Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Two American-bred horses won important races Sunday in Japan that could bring them back across the Pacific for the Kentucky Derby in May and the Breeders' Cup in November.
In Hong Kong, an Australian-bred colt by a top American sire moved along on the road to the Hong Kong Derby. And a French-bred horse, chased by an American, won the biggest Thoroughbred race of the year in Doha, Qatar.
It was a relatively slow week on the actual Road to the Kentucky Derby so let's save that for later and start with the Japanese version, leading the segment we call:
Around the world, around the clock:
Sunday's program at Tokyo Racecourse was headed by the Grade 1 February Stakes at 1 mile on the dirt. But two races earlier, 3-year-olds were on display in the third leg of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby," the Hyacinth Stakes. And it was Kentucky-bred Cafe Pharoah vaulting to the top of the standings in that series with a 1 1/4-lengths victory over Tagano Beauty and Yaugau.
Cafe Pharoah, making just his second start, missed the break and trailed the field down the backstretch. He picked things up around the sweeping Tokyo Racecourse turn before wearing down the leaders late. He earned 30 points toward a Kentucky Derby invitation, putting him 10 ahead of Vacation, the winner of the second race in the series, who did not contest the Hyacinth.
Plans for the colt are up in the air and trainer Noriyuki Hori, as is his custom, was noncommittal after Cafe Pharoah's win. "As for the future plan for the horse, I will discuss with the owner and decide," Hori said. The colt is nominated to the Triple Crown.
The series concludes March 28 at Nakayama with the Fukuryu Stakes offering 40-16-8-4 points, so the issue remains in doubt.
In the February Stakes, Mozu Ascot, a 6-year-old son of Frankel, making only his second career start on the dirt, hit an extra gear in the stretch run and won off by 2 1/2 lengths with 142-1 chance K T Brave second and Sunrise Nova third.
The victory was worth an automatic bid to November's Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland as part of the international Challenge series. His owners, racing as Capital System Co., Ltd., made no commitment to that race but already have indicated they are open to international travel, targeting the Doncaster Mile (G1) in Australia on April 4.
Mozu Ascot, bred at Summer Wind Farm in Kentucky, won the Yasuda Kinen (G1) on the turf in 2018, and the February win made him the fifth horse to win top-level Japanese races on both surfaces.
Golden Sixty, far from his peak form, nonetheless found enough stuffing in the late going to win Sunday's Hong Kong Classic Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse and retain the favorite's role for next month's BMW Hong Kong Derby.
The Medaglia d'Oro gelding was an impressive winner in last month's Hong Kong Classic Mile, the first race in the Four-Year-Old Classic series that culminates in next month's Derby. But after that race, he came down with a fever and his start in Sunday's race was in doubt until after a satisfactory work Friday.
"Everybody knew he had a temperature two weeks ago," trainer Francis Lui said. "I was very worried he would miss this race. I tried everything to work it out and finally we got it and he still performed today."
Golden Sixty raced well back in the field into the turn. After waiting for running room exiting the turn, jockey Vincent Ho got enough effort from his mount to edge Champion's Way and jockey Ryan Moore by 1/2 length. Golden Sixty's stablemate, More Than This, was third for jockey Zac Purton.
"He's not 100 percent, that's for sure. He's about 75 or 80 percent," Ho said. "He won this race because he has a really good fighting heart."
Lui said Golden Sixty is still his choice among Derby contenders, adding, "More Than This is also a good horse and I think he also ran well."
French King made it back-to-back wins in Qatar's biggest Thoroughbred race, scoring an easy victory Saturday in the local Group 1 HH The Emir's Trophy and validating his claim to a spot among the world's top middle-distance runners. The only American entrant in the 1 1/2-miles turf race at Al Rayyan Racecourse, Standard Deviation, acquitted himself well, finishing with a rush to get up for second.
French King, a 5-year-old son of French Fiftee, led all the way with Olivier Peslier riding him confidently. He never was seriously challenged. The Emir's Trophy was his first start since a ninth-place showing in the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp on Oct. 6. Before that, he won the Group 1 Longines Grosser Preis von Berlin at Hoppegarten and Group 2 events at Cologne and Hamburg.
Owned by Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa al Thani and bred at Umm Qarn Farms, he is trained in France by Henri-Alex Pantal.
"He is a very good horse, very courageous," French-based trainer Henri-Alex Pantal said in post-race interviews. Asked if he might return seeking a hat trick in 2021, the trainer said, "I hope."
Standard Deviation, racing for the first time since finishing third in the Grade I Hollywood Derby at Del Mar on Nov. 30, was gaining ground quickly in the late going but, by that time, the winner was being geared down. Previously owned by Klaravich Stables and trained by Chad Brown, Standard Deviation, a 4-year-old by Curlin, was sold to Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Thani and moved to Graham Motion's barn after the Del Mar race.
Dubai Warrior made a bit of a mockery of a promised showdown with Bangkok in Saturday's Group 3 Betway Winter Derby at Lingfield Park. The 4-year-old son of Dansili, with Frankie Dettori at the controls, assumed command at the start of the 10 furlongs and wasn't for catching. Court House and Bangkok chased through the stretch to no avail with Court House finishing second, just less than 3 lengths back and 1/2 length to the good of Bangkok.
Dubai Warrior came into the race on the back of an impressive victory over the course and distance in the Betway Quebec Stakes in December, his fourth victory from five starts on the All-Weather, while Bangkok had set a course record in the Betway Winter Derby Trial on Feb. 1. Saturday's race was a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Betway Easter Classic over the course and distance on Good Friday, April 10.
"Dubai Warrior will head for the Easter Classic next, said Gosden, whose runners Wissahickon and Court House finished 1-2 in last year's Winter Derby. "The plan was always the Quebec, then try to win this before going on to Good Friday. It is a wonderful program here and I am a supporter of it."
Earlier on the card, Hareem Queen won the Betway Hever Sprint Stakes at 5 furlongs -- her fourth win from her last five all-weather starts.
Tagaloa narrowly upset favorite Hanseatic in Saturday's AUS$1.5 million Group 1 Neds Blue Diamond Stakes for 2-year-olds at Caulfield. Personal was third. Tagaloa, by the promising young Japanese stallion Lord Kanaloa, improved to two wins from four starts while racing for the first time at the top level. For the sire, it was his fourth Group or Grade 1 winner, first in Australia. Michael Walker had the mount for trainers Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young.
While most winners on the day rode what Americans might call a speed bias, Tagaloa toughed it out outside of the leaders, not taking the advantage until the 300-meters mark in the 1,200-meters event. Busuttin said the colt now is a candidate for the March 21 Golden Slipper at Rosehill.
On the same program, Streets of Avalon upset Super Seth in the Group 1 PFD Food Services Futurity for 3-year-olds and up, winning by a neck under Ben Melham, and Pippie made it a hat trick of Group 1 upsets, winning the Neds Oakleigh Plate by 1/2 length from Zoutori with the favorite, Bivouac, relegated to sixth.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
The Road to the Roses
A bit of a quiet week was enlivened Sunday as Sir Rick drew off late to win the $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico by 4 lengths. Top Draw led early and held on for place money, 3 1/4 lengths in front of Stackin' Silver. Sir Rick, a Paynter colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track under Francisco Arrieta in 1:44.23. Currently based at Sam Houston Race Park in Texas, the Robertino Diodoro trainee now has won four of his last five starts.
The Mine That Bird Derby offered no points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard and Sir Rick is an unlikely candidate for Louisville on the first Saturday in May. But the same would have been said about the race's namesake when he finished second in the race -- then called the Borderland Derby -- in 2009. And he, famously, went on to splash home first at odds of 50-1 in that year's Kentucky Derby in a perfect mixture of a sloppy track, jockey Calvin Borel and an opening along the rail.
Kentucky Oaks Preps
It was only a 6-furlongs spin but Frank's Rockette looked pretty impressive in Saturday's $75,000 Any Limit Stakes at Gulfstream Park, leading all the way and then kicking loose late to win by 7 lengths. Sound Machine was best of the rest, 5 3/4 lengths in front of Fujairah. Frank's Rockette, an Into Mischief filly, got home in 1:09.51, a smidgeon faster than older males accomplished later in the same card.
After winning at first asking at Churchill Downs in June, the Bill Mott trainee had posted runner-up finishes in the Grade II Adirondack and Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga and the Grade I Frizette before being put away for the winter.
Mott wasn't fueling any speculations about the Kentucky Oaks or other two-turn races.
"She's pretty effective at those one-turn distances and there's a lot of opportunities for her up to a mile, I would say," Mott said. "Just sitting here and thinking, you have the Acorn (a $700,000 Grade I mile around one turn at Belmont Park). Is she that good? Well, we could always find out. You got some nice races at Saratoga. She could have a nice year at 6 and 7 furlongs even if you didn't stretch her out."
On Sunday at Sunland Park in the Land of Enchantment, a pair of Golden Gate Fields shippers, Shanghai Keely and Brave Cinderella, finished 1-2 in the $75,000 Island Fashion Stakes. Dynasty of Her Own, based at Santa Anita, finished third after pressing the pace and leading briefly. Shanghai Keely, a Shanghai Bobby filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.00 with Jimmy Coates in the irons. It was her second win from seven starts.
Filly & Mare Turf
Keeper Ofthe Stars edged by previously undefeated Jolie Olimpica in the closing yards of Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Buena Vista at Santa Anita by 1/2 length. Jolie Olimpica held second by a similar margin from the late effort of Mucho Unusual. Keeper Ofthe Stars, a 4-year-old Midnight Lute filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.15 with Abel Cedillo getting the leg up from Jonathan Wong. The victory was a bit of a breakthrough for the gray filly who was last seen finishing sixth in the Grade III Megahertz.
"I thought if we could get her to relax off the pace today, she could make one run," The Blood-Horse quoted Cedillo. "I got her back going into the first turn and she relaxed really good. The distance was perfect, and she finished really strong."
Mike Smith, who rode Jolie Olimpica, had a different tale to tell. "Going from a sprint to a route today, she just didn't relax," Smith said. "She was pulling, and when she does that, she's not breathing the way she needs to."
Jackson, under Luis Saez, shadowed pacesetting Admiral Lynch into the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III World of Trouble Stakes at Gulfstream Park, eased by that rival nearing the sixteenth pole and won by 3/4 length. Epic Dreamer loomed a bold threat outside the front two but flattened out to finish third. Jackson, a 4-year-old Kantharos colt, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.55. Normally seen running against Florida-breds, Jackson scored his first graded stakes win at odds of 13-1.
"Hey, he's a homebred, so we must be happy," said trainer Jose Pinchin, whose wife bred the winner. "The mare is worth something. It's a Grade III."
Faction Cat rushed up to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Turf Dash at Tampa Bay Downs and showed the way, then held on to win by 3/4 length over the favorite, Justaholic. It was a further 5 1/2 lengths to Mai Ty One On in third. Faction Cat, a 7-year-old Wildcat Heir gelding, zipped 5 furlongs over firm going in course-record time of 53.97 with Albin Jiminez riding. He made it back-to-back victories over the Tampa green.
Jean Elizabeth, the pride of Illinois, led from the start in Saturday's $100,000 Lightning City Stakes for fillies and mares at Tampa Bay and reported first by 1/2 length. Miss Deplorable was second, another 1/2 length to the good of R Happy Ending. Jean Elizabeth, a 5-year-old Adios Charlie mare bred in the Land of Lincoln, finished the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.05, with Jiminez up for trainer and part-owner Larry Rivelli. She now has seven straight wins and has not been worse than third in 20 career starts.
A heavy odds-on favorite is supposed to win with authority by Mr. Buff was really flexing his muscles in Saturday's $100,000 Haynesfield Stakes for New York-breds, winning off by 20 lengths. Honor Up and Syndergaard were second and third as Mr. Buff, a 6-year-old Friend or Foe gelding finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.22 under Junior Alvarado.
It was his sixth straight win in state-bred company and, while he has proved ineffective in past tries against graded stakes competition and out of state, trainer John Kimmel said he may get another chance at the big time.
"We'll see how the numbers come back and evaluate the time frame," Kimmel said. "Every time I took him out of town, I wasn't happy with what happened, but right now he seems to be very well." He suggested the $1 million Grade II Oaklawn Handicap in Arkansas on April 16 might not be out of the question.
Bye Bye J pressed the pace made by long shot Matapan in Saturday's $125,000 Downthedustyroad Breeders' Stakes for Arkansas-bred fillies and mares, led late and edged away to a 1 1/4-lengths victory. George's Reward finished third, 3 1/2 lengths back of Matapan. Bye Bye J, a 4-year-old Uncaptured filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.50 under Ricardo Santana Jr.
Sam Houston Race Park
Four stakes races on Saturday were all for state-bred horses. They also were all for jockey Deshawn Parker.
Texas Belle hit the lead in the lane in the $75,000 Miss Houston Turf Stakes for fillies and mares and drew off to win by 4 lengths. She's Pretty Lucky and Zarelda were second and third. Texas Belle, an 8-year-old mare by Angliana, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.15 with Parker riding.
Dust a Flying drew clear of a four-horse stretch battle to win the $75,000 Two Altazano for 3-year-old fillies by 3/4 length. It's My Money was second as Tell Me U Love Me and Brightest settled for third and fourth. Dust a Flying, a daughter of Early Flyer, covered 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.19 with Parker aboard.
Redatory pressed the pace made by Sunlit Song in the $75,000 Houston Turf, then went by and won off by 4 1/4 lengths. Cowboy Bling edged Sunlit Song for second. Redatory, a 5-year-old Oratory gelding, finished 1 1/16 miles on the grass in 1:44.68 with Parker making it a consecutive-races hat trick.
And Parker made it a hat-trick-plus-one, piloting Gold Pilot to an off-the-pace, 2 3/4-lengths victory in the $75,000 Jim's Orbit Stakes for 3-year-olds. Good Judgment, the odds-on favorite, was second and the early leader, Bubba Bling, settled for third. Gold Pilot ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.33.
"This is my first ever time winning four stakes and, trust me, it feels great," Paulick Report quoted Parker, a two-time Sam Houston riding champion.
Incidentally, there seems to be no commonly accepted term for a four-goal game in either soccer or hockey, much less for Parker's accomplishment.
Ice Princess, always in close attendance to the lead, took command in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 Maddie May Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies and drew off, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. Courageous Girl was second, 5 3/4 lengths clear of Myawaya in third. Ice Princess, a Palace Malice filly out of the Awesome Again mare Happy Clapper, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.70. Manny Franco rode.
Blazing Navarone led from the early jumps in Sunday's $100,000 Albert and Henry Dominguez Memorial for New Mexico-breds and ran on strongly to win by 3 1/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Rig Time. Go For a Stroll strolled in third, another 4 1/2 lengths back. Blazing Navarone, a 5-year-old Song of Navarone, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.67 with Ry Eikleberry up.
Effort N Result rallied from next-last of 10 to win Sunday's $100,000 Red Hedeman Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds by 3/4 length over Evacuee. Cerveza was another 2 3/4 lengths in arrears finishing third. Effort N Result, a Shame On Charlie gelding, ran 1 mile in 1:39.45 for jockey Ken Tohill.