Breeder's Cup Sprint winner Runhappy returned to action with a cracking win at Santa Anita while turf races and a smattering of 2-year-old events added fireworks to the final Thoroughbred racing weekend of 2016.
Internationally, Gold Ship ran his final race in Japan but was upstaged by Gold Actor. And the British All-Weather Championships made a stop in France.
No stops for us. Onward and we'll see you again in the New Year.
Runhappy continued his happy run of victories in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds, leading from the start and coasting home first by 3 1/2 lengths. Marking, a lightly raced Bernardini colt from the Godolphin conglomerate, finished second -- his first loss in three starts. Lord Nelson finished third. Runhappy, a Super Saver colt, got 7 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:21.76 with Stevens up and probably had more if he had been asked. He was coming off an impressive win in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and before that had taken the Grade III Phoenix at Keeneland, the Grade I King's Bishop at Saratoga and a pair of optional claimers at Indiana Grand and Ellis Park. His only loss in eight starts came in the Grade III LeComte at Fair Grounds when he had a rough trip in his only try around two turns. "He blows me away," said Stevens, who rode Runhappy for the first time. "He's an extremely special horse." Trainer Laura Wohlers said the colt will have a rest, then target the Met Mile. "We want to stretch him out and see how he does. After that, we'll see if he wants to go longer." She said Stevens reported Runhappy will, indeed, enjoy some added distance.
Gender Agenda stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes for fillies and mares on the Santa Anita greensward, then outfinished deep closer Stormy Lucy, winning by a neck over that rival. The favorite, Glory, led most of the way and finished third, just another nose back. Gender Agenda, a 4-year-old, British-bred daughter of Holy Roman Emperor, ran 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:50.29 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. It was her first stakes win. "I was afraid we were going to be too close to the lead," Bejarano said. "But when I saw the slow pace I knew we were okay. Out of the gate, I let the favorite go and tried to force her to the lead. I just put us second and followed them ... I think she wants to go a mile, or a mile and a sixteenth. I think this distance worked so well because of the slow pace."
Toowindytohaulrox won a six-horse cavalry charge to the wire in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Daytona Stakes down the hillside turf course, beating fellow long shot Coastline by a neck. Following in order, all within 1 length of the winner, were Rocket Heat, The Great War, Bench Warrant and Alert Bay. The favorite, No Silent, was another 1 1/2 lengths back in seventh. Toowindytohaulrox, a 4-year-old Harlan's Holiday colt, ran about 6 1/2 gravity-aided furlongs in 1:14.26 with Tiago Periera in the irons. Toowindytohaulrox has never finished worse than third in six trips down the hill but was stepping up in company just a bit. Phil D'Amato saddled the exacta, which returned $762.20 for a $1 investment. A winning $1 trifecta ticket returned $10,851.40 but there probably wasn't much of a line at the IRS window. D'Amato said he "wanted them to stay outside, 'Toowindy' especially. He likes to be in the clear. Anytime he's got to split horses, he doesn't like it as much. He likes to be running freely and Tiago bided his time back there, got him widest of all and came with a big run." He said the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, which returns to Santa Anita next fall, "is a possibility. I know he likes this trip, and he's just getting his confidence going."
Om tracked the early leader in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile for 3-year-olds, took over when asked by jockey Gary Stevens and won without much fuss, beating Perfectly Majestic by 1 3/4 lengths. Vigilante rallied from last to finish third. Om, a Munnings colt, finished in 1:35.57 over firm turf. It was his fourth win from his last five starts -- a skein broken by a third-place showing in the Grade I Hollywood Derby. "It just wasn't his day down there," Stevens said of the loss. "Today, everything went perfect. We were rolling into the turn, I got to slow it down and he got a nice breather. He hit the afterburners at the eighth pole. There was a horse coming to him and he still had something left and he gave it to me." Trainer Dan Hendricks said the future is bright for Om. "He's a very lightly raced horse. He's 3 years old, his joints are perfect, he's sound, he's happy and full of energy."
Birdatthewire was up at the wire, widest of all, in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, closing from last of nine to win by 1/2 length over pacesetting Hot City Girl. The favorite, Cavorting, finished third, denting her divisional Eclipse Award chances. Birdatthewire, a daughter of Summer Bird, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.31. Mike Smith rode for the first time and said trainer Dale Romans told him, "she likes to run out when she's making a run, 'So just let her.' So, as long as she kept catching them, I just kept letting her run to the outside. We were way past the middle of the racetrack but she just kept running. If I try to hold her, I think it just slows her down." It was her first win since the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks on March 28. After that, she was fifth in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks and got a vacation. She was fifth and then fourth in a pair of Grade II events at Churchill Downs last month.
Belvoir Bay surged to a big lead in the stretch in Sunday's $75,000 Blue Norther Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and easily held off the belated charge of the favorite, Family Meeting, winning by 7 1/4 lengths over that foe. Sweet Queen finished third. Belvoir Bay, a British-bred daughter of Equiano, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.15 with Flavien Pratt in the irons.
Charming Kitten moved to the lead at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III W.L. McKnight Handicap and dueled to the wire with a stubborn Kaigun before prevailing by a neck. Da Big Hoss finished third as the favorite. Charming Kitten, a 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, owned and bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.76 with Velazquez in the irons. The horse has been a consistent performer, finishing in the money in 16 of his 26 career starts. But the McKnight was his first graded stakes win. "He tries all the time," Velazquez said. "The last couple races he tried very hard and today he put it all together. It was another nice effort. I wanted to get him in nice position where he was comfortable. After that he was running well."
Goldy Espony led all the way to a 1 1/2-lengths victory in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III La Prevoyante Handicap for fillies and mares, finishing 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Maximova. Rosalind was only a neck farther back in third. Goldy Espony, a 4-year-old, French-bred filly by Vespone, ran 1 1/2 miles on the grass in 2:29.51 with Javier Castellano riding. "When she had the lead on the first turn, I thought she had the race locked up," Castellano said. "She dictated the pace. She was really comfortable on the lead, just galloping along. It was very impressive the way she ran today." Raced earlier in France and the northeastern United States, Goldy Espony was making her first start in Florida after winning the Grade III Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct on Nov. 7.
Best Behavior got first run to the lead in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Sugar Swirl Stakes for fillies and mares and easily held off the odds-on favorite, Stonetastic, winning by 2 lengths over that rival. You Bought Her was third at a big price. Best Behavior, a 5-year-old mare by Into Mischief, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.69 with John Velazquez up. She was coming off a second-place finish in the Grade III Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream two weeks earlier -- her first start since July.
Jewel of a Cat prevailed in a three-horse photo at the end of Sunday's $75,000 Windley Key Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by a neck over Tesalina and another neck from Catching Fireflies. Jewel of a Cat, a 5-year-old daughter of Wildcat Heir, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.34 seconds with Paco Lopez up.
Green Gratto quickly opened a big lead in Saturday's $100,000 Gravesend Stakes, zipped along at a nice clip and wasn't challenged, winning by 5 3/4 lengths from the favorite, Palace. Alex the Terror was third, followed by Jack N Elwood and Fabulous Kid. Green Gratto, a 5-year-old son of Here's Zealous, got 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:09.89 under Kendrick Carmouche. He was coming off a major upset win in the Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct, in which he also beat Palace as well as Salutos Amigos and La Verdad. "He seems to be getting better as he gets older," offered winning trainer Gaston Grant.
Extinct Charm stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Damon Runyan Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-olds, advanced around the turn to join a four-way battle to the wire and prevailed between rivals by a neck. E J's Legacy was second, a nose in front of Taoiseach, who, in turn, was a head in front of the odds-on favorite, Spooked Out. Gehrig made the early going and faded to finish fifth and last, another 10 1/2 lengths in arrears. Extinct Charm, an American Lion colt, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast inner track in 1:44.73 with Aaron Gryder up.
Absatootly made the lead under some pressure in Sunday's $100,000 East View Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies, then held on gamely to win by a nose over late-running Backwood Bay. B Three was third. Absatootly, a Mineshaft filly, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the good inner track in 1:44.50 with Kendrick Carmouche at the controls.
Sudden Surprise was the winner in Sunday's $150,000 Great White Way Division of the New York Stallion Stakes. But, as the odds-on favorite, the only surprise about it was the narrow margin of victory -- a diminishing 1/2 length over Dr. Shane. Bluegrass Prevails finished third. Sudden Surprise, a Giant Surprise colt, ran 6 furlongs on the good inner track in 1:11.38 with John Velazquez back from Florida to take the mount.
Fila Primera had to wait for running room in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000, off-the-turf Pago Hop Stakes for 3-year-old fillies but finally got daylight and went on to win by 1 length over Run Zippy Run. Southern Gem finished third and the favorite, Moon Medal, was a close fifth. Fila Primera, a War Front filly, got 1 mile on the muddy, sealed track in 1:39.67 with Jose Vadivia Jr. in the irons.
Only three faced the starter in Saturday's $60,000 Pan Zareta Stakes for fillies and mares and it was Thirteen Arrows all the way to a 4-lengths victory. House of Sole and Steel Cut completed the order of finish. Thirteen Arrows, a 4-year-old Indian Charlie filly, ran 6 furlongs on the muddy track in 1:10.67 with Mitchell Murrill up.
More than half the field scratched with Saturday's $75,000 Woodchopper Stakes for 3-year-olds came off the turf but Bullard's Alley didn't seem to mind the muddy track, coming along late to win by 3/4 length over pacesetting Oak Brook. Belomor finished third. Bullard's Alley, a Flower Alley gelding, ran 1 mile in 1:38.64 with Marcellino Pedroza riding.
Ravenheart took the lead late in Saturday's $50,000 Maryland Juvenile Championship for state-bred 2-year-olds and held off Flash McCaul in the final jumps, winning by a head. It's the Journey was third an the favorite, Showalter, stumbled at the start, rushed to contention and then faded, finishing last of nine. Ravenheart, a Dances With Ravens colt, ran 7 furlongs on a good track in 1:25.64 with Forest Boyce up.
Look Who's Talking shot to a big lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship for state-breds and held on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Lexington Street. Jump For Love finished third. Look Who's Talking, a daughter of Cape Blanco, covered 7 furlongs on a good track in 1:25.50 under Boyce.
Always Sunshine outfinished Majestic Hussar to win Saturday's $100,000 Dave's Friend Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths over that rival. Beach Hut finished third, 1 1/2 lengths in front of the favorite, Heaven's Runway. Always Sunshine, a 3-year-old colt by West Acre, finished 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:10.02 with Frankie Pennington in the irons.
Noteworthy Peach took charge in the final furlong of Saturday's $50,000 Jennings Handicap for Maryland-breds, winning off by 6 lengths. The favorite, Admirals War Chest, was second, a head in front of Any Court Inastorm. Noteworthy Peach, a 3-year-old gelding by Read the Footnotes, ran 1 mile on the good track in 1:37.41 with Jevian Toledo up.
Athena took Saturday's $100,000 Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 length over Bound as Paulassilverlining faded from the leadt to finish third. The favorite, Stroke Play, got home sixth. Athena, a 3-year-old Street Sense filly, toured 1 mile in 1:37.85 with Julian Pimentel riding.
Bryn's Fancy Pants collared Tilla Cat in the late going to take Saturday's $85,000 La Senora Stakes for New Mexico-bred 2-year-old fillies by 1 length over that one. Tipsy Tea finished another 9 1/4 lengths back in third. Bryn's Fancy Pants, a daughter of Southwestern Heat, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.26 with Alfredo Juarez Jr. riding.
Arizona Moon rallied from last of 10 to win Saturday's $35,000 Lost in the Fog Juvenile Stakes for 2-year-olds. Senator Robert led briefly and held on for second, 1 1/4 lengths back. Ready Intaglio was third. Arizona Moon, a Macho Uno colt out of the Malibu Moon mare Phoenician Moon, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:18.45 with Ronald Richard up.
Protective Shield kicked clear in the stretch run of Saturday's $35,000 Arizona Juvenile Fillies Stakes, winning by 7 lengths over Grindstone Shine. Union Girl finished third. Protective Shield, a Lookin at Lucky filly out of the Tiznow mare Usrah, finished in 1:19.13 for jockey Jorge Bourdieu.
Sunday's Group 1 Arima Kinen was the last race of Gold Ship's storied career. But it was Gold Actor who jumped up to post the upset win, defeating Sounds of Earth by a neck. Kitasan Black was third and Gold Ship, unable to make up enough ground into a slow pace, finished a respectable eighth, beaten less than 3 lengths. Most of the crowd of 127,281 stuck around Nakayama Racecourse to watch the retirement ceremony for Gold Ship. Meanwhile, Gold Actor, a 4-year-old Screen Hero colt, saved ground behind the early leaders, came out for room and hit the front with 50 meters left. Sounds of Earth fell just short with a late run. Gold Actor ran 1,500 meters over firm turf in 2:33.0 with Hayato Yoshida in the irons. The win extended his winning streak to four as he picked up his first victory at the highest level. "It was my first time riding this colt at Nakayama but I knew that this course would suit him," Yoshida said, "and having picked a good draw, I was able to ride him as I had imagined."
Caointiorn rallied from last to win Sunday's Prix Miss Satamixa at Deauville, a "Fast-Track Qualifier" for the British All-Weather Championship finals next spring. The 4-year-old Stormy Weather filly, with Theo Bachelot up, charged down the outside to take the point inside the final furlong and outfinished Sea Front by 1 3/4 lengths. The favorite, Ameenah, finished third. Pack Together, owned by Her Majesty the Queen, put in a bold bid but then faded to finish 11th.