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It's calm before the Kentucky Derby storm

By
Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
As Time Goes By wins Saturday's Grade II Santa Margarita at Santa Anita. Photo courtesy of Santa Anita
As Time Goes By wins Saturday's Grade II Santa Margarita at Santa Anita. Photo courtesy of Santa Anita

April 26 (UPI) -- With much of the racing world on pause awaiting the Kentucky Derby and England's Guineas meeting, Hong Kong took the weekend's center stage with three Group 1 events on FWD champions Day at Sha Tin Racecourse.

Palace Pier put on a show of his own in England, confirming his status among the top ranks of turf milers. Captivant won the Champagne Stakes in Australia. And Cool Cat jumped into the picture for the Japanese Oaks.

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Back in North America, Whisper Not captured the Grade III San Francisco Mile, War Like Goddess took the Grade III Bewitch Stakes on the closing day of the Keeneland spring meeting and Jaxon Traveler won the $200,000 Bachelor Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Trainer Wesley ward sent out two impressive juvenile turfers to victory at Keeneland, so can Royal Ascot be far behind?

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And why, other than her talent, does trainer Bob Baffert say budding star filly As Time By Goes By reminds him so much of his "all-time favorite horse"? Check out the "Distaff" section below.

The Triple Crown

The Kentucky Derby field continued to churn during the weekend as Arkansas Derby runner-up Caddo River was withdrawn Sunday after spiking a fever. That moved Brooklyn Strong to the No. 20 spot on the leaderboard for the maximum-20 Derby field.

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Earlier defections included Hozier, who was first out, then in and then out again, according to trainer Bob Baffert. Everything will fall into place with the post-position draw Tuesday. We'll have a complete rundown on the field after that ceremony.

At Pimlico on Saturday, The Reds dueled through deep stretch with Excellorator in the $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes, fell a head short and then was awarded the victory after an objection and an inquiry.

The stewards ruled Excellorator floated his rival out in the late stages as he finished the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.98. The Reds, trained on the New York circuit by John Kimmel, took five tries to break his maiden, and then was thrown directly into the Grade III Gotham on May 6, where he finished fifth.

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The Tessio often is a proving ground for "new shooters" in the Preakness Stakes.

At Golden Gate Fields, Stalking Shadow waited well behind a pair of dueling leaders through the early furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 California Derby, closed with a rush and won by 1/2 length over Jimmy Irish.

The favorite, Parnelli, settled for third, another 2 1/4 lengths in arrears. Stalking Shadow, a Ministers Wild Cat colt trained at the Bay Area racecourse by Jonathan Wong, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.22. Evin Roman had the mount.

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We'll return to the North American action after a detour to take a spin.

Around the world, around the clock:

Hong Kong

FWD Champions Day at Sha Tin Racecourse just about had it all -- three international Group 1 races, an upset, Golden Sixty's 14th straight win and a Group 1 double by local jockey Vincent Ho.

Some fans were in the stands -- a hugely encouraging sign for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which has survived social unrest and the pandemic to keep the sport ticking.

"With the support of the Government and the way they trust us and the support of our sponsor, we were able to have our fans back at the track," Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

"It was especially satisfying that our Japanese friends trusted our systems enough to come here," he added.

The Japanese "friends" promptly took the local steeds to the woodshed in the 2,000-meter FWD QE II Cup, nailing the first four positions.

Loves Only You, with Ho in the irons, led the way, winning by 3/4 length over Glory Vase with Daring Tact and Kiseki third and fourth. Loves Only You, a 5-year-old daughter of Deep Impact, improved on her third-place finish, beaten less than 1/2 length, in the Longines Dubai Turf in her previous start.

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"The horse is in form, for sure," Ho said. "I didn't dare to look back until the finish line but she was amazing. I'm grateful that the Japanese connections asked me to ride her."

Assistant trainer Yusaku Oka said Loves Only You has stood up well to her travels and could return in December for the Longines Hong Kong Cup (G1).

"We'll see how she gets back to Japan and we'll talk with the trainers and owners. We will then make the decision on the future," he said. "There is a big option" to come back.

The Group 1 FWD Champion's Mile set up as a cakewalk for Golden Sixty, who was seeking his 14th straight win and faced only familiar local foes.

The Medaglia d'Oro gelding did seem to have things settled 300 meters from home but then stablemate More Than This put in a late bid that fell just a head short.

"He has never been chased and we learned today that he still can fight when something chases him, not just when he is doing the chasing, which is good," Ho said of Golden Sixty.

"Golden Sixty is that kind of horse," trainer Francis Lui added. "When he passes the other horses he thinks his job is done. But then when he saw another runner coming he turned it on again."

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Golden Sixty's 14 consecutive wins leave him just three short of the Hong Kong record of 17, held by Silent Witness and Lui said he may take on the 2,400 meters of the Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup May 23.

Ho, a Hong Kong native and a graduate of the HKJC Jockey School, became the first locally trained jockey to win two Group 1 events on a single day in Hong Kong -- a source of great pride for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

The day's upset was the Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize, where Japan's highly fancied Danon Smash could never get involved for Hong Kong's leading rider, Joao Moreira.

Instead, it was Wellington, under Alexis Badel, taking a late lead and making it stand up for a 1 1/2-lengths score. Computer Patch edged Sky Field for second.

Danon Smash, who won the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint in December and the Group 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen back home, was sixth, beaten 4 lengths. "He was under pressure at the 600 meters -- there was nothing there," Moreira said.

Wellington, a 4-year-old All Too Hard gelding, picked up his seventh win from 10 starts and now looms a force in Hong Kong sprinting. Trainer Richard Gibson said the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint now is in his sights.

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"He'll have a good rest and we'll see you here in December," Gibson said.

England

Palace Pier seemed to enjoy his return from a 188-days' vacation as he romped home first by 8 lengths as the prohibitive favorite in Friday's Group 2 bet365 Mile at Sandown.

The Kingman colt won the St James's Palace Stakes and Prix Jacques le Marois in 2020. His lone defeat on the season, in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day at Ascot, involved a rough start and a lost shoe.

Trainer John Gosden before the race judged Palace Pier at no more than 80 percent fit but said jockey Frankie Dettori had only positive reports after the race. He said the Group 1 Lockinge at Newbury on May 15 is a likely target and then Royal Ascot.

For now, the trainer said, Palace Pier is a miler with the option of going longer later in the season.

The Group 3 Sagaro Stakes at Ascot on Wednesday punches well above its level with a top-notch field in prospect, featuring dominant stayer Stradivarius.

The 2-mile test also provisionally has the likes of Master of Reality, Nayef Road, Prince of Arran and Trueshan. It's a warm-up heat for Stradivarius and others likely to resurface in the Gold Cup at Ascot in another month and a half.

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All being equal, Stradivarius will be seeking his fourth straight win in that prestigious race.

And speaking of prestigious races, England's 2000 Guineas goes to the post just hours before the Kentucky Derby post time. The 1000 Guineas is the following day. More on those in the weekend preview.

Australia

If you can't beat 'em, wait 'till they're sitting one out. That turned out to be a winning plan for trainer Peter Snowden, who had no intention of running Captivant in Saturday's Group 1 Moet & Chandon Champagne Stakes at Randwick after the colt was thumped by Anamoe in the Inglis Sires Stakes.

In fact, the trainer had sent his colt out to the paddocks for a rest -- until word came that Anamoe would not contest the Champagne.

With that one out of the way, it was left to Captivant and Hilal -- second and third in Anamoe's wake last time -- to fight it out in the Champagne with Captivant getting the verdict by a neck. Converge was third.

"The freshen-up for a couple of days in the paddock did him the world of good," Racenet quoted Snowden as saying.

The day's second Group 1 event found Kolding victorious in a tight, three-way finish with Savatino and Cascadian second and third.

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Kolding, a 5-year-old Ocean Park gelding, appeared beaten in the final strides but just found enough to come back and score by a nose.

Cascadian, outside those two, likely would have won in another two or three jumps. Kolding bounced back from a couple disappointing efforts -- a fifth in the Group 1 Chipping Norton and 10th in the Group 1 George Ryder.

Japan

Cool Cat emerged from a pace-stalking trip to win Sunday's Grade 2 Sankei Sports Sho Flora Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse -- a trial for the Group 1 Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks on May 23.

With Christophe Lemaire in the irons, the Screen Hero filly established position just behind the leading pack turning for home, challenged for the lead 200 meters out and edged clear to win by 1 length. Slyly was second at a big price and Uberleben finished third.

Cool Cat went to the post a moderate long shot with only a single win from four previous starts. She was fifth in her most recent effort, the Grade III Flower Cup at Nakayama Racecourse. Sunday's race was her first at the 2,000-meters distance.

Meanwhile, back in the States:

The Road to the Oaks

Miss Leslie didn't look like one of the likely ones in Saturday's $125,000 Weber City Miss at Pimlico and, midway through the 1 1/16 miles, she didn't seem to have improved her chances much.

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Then, rallying from last at odds of nearly 10-1, the Paynter filly swung around rivals, passed them all and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Oliviaofthedesert was second, 1 3/4 lengths better than the favorite, Littlestitious.

Miss Leslie got home in 1:44.28 under J.D. Acosta. The race could be a pointer to the Black Eyed Susan three weeks down the road.

In Saturday's $75,000 California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields, Pizzazz pressed the pace, jumped out to a daylight lead in the lane and then just held on to win by a head over Freedom Flyer.

Styledome rallied from far back to get show money. Pizzazz, who was eased in her previous start in the Grade III Sweet Life at Santa Anita, finished 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.94 with Kyle Frey in the irons. She had been competing in stakes on the turf with middling success.

Turf Mile

Whisper Not, the Santa Anita invader, had all he could handle through the stretch from local trainee Keeper Ofthe Stars in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III San Francisco Mile.

Racing virtually as a team through the final furlong, Whisper Not maintained a clean run while Keeper Ofthe Stars ran a bit erratically and missed by a head at the wire. Restrainedvengeance was third.

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Whisper Not, a 4-year-old, British-bred colt by Poet's Voice, reported in 1:35.94 with Geovanni Franco riding. He now has back-to-back wins after an allowance score at Santa Anita March 6.

All the turf milers didn't head north for the weekend. Sword Zorro stayed home to contest Sunday's $100,000 Singletary Stakes for 3-year-olds and rallied from last of six to post a 3/4-length victory.

The favorite, Petruchio, was second, followed by Man Friday. Sword Zorro, an Irish-bred colt by Zoffany, finished in 1:36.63 with Umberto Rispoli up.

Turf

Corelli showed signs he might be a player with a nice, off-the-bench victory in Saturday's $100,000 Henry S. Clark Stakes at Pimlico.

The 6-year-old Point of Entry gelding was set some tough tasks in his first U.S. season last year, finishing third in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park as the high point.

On Saturday, against easier competition, he trailed much of the field early, swung five-wide into the lane and was just up to win by a nose over the favorite, Pixelate, in a well-timed ride by Jevian Toledo. He finished the 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.55.

Corelli previously raced in England with trainer John Gosden and, often, with Frankie Dettori up.

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Filly & Mare Turf

War Like Goddess raced well back of the early speed in Friday's $150,000 Grade III Bewitch Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland, came wide around the leaders into the stretch and found another gear for jockey Julien Leparoux.

Quickly gathering momentum, the 4-year-old daughter of English Channel blew right by most of the field and won by 3 3/4 lengths. Delta's Kingdom and Pass the Plate filled the trifecta. War Like Goddess got 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:29.21. She now has four wins from five starts.

"That is her natural way of running," trainer Bill Mott said of War Like Goddess. "She has developed very nicely. As a 2-year-old, she was kind of a spindly little girl but she has filled out, gotten stronger and is very professional. She loves [this] distance and she loves the course."

At Pimlico on Saturday, Xanthique put in a late rally to win the $100,000 Dahlia Stakes by a nose over the favorite, Crystal Cliffs. It was 2 1/4 lengths back of that one to Vigilantes Way in third.

Xanthique, a 5-year-old Into Mischief mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.92 with Feargal Lynch in the irons. It was her first win since back-to-back scores last summer at Belmont Park and Saratoga.

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Saturday at Golden Gate Fields, Altea and Red Lark, both invaders from Southern California, finished a tight 1-2 in the $75,000 Golden Poppy Stakes.

Altea, a 6-year-old, French-bred mare by Siyouni, got first run to the lead in the stretch and held on to win by a head. Colonial Creed finished third as Altea completed 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.18 under Kyle Frey.

Turf Sprint

Casa Creed had only one rival beaten halfway through Saturday's $100,000 Elusive Quality Stakes at Belmont Park, then closed quickly to win a four-horse blanket finish.

The favorite, Front Run the Fed, was just a head off the winner and a nose in front of Value Proposition. Tell Your Daddy, another neck in arrears, completed a cheap superfecta.

Casa Creed, a 5-year-old son of Jimmy Creed, ran 7 furlongs on firm going in 1:22.65. Joe Bravo rode for trainer Bill Mott.

Field Day bobbled at the start of Saturday's $150,000 William Walker Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, trailed the field and then rallied through the stretch, catching pacesetting Bodenheimer in the final strides and winning by a neck.

Cees Get Degrees was third. Field Day, a Broken Vow gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on turf listed "good" in 1:05.63 with Tyler Gaffalione up. Brad Cox trains the winner, who has not finished out of the top three in seven career starts.

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Completed Pass won a race-long battle with the favorite Francatelli, in Saturday's $100,00 King T. Leatherbury Stakes at Pimlico, scoring by 3/4 length over a stubborn rival. It was another 4 lengths to Fair Catch in third.

Completed Pass, a 7-year-old Pass Rush gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.52 seconds for jockey Angel Cruz. He is a bit of a specialist, now counting two wins and a second from three starts on the Pimlico turf and three wins, three seconds and two thirds at the distance

Gypsy Sprint overcame some early traffic issues, rallied four-wide and ran on to post a 30-1 upset win in Saturday's $75,000 Camilla Urso Stakes for fillies and mares at Golden Gate Fields.

The favorite, Acting Out, finished second, a nose in front of Sadie Bluegrass. Gypsy Spirit, a 5-year-old, British-bred mare by Gregorian, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.25 seconds with Edwin Maldonado riding. The win was just her third from 29 starts.

Distaff

As Time Goes By wasted no time getting to the lead in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Margarita Stakes at Santa Anita, extended her advantage as the furlongs clicked off and won by 9 1/4 lengths under only mild urging from jockey Mike Smith.

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This Tea was along from last of five to finish second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Harvest Moon. As Time Goes By, a 4-year-old American Pharoah filly racing for Ireland's Coolmore "lads," ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.95.

She was coming off a runner-up showing in the Grade I Beholder Mile and now has three wins, two seconds and a third from six starts.

"She's by my all-time favorite horse, American Pharoah, and I've taken my time," winning trainer Baffert said. "The owners have been really patient. She's beautifully bred, and I knew the older she gets, the better she's gonna get."

Baffert said he could have shipped to Louisville, but decided to stay local "because I want to develop her slowly and the Breeders' Cup is the main goal. She's the sweetest thing in the barn. I have a soft spot for her, because I think of American Pharoah every time I walk by her stall."

Sprint

Jaxon Traveler, the favorite, led from gate to wire in Saturday's $200,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park, winning by 2 3/4 lengths. Cazadero was second, 1/2 length better than Bob' Edge.

Jaxon Traveler, a Munnings colt trained by Steve Asmussen, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.07 with Francisco Arrieta in the irons.

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The win improved Jaxon Traveler's record to four wins and a second from five starts. The second came in his previous outing, the Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn, won by a head by Sir Wellington, who finished fifth in the Bachelor.

"He jumped out pretty good today," Arrieta said of Jaxon Traveler. "I just let him get clear on the lead. I got a little pressure and I just let him run. He's a really nice horse and he did his job great."

Laki let Lebda set the early pace in Saturday's $100,000 Frank Y. Whitely Stakes at Pimlico, hooked up in a stretch duel with that rival and prevailed by 1/2 length.

Eastern Bay finished third and the odds-on favorite, Whereshetoldmetogo, was eased after a heel-clipping incident on the backstretch run, ending a four-race winning streak.

Laki, an 8-year-old Cuba gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.33 with Horacio Caramanos riding.

Anyportinastorm took over in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Lost in the Fog Stakes, kicking away to a 2 1/2-length victory. The favorite, Baja Sur, gave futile chase, settling for second, 1/2 length in front of Thanks Mr. Edison.

Anyportinastorm, a 7-year-old son of City Zip, zipped 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:09.62. Ervin Roman had he mount.

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Juvenile Turf

Whenever Wesley Ward saddles a 2-year-old winner at the Keeneland spring meeting, the first words that pop into anyone's mind are -- Royal Ascot.

There was a lot of "popping" this week as Ward saddled two nice juveniles, both acquired across the pond for Stonestreeet Stables, to impressive first-start wins.

On Thursday's card, Ruthin was no secret on his unveiling. The British-bred Ribchester filly, out of the Selkirk Mare Salinka, blew away nine rivals despite looking a bit uncertain in the stretch run.

Ruthin, with Joel Rosario up, got there 6 lengths ahead of her closest rival, finishing 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:04.95.

Ward rolled right back Friday with Napa Spirit, an Irish-bred colt by Invincible Spirit out of the Pivotal mare Aimhirgin Lass. Napa Spirit didn't break well but responded for Rosario in the stretch and won by 1 1/4 lengths, reporting in 1:04.17.

In other action:

Fonner Park

Mo Mosa dueled to the lead in Saturday's $82,500 Bosselman Pump and Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes, edged clear and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Box Seat.

The overwhelming favorite, Sleepy Eyes Todd, whose three previous starts were in races worth an aggregate $35 million, could only manage third.

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Mo Mosa, a 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.80.

For those wondering about the $35 million, Sleepy Eyes Todd finished 10th in the $12 million Dubai World Cup, fifth in the $20 million Saudi Cup and fourth in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational in his three previous outings for trainer Miguel Angel Silva.

Golden Gate Fields

I'm So Anna led all the way to a 2 1/2-lengths victory in Sunday's $75,000 Campanile Stakes for California-bred 3-year-old fillies. The race came off the turf, and I'm So Anna, a Fast Anna filly, with Kyle Frey up, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:36.93.

The conditions were the same in Sunday's $75,000 Silky Sullivan for 3-year-old Cal-breds but the winner, None Above the Law, took the opposite path to victory, rallying from near the back of the field to score by 2 3/4 lengths over Seattle Bold. Top Harbor was third.

None Above the Law, a Karakonte gelding, finished in 1:36.75 with Evin Roman in the irons.

Belmont Park

Bank On Shea led throughout in Friday's $100,000 Affirmed Express Stakes for New York-breds, winning by 1 length over Wadda You Think Now. Big Engine was third and the favorite, Captain Bombastic, could only manage fifth.

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Bank On Shea, a 4-year-old Central Banker colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.86 with Kendrick Carmouche in the kip.

Lone Star Park

She's Our Fastest certainly was in Thursday's $75,000 Bluebonnet Stakes for Texas-bred fillies and mares, showing her heels to seven rivals in the stretch run en route to an 8-lengths victory. Zarelda was next-best, 1 1/2 lengths in front of Ima Discreet Lady.

She's Our Fastest, a 6-year-old Oratory mare, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.11 with Stewart Elliott aboard.

Santa Anita

Brandothebartender rallied from next-last of five to take Saturday's $100,000 Crystal Water Stakes for California-breds by 3/4 length over North Country Guy. Acclimate was third.

Brandothebartender, an 8-year-old Tribal Rule gelding, toured 1 mile of firm turf in 1:35.04 with Umberto Rispoli riding.

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