Able Friend justifies his No. 3 world ranking with a win in the Group 1 Stewards' Cup 1/25 at Sha Tin. (HKJC photo)
Add Upstart and -- maybe -- Barbados to the list of Kentucky Derby prospects after weekend racing and move Able Friend up yet another notch on the list of international stars.
There was no shortage of action even though abysmal weather forced cancellation of Saturday's cards at Laurel Park and Aqueduct. Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs, Santa Anita and Sam Houston all helped take up the slack.
Across the waters, the Hong Kong Jockey Club celebrated the elevation of Sunday's Stewards' Cup to international Grade I status by watching Able Friend more than justify his No. 3 world ranking. Dubai could be next.
But, before we get ahead of ourselves:
The Road to the Roses
Upstart finished a well-beaten and fading third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in his last race as a 2-year-old but launched his sophomore campaign on a higher note, pressing the pace in Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, then drawing off smartly late to win by 5 1/2 lengths. Frosted put in a late bid to take second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of pacesetting Bluegrass Singer. Upstart, a Flatter ridgling, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.61 under Jose Ortiz. He started his career with two wins versus state-breds at Saratoga and a second in the Grade I Champagne in the Belmont Park slop before shipping for the Breeders' Cup. Winning trainer Rick Violette Jr. said Saturday's result showed Upstart has progressed from his 2-year-old season -- not an automatic progression even for the best juveniles. "He had enough speed to get good positioning from a post position that didn't make that automatic," Violette said Sunday, reporting his charge returned in good order from the victory. "He settled well. When he was called on, he answered and he kind of took care of business. They need to leave horses at some point, and he kind of did that yesterday. All of that -- he traveled well down there, he was good in the paddock -- he did a lot of good things yesterday." He said he will wait to see whether to continue down the Florida Derby route or detour to New York for the Gotham and the Wood Memorial. Frosted, a Tapit colt from the Godolphin empire, was making his first start since finishing second in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct in late November. "It was a good race. We were just second-best," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
After he won the 6-furlongs Spectacular Bid in his last outing, Trainer Michael Tomlinson talked about stretching out Barbados to see what his distance limitations might be. So far so good -- even, so far, if it's not so far. The 7 furlongs of Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park certainly didn't prove too much for the Speightstown colt. After tracking the pace established by X Y Jet, Barbados came to challenge that rival in the stretch, slowly got by and won by 1/2 length. Big Family was third at a big price, a big distance farther back. Barbados, with Luis Saez up, got home in 1:24.39. It was his third straight win after two career-opening misfires on the grass. As for his chances at getting the 1 1/4-miles distance of the Kentucky Derby, Tomlinson admitted Barbados looks like the sprinter his sire could be expected to produce. But, he said, there is plenty of stamina on the dam side of his pedigree. "... bred to run from here to Atlanta," as he put it. "So we'll just see. Body type doesn't always indicate how far a horse can run." He could find out in the Grade II Fountain of Youth on Feb. 21. That's 1 1/16 mile.
Cinco Charlie traveled all the way to New Mexico to contest Saturday's $100,000 Riley Allison Stakes at Sunland Park -- his first try around two turns -- and the trip was well worth the effort. With local rider Casey Lambert up, the Indian Charlie colt went to the post as a prohibitive favorite and ran like it, leading all the way and winning off by 8 1/2 lengths. Made Me Talk beat the others and Dirt Monster was third. Cinco Charlie ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.18. The colt won the Grade III Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs in just his second career start. He later won stakes at Laurel Park, Louisiana Downs and Fair Grounds before trainer Steve Asmussen shipped him for the Sunland test. Overall, he now has five wins from eight starts.
Speaking of the grass: Stablemates Dubai Sky and Courtier dueled for the lead all the way around in Saturday's $100,000 Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park with the former finally prevailing by a head. Croninthebarbarian put in a late run from far back to get show money as the favorite. Dubai Sky, a Candy Ride colt, picked up his third straight win, finishing the 1 mile on firm going in 1:36.05 with John Velazquez in the irons. "They both ran winning races," trainer Bill Mott said of Dubai Sky and Courtier. The first seven finishers were separated by less than 2 lengths under the wire, among them Chief Kitten and Dr. No, who both had troubled starts.
Mischief Clem, always close to the pace, eked out a narrow upset win in Saturday's $250,000 California Cup Derby for state-breds at Santa Anita, defeating Pulmarack by a head. Kluszewski was well back in third and the odds-on favorite, Acceptance, juiced the show pool by finishing fourth. Mischief Clem, a Papa Clem colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.82 with Kent Desormeaux riding. Trainer Bob Hess Jr. said he questioned Mischief Clem's ability to get the distance and was pleasantly surprised. He said he now will consider the $550,000, Grade III Spiral Stakes over the Turfway Park all-weather course in March. "Until then, we'll figure out a plan of attack."
Exodus set sail early in Saturday's $50,000 Allen's Landing Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park and cruised home first by 2 1/4 lengths over Waging War. Bagpipes was 14 lengths farther in arrears in third. Exodus, a Medaglia d'Oro colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.32 under Kerwin Clark.
Birdatthewire rallied from near last to post a significant upset win in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park, flying home first by 3 1/4 lengths at the wire. Lassofthemohicans, another long shot, ran on late to take second and Taylor S finished third. The favorite, Seduire, didn't exactly enchant her backers, fading to finish seventh after winning the Grade II Santa Ynez at Santa Anita in her last previous start. Skipalute, who finished second to Take Charge Brandi in the Grade III Delta Princess last time out, was eased before the line Saturday. Birdatthewire, a daughter of Summer Bird, ran 7 furlongs in 1:24.92 over a fast track. She took four tries to break her maiden last fall, finally scoring at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29, and had not run since. Winning trainer Dale Romans and jockey Jose Ortiz Jr. both said they noted a plethora of speed in the race. "Why change her style?" Ortiz asked in retrospect. "I just let her relax. When we got to the quarter pole, I knew I had a lot of horse. I knew she was a nice filly. I think she can get better."
Perfect Style moved quickly to the lead in Sunday's $50,000 El Paso Times Handicap at Sunland Park in New Mexico, kicked clear in the stretch and went on to win by 4 3/4 lengths over Untraveled. Rousanne finished third. Perfect Style, an Indiana-bred daughter of Majesticperfection, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.87 with Alfredo Juarez Jr. in the irons.
On the turf: Consumer Credit raced behind the early leaders into the stretch turn in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Sweetest Chant Stakes at Gulfstream Park, swung outside for running room and went on to win by 1 length. The early leaders, Quality Rocks and Miss Temple City, finished second and third. Consumer Credit, a daughter of More Than Ready, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:35.80 with Edgard Zayas in the irons. It was her third straight win, all on the grass. "I didn't want to promise anything beyond a mile," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "But after the trip she got today and the way she finished, we'll continue to try to stretch her out a sixteenth at a time and see how far she'll go."
Singing Kitty rallied to the lead in the stretch and won Saturday's $200,000 California Cup Oaks at Santa Anita by 1 length over Heat the Rocks. Light One finished third in the race, restricted to Cal-breds. Singing Kitty, a daughter of Minister's Wild Cat, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.70 with Aaron Gryder at the controls. "She has adapted to the turf well," said winning trainer Matt Chew. "I've breezed her over it and she seems to love it."
Able Friend reminded the racing world again Sunday why he is among the world's top-ranked horses, dominating the newly upgraded HK$10 million Stewards' Cup at Sha Tin over the top local competition. The win showed Able Friend must travel to find meaningful competition and it will be up to the owner whether to target Dubai or wait for Royal Ascot and/or Japan. With Joao Moreira up, the popular Shamardal 5-year-old, winner of December's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile, raced near the back of the field early while Beauty Flame led the way. As the real running began, the likes of Ambitious Dragon, Gold-Fun and Glorious Days could not find the next gear while Able Friend, with little seeming effort, glided by them all and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. He wasn't asked for his best. Beauty Flame held on for second and Rewarding Hero was third. "My personal opinion would be to go to Dubai," said winning trainer John Moore. "It's a 10-day turnaround and it's just easy there and easy back. I will be recommending that to Dr. Li (owner Cornell Li). We'll have lunch in the next 10 days and we'll sit down and toss up the pros and cons of US$6 million" -- the purse for the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free at 1,800 meters.
Dubai also could be on the radar for Peniaphobia after a narrow win in Sunday's HK$6.6 million Kent & Curwin Centenary Sprint Cup at Sha Tin. The British import, who ran second in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint, made up 2 lengths in the late going of the 1,000-meters straight to win by a short head over Bundle of Joy. Douglas Whyte was urging the winner a good part of the way over a distance short of his best. "I've entered him in the Dubai Golden Shaheen," said winning trainer Tony Cruz. "It's a 1,200-meter race and he's more of a 1,200-meter horse." Cruz said the Meydan dirt surface should be no problem for his charge but he is concerned about racing Penaphobia through the left-handed turns. Bundle of Joy also may get a look at the Golden Shaheen.
(By Richard Gross)
Godolphin runner Safety Check was never in danger of losing his first win in a graded race, getting the checkered flag by 4 lengths over Eastern Rules on the Meydan turf in Thursday's 1400-meters Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort. The 4-year-old Dubawi colt won a handicap two weeks earlier over the same course and distance, but this race was a step up into Group class. Safety Check proved he belongs by setting a course record of 1:23.9 "We were very hopeful of a good run, but we could not have expected him to win a good race so well," said impressed trainer Charlie Appleby, declarin, "We will go for the Zabeel Mile next." Safety Check was piloted for the first time by newly retained Godolphin jockey William Buick.
South African trainer Mike de Kock was denied a fourth consecutive Fort win as Zahee finished third with last year's winner, Anaerobio a disappointing neck behind in fourth. Though beaten back from capturing the Fort, de Kock did not go home empty on the evening. Umgiyo bested a host of higher-rated opponents, storming past Ocean Tempest by 1 1/4 lengths in the 1,800-meters Gulf News turf handicap. Tenor finished on a lower note, a length back in third.
The evening's opener was a big night for trainer Niels Petersen as Beat Baby flew past Speed Hawk by 1 1/2 lengths in the 1,200-meters Gulf News dirt handicap to give the Norwegian saddler his first UAE winner in 75 tries. "It has been a long time coming," understated Petersen. "He has really taken well to the Meydan dirt and it is a big result for the whole team and Scandinavia." It was a big result, too, for jockey Per-Anders Graberg, who earned only his third local win in 55 mounts.
Thursday's 2,000-meters Friday handicap saw trainer Satish Seemar saddle the one-two finishers as Toolain was too much by 2 lengths over stablemate Farrier. Henry Clay was third over the dirt course by 1 1/4 lengths. The race was the first of two 2,000-meters dirt events, this one part of the Dubai World Cup Carnival.
In other races, it was a happy finish for Hunting Ground, who left Cry Joy in tears, 4 1/2 lengths behind in second, in the 2,000-meters dirt handicap, a non-Carnival event. Hunting Ground is a 5-year-old Street Cry gelding out of the Include mare Panty Raid. Trainer Salem bin Ghadayer earned his first UAE winner with jockey Mickael Barzalona aboard.
Tamarkuz cruised to a 4 1/2-lengths victory over Haatheq in the 1,600-meters Tabloid dirt handicap with Empire Storm a weaker third.
In the evening's closing affair, Al Saham finished first for trainer Saeed bin Suroor and the Godolphin home team earned a second win in the 2,435-meters gulfnews.com turf handicap. The 6-year-old gelding doused the hopes of Fire Fighting by a nose with the runner-up beating Earth Drummer by a neck.
The evening's card was the third of 11 meetings in the 2015 Dubai World Cup Carnival leading up to Super Saturday, March 7 and the 20th annual Dubai World Cup night, Saturday March 28.
Lamar, after a long drought, notched her second win in as many weeks in Thursday's Fast-Track Qualifier at Chelmsford City for the All-Weather Championships finals. The 4-year-old daughter of Cape Cross raced second behind Maggie Pink, went to the lead a furlong out and won by 2 1/2 lengths from that rival with the favorite Majeyda, in third. Trainer James Tate said Lamar is ticketed for the Winter Derby Trial at Lingfield on Feb. 21 to try her at a mile and a quarter" against males. A good showing there would give Tate options with Lingfield for the All-Weather Championships finals day on Good Friday.
Back in North America:
Tampa Bay Downs
Lochte won a three-way photo at the end of Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes, a head in front of Old Time Hockey on the outside and another neck in front of the favorite, Sky Flight, along the rail. Lochte, a 5-year-old Medaglia d'Oro gelding raced just behind the pace before launching the winning bid turning for home. He completed 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:41.73 with Paco Lopez riding. Lochte won the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap last February but visited the winner's circle only once in 10 intervening races. "He's just coming back into form," said winning trainer Marcus Vitali. "We're real happy with him."
Star Harbour led from the start in Saturday's $100,000 Pelican Stakes, opened a daylight advantage, then held on late to win by a nose over Helooksthepart. The favorite, Risk Factor, was third. Star Harbour, an 8-year-old son of Indian Charlie, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.79 with Geovany Garcia in the irons.
Double Secret also led all the way in the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes for fillies and mares but had no trouble holding the lead and won by a 3 3/4-lengths over You Brought Her. Dispatched at odds of 30-1 and 37-1, respectively, the duo returned $15,040 for a $2 exacta investment. With Love Train rallying for third and the favorite, To My Valentine, finishing last, the $2 trifecta paid $7,596.60. Double Secret, a 4-year-old filly by Double Honor, ran 5 furlongs on good turf in 56.64 seconds under Augusto Marin.
Sugar Shock, making her first start since last June, ran down pacesetting long shot Spring Included in the stretch drive to win Saturday's $100,000 American Beauty Stakes for fillies and mares by 1/2 length over that foe. Haveyougoneaway finished third. Sugar Shock, a 4-year-old Candy Ride filly who enjoyed success in Hot Springs last season, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.72 with Channing Hill in the irons. "Obviously, it was pretty close," Hill said. "But I never felt like I was without horse. She showed you how special she is just by being able to go three-quarters off that long layoff ... Those horses weren't stopping, either, coming to the wire. She had to really turn it on from the eighth pole home."
Sam Houston Race Park
Cassatt bounded out to the lead in Saturday's $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic and held off Angelica Zapata at the end by a neck. Shanon Nicole finished third. Cassatt, a 4-year-old Tapit filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.96 with Kerwin Clark aboard. "The wire came just in time," Clark said. She now has won three straight races -- at Zia Park, Fair Grounds and Sam Houston. Last year, a three-race win streak included the Grade III Monmouth Oaks. "We had a weird start to her career," said winning trainer Larry Jones. "Had to do a lot of jumping around. But now we're getting into a good rhythm." He said he will point Cassatt to the Grade I Santa Margarita at Santa Anita, as he did the 2013 Houston Ladies Classic winner, Joyful Victory, another daughter of Tapit, who won both races that year.
Coalport led from the early jumps in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III John B. Connally Turf Cup and rolled home first, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Trace Creek. Daddy's Kid finished third. Coalport, a 6-year-old, Illinois-bred son of Kitten's Joy, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.00 under Miguel Mena, who took over for regular rider Javier Castellano. It was his third straight win, following a pair of runner-up finishes. "I thought he would be forwardly placed," said winning trainer Mike Maker from Florida. "With Javier staying here, I knew I had a top rider in Miguel. Sam Houston has a very fine turf course and we really enjoy shipping there."
Heitai opened a comfortable lead in Saturday's $75,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint, hustled right along and went on to win by 1 length over Hammer the Bay. Brilliant Interest finished third. Heitai, a 5-year-old Fusaichi Pegasus gelding, got 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.76 seconds with James Graham riding.
On Saturday, California Cup Day:
Go West Marie rallied from the very back of the pack to take the $150,000 Filly & Mare Turf Sprint by 3/4 length over pacesetter Home Journey. More Complexity ran well late to finish third, 1/2 length farther back. Go West Marie, a 4-year-old Western Fame filly, ran about 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside course in 1:12.18 with Gary Stevens in the irons.
Spirit Rules took the lead midway through the $150,000 Donald Valpredo California Cup Sprint and held on to win by 1/2 length over the odds-on favorite, San Onofre. Follini finished third in the 6-furlongs event, clocked in 1:10.31 over a fast track. Ignacio Puglis rode Spirit Rules, a 6-year-old Tribal Rule gelding.
Alert Bay got through a tight spot at the top of the lane, rallied along the inside through the stretch run to win the $250,000 Turf Classic by a neck over Boozer. Patriots Rule was third. Alert Bay, a 4-year-old City Zip gelding, got 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.62 with Tyler Baze riding. "We could have come down," said winning trainer Blaine Wright of an inquiry into the tight quarters turning for home.
Sunday, Pure Tactics rallied three-wide into the stretch in the $75,000 Clockers Corner Stakes down the hillside turf course, then outfinished Hey Dude to win by 1/2 length over that one. The favorite, Sweet Swap, hopped at the start but managed to salvage show money. Pure Tactics, with Mike Smith riding, finished the about 6 1/2 furlongs over firm going in 1:12.28.