April 5 (UPI) -- It was a Goldilocks weekend for Kentucky Derby prep races: one massive upset, one heavy favorite and one right there in the middle.
When the dust had cleared, Essential Quality remained undefeated and the likely favorite for the May 1 Run for the Roses. Bourbonic, who paid $146.50 to win the Wood Memorial, and Santa Anita Derby upsetter Rock Your World might have knocked a horse or two out of the Derby.
Candidates for the Kentucky Oaks were in action at four tracks. It was a big weekend for sprinters, including an impressive return by a Breeders' Cup champ and winning efforts by some Royal Ascot candidates.
On the international front, another 4-year-old filly upset the Osaka Hai field, including Triple Crown champ Contrail. And we have results from the corners of the earth -- from a dual Triple Crown coronation in South Africa to England, Australia to ... well, back to the States.
The journey of 1,000 miles begins with the following paragraph:
The Road to the Roses
One big favorite won, another lost and a massive long shot rolled home in the third of Saturday's big Kentucky Derby preps.
The upsets are important because the winner of each race earned 100 points and the runner-up 40 toward a start in the Run for the Roses -- a guaranteed spot in the starting gate.
The upsetters bumped a bunch of other horses down the standings and could put some in jeopardy of making the 20-horse field.
Starting with the surprise of the season: Bourbonic entered Saturday's $750,000 Grade II Wood Memorial at Aqueduct looking like anything but a Kentucky Derby horse.
He had two wins from five starts and finished second in his previous outing at Parx Racing. And so, jockey Kendrick Carmouche took a chance, allowed the Calumet Farm homebred to idle last of nine and geared up for one big run.
It worked as the Bernardini colt passed them all and won by a head over another closer, stablemate Dynamic One. Crowded Trade was third and the favorite, Risk Taking, beat only two rivals. Bourbonic got the 1 1/8 miles -- the longest trip of his career -- in 1:54.49.
"I was pleased with how they were coming into it," said Todd Pletcher, who trains both Bourbonic and Dynamic One. "But with Bourbonic, it was Mr. Kelley of Calumet who said he'd like to try a race with Derby points in it. They're always game to take a chance."
With both colts now likely entitled to a spot in the Louisville starting gate, Pletcher said, "I'll talk to all the connections and see what everybody wants to do. But that was the purpose of being in today's race -- take a shot and see who would step up and fortunately it worked out."
At Santa Anita, Rock Your World blasted right to the lead in Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Santa Anita Derby, gradually expanded the advantage and wasn't challenged, winning by 4 1/4 lengths.
The favorite, Medina Spirit, showed a little late spirit to finish second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Dream Shake. Rock Your World, a Candy Ride colt trained by John Sadler, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.17 with Umberto Rispoli aboard.
Rock Your World was making just his third start and first on the dirt. He won at first asking on New Year's Day going 6 furlongs on the Santa Anita green, and then went right to the 1-mile Pasadena Stakes on the same surface, which he won by 2 1/4 lengths.
"We have been lying in the weeds," said Rock Your World's trainer, John Sadler. "The plan was to run him a couple of times on the turf and now it was time to get the points. We gotta get the points to think about going to Kentucky. We knew we had to be either one or two today to have enough points to go. It worked out great and I'm very excited."
Things worked out more formfully in Saturday's $800,000 Grade II Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland. Essential Quality, the reigning U.S. 2-year-old and Breeders' Cup Juvenile champ, ran his record to 5-for-5 -- but just barely.
Highly Motivated took the early lead in the Blue Grass and was not about to give up when Essential Quality came to challenge in the stretch. That pair fought to the wire with Essential Qualify finally getting a neck in front under the wire.
Rombauer was third, 5 1/2 lengths farther back. Essential Quality, a Godolphin homebred colt by Tapit, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.50 with Luis Saez in the irons. The margin of victory was smallest of Essential Quality's career.
"It's a tremendous feeling," winning trainer Brad Cox said. "He had to dig in today. It was probably what he needed. It was good for him to get a good test today He did everything easy enough in his last race. I was proud of what he was able to overcome today. Big effort."
Cox added: "It was a good race four weeks out [from the Kentucky Derby]." "Four weeks from today. Hopefully we're ready."
There was a lot of movement on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard thanks, as previously noted, to the upsets.
Essential Quality moved into the No. 1 spot with 140 points. Rock Your World and Bourbonic entered the list at No. 6 and No. 7, respectively. Highly Motivated, Dynamic One and Crowded Trade all moved into the top 20 thanks to points earned behind Saturday's winners.
Among those pushed down the list were Tampa Bay Derby winner Helium and UAE Derby runner-up Panadol, whose owners put up $6,000 late nomination fees before the March 29 deadline to make them Triple Crown eligible. Helium dropped from No. 9 to No. 15 and Panadol from No. 12 to No. 16.
Next weekend, it's the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, with 100 points for the winner and the minor placings getting 40, 20 and 10. The Lexington at Keeneland completes the list, but the points on offer there are only 20, 8, 4 and 2.
Those of you who were paying attention to Thursday's weekend preview will be aware that our favorite analyst, Jude Feld, had the Santa Anita Derby right on the schnozz. He also had Essential Quality in the Blue Grass and we can't deduct points for not having the Wood winner -- hardly anyone else did, either.
The Road to the Oaks
Twenty Carat ran her record to 3-for-3 with a pace-pressing victory in Friday's $150,000 Grade III Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland.
The Into Mischief filly, trained by Wesley Ward, challenged for the lead approaching the quarter pole, quickly opened a daylight lead and coasted home first by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Slumber Party, who was boxed on the rail much of the way. Amalfi Princess was third.
Twenty Carat ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.04, earning 10 points toward a start in the Kentucky Oaks, although she is not nominated to the race. The earlier wins came sprinting on the Turfway Park all-weather surface.
"She's always been a lovely filly, done everything right," Ward said of Twenty Carat. "Looks like she's gonna go a little bit farther. I think this filly has a big future and we're looking forward to it."
At Aqueduct, Search Results pressed the pace in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Gazelle, rolled to the lead in the stretch and worked clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths, remaining perfect after three starts.
Maracuja was second with Army Wife a non-threatening third. Search Results, a Flatter filly trained by Chad Brown, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:54.14 with Irad Ortiz Jr. at the controls. Her previous wins came at Gulfstream Park in January and in the Busher Invitational at Aqueduct March 6.
At Keeneland, Malathaat unleashed a long stretch drive to win the $400,000 Grade I Central Bank Ashland Stakes by a head over Pass the Champagne. Will's Secret finished well back in third and the favorite, Simply Ravishing, faded from the lead to finish last of six.
Malathaat, a Curlin filly trained by Todd Pletcher, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.94 with Joel Rosario riding. She was 3-for-3 last year, accounting for the Tempted and the Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct along the way. The Ashland was her 3-year-old debut.
At Santa Anita, Soothsay worked to the lead halfway through Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Santa Anita Oaks and fought off a stretch bid by the favorite, Beautiful Gift, to win by 1/2 length. Moraz and Javanica completed the order of finish.
Soothsay, a Distorted Humor filly trained by Richard Mandella, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.35 under Flavien Prat. The Oaks was just her second start. She got going with an off-the-pace maiden win at Santa Anita Feb. 26.
At Oaklawn Park, Pauline's Pearl tracked the early leaders in Saturday's $600,000 Grade III Fantasy, then wore down pacesetting Ava's Grace after a long stretch drive to win by 1 length. Coach was third.
Pauline's Pearl, a Stonestreet homebred Tapit filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.64 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons. She finished second to Will's Secret in her last start, the Grade III Honeybee over the same course and distance.
Paris Lights, showing no rust after eight months away from the races, drafted just behind the early leader, Portal Creek, through the early furlongs of Friday's $150,000 Grade III Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct, rolled by that rival and ran on to win by 1/2 length.
Portal Creek held onto second by a diminishing neck over Honor Way. Paris Lights, a 4-year-old Curlin filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.99 with Junior Alvarado in the irons. She went to the sidelines after winning the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks last summer at Saratoga.
Leana Willaford, assistant to winning trainer Bill Mott, noted the Distaff was a steppingstone as Paris Lights stretches back out.
"Obviously, it's not her best distance," Willaford said. "But she showed up and ran well. This gives her plenty of time for the La Troienne at Churchill Downs. No complaints." The $500,000 Grade I La Troienne runs at 1 1/16 miles on Kentucky Oaks Day, April 30.
Modernist pressed the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct, took command early in the stretch run and edged away to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Haikal was second, 3 3/4 lengths better than Limonite.
Modernist, a 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:54.38 with Junior Alvarado up. It was his first win since the Risen Star at Fair Grounds in February of 2020 -- the end of "before time."
Filly & Mare Sprint
There was lots of action in this division with the reigning Breeders' Cup champ returning impressively and some Royal Ascot prospects.
Gamine faced only three rivals in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Las Flores and none of them was in the same time zone as the Into Mischief filly.
Making her first start since the 2020 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, she went right to the front and made every pole a winning one with jockey John Velazquez keeping a firm hold. Velazquez shook the reins once in the stretch as Gamine effortlessly won by 5 lengths.
Her stablemate in Bob Baffert's barn, Qahira, was second with Biddy Duke and Hang a Star picking up nice checks for filling out the field.
Baffert called Gamine "one of the best fillies I've ever trained around one turn" and indicated she will try 7 furlongs next in the $500,000 Derby City Distaff on the Kentucky Derby undercard.
Kimari pressed the pace in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Madison at Keeneland, grabbed the lead with more than a furlong left and persevered, winning by 3/4 length over Estillo Talentoso.
Bell's the One was another 2 1/4 lengths back in third. Kimari, a 4-year-old Munnings filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.53 with Joel Rosario riding for Wesley Ward.
Kimari, winner of the Spring Fever Stakes at Oaklawn, is another of Ward's regular Royal Ascot visitors. She finished second in the Group 2 Queen Mary in 2019 and second again in the Group 1 Commonwealth last year.
Jouster flashed all the speed she needed in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Appalachian Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland, leading from the gate and winning by 1 1/2 lengths, ridden out. Gift List was along for second, 1/2 length better than Plum Ali.
Jouster, a Noble Mission filly, got 1 mile on firm going in 1:36.83 under Luis Saez. In four starts on the turf she now has three wins and a second, by a mere nose, in the Grade III Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs.
At Santa Anita, Going Global ran her U.S. record to 3-for-3 with a hard-fought victory in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Providencia for 3-year-old fillies.
The Irish-bred Mehmas filly was roughed up at the start, raced in mid-pack and rallied three-wide entering the stretch to gain the lead. She then held off Closing Remarks' closing bid to win by a neck. Sensible Cat was third.
Going Global ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:48.50 with Flavien Prat up. Her only win in Ireland as a 2-year-old came on the Dundalk all-weather.
At Oaklawn Park, Abrogate pressed the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, took over in the lane and held off Joyful Cadence by 1/2 length for the win. The favorite, Windmill, held the early lead but settled for third, another 1/2 length back.
Abrogate, an Outwork filly, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.54 with Ricardo Santana Jr. up. It was her third win from four starts.
Two big sprints on Saturday's Aqueduct card both went to trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
Drain the Clock was back sprinting and back winning in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Bay Shore for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct. Joseph detoured the Maclean's Music colt to the 1 1/16-miles Fountain of Youth in his last start, only to see him fade late and finish second to Greatest Honour.
Back to 7 furlongs, he jumped out to a big lead in the Bay Shore and cruised home first by 1 3/4 lengths. Whiskey Double was second, 5 3/4 lengths better than Too Boss.
Drain the Clock reported in 1:25.97. He would be undefeated at anything from 5 furlongs to 7 furlongs were it not for a broken iron and lost jockey in the Jean Laffite at Delta Downs last November.
The older sprinters tackled the same 7 furlongs two races later at Aqueduct in the $300,000 Grade I Carter Handicap with Mischevious Alex getting away in the stretch run to post his third straight win.
The 4-year-old Into Mischief colt, also with Irad Ortiz in the irons, tracked the early pace and then won off by 5 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite, clocked exactly 2 seconds quicker than Drain the Clock.
Mischevious Alex returned from a layoff to win at Gulfstream Park in January, and then came back Feb. 13 to win the Grade III Gulfstream Park Sprint by 3 1/4 lengths.
At Keeneland Saturday, Flagstaff chased down pacesetting longshot Special Reserve in the lane and ran on to win the $200,000 Grade III Commonwealth by 1 1/4 lengths. Special Reserve just did hold second by a nose over the late-running Attachment Rate.
Flagstaff, a 7-year-old Speightstown gelding, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.84 toting Joel Rosario.
Scarlett Sky came from the clouds -- well, at least from last of six -- to win Friday's $150,000 Grade III Kentucky Utilities Transylvania Stakes for 3-year-olds at Keeneland.
The Sky Mesa colt came around all the rivals in the stretch run to win by 1/2 length over Palazzi with the pacesetting favorite, Fire at Will, fading to finish third. Scarlett Sky, with Joel Rosario riding for trainer Shug McGaughey, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.89.
He was repatriated recently from Florida where he finished second to Annex in the Palm Beach Stakes in his most recent outing. McGaughey said he chose the Transylvania over some alternatives at Aqueduct because it's graded and he thought Scarlett Sky would like the Keeneland turf.
Filly & Mare Turf
Charmaine's Mia scored her third straight graded stakes win in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Royal Heroine at Santa Anita, leading all the way and hanging on at the end by 1/2 length. Dogtag was second-best with Warren's Showtime another 1 1/4 lengths back in third.
Charmaine's Mia, a 5-year-old mare by The Factor, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.76 with Flavien Prat up. Previously raced at Woodbine, she remains undefeated at Santa Anita for trainer Philip d'Amato.
Bound for Nowhere overcame an awkward start to win Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Shakertown at Keeneland, sticking a nose in front of Imprimis at the wire. The Critical Way was 3 lengths farther back in third.
With Joel Rosario riding for owner/trainer Wesley Ward, Bound for Nowhere, a 7-year-old son of The Factor, finished 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:02.19. Ward has taken the horse to Royal Ascot three times, finishing third, beaten just 3/4 length in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2018 in his best showing. That effort followed a win in the Shakertown.
Chasing Artie hopped at the start, chased all eight rivals early in Friday's $100,000 Palisades Turf Sprint for 3-year-olds at Keeneland, then got by them all with a six-wide move through the stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths.
The favorite, Fauci, also found another gear late but settled for second, 2 lengths in front of Unitedandresolute. Chasing Artie, a We Miss Artie gelding owned and bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:03.46 with Joel Rosario riding. He was coming off a maiden win at Gulfstream Park.
Wesley Ward, who had a good opening day, trains both Chasing Artie and Fauci and said he was "watching both my horses. They ran great."
Sky Ride, the heavy favorite, kicked away from four rivals in the stretch drive to take Saturday's $75,000 Bucharest Stakes by 8 lengths. Good Scout was second, another 4 1/2 lengths in front of Gold Street.
Sky Ride, a 4-year-old Candy Ride gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.28 for jockey Leandro Goncalves.
Raven's Cry shadowed the leaders in Saturday's $75,000 Miss Houston Turf Stakes, surged to a daylight lead in the stretch and held off the closers, winning by 1/2 length from Valentines Day and a similar margin back to Brandons Babe.
Raven's Cry, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Raven's Pass, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.09 with Diego Saenz riding.
Royal Prince had to get through some traffic late in Saturday's $75,000 Bayou City Stakes for 3-year-olds but got out in time to get there first by 3/4 length over Holy Vow. Drivehappy was third.
Royal Prince, a Cairo Prince colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.88 with Saenz in the irons.
Around the world, around the clock:
Lei Papale led virtually from gate to wire in Sunday's Group 1 Osaka Hai at Hanshin Racecourse, finding another gear in the final 100 meters of yielding turf to turn back some of Japan's top runners while remaining undefeated.
The course was testing for most of the runners but Lei Papale, a 4-year-old filly by Deep Impact, seemed to glide over it. When she turned for home in front, jockey Yuga Kawada let her drift out from the rail and she easily turned aside challenges from Mozu Bello and last year's Japanese Triple Crown winner, Contrail, who finished second and third.
"I had always believed in her outstanding talent since her debut," winning rider Yuga Kawada said.
"But, of course, it was a tough ask this time against a top-class field. To still have the strength to find another gear over the turf conditions today -- she is an exceptional filly to keep her speed right to the end. Now that she's a Grade 1 winner, expectations will suddenly be quite high from now on," Kawada added.
"But I hope to be able bring out her best in each race."
Lei Papale won at three different tracks during 2020 and at distances from 1,600 meters [about 1 mile] to 2,000 meters in her 2-year-old finale, the Challenge Cup (G3), also at Hanshin. All of her previous starts came on firm turf.
Favorites won at a 50 percent clip in Friday's All-Weather Championship Finals at Lingfield Park, a better-than-average percentage. It wasn't always easy, though, and never more so than in the feature attraction, the Betway Easter Classic at 1 1/4 miles.
It that, heavily favorite Bangkok, fresh home from a mid-pack finish in the $20 million Saudi Cup, had to duel hammer and tongs through the final 100 yards before sticking a neck in front of Palavecino under the wire. Forest of Dean was third as Bangkok finished in 2:03.17 with Silvestre de Sousa riding for trainer Andrew Balding.
If Bangkok's honorable effort on the Saudi dirt isn't enough evidence of the internatioinal reach of the All-Weather Championship series, there also is this: Bangkok won the Betway Winter Derby Trial Stakes in February, defeating Felix by 1/2 length. Felix then traveled to Dubai where he finished third in the Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night.
"He has been a star horse," Balding said of Bangkok. "He has maybe not hit the heights we hoped at one stage when he won the Sandown Classic Trial -- we thought he was going to develop into a serious Derby contender -- but he seems to be relaxing into his races now, which gives him lots of options going forward, ... We will have a lot of fun trying to pick races which he can be competitive in."
Also on the Good Friday finals card:
Diligent Harry, the 2-1 favorite, took command in the final furlong of the Ladbrokes 3-year-old Championship, winning by 2 lengths over Mighty Gurkha. Diligent Harry, a Due Diligence colt, improved to 3-for-4 with all starts coming on all-weather surfaces.
Khuzaam, the 6-5 favorite, shook off nine rivals in the stretch run of the Bombardier Mile Championship, winning by 5 lengths from Mums Tipple. The 5-year-old Kitten's Joy gelding now has four wins and four seconds on the all-weather.
The Ladbrokes Fillies & Mares Championship produced the day's biggest surprise as Pholas overcame a slow start, responded to jockey Hollie Doyle's encouragement late and was up to win by a neck at odds of 25-1. The 4-year-old Iffraj filly has been kept busy as she was making her ninth start of 2021 for trainer George Boughey.
Summerghand nipped Exalted Angel after a stretch duel between moderate long shots in the Betway Sprint Championship, winning by a head. Summerghand, a 7-year-old Lope De Vega gelding, qualified by making three starts during the All-Weather Championships season but was winless in 2021 before Friday's start.
Ranch Hand, second-favorite in the Betway Marathon Championship, got home first by 1 1/2 lengths over Rock Eagle at the end of 2 miles. The favorite, Rainbow Dreamer, held a brief lead and finished fourth. Ranch Hand, a 5-year-old Dunaden gelding, ran his season tally to 2-for-2 with Rock Eagle second both times.
Turffontine Standside on Saturday hosted a dual Triple Crown coronation as Malamoos and War of Athena both completed the sweep with authority.
Malamoos was adrift in mid-pack as he field passed the 500-meters marker in Saturday's Group 1 World Sports Betting South African Derby. No worries for jockey Luke Ferraris, who produced the favorite on cue and saw him blow by all the rivals and draw off to a 5 1/4-lengths victory.
The Captain Al colt, trained by Mike de Kock for the late Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, now has seven wins from eight starts. Given the state of South African racing, due in part to questionable and crippling protocols enforced by the EU, the question has been raised whether he will stick around.
De Kock has indicated he will and that he eventually will go to stud in South Africa.
War of Athena was an emphatic winner in the Group 2 Wilgerbosdrift South African Oaks, scoring by 2 lengths over Sparkling Water.
The Act of War filly went to the post as the odds-on favorite after winning seven of her previous 13 starts and missed the top three placings only once. She was bred by Summerhill Stud.
Roy Wentzel and his wife, Dr Rose Waterman-Wentzel, bought the filly for 20,000 Rand. Her earnings, after three Group 1 wins plus a 1 million-Rand Triple Tiara bonus, are a wild multiple of that.
Got the Greenlight edged Copper Mountain in the day's second Group 1, the H F Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes. The 4-year-old Gimme the Greenlight colt knifed between rivals 350 meters out and held on gamely to stave off the runner-up.
The race looked wide open going into the starting stalls but, after the 2,400 meters was done, a baker's dozen rivals were no challenge for Sir Dragonet in Saturday's Group 1 Kia Tancred Stakes at Rosehill Garden.
Sir Dragonet emerged from between horses 350 meters from the finish and never looked like losing thereafter, reporting nearly 2 1/2 lengths from She's Ideel with Miami Bound third.
Sir Dragonet, an Irish-bred, 5-year-old son of Camelot, notched a bit of a breakthrough after finishing ninth in the All Star Mile March 19 and fourth in the Group 1 Ranvet two weeks later when stretched back out to 2,000 meters.
In the second Group 1 on the program, Hungry Heart eked out a narrow win over Harmony Rose in the Vinery Stud Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The Frankel filly backed up a win in the Group 2 Phar Lap after two earlier-season disappointments for trainer Chris Waller.