With the Kentucky Derby less than six months away and the Epsom Derby only a month after that, it's worth paying attention to some of the 2-year-old races staged this weekend from France to Japan, with many stops in between.
In the meantime: Silver Max faded to defeat at Churchill Downs, throwing his future into doubt. Aigue Marine won the Long Island Handicap on her third try and her future is in no doubt. Luke's Alley was impressive in Canada. And East Hall looked a little better than Wildcat Red in a showcase race down in Florida.
Let's get right down to it. The 2-year-olds are sprinkled throughout these recaps:
Villandry rallied from mid-pack, easily shot by pacesetting favorite Silver Max and went on to win Saturday evening's $100,000, Grade III River City Handicap going away. Hamp was along for second and Under Control was third while Silver Max finished sixth, about 7 lengths in arrears. Villandry, a 5-year-old Mr. Greeley gelding, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.54 with Julien Leparoux aboard. It was his first stakes win although he has been competitive in recent graded events as far afield as Woodbine. "It means a lot," said winning trainer Charlie LoPresti. "We've always thought this horse was worthy of a graded stakes win and he proved himself today. We had a great trip. Julien did a nice job and we're just happy for him to finally get it. Hopefully he'll continue to improve and be back even better next year." Silver Max's trainer, Dale Romans, said his steed is "just not the same horse, I guess. He's got 12 wins and made a lot of money. We've had a lot of fun. We'll just have to sit down and talk about his future. Hopefully I'll train some of his babies someday."
Executive Allure forged quickly to the fore in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Jammed Lovely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and wasn't to be denied, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over Unspurned. Skylander Girl finished third, 1/2 length farther back. Executive Alure, a Bold Executive filly, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.80 with Jesse Campbell aboard. She finished second in the Grade III Ontario Colleen Stakes earlier this year and also took the Passing Mood Stakes at Woodbine -- both on the turf.
Phil's Cocktail got first run to the lead in the stretch drive of Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Frost King Stakes for 2-year-olds and easily held off the favorite, Goodoldhockeygame, winning by 2 1/4 lengths. Super Colerosa finished third. Phil's Cocktail, a Philanthropist gelding, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:22.94 for jockey David Moran. He has three wins from five starts, all this season at Woodbine.
Luke's Alley rallied late in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Autumn Stakes and got there in time to win by a neck over War Correspondent. Midnight Aria led until the final yards and finished third. Luke's Alley, a 4-year-old Flower Alley colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.13 with Luis Contreras up. It was his third straight win, following a victory in the Grade III Durham Cup over the same course a month earlier. "I wanted to stay close and not let my horse do too much at the end, but I was a little bit stuck in the last turn and had to wait to angle outside," said Contreras. "I knew my horse was going to give everything he had."
Aigue Marine dropped to the rail and hooked up with Danza Cavallo in deep stretch in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Long Island Handicap for fillies and mares and prevailed by a neck. It was another 2 lengths back to Maximova in third. Aigue Marine, a 5-year-old, British-bred mare by Galileo, ran 1 1/2 miles on yielding turf in 2:35.37 with John Velazquez in the irons. It was her first win in three tries in this race and second win from six starts this season, the other being the Grade III Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park, also going long on the grass. "She's going to go back to Europe and become a broodmare now," said winning trainer Christophe Clement. "The trip John gave her was between superb and unbelievable. That's what you call 'saving ground.'"
Gulfstream Park West
East Hall ran by Wildcat Red in the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Millions Classic Preview Stakes for Florida-bred and went on to win by 2 lengths over that rival. Schivarelli finished third. East Hall, a 5-year-old Graeme Hall gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.99 for jockey Luis Saez. East Hall earlier this season won both the Ohio Derby and the Grade II Indiana Derby.
Swinger's Party took the lead at the head of the lane in Saturday's $100,000 Millions Distaff Preview for state-bred fillies and mares, turned back a determined challenge from Flutterby and won by 3/4 length over that rival. Don'tcallmecharley made a late move to get show money. Swinger's Party, a 4-year-old daughter of Medalia d'Oro, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.59 with Edgard Zayas up.
Bad Debt outfinished Tryer to win Saturday's $100,000 Millions Turf Preview by 1/2 length with the early leader, Breitling Flyer, fading to get home third. Bad Debt, a 7-year-old gelding by Grand Reward, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.92 for jockey Paco Lopez.
Mr. Jordan took over the lead at the eighth pole in Saturday's $100,000 Juvenile Sprint for Florida-bred 2-year-olds and won off by 3 lengths over Morgans Harbour. Sing Praises led briefly and finished third. Mr. Jordan, a Kantharos colt, got 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:18.32 with Paco Lopez in the irons.
Leap Year Luck got by Savingtime in the stretch run to win Saturday's $100,000 Juvenile Filly Sprint by 2 1/4 lengths. Moment of Delight completed the all-time-related trifecta. Leap Year Luck, a Hear No Evil filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:19.35 with Jesus Rios up.
Firespike came to the lead five-wide in the final furlong in Saturday's $100,000 Juvenile Turf Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds and kicked clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths over I'm Venezuelan. Less Than Perfect was good enough to finish third. Firespike, a Flower Alley colt, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:36.15 with Edgar Prado up.
Hangover Saturday blasted to the lead from the inside post in Saturday's $100,000 Juvenile Filly Turf for state-breds, set a reasonable pace and held well at the end. Miss Margaret was along to finish second, 2 1/4 lengths back. Catfight Cowgirl finished third and the favorite, Like a Queen, finished next-last of eight. Hangover Saturday, a daughter of Pomeroy out of the Johannesburg mare Margarita Friday, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:39.27 with Abdiel Jaen riding.
Here we go with the winter meeting at Del Mar. On the opening day card Friday, the $75,000 Kathryn Crosby Stakes for fillies and mares went to Queen of the Sand, who started near the back of a big field, came four-wide into the stretch and won off by 2 1/4 lengths. Gender Agenda was along for place and Kathleen Rose faded from the lead but held third. Queen of the Sand, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly by Footstepsinthesand, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.56 with Mike Smith up. Kieren Fallon piloted Gender Agenda.
On Saturday, Awesome Return started last of nine in the $75,000 Let It Ride Stakes for 3-year-olds, rallied to the lead midway down the stretch and outfinished Number Five to finish No. 1. Cabral was third. Awesome Return, a Decarchy colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.55 with Mike Smith up.
Sunday, it was More Complexity rallying past Sweet Marini in the late going to win the $100,000 Betty Grable Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares by 1/2 length. Warren's Veneda came from last to finish third, just a nose farther back. More Complexity, a 3-year-old Square Eddie filly, got 7 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:22.52 with Mario Gutierrez in the irons.
Shotgun Kowboy outfinished the odds-on favorite, Bayerd (that's with a "d"), to win Friday night's $100,000 Clever Trevor Stakes for 2-year-olds by 1 length. Dream It Do It was another 4 lengths back in third. Shotgun Kowboy, a Kodiak Kowboy gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.48 with Luis Quinonez in the irons. He now has won three of his four starts, all at Remington Park.
Touchdown Arkansas went to the post at nearly 30-1 odds in Saturday's $50,000 Razorback Futurity for Arkansas-bred 2-year-olds but scrambled by the early speed to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Indygo Bo. All Aboard finished third. Touchdown Arkansas, an Artie Schiller colt out of the Officer mare Ms. Officer Rocket, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.19 with Bryan McNeil up. In his only other start, Touchdown Arkansas retreated steadily to finish second-last of 11 over the same track a month ago.
Patchofbadweather fought for the lead through most of Saturday's $50,000 Lady Razorback Futurity for Arkansas-bred 2-year-old fillies, finally got clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths but then had to be vanned off the track. Auntcris'sshoes was up for second and the early leader and first-time starter, Be My Caroline, finished third. Patchofbadweather, a Storm and a Half filly, finished 6 furlongs in 1:12.61 for jockey Glen Murphy. It was her first win in her second start.
Isn't He Clever led from the git-go in Monday's $55,000 Veterans Stakes and drew off in the final furlong to win by 3 lengths over Forest Mouse. Ole Winedrinker Who, who holds the track record for the 1 1/16 miles, finished third this go-around. Isn't He Clever, a 5-year-old Smarty Jones gelding, got there in 1:42.73, just 0.84 second off the mark set by his rival almost exactly a year earlier.
Stalk the Wildcat did some stalking of his own early in Saturday's $50,000 Golden Nugget Stakes for 2-year-olds, then pounced and ran on to win by 5 lengths. Cartoonist drew an early lead and held on for second with Rainsford weakening from a pace battle to finish third. Stalk the Wildcat, a Ministers Wild Cat colt, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.31 for jockey Ricardo Gonzalez. He finished second in his first start and now has two consecutive wins with all starts coming at Golden Gate.
Sara Rocks rolled on through the stretch to a 4 1/4-lengths victory over Mint to Fly in Saturday's $50,000 Tri State Futurity for 2-year-old fillies. Just a Real Cat finished 3/4 length farther back in third. Sara Rocks, a Maryland-bred daughter of Rock Slide, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:29.40 under Jevian Toledo.
In the companion event for juvenile colts and geldings, Hear the Chatter led from the early jumps and cleared late, winning by 4 1/4 lengths over One More Time. Sir A.J. Munnings finished third. Hear the Chatter, a Mass Media gelding, ran 7 furlongs in 1:25.84 with Gerald Almodovar up.
Rivers Run Deep and License to Bling hooked up in a stretch-long duel to finish Saturday's $50,000 Cardinal Handicap for Ohio-breds with Rivers Run Deep prevailing by a neck after repeated bumping. It was 3 1/4 lengths back to Quasi Folle in third. Rivers Run Deep, the odds-on favorite, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.02 with Jareth Loveberry in the irons.
Epicuris, a Juddmonte Farms homebred colt by Rail Link, led from the start in Saturday's Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud and scored by 2 1/2 lengths over German-trained Palang. Big Blue was third, just failing to catch Palang. Thierry Thulliez rode the winner over 1 1/4 miles of heavy going in 2:17.41. He now has won all three of his starts and trainer Criquette Head-Maarek predicted he will improve for his 3-year-old season.
Second Table, a Twining colt, posted a big upset in Saturday's Group 2 Keio Hai Nisai Stakes for 2-year-olds at Tokyo Racecourse, defeating Sappheiros by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:21.5. The favorite, Nishino Rush, finished third in the 1,400-meters event, run over firm turf.
Cool Hotarubi scored an even bigger upset -- almost 93-1 -- in Saturday's Group III KBS Kyoto Fantasy Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The Matsurida Gogh filly rallied late to win by 1/2 length from the favorite, Danon Gracias. Win Soiree finished third. Cool Hotarubi got 1,400 meters on firm turf in 1:21.7.
Longines continues to expand its sponsorship of big races, adding "The Japan Cup in association with Longines" on Nov. 30 at Tokyo Racecourse to a roster that already extends worldwide. Longines added the Breeders' Cup to its sponsorship list earlier this fall.
News and notes:
California Chrome won't contest the Group 1 Champions Cup in Japan because Japan does not allow the use of nasal strips, The Blood-Horse reported Friday. However, co-owner Perry Martin said the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will remain in training in 2015, targeting the $10 million Dubai World Cup -- which also might include Bayern and Toast of New York -- as well as the Grade I Arlington Million on the grass before trying again in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland in the fall. Martin told The Blood-Horse there were several considerations in nixing the Japan trip but the ban on nasal strips was paramount. "I believe that nasal strips do reduce the occurrence and severity of bleeding and contribute significantly to the prolonged health of the horse," he said. Martin said the owners do want to show that California Chrome can run without medication, adding, "doing that sooner, rather than later, would be best." But it won't happen in Japan.
It's a variant of "If you build it, they will come." In this case, "If you offer record purses, they will come." With a record $23 million in purses available, Oaklawn Park has received a record number of stall applications for the 2015 race meeting that begins Friday, Jan. 9. The track received applications for more than 2,800 stalls. "We can house about 1,500 horses," Racing Secretary Pat Pope said Friday. "Of course we're pleased with the number of applications, but what really stands out is the quality of them." Among the horses expected for the 2015 meet are Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Take Charge Brandi, Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Work All Week and Breeders' Cup Distaff runner-up Don't Tell Sophia. Steve Asmussen, who saddled Untapable to victory in the Distaff and Tapiture to a second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, is expected to have these runners ready later in the spring. Oaklawn recently completed the first phase of a major expansion of its gaming facility.