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Dennis' Moment wins first official prep for '20 Kentucky Derby

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Dennis' Moment wins Saturday's Iroquois at Churchill Downs, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" and the first race in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs
Dennis' Moment wins Saturday's Iroquois at Churchill Downs, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" and the first race in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs

Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Kentucky Derby fever is raging -- already -- after some top candidates for the 2020 Run for the Roses turned in some top performances in weekend horse racing.

An important weekend of turf races at Woodbine produced a big upset in the big race and an odd one on the main track involving Pink Lloyd, who didn't win -- but also didn't lose. Chad Brown's turf brigades produced another 1-2 finish at Belmont Park.

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Away we go, starting with the 2-year-olds who might, maybe, possibly, be the stars of 2020 and beyond.

Juvenile

Dennis' Moment, a 19 1/2-lengths winner at Ellis Park in his previous race, faced a much tougher task in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs and got the job done -- comfortably, if not as spectacularly. With Irad Ortiz Jr. taking over the riding chores for trainer Dale Romans, the Tiznow colt let a trio of long shots make the early pace, shot by them to take the lead in the lane and held off Grade II Saratoga Special runner-up Scabbard, winning by 1 3/4 lengths. Lebda, an 11-lengths winner at Delaware Park in his last race, finished third.

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The race was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the first stop on the long "Road to the Kentucky Derby," with 10 points for the winner.

"This horse is speaking for himself. I don't have to build him up any more," said Romans, who has been singing the colt's praises for many weeks. "He's just an amazing animal. He goes out there and does it, his ears up, like he's just galloping around out there. The jock was shutting him down with a sixteenth of a mile to go and he still finished in the time he did. He's something special."

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Romans said Dennis' Moment will go straight to the Breeders' Cup and owner Dennis Albaugh, while saying he didn't want to get ahead of himself, added, "But, of course, getting 10 points toward getting into the Derby -- that's a big help." So, Derby fever started Sept. 14. The race is May 2, 2020.

Juvenile Fillies

California import Lazy Daisy swapped the lead with His Glory in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Pocahontas at Churchill Downs, then asserted herself in final furlong, drawing off to win by 1 1/4 lengths. His Glory, at odds of nearly 44-1, held second by 3 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Portrait, and the others were well up the track. Lazy Daisy, a Paynter filly out of the Suave mare Romantic Intention, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.89 with Abel Cedillo in the irons. She won at first asking at Del Mar, then finished in the middle of the field in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante.

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The Pocahontas was not only a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies but also the first race in the "Road to the Kentucky Oaks" series. She earned 10 points in the latter.

Winning jockey Abel Cedillo lauded trainer Doug O'Neill and owner Erik Johnson. "Doug has a lot of good horses, and he knows where to put his horses in a good spot, like a live mount. The owner, we had a really good Del Mar meet, and he was really happy with the way I rode his horses, so he gave me the opportunity to ride this filly."

At Canterbury Park, Sassy Seneca sprinted by the favorite, Richard Ronald, and went on to win the $70,000 Shakopee Juvenile by 4 1/4 lengths over that rival. The Competitive Edge filly, running against the boys, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.98 for jockey Dean Butler, improving to 2-for-2.

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Juvenile Turf

Decorated Invader, invading from south of the border, caught pacesetting 100-1 longshot Cadet Connelly at the sixteenth pole in Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Grade I Summer Stakes at Woodbine and ran on to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Cadet Connolly salvaged second by a head over Vitalogy. Decorated invader, a Declaration of War colt, ran 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:36.34 under Irad Ortiz Jr., earning a "Win and You're In" spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Trained at Saratoga by Christophe Clement, he finished second in his first start, now has won two straight.

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"I know he broke a touch poorly but with the rain we had and everything, I was pretty comfortable he was moving well and was happy where he was," said assistant trainer Christophe Lorieul. "We were just very confident with our ride. He was just biding his time, and he showed up today."

Lorieul said the potential of a free ticket to the Breeders' Cup was discussed before the race. "It would be the obvious next target for him. Today was the big test, and he completed it so we're very happy for the partnership of West Point."

Wow. Have a look at the International roundup to see why Charlie Appleby called Pinatubo "the best 2-year-old I've ever trained" after his Sunday win at the Curragh.

The other big race here was at Leopardstown in Ireland as Mogul won a "Win and You're In". The Galileo colt, a full brother to Japan, took the lead inside 2 furlongs and drew off to win by 1 1/2 lengths for his second straight victory. There's more in the International roundup.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Abscond came north from New York to Woodbine and absconded with the winner's share of Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Grade I Natalma Stakes and a "Win and You're In" bid to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. The Blame filly, with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons, pressed the pace made by European invader Walk In Marrakesh, got by that one in the final strides and won by a nose. The odds-on favorite, Fair Maiden, was only a neck farther back in third. Abscond ran 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:36.51, winning for the second time in three starts. She trains at Keeneland for Eddie Kenneally.

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"I'm really impressed with her," said assistant trainer Kelly Wheeler. "Really, we've asked a lot of her shipping her up to Saratoga -- she handled that great. So we shipped her up here, it looked like a good spot, and she came through." Wheeler added it's too early to say for sure a Breeders' Cup appearance will be in the cards.

Juvenile Turf Sprint

Old Chestnut led from the start in Sunday's $120,000 (Canadian) Ontario Racing Stakes at Woodbine and won by 3 3/4 lengths as the solid favorite. Barilko was second, 1 length in front of Aye Aye Sir. Old Chestnut, a Florida-bred Speightstown colt, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.85 seconds with Tyler Gaffalione riding.

Trainer Mark Casse said he considered the Summer Stakes for Old Chestnut but opted for the Ontario Racing with an eye on the Indian Summer at Keeneland, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". "Hopefully, with a good performance there, he'd go to the Breeders' Cup," Casse said.

Also Sunday at Woodbine, Fast Scene dueled with Bayerly Seen through the stretch run of the $100,000 Woodbine Cares Stakes for 2-year-old fillies before prevailing by a head. Quality Heat was third, another 3 3/4 lengths in arrears. Fast Scene, a Fast Anna filly, ran 5 furlongs on yielding turf in 56.96 seconds under Rafael Hernandez.

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At Doncaster in England, A'Ali won Friday's Wainwright Flying Childers Stakes. See details in the International roundup.

On to the older horses:

Turf Mile

El Tormenta saved ground behind a hot pace duel in Saturday's $1 million (Canadian) Grade I Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes, had to wait for running room at the top of the stretch but got through and went on to win by 1/2 length over the favorite, Got Stormy. Lucullan finished third but was demoted to fourth for interfering with Raging Bull, who got show money. El Tormenta, a 4-year-old Stormy Atlantic gelding, went to the post at odds of nearly 45-1 and finished in 1:32.60 over good turf. He won the Grade II Connaught Cup over the course in June and has been competitive through most of his career.

"I was a little worried with the one hole and being on the rail because if you've seen his past three starts, they've been troubled," said winning trainer Gail Cox. "I just think he was laying closer and really bullied his way through a little bit. He's a very, very nice horse and was probably overlooked here."

The Woodbine Mile was a "Win and You're In" for the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile Nov. 2 at Santa Anita. Michael Balaz, son of Sam-Son Farm president Rick Balaz, said no decision has been made about taking up the invitation, adding however, "I don't see why not after running like that."

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Mark Casse, who trains Got Stormy, definitely is looking to Santa Anita in November. "The winner ran very well, showed a lot of guts down inside," Casse said. "I was proud of our filly. I've lost no respect for her and I feel extremely confident that we'll be right there in the Breeders' Cup."

Turf

Old Persian, last seen finishing third in the Grade I Deutches Derby in Berlin, rallied from the middle of a six-horse field to easily win Saturday's $360,000 (Canadian) Grade I Northern Dancer Turf Stakes at Woodbine. With James Doyle in to ride, the 4-year-old Dubawi colt blew by the leaders on cue and won off by 2 1/2 comfortable lengths. Nessy and Focus Group got the minor awards. Old Persian ran 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:27.78. The Godolphin standard bearer now has Group 1 victories in England, Dubai and Canada.

"He didn't run great in the Coronation back at Epsom there after a good run in Dubai," said Alex Merriam, assistant to trainer Charlie Appleby. "We were pleased enough with his run in Germany and I think the ground was a bit on the soft side for him there. But James gave him a nice ride today and it worked out well."

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A return to Woodbine might be in the cards, specifically, a spot in the starting gate for the $800,000 (Canadian) Grade Pattison Canadian International Oct. 12. Merriam said, "Not quite sure at the minute. I spoke to Charlie and he said we'll go back to Europe, see how he is, see how he comes out of the race and make a plan from there."

At Belmont Park, Blowout took the early lead in Saturday's $200,000 Pebbles Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and kept running to a 2 1/4-lengths victory. Seek and Destroy, the favorite, closed to finish second, giving trainer Chad Brown the exacta. Feel Glorious was another head back in third. Blowout, a British-bred Dansili filly from the Deep Impact mare Beauty Parlour, finished 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.35 with John Velazquez riding. She now has three wins, three seconds and a third from seven starts and seems one to watch. Seek and Destroy, a Verrazano filly, has two Grade III wins to her credit.

Brown said he was happy with both fillies. "She (Blowout) runs her race every time. She a nice filly. She tries hard and when she gets her trip, she's capable. She's a pretty determined horse and when asked, she does the job perfectly," the trainer said. Of Seek and Destroy, he added, "She ran well. She was closing ... We're real happy with her performance."

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Filly and Mare Turf

Starship Jubilee showed the way in Saturday's $300,000 (Canadian) Canadian Stakes Presented by the Japan Racing Association, then kicked away in the lane to win by 4 1/4 lengths, ridden out by Luis Contreras. Magnetic Charm, owned by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, was second, edging the late-running favorite, Competitionofideas, by a nose. Holy Helena was fourth. Starship Jubilee, a 5-year-old Indy Wind mare, covered about 1 1/8 miles on yielding turf in 1:45.84. She was a close third in the Grade II Ballston Spa at Saratoga in her previous start.

"I think a mile and an eighth hits here square between the eyes there so when we do run her a mile and a quarter, we do have to ride her and think a little differently," said Starship Jubilee's trainer, Kevin Attard. "Obviously, today there wasn't any pace and I figured if they were going to let us have the lead, we would take it."

The Canadian is the major local prep for the $600,000 (Canadian) Grade 1 E.P. Taylor on Oct 12. Starship Jubilee did not quite stay out the 10-furlong Taylor trip last year but was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths as the fourth-place finisher. "It definitely complicates things," Attard said, adding Starship Jubilee will be nominated and, "We'll talk it over."

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Iridessa upset the favorite, Laurens, and a quartet of Aidan O'Brien runners in Saturday's Group 1 Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes at Leopardstown, beating Hermosa by 3/4 length and earning a "Win and You're In" berth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare turf. The 3-year-old Ruler of the World filly, trained by O'Brien's son, Joseph Patrick, now has two wins over Hermosa, trained by the elder O'Brien. See more in the "International" roundup.

Distaff

Go Google Yourself took a daylight lead in the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Locust Grove Stakes at Churchill Downs, then just did hold off the late run of Moonlit Garden, winning by a neck. The even-money favorite, Mylady Curlin, made up some ground late but finished third. Go Google Yourself, a 4-year-old daughter of Into Mischief, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.13 with Brian Hernandez Jr. riding. She was last seen winning the Groupie Doll Stakes at Ellis Park -- her first stakes win.

"We had a lot of confidence in her going in," trainer Paul McGee said of Go Google Yourself. "I think she's gotten better and her Beyers have shown that. The way she won at Ellis Park last time, by 3 lengths going away, she won pretty easy last time out to get her first stakes win. That's why we were confident going into today."

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Sprint/Dirt Mile

Yorkton led throughout Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Bold Venture Stakes at Woodbine and survived a late bid by Ikerrin Road to win by a neck. Curlin's Honor was third. Pink Lloyd kept his winning streak intact despite finishing fourth. What? Yes, the stewards ruled the venerable gelding a non-starter as he was impeded leaving the gate. No start, no defeat and the five-race win streak remains. Yorkton, a 5-year-old son of Speightstown, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:14.96. He also won this last year but failed to score in five intervening starts.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Divine Queen led, gave up the lead and came again to win Saturday's $125,000 Open Mind Stakes for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs by 2 3/4 lengths. Ascot Day, who bedeviled the winner through the middle furlongs, held on for second, 1 length in front of Upset Brewing, and the favorite, Awestruck, reported fourth. Divine Queen, a 4-year-old Divine Park filly, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.40 with Calvin Borel up. She was last seen finishing third in the Groupie Doll at Ellis Park. She has won four of her five starts at Churchill Downs.

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Around the ovals:

Gulfstream Park

Raki rocketed to the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Miss Gracie Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and went on to win by 1 length. Beechwood Ella rallied from last of 10 to finish second, 1/2 length in front of the favorite, Zarina. Raki, a daughter of Two Step Salsa, ran about 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:28.89 with Carlos Lugo aboard.

Monmouth Park

Phat Man got the lead in the stretch in Sunday's $75,000 Good Magic Mile and survived a late bid by the odds-on favorite, No Dozing, winning by a head. V.I.P. Code was well back in third. Phat Man, a 5-year-old Munnings gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.19 for jockey Angel Suarez.

Oak Bluffs took the outside route to triumph in a four-way photo in Saturday's $76,500 Joey P. Handicap for New Jersey-breds, winning by 1/2 length over Pnutbutter Special. Like What I See and Saucy Don were a nose and a neck farther back in third and fourth. Oak Bluffs, a 9-year-old Defrere gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.59 seconds with Paco Lopez in the irons.

Los Alamitos

Zestful had to fight for the lead in Sunday's $75,000 Los Alamitos Special but, once the advantage was well in hand, the 4-year-old Ghostzapper gelding took off and won by 6 lengths over the favorite, Acker. Meistermind finished third. Zestful, with Joe Talamo in the irons, ran 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:01.93. The Mark Glatt trainee ran his winning streak to six, including victories at Golden Gate, Pleasanton and Del Mar.

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Canterbury Park

The Minnesota track settled in for the long Minnesota winter, wrapping things up Friday with a pair of stakes, including The Shakopee Juvenile (see above). In the other, 1-5 favorite Astronaut Oscar did the expected in the $60,000 MTA Stallion Auction Stakes, winning by 1 1/4 lengths from Mas Tekela.

On the meeting's penultimate day Friday, Sky Promise came from last of four to win the $50,000 John Bullit Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths as the even-money favorite and Hot Shot Kid got the job done in deep stretch to win the $50,000 Tom Metzen H.B.P.A. Sprint by 1 length as the odds-on pick.

Hot Shot Kid was named Canterbury's Horse of the Year and both top older horse and sprinter.

Albuquerque

E J's Gold pressed the pace in Saturday's $80,000 Casey Darnell Stakes for New Mexico-breds, rallied to the lead when asked and led home a parade of longshots with Forger second and Slewacide Squad third. The only thing that saved a boxcars payoff in the trifecta was Slewacide Squad's disqualification from third to fourth, elevating the even-money favorite to the show position. E J's Gold, a 6-year-old Quinton's Gold gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.75 with Luis Rodriguez up.

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Emerald Downs

Coulterberry was along late to win Sunday's $50,000 Muckleshoot Tribal Classic for Washington- or British Columbia-breds by 1 3/4 lengths. Trump Itz was second with Hit the Beach a head farther back in third. Coulterberry, a BC-bred, 6-year-old gelding by Finality, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:41.71 under Amadeo Perez.

No Talking Back captured the Washington Cup Filly & Mare Stakes under similar conditions, rallying from well back to score by 3/4 length from Under Par. Dontkissntell was third. No Talking Back, a BC-bred Flatter mare, reported in 1:43.73 with Scott Sevens up.

News and notes:

We don't often deal with breeding and sales because they are totally different subjects than racing. Well, sort of. But we'd be remiss if we didn't note the quite impressive results from Keeneland's sales pavilion this week. Amid a strong market, it seemed Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's $4.1 million purchase of a colt by Curlin, after a spirited bidding battle with Coolmore, was the eye-popper of the sale. But then on Thursday, veteran horsewoman Mandy Pope turned away both of the global superpowers, outbidding them to get an American Pharoah filly, a half-sister to both Beholder and Into Mischief, for $8.2 million. "She was the only thing in the sale I really wanted," Pope said.

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