Japanese horses posted big-time wins at home and in Hong Kong during the weekend as American racing settled in for the final run up to the 143rd edition of the Kentucky Derby this Saturday.
A spate of grass mile races filled the U.S. calendar with still more turf action at longer trips.
Keeneland gave way to Churchill Downs and Aqueduct handed over to Belmont Park -- sure signs of spring.
The Kentucky Derby
The field for Saturday's 143rd Kentucky Derby continues to evolve with trainer Todd Pletcher ruling out potential starters Malagacy and Battalion runner. However, Group 2 UAE Derby winner Thunder Snow was confirmed for the Run for the Roses. Thunder Snow also is nominated for the Investec Derby at Epsom next month.
"The horse is in good form," trainer Saeed bin Suroor said. "He is sound, healthy, working really well and I am so happy with him. It is great to see another horse from Godolphin travel to the Kentucky Derby, as it is one of the best races in the world."
Without Malagacy and Battalion runner Pletcher has "only" three starters for the Derby and move Lookin at Lee and Sonneteer into the No. 19 and No. 20 spots on the preference list for the 20-horse field.
We of course will have much more on the Derby field -- as well as the surrounding stakes on Oaks Day and Derby Day -- in the coming week.
Farhaan rallied from far back to take Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Thunder Road Stakes at Santa Anita by 3/4 length over Perfectly Majestic while the favorite, Bolo, coughed up the lead in the final sixteenth and settled for third. Farhaan, an 8-year-old son of Jazil who was not taken in a $40,000 claimer at Saratoga last summer, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.18 with Tyler Baze in the irons. He scored his first graded stakes win. "I worked him coming into this race and I thought he'd run big," Baze said. "I'm hoping he can build on this."
War Correspondent tracked the pace made by Applicator in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Miami Mile at Gulfstream Park, eased by that one entering the stretch and went on to win by 1 length. Applicator held second by a nose over Lubash and Our Way completed the order of finish. War Correspondent, a 7-year-old son of War Front out of the Rahy mare Tempo West, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.19 with Tyler Gaffalione up. It was his fifth win from 14 starts. "It was a perfect trip," said Thomas Brandebourger, assistant to winning trainer Christophe Clement. "He's a very genuine horse. He's going to give you everything. When he's right he is a very good horse."
Cali Thirty Seven showed the way in Saturday's $100,000 Powder Break Stakes for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park, then held on gamely through a long stretch battle to win by a neck over the favorite, Stormy Victoria. Somethingelse was 1 length farther back in third. Cali Thirty Seven ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.64. C.J. McMahon had the mount on the 5-year-old Eskendereya mare, who also won this race last season but failed in six intervening starts. Trainer Joe Orseno credited McMahon. "He did what I told him: 'Put her on the lead and nurse her along and she'll be running at the end.' I said, 'Don't worry if they come to you. She'll be running at the end. And he listened. A lot of jocks might have gotten a little panicky and asked for her to go sooner, but he didn't and I think that's what won it for us."
Alert Bay pressed pacesetting Many Roses through the early furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 Grade III San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate Fields, rallied three-wide to the lead at the top of the lane and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. G.G. Ryder was along for second, a nose in front of Many Roses. Alert Bay, a 6-year-old City Zip gelding, finished in 1:35.12 over firm going with Juan Hernandez aboard. Alert Bay also won this event last year.
Filly & Mare Turf
Quiet Business, the longest shot on the board, came from last of five to upset the $150,000 Bewitch Stakes for fillies and mares on Keeneland's closing day Friday. Quiet Business, a 4-year-old daughter of Quiet American, worked her way by the pacesetter, Daring Dutchess, in the stretch and won by 1 length with Dyna's Recoleta third and Inchargeofme fourth. The favorite, Earring, faded in the lane after chasing the pace and finished last. The morning-line favorite, Arles, was scratched. Quiet Business, with Brian Hernandez Jr. up, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:31.50. She is a Calumet Farm homebred out of the A.P. Indy mare Indy Business. "This is just fate," said winning trainer Rusty Arnold. "We got lucky. We entered her in an allowance race that didn't go and forgot to nominate her (to the Bewitch)." At that point, he said, Keeneland Racing Secretary Ben Huffman urged him to supplement her. "I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to do it. When it came up a small field, we did it."
Evo Campo allowed long shot Responsibleforlove to take a giant lead in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Santa Barbara at Santa Anita, moved up on the turn and easily went by to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Responsibleforlove held second by a nose over Estrechada. The favorite, Place des Vosges, checked in fourth. Evo Campo, a 5-year-old Irish-bred mare by Approve, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.70 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. She finished fifth in the Grade II Santa Ana in her only previous graded stakes experience. "It set up great, we got the best of it," said winning trainer Paddy Gallagher. "The further they went, the better it was for us. The rest of them were stacked up and we were free-running. It worked out great."
Disco Partner quickly moved from last of seven to first as the field swept around the turn and into the lane in Saturday's $150,000 Elusive Quality Stakes at Belmont Park and got home first by a comfortable 1 3/4 lengths. Kharafa was along for second with the pacesetter, Siding Spring, fading to finish third. Disco Partner, a 5-year-old son of Disco Rico, ran 7 furlongs on good turf in 1:22.61 with Irad Ortiz Jr. riding for trainer Christophe Clement. It was his first start since a fourth place in the Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational last Oct. 8. "I was stuck in there when we were turning for home and I knew I had a lot of horse," Ortiz said, "so I had to take him around and just let him do his thing."
Portmagee led from the start in Sunday's $150,000 License Fee Stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park and ran on to win by 1 1/2 lengths from Miss Ella. Summer Reading was third and the favorite, Fair Point, was fourth. Portmagee, a 4-year-old Hard Spun filly, got 6 furlongs over the firm inner turf in 1:08.71 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up.
"We've always thought she was going to be a nice filly," said winning trainer Christophe Clement. "We didn't think she was necessarily going to win today, but we expected her to be competitive. This is great."
The Money Monster, up from Florida, also was up in the final sixteenth to win Saturday's opening-day feature at Churchill Downs, the $100,000 William Walker Stakes for 3-year-olds. The Majestic Warrior colt, with Jose Lezcano in the irons, finished 1 1/2 lengths to the good of pacesetter Classic Cotton, who subsequently was demoted to fifth for interference on the backstretch. That promoted En Hance to second and Conquest Wildcat to show money. The odds-on favorite, Syndergaard, was the victim of the backstretch shenanigans and was moved up to fourth ahead of the perpetrator. The Money Monster ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.70. The Money Monster won his first two starts in Florida, then faded badly in the Tampa Bay Derby and was eased. Syndergaard was making his first start since finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. "He's real laid back and if you don't continue to ride him, he will just pull himself up," trainer Bill Mott said of The Money Monster. "I have never had a horse want to continue to pull himself up out of a race."
Monday's Group 1 Gran Premio Criadores at Palermo in Buenos Aires offers the first automatic starting position for this year's Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff through the international Breeders' Cup Challenge. The favorite for the 1 1/4-miles race is last year's runner-up, Kiriaki, a daughter of Catcher in the Rye. The winners of each of 81 races in the Challenge series receive free berths and fees paid for the corresponding race of the Breeders' Cup World Championships, slated for Nov. 3 and 4 at Del Mar. Starters based outside North America also receive a $40,000 travel allowance.
Finley'sluckycharm led virtually gate to wire in Saturday's $65,000 Roxelana Stakes for fillies and mares and held on to win by 3/4 length over Athena. Kathballu was third. Finley'sluckycharm, a 4-year-old Twirling Candy filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.39. "She's a nice filly," said winning rider Brian Hernandez Jr. "She just got a little tired down the lane going on her wrong lead, but she put in a solid effort." Trainer Bret Calhoun said Finley'sluckycharm will be sent out in Grade I company in the near future.
Celtic Chaos started last of 12 Friday in Belmont's season-opening stakes, the $100,000 Affirmed Success Stakes for New York-breds, advanced to contention seven-wide entering the stretch and scored by a neck over Eye Luv Lulu. Final Chapter was third and the favorite, Weekend Hideaway, settled for fourth after leading briefly on the turn. Celtic Chaos, a 4-year-old Dublin colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.84 under Eric Cancel. "I was a little nervous, but I could see him coming," said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "I thought he was too far back but once he worked his way out, he started running and I knew they were all going to be slowing down."
Enstone waited right behind the early speed in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Fury Stakes for Canada-foaled 3-year-old fillies, took the lead turning down the straight and won off by 2 3/4 lengths. Financial Recovery came from last to finish second, a neck in front of Mythical Mission. Enstone, a Tiznow filly, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.31 with Patrick Husbands riding. The victory makes the filly an early consideration for the Woodbine Oaks on June 11. "It looks like she only wants to go longer," said assistant trainer Kathryn Sullivan. "She ran a great race today and Patrick rode a great race. Hopefully, she comes out of the race well and we'll just keep going."
Smokin Now smoked right to the lead in Friday's $65,000 Golden Circle Stakes for 3-year-olds and wasn't caught, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Reckling. Warrior's Kid was third. Smokin Now, a Tiznow colt, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy, sealed track in 1:10.40 with Daniel Vergara up.
Vertical Oak used a similar plan to land Saturday's $65,000 Goldfinch Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, leading all the way to a 7 3/4-lengths score. Nineteenth Street and Win Winney filled the trifecta slots. Vertical Oak, a Giant Oak filly, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:09.77 under Ramon Vazquez.
Golden Gate Fields
B Squared stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Silky Sullivan Stakes for Cal-bred 3-year-olds, dueled past pacemaker Elwood J in the lane and edged clear, winning by 1 1/4 lengths from that rival. Ninety Nine Proof came from last of seven to finish third, pumping up the trifecta payout. B Squared, a Square Eddie colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.56 with Mario Gutierrez in the irons.
Miss Sunset led from the start in Sunday's $100,000 Campanile Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies, turned back a sustained bid by Radish and edged clear to win by 3/4 length over her. Lucky Christiana was 1 length farther back in third. Miss Sunset, an Into Mischief filly, got the 1 mile over the green course in 1:39.20 for jockey Juan Hernandez.
Discreet Senorita tracked the leaders early in Saturday's $100,000 Foxy J.G. Stakes for Pennsylvania-bred fillies and mares, gradually eased up to and by the speed and went on to win by 2 lengths. Heatherly was second, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Disco Chick. The favorite, Dark Nile, was eased after stumbling out of the gate. Discreet Senorita, a 5-year-old daughter of Discreet Cat, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.76 with Frankie Pennington up.
Page McKenney rallied to the lead in the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Lyman Stakes for Pennsylvania-breds and edged away to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Someday Jones. Duval was third. Page McKenney, a 7-year-old Eavesdropper gelding, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.38 with Horacio Karamanos aboard.
Will Rogers Downs
Js Pearljam went quickly to the front in Monday's $55,000 Cinema Handicap for Oklahoma-bred 3-year-old fillies and held on gamely to win by a neck from Hey Baby. Baby K was third, 10 1/4 length farther in arrears. Js Pearljam, a daughter of Dance Master, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.74 with Bryan McNeil up.
Hailstorm Slew rallied from far back in Monday's $55,000 Great Lady M Stakes for Oklahoma-bred fillies and mares and kicked away in the stretch to win by 4 3/4 lengths over Goodheartedgirl. Hailstorm Slew, a 4-year-old Munnings filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.34 with Luis Quinonez in the irons.
Welder, the prohibitive favorite, led from the start in Tuesday's $55,000 TRAO Classic Sprint Stakes for state-bred colts and geldings and drew off to a 4-lengths victory. Johnny Whip was second, 6 1/4 lengths in front of Bad Humor. Welder, a 4-year-old gelding by The Visualizer, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.00 under Travis Cunningham.
Makin the Dough stalked the pace in Tuesday's $55,000 Will Rogers Handicap for Oklahoma-bred 3-year-old colts and geldings, then outfinished the odds-on favorite, Curmit, by a neck. The early leader, Hunter's Humor, was another 1/2 length back in third. Makin the Dough, a Service Stripe gelding, did the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:43.17 with McNeil up.
Rivers Run Deep pressed the early pace in Saturday's $75,000 Edward Babst/Albert Palacios Memorial Handicap for Ohio-bred, then quickly took command and drew off, winning by 6 lengths. It was another 4 lengths back to La Nina Bronca in third. Rivers Run Deep, a 6-year-old son of Ready's Image, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:08.75, just 0.31 second off the track record despite the mud.
Jessica's Star dueled with favorite Way Striking throughout Saturday's $75,000 Bosselman Pump and Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes, winning by a neck. Tiger of Wales was 2 3/4 lengths farther back in third. Jessica's Star, a 6-year-old Magna Graduate gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a muddy track in 1:46.60 with Shane Laviolette riding.
Jockeys Javier Castellano, Victor Espinoza and the late Garrett Gomez will go into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame this summer during the Saratoga meeting along with three-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner Goldikova. Those were the four top choices by the voting panel.
Neorealism shrugged off a sluggish pace midway through Sunday's Group 1 Audemars Piguet QE II Cup at Sha Tin in Hong Kong, shot to the lead and held on through a dramatic stretch drive to win by a neck over promising local contender Pakistan Star. Werther, last year's winner and reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year, was just a short head farther back in third.
Jockey Joao "Magic Man" Moreira said he had to improvise when the gates opened for the 2,000-meters grass classic.
"Unfortunately he did not break that well as we had in mind to lead the race," Moreira said. "That worked out well as I was able to get him to relax." He said he decided he had to make an early move because Neorealism, a 6-year-old son of Neo Universe, "doesn't seem to be a horse who would sit and sprint."
The 2015 winner of the QE II, Blazing Speed, finished fourth this time around and the 2014 winner, Designs On Rome, was last of eight. The other two foreign starters, The United States, representing Australia, and Dicton, representing France, finished fifth and seventh, respectively.
Winning trainer Noriyuki Hori, said it's possible Neorealism will be dispatched on more international travel after Sunday's showing. Pakistan Star, a 4-year-old, now is among a clutch of rising stars in Hong Kong and a prime contender for the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup in December.
Kitasan Black confirmed his status atop the list of turf distance specialists with a convincing win in Sunday's Group 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) at Kyoto Racecourse.
The 5-year-old son of Black Tide raced at the front of the main pack as a long shot opened a huge lead through most of the 3,200-meters event. When the pace picked up entering the final turn, jockey Yutaka Take gave Kitasan Black his cue and he responded immediately. After sweeping past the leader, he opened a daylight lead and easily held off Cheval Grand by 1 1/4 lengths and Satono Diamond by another neck.
The victory atoned for a loss to Satono Diamond late last year in the Arima Kinen, or Grand Prix.
Kitasan Black is the reigning Japanese Horse of the Year -- an honor earned in part through victorys in last year's Tenno Sho (Spring) and Japan Cup.
"It was a really tough race," Take said. "The pace never slowed down. Although the horse had little left, he showed amazing stamina and tenacity up to the end, which only he can do. I never thought Deep Impact's record would ever be broken. This horse is just so much stronger than he was a year ago."
He also is a prime candidate to finally succeed in Japan's long-standing effort to win the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe this fall and easily could resurface in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase in December.