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Tawny Port secures Kentucky Derby slot

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
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Tawny Port secures Kentucky Derby slot
Tawny Port wins the Grade III Lexington Stakes to ensure a spot in the Kentucky Derby. Photo courtesy of Keeneland

April 18 (UPI) -- Tawny Port sewed up his spot in the Kentucky Derby, Joe earned his way into the Preakness and trainer Wesley Ward had one pre-Ascot success after another on the Keeneland turf, all in Easter weekend horse racing.

Shirl's Speight, Jackie's Warrior and Regal Glory also posted big wins portending more to come through the late spring and summer.

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Globally, Australia saw an upset in the 2-year-old ranks, the first leg of the Japanese Triple Crown was a scramble and England's All-Weather Championships wound up on Good Friday.

Let's get right on to the Easter Parade of recaps.

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The Road to the Roses

Tawny Port guaranteed his spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate with a 1-length victory in Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. The Pioneerof the Nile colt, trained by Brad Cox, likely would have made the field even without the win but jumped up to a secure No. 11 on the leaderboard with the added 20 points.

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With Florent Geroux up, Tawny Port stuck close enough to the early speed, took his time getting in gear heading into the stretch and showed enough late interest to get by pacesetting Major General for the win. The favorite, In Due Time, rallied along the rail to finish third.

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"I hope the connections will take a swing at it," Geroux said of the Derby.

Cox, who also has Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife and Louisiana Derby runner-up Zozos qualified for the Run for the Roses, praised the bold decision by owners John and Elizabeth Fort of Peachtree Stable to try Tawny Port on the Keeneland dirt.

That came after finishing second in his last start in the Jeff Ruby Steaks on the Turfway Park all-weather. But Cox ducked a direct answer about Louisville.

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"We'll see how he comes out of it," Cox said, leaning on the universal trainer's non-answer. "This was John's idea, to come back in two weeks immediately after the Jeff Ruby.

"He said, 'We need to look at this race,' and I said, 'Well, I nominated him.' We watched him and he seemed to have a great energy level and his weight's great. He's a good-looking colt. Really good-looking."

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In the "Road to the Preakness" department, Joe earned a guaranteed berth in the second jewel of the Triple Crown with a hard-won victory in Saturday's $125,000 Federico Tessio Stakes at Laurel Park.

The Declaration of War colt battled for the early lead under Victor Carrasco, put away the early competition and opened a daylight lead in the stretch, and then had to summon an extra effort to turn back late-running Mr. Jefferson and win by a head.

It was another 5 lengths to Shake Em Loose in third. Joe, trained by Michael Trombetta, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:52.30.

Joe now has four wins from his last five starts, all at Laurel. Might he consider a trip up the road to Baltimore for the Preakness?

"We'll see what our plan is over the next week or so. He ran a gutsy race," owner Stuart Grant said Sunday. "We always think about things, but as my son, Sam, said to me, 'It's one thing to qualify. It's another thing to be good enough.'

"We sort of got ourselves in if we want, but I'm just not sure if we're good enough yet. I'm waiting to see what the numbers are that come back. He's improved each race and we've been happy, and we'll see."

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Turf Mile

Shirl's Speight swung out toward the middle of the Keeneland course heading for home in Friday's $600,000 Grade I Maker's Mark Mile and ran by most of the excellent field to win by a head bob under a perfectly timed Luis Saez ride.

The favorite, Masen, had taken over from early leader Smooth Like Strait at mid-stretch and that duo finished second and third.

Shirl's Speight, a 5-year-old Charles Fipke homebred by Speightstown, got the 1 mile on good turf in 1:35.93. Roger Attfield trains the winner. Ivar, Public Sector and Somelikeithotbrown were late scratches.

Shirl's Speight, seventh in the Grade I Woodbine Mile last autumn, turned a corner on the Tampa Bay Downs turf this winter, winning his two previous races impressively. He captured the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes in his most recent try.

"I've known Mr. Fipke a long time, and I have never seen him that excited [when the photo was posted)]" Attfield said Saturday morning after reporting Shirl's Speight healthy and happy.

"And the noise from the crowd -- you'd think we had just won the Arc (de Triomphe)."

Shirl's Speight is not a candidate for Europe's premier race, and Attfield said he also isn't under consideration for the $1 million Grade I Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic on Derby Day because "That would be coming back too soon. You see him this morning, you'd think otherwise. But it's a long year."

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Trainer Chad Brown said Masen also will give the Turf Classic a miss but Public Sector, scratched Friday after drawing inside, is a candidate for that race.

Filly & Mare Turf

Regal Glory pressed the pace in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland, took over with a furlong and a half to run and held off Shantisara by 1 length for the win.

Lady Speightspeare broke in the air, rushed into contention, but came up empty in the late going, finishing third. Chad Brown trains the top two.

Regal Glory, a 6-year-old mare by Animal Kingdom, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:40.97 with Jose Ortiz up. It was her third straight win -- a skein that includes Grade I Matriarch at Del Mar and the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Gulfstream Park.

Brown said owner Peter Brant made the decision to keep Regal Glory in training this year.

"I probably would have bred her and he said, 'No, she's in good form and I want to see her run another year. I have a feeling this is her year,' and so far he's right," Brown said.

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"She's extremely competitive. She knows where that wire is, and with Shantisara -- that's a real horse running at her. For her to hold her off and to show she can get a mile and a sixteenth twice now. ... It looks like she could even go a little bit farther."

At Aqueduct on Saturday, Plum Ali chased down pacesetting favorite Technical Analysis in the final sixteenth of the $100,000 Plenty of Grace Stakes to win by 1/2 length.

Flower Point rallied from last of the four starters to finish third, just another head back, and Alms completed the order of finish.

Plum Ali, a 4-year-old daughter of First Samurai, finished 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.05. Manny Franco had the mount for trainer Christophe Clement. She now has two straight wins since Clement backed off graded stakes.

Ocean Road rallied from last of eight to win a nice allowance event Friday at Keeneland in her first start since a belated sixth-place charge in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf last November at Del Mar.

The 4-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Australia, famously slow out of the gate, just did get the job done off the layoff, outfinishing Flown to win by a nose.

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The pacesetter, Texas Shuffle, held third. Ocean Road covered 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:50.42 with Tyler Gaffalione riding for trainer Brendan Walsh.

Turf Sprint

Ruthin, making her first start since last year's Royal Ascot, turned in a gritty performance to win Friday's $200,000 Limestone Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland and probably earned a return trip to the Queen's hometown venue.

After making the early pace, the Ribchester filly repulsed a bid by Gun Boat, turned back a challenge from stablemate and favorite Her World and held on to win by a neck over an onrushing Derrynane.

The Wesley Ward trainee finished 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:03.33 with John Velazquez up. Another of Ward's excellent turf fillies, Kaufymaker, was a late scratch.

Ruthin won at first asking at Keeneland 51 weeks ago, then faded late after showing the way in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Ascot, finishing seventh, beaten just 3 1/2 lengths.

The filly, owned by Barbara Banke's Stonstreet Stables, has not raced since. Will she be headed back across the pond?

"Well, I'm having dinner with Barbara tonight, so we'll see what she says," Ward said. She has always been a very talented filly. That's why we brought her there last year. She ran fantastic today."

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On Saturday, it was Campanelle's turn out of the Ward barn. The 4-year-old Kodiac filly, confidently ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., swept around most of her rivals into the stretch run of the $200,000 Giant's Causeway Stakes for fillies and mares and coasted home first by 2 1/2 lengths.

Star Devine was second, 1 1/2 lengths better than Goin' Good. Campanelle, another owned by Stonestreet, covered 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:01.98.

"She's just gotten big and powerful," Ward said. "She's just really grown into herself. So I was really impressed with that. I told Barbara that. It was a big, big performance today. It was huge. It was really impressive."

Ward said the plan is to take Campanelle to the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes in June at Royal Ascot where she won the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes in 2020 and the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup last year. She also won the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville as a 2-year-old.

Sprint

Jackie's Warrior returned to the wars with a bang in Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

The 4-year-old Maclean's Music colt, the reigning Eclipse Award sprint champion and odds-on favorite, dueled to the lead, opened up a 4-length advantage in the lane and had enough left to win by 3/4 length.

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Letsgetlucky and Chipofftheoldblock, neither of whom will be mistaken for a Breeders' Cup contender, finished second and third as Jackie's Warrior and jockey Joel Rosario finished 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:09.09.

The Count Fleet was Jackie's Warrior's first start since a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last November at Del Mar. Before that, he had four wins and a second from five starts. Overall, the Steve Asmussen charge now has nine victories from 13 starts.

"A very fast horse like Jackie, he just came out of there and got away from everybody," Rosario said. "He enjoyed what he was doing out there and was able to keep going. He has run on the slop before and won. He can run on anything. He's a very nice horse."

Asmussen said the $750,000 Grade I Churchill Downs Stakes is the colt's next target.

Around the ovals:

Laurel Park

Luna Belle, the prohibitive favorite, ran to her notices through the stretch run of Saturday's $125,000 Weber City Miss Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, winning by 4 1/2 lengths and earning a guaranteed spot in the Black-Eyed Susan on Preakness Weekend at Pimlico.

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The Great Notion filly, trained by Hamilton Smith and ridden by Denis Araujo, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.44, scoring her fifth straight win. All came at Laurel.

Disco Pharoah came four-wide through the turn in Saturday's $100,000 Frank Y. Whiteley Stakes, quickly held a commanding lead and went on to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Mohaafeth.

Disco Pharoah, a 4-year-old American Pharoah gelding, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.64 with Jevian Toledo in the irons.

Pennybaker took seven tries to get her first win last summer in France, and then switched to all-weather tracks and wheeled off four straight victories before being shipped across the pond.

The 4-year-old Godolphin homebred filly -- by Medaglia d'Oro out of the Tapit mare Macaroon -- picked right up where she left off, winning Saturday's $100,000 Heavenly Cause Stakes for fun, romping home first by 6 3/4 lengths.

Toledo rode for the new trainer, Michael Stidham, as Pennybaker ran 1 mile in her first try on the dirt in 1:37.39.

Woodbine

Dreaming of Drew dueled one rival into submission in Saturday's $120,000 (Canadian) Long Branch Stakes for fillies and mares, then had to deal with the late run of Jeanie B, swapping the lead with that one before putting a neck in front at the wire. The favorite, Our Secret Agent, was well back in third.

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Dreaming of Drew, a 4-year-old filly by Speightster, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:02.99, just 0.29 second off the course record, with Patrick Husbands up.

On Sunday, Arzak rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win the $120,000 (Canadian) Thorncliffe Stakes by a comfortable 3 1/4 lengths from Silent Poet. Lenny K was third and the favorite, Richiesinthehouse, was fifth.

Arzak, a 4-year-old Not This Time colt, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:02.36 -- and that was a course record. Kazushi Kimura rode for trainer Michael Trombetta.

Evangeline Downs

Miss Jana was long gone by the time the favorite, Wholelottamo, built up her momentum in Friday night's $60,000 Arcadiana Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Miss Jana, a Ruler's Court filly, opened a 4-lengths lead in the stretch and won by 3 1/4 lengths from Wholelottamo with Splenda Gail third. Miss Jana, with Jose Guerrero in the irons, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.32.

Simply Wicked took back early in the Saturday's $60,000 Lafayette Stakes for 3-year-olds, came five-wide into the stretch to challenge for the lead and drew off in the late going to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Vodka Gimlet. The favorite, Don't Wait Up, reported fourth.

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Simply Wicked, a Wicked Strong colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast strip in 1:11.67 under Ry Eikleberry.

Mahoning Valley

Strategic Bird, the odds-on favorite, circled rivals eight-wide to get the late lead in Saturday's $75,000 Cheryl S. White Memorial Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, and then drew off smartly to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Brody's Jessica was second at a big price.

Strategic Bird, a Florida-bred filly by Noble Bird, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:12.67 for jockey Alex Achard.

Around the world, around the clock:

Japan

Going into Sunday's Grade 1 Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2000 Guineas, it seemed likely the first leg of the Japanese Triple Crown would scramble the 3-year-old picture a bit. The leading 2-year-olds of 2021 hadn't demonstrated any overwhelming superiority and some of the late-bloomers loomed large.

And so it was as one of the latter, Geoglyph, the son of an American champion sprinter, unaccountably found just enough extra oomph at the end of the 2,000 meters to get by Do Duce to win by 1 length with Danon Beluga third.

Geoglyph had never contested anything farther than 1,800 meters and finished fifth in the Grade 1 Asahi Hai, won by Do Deuce, to cap his 2-year-old season. He returned Feb. 13 in the Grade 3 Kyodo News Hai at Tokyo Racecourse to finish second behind Danon Beluga.

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Jockey Yuichi Fukunaga said he rode Geoglyph, a son of 2016 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Drefong, with confidence because of his conditioning.

"The colt has the strength to sustain his speed so I geared him wide, launching an early bid before the fourth corner. I'm just glad I was able to do my job."

Now it's on to the Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby on May 29 at Tokyo Racecourse, where he will be asked to go farther yet.

"In the upcoming Derby," Fukunaga said, "we'll have to see if he can handle the 400-meter added distance."

The first four finishers were all bred by Northern Farm. Geoglyph carries the familiar silks of Sunday Racing Co., Ltd. and Equinox represents Silk Racing Co., Ltd. Geoglyph is out of the King Kamehameha (JPN) mare Aromatico (JPN).

England

The ninth edition of the All-Weather Championships wound to a close Sunday at Newcastle with favorites dominating the six races, France scoring a win and the connection between the British series in the rich winter races in the Middle East on prominent display.

Living Legend was a rare upsetter, dueling the favorite, Tyrrhenian Sea, to the closing strides of the featured Betway Easter Classic at 1 1/4 miles. The winner, a 6-year-old Camelot gelding, returned from a two-year injury hiatus last November and now has won two straight for trainers Mark and Charlie Johnston.

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Earlofthecotswolds and Marshall Plan, the joint favorites, finished 1-2 in the Betway All-Weather Marathon at just over 2 miles. Both were prominent throughout the AWC program.

The joint favorites also finished first and second in the Coral All-Weather Fillies & Mares Championship as Highfield Princess edged Internationalangel by 1/2 length.

El Caballo won his fifth straight race as the heavy favorite in the Coral 3-year-old All-Weather Championship but just barely as Tiber Flow pushed him to the limit in a short-head decision.

Bouttemont, an Irish-bred Acclamation colt trained in France, landed a blow for the continent, winning a three-way photo at the end of the Betway All-Weather Sprint Championships.

And My Oberon, who started the year with a victory on the Southwell all-weather, then traveled to Dubai to finish a decent sixth in the Group 1 Dubai Turf, returned to the winner's enclosure after scoring by a nose over San Andreas in the All-Weather Mile Championships.

Australia

She's Extreme opened a big lead turning for home in Saturday's Group 1 Moet & Chandon Champagne Stakes for 2-year-olds at Royal Randwick and held on gamely to win by 1/2 length over the favorite, Fireburn, denying that one a sweep of the Aussie autumn's three biggest juvenile races. It was a long way back to Williamsburg in third.

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She's Extreme, an Extreme Choice filly, had seen the back of Fireburn at the finish of each of her last three starts. Saturday, jockey Tommy Berry and trainer Anthony Cummings simply played "catch me if you can" and Fireburn couldn't, despite a valiant effort down the lane, ending her winning streak at five.

The outcome reversed the finish of the fillies' last start, when Fireburn, under Brenton Avdulla chased down She's Extreme in the stretch run.

"When we got an easy time early [on Saturday], which we always looked like getting on paper, I didn't want to give Brenton any chance to get next to me," ANZ Bloodstock News quoted Berry. "I probably got Brenton's horse out of his comfort zone today and that was a winning move."

Saturday's co-featured Group 1 All Aged Stakes produced another mild upset.

Cascadian missed the break, saved ground at the rear of the field and had to fight through traffic at the 200 meters to get room -- but still managed to catch last year's winner, Tofane, in the closing strides to win by 1 length. Ellsberg was third and the favorite, Forbidden Love, was a well-beaten eighth.

Cascadian, a 7-year-old Godolphin homebred gelding by New Approach, rebounded from a ninth-place finish last time out in The Star Doncaster Mile. He is trained by Anthony Cummings' son, James.

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