Churchill Downs closes early; Auguste Rodin takes Epsom Derby

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Henrietta Topham wins Sunday's Grade III Old Forester Mint Julep at Churchill Downs. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs
1 of 2 | Henrietta Topham wins Sunday's Grade III Old Forester Mint Julep at Churchill Downs. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs

June 5 (UPI) -- Weekend racing came off without serious incident at Churchill Downs as the track prepared to shut down its meeting early and move downriver to Ellis Park in the wake of a rash of horse fatalities.

Gunite, Rattle N Roll and other top runners scored on dirt and turf at the Louisville track. Elsewhere, Major Dude won the Penn Mile, Kalik defeated British invader Silver Knott at Belmont Park and Geaux Rocket Ride was a bright spot on the 3-year-old picture at Santa Anita.


On the world scene, it was tough to figure from the comments in the winner's enclosure who was the best player in Saturday's Betfred Derby at Epsom Downs -- the winning colt, Auguste Rodin, or the trainer, Aidan O'Brien. It might have been a dead heat, with a nod, of course, to jockey Ryan Moore.


Frankie Dettori's year-long farewell tour continued in triumph as he swept the spoils in a pair of Group 1 races on Derby weekend. Songline earned a Breeders' Cup spot with a victory in the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo. And in Hong Kong, ace sprinter Lucky Sweynesse bids fair to rewrite some record books.

Animal Safety and Rights

One of the few issues on which most people seemed to agree about the rash of horse deaths at Churchill Downs was that there was no evidence the track itself was to blame.

Despite that, Churchill Downs announced Friday it would move the rest of its meeting after Sunday's card some 100 miles down the Ohio River to Ellis Park. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority said after the fact it had suggested a "pause" in racing at the Louisville track.

Other safety measures implemented earlier centered primarily on preventing unfit horses from entering races. Investigations continue into the causes of 12 deaths at the track since March 30. But with the circumstances varying widely, it seemed unlikely a common cause could emerge.

The weekend went without further fatalities, although there were some tense moments in Sunday's fourth race when two horses clipped heels and lost their riders. Both were apprehended by the same outrider and both walked off the track.


Meanwhile, police in England made 19 arrests Saturday morning in an effort to prevent disruption of the Epsom Derby. A group called Animal Rising had promised to disrupt or prevent the race despite an injunction.

Despite the arrests, one protestor succeeded in trespassing onto the racing surface shortly after the start of the race. That black-shirted man was taken down quickly and removed while the horses were still a mile up the course.

Meanwhile, the racing:


Webslinger came four-wide into the lane in Saturday's $225,000 Audubon Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, got by Mendelssohn's March to take the lead and won by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Desert Duke was third and Dubai transplant Sharar finished fifth after a slightly awkward start.

Webslinger, a Constitution colt, backed up his victory in the Grade 2 American Turf on Derby Day as he finished the Audubon's 1 1/8 miles of firm turf in 1:49.87 with Javier Castellano up for trainer Mark Casse.

Set Piece rallied from last of six to win Saturday's $225,000 Grade III Arlington Stakes at Churchill Downs by 1 length over pacesetting Get Smokin. Harlan Estate was along late to finish third.


Set Piece, a 7-year-old, British-bred gelding by Dansili, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.42 with Florent Geroux up for trainer Brad Cox. The win pushed his earnings over the $1 million mark for owner-breeder Juddmonte.

On Saturday at Belmont Park, Kalik got the early lead in the $200,000 Grade II Pennine Ridge Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park and held on to the advantage all the way home, winning by 1 length over Far Bridge.

The favorite, Godolphin-owned British invader Silver Knott, was another head back in third.

Kalik, a Collected colt, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:47.85 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. He won for the third straight race while making his first added-money start.

Filly & Mare Turf

Florida Oaks winner Mission of Joy raced just off the early pace in Saturday's $225,000 Grade III Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs, rallied to the lead in upper stretch and rolled home first by 1 1/2 lengths, ridden out by Tyler Gaffalione. Papilio was second, 4 lengths in front of Mrs. Astor.

Mission of Joy, a Kitten's Joy filly, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:49.05. The Graham Motion trainee has won four of her last five starts.


Henrietta Topham outfinished odds-on favorite White Frost in Sunday's $225,000 Grade III Old Forester Mint Julep Stakes at Churchill Downs, winning by 1/2 length. Sweet Dani Girl was third.

Henrietta Topham, a 5-year-old Lemon Drop Kid mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.46 with James Graham up.

Turf Mile

Major Dude stalked the pace in Friday's $400,000 Grade II Penn Mile for 3-year-olds at Penn National Racecourse, moved up four-wide when asked by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and ran on to win by 3/4 length as the odds-on favorite.

Behind Enemy Lines took a brief lead at the top of the stretch but settled for second.Major Dude, a Bolt d'Oro colt, finished in 1:33.73 on firm turf.

Major Dude, a Todd Pletcher trainee, is proving versatile. He won the Grade III Kitten's Joy on the Gulfstream Park turf this winter and was second on Turfway Park's all-weather track in the Grade III Jeff Ruby Stakes in March at 1 1/8 miles. He finished third in the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.

In the companion $200,000 Penn Oaks, Mallymoo was allowed to get away with setting a deliberate pace and then proved uncatchable, holding on gamely through the final furlong to win by 1/2 length from Metaphysical.


The favorite, Royalty Interest, showed little interest in running and reported last of five. Malleymoo, an English Channel filly, finished in 1:34.89 with Trevor McCarthy up for trainer Jack Sisterton. She won her career debut at Dundalk in Ireland but was 0-for-4 in the United States.

Boppy O came with a late run to win Saturday's $100,000 Jersey Derby at Monmouth Park by 1 length over the odds-on favorite, Talk of the Nation. It was another 2 1/4 lengths to Turf King in third.

Boppy O, a Bolt d'Oro colt trained by Mark Casse, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.02 with Isaac Castillo in the irons.

Turf Sprint

Our Flash Drive made it three wins in a row with a 1 1/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Royal North Stakes for fillies and mares at Woodbine. After dueling for the lead, the Ghostzapper mare edged away in deep stretch.

Sweet Enough, Millie Girl and early leader Forest Drift all were close in second through fourth.

Our Flash Drive, out of the Dynaformer mare Dynamotor, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:13.88 with Patrick Husbands in the irons.


Rattle N Roll is on a roll for trainer Kenny McPeek. The 4-year-old Connect colt scored his third straight win in Saturday's $225,000 Grade III Blame Stakes at Churchill Downs, reeling in Call Me Fast through the stretch run on the way to a 1 1/4-length victory. Happy American was third.


Rattle N Roll, under Brian Hernandez Jr., ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.93. The win followed scores in the Grade III Ben Ali at Keeneland in April and the Grade III Pimlico Special last month.

Last year, after bypassing the Kentucky Derby, Rattle N Roll won the American Derby at Churchill Downs, the St. Louis Derby and the Oklahoma Derby.

Geaux Rocket Ride, a Triple Crown trail refugee, set a new course in Sunday's $100,000 Affirmed Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita, winning by 1 3/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Mr Fisk was easily best of the rest.

Geaux Rocket Ride ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.75 with Ramon Vazquez up. The Candy Ride colt, trained by Richard Mandella, won his career debut in January, finished second in the Grade II San Felipe and then was absent for three months until Sunday's win.

Treason led home an all-long shot trifecta in Sunday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Eclipse Stakes at Woodbine. After stalking the pace, the 5-year-old Constitution gelding got the lead at the five-sixteenths pole and steadily edged clear, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Carrothers. Tyson was third.

Treason, with Kazushi Kimura in the irons, finished 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.09.



Idiomatic led all the way to a 2 1/2-length victory in Saturday's $225,000 Grade III Shawnee Stakes at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old Curlin filly, a Juddmonte homebred, turned back a challenge from Sixtythreecaliber at the top of the lane and wasn't challenged thereafter.

The post-time favorite, Frost Point, finished third and the morning-line favorite, Pauline's Pearl, was a late scratch.

Idiomatic, with Florent Geroux in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.13.

On Saturday at Santa Anita, Window Shopping saved the best for last in the $200,000 Grade II Summertime Oaks, surging to the lead in the stretch and drawing clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Ancient Peace. Lily Poo was third and the favorite, Anyhoo, finished fourth.

Window Shopping, an American Pharoah filly trained by Richard Mandella, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.01 with Hector Berrios up.

Super Hoity Toity battled for the lead early in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Belle Mahone Stakes at Woodbine, led and then was all out to hold off the 2022 Queen's Plate and Woodbine Oaks winner Moira by a neck. Purrfect finished third.

Super Hoity Toity, a 4-year-old Uncle Mo filly trained by Mark Casse, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.49 with Patrick Husbands in the irons.



Gunite loomed four-wide at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $225,000 Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs, mowed down the early leaders and prevailed by 1 3/4 lengths.

Bango, the "horse for the course" and winner of the last two editions of the Aristides, was second after holding the lead for a while. Tejano Twist finished third.

Gunite, a 4-year-old Gun Runner colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.46 with Tyler Gaffalione up for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Gunite, a multiple graded stakes winner at 3, started his 2023 term with a victory in the King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He then finished second in the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint in Saudi Arabia and third in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on World Cup night at Meydan Racecourse.

Around the world, around the clock


The number 22 was magic for the Coolmore-O'Brien-Moore combination in weekend racing at Newmarket -- for good and for not so good.

Talk about keeping the faith, baby. Ireland's master trainer, Adian O'Brien, could not say enough good things about his Deep Impact colt, Auguste Rodin, through his 2-year-old year, putting him at the pinnacle of the massive number of great horses he has sent to historic accomplishments.


His faith didn't waiver a whit when, as O'Brien put it, "everything went against him" in his 3-year-old debut, the Group 1 Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. Struggling from the start, the best that could be said of that experience was that Ryan Moore took care of him as he finished 12th, beaten by 22 lengths.

O'Brien had saddled eight Derby winners, so when he said Auguste Rodin was still the one and maybe the best of them ever, it was hard not to listen. And he was proved right Saturday as Moore produced the colt at just the right time to catch long shot King of Steel in deep stretch and win by 1/2 length.

"He's totally unique," Racing Post quoted O'Brien saying about the winner. "He's out of one of the greatest Galileo mares (Rhododendron) by the greatest stallion ever in Japan (Deep Impact).

"I think he's the most important horse we've ever had because he's bringing the two continents (Europe and Asia) together. And it's not fake ability. It's pure ability. So I think it is so exciting."

He could have extended the plaudits to a third continent as Deep Impact was sired by Sunday Silence, the 1989 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner who won 9 of 14 starts, six of those wins in Grade I races, and was never worse than second.


Sunday Silence was Japan's leading sire for 13 straight years from 1995 through 2007. Deep Impact, who died July 30, 2019, then wore that mantle for 11 years from 2012 through last year. August Rodin now is the unquestioned star of his final 3-year-old crop.

O'Brien has few, peers but two of them sang his praises after the Derby performance, again according to Racing Post.

John Gosden: "The confidence Aidan had in his horse you don't ignore. It's as simple as that." Sir Michael Stoute: "We know Aidan is a genius, He hasn't got to keep telling us, but he is."

And two of the Coolmore "lads," Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, chimed in. "He's a genius," Tabor said. Smith added: "This was a great training feat. Aidan was happy to write the Guineas off as a non-event and the program carried on."

If O'Brien stays true to his normal program, the Irish Derby is a likely next target for Auguste Rodin.

On Friday, over the same Newmarket course, the story was a bit different as O'Brien charge Savethelastdance was unable to stave off Frankie Dettori and his mount, Soul Sister, in the Betfred Oaks, settling for second place. Savethelastdance had won her last race, the Cheshire Oaks, by 22 lengths.



Songline won her second Grade 1 race in a month with a smooth trip around the Tokyo Racecourse turf in the Yasuda Kinen.

The 5-year-old Kizuna mare started from the No. 18 gate, but turned that into a non-factor as jockey Keita Tosaki easily secured a cozy spot at mid-field heading into the turn. Straightening out for the stretch run,

Songline began to pick off rivals, secured the lead with some 100 meters to go and held off Serifos, who finished second.

Songline, who also won the Yasuda Kinen last year, was coming off a victory in the Grade 1 Victoria Mile a month earlier. She earned a "Win and You're In" spot in the Breeders' Cup Mile with Sunday's win and a free pass to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf with the Victoria Mile victory.

She had been slated to contest the Mile last November at Keeneland, but instead had minor surgery. Look for her at Santa Anita this November.


Ace Impact came and got pacesetting favorite Big Rock in the final 200 meters of Sunday's Group 1 Prix de Jockey Club or French Derby as the locals swept the placings against an ambitious slate of foreigners.


Ace Impact, a Cracksman colt, entered undefeated after three previous starts, all well below the Derby level. But jockey Cristian Demuro rode him with all confidence as he trailed most of the field into the Chantilly stretch.

With 300 meters to do, Big Rock seemed invincible. With 200 meters left, Ace Impact was the only challenger closing and at the 100 meters, it was clear Big Rock would do well to hold second, which he did over Marhaba Ya Sanafi.

Trainer Jean-Claude Rouget said after the race he had been "cautiously optimistic" about the chances of his progressive runner, who relegated English raider Epictetus and Ireland's Continuous into fifth and eighth place, respectively.

While the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse at Sandown could beckon, Rouget did not commit to a path forward for the colt, saying,. "We will see how he will be in the next week and do a program."

Hong Kong

A weight swing of 20 pounds against him wasn't nearly enough to keep Lucky Sweynesse from rolling to his record-tying eighth win of the season in Sunday's Group 3 Sha Tin Vase.

The 4-year-old has skyrocketed through the local sprint ranks with three Group 1 wins among his seasonal bag. It might have been four but for an unlucky run in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint in December.


"He's starting to turn into a very, very good horse," jockey Zac Purton. said. "The last three or four months, he's improved so much it's scary to think that with a break he might build up even more. I'm hoping that's the case."

At age 4, Lucky Sweynesse is young by Hong Kong standards, and trainer Manfred Man can look forward to the 2023-24 season with him.

Meanwhile, Man ponders whether to let his New Zealand-bred charge have one more go before the end of this term, which would give him a chance to move off the season-wins tie he now shares with no less a luminary than Beauty Generation.

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