March 4 (UPI) -- While the final rounds of Kentucky Derby preliminaries grabbed much of the attention, there were significant weekend developments in American turf racing, especially at Gulfstream Park.
Two to watch, both trained by Chad Brown, emerged from the sparkling program.
Here's how things went, with other stops in Louisiana, New York, Arkansas and California:
Precieuse, a Group 1 winner in France in 2017, drove by the leaders in deep stretch to capture Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Honey Fox Stakes for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park by 1/2 length over Valedictorian. The 5-year-old Tamayuz mare finished 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.14. She made only one start in 2018, finishing second to Uni in the DeLaRose Stakes at Saratoga, and the Honey Fox was her 2019 debut for trainer Chad Brown. She has missed a top-two finish only once in nine starts -- that a seventh-place showing in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2017.
"It meant a lot for us to win today," Brown said of Precieuse's effort, adding owner Peter Brant "has been very patient with this horse. Obviously she hasn't run much in the couple of years with a few injuries. It was important to get the year started off and she deserved to run the whole year and not be bred."
Brown's embarrassment of riches in the turf division continued as Cambier Park pressed the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Herecomesthebride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, took over in the stretch and held off Princess Carolina for a 3/4-lengths victory. The pacesetter, Belle Laura, settled for third. Cambier Park, a Medaglia d'Oro filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the green course in 1:42.03 with Jose Ortiz aboard. She now is 2-for-3.
"I think once we got her on the grass, we found her niche," Brown said. "I think she has a bright future ahead of her. From here we may go to the Belmont Oaks in July. I think she'll stay a mile and a quarter. How we get there, I'm not sure."
A Thread of Blue also shows promise of putting some consistency in the turf division. The Hard Spun colt scored his third straight victory in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Palm Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park, taking the lead in the lane and holding off a late run by Casa Creed to win by 3/4 length. Louder Than Bombs was third. A Thread of Blue, with Luis Saez up, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.93. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee also won the 1-mile Dania Beach Stakes over the same course Feb. 3. "I definitely think he can stretch out to a mile and a quarter, should be no problem," McLaughlin said. "The mile and half might be a little far for him, but certainly we'll try a mile and a quarter."
Krampus stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Canadian Turf at Gulfstream Park, took the lead entering the lane and battled on willingly to win by a head over the odds-on favorite, Breaking the Rules. Holiday Stone was another 2 lengths back in third. Krampus, with John Velazquez in the irons, ran 1 mile in 1:34.98. The 5-year-old Shakespeare gelding, out of the Rahy mare Midtown Girl, had not won in seven starts since last June. "He's really kind of a barn favorite," trainer Bill Mott said of Krampus. "He's probably not the best horse in the barn but nobody tries harder than he does. You know what I mean? He's a real neat, real neat kind of horse."
Holy Helena rallied from a pace-stalking trip in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III The Very One Stakes for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park to put a head in front of pacesetting Ickymasho at the wire. Semper Sententiae was another 3 1/lengths back in third. Holy Helena, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper mare, ran 1 3/16 miles on firm turf in 1:54.20 with Irad Ortiz Jr. riding. The 2017 Queen's Plate winner also won this race in 2018 but had not had her picture taken since last May but trainer Jimmy Jerkens said he had not lost faith. "She had three decent works in between her last race and she handled it well, he said. "I think she looks terrific physically so I was very confident today. I really was."
Saturday's $100,000 Pasadena Stakes for 3-year-olds came off the Santa Anita greensward and onto the sloppy, sealed main track. Four of the original nine said, "No thanks," while Stubbins, a Morning Line colt, said, "Thank you very much." The Doug O'Neill trainee splashed off from the inside gate and led all the way. Jockey Tyler Baze's silks were still clean as he finished first by 8 lengths. Neptune's Storm was second, 1/2 length in front of Major Cobb. The odds-on favorite, Big Scott Daddy, weakened to get home fourth, beaten 12 lengths. Stubbins finished 1 mile in 1:36.15, racking up his third straight win.
Zulu Alpha tracked the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Mac Diarmida Stakes at Gulfstream Park, challenged for the lead at mid-stretch and prevailed in a tight, five-way finish. Melmich was up for second with a late run, a neck in front of Kulin Rock. Another two necks separated Channel Maker and pacesetting Village King in fourth and fifth. Zulu Alpha, with Irad Ortiz Jr. calling the shots, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm going in 2:16.39.
In seven starts dating back to last summer at Arlington Park, Zulu Alpha has posted five wins and one second. "The plan all along has been to run in this race and then wait for Keeneland," said winning trainer Mike Maker. "He's a very professional horse, easy to train and very classy."
Recruiting Ready sorted out position down the backstretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Gulfstream Park Sprint, got to the lead with a furlong to run and edged away to a 3 1/4-lengths victory. Quijote was second and Sweetontheladies got show money. Recruiting Ready, a 5-year-old son of Algorithms, completed 6 furlongs over a fast track in 1:09.52 with Luis Saez riding. He went off as the odds-on favorite after finishing second behind World of Trouble in the off-the-turf Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint Jan. 26, which was to have been his grass debut.
"It was a little scary in the beginning when we didn't make the lead," said winning trainer Stanley Hough. "I think he's getting better with age. Some problems are behind him and I hope he finishes this year good."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Saturday's $100,000 Spring Fever Stakes at Oaklawn Park was no challenge at all for Amy's Challenge as the 4-year-old Artie Schiller filly drew off in the lane, winning by 8 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Shanghai Tariff was best of the rest, 1/2 length in front of Alex's Bourbon. Amy's Challenge, with Alex Canchari up for trainer McLean Robertson, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.10, winning for the third time at Oaklawn.
"The reason for running back here was to have her win again,"Robertson said. "Obviously, winning's good for horses like her. She runs so hard. It was pretty discouraging to watch her lose last year. You know you've got the best horse and you get beat, it's like losing at the end of the game the way New Orleans (Saints) did. It kind of sucks."
Around the ovals:
Royal Albert Hall rallied from next-last and threaded through traffic to win Saturday's $100,000 Bernardini Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths over the early pacemaker, Hit It Once More. The latter saved second by just a neck over Shalako. Royal Albert Hall, a 7-year-old, British-bred gelding by Royal Applause, ran 1 5/16 miles on a fast track in 2:18.99 with Junior Alvarado riding. It was just the third win from 41 starts for Royal Albert Hall, who started his career in England, raced primarily in California and finished 12th in the 2017 H.H. The Amir's Trophy in Doha, Qatar. Coincidentally, the race's namesake had a winner Friday night at:
Edwards Going Left dueled with King Abner through the entire 1 mile of Sunday's $100,000 Tiznow Stakes for California-breds before prevailing by 1/2 length. Surfing Star finished third, 8 1/2 lengths farther back. Edwards Going Left, a 5-year-old Midnight Lute gelding, finished in 1:35.81 over a good track with Joel Rosario riding.
Crescentcitypretty was sitting pretty in the stretch run of Friday night's $70,000 Azalea Stakes for Louisiana-bred 3-year-old fillies, easily drawing off to a 5 3/4-lengths victory as the odds-on favorite. Fortune Got Even and Madeforlife fillied the trifecta slots. Crescentcitypretty, a Bernardini filly, ran 7 furlongs on a good track in 1:28.35 with Diego Saenz up.
Jimi's a Star, also the odds-on favorite, rallied strongly down the lane to win Saturday's $70,000 Pelican Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds by 3/4 length over Titanium Pledge, who had opened a big lead. Power Jet also rallied late but settled for third. Jimi's a Star, a Star Guitar gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:28.42 under Emanuel Nieves.
Both of Saturday's stakes came off the turf and onto the good main track.
Marquee Prince shrugged off the surface change to post a pace-pressing, 3 1/4-lengths victory in the $75,000 Black Gold Stakes for 3-year-olds. With Florent Geroux in the irons, the Cairo Prince colt ran 1 mile in 1:39.02. Tobacco Road was second, 1 1/2 lengths to the good of the early leader, Spectacular Gem.
In the $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace for Louisiana-breds, Underpressure rallied along the rail through the stretch run to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Mageez was running late on the outside to secure second, 3/4 length in front of Gladyousawme. Underpressure, a 5-year-old son of Birdstone out of the Charismatic mare Charming Colleen, ran 1 mile in 1:38.92 for jockey Corey Lanerie.
Birdstone, of course, was the upset winner of the 2004 Belmont Stakes, denying Smarty Jones the Triple Crown. Charismatic led the 1-2 finish over Menifee in the 1999 Run for the Roses as Charismatic won the first two legs of the series that early only to fall short in NewYork.
And yes, this normally inept handicapper did tip both Birdstone's upset and the $727.80 Charismatic-Menifee exacta. Thanks for asking.