13th and last, respectively, in the 17-horse field.
Simenon, trained by William Mullins, is headed to Hong Kong for the 2,400-meters Longines Hong Kong Vase on Dec. 8, "all being well," the trainer said. Joshua Tree reportedly is giving Hong Kong a pass and Dunaden may stay in Japan to contest the Group 1 Arima Kinen next month.
Back in North America:
Rise Up should attract some attention when the first Kentucky Derby futures pool opens this weekend after running away with Saturday's $1 million, Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot in Louisiana. The Tom Amoss trainee, with Gerard Melancon in the irons, showed the way, was set down at the quarter pole, shook off all challengers and won by 6 lengths, finishing 1 1/16 miles on the fast track in a good 1:44.71. Casiguapo was best of the rest with Rankhasprivileges third. The favorite, Coastline, stumbled at the start and was never in the mix. Rise Up is a Rockport Harbor colt out of the Johannesburg mare Appenzell. He now has four wins from his last five starts with the only blot a sixth-place showing in the Grade III Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs two races back. "I've been guilty so many times of taking horses with so much tactical speed and making them something they're not," Amoss said. "Maybe I almost did that today. But Gerard took it out of my hands and let him use his speed correctly today and got us the win. So he gets a gold star." Last year's running of the Delta Downs Jackpot was won by Goldencents who went on to win the Grade I Santa Anita Derby and the Breeder's Cup Dirt Mile.
Tamarando broke last of eight in Saturday's $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park, worked through part of the field on the turn and then came wide to win by 3 1/4 lengths, going away. Electric Eddie finished third and the favorite, Green Mark, settled for fourth. Tamarando, a Bertrando colt out of the Dehere mare Tamarack Bay, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:44.22. "He's got a real good kick," winning rider Rafael Bejarano said. "The distance is the key for him. He can really run." Tamarando won the Del Mar Futurity over that track's all-weather course and now is set for the $750,000, Grade I Cash Call Futurity on Dec. 15.
Empire Dreams ran by the leaders in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000 Great White Way Division of the New York Stallion Stakes and went on to post a 1 3/4-length victory. Sol the Freud was second, Lady's Smart Alec third and Free Mugatu fourth in a close finish for the minor awards. Empire Dreams, a Patriot Act colt out of the Thunder Gulch mare Ascended Dreams, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.16 for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
Ide Be Cool traded the lead with Mypalcharliebrown in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000 Louisiana Legacy Stakes for state-breds at Delta Downs, then put his neck in front under the wire. My Kay Sara put a head in front at the top of the lane but faded to finish a non-threatening third. Ide Be Cool, an Ide gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.74 under Chris Rosier.
Sunday's $100,000 Smiling and Dancin Stakes for 2-year-olds on the turf at Aqueduct was scrubbed because of bad weather that shut down live racing for the day.
Saturday's $200,000 Zia Park Derby in New Mexico also was canceled, along with the rest of the card after the first race, because of icy storms.
Tenpin chased down pacesetting favorite Bahnah in a long stretch drive to win Saturday's $500,000, Grade III Delta Downs Princess by 1 1/4 lengths. Concave finished third. Tenpin, a Bernstein filly, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:38.85 with Miguel Mena in the irons. She was making her first start outside Kentucky for trainer Mark Casse and now has two wins, a third and a fourth to show for her efforts.
Zensational Bunny dueled for the lead in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Glorious Song Stakes, then widened the lead through the stretch run to win by 3 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Norquay. Henry's Island was third. Zensational Bunny, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Zensational out of the Storm Bird mare Beach Bunny, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.20 with Patrick Husbands in the irons. "She did it pretty easy," Husbands said. "She was naturally fast coming out of the chute, looking at everything and getting away from me. But she relaxed and got the job done."
In Sunday's restricted $125,000 (Canadian) South Ocean Stakes at Woodbine, Lexie Lou got to the front early and the favorite, Paladin Bay, was never able to make much progress toward catching her. At the wire, it was Lexie Lou by 3 lengths with Flipcup 1 length back of Paladin Bay in third. Lexie Lou, an Ontario-bred Sligo Bay filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.70 with Gary Boulanger in the irons.
Miss Narcissist let Hey Kiddo take the point in Saturday's $150,000 Fifth Avenue Division of the New York Stallion Stakes, then wore her down in the final strides to win by a head. Champagne Ruby came from last of seven to finish third. Miss Narcissist, by Freud out of the Good and Tough mare Mighty Tough, got 6 furlongs in 1:11.60 under Junior Alvarado. Trainer Linda Rice said Miss Narcissist has had trouble changing leads. "In some ways, we actually think she might be better off going further," she said, mentioning the Dec. 15 East View at 1 mile and 70 yards.
All Woman, with Rosie Napravnik in the irons, rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win Saturday's $150,000 Louisiana Jewel Stakes for state-breds at Delta Downs by 2 1/2 lengths over Glamoride. Pledge Pin finished third. All Woman, a daughter of Half Ours, got the mile on a fast track in 1:41.69.
Saturday's $300,000 Zia Park Oaks in New Mexico fell victim to weekend storms.
It was a day for the plungers as Potomac River rallied from a troubled start to win Saturday's $100,000 River City Handicap by 2 lengths at 45-1 odds. Set the Sail completed a $1,141 exacta and Grand Arch was needed to collect $9,632.40 for a $2 trifecta ticket. The favorite, Coalport, was involved in a messy start and never recovered, finishing seventh. Potomac River, a 4-year-old English Channel colt, finished 98 furlongs over turf rated "good" in 1:51.20 under Juan Vargas. "He's faced some nice horses but he's never placed in a stakes," winning trainer Sergio Baez said. "I wasn't really surprised. He was just doing good and trained good."
Rousing Sermon was roused to the lead entering the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 On Trust Handicap for California-breds and edged clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Cyclometer. Mobilized finished third. Rousing Sermon, a 4-year-old Lucky Pulpit colt, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:29.73 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons.
Vicki's Dancer rallied between rivals down the stretch run in Saturday's $125,000 Staten Island Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for fillies and mares and won by a neck over Familyofroses. P J's Superego was third and the favorite, Kelli Got Frosty, finished fourth with a belated run. Vicki's Dancer, a 4-year-old Disco Risco filly, ran 7 furlongs under Eddie Castro in 1:24.71.
Comandante stalked the pace in Saturday's $125,000 Thumber Rumble Division of the New York Stallion Stakes, took the lead midway around the sweeping turn and held on to score by 1 1/2 lengths over West Hills Giant. Anaphylaxis added value to the trifecta. Comandante, a 3-year-old Frost Giant gelding, finished in 1:22.66 with Javier Castellano handling the reins.
They're off and running in the Big Easy but odds-on favorite String King found Saturday's $60,000 Mr. Sulu Stakes anything but easy. String King came from the middle of the pack to challenge front-running, 45-1 long shot Tiger Run at the top of the lane and had all he could do to get home first by 3/4 of a length. It was another 2 3/4 length back to Sadie's Soldier in third. String King, a 5-year-old Crowned King gelding, ran the mile on yielding turf in 1:42.16 with James Graham up.
Hip Foursixtynine rallied from well back to take Saturday's $75,000 Sam's Town Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3 3/4 lengths over Runaway Stephen. He's Had Enough finished third. The favorite, Heitai, faded from a quick-pace duel to finish next-last of eight. Hip Foursixtynine, a Southern Image colt, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.97 with Robby Albarado riding.
Grand Contender jumped out to a big lead in Saturday's $150,000 Delta Mile and coasted home first by 3 1/4 lengths over Agent Di Nozzo. The favorite, Uncaptured, captured show money. Grand Contender, a 5-year-old Strong Contender gelding owned by Maggi Moss and trained by Tom Amoss, got home in 1:36.89 over a fast strip with Gerard Melancon in the irons.
Class Included swung four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Treasure Chest Stakes for fillies and mares and quickly resolved all doubt, racing off to a 6-length victory over Livi Makenzie. Juliet Dear finished third at big odds. Class Included, a 5-year-old Include mare, ran the mile on the fast track in 1:38.80 with Rosie Napravnik up.
Boss Barney's Babe came from the clouds to take Saturday's $75,000 Orleans Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1 length over Flashy Campaign. Quiet Success was third. Boss Barney's Babe, a Street Boss filly, ran 7 furlongs in 1:25.46 with Miguel Mena up.
Okie Ride and Z Rockstar both got by pacesetting Fifth Date in the final jumps in Friday's $50,000 Silver Goblin Stakes and dead-heated for the top slots. Fifth Date held third, just a head back of the embattled winners. Okie Ride, a 6-year-old Candy Ride gelding, and Z Rockstar, a 4-year-old Rockport Harbor gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.20.
I'm Kiddin eased by odds-on favorite Startin Something in the final sixteenth to win Saturday's $50,000 Bobbie Bricker Memorial Handicap for Ohio-bred fillies and mares by 1 3/4 lengths. Monetary Reward settled for third. I'm Kiddin, a 4-year-old Pacific Waves filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a muddy track in 1:49.67 under Alberto Pusac.
News and notes:
Royal Delta won't be running in the Cigar Mile this coming weekend. Instead, she will be in quarantine, preparing to ship to England for an engagement with Galileo. The 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker was retired by owner Benjamin Leon, who said it was in the mare's "best interests." She finished her career with two Eclipse Awards, and 12 wins from 22 starts. Those wins included two runnings of the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She finished fourth in this year's Distaff at Santa Anita. She earned more than $4.8 million.