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Make It Big enters Kentucky Derby picture

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
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Make It Big enters Kentucky Derby picture
Fearless wins Saturday's Harlan's Holiday Stakes at Gulfstream Park, earns consideration for next month's $3 million Pegasus World Cup. Photo by Ryan Thompson, courtesy of Gulfstream Park

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Make It Big jumped into the Kentucky Derby picture with a weekend victory while the first big weekend of the new year started to shape up at Gulfstream Park with a couple of prep races for next month's Grade I Pegasus World Cup events.

On the international scene, Do Deuce was one of six undefeated 2-year-olds in the starting gate Sunday at Hanshin Racecourse -- and the only one remaining unbeaten when the race was done.

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Step right up. No waiting, and away we go.

The Road to the Roses

Make It Big shows signs he might live up to his name. The Neolithic colt rallied from a stalking position in Friday's $400,000 Remington Springboard Mile, hooked up in a long stretch duel with Osbourne and gamely prevailed by 1/2 length.

Concept was part of that mix until the final sixteenth, but faded to finish third. With Jose Ortiz up, Make It Big covered 1 mile on a fast track that played slow all day in 1:41.23.

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Based at Gulfstream Park for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., Make It Big remains undefeated after three starts. He won his 7-furlong debut by 8 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite, and then captured Ocala Stud Juvenile Sprint at the same trip by 2 1/4 lengths.

RELATED Americanrevolution, Pletcher, Baffert have big horse racing weekend

Friday's victory earned 10 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard, elevating Make It Big to a seven-way tie for second place behind Pappacap, but Rick Sacco, racing manager for the owner, Red Oak Stable, was in no hurry to get Make It Big into the deep end of the pool.

"Yes, we will enjoy these Kentucky Derby points," Sacco said. "But we will have to discuss where we send him next."

Also during the weekend:

At Aqueduct, Geno was along late in a roughly run stretch battle in Saturday's $500,000 Great White Way Division of the New York Stallion Stakes to win by a neck over long shot Un Ojo.

The favorite, Unique Unions, led early and held on for third. The stewards looked at bumping in the stretch involving the top two but took no action.

Geno, a Big Brown colt trained by David "Slam" Donk, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.88 with Jorge Vargas Jr. handling the reins, picking up his second win in his fourth start. The first three were on the grass.

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"This horse has a lot of class, as much class as I've seen a horse have in a while," Donk said. "He breezes really well on the dirt and I needed to try him somewhere on the dirt. This is as good a spot as I could have found."

At Laurel Park, Joe dropped back near the back of a 12-horse field in Saturday's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Championship for state-breds, came six-wide to get to the front in the stretch and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Alottahope and Costal Mission completed the trifecta.

Joe, a Declaration of War colt trained by Michael Trombetta, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.63 with Victor Carrasco in the irons.

Pepper Spray won a stretch duel by a neck over Bango for Bucks in Friday's $60,000 Lost in the Fog Juvenile at Turf Paradise.

The Kentucky-bred Tale of Ekati gelding ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.72 for jockey Luis Valenzuela. He won at first asking at Canterbury Park in July and had not raced since.

At Mahoning Valley, Thedayofthegrey took an early lead in Saturday's $75,000 Joshua Radosevich Memorial Stakes for Ohio-breds, drew off through the stretch and won by 6 lengths "as rider pleased," according to Equibase.

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That would be Sonny Leon, who guided the gray son of Twinspired over 6 furlongs of good track in 1:13.54. Relish the Ride and Out for Fun finished second and third.

The Road to the Oaks

Optionality made a statement in Friday's $110,000 Trapeze Stakes at Remington Park. Continuing trainer Steve Asmussen's happy success with Gun Runner progeny, the filly rated just behind the early leader, and then exploded when turned loose by jockey Jose Ortiz, winning by 8 1/4 lengths from the favorite, Golden Sights.

Locally based Hits Pricey Legacy was third. Optionality completed 1 mile on a fast track in 1:41.10.

Optionality took four tries -- all at Indiana Grand -- to find the winner's circle. After that initial win Oct. 26, Asmussen sent her to New Mexico to win the Zia Park Princess by 6 1/2 lengths a month later.

"She's a very versatile filly," said Asmussen, who also trained Gun Runner. "I'm so proud to have another Gun Runner that can do this. She's won at three tracks, at two distances with three different jockeys. This was a good effort at one mile."

Also during the weekend:

Yo Cuz worked her way to the lead heading into the backstretch in Saturday's $500,000 Fifth Avenue Division of the New York Stallion Stakes at Aqueduct, opened a big lead early in the stretch run and won by 1 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Morning Macha. Laochi was third.

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Yo Cuz, a Laoban filly, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.34 with Jose Ortiz back from Oklahoma to take the mount. It was the filly's second start. She was fifth in her debut in November on the same track after a poor start.

Tom Gallo, managing partner of Dream Maker Racing, which owns Yo Cuz, said state-bred competition remains in the short-range plans. "I think so, for now. She just broke her maiden in this race and we'll see how she comes out of the race tomorrow," he said.

At Laurel Park, Luna Belle chased down pacesetting favorite Jester Calls Nojoy at the sixteenth pole in Saturday's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Fillies Championship and ran on to win by 2 3/4 lengths over that foe.

It was another 6 lengths to Sweet Gracie in third. Luna Belle, a daughter of Great Notion. Ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.31 with Denis Araujo up.

Rock the Belles, the odds-on favorite, waited until the final yards but ultimately got the job done in Friday's $60,000 Arizona Juvenile Fillies at Turf Paradise, chasing down runaway leader Royal O'Haigain to win by a neck. Miss Malia rallied from last of six to be third.

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Rock the Belles, a Dominus filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast strip in 1:16.05 with Evin Roman in the irons. She improved to three wins from five starts but was sixth in the Grade I Del Mar Debutante in her sole appearance in the big time.

Around the world, around the clock:

Japan

Six undefeated 2-year-olds went to the post in Sunday's Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity at Hanshin Racecourse and when the 1,600 meters had been run, only Do Deuce remained with a perfect record. The Heart's Cry colt, with Yutaka Take riding, came widest of all into the stretch and ran by more than half the field to win by 1/2 length.

Serifos, previously undefeated, held the lead inside the 100-meter mark but couldn't hold off the winner. Danon Scorpion, yet another previously undefeated, finished third, another 1/2 length back, while showing late interest.

Do Deuce improved to 3-for-3 and Take said he feels the colt has the potential to do more. "He's getting stronger every race," Take said. "We can look forward to the spring Classics next year."

The disappointment in the race was Dobune, who saw his 2-for-2 streak come to an end. The Deep Impact colt sold for nearly $4.5 million at the Chiba 2-year-old sale in the spring, purchased by internet entrepreneur Susumu Fujita. He was never in the mix Sunday and passed tiring rivals to finish seventh.

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England

Dubai Warrior completed a dramatic return to best form in Saturday's Betway Quebec Stakes at Lingfield Park, rallying from well back at the half-mile pole to take the lead at the top of the stretch.

The son of Dansili then held on bravely to win by a nose over Regal Reality with the favorite, Felix, another 2 lengths back in third.

Previously trained by John Gosden, Dubai Warrior won the Quebec in 2019 and went on to take the Grade III Betway Winter Derby in 2020. In his first start for David Loughnane, he was last in the Grade III Diamond Stakes at Dundalk in September, and then fifth behind Pyledriver in the Churchill Stakes at Lingfield Nov. 13.

"The aim now will be the Winter Derby and then [All-Weather Championships] Finals Day itself will be a long-term target," Loughnane said. I would think he will come back here for the Winter Derby Trial, as well."

Meanwhile, back in the States:

Gulfstream Park

Fearless stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Harlan's Holiday Stakes, took over outside the leaders at the top of the stretch and got home first by 4 lengths without much urging by jockey Luis Saez. South Bend was up to snatch second from the early leader, Mighty Heart.

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Fearless, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper gelding trained by Todd Pletcher, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.19.

Fearless won the Grade II Gulfstream Park Mile in February, finished second in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap and third in the Grade III Pimlico Special before getting a six-months break.

He returned to win a 1-mile handicap at Gulfstream Nov. 21 and Saturday's victory over the track makes him a likely candidate for the $3 million Grade I Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 29.

Pletcher did not attend, and assistant Anthony Sciametta said the decision about the big race is "all up to Todd. The horse is moving forward. He's run two good races and came back good from his vacation. That's all we can ask for."

Doswell, frequently a bridesmaid including in the 2020 Fort Lauderdale Stakes, went one better in this year's $200,000 Grade II race, leading all the way to a 1 1/2-length victory. Atone was second and English Bee third in what lived up to the promise of being a wide-open affair.

Doswell, a lightly raced 6-year-old Giant's Causeway gelding, completed about 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in a manually calculated 1:45.60. The victory was his third from 12 starts to go with five seconds and three thirds.

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Trainer Barclay Tagg said Doswell is "a horse that's kind of made for trouble," but credited assistant Robin Smullen with getting him "all straightened out and he's very sensible now."

Asked about moving Doswell along to next month's $1 million Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf, Tagg said, "We're thinking about it. We'll probably go in if he's got energy and all that kind of stuff. I don't want to take him over there and just make a fool out of him if we can help it."

Sweet Melania capped off a challenging year with a late-running upset win over Shifty She in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Suwannee River Stakes for fillies and mares. The 4-year-old American Pharoah filly was full of promise as a 3-year-old but hadn't won in five starts this year.

On Saturday, she raced right behind Shifty She, who opened a daylight advantage turning for home, then reeled in that foe through the lane to win by 1/2 length. In a Hurry was third, another 1/2 length in arrears. Sweet Melania ran about 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.19 with John Velazquez riding.

Center Aisle stumbled at the start of Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sugar Swirl Stakes for filly and mare sprinters, recovered to take the lead and held on to beat old rival Frank's Rockette by 1 length. It was another 5 lengths back to Bronx Beauty in third.

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Center Aisle, a 4-year-old Into Mischief filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.54 with Luis Saez in the irons, winning her third straight race and avenging two 2020 defeats at the hands of Frank's Rockette.

Dance d'Oro took the lead right out of the gate in Saturday's $100,000 Rampart Stakes for fillies and mares, dueled a longshot companion into submission and kicked clear late, winning by 2 lengths. Don't Get Khozy was second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of the favorite, Allworthy.

Dance d'Oro, a 4-year-old filly by Medaglia d'Oro, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.92 with Emisael Jaramillo up. The Ralph Nicks trainee was making her stakes debut.

Oaklawn Park

Lone Rock was along in deep stretch to win Saturday's $200,000 Tinsel Stakes by 3/4 length, denying stablemate Thomas Shelby after that rival had seized the lead on the turn. Beau Luminaire came with a rush from last of seven to finish third, just 1/2 length farther in arrears.

Lone Rock, a 6-year-old Majestic Warrior gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a muddy track in 1:49.77 with Ramon Vazquez up for trainer Robertino Diodoro. Lone Rock now has won nine of his last 11 starts over six tracks from Saratoga to Del Mar.

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"He was in traffic trouble a good part of the race," Diodoro said. "He's a big horse that was stuck down inside, which was a little concerning. But, Ramon did a great job of getting him out of that and hats off to both horses.

"Our other horse, Thomas Shelby, ran huge, as well. He dug in, especially for not making the lead. He ran a hell of a race."

Aqueduct

Chateau led from gate to wire in Sunday's $100,000 Gravesend Sakes, extending the lead to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Jaxon Traveler and Drafted ran second and third throughout the 6 furlongs and finished in those slots.

Chateau, a 6-year-old Flat Out gelding, was clocked in 1:11.26 with Kendrick Carmouche riding.

"He dragged me around there," Carmouche said. "Every time he heard the other horse coming, he wanted a little bit more."

Forewarned got away behind much of the field in Sunday's $125,000 Queens County Stakes, raced wide throughout and still managed to get by pacesetting Empty Tomb in the stretch to win by 1 1/4 lengths, handsomely rewarding those who backed him at odds of 42-1.

Empty Tomb outfinished Backsideofthemoon for second as Forewarned, a 6-year-old entire son of Flat Out, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:51.90 with Dexter Haddock in the kip.

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"The thing with him is he wants longer distances," said Forewarned's trainer, Uriah St. Lewis. "The longer the better and that's what we were trying to do."

Remington Park

Casual pressed the pace in Friday's $100,000 She's All In Stakes for fillies and mares, hit the front turning for home and drew off to win by 5 1/4 lengths. The favorite, Marion Francis, was second, 3 1/2 lengths better than My Bets.

Casual, a 4-year-old Curlin filly trained by Steve Asmussen, ran 1 mile, 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.96 with Jose Ortiz up. The three top finishers were last seen, respectively, at Zia Park, Keeneland and Churchill Downs.

Casual finished fourth in this race last year and was second her two most recent starts, the Flashy Lady Stakes at Remington and the Zia Park Distaff in her most recent.

Number One Dude was all of that in Friday's $70,000 Jim Thorpe Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds. After pressing the early pace, the American Lion gelding took charge in the stretch and drew off to win by 7 lengths, ridden out by Leandro Goncalves.

Tap the Dot was second as Number One Dude finished 1 mile in 1:40.25.

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Sunday Flashback rallied to the lead in the stretch in Friday's $70,000 Useeit Stakes for 3-year-old, Oklahoma-bred fillies and got there first, 1 length ahead of Run Slewpy Run.

Sunday Flashback, a Flashback filly bred, owned and trained by C. R. Trout, was clocked in 1:40.90 with Jose Alvarez aboard.

Turfway Park


Cross Border came from last of seven to win Saturday's $100,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths over Mr Dumas. Hush of a Storm was third, and the favorites, Rushie and Snapper Sinclair, reported fourth and fifth.

Cross Border, a 7-year-old English Channel ridgling, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.89 with Alex Achard in the irons.

Cross Border, trained by Mike Maker, had been running in some of the East Coast's top turf affairs most of the year, winning the Grade II Bowling Green at Saratoga in the year's highlight.

He also was third in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf at Gulfstream Park and the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga. He had not raced on an all-weather track since a victory at Woodbine April 29, 2018, but obviously had not forgotten how to handle the surface.

Turf Paradise

Annie's Boy worked quickly to the lead in Friday's $60,000 Zany Tactics Stakes, showed the way and held on well at the end to win by 2 lengths over El Chavo Del Ocho.

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Annie's Boy, a 4-year-old, Arizona-bred gelding by Lotsa Mischief, toured 5 furlongs of firm turf in course-record time of 55.66 seconds under Luis Valenzuela.

Mahoning Valley

Niceasakittenseyes broke 10th of 11 in Saturday's $75,000 Bobbie Bricker Memorial for Ohio-bred fillies and mares, came six-wide into the stretch and was along in time to win by 1 1/4 lengths -- at odds of 87-1. A $2 win payout of $176 is way nicer than a kitten's eyes, not even considering a $12,754.15 return on a winning 50-cent trifecta ticket.

Anyway, the 3-year-old William's Kitten filly ran 1 mile, 70 yards on a fast track in 1:45.93 for jockey Fernando Salazar Becerra.

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