Tamarando and Kobe's Back jumped onto the Kentucky Derby radar with late-running wins in a weather-shortened weekend of racing.
Races in Florida, Japan, and Hong Kong produced likely candidates for Dubai World Cup night next month.
Oaklawn Park in Arkansas finally got back into action after losing multiple days to bad weather. But even more nasty winter forced cancellations from the Ohio River Valley into the northeast, including important stakes at Laurel Park and Aqueduct.
And, if you've been wondering whatever happened to Ron the Greek, check out the Saudi Arabia entry below.
Read it here while you still can:
The Road to the Roses
Tamarando looked every bit the Kentucky Derby contender in coming from last of eight to win Saturday's $200,000, Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. The Bertrando colt, with Russell Baze in the irons, wasn't asked to run until the stretch turn, then circled five-wide and wore down Dance With Fate in the late going to score by a half length. The favorite, Enterprising, was always close but lacked the needed punch late and settled for third. Tamarando finished the 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:51.23. He is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, who also handles the fourth-place finisher, Puppy Manners and the injured Exit Stage Left. "He was laying than normal for him and doing it well within himself," Baze said. "I had to ask him to start moving at the three-eighths pole because I knew they had a lot of horse in front of us. He got me right up there to them and then had enough to push by that horse at the finish line." Tamarando now has four wins from 10 starts. Those victories include the Grade I Del Mar Futurity. While all four of his wins came over all-weather tracks, he also has run well on the dirt at Santa Anita. "This horse runs well every time we race him," Hollendorfer said. "Even before Exit Stage Left got hurt, we talked about running him in this race."
Down south at Santa Anita, Kobe's Back was, indeed, back in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II San Vicente Stakes. The Flatter colt broke last of six in the 7-furlongs event, came around the field into the stretch and drew off smartly, winning by 5 1/4 lengths, ridden out. Cherubim was the best of the rest after dueling for the lead and Rprettyboyfloyd finished third. Kobe's Back, under Joel Rosario, got home in 1:21.84. The victory was his second in four starts. After starting with a maiden win at Hollywood Park, Kobe's Back finished second in the Grade III Hollywood Prevue, then struggled home 10th in the Grade I Cash Call Futurity after a nightmare trip. "I just wanted Joel to ride him patiently," said winning trainer John Sadler, "because everybody has us kind of counted out of the route races, except us. I wanted him off the pace a little bit and see if he'd finish up good so we could get him going around two turns next time." He said he's eyeing the Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park for a next race. "We wanted to get a good one at home in good weather first, then we're going to look for a race with [Kentucky Derby] points for him in the next one," he said.
Ibaka came from far 'baka' with a six-wide move in Saturday's $75,000 Jim's Orbit Stakes at Sam Houston Race Course, got the lead and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths. F J Uncle Vic led the field into the stretch run and held on for second, 2 1/2 lengths in front of Circustown Flyer. Ibaka, an Oklahoma-bred gelding by Uncle Abbie, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.55. Rosie Napravnik rode for trainer Bret Calhoun. He came into the race off a victory last month at Delta Downs after a disappointing start at Retama. "The race didn't unfold the way we thought," Calhoun said. "He got shuffled back but finished well in the end."
Kentucky Oaks prospects
Fiftyshadesofgold, the odds-on favorite, got by pacesetter Scooter's Choice in the late going to win Saturday's $75,000 Two Altazano Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park by 2 1/2 lengths. Forever Since was 8 lengths farther back in third. Fiftyshadesofgold, a Texas-bred filly by My Golden Song, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.13 with Rosie Napravnik up for trainer Bret Calhoun. "It was perfect," Calhoun said. "Just the way we drew it up." She was making a comeback from an injury suffered last summer at Saratoga and Calhoun said she now will shift her forcus to "one of the big stakes" at Fair Grounds with hopes of a Kentucky Oaks start.
Turning our attention to the international front, it's all about the upcoming Dubai World Cup night:
(By RICHARD GROSS)
Variety was the evening's theme on the card and in the winner's circle at Meydan Thursday as trainers edged closer to decision time about where to place their Dubai World Cup day runners.
The spice of the night was a fired-up Variety Club breaking away from Haatheq to take the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes by 2 lengths over 1,600 meters on the all-weather Tapeta. The 5-year-old, six-time Group 1 winner in South Africa and 2012 Equus Champion as a 3-year-old successfully tested the UAE sands a first time, leaving a variety of turf and Tapeta options open to trainer Joey Ramsden, including a possible Dubai World Cup run.
"He is a superstar at home," noted South African jockey Anton Marcus, who rode to victory on Jay Peg in the 2008 Dubai Duty Free and is back for a possible try at the big prize. "Hopefully he will turn out to be a serious Dubai World Cup horse."
Ramsden was in attendance for his first UAE win and whichever surface variety he chooses, turf or all-weather, it's all but certain he'll be booking a return trip on Dubai World Cup day.
Trainer Mike de Kock teamed with jockey Christophe Soumillon to score two more South African victories on the night. Sanshaawes notched a 1 1/2-length victory over Storm Belt in the card-opening Raptor Trophy handicap over 2,000 meters on the all-weather. Vercingetorix then drove past Code of Honor by a half length over 1,800 meters in the Ford Taurus Trophy turf handicap to remain undefeated in five starts.
Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby and jockey Mickael Barzalona navigated to victory as Long John flew past Emirates Flyer and landed a winner by a 4 1/4-length span in the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas over 1,600 meters on the all-weather. The race was way over when the Group 1-winning gelding from Down Under exploded past his 10 competitors in the last 400 meters for an impressive win.
"I don't think we expected a win quite like that," said Barzalona of the emphatic score by the 4-year-old son of Street Cry.
Appleby was equally pleased with the run. "All the connections will get together and decide where to go but the 1,900-meter UAE Derby would not be a problem in terms of distance," Appleby said.
The win didn't come quite as easily for Russian Soul who showed an Olympian-sized heart to hold on at the end by a gritty length over Jamesie and medal the 1,200-meter all-weather Al Shindagha Sprint. It was the third Carnival win in as many weeks for Irish trainer Michael Halford and countryman jockey Shane Foley, denying fellow Irish trainer David Marmane.
"He loves the all-weather and travels so strongly," said Foley. "All being well, he will be back on Super Saturday and then Dubai World Cup night."
Songcraft crafted his second win in the Sport Trophy handicap, meandering past Meandre by 1 1/4 lengths over the long 2,435-meter turf course, the runnerup cruising past Sheikhzayedroad by an equal margin to close the evening. The winning 6-year-old son of Singspiel bested his 2012-winning time in the same race by more than a full second at 2:33.48. The win gave hometown trainer Saeed bin Suroor and jockey Silvestre de Sousa their lone victory on the evening, but still a double for Godolphin.
Dual Japan Cup winner Gentildonna had a less-than gentle start to her 2014 season, finishing sixth in Sunday's Group 2 Kyoto Kinen. Desperado, an outside chance, came up the winner in the 2,200-meters event, 3/4 of a length better than Tosen Ra. Uncoiled was third. Gentildonna was not beaten badly, however, crossing the finish line only about 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner in a race that always was intended as a prep for a run on Dubai World Cup night. She was second to St Nicholas Abbey in last year's Group 1 Sheema Classic without a tightener. Jockey Sei Ishizaka said Gentildonna ducked as the gates opened for Sunday's race and by the time he got her to relax, she had no chance. Desperado, meanwhile, will head to the Group 1 Tenno Sho Spring.
Lucky Nine bounced back from a disappointing end to last year's campaign to post a big win Sunday in his first race during the Year of the Horse. The 7-year-old Dubawi gelding, making his first start since finishing seventh in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint in December, held off Charles the Great by a neck to win the HK Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize at Sha Tin by a neck. The favorite, Sterling City, was only a short head farther off the wire at the end. Lucky Nine finished the 1,200 meters in 1:09.37. Lucky Nine won the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint in 2011 and also took last year's Group 1 KrisFlyer International Spint at Kranji in Singapore. But he failed in two tries in Australia before December's misfire. Now, his re-emergence gives trainer Caspar Fownes some attractive options. "He's been accepted for Dubai," the trainer said. "He'll be entered to go to Japan on March 30. But there's a very good chance I might just stay here [for the 1,400-meters Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup on March 16]. The horse has still got a lot more improvement in him." The Silver Jubilee Cup is the third leg in the rich Hong Kong Speed Series.
Also Sunday at Sha Tin, Designs on Rome led a 1-2-3 finish for trainer John Moore in the HK Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Cup at 1,800 meters, enhancing his allure for the upcoming BMW Hong Kong Derby. "The Derby's on the horizon," Moore said, "and it looks as though Designs on Rome should be winning that sort of race [based] on his race today." Able Friend and Secret Sham completed the sweep for Moore's barn.
Ron the Greek, now owned by Saudi connections and renamed Wattani, was an easy winner Saturday at King Abdulaziz Racecourse. The multiple Grade I winner in the United States, formerly trained by Bill Mott, now reportedly is headed for the Dubai World Cup.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Mac Diarmida Stakes at Gulfstream Park lived up to its promise as an interesting affair. But at the end, the favorite, Twilight Eclipse, took charge and edged clear to win by a length over Amen Kitten with Slumber lumbering home third, just a neck farther back. Crack Illinois-bred Suntracer came from last to finish fourth, another length back and Alpha continued to be a mystery, fading to finish fifth after leading much of the way in a rare start on the green course. Twilight Eclipse, a 5-year-old Purim gelding with Jose Lezcano up, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in a rather tardy 2:15.18 as things slowed down considerably in the final furlong. Twilight Eclipse, sixth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Turf, now has two straight graded stakes wins on the grass in South Florida. He also took the Grade III W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder in December. "We were talking about going to Dubai with him," winning trainer Tom Albertrani said. "We got the invite to go, depending on the outcome today. I think that's what we are going to do. It seems like he's matured quite a bit ... . Hopefully we can have another big year ahead of ourselves."
Filly & Mare Turf
Inimitable Romanee stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III The Very One Stakes at Gulfstream Park, rallied to the lead at mid-stretch and triumphed by a length over Aigue Marine. Viva Rafaela finished third and the favorite, Preferential, got home fifth without making much impact on the running. Inimitable Romanee, a 6-year-old Maria's Mon mare, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm going in 2:15.50 for jockey Alan Garcia. She started her 2014 campaign right where she left off last year, winning the Grade III Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct on Nov. 9. After that, said winning trainer H. Graham Motion, "we backed off her a little bit. I didn't want to come down here and run in every race ... . This was our first goal and I'm not going to be in a hurry to run her back. It's a long year."
The Classic division
Right to Vote stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park, joined a three-way stretch battle and prevailed by a half length after a testing drive. Street Spice as second, a neck in front of Voodoo Storm. Right to Vote, a 5-year-old Political Force gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.84 with Ricardo Santana riding. He now is 2-for-2 at Oaklawn this season after an earlier allowance win. Trainer Ron Moquette said he's aiming Right to Vote toward the $200,000 Razorback Handicap on March 15. "We're from Arkansas and we'd love to win the Razorback," he said.
Ladies' Classic division
Iotapa led from the start in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita and held well in the stretch drive to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Let Faith Arise was second, 1 3/4 lengths better than Stanwyck. Iotapa, a 4-year-old Afleet Alex filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.30 under Joe Talamo. Iotapa has never finished out of the money in eight starts, with four wins, three seconds and a third -- all in California. She finished second in last year's Santa Anita Oaks. "When she drew the rail, I didn't want to waste the post," winning trainer John Sadler said. "I thought she'd be first or second, but I left it up to Joe ... . Hopefully, she'll go in the Santa Margarita." That's a Grade I at 1 1/8 miles on March 15.
Devil's Cave was quickly out front in Sunday's $200,000, Grade III Sabin Stakes at Gulfstream Park and kicked on late to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Sunshine Millions Distaff winner Sweet N Discreet. Triple Arch finished third at a nice price while the favorite, Rose to Gold, faded to finish next-last of eight. Devil's Cave, a 4-year-old Put It Back filly, negotiated 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in track-record time of 1:41.00 with Javier Castellano up. Winning trainer Marty Wolfson said he was convinced Devil's Cave could have won the Sunshine Millions event if she hadn't been allowed to follow a slow pace, so he told Castellano to let 'er rip. "She has high speed and to make a horse like her [go slow] really discourages her," Wolfson said. He added Devil's Cave is due a short break and will be pointed to 9 furlongs next time out.
Don't Tell Sophia was no secret to the punters at Oaklawn Park before Sunday's $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes. The faithful bet the 6-year-old Congaree mare down to a 1-2 favorite and she produced as predicted, rallying from last to win by 3 lengths, ridden out. Dixie Strike and Sister Ginger also ran well in the stretch to finish second and third, respectively. Don't Tell Sophia, with Channing Hill aboard, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.78. She now has finished in the money in 10 straight starts. That skein includes five wins, including last year's Bayakoa and the Grade II Chilukki Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Apprehender took back early in Saturday's $100,000 King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn Park, came five-wide around the field heading into the stretch and held off the favored entry of Alsvid and Black Bear to win by a length. After the entry, Mico Margarita filled out the trifecta. Apprehender, a 5-year-old Posse gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track 1:10.19 with David Mello in the irons. Even though he won the King Cotton last year, he was an unlikely choice, even in Sunday's wide-open race, after being pulled up and vanned off in his last start, some 11 months ago. Trainer Chris Richard originally planned to test Apprehender in an allowance event and the gelding was not entered for the King Cotton's original "air date" last weekend -- a day lost to the weather. When the race was rescheduled, he took a chance. "I always think you should take advantage of a condition when you can," he said. "But this worked out. It was a quality field. He's a really good horse."
In Saturday's $60,000 Gentilly Stakes for Louisiana-bred 3-year-olds, B and B's Pulpit came from off the pace to hook up in a stretch duel with the favorite, Youve Got a Friend, and prevailed by a nose. Brother Maxwell came from last to take show money. B and B's Pulpit, a Brahms gelding out of a Pulpit mare, ran about 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:42.34 with Brian Hernandez Jr. up.
In the companion $60,000 Sarah Lane's Oates Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies, Artist Cry rallied from last of 10 and got clear late to win by 1 1/2 lengths over P T's Jewel. Tedious finished third. Artist Cry, a daughter of Clever Cry, needed 1:42.31 with James Graham in the irons.
Absolutely Cool got past pacesetting favorite L. A. Weekend in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup and kicked clear to win by 2 lengths over that foe. Valiant Flame was another length in arrears in third. Absolutely Cool, a 7-year-old Washington-bred gelding by Absolute Harmony, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.54 for jockey Rocco Bowen.
Quiet Acceleration accelerated quietly from the back of the pack in Saturday's $50,000 Jersey Village Stakes for Texas-breds, then won a tight stretch duel by a nose over Fly the Red Eye. Valid Message finished well back in third and pacesetting favorite Special U F O faded to get home fourth. Quiet Acceleration, a 5-year-old Silent Picture gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.27 under Gerardo Mora.
On the Backstreets stalked the pace down the grassy hillside course in Saturday's $75,000 Sweet Life Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, took charge while crossing the main track and scooted off to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Famous Alice finished third. On the Backstreets, a Street Boss filly, finished about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:12.44 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons.
Red Outlaw stayed close to the lead in Sunday's $75,000 Baffle Stakes for 3-year-olds down the hill, then got the better of the favorite, Gangnam Guy, in deep stretch. At the wire, it was Red Outlaw by a head over that rival with Horse Laugh third. Red Outlaw, a Tribal Rule gelding, ran about 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:12.05 under Joel Rosario.
Western Way rallied by pacesetting favorite Piratz Sash in the stretch run in Saturday's $85,000 Peppers Pride Handicap for New Mexico-bred fillies and mares and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over that rival. Dont Ask Ghost finished third. Western Way, a 5-year-old daughter of The Way Home, got home in 1:38.30 with Enrique Garcia riding.