March 15 (UPI) -- If this keeps up, we're going to have to rename the Kentucky Derby experience "the Bob Baffert festival of 3-year-old racing."
How many more Derby contenders made their mark Saturday for the silver-haired, six-time winner of the Run for the Roses? One, sure. Two, maybe. Three, unlikely, but ...
Details to follow. And that was just the top shelf of a pantry full of weekend racing action that also included victories by the outstanding 4-year-old fillies Swiss Skydiver and Shedaresthedevil and a rematch of last November's Breeders' Cup Sprint.
On the international scene, last year's Japanese 3-year-old filly champ suffered a tough beat in an upset for the ages. The lone Group 1 of the weekend in Australia turned up the expected mix. And the British All-Weather Championship closed out its 24-race preliminary season and heads to the Good Friday finals.
Wishing all a good Monday, we offer:
The Road to the Roses
Add Concert Tour -- and maybe Hozier -- to the list of Kentucky Derby prospects for trainer Bob Baffert. And maybe even Triple Tap.
Concert Tour and Hozier shipped from California to finish 1-2 against a good field in Saturday's $1 million Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas with Concert Tour making a big impression while remaining undefeated after three starts.
Concert Tour, a Street Sense colt out of the Tapit mare Purse Strings, crossed over from the outside gate to take the lead around the first turn.
Concert Tour started to pull clear rounding the stretch turn and got away to win by 4 1/4 lengths. His rider, Joel Rosario, had him geared down through the final sixteenth.
Hozier, a Pioneerof the Nile colt, snuck through along the rail entering the stretch and finished second, 3/4 length ahead of Big Lake. Caddo River, meanwhile, took a sharp right turn midway down the stretch, bothering Big Lake, and eventually got home fifth.
Concert Tour earned 50 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard, joining the other Baffert contenders likely locked into spots in the Louisville starting gate -- Life Is Good, Medina Spirit and possibly Spielberg.
All are in the top 15 on the Churchill Downs-organized list that decides the 20-horse maximum Derby field. Hozier snared 20 points and isn't out of the picture and -- read on -- there's even more on the Baffert horizon.
"That was nice, impressive," Baffert said from his Southern California base. "I'm just happy to run 1-2. That's pretty huge. I'm just glad they showed up.
"I just told Rosario he's fast. I know Caddo River's fast. This horse, going two turns first out, just play the break and do what you think is right. He's a very, very fast horse.
"Down the backside, he was doing it pretty easily. They slowed up a little bit down the backside. Joel, you could really tell he was controlling the race. This is a really top horse. I was going to be disappointed if he didn't do what he did today."
If this keeps up, they're going to have to turn the keys to the Hot Springs joint over to Baffert. He now has eight victories in the Rebel to go along with a trophy case full of hardware from the track's other top events, including three editions of the Arkansas Derby.
Also on the Triple Crown trail ... oh, my gosh, there's Baffert again. As previously noted he, stayed home Saturday while Concert Tour win the Rebel. But he had another hot 3-year-ol on the track at Santa Anita -- Triple Tap, a 3-year-old Tapit colt who is a half-brother to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
The colt, owned and bred by Summer Wind Equine, went to the post as odds-on favorite in his career debut and ran to his notices, winning by 4 1/4 lengths. Despite the breeding, the expectations and the performance, Baffert wasn't touting the colt for the Derby -- at least not the April 3 Santa Anita Derby.
"It's going to be a little difficult," Baffert said. "We don't want to rush him so we're not even thinking about that right now. ... I want to get this race out of the way and then we're going to talk about it and figure out what we're going to do."
At Laurel Park in Maryland, Shackled Love, a Shackleford colt dismissed at odds of 22-1, dueled with the favorite, Maythehorsebwithu, almost the entire 1 1/16 miles of Saturday's $100,000 Private Terms Stakes, and then inched out to win by 1/2 length.
Excellorator was another 2 lengths back in third. Shackled Love, with Charlie Marquez aboard, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.56, notching just his second win.
The Private Terms is the second of three races previewing the May 15 Preakness with the 1 1/8-miles Federico Tesio on April 17 yet to come. Maythehorsebwithu won the first of the three.
Asked about the Tesio, Shackled Love's trainer, Gary Capuano said, "I think so. As long as he comes back good, we'll try for that."
Sunday at Aqueduct, Excellent Timing had things his own way in the $100,000 Damon Runyon Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds, leading early and winning easily. Perfect Munnings was second, 6 3/4 lengths back of the odds-on favorite and 5 lengths ahead of It's Gravy.
Excellent Timing, a Not This Time colt trained by Chad Brown, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:28.02 and could have improved on that if encouraged by jockey Manny Franco. It was his second straight win after a runner-up showing in his first start.
Co-owner Michael Dubb indicated it's unlikely Excellent Timing will be a Kentucky Derby candidate, but left his development schedule an open issue.
"This time of year, everyone throws 3-year-olds to the wolves," Dubb said. "This horse could have a nice and long career, so we wanted to develop the horse the right way and not get him where he loses interest.
"We want to get him used to winning. Hopefully, once we do that, we can go to open company. It's the right thing to do with the horse."
To paraphrase, he wants the timing to be right for Excellent Timing.
Also this week, the connections of Tampa Bay Derby winner Helium and Gotham winner Weyburn have coughed up $6,000 each in late nomination fees to make their colts eligible to the Triple Crown.
That puts them at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively, on the leaderboard, just behind Concert Tour, whose Rebel victory vaulted him into the No. 4 slot.
Next week's Derby activities include Saturday's Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, the first 100-point race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, Proxy and Midnight Bourbon -- all legit candidates for the Run for the Roses -- are prepping for that one.
Shedaresthedevil and Swiss Skydiver, the cream of the U.S. 4-year-old fillies, strutted their stuff Saturday, promising a season of top competition that should wind up in November at Del Mar in the Breeders' Cup World Championships.
Shedaresthedevil and Swiss Skydiver finished first and second in last year's Kentucky Oaks. Swiss Skydiver then went on to defeat the colts in the Preakness before a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Shedaresthedevil skipped the Breeders' Cup.
Shedaresthedevil, making her first start since last October, led all the way in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park, holding on late by a head over the favorite, Letruska. Getridofwhatailsu came from well back to take third by a head from Envoutante.
Shedaresthedevil, a Daredevil filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.57. Florent Geroux rode for trainer Brad Cox.
Shedaresthedevil won the Grade III Honeybee at Oaklawn last spring, then when the schedule was scrambled by the pandemic, detoured to a victory in the Grade III Indiana Oaks before winning the Kentucky Oaks on Sept. 4. One month later, she finished third when pitted against elders in the Grade I Spinster at Keeneland.
"We caught a flyer out of the gate," Geroux said. "I was expecting Letruska to lead all the way. I don't know if she didn't break fast enough or stumbled, but we inherited the lead and I just took it from there. My filly is extremely talented. ... She maybe got a little bit tired down the lane, but it was good for her first race off the break."
Joel Rosario, who rode Letruska, said his filly "kinda missed the break right away. She ran a tremendous race after she didn't break. ... Look at how far we got beat? That was a good effort."
Out west at Santa Anita, Swiss Skydiver, making her first start since November, rallied from a stalking trip to post a 2 3/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Beholder Mile.
The 4-year-old Daredevil filly was clear early in the stretch run and won with strong enough handling by Robby Albarado to shake off any rust. Two more from Baffert's barn, As Time Goes By and Golden Principal, finished second and third, respectively, as Swiss Skydiver finished in 1:36.18.
Trainer Kenny McPeek said Swiss Skydiver wants things her way but makes life easy for him, too.
"You know, you can't force anything with her and if you go too fast early, she will wilt a little bit," McPeek said.
"She like cruises through everything, even when she gallops. The feed tub's the biggest deal with her. I've never had a horse, colt or filly, eat like she does. It just makes my job so much easier."
McPeek gave a potential peek into the rest of the season in this division, referring to the reigning champion, saying, "Maybe we'll go hunt Monomoy Girl now. We'll see."
Meanwhile, at Laurel Park in Maryland, Littlestitious came running late to win Saturday's $100,000 Beyond the Wire Stakes by 1/2 length.
The dueling front-runners, Fraudulent Charge and the favorite, Street Lute, finished second and third, respectively. Littlestitious, a Ghostzapper filly trained by Tom Amoss, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.76 with Sheldon Russell up. She shipped up from Fair Grounds, where she finished fourth in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes in her previous outing -- one to watch.
Silver State and Rated R Superstar bided their time at the back of pack in Saturday's $500,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park, and then rallied together to fight things out in the stretch.
Silver State got there first by a neck while running to the inside of the runner-up. Night Ops was second and the early leader, Harpers First ride, were third and fourth. Silver State, a 4-year-old Hard Spun colt, finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.73 for jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.
Silver State was on the Kentucky Derby trail briefly last year, but went to the sidelines after running seventh in the Louisiana Derby. He resurfaced in October and is 4-for-4 since then with previous wins at Keeneland, Churchill Downs and in the Fifth Season at Oaklawn.
"This horse has always shown a lot of potential," trainer Steve Asmussen said of Silver State. "We gave him the necessary time and he's come back to win four races. This was a very quality win today."
At Laurel Park, Cordmaker got the early lead in Saturday's $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Stakes, held off a challenge from Galerio and then edged away from that confrontation to win by 1 length.
Galerio finished second, 2 lengths better than Dixie Drawl. Cordmaker, a 6-year-old Curlin gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.37 with Victor Carrasco at the controls. He is a regular check-getter in local stakes but had not won a race since taking out the Governor's Day Handicap at Delaware Park Sept. 28, 2019.
Whitmore just about had a Hot Springs Stakes five-peat wrapped up when along came upstart rival C Z Rocket to spoil the show in the final jump. C Z Rocket, who finished second to Whitmore in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last November, rallied from last of seven to put his neck in front when it counted.
Flagstaff was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third as C Z Rocket, a 7-year-old City Zip gelding, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.04 with Florent Gerox at the controls.
Whitmore, with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons, had only C Z Rocket beat through the early furlongs but then got the lead in the stretch before just failing to last.
"I didn't think we would be behind Whitmore, but it kind of worked out," said trainer Peter Miller, who claimed C Z Rocket last year for $40,000 at Oaklawn before he went on to win multiple graded stakes.
"Might have been a blessing in disguise to track Whitmore. He's such a great horse, Whitmore, and so is C Z Rocket. I just can't say enough about both of these horses.
"Going down the stretch, I thought we were going to get there. It was tough. He was a little further back than I'd thought he would be, honestly."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Sadie Lady led gate to wire in Saturday's $100,000 Correction Stakes at Aqueduct and held on at the end to win by a head over long shot Call On Mischief.
Kansas Kis was third and the favorite, California shipper Amuse, faded to finish fourth after prompting the pace. Sadie Lady, a 5-year-old, New York-bred daughter of Freud, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.98. Manny Franco rode.
Gregorian Chant won a stretch duel with Sombeyay in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III San Simeon at Santa Anita, scoring by a neck. The favorite and early leader, Jolie Olimpica, faded to finish third, another 2 1/2 lengths back.
Gregorian Chant, a 5-year-old, British-bred gelding by Gregorian, finished 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:08.79 with Juan Hernandez up. It was his first graded stakes win and fifth overall from 14 starts.
"It took us a while to figure out what he wanted to do," said Gregorian Chant's trainer, Phil D'Amato. "This horse has found his home sprinting, no question. There's so much difference in him now, compared to him at 3 and 4. He's matured a lot and we will definitely keep him short."
Carotari was off first in Saturday's $75,000 Silks Run Stakes at Gulfstream Park, made all the going and got clear late, winning by 1 1/4 lengths as the favorite.
Citrus Burst was along to get second, a neck in front of The Connector. Carotari, a 5-year-old Artie Schiller gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.43 seconds for Julien Leparoux and trainer Brian Lynch.
This isn't really a division anymore, at least according to Breeders' Cup, but the 1 1/2-miles distance certainly is notable by international standards, so ...
Carlos L., at odds of nearly 48-1, led all the way in Saturday's $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes at Oaklawn Park, turned back multiple challenges and eked out the win by a pair of necks.
Those were the margins to Lone Rock in second and the favorite, Tenfold, in third. Carlos L., a 5-year-old son of Hold Me Back, obviously was looking for the extra real estate as his previous U.S. efforts going shorter had been almost uniformly dismal.
He finished Saturday's tilt in course-record time of 2:29.87 even though jockey Alex Canchari lost his whip at the eighth pole.
And, yes, we know international races at this distance are almost universally contested on the grass.
Leggs Galore had 'em all the way in Sunday's $100,000 Irish O'Brien Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares, leading comfortably all the way to a 2 1/4-lengths victory.
Bella Vita finished second, another 2 1/4 lengths in front of Sadie Bluegrass. Leggs Galore, a 4-year-old Bayern filly, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:08.17 with Ricardo Gonzalez riding. It was her fifth straight win.
Whereshetoldmetogo, the odds-on favorite, got rolling in the lane in Saturday's $75,000 Not For Love Stakes for Maryland-breds, ran by the leaders and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths.
Karan's Notion was best of the rest, 1/2 length in front of Day the Music Died. Whereshetoldmetogo, a 6-year-old El Padrino gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.82 with Sheldon Russell in the irons.
In the $75,000 Conniver Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, it was Kiss the Girl rallying to the lead at the sixteenth pole, then holding off Lookin Dynamic for the 3/4-length win.
Whispering Pines was third, a neck farther back. Kiss the Girl, a 4-year-old Into Mischief filly, toured 7 furlongs in 1:23.71 with Victor Carrasco up.
Baseball wasn't the only action in the Phoenix area this weekend as Turf Paradise staged some of its biggest races.
Chief Cicatriz, a familiar sight around the Southwest, chased down pacesetting Minister of Soul a furlong from home in the $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup, opened a narrow lead and held of the late bid of Raagheb to win by a neck. Minister of Soul held third.
Chief Cicatriz, an 8-year-old Munnings gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.83 with Alfredo Juarez Jr. in the irons. Despite his years, the Chief was making just his 26th start and won for the 16th time.
He won the Phoenix Gold Cup in both 2017 and 2018 and finished third last year but his biggest score came in the Grade III Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs in 2018.
Don'tpassthepepper dueled down the lane with long shot Gemstone Gal before taking the $75,000 Arizona Oaks by a head. Focus First was third and the even-money favorite, Empire House, was never involved, finishing seventh. Don'tpassthepepper, a Fast Anna filly, ran 1 mile in 1:38.75 with Leslie Mawing riding.
Santa Anita invader Ohio let Overdue shoulder the early burden in the $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile Handicap on the turf, got by the one in the stretch run and won by 2 lengths.
Overdue held second, with Popular Kid filling out the trifecta. Ohio, a 10-year-old, Brazilian-bred gelding by Elusive Quality, reported in 1:37.27 over firm going.
It's My House actually was a visitor for the $75,000 Turf Paradise Derby but nonetheless got the win. Leading most of the way while under pressure, the Anthony's Cross colt outfinished Tony's Tapit, winning by 3/4 length.
It was another 7 1/2 lengths back to Saturday Value in third. It's My House, with Glenn Corbett riding, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.05. Trained by Robert Hess Jr., he has been working at Santa Anita.
Around the world, around the clock:
As noted here Thursday, Saturday's Group 1 Coolmore Classic at Rosehill Gardens shaped up as a wide-open affair. So it proved to be with support spread widely among the 18 fillies and mares and the lukewarm favorites nowhere in the frame when the running was done.
Krone got there first, 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Mizzy with Dame Giselle third -- all at double-digit odds. Krone, a 5-year-old Eurozone mare, might be better backed in her next start as she now has won three straight and handled the jump in class with seeming ease.
Shigeru Pink Ruby got her 3-year-old season off to promising start with a victory in Sunday's Grade 2 Hochi Hai Fillies' Revue, a Japanese 1000 Guineas Trial, at Hanshin Racecourse, erasing the memory of the 17th-place finish in the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies that concluded her juvenile efforts.
The Maurice filly, out of the High Chaparral mare Moonlight Bay, raced in mid-pack, shifted into gear at the 200-meters mark and was just along in the final stride to win by a neck over Yoka Yoka. Minnie Isle was third.
Shigeru Pink Ruby, with Ryuji Wadi riding, finished 1,400 meters on good to firm turf in 1:20.7. It was her second win go with the last-out disappointment.
At Cukyo Racecourse, Gibeon posted an upset for the ages, leading all the way victory at odds of 227-1 in the Grade 2 Kinko Sho.
The 6-year-old son of Deep Impact, who had not won since December of 2018, held off a late charge by last year's 3-year-old filly Champion and multiple Grade 1 winner Daring Tact, to score by a neck. Potager was third with Hong Kong Group 1 winner Glory Vase fourth.
Gibeon not only had not won in more than two years, he had not even finished in the top three in any of 11 races in that span. He was sixth in the Kinko Sho in 2019 and fourth in last year's edition.
It's 24 and done for the Fast-Track Qualifiers in this season's All-Weather Championships. Ranch Hand made all in winning the chelmsfordcityracecourse.com Saturday evening while earlier in the day, Mums Tipple got his career back on track with victory in the Listed Bombardier Lady Wulfruna Stakes at 7 furlongs over the Wolverhampton all-weather.
Ranch Hand's victory in the two-mile Chelmsford City contest earned an automatic place in the Betway All-Weather Marathon Championship on Finals Day, April 2, for the Andrew Balding trainee.
Rock Eagle came to challenge on the home turn and that duo fought to the finish with Ranch Hand prevailing by a neck, improving to 3-for-3 on all-weather tracks.
This was a third win from as many starts on the All-Weather for Ranch Hand,
Mums Tipple earned his spot in the Bombardier All-Weather Mile Championship with a decisive, 2 1/4-lengths victory after tracking a sedate early pace.
The 4-year-old by Footstepsinthesand looked to be a good thing on the turf at 2 but never got untracked last year and was gelded in the autumn. He was a hard-luck sixth in the Betway Katchy Stakes Feb. 6 at Lingfield Park.
"Last year was a mess for many reasons really," winning jockey Ryan Moore said. "But he ran an encouraging race at Lingfield over six and we felt the step up to seven furlongs would suit.
"There were some good horses in here today but the race worked out well and he has gone away and won really nicely. I am delighted with him."
Season eight of the All-Weather Championships commenced Oct. 20. The 24-race Fast-Track Qualifier series was staged mostly at British tracks with forays to Chantilly, Deauville and Cagnes-sur-Mer in France.
The championship races on Good Friday crown the best of the Three-Year-Olds, sponsored by Ladbrokes at 6 furlongs; Fillies and Mares, sponsored by Ladbrokes at 7 furlongs, Mile, sponsored by Bombardier, Sprint, sponsored by Betway at 6 furlongs; Marathon, sponsored by Betway at 2 miles; and Middle Distance, sponsored by Betway at 10 furlongs.
The All-Weather Championships have grown in acceptance and importance over the years, not only bridging the flat racing wintertime gap, but also contributing significantly to the big-money races developed in the Middle East during the past decade.