1 of 3 | Tapit Trice wins Tampa Bay Derby, moves to No. 6 on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. SV Photography, courtesy of Tampa Bay Downs
March 13 (UPI) -- The Kentucky Derby field gained one and lost one this weekend as Tapit Trice scored what seemed an impossible win in the Tampa Bay Derby, while Arabian Knight's timetable was moved back by his owners to exclude the Run for the Roses.
In other weekend horse racing, last year's Kentucky Oaks winner, Secret Oath, finally returned to the winner's circle, and trainer Brad Cox made a bold winning move as the Distaff division took a starring role in Arkansas and California. Frank's Rockette continued an upward trajectory among the sprinters.
On the international front, Godolphin franked another good one in Australia as In Secret, a 3-year-old filly, won the historic and prestigious Newmarket Handicap with an emergency jockey. And Sheik Mohammed's global powerhouse also completed a three-race sweep in Bahrain.
Today's quiz: Who won the weekend's NTRA/NHC Charity Challenge handicapping contest? It's a familiar name. Have a look in News and Notes.
Let's go and we'll be done in a trice!
The Road to the Roses
My goodness! He started last of all in Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, raced at the rear of the field down the backstretch and appeared hopelessly beaten on the far turn.
But then, in a trice, Tapit Trice came down the middle of the track like a gray freight train, passed them all and roared on to win 2 lengths, as befitting the odds-on favorite.
It would be no surprise to hear some of the colt's supporters had shredded their tickets midway through the race. Tapit Trice and jockey Luis Saez were that far back and looked like they were spinning wheels. Even his part-owner, Mandy Pope of Whisper Hill Farm, had her doubts.
"I lost track of him in the race and thought he was never going to make it up," Pope said. "But once he got free, he ate up the ground. It was awesome."
It also was the kind of stretch move that can win a Kentucky Derby and Tapit Thrice earned 50 "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points for the effort, more than enough to make that starting gate. That, obviously, is the focus for his connections, including trainer Todd Pletcher.
"It took him a while to get on track but I was very impressed down the lane," Pletcher said. "He finished up the way we expected him to. He certainly seems like the farther he goes, the stronger he gets."
Tapit Trice secured the No. 6 position on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard. Classic Car Wash finished second, 1 1/4 lengths better than Classic Legacy. Classic Car Wash moved into the No. 10 spot in the standings and Classic Legacy into No. 19. Forte, also trained by Pletcher, is No. 1.
Meanwhile, Arabian Knight is off the Kentucky Derby trail. The Uncle Mo colt, recently moved from Bob Baffert's barn to Tim Yakteen to make him Derby eligible, has encountered a minor setback in training and won't be pushed to make the Louisville date.
After only two starts, including a dominant, 5 1/2-lengths score in the Grade III Southwest at Oaklawn Park, the $2.3 million yearling purchase was considered a major threat to division leader Forte.
Owner Zedan Racing Stables tweeted Saturday that Yakteen "wasn't happy with his last work and we feel it's in Arabian Knight's best interest not to rush and allow him more time to develop. We know he's a superior talent and our plan is to point him toward a summer and fall campaign."
The coming week features only the penultimate leg of the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby," the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes at Kempton Park in England.
Only three horses on the leaderboard for that series are nominees to the U.S. Triple Crown and none of those is entered in Wednesday's race. The winner will get 20 points and tie the Aidan O'Brien-trained Cairo for the top spot on the listing.
Around the divisions:
Two big races showcased some of the best in this division.
Secret Oath had not won in five starts since her 2022 Kentucky Oaks triumph, never quite able to recreate the stretch rally that got her home on top at Churchill Downs.
She reversed that narrative emphatically in Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Ridden confidently by Tyler Gaffalione, the Arrogate filly raced near the back of the eight-horse field, ahead of only her main rival, Clairiere.
Both moved up leaving the backstretch but Secret Oath circled rivals while Clairiere had to wait, looking for room.
That was enough for Secret Oath to get away to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Clairiere eventually got a spot, followed the winner and had a head in front of Interstatedaydream on the wire.
Secret Oath finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.26, rewarding her owners' decision to keep her in training.
"I was confident she would run a big one," winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. "But when you've got a field this tough, you've got to beat them. I just thought she would throw a real good one today because I did everything I wanted to do with her coming into it.
"I didn't have to adjust a work or anything. I did it all when I wanted to. I thought I had her tuned."
He said the next stop is the $1 million Grade I Apple Blossom over the same course and distance April 15.
Out west at Santa Anita, A Mo Reay was up in the final strides to win Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Beholder Mile by a head over the odds-on favorite, Fun to Dream. It was another 2 1/4 lengths to Midnight Memories in third.
A Mo Reay, a 4-year-old Uncle Mo filly, ran 1 mile on a good track in 1:36.25. Flavien Prat had the mount for trainer Brad Cox, who shipped A Mo Reay from his New Orleans base for the race. She journeyed to Oaklawn Park to win the Grade III Bayakoa Stakes in her previous start.
Co-owner Adrian Regan noted the decision to ship to California rather than back to Arkansas.
"It was all down to Brad," Regan said. "He is the master placer when it comes to where we go and after watching the race in Oaklawn today, I was very happy that we were coming here.
"Secret Oath looked fantastic today, but it's all Brad. We are very lucky to have a man like that with this team."
Turf / Turf Mile
Talk of the Nation raced just off the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Columbia Stakes for 3-year-olds at Tampa Bay Downs, took charge in the final furlong and won off by 2 1/2 lengths. Mo Stash was second and the early leader, A Western Yarn, finished third.
Talk of the Nation, a Quality Road colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.45 with Samy Camacho in the irons for trainer Shug McGaughey.
Filly & Mare Turf
Ballet Dancing pressed the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Santa Ana Stakes at Santa Anita, assumed the lead when prompted by jockey Flavien Prat and got clear in the stretch run to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Queenof the Temple and Duvet Day filled out the trifecta.
Ballet Dancing, a 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly, ran 1 1/4 miles on good turf in 2:01.25. It was her third win from nine starts and first in a stakes event and trainer Simon Callaghan said she had been crying out for more distance.
"I think this distance is the key for her," Callaghan said. "Keeping her at these distances, we can go even farther with her -- a mile and a half, I think. That's very much what the pedigree suggests and her frame. I think we should have a fun older year with her."
Shantisara let Scotish Star make all the early going in Saturday's $225,000 Grade III Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, rallied by her through the stretch and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Surprisingly finished third, a neck behind Scotish Star.
Shantisara, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Coulsty, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:47.14 for jockey Irad Oritz Jr. The multiple graded stakes winner was coming off a second in the Grade III Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park.
Mission of Joy and Alpha Bella both came with late runs in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs with Mission of Joy winning a duel to the wire by a neck. Juniper's Moon got first run to the lead, but settled for third and the favorite, Free Look, reported fourth.
Mission of Joy, a Kitten's Joy filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.12 with Antonio Gallardo up. It was her third straight win, all at the Tampa turf.
Girl Named Charlie and Beautiful Navigator duked it out through the final yards of Saturday's $75,000 Allen Black Cat LaCombe Memorial for 3-year-old fillies at Fair Grounds, with Girl Named Charlie prevailing by a head. The odds-on favorite, Chop Chop, was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third.
Girl Named Charlie, a Maclean's Music filly, ran about 1 mile on firm turf in 1:42.87 with Edgar Morales up.
Little Jewel sprinted to the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 Captiva Island Stakes for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park and held off the favorite, Train to Artemus, by 1 1/4 lengths. The early leader, Charlie T, held on for show money.
Little Jewel, a 5-year-old mare by Liam's Map, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.31 seconds. Unraced at ages 3 and 4, she second straight win after a comeback in which she was second.
Classic / Dirt Mile
Skippylongstocking, the odds-on favorite, pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, moved to the fore in the lane and drove clear to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Tax was second, a head in front of Surly Furious.
Skippylongstocking, a 4-year-old Exaggerator colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.52 with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Frank's Rockette looked to have her five rivals at her mercy in Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Hurricane Bertie Stakes at Gulfstream Park and so it played out.
With Junior Alvarado in the irons, the 6-year-old Into Mischief mare waited behind the early speed, quickly took over the lead heading for home and scooted away to an 8-lengths win.
R Adios Jersey finished second, but was placed third for interfering with Drifaros, who was awarded place money. Frank's Rockette ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.81.
Frank's Rockette posted her third win from her last four starts -- a streak interrupted only by an 11th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Keeneland -- and trainer Bill Mott said there's some push-and-pull with her owner, Frank Fletcher, about his scheduling.
"We had options to go some other places but given the fact that she won her so easily last time and she likes the track, we just felt, 'Bring her back,'" Mott said.
"Unfortunately, the owner is from Arkansas and would like to see his horses run in Hot Springs. This was my first option, and he let us do it."
Rossa Veloce, the odds-on favorite, ran to her notices in Saturday's $100,000 Correction Stakes at Aqueduct. Leading all the way, the 5-year-old Girolamo mare got home first by 5 1/4 lengths over Prodigy Doll with Fouette another 1 3/4 lengths back in third.
Rossa Veloce, with Manny Franco up for trainer Rob Atras, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:11.16. She's won four of her last five starts, all at Aqueduct.
Spirit of Makena drafted behind pacesetting Forbidden Kingdom into the turn in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III San Carlos at Santa Anita, moved to the lead early in the stretch run and ran on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Forbidden Kingdom held second by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Get Her Number.
Spirit of Makena, a 5-year-old by Ghostzapper, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.06 for jockey Joe Bravo. It was his third win from only four career starts for trainer George Papaprodromou.
"He was doing great leading into this race and we tried," Papaprodromou said. "Obviously, it was a tough spot but and we gave it shot. He ran huge and what can I say? He's a nice horse."
Around the world, around the clock
In Secret did all the needed running in the late going of Saturday's Group 1 Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap at Flemington, rallying to a 1-length victory as clearly the best in the historic race. Lofty Strike was second and the favorite, I Wish I Win, settled for third, another head in arrears.
In Secret, a 3-year-old filly by I Am Invincible, ran 1,200 meters in 1:08.24.
"We were confident we had her right and didn't she explode through the gap," trainer James Cummings said. "She's proved to be absolutely top shelf again and is two from three this preparation."
He said In Secret now will be aimed at the Group 1 T.J. Smith on April 1 at Royal Randwick with an eye on the AUS$15 million the Everest in October "and look like a big force in that feature ... against some of the best sprinters in the country. We're very, very glad to have her."
Jamie Kah was to have ridden the Godolphin filly, but instead was hospitalized after taking a fall earlier in the day. Dean Holland, one of the few jockeys on the course without a ride and able to make weight, took the emergency call, got a brief tutorial from trainer James Cummings and executed the game plan perfectly.
Kah and Craig Williams were both diagnosed with serious but non-life-threatening injuries after the incident in the Sires Produce Stakes. Both horses galloped clear after the mishap.
At Rosehill Gardens, Espiona won a three-way photo by a nose over Pride of Jenni at the end of 1,500 meters in the Group 1 Coolmore Classic Handicap for fillies and mares. Sheeza Belter was third and the favorite, Annavisto, was eased to finish last.
Espiona, a 4-year-old daughter of Extreme Choice, got home in 1:27.62.
Now it's on to Good Friday at Newcastle and Finals Day of the All-Weather Championships after victories by Earlofthecotswolds and Berkshire Shadow in the last two Fast-Track Qualifiers of the campaign.
Earlofthecotswolds earned the right to defend his Finals Day crown with a victory in the featured extended two-mile contest Saturday at Wolverhampton, a Fast-Track Qualifier for the £150,000 All-Weather Marathon Championships.
The 9-year-old led all the way and appeared to be in trouble as the entire field closed the gap near the furlong pole. But he found more for jockey Tom Queally and prevailed by a head in a blanket finish.
"I wanted to fill his lungs at crucial stages and that seemed to give him an edge at the end," Queally said. "Earlofthecotswolds is a good horse with a lot of ability. They want him there for Finals Day and it is good that he got to win again."
Berkshire Shadow earned a spot in the £150,000 All-Weather Mile Championships with a 1 1/4-length decision over dual Group 1 winner Angel Bleu. Harry's Bar was another head back in third.
It was Berkshire Shadow's first win since the Group 2 Coventry Stakes in 2021, although his form last year included a fifth in the Group 1 2000 Guineas.
"The Coventry Stakes would have done me and I said if he won again, it would be a bonus," winning owner Paul Spickett said. "But he has just shown there that he has still got it. Roll on Good Friday."
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor and jockey Danny Tudhope had so much fun winning the Group 3 Bahrain International Trophy in November with Dubai Future they returned to win again Friday as Passion and Glory landed the His Majesty the King's Cup.
First Ruler was second, giving Godolphin a 1-2 finish in the race. Tawaareq finished third, best showing of the local runners.
Godolphin also took home the trophy in the HRH The Crown Prince Cup. Together, the victories represent a sweep of the Kingdom's top races.
"It is testament to the growth and development of the sport that horseracing in Bahrain now regularly attracts world-class horses and world-renowned trainers and jockeys such as Saeed bin Suroor and Danny Tudhope," said His Highness Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, chairman of the Bahrain Turf Club.
"And I would like to congratulate His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on his success with Passion And Glory and thank him for his ongoing support of racing in the Kingdom."
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Timeless Journey was along in plenty of time to win Sunday's $100,000 Biogio's Rose Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares by 1 1/2 lengths over Know It All Audrey.
Timeless Journey, a 6-year-old Verrazano mare, ran 1 mile on a good track in 1:37.42 with Dylan Davis in the irons.
Nobody Listens led from the early strides in Saturday's $125,000 Big Daddy Stakes and survived the late effort of Night Time to eke out the victory by a neck. Candy Overload was third.
Nobody Listens, a 5-year-old, Indiana-bred gelding by Conveyance, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:09.14 with Joseph Ramos aboard.
American Blaze, last seen in the allowance ranks at Turfway Park, collared Loudmouthsoup in the late going to win Saturday's $75,000 Turf Paradise Derby by 1 length. I Am Freaky Fast was third and Santa Anita invader Tiz Tok settled for fourth as the favorite.
Una Palabra outfinished two rivals to win Saturday's $75,000 Arizona Oaks. The McCracken filly first put away the even-money favorite, Beyond Awesome, then dealt with the late run of Fayette Fox before scoring by a neck.
Truth Seeker rallied from next-last to win Saturday's $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup by 1 1/4 length over Tiger Dad with Jazz Hands third. The favorite, Radical Right, broke in the air, started last and could recover only enough to finish fourth. Truth Seeker is a 7-year-old Into Mischief gelding.
Zestful chased down breakaway leader Bigfoot City in the final furlong to win the $100,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf by a neck over that one and another neck over Sonny Smack, who rallied from last of 11.
Miss Hard Knocks was along late to win the $60,000 Queen of the Green Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, defeating Lady Commissioner by 1 1/2 lengths with the odds-on favorite, Yankee Dollar, third.
Evacuee, the longest chance in the field, rallied from last of eight to win Sunday's $100,000 Mt. Cristo Rey Handicap for New Mexico-breds by 1 1/4 lengths. Massive Roar was best of the rest with Delbert Too another 1/2 length back in third.
Evacuee, a 6-year-old gelding by Abstraction, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.81 with Felipe Valdez in the irons.
News and Notes
We occasionally refer readers to the insightful and often entertaining handicapping tips offered by Jude Feld at popejude.com. He doesn't need validation as an industry expert, but we'll note he just won -- for the second time -- the annual NTRA/NHC Charity Challenge that runs concurrently with the National Horseplayers Championship.
Jude earned $5,000 for his designated charity, the Thoroughbred retirement center, Old Friends.
"Playing a contest is so much different than playing daily because I look for horses that are at least 8-1," Feld said. "Old Friends is my favorite charity to support and I supported it the first time when I won in 2020. The great work that Michael Blowen and his staff do to provide care for our retired Thoroughbred friends is so important to me."
In the main contest, the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship, Paul Calia of Kansas City, Mo., toppled a field of 779 entries to take home the grand prize of $800,000 and finished fourth with his second entry. With all the prizes added up, he walked away with $960,000.