Girvin continued his winning ways while Always Dreaming and Patch emerged as leading Kentucky Derby candidates in weekend prep races as trainer Todd Pletcher mounted a late-season assault on the first of the Triple Crown events.
Australia's big fall meeting is under way with Chautauqua back to winning ways amid some stunning upsets. And, just a week after the World Cup, the Dubai Racing Club staged another successful weekend in Mainland China.
Diving right in:
The road to the roses
As other contenders continued to fall by the wayside, Girvin remained a model of consistency on the Triple Crown trail with a workman-like victory in Saturday's $1 million Grade II Twinspires Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.
With Brian Hernandez Jr. riding, Girvin tracked the pace, rallied four-wide entering the stretch and got past the early speed to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Patch, a lightly raced Union Rags colt, showed promise with a late effort to finish second, 1 3/4 lengths in front of Local Hero, who led briefly in the stretch.
Girvin, a Tale of Ekati colt trained by Joe Sharp, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.77 -- good enough time but not eye-catching. He now has three wins and a second from four starts, all in New Orleans.
"He puts a lot of confidence in you," Hernandez said of Girvin. "Today my biggest thing was when I saw Local Hero settle as well as he did, I wanted to stay behind and give myself a target. Every time I needed him he was there for me. Turning for home, he got to switching leads back and forth, but he was kind of just messing around."
Jockey Tyler Gaffalione was very happy with Patch's effort -- his first time around two turns in only his third career start.
There was a lot of traffic out there," Gaffalione said. "Once we dove inside and found a path, he really accelerated and finished up really good. He's pretty handy and you can do whatever you want with him. He listens very well." Pletcher sent Patch to New Orleans to separate him from his Florida Derby hopeful.
And the Pletcher hope in Hallandale, Always Dreaming, continued on a rocket trajectory to prominence with a commanding win in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Xpressbet Florida Derby -- his third straight victory of the season.
Always Dreaming, a Bodemeister colt who is in the vanguard of trainer Pletcher's late Triple Crown charge, tracked the early pace, rallied to the lead four-wide and was all alone at the finish. State of Honor was 5 lengths back in second and 1 1/2 lengths ahead of the favorite, Gunnevera, the Fountain of Youth winner who closed from last after starting from the No. 10 gate.
Always Dreaming, with John Velazquez up, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.47 -- only 0.64 second slower than the course record set by Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup in January.
"The horse has been training exceptionally well," Pletcher said, "and we were confident he was going to run as well as he's capable of. And, thankfully, he did. I have to be honest with you. He was training so well that I would have been disappointed had he not run well. But that was a very impressive performance. Certainly, that's why we were here today to hopefully get the points to go on."
The Pletcher-trained Tapwrit, Malagacy and Patch also earned enough points to participate in the first leg of the Triple Crown and the trainer has a few others yet to be heard from in the next few weeks.
Gunnevera's trainer, Antonio Sano, said jockey Javier Castellano reported, "The post position was a little problem, but the horse wasn't comfortable in the beginning. He finished strong but the horses in the front weren't stopping."
Meanwhile, the leading ranks of early Derby contenders thinned still more as El Areeb, winner of the Grade III Withers and Grade III Jerome at Aqueduct, was sidelined with a bone chip in his right front knee. Trainer Cal Lynch told officials at Laurel Race Course the colt will undergo surgery next week. He is expected to return to training -- but not until well after the Triple Crown races.
Road to the Oaks
Farrell had things much as she pleased in Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks. After tracking the pace, the Malibu Moon filly moved to the lead at the quarter pole and drew off through the long stretch to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Wicked Lick and Vexatious filled the trifecta spots.
Farrell, with Channing Hill up for trainer Wayne Catalano, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.67. It was her fourth consecutive stakes victory and third at the Grade II level. Overall, the dark bay filly has five wins and a third from seven starts and looks a likely favorite for next month's Kentucky Oaks, a prospect that doesn't trouble Catalano.
"We feel very good," Catalano said of the Louisville race. "She's doing everything we've asked her to do, and she's coming around and she's maturing. The way she's settling down, she's really learning."
In just her third career start, Salty jumped up to win Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks, dominating seven opponents with an impressive stretch run that found her 4 1/4 lengths in front after the 1 1/16 miles. Tequilita and Jordan's Henny filled out the trifecta slots. Salty, a Quality Road filly, finished in 1:42.91 with Joel Rosario up for trainer Mark Casse.
Salty finished second, a neck behind Nonna Bella, in her first start, then won by 2 1/2 lengths going 7 furlongs on March 5. Nonna Bella was fourth in Saturday's heat. Casse said Sunday morning Salty returned well from her race.
"I thought Salty was ultra-impressive yesterday, not only given her long, sustained run, but closing on a track that is not easy to close on," Casse said. She is not yet nominated to the Kentucky Oaks and faces an April 12 late-nomination deadline.
In other racing action:
Honorable Duty set up shop off the pace and on the rail through the early furlongs of Saturday's $400,000, Grade II New Orleans Handicap, then came running outside pacesetter Breaking Lucky to win by a neck over that rival in the final strides. Iron Fist was 5 lengths farther back in third and the favorite, Noble Bird, was sixth.
Honorable Duty, a 5-year-old Distorted Humor gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.35 with James Graham up for trainer Brendan Walsh. He came into the race off a win in the Mineshaft Handicap over the same track in February. Lightly raced, he now has six wins from 12 starts with five seconds and a third.
"He's getting better and better with every start," Graham said. "His work last week was unbelievable and that's the way he ran today, just came home real strong. When I picked him up and asked him to go, he ran hard all the way to the wire."
Collected rallied to the lead three-wide leaving the turn in Saturday's $75,000 Santana Mile at Santa Anita and kicked away to a 3 3/4-lengths victory. Avanti Bello was second, Clever Royal third and the favorite, Dortmund, a fading fourth after bobbling at the start and rushing into contention.
Collected, a 4-year-old City Zip colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.76 with Martin Garcia in the irons. He was making his first start for trainer Bob Baffert since finishing 10th in the Preakness last year. He entered that race off a victory in the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland.
"Martin rode him with a lot of confidence. He saw what was happening, with those horses going really fast, and he just took him back," Baffert said. "My riders make me look good." Garcia added, "Bob told me not to fall off."
Dortmund's rider, Victor Espinoza, said his horse "never really got his stride today, all the way around there. I know he's better than this."
Mo' Green rallied four-wide to take the lead in the stretch in Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Top Flight Invitational at Aqueduct, then quickly put the matter to rest, drawing off to win by 3 1/2 lenghts. Verve's Tale was second, Oasis At Midnight third and the favorite, Isabella, last after showing the way. Mo' Green, a 4-year-old Uncle Mo filly, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.79 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. Since finishing sixth in last summer's Grade III Monmouth Oaks, she has finished first or second in four straight races.
Enterprising and Kasaqui both came running in the final furlong of Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Muniz Memorial at Fair Grounds with Enterprising getting the decision by a neck. Kasaqui nipped Oscar Nominated, who led early in the stretch run, for second. Enterprising, a 6-year-old Elusive Quality gelding, ran about 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:48.41 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons. The Florida-bred, trained at Palm Meadows by Mike Maker, was making a return trip to the Big Easy, where he won the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap in February.
Sadler's Joy came from next-last of eight and won a three-way dash to the wire in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Pan American Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Designed for War held the lead briefly in the stretch and finished second, a head back and a neck in front of Patterson Cross. The favorite, Taghleeb, was another 1 length back in fourth. Sadler's Joy, a 4-year-old colt by Kitten's Joy out of the Dynaformer mare Dynaire, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:26.89 under Julien Leparoux. Sadler's Joy took a while to find his way last year but broke through with a close second-place finish behind Taghleeb in the Grade III W.L. McKnight in his last start.
All Included rallied from last of six to take Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Appleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park by 1/2 length over Delta Prince. Our Way was third. All Included, a 6-year-old entire son of Include, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.12 with Javier Castellano up for trainer Todd Pletcher. He was eighth in this event last year, prompting a long vacation. He finished second in a comeback race in January, then second through disqualification in the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap at 9 furlongs Feb. 11.
Dover Cliffs reeled in pacesetting longshot Gemologister in the stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Cutler Bay Handicap for 3-year-olds by 1 1/2 lengths over that one. Shiraz was third. Dover Cliffs, an English Channel colt, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:35.16 with Jose Ortiz riding for trainer Christophe Clement, winning his second straight race.
Filly & Mare Turf
Summersault was along late to upset odds-on favorite Orloda in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Orchid Stakes for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park. Orlodo got the lead in the stretch in the 1 3/8-miles event but could not hold off Summersault, who got by to win by 3/4 length. Quiet Kitten was third, another 3 lengths in arrears. Summersault, a 5-year-old Rock Hard Ten mare, finished in 2:12.24 with Paco Lopez up. She was making a significant class jump after contesting state-bred optional claimers in New York last year for trainer Mark Hennig. Orlodo, a German-bred mare by Lord of England, has won graded stakes at Longchamp in France and at Keeneland.
Celestine had 'em all the way in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Honey Fox Stakes at Gulfstream Park, hanging on well to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Mississippi Delta was second, 1 length to the good of Linda. Celestine, a 5-year-old Scat Daddy mare, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:35.19 with Jose Ortiz up. She won last year's Honey Fox and eventually finished 12th in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last fall. She came back to win the Sand Springs at course and distance March 4 for her new trainer, Christophe Clement.
Conquest Hardcandy led from the start in Saturday's $100,000 Sanibel Island Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park and held off the favorite, Happy Mesa, by a neck at the wire. Taperge finished third. Conquest Hardcandy, a Candy Ride filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.50 for jockey Edgard Zayas. It was her second win in her fourth career start and followed a seventh-place showing in the Grade III Herecomesthebride on March 4.
The Truth Or Else was along late to upset Saturday's $100,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park, winning by 2 1/4 lengths from Hammers Vision. The favorite, Mr. Jordan, faded to finish seventh. The Truth Or Else, a 5-year-old son of Yes It's True, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.90 with Joel Rosario at the controls, winning for the first time since October at Keeneland for trainer Kenny McPeek.
Around the ovals:
True Emperor went quickly to the fore in Saturday's $75,000 Cresecent City Derby for Louisiana-breds and extended his margin throughout, winning by 2 1/2 lengths at odds of 29-1. The favorite, Underpressure, gave chase late but settled for second. Jack Snipe's was third. True Emperor, a Yes It's True colt, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast track in 1:44.72 under Jose Riquelme
Mr. Al's Gal led all the way to a 1/2-length victory over Rose Guitar in Saturday's $75,000 Crescent City Oaks for state-bred fillies. Moonlightmidnight, blocked in the final yards, was 3/4 length farther back in third. Mr. Al's Gal, a Salute the Sarge filly, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.06 with Richard Eramia up.
Ministry preached an impressive sermon in the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Rainbow Miss Stakes for Arkansas-bred 3-year-old fillies, drawing off smartly to win by 6 3/4 lengths. Superstar Bea and the favorite, Ms Fifty First St., finished second and third. Ministry, a daughter of Ordained out of the Closing Argument mare Heated Debate, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.44 with Thomas Pompell in the irons.
On the international front:
Chautauqua, once ranked at the top among the world's best turf sprinters, returned to the winner's enclosure Saturday following a narrow victory in the Group 1 Darley T J Smith Stakes at Royal Randwick. The 6-year-old Encosta de Lago gelding won by a neck over English with Fell Swoop third and the favorite, Russian Revolution, finishing sixth. Chautauqua, with Tommy Berry up, ran 1,200 meters on heavy going in 1:12.44. Chautauqua also won this race last year and went on to capture the Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize at Sha Tin in Hong Kong a month later. He had not won since that event.
It's true that "winter is coming" in the southern hemisphere so the upset win by Jon Snow in Saturday's Aus$2 million Group 1 BMW Australian Derby might not have been as big a surprise as the $7.50 winner's price suggests. With Damian Lane up, the New Zealand-bred colt by Iffraaj romped home 3/4 length in front of three other long shots as the favorites, Gingernuts and Inference, finished fifth and sixth. For Jon Snow, it was his second straight win following a third in the New Zealand Derby, which Gingernuts won.
Invader, under Hugh Bowman, posted a minor upset win in the Group 1 Inglis Sire's Stakes for 2-year-olds, reporting nearly 1 length to the good of fellow long shot Summer Passage. The favorite, Frolic, finished seventh, 5 lengths behind the winner. Invader, a chestnut colt by Snitzel, scored his second win from six starts.
It's Somewhat, a 6-year-old Dynaformer gelding, scored a major upset in the Group 1 The Star Doncaster Mile, beating Happy Clapper to the wire by 1/2 length with the favorite, Le Romain, nearly 12 lengths adrift in 15th position. It's Somewhat, with Zac Purton in from Hong Kong for the profitable ride, went to the post at a price of Aus$31 despite having won a Group 2 event at Rosehill Gardens in his previous start.
Skygazer, with Royston Ffrench up, won Sunday's fourth running of the Chengdu Dubai International Cup presented by Longines. Ffrench, who also won the International Cup in 2014, scored twice on the day at a meeting attended by some 6,000 local fans. In the first-ever jockeys' challenge at the one-day meeting, the international riders defeated a team of five Chinese riders by a combined score of 28 points to 20.
The Chengdu Dubai International Cup race meeting, held at Jinma Lake Racecourse, is a joint venture among Meydan Group, Sichuan Provincial Government, Chengdu Municipal Government, the Wenjiang District Government and China Guangsha Group. It features horses, jockeys, trainers and infrastructure brought from, and later returned to, the Dubai Racing Club.