Dortmund won the Futurity in California and Danon Platina won the Futurity in Japan in a big weekend for the 2-year-old Thoroughbreds.
In Florida, Sky Flight looked like a late-blooming star in the turf ranks while winning the Tropical Park Derby.
A new race caller was announced for Churchill Downs while outgoing New York caller Tom Durkin will get a special Eclipse Award for his outstanding, career-long efforts behind the microphone.
And, since this is Christmas week, we'll have an abbreviated, early look at next weekend's schedule at the end of this recitation. Merry Christmas to all ... but not good night until you've read:
Looking forward to May
Dortmund rallied outside two rivals through deep stretch in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Futurity at Los Alamitos and got a dramatic head in front of Firing Line at the wire. The pacesetter, Mr. Z, wasn't giving any quarter but settled for third, another nose in arrears. It was a long way back to the other two -- Bench Warrant and No Problem. Dortmund, trained by Bob Baffert for Kaleem Shah, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:40.86 and now is 3-for-3 after earlier wins at Santa Anita and Churchill Downs. But Baffert said he reminds him more of his own 2001 Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers Stakes winner and Horse of the Year, Point Given. "I wasn't sure how he was going to handle the turns here," Baffert said of Dortmund. "He broke well and Martin got him into his own rhythm ... He's got a good mind but he's still filling out and he's still learning." Baffert also trains American Pharoah, one of the current favorites for the 2015 Run for the Roses. Both Firing Line and Mr. Z also are likely to figure prominently, along with Dortmund, on next year's Kentucky Derby trail. But for Mr. Z, the Futurity was another "close but no cigar." The Malibu Moon colt, from seven starts, has one win, four seconds and a third. He was fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Cinco Charlie answered the call -- twice -- in Saturday's $50,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds, dueling Control Stake into submission, then holding off Bourbon Cowboy late to win by 1/2 length. Control Stake held third, 11 1/2 lengths behind the only other starter, Plaska. Cinco Charlie, an Indian Charlie colt trained by Steve Asmussen, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.06. Robby Albarado had the mount. Cinco Charlie won the Grade III Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs in June in just his second start and also has won stakes at Delaware Park and Laurel Park. He has yet to be tested around two turns but Asmussen said that question will be asked soon. "He's a very nice 2-year-old," the conditioner said. "He's a three-quarter brother to Bwana Charlie. Off this race, I think we'll most likely make his next start two turns."
And the juvenile fillies:
Promise Me Silver looked like pure gold, remaining undefeated in four starts by winning Saturday's $50,000 Letellier Memorial Stakes at Fair Grounds. The Texas-bred daughter of Silver City broke a half-step slow, held up just behind the pace and took over when asked by her rider, Albarado. At the end of the long Fair Grounds stretch, she was out front by 5 1/2 lengths. Caroline Jasmine was second, another 2 3/4 lengths ahead of True to You. Promise Me Silver, trained by Bret Calhoun, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.90 but had to survive an inquiry before the result was made official. She broke her maiden at Lone Star Park, won the Debutante at Churchill Downs and then took the Darby's Daughter Texas Stallion Stakes at Retama Park. "Up to this point, we thought she was maybe a sprinter and we treated her that way," Calhoun said. "But we have been working on her to settle a little bit. This race proved she can relax and settle and opens up a few more doors." But he indicated that might not involve a route of ground.
Harlan's Destiny stalked the pace in Saturday night's $50,000 Eleanor Casey Memorial at Charles Town, rallied three-wide into the stretch and edged clear, winning by 1 1/4 lengths as the overwhelming favorite. Country Mama finished second and Dynamizzen was third at nearly 100-1 odds. The winner, a daughter of Harlan's Holiday, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.09 with Channing Hill aboard for trainer Wayne Catalano. She now has four straight wins, including an allowance score at Churchill Downs.
Around the ovals:
Sky Flight, making just his fourth career start, took back early from the inside post position in Saturday's $75,000 Tropical Park Derby at Gulfstream Park, got through between rivals into the stretch and ran by pacesetting long shot Cement Clement to win by 1 length. The favorite, Smooth Daddy, rallied late to get show money. Sky Flight, a Sky Mesa colt out of the Unbridled mare Cordoba, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.25 with Jose Lezcano in the irons. Sky Flight has won three straight after an initial misfire, with the earlier wins coming at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. Norm Casse, son/assistant to trainer Mark Casse, said the future is bright now for Sky Flight. "Earlier on as a 2-year-old he had shown a lot of talent, but he came up with some baby issues and we backed off on him," Norm Casse said. "Ever since we've got him back in full training, he's really progressed well -- every week, really. It seems like the sky's the limit and today was a big step."
Sandiva overcame the outside post position and a slow pace to win Saturday's $75,000 Tropical Park Oaks by a neck over the favorite, Party Now. Dancing House finished third with a late rush. Sandiva, an Irish-bred filly by Footstepsinthesand, established good early position and stalked the pace into the stretch before launching her bid. She got 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.78 with Javier Castellano aboard. "We couldn't quite work out the trip we'd been looking for the last two times, and, ironically today, from the worst post, we were able to get the trip," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. Castellano added, "It was a dream trip this time, but you never know how it's going to work out. My main concern today was the 14 post ... My horse helped me a lot running early and taking me to a good spot going into the first turn."
Dr No, noted here on Thursday, finished just a nose and a neck from victory in his first U.S. start in Saturday's fifth race at Gulfstream Park and likely would have won were it not for some terrible traffic problems late. Oh dash and bother! Circle him for next time.
Heuston was in the mix all the way around in Saturday's $60,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes, led in the stretch and held on to win by a neck. Cozy Kitten finished second but was disqualified all the way back to fifth for drifting through the stretch. That moved In My Book and Puppy Manners up to second and third. The favorite, Joha, finished fifth. Heuston, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Acclimation out of the With Approval mare On the Razz, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.46 with Rodney Prescott in the irons. The race is named for the winner of the 1993 Jim Beam Stakes and Blue Grass Stakes, who went on to finish second in the Kentucky Derby and win the Preakness.
Unlimited Lil Lady stalked the pace in Friday's $65,000 Lookout Stakes for fillies and mares, advanced around the turn and took command in the stretch, winning by 1 length over Clever Thirteen. Hopeshesamiracle was third and the favorite, Tunica Girl, wore out making the early lead and faded to finish fourth. Unlimited Lil Lady, a 4-year-old daughter of Harborage, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:34.65 with Andre Ramgeet in the irons.
Cassatt led from the start in Sunday's $50,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes for fillies and mares and kicked well clear at the end, winning by 5 3/4 lengths. Interest Free showed enough interest to finish second, 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Parc Monceau. Cassatt, a 3-year-old Tapit filly, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.09 under Kerwin Clark.
Rocket Time rocketed to the lead in Sunday's $50,000 Tenacious Stakes and clung tenaciously to the lead, eventually spurting away to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Hard Aces and Fordubai completed the trifecta. Rocket Time, a 3-year-old Tiz Wonderful gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:42.28 with Calvin Borel up.
Belleofthebeach was up in the final jumps to win Saturday's $50,000 Bold Ego Handicap for fillies and mares by a neck over African Rose. The favorite, Lasting Bubbles, checked in third. Belleofthebeach, a 4-year-old Master Command filly, got 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:02.80 with Irwin Rosendo in the irons.
Mahoning Valley Racecourse
Isadella won a three-way photo at the end of Saturday's $50,000 Bobbie Bricker Memorial for Ohio-bred distaffers, getting the nod by a nose over Startin Something with the odds-on favorite, Circle Can run, a neck farther back after showing the way. Isadella, a 5-year-old Kentucky Dane mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:52.05 with Megan Fadlovich riding.
Storm Power stormed to the lead turning for home in Saturday's $35,000 Hank Mills Sr. Handicap and held off Az Ridge down the stretch before winning by a head over that one. Red Zeus was well back in third. Storm Power, a 4-year-old Tiz Wonderful gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.22 with Geovanni Franco riding.
Maker or Breaker dueled down the lane with Rock and Glory before winning Saturday's $35,000 Kachina Handicap for fillies and mares by 1/2 length over that rival. The favorite, Lady Rosberg, retreated late to finish third. Maker or Breaker, a 5-year-old Empire Maker mare, ran 1 mile in 1:35.94 under Israel Hernandez.
Cole's Magic Vow was along late to win Saturday night's $65,000 B-Connected Stakes by 1/2 length over Beauty Pioneer and another 1/2 length over the favorite, Knockitdownhard. Cole's Magic Vow, a 4-year-old Private Vow gelding, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a good but sealed track in 1:33.85 with Diego Saenz up.
Over the oceans:
Danon Platina raced near the back of the field in Sunday's Group 1 Asahi Hai Futurity at Hanshin Racecourse, swung wide around the field into the stretch and unleased a strong turn of foot to get home first by 3/4 length. Arma Wailoi was best of the rest with Clarity Sky second and Ash Gold fifth. Danon Platina, a Deep Impact colt, ran 1,600 meters in 1:35.9. He now has three straight wins and a bright future. "The going wasn't very good and, since we broke from an inner stall, I tried to position him away from the rails, which went as planned," said jockey Masayoshi Ebina. "He was relaxed and had enough left in him by the last corner for a strong final run. He definitely takes after his sire. His finishing speed speaks for itself."
The All-Weather Championships continue apace with Grendisar leading a 1-2 finish for trainer Marco Botti in the 1 1/4-miles Quebec Stakes over the Lingfield Polytrack on Saturday. The 4-year-old now has six wins, 10 seconds and one third from 21 starts on all-weather surfaces and Botti has more in store even before the All-Weather Championship finals next Good Friday. "There is another listed race, the Winter Derby Trial, in February. And then we will look forward to the Winter Derby (on March 14) and the All-Weather Championships on Good Friday," he said. Grendisar, with Adam Kirby up, got the lead with more than furlong left in Saturday's race and won by 3/4 length over stablemate Energia Davos. Brocklebank finished third, a head farther back. Botti said Energia Davos will ship to Dubai for the Carnival races leading up to World Cup night.
News and notes:
Travis Stone, the race-caller at Monmouth Park in 2014 and backup announcer at the New York Racing Association this winter, has been named the new track announcer at Churchill Downs. Stone will start under the Twin Spires during the spring meeting, starting April 25, replacing Larry Collmus, who takes over NYRA duties from the retired Tom Durkin. "It is truly an honor to become the new voice of Churchill Downs and to join a community that shares my passion and enthusiasm for this wonderful sport," Stone said. "The opportunity to call the Kentucky Derby and all of the prestigious races at Churchill Downs is a dream come true."
Speaking of Durkin, he will be in South Florida early next year to receive a well-deserved Eclipse Award of Merit for his body of work, from the late, lamented Cahokia Downs to the exalted heights of Belmont Park, Saratoga and the Breeders' Cup.
Racing Post reports High Chaparral, two-time victor in the Breeders' Cup Turf, winner of the 2002 Epsom Derby and Irish Derby and a very successful sire, has died at age 15. He reportedly died of complications during colic surgery. The son of Sadler's Wells won six Group 1 events for Coolmore and trainer Aidan O'Brien.
It's not a terribly busy weekend but for those at loose ends while the rest of the family attends to Boxing Day chores:
California action returns to Santa Anita with the Grade I Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds and the Grade I La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on Friday along with the Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile, also for the sophomores. On Saturday, it's the Grade III Robert J. Frankel on the turf and the Grade III Midnight Lute for sprinters. Sunday, the hillside turf course hosts the Grade III Daytona Stakes.
Gulfstream Park is hopping on Saturday with three Grade III stakes -- the La Prevoyante Handicap for distaff turf marathoners, the open W.L. McKnight Handicap at the same 12 furlongs and the Mr. Prospector for the sprinters.
Aqueduct on Friday has the Gravesend Handicap at 6 furlongs on the inner track and on Sunday hosts two more divisions of the New York Stallion Stakes -- these for the 2-year-olds about to turn 3.
Overseas, the Group 1 Arima Kinen at Nakayama tops Sunday's card. That event is 2,500 meters or about 12 1/2 furlongs on the turf with a purse of some US$4.16 million. Orfevre won last year's edition.