Local runners continued their domination of the Japan Cup Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse while Mo Town and McCraken moved up the ranks of Kentucky Derby contenders with weekend victories.
Gun Runner broke through for his first Grade I win in the historic Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. Connect took the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.
And in South Africa, familiar faces, human and equine, were in the winner's circle after Saturday's Grade I Summer Cup.
It rained in South Africa and snowed in Japan. But the sun always shines on these reports. Read on:
Japan continued its domination of its signature race as Kitasan Black led from the start in Sunday's Japan Cup and rolled home a 2 1/2 lengths winner with five other local runners right behind him.
None of the three international contestants -- Germany's Iquitos and Nightflower and French runner Erupt -- was involved at the end. Local horses now have won 11 straight runnings of the Japan Cup.
Kitasan Black, a 4-year-old Black Tide colt ridden by Yutaka Take, got a clean start from the inside gate in the field of 17, was quickly clear of the field and was never menaced at any point in the 2,400-meters race. He finished in a moderate 2:25.8 over firm turf as the predicted rain held off until after the race and traces of a freak mid-week snowstorm were long gone.
After Kitasan Black, the order of finish was Sounds of Earth, Cheval Grand, Gold Actor, Real Steel and Rainbow Line. Iquitos made a nice run along the inside rail at mid-stretch and appeared to be on course for a placing. He was swallowed up in the final 100 meters, however, finishing seventh, only about 4 lengths behind the winner.
Nightflower raced last much of the way and passed tiring rivals to finish 12th. Erupt hopped at the start, raced close to the pace and faded when the field hit the uphill slope midway down the long stretch, finishing 14th.
Kitisan Black is the first Japan Cup starter for his owner, famed Japanese singer and composer Saburo Kitajima. Cheval Grand's owner, Kazuhiro Sasaki, pitched for the Seattle Mariners from 2000 to 2003 after a successful career in Japan. He was the 2000 American League Rookie of the Year.
Winning trainer Hisashi Shimizu said he left race tactics up to Take, who said, "It would depend on how the other horses ran. Today we had a very good start. Since none of the others were going, I was going for the lead."
He said Kitasan Black was in "a very good rhythm" throughout the race. Turning into the stretch, he said, "I knew I had a lot of horse left. Coming up the hill, I thought, 'Just be patient and don't move too early.'"
Shimizu said he hopes to run Kitasan Black in the Group 1 Arima Kinen on Dec. 25 -- a race for which fans vote on prospective starters. Beyond that, he said plans are to keep the horse in training next year. International travel, he added, is not out of the question, depending on Kitajima's wishes, perhaps indicating another chapter in Japan's long and so far unsuccessful quest to land the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
It was reunion day at Turffontine on Saturday as Master Sabina won the Grade I Sansui Summer Cup for the second time, handing trainer Geoff Woodruff his fourth win in the event and jockey Gavin Lerena his third.
After a delayed and messy start, Master Sabina, the lukewarm favorite, was well back in the field of 19. When the real running started, it was Durban July hero The Conglomerate and Master Switch spurting out to what seemed a duel for the honors. But Lerena had Master Sabina in full stride and the 7-year-old found his way between those two and went on to win by nearly 1 1/2 lengths, with The Conglomerate and Master Switch holding second and third, respectively.
It was also a big day for trainer Sean Tarry, who saddled five winners, and jockey S'Manga Khymalo, who rode four to victory. The day's racing was called into question when the track was inundated by a heavy rainstorm Friday and Friday night. By race time, though, the crew had the turf ready, albeit rated officially as "good to soft."
Back in North America:
The Road to the Roses
Mo Town tracked the pace in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct, challenged for the lead a mid-stretch and drew away late to win by 2 1/2 lengths. No Dozing was along to finish second, 3 1/2 lengths behind fading pacesetting favorite Takaful.
Mo Town, an Uncle Mo colt out of the Bernardini filly Mille Grazie, scored his second straight win while touring 9 furlongs over a fast track in 1:51.58. John Velazquez had the mount for trainer Tony Dutrow. The colt, owned by a Coolmore syndicate and Dutrow, broke his maiden in his second start at Belmont Park on Sept. 24.
"Going back to March, we always felt this was a good horse," Dutrow said. "Being around him, knowing all we do about how he went into each of his races, I felt strongly that he would run big today ... I wanted the horse fresh and happy going into his 3-year-old year. I didn't use this horse. I didn't pressure this horse in getting him ready for today. I feel strongly that we have not seen what this horse is capable of yet."
McCraken waited well back in the field down the backstretch in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs, moved up easily when summoned by jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. and drew off in the final furlong to win by 1 1/4 lengths, ridden out. Wild Shot pressed the pace, led briefly and held second, 3 3/4 lengths to the good of Warrior's Club. Uncontested, the early leader, got home fourth.
McCraken, a Ghostzapper colt out of the Seeking the Gold mare Ivory Empress, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.15. He remains undefeated in three starts, all at Churchill Downs.
"He is as good as I thought he was and he handled it well," said winning trainer Ian Wilkes. "They didn't hand it to him. It wasn't easy. He came through for us."
Clay Whitham, a co-owner, said the performance sparks thoughts of the first Saturday in May. "I believe we are getting Derby fever," he said.
Wilkes said he has yet to map out a 3-year-old campaign for McCraken, who is named after a Kansas town.
Undulated rallied three wide from the back of the pack in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Swynford Stakes at Woodbine and outfinished Uncle B by 3/4 length for the win. The even-money favorite, Sailing Home, sailed home third with Wellabled and Katalox completing the order of finish after engaging in a blazing speed duel through the early furlongs.
Undulated, a Curlin colt out of the Foxhound mare Polly Alexander, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:10.26.
"They were going very quick. My horse was relaxed and comfortable," said winning rider Alan Garcia. "When I asked him to run, he picked up the bridle. I knew they were going to stop and my horse was going to make a great kick and he did."
Term of Art showed a good turn of foot to take Sunday's $100,000, off-the-turf Cecil B. DeMille Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over Vending Machine. Term of Art, a Tiznow colt out of the Storm Cat mare Miles of Style, raced well off the pace, came three wide into the lane and prevailed with authority. The favorite, Sword Fighter, was the early leader and finished third. Joe Talamo rode the winner over 1 mile on a good track in 1:41.69.
Term of Art was ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and trainer Doug O'Neill was giving him a chance on the lawn. When the race came off, assistant trainer Leandro Mora said, "Doug called me and said 'What do you think?' I said I like it because it's off the grass. It worked out well and he wasn't even tired when he came back. We still have a lot more we can do with this horse."
At the end of weekend action, Mo Town had moved into the No. 6 spot on the Kentucky Derby points list and McCraken into the No.7. Not This Time, the runner up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, has been retired with an injury and vacated the No. 2 spot on the rankings. Breeders' Cup winner Classic Empire continues to hold the top position.
The Road to the Oaks
Upsets at Churchill Downs, Del Mar and Aqueduct marked this division's weekend.
Farrell, at 10-1 odds, led all the way in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs and extended the lead through the lane to win by 6 lengths over the favorite, Daddys Lil Darling. Ever So Clever was just a neck farther back in third. Farrell, a Malibu Moon filly out of the Unbridled's Song mare Rebridled Dreams, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.26 with Channing Hill riding for trainer Wayne Catalano.
It was Farrell's second win in four starts and followed a third-place finish in the Rags to Riches Stakes over the same course. Daddys Lil Darling finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in her previous outing.
"She's run some big races but her best one was waiting for today and she showed up with it," Catalano said of Farrell. "We'll sit down with the owners and get there (the Kentucky Oaks) in the best way that we know how."
He said Farrell likely will winter at Fair Ground in New Orleans. Trainer Kenny McPeek said Daddys Lil Darling also is likely to spend the next few months in the Big Easy.
Miss Sky Warrior went right to the front in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct and held on late to win by 1/2 length over the favorite, Jamyson 'n Ginger. Bonita Bianca was third, 6 3/4 lengths farther up the track. Miss Sky Warrior, a daughter of First Samurai out of the Conquistador Cielo mare Sky Minister, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.34 with Paco Lopez up.
It was the third straight win for Miss Sky Warrior and followed a score in the Grade III Tempted at 1 mile over the same track. Jamyson 'n Ginger finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in her previous start.
"Two turns was key for her as opposed to the one-turn mile last time, where she had a right to get tired. After this, we're going to give her some R&R and hope to have her back at Gulfstream Park in February," said winning trainer Kelly Breen. "She's a game filly. If I have a thought in the back of my head of trying to get her to the Kentucky Oaks, I'll start mapping it out. It would be great to go with a horse that's legit."
On the turf at Del Mar, Journey Home started last of 13 in the $100,000 Grade III Jimmy Durante, moved up around the turn and reached the lead with a sixteenth to run, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Defiant Honor was second, a neck in front of the favorite, With Honors. Journey Home, a War Front filly out of the A.P. Indy mare Soul Search, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:38.24 under Drayden Van Dyke. She won at first asking at Laurel Park Nov. 4.
Filibustin dueled for the lead in Friday's $100,000 Key Cents Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-old fillies, put away the early competition and drew off to a 3-lengths victory. Overnegotiate finished second, 1 1/4 lengths to the good of Ribbonite. Filibustin, a daughter of Bustin Stones, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.50 for jockey Jose Lezcano. She remains undefeated after three starts, also including the Joseph A. Gimma Stakes in her previous race. When they're going good, you don't want to stop, and she doesn't mind getting spaced out," said winning trainer Greg Sacco. "I'd like to space her out and not run her too much over the winter and have her ready for this summer."
Isa Firecracker pressed the pace in Friday's $65,000 Golden Gate Debutante at Golden Gate Fields, opened a lead in the stretch and held on to win by a nose over the favorite, Grand Prix. Americana finished third. Sadly, Doowop Shedoo finished last of eight. Isa Firecracker, a California-bred daughter of Heatseeker, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.21 with Alejandro Gomez in the irons. She ran third in the Golden State Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita in her previous start. Winning trainer Jamey Thomas said there are no definite plans for the filly, who either could stick with the state-bred program or try the California Oaks in February.
The updated points standings for the Kentucky Oaks find Daddys Lil Darling second behind Champagne Room and Miss Sky Warrior holding down the No. 3 spot.
Gun Runner had been knocking on the door since winning the Louisiana Derby way back in March, running third in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Travers and second in both the Pennsylvania Derby and the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. The Candy Ride colt finally broke through for his first Grade I win Friday, leading all the way to win the $500,000 Clark Handicap by 2 3/4 lengths.
Breaking Lucky was second at long odds and Shaman Ghost finished third. Hoppertunity was fourth and Effinex finished sixth. Gun Runner, with Florent Geroux up, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.50. It was the 142nd edition of the Clark, which has been run annually without interruption since Churchill Downs's first meeting in 1875.
"I'm so proud of him," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "Walking him over, the horse has such confidence about him. He's kept his strength and his weight with the thousands of miles he's traveled this year on the stages that he's been on. He deserved it. With all the Grade I winners he has beaten and for this to be his first Grade I, I feel very confident it will not be his last."
Linda was away a step slowly in Friday's $200,000 Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, swung well wide into the stretch to take the lead and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Harmonize was best of the rest, 5 1/4 lengths ahead of 90-1 shot Sweet Tapper. The favorite, Hawksmoor, retreated in the stretch to finish sixth. Linda, a Scat Daddy filly, got 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:44.63 with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons.
"That was a hell of a performance because that was a nice Grade I-winning horse that she held off," said winning trainer Ian Wilkes. "Anytime you hold off a Grade I horse like that, and that's our first stakes win with her, that's a big performance."
Finley'sluckycharm dominated Friday's $80,000 Dream Supreme Stakes for fillies and mares, leading from the start and drawing off late to win by 8 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Moiety was second, 3/4 length ahead of Athena. Finley'sluckycharm, a 3-year-old Twirling Candy filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.58, ridden out by Hernandez. It was her fifth win from six starts, the only loss coming in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds in February.
Connect and Divining Rod came to the wire together in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Cigar Mile with Connect, on the outside, getting the verdict by a head bob. It was 5 lengths back to Realm in third, followed by War Story and Anchor Down. Connect, a 3-year-old son of Curlin out of the Holy Bull mare Bullville Belle, got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.34 with Javier Castellano in the irons.
After a learning experience in his first start, Connect has won five of six starts, including the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga and the Grade II Pennsylvania Derby. He finished sixth in the Grade I Travers.
"I was a little concerned because this horse hadn't had a race under his belt since the Pennsylvania Derby," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "But I know how much heart he has and how competitive he is. He really showed a lot of heart today. It's very rewarding to have a horse who shows you so much, especially as he was an unrated 2-year-old. Beating older horses in a race like this is a very high mark on his resume."
Verve's Tale, at odds of nearly 21-1, was up in the final yards of Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, denying odds-on favorite Lewis Bay by a neck. Going for Broke was third, 3 3/4 lengths farther back. Verve's Tale, a daughter of Tale of Ekati, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.89 with Paco Lopez riding.
Verve's Tale was coming off her maiden victory -- in her eighth try -- at Keeneland Oct. 16. Lewis Bay, third in the Kentucky Oaks, exited a win in the Grade III Turnback the Alarm at Belmont Park.
"I wasn't quite sure she was where she should be for these type of horses," said winning trainer Barclay Tagg. "But she was doing so well, I couldn't hold her down, so I put her in there." He said Verve's Tale will head to Florida and await orders.
My Impression found running room three-wide turning for home in Friday's $125,000 Winter Memories Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, mounted a sustained rally down the lane and was just up to win by a 1/2 length from Sassy Little Lila. Gianna's Dream led briefly before settling for third. My Impression, a Stuart Janny III homebred daughter of Sky Mesa, toured 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:44.22 with Jose Ortiz in the irons.
"She's had a really great year and looking forward to seeing her run as a 4-year-old," said Robbie Medina, assistant to winning trainer Shug McGaughey.
Loki's Vengeance led from the start in Friday's $125,000 Thunder Rumble Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for 3-year-olds and up, then took off with a vengeance in the lane, winning by 7 1/4 lengths over Becker's Galaxy. West Hills Giant was third and the favorite, Empire Dreams, could only manage fourth. Loki's Vengeance, a 5-year-old son of Frost Giant, got 7 furlongs over a fast track in 1:23.20 with Jose Ortiz riding.
Midnight Storm led all the way to an impressive 7 3/4-lengths win in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Native Diver Handicap. Point Piper was second, a head in front of Hard Aces. Midnight Storm, a 5-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile, ran 9 furlongs on a good track in 1:51.59 with Mike Smith subbing for Flavien Prat, who was unseated in the day's third race.
Midnight Storm, primarily a grass specialist, entered the race off a third-place finish in the Breeder's Cup Mile on the turf, behind only Tourist and Tepin. Prior to that, he won three straight graded stakes on the Southern California circuit. Trainer Phil D'Amato said the graded stakes win on the dirt is a big deal "at stud in the future and it gives us a lot more opportunities to look at for next year."
Ring Weekend outfinished Vyjack in Saturday's $100,000 Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap, putting a head in front under the wire as the pacesetting favorite, Om, settled for third, another 1/2 length back. Ring Weekend, a 5-year-old Tapit gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.29 with Drayden Van Dyke in the irons. He finished seventh in both the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland and the Breeders' Cup Mile in his two previous outings. Van Dyke said trainer Graham Motion had warned him Ring Weekend might have trouble changing leads "and I was ready for it. About the sixteenth pole he swapped to his right lead and that gave us an extra burst. He was good."
Texas Ryano ran by the early leaders in the lane in Friday's $200,000 Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup and drew off two win by 3 1/4 lengths. Ashleyluvssugar, the odds-on favorite, finished second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Flamboyant. Texas Ryano, a 5-year-old son of Curlin, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.92 With Joe Talamo at the controls for trainer Carla Gaines. It was a bit of a breakthrough for the chestnut horse, who had not won since King Pellinore Stakes at Santa Anita 14 months ago and finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Turf in his last start.
Of that race, Gaines said, "We kinda, sorta, unintentionally used the Breeders' Cup as a prep for this. We were eligible, he's our homebred and we don't get an opportunity like that very often. So we went for it knowing it was a tough spot."
Stacked Deck dueled to the lead early in the stretch drive in Friday's $200,000 (Canadian) Grade II Kennedy Road Stakes and held stoutly to win by 1 length over a rail-running Pink Lloyd. Commute finished third. Stacked Deck, a 5-year-old First Samurai gelding and Canada's reigning champion sprinter, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.19 -- just 0.03 second off the track record -- with Rafael Hernandez up. He also won this event last year.
"He's been really good the past couple months," said winning trainer Barb Minshall. "He's a challenge but he's worth it, I think he's the fastest horse on the grounds sprinting and he proved it today."
Freitag came from next-last of nine to take Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Sir Barton Stakes for Ontario-breds by 1/2 length over Maxsmiraclejourney. Nevaeh's Valentine showed the way and held on for show money. Freitag, a 5-year-old Giant Gizmo gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in track-record time of 1:42.16 with Alan Garcia in the irons.
Golden Gate Fields
Emerald Downs-based Stryker Phd handed a quartet of California rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Berkeley Handicap -- but just barely. The 7-year-old Bertrando gelding trailed the field into the turn, swung wide and passed them all, getting up to win by a head over G.G. Ryder. Tamarando, Southern Freedom and Bronze Star completed the order of finish. Stryker Phd, with Leslie Mawing up, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.67.
Gulfstream Park West
Lubash won Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Tropical Turf Handicap on a disqualification after Rose Briar veered out sharply in the stretch run while finishing first by 1 1/4 lengths. The stewards reversed that order of finish while Coalport held third both on the track and in the booth. Lubash, a 9-year-old son of Freud, had Trevor McCarthy up. The 1 1/16 miles on firm going took 1:42.47.
Things were less eventful in the $100,000 Grade III My Charmer Handicap for fillies and mares as the favorite, Isabella Sings, led throughout and won by 1 3/4 lengths over Sea Coast. Dad's Princess was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Isabella Sings, a 4-year-old filly by Eskendereya, finished in 1:46.52 with Edgard Zayas in the irons.
Rainbow Heir was bumped and shuffled back at the start of Saturday's $75,000 Gin Rummy Champion Stakes, then came running late to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Summation Time. El Deal was third. Rainbow Heir, a 6-year-old horse by Wildcat Heir, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.12 seconds for McCarthy.
Proper Discretion opened a big lead in Saturday's $75,000 First Lady Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-old fillies and was never asked for any run, coasting home first by 2 1/2 lengths with Fast Justice second and I Got Faith 6 lengths farther back in third. Proper Discretion, a daughter of Discreetly Mine, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:12.76 with Ricardo Feliciano up.