Cyberknife wins the Arkansas Derby. Coady Photography, courtesy of Oaklawn Park
April 4 (UPI) -- After another eventful weekend of racing, pencil in for the Kentucky Derby the names White Abarrio and Cyberknife, maybe Tiz the Bomb and probably a few others, but scratch the filly contender Secret Oath.
White Abarrio won the Curlin Florida Derby off a two-month layoff and despite missing a workout. Cyberknife put trainer Brad Cox back in the Derby picture with an upset win in the Arkansas Derby.
And Tiz the Bomb won the Jeff Ruby Steaks on the Turfway Park all-weather track to earn a Derby ticket but still is a question mark with options elsewhere on turf.
It was an exciting weekend on the international front, too, with Hong Kong Horse of the Year Golden Sixty back in the winning column, Japan's Horse of the Year, Efforia, going down to defeat for just the second time in his stellar career and Nature Strip perhaps earning a Royal Ascot trip with a victory in Australia.
Step right up and read all about it.
The Road to the Roses
Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. obviously had the right idea in giving White Abarrio two full months off after he won the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 5.
Fresh off that rest, the striking gray Race Day colt hit the jets in the stretch run of Saturday's $1 million Grade I Curlin Florida Derby, surged by Pappacap and the favorite, Simplification, and outfinished Charge It to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
White Abarrio, with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.64 -- only a few tenths slower than older horses achieved earlier in the card.
Joseph noted White Abarrio had missed two works going into the Holy Bull and another just a week before the Florida Derby, when he spiked a little fever.
"I didn't think he was going to win the Holy Bull, honestly," Joseph said. "I thought I didn't have him where he needed to be. When he won, as I said, it was an eye opener. He is better than good. He's a quality horse."
Looking forward to the Kentucky Derby, Joseph said, "You just want to stay somewhat healthy and go there and get a clean trip. It's going to be a nice journey to enjoy. I'm going to try to enjoy it, and hopefully all goes well, and we'll get to show up at the Derby and enjoy it like we enjoyed today."
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Charge It's second-place finish puts him under consideration for a Kentucky Derby start.
Simplification, who finished third, is likely to go on to Louisville, trainer Antonio Sano said Sunday.
And Tampa Bay Derby winner Classic Causeway has not been ruled out of the Run for the Roses despite his last-place finish Saturday, according to trainer Brian Lynch.
Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox was in need of a Kentucky Derby candidate and, bingo, along comes Cyberknife to win Saturday's $1.25 million Arkansas Derby.
The Gun Runner colt, whose only previous stakes effort resulted in a sixth-place finish in the Grade III Lecomte, got through between the leaders turning for home and quickly was gone, winning by 2 3/4 lengths.
Florent Geroux applied the winning ride, finishing 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.42.
Barber Road was along late to take second away from the aspirational filly Secret Oath, sparing her connections any angst about whether to go on with their tentative plans to try the Kentucky Derby.
"Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, right, like your thoughts," Cox said of Cyberknife's upset win. "You watch these horses train and you have high hopes. Sometimes they pick you up, sometimes they let you down. In this case, he picked us up today.
"I don't really know what happened in the Lecomte. From a maiden win to the Lecomte was just too much too quick for him. ... He certainly trained like a big horse and ran like one today. I was a little concerned [Geroux] may have been moving just a touch early into a hot pace. But, obviously, it worked out. Very, very proud of him."
Before Saturday, Cox's only live Kentucky Derby contender was the inexperienced Zozos, runner-up in the Louisiana Derby.
After Saturday's action, he has Cyberknife in a three-way tie for third on the leaderboard and Tawny Port also poised to take a spot in the Louisville starting gate after finishing second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park.
Trainer John Ortiz said Arkansas Derby runner-up Barber Road and jockey Reylu Gutierrez also look like a good fit for Louisville.
"Winning effort once again," Ortiz said. "The distance proved to be the right angle that we're looking for. Obviously, we still might need a little bit more. ... Once again, we've still got to work out our traffic situation, but the horse has got guts.
"You know what, you've got to run through traffic in the Kentucky Derby and you need a horse that's got guts. I think we've got the right thing and I've got the rider for it."
Secret Oath's trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, said the filly was exhausted from the Arkansas Derby effort Sunday morning.
"The beautiful thing is, we've got five weeks now," Lukas said. "I said that before the race and now it gives us some direction. We're not thinking Derby. Now, we're focused on what we should be -- the Oaks -- and we've got five weeks to get back in form."
At Turfway Park on Saturday, Tiz the Bomb confirmed his affinity for synthetic surfaces, running his record to 2-for-2 on the all-weather with a convincing, 2 1/4-lengths victory in the $600,000 Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks. The win earned a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby.
The Jeff Ruby was a bit of a tour de force. After racing behind the pace, Tiz the Bomb responded enthusiastically when asked by jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., blitzing by rivals in the lane to finish 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.60. Tawny Port was second and Rich Strike third.
Although he broke his maiden in an off-the-turf dirt event at Ellis Park, Tiz the Bomb tossed in a clunker on the Gulfstream Park main track in the Grade III Holy Bull and, before his Turfway all-weather success, excelled on the turf.
He finished second in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf -- a race his sire, Hit It a Bomb, won in 2015.
Asked by reporter Jenny Rees about the Kentucky Derby, trainer Kenny McPeek said, "Could he handle them? Yes, he possibly could. He ran today like he could. We're not going to make a decision quickly. ... We're certainly not going to rule it out at all. We've got some options and they're really great options. It's going to be enticing."
Those options also could include a trip to England or Ireland but McPeek said those choice "are complicated."
Next Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Jim Beam Stakes at Keeneland effectively wrap up the Kentucky Derby preps with only Keeneland's Lexington Stakes left to go. Each of Saturday's "big three" provides 100 point to the winner. The Lexington offers 20.
The Path to the Oaks
Kathleen O. came into Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks undefeated and headed back to the barn the same way -- and with a shot at the Kentucky Oaks next on the agenda.
The Upstart filly, as is her wont, rallied from the back of the six-filly field, moved boldly to the lead and needed virtually no encouragement from jockey Javier Castellano as she got clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Goddess of Fire.
It was another 17 1/2 lengths to Running Legacy in third. The 1 1/16 miles went in 1:43.75.
Kathleen O., trained by Shug McGaughey for Winngate Stables LLC, won at first asking over a muddy Aqueduct track in November, jumped right up to win the $100,000 Cash Run Stakes at Gulfstream by 8 1/2 lengths Jan. 1 and scored again in the Grade II Davona Dale.
With the win, Kathleen O. moved to the top of the leaderboard for the Kentucky Oaks, and McGaughey, whose only winner in the race was Dispute in 1993, sounded eager to take the filly there.
"Obviously, the Kentucky Oaks is a big spot for me," the trainer said. "I really like the Oaks. I've won it one time. I remember the thrill and I'd like to have it again. The long stretch at Churchill Downs, maybe it will be for her."
At Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, Yuugiri led early in Saturday's $600,000 Grade III Fantasy Stakes, dug in when challenged through the stretch and got home first by a neck.
Beguine was second with Bubble Rock another 3 lengths back in third and the favorite, Dream Lith, fifth.
Yuugiri, a Shackelford filly out of the Medaglia d'Oro mare Yuzuru, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.65. Florent Geroux had the mount for trainer Rodolphe Brisset.
Yuugiri finished second to Dream Lith in her final race of 2021, the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs, after leading most of the way. She finished a fading third in the Grade III Honeybee over the Oaklawn track in her only previous start this year.
Taking the lead "was really not the initial plan," said Yuugiri's trainer, Rodolphe Brisset. "But she broke so sharp. Flo did good to just go with the flow. The fractions were pretty fast. It's very demanding to go to the wire, going 46 [seconds] and change, and she did it. It's a fun one."
He said, "It's 50-50, I guess, for now," whether Yuugiri goes to the Kentucky Oaks, adding, "I'm sure the ownership is going to want to take a shot at it."
Saturday's $200,000 Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park certainly didn't do anything to make an impression on the Kentucky Oaks picture as 52-1 long shot Candy Raid rallied from last of 11 to win off by 4 1/2 lengths with 17-1 chance Tap Dancing Lady and 9-1 Catich dead-heating for second and third. The favorite, Sandstone, made up a little ground late but only to finish seventh. Candy Raid, a Candy Ride filly, got 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.96 with Rafael Bejarano up for trainer Keith Desormeaux.
In other action, by division:
Filly & Mare Turf
Family Way charged from last of six to capture Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Orchid Stakes at Gulfstream Park, getting clear in the final sixteenth to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Harajuku was second best, just a nose in front of Beautiful Lover.
Family Way, a 5-year-old Uncle Mo mare, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:29.08 with Tyler Gaffalione riding for trainer Brendan Walsh. Formerly raced in France, Family Way improved from a second-place finish in her previous start, the Grade III The Very One Stakes.
Crystal Cliffs unleashed a devastating turn of foot around the turn and into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Sand Springs Stakes at Gulfstream Park, moving from next-last of eight to win by 2 3/4 lengths.
Stolen Holiday and the favorite, Stunning Princess, were second and third as Crystal Cliffs, a French-bred mare by Canford Cliffs, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.26. Tyler Gaffalione rode as trainer Graham Motion got the 5-year-old to the winner's circle off a 10-months layoff.
My Philly Twirl took the lead in the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Sanibel Island Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park and held on to win at odds of 10-1, just barely holding off the late charge of 118-1 shot Big Tentations. Beechnut was just a nose back of that one with the favorite, Mischievous Kiss, third.
My Philly Twirl, a cleverly named daughter of Hard Spun out of the Empire Maker mare My Philly Girl, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.76 for jockey Julien Leparoux and trainer Brendan Walsh.
Gufo had not raced since finishing an uncharacteristic 10th in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf last November but showed no signs of rust as he rallied smartly down the Gulfstream Park Stretch to win Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Pan American Stakes by 2 lengths.
Abaan was second with Brazilian-bred Novo Sol adding some pan-American spice to the race while rallying for third.
Gufo, an entire 5-year-old son of Declaration of War, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.28. Joel Rosario rode for trainer Christophe Clement.
Three-year-old turfers took their turn in Saturday's $100,000 Cutler Bay Stakes at Gulfstream Park with Main Event leading most of the way, then kicking off to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Red Danger nosed Smokin' T for second.
Main Event, a Bernardini colt trained by George Weaver, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.71 with Jose Ortiz in the irons. He was second, beaten just a neck, in the Palm Beach Stakes in his previous race.
Phantom Currency was absolutely the real thing in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Kitten's Joy Appleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Despite have been absent from the scene since February of 2021, the 6-year-old Goldencents gelding led all the way and held on at the end to repel the late charge of Wolfie's Dynaghost by 1/2 length. Carpenters Call was third.
Phantom Currency, with Irad Ortiz Jr. riding for trainer Brian Lynch, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.48.
At Santa Anita, Sumter made the early going in Saturday's $100,000 Singletary Stakes for 3-year-olds, turned back one challenge mid-race, then held on gamely for jockey Mike Smith to preserve the victory by a nose over Balnikhov. Handy Dandy ran well late to finish third, another head back, after a slow start.
Sumter, a War Front colt trained by Richard Mandella, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.65. It was his third straight win and followed a score in the Pasadena Stakes at the same trip Feb. 19.
Classic / Dirt Mile
Forewarned got the better of a tight stretch battle in Saturday's $150,000 Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct, swapping the lead and a few bumps with Untreated before prevailing by a head over that rival.
The favorite, First Constitution, finished third, 6 1/2 lengths farther back and it was another 13 lengths to Son of an Ex, completing the order of finish.
Forewarned, a 7-year-old, Ohio-bred son of Flat Out, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.76. Dexter Haddock rode for trainer Uriah St. Lewis. The winner's best previous showings have come in the "Best of Ohio" races for state-breds.
Fearless, a Ghostzapper gelding, won Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Ghostzapper Stakes at Gulfstream Park, taking the lead nearing the quarter pole and surging to a 6-lengths score.
Capocostello came from the back of the six-horse field to finish second, a nose in front of Greatest Honour.
Fearless, with Luis Saez up, got 1 1/8 miles over a fast track in 1:40.03. He has missed a top-three finish only twice in 14 career starts for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Fulsome reeled in Cezanne in the closing strides of Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Oaklawn Mile, with the Fair Grounds invader upsetting the California visitor by 1/2 length. It was another 2 lengths to Runnin' Ray in third.
Fulsome, trained by Brad Cox, had not raced since finishing fourth in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx last September. Cezanne arrived on the back of a victory in the Grade II San Carlos at Santa Anita March 5 for trainer Bob Baffert.
At Turfway Park, King Cause led from gate to wire in Saturday's $250,000 TwinSpires Kentucky Cup Classic, winning by 3/4 length from the favorite, Visitant. Tartufo was up for third at a big price.
King Cause, a 7-year-old Creative Cause gelding trained by Mike Maker, ran 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:48.63 with Manny Franco riding. He made his first start on a synthetic track in his previous race, finishing second in a Turfway allowance event.
Kitodan traded on his early-season success on the new Gulfstream Park all-weather track to win Saturday's $100,000 Rushaway Stakes for 3-year-olds at Turfway with a last-to-first move.
The Point of Entry colt, claimed two starts back for $35,000, won by 3 1/2 lengths over Tommy Bee. Joe Bravo piloted for trainer Mike Maker, getting Kitodan over 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.66.
In New Mexico, Sheriff Brown came from last of nine to lead the posse home in Saturday's $100,000 Sunland Park Handicap, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Zestful. Convention was third and the favorite, Mine That Star, faded from the lead to finish fourth.
Sheriff Brown, a Kentucky-bred Curlin gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.37 with Luis Fuentes up for trainer Todd Fincher.
Sunday's $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes at Oaklawn Park saw Lone Rock push the early pace, get by an erratic early leader to take a nice lead and hold on to win by a neck over
Last Samurai. Lone Rock, a 7-year-old Majestic Warrior gelding, ran 1 1/2 miles in 2:30.82 with Ramon Vazquez aboard.
Crazy Beautiful got through between horses early in the stretch run of Saturday's $200,000 Latonia Stakes at Turfway Park and chased down pacesetting favorite Breeze Rider to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Breeze Rider salvaged second by a nose over Wait for Nairobi.
Crazy Beautiful, a 4-year-old Liam's Map filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.78 with Brian Hernandez Jr. riding for trainer Kenny McPeek.
When he lined up for Saturday's $100,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Weyburn had not been on the track since finishing eighth, beaten more than 30 lengths, in the Pennsylvania Derby last September.
He also was dropping back to 7 furlongs for the first time since 2020 and that seemed to make a difference as the 4-year-old Pioneerof the Nile colt came running in the stretch to get by the leaders and win by 2 1/2 lengths.
Collaborate was second and the favorite, Fortin Hill finished third. Weyburn finished in 1:23.02 with Tyler Gaffalione up.
Nobals continued his success on the all-weather with a front-running, 1 1/4-lengths score in Saturday's $200,000 Animal Kingdom Stakes for 3-year-olds at Turfway Park.
The Noble Mission gelding, with Geraldo Corrales up, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.31, running his synthetic-track record to five wins and one second from six starts. The wins include the Arlington-Washington Futurity and the Turfway Prevue. He is 0-for 2 on the turf for trainer Larry Rivelli.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Acting Out spurted out to the lead in Saturday's $200,000 Carousel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, was hounded by Joy's Rocket through the early furlongs, finally edged out to a daylight lead and held off Frank's Rockette to win by 1/2 length. Novel Squall got by Joy's Rocket to secure third.
Acting Out, a 5-year-old Blame mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.26 with Martin Garcia riding for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. It was her second start and second win at Oaklawn since being transplanted from California.
Around the world, around the clock:
What's going on at the top level of Japanese racing? Granted, many of the top horses will need a while to return to action after visiting Saudi Arabia and Dubai but, for the second straight week, the best of the rest have come up short in Grade 1 company.
This week, relatively unheralded Potager jumped up to win Sunday's Grade 1 Osaka Hai at Hanshin Racecourse with Japan's reigning Horse of the Year, Efforia, relegated to ninth.
A week earlier at Chukyo Racecourse, Naran Huleg won the Grade 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen, scoring his first graded stakes win while the favorite, Resistencia, could only manage sixth.
Potager traveled easily throughout the 2,000-meters Osaka Hai, chasing a brisk early pace. Turning for home, last year's winner, Lei Papale, assumed command briefly, but surrendered the lead to Potager in the final 50 meters, settling for second.
"We had a good draw  so I was hoping to secure a good position today," said winning jockey Hayato Yoshida. "Potager adapts well to various race developments and he was terrific in that he was able to keep up with the pace of the other really strong horses in front.
Efforia's rider, Takeshi Yokoyama, said his colt "was not himself. We made an early move but he just didn't have anything to give at the straight."
Efforia's only previous loss was a close second in the 2021 Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby. His six wins included three at the grade 1 level with two of those over older horses to finish 2021. By contrast, it was Potager's first entry in a group 1 event.
Potager was bred by Northern Farm. The 5-year-old is by the late Deep Impact (JPN) out of the U.S. champion mare Ginger Punch.
Golden Sixty is back. The Hong Kong Horse of the Year, after suffering two straight losses following 16 straight wins, powered to the front 200 meters out in Sunday's Group 2 Chairman's Trophy and rolled home first by 2 lengths under Vincent Ho. Russian Emperor and Savvy were second and third.
"The last two runs, he was just too far behind and Vincent had to come to the outside," winning trainer Francis Lui said. "This time, we drew barrier 1. We had no choice. He's an honest horse, he can jump fast and you can put him into any position and you have to relax him."
With no foreign horses coming for the Group 1 FWD Champions Mile April 24, Golden Sixty now is well set to seek a repeat win in that race with Ho touting his chances.
"He's not at his top [form] yet, because he had some time off," the jockey said. "I would say he was only 70 to 80 percent today, although he had a great turn of foot. ... This race will bring him on for sure."
Sunday's win pushed Golden Sixty's earnings just over the HK$100 million mark -- about US$12.77 million -- a figure previously achieved only by Beauty Generation.
In the co-featured Group 2 Sprint Cup, Wellington came with a relentless run outside rivals and got by Sight Success in the final strides to win by a neck. Master Eight was third. Wellington, a 5-year-old All Too Hard gelding, backed up his last-race victory in the Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup.
The Grade 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize on the April 24 program is Wellington's next challenge, said trainer Richard Gibson.
"His last run of the season will be in three weeks' time," Gibson said. "He's been the best sprinter in Hong Kong for some time. He was carrying quite a big penalty today and I thought he showed some class and style once again.
"The stats were against us in these races, so there was a bit of pre-race nerves. But the horse has been training so well and showed a lot of class and ability today."
The Hong Kong Jockey Club announced the stringent pandemic precautions mandated by the government will continue to keep all but essential racing personnel out of Sha Tin and Happy Valley at least through April 20.
A further announcement is expected about attendance at the FWD Champions Day meeting, raising hopes owners of runners and perhaps some fans might be allowed to attend the season's final Group 1 festival.
While long shots have ruled recently in Japan, Saturday was a good day for the chalk players at Randwick with favorites home first in three of four Group 1 races.
Nature Strip ran out an easy, 3 1/4-lengths winner in the Furphy T J Smith Stakes at 1,200 meters, winning the event for the third straight year.
There was little doubt about the outcome from the outset as jockey James McDonald sent 7-year-old Nature Strip out to seize the early lead from 8-year-old Eduardo, who ran with honor to finish a clear second.
Royal Ascot now is a possibility for Nature Strip before seeking a repeat win in The Everest late in the year.
"I would say so," Races.com quoted trainer Chris Waller as saying about an Ascot trip. "It will be up to the owners to work out where they want him to go. I'm sure the main aim is to have him back here for the Everest and if we can shoot over and see our friends at Royal Ascot, it would be pretty special."
That thought, of course, evokes memories of Black Caviar's 2012 visit to her Majesty's backyard track for the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes. In that, jockey Luke Nolan infamously quit riding near the finish, barely recovering to save victory by a head over Moonlight Cloud and preserve the mighty mare's unblemished record.
Fireburn prevailed as the people's choice in the Inglis Sires Stakes for 2-year-olds. The Rebel Dane filly won her fifth straight race, a skein that includes victory in the Golden Slipper in the last effort. She's Extreme finished second giving the only fillies in the 12-horse field an exacta finish.
Fireburn's next task looks to be the Group 1 Champagne Stakes April 16. The last to accomplish a sweep of the Golden Slipper, Sires Stakes and Champagne was Pierro in 2012.
Hitotsu eked out victory by a neck in the Bentley Australian Derby, stepping up directly from 1,600 meters in his previous race, the Australian Guineas at Flemington on March 5, to win at 2,400 meters in a stretch-running test of staying power. Trainer Ciaron Maher said Hitotsu now will be prepared for a tilt at the Cox Plate.
The upsetter on the day was Mr Brightside, winner of The Star Doncaster Mile with favorite Forbidden Live fourth, 1 1/4 lengths in arrears.