Classic Causeway jumps to top of Kentucky Derby leaderboard with a big win in Saturday's Sam F. Davis Stakes. SV Photography photo, courtesy of Tampa Bay Downs
Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Classic Causeway jumped to the top of the Kentucky Derby candidates' leaderboard with an impressive win at Tampa Bay Downs, and another Bob Baffert-trained horse, Blackadder, won a Derby prep in California in notable weekend horse racing.
Nest made her case for a Kentucky Oaks bid, also at Tampa Bay. Plainsman and Miss Bigly won graded stakes at Oaklawn Park. Yes I Am Free and Miss Auramet took down the turf sprints at Gulfstream Park.
On the international front, trainer Doug O'Neill saddled another winner of a prep for the Dubai World Cup, albeit not with the authority of Hot Rod Charlie's victory a week earlier.
Australia's autumn season heated up with a pair of sprints. We've got early action among Japanese 3-year-olds. And the British All-Weather Championships perhaps turned up another Dubai candidate.
The likely fields are out for the $20 million Grade I Saudi Cup and it's attendant features.
We'll circle back to where we started with ...
The Road to the Roses
Classic Causeway stamped himself a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender with a convincing, 3 3/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
The Giant's Causeway colt, out of the Thunder Gulch mare Private World, dueled for the lead, put away his only serious rival exiting the stretch turn and wasn't bothered thereafter.
Shipsational found some late oomph to get up for second, 1 length in front of Volcanic as Classic Causeway ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.80. Irad Ortiz Jr. rode for trainer Brian Lynch.
Classic Causeway won his first start easily at Saratoga, then finished third in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland and second in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs Nov. 27.
He earned 10 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard for the Sam F. Davis score, putting him at the top of the list with 16.
Ortiz, who won three of the four stakes races on the card and five overall, said the early pace duel didn't trouble Classic Causeway.
"He broke good, so I just let him be free out there," he said. "I was getting pushed by the speed horse but my horse is fast, too. I knew I had horse under me the whole time."
Lynch said Sunday from his Palm Meadow training base that Classic Causeway is likely for the $400,000 Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 12.
"We're looking forward to coming back," the trainer told track publicity, adding Classic Causeway "looked happy and spunky" after Saturday's effort. "We think it will be the right move. He ran great over the track and it was such a great day of racing we'd like to enjoy it again."
Later Saturday on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather track, Blackadder rallied between rivals at mid-stretch and outfinished the favorite, Mackinnon, winning the El Camino Real Derby by a neck over that fellow Southern California invader.
Blackadder, a Quality Road colt trained by Bob Baffert, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.34, less than 1 second shy of the track record.
"Bob told me I'd have to earn this ride to win it because he can be a bit lazy," Bloodhorse quoted winning rider Edwin Maldonado of Blackadder.
The colt took three tries to get to the winner's circle and now has back-to-back wins with the first of those in a 1-mile, off-the-turf affair on a fast track at Santa Anita. That, plus his late interest while going 1 1/8 miles Saturday, could make him worth a second look on the Triple Crown trail.
But since he is trained by Baffert, whose horses are banished from the Derby, Blackadder forfeits the 10 points he would have garnered for the win.
Blackadder is the fourth horse from the Baffert barn to win a "Road" race. Two of them, including Eclipse Award winner Corniche, have won two each for a total of six of the 20 races run so far. Four others have lost points while finishing second, third or fourth.
Blackadder did garner a "Win and You're In" spot for the Preakness Stakes, run at Pimlico which, like Golden Gate Fields, is owned by the Stronach Group.
The Path to the Oaks
Nest was way too good for six rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The Curlin filly, out of the A.P. Indy mare Marion Ravenwood, (think "Raiders of the Lost Ark") stalked the pace, opened up when given the signal by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and drew off to win by 6 lengths, ridden out.
Alittleloveandluck beat the others with another 3 1/4-length gap back to Blamethechampagne in third. Nest ran 1 mile and 40 yards on a fast track in a snappy 1:39.30.
Nest, conditioned by Todd Pletcher, won her first start in September at Belmont Park by 5 lengths, then finished third, beaten less than 1 length, in the Tempted Stakes on the same track. She returned from that to win the Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct on Dec. 4.
Nest is nominated to the Triple Crown, which makes her eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and/or Belmont Stakes but Aron Wellman of part-owner Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, said, "We haven't even thought about that. Right now, we'll just enjoy this and hope she takes the next step."
In other action:
Plainsman and Thomas Shelby hooked up right out of the gate in Saturday's $600,000 Grade III Razorback Handicap and battled throughout the 1 1/16 miles with Plainsman inching in front in the late going to win by a neck.
Popular Kid held third all the way, but could only finish in that slot, another 1 3/4 lengths in arrears.
Plainsman, the mutuel favorite, finished in 1:43.79 over a fast track with Joel Rosario riding. The winner is a 7-year-old entire son of Flatter.
"I always felt like he's a horse that runs his best when he turns for home and he's right there in position," trainer Brad Cox said of Plainsman. "If he can get the lead at some point, he's a very tenacious, hard-trying horse.
"I know he's a hard horse to get by once he gets the lead, so I felt pretty confident that he could maybe hold off the horse on the inside."
Plainsman, who runs for Arkansas racing fixture John Ed Anthony's Shortleaf Stable, was third in the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in his previous start after running third in the Grade III Bold Ruler and winning Grade III Ack Ack at Churchill Downs. He finished sixth in the 2018 Arkansas Derby.
Anthony scored his second Razorback win, following Temperence Hill's score in 1981. Oaklawn Director of Racing Jennifer Hoyt graciously dusted off the record book for us and found Temperence Hill earned $66,660 for the 1981 win while Plainsman's share of Saturday's purse was $360,000.
Miss Bigly found room between rivals at mid-stretch in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Bayakoa Stakes, shot through and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Long shot She's All Wolfe rallied from last to finish second, a head in front of Jilted Bride.
Miss Bigly, a 6-year-old Gemologist mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.82. Ramon Vasquez rode for trainer Phil D'Amato.
"Those were all quality fillies we were running against," D'Amato said. "I think anyone could win on any given day. My filly, I think she had been making that early move in her last couple, just by circumstance, and today she was able to just relax a little more, wait and conserve with her little late burst, and I think that made the difference."
Ouraika rallied from midfield to win Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sweet Life Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a head over Urban. Kitty Kitana, the favorite, was third.
Ouraika, a French-bred filly by Zelzal, ran 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:13.98 with Juan Hernandez riding for trainer Graham Motion. Ouraika got her first U.S. win in her third start since arriving from France late last year.
Tampa Bay Downs
Bank on Shea got first run to the lead in the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Pelican Stakes and bravely held off the odds-on favorite, Baby Yoda, to win by a neck. Pudding finished third, 1 3/4 lengths farther behind.
Bank On Shea, a 5-year-old son of Central Banker, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.61 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. The New York-bred had been running with credit among similar in New York but finished fourth in his first Florida effort Jan. 7.
Drop a Hint broke last of seven in Saturday's $50,000 Minaret Stakes for fillies and mares, made up all the ground racing four-wide into the turn and held on in the end to win by a neck over My Destiny. It was another 2 1/4 lengths to Feeling Mischief in third.
Drop a Hint, a 5-year-old Into Mischief mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.48 with Antonio Gallardo aboard.
Yes I Am Free stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint, moved to the lead heading into the stretch and kicked away to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Richy made up ground from the back of the pack to finish second, a head in front of Belgrano.
The odds-on favorite, Gear Jockey, did not fire in his first start since finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint in November and got home fifth.
Yes I Am Free, a 6-year-old Uncaptured gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.07 seconds for jockey Emisael Jaramillo, earning his first graded stakes score.
Miss Auramet worked to an early lead in Saturday's $100,000 Ladies Turf Sprint and made that lead stand up, crossing the finish line first by 1 3/4 lengths. Nikee Kan was second, 1 length better than Reinagol.
The odds-on favorite, Miss J McKay, was pinched back and checked sharply right out of the gate and couldn't overcome that, finishing fourth with some late interest.
Miss Auramet, a 6-year-old Uncaptured mare, finished in 56.87 with Julien Leparoux in the irons.
Barese tracked down pacesetting favorite Bold Journey in the final strides of Saturday's $100,000 Gander Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Geno was another 5 1/2 lengths back in third.
Barese, a Laoban colt trained by Mike Maker, finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.26 with Dylan Davis in the irons. He remains undefeated after three trips.
On Sunday, Kept Waiting came four-wide into the stretch in the $100,000 Broadway Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, hit the gas and got home first by 5 1/2 lengths. Time Limit completed the "clock-watchers exacta" with the favorite, Breakfastatbonnies, third.
Kept Waiting, a 5-year-old Broken Vow mare, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:12.81 with Manny Franco riding.
Visitant, the overwhelming favorite, got the job done in Saturday's $100,000 Forego Stakes with a stretch-running 1 3/4-lengths score. Pole Setter was second, a neck in front of Three Technique.
Visitant, a 6-year-old son of Ghostzapper, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track with times not available because of an equipment malfunction -- and apparently an absence of stopwatches.
Based at Turfway for trainer William Morley, Visitant last year journeyed to Churchill Downs to finish second in the Grade II Alysheba Stakes.
My Indy got the lead in the lane in Friday's $60,000 Turf Paradise Turf Stakes and held off the closing charge of Kennebec, winning by a head. Giant Payday was third. My Indy, a 6-year-old English Channel gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.27 with Harry Hernandez in the irons.
Norma Jean B. came from the clouds to win Friday's $60,000 Glendale Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths over Shore Break. Quiet Secretary led early and finished third. Norma Jean B., a 5-year-old Tapiture mare, negotiated 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.95 toting Daisuke Fukumoto.
By the way, if you haven't yet seen the movie "Jockey," which was shot largely at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, do yourself a favor and track it down (play on words intended). It's good.
Around the world, around the clock:
Tofane got the lead right out of the gate in Saturday's Group 1 Neds C.F. Orr Stakes at Caulfield, led them a merry chase and held off Lighthouse at the end by 1 1/2 lengths.
Lighthouse, in turn, was another 1 3/4 lengths better than Cascadian, who improved up the rail. The favorite, Behemoth, pressed the early pace and faded, reporting 10th.
Tofane, a 6-year-old, New Zealand-bred mare by Ocean Park, was having her first go since last October when she finished seventh in the Group 1 Empire Rose Stakes, won by Colette.
And, speaking of Colette, the 5-year-old Godolphin mare put in a good late run to finish second to Think It Over on Saturday in the Group 2 The Agency Apollo Stakes at Randwick with 2 3/4 lengths separating the two.
The favorite, Melbourne Cup winner Verry Elleegant, was seventh in her seasonal debut while going 1,400 meters -- less than half the Melbourne Cup distance.
Think It Over, a So You Think gelding, also was making his first start of the season and also going shorter than normal.
The fifth night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival provided some hints about World Cup Night itself as runners from around the world found success with beloved veteran Lord Glitters putting the icing on the cake.
American trainer Doug O'Neill, for the second time in as many weeks, won a race normally seen as a World Cup prep -- but not, perhaps, this year as O'Neill's Hot Rod Charlie is a hot favorite for that after his win at Meydan Racecourse on Feb. 4.
Those looking for something to back in the UAE Derby on March 26 might continue looking as Azure Coast, a Keeneland sales graduate, earlier raced in Moscow, won the UAE 2,000 Guineas. And locally trained Meraas took out a preview of the group 1 dirt sprint on World Cup night.
Godolphin prevailed in two turf events on the card with Global Storm and Storm Damage, both by Night of Thunder.
Nine-year-old Lord Glitters, a Carnival favorite, rallied from last with a smooth move through the stretch run to land the Singspiel Stakes for the second straight year. The favorite, Royal Fleet, and his Godolphin mate, Zakowski, could only finish second and third in the 1,800-meter turf event.
Lord Glitters won the Group 3 Bahrain International Trophy at Sakhir in November but reported fourth in his 2022 debut at Meydan Jan. 21. The Jebbel Hatta and/or the $5 million Group 1 Dubai Turf beckon now.
Back to O'Neill: Appreciated was squeezed at the start of the Curlin Stakes and had to make an unaccustomed run from behind a bunch of slow-moving rivals. With Fernanmdo Jara riding, he got the job done, winning by a head after a stretch duel with Sanad Libya.
The Curlin is designed as a step toward the World Cup at the same 2,000-meters distance. But the time of the race -- 2:08.12 -- does not argue that Appreciated can compete with the heavyweights expected there.
O'Neill scratched earlier Dubai winner Get Back Goldie from the UAE 2,000 Guineas, opening the way for Azure Coast, a Street Sense colt who rallied from last in the 13-horse Guineas field under Antonio Fresu to draw clear in the stretch and win by 2 lengths.
The international theme of the evening was underscored as South American-bred runners Kiefer (BRZ) and Quality Boone (ARG) finished second and third.
Azure Coast sold for $65,000 to Vladimir Kazakov at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Kazakov took the colt home to Moscow, where he won at first asking going 1 mile. In his only other start, Dec. 16 at Meydan, he won from well off the pace.
The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia on Thursday announced the likely fields for the $20 million Group 1 Saudi Cup and its rich supporting races with returning champion Mishriff and five American contenders heading a diverse, international cast for the marquee event.
Mishriff has not raced since finishing fourth in the Group 1 British Champion Stakes on soft going at Ascot in October. That shouldn't be too concerning as he won the Saudi Cup last year in his first start after finishing ninth in that same race. If he's still at the top of his game, he's among the best in the world.
The American delegation comprises budding rivals Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon, Grade I Woodward Stakes winner Art Collector, Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup victor Country Grammer and Happy Saver, never worse than third in eight starts including a win in the 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Others of note in the Saudi Cup: Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare upset winner from Japan, Marche Lorraine, who also is entered in this coming weekend's February Stakes back home; the winner of the aforementioned 2021 Champion Stakes, Sealiway; 2021 Godolphin Mile winner Secret Ambition; Godolphin's Real World, who rides a five-race winning streak, and Japanese Champions Cup winner T O Keynes.
Also represented are Uruguay and the local barn of trainer Mitab Almulawah.
We'll have more on the undercard events in the next two weeks leading up to race day. For now, the American focus is Pinehurst in the Group 3 Saudi Derby, Casa Creed and Ginobili in the $1.5 million Riyadh Dirt Sprint, and Channel Cat in the $1.5 million
It's time to start paying attention to the 3-year-olds who might contest this year's Classics and a couple of races for those horses were on tap during the weekend.
On Saturday at Tokyo Racecourse, Presage Lift missed the break by a beat in the Grade 3 Daily Hai Queen Cup for 3-year-old fillies and raced near the back of the field around the sweeping turn.
Jockey Keita Tosaki got the Harbinger filly moving well out in the middle of the course turning for home and she wore them down, hitting the lead just in the shadow of the wire to win by a neck over Stars on Earth.
The latter, a Duramente filly, appeared to have the race won in the final 100 meters before the winner appeard in the scene. Another by Duramente, Belle Cresta, was third as the favorites swept the placings.
Presage Lift, bred by Northern Farm and racing in the colors of Sunday Racing Co. Ltd., won her only start as a 2-year-old, going 1,600 meters over the same turf -- the same distance as Saturday's race.
The 3-year-old colts took center stage over the same course but at 1,800 meters in Sunday's Grade 3 Kyoto News Hai with Danon Beluga rallying outside rivals to win going away, by 1 1/2 lengths.
Geoglyph, narrowly favored over the winner, also made a nice late move to finish second, 1 1/2 lengths better than Be Astonished.
Danon Beluga, a Heart's Cry colt out of the Tizway mare Coasted, raced only once as a juvenile, winning a newcomer race at 2,000 meters, indicating he has plenty of scope to tackle the Classics later this year. Sunday's race was his 3-year-old debut.
With Kohei Matsuyama riding for trainer Noriyuki Hori and owner Danox Co. Ltd., Danon Beluga was away cleanly, raced in the clear midway back in the 11-horse field and commenced a steady improvement after straightening for home.
Geoglyph, a Drefong colt, won his first two starts in 2021 and finished fifth in the Asahi Hai Futurity at Hanshin before going on winter break.
After several official trial races in March, the Oka Sho or Japanese 1000 Guineas, is set for April 10 at Hanshin Racecourse and the Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2000 Guineas a week later at Nakayama.
The close connection between the British All-Weather Championships and the Dubai and Saudi Arabian programs was on full display after My Oberon survived a three-way battle to the wire in Sunday's MansionBet Conditions Stakes at Southwell.
The race was a Fast-Track Qualifier for the MansionBet All-Weather Mile Championships on Good Friday at Newcastle and trainer William Haggas said the options are that race -- or the Dubai World Cup.
Tom Marquand rode the 5-year-old with nothing but confidence, entering the stretch with only one horse behind him. Passing the two-furlong marker, My Oberon took the issue to Ayr Harbour with Diderot making his bid on the outside.
As they flashed by the winning post, My Oberon was up by 1/2 length over Diderot with Ayr Harbour a neck back of him in third.
Haggas said the question now is whether My Oberon's 113 rating and a victory in last year's Group 3 Earl of Sefton Stakes at Newmarket will get him an invitation to Dubai.
"If he gets invited, he will go to Dubai next," the trainer said. "We are going to run another horse rated higher than him in the Dubai Turf and whether he gets into the Dubai World Cup, I am not sure about that. Otherwise, Newcastle will be the agenda."