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Victory Formation enters Kentucky Derby picture

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Victory Formation wins Sunday's Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park, entering Kentucky Derby picture. Coady Photography, courtesy of Oaklawn Park
1 of 3 | Victory Formation wins Sunday's Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park, entering Kentucky Derby picture. Coady Photography, courtesy of Oaklawn Park

Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Victory Formation ran his way into the Kentucky Derby picture with a handy, front-running win in the Sunday's Smarty Jones Stakes at Gulfstream Park, while races at Gulfstream Park firmed up part of the picture for the Pegasus World Cup races there later this month.

Torrential rain forced cancellation of Sunday's card at Santa Anita, and most of Saturday's program at Aqueduct fell victim to dense fog. Around all that, there were some notable performances by the likes of Frank's Rockette, Maryquitecontrary, Sibelius and Drafted.

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On the world scene, Lucky Sweynesse resumed his march toward stardom in Hong Kong. Manaafith, a Kentucky-bred mare by an Australian sire, improved to 5-for-5 on the British all-weather circuit, earning a berth in the All-Weather Championship finals, to be held on the only British all-weather course on which she's not yet run.

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Let's start the New Year off with ...

The Road to the Roses

Victory Formation led a 1-2 finish for trainer Brad Cox in Sunday's $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park, improving his record to 3-for-3 while joining the top ranks of Kentucky Derby contenders.

Victory Formation, a Tapwrit colt out of the Smart Strike mare Smart N Soft, was sent right to the lead by jockey Flavien Prat and wasn't threatened. He won by 3 lengths, ridden out, and finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.14. Angel of Empire rallied from well back for second, another 3 lengths in front of Denington.

Victory Formation earned 10 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard, moving into a tie for the No. 6 spot, and Cox said he was happy to see him answer the two-turns question.

"He settles and I think the farther the better," Cox said. "He's got a lot of natural speed. He's able to put himself in good position and he was able to turn off and settle and finish up with good strides there.

"The breeding suggested he would go long. You never really know until they do it. He has to confirm it. We have opinions. Horses have the answers. He gave us the right answer today."

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Dreaming of Kona won Sunday's $150,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park via disqualification as Legacy Isle, first under the wire, was set down for drifting out inside the sixteenth pole. Lord Miles was along late to take third.

Dreaming of Kona, a Fast Anna colt, went to the post at odds of nearly 20-1 and finishing 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.55 under Emisail Jaramillo. Dreaming of Kona finished third in the Dec. 3 Inaugural at Tampa Bay Downs after a debut victory at Presque Isle Downs.

"He won his first race so incredibly handily at Presque Isle, but the competition wasn't of this caliber," part-owner Lisa Ballou said. "So, for him to put a performance like this in against this caliber of competition really kind of causes us to recalibrate our thoughts."

Frosted Departure dueled with odds-on favorite Two Eagles River through the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000 Renaissance Stakes at Oaklawn Park, finally prevailing by a head over that rival.

Frosted Departure, a Frosted colt from the Kenny McPeek barn, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.91. He's been a busy lad, notching his third win from nine starts dating back to July. McPeek said he will stick to sprinting.

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Coffeewithchris took command in the stretch run of Friday's $100,000 Heft Stakes at Laurel Park and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths. The odds-on favorite, Prince of Jericho, was second, well ahead of the other four.

Coffeewithchris, a Ride On Curlin gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.96 with Jaime Rodriguez aboard. He now has two wins from eight starts.

Super Chow led from the early going in Sunday's $100,000, 6-furlongs Limehouse Stakes at Gulfstream Park and kept running to win by 1 length over Turbo. Super Chow, a Lord Nelson colt, finished in 1:09.88 with Chantal Sutherland riding.

On the Santa Anita turf, Classical Cat outfinished First Peace in Friday's $100,000 Eddie Logan Stakes, winning by 1/2 length with the favorite, Nagirroc, third.

Classical Cat, a Mendelssohn colt, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:34.38 with Umberto Rispoli riding for trainer Philip D'Amato and owner Michael House. He now has three wins from four starts with a seventh-place finish in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity.

Jack Hammer went to the lead in the lane to win Saturday's $100,000 Louisiana Futurity for state-breds at Fair Grounds by 2 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. The Jimmy Creed gelding ran 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:12.14 with Reylu Gutierrez in the irons.

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The Parx Juvenile, delayed from Dec. 27 by weather, will be run Tuesday -- for 3-year-olds rather than 2-year-olds. Seven are set with undefeated Recruiter the morning-line pick.

The "Road to the Kentucky Derby" forks next weekend with the Jerome Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct and the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Sunday. Ten points go to each winner with 4, 3, 2 and 1 for the minor placings.

The Path to the Oaks

Defining Purpose, the 2-1 favorite, came around the leading pack entering the stretch run in Saturday's $150,000 Year's End Stakes at Oaklawn Park and quickly got away to win by 5 1/4 lengths in a sharp effort.

Unifying and Take Charge Briana filled out the trifecta as Defining Purpose, a Cross Traffic filly, finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.24 without much encouragement from jockey David Cabrera. Kenny McPeek trains the filly, who finished fifth in the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in her previous outing.

"She only should improve off this and it didn't look like it taxed her too much, either," said McPeek, who won four races on the program. He said the $200,000 Martha Washington at Oaklawn on Jan. 28 is the next target.

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Infinite Diamond pressed the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Cash Run Stakes at Gulfstream Park, assumed the lead heading into the stretch and rolled home in front by 2 1/4 lengths. Padma and Lynx picked up the minor awards.

Infinite Diamond, a daughter of Bee Jersey, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.70 with Jose Ortiz in the irons.

Malibu Moonshine rallied from last of seven to win Friday's $100,000 Gin Talking Stakes at Laurel Park, beating Give Me Kisses by 1 3/4 lengths. Malibu Moonshine, the favorite, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.86 with Angel Cruz up.

The Bourbon Courage filly, trained by Charlton Baker, remains undefeated after three starts.

Liliesformillie fell 3/4 length short of catching pacesetting B G Warrior in the final furlong of Saturday's $125,000 Gowell Stakes at Turfway Park but then was awarded the win as the stewards ruled B G Warrior impeded Liliesformillie by drifting out in the lane. Jersey Pear's third-place finish was not affected.

Liliesformille, a Pioneerof the Nile filly, was ridden by David Haldar. The 6 furlongs went in 1:11.22.

Norah G prevailed after a tight stretch battle in Saturday's $100,000 Louisiana Futurity for state-breds at Fair Grounds, winning by 3/4 length over Everlyn's Angel.

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Norah G, a Fast Anna filly, went to the post as odds-on favorite and finished 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:14.93 under Deshawn Parker.

The weather-delayed Parx Futurity is rescheduled for Tuesday with a field of 11 set. Girl Trouble seeks her third straight win as the 2-1 morning-line favorite.

Classic

Skippylongstocking shadowed early leader Spirit of Medina into the stretch turn in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Harlan's Holiday Stakes at Gulfstream Park, took the lead in the stretch and won by 2 lengths. Spirit of Medina held second, a neck in front of Simplification, with the favorite, O'Connor, finishing fourth.

Skippylongstocking, a 3-year-old Exaggerator colt, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.76 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., earning a spot in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational Jan. 28.

Skippylongstocking finished third in the Belmont Stakes and won the Grade III West Virginia Derby. He had been sidelined since finishing ninth in the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 24.

Joseph trains both Skippylongstocking, and O'Connor and also is training White Abarrio up to the Pegasus. He lauded Skippylongstocking's performance and bemoaned O'Connor's.

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"It was a game effort by Skippy," Joseph said. "He's a horse that tries and he runs hard. "O'Connor disappointed. He's better than that. He's much, much better than that ... Hopefully, he comes out well, we'd like to give him a chance in the Pegasus also."

Distaff

Maryquitecontrary proved she's the real thing with a convincing victory in Saturday's $125,000 Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream Park, winding up her 3-year-old season with her fourth straight win.

The First Dude filly went to the front with a five-wide move entering the stretch and won off by 3 1/2 lengths over Colorful Mischief. She finished the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.78 with Luca Panici up. "Mary is Mary. She shows up every time," winning trainer Joe Catanese III said.

Falconet chased the leaders down the backstretch in Sunday's $150,000 Ladies Stakes at Aqueduct, cut the corner into the stretch and closed powerfully to win by 2 lengths over Battle Bling.

Falconet, a 4-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo out of Birdatthewire, finished 1 1/8 miles on a muddy track in 1:52.15 with Jose Lezcano up for trainer Todd Pletcher. The filly is owned by her breeder, WinStar Farm, in partnership with China Horse Club.

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Frank's Rockette shook off four challengers at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Sugar Swirl Stakes at Gulfstream Park and left no doubt who was best in that one, winning by 12 1/2 lengths while geared down late by Luis Saez.

The 5-year-old Into Mischief mare was last seen finishing 11th, beating only one rival, in the Breeders' Cup but trainer Bill Mott said that was a function of the Keeneland track.

"For some reason she's never shown her best race at Keeneland, Mott said. "Other than that, she's been one-two-three every other time she's run in her life. She's been a model of consistency." He said owner Frank Fletcher "is all in to race. ... I see no reason not to keep going a little bit."

Lady T chased the leaders into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Las Flores Stakes at Santa Anita, got to the lead by the sixteenth pole and edged away to a 1 1/4-lengths victory. Manorelli was second, 1/2 length in front of Doris Mae.

Lady T, a 3-year-old Into Mischief filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.65. Victor Espinoza rode for trainer John Shirreffs. Second in the Summertime Oaks in June, she has picked things up since switching back to sprinting.

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Sprint

Sibelius stalked pacesetting favorite Uncle Ernie, worked past that one spinning into the stretch and drew off to win Saturday's $125,000 Mr. Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream Park by 2 1/4 lengths. Dean Delivers and Steal Sunshine were second and third, as Uncle Ernie faded to get home fourth. Papacap was scratched.

Sibelius, a 4-year-old Not This Time gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.04 with Junior Alvarado riding for trainer Jeremiah O'Dwyer. Sibelius was second in his previous start, 3/4 length behind Bango in the Bet On Sunshine Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Drafted rallied from last of five to win Friday's $135,000 Gravesend Stakes at Aqueduct in the final jump, finishing a nose in front of Little Vic. Morello, Bezos and the favorite, Three Two Zone, completed the order of finish after seven scratches diminished the field.

Drafted, an 8-year-old Field Commission gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.69 with Luis Rodriguez Castro up, ending the year with four wins from nine starts. Trainer David Duggan said Drafted will defend his title in the $150,000 Grade III Toboggan on Jan 28.

Turf

City Man stalked the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Fort Lauderdale Stakes at Gulfstream Park, found room inside in the stretch run and got up to win by 1 1/2 lengths from long shot Decorated Invader. The favorite and last year's winner, Colonel Liam, finished sixth in his first start since the Group 1 Dubai Turf in March.

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City Man, a 5-year-old son of Mucho Macho Man, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:46.10. Joel Rosario had the mount for trainer Christophe Clement, who also trains Decorated Invader.

City Man now has a three-race win streak, but the previous two came against fellow New York-breds. Saturday's victory garnered a spot in the Group 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational on Jan. 28.

"The two horses came back in good shape and looked good to me this morning," Clement said Sunday. "We'll speak to the owners, but the idea would be to train them for the Pegasus."

"He was running so well up in New York, and we just felt like he was really on top of his game, said City Man's co-owner, Dean Reaves, who also campaigned Mucho Macho Man.

"I've never seen him run this well. We thought, 'Let's run another race and really see how he does against open company in a Grade II,' and if we did well there we'd look probably to go to the Pegasus."

Saturday's $100,000 Woodchopper Stakes for 3-year-olds came off the beleaguered Fair Grounds turf with half the original eight-horse field scratching. Of the remainder, even-money favorite Britain's Kitten proved best, rallying to win by a head over Sutherland. Life Is a Banquet and Un Ojo completed the order of finish.

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Britain's Kitten, a Big Blue Kitten gelding, got 1 mile and 70 yards on a good track in 1:44.10 with Deshawn Parker up.

Filly & Mare Turf / Turf Mile

Queen Goddess scored her second graded stakes win of the year in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes at Santa Anita.

The 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker sped right to the front and held that position throughout the 1 1/8-miles trip, winning by 2 1/2 lengths from Closing Remarks. Quattroelle was third.

Queen Goddess finished in 1:48.35 with John Velazquez up for trainer Michael McCarthy. She closed out 2021 with a victory in the Grade I American Oaks, won the Grade III Santa Ana in March and had been out of action since finishing second in the Grade III Santa Barbara on May 14.

Stolen Holiday had a rough trip into the first turn in Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Suwannee River Stakes at Gulfstream Park, lagged the field down the backstretch and made up all the ground in the final furlongs to win by 1 length over Lady Rockstar. The favorite it what always looked to be a wide-open race, Scotish Star, finished sixth.

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Stolen Holiday, a 5-year-old War Front mare, got 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.32 for jockey Junior Alvarado.

A Mo Reay rallied to the lead in the final furlong of Saturday's $100,000, off-the-turf Pago Hop Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and cleared to win by 3 lengths over Free Like a Girl.

A Mo Reay, an Uncle Mo filly trained by Brad Cox, ran 1 mile , 70 yards on the good main track in 1:42.97 with Florent Geroux in the irons.

Turf Sprint

Air Force Red got off to his typical fast start in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Joe Hernandez Stakes at Santa Anita and wasn't caught.

Leading all the way, the 4-year-old Air Force Blue ridgling got home first by 1 3/4 lengths over Lane Way with Gregorian Chant and the favorite, Smooth Like Strait, in his wake. Air Force Red finished the 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside course in 1:11.53 with Juan Hernandez aboard, winning for the third time in four trips on the unique layout.

Around the world, around the clock:

Hong Kong

Lucky Sweynesse, a disappointment as one of the favorites in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint, returned to form Sunday with a victory in the Group 3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap at Sha Tin and now is likely for the Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup in February.

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Trainer Manfred Man said he's picked that race in preference to the Hong Kong Classic Mile, the first leg of the Four Year Old Classic Series that culminates in the BMW Hong Kong Derby. "He just keeps improving and how good [is he]?" Man asked after the Challenge Cup.

"I can't give you the answer at the moment because he still has the chance to improve."

Jockey Zac Purton said the New Zealand-bred Sweynesse gelding seems plenty good after toting high weight of 135 pounds to his eighth win.

"It was pretty painless. It always looked that way pre-race," Purton said. "He was sluggish from the gates and took about 50 meters to get into his stride. But once he did, he was just in a lovely spot. The rhythm of the race suited him. I just looked after him and with the weight, it was a nice effort."

England

Manaafith, a Kentucky-bred mare by Exceed and Excel, improved her all-weather record to 5-for-5 with an impressive victory Sunday at Southwell. The 7-furlong conditions race was a Fast-Track Qualifier and the Roger Varian-trained filly is now guaranteed a start in the £150,000 All-Weather Fillies And Mares' Championships on Good Friday at Newcastle.

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The odds-on favorite raced in fourth under Jim Crowley in the early stages. The Shadwell homebred angled out in the straight and came with a smooth run to lead at the furlong pole.

Manaafith has now won at five of Britain's six all-weather tracks, scoring earlier at Lingfield Park, Chelmsford City, Kempton Park and Wolverhampton, lacking only Newcastle to run the table.

"Newcastle is a very similar track to here and I think it will probably play to her strengths," Crowley said. "It is quite possible that she will run again before the final, as it is a long time between now and then, but I am sure Roger has a plan for her."

Meanwhile, back in the States:


Laurel Park

Swayin to and Fro powered down the stretch to win Friday's $100,000 Willa On the Move Stakes for fillies and mares by 6 1/2 lengths from Dontletsweetfoolya.

Swayin to and Fro, a 3-year-old daughter of Straight Talking, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.59 with Grant Whitacre up.

Factor It In led from gate to wire in Friday's $100,000 Dave's Friend Stakes, defeating the favorite, Beren, by 1 1/4 lengths. Factor It In, a 6-year-old son of The Factor, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.65 for jockey Angel Cruz.

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Malibu Beauty also led all the way to victory in Friday's $100,000 Carousel Stakes for fillies and mares and drew off to win by 7 3/4 lengths with Cover Version second.

Malibu Beauty, a 4-year-old daughter of Buffum, completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:53.70 with Jaime Rodriguez up.

Nimitz Class was along in the late going to win Friday's $100,000 Robert T. Manfusco Stakes by 1/2 length from Ain't Da Beer Cold.

Nimitz Class, a 3-year-old Munnings colt, was clocked in 1:45.69 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track. Jevian Toledo had the mount.

Delta Downs

Highland Creek opened a daylight lead in the stretch run of Friday's $70,000 Boyd Rewards Stakes for Louisiana-breds and held on to win by a head over the favorite, Ballinonabudjet.

Highland Creek, a 4-year-old Broken Vow gelding, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:32.92 with C. J. McMahon up.

Eileen Alexandra was up in the final strides to win Thursday's $70,000 Rosewater Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares, edging Final Quest by a head.

Eileen Alexandra, a 4-year-old filly by Jess's Dream, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:34.52 for jockey Juan Vargas.

Mahoning Valley

Oklahoma Joe opened a big lead in Friday's $70,000 Joshua Radosevich Memorial for Ohio-bred 2-year-olds, then held on to win by 1/2 length from Near Perfect. The odds-on favorite, Sammy and Shorty, was third with a late move.

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Oklahoma Joe, a Global Power gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:13.66 with Yan Aviles up.

Aunt Bea was up in the final strides to take Friday's $70,000 Bobby Bricker Memorial Handicap for Ohio-bred fillies and mares by a neck over Perfectingtheview.

Aunt Bea, a 4-year-old daughter of Tidal Volume, got 1 mile, 70 yards on a muddy track in 1:48.15 with Aviles riding.

Sunland Park

Bikini Time took back early in Sunday's $100,000 New Mexico Racing Commission Handicap for state-bred fillies and mares, came running to the lead in deep stretch and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Quatro. The favorite, Proofsinthepuddin, was third.

Bikini Time, a 5-year-old mare by Attila's Storm, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.60 with Enrique Gomez up.

Minister of Soul was along in time to win Sunday's $65,000 KLAQ Handicap by 1 1/4 length over long-time leader Good Bye Charlie.

Minister of Soul, a 9-year-old, California-bred gelding by Ministers Wild Cat, ran 5 furlongs in 57.06 seconds with Harry Hernandez in the irons.

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