Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Midnight Bourbon bellied up to the Kentucky Derby bar with a weekend victory in New Orleans, while Minnesota-bred Charlie's Penny jumped into the Oaks contenders with an upset win of her own.
Other potential contenders for the Derby and Oaks were in action at Tampa Bay Downs and Laurel Park. Much of the remainder of the U.S. horse racing action catered to state-breds.
On the international front, the Magic Millions headliners in Australia featured some stirring finishes, another potential star 3-year-old performed in Japan and Meydan Racecourse geared up for Thursday's kickoff of the Dubai World Cup Carnival.
Let's kick this off with:
The Road to the Roses
Pencil in Midnight Bourbon as a serious player on the Kentucky Derby trail. The Tiznow colt blitzed to a gate-to-wire victory in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, earning 10 "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points.
Proxy was second most of the way, was headed by the favorite, Mandaloun, but then put a head in front of that one again on the wire.
Midnight Bourbon, produced by the Malibu Moon mare Catch the Moon, scored just his second career win but has not finished out of the money in five starts.
He was second in the Grade III Iroquois at Churchill Downs Sept. 5 and third in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park on Oct. 10 behind Jackie's Warrior and Reinvestment Risk, albeit beaten by 14 1/4 lengths.
"Obviously, he had run some solid races," Asmussen said. "But we were very much looking forward to getting him into two-turn races. His pedigree, we think that going further will help him."
Asked whether Midnight Bourbon will be pointed to the $400,000 Grade II Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/8 miles Feb. 13, the trainer said, "Absolutely. He's going to develop into an excellent 3-year-old."
On the Gulf Coast, Nova Rags came running late to win Saturday's $125,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, scoring by 2 3/4 lengths and looking like he might like more.
Newyearsblockparty was second with Foreman another 3/4 length back in third. Nova Rags, a Union Rags colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.55. Samy Camacho had the mount for trainer Bill Mott.
Nova Rags finished fourth in his previous start, the Grade III Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct in November.
"It's what we were hoping for," Mott's assistant, Mark Schreiber, said of the Pasco outcome.
"His last race was a little disappointing but he was kind of shying from horses on the outside of him and he needed to mature a little. Samy rode him perfectly today and it looks like he will stretch out. All along, Bill saw a lot in this horse."
At Laurel Park, Kenny Had a Notion hooked up with Maythehorsebwithu in a 7-furlongs duel, swapping the lead before prevailing by a neck. It was another 2 lengths back to Shackqueenking in third as Kenny Had a Notion finished in 1:23.98 with Jorge Ruiz in the irons.
"He's run well at six and seven [furlongs], so I think we'll stretch him out at some point, winning trainer Dale Capuano said. "He's game. He seems to carry his speed at seven, so it's exciting. We'll see how far he takes us."
The Road to the Oaks
Charlie's Penny, a Minnesota-bred filly trained by Illinois-based Chris Block, kicked away from five rivals in the stretch drive to win Saturday's $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds by 3 1/4 lengths.
Souper Sensational and Moon Swag were along for second and third with the favorite, Sun Path, fading to get home fourth.
Charlie's Penny, a daughter of Race Day from the Warrior's Reward mare Sweet Lorraine, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.80 for jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.
After winning on the Arlington Park all-weather and the dirt at Churchill Downs, Block sent Charlie's Penny south to finish third in the Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds on Dec. 19.
Saturday's race was her first around two turns and Block said his original assessment was that Charlie's Penny is a sprinter.
"But this race was here and we thought we'd give the two turns a shot," Block said, adding he would "guess" the $300,000 Grade II Rachel Alexandra on Feb. 13 will be the next stop for the filly. That race is 1 1/16 miles, essentially the same trip as the Silverbulletday.
At Tampa Bay Downs, Special Princess came from last of seven in the $125,000 Gasparilla Stakes and was just up to finish in a dead heat for the win with pacesetting Adios Trippi.
The favorite, Feeling Mischief, was third, 1 3/4 lengths farther back. Special Princess, a daughter of Bahamian Squall, and Adios Trippi, an Adios Charlie filly, ran 7 furlongs in 1:24.89.
And at Laurel Park, odds-on favorite Street Lute ran to her notices in Saturday's $100,000 Xtra Heat Stakes, drawing clear in the stretch to win by 5 lengths.
Miss Leslie was second, 3 1/2 lengths clear of Breeze Off the Bay in third. Street Lute, a Street Magician filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.31 for jockey Xavier Perez.
Title Ready chased down pacesetting Blackberry Wine nearing the sixteenth pole in Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Louisiana Stakes and edged away to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that foe.
Wells Bayou, making his first start since last May, chased the early pace and finished third, 2 lengths farther back.
Title Ready, a 6-year-old son of More Than Ready, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.27 with Brian Hernandez Jr. riding for trainer Dallas Stewart.
The win was Title Ready's first since July, but he has been knocking heads with the best, finishing third in the Grade II Fayette at Keeneland and then off the board in the Breeders' Cup Classic and Clark Stakes before heading for the Big Easy.
"He's a beautiful More Than Ready colt that Mr. [Charles] Fipke bred and he shows up and runs hard all the time," winning trainer Dallas Stewart said.
"We know he's been running against the best. These are some very nice horses that he ran with today, but he showed that he loves the Fair Grounds."
Five and one-half furlongs doesn't provide much time to make up ground on an entire field, but that's just what Manny Wah did in Saturday's $100,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes.
The 5-year-old son of Will Take Charge started last of seven, improved position on the turn and whizzed by the leaders in the final sixteenth to win by 1 1/4 lengths in a hand ride by Miguel Mena.
Just Might and Readyforprimetime slugged it out on the front end and finished second and third. Manny Wah finished in 1:02.38 over firm going. He came into the Kenner off a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and a second in the Thanksgiving Classic at Fair Grounds.
Saturday's $100,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial was longer, at 1 1/16 miles on the lawn, but produced a similar result as Secret Message was hard held at the back of the field, turned loose six-wide into the stretch and got home first by 1 1/4 lengths.
Room to Finish came right behind the winner to take second with early leader Jeanie B holding on for show money.
The favorite, Dalika, finished fifth. Secret Message, a 6-year-old Hat Trick mare, reported in 1:42.66 for Shaun Bridgmohan. She wound up the 2020 season with a third in the Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine and another third in the Blushing K.D. Stakes over the New Orleans grass.
Logical Myth tracked the pace in Saturday's $125,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley Stakes, rallied through the final furlong and drew off to score by 2 1/4 lengths.
Big Agenda had the lead most of the way and won a head bob for second over the favorite, Spectacular Gem. Logical Myth, a 5-year-old Data Link gelding, was timed in 1:42.13 with Adam Beschizza in the irons.
Owner-trainer Joe Sharp claimed Logical Myth for $40,000 May 28 at Churchill Downs and has been rewarded with four wins, a second and a third in six starts since then.
He now owns a three-race win streak and earned $120,000 in his last two starts alone. As Daily Racing Form columnist Marty McGee is fond of saying, "It's an easy game."
Four "Sunshine" stakes races for state-breds took the spotlight on Saturday's program -- two on dirt, two on the green course.
Venezuelan Hug rallied from near the back of the nine-horse field to capture the $75,000 Sunshine Turf by 3/4 length.
Shamrocket also rallied late to finish second, 3/4 length to the good of Monforte. Venezuelan Hug, a 4-year-old Constitution colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:40.02 with Luis Saez up.
In the $75,000 Sunshine Filly & Mare Turf, Bienville Street waited behind the early speed, then won a cavalry charge that found six horses in a blanket finish, covered by less than 1 length.
The camera found Mo of the West second, followed by Sun Summers, Lovely Luvy, Sugar Fix and Lookinlikeaqueen, who was 2 lengths ahead of the last-place finisher, Kelsey's Cross. Bienville Street, a 6-year-old Street Boss mare, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.50 with Paco Lopez up.
Last Judgment surged quickly to the lead in the $75,000 Sunshine Classic and kicked loose in the lane, winning off by 6 1/2 lengths.
The favorite, Noble Drama, was second, a neck better than Roman Empire. Last Judgment, a 5-year-old Congrats gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.76 for jockey Jose Ortiz.
Cajun Brother stuck a head in front of the favorite, Extravagant Kid, at the finish of the $75,000 Sunshine Sprint to take the winner's share.
With Verve rallied from last of eight to get third. Cajun Brother, a 4-year-old Cajun Breeze gelding, got 6 furlongs in 1:10.97 with Miguel Vasquez in the irons.
Quick waited behind the early speed in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Astra Stakes for fillies and mares, battled to the lead in the stretch and held off Hermaphrodite by a nose under the wire.
Altea was third. Quick, a 5-year-old, British-bred mare by Olympic Glory, ran 1 1/2 miles starting on the downhill course in 2:27.71. Umberto Rispoli had the mount for trainer John Sadler. It was her first stakes win.
"She got the trip she needed today," Sadler assistant Juan Leyva said. "She got to relax, not be on the front end. She settled well and got a perfect trip."
Saturday's well-endowed features were all for California-breds. To wit:
Leggs Galore legged quickly up to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint, extended the margin through the stretch and won by 3 1/4 lengths.
Nardini and the favorite, Warren' Showtime, both rallied from well back in the field to finish second and third without threatening the winner. Leggs Galore, a 4-year-old Bayern filly, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:08.90 with Ricardo Gonzalez up for trainer Phil D'Amato.
Closing Remarks had the final say in Saturday's $200,000 Leigh Ann Howard California Cup Oaks, chasing down pacesetting long shot Super Game in the stretch run to post a 1-length victory.
Warrens Candy Girl came from last of 10 to take second over Super Game. Closing Remarks, a Vronsky filly trained by Carla Gaines, got 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.62 with Umberto Rispoli calling the shots.
Big Fish worked his way through most of the field during the second half of Saturday's $200,000 California Cup Derby and had things all to himself in the final sixteenth, winning by 1 1/2 lengths.
None Above the Law held a brief lead in the lane and finished second, 4 lengths ahead of the early pacesetter, Good With People. Big Fish, a cleverly named gelding by Mr. Big out of the Into Mischief mare Perched, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.37 under Juan Hernandez.
North Country Guy outfinished Heck Yeah in a battle of closers in Saturday's $200,000 Unusual Heat Turf Classic, winning by a neck.
The favorite, Acclimate, pressed the early pace, took a brief advantage and held on for third. North Country Guy, a 6-year-old gelding by The Pamplemousse, finished 1 1/8 miles on firm going in 1:46.34 with Mario Gutierrez in the irons.
Brickyard Ride went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Don Valpredo California Cup Sprint and was unchallenged thereafter, winning off by 3 1/4 lengths despite drifting a bit through the stretch.
The favorite, Tigre Di Slugo, had traffic issues dropped well back, then ran on to nip Fashionably Fast for second. Brickyard Ride, a 4-year-old Clubhouse Ride colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast strip in 1:09.42 with Alexis Centeno up.
Thankful pressed the pace made by the favorite, Miss Marissa, in Sunday's $100,000 Ladies Handicap, slowly gained on that rival through the stretch and won by 3/4 length.
Miss Marissa held second by a neck over Ujjayi. Thankful, a 4-year-old American Pharoah filly from the Cat Thief mare Beholden, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:53.51 for jockey Kendrick Carmouche.
It was her third win from her last four starts with the victories sandwiched around a third-place finish in the Grade III Comely Nov. 27.
Secret Love pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Franklin Square Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies, took over in the stretch and inched clear, winning by 1 1/2 lengths.
Leobanonaprayer, the odds-on favorite, put in a late bid to take second, a neck in front of Vacay. Secret Love, a daughter of Not This Time from the A.P. Indy mare Exotic Design, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:19.86 with Pablo Morales riding.
Tampa Bay Downs
Lucky Stride advanced four-wide through the stretch to win Saturday's $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes for fillies and mares by 2 3/4 lengths over On the Town. Estilo Talentoso was third.
Lucky Stride, a 5-year-old mare by Declaration of War, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.24 with Antonio Gallardo aboard.
Wendell Fogg clipped heels and stumbled after leaving the gate in Saturday's $100,000 Fire Plug Stakes for 4-year-olds and up, raced last of seven into the turn and then came with a bold run to win by a neck in the final strides.
Share the Ride and Lebda contested the lead in the lane before finishing second and third. Wendell Fogg, a 5-year-old son of Flat Out, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.01 with Sheldon Russell riding.
Hello Beautiful, the prohibitive favorite, worked to a big lead in the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 What a Summer Stakes for fillies and mares, then held on to score by 1 length over the oncoming Club Car.
Bridlewood Cat was third, another 8 1/2 lengths in arrears. Hello Beautiful, a 4-year-old daughter of Golden Lad, got the 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:10.67, also with Russell at the controls.
Tattooed showed no early speed in Saturday's $75,000 Jennings Stakes for Maryland-bred 4-year-olds and up, then worked between rivals to gain the advantage in the final strides, winning by a neck over Galerio.
The favorite, Cordmaker, was another 2 lengths back in third. Tattooed, a 6-year-old Etched gelding, ran 1 mile on a good track in 1:37.46 under Angel Cruz.
Gale was away slowly in Saturday's $75,000 Geisha Stakes for Maryland-bred fillies and mares but recovered quickly, led the rest of the way and won by 2 3/4 lengths.
Kiss the Girl was second, 7 1/4 lengths ahead of Coconut Cake. Gale, a 4-year-old Tonalist filly, ran 1 mile on the good main track in 1:39.24 with Russell up.
Around the world, around the clock:
Thursday is the first day of the Dubai World Cup Carnival at Meydan Racecourse with several of the seven races pointing the way to events on World Cup night itself. Entries were not released at press time.
The Group Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 is 1,600 meters on the dirt and can be an early test for the World Cup or the Godolphin Mile.
The Group 2 Singspiel Stakes at 1,800 meters on the turf looks toward the Group 1 Dubai Turf at the same distance or the Group 1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic at 2,400 meters.
There also are sprints on both turf and dirt. The Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort is run at 1,400 meters on the greensward and the Group 3 Dubawi Stakes is 1,200 meters on the dirt track.
The Carnival comprises seven meetings, finishing with Super Saturday, March 6.
Shaquero captured Saturday's AUS$2 million The Star Gold Coast Magic Millions 2-year-old Classic by 1 1/4 lengths over Alpine Edge with She's All Class another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. The favorite, Swift Witness, was 10th of the 16.
Shaquero, with Hugh Bowman up for trainer Chris Waller, waited behind rivals, swung into the stretch on the outside of a line of horses, quickly found the extra gear and was gone with 200 meters to run.
Alpine Edge gave it a go in the final strides but Shaquero was not for catching. He ran 1,200 meters in 1:10.39. The Shalaa colt improved his record to two wins and a second from four career starts.
"With that high pressure up front, I had the horse to capitalize on that because he did settle," Bowman said. "I thought on the line he was stargazing a bit and when you watch the [replay], you'll see him prick his ears. There's more to come from him."
Waller, who won the race for the first time, also trains She's All Class and the fifth-place finisher, Ranch Hand.
Saturday's AUS$2 million Gold Coast Magic Millions 3-year-old Guineas was a triumph for the plungers with a pair of 31-1 shots, Aim and Amish Boy, reporting 1-2. It also was a triumph for anyone playing alphabetically as the favorite, Away Game, and Apache Chase finished third and fourth.
Aim, with James McDonald riding for Peter and Paul Snowden, enjoyed a trip similar to Shaquero's, rallying down the center of the track through the stretch after waiting early. He covered the 1,400 meters in 1:22.43.
The Star Witness gelding won his first two starts in December 2019, and then went winless in nine intervening starts. This season, he won a pair of trials before finishing sixth of eight over heavy going Jan. 2.
As the field rounded the turn, the favorite, Isotope, appeared to clip heels, dropping jockey Ryan Maloney to the turf. The colt continued on his way and Maloney appeared shaken but unhurt.
In a big, wide-open race in Japan, it's never a bad idea to check which horse Christophe Lemaire is riding. Sunday, in the Grade 3 Keisei Hai Stakes for 3-year-olds at Nakayama, that was Gratias, a Heart's Cry colt making his second start and seeking his second win.
The astute Japanese fans obviously noted the angle, too, sending Gratias off as favorite, albeit at just north of 3-1 odds.
And he came through, saving ground while racing in third, breezing by inside long-time leader Time to Heaven in the late going and running on with minimal encouragement to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Time to Heaven held second and Ten Bagger was along for third in the 2,000-meters event.
Gratias is out of the Lizard Island mare Malacostumbrada, an unraced Argentine-bred. He is trained by Yukihiro Kato and seems destined at least to take a swing at big things later in the year.
His first win Oct. 24 came at 2,000 meters over the Tokyo Racecourse turf -- the same trip as the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho, or Japanese 2,000 Guineas, to be run April 18 at Nakayama.
A graded stakes-quality field is lined up for Monday's 2-mile Betway Conditions Stakes over the Wolverhampton all-weather course -- a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Betway All-Weather Marathon Championship on Good Friday at Lingfield.
While many of the runners will be looking for a spot in that finale, Mekong will be using the race as a prep for the $2.5 million Long Distance Turf Handicap next month at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Saudi Arabia -- a race in which he finished second last year, behind Call the Wind and just in front of Prince of Arran.
As the All-Weather Championships program has continued to prosper through eight seasons, it has become both an end unto itself and a proving ground for horses looking to the huge money on offer in Dubai and now Saudi Arabia with Mekong only the latest example among many.