Angel of Empire, Perriere jump into Kentucky Derby picture

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Lemon Pop wins Sunday's Grade 1 February Stakes on the Tokyo Racecourse dirt. Photo courtesy of Japan Racing Association
Lemon Pop wins Sunday's Grade 1 February Stakes on the Tokyo Racecourse dirt. Photo courtesy of Japan Racing Association

Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Angel of Empire vaulted to the top of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" standings and Perriere moved the head of the "Japan Road" leaderboard with impressive weekend victories.

Also, Pretty Mischievous moved into Kentucky Oaks contention along with the top two performers in the UAE Oaks in Dubai, while some vets and a few newcomers found success at tracks around North America.


We also have results from Australia, Japan, Qatar and Dubai -- some of which could play a big part in international competition later in the year.

It was a good weekend all around for the global forces of Sheik Mohammed's Godolphin, with a top-level victory in Japan and multiple graded stakes wins in New York and Florida.

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The Road to the Roses

Angel of Empire, the least-regarded of three colt saddled by trainer Brad Cox, stormed down the long Fair Grounds stretch to win Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Risen Star Stakes convincingly and take the top spot on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard.


The Pennsylvania-bred Classic Empire colt raced well off an honest pace early in the 1 1/8-miles test with jockey Gabriel Saez looking for the right path into the stretch.

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As the early leaders chucked it in, the waters parted and Classic Empire sailed through, winning by 1 length over Sun Thunder. Two Phil's was third and the favorite, previously undefeated Victory Formation, finished ninth.

Angel of Empire finished second to Victory Formation in their previous start, the Smarty Jones Stakes, at Oaklawn Park.

"I watched his replays and knew he is a nice horse," said Saez, who rode Angel of Empire after piloting Victory Formation to his first two wins.

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"The key with him is to follow the right horse. We got lucky. When he got to the three-eighths pole, I was pretty loaded. When we got to the top of the straight, I checked if I had the horse. He just kept going, and I just tried to go with him."

Cox, who also trains Victory Formation and fourth-place finisher Tapit's Conquest, has a barn full of Derby contenders, and was reluctant to lay out a plan for Angel of Empire.


"Physically, it looks like he can run all day," Cox said. "We had a little pace to run at today and it worked out well. It's five weeks to the Louisiana Derby and we'll look at that, all the Grade I's will be in the conversation.

"We'll let the dust settle and see how he comes out of it. This is a horse that we thought as the months go by he'll get better and he has."

Elsewhere on the Triple Crown trail:

Perriere took the lead in the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" series with an impressive stretch run that saw him home first in the Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse.

The winners of the first two races in the four-race series, Derma Sotogake and Continuar, passed on the Hyacinth in favor of this coming weekend's Saudi Derby. The series will be decided in its final leg, the Fukuryu Stakes March 25.

Perriere, a Henny Hughes colt out of the Fuji Kiseki mare Soft Rime, bided his time in the 1,600-meters Hyacinth, got out for running room at the top of the stretch and strongly blew by the leaders to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

The series started in 2017 and has not produced a Kentucky Derby winner. This year's competition reflects new interest in dirt racing on the part of Japanese connections with a record 37 Japanese 3-year-olds among the early nominees to the U.S. Triple Crown. Perriere, Derma Sotogake and Continuar all are among them.


Coffeewithchris and Prince of Jericho renewed a lively rivalry in Saturday's $100,000 Miracle Wood Stakes. Coffeewithchris got to the lead in the lane and Prince of Jericho fell 1 1/4 lengths short of catching him after rallying seven-wide to reach contention.

Coffeewithchris, a Ride On Curlin gelding, toured 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.54. Jaime Rodriguez rode for trainer John Saltzman Jr.

In their first meeting in the Heft Stakes Dec. 30, Coffeewithchris relegated Prince of Jericho to second. The latter returned the favor in the Spectacular Bid on Jan. 21.

The Path to the Oaks

Pretty Mischievous moved squarely into the Kentucky Oaks picture with an upset victory in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds.

The Godolphin homebred (remember that -- it's a recurring theme this weekend) by Into Mischief raced right behind pacesetting long shot Miracle, edged past that one in the stretch and won by 3/4 length.

It was another 7 3/4 lengths to the previously undefeated favorite, Hoosier Philly, in third with the highly regarded Chop Chop beating only one rival, who was eased.

Pretty Mischievous, with Tyler Gaffalione riding for trainer Brendan Walsh, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.15 for her fourth win in five starts. She earned 50 points toward a start in the Kentucky Oaks, boosting her leaderboard-topping total to 63.


"We were quietly confident she'd be good enough and today we found out she is," Walsh said. "Now, we'll see how she comes out of things, talk things over with the ownership team and get her to be 110 percent on the big day in May."

In Dubai, Friday's Group 3 UAE Oaks came down to a two-filly race in the stretch run with locally trained Mimi Kakushi chasing down California shipper Ami Please for the win. Both are Kentucky-bred and both probably earned enough points to make it into the Kentucky Oaks field.

The race was a confirmation of talent by Miki Kakushi, who had romped to victory in her previous outing in the UAE 1,000 Guineas. Ami Please, trained by Doug O'Neill, had just a single win in California while racing on the turf and was running fresh off the plane. So both could be commended for the performance.

Asked if the performance was good enough to press on to Louisville, O'Neill said, "Yes. Really nice." Mimi Kakushi's trainer, Salem bin Ghadayer, mentioned the Group 2 UAE Derby March 25 and the Kentucky Oaks as possibilities.

Put a ring around the name Stonewall Star. The Flatter filly dropped down from New York to obliterate five rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park, kicking away in the stretch to win by 11 lengths.


The Horacio De Paz trainee handled the 7 furlongs around one turn with aplomb, finishing in 1:24.33. She has yet to try two turns but does own four wins from seven starts.

The Divisions


Pioneer of Medina, third in last year's Louisiana Derby, returned to Fair Grounds with a victory in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Mineshaft Stakes.

The Pioneerof the Nile colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, tracked the early pace, advanced in upper stretch and dueled between rivals to win by a head. Mr. Wireless was second, 1/2 length in front of Run Classic.

Pioneer of Medina, with Luis Saez up, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.59. He was last seen finishing second to Skippylongstocking in the Grade III Harlan's Holiday at Gulfstream Park on New Year's Eve.

At Oaklawn Park, Last Samurai chased down dueling leaders West Will Power and Law Professor in the stretch run of Saturday's $600,000 Grade III Razorback Handicap and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. West Will Power held second with Law Professor fading to get home third, 7 lengths farther in arrears.

Last Samurai, a 5-year-old by Malibu Moon, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track with Cristian Torres up for trainer D. Wayne Lukas and owner Willis Horton.


Last Samurai has done battle at the highest levels throughout his career while coming up short on the winning statistic. The victory was his fifth from 23 starts and followed a fourth-place finish in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational three weeks earlier at Gulfstream Park.


Classy Edition stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Royal Delta Stakes at Gulfstream Park, surged to a daylight lead in the stretch run and easily held on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Kathleen O.

Classy Edition, a 4-year-old Classic Empire filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.15. Irad Ortiz Jr. had the mount for trainer Todd Pletcher. It was her fifth win from seven starts but first in a graded stakes.


Eastern Bay started his 9-year-old campaign on a high note, rallying to the lead on the turn in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III General George Stakes at Laurel Park en route to a 1 1/2-lengths stretch-running victory. Yodel E.A. Who was in closest attendance with the favorite, Factor It In, finishing fourth with no late rally.

Eastern Bay, an E Dubai gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.29 with William Humphrey riding for trainer Norm Cash.


Eastern Bay closed out his 2022 season finishing second in both the Grade II Vosburgh and the Grade III Bold Ruler at Aqueduct and overall has won 19 times in 53 starts with 31 in-the-money finishes.

He was dealt for a claiming tag of $35,000 midway through his career and the $150,000 winner's check from the General George pushed his lifetime earnings over the $1 million mark.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Swayin to and Fro dueled for the lead in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Barbara Fritchie Stakes at Laurel Park, found new energy at the top of the stretch and pulled away to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Fille d'Espirit was second, followed home by Moody Woman and the favorite,

Pass the Champagne. Swayin to and Fro, a 4-year-old Straight Talking filly, toured 7 furlongs of fast track in 1:23.75. Richard Monterrey was up as the filly won for the third time in her last four starts, all Laurel Park stakes.


Two Emmys, forever to be known as the final winner of the last vestige of the original Arlington Million, has turned into quite the useful turf horse for trainer Hugh Robertson. In his latest exploit, the 7-year-old English Channel gelding led from gate to wire in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Fair Grounds Stakes and won by a tidy 4 1/4 lengths over Gentle Soul.


With James Graham up, Two Emmys ran 1 1/8 miles on the firm Fair Grounds turf in 1:54.73. The win atoned for a 10th-place finish in the same race a year ago -- one of the few poor efforts he's produced since winning the $600,000 Mr. D. Stakes at Arlington Park in 2021, the last running at that track of what used to be the Arlington Million.

Churchill Downs Inc. closed Arlington after that season and this past week completed a sale of the property to the Chicago Bears.

Filly & Mare Turf

Lake Lucerne raced just off the pace in Saturday's $120,000 Albert M. Stall Memorial at Fair Grounds, took over in the lane and ran on to win by 2 lengths over Soft Touch.

Lake Lucerne, a 5-year-old homebred Godolphin mare by Dubawi, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:48.07. Tyler Gaffalione had the mount for trainer Brendan Walsh. She had finished third and second in two previous starts during the Fair Grounds meeting.

Another Godolphin homebred got the trophy up north at Aqueduct. Frost Point, a 5-year-old Frosted mare, led throughout Saturday's $125,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational Stakes and showed her heels to three rivals in the final furlong, winning by 6 1/4 lengths. The odds-on favorite, Falconete, was followed home by Battle Bling and Piece of My Heart.


Frost Point, with Jorge Vargas Jr. up for trainer Bill Mott, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.24.

Turf Sprint

Evan Sing drew into the eight-horse field for Saturday's $100,000 Colonel Power Stakes, went off as the favorite, stalked the pace and struck in the stretch run for a 3/4-lengths victory. Angaston was second, 1 3/4 lengths better than Yankee Seven.

Evan Sing, a 4-year-old gelding by Hard Spun, ran about 5 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:05.98 with Flavien Prat up for trainer Al Stall Jr. It was his first start since October.

Chess Master found the right opening gambit in Saturday's $100,000 Turf Dash at Tampa Bay Downs, surging to the lead and holding onto it for a 4 3/4-lengths victory. Full Disclosure was the closest rival with the favorite, Fluid Situation, a neck behind that one in third.

Chess Master, a 7-year-old gelding by Overdriven, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 54.78 second with Antonio Gallardo up.

Train to Artemus bided her time in Saturday's $100,000 Lightning City Stakes at Tampa Bay, saved ground into the stretch and kicked home from the quarter pole to win by 2 lengths over Tracy Ann's Legacy. Sassy Beast was third.


Train to Artemus, a 5-year-old Tapizar mare, was clocked in 55.54 seconds with Paco Lopez in the irons.

Freedom Flyer went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Wishing Well Stakes on the Santa Anita hillside course and held on to win by a neck over the favorite, Big Summer, and another neck from Bay Storm.

With Frankie Dettori riding for trainer Leonard Powell, Freedom Flyer ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:12.34.

Around the world, around the clock


Coolangatta rallied through the final 50 meters to grab a 1/2-length victory in a crowded finish to Saturday's Group 1 Black Caviar Lighting Stakes at Flemington with I Wish I Win second and Bello Nipotina third. The favorite and one-time world's best sprinter, Nature Strip, checked in fifth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths after the 1,200 meters.

Coolangatta, the 2022 Magic Millions winner, is a 3-year-old filly by Written Tycoon out of the More Than Ready mare Piping Hot. Jamie Kah rode for trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, who said the owners now have Royal Ascot in mind.

While Cooangatta clearly is the real goods, Nature Strip's trainer Chris Waller said he was surprised his 7-year-old didn't perform better, dropping back just as Coolangatta was making her move. He said he quick ground might have been a factor but tests will be run.


"Let's hope there's another couple of runs in him yet," Waller said. Last year, Nature Strip made the trip to England and was a 4 1/2-lengths winner in the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes.


Lemon Pop defended local honor in Sunday's Grade 1 February Stakes on the Tokyo Racecourse dirt oval, emerging from the pack in the stretch run to win by 1 1/2 lengths as the first foreign runner in the history of the race, Shirl's Speight, spun his wheels in the deep cushion and finished ninth.

The race is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic but Lemon Pop's owners, Godolphin in Japan, said Sunday's 1-mile distance is his outer limit. Trainer Hiroyasu Tanaka said the 5-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid has been invited to Dubai, presumably for the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on the Meydan dirt, but no decision has been made.

Shirl's Spright's rider, Joao Moreira, said his mount "wasn't capable of handling the track over here which is extremely deeper than what he gets in North America. In the straight, even if he did get held up a little, he wasn't really taking into the race indicating that he wasn't going to be competitive."


Trainer Roger Attfield said before the race he had doubts about turf specialist Shirl's Speight taking on top Japanese runners on an unfamiliar surface but said owner/breeder Charles Fipke insisted. Afterward, Attfield said, "I just think he's a superior turf horse but we gave it a try."


Hong Kong visitor Russian Emperor took down Saturday's local Group 1 H.H. the Amir's Trophy at Al Rayyan Racecourse in Doha, rallying from far back in the field to win by 1/2 length over Godolphin's Warren Point with French-trained Bolthole third. Broome was home fifth and Stone Age finished last of 12.

"I've won two Group 1 races with him in Hong Kong and I just thought he was the right horse to travel with temperament-wise," said winning trainer Douglas Whyte. "I must say that he's really blossomed since he's landed in Qatar."

The 6-year-old holds entries for both the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic at 2,410 meters and the Group 1 Dubai Turf at 1,800 meters at Meydan on Dubai World Cup Night. Whyte did not reveal his intentions.

While the Coolmore connections didn't fare well in the big race, Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore partnered to get Order of Australia back to the winner's enclosure with a victory in the local Group 2 Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Cup on the undercard.


The 6-year-old finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Mile and 11th in the Longines Hong Kong Cup in his two previous starts.

Meanwhile, back in the States

Turfway Park

Ocean Atlantique worked quickly to the front in Saturday's $125,000 Dust Commander Stakes and kept rolling all the way to a 5 1/4-lengths victory. Camp Hope was second, a nose in front of the favorite, Beatbox.

Ocean Atlantique, a 6-year-old American Pharoah gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.75 with Walter Rodriguez handling the reins.


Cairo Sugar worked quickly to the lead in Sunday's $100,000 Maddie May Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies and held off the favorite, Les Bon Temps, to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Sweetest Princess finished third.

Cairo Sugar, a daughter of Cairo Prince, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.44 with Andrew Wolfsont aboard.

Santa Anita

Alice Marble rallied from last of five in Sunday's $100,000 Spring Fever Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares split rivals in the stretch and won by 1 3/4 lengths over Taming the Tigress. Alice Marble, a 6-year-old Grazen mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.29 with Flavien Prat in the irons.


Laurel Park

Nimitz Class had to battle for the lead in Saturday's $100,000 John B. Campbell Stakes but, once clear, the 4-year-old Munnings colt opened things up to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Ournationonparade was second, 3 3/4 lengths in front of Ain't Da Beer Cold.

Nimitz Class, with Jevian Toledo in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.29 for his second straight win in a Laurel stakes.

Hybrid Eclipse rallied from next-last of seven to take Saturday's $100,000 Nellie Morse Stakes for fillies and mares by 2 1/4 lengths over Award Wanted. Hybrid Eclipse, a 5-year-old Paynter mare, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.96, also with Toledo aboard.

Brittany Russell trains the mare, who finished third, albeit 15 1/4 lengths back of the winner, in the Grade I Beldame at Aqueduct last October.

Golden Gate Fields

See Through It rallied from next-last of eight to post a mild upset win in Saturday's $75,000 El Dorado Shooter Stakes for California-bred. The 6-year-old Curlin gelding got up in the final strides to win by 3/4 length over the favorite, Top Harbor. See Through It ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.15 with Brayan Penna up.


Sam Houston Race Park

I'm a Cowboy blitzed past pacesetting Bling Bling Bling at mid-stretch in Saturdays $90,000 Jim's Orbit Stakes for 3-year-olds and jetted away to win by 7 3/4 lengths over that rival. The Bradester gelding got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.26 for jockey Alfredo Contreras.

In the $90,000 Two Altazano Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Izatiz rallied to the front at the top of the stretch and won off by 4 1/2 lengths over Waving Bye. Izatiz, by My Golden Song, got home in 1:12.49 with Janson Melancon up.

Sunlit Song took over the lead in the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Houston Turf Stakes for state-breds and ran on to win by 3 lengths over Truly Danzig. Sunlit Song, an 8-year-old My Golden Song gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.79.

Stewart Elliot rode. Imaluckycharm led all the way to a 2 1/4-length victory in the companion $75,000 Miss Bluebonnet Stakes for Texas-bred fillies and mares. The 4-year-old filly, by My Golden Song, finished 1 mile on the lawn in 1:39.16 with Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez aboard.

Gold Pilot came from the back of the six-horse field to win Saturday's $75,000 H-Town Stakes for Texas-breds by 4 lengths over Too Much Action. Gold Pilot, a 6-year-old gelding by My Golden Song, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.07 with Jose Alvarez up.


Turf Paradise

Don't Get Pickled started last of eight and finished first in Saturday's $60,000 Princess of Palms Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The California-bred daughter of Misremembered ran 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:32.22 with Glenn Corbett in the irons.

Special Moment used similar tactics to claim the companion $60,000 Sarnac Stakes for 3-year-olds, charging from last of nine to win by 3/4 length. Corbett had that mount, too, getting Special Moment home in 1:32.19.

Sunland Park

Doer Not a Faker dueled Miss Fluffy into submission early in Sunday's $100,000 Enchantress Stakes for New Mexico-bred 3-year-old fillies, then had to cope with the late run of Crafty Money before defeating that one by 1/2 length.

Doer Not a Faker, a Diabolical filly, ran 1 mile on a good track in 1:40.80 for jockey Luis Fuentes.

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