1 of 2 | First Mission wins the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, entering the picture for the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown. Photo courtesy of Keeneland
April 17 (UPI) -- The final prep race of the season found Disarm just barely making his way into the Kentucky Derby Starting gate, while several other 3-year-olds were making weekend bids for the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes.
In Grade I action, Claireire turned the tables on Secret Oath at Oaklawn Park and Modern Games suffered his first North American defeat after three straight Grade I wins.
On the world scene, another Japanese 3-year-old provided a heart-stopping finish in a Classic race and Militarize and Giga Kick continued their paths to stardom in Australia.
Our path takes us on the road to ...
The Triple Crown
Disarm ran his way into the Kentucky Derby field -- barely -- with a third-place finish in Saturday's $400,000 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, with the winner and runner-up making cases for a chance at the Preakness.
First Mission was most impressive in the Lexington, slipping inside pacesetting Arabian Lion at the top of the stretch and running on to win by 1/2 length.
A Street Sense colt trained by Brad Cox for Godolphin, First Mission immediately became a candidate for the Preakness. Trainer Bob Baffert said he was pleased with the comeback effort by Arabian Lion, but "not sure about the Preakness," according to Bloodhorse.
Disarm earned 6 Road to the Kentucky Derby points with his third-place finish, exactly enough to bump Jace's Road off the leaderboard for the 20-horse field. Jace's Road would be the first replacement in the even of defections, and remains in training in the expectation of that happening.
Regardless, owner Ron Winchell said Disarm, a Gun Runner colt who finished second in the Grade II Louisiana Derby, will target the Run for the Roses.
"We were hoping for better than third, but it looked like he had a little difficulty in the first turn," Winchell said. "We'll see how he comes out of this race."
Speaking of the Preakness, except for an early miscalculation on the part of his owners and trainer, Perform could have been a candidate for that race after a last-to-first score in Saturday's $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park.
The Good Magic colt, trained by Shug McGaughey, stumbled at the start of the 1 1/16 miles, had to change course several times to find a path through rivals and was up in the final strides to win by a head over Ninetyprcentmaddie.
The favorite, Prince of Jericho, was an uninvolved sixth at the finish.
"We were yelling for him to get second, and all of a sudden, he poked through there and won the race. It was really spectacular," said Bill Farish, of part-owners Woodford Racing and Lane's End Farm.
"We're very proud of him. It was a fun race. The Tesio is a great race with a lot of history, and we're thrilled to win it."
Perform took six tries to get his first win, that coming in his last start March 11 at Tampa Bay Downs when McGaughey gave up on a sprinting career and stretched the colt out.
The race is a "Win and You're In" for the Preakness, but Perform is not nominated to the Triple Crown. His owners would have to pay $150,000 to supplement him to the field, and Farish indicated they may not be $150,000 worth of proud.
"We didn't nominate him for the Triple Crown because we thought we had a sprinter and not a very good one at that, so there was really no reason to nominate him," he said.
"Maybe we wish we had. Maybe not. A lot of times a horse that comes this far this fast could use a little extra time going into the summer."
Chez Pierre was already most of the way home before Irish invader Modern Games got going in the stretch run of Friday's $600,000 Grade I Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland.
The French-bred gelding jumped out to a daylight lead after straightening away, and Modern Games, left too much to do, could only advance to finish second, 3 1/2 lengths back and just a neck in front of Up to the Mark.
With Flavien Prat riding for trainer Arnaud Delacour, Chez Pierre finished in 1:33.46 over firm turf.
Chez Pierre collected his sixth win from seven starts, but it was an upset, nonetheless. His only previous graded stakes start resulted in a sixth-place finish in the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes in February while Modern Games, a globetrotting star for Godolphin, is a multinational Group 1 winner and had won all three of his previous North American starts -- all Grade 1 affairs.
Delacour said Chez Pierre needed that last run, adding, "I think now that he's running, the most difficult part has been done. So we're just going to do maintenance breezes and map out a summer with him.
"Obviously it seems he likes the firm turf. Today was perfect to his liking so we will try to spot him in races on firm turf."
Modern Games is being prepped for Royal Ascot and, eventually, more racing in North America and a shot at a third Breeders' Cup win.
Of the Maker's Mark Mile, jockey William Buick said, "He had a good trip. The winner went well. I was under pressure a little bit earlier than I thought I would be. The pace was even. I'm sure he will improve from this run."
At Aqueduct, four scratched and only three ran in Saturday's $100,000 Danger Hour Stakes.
Big Everest, with Manny Franco in the irons, led throughout but just did hold on at the end to avoid being swallowed up by Anaconda. It was another 6 1/2 lengths back to Eleven Central in third and last.
Big Everest, a 5-year-old, British-bred gelding by The Gurkha, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.54. The Christophe Clement trainee got his third straight win.
Fillies and mares went 1 mile on the Aqueduct turf in Sunday's $100,000 Plenty of Grace Stakes, with Evvie Jets leading all the way to win by a neck over Whitebeam.
The favorite, Malavath, tired to finish last of five. Evvie Jets, a 5-year-old Twirling Candy mare, finished in 1:35.73 with Eric Cancel up for trainer Mertkan Kantarmachi.
It was another good weekend for trainer Wesley Ward going short on the Keeneland greensward.
Ward started things off by saddling the exacta in Friday's $250,000 Limestone Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 5 1/2 furlongs. Love Reigns encountered traffic in the straight, but finally got through between rivals to win by 1/2 length over stablemate Lady Hollywood.
My Sweet Affair was third, another 1/2 length back, as Love Reigns, an Irish-bred daughter of U S Navy Flag, reigned in 1:02.45 with Joel Rosario up.
Both of Ward's fillies were making their first start since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint over the same course last November in which Love Reigns reported eighth as the favorite and Lady Hollywood finished fifth.
"She's a special filly," Ward said of Love Reigns. I've kind of been waiting for this to come out since her maiden win here. Asked whether she might take Ward's well-worn path to Royal Ascot for the Group 1 King's Stand, the trainer said, "We hope so."
In Saturday's $250,000 Giant's Causeway Stakes for older fillies and mares, it was Twilight Geaming getting the job done for Ward's barn. The 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly by National Defense got to the lead in the lane and strode out to win by 1 1/2 lengths over 87-1 shot Querobin Dourada.
With Irad Ortiz Jr. in the kip, Twilight Gleaming was timed in a stakes-record 1:01.74 over firm going. She won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint in 2021 after finishing second in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes at that year's Royal Ascot.
Asked about the happy problem of having two fillies as candidates for this year's King's Stand, Ward said he's looking for the best path for both.
"Both fillies certainly look like they would do really, really well in the King's Stand. Of course, we'll probably separate them," he said. "There's a couple of different races there for 3-year-olds, as well as the King's Stand, which is 3 and up, that Lady Aurelia won [in 2017]. We'll get home and assess it with the team."
Ward's good fortune didn't extend to Sunday, as Gaslight Dancer rallied to win the $250,000 Palisades Stakes for 3-year-olds at Keeneland, followed by a pair of extreme long shots. Ward's No Nay Hudson reported a fading sixth.
Gaslight Dancer, a City of Light colt trained by Mike Maker, finished second in the Grade III Futurity at Aqueduct last autumn, and then sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. He was making his 3-year-old debut with the 5 1/2 furlongs the shortest trip of his career.
Filly & Mare Turf
After Modern Games finished second in the Maker's Mark Mile on Friday, trainer Charlie Appleby no doubt was looking for better from With the Moonlight in Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Jenny Wiley. It was not to be.
In a virtual replay with a new cast, In Italian led throughout and opened a big enough lead in the lane to easily hold off With the Moonlight by 3 lengths at the finish. White Frost was third.
In Italian, a British-bred mare by Dubawi, trained by Chad Brown, went to the post as the favorite after capping last year's campaign with a runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. She finished 1 1/16 miles in a snappy 1:39.71 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up.
"She's a wonderful mare," winning owner Peter Brant said. "She's been good from the very beginning, and we're very proud to have her. ... This is one of the most important filly-and-mare races and it's just a great honor to win this race."
Buick, who rode With the Moonlight, said, "The winner was just too good."
When they met a month ago in the Grade II Azeri at Oaklawn Park, Clairiere was left too much to do in the final furlong and fell 2 3/4 lengths short of catching Secret Oath. Saturday's $1 million Grade I Apple Blossom was a different story.
With a field of four and only three of them competitive, it was a tactical race. Long shot Hot and Sultry went out to a big early lead, while the two favorites bided their time.
But this time, Joel Rosario made sure Clairiere stayed within striking distance of the main foe and, after Secret Oath grabbed the lead, he took dead aim on that rival and drove by to win by a neck.
Clairere, a 5-year-old Curlin mare, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.36, gaining her third Grade 1 win. Winning trainer Steve Asmussen explained how it worked in a typical racetrack riddle:
"It played out like everybody thought it would," Asmussen said. "I think Joel is fabulous about the theory that I have -- races are from point A to point B. If you go from point A to point B as good as you can, you get the best outcome you can, whether it's favorable or not. She's a tremendous mare. She's really good."
Skelly jumped right to the lead in Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park and wasn't for catching.
The 4-year-old Practical Joke gelding led throughout and won by 2 1/2 lengths from Strobe with the favorite, Tejano Twist, another 1 length back in third. Skelly, with Ricardo Santana Jr. up for trainer Asmussen, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.20.
Skelly has been at Oaklawn through most of the meeting, and now has three straight wins. The Count Fleet was his first stakes effort, which afforded him a weight break of up to 7 pounds under the handicap conditions. Winning trainer Asmussen said his natural speed was more important Saturday, though.
"The racetrack's playing for that to be effective," he said.
Filly & Mare Sprint
On Sunday at Keeneland, Key of Life got out to a daylight lead in the $400,000 Grade II Beaumont for 3-year-old fillies and barely lasted, edging the onrushing Interpolate by a neck. It was another 6 1/4 lengths to Stonewall Star in third.
A Mo Town filly from the Brad Cox barn, Key of Life ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.32 under Flavien Prat. She was last seen winning the Purple Martin Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 25.
Cox said it was a last-minute decision to put Key of Life on a van and head for Kentucky.
"The last eighth of a mile [of the race], sweating it out," he said. "I don't know how much farther she wants to go or if she wants to go any farther at all. I think she's probably better at three-quarters, 6 1/2 [furlongs]. But we're glad to get the victory today."
Around the world, around the clock
Sol Oriens staged a remarkable rally around virtually all 17 rivals in the stretch run to win Sunday's Grade 1 Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2000 Guineas, setting up a possible tilt at next month's Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby.
Tastiera appeared to have the race in the bag with 100 meters to go but had no answer to the winner's blitz, finishing second by 1 1/4 lengths. The favorite, Phantom Thief, was third after losing a shoe during the race.
Sol Oriens, a Kitasan Black colt, remained undefeated after three starts and became the first horse to win the Satsuki Sho in just his third race.
Jockey Takeshi Yokoyama said he kept faith with the colt even while racing at the back of the pack down the Nakayama Racecourse backstretch.
"I know first hand the power and speed which this colt possesses and so, while we had a lot of ground to cover from way behind, I knew that if I could keep him in good rhythm up to the straight, he would be able to show his full potential to win this race," Yokoyama said.
Trainer Takahisa Tezuka said before the race that he hoped the addition of a ring bit, more maturity and a faster pace might help his colt compete at the top level.
"In his last two races, the pace was quite slow," Tezuka said. "He's a horse with ability, and I think the pace will be quicker this time, but I'm confident he can run a good race with the potential he has and the condition he's in. I'd like to think he can run in the Derby later on."
After a flock of recent upsets, Saturday was favorites' day in Group 1 events at Royal Randwick as Militarize won the Moet & Chandon Champagne Stakes for 2-year-olds and 3-year-old Giga Kick got his first top-level win, beating older rivals in the Schweppes All-Aged Stakes.
Militarize, with Joao Moreira in the irons, backed up his April 1 victory in the Group 1 Inglis Sires' Stakes with an emphatic 1 3/4 lengths score in Saturday's 1-mile test. Bases Loaded was best of the rest but, remarkably, Make a Call and Inglis runner-up Don Corleone were a close fifth and sixth.
Militarize, Make a Call and Don Corleone are trained by Chris Waller for Newgate Bloodstock and China Horse Club.
"I think the sky is the limit for this horse," Moreira said of Militarize. "Based on how he has done it today, a mile is not a problem and I can see him even running 2,000 meters or maybe even further.
Moreira, who has battled Zac Purton for the Hong Kong premiership for years, but now is uprooted, was asked by Sky Racing if he plans to stay in Australia. "Probably," he said.
Giga Kick, upset winner of last year's Everest Stakes, continued his trajectory back to that rich sprint with his victory by 1 1/2 lengths over the accomplished Zaaki in the 1,400-meter Champagne. The Scissor Kick gelding, rallying from well back in the field before the turn, swept by in the final 50 meters.
Cascadian also ran well late to just miss second. Giga Kick reported second in the Group 1 T J Smith in his previous start. Trainer Clayton Douglas said Giga Kick does not yet have a spot in the buy-in Everest, but the owners are waiting for offers.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Beth's Dream surged past the pacesetter in the lane in Saturday's $100,000 Heavenly Cause Stakes for fillies and mares and drew off to win by 2 lengths over Pass the Champagne.
Beth's Dream, a 5-year-old mare by Jess's Dream, got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.32.
Alwaysinahurry outfinished Hello Hot Rod to win Saturday's $100,000 Frank Y. Whiteley Stakes by 1 length over that rival. The winner, a 5-year-old Great Notion gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.05.
Cats Inthe Timber was along late to win Saturday's $125,000 Weber City Miss for 3-year-old fillies by 1/2 length over Crypto Mama as the favorite, Girl Trouble, faded throughout to finish last.
Cats Inthe Timber, an Honor Code filly trained by Brittany Russell, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:47.42 under Jevian Toledo.
Lone Star Park
Ima Discreet Lady stalked the pace in Thursday's $75,000 Bluebonnet Stakes for Texas-bred distaffers, took over in the stretch and won by 8 lengths over Uptownblingithome.
Ima Discreet Lady, a 7-year-old mare by Discreet Cat, covered 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:18.69 with David Cabrera up.
Lucylou Who pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Original Gold Stakes for West Virginia-bred fillies and mares, took over the lead midway around the turn and drew off to win by 3 lengths. Xanthe was second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of early pacesetter Moonlit Shadow.
Lucylou Who, a 4-year-old Sky Mesa filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.40 with Carlos Lopez aboard.
Luvluv won a three-way scramble to the finish in Saturday's $60,000 Wildcat Stakes by a head over Tartini and a neck more from Surprisinglyperfect.
A 6-year-old Lakerville gelding, Luvluv ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:15.01 with Jose Valdivia Jr. in the irons.