It's on to the Preakness as Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah seeks to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 and trainer Bob Baffert sounds optimistic.
After showing off the Derby winner Sunday outside his barn at Churchill Downs, Baffert said American Pharoah "was just born with that talent ... He just floats over the ground. He's different, just the way he's made."
The impressive Derby victory was only one highlight of a spectacular weekend of racing that found superstars victorious from Japan to Hong Kong to France. Budding stars were on display on Guineas weekend at Newmarket in England. And R U Watchingbud bears watching in Canada.
Lovely Maria was a lovely winner of the Kentucky Oaks. A couple of Breeders' Cup winners -- Bayern and Judy the Beauty -- returned to the races with mixed success. Tonalist served notice he will be reckoned with in the Classic Division before year's end.
The $1 trifecta payoff on Sunday's feature at Santa Anita was the IRS special -- $599.90. That's a dime short of the threshold for reporting "gambling winnings" to the taxman.
And, incredibly, Derby Day Storm was not the favorite in her race Saturday at Thistledown. Probably for spite, she won.
Let's take a closer look.
American Pharoah lived up to his billing and his favorite's status in Saturday's $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by YUM Brands. After enjoying a perfect, albeit wide, stalking trip under Victor Espinoza, the Pioneerof the Nile colt went to the lead turning for home, battled with Firing Line as pacesetter Dortmund tired, and finally edged clear to win by 1 length. Firing Line was second, 2 lengths in front of Dortmund, with Frosted running best late to take fourth, a neck behind Dortmund. It was a relatively slow race (2:03.02), especially in the final quarter mile (26.57), although that might have been due to Churchill Downs' quirky track, which seemed to become looser and more tiring as the day wore on. Ron Moquette, whose Far Right finished 15, summed up the effect of the slow pace. "It was a bad day to have a closer," Moquette said. It was the fifth straight win for American Pharoah and the first loss for Dortmund in his seventh start. Both are trained by Bob Baffert. Espinoza won his third Derby; Baffert, his fourth. There was some concern with American Pharoah drew post position No. 18 but Espinoza was happy with the draw, both before and after. "I think the 18 hole, it was just a perfect -- I feel like I was a lucky number in there, the 18. And, you know, just got it done. American Pharoah is just an awesome horse. Bob Baffert, he is just an amazing trainer. I can say that because I win two Kentucky Derbies for him," said the happy jockey. Baffert said he felt pressure in the weeks leading up to the Derby as American Phaorah was touted as a sure thing. And the pressure was doubled by the fact his owner, Ahmad Zayat, had finished second in three previous Derbies, with Pioneerof the Nile in 2009, Nehro in 2011 and with Bodemeister in 2012. "It was good pressure but there was a lot of it," he said. "I know I had the horses to do it with. And so, when everyone you see says, 'Oh Bob, you can't lose,' I hate that. I don't want to hear that. I'm really superstitious about that." Now, he said, things might be a bit looser heading to Baltimore. " If all goes well, I don't see any reason not to go" to the Preakness, Baffert said. "So we're looking forward to it. The next one is -- I call it the fun one. You know, you're coming off a Derby high, going in there to Baltimore. And the Preakness is one of my favorite races. We're just going to enjoy it." He said he's likely to enter both American Pharoah and Dortmund in the Preakness. "My job is to get my people there," he said. Trainer Simon Callaghan said Firing Line also is likely for the Preakness. "You'd have to think that, if all is well, he's earned that right," Callaghan said. Firing Line twice lost to Dortmund by narrow margins in the run-up to the Derby. The Preakness field could be a small one.
Lovely Maria settled a couple lengths behind the pace in Friday's $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks, came around the leaders turning for home and kicked clear, winning by 2 lengths over Shook Up. I'm a Chatterbox was slow into stride and trailed most of the field early but rallied to finish third. The favorite, Stellar Wind, had an even worse start and settled for a late-running fourth. Lovely Maria, a daughter of Majestic Perfection out of the Thunder Gulch mare Thundercup, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.45 with Kerwin Clark in the irons for trainer Larry Jones, who also handles I'm a Chatterbox, and owner Brereton Jones. She finished second to I'm a Chatterbox in the Grade III Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds in February, then came north to win the Grade I Ashland at Keeneland last month. She now has four wins and three seconds from eight starts. "She did good," Larry Jones said of Lovely Maria. "She sure did. Very similar going into the Keeneland race. She's a filly just doing good. She worked so well here. I knew she didn't have to carry her track with her. Chatterbox came closing. She came closing. She got squeezed back a little bit early, but she came closing ... Third in the Kentucky Oaks. We can live with that.'' Kerwin "Boo Boo" Clark, 56, has been riding for 40 years and notched his first Grade I win with Lovely Maria at Lexington. The Oaks was his second.
Hong Kong By Richard Gross
Able Friend was not able to distract the racing community's attention from Saturday's Kentucky Derby, but he was more than able to put on a show in the Champions Mile Sunday at Sha tin Racecourse. The co-rated top Thoroughbred in the world, with Shared Belief, made short work of a small field of five competitors in the Group 1 turf event. The 5-year-old Shamardal gelding finished the 1600 meters in 1.35.39 under Joao Moreira, cruising past two stablemates, runner-up Rewarding Hero and Dan Excel, in 21.35 over the final 400 meters to claim his twelfth win in 18 starts, eight of those wins at the Group 1 level. All three top finishers are trained by John Moore. The expected challenge by John Size-trained Luger never materialized with the 5-year-old Choisir gelding, most recently winner of the Hong Kong Derby, finished last after suffering a recurrence of a non-fatal heart irregularity. Following the victory, Moore confirmed Able Friend likely will leave the friendly confines of Hong Kong and venture abroad, something owner Dr. Cornel Li has resisted until now. "Let's see how he comes out of this, but the Queen Anne Stakes June 16 at Royal Ascot is next in the cards," the trainer said. Earlier in the week, the trainer mentioned being open to the possibility of taking his champion to the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland in October, saying, "I have a soft spot for the U.S. and for the Breeders' Cup," he said at the time. Sunday, he said only, "We'll take it one at a time." This one may have solidified his charge's hold on the No. 1 world ranking, especially with Shared Belief on the shelf with an injury. "Being No. 1 is always something that's in the back of your mind," Moore said. "It's just incredible to buy a yearling that could go this far and for him to be trained out of Hong Kong. You'd expect that out of Europe or America, but not Hong Kong. Think about that." Able One was bred in Australia.
Cirrus Des Aigles took the lead in a paceless Group 1 Prix Ganay at Longchamp on Sunday and with Christophe Soumillon riding, coasted home first by 1 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Al Kazeem. Fate finished third. Cirrus Des Aigles, now 9 years old, finished 1 mile, 2 1/2 furlongs over ground rated "very soft" in 2:18.07. It was his first start of the year after an exceptional 2014 that found him running from Dubai to Hong Kong. Trainer Corine Barande-Barbe said before the race Cirrus Des Aigles would need the race. But he had no trouble turning back the bid of Al Kazeem. Soumillon flew in for the ride after finishing eighth aboard Mubtaahij in the Kentucky Derby.
Gleneagles was a relatively romping winner in Saturday's Group 1 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. The Galileo colt, out of the Storm Cat mare You'resothrilling, stayed within striking distance on the stands side of the course, took charge a furlong out and quickly put paid to 17 rivals, winning by 2 1/4 lengths. Territories was second, Ivawood third and Ol' Man River finished last, eased when beaten. Ryan Moore rode Gleneagles over 1 mile of good to firm turf in an unremarkable 1:37.55. Aidan O'Brien, who trains for the Coolmore folks, told Racing Post, "He's very exciting at this stage. He's very straight forward and I think he's a miler as he travels so easily."
Moore completed the Guineas double on Sunday, riding Legatissimo to victory for the same Coolmore connections. After a quick early pace, Lucida shot to the lead and appeared gone. But Legatissimo ran her down, winning by 3/4 length. Tiggy Wiggy was well back in third. "Winning two Guineas in a weekend is what you dream about," Moore said. "I never thought it would happen. But it did." Legatissimo is by Danehill Dancer out of a Montjeu mare. The victory was her third from six starts. Moore was announced last month at Coolmore's new No. 1 jockey as O'Brien's son and recent go-to rider, Joseph, has matured to the point his weight is an issue.
Gold Ship made the third time the charm Sunday in the Group 1 Tenno Sho (Spring), rallying from the nether reaches of a strung-out field to hit the front after the final bend, then holding off Fame Game for a neck victory. Curren Mirotic looked like the winner with 100 meters to go but settled for third. Gold Ship, a 6-year-old son of Stay Gold, ran 3,200 meters, or about 2 miles, in 3.14.7 over firm going at Kyoto Racecourse. "I was thinking of going front if he started well, which obviously was not the case," said winning rider Norihiro Yokoyama. In fact, Gold Ship balked at the gate, was blindfolded to get him in and then started sluggishy. "From there on, I just concentrated on following the pace and careful not to turn him off," Yokoyama said. "In the straight, he really showed his stamina and perseverance." Gold Ship finished fifth in this race in 2013 and seventh last year. Yokoyama regained the mount for the first time since he partnered Gold Ship to a 14th-place finish in last fall's Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.
Back in North America:
The Derby Day undercard
Finnegan's Wake rallied from last of nine to win the $500,000, Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic by a head over Sky Captain and another head from Jack Milton. Sky Captain, however, was disqualified to fourth for shutting off Seek Again in the final 50 yards. That promoted Sky Captain to second and Seek Again to show money. Finnegan's Wake, a 6-year-old son of Powerscourt, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.24 with Victor Espinoza up. He won three straight graded stakes in California before finishing second in his most recent outing. "I got there just in time," Espinoza said. "Turning for home, I thought I would catch him, but then I said, 'Uh-oh, this is going to be tough.' I started working on him. He's old. He wants to do whatever he wants. He wanted to take his time ..."
Breeders' Cup Classic winner Bayern was the odds-on favorite in the $500,000, Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes at 7 furlongs but never really seemed to get going and finished last. Private Zone seized the lead out of the gate and wasn't headed, winning by 4 1/4 lengths over Nate's Mineshaft. Pants On Fire finished third. Private Zone, a 6-year-old gelding by Macho Uno, finished in 1:22.54 under Martin Pedroza. It was his second start of the year, following a second-place showing in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap. "He's been training really well coming into this race," said winning trainer Jorge Navarro. "I knew when the other horse came he would dig in. He's a fighter. I just let Martin ride his race." Bayern's rider, Martin Garcia, said his mount "didn't have the kick that he usually does ... He didn't handle the track at all. He didn't like it."
Tepin led all the way to post a mild upset victory in the $300,000, Grade II Churchill Distaff Turf Mile. With Julien Leparoux up, the 4-year-old Bernstein filly shook off a challenger after 6 furlongs and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths from the favorite, Coffee Clique. Sandiva was another 3 lengths back in third. Tepin finished in 1:34.12, picking up her second straight win following an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park in her seasonal debut. "Before the race we were looking at the race and said, 'There isn't much speed,'" Leparoux said. "She is a natural speed filly, so we let her run the first part of it and on the backside she relaxed beautifully and she kicked on nice at the end."
Dame Dorothy won a three-way battle to the wire in the $300,000, Grade I Humana Distaff, scoring by a neck over the favorite and defending Breeders' Cup Champ, Judy the Beauty, and another neck from the early leader, Moonlit Stroll. Dame Dorothy, a 4-year-old Bernardini filly owned by restaurateur Bobby Flay, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.67. She won for the sixth time in eight career starts. "You've got to use this filly away from there," said winning rider Javier Castellano. "She's not the quickest out of the gate. So I got after her and she responded. When we got position, I felt very good. Every time I asked her, she gave it to me. Coming down the stretch I knew it was going to be close. I knew Judy the Beauty was going to be tough. But my filly kept responding and she gave me so much confidence I felt I could celebrate a little before the wire."
Divisidero was off slowly in the $250,000, Grade II American Turf for 3-year-olds, circled six-wide into the stretch and ran by A Lot in the late going to win by 2 lengths over that one. World Approval also ran well late to take third. Divisdero, a Kitten's Joy colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.59 with Rafael Hernandez aboard. It was his second win in only his third lifetime start. In between, he finished third in the Grade III Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park. "He's professional already and it's just his third race," enthused winning trainer Buff Bradley. "It's unbelievable." There originally were three Kitten's Joy colts in the field. Granny's Kitten was scratched and Luck of the Kitten finished fourth.
Competitive Edge shadowed the pace in the $200,000, Grade III Pat Day Mile for 3-year-olds, took the lead in the lane and won by 4 1/2 lengths. Pain and Misery was along for second and Gimme da Lute finished third. Competitive Edge, a son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, ran the one-turn mile in 1:34.18 with John Velazquez up. The colt won both his starts as a 2-year-old, including the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga, and took his only previous start of 2015 by 8 1/4 lengths in Florida. "That's what we were looking for," said winning jockey John Velazquez. "We were looking for something fast enough to where I didn't have to be in his mouth and he rated perfectly, so it was perfect. All went according to plan." Trainer Todd Pletcher added, "As impressive as that was, I think there is more in the tank."
On the Oaks Day undercard
Promise Me Silver was carried wide into the stretch in the $200,000, Grade III Eight Belles Stakes for 3-year-old fillies but still rallied to the lead at mid-stretch and held on well to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Callback. Scat Means Go finished third. Promise Me Silver, a Silver City filly, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.90 with Robby Albarado up. She remains undefeated after eight starts at six tracks but still was sent off at odds of 5-1. "She's a special filly," said winning trainer Bret Calhoun. "I can see why she was overlooked. She had never beaten this caliber of fillies before but we always knew she could." He said he will target the $750,000 Acorn at 1 mile on June 6 at Belmont Park.
Power Alert, an Australian import, led from the start in the $150,000, Grade III Twin Spires Turf Sprint, fought off a couple challengers and prevailed by 3/4 length over Undrafted. Something Extra pressed the pace through a half mile in 43.74 seconds and held on for third. Power Alert, a 5-year-old gelding by Alert, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in course-record time of 55.17. It was his third win in four U.S. starts, affirming the importance of Australian sprinters on the world scene. "I was very proud of the way he ran today," said winning rider Julien Leparoux. "He was comfortable on this course and when we were challenged down the stretch, he responded nicely when I asked him for run." Trainer Brian Lynch said the horse's next race will be either the $300,000 Evangeline Downs Turf Sprint on May 30 or the $300,000, Grade III Jaipur Invitational on Belmont Stakes Day in New York.
Protonico shadowed the early leader in the $400,000, Grade II Alysheba Stakes, moved to the lead at the top of the lane and fought back after being headed by Noble Bird to win by a head over that one. Neck 'n Neck finished third and the pacesetter, Den's Legacy, held fourth. Protonico, a 4-year-old Giant's Causeway colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.34 with John Velazquez riding. "He's a horse that has won on the lead and from last," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "But the one thing that he always seems to do is idle when he makes the lead." He now has three wins and a second from his last five races and looks ready to take a spot in the top rank of the handicap division since Shared Belief is injured and California Chrome is hobnobbing with British royalty. The next step could come in the Grade I Stephen Foster on June 21.
Molly Morgan surged to the lead along the rail in the stretch run in the $300,000, Grade I La Troienne for fillies and mares and held off Sheer Drama for a 3/4-length win. Gold Medal Dancer was in the mix until the final yards and held third, a head farther back. Molly Morgan, a 6-year-old Ghostzapper mare, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.25 with Corey Lanerie in the irons. She finished second in the 2014 La Troienne. "I was able to worm my way right over to the inside," Lanerie said. "I got some momentum going. I was lucky the rail never shut down on me and I was able to keep the momentum until I got through there."
Feathered, uncharacteristically, flew right to the lead in the $150,000, Grade III Edgewood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and wasn't caught, winning by 2 lengths over the favorite, Quality Rocks. Lady Zuzu finished third. Feathered, an Indian Charlie filly out of the Dynaformer mare Receipt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.05 for jockey Javier Castellano. It was only her second win. In the first, at Saratoga last summer, she also led all the way. In the intervening heats, she raced off the pace. Trainer Todd Pletcher said the switch in tactics was Castellano's call. "Plan A was actually to try and lay off the pace," he said. "But when she broke sharp and several others did not, Javier called an audible and it worked out well."
R U Watchingbud ran by the leaders in deep stretch to win Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Queenston Stakes for Canadian-foaled 3-year-olds by 1 1/4 lengths. Goodoldhockeygame skated home second after some traffic problems and Hammerstein was third. The favorite, Jack's Escarpment, led the field into the stretch but folded when headed and finished last. R U Watchingbud, a Kentucky Bear colt, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.98 with Emma-Jayne Wilson up. The colt won at first asking, then failed to find the winner's circle in four intervening races. "Emma did a beautiful job, just laid off some of the speed," said owner and trainer John Ross said. "He had lots in the tank and finished up well. We're pretty excited about this horse." Ross intimated R U Watchingbud has what it takes to compete in Canada's premier race, the Queen's Plate. "This horse is bred to go long. We'll stay tuned and see how he comes out of it and go from there," he said.
In Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Fury Stakes for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, London Tower rallied from last of eight to win by 1/2 length over Starless Night. Galina Point finished third. London Tower, a daughter of Head Chopper, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.43 with Alan Garcia riding. She picked up her third win in four starts. "Unbelievable. I had a lot of confidence," Garcia said. "In the last sixteenth, I put my whip away and let her carry herself. She really impressed me. Even galloping out, nobody could pass me."
When Palace Malice scratched out of Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Westchester Stakes, it appeared to make it a one-horse race with Tonalist standing head and shoulders over three remaining rivals. And so it was. With Bravo at the controls, the 4-year-old Tapit colt bided his time, took over when asked and won by 3 3/4 lengths, geared down at the end. Confrontation, Souper Lucky and Juba completed the order of finish. Tonalist, a 4-year-old Tapit colt, was making his first start since finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Before that, he won the Grade II Peter Pan, the Grade I Belmont Stakes and the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup. Winning trainer Christophe Clement said Bravo "did a great job putting him in the race. From the half-mile pole you knew he was traveling very well. It's fun. That's what good horses do. They win. I guess we'll have to think about the Met Mile" on Belmont Stakes day, June 6.
Big Blue Kitten started last of eight in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Fort Marcy Stakes, got going on the turn for home and blew right by pacesetting Howe Great to win by 2 1/4 lengths over that rival. Middleburg was third. V.E. Day finished sixth and Mr Speaker finished seventh. Big Blue Kitten, a 7-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, ran 9 furlongs on the fast inner turf course in 1:47.97 with Bravo up. He had not won since the Lure Stakes at Saratoga last August but had reported home second in three of his four intervening starts. Trainer Chad Brown said he was happy to have Bravo on the horse. "He took his chances inside again and this horse likes to be ridden that way, in cover, and if he finds a seam inside he's willing to go through it," Brown said. "I'm so proud of this horse, at his age, how consistent he's been for our barn." Next up, the Grade I Knob Creek Manhattan on Belmont Stakes Day.
Rosalind rallied three-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Sheepshead Bay for fillies and mares and kicked away late to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Maximova. Selenite finished third. The favorites, Riposte and Beauty Parlor finished fourth and last in the five-horse field. Rosalind, a 4-year-old Broken Vow filly, ran 1 3/8 miles on the firm inner turf course in 2:14.73 with Bravo handling the reins. It was only her third career win, with another coming in the Grade I Ashland at Keeneland last spring. However, she has hit the board eight times from 14 starts. Trainer Chad Brown said Bravo "rode a terrific race. We had a plan leaving the paddock and I filled him in with a little about what we see in this horse, and he took that information and executed it perfectly." He said he will talk to the owners about a next race.
Loki's Vengeance got through along the rail in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 Affirmed Success Stakes for New York-breds and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Empire Dreams. John's Island was third and the favorite, Capain Serious, finished fourth. Loki's Vengeance, a 4-year-old Frost Giant colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.80.
Mosler waited behind the leaders in Wednesday's opening day feature, the $100,000 Elusive Quality Stakes, split the leaders and charged down the stretch to win by 2 lengths. The early leaders, Plainview and Spring to the Sky, finished second and third and the favorite, King Kreesa, finished sixth. Mosler, a 4-year-old colt by War Front, got 7 furlongs on firm going in a quick 1:20.63 with Joel Rosario up. "We've considered turf in the past," said LEanna Willaford, assistant to winning trainer Bill Mott. "But he'd run well enough on the dirt, so there wasn't really a reason to try it right away. He was very impressive. He sat in behind a quick pace, nice and easy, and when it opened up he did what he needed to do."
El Deal led all the way to a 3 3/4-lengths victory over the favorite, Nonna's Boy in Friday's $100,000 Gold Fever Stakes for 3-year-olds. El Deal, a Munning colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.47 with Angel Cruz up.
Zindaya hustled to the front in Friday's $100,000 License Fee Stakes for fillies and mares and was unchallenged thereafter. Devilish Love chased but finished second, 2 3/4 lengths in arrears. Zindaya, a 4-year-old filly by More Than Ready, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:09.64 with Manuel Franco in the irons.
Spanish Queen stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Honeymoon Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, took the lead from Spirit of Xian at the top of the lane and held on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Sharla Rae. Spirit of Xian held third. Spanish Queen, a Tribal Rule filly, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.24 with Brice Blanc in the irons.
Catch a Flight got through between rivals entering the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Precisionist Stakes and got home first by 3/4 length. Sammy Mandeville rallied from last to finish second, 1 1/4 lengths better than Motown Men. Catch a Flight, a 5-year-old, Argentine-bred son of Giant's Causeway, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.22 with Flavien Prat up.
Richard's Boy was up just in time to win Saturday's $75,000 Desert Code Stakes for 3-year-olds down the hillside turf by a neck over Diamond Majesty and another neck over Perfectly Majestic. Richard's Boy, an Idiot Proof gelding, ran about 6 1/2 gravity-aided furlongs in 1:14.61 with Fernando Perez in the irons.
Avenge had nothing but traffic trouble throughout Friday's $75,000 Ultrafleet Stakes for fillies and mares down the hillside turf course but still managed to get through and win by a head over Moons Over Me. Mio Me was third. Avenge, a War Front filly, finished about 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.07 for Prat.
Texas Air rallied from far back to upset Friday's $200,000, Grade III Texas Mile, winning by 3/4 length over Hip Four Sixtynine. Rise Up faded from the lead to finish third and the favorite, Sr. Quisqueyno, got home sixth after pressing the early pace. Texas Air, a 7-year-old Texas City gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.31 with Quincy Hamilton riding.