Nov. 30 (UPI) -- High-class horse racing action happened across North America during the Thanksgiving weekend, including some early stirrings on the Kentucky Derby trail, but the spotlight was firmly fixed across the Pacific Ocean on Almond Eye, who raced into retirement -- and the record books -- with a victory in Sunday's Japan Cup.
Back in the United States, trainer Chad Brown sent a small herd across the continent to try Del Mar's weekend turf stakes. How did that work out? Read on.
On the Classic front, Bodexpress turned in a minor upset win in the Grade I Clark at Churchill Downs.
Settle in and read all about it:
The Japan Cup
Sunday's Grade 1 Japan Cup had it all with three Triple Crown winners in the field and fans' darling Almond Eye making her final start.
The race lived up to its billing in every possible way. Almond Eye won with authority, displaying her deadly turn of foot through the final 200 meters. And this year's Triple Crown and filly Triple Crown champions, Contrail and Daring Tact, finished second and third.
Almond Eye, a daughter of champion sprinter Lord Kanaloa, chased down breakaway leader Kiseki to secure the win impressively.
The 3-year-old rivals, each undefeated before the race, came running late behind the winner and delivered on the promise of their youth without seriously threatening Almond Eye for the win.
For Almond Eye, it was a ninth victory at the top level -- a record eight in Japan and a ninth in the 2019 Dubai Turf. Those wins include all three legs of the 2018 filly Triple Crown plus that year's Japan Cup. She also retires with the Japanese earnings record, just north of 1.9 billion Japanese yen -- more than US$18 million.
It was a bittersweet moment for both jockey Christophe Lemaire and trainer Sakae Kunieda but both had their eyes on the future.
"Almond Eye is a perfect mare and doesn't have any weak points," Lemaire said. "Her career as a race horse ended today but I look forward to riding her children."
"We did feel pressure," Kunieda added. "All we wanted was for her to come back safe and sound. The victory is such a bonus, we couldn't be happier.
"She has given us so much excitement and joy and it has been fulfilling to be a part of her career. It would be great if I could be involved in training her colt or filly someday."
While plans for the 3-year-olds were not announced, the future of Japanese racing -- and perhaps more -- now belongs to Contrail and Daring Tact.
Contrail, a Deep Impact colt from the Unbridled's Song mare Rhodochrosite, saw his undefeated string end at seven. He has four Grade 1 wins with the 2019 Hopeful Stakes at Nakayama added to the Triple Crown victories.
Daring Tact, by 2014 Japan Cup winner Epiphaneia, lost for the first time in her sixth start but proved she is perfectly capable of competing against older males -- a big step up.
The only logical race left for them this year would be the Grade 1 Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) at Nakayama on Dec. 27.
The Road to the Roses
Keepmeinmind rallied from last of nine to win Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, an early indicator for the Kentucky Derby.
The Laoban colt, third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in his last start, worked his way to the outside to launch his bid at the quarter pole, slowly reeled in rivals and hit the front inside the final furlong.
Keepmeinmind was second in each of his first two starts, latterly the Grade I Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.
The Kentucky Jockey Club is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series and the win earned 10 points for Keepmeinmind, putting him in second place behind only Essential Quality, winner of both the Breeders' Futurity and the Juvenile.
Keepmeinmind "showed his talent today," said trainer Robertino Diodoro. "He's had some tough trips previously and, even though he was a maiden, we knew he'd fit with this field. I think he'll be a horse that'll run all day."
The Kentucky Derby action spread all the way across the Pacific this weekend as Lemon Pop, a Kentucky-bred colt by Lemon Drop Kid, won Saturday's first leg of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby," The Cattleya Sho.
With Keita Tosaki up, Lemon Pop tracked down early leader Takeru Pegasus with a long stretch drive and got clear late to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Lemon Pop, out of the Giant's Causeway mare Unreachable, was the only non-Japanese-bred 2-year-old in the Cattleya. Bred by Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Tait, he races in the Godolphin blue and remains undefeated after two starts.
The race was the first in a series of four Churchill Downs-sanctioned events with the eventual top points-getter earning a guaranteed spot in the starting gate for the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
Lemon Pop earned 10 points toward a start in Louisville. Takeru Pegasus got 4. Plus Ultra and Shin Yomoginesu earned 2 and 1 points for third and fourth.
On the wagering front, Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager closed Sunday with "All other 3-year-old males" as the 6-5 favorite. The Bob Baffert-trained Life Is Good, an impressive maiden winner at Del Mar Nov. 22, closed as second-favorite at 5-1 with the aforementioned Essential Quality third at 8-1.
The Road to the Kentucky Oaks
Travel Column and jockey Florent Geroux could write a column about their winning trip in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs, an early pointer to next spring's Kentucky Oaks.
After being squeezed far back at the start, the Frosted filly at first gained some ground three-wide, then dropped back inside early in the stretch run. Finding nothing there, she came out again, finally saw some daylight and won by 1 length over Claireiere.
Coach was third with an even effort and the odds-on favorite, Simply Ravishing, finished fourth. Travel Column ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.98.
Travel Column was third in the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland in her last start, then skipped the Breeders' Cup.
Trainer Brad Cox said the winner "overcame a lot of adversity today. This was the game plan all along to run in this race and give her the time she needs after the Alcibiades. She was very impressive breaking that slow and being stopped several times. Mentally, that showed her maturity but I still think she is learning."
Bodexpress emerged from a scrum of horses at the top of the stretch in Friday's $500,000 Grade I Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs, took a slim lead and held off the favorite, Code of Honor, to win by 1 length. Owendale was third with Coastal Defense fourth.
Bodexpress, a 4-year-old Bodemeister colt, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.12 with Rafael Bejarano up for trainer Gustavo Delgado.
Bodexpress scored his first stakes win in his 17th career start. He finished second in the 2019 Florida Derby but, before the Clark, was best-known for throwing rider John Velazquez at the start of the Preakness Stakes, then running two circuits of the Pimlico track riderless, to the fascination of national television commentators.
"This is a different horse than we saw last year during the Triple Crown campaign," said Gustavo Delgado Jr., assistant to this father.
"He's really matured. Turning for home I thought we had a really good shot. The horse deserves this most of all. I'm very happy for everyone involved but we are so happy for Bodexpress."
Bodexpress is based in South Florida and his next start likely will be in the $3 million Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 23.
Mrs. Danvers battled for the early lead in Friday's $100,000 Grade III Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct, then shook loose and got away to win by 6 1/4 lengths.
Ice Princess was second, another 4 lengths to the good of Thankful in third. Mrs. Danvers, a Tapit filly, ran 1 1/8 miles on a good track in 1:50.09 with Jose Lezcano in the irons. In her only previous graded stakes effort, she finished fifth in the Grade I Test at Saratoga in August.
"We were anxious to get her stretched out," said Mrs. Danvers' trainer, Shug McGaughey. "It's just been kind of difficult to do so.
"This is what we felt like she wanted to do. Watching some of her allowance races, I wasn't sure I was running her right. It looked like she was going to win and then she wouldn't win."
As Delta Downs shook off its hurricane damage and returned to action, Gibberish shot quickly to the fore in Friday's $100,000 Treasure Chest Stakes for fillies and mares, gradually edged clear and got home first by 1 length.
The favorite, Regal Beauty, came from last of seven to finish second, 1 1/2 length better than Shes Our Fastest. Gibberish, a 3-year-old Lea filly, ran 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:41.53. Ry Eikleberry rode for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.
Arklow, with the smoothest of trips, took the lead in the stretch run of Friday's $200,000 Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar and held on to win by 1/2 length.
With Joel Rosario riding, the 6-year-old son of Arch saved ground behind early leader Acclimate. He moved up rounding the third turn in the 1 1/2-miles event, got by Acclimate and held off Laccario by 1/2 length.
Say the Word also was gaining late, but settled for third, another 1/2 length back. Arklow finished in 2:26.31.
Arklow, based at Churchill Downs with trainer Brad Cox, finished sixth in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf in his last start. Before that, he won the Grade III Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs.
Campaigned primarily in the Midwest, this was his first start in California, save only an eighth-place effort in the 2019 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita.
"It kind of worked out the way we had drawn it up," said Blake Cox, the trainer's son and assistant. "Joel was able to get a real good stalking position and then finish strong.
"What's next will be up to [owner] Jerry Crawford and Donegal Racing, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Pegasus World Cup Turf is on the radar."
Saturday at Del Mar, Domestic Spending closed to the early leaders in the final furlong of the $300,000 Grade I Hollywood Derby and got there in time to win by a head.
Smooth Like Strait grabbed a late lead and just yielded to the winner in the final strides. Gufo came from the clouds to take third, just a neck farther back. Domestic Spending, a British-bred Kingman gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:47.15 with Irad Ortiz up.
Domestic Spending was one of several horses sent west by trainer Chad Brown for the weekend's stakes at Del Mar. Four won, three of them ridden by Ortiz. Domestic Spending picked up his fourth win from five starts, emerging as a potential force in the division next season.
"I thought I was going to be closer with him but he came out of there a little slow and we were in the back," Ortiz said.
"I worked my way up on the backside and he was running perfect. When I asked him for his run at the three eighths, he was ready. He really put in a nice kick. He's been a little green in his earlier races but he's getting better all the time."
Friday at Aqueduct, City Man sat off the early pace in the $100,000 Gio Ponti Stakes for 3-year-olds, came four-wide to make his bid and then got the better of Bodecream in the final strides, winning by a nose. Price Talk was third.
City Man, a Mucho Macho Man colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:44.88 with Junior Alvarado in the irons. He won his first two starts as a 2-year-old at Saratoga, but then had not visited the winner's circle since. He entered the Gio Ponti off a pair of second-place finishes, also at the Spa.
"I tried to run against New York-breds but the race didn't go," winning trainer Christophe Clement said. "Two weeks ago, I decided to run him in the stakes and it worked."
In Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Discovery Handicap for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct, Forza Di Oro chased down pacesetting favorite Monday Morning Qb at mid-stretch and ran on to win by 3 3/4 lengths over that rival.
Shared Sense finished third, another 1 1/2 lengths back. Forza Di Oro, a Speightstown colt, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.03. Junior Alvarado had the ride for trainer Bill Mott. He improved to 3-for-5.
Saturday at Del Mar, Count Again rallied from last of 12 to win the $200,000 Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap by 3/4 length over fellow closer Flavius. Next Shares also found some late speed to take third while the favorite, Anothertwistafate, held the lead briefly before finishing fourth.
Count Again, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred gelding by Awesome Again, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.84 with Juan Hernandez in the irons. Raced at Woodbine this summer, Count Again accounted for the Grade III Singspiel Stakes in September.
"Juan followed our plan," winning trainer Phil D'Amato said. "I just told him to save all the ground and come with one run. If the race sets up for us, great. If not, we'll stretch him out next time. He followed those instructions to a 'T' and he came with a monstrous run."
Filly & Mare Turf
Viadera and Blowout put the cherry on top of a very nice weekend sundae for trainer Chad Brown Sunday as they finished 1-2 in the $300,000 Grade I Matriarch at Del Mar. That result capped a weekend that found Brown's horses, shipped in from New York, lift four turf stakes at the seaside California oval.
In the Matriarch, Blowout put the pace pressure on early leader Juliet Foxtrot, led in the lane was just nipped in the final strides by her stablemate. Juliet Foxtrot held third and another of Brown's minions, Tamahere, finished sixth as the favorite.
Viadera, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Bated Breath, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.03 for jockey Joel Rosario. She now has three wins in a row.
Jose Hernandez, who managed the California invasion for Brown, sounded happy with the results.
"This weekend has been amazing," Hernandez said. "In the future, I don't know when it would be, if Chad wanted to come out here with a string, I'd like that. We like it out here."
Brown's weekend Del Mar winners also included Orglandes in Thursday's $100,000 Grade III Red Carpet Stakes.
Mutamakina found running room inside stablemate Traipsing in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Long Island Stakes at Aqueduct, squirted through that opening and went on to win by 3/4 length.
Traipsing held second, 1 3/4 length better than Delta's Kingdom. Mutamakina, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Nathanial, finished 1 3/8 miles on good turf in 2:21.08 with Dylan Davis up. Christophe Clement trains the first two finishers.
The Long Island was the second U.S. start for Mutamakina, who finished third in her Stateside debut at Belmont Park in October. Traipsing was making her first graded stakes start. Clement said he has 2021 hopes for both.
"Obviously, the way she [Mutamakina] ran today, she will be an exciting prospect for the 1 1/2-mile division. I thought she was extremely unlucky last time at Belmont Park. I was delighted to see her win. She deserved a graded stakes win," Clement said.
"I was excited about Traipsing as well. She's now graded stakes placed and should have a nice career going longer. She might have just got beat by a better horse."
Feel Glorious trailed much of the field through the early furlongs in Friday's $100,000 Forever Together Stakes at Aqueduct, came five-wide into the stretch and then survived a wild charge to the finish, winning by 3/4 length in the final strides.
Less than 1 length separated the following five finishers -- Tapit Today, Myhartblongstodady, Platinum Paynter and Miss Tehran. Feel Glorious, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Bated Breath, finished 1 1/16 miles on good going in 1:45.77 under Junior Alvarado.
"She's turning 5 and we'll have to talk to [owner Dean] Reeves," trainer Christophe Clement said of Feel Glorious' future. "If he wants to carry on next year, I don't know if she needs the whole winter off.
"We could actually run her this year in the Florida stakes. He has to make a decision to breed her next year or race her, and according to that, we'll map out a plan."
Turned Aside broke alertly in Saturday's $100,000 Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship, then took back kindly from a pace duel for jockey Jose Lezcano.
When asked, he regained the lead and drew off to win by 1 1/4 lengths over El Tormenta. True Valour was third. Turned Aside, a 3-year-old American Pharoah colt, finished 6 furlongs on turf rated good in 1:10.89.
Winner of the Grade III Quick Call Stakes at Saratoga in July, the Linda Rice trainee now has four wins from nine starts.
Lead Guitar moved to the lead as the field hit the stretch drive in Sunday's $100,000 Autumn Days Stakes for fillies and mares and edged away to win by 3 1/4 lengths.
A Great Time was second, a head in front of Risky Mischief. Lead Guitar, a 4-year-old filly by Maclean's Music, ran 6 furlongs on good turf in 1:10.87. Jose Lezcano had the mount for trainer George Weaver.
Never Surprised was no surprise in Saturday's $100,000 Central Park Stakes at Aqueduct. Sent off as the favorite in a field of nine, the Constitution colt was out front immediately after the break and never challenged.
He built a 3-lengths lead in the stretch and won by 1 3/4 lengths over Hard Love. The others were well back. Never Surprised, with Kendrick Carmouche in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:43.74. He was an equally easy winner in his career debut going 6 furlongs Nov. 8.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he told owner Mike Repole he "pretty much threw the book" at Never Surprised in the race, coming back on short rest and moving out from a sprint.
"We felt like he could do it," he added. He also noted Never Surprised has trained well on dirt so that possibility is somewhere in his mind for the winter in Florida. "Constitutions have been running on pretty much everything," he said.
Sunday at Del Mar, Beer Can Man rallied from a pace-stalking trip to score a 20-1 upset victory in the $100,000 Grade III Cecil B. DeMille.
Caisson rolled along from the back of the field to finish second, 1/2 length back of the winner and the early leader, Commander Khai, held third. Beer Can Man, a Can the Man colt out of the Dynaformer mare Cheesecake, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.75 with Juan Hernandez up for trainer Mark Glatt, who said the colt exceeded expectations.
"We entered him the first weekend of the meeting, thinking we could run then and then come back in this race," Glatt said. "But that race didn't go. So, [the owners] told me to get him ready to go a mile. I was a little skeptical, to be honest, but the horse relaxed great, Juan put a nice ride on him and he got the money."
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Fluffy Socks, shipped cross-country by trainer Chad Brown for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Jimmy Durante at Del Mar, got the job done in deep stretch, winning by 1/2 length over Javanica.
Quattroelle was third, just a neck farther back. Fluffy Socks, a daughter of Slumber out of the Kitten's Joy mare Breakfast Time, bounced around near the back of the field, exchanging some bumps with rivals before making up all the ground in the lane. She finished 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.35 with Irad Ortiz Jr. riding.
Fluffy Socks won the Selima Stakes at Pimlico Oct. 3 and finished second in the Chelsey Flower at Belmont Park Nov. 1.
"She felt like a winner all the way around," Ortiz said. "We had some traffic on the turn, but I got through and got her to where I wanted to be. She's a nice filly. Big kick."
On Sunday at Aqueduct, Lovestruck rated behind a long shot leader in the $100,000 Tepin Stakes, came three-wide to take the lead and got there first by 1 length over Invincible Gal.
Big Time Lady, the early speed, finished third. Lovestruck, a Tapit filly from the Mr. Prospector mare Love Style, finished 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:47.12, but awaited a no-call from a stewards' inquiry before the race was made official. Bill Mott trains the Godolphin homebred, who now is 2-for-2.
Share the Ride took over the lead from pacesetting Tribecca in the final sixteenth of Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct and held off Stan the Man to win by 3/4 length.
Absentee was third, a head farther back and a nose in front of Tribecca. Share the Ride, a 5-year-old Candy Ride gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.62 while carrying 133 pounds including Jose Ortiz.
Around the ovals:
The Maryland Jockey Club kept the holiday cornucopia churning out goodies Saturday with six $100,000 stakes events, to wit:
Dontletsweetfoolya took an early lead in the Primonetta Stakes for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs, extended the advantage and won by 5 1/4 lengths over Never Enough Time. Dontletsweetfoolya, a 3-year-old Stay Thirsty filly, finished in 1:09.79 with Javier Toledo in the irons.
Air Token was along late to post a 17-1 upset in the Concern Stakes for 3-year-olds, catching odds-on favorite Francatelli in the final strides. Golden Candy was third. Air Token, a Golden Lad gelding, got 7 furlongs in 1:22.29 with Horacio Karamanos up.
Hello Beautiful, the odds-on favorite, stalked the pace in the Safely Kept Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got the upper hand in the stretch run and won by 3 lengths.
Reagan's Edge was 5 1/2 lengths clear in second. Hello Beautiful, also by Golden Lad, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.26 for jockey Sheldon Russell.
Whereshetoldmetogo took a narrow lead in the stretch in the Frank W. Whiteley Stakes and just held on to win by a nose over the late-running favorite, Laki. Whereshetoldmetogo, a 5-year-old gelding by El Padrino, clicked off 6 furlongs in 1:08.59 with Russell at the controls.
Eres Tu pressed the pace in the Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes for fillies and mares, rolled to a big lead in the lane and got home first with the favorite, Lucky Stride, 1 1/2 lengths back in second. Eres Tu, a 4-year-old Malibu Moon filly, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.62 with Trevor McCarthy up.
Harpers First Ride, the even-money favorite, sat off an early speed duel, surged to a big lead in the final quarter mile and won by 3 lengths with Cordmaker second. Harper's First Ride, a 4-year-old Paynter gelding, was clocked in 1:41.92. Angel Cruz rode.
Hunka Burning Love pressed the pace through the first 6 furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 Delta Mile, then slowly took the lead and went on to win by 4 lengths.
Extirpator was second, a neck in front of Pioneer Spirit. Hunka Burning Love, a 6-year-old gelding by Into Mischief, reported in 1:40.80 over a sloppy, sealed track. Timothy Thornton had the mount for trainer Karl Broberg.
Mobil Solution raced well back of the leaders early in Saturday's $75,000 Ruff/Kirchberg Memorial for Ohio-breds, took the inside path to get to the lead and won off by 2 lengths.
Garrett was second, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Pat's Karma. Mobil Solution, a 5-year-old Mobil gelding, stopped the timer at 1:44.08 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track. Erik Barbaran had the mount.
Sammy's Sister won the battle for the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Glacial Princess Stakes for Ohio-bred 2-year-old fillies, then edged clear from early rival Happy As You Go, the odds-on favorite, winning by 1 3/4 lengths.
Rock Star Lady was third. Sammy's Sister, a Mobil filly from the Louis Quatorze mare Lover, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.01 with Luis Rivera riding.
Shutupn'kissme got off to a quick lead in Saturday's $50,000 Eleanor Casey Memorial Stakes for West Virginia-bred 2-year-old fillies and held well through the stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths from Theladyistrue.
Juba Train was third and Strolling Through completed the order of finish. Shutupn'kissme, a daughter of Fiber Sonde, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:28.57 with Wesley Ho in the irons.