Loves Only You wins Sunday's Longines Hong Kong Cup in her final start. Photo courtesy of Hong Jockey Club
Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Golden Sixty won his 16th straight race and Loves Only You captured her final start Sunday in Hong Kong, while a potential 2-year-old filly champ posted an impressive win in Japan in highlights of weekend horse racing.
Our whirlwind weekend wanderings also take us to Bahrain, England and Argentina, where the first Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" race of the season was contested.
Back in the United States, Slow Down Andy vaulted into the Kentucky Derby picture with an upset win at Los Alamitos -- that in a race his trainer wasn't even considering until the owner persisted.
With lots of action and many miles to cover, we'll start in ...
Japan and the local team shared the spoils in Sunday's Longines Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin Racecourse. Loves Only You heads into her second career as a broodmare in Japan after winning the Group 1 Longines Cup in a thrilling finish.
Golden Sixty's future could be anything after he won his 16th straight race with a seemingly effortless score in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile.
Pulled off successfully for a second straight year in the face of pandemic precautions, the HKIR would have been perfect had it not been for a horrible spill in the Group 1 Longines Sprint. Three jockeys went to hospital in stable condition and two horses were euthanized.
Golden Sixty, a 6-year-old Medaglia d'Oro gelding, was the day's headliner. Hong Kong's reigning Horse of the Year, with Vincent Ho up, needed just a sliver of daylight between the leaders early in the stretch run to get his motor running.
Quickly filling that opening, he shot clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths. More Than This was second, trailed by Japan's Salios and Ireland's Mother Earth.
In addition to his 16th straight win, Golden Sixty notched his 19th overall victory in Hong Kong -- a record.
"I knew he was at his best," winning rider Ho said. "He's such an aggressive horse, so he doesn't mind going between horses."
With no meaningful competition left in Hong Kong, and a perfect record defending the home turf against international raiders, the only obvious remaining challenge for Golden Sixty would seem to be foreign travel. Trainer Francis Lui has avoided discussion of that topic and didn't address it Sunday.
"I feel very happy," Lui said. "He's my champion and I have to say thank you to my team and Vincent and the owner. They support me."
While Golden Sixty's victory seemed foreordained and almost inevitable, Loves Only You left it to the final yards to assert her dominance in her final appearance on the track.
At mid-stretch, the Deep Impact mare and jockey Yuga Kawada suddenly found themselves in a pocket and looking for luck while Russian Emperor shot to the lead.
Loves Only You dug deep to make up the margin when she got free and won by a head over late-running Japanese fellow-traveler Hishi Iguazu. Russian Emperor held on for third.
The win capped a remarkable season for Loves Only You and trainer Yoshito Yahagi. She started with a thrilling third in April in a remarkable edition of the Group 1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan, and then traveled to Sha Tin to win the Group I QE II Cup a month later.
Last month, she made history as the first Japanese horse to win a Breeders' Cup race when she took the Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mar.
Yahagi stayed in Japan amid the pandemic mitigations but assistant Yusaku Oka was on hand to praise their mare's final effort.
"I'm so glad to win this race for our trainer, who is watching on in Japan," he said. "She won the Breeders' Cup very well and in the spring she came over here and had a good result, so we were always confident she would run well.
"She's got a good pedigree so we are looking forward to the next stage of her career. And as we have quite a lot of good horses in the stable we hope we will be back in Hong Kong with them in the future."
Japan has won half the eight HKIR races run in 2020 and 2020 as well as five of the last seven editions of the Cup.
The aptly named Glory Vase returned glory to Japan while winning the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase under Joao Moreira. That duo also won the Vase in 2019, but Sunday's win was more emphatic.
After racing at the back of the field, Glory Vase came with a rush to win by 1 length over Euro raider Pyledriver. French-trained Ebaiyra was third.
"I had a smooth run, going to the fence and saving ground," Moreira said. "I just made sure I got into the clear and I know he's a very strong horse at the finish and there was not a fight. He has proven to be the best horse today."
The Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint went to local runner Sky Field, whose late effort got him home first by 3/4 length over Japan's Resistencia. The outcome, however, was overshadowed by a terrible spill at the top of the stretch.
The pileup started when Amazing Star (NZ) stumbled and fell. Pixie Knight (JPN) and Naboo Attack (AUS) fell behind that one, and Lucky Patch (NZ) unseated rider Zac Purton.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club said Purton and the other riders, Yuichi Fukunaga and Lyle Hewitson, were reported in stable condition at Prince of Wales Hospital while the fourth rider, Karis Teetan, was uninjured.
Amazing Star and Naboo Attack were humanely euthanized, the South China Morning Post reported, while the other two horses were not seriously injured.
"I have mixed emotions for winning this race today," said Blake Shinn, who rode the winner. "Obviously, the first emotion is that my feelings are with the fallen jockeys and horses out there.
"It's gut-wrenching for any rider to see a horse go down. What's happened today, it's a real bittersweet win and in a way it's a hard win to take in the circumstances."
Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said the organization was "extremely proud" to have staged the HKIR in the face of strict pandemic protocols, but added, "There is definitely sadness which overruns everything" as a result of the mishap in the Sprint.
Circle of Life, under a confident ride by Mirco Demuro, seized the lead 100 meters from home in Sunday's Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and ran on to win by 1/2 length. Long shot Lovely Your Eyes was second and Water Navillera, one of four who came into the race with a graded win, finished third.
Circle of Life, by Epiphaneia, scored her third straight win, and Demuro said it appears she is capable of more after winning a key 2-year-old race.
"I've ridden her since her debut and she really takes it in her stride in new surroundings and unfamiliar tracks so she has plenty of energy to use in the race," he said. "I'm sure she can further extend her distance in future races so I'm really looking forward that too."
The Hanshin Juvenile Fillies has been a springboard for some of Japan's top female runners including 2006 winner Vodka, 2008 winner Buena Vista and 2009 winner Apapane. The popular white filly Sodashi won last year's edition.
Village King won the first "Win and You're In" event for the 2022 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Keeneland with a 9-lengths victory Saturday in one of South America's most prestigious races, the Group 1 Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini-Internacional at Hipódromo de San Isidro in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Village King, ridden by Martin Valle, took the lead with 2 furlongs to go and was gone through the stretch run. The 7-year-old son of Campanologist finished third in this race in 2017, and then was sent to the United States, where he made eight starts under the care of Todd Pletcher, highlighted by a victory in the 2018 Red Smith Stakes at Aqueduct.
Nicholas T got the best of a three-way sprint to the finish in Saturday's Betway Conditions Stakes at Newmarket, winning by 3/4 length and earning a Fast-Track Qualifier spot in the All-Weather Marathon Championships at Newcastle on Good Friday.
After tracking a lively early pace, the race came down to a sprint involving Nicholas T, Rainbow Dreamer and Alignak before Nicholas T edged clear.
Trainer Jim Goldie said the decision to move Finals Day to Newcastle this year might have worked to benefit of Nicholas T.
"Newcastle suits horses like him who enjoy coming from off the pace and it helped today that they went a good gallop," Goldie said. "He relaxed well and has a potent turn of foot for a stayer."
Locally trained horses won the first two Bahrain Turf Series races Friday, but the international raiders did well enough to encourage .
Happy Craf stormed to victory in the 7-furlong Al Manama Cup while Mars Landing edged Newmarket-trained Arqoob in a tight finish in the Al Muharraq Cup.
Trained by leading Bahrain trainer Allan Smith, Happy Craf produced a powerful stretch run to win by 1 3/4 lengths, and Smith said he's looking around for more competition.
"I don't think we have got to the bottom of her yet, but I haven't been able to find anything to work her with. She is pretty good," he said.
In the second Turf Series race of the day, Mars Landing fought off international contender Arqoob in a thrilling finish to the Al Muharraq Cup. Neil Callan, based in Bahrain for the season and retained by His Highness Shaikh Sultan's Al Mohamediya Racing, booted home Mars Landing.
"It means a lot to His Highness Shaikh Sultan," Callan said. "This is one of their big days and I think it's amazing what they're trying to do here. I like the way they're not pushing everything out there in a massive way. They're just gradually growing."
Arqoob's trainer, William Jarvis, said his horse's performance was good enough to persevere in the series.
"There is a race on [Dec. 31] over 9 furlongs, which I think could be right up his street," Jarvis said. "We'll try and freshen him up and aim him at that."
Meanwhile, back in the States:
The weekend's biggest U.S. race, the $300,000 Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity, ended in an upset, as Slow Down Andy found his best stride through the final furlong to nail the favorite, Messier, and win by 1 length. It was another 9 lengths to Barossa in third.
Slow Down Andy, a California-bred Nyquist colt, earned 10 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard while finishing 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.33 under Mario Gutierrez.
That vaulted him into a six-way tie for second on the list behind Pappacap. Messier and Barossa were denied Derby points as they are trained by Bob Baffert, who is under the Churchill Downs interdict.
Slow Down Andy, trained by Doug O'Neill for owner/breeder Paul Reddam, won at first asking at Santa Anita on Oct. 9, and then finished second in the Golden State Juvenile at Del Mar a month later. The Futurity was his third career start.
"If it was up to me," O'Neill said, "we would have run in the California-bred race tomorrow. It was strictly Paul wanting to take a chance and having faith in Slow Down Andy and thank God he did. ... Down the stretch, it looked like we had it, and then we didn't and then we did, so it was very exciting."
O'Neill also trained Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist for Reddam, but said Slow Down Andy doesn't much reflect his sire.
"This horse has a lot of different gears, and Nyquist was just a beast, so precocious," the trainer said. "This horse is pretty calm and more mentally versatile at this stage than Nyquist ever was."
In the state-bred ranks:
A day later in the race that Slow Down Andy's connections eschewed, Straight Up G posted a gate-to-wire victory in the $100,000 King Glorious Stakes for California-bred 2-year-olds.
After shaking off an early challenge from Moose Mitchell, Straight Up G cruised the rest of the way, opening a daylight lead at mid-stretch. He won by 3 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Finneus.
With Ricardo Gonzalez riding for trainer Richard Baltas, Straight Up G finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.88. The Straight Fire colt made it-back-to-back wins, both against fellow state-breds. Baltas did not mention any aspirations to move up to open company.
Unified Report launched a bid from mid-pack in the final furlong of Saturday's $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile at Fair Grounds and arrived just in time to win by 1/2 length. Bron and Brow was second, another 1/2 length better than Charo.
Unified Report, the odds-on favorite, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.55 with Brian Hernandez Jr. riding for trainer Dallas Stewart. The Unified colt remains undefeated after three starts, including a 1-length win over open company in his debut at Churchill Downs Sept. 24.
On Tuesday at Parx Racing, Witty took command in the stretch run of the $200,000 Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes for state-breds, kicking away to win by 5 1/2 lengths. Uncle Buddy and Vine Jet trailed in second and third.
Witty, a Great Notion gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.44 with Carol Cedeno in the irons, scoring his second win.
Fast Jack jumped out to the early lead in Saturday's $56,600 Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity for state-breds at Hawthorne Race Course and held off his stablemate, odds-on favorite Wildwood Sicilian, by at neck at the end of 6 1/2 furlongs.
Fast Jack, a Ghaaleb gelding, finished in 1:18.21 on a fast track with Victor Santiago riding. The first two finishers are trained by Scott Becker for Charles W. Ritter. The race is named for the former Illinois governor -- a long-time owner and breeder, mainly of Standardbreds.
Buckley Bunny, at odds of 93-1, rallied five-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Lassie at Fair Grounds, hit the front at the sixteenth pole and won by 3/4 length over the favorite, Free Like a Girl.
Kevin Smith rode the winner, a daughter of Iron Fist, over 6 furlongs of fast track in 1:11.76. The long odds are a bit of a mystery, as Buckley Bunny had finished second and fourth in earlier state-bred races at Louisiana Downs and Evangeline Downs.
Professors' Pride jumped right to the lead in Friday's $100,000 Soviet Problem Stakes for California-breds at Los Alamitos and wasn't caught, winning by 3 lengths over Big Novel. Professors' Pride, a Bayern filly trained by Eddie Truman, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.94 with Juan Hernandez in the irons.
Officiating came to challenge the leaders heading into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Mr. Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream Park, got a clear lead and held off the favorite, Endorsed, to win by 3/4 length.
Dennis' Moment ran well enough to get show money. Officiating, a 3-year-old Blame colt, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.28 with Luis Saez up.
Officiating scored his third win from 14 starts. He was making his first graded stakes start after finishing 10th in the Showing Up Stakes on the new Gulfstream all-weather track in September in his last race. He had been working quickly since that start.
Also, Drain the Clock returned from four months off the track to post a gutsy win in a Friday allowance feature at Gulfstream Park. He eventually won by less than 1/2 length in 1:08.63.
"I think he's going to have a big year," trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said of the Maclean's Music colt, who won the Grade I Woody Stephens at Belmont Park in June.
Around the ovals:
Glass Ceiling rallied from last of seven to win Saturday's $100,000 Garland of Roses Stakes for fillies and mares by 2 1/4 lengths. Call on Mischief also found her best stride through the stretch but settled for second, another 2 1/4 lengths better than Letmetakethiscall.
Glass Ceiling, a 4-year-old Constitution filly, got 6 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:11.19. Dylan Davis rode for trainer and part owner Charleton Baker.
Last Samurai came from a stalking position to be the first finisher in Saturday's $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes for 3-year-olds, defeating Arkansas Derby inner Super Stock by 3/4 length. The early leader, Flash of Mischief, held on to get show money and the favorite, Defeater, was fourth.
Last Samurai, a Malibu Moon colt out of the First Samurai mare Lady Samuri, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.70. John Court rode for trainer Dallas Stewart.
Last Samurai finished fifth in the Arkansas Derby, 13 1/2 lengths behind Super Stock. He had finished in the first three in five of six intervening races while racing on both dirt and turf.
Stewart said the main goal now is to get Last Samurai to the Oaklawn Handicap, adding, "I think he's going to be a real nice 4-year-old."
Foolish Steve shook clear of six rivals in the final furlongs of Friday's $50,000 Magic City Stakes for Alabama-breds, winning by 7 1/4 lengths from Bobby Jr. Two Mikes M Doc G was third. Foolish Steve, a 5-year-old gelding by Mosquito, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.59 with Carlos Marquez up.
Saturday was Louisiana Champions Day, a celebration for state-bred steeds graced with fast and firm conditions. To wit:
Fort Polk came from off the pace to win the $100,000 Ladies Distaff by 2 lengths over Winning Romance. Fort Polk, a 5-year-old daughter of Behindatthebar, ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:44.57 with Jorge Guzman up.
Ova Charged, the odds-on favorite, charged by the speed in the stretch to win the $100,000 Ladies Sprint by 3/4 length from Cilla. Ova Charged, a 3-year-old daughter of Star Guitar, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.92 for jockey Reylu Gutierrez.
Grand Luwegee led from gate to wire in the $150,000 Classic, winning by a comfortable 3 lengths. The favorite, Highland Creek, settled for second, 1 1/4 lengths better than Pound for Pound. Grand Luweegee, a 6-year-old El Corredor, got 1 1/8 miles on the main track in 1:51.00 with Colby Hernandez aboard.
Monte Man got by stablemate Bertie's Galaxy with a sixteenth of a mile to run in the $100,000 Sprint and defeated that rival by 3/4 length. Monte Man, an 8-year-old Custom for Carlos gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.91 with Adam Beschizza up. The top two are trained by Ron Faucheux.
Who took the money in the $100,000 Turf? Why, that would be Who Took the Money, a 3-year-old Street Boss gelding who rallied from next-last of 10 and drew clear in the lane to win by 5 3/4 lengths. Budro Talking was best of the rest.
Who Took the Money, with Deshawn Park riding, ran about 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:45.93.
Tampa Bay Downs
R Adios Jersey said goodbye to 10 rivals in Saturday's $100,000 FTBOA City of Ocala Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, kicking away to win by 11 lengths as the prohibitive favorite. Starship Nala beat the other three.
R Adios Jersey, a 3-year-old daughter of Adios Charlie, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.60 with Paco Lopez up.
In the $100,000 open heat for Florida-bred colts and geldings, Shivaree came from next-last to outfinish R Mercedes Boy by a head for the victory. Pacesetter Well Defined held on for third. Shivaree, a 4-year-old colt by Awesome of Course, reported in 1:22.58 for jockey Samy Camacho.
Golden Gate Fields
Rebalation started 10th in a field of 13 in Saturday's $75,000 Bear Fan Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares, but came eight-wide around the field, hit her best stride at the sixteenth pole and won by 1/2 length over the favorite, Nardini. Tip Top Gal finished third, another 1 1/2 lengths in arrears.
Rebalation, a 5-year-old Acclamation mare, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.62 with Frank Alvarado up.
Avenue de France ducked to the rail in the stretch run of Sunday's $65,000 Miss America Stakes for fillies and mares and got home first by 1 length over Brooke. Pacesetter Sloane Garden held on for third.
Avenue de France, a 4-year-old, French-bred filly by Cityscape, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.19 with Assael Espinoza riding. The race originally was carded for the turf.
Breeze Rider led from gate to wire in Saturday's $100,000 My Charmer Stakes for fillies and mares, then got away late to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Good Fight was second at long odds as Breeze Rider, a 4-year-old Paynter filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.16 with E.T. Baird in the irons.