WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- The Melbourne Cup produced a pleasant surprise ending Tuesday, easing the racing world down from the euphoria of the Breeders' Cup and into a slide toward the year-end fixtures.
Meydan opened its doors for the meeting that leads up to the World Cup. It's only four weeks to the Japan Cup and the Longines Hong Kong International Races are only six weeks away.
In North America, top-level weekend events are in short supply with Aqueduct and Churchill Downs shouldering the load. But it's Florida to the rescue as Gulfstream Park West, the former Calder, on Saturday stages a preview of the Sunshine Millions.
Let's shine some sun on the proceedings:
It was as unexpected as it was inspiring -- Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the Group 1 Melbourne Cup on Tuesday at Flemington as she steered Prince of Penzance into the clear in the final 100 meters to land a long shot first, 1/2 length in front of Max Dynamite. Few people gave the 6-year-old a chance in Australia's iconic race and even his trainer, Darren Weir, said before the race he would be happy to finish in the top 10. He had not won in slightly more than a year. But Payne, part of a big and popular racing family, had ridden Prince of Penzance in all but one of his races, handled his gallops and was hopefully confident. "I know the inner strength that he has," Payne said. "This horse is incredible." Payne kept Prince of Penzance close enough throughout most of the 2 mile, moved just slightly to the outside for room with 400 meters to run and surged quickly to the lead. Frankie Dettori, aboard Max Dynamite, made a much more aggressive move and bulled his way clear behind the winner but was too late with his final run.
Criterion finished third, Trip to Paris was fourth and the favorite, Fame Game, finished unlucky 13th. Two of the world's top jockeys, William Buick and Ryan Moore, finished 22nd and 23rd, respectively, on Sky Hunter and Snow Sky. Sky Hunter is trained by Saeed bin Suroor for Godolphin and Snow Sky by Sir Michael Stoute for Khalid Abdullah. Welcome to Australia, world elite.
Just as Prince of Penzance was crossing the finish in celebration, veteran campaigner Red Cadeaux broke down just before the finish line. The three-time runner-up in the Melbourne Cup suffered a fetlock injury and will not race again. Trainer Ed Dunlop said Wednesday the 10-year-old was eating and "looking happy" after surgery and the outlook appeared guardedly good. Also, Dettori was suspended for one month and fined for careless riding after stewards ruled he interfered with several of his rivals en route to the placing. The replay showed Max Dynamite shifting abruptly right into a rival, causing a chain reaction of problems.
Clearly, winter is coming as New York action returns to the Big A. The opening weekend feature is Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Long Island Handicap for fillies and mares going 12 furlong on the turf, with a field of 11. Danza Cavallo enters off a second-place finish in the Grade I Flower Bowl, behind Breeders' Cup winner Stephanie's Kitten. She is one of three entered by trainer Chad Brown, who also will saddle Rosalind and Goldy Espony. Rosalind comes to this after leading the field most of the way before finishing third in the Grade I E.P. Taylor at 10 furlongs at Woodbine and the 4-year-old Broken Vow filly might have found her niche at the longer distances. Goldy Espony won the Grade III Waya Stakes at Saratoga at 1 1/2 miles in her last outing in August and could be a pace factor. Gotachancetodance moves up in class with a good record for trainer Todd Pletcher and won her last start from off the pace at 1 1/4 miles. Mutatis Mutandis makes her second U.S. start after finishing third in the Flower Bowl. Walk Close makes her first start since winning the Grade III Modesty Handicap on the Arlington Park grass. Interrupted has back-to-back wins in Maryland.
On Wednesday, Big World led from the start in the $200,000, Grade III Tempted Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, survived continual pressure and held on for a 1/2-length victory over Flora Dora. Banree finished third and the favorite, Welcoming, got home fifth. Big World, a Louisiana-bred daughter of Custom for Carlos, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.19 with Jose Ortiz up. Tony Dutrow trains for owner Maggi Moss. Big World now is 2-for-4. "I was very, very happy with the way she stretched out at Saratoga at seven-eighths of a mile against good company," Dutrow said of the first win. "Then, to come back today and stretch out to a mile, I have to be very happy with that."
Mohaymen rallied to the lead three-wide in Wednesday's $200,000, Grade II Nashua Stakes for 2-year-olds and got there first by 1 3/4 length over Flexibility. Sail Ahoy cruised up from last of seven to get show money. Mohaymen, a Tapit colt owned by Shadwell and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, got 1 mile in 1:36.01 for jockey Junior Alvarado. He's 2-for-2 with a bright future. McLaughlin said he is eyeing either the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct or the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs -- both on Nov. 28. "We definitely have Derby fever," he admitted.
Gold Medal Dancer and Birdatthewire are the morning-line favorites among eight set for Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Chilukki Stakes. The fillies and mares will go 1 mile on the main track. Birdatthewire won the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks back in March and finished fifth in the Kentucky Oaks. She hasn't been seen since but has been working steadily for trainer Dale Romans. Gold Medal Dancer won the Grade II Azeri at Oaklawn Park in the spring, missed in three subsequent tries and comes off a freshening. Others of note include Keen Pauline, Ahh Chocolate and Shanon Nicole.
Gulfstream Park West
There are four $100,000 races on the Saturday card previewing the Sunshine Millions races -- the Classic, Distaff, Turf and Turf Sprint. There are some good horses in these fields, including East Hall and Flutterby, getting ready for the big events Jan. 16 Gulfstream Park. Also, there are four $75,000 races for 2-year-olds and 2-year-old fillies on the turf and sprinting on the main track.
Sunday is the Grade 2, $150,000 Autumn Stakes, a 1 1/16-miles event on the all-weather course for 3-year-olds and up. A field of eight includes graded stakes winners Are You Kidding Me, Florida Won, Lukes Alley, Golden Sabre and Karibu Gardens.
Also Sunday, Shakhimat stretches out for the 9-furlongs, $250,000 (Canadian) Coronation Futurity for Canadian-bred juveniles. He broke his maiden on the local all-weather and then ran third on the lawn in the Cup and Saucer Stakes. Ten are set for this one.
They're off and running at Meydan and they won't stop until after the World Cup next March.
Sheik Hamdan bin Rasheed al Maktoum's runners took down three races in Thursday's opening session. Etijaah rallied from well off a hot early pace to win the feature, a 2,000-meters handicap, taking full charge in the final 200 meters. Trainer Doug Watson said a break in the weights and general improvement by the horse contributed to the win. But he also credited jockey Sam Hitchcott, saying, "They went very quick up front and he was happy to just take his time ... Hopefully, there is more to come." Watson also gave Dan O'Neill a leg up on Sheik Hamdan's Nathr, who easily beat a suspect bunch in a 1,600-meters handicap. Trainer Musabah Al Muhairi accounted for the champion owner's other win with Ajraam in a 1,200-meters handicap. The waters will get deeper quickly in the run-up to the Carnival.
Disappointing news: Arlington Million hero The Pizza Man will not make his scheduled appearance in the Japan Cup later this month. The Midwest Thoroughbred star was found to have a throat infection after finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Dubai remains an option.