Nyquist vanquished his primary Kentucky Derby rival -- and others -- in Saturday's Florida Derby and Oscar Nominated, despite not being Triple Crown nominated, could get to the Run for the Roses after a victory in the Spiral Stakes.
It was, in other words, an interesting week on the Kentucky Derby trail.
Overseas, a couple Australians qualified for the Breeders' Cup -- as well as local glory -- at Royal Randwick. Abashiri kept his Triple Crown hopes alive in South Africa. And Hong Kong's Sunday card showcased some local hopefuls for the upcoming international Group 1 races at Sha Tin.
The full story is upcoming, right here:
The Road to the Roses
Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Xpressbet.com Florida Derby was billed as a showdown between 2-year-old champ Nyquist and the best of the east, Mohaymen. Both came to the race undefeated and near the top of most Kentucky Derby favorite lists. And as they rounded the stretch turn, it appeared those two would hook up in a classic duel with Mohaymen closing ground on pacesetting Nyquist. But Mohaymen could not maintain his momentum and Nyquist just kept going.
At the end, Nyquist was first, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Majesto and another length in front of Fellowship. Mohaymen chugged in fourth as the odds-on favorite. Nyquist, an Uncle Mo colt, finished 9 furlongs on a good track in 1:49.11 under Mario Gutierrez and certainly didn't look like he'd have any trouble going an additional furlong on the first Saturday in May.
Nyquist opened his 3-year-old campaign with a victory in the Grade II San Vicente at Santa Anita and earned a $1 million bonus over and above Saturday's purse thanks to an offer from Fasig-Tipton for any product of their Florida sale winning the Florida Derby.
"We had this plan from after the Breeders' Cup of what we wanted to do and it's all unfolding perfectly," said winning trainer Doug O'Neill. O'Neill said Sunday morning Nyquist was on his way back to California to continue training for the Kentucky Derby.
"Talking to the crew, he looks great and he ate up well," he said. Mohaymen's trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, said Sunday morning, "He's never been beat and we thought he was invincible going in so, yeah, we're a little down about the result and thought he could overcome everything. But we're moving forward. We're happy that he's happy this morning and we can move forward to the Kentucky Derby."
Oscar Nominated has been an afterthought for owner Ken Ramsey in terms of the Kentucky Derby. But the Kitten's Joy colt came to the front of mind on Saturday at Turfway Park as he rallied from mid-pack to win a desperate scramble to the wire in the $500,000, Grade III Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes. With Brian Hernandez Jr. timing it just right, Oscar Nominated was best by a neck. Azar was another neck in front of Surgical Strike, who had a neck on Two Step Time. Ralis was only a nose farther back in fifth. The winner took 1:51.12 to run 9 furlongs on the all-weather course and earn 50 Kentucky Derby points. He previously had run only on the turf. Ramsey, never shy about his horses, shrugged off the fact that his colt may be Oscar Nominated but he's not Triple Crown nominated, requiring a supplemental fee to run in the Kentucky Derby.
"He'll be in the Derby if he comes out of the race well," said Ramsey. "If someone wants to pay the $200,000 supplemental fee, we'll split whatever I earn out of his next three races and he'll go in the Preakness and the Belmont assuming everything is okay. I'm pretty optimistic about him."
Ramsey really does not need help scraping up the supplemental fee.
Lani, the Kentucky-bred, Japanese-based Group II UAE Derby winner, arrived at Churchill Downs Sunday in preparation for the Run for the Roses. The Tapit colt has three wins from six starts and would be the second Japanese runner in the Kentucky Derby. The first, Ski Captain, finished 14th in 1995 under Yutaka Take, who also is the regular rider of Lani.
Trainer Dale Romans took a chance entering the lightly raced Go Maggie Go in Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks and things worked out just fine. After shadowing the pace, Go Maggie Go took charge when called on by jockey Luis Saez and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Paola Queen showed the way and held on for second, 1/2 length better than the favorite, Off the Tracks, who was unable to find the needed late punch. Go Maggie Go, a Ghostzapper filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:43.74, winning for the second time in as many starts.
"She had one start, sprinting, so going two turns the first time you would expect to be close to the pace," Romans said. "Anytime you have speed on this racetrack, speed is dangerous."
He said he assumes Go Maggie Go will go to the Kentucky Oaks.
Wonderment led from the start in Saturday's $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park and drew off late, winning by 3 3/4 lengths over Inconclusive. The favorite, Marquee Miss, lost second in the final jumps. Wonderment, a New York-bred daughter of Cosmonaut, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:39.04 with Cornelio Velazquez up for trainer Kenny McPeek. She now has three wins from four starts. The two earlier victories came on the dirt at Belmont Park.
Valid dueled his way to the lead in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Skip Away Stakes at Gulfstream Park, then drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Team Colors was second and Enders Cat finished third. Valid, a 6-year-old Medaglia d'Oro gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:48.42 with Nik Juarez in the irons. Earlier in the season, Valid was second in the Grade I Donn Handicap and third in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap. He has missed a top-three finish only nine times in 37 starts but the Donn effort was as close as he has come to a Grade I victory.
"He's a great horse, shows up every time," said winning trainer Marcus Vitali. "I loved when it was raining out today. Boosted my confidence immensely. He loves the wet, a little cool breeze, and everything went his way today. No trouble and a fair fight, and we won the fight."
Big John B came from last of seven to take the lead at mid-stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Tokyo City Cup at Santa Anita and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Class Leader and Blingo filled out the trifecta. Big John B, a 7-year-old Hard Spun gelding owned by Michael House and trained by Phil D'Amato, ran 1 1/2 miles on a fast track in 2:28.79 with Rafael Bejarano up.
"We got a little nervous around the far turn," House said. "He tried to go inside and got totally stopped and then it looked like he had to wait. But when 'Big John' got to the outside, I felt a whole lot better. We'll take a look at the Turf Festival up at Golden Gate if they've got something long enough for him."
Kaigun bided his time in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Pan American Stakes at Gulfstream Park, swung out for running room late and was up in time to win by a head over fellow late-runner Wake Forest. Grand Tito led in the lane but was only able to salvage show money. Kaigun, a 6-year-old Northern Afleet gelding, negotiated 1 1/2 miles of good turf in 2:29.20. The win was his first since the Grade II Seabiscut Handicap at Del Mar in November of 2014 and snapped a string of four straight runner-up finishes. Assistant trainer Norm Casse credited jockey Joe Bravo.
"I think letting Joe ride him over and over, keeping a regular rider on him, has helped him. Joe said he's learned a lot about him and a lot of times that can make a big difference. He rode a great race and it was very rewarding to have a horse like him win again."
Filly & Mare Turf
Photo Call had them all the way in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Orchid Stakes at Gulfstream Park, turning back a challenge midway through and getting there first by 3/4 length over Songoficeandfire. Achnaha was third. Photo Call, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Galileo out of a Rock of Gibraltar mare, ran 11 furlongs on good turf in 2:16.38 with Javier Castellano in the irons.
Reporting Star tracked pacesetting favorite Force the Pass through the early furlongs of Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Appleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park, then out finished Divisidero, winning by 1/2 length from that rival and another head from Force the Pass. With Luis Saez up, the 6-year-old Circular Quay gelding ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:35.52.
"It was a big field and I wanted to get him in a good spot," Saez said. "After a half mile, he was pulling but I kept waiting a little bit. As soon as we got to the stretch, I let him go. In the stretch I thought the 7 (Force the Pass) would be a little closer to me, but he kept responding when we got to the wire."
Celestine flew out of the inside gate in Saturday's $300,000, Grade II Honey Fox Stakes for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park, survived a challenge from Mississippi Delta and kicked clear, winning by 3 1/4 lengths over that rival. Sandiva finished third and the favorite, Lady Lara, was never involved and finished next-last of seven. Celestine, a 4-year-old Scat Daddy filly, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:36.09 with Junior Alvarado up for trainer Bill Mott.
"She was the speed of the race," Alvarado said. "Bill left it up to me, but I was pretty confident in her. I could take back if someone went. She was just cruising out there. I thought they would need six legs if they wanted to pass her in the stretch. I was just a passenger."
Also, see the Australia section below.
Guns Loaded stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III San Simeon Stakes down the Santa Anita hillside course, took over after crossing the main track and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Cape Wolfe was up for second, 1/2 length ahead of No Silent. Guns Loaded, a 5-year-old D'Wildcat gelding, finished about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:13.33 with Rafael Bejarano up.
Also, see the Australia section below.
Grande Shores stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park, surged to a big lead in the stretch run and held on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Squadron A. Brothersofthetime was third, 6 3/4 lengths farther back. Grande Shores, an 8-year-old, entire son of Black Mambo, ran 7 furlongs on a track upgraded to good in 1:22.96 under Edgard Zayas.
Chautauqua returned to his winning ways in Saturday's Group 1 Darley T J Smith Stakes at Royal Randwick on the first day of The Championships, rallying late to beat Fell Swoop by 1 1/2 lengths with English a short head farther back in third. Chautauqua, a striking grey, 5-year-old gelding by Encosta De Lago, ran 1,200 meters on turf rated soft under Tommy Berry in 1:10.10. He was bouncing back from a disappointing third-place showing in the Group 1 Newmarket at Flemington in his previous start. The victory qualified Chautauqua for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint this fall at Santa Anita.
Winx, last year's Cox Plate winner, romped home a 2-lengths winner in the Group 1 The Star Doncaster Mile. Happy Clapper beat the others with Azkadellia third. Winx, a 4-year-old Street Cry mare out of Vegas Showgirl, got 1,600 meters in 1:35.27. The Breeders' Cup Challenge race qualified Winx for this fall's Breeders' Cup Mile.
Berry also booted home Tavago to a big upset win in Saturday's Group 1 Australian Derby, finishing nearly 3 1/2 length in front. Jameka was second, Tally third and the favorite, Tarzino, settled for fourth. Tavago, a Tavistock gelding trained by Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young, ran 2,400 meters on the soft going in 2:33.67. The win was only his second and followed a sixth-place showing in the Group 1 New Zealand Derby in his last outing.
Yankee Rose, with Zac Purton up, justified his favorite's role in the Group 1 Inglis Sires' Stakes, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Telperion. Faraway Town was third at a big price. Yankee Rose, an All American filly, finished 1,400 meters on soft turf in 1:24.38 with Hugh Bowman up for trainer Chris Waller. She went one up on her second-place finish in the Golden Slipper last month.
Beauty Only got through between rivals turning for home in Sunday's HK Group 2 Chairman's Trophy, worked his way to the lead with 200 meters left and shook away to win by 1 1/4 lengths from Rewarding Hero.
"He's a genuine Group 1 horse," said winning trainer Tony Cruz. "I've believed that from day one and this win gives me confidence for the Champions Mile."
That May 1 event is open to international competition and will be a true test of the 5-year-old Holy Roman Emperor gelding's ability. With Neil Callan up, Beauty Only covered the 1,600 meters on firm going in 1:33.22. Beauty Only carried 123 pounds, 5 pounds less than Designs On Rome who finished fourth while prepping for the Group 1 Audemars Piguet QE II Cup on April 24. Secret Weapon was fourth and the favorite, Contentment, got home fifth.
Lucky Bubbles bubbled to the front inside the 300-meters mark in Sunday's HK Group 2 Sprint Cup at Sha Tin and quickly was well in front of the field. With 50 meters to go, Breett Prebble was up in the irons celebrating, 2 length in front of his closest rival, Amazing Kids. Packing Pins plugged on for third.
"That was awesome," Prebble said. "When I set him down he just lengthened so much further than I'd felt him do for a long time. For a little horse he just covers so much ground."
The victory puts him in the mix for the Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize on May 1 against international competition in a leg of the Global Sprint Challenge. Prize, so that should be ideal.
"He has lived up to our expectations all along and hopefully he can win the Chairman's Sprint Prize," said winning trainer Francis Lui. "It will be a tough test but I hope he can further improve and prove to be a Group 1 sprinter going forward."
Abashiri dominated in the stretch run of Saturday's Group 1 SA Classic at Turffontein, surging to the lead with some 400 meters to run and taking the second leg of the South African Triple Crown by 3 3/4 lengths. Brazuca was next-best and Samurai Blade third.
"This tops the cake. He made it look like an ordinary race," said jockey Karl Zechner.
Trainer Mike Azzie now has Abashiri poised for a Triple Crown bid after Saturday's win and his earlier victory in the Gauteng Guineas.
Legal Eagle led through the early stages of Saturday's Group 1 HF Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes at Turffontein, surrendered the lead to New Predator some 400 meters out, then reeled that rival back in and swept on to a 3 1/2-lengths win over Captain America. New Predator held on for third, a neck farther back. Jockey Sean Tarry said he was happy to give up the lead. "I knew it would keep my boy interested."
Juxtapose, at long odds, won the SA Fillies Classic, denying Gauteng Fillies Guineas winner Heaps Of Fun a chance at the Fillies Triple Crown.
Seeking Angels set a pressured pace in Saturday's $100,000 Rainbow Miss Stakes for Arkansas-bred 3-year-old fillies, then kicked away late, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. Avisionofchocolate was second and Aunt Gayle finished third. Seeking Angels, a Bob and John filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.17 with Walter De La Cruz in the irons.
Maize Road rallied from mid-field to take Sunday's $100,000 Rainbow Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds by 3 1/2 lengths over Carson's Suspect with Mr Ark a long shot third. Maize Road, an Afleet Alex gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.04 under Alex Cancheri.
Weast Hill battled for the lead in Friday's $100,000 Arkansas Breeders' Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds and up, got clear and went on to win by 4 lengths. Mallard's Bro was second and Meanbone finished third. Weast Hill, a 4-year-old Rockport Harbor gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.06 with Joe Rocco Jr. up.
He'll Pay rallied from well back to take Saturday's $100,000 Rushaway Stakes for 3-year-olds by 1 1/2 lengths over Virtual Machine. Rated R Superstar was third and the favorite, Gimlet, finished fourth after a traffic incident at the quarter pole. He'll Pay, a Haynesfield colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.29 with Mitchell Murrill up.