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Four months to Kentucky Derby and here they come

By
Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Omega Perfume (gray) wins the Grade 1 Tokyo Daishoten for the third straight year at Oi Racecourse in Japan. Photo courtesy of Katsumi Saito
Omega Perfume (gray) wins the Grade 1 Tokyo Daishoten for the third straight year at Oi Racecourse in Japan. Photo courtesy of Katsumi Saito

Jan. 1 (UPI) -- Jan. 1 marks both the first day of the New Year and exactly four months until Kentucky Derby 147, with some potential candidates for the May 1 Run for the Roses in action during the weekend.

But before slinking away, 2020 delivered one more blow to racing as Coolmore America announced Wednesday that plans to race Tiz the Law for another year have been scrapped "on veterinary advice."

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The year 2020 has been a tough one in many respects and some have suffered much more than others.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club started the year amid violent street protests and ends it with a grandstand still emptied by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

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But the only way forward is optimism and HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges summed it up nicely in his New Year's Eve blog post:

"In reflecting on 2020, the very fact that racing has continued is something all participants can be extremely proud of. The reward is not only what is past, but what lies ahead."

Classic

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The chaos that was the 2020 Triple Crown campaign is over and, after waves of retirements, there are few survivors to move forward to the new year.

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Last weekend's dramatic return by Charlatan was bookended just four days later by the news that Travers Stakes, Belmont Stakes, Florida Derby and Champagne Stakes winner Tiz the Law is done racing.

The New York-bred colt was retired "on veterinary advice," to Coolmore America, where he will be available for inspection soon. He reportedly suffered severe bone bruising, discovered following a Tuesday workout.

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Tiz the Law's photo was posted on the Ashford Stud/Coolmore web site almost immediately after the announcement, but a stud fee is yet to be set. The fee for a date with his sire, Constitution, who stands at WinStar Farm, was raised for the 2021 season to $85,000 from $25,000.

The Road to the Roses

Here's how much things are up in the air with four months to go until Derby Day: Life Is Good was the favorite among individual runners in Pool 1 of the Derby Futures Wager and still stands atop the odds of many wagering sites.

That stand will be put to the test in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, where the Into Mischief colt, trained by Bob Baffert, faces four rivals.

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Life Is Good has made exactly one previous start. Granted, it was an impressive effort as he led all the way under Mike Smith and won by 9 1/2 lengths, ridden out.

But he faced only four rivals in that Nov. 22 heat at Del Mar, and three of those also were first-timers. And it was only 6 1/2 furlongs.

We'll reserve judgment on the time because he wasn't asked. (It was 1:15.50.). So we'll see. The ownership combination of China Horse Club and WinStar Farm has been successful with Baffert. Think Justify.

Baffert said Life Is Good hasn't taken kindly to efforts to teach him patience, so he's likely to be out there blazing away again in the Sham.

"He's very aggressive," Blood-Horse quoted Baffert as saying. "I think a lot of Into Mischiefs are that way, too. They're just fast horses. Speed is your weapon."

Baffert, who has won both the Sham and the Kentucky Derby six times, also has Medina Spirit, a Florida-bred colt by Protonico who comes off a first-start victory at Los Alamitos.

John Sherriffs entered Waspirant, fourth in the Grade I American Pharoah in September, and Parnelli, a recent maiden winner. Uncle Boogie comes off a second behind long shot Red Flag in the Grade III Bob Hope at Del Mar.

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Only two of Baffert's previous Sham winners made it into the starting gate in Louisville on the first Saturday in May. Bob and John finished 17th in the 2007 Derby and then Authentic won the 2020 edition.

Two of his other Sham winners, Collected and McKinzie, went on to great things despite missing the Run for the Roses while the other two ended their careers in the claiming ranks.

Friday's $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct has just five newly turned 3-year-olds ready to tackle 1 mile. Swill exits a fourth in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club on Nov. 28 -- good enough to make the Munnings colt the morning-line favorite.

The Sham and the Jerome are both stops on the Churchill Downs-approved "Road to the Kentucky Derby. The winner of each gets 10 points with 4, 2 and 1 for the minor placings. Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Essential Quality tops the leaderboard with 30 points.

Mutasaabeq returns to the brown track for Saturday's $100,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

The Into Mischief colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, finished third in the Grade I Hopeful on the Saratoga dirt, and then won the Grade II Bourbon on the turf at Keeneland before reporting 10th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf in his last start.

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Pickin' Time, a Stay Thirsty colt from Kelly Breen's barn, also is down from the frozen north where he won the Grade III Nashua and finished fourth in the Grade II Remsen at the Big A. Ten are entered for the 1-mile test.

Saturday's $75,000 Limehouse Stakes at Gulfstream Park is run at 6 furlongs and drew a field of eight. Drain the Clock and Runway Magic caught the oddsmaker's eye, but it's largely a you-pickem'.

The Road to the Oaks

Varda enters Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita the winner of two of her three starts.

The Distorted Humor filly, another under the care of the aforementioned Mr. Baffert, won at first asking at Del Mar in August, finished second in the Grade II Chandelier the following month and won the Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos Dec. 6. She cuts back from the 1 1/16 miles of the Starlet to this 7 furlongs.

Baffert actually has this race pretty much surrounded, also fielding Kalypso, runner-up in the Starlett; Exotic West, a Gary & Mary West homebred filly by Hard Spun, who won at first asking in her only other start; and Frosteria, a Frosted filly who has finished second in all three outings.

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The rest of the Santa Ynez field is Nasreddine, third-place finisher in the Starlet; Queengol, second in her last two; and Brilliant Cut, fresh off a maiden win at Del Mar.

Friday's $75,000 Cash Run Stakes at Gulfstream Park has a big field with Shea D Summer and Lucifer's Lair narrowly atop the morning line.

The former, a Summer Front filly trained by Carlos David, is 2-for-2 with a win in a minor stakes at Gulfstream Park West. Lucifer's Lair, a Quality Road filly conditioned by Todd Pletcher, won at first asking at Saratoga, then was fifth in the Grade II Adirondack and hasn't run since that Aug. 12 event.

Lucifer's Lair is cross-entered among seven for Saturday's $75,000, 6-furlongs Glitter Woman Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Turf

Count Again looks like a tough customer among the seven entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita.

The 6-year-old Awesome Again gelding won the Grade III Singspiel Stakes at Woodbine in September, finished fourth in the Grade I Northern Dancer over the same course a month later and won the Grade II Seabiscuit at Del Mar on Nov. 28.

Trainer Peter Miller gives Multiplier a chance on the green course here. The 2017 Illinois Derby winner has gone his last 22 starts without a victory. Miller also brings Anothertwistafate, who has raced on everything but asphalt while winning four of nine starts including the Grade III Longacres Mile.

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Turf Sprint

Friday's $200,000 Grade II Joe Hernandez Stakes at Santa Anita, 6 1/2 furlongs on the grass, couldn't be much more wide open. Ten were left to face the starter after a late scratch.

Sprint

Stan the Man and My Boy Tate are the morning-line favorites among just five entered for Saturday's $100,000 Gravesend Stakes at Aqueduct.

Stan the Man, a 7-year-old Broken Vow gelding, exits a runner-up showing in the Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap. My Boy Tate, a 7-year-old gelding by Boys at Toscanova, has been seen more frequently against fellow New York-breds.

And now, some results from the final day of 2020:

Fair Grounds

Jimmy Two Times battled for the lead in Thursday's $100,000 Louisiana Futurity for state-bred 2-year-olds, got clear and soared off to win by 7 1/2 lengths.

The odds-on favorite, Swot Analysis, was best of the rest, 2 1/2 lengths to the good of Creole Charlie. Jimmy Two Times, a Half Ours gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:12.35 with Colby Hernandez in the irons for trainer Keith Bourgeois. He notched his third win from five starts.

In the companion heat for Louisiana-bred, 2-year-old fillies, Big Time remained undefeated, rallying from last of seven to win by 1/2 length over Spirited Beauty with Winning Romance just a nose farther behind in third.

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Big Time, a daughter of Astrology, reported in 1:13.51 with Brian Hernandez Jr. up for Dallas Stewart. She won at first asking at Churchill Downs in June and took the Louisiana Champions Day Lassie Stakes at Fair Grounds on Dec. 1.

Santa Anita

Quattroelle saved ground into the stretch in Thursday's $75,000 Blue Norther Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, came out for running room in the lane and arrived in time to win by 3/4 length over the favorite, Javanica.

Carpe Fortuna pressed the early pace and flattened out to get home third. Quattroelle, an Irish-bred miss by Mehmas, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.72 with Tyler Baze up. She was coming off a third in the Grade III Jimmy Durante at Del Mar.

Around the world, around the clock:

Japan

Omega Perfume ended the Japanese Grade 1 season Tuesday at Oi Racecourse, winning the Tokyo Daishoten for the third straight year.

The Daishoten is run under the auspices of the National Association of Racing, it is considered one of the country's top dirt events and regularly attracts competition from the more prestigious Japan Racing Association -- including Omega Perfume and his jockey and trainer, Mirco Demuro and Shogu Yasuda.

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The gray 5-year-old, a son of Swept Overboard, has won on both circuits while compiling a record of eight wins, five seconds and two thirds from 18 starts, but he has excelled at Oi.

Seeking his third Daishoten title, Omega Perfume turned for home outside a line of rivals, got to even terms with Casino Fountain 100 meters from the finish and slowly worked by that rival, winning by a neck.

Westerlund and History Maker, two other JRA-based runners, were third and fourth as Omega Perfume finished the 2,000 meters in 2:06.9.

"The numbers were kind of weak this time compared to the last two times out, but race itself was a kind of tough one," Demuro said. "He is a kind of horse who plays around if he breaks away too early, so, I rode thinking of many factors including the pace.

"Turning for home, I felt very good about him. The pace was a kind of slow, so I did want to go in front and wanted to stay back."

Yasuda said no plans have been made for Omega Perfume, but added he would "like to give him some more worthy medals."

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