Derby connections gather at Churchill Downs to await gate assignments

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Kentucky Derby contender Rocket Can pleased trainer Bill Mot with this Sunday morning workout at Churchill Downs. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs
1 of 2 | Kentucky Derby contender Rocket Can pleased trainer Bill Mot with this Sunday morning workout at Churchill Downs. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs

May 1 (UPI) -- With the clock ticking down to Saturday's Kentucky Derby and the post-position draw looming, the Churchill Downs backstretch was relatively calm, with a side helping of nerves, through the weekend.

Around the world, there was a lot more immediate excitement. Hong Kong's superstars strutted their stuff on a historic afternoon at Sha Tin Racecourse. The Tenno Sho (Spring) sprung a minor surprise at the new Kyoto Racecourse. There were Royal stirrings -- and a washout -- in preparation for the British Classics.


On the domestic front, there was a lot of action for turf-running fillies and mares with trainer Phil D'Amato sending out most of the winners.

As usual, there's lots to cover and, for the last time this year, we start with the Kentucky Derby doings.

The Triple Crown

The final pieces of the Kentucky Derby puzzle were on their way to Churchill Downs on Sunday with Jeff Ruby Steaks winner Two Phil's vanning down Interstate 65 from Hawthorne Racecourse and Santa Anita Derby third-place winner Skinner aboard a plane from Santa Anita.


Most of those already on the grounds in Louisville had an easy morning of it, walking or galloping. An exception was the Bill Mott-trained Rocket Can, who worked 5 furlongs in a nice 59 4/5 seconds. "That's racehorse time for this track," Mott said.

Like the other trainers with contenders, Mott is warily eyeing Monday's post-position draw, which can dictate a horse's chances of a clean trip over the crowded track or a traffic-jammed passage.

"To ensure a win, you've got to have a pretty good trip," Mott said. "It's such a competitive race that the trip means a lot. Sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you don't in such a big field.

"The one thing we all have to prove is if we can get 10 furlongs," Mott added. "When they turn for home in the Derby, that really sorts them out."

For those already peeking ahead to potential "new shooters" for second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes on May 20 at Pimlico Racecourse:

Saturday at Golden Gate Fields, Prince Abu Dhabi started last of nine in the $100,000 California Derby, bided his time and then asserted in the stretch run to win by 1/2 length from Phosphorescence.


Trained by Blaine Wright and ridden by Alexander Chavez, the Palace Malice gelding got 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.91 and remains undefeated after four starts.

Pimlico officials announced Sunday that Forte, the solid Kentucky Derby favorite, also remains the favorite in the inaugural Preakness Future Wager. That bet will remain open until about 1 hour before Derby post time.

There's an interesting risk-reward equation at work here, but we can't figure out quite what it is.

Three-year-old fillies

Lily Poo stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields, advanced to the lead when asked and won off by 2 3/4 lengths. Delusively was second with a late effort.

Lily Poo, a Tapiture filly in from Santa Anita for trainer Michael McCarthy, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.61 with Umberto Rispoli in the irons. She now has two wins and two seconds from five career starts.

Filly & Mare Turf

War Like Goddess, making her first start since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Turf last November, took the lead at the top of the stretch in Friday's $300,000 Grade III Bewitch Stakes at Keeneland and ran on to win the event for the third straight year. Temple City Terror was second, 1 1/2 length in arrears.


War Like Goddess, a 6-year-old daughter of English Channel, ran 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:32.11 for jockey Joel Rosario.

"She's as good or better right now, and she's just such a really special filly," winning trainer Bill Mott said. "They don't come along that often. You can get a lot of horses in the barn, but to have one like this that's so consistent and she shows up all the time -- she's just a very special horse."

Saturday's $100,000 Memories of Silver Stakes for 3-year-old fillies came off the Aqueduct turf and six of the 10 entries were scratched.

Balpool was best of the remainder, taking the lead from odds-on favorite Downtown Mischief entering the stretch and drawing off to win by 3 3/4 lengths over that rival.

Balpool, by Uncaptured, ran 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:36.75 with Manny Franco up.

Three Southern California invaders filled the trifecta slots in Saturday's $75,000 Golden Poppy Stakes at Golden Gate fields. Rose Maddox and Nadette both rallied from well back, with Rose Maddox getting there first.

Ever Smart prompted the pace, but then was outfinished, saving show money. Rose Maddox, with Santos Rivera up for trainer Steven Miyadi, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.17. She was second in her two previous starts at Santa Anita.


Trainer D'Amato's had his highly successful turf string playing at home at Santa Anita and up north at Golden Gate during the weekend.

Paris Secret rolled from last of five in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Providencia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita, got the lead in the stretch and held off Pleasant Wave to win by 3/4 length.

Paris Secret, an Irish-bred miss by Zoffany, finished 1 1/8 miles on firm going in 1:47.50 with Kazushi Kimura up. She won her only start last year in Galway, then finished fourth in the China Doll Stakes at Santa Anita in her debut for D'Amato.

It was D'Amato again in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Wilshire Stakes at Santa Anita. The train saddled Macadamia to stalk the pace, advance through the stretch run and win by 1 length over Quattrolle. Very Scary was third.

Macademia, a 5-year-old, Brazilian-bred mare by Hat Trick, ran 1 mile in 1:33.66 with Tiago Periera in the irons.

Queen Ofthe Temple won a three-horse scramble to the finish in Sunday's $100,000 Santa Barbara Stakes at Santa Anita, beating the favorite, Duvet Day, by a neck with Exit Soul a head behind that one in third.

Queen Ofthe Temple, a 5-year-old Temple City mare, ran 1 1/2 miles starting on the hillside course, in 2:26.64 with Joe Bravo up for trainer Dan Blacker. D'Amato didn't have a horse in this one.


Turf Mile

Balnikhov loped along last of nine through the early furlongs of Saturday's $250,000 Grade III San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate Fields, kicked into action four-wide heading for home and was up to win by a nose over fellow closer Rio King.

Balnikhov, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Adaay, finished the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.21 with Umberto Rispoli in the irons for D'Amato. Usually competitive, the win was only his second in nine U.S. starts. He raced in France as a 2-year-old.

Turf Sprint

Alice Marble came flying in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Camilla Urso Stakes for fillies and mares at Golden Gate Fields and got home first by a head over pacesetter Chancery Way.

Alice Marble, a 6-year-old Grazen mare got 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.59 seconds for jockey Umberto Rispoli. She won her two previous starts, both at Santa Anita, and has finished in the top three in 13 consecutive races. If you guessed she's trained by D'Amato, you are correct.


Adare Manor led comfortably throughout Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita and extended the advantage through the stretch to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Belamore was best of the rest, while watching Adare Manor finish 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.10.


Juan Hernandez rode the 4-year-old Uncle Mo filly for trainer Bob Baffert. She has missed a top-three finish only twice in 10 starts.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Frank's Rockette, the odds-on favorite, worked her way to the lead at mid-stretch in Saturday's $175,000 Roxelana Stakes at Churchill Downs and held off the late bid of Last Leaf to win by 3/4 length. Pretty Birdie was 7 lengths farther back in third.

Frank's Rockette, a 6-year-old Into Mischief Mare, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.86 to kick off the wild stakes program of Kentucky Derby week. Junior Alvarado rode for trainer Bill Mott. It was her third straight win after an 11th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint last November.

Around the world, around the clock

Hong Kong

Things could not have gone much better for the home team in the three Group 1 races comprising Sunday's FWD Champions Day. Facing a solid phalanx of foreign visitors, the locals carried all before them, sweeping the big events with some records falling along the way before a crowd of 49,496.

Golden Sixty won the FWD Champions Mile for the third straight year, certainly sewing up a third straight Hong Kong Horse of the Year title. According to local abacus experts, his share of the purse boosted him past Winx to the top of the all-time global earnings list.


Romantic Warrior dominated a field that included three visiting international Group 1 winners in the FWD QE II Cup and now is looking around for some foreign travel of his own.

And Lucky Sweynesse, already the world's top-rated sprinter, was an easy winner in the Chairman's Sprint Prize and could be headed to Japan or Australia.

"How good are the Hong Kong horses? They're flying today," jockey James McDonald said after riding Romantic Warrior to victory.

Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges called the performance remarkable, especially for Hong Kong's first big race day after the lifting early this year of pandemic restrictions.

"What we saw today was absolutely world-class racing and there were absolutely outstanding performances of really great champions of the turf," Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

Jockey Vincent Ho rode Golden Sixty confidently and called the 7-year-old "just an amazing horse. He's going as well as ever. There's no sign of him dropping in performance."

Trainer Francis Lui said there is a chance Golden Sixty will return for the Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup next month, but added that December's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile is the main target.

Romantic Warrior's victory in the 2,000-meter QE II Cup came against a field including the likes of Dubai Honor, a British-based runner fresh from two Group 1 wins in Australia, and Japan's Danon the Kid, who finished second behind him in December in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup.


"I feel big relief," said winning trainer Danny Shum, crediting his entire stable team. He said the Champions & Chater is firmly on his radar with an eye toward the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) in Japan at the start of the 2023-24 Hong Kong season.

Lucky Sweynesse easily saw off local rival Wellington and international raiders Aguri and Flaming Rib in the day's top-shelf sprint.

"That was what we were hoping to see today," jockey Zac Purton said. "I feel like we're going to see a better horse again next season. The sky is the limit at the moment."

Winning trainer Manfred Man said Lucky Sweynesse will be considered for the likes of the Group 1 Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo in June or The Everest in Sydney in October.


Justin Palace notched his first Grade 1 victory in Sunday's Tenno Sho (Spring) at the rebuilt Kyoto Racecourse, sweeping past rivals through the stretch en route to 2 1/2-lengths victory. Deep Bond, who led into mid-stretch, finished second.

The favorite and defending race champion, Titleholder, was pulled up entering the stretch with a leg injury and the Japan Racing Association said only that he was sent for further evaluation.


Winning jockey Christophe Lemaire said Justin Palace "was calm throughout the race and I was sure that he was going to win when we moved up behind Deep Bond and entered the straight. He has become a super horse over long distances so I think he will do well in races like the (Grade 1) Arima Kinen in the future."

Justin Palace posted two wins and a second in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes (G1) in his 2-year-old year but made little impression in the following year's Classics. He picked it up later in the season, reporting third in the Grade 1 Kikuka Sho or Japanese St. Leger.

His dam, Palace Rumor, also produced the 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice and later that year was sold to Katsumi Yoshida for $1.1 million.

Saturday's Grade 1 TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho was a trial for the Japanese Derby and Skilfing acquitted himself well indeed.

Rallying widest of all into the stretch from far off the pace, the Kitasan Black colt reached contention with 200 meters left, hit the front about 100 meters from home and won by 1/2 length from Heart's Concerto.

He improved to 2-for-2 this season after a win and a second in his juvenile campaign. The 2,400 meters on good to firm turf took 2:23.9 with Christophe Lemaire riding.



Friday's Group 3 bet365 Classic Trial was called off when the going at Sandown was ruled unsafe.

A pity that was, too, as the field left in to test soft ground included not only Their Majesties' Circle of Fire with Ryan Moore set to ride for trainer Sir Michael Stoute, but also Juddmonte's Arrest (Frankie Dettori for John and Thady Gosden) and Godolphin's Flying Honours (William Buick for Charlie Appleby).

Trainers Ralph Beckett and Andrew Balding and jockeys Oisin Murphy and Rossa Ryan also were left idle.

Meanwhile, British racing was put firmly in its place with a decision to move the post time for the June 3 Derby up by three hours from the traditional 4:30 p.m. to avoid conflict with a soccer match on television.

That sounds like a relatively minor change, but consider the likes of Irish-based trainer Aidan O'Brien, an eight-time winner of the race, who normally flies his horses in on race day but now will have to find a Plan B.

"It's like everything in life," O'Brien said to Racing Post. "We'll have to adapt, and that's just the way it is. Not everything can suit everybody all of the time."


Iresine rallied smartly from the back of the seven-horse field to win Sunday's Group 1 Prix Ganay at Longchamp by 1 1/4 length over Simca Mile. Bay Bridge was third, and the favorite, Vadini, settled for fourth over a course rated "very soft."


Iresine, a 6-year-old Manduro gelding, finished in 2:13.39 with Marie Velon riding for trainer Jean-Pierre Gauvin. He has 10 wins from 15 starts and avenged a second-place finish behind Simca Mile in their last start, the Group 2 Prix d'Harcourt.

Gauvin said Iresine "is still a fresh horse because we've looked after him," according to Racing Post. He said the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud is the immediate objective now, followed by a respite.

Then, he said, "I'd like to travel him. There is Ascot. He clearly is effective at this trip and it's not so far to go. But I'm most tempted by Hong Kong."


Super Shine and Belleza de Arteaga top a field of eight fillies and mares set for Monday's Group 1 Gran Premio Criadores at Hipodromo de Palermo, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff in November at Santa Anita.

Super Shine, a 3-year-old filly by 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, already has two wins this year at Palermo. Belleza de Arteaga, a 5-year-old by Cosmic Tiger, is riding a seven-race winning streak dating back to last Oct. 8.

Meanwhile, back in North America ...

Oaklawn Park

Coastal Charm was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Dig a Diamond Stakes and was not for catching. The 4-year-old Ghostzapper filly, with Martin Garcia in the irons, won by 2 1/4 lengths over Gunning with Butterbean third.


Coastal Charm finished 1 mile on a muddy track in 1:39.03. It was the first stakes run for the Steve Hobby trainee.

One race later, Ryvit shot right to the front in the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-olds and cruised home first by 2 lengths over the late-running favorite, Mo Strike.

Ryvit, a Competitive Edge colt, finished the 6 muddy furlongs in 1:11.16 with Keith Asmussen up for trainer Steve Asmussen. Tyler's Tribe, last year's Prairie Meadows sensation and failed Breeders' Cup hope, bled and was pulled up by jockey Kylee Jordan.


Jill Jitterbug, the favorite, came up a neck short of Blind Spot at the finish of Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Star Shoot Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, only to have the stewards reverse that verdict for interference in the stretch.

The 6-furlong victory over the all-weather track gives the Cross Traffic filly three wins from seven starts to go along with two seconds in Turfway Park stakes.

On Sunday, New York Thunder thundered to the lead in the $150,000 (Canadian) Woodstock Stakes for 3-year-olds and kicked away from five rivals to win by 7 1/2 lengths. Ninetyfour Expos beat the rest.

New York Thunder, a Nyquist colt, went off as odds-on favorite and ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.45 for jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.



Today's Flavor, the odds-on favorite, led most of the way to a 3 3/4-lengths victory in Sunday's $100,000 Affirmed Success Stakes for New York-breds. Sheriff Bianco was best of the rest.

Today's Flavor, a 5-year-old Laoban gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:09.58 with Manny Franco in the irons.

Golden Gate Fields

Top Harbor came four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Lost in the Fog Stakes and was along in time to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Larry's Legend.

Top Harbor, a 5-year-old son of Harbor the Gold, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:09.87 with Frank Alvarado up.

Carole Lombard closed with a rush in Sunday's $75,000 Campanile Stakes for California-bred 3-year-old fillies and put her head in front of Proof She Zips at the finish.

Carole Lombard, a Grazen filly trained by Phil D'Amato, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.97 with Assael Espinoza up.

In the companion $75,000 Silky Sullivan Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds, Hacking It Up advanced four-wide from the middle of the field to win by 1/2 length over Clovisconnection. Cousin Richie was a late-running third.

Hacking It Up, a Nyquist gelding, finished the 1 mile on the lawn in 1:37.87 with Evin Roman riding.


Fonner Park

Trainer Larry Rivelli obviously is focused on Two Phil's chances in the Kentucky Derby, but that didn't prevent him from shipping Buck Moon off from Hawthorne Race Course to Grand Island, Neb., to contest Saturday's $82,000 Bosselman Pump & Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes.

The one-time king of Arlington Park's training ranks was rewarded with the win as Buck Moon stalked the pace made by Louisiana shipper Munqad, then shot by to score by 3 lengths.

Charles Town

Lightnin Runner poked her nose in front of pacesetting, odds-on favorite Great Spirit on the line to win Saturday's $75,000 Its Binn Too Long Stakes for West Virginia-bred 3-year-old fillies.

Ligthnin Runner, a daughter of Battalion Runner, got 4 1/2 furlongs in 52.71 seconds with David Cardoso riding.

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