Halladay wins Saturday's Sunshine Forever Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Photo by Ryan Thompson, courtesy of Gulfstream Park
May 11 (UPI) -- Horse racing's weekend program was short on top-level events but produced some impressive results as Laudia Sion jumped up to win the NHK Mile in Japan and Halladay whipped a tough bunch of rivals in Gulfstream Park's feature.
But as racing reached low ebb thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, hope blossomed. France was set to see horses back racing Monday after some last-minute complications were worked out.
Churchill Downs has the all-clear to resume racing Saturday. Santa Anita is set to swing back into action Friday, but still needs a final government go-ahead.
Churchill Downs has rescheduled the Kentucky Derby for Sept. 5, but Maryland and New York, hosts to the second and third legs of the Triple Crown, remain closed to racing with no date set for resumption.
The past week did, however, see finalization of legislation that will provide restoration of Pimlico Race Course and ensure the Preakness Stakes will remain at that Baltimore park.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club has doubled down, and more, on its charitable efforts related to the pandemic. See "News and Notes."
But ... let's look at the weekend action before we look any farther ahead.
Laudia Sion provided his sire, Real Impact, his first Grade 1 winner with a handy victory Sunday in the NHK Mile at Tokyo Racecourse. Real Impact is a son of the late Deep Impact, who died at age 17 just 10 months ago.
Lauda Sion, making his second start at the top level, dueled early with the favorite, 2019 juvenile filly champion Resistencia, let that one take the lead and then rallied down the stretch, leading from 200 meters out and winning by 1 1/2 lengths under Mirco Demuro. Resistencia, still winless at 3, held second, 3/4 length to the good of Gilded Mirror.
Lauda Sion ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:32.5.
"I knew that the track today ran better for front runners and, considering that he's usually an evenly-paced colt, I planned to keep him well up in front," Demuro said. "He's always quick out of the gate so we were able to secure a good position and I felt he had plenty to outrun Christophe's filly in the final stages."
In his only previous race at the Grade 1 level, Lauda Sion was eighth in the Asahi Hai Futurity at Hanshin Dec. 15 -- his only attempt farther than 1,400 meters -- and trainer Takashi Saito acknowledged before the race he was asking more of his colt.
"It's a stretch, but I think he can handle 1,600 meters," Saito said. "He's more settled than he was before, a lot more mature and his balance is good now, too."
Previous winners of the NHK Mile have gone on to win at the Classic distances in races such as the Yushun Himba or Japanese Derby and the Japan Cup and at the mile, including the Longines Hong Kong Mile, won last year by NHK Mile winner Admire Mars.
Next week's feature at Tokyo Race Course is the Grade 1 Victoria Mile. Among those lining up for the race is Almond Eye, a top-level winner both at home and in Dubai. The race this past week was added to the roster of Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" Challenge races.
Halladay jumped nicely in Saturday's $75,000 Sunshine Forever Stakes on the Gulfstream grass, seized the lead the first time under the wire and was never caught.
Aquaphobia put in a bid at mid-stretch but could not get closer than the 1 1/4 lengths by which he finished second. Social Paranoia passed a few in the late going to get show money. Halladay, a 4-year-old War Front colt from the Tapit mare Hightap, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:38.66 with Luis Saez in the irons.
That time, after quick early fractions, was just 0.55 second off Inchcape's record of 1:38.10, set in 2015. Halladay now is 3-for-3 over the course with those wins including December's Tropical Park Derby.
"He certainly likes this Gulfstream course," said Todd Pletcher, who trains both Halladay and Social Paranoia. "You could kind of see it leading up to this race. He was really in good form and training a little more relaxed in a great rhythm. He was a happy horse."
The trainer said Social Paranoia also "ran really well. He was running on at the end, but any time they go 1:32-and-change, 1:38, they're flying."
Pletcher said he has no firm plans for either runner other than staying put in Florida until the New York racing schedule is firmed up.
News and notes
The Hong Kong Jockey Club has announced a new HK$150 million Community Sustainability Fund to help fund services targeting the physical and mental well-being of underprivileged and vulnerable groups impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funding will be channeled to small and mid-size community service agencies and sports organizations designing and delivering the services and available for between six and nine months.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged our community as never before," club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said. "We hope the Community Sustainability Fund will help small and medium size community organizations in their important work providing essential services to the most vulnerable members of society. In doing so we also hope to support the diversity and vitality of the community service ecosystem."
The fund also will underwrite development of an online platform to share resources developed under club-supported COVID-19 initiatives. Other NGOs and educational institutes will be invited to publish learning materials, health-related information and virtual arts and culture experiences.
The platform, which will run for three years, is intended to serve as a useful resource hub even after the pandemic subsides. The HKJC is one of the world's top 10 charitable donors.
Finally, while this doesn't have anything to do with horse racing, but we're compelled to note Little Richard passed away this week at age 87.
He and his music were unique and, given the average age of what the late Chicago Sun-Times turf writer Dave Feldmen called "broken down horse players," many of us grew up with his music.
Now it seems Jerry Lee Lewis really is "the last man standing."