Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Mandaloun jumped right to the top of the Kentucky Derby rankings with a victory in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds while the weekend's other top race for 3-year-olds was postponed -- twice -- by weather.
Winter's worst put the kibosh not only on the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, where three top Derby contenders were entered, but also on the rest of a three-day Presidents Weekend program. The weather also claimed a big Saturday at Laurel Park in Maryland.
With fingers crossed, Oaklawn and Laurel officials rescheduled the races for next weekend.
Meanwhile, the rain that pelted New Orleans for a few days slacked off enough for the maintenance crew to get the Fair Grounds main track to "fast" condition.
Although the turf remained yielding, the track staged a stellar program with Maxfield emerging as a potential force in the Classic Division and Clairiere and Travel Column as Kentucky Oaks contenders. Leinster starred at Gulfstream Park and could head for Dubai.
Bob Baffert only had three starters in the weekend feature at Santa Anita, so the best he could do was finish 1-2-3, which he did. "Mattress Mac" McIngvale continues to have a great February. See "News and Notes" for an explanation.
Internationally, upsets were in fashion in Australia with Verry Elleegant among the victims. In Dubai, it probably pained Sheik Mohammed to have to geld a half-brother to Thunder Snow but the ultimate equipment change appears to have worked well for Eastern World.
And while the 3-year-olds continue to progress in Japan, Loves Only You finally got back to the winner's enclosure.
We'll progress right to ...
The Road to the Roses
Put a ring around the name Mandaloun. The Juddmonte Farms homebred Into Mischief colt ran his record to three wins from four starts with a pace-stalking victory in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds.
The victory earned 50 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard, jumping him to the top of that list with a guarantee of a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate May 1.
With Florent Geroux up, Mandaloun raced in third into the stretch, advanced to the lead about the three-sixteenths pole and got clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Proxy and Midnight Bourbon, the top two from the local Grade II Lecomte Stakes, were second and third. Mandaloun was third in the Lecomte, his first try at two turns, prompting trainer Brad Cox to add blinkers for the Risen Star.
"Blinkers on was a difference-maker today for sure," Geroux said. "We knew he needed it racing, but he's been winning without them. He's always been a little funny down the lane. He's never given me his full potential.
"Today, we had the same kind of trip we had in the Lecomte, but when I pushed on the gas today, he responded right away. Last time I feel like he wasn't giving me his best."
Cox said after Saturday's effort the Louisiana Derby "is definitely going to be in play. We will talk it over with [Juddmonte manager] Garrett O'Rourke and the Juddmonte team and come up with a game plan."
Keepmeinmind, who has not raced since winning the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Nov. 29 at Churchill Downs, was a late scratch from the Risen Star and likely will give Sunday's Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park a go.
Out in California, Rombauer rallied from last to win Saturday's other "official" Kentucky Derby prep, the $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.
The Twirling Candy colt, making his first start since finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, came around rivals to vie for the lead at mid-stretch and outfinished Javanica, winning by a neck over that one. It was another 4 lengths to 119-1 shot Governor's Party in third.
Rombauer, with Kyle Frey in the irons, ran 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:51.64. He now has wins on turf, dirt and all-weather surfaces. Saturday's win was worth an automatic slot in the Preakness Stakes.
"Man, as soon as we straightened up, I knew it was over from that point on," Frey said on TVG's post-race interview. "I mean, what an amazing horse. I'm excited to see where this horse ends up."
Saturday's eighth race at Fair Grounds, a 1 1/16-miles affair, was in effect an audition for the Louisiana Derby and may have produced a cast member or two for that production.
Big Lake, an American Pharoah colt who has progressed nicely through four starts for trainer Steve Asmussen, stalked the pace, jumped out to a big lead at mid-stretch and held off the favorite, Defeater, to win by 1/2 length.
Defeater, a Union Rags colt making just his second start, is trained by Tom Amoss. Keep an eye on both.
Cox now holds down the top two spots on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard. Mandaloun ousted Cox-trained champion 2-year-old and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Essential Quality from the No. 1 position.
Midnight Bourbon advanced to the No. 3 spot and Proxy jumped up to No. 4. Rombauer's 10 points for winning the El Camino Real put him at No. 6.
Next weekend's Kentucky Derby action, weather permitting, is at Oaklawn Park where the Southwest Stakes awards 10 points to the winner.
Essential Quality, Keepmeinmind and the highly regarded Jackie's Warrior are expected for that heat, which was postponed from Monday to Saturday because of the vile weather spreading across the eastern half of the country. Then, after another look at the forecast, Oaklawn pushed the race back to Sunday.
Meantime, Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager closed with "all other 3-year-olds" as the 3-1 favorite. Sham Stakes winner Life Is Good was the top individual choice at 7-1 odds. Two more pools will be conducted during March.
The Road to the Kentucky Oaks
As noted here Friday, the locals looked a tad suspect in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds.
Sure enough, it was Clairiere and Travel Column, both last seen in the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs, battling it out through the final strides.
Travel Column contested the early lead, took the front midway through the 1 1/16 miles and just missed holding on by a neck. Clairiere hit the gate, raced well back and then challenged outside Travel Column to get the win, finishing in 1:45.34 for jockey Joe Talamo.
Clairiere, a Curlin filly from the Bernardini mare Cavorting, is a Stonestreet Stables homebred. She now is 2-for-3 for trainer Steve Asmussen.
"I'm extremely excited about who she is," Asmussen said of Clairiere. "This filly, the third run of her life, is just getting better. Races going further look like they'll be right in her wheelhouse.
"For her to win the Rachel Alexandra in the Stonestreet silks is extremely special. We'll discuss her next start with the team and see how we're doing. This filly has a very bright future."
Maxfield clearly is back and ready to be a force in this division, perhaps after heading off to the Middle East next month.
The 4-year-old Street Sense colt, after making only one start in 2020, made it 2-for-2 this year with a commanding victory in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Mineshaft Stakes at Fair Grounds.
Off a bit slowly for jockey Florent Geroux, Maxfield took his time to rally four-wide and then opened up through the stretch, winning by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:43.67.
Sonneman and Chess Chief filled out the trifecta, on which a winning, 50-cent, four-horse trifecta box lost a dime. Been there. Done that.
Maxfield, who races for Godolphin, is undefeated in five starts spread over three years because of a variety of injuries. The earlier victories include the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in 2019 and the Grade III Matt Winn at Churchill Downs last year.
"He's just a special horse," winning trainer Brendan Walsh said. "You point him in the right direction and he does it for you. It's a privilege to have him in our barn. ... He's really progressed and he's turning into the horse we always hoped he would be."
Asked about the $12 million Dubai World Cup on March 27 at Meydan, Walsh said, "We'll see. ... All options are open. We'll enjoy today. He's making the progress we want him to make and I think we're in great shape with the horse."
Walsh is no stranger to Meydan, having saddled 2019 UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait. Sheik Mohammed, however, has other contenders for the World Cup so some decisions will be in order.
Mischevious Alex had no trouble with a trio of rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Gulfstream Park Sprint, taking over the lead when asked, then drawing off willingly to win by 3 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite.
Frosted Grace, Cajun Brother and -- much later -- Wind of Change completed the order of finish. Mischevious Alex, a 4-year-old Into Mischief colt, negotiated 6 furlongs of fast track in 1:09.55 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up.
Mischevious Alex endured a rocky end to his 3-year-old campaign in a pair of Grade I events last summer in New York, then rebounded with a victory at Gulfstream Jan. 10 after an extended break.
"The Carter is the primary goal. The Dubai sprint is in our minds, but we're going to talk it over and decide," trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said.
"Chuck [owner Chuck Zackney] has a game plan to try to win a Grade I this year." The references are to the $300,000 Grade I Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 3 and the $1.5 million Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 27.
Across the Everglades at Tampa Bay Downs, Zenden and Souper Stonehenge dueled for the lead through the full 6 furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 Pelican Stakes with Zenden prevailing by a head.
Edgemont Road was third, another 3 lengths back. Zenden, a 5-year-old son of Fed Biz, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.85 with Samy Camacho up.
"That was awesome," said winning trainer Carlos David. "I talked to Samy and he told me the horse was able to relax on the lead and have enough left for the finish. This horse is a fighter, and he wasn't going to let that other horse past. Samy gave him a great ride."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Monica at Santa Anita turned into another Bob Baffert showcase as the silver-haired trainer watched his three starters finish 1-2-3.
Merneith and Golden Principal disputed the early lead. Merneith then took over and eased away to win by 2 1/4 lengths over that rival while Qahira ran evenly behind that duo to finish third.
The favorite, Hard Not to Love, disappointed her Valentine's Day weekend hunch backers, finishing seventh.
Merneith, a 4-year-old American Pharoah filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.28 with Edwin Maldonado in the irons.
She has been a consistent, if not flashy, performer, finishing third in the 2020 Santa Anita Oaks and third in the Grade I LaBrea in December. The Santa Monica was her first graded stakes win.
Baffert said Merneith reminds him strongly of her sire and added, "Every time I run her, I expect her to win and she gets beat and I've been really surprised she hadn't done what she's done and today she showed it.
"Today is the day she finally showed what she has and that was a pretty tough field of horses that she beat. To win one-two-three, it was nice cheering down the lane."
The Goddess Lyssa jumped quickly to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Minaret Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, opened up a daylight advantage and kept going to win by 3 1/4 lengths.
Bronx Beauty was second, 1/2 length in front of Poseidon's Passion. The Goddess Lyssa, a 4-year-old Fury Kapcori filly, got 6 furlongs for jockey Daniel Centeno in 1:10.02 over the muddy track.
"For her first time on a muddy track, she ran really good," Centeno said. "She likes to run on the lead and I got her to relax well. The last time she ran, I never hit her and today I hit her twice at the eighth pole, once on the left side and once on the right, and she finished strong."
Hawthorne Race Course may have trouble enticing trainer Chris Block back from New Orleans when one season starts and the other ends.
Block, whose family breeding and racing operation is an Illinois stalwart, scored his second big win of the season in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Fair Grounds Stakes as Captivating Moon rallied from last of 10 to post a shocker, winning by 1 3/4 lengths at odds of 43-1.
Logical Myth was second and Peace Achieved third. Captivating Moon, a 6-year-old entire son of Malibu Moon, ran 1 1/8 miles on yielding turf in 1:50.27 with Marcelino Pedroza riding.
Captivating Moon had gone nine starts without winning or even seriously threatening since his last victory -- the Diliberto Memorial in December 2019, also at Fair Grounds.
A potential clue to Saturday's surprise: He was 10-for-13 in-the-money in previous starts on the turf. Bob Lothenbach, another Chicago stalwart, owns Captivating Moon.
"When I entered him, the thought process was I would rather be in this race if it came off [the turf] than any other place," Block said. "When it was left on, I thought we had no choice but to run. He does like a soft turf and has been training really well between the last couple of races."
Block also saddled Charlie's Penny to a 9-1 upset win in the Silverbulletday Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Jan. 16.
Filly & Mare Turf
Dalaika parked in second spot through the early furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 Albert M. Stall Memorial at Fair Grounds, took the lead inside the eighth pole and ran on to win by 1 length.
Temple City Terror was last early and finished second, 1/2 length to the good of Pass the Plate in third. Dalaika, a 5-year-old, German-bred mare by Pastorius, slogged through 1 1/16 miles of yielding turf in 1:45.16 with Miguel Mena in the irons.
Dalaika won her first start of the Fair Grounds season Dec. 19 in the Blushing K D, but then finished a fading fifth in the Marie Krantz Memorial in her most recent outing.
Dalaika is trained by Al Stall Jr., son of the race's late namesake, and there were very few dry eyes in winner's circle as Stall celebrated the victory with family.
"It's funny how things come together," Stall said. "We've been giving the trophy away in this race for the last couple of years to Bill Mott and Joe Sharp -- good friends of mine. We're lucky enough to have a filly to be live in this race. Everything went our way."
Sunday at Santa Anita, Going Global was off slowly in the $100,000 Sweet Life Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, made up all the ground and was along in the final furlong to catch pacesetting Five Pics Please and win by 1/2 length.
Nimbostratus was third. Going Global, an Irish-bred filly by Mehmas, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:07.68 for jockey Flavien Prat, just 0.04 second shy of the course record.
Trainer Phil d'Amato said more ambitious tests could await. "Flavien hinted that she could definitely use some more ground, so we'll definitely look at the two-turn stakes schedule here and go from there," the trainer said.
Leinster, the odds-on favorite, tracked the early speed in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint, rallied to challenge in deep stretch and won by a neck over pacesetting High Crime. Harry's Ontheloose was third. Leinster, a 6-year-old son of Majestic Warrior, ran 5 furlongs on good turf in 55.29 seconds for jockey Luis Saez. Leinster now has won three of his last four with a third place in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint thrown into the middle of that stretch.
"Since he started running sprints on the grass, he's missed the board once, and that was in the (2019) Breeders' Cup," said Leinster's trainer, Rusty Arnold. "He didn't get a trip and maybe he was over the top."
Arnold said the choices for Leinster's next start are the $1 million Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on the March 27 Dubai World Cup undercard or the $200,000 Grade II Shakertown April 3 at Keeneland, which he won last year.
Saturday's $100,000 Colonel Power Stakes at Fair Grounds was off the turf, but Just Might has proved he can run on just about any surface and did so again, leading all the way to an emphatic, 5-length victory.
The favorite, Extravagant Kid, was pinched back at the start, mounted a challenge around the turn and beat the others with Went West another 3/4 length back in third. Just Might, a 5-year-old Justin Phillip gelding, reported in 1:02.75 over a dirt track rated fast.
"I think he's as good on dirt as he is on turf. It doesn't matter," winning rider Colby Hernandez said. "He breaks so sharp and he's got natural speed and we used that to our advantage. When I called on him at the top of the stretch he just ran on."
Around the world, around the clock:
Verry Elleegant came a cropper in her first start since the Melbourne Cup, finishing third in Saturday's Group 3 Yulong Apollo Stakes at Royal Randwick.
Colette, with Rachel King up for trainer James Cummings, got there first in the 1,400-meter sprint, 2 lengths to the good of Kolding, who edged the favorite for second.
Colette finished in 1:24.50 over soft turf. The Godolphin runner also was making her first start in a while, off a victory in the Golden Eagle Stakes on Halloween.
"Her odds was a reflection of the strength of the field she was up against -- Kolding, Verry Elleegant and Funstar are very good horses," winning trainer James Cummings told Racenet. "But she is the Golden Eagle winner resuming first-up and performed like a Golden Eagle winner."
Also Saturday, Nature Strip took the lead inside the 300-meters mark and held off September Run by a diminishing neck, giving trainer Chris Waller a 1-2 finish in the Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning Stakes at Flemington.
The favorite, Bivouac, did not threaten at any point and reported fourth, more than 2 1/2 lengths back of the winner. Nature Strip, a 6-year-old Nicconi gelding, was running for the first time since a second-place finish -- behind Bivouac -- in the Group 2 VRC Classic on Nov. 7.
Jamie Kah made followed on to Rachel King's achievement to make it a good day for female riders. Kah took the assignment on Nature Strip when James McDonald chose to ride Verry Elleegant in Sydney.
Let's continue to keep an early eye on the 3-year-olds.
Saturday's feature, the Grade 3 Daily Hai Queen Cup for 3-year-old fillies at Tokyo Racecourse, found second-favorite Akaitorino Musume rally to the lead around the 100-meter marker, and then gamely old off late rallies by Art de Vivre and he favorite, Kakuna, to hang onto the win.
The margins were a neck and a neck with several others not far behind. Akaitorino Musume, a daughter of Deep Impact from the King Kamehameha mare Apapane, ran 1,600 meters on good to firm turf in 1:33.3 with Keita Tosaki up.
Akaitorino Musume finished seventh in her career debut in August, returned to score her first victory Oct. 17 at Tokyo Racecourse and backed that with a win in the Akamatsu Sho over the same course Nov. 22. All three races were at the same 1,600 meters, and Saturday's race was her first start of the year.
Sunday, over the same course, Efforia emerged from behind a bit of early speed to win the Grade 3 Kyodo News Hai for 3-year-olds by a convincing 2 1/2 lengths, remaining undefeated after three starts.
Victipharus and Shahryar were along for second and third in a tightly packed scrum. Efforia, an Epiphaneia colt from the Heart's Cry mare Katie's Heart, ran 1,800 meters on good to firm turf in 1:47.6 with Takeshi Yokoyama in the irons.
Efforia, owned by U Carrot farm and bred by Northern Farm, won at first asking at Sapporo last Aug. 23, then stepped up to win the Hyakunichiso Tokobetsu at Tokyo Racecourse Nov. 8. Those races were both at 2,000 meters. Sunday's effort was the colt's 3-year-old debut.
Sunday at Hanshin Racecourse, Loves Only You finally got back to the winner's enclosure for the first time since winning the Group 1 Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks in May of 2019.
The now 5-year-old Deep Impact mare was 4-for-4 with a seemingly unlimited future after that triumph but then made no impact in her next six starts.
With Yuga Kawada at the controls in Sunday's Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen, Loves Only You waited behind some early breakaway leaders, closed things up on the stretch turn and challenged for the lead just before the 100-meter marker.
She then spurted clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Stay Foolish with Danburite third. Loves Only You, the only female in the 11-horse field, ran 2,200 meters in 2:10.4
Eastern World, a half-brother to Thunder Snow by Dubawi, drew off to a 3 1/2-lengths victory in the 1 1/8-mile turf feature Saturday at Meydan -- a showing that trainer Charlie Appleby said bodes well for the future.
"The horse has a fantastic pedigree, as we know," Appleby said. "But he's been an interesting character trying to get him to concentrate on the job at hand. We gelded him at the back end of last year and he's trained well out here."
Appleby said Eastern World is a candidate for the dirt "but the problem now is he just missed the boat slightly [for this season]. He's a young horse, so he'll be a nice horse to look forward to for next Carnival."
News and Notes
Things are going well this month for James "Mattress Mac" McIngvale, the Texas furniture magnate and Thoroughbred owner.
First, he cashed a $3.46 million bet on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, using much of the profit to cover a generous promotion offered to his customers.
Then, Runhappy, the Super Saver stallion he has spent huge sums promoting, got his first stakes winner Sunday in the Gander Stakes at Aqueduct.
The winner, Nicky the Vest, now might be a candidate for the Grade III Gotham, a Kentucky Derby prep. McIngvale does not own Nicky the Vest but the benefit to Runhappy's future of a potential Triple Crown run by his progeny is worth more than any ownership share.