Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Mucho Gusto won the Pegasus World Cup and possibly a trip to Saudi Arabia, and Gold Street marched along the Kentucky Derby trail at Oaklawn Park in weekend horse racing.
It was also a big weekend on the turf, with the Pegasus World Cup Turf heading a list stretching through Texas to California.
On the international scene, Monday's muted Chinese New Year program in Hong Kong kicks off the Derby series and Thursday's program at Meydan in Dubai has a couple of important steppingstones to World Cup night.
Speaking of stepping, step right up and read all about it:
The Pegasus World Cup
Mucho Gusto was inserted into Saturday's $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park almost as an afterthought and trainer Bob Baffert elected to stay home and watch the race on television rather than make the transcontinental flight.
When the dust had cleared, Mucho Gusto had won by daylight, likely with a ticket to the $20 million Saudi Cup in Riyadh on Feb. 29 and Baffert was second-guessing his couch-sitting decision.
"Those are the most exciting ones, when you don't expect it," the silver-haired trainer said by phone from California.
Mucho Gusto had been idle since finishing a poor fourth in the Grade III Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park in September and he clearly was ready to run. Off like a shot under Irad Ortiz Jr., he took back around the first turn and bided his time behind the early speed.
When called on, though, the 4-year-old Mucho Macho Man colt had plenty left. Accelerating quickly, he went by pace-setting Mr. Freeze and won by 4 1/2 lengths over that rival. War Story rallied from last of 10 to get show money and the favorite, Higher Power, finished last.
Mucho Gusto reported in 1:48.85 over a fast track, picking up his first Grade I win. He was second in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity in 2018, second in last year's Grade I Haskell and third in the Grade I Travers at Saratoga last summer.
"You know what, the horse shipped really well and I wasn't really planning on taking him there but he worked really well the other day," Baffert said. "I was going to run in the San Pasqual [at Santa Anita] next week, but after he worked so well, I thought, 'You know what, I'm just going to take a shot at the mile and an eighth and maybe that will get him ready.'
"He didn't get an invite to the Saudi Cup, so I thought maybe if he runs well enough he'll get an invitation."
The Pegasus is the kickoff event of an evolving, informal three-race international series. Mucho Gusto, purchased privately after his last start by Saudi Prince Faisal Bin Khalid, scored an automatic entry in the Saudi Cup by dint of the Pegasus victory and now likely will be seen favorably, too, by the organizers of the $12 million Dubai World Cup the following month. His appeal is enhanced because Pegasus was run without race-day medication -- a first for a major U.S. stakes race.
The winner of the Saudi Cup gets $10 million; the winner of the Dubai World Cup, $7.2 million. Mucho Gusto sold as a yearling at the Keeneland sale for $95,000.
Road to the Roses
The surface was muddy, not gilded, but Gold Street nonetheless led all the way to a convincing upset win in Friday's $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes on Oaklawn Park's opening day. The Street Boss colt, with Martin Garcia up for trainer Steve Asmussen, shook clear of eight rivals in the stretch to win by 2 3/4 lengths.
The favorite, Three Technique, was second, followed another 2 3/4 lengths by Shoplifted. The 1 mile went in 1:39.63 on a day when all times were slow.
Gold Street now has three consecutive wins. He had his picture taken after his fourth start, that at Churchill Downs Nov. 23, then won the Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds Dec. 21. The Smarty Jones was his first trip longer than 6 furlongs.
While his sire was a sprinter, that one's sire, Street Cry, won the Dubai World Cup in 2002 and Gold Street's maternal grandsire, Fusaichi Pegasus, won the Kentucky Derby in 2000.
"Gold Street is three for three on an off track so I was surprised they let him get such an easy lead," said Asmussen, who saddled four of the nine starters. "We'll see how he comes out of this and make our plans from there."
In New Mexico, Rowdy Yates rallied to the lead in the stretch run in Sunday's $100,000 Riley Allison Derby at Sunland Park and kicked away nicely to win by 3 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Competitive Idea and Arizona Jeremy battled for the early lead and finished second and third in that order.
Rowdy Yates, trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Luis Contreras, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.29. The race is the first of three big events for 3-year-olds in New Mexico, followed by the Mine That Bird Derby and the Sunland Park Derby.
Rowdy Yates, an Oklahoma-bred colt by Morning Line, now has five wins from eight starts and also finished second in the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs last June.
Next weekend, the Road to the Roses stretches from coast to coast with the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita, the Withers at Aqueduct and the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. Some bright prospects are expected to line up.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Cruise and Danze stalked the pace in Sunday's $200,000 Ruthless Stakes at Aqueduct, then waltzed home first by 2 1/4 lengths. Panthera Onca nosed out the favorite, Miss Marissa, for second. Cruise and Danze, a Danza filly, ran 7 furlongs on a good track in 1:25.00, with Eric Cancel riding for trainer Jeremiah O'Dwyer. It was her second win from five starts.
"We'll try to stretch her out at some stage if she keeps running like she did today," O'Dwyer said. "She did everything right."
At Sunland Park in New Mexico, Santa Anita invader Dynasty of Her Own owned the stretch run of Sunday's $65,000 Borderplex Stakes, drawing off to win by 5 3/4 lengths from Texas-based Topless. Showmethemagic was third. Dynasty of Her Own, a Shanghai Bobby filly, got 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.39 with Francisco Arrieta riding. She now is 2-for-2 with the earlier win coming at Golden Gate Fields.
Zulu Alpha skimmed the rail all the way around the Gulfstream Park course in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, sneaked inside pacesetter Magic Wand and got clear, winning by 2 lengths. The Coolmore-owned filly held on for second, just ahead of Instilled Regard. Zulu Alpha, claimed for $80,000 in 2018, finished 1 3/16 miles in 1:51.60 over firm turf. The 7-year-old Street Cry gelding notched his first Grade I win in his 31st career start.
Zulu Alpha was a close fourth in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf last November and trainer Mike Maker said he might have done better with a bit of racing luck. "He got some time off after that and he really thrived coming in "to Gulfstream," Maker said. "Since he's been back, he's been a lot sharper. For a million dollars, you have to take a shot. And it paid off."
For Magic Wand, it was another in an almost endless string of Grade I and Group 1 near-miss results. The 5-year-old Galileo mare, trained by Aidan O'Brien, now has finished second in seven top-level races on three continents while winning only one. The seconds include last year's Pegasus Turf -- one of two 2019 starts in which she lost to Horse of the year Bricks and Mortar. Still, she has earned more than $4.1 million before Saturday's check clears.
"Look, she ran super," jockey Ryan Moore said of Magic Wand. "She's an uncomplicated filly and it's a shame she got beat. But, she ran lovely."
On Sunday at Sam Houston Race Park, Dox Matrix got a perfect, pace-stalking trip in the $200,000 Grade III John B. Connally Turf Cup, seized the lead when asked by jockey Florent Geroux and held off Bemma's Boy late, winning by 3/4 length. The favorite, Marzo, finished third. Dot Matrix, a 7-year-old, New York-bred gelding by Freud, ran 1 1/2 lengths on good turf in 2:33.46.
Dot Matrix, often fighting the state-bred wars back home, wound up last year's campaign with a good third behind Sadler's Joy and Red Knight in the Grade III Red Smith at Aqueduct.
Spooky Channel rallied late down the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III W.L. McKnight at Gulfstream Park, racing four-wide to catch Cross Border and win by a neck. Apreciado was third and the favorite, Red Knight, lacked his usual late punch, finishing fourth. Spooky Channel, who started his career in Arizona, was let go at odds of 36-1 after three straight losses. The 5-year-old English Channel gelding finished the 1 1/2 miles on firm going in 2:26.16 with Julien Leparoux riding for trainer Brian Lynch.
"He's a marathon horse and it's nice to get him out of Turf Paradise and let him show he can fit with these horses out here, because that was a field of good field of stayers right there," Lynch said of Spooky Channel.
Filly & Mare Turf
Mean Mary jumped out to a big lead in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III La Prevoyante Stakes at Gulfstream Park and was never threatened, winning by 5 lengths under Luis Saez. Lady Paname, making her first start in 14 months, gave futile chase but secured place money, 1 1/4 lengths to the good of Tourega. Mean Mary, a 4-year-old Scat Daddy filly trained by Graham Motion, completed the 1 1/2 miles of firm turf in 2:28.38. The win was her third in five career starts and her first try beyond 1 1/8 miles.
"Luis came into the paddock and he said he was going to ask her away from the gate," Motion said. "I said, 'Luis, you're not going to have to ask her, she's going to be on the lead.' He did a beautiful job and he slowed it right down. ... I didn't think the distance would be a problem."
Winning Envelope started last of 11 in Sunday's $75,000 Jersey Lilly Turf Stakes for fillies and mares at Sam Houston, passed them all and went on to win by 3 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Dream Passage. Orageuse was third. Winning Envelope, a 4-year-old daughter of More Than Ready, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:45.15 with Flavien Prat riding. Chris Block trains the winner for Lothenbach Stables.
Bodecream kicked on strongly in the late going of Sunday's $200,000 Texas Turf Mile for 3-year-olds at Sam Houston, blew by the front-runners and won by 3 1/2 lengths for just his second career win. Toma Todo finished second with Pixelate third, another 1 3/4 lengths in arrears.
Bodecream, a 3-year-old Bodemeister gelding, finished in 1:37.01 with Deshawn Parker riding for trainer Danny Pish. Bodecream ran well out of the frame in his first three starts on dirt and now is undefeated in two tries over the greensward.
Atomic Blonde found a seam along the rail at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 South Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park, exploded through and opened up to win by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Mitchell Road. La Feve was third, a neck farther back. Atomic Blonde, a 4-year-old Scat Daddy filly, ran about 7 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:28.03 with Javier Castellano in the irons. She was making just her fifth career start and scored her third win, first in a stakes event.
Trainer Al Stall Jr. shipped Real News in from Fair Grounds to win Sunday's $100,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint at Sam Houston Race Park. The 4-year-old The Factor colt tracked the early speed, then prevailed after a sustained stretch effort to win by 1/2 length over Fast Boat. Powell was third. Real News, with Colby Hernandez riding, ran 5 furlongs on good turf in 57.30 seconds.
Real News now has four wins, two seconds and a third from eight starts with a fading third-place showing in the Grade II Penn Mile, over yielding turf, as a high point.
California visitor Texas Wedge exchanged head bobs with Carotari in the closing yards of Saturday's $150,000 World of Trouble Turf Sprint at Gulfstream Park, then inched in front to win by a neck. Fielder was third and the favorite, Shekky Shebaz, finished fourth after some traffic issues.
Texas Wedge, a 5-year-old Colonel John gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm going in 55.84 seconds, doubling up on his last-race victory in the Grade II Hernandez Stakes at Santa Anita on New Year's Day. Flavien Prat had the mount for trainer Peter Miller.
"Great ride. Great trip. Flavien's a great jockey," Miller said. "This horse, giving 6 pounds to the runner-up and he's not a big horse, it did its job and evened the race out."
Jean Elizabeth, another of those amazing but vanishing Illinois-breds, mowed down the favorite, Girls Know Best, in the final strides of Saturday's $150,000 Ladies' Turf Sprint at Gulfstream Park, winning by 1/2 length over that formidable foe. Keota was another 2 lengths back in third as Jean Elizabeth, a 5-year-old Adios Charlie mare, ran 5 furlongs over firm turf in 55.26 for Irad Ortiz Jr. and trainer Larry Rivelli. It was Jean Elizabeth's first start on the grass, although she was 8-3-1 for 12 starts on all-weather tracks.
"I rode her last time and she beat the favorite on dirt," Ortiz said of Jean Elizabeth. "I was told the filly would like the turf, so I rode her with confidence. Today, I let her settle a little bit and at the quarter pole, I asked her and she was there for me."
Unbridled Class was all of that in Saturday's $75,000 Nelson J. Menard Memorial for fillies and mares at Fair Grounds. Quickly on the lead, the 5-year-old daughter of Unbridled Express was not challenged and won by 2 3/4 lengths -- at odds of better than 25-1.
Play On and Change of Control completed the generous trifecta while the favorite, Hotshot Anna, a multiple graded stakes winner on all-weather tracks, never recovered from a poor start and reported eighth. With Colby Hernandez at the controls, Unbridled Class ran about 5 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:03.84. She has finished in the money in 18 of 19 starts, nine of those being wins.
Lil Milo took the lead in deep stretch in Sunday's $70,000 Clockers' Corner Stakes for California-breds at Santa Anita and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Ghoul finished second but was set down to fifth after an inquiry into some late bumping. That promoted What'sontheagenda and Ax Man to second and third. Lil Milo, not involved in the contretemps, scooted 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.62 with Ruben Fuentes riding.
Mr. Buff showed the way in Saturday's $100,000 Jazil Sakes at Aqueduct then drew off in the stretch run to win by 5 lengths over Backsideofthemoon. Adventist, Leitone and Stan the Man completed the order of finish after three scratches. Mr. Buff, a 6-year-old Friend or Foe gelding, ran 9 furlongs over a sloppy, sealed track in 1:51.82 with Junior Alvarado at the controls. The John Kimmel trainee previously had been successful mostly against fellow New York-breds.
"You're always nervous when you get a track as wet as this one was today," Kimmel said. "But he's such a class animal I don't think there's any surface he wouldn't try on." Kimmel said Mr. Buff will remain at Aqueduct for the near future.
Lady Apple waited behind the pace made by Serengeti Empress in Sunday's $300,000 Grade III Houston Ladies Classic, hooked that one in the stretch and inched in front in the final strides for a 1/2 length victory. Serengeti Empress held second by only by a neck over Street Band and a similar margin from Mylady Curlin. Lady Apple, a 4-year-old daughter of Curlin, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.19 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons. It was her first start since a victory in the Remington Park Oaks in September.
Serengeti Empress remains without a win in five starts since she won the Kentucky Oaks last May with Lady Apple third. Those efforts did, however, include seconds in the Grade I Test Stakes and Grade I Acorn and a third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Captain Scotty led the parade in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Palos Verde at Santa Anita and held on to win by a neck over Flagstaff. Speed Pass and Grinning Tiger completed he order of finish. Captain Scotty, a 6-year-old Quality Road gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.46 with Abel Castillo up, picking up his first stakes win.
Castillo said trainer Peter Miller "told me to try to go to the lead. When I saw the race was a two-horse, two-speed type of race, I tried to slow it down. He was trying to run off but I got him to relax pretty good. He finished pretty good."
Saturday's $100,000 Fifth Season at Oaklawn Park was run in two divisions.
In the second divisions, Pioneer Spirit had to dispose of multiple challenges, opened a daylight lead in the lane and then dug in one final time to hold off Bankit by a head under the wire. Mocito Rojo was third and the favorite, Bravazo, was a non-threatening fifth. Pioneer Spirit, a 7-year-old son of Malibu Moon, ran 1 mile on a good track in 1:38.94 with Orlando Mojica in the irons for trainer Robertino Diodoro.
"Things are going to get a little tougher here as the money goes up, as we get a little deeper into the stakes schedule, but we'll see what happens," the trainer said. "Got to like an old classy horse that's got a big heart." He said the $500,000 Grade III Razorback Handicap Feb. 17 is "most likely" the next step up the ladder.
In the first division, Guest Suite, a $62,500 claim last fall at Keeneland, caught Snapper Sinclair in the late going to win by a neck. Night Ops was third. Guest Suite, a 6-year-old Quality Road gelding, finished the 1 mile on a good track in 1:39.18 under Walter De La Cruz. " We got lucky, I guess," said winning trainer Cipriano Contreras. "It's nothing really I did. He made $300,000 before I got him. He's got a world-class pedigree. You just claim them and hope for the best."
Phat Man circled five-wide, then chased down front-running Zenden to win Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Fred W. Hooper at Gulfstream Park by 1 length. Zenden held second, 2 lengths to the good of Rare Form as the favorite, Free Enterprise, faded to get home ninth. Phat Man, a 6-year-old Munnings gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.95 with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard. Trainer J.K. Sweezey wheeled he gelding back from a second in the Grade II Harlan's Holiday Dec. 14 over the same track.
"The whole reason we bought him was to take cool shots," Sweezey said. "And to win a race on Pegasus Day is a pretty cool shot."
Mr Money Bags ran his winning skein to three with a decisive, 6 3/4-lengths win in Sunday's $75,000 Stonerside Sprint at Sam Houson Race Park. After waiting behind early leader Takes Two to Tango, Mr Money Bags waltzed on by with ease. Takes Two to Tango held second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of Direct Dial. The winner, a 4-year-old Silver City gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.94 with Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez in the irons. Mr Money Bags was coming off a win in the Zia Park Derby at 1 1/16 miles in November.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Pink Sands, overcoming an outside post position, rallied from last of 12 to win Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Inside Information Stakes at Gulfstream Park by 3 lengths, going away. Wildwood's Beauty and Nona Madeline filled out the trifecta slots while the favorite, Spiced Perfection, coughed up a brief late lead and reported fourth. Pink Sands, a 5-year-old Tapit mare, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.42 for jockey Jose Ortiz and trainer Shug McGaughey. She backed up her win in the Grade III Rampart Dec. 14.
"That was special," McGaughey said. "This filly has gotten good and she loves this track." When he saw her at the gate, the trainer said, "She was so laid back, I thought, 'I hope she's not going to sleep.' But Jose told me he had horse all the time. She had the pace in front of her ... pretty quick going seven-eighths. Today was her best race yet."
Whoa Nellie got a "giddyup" call on the stretch turn of Saturday's $100,000 Pippin for fillies and mares at Oaklawn Park and responded with a rush that brought her from next-last to a 4 1/2-lengths victory. Special Relativity and Cairenn also found some late speed to finish second and third. Whoa Nellie, a 4-year-old Orb filly, finished the 1 mile on a good track in 1:39.50 with Joe Rocco Jr. in the irons. Trainer Larry Jones said Whoa Nellie will move right up Oaklawn's rapidly ascending class ladder to the $200,000 Grade III Bayakoa on Feb. 17.
Rig Time took charge in the final furlong of Sunday's $100,000 Johnie L. Jamison Handicap for New Mexico-breds, winning off by 4 lengths. Jet N G was best of the rest, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Shining Source. Rig Time, a 5-year-old gelding by Right Rigger, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.57 with Luis Contreras in the irons.
On Saturday, Chief Cicatriz was under pressure all the way in the $75,000 Ft. Bliss Stakes, eventually hanging on to win by a neck over onrushing Runaway Ghost. Raagheb was 3/4 length farther back in third. Chief Cicatriz, a 7-year-old Munnings gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.97 with Francisco Arrieta in the irons. The old guy, winner of the Grade III Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs in 2018, ran his current winning streak to four.
Around the world, around the clock:
Monday's Chinese New Year card at Sha Tin features many of the prospective stars of the future. Sadly, few will be on hand to see the Hong Kong Classic Mile -- first race in the BMW Hong Kong Derby series -- as attendance is severely limited by the Hong Kong Jockey Club to prevent any chance of spreading the coronavirus that has spiraled out of central China.
The fallout from the disease comes on top of complications caused by months of street demonstrations and riots in Hong Kong that also limited attendance at the Longines Hong Kong International Races in December and forced abandonment of two programs at Happy Valley Racecourse.
Let's hope for better as 2019, the Year of the Pig, gives way to 2020, the Year of the Rat.
Thursday's program features the $200,000 Group 2 Al Rashidiya at 1 mile on the turf, a prep for the $6 million Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night, and the $200,000 Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint on the dirt, a pointer to the $2.5 million Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen.