1 of 2 | Rattle N Roll rolls to victory in the Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland. Photo courtesy of Keeneland
April 24 (UPI) -- A shakeup of the Kentucky Derby field and three major races for older horses took the spotlight in weekend horse racing action with fewer than two weeks to the 149th Run for the Roses.
There also was 3-year-old action on the international front in Europe and Japan. And, on the juvenile front, memo to Royal Ascot: Watch out for American Rascal.
On the news front, Laurel Park and Will Rogers Downs both canceled racing because of issues with their racing surfaces. See "News and Notes" for more.
The Triple Crown
The Kentucky Derby field got a mild shakeup Sunday as trainer Chad Brown announced Blazing Sevens, No. 17 on the qualifying list for 20 spots, will not run and instead will point to the second jewel of the American Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.
The defection means Jace's Road moves back into the field. Jace's Road had earned his way into the field with a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby, but was bumped by 1 point when Disarm finished third in the Lexington Stakes.
Next on the list to make the Run for the Roses in the event of further dropouts is Skinner, third in the Santa Anita Derby.
Brown told Daily Racing Form that Blazing Sevens, third in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, is "a race behind where he needs to be" to compete at Churchill Downs. He praised owners John and Carla Capek for putting the horse's welfare ahead of Derby ambitions.
Most of the field is in Louisville and deep into final preparations for their one chance at Kentucky Derby glory. Likely favorite Forte recorded his first work over the surface Friday, breezing 5 furlongs in 1:02 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons for trainer Todd Pletcher.
"It was a normal work[out] from him, which is exactly what you want to see," Ortiz said of last year's 2-year-old champion and this year's Florida Derby winner. "His mind has changed a lot this year from last year. I'm happy with that. He's growing physically, but has a great mind."
Just before Forte's work, Blue Grass winner Tapit Trice worked 4 furlongs in 48 3/5 seconds to the satisfaction of trainer Pletcher.
"These workouts become super, super important," Pletcher said. "They keep you up at night."
At Oaklawn Park on Saturday, Red Route One bounced back from a sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby to post a narrow, late-running victory in the $200,000 Bath House Row Stakes for 3-year-olds.
The Gun Runner colt, with the famous connections of owner-breeder Winchell Thoroughbreds and trainer Steve Asmussen, chased down dueling stablemates Victory Formation and Tapit Shoes in the final strides, winning by a neck.
Red Route One earned a guaranteed berth in the Preakness with the victory and Asmussen said that race is on the table for the colt.
Three tough graded stakes produced three late-running winners at three different tracks Saturday, all of them promising good things for the rest of the season.
Proxy was forced wide throughout in Saturday's $1 million Grade II Oaklawn Handicap, swung six-wide into the stretch and just did get up at the finish to win by a head over Last
Samurai and another nose from Stilleto Boy. The favorite, Charge It, finished fifth. Ten-year-old Rated R Superstar finished last and seems close to the end of a remarkable career.
Proxy, a 5-year-old Godolphin homebred son of Tapit, finished the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.68 with Joel Rosario aboard. Winner of the Grade I Clark Stakes in November at Churchill Downs, he was fifth in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup in January and second in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 4.
"I knew there was enough speed to set up his late run," winning trainer Michael Stidham said. The way it went ... the only concern was turning for home it looked like he was trying to drop out of it again. But Joel had him out there for a reason -- to stay out from behind the dirt."
"We always tried to be in the clear on the outside," Rosario added.
On Saturday at Keeneland, Rattle N Roll launched a serious bid swinging out of the final bend in the $300,000 Grade III Ben Ali Stakes, worked past the leading pair to get the lead nearing the sixteenth pole and got clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Call Me Fast was second, 1/2 length better than Pioneer of Medina. The favorite, Skippylongstocking, finished fifth.
Rattle N Roll, a 4-year-old Connect colt from Kenny McPeek's barn, ran 1 3/16 miles on a fast track in 1:56.48 with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons. Rattle N Roll has not quite lived up to the promise he showed in winning three of his four starts as a juvenile, including the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.
He did win the American Derby at Churchill Downs, the St. Louis Derby at Fairmount Park and the Grade III Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park last year.
"We've kind of been plotting for this race," McPeek said. "We thought it would be a really good spot for him."
At Santa Anita, Defunded completely missed the break in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Californian, ceded his normal pacesetting role to long shot Midnight Mammoth and raced last of six down the backstretch.
At that point, trainer Bob Baffert probably wished he'd gone with his first instinct and shipped the 5-year-old Dialed In gelding to Arkansas for the Oaklawn Handicap.
But Defunded adapted perfectly to his unusual circumstances, swinging out to pass all five rivals heading for home, winning by 3 lengths over Royal Ship with Midnight Mammoth holding third. Defunded and jockey Juan Hernandez got 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.91.
"I thought about going to Oaklawn, but there was so much speed in that race," Baffert said. Then I was going to skip this race. But Defunded breezed so well the other day."
Part-owner Karl Watson said he was dismayed when Defunded hesitated at the start. "I didn't know we had a Plan B," he said.
Frost Point was last down the backstretch in Friday's $300,000 Grade III Baird Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland, switched outside rivals turning into the stretch and got by them all to win by 3/4 length.
Hidden Connection and Green Up, who disputed the lead most of the 1 1/16 miles, settled for second and third. Frost Point, a 5-year-old Godolphin homebred by Frosted, stopped the timer at 1:43.95. Flavien Prat had the mount for trainer Bill Mott.
Frost Point got most of the second half of 2022 off and returned with a win Dec. 30 and now has strung together three victories. "That was a very good race and she beat a really solid field," Mott said.
On Saturday at Oaklawn Park, Merlazza continued her march toward stardom with an off-the-pace victory in the $150,000 Valley of the Vapors Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
The Don Alberto homebred by Medaglia d'Oro rallied from mid-pack to win by 1 length over the early leader, Pink Ace. The win was more impressive than it seemed as Pink Ace was barely running through much of the 1 mile, posting fractions of 24.06, 50.12 and 1:15.90. Merlazza's final time was 1:40.75.
The Brad Cox trainee now has three straight wins after finishing second in her initial start.
Verstappen rallied from next-last of eight to gain the upset win in Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland, edging fellow closer Red Knight by a head at the end of 1 1/2 miles. Another Mystery was third, 2 lengths farther back.
Verstappen, a 4-year-old War Front gelding, finished in 2:29.28 with Declan Cannon up for trainer Brendan Walsh, capping a slow but steady rise through the ranks that saw him report second in the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park in his previous start.
"Coming in here, we said if he ran well today, if he ran in the first three, it would open a big door for him," Walsh said. "So I think anything from a mile and a quarter to a mile and a half, I think he's still going to get better and better. I don't think we've seen the best of him yet."
Beluni came charging from just off the pace to win Saturday's $100,000 Woodhaven Stakes for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct by 1 1/2 lengths over Inflation Nation. Neural Network was just a nose behind that one in third.
Beluni, a French-bred colt by Fast Company, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.69 with Jose Ortiz up for trainer Chad Brown. It was his second U.S. start and first win after a juvenile career in France that garnered two wins and two seconds from four starts.
Whatmakessammyrun rallied five-wide in the stretch run to win Sunday's $100,000 Siren Lure Stakes down the Santa Anita hillside course. The odds-on favorite, Air Force Red, was second with Indian Peak coughing up a late lead to report third.
Whatmakessammyrun, a 5-year-old We Miss Artie gelding, ran about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:11.57 with Joe Bravo up.
American Rascal, the first foal from international star Lady Aurelia, exceeded lofty expectations in his career bow Thursday at Keeneland, dominating a 4 1/2-furlongs maiden contest by 10 1/4 lengths while under firm wraps by jockey Joel Rosario. The Stonestreet homebred colt by Curlin ran so well trainer Wesley Ward likely will give him a much tougher task in his second start.
"I think he can be better next time," Ward told Keeneland publicity Saturday morning. "We came up here [from Florida], and he worked at Turfway and then here. His last work here, the light bulb went on. Lady Aurelia was the same way. She got outworked in the mornings."
Next? Well, Ward has won the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot twice with No Nay Never in 2013 and Shang Shang Shang in 2018.
And Lady Aurelia, after winning her career debut at Keeneland in 2016, went on to win the Group 2 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot and the Grouup 1 Darley Prix Morny at Deauville, earning the Cartier Award as Europe's 2-year-old filly of the year, and then landed the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at 2017 Royal Ascot.
Brickyard Ride went quickly to the front in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Kona Gold Stakes at Santa Anita, maintained a clear advantage into the stretch and won by 1/2 length over Anarchist. Positivity was third. Trumped finished last, beaten 17 1/4 lengths.
Brickyard Ride, a 5-year-old, California-bred son of Clubhouse Ride, finished 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.84 with Juan Hernandez in the irons. It was his second straight Kona Gold win, following a second-place finish in 2021.
Around the world, around the clock
Crown Princesse ran on strongly through the final 100 meters to post a mild upset victory in Friday's Group 3 Prix Cleopatre at Saint-Cloud, raising her flag for Classics contention.
With Ioritz Mendizabal up, the Zarak filly settled well back in the field, advanced as she passed the 500-meter mark and swung to the outside for room. A late burst saw her home 1/2 length clear of Elusive Princess in a royal exacta finish.
Heartache Tonight was third, with heartache indeed for Godolphin and Juddmonte, whose fillies settled for fourth and fifth.
Crown Princesse finished second in her career debut in February and has won both subsequent starts. All three of the top finishers looked like advancing with the Group 1 Prix de Diane Longine or French Oaks, well in range.
On Saturday at Newbury, Remarquee found running room in time to land the Fred Darling Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a neck from Stenton Glider despite running a bit greenly through the closing stages. The Kingman filly, trained by Ralph Beckett, now is 2-for-2 and one to watch.
The colts and geldings trial at Newbury, the Watership Down Greenham Stakes, was muddled at the start as Frankie Dettori was dislodged from the favorite, last year's Dewhurst winner Chaldean, in the first few strides.
Isaac Shelby and jockey Sean Levey ran at the front of the field, right behind the riderless horse, and got home first by 3 lengths in an impressive effort.
Isaac Shelby is not in the 2,000 Guineas, but was shortened by British bookmakers for the French Guineas after the 3-year-old debut win.
Golden Hind was never behind in Sunday's Grade 2 Sankei Sports Sho Flora Stakes, leading throughout the 2,000 meters to win by 1 1/4 lengths at 16-1 odds.
The favorite, So Dazzling, wasn't making up any ground through the Tokyo Racecourse stretch and finished second in the designated prep for next month's Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks.
Golden Hind, who is in fact gray, is a daughter of Gold Ship out of the Shamardal mare Oregon Lady. The win was her second from seven starts.
Sunday at Kyoto, Schnell Meister won a six-horse dash to the finish in the Grade 2 Yomiuri Mile Cup, edging Gaia force by a neck. Six of the 15 starters finished within 1 length with Schnell Meister and Gaia Force rallying through the final 100 meters to catch the early speed. Schnell Meister, a 5-year-old, German-bred son of Kingman, won the Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup in 2021 and was second in the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen at the same trip last year.
Meanwhile, back in the States ...
Lifetime of Chance outfinished Bank Frenzy to win Saturday's $200,000 Times Square Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds by a neck. East Coast Girl, a ridgling despite the name, was third. Lifetime of Chance finished 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:18.65 with Dylan Davis up. After taking six tries to reach th winner's circle, Lifetime of Chance now has won two straight.
Sunday, Les Bon Temps was promoted to victory in the $200,000 Park Avenue Division of the NYSS for 3-year-old fillies when the first-finisher, Little Linzee, was set down to second for bumping her rival in the stretch. Midtown Lights was third. Les Bon Temps is a Laoban filly. Jose Ortiz rode for trainer Linda Rice. The 6 1/2 furlongs took 1:18.96.
Arizona-breds were on display Saturday at the Phoenix oval.
Arizona Andrew, the heaviest of favorites, was all out to get the job done in the $68,000 Gene Fleming Breeders' Derby, holding off Charlie's Man by 1/2 length for the win. Beyond Awesome kicked away from four rivals late to win the $60,000 Joanne Dye Breeders' Oaks by 5 lengths as the odds-on favorite.
Mr Navigator was along late to win the $60,000 Dwight D. Patterson Stakes on the turf by 1 length from First Call.
Ramblin' Man took over in the stretch to score by 1 1/2 lengths in the $60,000 Lyman and Bradley Rollins Stakes at 6 furlongs. In the filly and mare companion, the $60,000 Ann Owens Distaff, Alberta Sun was best in the lane, winning by 3 1/4 lengths.
Saturday's Jack Cole Stakes for New Mexico-breds was split when the entry box overflowed, with each division made worth $100,000. Massive Roar, with Alfredo Juarez Jr. up, inched away in deep stretch to win the first division by 2 lengths over Jet N G. in 1:18.11. Bye Bye Matty P led all the way to take the second split by 2 3/4 lengths over Storm Bayou in 1:17.77 for jockey Christian Ramos.
Coastal Mission briefly stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Confucius Say Stakes for West Virginia-breds, quickly took command and coasted home first, 1/2 length to the good of No Change. Coastal Mission, a 4-year-old Great Notion gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.99 with jockey Denis Araujo up.
News and Notes
Laurel Park in Maryland and Will Rogers Downs in Oklahoma both canceled racing this week because of track issues. The Oklahoma track cited contamination of part of its racing surface due to a tractor fire and scheduled a return April 24, including a delayed running of its signature Wilma Mankiller Stakes.
The Laurel issue appeared far more serious, following a series of horse injuries, contentious meetings between track officials and jockeys and trainers and intervention by state racing officials.
It's unclear when the track will reopen. Its current meeting is scheduled through Kentucky Derby weekend, May 5 to 6, but Thursday racing was canceled because of a lack of entries. Laurel opened the racing office Sunday to take entries for Friday, but no announcement was made about that date.
The Maryland Jockey Club cites independent testing and statistics to argue the racing surfaces are safe.
1/ST Racing, which owns the track, weathered a more severe rash of breakdowns at its Santa Anita facility several years ago and said in a statement Saturday: "We hope that all [Maryland] stakeholders will be able to come to a consensus and adopt the enhanced veterinary and safety protocols that have been implemented with great success in California."