Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Greatest Honour and Medina Spirit jumped squarely into the Kentucky Derby picture with victories in Florida and California, the marquee events in weekend horse racing.
A few others may have won a further look as Derby contenders while winning and showing promise in shorter races. Kentucky Oaks prospects were on parade at Gulfstream Park and Oaklawn Park.
Sam Houston Race Park in Texas contributed some important turf racing on its biggest day of the year.
On the international front, Dubai's World Cup Carnival nears the midway point on Thursday. And we have weekend results from Hong Kong, Bahrain and South Africa.
Starting back home:
The Road to the Roses
It's that time of year when the serious Kentucky Derby contenders start to make themselves known. Saturday, that included Greatest Honour and Medina Spirit -- and maybe a few others.
Greatest Honour raced near the back of the field down the backstretch in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, rallied four-wide into the stretch and easily drew off to win by 5 3/4 lengths.
Tarantino, at odds of better than 26-1, ran evenly to finish second with the favorite, Prime Factor, settling for third. Greatest Honour, a Courtland Farms homebred colt by Tapit, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.19.
Jose Ortiz had the mount for trainer Shug McGaughey, who has brought Greatest Honour along most patiently. The colt finished third in each of his first two starts, at Saratoga and Belmont Park, second at Aqueduct and finally broke through with a victory in his first start at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 26.
"He was kind of a big clown and did what he wanted to do all summer," trainer Shug McGaughey said of Greatest Honour. "We got him ready to run at Saratoga. Sprinting wasn't going to be his bag, but I think those two sprint races sort of helped him to learn and learn how to finish.
"We took him over to Aqueduct and he had a big race there and just got beat. He came here and his two races here have been very good. The distances helped, too -- two turns. I think the farther we go, the better."
Tarantino, a Pioneerof the Nile colt, earlier was trained by Baffert in California but switched to Rodolphe Brisset's barn when sent to Florida late last year. Despite the gap between him and the winner, his effort raised a few eyebrows.
The Holy Bull was one of two "Road to the Kentucky Derby" races Saturday. In the other, the $100,000 Grade III Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita, Medina Spirit saved the day for trainer Bob Baffert, leading all the way and hanging on to score by a neck.
Roman Centurian, an 11-1 longshot, almost upset the applecart as his late rally just fell short. Hot Rod Charlie, making his first start since finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was just a nose farther back in third.
Baffert's other starter, $1 million yearling buy Spielberg, finished fourth, 11 lengths behind Hot Rod Charlie, as Medina Spirit ran 1 1/16 miles on a good track in 1:46.26 with Abel Cedillo up.
Medina Spirit, a Florida-bred Protonico colt, finished second in the Grade III Sham Stakes in his previous start, behind only Baffert's current top Kentucky Derby hope, Life Is Good.
"That reminded me a little bit of Silver Charm," Baffert said, referring to the 1997 Kentucky Derby winner he trained for the namesake of Saturday's race, Bob Lewis and his wife, Beverly.
"He had every reason to give it up late. Down in the stretch, those horses came to him, I thought he was beat. I thought they were going to get by and he wouldn't let them by, he fought on.
"He's going to get a lot out of this race, but I think you have to take him pretty seriously now," Baffert said. "Those are two good horses that he beat, so I'm really fortunate. We just have to keep him healthy."
Of Spielberg, he added, "I would have liked my other horse to run better than he did. But those things happen."
In Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Claiborne Farm Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Drain the Clock pressed the pace, took the lead a furlong from the finish and kicked away to win by 6 1/4 lengths.
King's Ovation was best of the rest, 2 lengths in front of Ultimate Badger. Drain the Clock, a Maclean's Music colt, covered 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.29 with Edgard Zayas in the irons.
Drain the Clock ran his record to 4-for-5 and he might be undefeated but for a broken rein and lost jockey in that other start. But trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said the colt almost didn't make it to the Swale.
"He made it easy today, but 12 days ago he colicked really bad and went to the clinic. Thank God, he got there, and he was good," Joseph said. "To see him win like that today -- he's a good horse."
At 7 furlongs, the Swale isn't the premier path to the Florida Derby but Joseph said the 1 1/16-miles Fountain of Youth might be a possibility to test Drain the Clock's tolerance for distance. "He looks like he'll get farther," the trainer said.
In yet another 7-furlongs test for 3-year-olds, Sunday's $100,000 Jimmy Winkfield Stakes at Aqueduct, Hello Hot Rod left from the inside gate under Trevor McCarthy and led all the way, winning by a head from Return the Ring.
The Maryland-bred colt, a son of Mosler, was clocked in 1:26.30, winning his third straight race -- again, seven furlongs but who knows?
"I don't think stretching out would be an issue," winning trainer Brittany Russell said. "We considered other spots going further in distance, but this looked like a good spot to get the year started. It's nice to win another one with him and use it as a stepping stone to other things."
As a result of weekend action, Medina Spirit jumped into the No. 4 spot on the Churchill Downs-sponsored "Road to the Kentucky Derby" with 14 points. Spielberg earned 1 point for his dismal fourth, leaving him No. 5 with 13 total points.
Hot Rod Charlie and Greatest Honour both have 10 points but Hot Rod Charlie is ahead in terms of tie-breaking stakes earnings. Undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Essential Quality leads with 30 points.
Next weekend, the Kentucky Derby action swings to Aqueduct for the Withers and Tampa Bay Downs, which hosts the Sam F. Davis. Each awards 10 points to the winner.
While Spielberg's disappointing finish may dash our hopes for a Spielberg-Tarantino confrontation on the first Saturday in May, the verdict in the Winkfield raises the new prospect of Hello Hot Rod sharing the gate with Hot Rod Charlie.
The Road to the Oaks
White Frost got rolling late in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sweetest Chant Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park, chased down the pacesetting favorite, Con Lima, and went on to win by 1 length.
Domain Expertise was along for show money. White Frost, a Gainesway homebred daughter of Candy Ride out of the Curlin mare Miss Frost, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.45 with Junior Alvarado aboard.
"It was pretty exceptional, because they hadn't gone that fast early," said Kenny McCarthy, assistant to White Frost's trainer, Bill Mott. "So you figure everyone's going to be running home a little bit. Once Junior put her in the clear, she really accelerated and showed them a nice clean pair of heels."
Will's Secret came with a four-wide bid in Saturday's $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park, easily grabbed the lead and drew off through the final furlong to a 5 1/4-lengths victory.
The odds-on favorite, Coach, was second, 1/2 length to the good of Joy's Rocket. Will's Secret, a Will Take Charge filly trained by Dallas Stewart, ran 1 mile on a muddy, sealed track in 1:3.78 under Jon Court.
Will's Secret failed to find the winner's circle in her first three starts on the Kentucky circuit, then got the job done in December in her first start at Fair Grounds. The Martha Washington was her 3-year-old debut.
"I was a little worried about it, honestly, because it was only a mile," Stewart said by phone after watching the race from New Orleans. "She runs the stretch really, really good. I was a little worried. She had been going a mile and a sixteenth.
"I just worried about shortening her up because it can be a little tricky sometimes. Obviously, she's a lot smarter than me."
Zaajal, the odds-on favorite, took charge in the lane in Saturday's $100,000 Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park, edging off to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Lady Traveler was second, 1/2 length to the good of Wholebodemeister.
Zaajal, a Shadwell Stable homebred filly by Street Sense, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.72. Luis Saez had the mount for trainer Todd Pletcher.
"I was really pleased with the outcome. I was pretty concerned at the start. She got a little antsy in the gate and missed the break, and she put in a long, sustained run," Pletcher said of Zaajal.
"That's hard to do, especially in her second start going from a maiden to a graded stake. But she's trained like a quality filly and she overcame some adversity today so we're proud of her."
Express Train waited behind the early pace of Tizamagician in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Pasqual at Santa Anita, challenged for the lead near the furlong marker and ran on to win by 3 1/4 lengths.
Tizamagician held second, a neck in front of the even-money favorite, Idol. Zestful was fourth and Florida invader King Guillermo completed the order of finish, beaten more than 20 lengths.
Express Train, a 4-year-old Union Rags colt, ran 1 1/8 miles on a good track in 1:52.13 with Juan Hernandez riding for trainer John Shirreffs.
"We knew there was plenty of speed in the race and it worked out fine," Shirreffs said. "Juan fits this horse very well -- show me a horse he doesn't fit. "When you speak to him, he exudes confidence. He's a rider. We'll stay home and run in the Big Cap" -- the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on March 6.
Letruska was just too good for her six rivals in Sunday's $300,000 Grade III Houston Ladies Classic. Leading from the bell, the 5-year-old Super Saver mare turned back a mid-race challenge, and then kicked away to win by 3 1/2 lengths.
Ujjayi was second and it was another 4 lengths to Lady Apple in third. Letruska ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.02 with Jesus Castanon riding.
Currently in training in Florida with Fausto Gutierrez, Letruska came into the Ladies Classic off a victory in the Grade III Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 12.
"This race has always attracted quality fillies," Gutierrez said. "She continues to run with more confidence after we removed the blinkers. She is a wonderful filly. We will see how she comes out of this race. The logical step would be to go Oaklawn Park and attempt the [Grade I] Apple Blossom."
Palazzi and Excess Magic charged to the wire together in Sunday's $200,000 Texas Turf Mile for 3-year-olds at Sam Houston with Palazzi prevailing by a nose. It was just another neck back to long shot Dyn O Mite in third with the favorite, Fighting Force, fourth.
Palazzi, a Pioneerof the Nile colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.89. Declan Carroll rode for trainer Mark Casse.
Palazzi took five tries to get his first win, turning the trick at Fair Grounds in December. Sunday's race was his 3-year-old debut.
On the same program, Spooky Channel parked behind the early speed in the $200,000 Grade III John B. Connolly Turf Cup, made a move on pacesetting Conviction Trade in the lane and outfinished Ajourneytofreedom, winning by a neck.
Spooky Channel exited a fourth-place finish in the Grade II Fort Lauderdale at Gulfstream Park in his last start. He now has won half his 18 races.
"I have ridden him before and felt he would like this turf course," Leparoux said of Spooky Channel. "Brian and I talked and we knew he would have enough to come off the pace and make his run. He left it up to me and the horse did exactly what he hoped for."
Chess's Dream stole a march on the odds-on favorite, Never Surprised, in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Kitten's Joy Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park.
Moving first in the stretch along the inside, the Jess's Dream colt pre-empted Never Surprised's late move and got there first, winning by 2 lengths. Originial was a nose farther back in third and a nose in front of Sigiloso. Chess's Dream, with Tyler Gaffalione up, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.18.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Morning Molly hit the lead late in Sunday's $75,000 Jersey Lilly Turf Stakes at Sam Houston, and then held on to win by a head over Stunning Sky. Valentines Day was third.
Morning Molly, a 5-year-old Morning Line mare, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.70 for jockey Ty Kennedy.
Fast Boat took back near the rear of the field in Sunday's $100,000 Pulse Power Turf Sprint at Sam Houston, rallied four-wide down the stretch and outfinished Carotari by a neck for the win. Change of Control was third.
Fast Boat, a 6-year-old City Zip gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.06 seconds with Miguel Mena in the irons.
American Power and Pete's Play Call dueled through the 7 furlongs of Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Toboggan Stakes at Aqueduct with American Power prevailing by 1/2 length. It was another 2 3/4 lengths to the favorite, Share the Ride.
American Power, a 6-year-old son of Power Broker, finished in 1:24.28 with Kendrick Carmouche riding. Drafted and Stan the Man completed the order of finish.
American Power was offered in a $40,000 claimer Oct. 12 at Belmont Park, but not taken.
On Sunday at Sam Houston, Sky Ride came along late to overhaul pacesetting Hollis and win the $75,000 Stonerside Sprint by 1 length. Nitrous was another 1 length behind in third. Sky Ride, a 6-year-old Street Sense gelding, completed 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.70 with Leandro Goncalves in the irons.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Frank's Rockette tracked pacesetting Amy's Challenge through the first half of Saturday's $150,000 American Beauty Stakes at Oaklawn Park, took over when prompted by jockey Florent Geroux and ran on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Amy's Challenge held second by 2 lengths over Wildwood's Beauty.
Frank's Rockette, a daughter of Into Mischief, finished 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:10.03. Frank's Rockette had won four straight races before finishing 11th when sent against male opponents in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in November at Keeneland.
"Nice to see her come off the bench," trainer Bill Mott said of Frank's Rockett. "Knowing she was second against a really good filly there last year, I felt she would handle it. Is it [the mud] her favorite surface? Well, I don't know. But she certainly handled it well enough today."
Sam Houston Race Park
Carbon Stryker had 'em all the way in Saturday's $75,000 My Dandy Division of the Texas Stallion Stakes, leading clearly through the stretch to a 2 1/4-lengths victory. Stone Café was second and Sr. Bi Bi third in the 5 1/2-furlongs test, restricted to eligible Texas-bred 3-year-old colts and geldings.
Carbon Stryker, a Crossbow gelding out of the Silver Train mare Whiskey Girl, finished in 1:05.16 with Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez riding.
In the Darby's Daughter Division for fillies, Star of the North had to battle to gain the lead but, once there, kicked loose to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Wink Texas. Swift Red Bird was another 2 lengths back in third. Star of the North, a daughter of The Hunk, reported in 1:05.88 with Ry Eikleberry up.
Around the world, around the clock:
Sunday's Group 3 Centenary Vase almost worked out just as trainer Tony Cruz planned it. Almost. On cue, timeless veteran Time Warp jumped out to the lead, set a reasonable clip and seemingly had things teed up perfectly for stablemates and race favorites Exultant and Furore.
But then, along came Glorious Dragon. As Time Warp was yielding the lead with some 100 meters to go, the light gray sliced through to his outside, grabbed the lead and held off Exultant by 1 3/4 lengths with Furore third. Singapore Sling edged Time Warp for fourth.
Exultant had won the Centenary Vase twice, including last year over Glorious Dragon.
Glorious Dragon "has a few leg problems so we had to take it easy with him. Early in the season I tried to work him but he wasn't ready so we gave him more time and he is okay now," said winning trainer Francis Lui.
Lui said he will consider a tilt at the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup at 2,000 meters at Sha Tin Feb. 21. "We don't have much choice with him now. We will think about the Gold Cup if he pulls up well." Lui said.
The Dubai World Cup Carnival approaches its midway point Thursday evening at Meydan with a pair of Group 3 races on the dirt sharing the spotlight.
The UAE 2,000 Guineas is run at 1,600 meters and previews the Group 2 UAE Derby on World Cup night. That race, in turn, awards 100 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard, guaranteeing the winner a spot in the Run for the Roses.
Thursday's Firebreak Stakes, at the same trip for older horses, is a logical stepping stone to the Group 3 Burj Nahaar on Super Saturday and the Group 2 Golphin Mile on the World Cup program.
Entries for the Thursday races -- the third of seven Carnival cards -- were not available at press time. Check back Friday to see results.
Rainbow Bridge roared down the middle of the Kenilworth stretch in Saturday's Group 1 Cape Town Met to snatch his second win in the race as Luke Ferraris celebrated his biggest win since graduating from the apprentice ranks.
Rainbow Bridge, a 6-year-old Ideal World gelding, won the Met in 2019 when trained by Anton Marcus. He was second in 2020, beaten just a head, when ridden by Ryan Moore.
His current trainer, Eric Sands, said before the race he believed Ferraris was the perfect match after the youngster piloted Rainbow Bridge to victory in the Group 1 L'Ormarin's Queen's Plate in his last start.
Although Ferraris was trained at the highly regarded South African Jockey Academy, his experience with horses comes naturally. His grandfather, Ormond Ferraris, trained for years in South Africa and his father has plied the training trade in Hong Kong since the 2003-2004 season.
The complexion of the Met changed repeatedly with Running Brave conceding the point to Cirillo and Cirillo, in turn, yielding to a rail run by Belgarion.
Belgarion looked every bit the winner until Ferraris produced Rainbow Bridge well to his outside and won by 1 3/4 lengths. Extreme longshot Sovereign Spirit was third.
The Met has taken a beating along with the rest of South African racing. The economic downturn, compounded by the pandemic and local labor strife all contributed to a near-collapse of industry funding.
That led to a loss of sponsorship for the Met and a purse reduction from a recent high of 5 million Rand to this year's 1 million. Troubles aside, the race, along with the Vodacom Durban July at Greyville, remains atop the nation's must-win list.
New Show ran on gamely at the end to land Friday's local Group 1 Crown Prince's Cup at Sakhir Racecourse, holding off Desert Lion with Litigator finishing third. Simsir, in his first race since winning the Bahrain International Trophy in November, finished fourth.
The victory capped a stellar day for jockey David Eagan, who also piloted Waseela to victory in the Bahrain Oaks and Paco Man to win the Bahrain Derby.
"Besides the Bahrain International Trophy in November, I'd say that was the strongest field I've ever seen in Bahrain and it rode like a very good race," Egan said.
"I followed Desert Lion for most of the way but I needed some luck in the straight. Luckily, those gaps came for me and he galloped all the way through the line."
Egan said he hopes New Show can emulate Port Lions, who won the 2020 Crown Prince Cup before going on to win in Saudi Arabia. "He has got an entry in the handicap at the Saudi Cup on the Friday and hopefully we can go there with a live chance," he said.
New Show, previously trained in England, was sold in July 2019 to compete in Bahrain and since then has won four of seven starts.