With the initial Kentucky Derby futures pool opening later this week, Ocho Ocho Ocho and Mr. Z raced their way into consideration with a tight 1-2 finish in Saturday's $1 million Delta Jackpot.
Weekend racing also included more rich events for the juvenile set and a few lucrative stakes on the grass.
Internationally, Hong Kong's finest tuned up in the final local preps for the big Longines Hong Kong International Races just three weeks down the road. And the Mile Championship at Kyoto in Japan went to a relative long shot after a dramatic stretch battle.
Battle through this:
Ocho Ocho Ocho raced into Kentucky Derby contention with a gritty victory over Mr. Z in Saturday's $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot in Louisiana. Ocho Ocho Ocho, with Mike Smith up, got to the lead in the lane with Mr. Z in hot chase but never let that rival by and won by a rather desperate nose. Far Right, who took up sharply on the stretch turn, recovered to finish third, 4 lengths farther back. Ocho Ocho Ocho, a Street Sense colt, remained undefeated in three starts, running 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.47. The James Cassidy trainee won at first asking at Santa Anita on Oct. 11, then scored in the off-the-turf Juvenile Turf Sprint at the same track on Nov. 1, both times coming from off the pace. Mr. Z, fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in his last start, settled for second for the fourth time in seven career races for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Far Right might have been right there but for the traffic issue and is one to watch. The stewards disallowed an objection against Ocho Ocho Ocho for the incident. "I didn't want Mike to force him to the lead," Cassidy said of Ocho Ocho Ocho. "You could pretty much put him anywhere he wants. Even though he had never been around two turns before today, he's bred to go two turns. For him to gut it out like that at the end, he's a pretty nice colt." He earned $600,000 and 10 points toward a potential spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate and Cassidy said the colt will take the California route toward Louisville, with the Santa Anita Derby as the penultimate goal. Lukas said Mr. Z might start again in the $500,000, Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity at 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 20 and suggested a win there might give his colt a shot at the divisional Eclipse Award.
Four Leaf Chief rallied from the back of a seven-horse field to win Saturday's $150,000 Louisiana Legacy Stakes for state-bred colts and geldings at Delta Downs by 4 1/2 lengths. Cook Some Rice nailed pacesetting Sharon's Boy in the final jump to get place money. Four Leaf Chief, a Lookin at Lucky colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.99 with Gerard Melancon aboard.
At Hawthorne Race Course, Dom the Bomb dropped a bomb on a quartet of rivals in Saturday's $75,000 Sun Power Stakes for Illinois-bred 2-year-old colts and geldings, emerging from a pace-pressing spot to win off by 11 3/4 lengths. Armando's Star finished second after holding a slim advantage early, but only until winning rider Timothy Thornton unleashed Dom the Bomb. Chadwick was another 4 1/4 lengths back in third. Dom the Bomb, a Bring the Heat colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.06. The colt broke his maiden at Arlington, then finished fourth in a tough allowance race at Keeneland. "He finished up great," Thornton said. "I didn't get after him too much. I didn't even have to uncock the stick, thinking we would save something for next time."
The first futures pool for the Kentucky Derby runs from Friday, Nov. 28, through the weekend. Twenty-three individual contenders will be available with the 24th pick representing the field, or all others. The 2014 Derby, the 141st Run for the Roses, will be May 2.
Breeders' Cup winner Take Charge Brandi backed up that longshot victory with a workmanlike, 1 1/2-lengths triumph in Saturday's $400,000, Grade III Delta Downs Princess Stakes. With Paco Lopez up, the Giant's Causeway filly pressed the pace set by Vivian Da Bling, went by that one when she tired and wasn't threatened thereafter, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Skipalute. Majestic Presence finished third and Temper Mint Patty was a distant fifth after stumbling out of the gate. Take Charge Brandi ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.60. She had struggled in three starts before the Breeders' Cup, beaten by double-digit lengths in all of them, and another loss likely would have jeopardized her chances of a divisional Eclipse Award. The win vindicated her placing by still-wily trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "She showed her class today because I didn't think she handled the racetrack very well," Lukas said. And he said the filly may not be done yet with her 2-year-old career as he is eyeing the Grade I Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos on Dec. 13.
Mississippi Delta rolled home a 2-lengths winner in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Glorious Song Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather course. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Giant's Causeway stalked the early pace, closed on the leader around the turn and won in hand. With Patrick Husbands at the controls, Mississippi Delta navigated 7 furlongs in 1:22.47. She now is the winner of two straight races at the Ontario oval.
Wind Chill Factor was bumped and shuffled back at the break in Saturday's $150,000 Louisiana Jewel Stakes at Delta Downs for state-bred fillies, moved up along the backstretch and was in full command when the field hit the stretch. With Willie Martinez keeping her to task, the Successful Appeal filly won off by 5 3/4 lengths, well in hand. Casual Class was second and Private Promise finished third. The 1 mile on a fast track went in 1:41.93.
Timeaday stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Showtime Deb Stakes for Illinois-bred 2-year-old fillies at Hawthorne Racecourse, came three-wide to the lead entering the stretch run and went on to win by 3 3/4 lengths as the heavy favorite. Tizgorgeous finished second, 1 length better than Rock My Dreams. Timeaday, by 2006 Delta Jackpot winner Birdbirdistheword, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.77 with Emmanuel Esquivel in the irons. "I knew the whole way that I had a lot of horse," the rider said. "I knew that when I asked her, she would give me everything she had and she did. It all worked out."
Blazing Speed stuck a head in front of two-time Horse of the Year Military Attack to win Sunday's HK Group 2 Longines Jockey Club Cup at Sha Tin, setting himself up for the International Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup in three weeks' time. Endowing, winner of last year's edition of this event, finished third; two-time Hong Kong Cup winner California Memory was fourth; and reigning Horse of the Year Designs on Rome fifth in a tight finish among talented rivals. Neil Callan rode the winner, a Dylan Thomas gelding, for trainer Tony Cruz. "Blazing Speed will definitely go to the Hong Kong Cup," said the trainer. "We've really found the key to him. He's a brilliant 2,000-meters horse and I think he's getting better as he gets older, just like wine." Cruz also trains California Memory and said he should be "spot on" for the Cup after Sunday's effort.
Able Friend was more than able in winning Sunday's HK Group 2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile at Sha Tin, surging well out front with 200 meters to run and virtually eased at the finish by Joao Moreira. Hong Kong's reigning champion miler, Gold-Fun, could do no better than second, 2 1/4 lengths in arrears. Ambitious Dragon continued his ambitious return from a long injury layoff with a third-place finish in this final local prep for the International Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile on Dec. 14. Trainer John Moore said his training of the 5-year-old Shamardal gelding was "slightly underdone" but plenty to get him where he needed to be. "There doesn't have to be much improvement, based on his run today," said Moreira, looking forward to the big race.
In a field full of experienced, older international stars, it was the unheralded Peniaphobia on top at the end of Sunday's HK Group 2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint and suddenly a candidate for the Group 1 sprint on Dec. 14 over the same 1,200-meters distance. Peniaphobia, starting from gate No. 14 on Sunday, raced wide through most of the race but jockey Douglas Whyte rallied him to the lead midway down the straight and he was home free after that. "He's an improving horse and I think he's a serious contender for the Hong Kong Sprint in three weeks' time," said trainer Tony Cruz. "He'll be stronger and fitter and he'll be much more professional. He's a serious horse and he's improving all the time." The more experienced rivals will need some improvement to keep pace. Hong Kong's champion sprinter, Lucky Nine, was stuck in traffic down the stretch and finished fifth. This spring's Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen winner, Sterling City, continued his slide with a dull effort to get home 12th. Previously unbeaten Singapore runner Spalato faded badly to finish 13th. Peniaphobia has international credentials of his own despite his tender years. He raced in England as a 2-year-old, winning three of four starts, including the Weatherbys Super Sprint.
Danon Shark and Fiero emerged from behind a hot pace duel in Sunday's Group 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto and duked it out down the lane before Danon Shark prevailed by a nose in race-record time of 1:31.5. Grandezza finished third after contesting the pace with the favorite, Tosen Ra, fourth and Grand Prix Boss sixth. It was the first Group 1 victory for Danon Shark, a 6-year-old son of Deep Impact who finished third in this race last year behind Tosen Ra. "I was instructed to keep him covered in mid-field early, and he settled nicely," said winning rider Yasunari Iwata. "There was just room enough for us to squeeze through in the inside at mid-stretch and he responded with a really good turn of speed. I am glad that I was able to contribute to his long-waited and well-deserved Group 1 win."
Godolphin scored a 1-2 in Saturday's All-Weather Championship qualifier, the 32Red Conditions Stakes for 2-year-olds over 7 furlongs at Lingfield. Four Seasons came from well back with a late rush to overtake Super Kid and win by 1 length. "Four Seasons will go straight to the final," said winning trainer Charlie Appleby, referring to the 3-year-old Championship Day race, run at 1 mile on Good Friday, April 3. The final is run at 1 mile and Appleby added, "The step-up in trip will suit him."
Back in North America:
On the turf
Lubash rolled past pacesetting Reporting Star in the final yards to win Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Tropical Park Handicap over the Gulfstream Park West grass by 1/2 length. Grand Tito pressed the early pace and stuck around to get show money. Lubash, a 7-year-old son of Freud, ran 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:50.72 with Brice Blanc riding. "He's a fun horse because he really, really wants to win," said trainer Christophe Clement. He added Lubash will be given a break, then return to run next year at age 8. " "But he's a young 8," Clement said. "I trained a horse for Mrs. (Charlotte) Weber named Revved Up who was a stakes winner at 10. I think the way we campaign, we look after them, and obviously he's very sound. It's fine."
Ladies on the lawn:
We noted in this space on Thursday that Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Cardinal Handicap for fillies and mares on the Churchill Downs grass would be a real "program stabber." Well, when the favorite, I'm Already Sexy, faded from the lead to finish fourth, the top three finishers, Strike Charmer, Papascat and Antonia Autumn, returned $14,876.80 for a $2 trifecta wager. Nice for those who stabbed the right spots! Strike Charmer and Papascat were always close through the 9 furlongs, run over good turf. But as I'm Already Sexy chucked it in, it was Strike Charmer who scooted ahead to win by 2 lengths. Antonia Autumn rallied late to finish third. Chris Landeros spent 1:49.97 in the irons. "The way she's been training and the way she presented herself today, gosh, that's what separates the good ones from the mediocre ones," Landeros said. He said the race unfolded "just the way I needed it to. I got a little split when I needed it to. It was just a great trip. When you have the horse, it makes your job a lot easier."
Daring Kathy set a modest early pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III My Charmer Handicap for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park West, jumped out to a comfortable lead at the top of the lane and got home first by 1 1/4 lengths over Cushion. Lilbourne Eliza finished third and the favorite, Angelica Zapata, finished fifth. Daring Kathy, a 3-year-old Wildcat Heir filly, ran 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:52.70 with Abdiel Jaen up. It was her first try against older horses and trainer David Fawkes was concerned about the turf. "You're always worried about older horses and all the rain," he said. "But we got the opportunity to go out there and look at the turf course and the course looked in great shape. It was the reason we raced. We weren't running this morning. We wanted to see how soft it was. For all the rain we had, they did a very good job on the turf course."
Three Hearts came through between horses turning for home in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Red Carpet Handicap for fillies and mares at Del Mar and held on gamely to win by 1/2 length from Lady of Gold. Lady Pimpernel finished third and the favorite, appealing Cat, got home sixth after a traffic-plagued trip. Three Hearts, a 4-year-old daughter of Hat Trick, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:15.54 with Joe Talamo up for trainer Neil Drysdale. It was only her third career win. "My trip couldn't have been more perfect," Talamo said. Drysdale added, "We took the blinkers off and it was a really lovely ride, well-positioned. I talked to Barry Irwin (of the owning partnership Team Valor) and thought that she could go a bit longer distances. This was a mile and three-eighths. I think she'll go a mile and a half."
Big Macher bounced back nicely from a Breeders' Cup disappointment, finding a much better trip in Sunday's $100,000 Cary Grant Stakes for state-breds at Del Mar. The 4-year-old Beau Genius gelding battled for the lead, got it, gave it up and came again to win by a neck over Rousing Sermon. Patriots Rule finished third, 1 1/4 lengths farther back. Big Macher, with Rafael Bejarano providing the encouragement, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.81. Big Macher won the Grade II Potrero Grande Stakes at Santa Anita in the spring and also the Grade I Bing Crosby at Del Mar this summer. He finished ninth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, however. "We've been working with him since his last race, Bejarano said. "He got away slow last time and it cost him. Today he broke really well and I was able to control the race."
Calgary Cat rallied from last of eight to win Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Kennedy Road Stakes at Woodbine by 2 lengths over Sharp Sensation. Bear No Joke finished third but was set down to fourth for interference in the stretch. That moved Black Hornet up to show money. Calgary Cat, a 4-year-old Cowtown Cat gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:08.46 under Eurico Da Silva. Calgary Cat now has five wins from his last seven starts. "He trained exceptionally well from the spring time, but I honestly didn't believe he was going to be a Grade 2 winner at that point," recalled winning trainer Kevin Attard. "We thought he had a good season ahead and we did it the right way. He went through his conditions, got his confidence and he's really developed into a great horse."
Read the Byline got the headline in Saturday's $125,000 Thunder Rumble Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for New York-breds, leading most of the way to a 2 3/4-lengths score. The favorite, came from last to finish second, a neck in front of the hopefully named Geaux Mets. Read the Byline, a 5-year-old gelding by Read the Footnotes, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.85 for jockey Jose Ortiz.
Vicki's Dancer waltzed home first in Saturday's $125,000 Staten Island Divison of the New York Stallion Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, besting Saythreehailmary's by 1 1/4 lengths and Uncle Southern by another 1/2 length. The favorite, Sunny Desert, checked in fifth. Vicki's Dancer, a 5-year-old Disco Rico mare, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.12 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up.
Sunbean ran away with Saturday's $250,000 Delta Mile, scooting away late to finish 5 lengths ahead of runner-up Agent Di Nozzo. Grand Contender finished third. The dominant win was aided by the late scratch of two of the morning-line favorites, Mystery Train and Code West. Nonetheless, Sunbean, a 4-year-old Brahms gelding, continued to prove himself a force in the Louisiana handicap ranks with nine wins in his last 11 starts. He finished Saturday's effort in 1:38.25 under Richard Eramia.
Yahilwa exchanged bumps out of the gate in Saturday's $200,000 Treasure Chest Stakes for fillies and mares, settled in mid-pack under Mike Smith and then took full command entering the stretch turn. Down the lane, the Medaglia d'Oro filly shook clear and won by 2 1/4 lengths over Kiss to Remember. Eden Prairie outfinished Spring in the Air for show money. Yahilwa, who was coming off an easy win at Santa Anita, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.96. In her previous race, she finished fourth behind Beholder in the Grade I Zenyatta, also at Santa Anita.
D'cajun Cat led early in Saturday's $75,000 Sam's Town Stakes for 3-year-olds, took back and then came again and drew clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths. National Defence was second and Kody With a K finished third. D'cajun Cat, a 4-year-old D'wildcat gelding out of the Dynaformer mare Rabiadella, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.04 with Gerard Melancon in the irons.
Johnny Whip outfinished Okie Ride to win Friday night's $50,000 Silver Goblin Stakes for Oklahoma-breds by 3/4 length. It was just another head back to Daybreak Dreamer in third while the favorite, Z Rockstar, settled for fourth. Johnny Whip, a 5-year-old gelding by Stephen Got Even, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.94 with Jareth Loveberry in the irons.
Lucy's Bob Boy had 'em all the way in Saturday's $50,000 A Huevo Stakes for West Virginia-breds and kicked away in the final furlong to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Allegheny Jack was second and Fred High finished third. Lucy's Bob Boy, with Arnaldo Bocachica up, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:51.03.
Grinder Sparksaglo pressed the pace in Sunday's Stallion Stakes for 3-year-olds, went to the lead when asked by jockey Jake Samuels and went on to grind out a 2-lengths victory over Stoney River. Maddie's Gold finished third. Grinder Sparksaglo, a Grindstone gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:10.48. He has missed the trifecta only twice in nine career starts, most of them at Emerald Downs.