1 of 2 | Romantic Warrior edges California Spangle in the BMW Hong Kong Derby. Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club
The Hong Kong Derby produced a thrilling finish, the "old guy" ruled in the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park, a potential "new shooter" emerged for the Preakness Stakes and Breeders's Cup also-rans returned to action with victories at Fair Grounds and Turway Park in weekend horse racing.
Australia hosted five Group 1 events including a New Zealand triumph in the Golden Slipper. And the first European Group 1 race of the year went to the post in France.
Step right up. Read all about it.
The old guy ruled in Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Essex Handicap. Rated R Superstar, a 9-year-old Kodiak Kowboy gelding who was claimed for $50,000 14 months ago, rallied from well off the pace, collared the leaders in deep stretch and was 2 1/4 lengths clear at the end.
Plainsman was second, Beau Luminaire third and the favorite, Thomas Shelby fourth after leading much of the way. Rated R. Superstar ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.12 for jockey David Cabrera.
In their last start in the Grade III Razorback Handicap on Feb. 12, Plainsman and Thomas Shelby finished 1-2 with Rated R Superstar fifth.
"I was at the barn yesterday and he tried to bite me, so I knew he was doing great," winning owner Danny Caldwell said.
"He's a classy horse. Like I've said, I'm blessed to have him in our stable. He's been a blessing to us. As long as he wants to run, we're going to let him run and if he's doing really good, we're going in the Oaklawn Handicap."
That's the $1 million Grade II Oaklawn Handicap on April 23. Not bad for a $50,000 claim.
Bob's Edge could see them all at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Whitmore Stakes, circled five wide and got past all eight rivals to win by 1 length.
Tulane Tryst followed right behind from the back of the pack to finish second, 1 3/4 lengths in front of Greeley and Ben. The favorite, Hollis, led through some quick early furlongs and faded to get home fourth.
Bob's Edge, a 4-year-old Competitive Edge gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.42 with Luis Quinonez in the irons.
"I think Bob is getting smart on us," winning trainer Larry Jones said. "He's figured out it's better to run a quarter mile than it is five-eighths. So, he just waits until the quarter-pole and says, 'Here I come.'
"We thought he would be behind that first tier, but he just kind of sat back today and waited. We've learned with Bob, don't hustle him."
Lady Scarlet shipped in from Oaklawn Park to make a statement in Saturday's $100,000 Cicada Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, rallying five-wide from just off the pace and drawing off to win by 4 3/4 lengths.
The favorite, Monshun, led briefly but had no answer when challenged, settling for second. It was another 4 1/2 lengths to Rosebug in third.
Lady Scarlet, a daughter of Union Rags, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.17 with Kendrick Carmouche up for trainer Mike Maker. It was her first stakes win and third overall.
"She leveled off pretty good and she galloped out nice and easy, just enough to let you know maybe you can get her away from the speed where she can carry it a bit farther," Carmouche said.
Sunday at the Big A, Water's Edge shrugged off a bump at the break to take the lead in the $100,000 Haynesfield Stakes for New York-breds, and then led the rest of the way to a 4 1/4-lengths victory. Chestertown was second with Our Last Buck third.
Water's Edge, a 4-year-old Candy Ride colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.93. Jorge Vargas Jr. had the mount for trainer David "Slam" Donk.
Provocateur waited behind a dueling pair early in Saturday's $100,000 Hutcheson Stakes for 3-year-olds, got by those rivals and then drove by to win by a clear 2 lengths. The odds-on favorite, Nitrous Channel, and Golden Juan survived the early battle well enough to finish second and third.
Provocateur, an Into Mischief colt out of the Cherokee Run mare Cayala, completed 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.60. Irad Ortiz Jr. rode for trainer Todd Pletcher. He was second in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in his previous start, caught late while going 7 furlongs.
"We were a little confused about what he wanted to do early on," said Pletcher, who tried the colt on dirt and turf in his first two starts. "He wasn't training as promisingly as we had hoped.
"We thought he would improve a little bit on the grass. After that experience he seemed to improve in his dirt training and recently has really come around."
Spirit Wind sprinted out to the early lead in Saturday's $100,000 Any Limit Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and found no challengers anywhere along the 6-furlongs journey. At the wire, the Bahamian Squall filly was out front by 2 1/2 lengths with One Identity second and Strategic Bird third.
Spirit Wind was clocked in 1:11.43 over a fast track with Tyler Gaffalione up for trainer Ralph Nicks. She finished second in her career debut last May, and then did not race until Feb. 18, when she won a maiden event at Gulfstream by 15 1/2 lengths.
Yes I Am Free raced second behind the early pace in Saturday's $100,000 Silks Run Stakes, then won the scramble to the wire through the final sixteenth, prevailing by a neck over Belgrano. The favorite, Arrest Me Red was third.
Yes I Am Free, a 6-year-old Uncaptured gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.23 seconds with Emisael Jaramillo in the irons. The win backed up a victory in the Grade III Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint in his previous outing.
Saturday's $100,000 Private Terms Stakes for 3-year-olds can be a springboard for late-arriving 3-year-olds to the Preakness Stakes. If that's to be the case this year, look to Shake Em Loose, who rallied three-wide to outfinish the favorite, Joe, en route to a 1 3/4 length victory.
It was 6 lengths more to Local Motive in third. Shake Em Loose, a Shakin It Up gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.84 with Charlie Marquez at the controls.
"My next step is the Federico Tesio," winning trainer Rodolpho Sanchez-Salomon told Blood-Horse Sunday. "I think we're going to pay the money to nominate him to the Preakness.
I feel really good about him. I want to wait and see how he does this week, but he's really good, really happy this morning."
Luna Belle, the 1-5 favorite, turned in an easy, professional victory in Saturday's $100,000 Beyond the Wire Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. With Denis Araujo riding, the Great Notion filly rated behind the early speed, swung four-wide to mount her challenge and rolled home first by 3 1/2 lengths.
Candy Light was second, another 5 1/2 lengths better than Click to Conform. Luna Belle ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.93.
Dontmesawithme took back early in Saturday's $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial, got involved again in the stretch run and was along in time to post the 18-1 upset win by 1 1/2 lengths. Workin On a Dream was second, 2 lengths better than the odds-on favorite, Galerio.
Dontmesawithme, a 5-year-old gelding by Fast Anna, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.09 for jockey Abner Adomo.
Fille d'Espirit, the odds-on favorite, ran to her reviews and then some in Saturday's $75,000 Conniver Stakes for Maryland-bred fillies and mares, breaking loose from the herd in the stretch to win by 8 lengths. Kiss the Girl was best of the rest.
Fille d'Espirit, a 6-year-old Great Notion mare, covered 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.54 with Xavier Perez up.
Whereshetoldmetogo rallied from next-last of seven to win Saturday's $75,000 Not For Love Stakes for state-breds by 3/4 length over Jaxon Traveler.
Whereshetoldmetogo, a 7-year-old El Padrino gelding, was clocked in 1:10.97 for six furlongs with Jevian Toledo in the irons.
Clairiere made her seasonal debut Wednesday at Fair Grounds, dominating five rivals in a 1 1/16-mines allowance event. The 4-year-old Curlin filly started last, easily surged to the front near the furlong marker and kicked away to win by 6 1/2 lengths.
It was her first start since a fourth-place showing in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
"That was a good place to get started," said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. "We're looking forward to big things from her throughout the rest of the year. No more easy spots after today. It's great to have her back."
Caravel was first out of the gate in Saturday's $100,000 Queen Stakes for fillies and mares, led the way and got clear late to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Club Car was second most of the way and finished in that position, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Thundering Creed.
Caravel, a 5-year-old Mizzen Mast mare, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.56 with Geraldo Corrales up. It was her first start since a 12th-place finish in last November's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar.
Brickyard Ride jumped to an early lead in Sunday's $100,000 Sensational Star Stakes for California-breds, opened a big advantage and coasted home first by 1 1/2 lengths. Indian Peak was second, 2 3/4 lengths in front of Riding with Dino.
Brickyard Ride, a 5-year-old son of Clubhouse Ride, finished the 6 1/2 furlongs down the firm hillside turf course in 1:11.45 with Juan Hernandez riding.
Eddie's New Dream chased pacesetting favorite Becca Taylor through all but the final strides of Saturday's $100,000 Irish O'Brien Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares, then stuck her nose in front just under the wire to post the upset win. Sensible Cat was third, another 2 lengths in arrears.
Eddie's New Dream, a 4-year-old Square Eddie filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill in 1:13.63 under Mario Gutierrez.
Hollywood Henry battled on the lead through most of Saturday's $100,000 Mt. Cristo Rey Handicap for New Mexico-breds, then finally edged away in deep stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths. On a Warpath ran well late to finish second without threatening the winner and Diabolical Ruler hung around for third. Hollywood
Henry, a 7-year-old gelding by Roll Hennessey Roll, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.16 with Alfredo Juarez Jr. in the irons.
The Road to the Roses
Other than Shake Em Loose emerging as a Preakness candidate, the weekend was devoid of Triple Crown-related events. Not so next weekend.
The Group 2 UAE Derby on the Dubai World Cup program is a 100-point race on the main "Road to the Kentucky Derby" schedule. Pinehurst, winner of last month's Saudi Derby, is expected to be the favorite but there's hot competition from other Americans, Japan and even South America.
A few hours before the Dubai race, Nakayama Racecourse will host the final leg of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby". That standalone series, offering a guaranteed spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate to the top points-earner, is wide open with the winner's 40 points likely sufficient to nail down the bid.
And Sunday, there's the Sunland Park Derby in New Mexico with 50 points to the winner. A New Mexico race might not resonate with Kentucky Derby traditionalist, but anyone who collected $103.20 for a $2 win ticket on Mine That Bird after the 2009 Run for the Roses wasn't worried about tradition.
Mine That Bird finished fourth in the Sunland Derby before enjoying a van ride to Louisville.
Around the world, around the clock:
Sunday's BWM Hong Kong Derby played out just about the way it was envisioned, right up to a dramatic final 100 meters that saw Romantic Warrior catch pacesetting California Spangle in the final strides to win by a head.
The race also set up a potential long-term rivalry between the two, who had split the first two legs of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series leading up to the Derby showdown.
Romantic Warrior won the Hong Kong Classic Mile but, compromised by an outside draw, could only finish a closing fourth in the Hong Kong Classic Cup as California Spangle won.
On Sunday, it was California Spangle and jockey Zac Purton compromised by a wide draw that forced a hard sprint to the early lead while Romantic Warrior got a more relaxed trip well off the pace.
Still, California Spangle kept finding more as the final meters flashed under his hooves and it was all jockey Karis Teetan could do to get Romantic Warrior up in the final strides.
"He traveled a bit the first turn," Teetan said of Romantic Warrior. "I had a nice trail through until the straight and I must say I thought, 'God, Zac's horse is going to be hard to get past.' This horse is a little horse, but he's got a big heart and I'm really thankful to everyone."
Winning trainer Danny Shum said the next step is to send Romantic Warrior on to the Group 1 QE II Cup at the same 2,000 meters next month, where he may well face California Spangle again.
"My next plan is the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, because there are no overseas horses coming and it's the right time for him to fight the experienced horses" Shum said.
"He can still improve, this horse. If he wins, I'll be happy. But if he runs in the first three or four, I think it will be a good lesson for him to improve himself."
Trainer Tony Cruz lamented what could have been for California Spangle.
"Zac said everybody came too early to take him on, but if he'd had his own way I think he would have won," Cruz said.
Romantic Warrior was purchased by the Hong Kong Jockey Club at the 2019 Tattersalls October Yearling Sale and sold for HK$4.8 million (about US$613,000) to Peter Lau at the HKJC International Sale. With Sunday's win, he ran his bankroll to HK$24.8 million (about US$3.17 million).
The only sour note on the day was the empty Sha Tin Racecourse grandstand. With Hong Kong suffering a massive new wave of the COVID pandemic, only essential racing officials were allowed into the massive racing facility. Even the owners of runners were denied admission.
Fireburn shrugged off the heavy going, not to mention a heavy bump midway through Saturday at Rosehill Gardens, found another gear in the final 100 meters and romped home first in the rich Group 1 Golden Slipper for 2-year-olds. Best of Bordeaux was second, and the favorite, Coolangatta, settled for third. Both entered the race undefeated.
Fireburn, a Rebel Dane filly out of the So You Think mare Mull Over, remains undefeated after three starts for trainer Gary Portelli.
"She is the best 2-year-old in Australia right now," ANZ Bloodstock news quoted Portelli, "and I've got no doubt she will be the best 3-year-old next year."
Montefilia got first run to the lead at the top of the stretch and ran on to upset heavy favorite Verry Elleegant in the Group 1, 2,000-meters Ranvet Stakes, winning by 2 lengths over the reigning Melbourne Cup champ. Angel of Truth was a distant third.
Montefilia, a 4-year-old mare, won the Group 1 Metropolitan last October, then finished fourth in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup. She returned to finish seventh in the Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes at Randwich on Feb. 26 -- a race won by Verry Elleegant.
Forbidden Love, the favorite, got the job done comfortably in the Group 1 Agency George Ryder Stakes, edging away from Colette in the late going to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Laws of Indices was third, a neck farther back.
It looked like anyone's race until he final 100 meters when Forbidden Love, who had raced between rivals through much of the way, found an extra burst of energy to get clear. Forbidden Love, a 4-year-old All Too Hard filly, scored her third straight triumph.
Anamoe, the odds-on favorite, took back through the middle stages of the Group 1 Sky Racing Active Rosehill Guineas, regained the lead inside 200 meters and left five rivals well in his wake, winning off by 6 1/2 lengths. Converge beat the others with Forgot You third.
Anamoe, a Godolphin Australia homebred colt by Street Boss, finished second behind Converge in his previous start, the Group 1 Randwick Guineas, also run on heavy ground. He has missed a top three finish only once in 14 starts.
The final Group 1 event of the big day, the Furphy Galaxy Stakes at 1,100 meters, went to Shelby Sixtysix in a tight finish over Big Parade and In The Congo. Shelby Sixtysix, a Toronado gelding, won for the second time in seven days and was second in his debut a week earlier.
Tracking the 3-year-olds as this year's Classics draw ever closer:
Be Astonished shot out of the No. 1 stall in Sunday's Grade 2 Fuji TV Sho Spring Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse, showed the way throughout the 1 1/8 miles and just did hang on at the end to win by a nose over Arrival.
Satono Helios was making up ground through the uphill stretch climb, but could only claim third.
Be Astonished, an American Patriot colt, showed promise as a 2-year-old but had only one win from three starts. He started his 2022 campaign running fourth, then third, in a pair of Grade 3 events at Chukyo and Tokyo. Arrival, a son of Harbinger, had a win and a second last year and finished fourth in his 3-year-old bow.
Also Sunday, Deep Bond continued a somewhat below-the-radar career with a victory in the Grade 2 Hanshin Daishoten.
The 5-year-old son of Kizuna won this race a year ago and went on from that to finish second in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring), win the Group 2 Prix Foy at Longchamp and finish second in the Grade 1 Arima Kinen. He also was 14th in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
In Sunday's race, Deep Bond raced mid-field without cover, made bold move around the final turn to reach contention and wore down Iron Barows in the final 50 meters to win by 3/4 length. He finished 3,000 meters on good to firm turf in 3:05.0 with Ryuji Wada riding for trainer Ryuji Okubo.
Saturday's Group 3 Prix Exbury at Saint-Cloud had the honor of kicking off the European flat pattern season and Pretty Tiger had the honor of winning the 2,000-meter event.
With Christophe Soumillon handling the reins, the 4-year-old Sea the Moon colt raced in midfield, moved up heading into the stretch run and took the lead 200 meters out. Hurricane Dream pushed him through the final 100 meters, but settled for second with the even-money favorite, Skaletti, third.
Pretty Tiger now is 2-for-2 on the season after winning a listed event at Cagnes-Sur-Mar down south Feb. 13.
"I didn't quite know how the race would play out and I could have followed the leaders," Racing Post quoted Soumillon as saying. "But they really got on with it up front and his owner [Bernard Giraudon] wanted me to cover him up so I did my best to follow his orders."