March 2 (UPI) -- American stars Maximum Security and Midnight Bisou finished 1-2 in a thrilling finish to the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup in a highlight of weekend horse racing that also saw Ete Indien emerge as a top Kentucky Derby prospect.
The Saudi Cup was the feature of a huge day of racing at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh. That card also may have produced a Kentucky Derby candidate -- one based in Japan.
Also on the international scene, Alligator Blood continued his comet-like run in Australia.
And Gulfstream Park had a big stakes day of its own, with a lot of the action on the grass.
But, naturally, we start at the top with:
The Saudi Cup
By any estimate, the field lined up for the world's richest race was well worthy of the prize with well-qualified runners from as far afield as Japan, Europe and Dubai. But the Saudi Cup, run on the highly praised King Abdulaziz dirt course, was designed to attract Americans. So, it was no surprise to see three of the top four finishers hailing from the USA.
For much of the 1,800 meters, it appeared Mucho Gusto, the Bob Baffert-trained Pegasus World Cup winner, would be the one. But he began to lengthen stride at mid-stretch and lugged out into the path of the onrushing Maximum Security -- yes, the very Maximum Security who was disqualified from victory in the 2019 Kentucky Derby.
For a few seconds, it looked as if Maximum Security was in trouble. But jockey Luis Saez redirected him inside his tiring rival and drove home first, narrowly defeating American filly Midnight Bisou. Dubai-based Benbatl edged Mucho Gusto for third. Yet another American, Tacitus, was fifth.
Winning trainer Jason Servis called the victory "vindication" for the Kentucky Derby mashup but indicated he had a bone to pick with Mucho Gusto's rider, Irad Ortiz Jr. Saez said, "That's for another day."
Servis would not be drawn out on the question whether Maximum Security will go on to the $12 million Dubai World Cup March 28. He said he and the owners, Gary and Mary West and the Irish Coolmore "lads," "will have a conference call ... and take it from there." The owners said it will be Servis' decision, and he said it will depend on the horse.
The Saudi stewards hit Midnight Bisou's jockey, Mike Smith, with a nine-day suspension for overusing his whip. The penalty also included forfeiture of 60 percent of his share of the $3.5 million second-place purse money -- about $210,000.
The Samba Saudi Derby
Full Flat, a Kentucky-bred, Japan-based colt, took full command in the stretch run of the $800,000 Samba Saudi Derby, drawing off at the top of the lane and holding well to win by 2 1/4 lengths at the end of the 1,600 meters. Mishriff, representing Great Britain, was second as two American runners and a promising filly from Dubai all disappointed.
Full Flat, with Yutaka Take up, finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, then returned to Japan to report second in an allowance race at Kyoto Jan. 18. The Saudi Derby was only the second win of his career. He was very fractious before Saturday's race, but all business once loaded into the gate.
Down On Da Bayou, a Super Saver filly who won the Group 3 UAE Oaks by 19 lengths just nine days earlier, faded from contention to get home eighth, casting doubt on her chances for the Group 3 UAE Derby, a qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby. However, Rowdy Yates, a Morning Line colt coming off a win in the Riley Allison Derby at Sunland Park, reported fourth and boosted his prospects. The other American, Billy Batts, second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last fall, finished seventh.
"We are heading to the UAE Derby next," Take said. "And then if everything goes well as planned, the Kentucky Derby must be one of our options later on."
The Saudia Cup Sprint
New York Central rolled down the stretch like a freight train in the $1.5 million Saudi Cup Sprint, nailing apparent winner Matera Sky in the final strides to win by a head. Gladiator King was third.
Matera Sky, under Yutaka Take, jumped out to take a huge lead in the 1,600-meters race and looked home free midway down the lane. But Irad Ortiz Jr. suddenly lit the afterburners on New York Central, a gray, 5-year-old son of Tapit, and he quickly narrowed the gap, rallying up the middle of the track for the win.
Previously owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing and trained by Steve Asmussen, New York Central now races for Prince Faisal Bin Khaled. His U.S. career was not particularly distinguished, peaking with a win in the Grade III Maryland Sprint Stakes last May. His previous start was a fifth-place finish in the Bet on Sunshine Stakes at Churchill Downs in November.
The $2.5 million Longines Turf Handicap
Call The Wind rallied to the lead at mid-stretch and ran on to win by 2 1/2 lengths in the $2.5 million Longines Turf Handicap, the big prize among three races on the newly installed King Abdulaziz grass course.
Call The Wind, a 6-year-old Frankel gelding, raced inside and mid-pack, picked things up around the final turn and found room between rivals to make his winning run for jockey Olivier Peslier.
Mekong, a 5-year-old also sired by Frankel, was second with the Charlie Fellowes-trained globetrotter Prince of Arran another 2 1/2 lengths back in third. The 2018 Investec Derby runner-up Dee Ex Beeled the way, and then tired to finish 10th in a field filled with world-class stayers. Contango (IRE) was a long-shot fourth and Cross Counter (GB), winner of the 2018 Lexus Melbourne Cup (G1), finished fifth.
Call The Wind was having his first start since three straight runner-up showings in top French races during late 2019. He capped those with a second in the Prix Royal-Oak (G1) at Longchamp on Oct. 27.
"He's six now," winning trainer Freddie Head said of Call The Wind. "But I think he has improved from last year. I think he's still improving."
Asked whether the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup will be next on his agenda, Head said, "It must be." But he added, "If you had told me that we would be here, running in a two and a half million-dollar race for stayers, I would have said, 'Not in your wildest dreams.'"
The other turf races
The first two turf races in Saudi history went to horses trained in Bahrain. Port Lions missed the start badly in the $1 million Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors Cup, but still was able to outfinish the luckless Japanese mare Deirdre by 1 length. Argentine-bred For the Top led most of the way in the 2,100-meters event and held on well to finish third.
Port Lions, a 5-year-old Kodiac gelding, still has not contested a pattern race since the new Saudi events are not eligible for a rating. He had a record of three wins from 16 starts coming to Bahrain from Ireland and was last seen in July in Ireland.
Deidre, after traffic problems at the top of the stretch, appeared to come to even terms with the eventual winner but could find no answer to Port Lions' second effort in the final strides. The issue was decided by little more than a head bob as Port Lions finished in 2:11.41.
"He was definitely under the radar," winning trainer Fawzi Naas said.
Bahrain, this time with the help of Frankie Dettori, also won the second turf race ever run in Saudi Arabia as Dark Power tracked down pacesetting Mubtasim in the closing strides to win the $1 million stc 1351 Turf Sprint by a head. Glorious Journey, a 5-year-old Dubawi gelding, got the sponsor's custom-tailored 1,351 meters (about 6 1/2 furlongs) in 1:19.63.
Legends of War, one of two U.S. starters, raced near the front under Rafael Bejarano but faded late to finish in a bunch behind the leaders, placed sixth. The other American, Ghoul, was not a factor and finished eighth.
Dark Power, trained by Allan Smith, was 4-for-5 in Bahrain this season. "I've been in Bahrain for 25 years," Smith said. "It's just nice for the country."
Elsewhere, around the world and around the clock:
Alligator Blood, bidding to take the baton from Winx as THE Down Under superstar, produced another good one Saturday at Flemington in the Group 1 Kennedy Australian Guineas. Shaking off a challenge from 300-1 long shot Commodus at the top of the stretch, Alligator Blood quickly put distance on his seven rivals and held well to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Superstorm and Soul Patch filled the minor placings. Alligator Blood, an All Too Hard gelding, ran 1,600 meters on good turf in 1:34.92 with the final 600 meters clocked in 33.59 seconds.
Trained by David Vandyke, Alligator Blood now has 10 wins from 11 starts.
"He's astounded me every start. He just keeps lifting. Where is the ceiling to him?" Racing.com quoted the trainer.
Malotru came running late Saturday to win the Ladbrokes Home Of The Odds Boost Spring Cup at Lingfield Park, winning going away by just 3 three lengths under Andrea Atzeni. Godolphin's Raaeb (finished second, with 7-4 favorite The Perfect Crown back in third.
The race is a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Ladbrokes Three-Year-Old All-Weather Championship over 6 furlongs at Lingfield Park on Finals Day, Good Friday, April 10. But trainer Marco Botti has other ideas for the Casamento colt.
"I think we will stick to 7 furlongs now with a view to going up to a mile and we could look at something like the [Group 3] Greenham Stakes at Newbury," Boti said. "Andrea is happy to stay at seven for the time being and eventually we could look at an easy mile. I think that is how we will campaign him, rather than going back to 6."
Saturday's race was at 7 furlongs and has produced more than its share of stars. Three-time Group 1 winner Paco Boy (2008) and star sprinter Ertijaal (2014) are among past winners.
Back in the States
The Road to the Roses
Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth was supposed to have been Dennis' Moment's moment of redemption from a Breeders' Cup disaster. Instead, it turned into a coming out party for Ete Indien. Ete Indien romped to an 8 1/2-lengths victory while Dennis' Moment quit early and finished dead last.
Candy Tycoon was second, closely followed by As Seen on Tv, Shotski and Country Grammar. Ete Indiene, with Florent Geroux riding for trainer Patrick Biancone, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.02.
Chance it, who would have been among the favorites, was a late scratch from the Fountain.
Ete Indiene earned 50 Kentucky Derby points with the win, enough to ensure a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate
"I want to see how he comes back and how he works next time," Biancone said about plans for the colt's future. "He'll need to improve to win the Florida Derby, but we are in Florida, he trains in Florida and we love Florida, so I think we'll take a shot if he is in good form."
Wherever he races next, though, the 50 points (or more) might be enough for Churchill Downs but not enough for Biancone. "He will have one more run before the Derby and if he wins next time, we'll go to the Derby. And if he doesn't win next time, he will stay home," Biancone said.
Dennis' Moment, the 6-5 favorite ridden by Flavien Prat, was never a serious factor and finished last.
Flavien Prat, who rode Dennis' Moment, said the colt "bobbled out of the gate but then after that he regrouped and I thought I was in a good spot. When I hit the five-eighths pole, he just dropped the bit and after that I was done. After that, there was no reason to beat him up. He didn't want to go."
In the standings, Ete Indien now leads with 54 points. Mr. Monomoy is second with 50, but the Risen Star Stakes winner is off the Derby trail with a minor ankle injury. Hope you didn't have him in the futures pools. They are trailed by Risen Star runner-up Enforceable, Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Storm the Court and Tiz the Law, winner of the Champagne Stakes and the Holy Bull Stakes.
Next weekend brings three races, each offering 50 points to the winner: The Gotham at Aqueduct, the San Felipe at Santa Anita and the Tampa Bay Derby. On Wednesday, the all-weather portion of the European Road to the Kentucky Derby fires up with the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes at Kempton Park.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Tonalist's Shape battled for the lead in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Davona Dale for tree-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park, and then worked clear and coasted on home in front by 1 1/4 lengths.
The favorite, Spice Is Nice, was second, 2 3/4 lengths in front of Dream Marie. Tonalist's Shape, a (gee!) Tonalist filly, covered 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.77 with Tyler Gaffalione riding. The Saffie Joseph Jr. trainee remains undefeated after five starts, all in South Florida, and earned 50 Kentucky Oaks points with the win.
"She knows how to win, that's the important thing," said Joseph, who expressed surprise his filly was on the lead in the Davona Dale. "The main thing is we've secured our spot for the Kentucky Oaks. We'll talk it over, but the Gulfstream Oaks makes sense."
The $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) at 1 1/16 miles will be run March 28 on the undercard of the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1). The 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks is May 1 at Churchill Downs.
Zulu Alpha slogged along at the back of the field in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Mac Diarmida Stakes at Gulfstream Park, joined Admission Office in a sweeping challenge around most of the field entering the stretch and battled that rival into submission late, winning by 1 length. Sadler's Joy was third, another 2 3/4 lengths in arrears. Zulu Alpha, a 7-year-old Street Cry gelding, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:11.45 under Tyler Gaffalione.
The win was Zulu Alpha's second straight, following the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational Turf and followed a close fourth-place showing in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf.
"Tyler rode him last time," said Zulu Alpha's trainer, Mike Maker. "Not much to say. Give him a shot and put him in a position to win at the quarter pole. We're looking at Old Forester [on] Derby Day and Arlington Million and Breeders' Cup. He's been effective 1 1/2 [miles], 1 3/8ths and 1 3/16ths. He's a nice horse to have."
Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Canadian Turf always promised to be a wide-open affair but in the end it turned into a stretch-running cavalry charge. Gidu shot out to a huge lead, then tired in the stretch, leaving the way for Sombeyay, under Flavien Prat, to rally past for a 1/2-length win. English Bee, Hay Dakota and Louder Than Bombs followed in close order with the first five all within about 2 lengths. Sombeyay, a 4-year-old Into Mischief colt, finished 1 mile in 1:32.44 for his first win since the Grade III Sanford at Saratoga in July of 2018.
Vitalogy shadowed the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Palm Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park, took charge when asked near the quarter pole and went on to win by 1 length. Tiesto and South Bend both found late speed to finish second and third. Vitalogy, a Kantharos gelding, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.86 with Javier Castellano at the controls. It was his first start since a late-running second from the back of the pack in the Grade III Bourbon at Keeneland last Oct. 6.
Hariboux missed the start in Saturday's $100,000 Pasadena Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita, made up ground around the turn and got by the leader late to score by 1 length. Smooth Like Strait was second, followed 3 3/4 lengths later by Club Aspen. Hariboux, a British-bred gelding by Havana Gold, completed 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.07. Umberto Rispoli had the mount for trainer Jeff Mullins.
"Umberto's done a great job with him," Mullins said of the rider and Hariboux, who started his career in England and now is 2-for-5 in the United State. "He's a very studious guy and he's a strong finisher. He's been able to take him back, drop the reins and gets him to relax very well. He showed a nice turn of foot today and he's looking like he's going to be a really nice horse."
Hieronymus led all the way to a 3/4-length victory in Saturday's $75,000 Black Gold Stakes for 3-year-olds at Fair Grounds. Pixelate was second with Bodecream another 1/2 length back in third. Hieronymus, a Girolamo colt trained by Brad Cox, ran about 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:45.97.
Filly & Mare Turf
Elizabeth Way posted a front-running upset win in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III The Very One Stakes at Gulfstream Park, edging away late to score by 1 1/4 lengths. Romantic Pursuit pursued futilely, settling for second, a neck in front of La Signare. Elizabeth Way, a 4-year-old, British-bred daughter of Frankel, was making her second U.S. start since being handed over to trainer Roger Attfield. She scored her first career victory over the course Jan. 19.
Getmotherarose overcame a rough start in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Honey Fox Stakes at Gulfstream Park, made steady progress through the field and prevailed by 1 1/2 lengths over Silver Kitten. Sistern Hanan was third and the favorite, Atomic Blonde, tired to finish eighth. Getmotherarose, a 4-year-old Get Stormy filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.73 for jockey Junior Alvarado. In her previous start, she was fourth behind winner Atomic Blonde in the South Beach Stakes on Jan. 25.
Cheermeister led throughout Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Herecomesthebride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park and saluted first by 3/4 length from the favorite, Abscond. Declarationwarrior was third. Cheermeister, a daughter of Bodemeister, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.32 with Emisael Jaramillo up. She now has four wins from five starts, the maiden win coming through a stewards' ruling.
Sprint/F&M Sprint/Dirt Mile
With Verve rallied from last of six to win Saturday's $100,000 Hutcheson Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park by a neck over the odds-on favorite, Shivaree, and another neck from Ournationonparade. With Verve, a Kantharos gelding, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.44 with Edgar Prado riding, stepping directly from the state-bred ranks into a listed stakes. He was last seen winning a $16,000 optional claimer Feb. 8.
Midnight Fantasy surged to the lead in the lane in Saturday's $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes for fillies and mares at Oaklawn Park and turned back a late bid by Amy's Challenge to win by a neck. What a Fox was third and the favorite, Break Even, finished last of six. Midnight Fantasy, a 4-year-old Midnight Lute filly, got 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.81 with Martin Garcia riding.
Adventist rallied from last of seven to win Saturday's $100,000 Bernardini Stakes in the final strides, edging Blugrascat's Smile. Ekhtibaar reported third. Adventist, a 7-year-old gelding by Any Given Saturday, ran 1 5/16 miles on a fast track in 2:16.22 with John Bisono in the irons.
Fashionably Fast battled Tiger Dad into submission in Sunday's $100,000 Tiznow Stakes for California-breds, then had to hold of the late bid of Oliver before getting home first by 1/2 length. Tiger Dad held third, another 2 1/2 lengths back. Fashionably Fast, a 5-year-old Lucky Pulpit gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.64 with Tiago Periera in the kip.
Almost lost amid the flood of stakes races Saturday at Gulfstream was a mid-level optional claimer won by Harvey Wallbanger, a Congrats colt who faded from the Kentucky Derby trail last spring after winning the Grade II Holy Bull in a major upset. Checking in next-last in a field of seven for the Saturday race was Plus Que Parfait, winner of the 2019 UAE Derby. He was placed eighth in the Kentucky Derby and finished sixth in the Belmont Stakes before reporting third in the Grade III West Virginia Derby.
Ninety One Assault took over the lead in the lane in Saturday's $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace Stakes for Louisiana-breds and drew off to win by 2 lengths over Shang. In the Navy was third. Ninety One Assault, a 7-year-old Artie Schiller gelding, toured about 1 mile of firm turf in 1:40.92 with Shaun Bridgmohan in the irons.