Jan. 20 (UPI) -- Enforceable and Liam's Lucky Charm entered the Kentucky Derby picture with weekend victories, while a pair of Group 1 races in Hong Kong found a new hero and a candidate for Dubai.
Starship Jubilee was the star in the Sunshine Millions races at Gulfstream Park and Bellera continued to sparkle at Aqueduct.
Noting that it's now less than 15 weeks until the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, we'll start with ...
The Road to the Roses
Enforceable came running late from near the back of a big field to win Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, earning 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Silver State also ran well down the long New Orleans stretch to finish second, a neck in front of Mr. Monomoy.
The favorite, Scabbard, ran evenly, lacked any late punch and finished fifth. Enforceable, a Tapit colt trained by Mark Casse, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast rack in 1:43.72 with Julien Leparoux in the irons.
It was only the second win for Enforceable, who had six previous starts. He moved into the No. 2 slot on the Derby leaderboard, behind only Storm the Court. Silver State entered just a nose shy of being 2-for-2 with both previous starts coming at Churchill Downs.
"I was telling [owner John Oxley] that I thought he was going to be a special colt back in March of last year," Casse said. "It's just taken him a little while to put everything together. He's a good example of our program ... in that we don't try to rush our horses. We're patient and it paid off."
He said it's likely the colt will target the Risen Star on Feb. 14 -- the next step on the Louisiana Derby progression.
Liam's Lucky Charm made his own luck in Saturday's $125,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, working to an early lead, then drawing off to win by 5 1/2 lengths. Albert Park was second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of No Getting Over Me. Liam's Lucky Charm, a Khozan colt, negotiated 7 furlongs over a fast track in 1:21.75 with Edgard Zayas riding.
"He's been training well, he's been doing good and he's grown up some," trainer Ralph Nicks said. "He's still got some growing up to do, but he's been a little sharper in the mornings and the blinkers on made him more focused."
Nicks made it clear he hopes Liam's Lucky Charm will move along the Kentucky Derby trail, targeting a points-earning race a Tampa Bay, Gulfstream or Fair Grounds as his next start.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Finite, the odds-on favorite, had all she could handle before she got the job done in Saturday's $100,000 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds. After waiting behind a pair of rivals, Finite moved to the lead at the 3/16th pole with Portrait moving right along with her, to her outside.
Portrait wilted in the closing yards but the early leader, Ursula, found a second wind and just missed with a late effort, finishing second by a neck. Tempers Rising was up late to take third from Portrait. Finite, a Munnings filly trained by Steve Asmussen, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.73 while toting Ricardo Santana Jr.
The Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred started her career with a pair of seconds at Saratoga, broke her maiden on the Kentucky Downs grass in September and then won on a fast track and a sloppy track at Churchill Downs, the latter in the Grade III Golden Rod. She earned 10 points toward a Kentucky Oaks start with Saturday's win.
"What a quality filly," Asmussen said. "She is just another really special Winchell homebred. She has earned everything she's gotten. She's done everything we've asked of her. She battled, kept in front, and we are very proud of her."
At Tampa Bay Downs, Two Sixty went right to the front in Saturday's $125,000 Gasparilla Stakes and held on to win a five-way battle to the wire by a dramatic neck. Mo City, We the Clouds, Ceci Valentina and Swiss Skydiver all reported within a length of the winner as the 7 furlongs over a fast track went in 1:22.80. Edgard Zayas rode Two Sixty, a Florida-bred daughter of Uncaptured, for trainer Mark Casse.
"The key with her is trying to keep her relaxed," Zayas said. "If you start fighting with her she doesn't like it, so I just tried to put the hands down and let her do her own thing. As long as she can work good with her mind, she'll give you her all at the end."
Detouring to the world scene:
The torch passed down a couple generations among Hong Kong's milers Sunday as 5-year-old Waikuku edged 7-year-old, two-time Horse of the Year Beauty Generation in the Group 1 Stewards' Cup at Sha Tin.
But it was a close thing as the champ, after leading most of the way, held on gamely after his younger rival took a narrow advantage. And, while Waikuku's immediate future looks squarely set in Hong Kong, Beauty Generation may have done enough to warrant a trip to Dubai in March.
Beauty Generation, with Zac Purton up, quickly seized the lead in the Stewards' Cup as Waikuku raced last of seven into the turn. Waikuku, with Joao Moreira riding for trainer John Size, circled the field into the stretch and those two battled to the finish with Ka Ying Star finishing third, 4 1/2 lengths behind Beauty Generation.
While Waikuku seized the top rung on the ladder of Hong Kong milers, Beauty Generation suffered his fourth straight -- a string following 10 consecutive wins. Still, he showed more spunk than in three previous outings this season and trainer John Moore said he still hopes to send his aging star against the world's best in the Grade I Dubai Turf in March.
"He was gallant in defeat," Moore said. "Our boy is on the slow fade but is capable of running a big one in Dubai if we get the go-ahead. The 1,800 meters there, putting him on the other leg (racing left-handed), I think it would really rejuvenate him. And he won't meet Waikuku in Dubai so the trip would be the best way forward."
Size and Moreira struck again in the companion feature, the Group 1 Centenary Cup, a 1,200-meters sprint, as Beat the Clock won the race for the second straight year and backed up another Group 1 win in December's Longines Hong Kong Sprint.
Beat the Clock missed a beat at the start and raced back in the field, then was full of run emerging from the turn but briefly void of running room. Finally seeing daylight, he accelerated smoothly to finish a head in front of long-time leader Thanks Forever. Hot King Prawn was third and the winner's long-time foe, Mr Stunning, settled for fifth.
Moreira said he was worried when Beat the Clock missed the start.
"He quickly got back into the race. I had to give him a chance from there, just ride for luck and the split came at the right time. Once again he proved that he's probably the best sprinter in Hong Kong."
Size said he's considering giving Beat The Clock a chance in the 1,400-meter Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup (G1) on Feb. 16 -- a race in which he finished second in 2018 and 2019, both times behind Beauty Generation.
Thursday's program at Meydan includes the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort, a 1,400-meters run on the turf, and the listed UAE 1000 Guineas at 1 mile on the dirt. The 3-year-old males get a shot in the Al Bastakiya Trial at 1,900 meters on the dirt -- a race worth watching as a prep for the Group 2 UAE Derby, which in turn is effectively a "Win and You're In" for the Kentucky Derby.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Starship Jubilee, the odds-on favorite in Saturday's $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf, ran to expectations, basically enjoying a well-paid workout en route to a 3 1/4-lengths victory. Leading all the way for jockey Javier Castellano, the 7-year-old Indy Wind mare was never threatened and coasted home under wraps.
Beautiful Lover and Vow to Recover got the minor awards. Starship Jubilee, a multiple graded stakes winner, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:42.57, winning the event for the third straight year. Beautiful Lover ran well in her first start since June for trainer Chad Brown and bears watching.
Starship Jubilee's trainer, Kevin Attard, noting she wasn't exactly flying on the lead, said, "They were kind of walking around there and that's pretty easy for her," trainer Kevin Attard said. "You're just hoping that she's tight enough and hasn't lost much conditioning from the trip down south. Javier, obviously, rode her well and knows her well. Great jockey. What can you say?"
Extravagant Kid rallied by pacesetting favorite Lady's Island in the stretch run of the $100,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint and ran on to win by 2 3/4 lengths over that rival. Jackson was another 1/2 length back in third with a good late effort. Extravagant Kid, a 7-year-old Kiss the Kid gelding, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.04 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons. He now is 2-for-2 since heading south for the winter.
March to the Arch made steady progress after a last-place start in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Turf and was along in time to win by a head over Muggsamatic. Galleon Mast was third, a neck in front of the favorite, Curlin's Honor.
March to the Arch, a 5-year-old Arch gelding, ran 1 1/16 grassy miles in 1:41.75 with Gaffalione up. It was his first start since the hotly contested Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland in October in which he finished fifth, beaten just 1 length for it all.
In the day's feature, the $200,000 Sunshine Millions Classic, Noble Drama took the overland route after breaking last of seven, then outfinished the favorite, Red Crescent, winning by a head. Squeezadios was third, 3/4 length farther back. Noble Drama, a 5-year-old gelding by Gone Astray, ran 9 furlongs in 1:50.78 with Emisael Jaramillo riding. Noble Drama scored his second win in as many starts since returning from a nine-months break.
Silver Dust sprinted to a substantial lead in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Louisiana Stakes and the late-running favorite, Blended Citizen, wasn't able to make up any ground in the stretch, settling for second, 4 1/4 lengths back. The early leader, Gun It, held on for show money, just a neck farther back.
Silver Dust, a 6-year-old Tapit gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.29 for jockey Jack Gilligan. He came to the race off a 3 1/2-months layoff following a second-place finish in the Grade III Lucas Classic at Churchill Downs. In seven Fair Grounds starts, he now has three wins and three seconds.
Dontblamerocket rocketed down the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Col. E.R. Bradley Stakes, passing the embattled early leaders en route to a 3-lengths upset win. Midnight Tea Time was second, 1 1/4 lengths better than Factor This.
The favorite, Mr. Misunderstood, never reached contention from the outside gate and finished last of eight.Dontblamerocket, a 6-year-old Blame gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.55 under Julien Leparoux, missing the course record by a mere 0.24 second. Claimed for $50,000 last May at Churchill Downs, he scored his third straight win.
Only three faced the starter in Saturday's $100,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes and, of those, only one mattered once the gates opened. Bobby's Wicked One shot right to the lead, opened a good advantage and coasted home first by 4 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite.
Hog Creek Hustle was second and Do Share did get the third-place share of the purse. Bobby's Wicked One, a 5-year-old son of Speightstown, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.55 with Miguel Mena in the irons. The Al Stall Jr. trainee scored for the fifth time in six starts at the New Orleans oval.
Quebec opened a daylight lead in Saturday's $100,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial for fillies and mares, then just did hold on to win by a neck over Don't Tell Marge and another head from Stave. Quebec, a 6-year-old Into Mischief mare, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.28 with Adam Beschizza riding. Trained by Joe Sharp, Quebec won for the first time since last April when she took the Powder Break Stakes at Gulfstream Park, also on the front end.
Bellera was away first in Sunday's $100,000 Ladies Handicap, surrendered the advantage to a free-running long shot and then came back to win by 3/4 length. Lucky Move was second, 1 length to the good of Another Broad. Bellera, a 4-year-old daughter of Bernardini, finished 9 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:54.87 with Jose Lezcano riding.
With the sole exception of the Turnback the Alarm, when she lost her rider at the start, Bellera has not finished worse than second in seven career starts.
Mind Control had to fight every step of the 7 furlongs before prevailing in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Toboggan Stakes. The 4-year-old Stay Thirsty colt first pressed the early leader, Still Having Fun, disposed of that one turning for home and then battled down the lane with Nicodemus and Sunny Ridge, with a pair of noses separating those three at the finish. Mind Control, with John Velazquez aboard, finished in 1:24.23.
"From a trainer's standpoint, if you have the right horse, you expect them to be ready," said winning trainer Greg Sacco. "If we did our job, we expected Mind Control to win today. ... It's an exciting time ahead. We'll map out a plan and we'll pencil in the Carter and might just wait for that. He runs well fresh." The $400,000 Grade I Carter isn't until April 4.
A Freud of Mama bided her time in Saturday's $100,000 Franklin Square Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies, then unleashed a powerful kick down the stretch to win by 6 lengths. Big Q was best of the other five, 2 1/4 lengths to the good of Firenze Freedom. A Freud of Mama, a Freud filly out of the Carson City mare Mama Theresa, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:19.15 with Jorge Vargas Jr. in the irons.
"She's still a little nervous but she's getting there," Vargas said of A Freud of Mama. "She wants to be a good horse and she's proven it."
Ms Peintour came running in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Astra Stakes for fillies and mares, eventually drawing off to a 2-lengths victory at the end of the 1 1/2 miles over firm turf. The favorite, Tiny Tina, finished second, 1 length to the good of Siberian Iris. Ms Peintour, a 5-year-old Paynter mare, finished in 2:26.71 with Brice Blanc up. The race started on the downhill course. It was her third career win from 13 starts and first score in a graded stakes.
Stealthediamonds took the early lead in Saturday's $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint for state-breds and held on to win by 1/2 length over the favorite, Just Grazed Me, who started a beat slower than her rivals. Apache Princess was third. Stealthediamonds, a 4-year-old filly by Unusual Heat, finished 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:01.61 with Agapito Delgadillo in the irons.
In Saturday's California Cup races for state-breds:
Fashionably Fast stalked the pace in the $150,000 Sprint, went by the leader and won a long stretch duel by a neck over Lieutenant Dan. It was 2 1/4 lengths to Brandothebartender in third. Fashionable Fast, a 5-year-old Lucky Pulpit gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.60. Tiago Periera had the winning ride.
Wound Tight was quickly out front in the $200,000 Unusual Heat Turf Classic and was never threatened, winning off by 3 1/2 lengths. Ward 'n Jerry was best of the rest, 1/2 length ahead of Cono. Wound Tight, a 5-year-old Coil gelding, finished 9 furlongs on the green course in 1:48.24 with Abel Cedillo in the irons.
Fast Enough edged Sacred Rider by a neck in the $200,000 Cal Cup Derby as both came from off the pace. The early leader, Bettor Trip Nick, faded to get home third. Fast Enough, an Eddingon gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:45.23 with Periera up. It was his second win from eight starts, the first coming against maidens over the Golden Gate turf.
Warren's Showtime blew right by pacesetting Bulletproof One in the stretch run of the $200,000 Cal Cup Oaks and drew away to a 3 1/2-lengths victory. Bulletproof One salvaged second by a neck over Warrior's Moon with several others in close attendance. Warren's Showtime, a daughter of Clubhouse Ride, reported in 1:36.50 over firm turf with Jorge Velez riding.
Victim of Love drew off in the stretch drive of Saturday's $100,000 What a Summer Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 3 3/4 lengths over Needs Supervision. Last True Love was third. Victim of Love, a 4-year-old daughter of Speightstown, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a good, sealed track in 1:18.02 under Weston Hamilton.
Artful Splatter led the way in Saturday's $75,000 Geisha Stakes for Maryland-bred fillies and mares and held on through the final strides, winning by 1/2 length over the odds-on favorite, Anna's Bandit. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to Enchanted Ghost in third. Artful Splatter, a Bandbox filly, ran 1 mile on a good track in 1:39.46 for jockey Alex Cintron.
Always Mining raced second through most of Saturday's $75,000 Jennings Stakes for state-breds, took the lead under urging in the stretch and ran on to win by 1 3/4 lengths. John Jones was next-best with Clubman third. Always Mining, a 4-year-old gelding by Stay Thirsty, got 1 mile on the good track in 1:37.75 with Julien Pimentel riding.
Honor the Fleet outfinished Threes Over Deuces to take Saturday's $100,000 Fire Plug Stakes by a neck. Tiz He the One was third, a further 3/4 length back. Honor the Fleet, a 6-year-old gelding by To Honor and Serve, hustled 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.09 with Cinron in the irons.
Nun the Less started well back in the 12-horse field in Friday's $75,000 Forego Stakes but nonetheless was along in the late going to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Greenwood was second, 4 lengths in front of Hemp Hemp Hurray. Nun the Less, an 8-year-old Candy Ride gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:16.58 with Rodney Prescott in the irons.
Tampa Bay Downs
Jehozacat led gate-to-wire in Saturday's $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes for fillies and mares, winning off by a comfortable 5 1/2 lengths for jockey Daniel Centeno. Tweeting was second, 1 length better than Classic Fit. Jehozacat, a 5-year-old Tapit mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.94.
Two Stepper came from last of seven to win Saturday's $100,000 La Senora Stakes for New Mexico-bred 3-year-old fillies by 1 1/4 lengths over Tight Fittin Jeans. Blue Blazes Who got show money while the favorite, Count Them Again, finished last after a troubled start. Two Stepper, an Attila's Storm filly, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.53 with Roimes Chirinos up.