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UPI Horse Racing Roundup

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
UPI Horse Racing Roundup
Stanford led all the way to win Saturday's $1.25 million Charles Town Classic in West Virginia. Charles Town photo

Stanford and Werther, half a world apart, emerged into stardom during the weekend as thoroughbred racing stormed into its peak season.

Werther, the reigning BMW Hong Kong Derby champ, was a surprisingly dominant victor in Sunday's Group 1 Audemars Piguet QE II Cup at Sha Tin -- a race billed as the strongest in the history of that event. Local horses, nonetheless, finished 1-2-3.

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Stanford led all the way to a handy win in the $1.25 million Charles Town Classic on Saturday in West Virginia and has an unlimited future that could include the Met Mile.

Meanwhile, Da Big Hoss got da big money in Keeneland's weekend feature. Several other weekend stakes events, including a significant mile in Japan, ended in upsets.

Storm into this:

Hong Kong (By Richard Gross)

With a result and margin that surprised even winning trainer John Moore, Werther proved he was worthy of the bump up in class by running away with the $2.6 million, 1 1/4-miles Group 1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup in a 4 1/2-lengths victory on yielding turf Sunday at Sha Tin.

Breaking from a tight grouping of horses after the second turn, Werther bolted to the front and extended his lead through the finish, besting 2013 QEII winner Military Attack and last year's winner, Blazing Speed, as sunshine broke through following a day-long series of rain showers.

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Werther, a 4-year-old New Zealand-bred son of Tavistock, won the Group 1 Hong Kong Derby in March, but remained more lightly regarded in a QE II field regarded among the best in the 42nd running of the event. The lineup included the two recent winners of the race, as well as three highly Japanese challengers: Fourth-place finisher Lovely Day; 2014 Japanese Oaks winner Nuovo Record, with a disappointing sixth-place finish, and last year's Japanese Derby third-place runner, Satono Crown, able to do no better than twelfth in the 13-horse field.

"This changes my idea about the horse's future," said Moore. "Now, I want to take him to the Australian Cox Plate in Moonee Valley."

"I certainly didn't expect that," echoed jockey Hugh Bowman. "I just wanted to get him comfortable, then I had to go inside and began to move him on the backstretch."

It was an obvious good day for Moore, with the win marking the fifth QEII score for the trainer. It was an equally good day for New Zealand. The lone other graded event on the card, the Group 3 Queen Mother Memorial, found Ambitious Champion taking a 2 3/4-lengths victory over Anticipation in the event with Giovanni Canaletto 3 1/4 lengths in arrears.

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"He's been a very consistent horse all year, so he could have let us down," explained trainer Richard Gibson. "But, with the weight advantage and the yielding conditions, I was confident. He ran really relaxed and got up on the last turn to win." Ambitious Champion likely will remain in Hong Kong for his next race, said Gibson.

International racing fans' attention now turns to the May 1 Champions Mile and the Chairman's Sprint Prize in Hong Kong, as 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday takes on Australian multiple graded stakes-winning stars Buffering and Chautauqua in a leg of the Global Sprint Challenge that offers a $1 million bonus for wins in three of 10 eligible G1 sprint events in five countries.

Charles Town Classic

Stanford came out running in Saturday's $1.25 million, Grade II Charles Town Classic and made his early advantage stand up three turns later, winning by 2 lengths over Page McKenney, who shadowed the winner the whole way. Donworth finished third and Imperative was fourth. Stanford, with Javier Castellano up, ran 1 1/8 miles on the fast West Virginia track in 1:50.55. It was the third start of the year for the 4-year-old son of Malibu Moon, following runner-up finishes in the Grade III Fred Hooper Stakes and the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap, both at 1 mile. Castellano said the Charles Town Classic was simple. "He broke well and I just enjoyed the ride," he said. The short stretch after three turns, Castellano added, "helps a lot with this kind of horse who has speed." Todd Pletcher trains Stanford for Stonestreet Stables and Coolmore. Pletcher said he has no firm plans for Stanford but will consider the Met Mile in New York.

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Distaff

Brooklynsway, a 25-1 shot, tracked the pace in Friday's $100,000, Grade III Hilliard-Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland, shot to the lead on the turn and held on gamely to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the 1-2 favorite, I'm a Chatterbox. Ahh Chocolate was third. Brooklynsway, a 4-year-old Giant Gizmo filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.86 with Robby Albarado up. It was her first-ever win on dirt, with previous success coming over the Woodbine all-weather course. Bernie Flint, who took over training Brooklynsway when she changed hands last November, said he was not surprised by the victory. "The more I worked with her, it seemed like the better she got. Sometimes you get them at the right time, and I got her at the right time. I gave her some time off, I freshened her up." Asked about her next race, Flint said, "I think we have a heck of a horse. We'll have some fun with her at Churchill Downs."

Turf

Da Big Hoss tracked the pace in Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland, got through along the rail with a furlong to run and won a three-way battle to the wire. Kaigun was just 1/2 length back at the end and 1/2 length in front of Royal Albert Hall. The stewards took a second look at some roughhousing in the final sixteenth but let the result stand. Da Big Hoss, a 5-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid, got 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:31.29 with Florent Geroux riding for trainer Mike Maker. In his previous start, Da Big Hoss was the fifth horse in the Grade II Mac Diarmida. "Gulfstream has a very firm turf course, and I'm not sure it was to his liking," Maker said. "That day, I thought it was a very speed-favoring turf course. We tried to put him in a hot pace, and it just didn't work out."

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Highland Sky rallied from last of nine to win Saturday's $100,000 Woodhaven Stakes for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct, scoring by a neck over pacesetting Mighty Mo. Unbridled Daddy was 1 3/4 lengths farther back in third. Highland Sky, a Sky Mesa colt, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.69 with Luis Saez up for trainer Barclay Tagg. The colt finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last fall and got home second in the Cutler Bay Stakes at Gulfstream Park in his only previous start of 2016. Tagg assistant Robin Smullen said, "We've got that under our belt now and we're really, really looking forward to Belmont." Smullen added the "real goal" is the $1.25 million, Grade I Belmont Derby on July 9, "with another race in between."

{b:Filly & Mare Turf } Time and Motion got moving just in time in Sunday's $100,000 Memories of Silver Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, rallying by the leaders in the stretch to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Last Waltz and Priced to Perfection also found their best stride late to finish second and third with Taralena dead-heating for the show. Time and Motion, a Tapit filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:45.05 with John Velazquez in the irons. Trainer Jimmy Toner said he placed Time and Motion a bit too aggressively last year. "This year we started off back down to reality. I think we're on the right track." He said he will consider the June 5 Wonder Again as a stepping stone to the $1 million, Grade I Belmont Oaks on July 9.

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Filly & Mare Sprint

Finest City got going late in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Great Lady M. Stakes at Los Alamitos and rolled by the favorite, Fantastic Style, in the final sixteenth to score by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Lost Bus was only a head farther back in third. Finest City, a 4-year-old City Zip filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.48 with Kent Desormeaux up. It was her fourth win from 11 starts but the first in a stakes. She finished fourth in the Grade III Las Flores at Santa Anita in her previous outing. "The post really helped her," said winning trainer Ian Kruljak. "She likes to run free and clear and she's had some trips where she's been stuck inside. All I told Kent before the race was, 'Good luck.' You don't really tell a Hall of Famer how to do their job."

Raging Smoke led all the way to an upset win in Saturday's $150,000 Sugar Maple Stakes for fillies and mares at Charles Town. Sweet on Smokey was gaining some ground at the end but could do no better than second, 1 1/4 lengths behind. Athena was third and the favorite, Making Havoc, finished fifth. Raging Smoke, a 5-year-old mare by More Smoke, went off at 37-1 odds and ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.66. She had not won since an optional claimer at Parx last fall.

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Sprint

R U Watchingbud kicked in late in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) New Providence Stakes for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and up, winning by 1 lengths over the favorite, Goodoldhockygame. Sorry About That was third. R U Watchingbud, a 4-year-old colt by Kentucky Bear, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.35 with Emma-Jayne Wilson in the irons but then was vanned off, lame.

Queen's Plate

Bear'sway scored a gutsy win in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Wando Stakes for 3-year-olds at Woodbine. The Tizway colt, with Eurico da Silva up, led early, was headed by previously undefeated Ami's Gizmo, regained the lead and then survived a long stretch battle, winning by a neck over Dragon Bay. Conquest Windycity finished third but was disqualified to fourth, promoting Thatlookonyerface. Bear'sway ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.04. He won his last three starts of 2016, all at Woodbine. The Wando was his seasonal debut. As a Kentucky-bred, Bear'sway won't be running in the Queen's Plate this summer. But Ontario-bred Ami's Gizmo might. "I was very confident," said da Silva. "My horse was very well prepared for this race and there was no doubt in my mind he would be very strong for the last quarter and he showed that. He's a wonderful animal and I think this horse is going to get better and better."

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Otherwise:

Evangeline Downs

Bibby dueled down the stretch before sticking a head in front of Forest Lake under the wire in Friday's $60,000 Opelousas Stakes for fillies and mares. The favorite, Treaty Oak, finished third, 2 lengths farther in arrears. Bibby, a 4-year-old Stormy Atlantic filly, went to the post at odds of 30-1 and finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.93 under Kerwin Clark. The race originally was carded for the turf.

Aqueduct

Sudden Surprise was no surprise in Sunday's $100,000 Times Square Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds, leading all the way as the odds-on favorite and winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Lucky Lurie. Dr. Shane was 3/4 length farther back in third. Sudden Surprise, a Giant Surprise colt, finished 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.77, also with Velazquez up.

Libreta stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Park Avenue Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies, then won a stretch battle with pacesetter She's All Ready, winning by 1 length over that rival. The favorite, Frosty Margarita, got show money. Libreta, a daughter of Girolamo, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:18.58 with Luis Saez up. Tom Albertrani trains the Darley-bred for Godolphin Racing.

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Laurel Park

Rose Brier led from the first jumps in Saturday's $75,000 Henry S. Clark Stakes, spurted to a daylight lead in the lane and got home first by 1 1/4 lengths. Golden Sabre came from last to take second, 1/2 length ahead of Phlash Phelps. The favorite, Cage Fighter, bobbled twice and was pulled up, reportedly with shoeing problems on both front hooves. Rose Brier, a 7-year-old Mizzen Mast gelding, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.11 with Trevor McCarthy aboard.

Los Alamitos

Uptown Twirl led early in Sunday's $75,000 Surfside Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, gave up the advantage to Moment Is Right, but came again to defeat that foe by 1 1/4 lengths. My Dynamo was third. Uptown Twirl, a daughter of Twirling Candy, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.63 with Tyler Baze riding.

Charles Town

Dig Deep shadowed the favorite, Quijote, in Saturday's $100,000 Robert Hilton Memorial for 3-year-olds, then went by in the final furlong to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Quijote held second, 2 1/4 lengths better than Easy River. Dig Deep, a Candy Ride colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.61 with Javier Castellano riding for trainer Alan Goldberg.

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R C's Daisyduke showed the way in Saturday's $50,000 Its Binn Too Long Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies and held on long enough to win by 1/2 length over Jacky's Notion. Party Song was third. R C's Daisyduke, a Yes It's True filly, ran 4 1/2 furlongs in 52.69 seconds with Gerald Almodovar at the controls.

Bullets Fever was quickly out front in Saturday's $50,000 Coin Collector Stakes for West Virginia-bred 3-year-olds and extended the lead in the stretch to win by 4 lengths. Scythe was second and King of Anything finished third. Bullets Fever, a Fiber Sonde colt, finished 4 1/2 furlongs in 51.82 with Amaldo Bocachica aboard.

Candy Man's Girl made all in Saturday's $50,000 Original Gold Stakes for state-bred distaffers and won by 1 length over the favorite, Red Hot Diva, who had traffic problems. Blisstikus came from well back to finish third. Candy Man's Girl, a 4-year-old Charitable Man filly, ran 7 furlongs in 1:27.02 for jockey Antonio Lopez.

In the Fairway rallied from off the pace to win Saturday's $50,000 Confucius Say Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths over Partly Mocha. The favorite, Lucy's Bob Boy, faded from the lead to finish third. Ten-year-old local favorite Russell Road chased the pace, then weakened to finish seventh, beaten about 7 lengths. In the Fairway, a 6-year-old Posse gelding, ran 7 furlongs in 1:25.84 with Bocachica up.

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Evangeline Downs

Benwill came running in the final furlong to win Saturday night's $60,000 John Henry Stakes by 1 length over the favorite, Easy Crossing. Next Event held the advantage at the top of the lane but faded to get home third. Benwill, a 7-year-old son of Leestown out of the Dynaformer mare Dynaspice, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:45.03 with John Jacinto aboard. The race is named for the winner of the inaugural winner of the Arlington Million in 1981, who three years later became the only two-time winner of the first-ever $1 million Thoroughbred race. He won Horse of the Year honors for both of those campaigns. John Henry won 16 Grade I races and earned $6.6 million at the dawn of the megapurse era.

Turf Paradise

Scrap Iron was just up in the final jumps to win Saturday's $50,000 Gene Fleming Breeders' Derby for Arizona-breds, denying pacesetting long shot Heber by a nose. The favorite, Two the Punch, settled for third. Scrap Irons, an Informed gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.98 with Daniel Vergara in the irons. {i: International}

Japan

Kluger defeated Danon Shark by a neck in Sunday's Grade II Yomiuri Milers Cup with the favorite, Fiero, checking in fourth Kluger, a 5-year-old son of King Kamehameha, got through along the rail in the late going and had just enough. With Kohei Matuyama in the irons, Kluger finished in 1:32.6, picking up his first graded stakes win. Fiero was making his first start since finishing ninth in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile last December.

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News and Notes

Four of the top 10 races around the world were run in the United States, according to rankings by the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities.

The top race of the year -- all are Group 1 or Grade I -- was the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, won by Golden Horn with Flintshire, New Bay and Treve in his wake. The races were ranked by averaging the Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings ratings of the first four placed horses. The top four from the Arc generated 126 points.

The remaining top 10 rated races from 2015 are the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (125.00), Breeders' Cup Classic (124.75), Belmont Stakes Presented by Draftkings (123.75), QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (123.50), Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (123.00), Juddmonte International (122.25), Travers Stakes (122.25), LONGINES Breeders' Cup Turf (122.00), Dubai Sheema Classic Presented by LONGINES (121.75), LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (121.75), and Tattersall Gold Cup (121.75).

Eleven countries are represented on the list. The United States of America leads all countries with 23 total races, followed by Australia (22), Great Britain (15), Hong Kong (10), France (9), Japan (9), Ireland (4), United Arab Emirates (4), South Africa (2), Germany (1), and Singapore (1).

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