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Baffert runners 1-2-3 in Santa Anita's Kentucky Derby prep

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Lovely Ride wins Saturday's Pippin Stakes at Oaklawn Park Coady Photography, courtesy of Oaklawn Park
1 of 2 | Lovely Ride wins Saturday's Pippin Stakes at Oaklawn Park Coady Photography, courtesy of Oaklawn Park

Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Trainer Bob Baffert saddled the first three finishers in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, a "Road to the Kentucky Derby" race, while the other weekend qualifier went to a colt who might find the Derby distance a bit too far.

That action highlighted a weekend slate that also included two Breeders' Cup qualifiers in South Africa, nice victories by Ice Dancing in the 3-year-old filly division and Lovely Ride among the older fillies and mares. Law Professor may have earned a Pegasus World Cup shot with a big victory at Aqueduct.

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We also have some Eclipse Award results but, first, those Derby contenders.

Baffert runners were a pretty good bet in the $100,000 Sham since the silver-haired conditioner saddled three of the five starters.

And the only minor surprise at the end of the 1 1/16 miles was that the longest shot of his three, Reincarnate, got home first for Santa Anita's leading rider, Juan Hernandez. Newgate was second, a neck back after a tight stretch duel, and the race favorite, National Treasure, was another 3/4 length back in third.

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After the Bafferts, it was 23 lengths to Packs a Wahlop in fourth and Spun Intended was pulled up at the top of the stretch. Given the outcome, Baffert might have had the first four finishers had he not scratched Speed Boat Beach.

Baffert understandably seemed happy with the overall outcome of the race but had special praise for Reincarnate, a Good Magic colt out of a Scat Daddy mare who atypically for Baffert started his career on the turf.

"He's the kind of horse that can run all day long and once he broke great, Juan just let him run away from there," Baffert said. "They were all on their own. Nobody had any instructions. I was watching Johnny [Velazquez on National Treasure] because he was in tight the whole way, but I'm proud of all three.

"After looking at that time, it was a serious time. They ran really fast and those are three really good horses. I think that horse today [Reincarnate], he showed that distance is not going to be any problem for him. I was surprised that he got an easy lead and he just kept going."

While the win validates Reincarnate as a legitimate threat for the Triple Crown series, the other two also are in the mix. National Treasure was second in the Grade I American Pharoah at Santa Anita in November and third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Newgate entered off a second in the Grade III Bob Hope at Del Mar.

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Since Baffert currently is banned from Churchill Downs, his horses are not eligible to earn points in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series. So the only points accrued for the Sham are the 2 earned by Packs a Wahlop.

If the owners of the top three want to pursue the first Saturday in May dream, they will have to move their horses to other trainers in time to get enough qualifying points, as was the case in 2022.

While the Sham produced some clear-cut Triple Crown contenders, the weekend's other "Road to the Kentucky Derby" event wasn't so definitive.

In the $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, Lugan Knight got quickly to the fore and battled gamely through the stretch to hold off the favorite, Arctic Arrogance, and win by 1/2 length from that rival. It was another 7 lengths to General Banker in third.

Lugan Knight, a Goldencents colt trained by Michael McCarthy, finished the one-turn mile in 1:37.77 with Dylan Davis up.

Lugan Knight got his second victory from four starts in his first stakes try but McCarthy didn't sound convinced the colt has unlimited distance ability. He ducked the question whether Lugan Knight could try the 1 1/8-mile Grade III Withers on Feb. 4.

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"We'll see," McCarthy said. "I'll have to give Dylan a call and ask him what he thinks and go from there. A mile was a question mark for me but it looked like he passed that test today. We'll have to wait and see."

Trainer Linda Rice said Arctic Arrogance is a definite candidate for the Withers. "He didn't win but he put in a great performance," she said of the colt's Jerome trip.

Also on the 3-year-old front:

Thirsty John shot quickly to the front in Saturday's $200,000 California Cup Derby for state-breds, led the rest of the way and held on to win by 1/2 length over Giver Not a Taker. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to Passarando in third.

Thirsty John, a Stay Thirsty colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.51 with Juan Hernandez up. Peter Miller trains the first two finishers.

You can't win 'em all if you don't win the first one and Scoobie Quando cleared that hurdle in Saturday's $125,000 Turfway Prevue.

The Uncle Mo colt, trained by Ben Colebrook, ran like an old pro, stalking the pace before rallying down the stretch to win by a neck over pacesetter Retained.

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Despite his first-timer status, Scoobie Quando was sent off the favorite and finished the 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:17.28 with Luan Machado riding.

Bling Bling Bling, the odds-on favorite, had things all his own way in Saturday's $75,000 My Dandy Division of the Texas Stallion Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park, winning by 3 lengths over first-time starter Just Whiskey.

Bling Bling Bling, a Too Much Bling colt trained by Steve Asmussen, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:06.39 under Stewart Elliott. He now is 2-for-4.

Eclipse Awards

Since we occasionally suggest checking in with analyst Jude Feld for his thoughts at www.popejude.com, it's worth noting that Jude is part of the Horse Racing Radio Network team that won the Eclipse Award for its coverage of the 2022 Breeders' Cup Classic.

It's the fourth Eclipse for the HRRN stars, also including founder and president Mike Penna, Bobby Neuman and Jeff Bloom.

Other media Eclipse winners: Photography, Wendy Wooley, The Paulick Report; Writing, Feature-Commentary, Tim Layden, NBCSports.com; Writing, News-Enterprise, Tom Law, Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred; Live TV Programming, NBC Sports; Feature TV Programming, NBC Sports.

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Equine winners will be announced and the hardware passed out Jan. 26 before the Pegasus World Cup.

Back to the action:

3-year-old fillies

Ice Dancing, a striking gray filly by Frosted, rallied smartly from last of five to easily win Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita. With Flavien Prat at the controls, Ice Dancing steadily gained on the field through the turn and won off by 3 1/4 lengths.

Satin Doll was best of the rest, followed by three fillies trained by the aforementioned Baffert -- Fast and Shiny, Parody and Huntingcoco. Ice Dancing, trained by Richard Mandella, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.78.

On the Santa Anita turf, Grazed My Heart came from next-last of eight to win Saturday's $200,000 Leigh Ann Howard California Cup Oaks for state-breds by a nose over pacesetting favorite Sell the Dream. Cast Member was another 1/2 length back in third.

Grazed My Heart, by Grazen, finished 1 mile on good going in 1:37.41. Hector Berios had the mount for trainer Jeff Mullins.

Stelliot's Legacy made her debut a winning one in Saturday's $75,000 Darby's Daughter Division of the Texas Stallion Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park. The Bradester filly, dispatched at odds of 10-1, stalked the pace and bravely took an inside course to win by 1 length from Izatiz. The early leader, Come to the Party, faded to finish last of six.

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Stelliot's Legacy ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:07.37 with Gerardo Mora in the kip.

Classic

Law Professor waited patiently behind the early leaders in Saturday's $150,000 Queen's County Stakes at Aqueduct, then took flight when turned loose by jockey Manny Franco and drew off down the lane to win by 7 1/2 lengths. Naval Aviator and Thomas Shelby were second and third, respectively, as Law Professor, a 5-year-old Constitution gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a good track in 1:51.00.

A versatile sort, he was coming off a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland and won the $400,000 Tapit Stakes on the Kentucky Downs turf in September.

"We were hoping this would be a race he could win and be a confidence builder because he had run against some real tough horses his last two," winning trainer Rob Atras said.

Atras noted Law Professor is on the alternates list for the $3 million Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 28 and allowed, "It is a little quick back but I wouldn't rule out anything."

Distaff

Lovely Ride, backing up a victory in the Dec. 10 Mistletoe Stakes, made all the going in Saturday's $150,000 Pippin Stakes for fillies and mares at Oaklawn Park and ran on to win by 3/4 length over Ice Orchid. The favorite, Le Da Vida, finished third.

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Lovely Ride, a 5-year-old Candy Ride mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.04 with Cristian Torres up for trainer Robertino Diodoro, who had racked up his 3,000th career win earlier on the program, according to Equibase.

"I kept saying she had to step it up a length or two to beat this field today. I thought it was a little tougher field," Diodoro said.

He added that Lovely Ride came out of the Mistletoe "better than we thought and was going into this race better than the first one. When things all work out like that, then the horses actually kind of make you look smart. It feels good. Like I said, she did step it up today."

Turf / Turf Mile

Candidate led from the start in Saturday's $100,000 Dania Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park and held on gamely to win by 1 3/4 length over the favorite, Major Dude. It was another 2 lengths to Worthington in third.

Candidate, an Exaggerator colt trained by Arnold Delacour, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.71 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons. It was his third straight win after scores at Laurel Park and Tampa Bay Downs.

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Filly & Mare Turf / Turf Mile

Cairo Consort, the odds-on favorite after a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, came running late to win Saturday's $100,000 Ginger Brew Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park by 1/2 length over Stephanie's Charm. Navy Goat was third after a troubled start.

Cairo Consort, a daughter of Cairo Prince racing for Repole Stable and Town and Country Racing, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.80 for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., scoring her third win from seven starts.

O'er the bounding main:

South Africa

Al Muthana, an 80-1 outsider, rallied outside rivals to win Saturday's Group 1 L'Ormarins King's Plate at Kenilworth Racecourse, earning an automatic berth in November's FanDuel Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita.

One race earlier, Make It Snappy got a "Win and You're In" pass to the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf with a victory in the Group 1 Cartier Paddock Stakes.

Al Muthana's victory came at the expense of Charles Dickens, who missed by a neck extending his unbeaten record to seven. The field also included two-time winner Jet Dark.

Make It Snappy won her fourth straight race, backing up a victory Dec. 3 in the Group 1 World Sports Betting Cape Fillies Guineas at Kenilworth.

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England

Berkshire Rocco took the lead heading into the stretch the second time in Sunday's featured conditions stakes at Southwell and kept finding more, eventually winning by 1 1/4 lengths from a persistent Rainbow Dreamer.

The race was a Fast-Track Qualifier for the £150,000 All-Weather Marathon Championships on Good Friday at Newcastle.

The Good Friday race is a goal now for the 6-year-old winner, who has been lightly raced since being defeated by a neck in the Group 1 St Leger in 2020 and obviously thrived on the move back up to Sunday's 2 miles plus 1/2 furlong.

"Berkshire Rocco has had his problems but we have had a really good run with him since he ran a nice race at Kempton last time," winning trainer Andrew Balding said.

"This race was always the plan so that we could qualify him for Newcastle on Good Friday and, now that he has done that, we are looking forward to it.

"I don't know if he will run again beforehand. He is going to have a busy summer, so I would think probably not, and we will freshen him up now."

Meanwhile, back in the states:

Santa Anita

The Chosen Vron was the odds-on pick in Saturday's $150,000 California Cup Sprint for state-breds at Santa Anita but had all he could handle before getting the job done.

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After fighting for the lead, the 5-year-old gelding put away challenger Resilient and opened up a daylight lead, only to find Big City Lights breathing down his neck, falling just a neck short of the upset. The Chosen Vron finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.96 with Hector Barrios up.

Big Summer came with a big late move to win Saturday's $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint by 3/4 length over Eddie's New Dream.

Big Summer, a 5-year-old Mr. Big mare, ran about 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside course in 1:13.10 for jockey Joe Bravo.

Coalinga Road won a three-way sprint to the wire in Saturday's $200,000 Unusual Heat Turf Classic for California-breds, winning by a neck over Aligato and another neck from Luvluv.

Coalinga Road, a 6-year-old Quality Road gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:49.79 with John Velazquez riding for trainer Carla Gaines.

Aqueduct

Wudda U Think Now jumped out to the lead in Sunday's $100,000 Say Florida Sandy Stakes for New York-breds and wasn't caught. At the finish, the 6-year-old Fast Anna gelding was 3/4 length in front with Market Alert and the favorite, Bankit, second and third.

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Wudda U Think Now ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.23 with Dylan Davis in the irons.

Delta Downs

My Destiny stalked the pace in Friday night's $75,000 Orleans Stakes for fillies and mares, too over the lead in the lane and edged clear to win by 1 3/4 length. Long-time leader Sweet Temperament settled for second, 3 1/2 lengths better than Sassy Beast.

My Destiny, a 6-year-old Majesticperfection mare, ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 58.16 seconds with Edwin Gonzalez up. It was her fourth straight win over four different tracks.

Empire of Gold chased down pacesetting Super Ocho in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Sam's Town Stakes and went by to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Super Ocho held second by the same margin over Prizeless.

Empire of Gold, a 6-year-old by Goldencents, reported in 57.40 seconds with Lane Luzzi in the irons.

Fair Grounds

Who Took the Money took the $60,000 winner's share of the purse after winning Saturday's $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf for state-breds by 2 1/2 lengths from Smarty Alex. The 5-year-old Street Boss gelding rallied four-wide and between horses to challenge for the lead entering the stretch en rout to victory.

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Budro Talking was third as Who Took the Money and jockey Deshawn Parker finished 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:50.59.

Only three faced the starter in Saturday's $75,000 Bob F. Wright Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares and the odds-on favorite, Free Like a Girl, had no trouble with her two rivals.

Starting on top, the 4-year-old El Deal filly steadily increased her advantage and coasted home 2 3/4 lengths in front. Spirited Beauty and Winning Romance completed the order of finish with Free Like a Girl home in 1:11.26.

The $75,000 Gary P. Palmisano Stakes for state-breds was better attended with nine starters. Bron and Brow stalked the pace, then was up in the final strides to win by a neck over Swot Analysis. Mike J was third after contesting the early pace.

Bron and Brow, a 4-year-old Gormley gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.24 with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons.

Sunland Park

Thruthestorm hopped at the start of Sunday's $100,000 Coralito Steak House Stakes for New Mexico-bred 3-year-olds, recovered quickly and went on to win by 1/2 length. New Mexico Jeremy was second, a head in front of the favorite, Antonio's Mark.

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Thruthestorm, an Attila's Storm gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.65 with Luis Fuentes up.

Ari Oakley stalked the pace briefly in Sunday's $65,000 Bold Ego Handicap for fillies and mares, took over when called upon by jockey Alfredo Juarez Jr. and held on at the end to win by a neck. Flyin Falynn just missed with a late bid and the others were well back.

Ari Oakley, a 4-year-old Gun Runner filly, got 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.27.

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