April 20 (UPI) -- It was a good weekend of horse racing for favorites, as people's choices Ce Ce and Whitmore won graded stakes in Arkansas and the favorites finished 1-2 in the Japanese 2000 Guineas.
King's Legacy also won as the favorite in Australia, stamping himself as best among the island continent's 2-year-olds.
Pickings remain slim, however, as most of the world's tracks remain shuttered in response to the spread of the coronavirus. Plans to reopen are in the works from South Africa to Southern California, all requiring a go-ahead from various government health authorities.
Meanwhile, we enjoy the good things we do have, rather than dwelling on what's on hold:
A pair of California invaders finished 1-2 in Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Apple Blossom -- a major stop on the annual dance card for the nation's best fillies and mares. Ce Ce, starting from the outside gate in a field of 14, laid up behind the leaders while Ollie's Candy, sent quickly from the No. 1 slot, battled to the lead and held the advantage to the final strides.
With Victor Espinoza up, Ce Ce just did get the job done, nipping Ollie's Candy in the final yards, officially winning by a head. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to Point of Honor, who rallied from last to finish third. Ce Ce, a lightly raced, 4-year-old daughter of Elusive Quality, finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.14, notching her third straight win while backing up victory in the Grade I Beholder Mile at Santa Anita March 14.
The disappointment in the race was 2019 Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress, who was right with the leaders until she ran out of gas in the lane, finishing 11th, beaten by more than 12 lengths.
"It was great," Espinoza said of Ce Ce's trip. "The idea was to break sharp. I had to use my brains a little to not go into the first turn too wide. I thought if I could hit the turn four or five wide, then I'm in good shape. ...
"Down the backside I had to put her in the race because I didn't want the speed to get away from me. At the three-eighths, I put her behind the speed and just waited. Turning for home I was just loaded. It's always fun to ride horses like Ce Ce. She's an amazing filly."
In Saturday's co-featured $350,000 Grade III Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, Whitmore did it again. The 7-year-old, who won the Count Fleet in 2017 and 2018, then finished second last year, came with a wide, late run to win this year's edition by 3/4 mile. He outfinished Flagstaff, who rallied from last and was gobbling up ground right to the wire. Manny Wah was third at odds of nearly 75-1.
Whitmore, a Pleasantly Perfect gelding who loves Oaklawn Park, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.95 with Joe Talamo at the controls for trainer Ron Moquette.
"I'm proud for him," Moquett said. "I'm noticing lately people saying, 'The great' and 'legendary.' People that are saying that don't throw around those words. To me, he's been that. But it's so cool to see this horse that has so many people that love him and follow him to be able to do what he does and to make a lot of people that happy."
Unfortunately, Whitmore's fans had to cheer remotely as Oaklawn, like most if not all tracks still running, is closed to the public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Friday's stakes doubleheader was for Arkansas-bred 3-year-olds.
In the $100,000 Rainbow, Man in the Can found late speed, ranged up outside the leaders and went on to win by 1/2 length from Captain Don. Tempt Fate was third and the pacesetting favorite, Zaino Boyz, faded to finish fourth after starting from the outside gate.
Man in the Can, a Can the Man colt, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.64 with Joel Rosario in the irons.
Sekani stalked the pace in the fillies-only $100,000 Rainbow Miss, drove by in the lane and won by 1 1/2 lengths. The Mary Rose, lacking running room at a key point, settled for second with Choctaw Charlie third as the favorite.
Sekani, a gray filly by Double Irish, reported in 1:10.92 under Declan Cannon. Sekani and The Mary Rose are both homebreds from long-time Arkansas racing fixture John Ed Anthony's Shortleaf Stable.
The 2-year-olds were back at it Friday with Gatsby chasing down front-running Golden Pal to win the day's second race, a maiden special weight event, by 3/4 length. None of the other six was involved for the win but Just Right Mike got show money, finishing another 3 lengths in arrears. Gatsby, a Bretheren colt, ran 4 1/2 furlongs in 52.36 seconds with Emisael Jaramillo up for trainer Juan Alvarado.
Golden Pal, an Uncle Mo colt, couldn't maintain the pace after being clocked in 21.58 seconds for the first quarter mile. He did fight back gamely under Tyler Gaffalione to keep things close. Wesley Ward trains Golden Pal and the result was a repeat of Thursday's 2-year-old filly clash between the Alvarado-trained Quinoa Tifah and Ward's Lime.
"I told him to do the same thing as yesterday -- that was the concept -- and he did," said Heather Smullen, Alvarado's Gulfstream Park-based assistant. "I said, 'See where you break. If the other horse outruns you, he'll keep running. Don't give up on him.' So he got him outside and then asked him to run."
Thursday's and Friday's 2-year-old heat were run under new rules banning the race-day administration of the anti-bleeding medication Lasix and requiring all horses to have reached their actual third birthday by the day of the race.
For other purposes, all Northern Hemisphere-foaled Thoroughbreds are deemed to have the same birthday -- Jan. 1 -- no matter whether they were born in January or May.
Sunday's Grade 1 Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2000 Guineas was billed as a preview of the Japanese Derby and a showdown between Contrail and Salios, the winners of the two major year-ending Grade 1 races for 2-year-olds. Both entered their 3-year-old debut undefeated after three starts last year.
Things played out just as the form indicated. Salios remained in loose touch with the leaders during the early part of the 2,000-meters race at Nakayama Racecourse, while Contrail lagged well back. As things heated up heading for the final turn, jockey Damian Lane found room between horses for Salios and he briefly assumed the lead.
Contrail, with Yuichi Fukunaga in the irons, was forced to swing out to the middle of the track to find room but still was able to catch Salios 100 meters and out got by that stubborn rival, winning by 1/2 length.
The difference may have been the distance. Contrail a Deep Impact colt, was named champion 2-year-old after winning the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at 2,000 meters in his third start. Salios, a son of Heart's Cry, captured the Grade I Asahi Hai Futurity to conclude his undefeated season but all three of his races were at 1,600 meters.
Contrail's assistant trainer, Shigeki Miyauchi, said before the race his colt was prepared for exactly the battle that developed. "We've mostly concentrated on his finish in training," Miyauchi said. "His win over the course and distance [in the Hopeful] was a good one."
The Satsuki Sho is a lead-in to the May 31 Tokyo Yushun, or Japanese Derby, which is run at 2,400 meters. Contrail's excellent finish Sunday gave his rider confidence he can handle that distance, as his sire did en route to winning the Japanese Triple Crown.
"His power was so that I thought we might pull away," Fukunaga said. "But Salios didn't let us win so easily. Winning the way he did today, I am confident that he has every reason to handle the extended distance in the coming Derby."
Tofane turned in the upset win in Saturday's Group 1 Schweppes All Aged Stakes at Royal Randwick, just getting up in the final jump to edge Pierata with two more wagering outsiders, Fasika and Super Seth finishing third and fourth.
Bivouac, the lukewarm favorite, settled for fifth at the end of the 1,400 meters, clocked in 1:21.63 over good turf. Opie Bosson had the winning ride on Tofane, a 4-year-old, New Zealand-bred mare by Ocean Park, who landed her first top-level score.
Pierata, making the final start of his stellar career, looked to go out a winner until the closing jumps of the All Aged. But Bosson kept after Tofane and it was no more than a head-bob decision at the end.
"We decided after her spring campaign that we would only target Group One races this autumn," winning trainer Mike Morone told Sky Racing. "I told her owners she would get beaten in a few but I know she will win one. ... This is a great result and we will put her away now and set her for The Everest in the spring."
King's Legacy edged Glenfiddich in the day's second feature, the Group 1 Moet & Chandon Champagne Stakes for 2-year-olds, with Ole Kirk third. King's Legacy, a Redoute's Choice colt, finished the 1,600 meters in 1:36.43 over good turf. He backed up his win April 4 in the Group 1 Inglis Sires Stakes, where Ole Kirk reported fourth and Glenfiddich sixth. He was ninth in the Group 1 Golden Slipper.
Glenfiddich showed the way in the Champagne as the expected leader, Holyfield, blew the start, then rushed up to press the pace. Hugh Bowman settled King's Legacy well back of the speed, got him going as the field rounded the bend and came to even terms 100 meters out. Glenfiddich battled on but King's Legacy had just enough, winning by a neck.
Coolmore bought a stake in the colt between his Group 1 wins and the global juggernaut's Tom Magnier said the decision looks every bit as good as hoped.
"We are always trying to find these colts and we have landed on one here," Magnier said.
"He has always been a very good-looking horse and is dual Group 1 winner at [age] 2. He is a very exciting colt going forward."