El Kabeir moved to the top of the Kentucky Derby rankings with an impressive weekend victory while several other young 3-year-olds hinted they also might be ready for the big time.
Laurel Park and Santa Anita had a smattering of good races for the older horses during the weekend.
On the international front, Meydan is gearing up for Thursday's start of the World Cup Carnival, which leads directly to World Cup night itself -- just 11 weeks from this Saturday.
And congratulations to Alex Solis on his 5,000th career win.
Time's a-wastin! Let's get going.
El Kabeir tracked the early pace in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, surged to the lead in the lane and finished strongly, winning by 4 3/4 lengths over Nasa. It was another 7 3/4 lengths back to General Bellamy in third. El Kabeir, a Scat Daddy colt, scampered 1 mile and 70 yards over the good inner track in 1:44.69 with Charles Lopez up for trainer John Terranova. El Kabeir has put together an impressive run recently, finishing a close second behind Blofeld in the Grade II Nashua at Aqueduct in November, then winning the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs before Saturday's score. "It's a long way away," Terranova said, "but as long as he stays healthy, we have a runner here." He said he will consider either or both of the upcoming New York preps for the Kentucky Derby. "Or maybe we'll go out of town. But I have no problems staying here," he added. "He's thriving and he's got a great foundation under him now." Added Lopez, "I think he'll go farther as he develops."
Barbados, surely Jude Feld's favorite 3-year-old, improved his prospects with a stretch-running, 3-lengths victory in Saturday's $100,000 Spectacular Bid stakes at Gulfstream. The favorite, Ready for Rye, held the lead briefly but was no match for the winner, finishing second, 4 1/2 lengths ahead of It's Not Me. Barbados, a Speightstown colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.40 under Luis Saez. He made two decent starts on the turf before finally breaking through in his first time on the main track, winning in the slop at Keeneland Oct. 16. Despite his sprint sire, trainer Michael Tomlinson said there's hope for more distance. "His body type, physically, he tells you sprint, but the bottom side of his pedigree is Street Cry," Tomlinson said. "He should be able to go on down the racetrack, so we'll give him the opportunity later on. We're taking it a day at a time."
Bluegrass Singer made all the going in Saturday's $100,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park, under pressure until the field turned for home. Then, with Javier Castellano urging him onward, the Bluegrass Cat gelding scooted off to a 1 3/4-lengths victory. Ami's Flatter was second, 8 3/4 lengths ahead of the favorite, Mawthooq, who disappointed a sizeable part of the crowd. Bluegrass Singer got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.83. He now has three wins, a second and two thirds from his last six runs. Trainer Marcus Vitali said he may rue the decision to geld Bluegrass Singer, but feels it was necessary. "You know the old saying: 'Cut them and hope you regret it,'" he said. "We're bringing him up slow to the two turns. We're trying to prepare him properly, if he is what we think. If not, we're having a lot of fun right now. He's a good horse. He's doing everything right. Time will tell. Everything's a possibility," the trainer added.
Majestic Affair shot clear of the field in the stretch run in Friday's $100,000 Fred "Cappy" Capossela Stakes at Aqueduct, winning by 5 3/4 lengths. Joe Franklin led early and held on for second while Ship Disturber was a fading third. Majestic Affair, a Majesticperfection gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.78 with Kendrick Carmouche in the irons. He now has three wins from five starts but seems destined to be a sprinter. Cherie DeVaux, assistant to winning trainer Chad Brown, noted, "I think he ran really, really well. After Chad cut him back in distance, he's really seemed to flourish."
On the turf, Night Prowler crept by A Lot in the final sixteenth to win Saturday's $100,000 Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park by 1/2 length over that rival. Croninthebarbarian made up ground in the lane to take third. Night Prowler, a Giant's Causeway gelding, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:30.43 with Javier Castellano riding. He broke his maiden over yielding turf in New York, then finished a close third in his first start in Florida en route to Saturday's victory. "He likes to have something to run at," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "He likes to have a little pace in front of him. I think he's about a miler, I think that's his distance."
Points update: El Kabir now leads the Churchill Downs points battle used to decide who gets into the Kentucky Derby if more than the maximum 20 are entered. With Saturday's win he earned 10 points and how has 21. Carpe Diem has 14 points and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red has 12. Several are tied with 10 each.
Seduire set a pressured pace in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Santa Ynez at Santa Anita, opened some daylight turning for home and prevailed by 2 1/4 lengths despite drifting a bit late. Callback was best of the rest and Xoxo, after contesting the lead, faded to finish third, another 4 3/4 lengths in arrears. Seduire, a daughter of Elusive Quality, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.37 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said the lead was the only realistic option as Seduire broke from the inside post position. "She got lucky and got away smoothly," he said. "I think the fractions were pretty decent. We might stretch her out around two turns. I take them one a time."
Lutine Belle rallied late to upset Thursday Thursday's $75,000 Blue Norther Stakes on the Santa Anita turf, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over American Sun. The favorite, Rainha Da Bateria, settled for show money. Lutine Belle, a daughter of Bellamy Road, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:35.50 with Alex Solis up. It was the 5,000th career win for Solis, whose mounts have earned more than $236 million. He finished second in the Kentucky Derby three times and won the 1986 Preakness aboard Snow Chief. He also has three Breeders' Cup victories, including the 2003 Classic as the pilot of Pleasantly Perfect.
Paulasilverlining took the lead turning for home in Sunday's $100,000 Ruthless Stakes at Aqueduct and held off Noble and a Beauty in a stretch-long battle before winning by a nose over that one. It was a further 6 1/2 lengths back to Dickinson in third. Paulassilverlining, a Ghostzapper filly out of a Grindstone mare, ran 6 furlongs on the sloppy inner track in 1:12.82 with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard. She earlier won the Grade II Matron at Belmont Park and finished second in the Grade III Tempted at Aqueduct. "We'd love to try and stretch her out, to see if she can handle it," said winning trainer Michelle Nevin. "But right now, she seems to have an affinity for sprinting. We'll think it over."
Ekati's Phaeton dueled to the lead in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream Park, turned back a challenge from R Sassy Lass and won by 1/2 length over that one. The odds-on favorite, Fashion Alert, had some traffic issues on the runway and finished well back in third after being bumped and checked. Ekati's Phaeton, a daughter of Tale of Ekati, ran 6 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:10.05 with Luis Saez up. Ignoring a failed two-turn bid on the turf, Ekati's Phaeton now has two wins and a second from three starts. "She's going to be special," said winning trainer Bill Kaplan. "She's got all the tools and you see she's a real stout, big filly. She's got the mind and she's got the talent and she's got the soundness. What else can you use?"
On the turf, Devine Aida battled to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Ginger Brew Stakes at Gulfstream Park, started to edge clear after a half mile and got home first by 3 1/2 lengths. Nicky's Brown Miss finished second and Sunday Sonnet got show money. The favorite, Right On Kitten, faded after a half and beat only one starter. Devine Aida, a daughter of Unbridled's Song, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:31.31 with Jesus Rios in the irons. She came to the race off two straight wins at Gulfstream West, one on the main track and one on the grass. Saturday's start was her first with Lasix. "For me, if she stays sound, she's going to be in the Breeders' Cup in the future," said winning trainer Ramon Morales.
Finnegan's Wake rallied from last of eight to take Saturday's $200,000, Grade II San Gabriel Stakes for 4-year-olds and up. Patrioticandproud also ran well late, finishing second, 1 length behind the winner and 3/4 lengths to the good of Power Ped. The favorite, Tom's Tribute, finished fourth. Finnegan's Wake, a 6-year-old son of Powerscourt, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.38 with Victor Espinoza riding. It was back-to-back victories, following the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar on Thanksgiving weekend. "I was concerned this might be a little short," said winning Trainer Peter Miller. "He just won at a mile and a half. But when I looked at his form, he had won at a mile and an eighth before. He's just such a neat horse. He's a stud but he's just the coolest guy to be around." Miller said he will look around for the next race for the Donegal Racing color bearer, including Dubai. "The horse trains well on dirt and he ran well in the Clark, so perhaps even the Santa Anita Handicap," he said.
Shrinking Violet saved all the ground in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Monrovia Stakes for fillies and mares 4 years old and up, slipped through along the inside turning for home and won by 1 1/4 lengths. Heat Trap put in a late run to finish second, a head in front of the favorite, Velvet Mesquite. Shrinking Violet, a 5-year-old Congaree mare, got 6 1/2 furlongs down the firm hillside turf course in 1:12.56 with Kent Desormeaux riding. It was her second start off a long layoff, following a third-place finish in the Holiday Inaugural over the Turfway Park all-weather course last month. "This was all Wesley Ward, trainer and owner," Desormeaux said. "The filly has been to 12 different race tracks, but so have I over the years and a part of those were with Wesley Ward so I'm glad he didn't bring sand to the beach ... I've ridden her before, I know her well and I hope he knows that and it's probably the reason we're in the Winner's Circle."
Lady Sabelia, the odds-on favorite, ran to her notices in Saturday's $100,000 What a Summer Stakes for fillies and mares. With Horacio Karamanos calling the shots, the 5-year-old Majestic Warrior mare tracked the pace, came five-wide around the turn and shot by the leaders to win by 1 1/2 lengths. She's Ordained and Sounds of the City filled the trifecta slots. Lady Sabelia ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:12.01. She now has won three straight races and five of her last six and has missed a top-three finish only once in 13 career starts.
Never Stop Looking was up in the final jumps to upset Saturday's $100,000 Fire Plug Stakes, winning by a neck over Smash and Grab and another neck over Cutty Shark. The odds-on favorite, Bakken, coming off disappointing starts in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the Grade III Fall Highweight, grabbed the early lead, then retreated and got home next-last of seven starters, with bridge-jumper money inflating the show payoffs somewhat. Never Stop Looking, a 6-year-old Langfuhr gelding, got 6 muddy furlongs in 1:11.81 with Roimes Chirinos up. He had not found the winner's circle in his previous 13 starts, dating back nearly a year, although he regularly was in the top four. "I knew he'd like the wet track and today was his day," said winning trainer Claudio Gonzalez.
Star Pearl stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Nellie Morse Stakes for fillies and mares, came to the lead three-wide and widened the margin to 3 1/4 lengths at the wire. Before You Know It led early, then suddenly found herself finishing second, 6 1/2 lengths ahead of Zucchini Flower. Star Pearl, a 5-year-old Tapit mare, ran 1 1/16 miles in the mud in 1:46.33 with Sheldon Russell riding. She has three straight wins and four from her last six starts. "The race set up perfect," Russell said. "I was able to sit off the speed and when I asked her to go she dug in and finished up well."
Elnaawi raced in the clear a short way back of the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Native Dancer Stakes, advanced nearing the lane and then quickly kicked away, winning by 7 1/4 lengths. Turco Bravo beat the others with Cosmic Gold third and the favorite, Stormin Monarcho, fifth. Elnaawi, a 5-year-old son of Street Sense, finished 1 1/16 miles on the muddy, sealed track in 1:45.40 with Russell in the irons. The horse has had his moments, finishing third in the 2013 Gotham Stakes and fourth in last year's Grade III Iselin Stakes at Monmouth.
America won the first U.S. stakes race of the year. The 4-year-old daughter of A.P. Indy rallied from last of eight to put a nose in front of Penwith after 1 1/16 miles of the $100,000 Affectionately Stakes for fillies and mares on New Year's Day. Divided Attention was third. With Penwith and Divided Attention running as an entry for Godolphin Racing, Shayjolie filled out the trifecta. The odds-on favorite, Belle Gallantey, stalked the pace but then faded to finish fifth. America, with Junior Alvarado up for trainer Bill Mott, finished in 1:44.68 over the fast inner track. After a tough year in the stakes ranks, America won two straight at the end of 2014 against easier foes. "She's a filly where previously at the half-mile pole you had to start riding her hard because she didn't have a strong kick and would start to drop back," Alvarado said. "But today, as soon as I started to pick it up with her she was ready to go, picking it up real fast."
Delaunay, now 8 years old, showed no signs of slowing down in Saturday's $60,000 Bonapaw Stakes. With James Graham up for trainer Tom Amoss and owner Maggi Moss, Delaunay sat just behind pacesetter Heitai and got by on the outside in time to score by a neck. It was another 3 1/4 lengths back to Bet Seattle in third. Delaunay, a Smoke Glacken gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the muddy main track in 1:04.34, picking up his 18th win in his 49th career start. He also has 11 seconds and four thirds and passed the $1 million mark in earnings late last year. The race came off the turf.
Awesome Flower came from well back to take Saturday's $60,000 Wintergreen Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths over Moment in Dixie. The early leader, Maid On a Mission, faded to finish third, another 4 3/4 lengths in arrears. Awesome Flower, a 6-year-old Flower Alley mare, got 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:38.02 with Didiel Osorio riding.
News and notes:
The Dubai World Cup Carnival kicks off this week, leading up to World Cup night on March 28. The highlight of the Carnival itself comes three weeks before the World Cup, with Emirates Airline Super Saturday -- a program that previews the big day. This year's non-turf racing returns to dirt as Meydan has scrapped the Tapeta surface it used since racing moved there from nearby Nad al Sheeba in 2011. Eleven North American horses are entered for the Carnival and the switch back to dirt is expected to attract some top American handicap horses back to the $10 million, Group 1 World Cup itself. Thursday's opening night card includes the $250,000, UAE Group II Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1. Stay tuned as Richard Gross follows all the Carnival action for UPI.