Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Jolie Olimpica made a major impression in her first U.S. start, winning in course-record time at Santa Anita, while lightly raced Magic Star scored at Gulfstream Park in her first stakes try in weekend horse racing.
On the world front: Vardy and Queen Supreme earned Breeders' Cup bids with Group 1 wins in South Africa, Aligator Blood and Away Game were victorious in Australia and the road to the Hong Kong Derby continued to twist and turn.
In the "there are no coincidences" department: Tusk was a winner at Gulfstream Park and Raymond Tusk was a winner in England.
It's no coincidence that we have it all, right here and right now:
Jolie Olimpica introduced herself to North American racing with flair Saturday, edging away from four rivals in the late going to win the $100,000 Grade III Las Cinegas Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/2 lengths. The early leader, Kentan Road, held second by 2 1/4 lengths with Storm the Hill, An Eddie Surprise and Free Cover completing the order of finish. Jolie Olimpica, with Mike Smith aboard, covered 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in course-record time of 1:01.00.
Jolie Olimpica, a 4-year-old daughter of Drosselmeyer, was undefeated in three starts in her native Brazil, finishing with a 6-lengths victory in the Group 1 Jockey Club Brasileiro last June. She races now for Fox Hill Farms and trainer Richard Mandella.
"I was happy to be on a Drosselmeyer," Smith said. "I was blessed enough to win the Belmont [in 2010] and the Breeders' Cup Classic [in 2011] on him and this is his first offspring I've gotten a chance to ride."
"She had a perfect trip," Mandella offered. "Mike did a great job with her. She was a little upset in the paddock but Mike got her calmed down in the post parade. He had her in the right frame of mind to break well. Give all the credit to Mike on that. The track record? We"ll take it."
The time of 1:01 eclipsed the old mark of 1:01.49 set by Torosay Nov. 3, 2019.
With morning-line favorite Spiced Perfection scratched, it was left to Queen Bee to You and Der Lu to fight it out in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II La Canada Stakes for fillies and mares. And fight it out they did, exchanging the lead while never more than a head apart for the final half mile before Queen Bee to You finally prevailed by a nose. Zusha was a non-threatening third. Queen Bee to You, a 6-year-old mare by Old Topper, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.36 under Ruben Fuentes.
It was the third straight win for the Andrew Lerner charge who has been climbing out of the state-bred ranks. She won the Grade III Bayakoa convincingly at Los Alamitos in her most recent outing.
"The plan wasn't to be that close," Lerner said. "But in the paddock she was so much on the muscle, I told Ruben, 'She's not gonna let you hold her back this time.' So I got a little nervous that he wasn't able to get outside. But what a brilliant ride by Ruben. He's just done so good for us."
Trainer Bob Baffert finally got another victory onto Mother Mother's scorecard as the 4-year-old Pioneerof the Nile filly took charge in deep stretch to win Sunday's $75,000 Kalookan Queen Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths. Lady Ninja was second with Show It N Moe It third. Joel Rosario rode the winner over 6 1/2 furlongs of fast track in 1:16.20.
Mother Mother won twice as a 2-year-old and then, despite running well in tough company, failed to score in five starts as a 3-3-year-old. Getting significant class relief in Sunday's race, she went to the post as the odds-on favorite. "I thought if we win a race with her it would get her mind right," Baffert said. "I think this win will really help her and I think we can stretch her out from here."
Magic Star, making just her third start, moved five-wide around rivals in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Marshua's River Stakes for fillies and mares and ran on to win by 1/2 length. Munchkin Money followed the winner from the back of the field to finish second, 1/2 length in front of Andina Del Sur. The favorite, Sweet Bye and Bye, weakened late to report fourth. Magic Star ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:39.69 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons for trainer Chad Brown.
Magic Star, a 4-year-old daughter of Scat Daddy, won at first asking during the Saratoga meeting, then was sixth in a Belmont Park allowance event in October.
"She was right there for me the whole way. Turning for home I had two horses in front of me so I just had to kind of wait a few jumps to tip her out, and as soon as I tipped her out she just kicked on," Ortiz said. "She's a nice filly and she's still learning."
Two races later on Saturday's card, Tusk jumped up from the claiming ranks to capture the $100,000 Grade III Tropical Stakes by 2 lengths with a late burst of speed. Gidu was best of the rest, 1 length in front of Maraud. Tusk, a 7-year-old Tapit gelding, got 1 mile on firm turf in 1:32.83 with Tyler Gaffalione riding.
Tusk was claimed for $32,000 last October at Belmont Park and, in his first start for the new connections, finished third in the Claiming Crown Emerald over the Gulfstream turf Dec. 7.
"I was really excited about him last time," said trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. "He was training tremendous. It was a little disappointing he got beat. Today, he was jumping up again. That's why we took a shot -- don't let that one race set us back and take a shot."
Scilly Cay prompted the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Rego Park Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds, took over the lead near the quarter pole and won by 2 1/2 lengths. Harris Bay, Dream Bigger and Notorious Flirt completed the order of finish. Scilly Cay, a Fed Biz colt out of the French Deputy mare French Satin, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:19.00 with Jose Lezcano up. He now has two wins, a second and a third from four starts. Congratulations to trainer Linda Rice, who scored her 2,000th win.
Arthur's Hope led gate-to-wire in Saturday's $100,000 Say Florida Sandy Stakes for New York-breds, finishing 1 length in front of T Loves a Fight. Aveenu Malcainu was third. Arthur's Hope, a 6-year-old son of Smart Bid, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.42 for jockey Kendrick Carmouche.
A Thousand Reasons quickly crossed the field and led the way in Friday night's $75,000 Orleans Stakes for fillies and mares, blazed away and romped home first by 4 3/4 lengths. Karate Hottie was second, 1 length in front of Shes Our Fastest. A Thousand Reasons, a 4-year-old Munnings filly, got 5 furlongs on a fast track in 58.15 seconds for jockey Diego Saenz.
Flat Lucky wrested the lead from Wonder Run in deep stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Sam's Town Stakes, then had to fend off a second effort by that rival before winning by a head. It was another 3 1/2 lengths to Laughingsaintssong in third. Flat Lucky, a 5-year-old son of Flat Out, ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 58.50 with Tim Thornton riding.
Ohio spotted much of the field a substantial lead in Saturday's $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile, made up the ground to take the lead in the lane and held off Arizona Moon, winning by a neck. River Boyne was third in a race well-attended by big-league, out-of-town outfits. Ohio, a Brazilian-bred 9-year-old, finished in 1:35.85 on firm turf with Jose Valdivia Jr. in the irons for trainer Michael McCarthy. He also won this race last year and went on two starts later to victory in the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita, defeating Catapult by a nose.
Around the world, around the clock:
Vardy and Queen Supreme earned Breeders' Cup "Challenge" spots in Group 1 events Saturday at Kenilworth in Cape Town.
Vardy, a 4-year-old gelding by Var, captured the L'Ormarin's Queen's Plate, a "Win and You're In" for the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile at Keeneland Nov. 7. Backing up his victory Dec. 14 in the World Sports Betting Green Point Stakes over the same course, Vardy raced well back until the field turned into the straight in the Queen's Plate. He the found another gear, jetted down the middle of the course and got home first by 1 1/4 length. One World and Rainbow Bridge were second and third.
"I can't believe how easily he won," jockey Craig Zackey said.
Disappointments in one of South Africa's signature races included the Mike de Kock-trained duo of Hawwaam and Soqrat, who were fifth and eighth, respectively, and two-time Durban July winner Do It Again, who was never involved and reported sixth.
De Kock had a happier experience in The Paddock Stakes for fillies and mares as Queen Supreme, under a confident ride by Callan Murray, drew off to win comfortably with Driving Miss Daisey and Silvano's Pride taking second and third in a tight photo.
"Ten furlongs is a tough task for her," said Murray, a product of the South African Jockey School. "But I worked her a week and a half ago and I didn't think she'd get beat today."
The Paddock win earned a spot in the starting gate for the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1T) in November.
While the chances of either Vardy or Queen Supreme lining up at Keeneland still may be slim, they are improved by a prospective thaw in quarantine protocols which for many years effectively have prevented South African horses from engaging in international competition.
Alligator Blood almost didn't make it to Saturday's AUS$2 million Gold Coast Magic Millions 3-year-old Guineas at the Gold Coast, thanks to a nasty traffic accident that delayed travel for hours. Once things were sorted out on the roads, it took a police escort to get the All Too Hard gelding to the racecourse. Then, it was "hurry up and wait" as the field idled while another runner broke through the gate and ran a lap riderless. After that, Alligator Blood did the rest, finishing the 1,400 meters a handy 2 lengths in front after tracking the pace in midfield. Eleven Eleven and Exhilarates got the minor awards.
Trainer David Vandyke said the gelding's name is derived from an Aussie poker term denoting cool, fearless play and describes his charge perfectly. "He just loves what he does," Sky Racing quoted the conditioner. "He gets out there and tries hard. He's well named because he's got that alligator blood."
Away Game posted a 41-1 upset win in the AUS$2 million The Star Gold Coast Magic Millions 2-year-old Classic. With Luke Currie up, the Snitzel filly romped home a winner by nearly 2 lengths over Stellar Pauline. She finished the 1,200 meters in 1:09.59, winning her second in a row. The favorite, Aim, got home eighth.
While the home fires burn brightly on the eve of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, Hong Kong horses are preparing an impressive invasion of Dubai for World Cup night, March 28 -- with the raiding partly headed, at least for now, by Beauty Generation and Exultant.
While the Special Administrative Region often dominates its own Group 1 races, top-level success in other jurisdictions has been more elusive.
Trying to right that ship, trainer John Moore has nominated Beauty Generation, the two-time and reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year, to the Group 1 Dubai Turf at 1,800 meters. Beauty Generation has struggled through a tough patch of late, sustaining three straight losses after 10 consecutive wins, so a change of scenery might be in order.
Exultant, trained by Tony Cruz, is in for the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic at 2,410 meters on the Meydan turf course. Exultant won a pair of Group 1 staying events, including the 2018 Longines Hong Kong Vase, before finishing third in last month's Vase renewal.
Moore also has named Aethero to the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint and Buddies to the Group 2 Godolphin Mile. Tony Millard has Elusive State nominated to both the Godolphin Mile and the night's big prize, the Dubai World Cup. And trainer K. L. Man has Big Time Baby nominated to the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at 1,200 meters on the dirt.
On the Sha Tin track on Saturday, Presciousship scored a 3/4-length victory over Columbus County in the Class 2 Lung Kong Handicap -- a heat with some implications for the near future. While Presciousship, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred Iffraaj gelding, got the win, Columbus County's chances were compromised by traffic issues at a critical moment, leaving jockey Joao Moreira and trainer Caspar Fownes upbeat about his chances in the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, starting with the Hong Kong Classic Mile on Jan. 27.
"No doubt about it, he's very unlucky not to win," Moreira said of the Redwood gelding, a New Zealand import. "If he hadn't had horses snaking around in front of him, he would have won."
Preciousship, meanwhile, won for the third time in five Hong Kong starts and trainer Rickey Yiu said he is satisfied the horse is on the right course.
"I kept telling the owner to give him some time to acclimatise," Yiu said. "He's a European import. They need time -- you have to wait for the penny to drop and once he's there, he'll hold his form for a long time."
Punters not watching the All-Weather Championships are missing some instruction as that series increasingly is linking up with some of the world's best competition. For the past few years, movement back and forth from the AWC to Dubai has been relatively common. Now, other major races are in play.
Take, for example, Monday's Betway Conditions Stakes at Wolverhampton, an otherwise modest affair at 2 miles on the Tapeta. The favorites are Raymond Tusk and French-based Funny Kid. And, while the race was a Fast-Track Qualifier for the AWC Marathon Championship on Good Friday, April 10, a much bigger game is afoot for Raymond Tusk, who reported 16th in the Melbourne Cup in November.
Tim Palin of Middleham Park Racing said, "We had a decision to make about whether we put Raymond Tusk away for Finals Day or have a look at the big staying handicap in Saudi Arabia at the end of February beforehand.
"We have entered him for Saudi Arabia, but we have not seen the entries yet, and with it being the inaugural running we don't quite know what the race is going to look like. We are keen to run but without seeing the entries we do not want to commit to anything yet."
There are two staying races on the turf on The Saudi Cup undercard: the $2.5 million Red Sea Turf Handicap at 1 7/8 miles and the $1 million Neom Turf Cup at 2 1/2 miles.