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New Kentucky Derby prospects emerge during weekend

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
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Courvoisier wins the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, moving into the Kentucky Derby picture. Photo by Chelsea Durand, courtesy of New York Racing Association
Courvoisier wins the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, moving into the Kentucky Derby picture. Photo by Chelsea Durand, courtesy of New York Racing Association

Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Add to the list of Kentucky Derby prospects -- well, maybe, who knows? -- the names Courvoisier, Dash Attack, Simplification and Newgrange , all winners in potential Derby preps on New Year's Day.

Just don't get too excited. It's early innings along the Triple Crown trail, and one of the names listed above currently isn't eligible even to set foot through the Churchill Downs stable gate, much less load into the Derby starting gate. Still, we can only go on the evidence.

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There was action on turf and dirt from New York to California and Louisiana to Kentucky as 2022 got off to a flying start.

On the international scene, the second half of the Hong Kong season continued to evolve Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse. And the All-Weather Championships in England filled three more Fast-Track Qualifier spots for the Good Friday finals.

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Starting with those Derby hopefuls ...

The Run for the Roses

Arkansas

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Dash Attack came with a late dash in the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park, overcoming a slow start to win by 2 lengths over Barber Road. Ignitis was third, another 1 length in arrears.

The favorite, Home Brew, could not muster a stretch rally and finished 10th.

Dash Attack, a Munnings colt out of the Hard Spun mare Cerce Cay, ran 1 mile over a sloppy, sealed strip in 1:39.44 for jockey David Cohen.

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Trained by Kenny McPeek, Dash Attack won at first asking at Oaklawn on Dec. 5 and remains undefeated, heading, presumably, into Oaklawn's rich Arkansas Derby series.

"I'm just really pleased with the job David and my team did over there," McPeek said from Florida. "Just an impressive run by that colt.

"Look, he's still just figuring it out, this horse. I knew he would come from off the pace. I saw that he got off a little awkward. I just didn't want David to rush things and it looked to me like he started to.

"But then, as the race unfolded, he kind of ended up in a pocket for a while. But good horses overcome things and he's done that, for sure."

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New York

Courvoisier pressed the pace in the $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, assumed the lead at the eighth pole and won by 1 1/4 lengths. Smarten Up, one of the longest chances in the eight-horse field, rallied to finish second, 3/4 length better than the favorite, Cooke Creek.

Courvoisier, with Jose Ortiz riding for trainer Kelly Breen, ran 1mile on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:38.86.

Courvoisier was third, second and second, respectively, in the autumn at Monmouth Park and Delaware Park, and then won at Aqueduct on Dec. 2. The colt certainly has the pedigree to be a Derby contender. Sired by Tapit, he's out of the Giant's Causeway mare Take Charge Brandi, a dual Grade 1-winner.

"He does everything right," Breen said. "He just needed to put it all together. He was being very juvenile in his first couple of races, and I think this is the beginning of him moving forward."

Breen said Courvoisier will target a start in the Grade 3 $250,000 Withers at 9 furlongs Feb. 5, adding, "We're excited for it because it's where we were pointing him. We didn't know if we were even going to run in the Jerome because we believe he is a two-turn horse."

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California

It figured colts trained by Bob Baffert would finish 1-2 in Saturday's $100,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. The race offered 10-4-2-1 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard, but the 10- and 4-point awards are forfeited because Baffert is under the Churchill Downs interdict and his horses can't earn points.

Newgrange, of course, was oblivious to that controversy. So he went right to the front for jockey John Velazquez and wasn't caught, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over the favorite, stablemate Rockefeller. Rockefeller finished only a nose in front of the promising Oviate Class, whose late run promised more.

Baffert didn't address the Churchill Downs controversy, but continued his praise of his runners.

"He looked good," the trainer said of Newgrange. "He had been training really well and working together with Rockefeller. The quality is there. I'm happy we have a great team and we are moving forward with him.

"I thought Rockefeller would be a little closer. We'll have to figure things out on where the two go from here."

Newgrange, a Violence colt out of the Empire Maker mare Bella Chianti, is owned by a partnership including many of the industry's biggest names so his handling through the next few months will be a matter of keen interest.

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Whatever his course, he moves along with two wins from two starts to his credit. He won at first asking at Del Mar on Nov. 26.

Florida

Simplification's game plan in the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park was simplicity itself -- get the lead and keep it. The Not This Time colt established an honest pace with Javier Castellano riding and drew off late to win by 4 lengths.

The odds-on favorite, Strike Hard, kept trying but settled for second, 7 1/4 lengths in front of Mr. Rum Runner.

Simplification got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.04. The start was the fourth for Simplification, all at Gulfstream Park, and his second win.

"He was happy and satisfied on the lead, galloping along, and when I asked him he took off and re-broke at the quarter pole," Castellano said. "I liked the way he galloped out. I don't think he'll have any problem stretching out. He's well bred and has a good foundation. Fingers crossed."

"He's a special horse, a very good horse," said winning trainer Antonio Sano, looking forward to the $250,000 Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 3.

On the turf

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Grand Sonata was along in the final yards of Saturday's $100,000 Dania Beach Stakes, nailing pacesetter Chanceux by a head under the wire. Father Glado was third, another 1 length back.

Grand Sonata, a Whisper Hill Farm homebred Medaglia d'Oro colt out of the A.P. Indy mare A.P. Sonata, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:37.04. Tyler Gaffalione rode for trainer Todd Pletcher, who also trains Chanceux.

Grand Sonata broke his maiden on the Keeneland dirt track, and Pletcher said he might get another try on that surface.

"He's got a dirt pedigree and at some point we might step out," he said. "They've also got a great turf program here so you hate not to take advantage of it."

Santa Anita pushed back the $100,000 Eddie Logan Stakes from Friday to Sunday because of weather in Southern California, meaning it was run for 3-year-olds rather than 2-year-olds.

Cabo Spirit showed no signs of advancing age as he rallied from midfield in upper stretch and got past the leaders to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Maglev came from farther back to finish second as the favorite, a neck in front of Handy Dandy.

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Cabo Spirit, a Pioneerof the Nile colt from the George Papaprodromou barn, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:36.38 with Victor Espinoza riding.

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Bron and Brow hit the front at the quarter pole in Friday's $105,000 Louisiana Futurity for state-bred colts and geldings at Fair Grounds and eased away to win by 2 3/4 lengths as the favorite. Charco and Big Scully were well-spaced second and third.

Bron and Brow, a Gormley colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.85 for jockey Adam Beschizza.

The scorecard

Dash Attack and Courvoisier each earned 10 points and joined eight others in a tie for second place on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard. Newgrange got no points because of the Baffert ban, and Simplification went without because the Mucho Macho Man was not included in the series.

Pappacap leads with 12 points earned in second-place finishes in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Grade I American Pharoah. In both those races, he was defeated by Corniche, the likely 2-year-old Eclipse Award winner, who also resides in the Baffert Barn of Banishment.

The Road to the Oaks

Kathleen O. moved quickly from well off the pace to lead in the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Cash Run Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park, and then blasted off to win by 8 1/2 lengths. Mi Negrita was next, 3/4 length in front of Fast and Flirty.

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Kathleen O., a daughter of Upstart from the Blame mare Quaver, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.97 with Javier Castellano up. She now is 2-for-2 for trainer Shug McGaughey.

On the turf:

Alittleloveandluck waited for room at the top of the lane in Saturday's $100,000 Ginger Brew Stakes at Gulfstream Park, got out for room and got home first by 1/2 length. Ocean Safari was second, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of the favorite, Opalina.

Alittleloveandluck, a daughter of Arrogate, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:36.68. Paco Lopez rode for trainer Michael Dini.

Dini said he never intended to put Alittleloveandluck on the green course, but was talked into it by the Gulfstream Park racing office when the Ginger Brew came up a little short. Now, he said, she will stay on the lawn, at least for the time being.

On Sunday at Santa Anita, Bellabell chased down pacesetting Shoppingforpharoah in the stretch in the delayed $100,000 Blue Norther Stakes and ran on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over that one. The favorite, Helen's Well, stalked the early pace and finished third.

Bellabell, an Irish-bred filly by Belardo, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:36.86 with Flavien Prat up for trainer Phil D'Amato.

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Free Like a Girl shook free from six rivals heading for home in Friday's $105,000 Louisiana Futurity for state-bred fillies at Fair Grounds and romped across the line first by 6 1/4 lengths. Wholelottamo was second, 1 3/4 lengths in front of Serape.

Free Like a Girl, a daughter of El Deal, reported in 1:11.11 with Pedro Cotto Jr. in the irons.

In other action on the New Year's weekend:

Santa Anita

Baffert had a good New Year's Day, presumably after ducking the Rose Parade traffic, not only saddling the 1-2 finishers in the Sham (see above), but also watching As Time Goes By put on an exhibition in the $200,000 La Canada for fillies and mares.

Trained for the Coolmore connections in Ireland, the American Pharoah mare, newly turned 5, toyed with a quartet of rivals before showing her heels to them all, winning by 13 1/2 lengths, geared down.

Park Avenue, Moonlight d'Oro, Fi Fi Pharoah and Velvet Slippers completed the order of finish.

As Time Goes By won for the sixth time in her 13th start, finishing 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.31 while geared down by jockey Flavien Prat. It was her fourth graded stakes win although a Grade 1 victory has eluded her and she reported eighth as a long shot in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Del Mar.

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"This filly keeps getting better and better with age," Baffert said. "I am expecting big things from her from here. She will stay here, and I think the Grade I Beholder would be next for her." She was second in that event last year.

Coolmore "lad" Michael Tabor was on had to watch the festivities, and said he liked what he saw, both with As Time Goes By and Santa Anita itself.

"Santa Anita is a great facility, fantastic view, everything you could wish for in a racetrack," Tabor said. "And when you're here and want to bring somebody to the races who has never been to the races, it's a pleasure to bring them here."

Santa Anita got back on the turf after rain earlier in the week scrambled the schedule. Luck took full advantage, rallying from next-last to win Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes for fillies and mares by 3 1/4 lengths over a course rated "good". Bodhicitta was second, a nose better than Mutual Unusual.

Luck, a 5-year-old Kitten's Joy mare, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.26 with Flavien Prat riding for trainer Richard Baltas. It was her fourth U.S. start after an initial win and two defeats, both by a head and both in graded stakes.

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Chewing Gum seemed to like his relocation from the East Coast just fine as he was along just in time to edge favorite Beer Can Man in the final jumps of Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Joe Hernandez Stakes.

With Umberto Rispoli in the irons, the 7-year-old son of Candy Ride started the trip down the hillside turf course second-last of seven, moved along Beer Can Man in the stretch and won by a nose. It was another 1/2 length to Bran in third as Chewing Gum got the gravity-aided 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.27.

The Bill Mott trainee has spent most of his career on the East Coast.

Edgeway showed the way in Sunday's $75,000 Kalookan Queen Stakes for fillies and mares and persevered through the stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Merneith. Stellar Sound and Queengol completed the order of finish.

Edgeway, a 5-year-old Competitive Edge mare, got 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.85 with John Velazquez up.

Aqueduct

Sea Foam showed the way in the $100,000 Alex M. Robb Stakes for New York-breds on New Year's Eve, turned back a challenge and rolled on to win by 1/2 length over Danny California. Our Last Buck was up for show money. Sea Foam, a 6-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro, ran 1 1/8 miles on a muddy track in 1:52.17 with Kendrick Carmouche in the irons.

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Maiden Beauty posted a gate-to-wire win in Thursday's $100,000 Bay Ridge Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, drawing off in the late going to score by 3 3/4 lengths. The favorite, Ice Princess, was second, 3/4 length in front of Sharp Starr. Maiden Beauty, a 5-year-old mare by Revolutionary, ran 1 1/8 miles on a sloppy track in 1:51.76, also with Carmouche aboard.

Bank Sting held the lead much of the way in Sunday's $100,000 La Verdad Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares, was headed by Eloquent Speaker but came back to defeat that rival by a neck. It was another 9 3/4 lengths to Courageous Girl in third.

Bank Sting, a 5-year-old Central Banker mare trained by John Terranova II, ran 7 furlongs on a muddy, sealed track in 1:25.00 with Dylan Davis up.

Gulfstream Park

Carotari pressed the pace into the turn in Friday's $100,000 Janus Stakes, saved ground while taking the lead turning for home and stayed nicely, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Extravagant Kid, winner of the 2021 Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai. Smokin' Jay and Yes I Am Free were in close attendance, finishing third and fourth, respectively.

Carotari, a 5-year-old Artie Schiller gelding out of the Rahy mare Soother, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.78 seconds with Luis Saez up.

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Miss J McKay raced well off the pace early in Friday's $100,000 Abundantia Stakes for fillies and mares, was floated well out into the middle of the track on the turn and still managed to rally for the victory. Drapes was second, 1 1/2 lengths back, with Strong Odor third.

Miss J McKay, a 4-year-old daughter of Hangover Kid, ran 5 furlongs on the grass in 55.86 seconds for jockey Tyler Gaffalione.

Always Shopping pressed the pace through most of Friday's $100,000 Via Borghese Stakes for fillies and mares, engaged with Harajuku in a stretch battle and prevailed by a nose over that one with a final effort. It was another 3 lengths back to Beautiful Lover in third.

Always Shopping, a 5-yaer-old Awesome Again mare out of the More Than Ready mare Stopshoppingmaria, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm going in 2:13.86. Gaffalione rode for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Lightning Larry was quick to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Limehouse Stakes for 3-year-olds and, once in front, wasn't challenged, winning by 1/2 length. Of a Revolution made a late bid, but settled for second, 8 lengths ahead of O Captain in third.

Lightning Larry, an Uncaptured colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.40 with Romero Maragh up.

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Turfway Park

Sir Alfred James was rushed up to the lead after a slow start in Saturday's $100,000 Holiday Cheer Stakes, enjoyed a clear advantage the rest of the way and won by 6 1/4 lengths. Souper Highvoltage was second, 3/4 length in front of Here Mi Song.

Sir Alfred James, a 6-year-old Munnings gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.53 for jockey John McKee, notching his first stakes win.

Fair Grounds

Elle Z led gate to wire in Saturday's $75,000 Nelson J. Menard Memorial for fillies and mares, rolling home first by 5 lengths. She Can't Sing was along to deny the favorite, Time Limit, for place.

Elle Z, a 5-year-old City Zip mare, got 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:04.58 with Mitchell Murrill at the controls.

Delta Downs

Strummer fought her way to the front in Friday's $70,000 Lookout Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares, and then scooted off to win by 3 lengths. Jet Sweep was best of the rest with Suzie's Dream third, another 1 length in arrears.

Strummer, a 3-year-old Star Guitar filly, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:35.97 seconds with Gerard Melancon in the irons.

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Izzy's Baby Boy dueled to the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $70,000 B-Connected Stakes for Louisiana-breds, then held on to win by a head over late-closing Jax Man. Magawildtime led most of the way but faded to get home third.

Izzy's Baby Boy, a 6-year-old Shackleford gelding, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:35.47 with Thomas Pompell up.

Sunland Park

Lemon Drop Gold drew off in the final furlong to win Saturday's $100,000 New Mexico State Racing Commission Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares by 3 1/2 lengths over Mindofmyown. Flaxy Lady was third and the favorite, Tight Fittin Jeans, retreated throughout, finishing eighth.

Lemon Drop Gold, a 5-year-old mare by Mr. Gold Mover, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a good, sealed track in 1:07.29 with Frank Reyes in the irons.

Competitive Idea worked to the lead in Saturday's $65,000 KLAQ Handicap, slowly improved position through the stretch and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Mr Paytience. Minister of Soul was third.

Competitive Idea, a 5-year-old Competitive Edge gelding, toured 5 furlongs on the good track in 1:00.26 with Luis Negron riding.

Around the world, around the clock:

Hong Kong

New Year's Day at Sha Tin Racecourse was full of promise for trainer Frankie Lor as Master Eight and Happy Healthy likely ran themselves up the class latter into group stakes.

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Master Eight remains undefeated after five Hong Kong starts for Lor after winning Saturday's Group 3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy going 1,000 meters on the Sha Tin turf, and jockey Joao Moreira said he thinks there's the ability for more.

"He might not be the best horse, the best sprinting horse, in Hong Kong at the moment but he has everything to be that in the future," Moreira said of Master Eight. "He's obviously improving and today was obviously his toughest test and he's done what we've expected him to do. He's a good horse."

Lor agreed, and said Hong Kong's rating system will propel Master Eight higher in the local pecking order.

"More time will be better but his rating will be a hundred and something and we need to race him in Group races," Lor said. "That cannot change. We don't have a choice."

Options might include the Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup on Jan. 23, the first leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series.

Meanwhile, Healthy Happy returned to action after 194 days off with a victory in the Group 3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup at 1,400 meters. The winner of last season's Hong Kong Classic Cup had been idled by a series of issues, including a foot injury while in his stable box.

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Now, Lor must figure out how to get him back to the top level -- and possibly avoid a confrontation with local superstar Golden Sixty in the process. Lor said he resisted the temptation to send out Happy Healthy first up in last month's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile.

"In the Mile we would've needed to face Golden Sixty so I decided to give him one more trial and set him for this race," Lor said.

"The [Group 1] Stewards' Cup and the Chinese New Year Cup -- races at 1,600 meters and 1,400 meters -- I need to talk to the owner, but we have options," Lor said. The Stewards' Cup is sure to include Golden Sixty.

England

Arriviste, obviously happy returning to sprint distances after a couple years going longer, dominated the Coral Fillies' Conditions Stakes at Southwell Saturday, earning a Fast-Track Qualifier spot in the Coral All-Weather Fillies & Mares Championships on Good Friday.

With David Probert up, the solid favorite took the lead right out of the back straight, then was in charge through the latter furlongs, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. Theotherside was second, just in front of Algheed.

It was Arriviste's third win from four starts at 7 furlongs and Probert said she managed to overcome a lack of pace.

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He added, "The final at Newcastle should suit her well given she should get a stronger pace up there. She is a likeable type and you can see her being competitive."

Two others earned Fast-Track Qualifier spots in racing Sunday at Newcastle.

Venturous, at 25-1 odds, won the 5-furlongs Betway Conditions Stakes, earning a spot in the Betway All-Weather Sprint Championships. The 9-year-old won the same race last season but was pushed out on the odds by a fifth-place finish at Wolverhampton in November.

"I am delighted with the old boy," winning trainer David Barron said. "He still has a big level of ability if the race is run to suit, and today it was because they went like the clappers. When he gets that sort of set up in a race, he is very dangerous at the end.

"Venturous will not run too often between now and the final," Barron added. "He is an old boy nowadays and we have to look after him as much as we can."

Tempus, making his first start for Archie Watson after moving from Roger Charlton's yard, earned a place in the MansionBet All-Weather mile Championships with a score in the other Sunday Fast-Track Qualifier.

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Tempus, under Holly Doyle, easily held off late efforts by Bless Him and United Front to win by 2 1/2 lengths.

"He did it impressively and quickened away from some good horses on his first start for a long time," Watson said. "We will see how he comes out of the race and then work back from the final in April."

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