Feb. 3 (UPI) -- Kentucky Derby candidates Tiz the Law, Max Player and Thousand Words all produced impressive wins during weekend horse racing, moving right up on the list of 3-year-olds hoping for a spot at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
Among the Kentucky Oaks crowd, Taraz and Tonalist's Shape continued to dazzle, winning easily at Oaklawn Park and Gulfstream Park, respectively.
Last year's Belmont Stakes victor, Sir Winston, finally got back to the winner's circle.
And, if you think you've had a bad week, check out the South Africa section to see how many miles Ryan Moore had to fly to finish second in three big-time races by a total of less than 4 lengths -- all in the course of seven days.
Meanwhile, check this out:
The Run for the Roses
The weekend agenda included three official "points" races, each offering 10 points to the winner and 4, 2 and 1 for the next three, plus some miscellaneous other heats which might prove important:
Tiz the Law was the heavy favorite in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park and ran to his notices. Taken back early, he came with a powerful run when turned loose by jockey Manny Franco, winning by 3 lengths over the pacesetter, Ete Indien. It was another 11 1/2 lengths back to Toledo in third, adding emphasis to Tiz the Law's dominance.
"His race was perfect," said trainer Barclay Tagg. We told Manny, 'Stay off the rail no matter what you have to do. Lose the ground and go around them.' It worked out perfectly."
Tiz the Law, a Constitution colt out of the Tiznow mare Tizfiz, won at first asking at Saratoga, romped by 4 lengths in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont and concluded his 2-year-old campaign finishing third in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club over the Churchill Downs slop Nov. 30. Now, Tagg said he's not sure what's next.
"We'll try to stretch it out a little bit. They're just young horses. We'll probably go to Louisiana but I'm not sure," Tagg said, referencing the Grade II Louisiana Derby on March 21.
The Holy Bull is named for the horse who went on to a successful stud career after suffering a career-ending injury in the 1995 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. Cigar won that race -- the fourth victory in what became a 16-race win streak. The Donn was the predecessor of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational.
In Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Withers at Aqueduct, Max Player chased down pacesetting favorite Shotski in the stretch run and went on to a 3 1/4-lengths victory. Shotski held second, 1/2 length in front of Portos with Monday Morning Qb fourth after missing the start. Max Player, an Honor Code colt trained by Linda Rice, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.87 with Dylan Davis up. Two of nine starters found the distance too much and were eased through the stretch.
Max Player was second in his career bow at Parx Racing, then graduated at the same track Dec. 17 in his only other start. Shotski was making his first start since winning the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct on Dec. 7.
Rice said Max Player was in good order Sunday morning and will target the $750,000 Grade II Wood Memorial on April 4 at Aqueduct. That race, with 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Derby points on the line, guarantees the winner a spot in the Louisville starting gate.
"I really don't want to shorten him up in the Gotham," she said of the one-turn mile on March 7. "I don't think that serves our purposes. We're happier to stay here and train into the Wood and go from there."
Just about as certain as death and taxes is the likelihood of trainer Bob Baffert having a barn full of Kentucky Derby Prospects at this time of year. The latest evidence: Thousand Words tracked down his pacesetting stablemate High Velocity in deep stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. Royal Act was along late to edge High Velocity for second but first and third in a major test is nonetheless a satisfactory outcome for the silver-haired trainer who already has won the Run for the Roses five times.
Thousand Words, a Pioneerof the Nile colt with Flavien Prat in the irons, saved ground into the stretch, then carried on nicely between rivals to get the win, finishing 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.64.
Thousand Words won both of his starts as a 2-year-old, finishing with the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity. The Lewis was his first start at 3.
"He's got that big long stride and the further the better with him," Baffert said of Thousand Words. "You could tell about the last 50 yards he was really getting going. When he came back he wasn't even tired so that is a good sign.
"I told Rosario don't fight High Velocity if he wants to run. I really thought down the backside High Velocity was gonna steal it. He has a lot of speed and he hung in there well."
The win was Baffert's 3,000th in North America and he noted he trained Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm and Charismatic for owners Bob and Beverly Lewis. "I've always thought things happen for a reason. Running in the Bob Lewis, with a horse named Thousand Words and going for 3,000 wins. I mean, you can't make that up."
After all the shouting was done, Tiz the Law, Thousand Words and Shotski advanced to Nos. 2, 3 and 4 on the Churchill Downs leader board, behind only Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Storm the Court.
Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Swale Stakes at Gulfstream was only 7 furlongs and offered no Derby points. But when the winning trainer started mentioning his horse in the same sentence as Smarty Jones, we started paying closer heed.
Mischevious Alex secured his spot on the rail from the No. 1 hole at the start of the Swale, raced with a narrow lead through the turn, then drew off to win by 7 lengths. Shivaree, Green Light Go and Untitled followed in that order as Mischevious Alex, an Into Mischief colt, finished in 1:22.83 under Irad Ortiz Jr.
"It was a long time coming," trainer John Servis said of Mischevious Alex's first start in three months. "You're always concerned when it's been that long. We originally thought a 1-turn mile might be his best distance ... But he's so classy and so push-button, that might carry him a little farther. Who knows?"
Service also trained Smarty Jones, who in 2004 reeled off consecutive wins in the Southwest Stakes, Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, then won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before finishing second to Birdstone in the 1 1/2-miles Belmont Stakes. "We were a little concerned about Smarty getting the distance before we went to Oaklawn," Servis said.
On the grass
At Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Godolphin Racing's Hieronymus took command early and lengthened the advantage all the way, winning the $60,000 Randy Romero Memorial Stakes by 9 3/4 lengths.
Jack the Umpire and Perfect Star got the minor awards as Hieronymus finished in 1:39.49 over firm turf. "He seems to be getting better and better with each start," said Ricky Giannini, assistant to winning trainer Brad Cox.
"He was a little green down the stretch but hopefully he can figure that out as he gets more racing experience." The race was named this year in honor of Randy Romero, the Hall of Fame rider who passed away in August at age 61.
At Gulfstream Park, Field Pass came running late between rivals to take the $100,000 Dania Beach Stakes by a neck from pacesetting Get Smokin and another head from South Bend. Field Pass, a Lemon Drop Kid colt trained by Mike Maker, toured 1 mile on good turf in 1:35.70 under Paco Lopez. He finished fourth in the Grade III Bourbon at Keeneland in the fall and second in the Grade III With Anticipation at Saratoga last summer.
Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs is 1 1/16 miles. Independence Hall likely will be a heavy favorite as he puts his 3-for-3 mark on the line.
Sunday's $200,000 Grade II San Vicente at Santa Anita is run a 7 furlongs.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Tonalist's Shape entered Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Forward Gal at Gulfstream Park undefeated and exited the same way after dominating five rivals as the odds-on favorite. The Tonalist filly, trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. and piloted by Irad Oriz Jr., waited right behind the speed, took over at the top of the lane and drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Street of Dreams was second and first-time starter Nikki and Papa finished third. The 7 furlongs went in 1:24.77 over a fast track.
Tonalist's Shape won sprints at Gulfstream Park and Gulfstream West (the old Calder Park), then romped in the 1-mile Hut Hut Stakes Nov. 30, winning by 9 lengths. The Forward Gal was her 3-year-old debut.
"She's not flashy, but she's going to do what she needs to do," Joseph said. "I'm just glad to have her and thankful that the owners put her in our barn. She's won with four different riders and she could have probably won with four different trainers. All being well, we'll go in the Davona Dale and the Gulfstream Oaks. That would be a good plan for her."
Speaking of undefeated: At Oaklawn Park, Taraz broke behind her three rivals in Saturday's $150,000 Martha Washington Stakes, quickly jumped past all of them and led the rest of the way, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. O Seraphina was second, 6 1/4 lengths ahead of High On Gin.
Princesinha Julia completed the order of finish, another 13 lengths up the track. Taraz, an Into Mischief filly from the Empire Maker mare Silk Route, got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.64 for jockey Florent Geroux. She now has three wins sans loss.
Brad Cox, who also trains the 2019 Juvenile Filly champ, British Idiom, said he doesn't know what's next for Taraz, a Juddmonte Farms homebred. There has been talk she might test the Kentucky Derby preps as none of the 3-year-old colts has scared anyone off yet.
"I've thought about it last night and haven't really come up with a decision on what we're going to do yet," Cox said before training hours Sunday morning at Oaklawn. "And race-wise? Same thing." He did report Taraz seemed to have returned in fine shape from he Martha Washington exertion.
Trainer Joe Sharp said O Seraphina will be pointed for the $300,000 Grade III Honeybee Stakes for 3-year-old fillies March 7 at Oaklawn. "We were over the moon, obviously, about how she ran against a filly like Taraz," Sharp said
At Aqueduct on Sunday, Harvey's Lil Goil overcame an awkward start with a devastating stretch charge to win the $100,000 Busanda Stakes by 7 1/2 lengths. The American Pharoah filly was geared down at the end by jockey Junior Alvarado but finished 9 furlongs over a fast track in 1:54.49. Water White was along for second and the early leader, Fiftyshays Ofgreen, got show money.
Harvey's Lil Goil now has back-to-back wins after finishing fourth in her first start. All the races were at the Big A before a break in Florida.
"She ran really well and to expectations, or possibly even better," said Leanna Willaford, assistant to trainer Bill Mott. "She came back up to us from Florida last week and has been here for a few days. She had been here prior from July until when she broke her maiden, so we know her well. She looks really about the same since she's left and is progressing well, so it's exciting."
On the grass at Gulfstream Park, Cheermeister rebounded from a luckless outing a month ago to take Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sweetest Chant Stakes by 3/4 length after leading all the way. Micheline rallied from last of seven, but ran out of real estate and settled for second, a head in front of Ivyetsu.
Cheermeister, a Bodemeister filly trained by Armando De La Cerda, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:37.25 with Emisael Jaramillo in the irons. In her previous outing, she broke through the gate before the Ginger Brew Stakes Jan. 4, then tired after being corralled and reloaded, finishing 10th.
Elsewhere around North America:
United showed he's for real, winning a three-horse stretch duel in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Marcos by 1/2 length over Cleopatra's Strike. Oscar Dominguez was third, just a neck farther back. United, a 5-year-old Giant's Causeway gelding, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:59.04 with Flavien Prat riding for trainer Richard Mandella.
Since he burst to prominence finishing second in the Grade II Charles Whittingham at Santa Anita in his first stakes try last May, United has been a solid force against top company but Saturday's win was his first in a graded stakes. He just missed upsetting eventual Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar in last year's Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, then finished second, a neck behind Oscar Dominguez, in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup in his most recent outing.
"You could see there wasn't a lot of pace in the race," Mandella said. "He's got a big lumbering stride and you don't want to get in the way of it. We just let him cruise along and that worked out well."
Midcourt took an early lead in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Pasqual and ran on without a challenge, eventually reporting first by 3 1/2 lengths. Two Thirty Five and Combatant filled out the trifecta while the favorite, Roadster, was never involved and finished seventh. Midcourt, a 5-year-old Midnight Lute gelding out of the French Deputy mare Mayo On the Side, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.49 with Victor Espinoza in the irons. He now has five wins from his last six starts for trainer John Shirreffs.
"Victor wasn't sure if he was going to go to the lead or sit off the pace, but the horse put himself in the race and if he wanted to run that way, he didn't want to take him out of it," Shirreffs said. "Yes, it is gratifying to see him make the lead, relax and finish like he did. He's been a project, but a good project. We'll stay home and run in the Santa Anita Handicap. That Grade I even is March 7.
Special Relativity moved toward the leaders midway around the turn in Saturday's $125,000 American Beauty Stakes for fillies and mares, split rivals at mid-stretch and kicked away to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Irish Mischief was second, followed by Mt. Brave and the favorite and early leader, Amy's Challenge, a 5-year-old daughter of Cowboy Cal, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.91 with Orlando Mojica in the irons. It was her ninth straight in-the-money finish.
Sir Winston rallied from last of seven to win an 1-mile allowance event Friday at Aqueduct, his first victory since the 2019 Belmont Stakes. With Dylan Davis up for trainer Mark Casse, the Awesome Again colt forced his way into contention midway down the stretch, took the lead by the sixteenth pole and won going away, by 2 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Musical America. He finished in 1:39.15 over a fast track.
Sir Winston was absent for more than six months after the Belmont and finished 12th in his return, the Woodchopper Stakes at Fair Grounds. "I think he exceeded the expectations today," Casse assistant Jamie Begg said. "When Mark decided to put him in this spot, we just wanted a good effort out of him and for him to show his running style. If we could hit the board and he did it his way, we'd be happy. But this was above expectations, so we are happy."
Around the world, around the clock:
The action rolls right along at Meydan with World Cup night now less than two months distant. Thursday's program is highlighted by the $450,000 Group 2 Al Makoum Challenge Round 2 at 1,900 meters, and the $250,000 UAE 2000 Guineas. Entries were pending at press time. Check back later in the week to see what transpired.
One World seized the lead in the dash for home in Saturday's Grade 1 Sun Met at Kenilworth, was hooked by Rainbow Bridge 100 meters out but found just enough left to rebound to win by a head. Hawwaam was third, coming from well back in the field of 13 with 2019 star Do It Again disappointing again with a ninth-place showing.
One World, a 4-year-old son of Captain Al with M.J. Byleveld up, was coming off a pair of seconds behind Vardy in the Grade 2 Green Point Stakes and the Grade 1 L'Ormarin's Queen's Plate. Vardy reported sixth in Saturday's clash.
Ryan Moore made his debut appearance in South Africa to ride Rainbow Bridge and settled for his third second-place finish in the course of seven days -- on three different continents. Moore was second by 2 lengths on Magic Wand in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park in Florida Jan. 25 and second again, by 1 1/4 lengths, aboard More Than This two days later in the Hong Kong Classic Mile at Sha Tin Racecourse.
Using point-to-point measurements from Miami to Hong Kong to Capetown, Moore flew some 16,300 miles to lose thrice by a total of less than 4 lengths -- some 10 to 12 yards, depending whose definition of "length" you support.
Also on Saturday, Clouds Unfold posted a moderate upset win in the Grade 1 Bidves Majorca Stakes for fillies and mares, defeating Celtic Sea by a neck with recent Grade 1 Cartier Paddock Stakes winner Queen Supreme finishing 12th as the favorite; and Russett Air, at 25-1, took the 5-furlongs Grade 1 Cape Flying Championship by a nose from fellow long shot Bold Respect. Candice Bass-Robinson trains both Clouds Unfold and Russett Air.
Butterfield took charge late in Sunday's Class 2 Azalea Handicap at Sha Tin and breezed on strongly by 1/2 length from Columbus County and High Rev. The win was the first in Hong Kong for the South American import, who won a pair of Group 1 events in his native Brazil. The race was billed as an informal sort of prep for the BMW Hong Kong Derby with several candidates in the field. After winning, trainer Danny Shum now has to figure out how to proceed.
"I'm not sure whether or not he will already have enough rating points for the Derby," the trainer said. "If he has, we might go straight there. But I'll talk to the owner and we'll make a decision whether or not we run in the Classic Cup next."
The Hong Kong Classic Cup, at 1,800 meters, is the middle leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series that ends with the 2,000-meters Derby.
Chimed in rider Grant Van Niekerk: "I think he has ability and if he is a little farther back in the run it won't be a problem. He's still learning about racing in Hong Kong and I think he'll just keep getting better."