Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Suave Richard, with some help from British champion jockey Oisin Murphy, won the Japan Cup, Dieu du Vin took the early lead in the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" and Bahrain entered the international horse racing scene -- all during an action-packed weekend.
In North America, Midcourt showed promise for the future while winning the Grade III Native Diver at Del Mar and Sadler's Joy punched his ticket to Dubai with a win in the Red Smith at Aqueduct.
While the turkey roasts, there's plenty of Thanksgiving Day action. We've got a quick glance at that. And, in "News and Notes", Corey Nakatani and Donnacha O'Brien are both calling it quits but for different reasons.
Suave Richard saved ground, conserved energy and then found the right path to victory in Sunday's Group 1 Japan Cup in Association with Longines at Tokyo Racecourse.
With British champion rider Oisin Murphy up, the 5-year-old son of Heart's Cry outfinished the only filly in the field, Curren Bouquetd'or, winning by 3/4 length. Wagnerian was third.
For the first time in its 39-year history, the Japan Cup was contested without a foreign runner. Local racing officials attributed that to, among other factors, the recent dominance of local horses in the 1 1/2-miles turf race. This year's edition also was without last year's winner, reigning Japanese Horse of the Year Almond Eye. She instead is set to contest the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup Dec. 8.
From an excitement point of view, all absences were excused thanks to Suave Richard's performance. After saving ground the first time around the course, Murphy had Suave Richard poised at mid-stretch to breeze by the tiring long shot leader. Looking first to the outside, he found his way blocked by Curren Bouquetd'or, who also was closing fast.
Murphy chose to drop back to the rail -- the winning move. Suave Richard, third in last year's Japan Cup, finished in 2:25.9 over turf rated yielding after two days of steady rain in the Tokyo area.
Murphy said his initial plan was based on a calculation that "all the good horses were around me" in the No. 5 gate. "It was about following one of them -- the right one -- and then giving him a chance ... The most important thing was for him to relax. The ground is very hard work today and you can't waste energy."
He downplayed the decision to take Suave Richard to the inside for the final 250 meters.
"I had the option of forcing Curren Boquetd'or out," he said. "I could have done that. He's a big enough horse. But that would have taken too much energy so I took the shortest way ... I knew for the last 200 meters that Suave Richard would win."
Trainer Yasushi Shono had a bit more appreciation for Murphy's decision, commenting, "Both the horse and the jockey had a lot of courage."
The victory was the second at the Grade 1 level for Suave Richard. He also was third in the Group 1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan on World Cup night this spring and third again in the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin June 23.
Shono said knowing Suave Richard can handle the soft turf could open doors to competition in Europe or England, where off going is more common than in Japan.
"We know Japanese horses are doing well overseas," he said. "So the tracks don't seem so distant now. So we might think about some of those things ... I will have to talk to the owners and it depends on the condition of the horse."
The "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" began Saturday at Tokyo Racecourse with Dieu du Vin, under Frankie Dettori, powering from far back to post a convincing win and earn 10 points toward a potential start in Louisville on May 2 next.
A representative of Three H Racing Co., Ltd., owner of the winner, expressed interest in pursuing that goal, should the Declaration of War colt continue to improve. His record now stands at 2-for-2, with both wins coming on off tracks at Tokyo.
The finish was dominated by 2-year-olds sired by American horses. Shonan Mario, a Toby's Corner colt, was along for second, followed by Daimei Corrida (by Eskenderea), Aurora Tesoro (Malibu Moon) and Danon Pharoah (American Pharoah).
Dieu du Vin was near the back of the field turning into the stretch after a couple of rivals' bold moves had stalled. Dettori got the colt moving just as the field hit the uphill climb that provides an extra challenge in Tokyo.
"It took a bit for the penny to drop," Dettori said. "But once I got him in the clear, he was gone."
Dieu du Vin's 10 points toward an invitation to Churchill Downs are only a small head start as the points scale escalates through the next three races. But that was enough to excite his owners after accepting the trophy.
While the Japanese "Road" has not produced a winner in the Run for the Roses, it has had an impact on the race. Lani won the 2015 Cattleya Sho and finished third in the Belmont Stakes in 2016 after off-the-board finishes in the Derby and Preakness. Master Fencer finished fourth in the 2018 series but accepted the invitation to this year's Derby when the top three points-earners declined. He finished seventh, placed sixth after the disqualification of Maximum Security.
The Rashid Equestrian and Horseracing Club for the first time proudly welcomed some top-shelf foreign runners to Friday's inaugural Bahrain International Trophy -- then came up just short of defeating the lot of them.
Only in the final 100 meters did Royal Julius, trained by Jerome Reynier in the south of France, come running to catch breakaway leader Rustang, whose lead was 10 lengths with 400 meters to run and still 6 lengths 200 meters out. Under former French jockey champion Stephane Pasquier, Royal Julius got by the out-of-fuel leader inside the 100-meter marker and won by 3/4 length from Turgenev, trained in England by John Gosden. Rustang was a head farther back while holding third.
Reynier said, "The conditions were ideal for my horse, who needs a strong pace on good ground, and Stephane, who had never ridden him before, rode a brilliant race. He had a wide draw but that did not worry me, because he was able to keep out of trouble before making his run in the straight."
Organizers reckoned the day a successful complement to Bahrain's entry onto the international racing calendar.
"It means everything to us to welcome top-class horses and their connections to the kingdom of Bahrain," said HH Shaikh Isa bin Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the REHC vice chairman. "After the success of Bahraini-owned horses this year at Royal Ascot, in France and at the Breeders' Cup, it is only natural that we should host an important international race such as this."
"I wish to thank His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. He has always pushed us to progress Bahrain and this was his brainchild. We are thrilled to be where we are in the international racing calendar, and we have long-term aspirations to stage more such races."
Back in North America:
Midcourt went right to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Native Diver Stakes, held serve and then drew off in the stretch to win by 5 3/4 lengths. Extra Hope, Two Thirty Five and the odds-on favorite, Roadster, completed the order of finish. Midcourt, a 4-year-old Midnight Lute gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.36 with Victor Espinoza at the controls for trainer John Sherriffs.
Midcourt was coming off a victory in the Comma to the Top Stakes at Santa Anita and now has four win from seven starts.
"It wasn't the way I expected," Sherriffs said. "I didn't think they'd take off that soon and go to the lead. But Victor rode him great and he wanted to run today. He's been training well but there's always a step up they have to take in the afternoons. You hope there's a realization then. He's doing really well right now so we'll go on to Santa Anita and see what we can do."
Sunday, Fashionably Fast was just fast enough to win the $100,000 Cary Grant Stakes for California-breds by 1/2 length over the late-running Oliver. Ultimate Bango was third. Fashionably Fast, a 4-year-old Lucky Pulpit gelding, pressed the pace before taking the lead in the lane and hanging on to finish 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.13 with Tiago Periera up.
Weather has been a problem all year in Southern California and already is playing havoc with the upcoming holiday week's racing.
With substantial rain forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, Del Mar cancelled its Thanksgiving Day race card in the interest of safety. Several of the races from Thursday's program, including the $100,000 Grade III Red Carpet Stake, will be shifted to expanded race cards on Saturday and Sunday. Friday's program will feature only dirt racing and Friday's scheduled feature race, the $200,000, Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup, will be run on Sunday.
"The weatherman is making it tough, but safety always comes first," said Del Mar's executive vice president for racing Tom Robbins.
Sadler's Joy was away a bit slowly in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Red Smith, had to swing six-wide into the stretch to get clear sailing and then rolled home first by 2 lengths. Red Knight was second, also from far back, and Dot Matrix ran evenly to finish third. Sadler's Joy, a 6-year-old son of Kitten's Joy from the Dynaformer mare Dynaire, ran 1 3/8 miles on good turf in 2:15.78 with Javier Castellano riding. It was his first win since March of 2018 but he had been competitive against the best throughout the intervening months.
The win opens the door to an ambitious finale to Sadler's Joy's career, according to trainer Tom Albertrani.
"We're really looking at getting him to Dubai in March for the Sheema Classic," Albertrani said, adding the Pegasus World Cup Turf in January is a potential shorter-term goal. "That's what we intend to do whether he runs at Gulfstream once before then or not. I just have to see how he trains up to the race. The owners are really looking to stand him next year after his last race, whether it's Dubai or not. We haven't made that decision yet."
On Sunday, My Boy Tate came well wide down the stretch to overtake the leaders and win the $150,000 Thunder Rumble Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for state-breds by 1 3/4 lengths. T Loves a Fight, running even farther out on the sloppy track, was second, 2 1/4 lengths to the good of Blinkster. My Boy Tate, a 5-year-old gelding by Boys at Toscanova, splashed 7 furlongs in 1:24.39 with Manny Franco up.
Thanksgiving is a big day at the Big A with three stakes races. Headlining the card is the $200,000 Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap with Firenze Fire and Recruiting Ready set to tote the highweights of 134 and 132 pounds, respectively. Supporting are the $150,000 Winter Memories Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the grass and the $100,000 Central Park for 2-year-olds, also at 1 1/16 miles on the green course.
Halo Again four running room on the rail in deep stretch in Saturday's $225,000 (Canadian) Coronation Futurity for Canadian-bred 2-year-olds and made the most of it, inching past the tiring leaders, then holding off Malibu Mambo to win by a head. The favorite, Muskoka Gold, stumbled and was roughed up at the start and could manage only a late rally to finish third. Halo Again, a Speightstown colt, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.82 under Rafael Hernandez.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Halo Again won at first asking at Churchill Downs Oct. 27 in his only previous start and now has options for a spring campaign on either side of the border. He was a $600,000 yearling purchase for Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing.
"The first time on the Tapeta and under the night lights, he gave me a hard time," Hernandez said. "But he's a nice horse."
Also Saturday, Pink Lloyd rallied around all seven rivals turning for home in the $210,000 Grade II Kennedy Road Stakes and ran on to win by 1 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Extravagant Kid and Malibu Secret filled out the trifecta. Pink Lloyd, the popular 7-year-old Old Forrester gelding, got 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.72 for his regular jockey, Eurico Da Silva, who is hanging up his tack for good at season's end. Pink Lloyd now has 22 wins from 28 career starts.
"I want to thank this horse for all the good feelings he gave me," Da Silva said in the winner's circle. "Yesterday was not easy for me and today was a tough time because I know it was my last time riding him. All I can say is I've never had so much great feelings from a horse like I did with him."
The 22 wins include 19 stakes and, despite Da Silva's exit, trainer Robert Tiller said, "It seems like it ain't over yet. We're really blessed to have him."
On Sunday, Amalfi Coast hit the front at mid-stretch in the $175,000 (Canadian) Bessarabian Stakes for fillies and mares and eased away to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Painting, Special Relativity, Zestina and Gamble's Candy followed in that order, closely bunched. Amalfi Coast, a 3-year-old Tapizar filly, got 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.03 with Da Silva up. It was her third straight win and fourth from her last five starts.
The Thanksgiving program under the Twin Spires has a pair of 9-furlongs events for fillies and mares -- the $300,000 Grade II Falls City Handicap on the dirt and the $175,000 Grade III Cardinal Handicap on the grass. The Falls City has a competitive field of nine with Go Google Yourself and Sally's Curlin as 3-1 co-favorites. The Cardinal drew 12 with Starship Jubilee a 6-5 standout on the morning line.
Racing season in the Big Easy kicks off Thursday with the $100,000 Thanksgiving Classic for 3-year-olds and up at 6 furlongs on the dirt. Bobby's Wicked One tries to reverse a late-season slide as the morning-line favorite among five entries.
Jack the Umpire was safe by an easy 2 3/4 lengths in Saturday night's $100,000 Jean Lafitte Stakes for 2-year-olds. The Bodemeister colt, with Thomas Pompell up, dueled to the lead, then opened a daylight advantage before coasting home. Bold Thirst was second, 1 length in front of Sir Rick. Jack the Umpire, a Florida-bred colt from the Into Mischief mare Sittin At the Bar, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:42.66. It was his third win from four starts, the loss coming in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park, where he reported last of eight.
High On Gin swept around the leaders turning for home in Friday evening's $100,000 My Trusty Cat Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and found another gear, accelerating off to a 5 1/4-lengths victory. Sent off at odds of better than 20-1, the Florida-bred Fury Kapcori filly toured 1 mile over a sloppy track in 1:42.75 with Devin Magnon aboard. Trixie Racer rallied from near the back of the field to finish second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of the odds-on favorite, Gone Glimmering, who faltered after leading early in the stretch run. High On Gin improved to 3-for-4 with the only loss a 10th-place finish in the Grade II JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland.
Edge of Night pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Glacial Princess Stakes for Ohio-bred 2-year-old fillies, took over willingly and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Cristalinda found a late burst of speed to finish second, 3 3/4 lengths to the good of Heaven Sent Angel. Edge of Night, the odds-on favorite, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.39 with Christian Pilares up. She is a daughter of Added Edge.
Mobil Solution tracked the leaders through the early furlongs of Saturday's $75,000 Ruff/Kirchberg Memorial Handicap, surged to the lead and then battled to the wire to win by a neck over Verissimo. Firsthand Justice came from well back to pip the pacesetter, Pat's Karma, for show money. Mobil Solution, a 4-year-old Mobil gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:46.63 with Luis Rivera up.
News and notes:
Corey Nakatani in California and Donnacha O'Brien in Ireland both announced their retirement from riding this week.
Nakatani, winner of 3,909 races, finally acknowledged he cannot overcome back injuries suffered in a spill at Del Mar 14 months ago. "Although I never imagined this was how my career would end, I am very proud of my accomplishments and know that I competed at the very highest of levels, which gives me a sense of satisfaction," he said in a release. Nakatani, 49, won 341 graded stakes, including 120 Grade I events. Ten of the wins came in the Breeders' Cup World Championships and his mounts earned more than $234 million.
O'Brien becomes the second son of Ballydoyle master Aidan O'Brien to give up riding to concentrate on training. Joseph Patrick O'Brien followed that path earlier and, on Nov. 2, earned a Breeders' Cup win as a trainer to go with an earlier victory as a jockey.
"After thinking about things for a while, I have decided to concentrate on training next year," Donnacha O'Brien said on Twitter. "Riding has been very good to me, and I owe everything to the people around me ... "I look forward to training a small group of horses next year and will hopefully build from there."