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Lys Gracieux wins Arima Kinen, Almond Eye ninth, in top weekend horse racing action

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Lys Gracieux wins Arima Kinen, Almond Eye ninth, in top weekend horse racing action
Lys Gracieux cruises to victory in Sunday's Grade 1 Arima Kinen in Japan. Photo courtesy of Kasumi Saito

Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Lys Gracieux roared to victory over a loaded field in the Arima Kinen in Japan in the marquee event of weekend horse racing while Diamond Oops upset the apple cart in a key Florida sprint with international implications.

Firenze Fire won in New York. There also was a bit of 2-year-old action here and there, and Fair Grounds had a big stakes program Saturday.

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Mother Nature continued to have her way with the sport, however. Tampa Bay Downs canceled Sunday races because of rain. Fair Grounds' Saturday turf stakes switched to the main track. Santa Anita, in an abundance of caution, pushed back its traditional day-after-Christmas season opener to Saturday because of the prediction of heavy precipitation.

There's no raining on this parade, starting with:

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Japan

Lys Gracieux shot out of the pack in the final 200 meters to post a 5-lengths victory in Sunday's Grade 1 Arima Kinen, the Grand Prix, at Nakayama Racecourse while the favorite, Almond Eye, faded late to finish ninth.

Lys Gracieux, a 5-year-old Heart's Cry mare, now is headed for retirement with three straight top-level wins to her credit -- the Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin June 23 and the Ladbrokes Cox Plate in Australia Oct. 26 before the Arima Kinen. She also finished second behind Exultant in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase in December 2018.

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Lys Gracieux, with Australian jockey Damian Lane up for trainer Yoshito Yahagi, raced in midfield behind a swift early pace through most of the 2,500 meters, just more than 1 1/2 miles. Turning into the stretch run with the speed faltering, a half dozen contenders, including Almond Eye, strung out across the track, all with a chance.

Lys Gracieux quickly spurted clear without any further challenge, finishing in 2:30.5 over firm turf. She was trailed by Saturnalia, a 3-year-old Lord Kanaloa colt, and World Premier and Fierement, 3- and 4-year-old sons of Deep Impact.

"It was a really good pace and I found a lovely spot back on the rail," Lane said. "I didn't know what sort of track I was going to get but a space opened up and she did the rest."

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"Obviously, I went into the race thinking Almond Eye would be hard to beat but I just had so much confidence in this horse. The way she improved out of the Takarazuka Kinen into the Cox Plate and Yahagi-san said she's improved again, I just knew she was going to run a big race."

Almond Eye's rider, Christophe Lemaire, said his filly was unable to settle.

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"She was physically fit and in good condition, but she couldn't keep her calm before the crowd in the first lap and lost her rhythm," Lemaire said. "She was unable to relax and was tired as it was a 2,500-meter race."

Although Lys Gracieux is headed for the breeding shed and Almond Eye and a few others disappointed Sunday, there were plenty of positive vibes for Japanese racing in 2020 and into the future.

Saturnalia came into the race as winner of five of seven starts, including the Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2,000 Guineas. World Premier bypassed the Japanese Triple Crown series, then came back to win the Kikuka Sho or Japanese St. Leger on Oct. 20. And Fierement captured the 2018 Kikuka Sho and this year's Tenno Sho (Spring) before finishing 12th in the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) at Longchamp on Oct. 6 over unsuitable soft ground.

Gulfstream Park

Diamond Oops was the beneficiary of a hot early pace duel between X Y Jet and Imperial Hint in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Mr. Prospecor Stakes. When X Y Jet, making his first start since March in Dubai, wilted late, Imperial Hint took over the lead, only to surrender grudgingly as Diamond Oops bid to his outside. Leading inside the furlong marker, Diamond Oops went on to win by 1 length while Lasting Legacy edged Imperial Hint for second. X Y Jet finished last of 6.

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Diamond Oops, a 4-year-old Lookin At Lucky gelding, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.36 with Julien Leparoux at the controls. He was making his first start since finishing eighth in the Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita.

"We obviously knew there was going to be a lot of speed in there," The Blood-Horse quoted Leparoux. "He broke sharp and settled really nice for me. At the three-eighths pole, I started to make my move. I was coming behind them loaded. I came out and he made a big run."

Imperial Hint's trainer, Luis Carvajal Jr., said his horse's effort was good enough to keep him on track for a trip to the rich new races in Saudi Arabia on Feb. 29 and, all being well, on to Dubai World Cup night a Meydan on March 28. Imperial Hint and X Y Jet both have been successful in the Middle East during the past two years.

Aqueduct

Firenze Fire reeled in pacesetting stablemate Happy Farm in the final sixteenth of Sunday's $100,000 Gravesend Stakes, winning by a head over that foe. T Loves a Fight was third, a further 1 1/2 lengths back. Firenze Fire, a 4-year-old Poseidon's Warrior colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.72. Jose Lezcano rode for trainer Jason Servis. It was his ninth win from 23 starts and second in a row following a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

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"They both ran excellent races," said Servis assistant Henry Argueta. "For Firenze Fire to come back and fight and win today showed how much heart he has."

On Saturday, Stan the Man worked his way to the lead in the lane in the $100,000 Queen's County Stakes, then was all out to preserve the lead under an assault from Advenist, winning by a neck over that one. Han Sense dueled with Stan the Man before settling for show money. Stan the Man, a 5-year-old Broken Vow gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.72 with Dylan Davis riding. He took 10 tries to get to the winner's circle and the Queen's County was his first stakes triumph.

"I'm proud of this horse," said winning trainer John Terranova. "He had dead aim on them in the stretch and really dug in. Hopefully he continues to improve as the winter goes on with a race or two more under his belt."

Fair Grounds

Saturday's $75,000 Bonapaw Stakes came off the turf onto the sloppy main track with two scratches, leaving Pete's Play Call to outfinish Wilbo for the victory. Star of Kodiak was third. Pete's Play Call, a 6-year-old Munnings gelding, ran 5 1/2 sloppy furlongs in 1:04.38 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons.

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Rain also washed the $75,000 Blushing K.D. Stakes for fillies and mares off the turf. Four scratched and the post-time favorite, Oh My, apparently might as well have, fading to finish last. Notapradaprice, on the other hand, seemed to love the going, leading all the way and winning by 6 1/2 lengths. Stave was second, 3 1/2 lengths to the good of Avie's Mineshaft. Notapradaprice, a 5-year-old Paddy O'Prado mare, ran 1 1/16 miles in the slop in 1:45.88 under Corey Lanerie.

Captivating Moon rallied from last of five to take Saturday's $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial, yet another off-the-turf feaure on the card, by 1 3/4 lengths over Space Mountain. It was another 5 1/4 lengths to Factor This in third. Captivating Moon, a 4-year-old Malibu Moon colt, splashed 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.82 with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons.

Pioneer Spirt pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Tenacious Stakes, grabbed a lead at mid-stretch and then was fully extended to hold the advantage, winning by 6a head from late-running Blended Citizen. Lone Sailor was anotheer 1/2 length back in third. Pioneer Spirit, a 6-year-old son of Malibu Moon, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a sloppy track in 1:44.09 with David Cohen up.

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The 2-year-olds

Gold Street pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds, took over the lead when asked by jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. and went on to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Amongst was second, 1 3/4 lengths better than Axiomo. Gold Street, a Street Boss colt, ran 6 furlongs on the sloppy, sealed track in 1:11.20.

Gold Street, trained by Steve Asmussen, now has two seconds and two win from his four latest starts. "He's a sharp horse that always breaks well," Santana said. "The track today is holding speed so I wanted to let him break and put us in a good spot near the leaders. He's improving every day. He ran a good race at Keeneland and then went to Churchill and broke his maiden really nice. Today he just put us in a good spot and got the job done."

Saturday's penultimate race at Fair Grounds was an optional claimer for 2-year-olds at 1 mile and 70 yards on the sloppy main track -- a race that attracted some horses with potential for much better. Six of the seven starters last raced at Churchill Downs and the trainer roster included big names.

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Lynn's Map, a Liam's Map colt, emerged the winner despite some traffic issues, putting a head in front of the favorite, Mr. Monomoy, at the wire. The latter is a half-brother to Monomoy Girl, winner of the 2018 Kentucky Oaks and Breeders' Cup Distaff. Lynn's Map, with Corey Lanerie up for trainer Mark Casse and Saudi ownership, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:45.09, winning his second straight after a career-opening third in September.

"This horse is only going to get better," David Carroll, assistant to trainer Mark Casse, said of Lynn's Map. "He looked terrific in the paddock today and we are just very proud of him. A few of our 2-year-olds were late getting to the party so to speak. Now they are just getting their maidens broken and are bred to be nice horses. Where we are going next is up to Mark and the owners to decide."

The 2-year-old fillies

Taraz ran to her notices and then some Saturday at Fair Grounds. With Florent Geroux in the irons, the Into Mischief filly was quickly on the lead in the $75,000 Letellier Memorial, then kicked loose in the lane, winning off by 11 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Ursula was second-best, 3 3/4 lengths in front of Sweet Kisses. Taraz, a Juddmonte Farms homebred, shrugged off the sloppy, sealed track to finish 6 furlongs in 1:10.83. She won at first asking at Churchill Downs in November and will turn 3 on Jan. 1 with an unblemished record.

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"We've liked her from the beginning and sometimes you don't know how they will perform in the afternoon, especially with an off track like today," Geroux said. "But she handled it perfect. The goal is to stretch her out and run her long. We just wanted to sprint her one more time and give her a race. She's a big beautiful filly and is well-bred so we have high hopes for her."

England

Dubai Warrior continued to show affinity for the all-weather surfaces with an impressive, 4-lengths victory over stablemate Court House in Saturday's Betway Quebec Stakes at Lingfield Park. The win was the fourth from five all-weather starts for the 3-year-old son of Dansili, trained by John Gosden and ridden Saturdayby Rovert Havlin. He now is positioned as a contender for the Group 3 Betway Winter Derby over the same course and distance Feb. 22.

Dubai Warrior, owned by Sheik Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, was among the favories for this year's Investec Derby after a promising start as a 2-year-old, but was forced to miss the first half of 2019 with a hoof injury and did not reappear until August.

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