Letruska wins the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. Coady Photography, courtesy of Oaklawn Park
April 25 (UPI) -- It was a big weekend for the ladies in weekend horse racing with Eclipse Award champion Letruska winning at Oaklawn Park, Kentucky Oaks winner Malathaat triumphant in Kentucky and some rivals performing well enough to promise a summer of fun in the division.
The filly turf runners also put on a show at Aqueduct as three returnees from last year's Breeders' Cup finished 1-2-3 in Sunday's feature. Elsewhere, Channel Maker returned to winning form and Last Samurai won the Oaklawn Handicap.
On the international front, Golden Sixty had a record-smashing day as the star of FWD Champions Day in Hong Kong and Classics contenders were in action in England.
First, a brief detour to catch up with the doings at Churchill Downs:
The Road to the Roses
The main Kentucky Derby news item of the weekend was the defection of Morello, who had been No. 15 on the "Road to the Roses" leaderboard. The colt reportedly suffered a foot injury when he blew a shoe in the Wood Memorial.
The decision moves Pioneer of Medina into the No. 20 slot on the preference list for the maximum 20-horse field.
Pioneer of Medina, a Pioneerof the Nile colt trained by Todd Pletcher, earned 25 points in the Derby preps with a fourth-place finish in the Risen Star Stakes and a third in the Louisiana Derby, both at Fair Grounds.
It was a big weekend for the fillies and mares, portending exciting battles all the way through to the Breeders' Cup in November at Keeneland. Eclipse Award winner Letruska and Kentucky Oaks heroine Malathaat led the way, but others were good enough to suggest stiff competition to come.
Letruska, after winning six of eight starts in 2021, made it two straight to start her 6-year-old season with a front-running victory in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park.
There wasn't a lot to the race as jockey Jose Ortiz took Letruska right to the lead, dictated a comfortable pace, turned back a challenge from Ce Ce at mid-stretch and won by 1 1/4 lengths over a closing Clairiere. Ce Ce held third.
It was a battle of champions in that Letruska won last year's Apple Blossom and Ce Ce won the race in 2020. Letruska finished an uncharacteristic 10th in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff but rebounded with a win in the Grade III Royal Delta at Gulfstream Park in February.
"This horse is different," trainer Fausto Gutierrez said of Letruska, who began her career in Mexico. "To win the Apple Blossom twice is great. This was a handicap and now we're giving weight, you have to remember that.
"She ran great. All the time I'm nervous with these races. She's come back in good form and now we're thinking about the next race. I think she'll leave tomorrow night or Monday and go back to Keeneland."
Malathaat, last year's Kentucky Oaks and Grade I Alabama winner, looked every inch the professional in her 4-year-old debut in Friday's Grade III Baird Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland.
The Curlin filly, with John Velazquez at the controls, took back well behind the early leader, moved up to contention entering the stretch turn and was clearly best through Keeneland's short stretch, winning by 3/4 length over Bonny South. Super Quick and Lady Mystify dead-heated for third and fourth.
Malathaat, trained by Todd Pletcher, covered 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.58.
Malathaat, who won the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland early last year, had been absent since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Del Mar. Pletcher said he had the Grade I La Troienne on Oaks Day at Churchill Downs as a backup plan if Malathaat wasn't ready for Friday's heat.
"But she was ready," he said. "We didn't want to overdo it for her first start of the year, and we had it in the back of our minds not only that she won the Ashland here, but [this year's] Breeders' Cup is here, as well."
As noted here in the weekend preview, Saturday's $1 million Grade II Oaklawn Handicap looked like a pretty wide-open affair. And so it was as Last Samurai, at odds just south of 13-1, came running through the stretch to win by 4 lengths.
The favorite, Fearless, was second with Plainsman third and last year's Arkansas Derby winner, Super Stock, fourth. Last Samurai, a 4-year-old Malibu Moon colt out of the First Samurai mare Lady Samurai, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.32 with Jon Court up for trainer Dallas Stewart.
Last Samurai has been in Hot Springs through the Oaklawn meeting, winning the Poinsettia Stakes in December and finishing second in the Temperence Hill Stakes in April. He was seventh in the Grade III Razorback between those.
"Such a nice horse," Stewart said of Last Samurai. "Hopefully, he'll have a big year. We just wanted to get a little position. Jon did a good job judging the pace. ... It's never a bad thing to get out of the gates and get around the first turn at Oaklawn without getting wacked around.
"Seems like that happens a lot, but he did a good job. Inside post, held his position, not going too fast, big horse, kept him in stride and came home good."
Scalding hopped at the start of Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Ben Ali at Keeneland and got away last of seven. The 4-year-old Nyquist colt moved up nearing the stretch turn, came around the embattled leaders with ease and cleared late to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Dynamic One made up all kinds of ground to finish second, 1 3/4 lengths in front of Proxy. Scalding, with Javier Castellano up for trainer Shug McGaughey, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.30.
It was the fourth straight win for Scalding, who has climbed the class ladder quickly since breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 5.
Three-year-olds also had their day at Oaklawn in Saturday's $150,000 Oaklawn Stakes, with Home Brew rallying in the stretch to catch pacesetting Kuchar and win by 1 3/4 lengths over that one. Happy Boy Rocket pressed the early pace and held on for third.
Home Brew, a Gary and Mary West homebred colt by Street Sense, finished 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.63 with Jose Ortiz up. He won for the third time while rebounding from a 10th-place finish in the Smarty Jones in his last. In that, he was the favorite while opposing Kentucky Derby candidates, including Barber Road.
Channel Maker, the 2020 Eclipse Award champion male turf horse, showed he's still fighting fit at age 8 with a stakes-record victory in Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland.
Racing wide throughout the 1 1/2 miles, the Channel Maker gelding pounced on the leaders the second time through the stretch turn, took the lead and won by 1 1/2 lengths from Another Mystery. Bemma's Boy was third.
Channel Maker, with Luis Saez up, got home in 2:27.10 over firm turf.
The victory was the first for Channel Maker since the Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in October of 2020 -- the win that clinched the Eclipse Award.
He finished third in the Breeders' Cup Turf and his 2021 season may have been compromised by a trip to Saudi Arabi and Dubai as he finished off the board in all four subsequent U.S. starts.
"He's pretty tricky," Saez said of Channel Maker. "But I rode him a couple times before and learned a lot from him. He used to run on the lead, but we decided last night to take him a little from behind.
So the key today was to break and let [Two Emmys] go because we knew that was the speed in the race. So I sat right there at his shoulder, and when we came to the top of the stretch it was all about him."
Another Mystery's trainer, Chris Block, said, "I am very happy. He stepped up against some really good horses today. Flavien [Prat] did a really great job with him. The race was in stakes-record time, and the winner is a classic mile-and-a- half horse."
Unanimous Consent came five-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Woodhaven Stakes for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct and ran by most of the rest of the field to win by 1 3/4 lengths, remaining undefeated after three starts.
Fort Washington also found late speed to put a nose in front of pacesetting Chanceax for second. Unanimous Consent, a British-bred colt by Almanzor, got 1 1/16 miles of firm turf in 1:42.95. Manny Franco had the mount for trainer Chad Brown. The earlier wins came last summer at Monmouth Park and Feb. 4 at Tampa Bay Downs.
"It was an exciting effort early in his 3-year-old career," said Brown's assistant trainer, Dan Stupp.
Filly & Mare Turf
Brown's talented turf runners struck again Sunday at Aqueduct as Consumer Spending collared Breeders' Cup champ and odds on favorite Pizza Bianca in deep stretch to win the $100,000 Memories of Silver Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 3/4 length. It was another 3 3/4 lengths to Sail By in third.
Pizza Bianca, a daughter of More Than Ready, ran 1 1/16 miles on the firm inner turf layout in 1:43.59 with Manny Franco up.
All of the first three finishers participated in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last November with Pizza Bianca closing from the clouds to win, Consumer Spending sixth with an even effort and Sail By 13th.
All three made their season debut in the Memories of Silver and Brown said Consumer Spend has progressed well in the nearly six months since the Del Mar race.
"Trainers will say it, but she really did do what you want to see from two-to-three, both physically and mentally, almost to the point I was almost surprised how much she improved," Brown said.
Asked if Consumer Spending might progress to the $200,000 Grade II Wonder Again on June 9 at Belmont Park, Brown said. "I'm not sure. I didn't plan beyond this race. I did expect her to run very well, so we'll see. It certainly makes the most sense, but we'll look at all the options."
Around the ovals:
Kazmike led early in Saturday's $200,000 Times Square Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for 3-year-olds, was headed by Unique Unions in upper stretch, then came again to win by 1 1/4 lengths from that rival. The heavy favorite, Wood Memorial fifth-place finisher Barese, chugged home third, another 5 1/4 lengths adrift.
Kazmike, a Bank Heist colt, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:18.70 with Trevor McCarthy up.
In Saturday's $200,000 Park Avenue Division for state-bred 3-year-old fillies, 24-1 long shot Galaxina stalked pacesetter Starship Laoban into the stretch, took over the lead and went on to post the upset win by 1 length over that foe. Bank on Anna was another 2 1/2 lengths back in third and it was another 7 lengths to the favorite, Yo Cuz, in fourth.
Galaxina, a daughter of Giant Surprise, got home in 1:18.08, also with McCarthy's guidance.
The track was fast and the turf firm for five Saturday stakes races, each worth $100,000.
True Valor led all the way to win by 1/2 length over the favorite, Grateful Bred, in the King Leatherbury Stakes, a 5 1/2-furlongs dash over the grass. Gradeful Bred, an 8-year-old Kodiac gelding trained by Graham Motion, finished in 1:02.10 with Feargal Lynch aboard.
Kaylasaurus came running wide and late to capture the Primonetta Stakes for fillies and mares by 3/4 lengths with Prodigy Doll second. With Horacio Karamanos in the irons, the 6-year-old Munnings mare covered 6 furlongs on the dirt in 1:10.74.
Deciding Vote had just enough late energy to edge the odds-on favorite, In a Hurry, by 1/2 length in a stretch duel ending the 1-mile Dahlia Stakes on the turf. Deciding Vote, a 5-year-old mare by Mr Speaker, got home in 1:37.43 with Angel Suarez in the irons.
Rough Sea, the longest chance in the seven-horse field, overcame some traffic issues to take the Native Dancer Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the dirt, drawing off late. Bird King was second, 2 1/4 lengths adrift of the 9-year-old Include gelding. Rough Sea finished in 1:51.76 with Denis Araujo up.
Chez Pierre capped the stakes extravaganza with a late-running, 5 1/2-lengths victory in the Henry S. Clark Stakes at 1 mile on the lawn. The 4-year-old, French-bred gelding by Mehmas reported in 1:34.83 with Daniel Centeno up for trainer Arnaud Delacour.
New Mexico racing action moved to the Four Corners area Friday with Mine That Star rallying to edge Goddard by a neck in the $75,000 Inaugural Stakes. Mine That Star, a Pioneerof the Nile 5-year-old, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:18.27 with Kelsi Purcell in the irons.
Lemon Drop Gold was along in the stretch run to land Saturday's $100,000 Russell and Helen Foutz Distaff for state-breds by 3/4 length over Proofsinthepuddin. Lemon Drop Gold, a 5-year-old Mr. Gold Mover mare, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.73 for jockey Frank Reyes.
Boundtobebad was as good as she needed to be to upset Saturday's $75,000 Original Gold Stakes for West Virginia-bred fillies and mares.
The 5-year-old Windsor Castle mare got a nice lead in the stretch and held off the 1-5 favorite, Star of Night by 3/4 length under the wire. With Gerald Almodovar up, Boundtobebad ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.75.
No Change got to the front approaching the furlong pole in Saturday's $75,000 Confucius Say Stakes for state-breds and coasted home first by 2 lengths over the favorite, Penguin Power. Boaster was third at a big price. No Change, a 4-year-old Fiber Sonde gelding, ran 7 furlongs in 1:25.33 with Marshall Mendez up.
Thursday's program had five stakes races, each worth $60,000, all for Arizona-breds.
Mr Love Muffin, a 50-1 proposition, won a tight stretch battle by a neck over Ravinia Lane in the Gene Fleming Breeders' Derby. Big Heat took the Joanne Dye Breeders' Oaks by 6 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Mischievousofficer.
The Lyman and Bradley Rollins Stakes at 6 furlongs went to Ramblin' Man by a neck over pacesetting favorite Annie's Boy.
Stephen James dueled to the wire with Maricopa County in a battle of long shots before landing the Dwight D. Patterson Stakes at 1 1/16 miles by a neck over that rival. Arizona Sun asserted herself in the lane to take the Ann Owens Distaff by 4 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite.
Around the world, around the clock
Golden Sixty rewrote big parts of the Hong Kong record book Sunday with a rather smashing victory in the Group 1 FWD Champions Mile. The Medaglia d'Oro gelding ranged up alongside his chief rival, California Spangle, at mid-stretch, blitzed right on by and ran on to win by 2 lengths over that rival.
In the other Group 1 events on Champions Day, run this year without foreign entries, Romantic Warrior backed up his win in the BMW Hong Kong Derby with a score in the FWD QE II Cup and Wellington took the Chairman's Sprint Prize for the second straight year -- both remarkable accomplishments in their own right.
Golden Sixty was the star of the proceedings at Sha Tin Racecourse by any measure. His second straight win, after a mid-season slump, propelled him past the legendary Beauty Generation to grab the local earnings record at HK$113,400,600 (about US$14.45 million) and pushed his total number of Hong Kong wins to 21, also a record.
And, he may have earned a trip to Japan into the bargain.
"He did well," rider Vincent Ho said. "He traveled comfortably and actually when Zac [Purton, aboard California Spangle] steadied the pace a little bit, he started to travel a bit keen. But he is strong enough and brave enough to push through that gap and run them down easily."
Trainer Francis Lui confirmed Golden Sixty is targeted for the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo Racecourse on June 5.
"Yes, he is entered already," Lui said. "But, of course, we have to see how he recovers and we also need to see the quarantine, whether we can go and how the arrangements work. If everything is easy, we will go."
Romantic Warrior's victory in the QE II Cup completed a remarkable eight-race ascent through the Hong Kong class ladder from Class 4 events at the in-town Happy Valley Racecourse to victory in the BMW Hong Kong Derby and Sunday's win in his first try at the Group 1 level. His only loss came in the Hong Kong Classic Cup, won by California Spangle.
"The Derby was very special for all of us," jockey Karis Teetan said. "This race we thought was a good plan with no international horses coming. We had in mind that he's a bit younger than the other horses but he's better than all of them so he proved what kind of horse he is today."
Wellington became only the fourth horse to win the Chairman's Sprint Prize in consecutive years during the modern era of Hong Kong racing.
"He really is one of the top sprinters in the world," said trainer Richard Gibson. "It's difficult to win these big Group 1 races back-to-back. He's done it and it's a great achievement."
But Gibson dashed cold water on suggestions for international travel for his star, arguing, "Covid changes every two weeks. It seems too difficult."
But he did say he was pleased that a slight easing of Hong Kong's pandemic restrictions allowed owners to attend Sunday's races for the first time since January. The courses remain closed to other spectators.
If Golden Sixty does make it to Hong Kong, the local lineup he faces in the Yasuda Kinen might well include some of the top finishers from Sunday's Grade 2 Yomiuri Milers Cup at Hanshin Racecourse.
In that, Soul Rush continued a rapid rise up the class ladder, winning his third straight race and first at the graded level, defeating Ho O Amazon by 1/2 length.
The 4-year-old Rulership colt raced well back in the field, swung way wide turning for home and closed with a dramatic rush through the final 100 meters to secure the win.
In a short field of well-bred Classics prospects, it was Westover the winner by a short head over Cash in Friday's Group 3 bet35 Classic Trial at Sandown -- a Juddmonte colt over one racing in the colors of the Hon.
Earle Mack with Godolphin's Goldspur and Franz Strauss third and fourth, Coolmore's River Thames fifth and Oppenheimer's Frantastic home last of six.
Westover, a Frankel colt trained by Ralph Becket, didn't totally distinguish himself in victory. Racing greenly through the final furlongs, he veered left at mid-stretch while gaining on pacesetting Goldspur.
He finally got the lead only to edge right and just hang on over the charging Cash, a son of Shamardal. It was another 1 length to Goldspur and then a further 9 lengths to Franz Strauss.
Adayar finished second in this race in 2021 before going on to win the Cazoo Derby at Epsom and Beckett will decide whether Westover has another race before that big test, Juddmonte's racing manager, Barry Mahon, said.
"He's entered in the Derby but he was still a little bit green today, so if another race fitted well it might do him no harm and would clarify if he went to Epsom," Racing Post quoted Mahon as saying.