Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Woodbine's horse racing season ended abruptly Sunday, a victim first of the pandemic and then some nasty weather -- a terrible one-two punch only partly balanced out by promising performances in Kentucky, California and New York.
On the international scene, Gran Alegria won her third straight Grade 1 race in Japan, Hong Kong's finest tuned up for next month's big international races and Bahrain staged a satisfying second edition of its International Trophy.
Let's start with our friends north of the border, who did squeeze in some exciting racing Saturday before the government and Mother Nature lowered the boom.
(All figures in Canadian dollars)
The suburban Toronto track was hit with a double whammy during the weekend -- a government shutdown order because of the pandemic that forced cancellation of the final three weeks of the meeting, and then a winter storm that eliminated half of Sunday's unexpected "closing day" program.
The lost races included the Grade III Grey Stakes for 2-year-olds and the Grade III Mazarine Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, both with some very promising youngsters.
Canada's premier track did manage to provide a pretty spectacular sendoff, though, with a flurry of graded stakes Saturday.
Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Ontario Derby had the winners of all three Triple Crown races in the field of eight but it was Kentucky invader Field Pass who got the spoils.
The Lemon Drop Kid colt stalked the pace made by Queen's Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes winner Mighty Heart, then outfinished Breeders' Stakes winner Belichick, winning by 1 length over that one. Malibu Mambo finished third as Might Heart faded to get home fourth.
Field Pass, with Kazushi Kimura up for trainer Mike Maker, ran 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:48.24, just 0.15 second off the track record. Trained in Kentucky, he was third in the Grade II Twilight Derby at Santa Anita in his previous start.
"My planning was that I didn't want to get too forward, but I didn't want to send him to the front," said Kimura. "That was the perfect position, just waiting for room."
Ride a Comet rallied from last of seven to win Saturday's $210,000 Grade II Kennedy Road Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths as popular favorite Pink Lloyd saw his five-race win streak come to an end, finishing third, 2 lengths behind runner-up Souper Stonehenge.
"Pink Lloyd, you have to respect him," Husbands said. "He's a legend at Woodbine, and it's a great honor to run against him and try to beat him. When you beat him, you've got to be really happy, but you have to respect him."
Merveilleux raced patiently right back of the early speed in Saturday's $150,000 Ontario Damsel for province-bred 3-year-old fillies, surged to the lead a furlong out and drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths.
Avi's Samurai led briefly and held second, a neck in front of Afleet Katherine. Merveilleux, a Paynter filly from the Holy Bull mare Breech Inlet, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.37 with Rafael Hernandez in the irons.
"The championship is not based on one or two months of the year, it's over the season, and she's obviously gotten better as the season's gone on and she's at the top of the division right now," trainer Kevin Attard said.
"We're just happy that she's progressed like we wanted her to and hopefully she turns out to be a nice 4-year-old."
Artie's Princess opened a daylight lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $175,000 Grade II Bessarabian Stakes for fillies and mares and held on to win by a head over Boardroom.
It was another 3 1/2 lengths back to Our Secret Agent in third. Artie's Princess, a 3-year-old filly by We Miss Artie, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:20.90 with Kimura riding.
Finite came running down the stretch to overcome the early speed and win Saturday's $100,000 Chilukki Stakes for fillies and mares by 2 1/2 lengths.
Sanerus was second, another 1 1/4 lengths in front of Whoa Nelly. Finite, a 3-year-old Munnings filly, finished the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.53 with Ricardo Santana Jr. up.
Finite was on the Oaks trail after a win in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds in February. She then finished fourth in the Fair Gounds Oaks, was given time off and was second in the Grade II Raven Run at Keeneland in her second start back.
Asmussen said Finite will head west to tackle the $300,000 Grade I La Brea for 3-year-old fillies on Boxing Day at Santa Anita.
Extra Hope led all the way in Saturday's $100,000 Grade II Native Diver Stakes, then found enough extra in the tank to survive the late onslaught of the odds-on favorite, Midcourt, and win by 1 length. Combatant and Royal Ship completed the order of finish.
Extra Hope, a 4-year-old colt by Shanghai Bobby, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.11 with Juan Hernandez up for trainer Richard Mandella. He was second in this race last year and returned from a long break to finish fifth, then first, in a pair of allowance races.
Loud Mouth made some noise in Sunday's $100,000 Cary Grant Stakes for California-breds, outfinishing Take the One O One in the final sixteenth to win by 3/4 length at odds of 13-1.
Rookie Mistake was third and the favorite, Galilean, settled for fourth. Loud Mouth, a 4-year-old Boisterous colt, was close to the lead all the way under Abel Cedillo. Moving up outside the leaders through the stretch run, he hit the front inside the sixteenth pole and inched clear, finishing 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.34.
North Dakota got the best of an eight-horse charge to the wire in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Red Smith on the Big A turf, winning by 1/2 length from Red Knight. Ziyad was third, and the favorite, Sadler's Joy, finished fourth as the first eight were separated by less than 3 lengths.
North Dakota, a 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro colt, raced in mid-pack under Jose Lezcano, put away early challengers Red Knight and Ziyad and held off the late bids of the remainder. He finished 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:16.47.
The colt has been a late bloomer. After taking seven tries to find the winner's circle, he scored in two of three allowance races, then was fourth in the Grade III Sycamore at Keeneland on Oct. 15.
"With his pedigree, being a half-brother to War Front, this means a lot in that respect," said North Dakota's trainer, Shug McGaughey. "He's comes a long way. I wouldn't have thought he would be running in the Red Smith back when he broke his maiden at Tampa on March 25.
Sunday brought two $100,000 divisions of the New York Stallion Stakes for state-bred steeds.
Espresso Shot shadowed the early leader in the Staten Island Division for fillies and mares, got the lead early in the stretch run and dug in to win by 2 lengths.
Prairie Fire and Officer Hutchy filled out the trifecta. Espresso Shot, a 4-year-old Mission Impazible filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.64 with John Velazquez riding.
In the Thunder Rumble Division, Funny Guy came running late to win by a neck over My Boy Tate, who appeared to have things under control at the sixteenth pole.
Venezuelan Hug came from the clouds to win Saturday's $60,000 Millions Turf Preview, outfinishing Second Mate by a head. Scraps finished third and the favorite, Monforte, was a fading seventh.
Venezuelan Hug, a 3-year-old Constitution colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.34 for jockey Joe Bravo.
Inthewinnerscircle lived up to her name in Saturday's $60,000 Juvenile Fillies Turf for state-breds, rallying from next-last of 10 to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Yafa. Double
Blessed was another 1/2 length back in third. Inthewinnerscircle, a Medaglia d'Oro filly, got 1 mile on firm going in 1:38.70 with Edgard Zayas up.
Saturday's and Sunday's turf races were rescheduled from the previous weekend to avoid the impact of the tropical storms that have soaked Florida. That worked out fine Saturday, but Sunday's races fell victim, anyway, to a move from the turf to the sloppy main track.
Big Thorn, the favorite, splashed to victory in the $60,000 Juvenile Turf Stakes for Florida-breds. A colt by The Big Beast, Big Thorn stalked the pace, advanced to the lead in the lane and got away to win by 4 1/2 lengths.
Fulmini and Castle King were second and third, respectively. Big Thorn, with Paco Lopez up, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.23.
Thismytime apparently found the sloppy conditions of the $60 million Millions Filly & Mare Turf Preview added up to just her time as the 3-year-old Carpe Diem filly quickly shook loose from eight rivals and won off by 11 3/4 lengths.
Starship Nala was best of the rest with the favorite, R Prerogative, third. Thismytime ran 7 furlongs in 1:21.40 for Bravo. The race was for state-bred distaffers.
Golden Gate Fields
The ongoing pandemic restrictions kept the Bay Area track offline for another weekend. The casualties included Saturday's Oakland Stakes for sprinters on the all-weather course.
Around the world, around the clock:
With some 300 meters to run in Sunday's Grade 1 Mile Championship, favorite Gran Alegria appeared to be in trouble. The 4-year-old filly, seeking her third straight Grade 1 score, was well positioned right behind the leading pack and full of run.
But that pack was spread out across the track in front of her and she had other traffic on the outside.
Jockey Christophe Lemaire, Japan's leading rider, found the answer. Edging outside the front quartet, he got through, showed his filly daylight and she did the rest, rolling home first by a convincing 3/4 length.
Last year's winner, Indy Champ, was second, with Admire Mars third.
Lemarie said Gran Alegria, a daughter of Deep Impact, "was relaxed and we had a good trip until the last turn where, as a favorite, you're marked. And it so happens, but we weren't able to make our move to the outside smoothly for the stretch run."
He added: "I was a little worried. But the way she exploded into gear in the last 150 meters, it just shows how powerful she is and I'm looking forward to a great season from her as a 5-year-old."
Gran Alegria won the Grade 1 Oka Sho or Japanese 1,000 Guineas in April of 2019 for her first top-level win.
She opened this season with a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Takamatsunomia Kinen at Chukyo Racecourse, and then reeled off back-to-back wins in the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo Racecourse June 7 and the Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse on Oct. 4.
Sunday's Group 2 Jockey Club races at Sha Tin Racecourse are designed as a final shakedown cruise for the local horses bound for the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong International Races three weeks down the road. This year's edition left the locals feeling pretty good about things.
Hong Kong's promising star of the future, Golden Sixty, powered to an impressive win in the Jockey Club Mile and will head to the Longines Mile on Dec. 13.
Trainer Tony Cruz had the 1-2 finishers in the Jockey Club Cup at 2,000 meters and both will go on to Longines-sponsored races -- Exultant to the 2,400-meters Vase and Furore to the 2,000-meters Cup. And Hot King Prawn showed renewed prowess in winning the Jockey Club Sprint.
In the Jockey Club Mile, Vincent Ho, aboard Golden Sixty, let familiar rival Ka Ying Star set a soft pace down the riverside backstretch and around the turn.
But when Ho unleashed him, Golden Sixty was more than up to the challenge, blowing by Ka Ying Star to win by 1 1/2 lengths over that rival for his 10th straight victory. He will face Group 1 company for the first time in December.
"I think at the moment he's one of the best horses in Hong Kong," Ho said of Golden Sixty. "That's for sure. He'll be competing at Group 1 [level] now, and hopefully we will be winning next month.
"That was our main goal and main target from last season and these three races have been really good prep for him. He's got stronger each race and I'm really happy with how those races panned out for him."
Furore's victory in the Jockey Club Cup was his second straight win, both of them over stablemate Exultant. Those two races came after a 19-month win drought for the 2019 BMW Hong Kong Derby winner but, together, the successes were impressive enough to make him a likely candidate for the Longines Cup.
"I've been asked what the key about this horse is," said winning jockey Joao Moreira, Hong Kong's current leading rider.
"But there is no key. I just got on him at the right time. He's flying and he's shown how much class he has got and how well Tony Cruz has got him going at the moment," he said.
"I'm glad they're not in the same race," Cruz said of Furore and Exultant, looking forward to December. "We'll go straight into the International Races with them. We are ready."
In the Jockey Club Sprint, Hot King Prawn, second in the Longines Sprint last December, "won with authority," Moreira said. "I just couldn't be any happier with him. He's going to December as an improving horse."
Hot King Prawn benefited in Sunday's race from some bad luck suffered by rivals. A few were badly blocked in the stretch run and Rattan, who missed the break badly, was flying on the outside to finish third behind runner-up Computer Patch.
The field for the Longines Hong Kong Sprint also is expected to include recent Australian import Classique Legend, who was imported after a win in The Everest back home.
Friday's second running of the Bahrain International Trophy provided plenty of smiles for the local owners and establishment as locally trained Simsir celebrated a dramatic victory. Locally owned Global Giant was a just-missed second and another local trainee, Port Lions, finished fourth.
The victory was doubly sweet as the race drew an impressive international lineup and Sovereign, the 2019 Irish Derby winner, was third with a late run.
Simsir, a 4-year-old Zoffany gelding purchased from his breeder, the Aga Khan, took the lead early in the stretch run and opened up a huge advantage.
As he began to shorten stride, Frankie Dettori had Global Giant flying on the outside and Ryan Moore was gaining aboard Sovereign. Simsir prevailed by a neck with Global Giant a nose to the good of Sovereign.
"I took the bull by the horns at the five-furlong pole and kicked on from there," said winning rider Lee Newman, a Scotsman who rode Simsir for the first time.
"It's a track that you can do that if your horse is a galloper and he is that. It is down to [winner trainer Fawzi Abdulla Nass] for putting his trust in me as he could have asked any jockey from anywhere in the world, but he asked me. I am delighted."
"To win such an amazing race is an absolute thrill," Nass added. "He has done it so bravely. [Former trainer] Mick Halford always assured me that he likes it firm and he was right. For me, it was the jockey's race. I thought he committed early in the straight, but he proved me wrong."
Simsir scored his fourth win from 10 career starts but first since Feb. 27, when he led home a quartet of Godolphin rivals in a handicap at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. He had never faced rivals of the caliber of Global Giant or Sovereign.
Sovereign, a Galileo colt racing for the Coolmore connections, was supplemented to the Bahrain showpiece race. He was out of action for nearly a year after his Irish Derby win and Friday's showing was his best effort to date after that break.
Global Giant, a 5-year-old son of Shamardal, campaigned in England during the 2020 season under the care of John Gosden, winning a listed race at Newbury in July. Global Giant is owned by Sheik Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, a key figure in the creation of the race and a promoter of its future.
"The right horses were by the front so we hope the race will achieve pattern status next year," Sheik Isa said. "We'll be back next season, absolutely."
Organizers told Dubai Racing Channel's Laura King they hope to add an international sprint to the program for 2021.
Inspirational Girl, the favorite, won Saturday's Group 1 Kirin Railway Stakes at Ascot in Western Australia by 1 3/4 lengths over Too Close the Sun.
With Willie Pike riding, Inspirational Girl was back in mid-pack, among rivals, with 200 meters to run, challenging for the lead at the 100-meters mark and going away at the wire.
Uni Time was a close-up third. Inspirational Girl, a 5-year-old, New Zealand-bred mare by Reliable Man, ran 1,600 meters in 1:33.79, winning her third straight race.