1 of 2 | Sodashi wins Sunday's Grade 1 Victoria Mile at Tokyo Racecourse, earning a Breeders' Cup berth in November at Keeneland. Photo courtesy of Japan Racing Association
May 16 (UPI) -- The races still are nearly six months off, but Breeders' Cup news was front and center in weekend racing, with 2021 champions Yibir, Twilight Gleaming and Modern Games all in action and Japan's "white wonder" filly Sodashi earning the right to compete this fall at Keeneland.
In England, the farewell tour for Stradivarius began with a satisfactory bang, while Baaeed's seeming inevitable rise to superstardom progressed inexorably.
On the North American shores, much of the big weekend action was at Belmont Park and included a few surprises -- including the emergence of a potential new star in the Grade I Man o' War.
Meanwhile, Epicenter figures to be the favorite when the field is drawn for Saturday's Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of the U.S. Triple Crown. Even beyond the absence of Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, the lineup looks radically different from what faced the starter at Churchill Downs.
Let's have a look, shall we?
The Triple Crown
Epicenter wasn't the morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby, but was the popular choice at post time -- and then finished second to 80-1 long shot Rich Strike. When the field is set for the Preakness Stakes on Monday evening, the Not This Time colt likely will be the oddsmaker's choice and it would be a surprise if he's not the post-time favorite again.
This time around, he won't have to worry about Rich Strike sneaking up to snatch the victory in the final strides. Rich Strike is sitting this one out, waiting for the third jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.
That leaves a few other returnees from the Derby and a bunch of rivals referred to in Preakness-speak as "new shooters" -- horses who did not contest the Run for the Roses. Chief among the latter is Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath.
Epicenter has remained at Churchill Downs since the Derby, galloped there Sunday morning and is slated to board his van to Baltimore on Tuesday.
"He seems to be pretty sharp," said Scott Blasi, who oversees trainer Steve Asmussen's Churchill division. "I love how he's doing. He galloped today like that was nothing. Walked off the track with good energy. We'll put a little work in him and go. Not much to do from here on out. Win."
Asmussen, contacted in Texas by Maryland Jockey Club's Naomi Tukker, said of the Derby defeat, "It was disappointing to be in that position, feel as confident as we did, and not come away with a victory."
But Blasi added what every horseman on the planet knows: "If you don't learn to turn the page in this game, you're going to be a miserable human. What's done is done. Move on."
Asmussen has yet to win the Kentucky Derby, but won the Preakness in 2007 with Curlin and in 2009 with the filly Rachel Alexandra. Saturday, his likely favorite faces another filly looking to upset the male-dominated race.
She looks really good," Secret Oath's trainer, Rob Mitchell, told the jockey club Sunday. "Really strong, perky, muscled up. I just think it's the right race at the right time."
But he said after the Preakness that there is no thought on his part or that of trainer D. Wayne Lukas of sending Secret Oath any farther on the Triple Crown trail.
"After this is over, Wayne and I have talked," he said. "I don't care if she wins or comes in last. She's getting a break for eight or nine weeks."
Meanwhile, the field for the Belmont already is seeing some potential new blood.
On Saturday at Belmont Park, We the People formed a more perfect union with the winner's circle after destroying seven opponents in the $200,000 Grade III Peter Pan Stakes.
The Constitution colt was urged quickly to the lead, improved his position throughout and won off by 10 1/4 lengths. Golden Glider and Electability were second and third, respectively.
We the People, trained by Rodolphe Brisset, ran 1 1/8 miles on a good track in 1:48.27 under Flavien Prat. The victory washed away the memory of a seventh-place finish in the Grade I Arkansas Derby following easy wins in each of his first two starts.
Brisset also trains Western River, who finished fourth.
"We [brought] both here to see if we could consider the Belmont [Stakes]," the trainer said. "Obviously, We the People passed the test, and I think I'll have to watch the replay and take my time and wait 10 days to decide on Western River. ... We'll see what happens. I can't commit now."
Dash Attack rallied from next-last to capture Saturday's $100,000 Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park by 1/2 length over the favorite, Dean's List. Smarten Up was another 5 lengths back in third as Dash Attack dashed across the finish line in 1:42.84 on a sloppy track.
Samuel Marin rode for trainer Kenny McPeek. Dash Attack, a Munnings colt, earlier was fifth in the Grade III Southwest Stakes and seventh in the Grade II Rebel, both at Oaklawn Park, and sixth in the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland.
Marin, a former champion apprentice rider in his native Venezuela, scored his first U.S. win on his second mount. McPeek credited the jockey's agent for recommending him and said Marin "rode him perfect."
Highland Chief pulled off the weekend's major upset, taking the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $700,000 Grade I Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park, and then drawing clear to win by 1 length over Gufo.
The odds-on favorite, reigning Breeders' Cup Turf winner Yibir, traveled across the Atlantic for the race only to miss the start and finish a closing third with a wide trip.
Highland Chief, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred son of Gleneagles, ran 1 3/8 miles on the firm inner turf course in 2:17.04 with Trevor McCarthy up.
He was making his second U.S. start for trainer Graham Motion after a career in England that included a couple of good seconds in group events and a 10th place finish in the 2020 Investec Derby.
"In fairness," said Motion, "Alex Cole, the manager for the owners, told me that if he runs back to his European form, he's very competitive with these horses. He won a race at Ascot. That's not easy to do."
Motion said the $700,000 Grade I, $700,000 Manhattan is a consideration but added, "It was mentioned to go to Europe after this race if he ran well. Originally, they talked about running in the Dubai World Cup and I knew he just wasn't ready for that. [The owners] think very highly of him."
Yibir's trainer, Charlie Appleby, said the Godolplhin runner will be back in New York for the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga "for sure" and it would be a shock not to see him at Keeneland to defend the Breeders' Cup title.
Filly & Mare Turf
Ace turf trainer Chad Brown appears to have another major star on his hands in Rougir. The 4-year-old, French-bred daughter of Territories, making her first start for the new trainer, ran away from six rivals in the final furlong of Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Beaugay Stakes at Belmont Park, winning by 3 lengths.
Our Flash Drive and High Opinion filled out the trifecta as Rougir, with Flavien Prat up, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.40.
Rougir could only manage a seventh-place finish in the 2021 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mare. Before that, however, she won the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera Longines and just missed in four other pattern races. She now campaigns for Peter Brant and Michael Tabor as partners.
"I was thrilled with her race," Brown said of Rougir. "She showed a nice turn of foot that she shows us in the morning. It certainly looks like she'll stretch out fine. She's proven at a mile and a quarter previously and I think that's where she's headed."
Brown mentioned the Grade I New York Handicap June 10 as a potential target.
Saturday at Santa Anita, Neige Blanche came and got pacesetting favorite Queen Goddess in the late going of the $125,000 Grade III Santa Barbara Stakes, and then drew clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Queen of the Temple was third.
Neige Blanche, a 5-year-old, French-bred mare by Anodin, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm going in 2:27.55 with Juan Hernandez up for trainer Leonard Powell. Neige Blanche now has won three of her last four starts and four of her last six.
"She tries really hard," Powell said. "The first words that Juan told me when he came back, he said, 'Wow! She really dug in. She was trying so hard.'
"He could feel her lowering herself to the ground and you can see by her demeanor that she really wanted to get there and that is a racehorse."
Reigning Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Twilight Gleaming survived a rough start in Saturday's $160,000 Mamzelle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs, led the way and then held on to win by a head over onrushing Devine Charger and another nose from Artos.
Twilight Gleaming ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 58.22 seconds. Tyler Gaffalione had the mount on the Irish-bred daughter of National Defense for trainer Wesley Ward.
She finished second in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot and won in France before returning for the Breeders' Cup at Del Mar.
"Tyler said she stumbled a little bit going out of the gate but she was able to establish things on the front end," Ward said. "We'll talk things over but I'd say sending her back to Royal Ascot would be a logical next step."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Bella Sofia made a successful return to the races in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Vagrancy Handicap at Belmont Park but she had to work for it every step of the way.
The 4-year-old Awesome Patriot filly, winner of last year's Group 1 Test Stakes, had not competed since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint in November but showed no signs of rust in the Vagrancy.
After shaking off an initial challenge from Miss Brazil, Bella Sofia and jockey Luis Saez then faced off with Frank's Rockette and Flavien Prat. That duo battled to the wire before Bella Sofia prevailed by a nose. It was another 9 3/4 lengths to Assertive Style in third.
Bella Sofia finished 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.02.
"I was a little worried about the break between [age] 3 and 4, if she'd come back OK," owner Vincent Scuderi said.
"But Rudy said she's back on her game, she put weight on. So now we have to make a campaign. Hopefully we'll be able to run in the Ballerina. The Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint is the ultimate goal."
The $500,000 Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga Aug. 28 is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup race.
Drafted came from last to first in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Runhappy Stakes at Belmont Park, leading Chateau across the finish line by 1 length with Officiating third after prompting the early pace.
Drafted, an 8-year-old gelding by Field Commission, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.84 with Jose Ortiz in the irons. Drafted, trained by David Duggan, also went from last to first in this race on an annual basis. He was last of five in the 2021 edition, beaten 26 1/2 lengths.
"He's pace-dependent," Duggan said. "We always thought he wanted to go seven-eighths [of a mile] because it gave him a chance if they didn't go fast enough that he'd be able to run them down. At the three-sixteenths pole, I was a little concerned, but I knew he had momentum."
On Sunday at Belmont Park, Senbei led most of the way in the $100,000 Gold Fever Stakes for 3-year-olds and just did hold on to win by a neck over the favorite, Provocateur. Runninsonofagun was third.
Senbei, a Candy Ride colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.58 with Manny Franco up for trainer Christophe Clement. He now has five wins and a second from six starts.
The Gold Fever, however, was his first race outside the state-bred ranks. "He's a New York-bred but he's not just a New York-bred," Clement said, adding no firm schedule is set.
At Woodbine on Sunday, Arzak had things all his own way in the $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Jacques Cartier Stakes, opening up a big lead under jockey Kazushi Kimura before finishing first by 1 1/2 lengths from Tap It to Win. Souper Stonehenge was third.
Arzak, a 4-year-old Not This Time colt, negotiated 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.91. "He's a nice horse," Kimura said. "I hope he's going to be the next Pink Lloyd."
Around the ovals:
Hawthorne Race Course
Huey Attack rallied belatedly to score a big upset win in Saturday's $75,000 Robert S. Molaro Stakes for Illinois-breds, defeating W W Cookie Monster by a head with the favorite, What's Up Dude, another 4 lengths back in third.
Huey Attack, a 5-year-old gelding by Forest Attack, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.09 with Orlando Mojica in the irons.
The race is named for the former Illinois lawmaker who later in his career lobbied for Hawthorne and, more generally, the state racing industry in the state capital. He played a critical role in the passage of gaming expansion legislation that paved the way for casinos at the state's racetracks.
Molaro also was a commanding, authoritative and colorful presence at meetings of the Illinois Racing Board and at other industry gatherings. He died in 2020.
Math Man Marco got the right answer in Saturday's $75,000 Coin Collector Stakes for West Virginia-bred 3-year-olds. The Alliance gelding took a big early lead, then kept up just enough momentum to win by 3/4 length over the odds-on favorite, Coastal Mission.
Math Man Marco ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 51.52 seconds with Carlos Lopez riding.
Classicstateofmind led from gate to wire in Saturday's $75,000 Roar Stakes for 3-year-olds, cruising home first by 1 length over the favorite, Capture the Time. It was another 2 lengths to No Nay Franklin in third.
Classicstateofmind, a Classic Empire colt, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.70 seconds for jockey Emisael Jaramillo.
Royal Um came from mid-pack in Sunday's $90,000 John H. Reilly Handicap for New Jersey-breds, hooked No Cents in a tight stretch battle and eked out a 1/2-length win over that rival with a late effort. The favorite, Pickin' Time, picked up show money.
Royal Um, a 6-year-old son of Kantharos, ran 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:10.36 for jockey Jose Gomez.
Alta Velocita rallied up the rail in the stretch run of Saturday's $90,000 Spruce Fir Handicap for New Jersey-bred fillies and mares, cleared her eight rivals and went on to win by 1 length as the odds-on favorite. I'm Listening was second, 2 lengths better than Bramble Bay.
Alta Velocita, a 6-year-old El Postino mare, finished 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:12.07 with Paco Lopez in the irons.
Sigur Ross prompted the pace in Saturday's $75,000 SunRay Park Stakes, gradually worked to the lead while heading for home and won by 3/4 lengths over Iza Crafty Gal. Hollywood Henry was third.
Sigur Ross, an 8-year-old Gemologist gelding, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 52.01 seconds with Ricardo Ramirez up.
Around the World, Around the Clock:
Stradivarius kicked off his 8-year-old campaign -- his last -- with a rousing victory at York while Baaeed started his 4-year-old season in dominant fashion at Newbury. Both, remarkably, are by Sea the Stars.
Stradivarius was the typical Stradivarius in Friday's Group 2 Paddy Power Yorkshire Cup at York, moving to the lead inside the 2-furlongs mark and easing home first by 1 length, doing it his way.
After taking the lead, the old warrior, as usual, figured his job was done and jockey Frankie Dettori had to convince him to keep on trying. Thundrous and Tashkahn were second and third.
Stradivarius won for the 20th time in his illustrious career with Frankie Dettori up for John and Thady Gosden and super-sporting owner Bjorn Nielsen. It was his third Yorkshire Cup win and also his 18th group victory, the most ever by a European-trained horse, surpassing the 17 group wins amassed by Cirrus des Aigles.
Remarkably, Cirrus des Aigles raced on as a gelding while Stradivarius has remained in training when he could long ago have been retired to the breeding shed.
Gosden said the plan is the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and then the Goodwood Cup as the old guy winds up a final season on track.
"Yes, everyone enjoys them, being around them," he said of older horses staying in training. "They become friends to everyone. But I think we might be saying this will be his last year."
While the old guy has the on-track thing figured out and seems eager for his second career, Saturday's Group 1 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury showed Baaeed seems fully committed to his racing in his 4-year-old season.
Reserved comfortably off the early pace, jockey Jim Crowley turned the colt loose inside the 2-furlongs marker, split a pair of rivals and powered home first by 3 1/4 lengths. Real World was second with a good effort.
Baaeed, a Shadwell homebred out of the Kingmambo mare Aghareed, remains undefeated after seven starts, all at 1 mile. But Crowley said that's not necessarily a limit
"I'm sure there will be a time and a place to go further with him but when he can pick up like that over a mile, it's a serious thing. We know he'll stay further, it's just when," said Crowley, according to Racing Post.
First things first, though, and the next step for Baaeed would seem to be the Queen Anne on opening day of the Royal meeting at Ascot.
The "white wonder," Sodashi, got back on the winning track Sunday in the Grade 1 Victoria Mile at Tokyo Racecourse -- a victory that now could lead to top-level races in France and/or the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf in November at Keeneland.
Sodashi got a perfect trip under jockey Hayato Yoshida. After a smooth start, she took a ground-saving trip around the sweeping turn and was poised to split rivals as the field climbed the upward gradient in the stretch.
As the early speed came back to her, she romped home first by 2 lengths. Fine Rouge and Resistencia finished second and third in a field packed with talent.
Sodashi won for the seventh time from 12 starts and notched her third win at the Grade 1 level while ending a three-race losing streak.
"The filly was relaxed and in good condition when I rode her in the post parade," Yoshida said. "Once she entered the gate, she was focused and was able to make a good break and I was able to ride her in good rhythm while holding down her pace. She responded well at the stretch when I urged her to go."
Sodashi won her first five starts in 2020 and 2021, including the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and the Grade 1 Oka Sho or Japanese 1000 guineas-G1. She then went 1-for-4 in the last half of her 3-year-old season and finished third on return in the February Stakes (G1) on Feb. 20 in her most recent start.
Trainer Naosuke Sugai gave no clue as to plans for the striking filly, who now is eligible not only to the Breeders' Cup, but also to the Aug. 14 Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville and the Sept. 4 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp in Paris. Both are Group 1 miles.
Modern Games, the 2021 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner, returned to action with a solid victory in Sunday's Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains or French 2,000 Guineas at Longchamp in Paris.
The Godolphin homebred colt by Dubawi bobbled at the start but quickly responded for jockey William Buick, raced close to the pace and dominated the final 150 meters, winning by 1 1/4 lengths from triple-digits long shot Texas. Tribalist, a France-based Godolphin colt, was third.
Trainer Charlie Appleby now faces the happy problem of trying to find running room for three of the most promising 3-year-olds on the European scene -- Modern Games and Qipco 2000 Guineas winner and runner-up Coroebus and Native Trail.
"I've always had it in the back of my mind that this horse may get a little bit further and I'd like to think he'd be a French Derby type, but I'm not saying for sure," Racing Post quoted the trainer as saying.
"It'd be nice to try and keep Coroebus, Native Trail and this lad apart, but it's nice to be able to have them to plan with."
Modern Games was the center of a confusing controversy at the Breeders' Cup at Del Mar. The colt was scratched in the immediate aftermath of a gate incident, but then quickly "unscratched" and allowed to run for purse money only. When he won, his backers were irate at being forced to accept refunds in lieu of returns. Tiz the Bomb finished second in that race and paid off as the winner.
In the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, Mangoustine battled through the final few hundred meters with Qipco 1000 Guineas winner Cachet before holding that one off by a head under the wire. Times Square also was right in the picture while racing inside that pair.
Mangoustine, a Dark Angel filly, was undefeated in three starts last season and finished third in her 2022 debut.