California Chrome dominated the Dubai World Cup, and Gun Runner was impressive in the biggest Kentucky Derby prep of a jam-packed Thoroughbred racing weekend.
The World Cup performance was the more dramatic by far, if only because jockey Victor Espinoza found himself riding from "the rumble seat" when California Chrome's saddle slipped two jumps into the race -- as he was working to overcome a disadvantageous post position.
Other weekend action included two legs of the Global Sprint challenge and the All-Weather Championship Finals at Lingfield in England. Course records were set from Dubai to Louisiana to Japan.
Let's start with the World Cup, move on to the Louisiana Derby and then the rest of the racing from Dubai to Australia to Japan to New York.
The World Cup
There's not much left for California Chrome to accomplish after that super-impressive victory in Saturday's $10 million Dubai World Cup, right? Oh, wait. The Pacific Classic, the Breeders' Cup Classic and the all-time world earning mark are still on the to-do list. Trainer Art Sherman said there will be no repeat of last year's conflicted decision to take California Chrome to Royal Ascot after he finished second in the 2015 World Cup, or to try the grass again in the Arlington Million. It's back to California for two more starts, Sherman and the new ownership group confirmed after their horse overcame every obstacle in his path to win the Meydan centerpiece.
Frank Taylor of Taylor Made, the stallion station that bought into California Chrome amid last year's disappointments, made it clear the goals for 2016 are well defined.
"When we initially bought in, we weren't sure he was going to run again," Taylor said in the Meydan interview room after the race.
Perry Martin, a continuing owner, set the earnings goal.
"We have Phase I of the plan complete," he said. "I believe there's three Japanese horses in front of us to go for the world record and we're hoping to hop over them by the end of the year."
That seems a lofty goal, given the gigantic purses in Japan. But it's no less likely than California Chrome's victory Saturday in the desert.
First, he was stuck with the No. 11 gate, one from the outside, on a track that has been favoring the inside all season. Then, as jockey Victor Espinoza gunned him out of the gate to try to establish position, his saddle slipped. And then it slipped some more. He did get a comfortable spot by the first turn, four wide and near the lead. But Espinoza was hanging on as much as riding.
"Basically, the girth is slipped all the way back and I was really trying not to move my body, just to sit there still and lean forward a little bit because if I move a little back, I might go out of balance and that would not be pretty," said Espinoza. "I was not really concerned about it. I was just looking forward, 'Where's the wire?'"
Sherman said he wasn't aware how serious the situation was until Espinoza pulled up after winning the race. "And I said, 'Well, that thing is back in the rumble seat.'
Despite all the obstacles, California Chrome surged to the lead heading down the stretch and drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths in track-record time of 2:01.83. Mubtaahij was second and Hoppertunity finished third. The rest of the order of finish read: Special Fighter, Frosted, Mshawish, Candy Boy, Keen Ice, Kokko Tarume, Teletext, Vadamos and Gun Pit.
Back to Dubai shortly but, first ...
The Road to the Roses
Gun Runner saved all the ground running in third through most of Saturday's $1 million, Grade II TwinSpires Louisiana Derby, surged to the lead turning for home and drew off smartly to win by 4 1/2 lengths over long shot Tom's Ready. Dazzling Gem was third and the favorite, Mo Tom, finished fourth after being stopped cold twice while trying to find a path in the stretch run. Gun Runner, a Candy Ride colt, completed 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:51.06 with Florent Geroux at the controls for trainer Steve Asmussen. He now is 4-for-5, including a victory in the Grade II Risen Star in preparation for Saturday's race. His only loss came in the slop at Churchill Downs in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club. There, he was fourth, behind Airoforce, Mor Spirit and Mo Tom.
"He is so easy to manage and has so many gears," Geroux said. "He settles really nicely and when you ask him to go he has a nice turn of foot."
Asmussen said Gun Runner is "very talented" and added the Kentucky Derby "is what we're all dreaming about."
Kentucky Oaks Preps
Land Over Sea came from well back in the field to take Saturday's $400,000, Grade II TwinSpires Fair Grounds Oaks by 4 1/2 lengths. Dream Dance was a long shot second, a neck in front of Adore. Land Over Sea, a daughter of Belamy Road, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.74 with John Velazquez riding. After watching her run second to Songbird in three of her last four starts in California, trainer Doug O'Neill opted for the easier spot in the Big Easy.
"I loved where she was all the way around," O'Neill said. "It did look like Adore wasn't going to give up the lead, so I got a little worried for a second that we were going to run second again to a nice filly. Johnny kept after her and Land Over Sea loved the long stretch and really took advantage of it."
Now, back overseas:
It was a good night for internationalism, always valued by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and the driving force behind the World Cup. Japanese horses won two races. Local training sensation Doug Watson won his first World Cup night race in a big way. France and Australia each had a winner. Hong Kong had a rough night with only a single third-place showing from a contingent that promised much more. Here's how things went:
$1 million, Group 2 Godolphin Mile
One Man Band was a one-horse show in the day's Thoroughbred opener, jumping right to the lead from gate No. 1, never challenged and 4 3/4 lengths ahead at the end. Faulkner did rally to finish second, a nose in front of Cool Cowboy, giving trainer Doug Watson a 1-2-3 finish, including his first-ever victory on World Cup night. Marking raced prominently early but could not sustain a challenge, finishing fourth.
"I knew there was only one way to go with One Man Band," Watson said. "He gets out there in front and he gets a big heart."
Watson, who was an ambulance driver at his first World Cup, was the leading trainer during this year's World Cup Carnival.
Jockey Sam Hitchcott said the start was the thing.
"His most awkward part in a race is usually jumping from the stalls but he was brilliant today," the rider said.
One Man Band, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred horse by Pivotal, finished in 1:35.21 over the fast Meydan dirt strip. He finished the meeting with five wins from seven starts.
$1 million, Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup
Going into World Cup week, French-based Vazirabad was one of the favorites of the evening. Then stories began to circulate that he had not shipped well and perhaps could be discounted.
As is often the case at the track, the "inside information" was suspect at best and jockey Christophe Soumillon guided the 4-year-old colt to victory, getting home a neck in front of English runner Big Orange. Vazirabad, breaking from the inside post, took up station well near the back of the 11-horse field, moved up on the outside entering the stretch and ran down Big Orange in the final 100 meters. Haafaguinea finished third.
Vazirabad, owned by The Aga Khan and trained by Alain De Royer-Depree, finished 3,200 meters or about 2 miles, on firm turf in 3:19.56. It was his sixth straight win, including his last five starts in 2015, in his first start of 2016 and his first outside France.
$2 million, Group 2 UAE Derby
Lani, an American-bred Tapit colt trained and raced in Japan, held on in the final yards to defeat the favorite, Polar River, in Dubai's top 3-year-old race.
Twice a winner in Japan last year, Lani, with Yutaka Take up, stumbled slightly at the start and raced well back of his half-dozen rivals. Down the backstretch, Take moved him up to challenge on the outside and he was with the leaders turning for home as another Japanese runner, Yu Change, took the lead. In a steady drive, Lani prevailed by 3/4 length.
"I'd like to go to Kentucky (for the Derby)," Take said.
Polar River, an American-bred Congrats filly handled by Watson, meanwhile, was boxed in during the early stages of the race, lost position as the winner shifted in at the top of the lane and was gaining at the end.
"She was tight for room at a critical point after the turn-in," Watson said in something of an understatement. "But going forward, she's going to be a superb filly as she matures."
Yu Change held on for third and Vale Dori was third. The 1,900 meters, or about 9 1/2 furlongs, went in 1:58.41.
$1 million, Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint
Buffering, an 8-year-old gelding from Australia, found enough stuffing late to win the night's cavalry charge, a 1,000-meters sprint down the straight.
With Damian Browne up for trainer Robert Heathcote, Buffering was always prominent in the closely run sprint and edged clear only in the final yards. Ertijaal put in a late run to take second away from Hong Kong runner, Peniaphobia. Buffering finished in 56.34 seconds over firm going.
"He broke really well," Browne said. "To be honest, beforehand I was more worried about the first 200 meters, thinking some of the others might have been a bit too quick for him. Once we were able to travel, I was pretty confident we were going to win."
The Mossman gelding has had his ups and downs Down Under lately. And in his previous overseas foray, he finished sixth in the 2014 Longines Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin in Hong Kong.
Lady Shipman, who finished a close second to Mongolian Saturday in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last fall, finished seventh Saturday. Mongolian Saturday was to have run but shipped poorly and was scratched days before the race.
$2 million, Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen
Muarrab hooked up with American speedster X Y Jet in a dramatic stretch drive and edged by that rival in the final 50 meters to win by a neck. Morawij finished third in 1 1,200-meters dash around one turn on the dirt course, timed in 1:10.59.
X Y Jet, riding a long winning streak in the United States, blasted right to the lead and appeared headed to victory on a track that has rewarded front-runners throughout the season. But Muarrab, owned by Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum and trained by Musabah Al Muhairi, kept coming and was just in front when it counted.
"They went hard and it suited him to sit," said winning rider Paul Hanagan. "The other horse was very hard to pass."
The winner came to the race off a win in the Group 3 Mahab al Shimaal earlier in the month.
X Y Jet rider Emisael Jaramillo said, "I got beaten fair and square. But he's run his heart out. There was no let up from the go and there was no chance to get a breather into him."
Kifaah fell on the turn. The Dubai Racing Club, always tight with information about mishaps, said he was "taken straight to hospital."
The race was the second leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, which offers a $1 million bonus for a horse winning three of the 10 races in three different racing jurisdictions.
$6 million Dubai Turf
Real Steel rallied to the lead in deep stretch and held on to win by 1/2 length over Euro Charline with Tryster third.
Real Steel, a 4-year-old colt from Japan, covered 1,800 meters on the turf in 1:47.13 under Ryan Moore, gobbling up ground through the stretch to take the front, then holding off Euro Charline. Tryster won a tight, four-way battle for third.
Real Steel, a Deep Impact colt, was winning for only the second time in his brief career. He finished third, behind Duramente, in the Grade II Nakayama Kinen in his last start and was second last year to that same rival in the Japanese 2,000 Guineas.
"It was a big effort from the horse," said winning rider Ryan Moore. "He had a tough trip and he was out wide but he has toughed it out. He never runs a bad race. He's a very brave horse and has had to do it the hard way."
$6 million Dubai Sheema Classic
Postponed put off his big run until the field hit the stretch in the night's penultimate race, reeled in pace-setting Highland Reel and shook clear to win by 2 lengths. Duramente, who had shoeing problems before the race and ran without his left front plate, and Last Impact scored the minor awards for the Japanese contingent.
Postponed, a 5-year-old son of Dubawi, ran 2,410 meters or about 1 1/2 miles in a course-record time of 2:26.97 with Andrea Atzeni up for trainer Roger Varian. The winner, owned by Sheik Mohammed bin Obaid al Maktoum, won for the third straight time. Last year, he took down the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July after finishing third in the Gold Cup at the Curragh and again in the Group 2 Hardwick Stakes at Royal Ascot.
"It was very straightforward," said winning rider Andrea Atzeni. "He traveled brilliantly and was in a nice position all the way."
Mirco Demuro, who rode Duramente, said it was "unfortunate that he ripped a show off before the race and then they could not re-plate him. He wasn't comfortable on that firm ground with only three shoes."
Big Arthur rallied widest of all down the stretch to win Sunday's Grade 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen by 3/4 length from Mikki Isle. Albiano was third.
Big Arthur, a 5-year-old son of Sakura Bakushin O, ran 1,200 meters on the left-handed Chukyo turf course in a course-record time of 1:06.7 with Yuichi Fukunaga in the irons. It was the first Grade I victory for Big Arthur and came in the third leg of the Global Sprint Challenge.
"With the fast-pace track condition, we were able to break well and travel smoothly in perfect condition," Fukunaga said. "The frontrunners were persistent but my mount managed to fend them off. The horse has the form of a great sprinter and can also maintain speed. He will definitely be leading the sprinters going forward."
Grendisar was a grand star in this season's All-Weather Championships, following up wins in the Winter Derby Trial and the Winter Derby itself with an emphatic victory in Friday's Coral Easter Classic, the jewel of the AWC Finals Day. The Good Friday finals played to a record crowd of 10,106.
The 6-year-old, who finished third in the final last year, made a late move under confident rider Adam Kirby, caught pacesetting Metropol and went on to win by 1 length. Fire Fighting edged Metropol for third. Grendisar was named All-Weather Horse of the Year.
"He enjoys it around Lingfield and a mile and a quarter is his best trip," said winning trainer Marco Botti. "This year has been his best yet with all the big races he has won. He started off rated 64, but we found the key to him, which is the surface. Unfortunately, he is not so good on turf but that is not a problem with all the good prize money on the All-Weather now. The plan is to put him away over the summer and bring him back next year as a 7-year-old."
Sea Of Flames caught pacesetting Race Day in the late going to take the 32Red All-Weather 3-year-old Mile under Silvestre De Sousa. The Aqlaam gelding, trained by David Elsworth, improved on a troubled trip earlier in the season, winning for the third time at Lingfield.
"He should translate this form to turf," said traveling head lad David Elsworth. "But the jockey said he could stay a bit further, too, maybe a mile and a quarter. He's a nice horse to look forward to this year."
Wolowitz won a five-way charge to the wire to take the Unibet 3-year-old Sprint All Weather Championship as a neck separated each of the first five finishers. The favorite, Gracious John, stumbled at the start and finished sixth.
Wolowitz, a gelded son of Intense Focus, scored his fourth straight win. But he was a May 26 foal and his connections are looking for improvement as he catches up with his older peers.
"He's a nice horse, going the right way," said jockey Graham Gibbons.
Captain Joy, who nearly succumbed to colic in September, showed he is back at his best with a well-timed victory in the Ladbrokes All-Weather Mile, scoring by 1/2 length over Sovereign Debt. Irish trainer Tracey Collins qualified Captain Joy for the finals with an early-season win at Dundalk, admitting he was only about 80 percent fit, then rested him for the final, where he finished third last year.
"We will definitely be back next winter," Collins said. "His best is definitely on the All-Weather but he has run into some very high-class horses on the grass."
Pat Smullen had the winning ride.
Moonrise stuck a perfect landing in the 32Red All-Weather Marathon, snatching victory by 1/2 length from Godolphin's Anglophile. It was the fourth straight win for the 5-year-old Dalakhani mare, owned by her breeder, Peter Savill.
Moonrise Landing is trained by Ralph Beckett who commented: "She was just too good for them," said winning trainer Ralph Beckett. "But in a way we sort of got away with it today. I don't think the track really suits her. She's probably better on a flat track and a more galloping track. As you saw she took a long time to pick up as well. There's a bit to come and we look forward to getting her on the turf now, in those long-distance Group races."
Alben Star was an easy winner in the Unibet All-Weather Sprint, scoring by 2 1/4 lengths from Lancelot Du Luc and reprising his victory in the inaugural running of this race two years ago. He finished second in last year's edition.
"Alben Star really likes it here," said winning rider David Nolan, "and, on the big day when they go a strong pace, it seems to suit him down to the ground."
The 8-year-old is trained by Richard Fahey.
"This is his target from one year to the next, and will be his target again next year if we can keep him in one piece," said owner Ken Shannon.
Volunteer Point had the best late run in the 32Red.com All-Weather Fillies and Mares Championships, scoring by 2 1/4 lengths over Bint Dandy.
Graham Gibbons, the winning rider, said Volunteer Point "is a good filly and seems to be improving with every run. She makes everything easy for you."
"It is great to win such a good race and what a crowd," said trainer Mick Channon. "Graham said that she travelled a dream and he just needed that break up the rail which he got. ... He thinks she has improved again. She wasn't an early 2-year-old but never stopped improving at the end of last year and I kept on wanting to give her a break during the winter but these races kept coming up and we were greedy. But she has done it for us."
Flamberge posted a narrow upset victory in Thursday's Group 1 William Reid Stakes at Moonee Valley, edging Hollar and Japonisme at the wire. The favorite, Lucky Hussler, finished ninth, more than 3 lengths in arrears. Flamberge, a 6-year-old Exceed and Excel gelding, ran 1,200 meters in 1:09.85 with Brad Rawiller up for trainer Peter Moody.
"We had a great run today," Rawiller said. "Holler was never going to be too easy to get past but that's the fight in this bloke, he was able to get there when it mattered." The win backed up Flamberge's victory in February at Caulfield in the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Filly & Mare Sprint
Lost Raven led from start to finish in Saturday's $125,000 Cicada Stakes for fillies and mares over the Aqueduct inner track. The heavy favorite, Constellation, gave chase early but then faded to finish last of four, taking some major bridge-jumper money down with her.
Takrees was second and Anydayismyday made it a bad day for the plungers, who had bet heavily on Constellation to place in a race with no show betting. As a result, Lost Raven paid $21.80 to win and $50.50 to place. Takrees returned $36 for a $2 place ticket. Lost Raven, a daughter of Uncle Mo, won her first two starts last year but had not won since. Constellation had won two straight stakes at the Big A.
Lady Sabelia stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Primonetta Stakes at Laurel Park, came three-wide to challenge on the turn and won by 1/2 length over a stubborn Disco Chick. Love Come to Town finished third but was set down to fourth by the stewards, leaving Sweet On Smokey to pocket show money.
Lady Sebelia, a 6-year-old Majestic Warrior mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.84 with Horacio Karamanos up. She was coming off a third-place finish in the Grade II Barbara Fritchie at 7 furlongs over the same track.
Take the Stand took the lead right out of the gate in Saturday's $300,000, Grade II Muniz Memorial at Fair Grounds and wasn't caught, winning off by 1 1/4 lengths over World Approval. Closing Bell was third and the favorite, Chocolate Ride, got home fourth.
Take the Stand, a 5-year-old Argentine-bred, ran about 9 furlongs on firm going in course-record time of 1:47.80 under Edgar Prado.
Filly & Mare Turf
Tuttipaesi trailed the field early in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Santa Ana Stakes at Santa Anita, boldly slipped through between rivals deep in the stretch run and was just up to beat Glory by a neck. Fresh Feline was in the mix until the final yards and held third.
Tuttipaesi, a 6-year-old, Irish-bred mare owned by Valor Ladies, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.82 with Christopher DeCarlo at the controls – his first-ever ride at Santa Anita.
Riley Mott, son of winning trainer Bill Mott, said DeCarlo "did a good job. She was in tight turning for home but was pretty valiant. I wasn't sure until 100 yards from the line, when she got out. I know she's game. She showed it in her previous races. This was a pretty special win."
Tuttipaesi also was entered Saturday at Fair Grounds.
"It seems like we made the right decision," Mott said.
S'maverlous, at 20-1 odds, scored a 2-lengths victory in Saturday's $400,000, Grade II New Orleans Handicap. Jessica's Star finished second but was disqualified all the way down to fifth for interference. That left International Star second and the favorite, Eagle, third on the official order of finish. S'maverlous, a 6-year-old Tiz Wonderful gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.06 with Jose Lezcano up.
In other action:
Classy Bird could see all 11 rivals just after the start in Saturday's $75,000 Crescent City Derby for state-breds, gained ground outside rivals turning for home and was along in time to post a 1-length victory over Extra Credit. Ekati Warrior finished third. Classy Bird, a Birdstone colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in a rather glacial 1:46.33 under jockey Francisco Torres.
Our Lady Allie led all the way in Saturday's $75,000 Crescent City Oaks for state-breds and kicked away late to win by 4 1/2 lengths over the late-running favorite, Jet Black Magic. Sunny Oak was third. Our Lady Allie, a daughter of Private Vow, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:44.20 with James Graham up.
Sunbean rallied from a pace-stalking position to post a popular, 1 1/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $60,000 Star Guitar Stakes for state-breds. Hopeful Nation was second, 3 lengths to the good of One Man's King. Sunbean, a 6-year-old Brahms gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.93 with Richard Eramia riding.
Jockamo's Song raced just behind the pace in Saturday's $60,000 Costa Rising Stakes for state-breds, took the lead in the final sixteenth and held off Eden Grey's Kitten by 1/2 length at the end. Brilliant Interest finished third. Jockamo's Song, a 4-year-old Half Ours gelding, ran about 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.19 under Mitchell Murrill.
Will Munnings pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Gazebo Stakes for 3-year-olds, shot to a clear lead in the lane and coasted home first by 1 3/4 lengths. Entertainer was second and Force It rallied to finish third. Will Munnings, a Munnings colt, covered 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.92 with Jon Court riding.
Sheer Pleasure traveled just back of the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Dream of Summer Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares, advanced between rivals in the stretch run and was up to win by a half-length over Kiss at Midnight. Swissarella finished third. Sheer Pleasure, a 4-year-old Birdonthewire filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.83 with Martin Garcia up.
Giant Run led from the start in Saturday's $75,000 Cutler Bay Stakes for 3-year-olds and edged away in the stretch to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Highland Sky and Abbott completed the trifecta. Giant Run, a Giant's Causeway colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.74 with Joe Bravo riding.
Harmonize was bumped at the break, hit the rail at the 7/8th pole and still managed to get up in the final yards to win Saturday's $75,000 Sanibel Island Handicap for 3-year-old fillies by 3/4 length. Rontos Lily finished second but was set down to seventh for interference. That promoted Shake Down Baby to second and the favorite, Lira, to show money. Harmonize, a Scat Daddy filly, ran 1 mile on the grass in 1:34.68 for jockey Junior Alvarado.
Barefoot Gypsy showed the way in Saturday's $75,000 Southern Park Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-old fillies, then just did hang on to win by a neck over Heavenly Mine and another neck from Fast Justice. The odds-on favorite, Touch of Bling, faded badly to finish ninth. Barefoot Gypsy, a daughter of Daaher, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.55 with Albin Jimenez up.