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Essential Quality, Greatest Honour move toward Kentucky Derby

By
Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Essential Quality, with Luis Saez up, wins Saturday's Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Photo by Coady Photography, courtesy of Oaklawn Park
Essential Quality, with Luis Saez up, wins Saturday's Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Photo by Coady Photography, courtesy of Oaklawn Park

March 1 (UPI) -- Essential Quality and Greatest Honour prepped impressively for the Kentucky Derby with victories in the Southwest Stakes and Fountain of Youth in weekend horse racing.

The remarkable Monomoy Girl returned to action with a win. Up-and-coming Mystic Guide may have earned a trip from Arkansas to Dubai and Kimari could have booked a return to Royal Ascot.

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Four of last November's Breeders's Cup winners were back in action during the weekend. Two performed brilliantly, but two others, not so much. Read on to sort them out. We've already dropped some clues.

On the international front, two thrilling Group 1 races Down Under featured a 300-1 upset in the Australian Guineas and a return to victory by Verry Elleegant.

RELATED Horse racing: Mishriff over Charlatan in Saudi Cup, No. 13 lucky in Hong Kong

Resistencia won her comeback in Japan and the Hong Kong Derby picture got more, rather than less, complicated. Forest of Dean won the Winter Derby in England.

If the Winter Derby is in the books, so is winter -- well, meteorological winter, anyway, which comprises December, January and February -- so let's think springtime and roses as we start with:

The Road to the Roses

RELATED Mandaloun jumps to top of Kentucky Derby list

Essential Quality, the 2020 2-year-old champion and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner (there's one), showed no signs of rust as he blew away six rivals in Saturday's $750,000 Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, confirming his status atop what's shaping up to be a pretty impressive bunch of 3-year-olds.

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The Tapit colt, a Godolphin homebred, was wide all the way around the sloppy Oaklawn track chasing the early lead made by Jackie's Warrior.

He responded willingly when asked by jockey Luis Saez, shot to the front and won by 4 1/2 lengths, remaining undefeated after four starts. Spielberg finished second after a rough trip that included an awkward start. Jackie's Warrior reported third.

RELATED Kentucky Derby heats up; Baffert suddenly has two more contenders

Essential Quality's victory came despite a two-weeks delay in the Southwest because of winter storms in central Arkansas.

Saturday's weather was slightly warmer, but not much more pleasant with mist and fog hovering over the wet track, none of which seemed to bother the winner or trainer Brad Cox.

"He showed up and ran his race," Cox said. "It was somewhat of a relief to get this race over with. The delay of the race, the track condition, just a lot of obstacles to overcome. Good horses do overcome but it doesn't mean the trainer doesn't worry."

"We just want to wrap him in bubble wrap and get to the next race," said Cox, who has not saddled a Kentucky Derby starter.

He reported Sunday morning the colt exited the Southwest in good order, adding, "It's all coming together like we kind of envisioned it a couple of months ago. But we've got two more months, and on the Derby trail that's a long way."

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Six-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert said he was happy with Spielberg's performance, bar the start.

"He was just moving a little [as the gate opened]. But, you have to give credit to the winner. He's a good horse," Baffert said. "I'm proud of the way [Spielberg)] ran. He showed up. I'm very happy. Other than the gate, everything went well. He shipped well and he ran well."

Only minutes after the Southwest was made official, Greatest Honour came running from near the back of a 10-horse field to capture the $300,000 Grade II Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.

The Tapit colt, a Courtlandt Farms homebred, appeared to be spinning his wheels all the way down the backstretch but hit the afterburners on the turn, circled most of the field and won going away.

Pacesetting Drain the Clock held second by 2 lengths over Papetu. Tarantino was fourth, beaten less than 5 lengths, after pressing the early pace, and Breedrers' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Fire at Will faded from contention to finish eighth (that's two).

Greatest Honour ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.02 with Jose Ortiz in the irons for trainer Shug McGaughey.

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Although Greatest Honour has never finished worse than third, he took four tries to find the winner's circle last year, finally winning at 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park after shipping down from New York.

He went from that win Dec. 26 to a 5 3/4-lengths score in the Grade III Holy Bull on Jan. 30. In each of his starts, he has rallied late from well back in the field -- although seldom as far back as in the Fountain.

McGaughey said he was hesitant about the Fountain for Greatest Honour, who clearly is destined for longer races.

"I was on the fence whether I wanted to run him back going a mile and a sixteenth here or not. I decided that the way he worked last Sunday, it was time to go.

"Now, we have longer races in front of us. I still think his future is in front of him," McGaughey said, channeling his inner Yogi Berra.

Ortiz explained why Greatest Honour's run was a little delayed.

"He's such a big horse with such a big stride. At the three-eighths [pole] I'm trying to get him going and I got a space on the inside, but I didn't what to stop him again," Ortiz said. "I decided to go wide and when he hit the clear, boom!"

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The weekend's third official Derby qualifying race, the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial, was run Friday night over the Turfway Park all-weather course with a local horse, Hush of a Storm, rallying outside the leaders in the stretch run to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Like the King was second and the favorite, Gretzky the Great, faded from a pressured lead to finish third but just another neck in arrears.

Hush of a Storm, a Creative Cause colt, scored his third straight win, all at the northern Kentucky track, while finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.00 for jockey Santiago Gonzalez.

When the smoke had cleared, the 50 points Greatest Honour earned by winning the Fountain of Youth boosted him to the top of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard with 60.

Essential Quality was allocated just 10 points for the Southwest triumph, leaving him in third place with 40. They are split by Mandaloun's 52 points, earned primarily in the Risen Star Stakes victory at Fair Grounds.

Also in weekend Derby-related activity:

Known Agenda romped to an 11-length victory Friday in a 1 1/8-miles Gulfstream Park allowance event, boosting the Curlin colt into contention for the Florida Derby.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said jockey John Velazquez recommended the addition of blinkers after Known Agenda finished fifth in the Grade III Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs and, earlier, a distant third in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct.

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"It looks like today the blinkers helped," Pletcher said.

Another latecomer to the party: Collaborate earned a spot on the Derby trail, likely in the Florida Derby, with a convincing, 12 1/2-length victory on Saturday's Fountain of Youth undercard.

Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said the Into Mischief colt showed "he's a Derby horse. I know we're a little behind schedule but with the ability he has, he can probably overcome it."

Next week: The "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" gets serious with races on the all-weather tracks Wednesday at Kempton Park and Friday at Dundalk.

The first three legs in this series were run last fall on the turf and are unlikely have any relevance. Back in the United States, Saturday brings three races with 50-point swag for the winners -- a virtual guarantee of a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate.

That lineup is the Gotham at Aqueduct, the Tampa Bay Derby and the San Felipe at Santa Anita.

The Road to the Oaks

Wholebodemeister dominated Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park, drawing off easily to win by 6 1/2 lengths while 2-year-old champion Vequist never fired in her 3-year-old debut and was eased through the stretch, finishing next-last (that's three).

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Crazy Beautiful was second with Competitive Speed third. Wholebodemeister is a daughter of Bodemeister out of the Scat Daddy mare Wholelottashakin.

She went to the post at odds of nearly 53-1 with only two minor wins in six previous starts. Nonetheless, they run these for a reason and jockey Edgard Zayas booted the filly home in 1:36.89 over a fast track.

"Last time, it was a troubled trip," Zayas said. "She's still learning a lot. ... I knew she would be solid if I could keep her in the clear. My plan was just to break out of there, put her on the lead and see what she got."

Vequist's trainer, Butch Reid, said the filly appeared well Sunday morning and there may have been a physical excuse for her disappointing performance.

"We did scope her after the race and she was a little dirty," Reid said. "She had some mucus in there and stuff that we can work with and I think it definitely affected her performance a little bit. But, soundness-wise, she's great and is happy ... We haven't eliminated anything yet."

Wait for Nairobi waited patiently behind most of the field in Friday night's $65,000 Cincinnati Trophy Stakes at Turfway Park, and then waited for no one when jockey Edgar Morales gave her the go-ahead sign.

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Rallying sharply, the Carpe Diem filly blasted past the early speed and got away to win by 2 lengths. Phantom Vision was second, 3 1/4 lengths clear of the even-money favorite, Igloo. Wait for Nairobi covered 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:17.64 with Edgar Morales up.

Classic / Dirt Mile

Mystic Guide was shuffled back early in Saturday's $600,000 Grade III Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park, raced 3- and 4-wide much of the way and still had no problem taking command in the final furlong to win by 6 lengths.

Silver Prospector and Owendale filled out the trifecta. Mystic Guide, a 4-year-old Ghostzapper colt, covered 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:44.33 with Luis Saez up. Like Southwest winner Essential Quality, he is a Godolphin homebred but trained by Michael Stidham.

The win was impressive enough to have Stidham thinking about a trip to the Middle East for Mystic Guide, even though Godolphin has other candidates on the ground for the $12 million Dubai World Cup on March 27.

"It's so rewarding with a horse like this that we were really patient with as a 3-year-old," Stidham said. "We spaced his races, gave him time to develop. It's really paying off now. Now, we're paying dividends. As far as they go, he'll run.

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"Certainly, in the back of our mind, the Dubai World Cup is there. Now, after a performance like that, it's on the table, for sure."

Mystic Guide posted his third win from seven starts and has never finished worse than third. He won the Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga and finished second in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park last season.

Mr. Buff muscled right to the front in Saturday's $125,000 Stymie Stakes at Aqueduct and never looked back.

After cruising through most of the 1 mile, the 7-year-old Friend Or Foe gelding held on to score by 1/2 length from Limonite with Musical Heart third. Mr. Buff, with Manny Franco at the controls, ran 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:36.97.

Fearless, a lightly raced, 5-year-old Ghostzapper gelding, came from back to win Saturday's $200,000 Grade II WinStar Gulfstream Park Mile by 3/4 length over Avant Garde.

The favorite, Performer, chased the early pace and faded to finish third, suffering just his third career loss. Fearless, with Irad Ortiz Jr. up, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.61. He had not been seen since finishing sixth in the Grade II Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs last June 27.

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Distaff

Monomoy Girl, two-time Breeders' Cup winner, including last November's Distaff at Keeneland and reigning Eclipse Award champion (that's No. 4), finally got back to the track Sunday at Oaklawn, albeit a sloppy track that had the riders all looking for solid ground out near the middle.

Neither the conditions nor a two-week delay in running the race affected Monomoy Girl, who raced third, outside the leaders, around the stretch turn, then ran by when turned loose by jockey Florent Geroux and galloped off to win by 2 lengths. Our Super Freak was second and Finite third as the champ finished in 1:45.92.

The win was the 14th from 16 starts in a remarkable career for the Tapizar mare that included an 18-month, injury-related gap. She was second -- once through disqualification -- in the two races she did not win and now has a six-race streak going.

"The pressure is off for the time being," winning trainer Brad Cox said. "It was a little bit of an odd circumstance with the riders all trying to keep out in the middle of the track. But she got the job done."

Cox said Monomoy Girl will return to his base at Fair Grounds with the current intention of returning to Arkansas for the Grade I Apple Blossom.

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Sprint / Turf Sprint

Kimari was on her toes in Saturday's $200,000 Spring Fever Stakes at Oaklawn Park, rallying into the stretch and then kicking away to win by 4 1/4 lengths -- maybe booking a return trip to Royal Ascot if conditions permit.

The 4-year-old Munnings filly, trained by Wesley Ward, finished 5 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:04.07 for jockey Joel Rosario with Casual and Shesomajestic second and third.

"She's sound as new money," Ward said of Kimari. "And she probably ran one of the best races of her life. Only thing different this year over last year [when she won the Purple Martin] was the outside post. It was to her advantage this year. We were fortunate. It made Joel's job easier."

Ward has taken Kimari to England twice. She finished second in the Grade II Queen Mary in 2019 and second again last year in the Grade I Commonwealth.

He said before the race he would point Kimari to the Grade I Madison at Keeneland before considering whether to buck the pandemic restrictions around international travel.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Windmill set after pacesetting Goin' Good early in the stretch run of Sunday's $150,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Oaklawn Park, gradually narrowed the gap and finally got by that rival to win by 1 length.

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Goin' Good held second, 1 length in front of the favorite, Abrogate. Windmill, a Street Sense filly, finished 6 furlongs on the sloppy track in 1:11.14 with Joe Talamo up. Windmill was making just her second start. She won at first asking, also at Oaklawn, on Jan. 23.

Turf

Phantom Currency showed his customary speed early in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Mac Diarmida Stakes at Gulfstream Park, turned back a challenge on the backstretch and was still there at the end, winning by 3/4 length over the favorite, Tide of the Sea.

It was another 1/2 length to Moon Over Miami as Phantom Currency finished 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:13.84 for jockey Paco Lopez.

The Brian Lynch trainee, a 5-year-old Goldencents gelding, now has two straight wins and four from nine starts on turf. The Mac Diarmida was his first stakes score.

"He's a horse that gets very, very game when he's left alone," Lynch said. "Paco said he gave him a little breather around the three-eighths pole and he still felt like he had a lot of horse. He let them come to him and then he crept away."

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Three-year-olds tackled 1 1/16 grassy miles in Saturday's $100,000 Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park with the favorite, Annex, up in the final strides to win by a head over Scarlett Sky.

It was 1 3/4 lengths more to Chess's Dream in third. Annex, a Constitution colt trained by Bill Mott, finished in 1:40.62 over firm going with Junior Alvarado riding. He was making just his second start following a victory Jan. 16 at 1 mile over the same course, using similar tactics.

One race after the Palm Beach, older horses tackled the same 1 1/16 miles in the $125,000 Grade III Canadian Turf Stakes. Venezuelan Hug rated in mid-pack in that one, fought through some late traffic and outfinished Olympic Runner to win by a neck.

It was another neck back to long shot Gear Jockey in third. Venezuelan Hug, a 4-year-old Constitution colt, reported in 1:40.42, also with Alvarado riding. The Danny Gargan charge, claimed 11 months ago for $40,000, emerged from the state-bred ranks to score his sixth win in his 10th start.

At Santa Anita, Rock Your World tracked the early pacesetter in Saturday's $100,000 Pasadena Stakes for 3-year-olds, got by that one and kicked away to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

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The favorite, Cathkin Peak, always was close, but lacked the needed kick in the final furlong and settled for second. Red Flag was third. Rock Your World, a Candy Ride colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.39 under Umberto Rispoli. The John Sadler trainee, who did not race at 2, now is 2-for-2 for his career.

At Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Royal Prince drafted in behind the leaders early in Saturday's $75,000 Black Gold Stakes for 3-year-olds, worked to put a nose in front about the sixteenth pole and won by that margin over a stubborn Dyn O Mite.

Palazzi was third. Royal Prince, a Cairo Prince colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:45.05 with Brian Hernandez Jr. riding.

Filly & Mare Turf

Antoinette got her 4-year-old career off to a rousing start in Saturday's $125,000 Grade III The Very One Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Leading all the way in her first start since Oct. 16 at Keeneland, the Hard Spun filly came spinning out of the turn in full flight and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Belle Laura was second, a neck in front of Sister Hanan.

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The Golphin homebred, trained by Bill Mott, ran 1 3/16 miles on firm turf in 1:53.70 under Jose Ortiz. Antoinette picked up where she left off as last year's record shows a win in the Saratoga Oaks and a second in the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational.

Con Lima was a bridesmaid when she crossed the finish line second in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Herecomesthebride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park.

But by the time the stewards finished looking at things, she was promoted to the "I do" role with first-finishing favorite Spanish Loveaffair demoted from first to fourth for interference on the far turn.

That ruling also promoted Joy of Painting to second at big odds and I Get It to third. Con Lima, a Texas-bred daughter of Commissioner, improved her record to four wins and four seconds from eight starts.

Turf Sprint

Got Stormy, racing for the first time since finishing a close-up fifth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last November, won a four-way scramble to the wire in Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Honey Fox Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

After waiting behind the early leader, Got Stormy picked things up in the stretch, but found company in closers Zofelle and Feel Glorious, finally handling those rivals by a pair of necks.

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The early leader, Jakarta, was another neck back in fourth. Got Stormy, a 6-year-old Get Stormy mare, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.52 with Tyler Gaffalione up.

Also in North America

Santa Anita

Fashionably Fast stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Tiznow Stakes for California-breds, headed pacesetting Desmond Doss at the top of the lane and dueled to the wire with that one before prevailing by a head.

Brandothebartender was gaining through the final yards to finish third, another head back. Fashionably Fast, a 6-year-old Lucky Pulpit gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.14 with Tiago Periera riding.

Fair Grounds

Jus Lively had to swing out toward the center of the course to get around rivals late in Saturday's $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace Stakes for Louisiana-breds, and then battled with Trey's Midnight Moon to preserve a 1/2-length victory.

Maga Man was another 3/4 lengths back in third. Jus Lively, a 5-year-old son of Paddy O'Prado, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:38.87 with Adam Beschizza in the kip.

Oaklawn Park

The Mary Rose was off a beat slowly in Sunday's $150,000 Downthedustyroad Breeders' Stakes for Arkansas-bred fillies and mares, had to come toward the center of the track to get by rivals and still got there first by 1/2 length over Matapan.

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Miss Antioch led briefly and held on for show money. The Mary Rose, a 4-year-old Macho Uno filly, splashed 6 furlongs on the sloppy track in 1:12.28 with Martin Garcia riding.

Sam Houston Race Park

Like much of Texas, Sam Houston is making up for lost time with Saturday's program featuring a host of events for state-breds postponed by the local weather disaster.

Star of the North led from the start in the $75,000 Two Altazano Stakes for Texas-bred 3-year-old fillies and extended the margin through the stretch to score by 7 1/4 lengths.

Wink Texas beat the other four with Thatsalotofbling third. Star of the North, a daughter of The Hunk, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.55 for jockey Ry Eikleberry.

Ima Discreet Lady dueled with Miss Perfecta through the early furlongs of the $75,000 Miss Bluebonnet Turf Stakes for state-bred distaffers, said goodbye to that one at the quarter pole and won off by 4 1/2 lengths.

Miss Perfecta held second with No Mas Tequila getting show money. Ima Discreet Lady, a 5-year-old Discreet Cat mare, got 1 mile on the lawn in 1:38.04 with Eidleberry aboard.

Direct Dial stalked the pace in the $75,000 H-Town Stakes for state-breds, took over when asked by jockey Stewart Elliott and won by 4 lengths over the early leader, Gunnerscelesticman.

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Algebra calculated a third-place finish. Direct Dial, a 6-year-old son of Too Much Bling, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.76.

Moojab Jr found room along the inside down the stretch drive of the $75,000 Houston Turf Stakes for Texas-breds and got the job done in the final strides, defeating odds-on favorite Sunlit Song by a head.

Kenai Bob was third. Moojab Jr, a 7-year-old Moojab gelding, stopped the timer at 1:44.77 with Iram Diego riding.

Stone Café found late speed in the $75,000 Jim's Orbit Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds and edged clear in deep stretch, winning by 1 length. Dust Em rallied from last of seven but settled for second, 1 3/4 length in front of Island Sun.

Stone Café, a Stonesider gelding with Lindey Wade in the irons, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.15.

Around the world, around the clock:

Australia

Saturday's Group 1 Kennedy Australian Guineas at Flemington turned out to be one of the biggest upsets in a long time -- or ever -- as Lunar Fox got home first, 1/2 length in front of Cherry Tortoni, at odds of 300-1.

The favorite, Tagaloa, tagged along a close third. Lunar Fox, a Foxwedge colt, entered the Guineas with two wins from 12 previous starts, albeit one of them was in the Group 2 VRC Sires Stakes at Flemington some 11 months ago.

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Since then, he had shown little and finished 12th of 14 in his last start, the Group 3 C S Hayes Stakes over the same course.

With Michael Dee in the irons, Lunar Fox swung well out to the middle of the course at the top of the lane, got moving toward the front passing the clock tower and was just up in the final 50 meters to snatch the victory.

"To be honest, I didn't give him much hope," Dee said. "Nobody else really did, either."

On Saturday at Randwick, Verry Elleegant got things back in order, winning the Group 1 Group 1 TAB Chipping Norton Stakes over a couple who had got the better of her last time out -- Colette and Kolding.

Those two finished first and second, respectively, with Verry Elleegant third in the Group 2 Apollo Stakes on Feb. 13 at 1,400 meters over soft going. It was a different story at 1,600 meters with the ground a bit better.

As the field hit the 200-meters marker, Verry Ellegant and Colette hooked up in a ding-dong battle, fighting to the wire before Verry Ellegant pulled things out in the final strides.

Avilus finished third, followed by Funstar and Kolding with little more than the width of a blanket separating all five.

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"She's obviously a very good horse and I think everybody saw her fighting qualities today," Racing.com quoted winning trainer Chris Waller as saying.

"I thought Collette had us cold at the 300-meter mark and then I saw Avilius coming with a well-timed run and she was in the middle of them. Yeah, she dug very deep. It was a good, tough win."

Exciting to watch, too.

England

Forest of Dean showed plenty willing in Saturday's Group 3 Betway Winter Derby at Lingfield Park, taking the lead near the stretch turn, opening up a decent lead and then repelling the late bid of Felix to win by 3/4 length, all while his jockey, Robert Havlin, saying he's better on the grass.

The favorite, Father of Jazz, settled for third in the contest, a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Betway Easter Classic at Lingfield Park on All-Weather Championships Finals Day, Good Friday, April 2.

The victory opens up lots of prospects for the flat turf season for the John Gosden trainee, who was a winner at Glorious Goodwood and the Ebor Festival at York in 2019 before missing his 4-year-old season.

"He is probably better on the grass, so it's good that he has been putting up some nice performances," Havlin said. "He has been beaten a bit less each time and has now turned the form around with Felix. I suppose he will come back here for the Easter Classic now. A mile and a quarter is his ideal trip."

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On the same card, Lord Riddiford held on to win the 5-furlongs Betway Hever Sprint by a neck over the favorite, Moss Gill, a candidate for the the Dubai World Cup undercard. Lord Riddiford, a 6-year-old Zebidee gelding, now has won three of six starts on all-weather surfaces, the first two at Wolverhampton.

"That was Lord Riddiford's best-ever run," said jockey Jason Hart. "He had a bit to do on the ratings but he is a race-fit horse who is really thriving on his racing at the minute."

Hong Kong

Silver Express was so good in winning Sunday's Tai Mei Tuk Handicap at Sha Tin Racecourse that jockey Joao Moreira insisted he could be a candidate for the wide-open BMW Hong Kong Derby on March 21 -- even though he already is committed to another ride in that race.

Silver Express shot out of the gate in the 1,400-meters Tai Mei Tuk, blazed away at a rapid clip and still put the race to bed midway down the stretch. Without being encouraged late, he won by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:21.18.

"If he wins again, he deserves buying a ticket for himself into the Derby because what else could you ask for a horse to be put in there?" said Moreira, Hong Kong's leading rider, who is committed to Sky Darci for the Derby.

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"There is nothing jumping out of the page for the Derby. "It seems very open and, who knows, he could be the one jumping out and making it very interesting."

In his previous start, the gray Canford Cliffs gelding tossed away what looked to be a certain win by running very erratically through the stretch. The addition of blinkers apparently cured that problem as he ran arrow-straight in Sunday's race.

Japan

Resistencia returned to the winner's enclosure, promising a nice season for her connections, after Sunday's Grade 3 Hankyu Hai at Hanshin Racecourse.

The 4-year-old Daiwa Major filly, taking on older male competition, showed the way in the 1,400-meters race, found another gear at the 200-meters marker and kicked off to win by 2 lengths.

Mikki Brillante was along for second, edging Gendarme, who had pressured the winner much of the way. Resistencia, with Yuichi Kitamura aboard, finished in a sparkling 1:19.2 over good to firm turf.

It was the first outing of the year for Resistencia, who won the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in 2019. She had not won in four races since that victory, but was second in both the Grade 1 Oka Sho or Japanese 1,000 Guineas and Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup last season.

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Also Sunday, Hishi Iguazu stepped into the ranks of graded stakes winners for the first time with a hard-won victory in the Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen.

The 5-year-old son of Heart's Cry raced patiently behind a breakaway trio, closed things up approaching the final bend and was all out to win by a neck over Cadence Call.

Hishi Iguazu finished 1,800 meters on good to firm turf in 1:44.9 with Kohei Matsuyama riding for trainer Noriyuki Hori. The horse now has three straight wins on an upward trajectory.

Next weekend brings a 2,000 Guineas trial at Nakayama and a 1,000 Guineas trial at Hanshin.

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