Miss Temple City and Annals of Time won Grade I races on the turf as Del Mar wound up its December meeting, King and His Court emerged as a Queen's Plate favorite in Canada and Sound True was a Group 1 upset winner in Japan -- all in weekend racing.
There were 2-year-old events of note from Tampa Bay Downs to Woodbine to Golden Gate Fields with stops in Pennsylvania and Ohio. South Africa, England and Australia all added to the international excitement.
The sport's workaday horses, meanwhile, got their moment in the sun in the Claiming Crown at Gulfstream Park.
All that and much more, right here and right now:
Miss Temple City landed her third Grade I win of the year at 1 mile on the grass, holding off Roca Rojo by a nose and pacesetter Stays in Vegas by another head at the end of Sunday's $300,000 Grade I Matriarch.
Miss Temple City, a 4-year-old daughter of Temple City, quickly established a good stalking position from the outside gate, advanced toward Stays in Vegas as the field exited the stretch turn and got to the lead shortly thereafter. Roca Rojo made a late run on her outside while Stays in Vegas persisted along the rail to make it a photo.
Miss Temple City, winner of both 1-mile Grade I's at Keeneland this season, finished the Matriarch in 1:35.16.
"The trick with her is to get her to settle early," said winning rider Edgar Prado. "We got a good spot early and in the first eighth of a mile she was relaxed. She was just going easy. We turned for home and I asked and she was there. I had some extra and I needed it. She's a special horse."
Miss Temple City passed up a chance to contest the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin on Dec. 11 in favor of the Del Mar season-closing fixture. Trainer Graham Motion was looking toward 2017, when the Breeders' Cup will be run for the first time at Del Mar, adding, "Hopefully we'll be here at this time of year next year."
Annals of Time, after dawdling near the rear of the field, shot through between rivals at mid-stretch and went on to win Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Hollywood Derby by 1 1/2 lengths over Beach Patrol. Frank Conversation was third and the favorite, Camelot Kitten, was seventh with a mild late kick.
Annals of Time, a Temple City colt, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.73 with Javier Castellano up. Chad Brown trains Annals of Time, Beach Patrol and Camelot Kitten. Annals of Time, making only his fourth start, now has two wins, a second and a third. Beach Patrol earned a Grade I win in the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park this summer.
Annals of Time "had some minor issues to deal with before we could get him started, so he was the fresher of the three," said assistant trainer Cherie de Vaux. "Beach Patrol and Camelot Kitten have had really hard campaigns this year. They've been travelling and running very well. It's important for us to get the lay of the land for Breeders' Cup here next year."
Vale Dori, the odds-on favorite, pressed the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Bayakoa Handicap for fillies and mares, got by the early leader and ran on to win by 3 lengths. Wild at Heart was second with Moyo Honey third. Vale Dori, an Argentine-bred 4-year-old filly by Asiatic Boy, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.79 with Mike Smith up for trainer Bob Baffert.
Vale Dori has won three of five starts since emigrating from South America.
"We'll take that," said Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes. "It played out like I expected."
Smith, however, said the ride was a bit more than he expected.
"I was surprised to find out how much horse I had. I gave her one little bit of encouragement and she just threw me in the back seat. She's got some kick. She's going to get better, too," he added.
Highway Star outfinished High Ridge Road in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Go for Wand Handicap for fillies and mares, putting a nose in front of that rival on the wire. The early leader, Wonder Gal, held on for third, another neck back and 2 1/4 lengths to the good of the odds-on favorite, Bar of Gold.
Highway Star, a 3-year-old Girolamo filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.07 with Angel Arroyo in the irons. It was her third straight win and fifth from seven career starts.
"Every time she runs, she just gets better and better -- more feisty and more happy," said winning trainer Rodrigo Ubillo. "I ride her myself and she gives me a good energy. She's almost dropped me off like twice. She jumps and kicks, she's just happy. She likes her job."
King and His Court emerged as both the winner in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Display Stakes for 2-year-olds and also an early favorite for the 2017 Queen's Plate. The Court Vision gelding, with Gary Boulanger in the irons, was off to a slow start in the 1 1/16-miles event over the all-weather track. He advanced steadily and got by pacesetting long shot Flowmotion with a late surge, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over that rival. Guy Caballero finished third. King and His Court finished in 1:45.10.
The Mark Casse trainee also won the Coronation Futurity in his previous start and before that was third in the Grade III Grey Stakes.
"He's done amazing things," said assistant trainer Kathryn Sullivan. "That's a great way to end of the year, with your 2-year-olds doing well."
Bangkok rallied by the favorite, Melmich, in the closing yards of Sunday's $175,000 Valedictory Stakes to end the Woodbine stakes season with a 17-1 bang. Melmich held second, 3/4 length to the good of Ethical Funds. Bangkok, a 5-year-old Street Hero gelding, ran 1 3/4 miles on the all-weather track in 2:59.88 with Emma-Jayne Wilson in the irons.
On Wednesday, Ellan Vannin rallied from next-last to take the $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Lassie Stakes for Ontario-bred 2-year-old fillies by 2 1/2 lengths. Cindervella was second, another 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Missy Chrissy. Ellan Vannin, a Spring at Last filly, toured 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.05. She's 2-for-2 with both wins coming in November at Woodbine.
Trainer Tony Gattellaro said the Woodbine Oaks is in the plans for Ellan Vannin.
"That's what we're gearing towards. We'll take her down south and start prepping for that," said Gattellaro.
Tampa Bay Downs
Chance of Luck opened a big lead in the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-olds, then held on at the end, winning by a neck over Dont Come Knockin. Trimphant Joy was third and the favorite, Obvious One, tired to finish fifth. Chance of Luck, a Skipshot colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.84 with Erik Rodriguez up. He won at first asking at Laurel Park in October.
"I hope he stays sound, because I firmly believe this horse has Tampa Bay Derby potential," said winning trainer Gerald Bennett. "You get high hopes in this game, but this horse shows me the same kind of stuff as some of the real nice horses I've had over the years."
R Angel Katelyn, the favorite, had 'em all the way in Saturday's $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Leading from just after the start, the High Cotton filly went on to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Jumby Bay was second, 1 1/4 lengths to the good of Rashette. R Angel Katelyn ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.67 under Edwin Gonzalez.
She also is trained by Gerald Bennett and it was her third win from four starts.
"I wouldn't trade her for any other of the horses in the field and hopefully she will come out good and we'll look for the next one," the trainer said.
Golden Gate Fields
Colonel Samsen sat behind the leaders through the early furlongs of Saturday's $75,000 Gold Rush Stakes for 2-year-olds, solved some traffic problems in the stretch and got there first by 1/2 length over Aqua Frio. The early leader, More Power to Him, finished third. Colonel Samsen, a Colonel John gelding, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:38.59 with Juan Hernandez riding. It was only his second win but the youngster has run well on grass, dirt and the all-weather in previous starts in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Southern California.
The Bears beat the 49ers Sunday in Chicago and, by the Bay, it was Fast and Foxy taking the $75,000 Bear Fan Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares by 4 1/2 lengths. The 6-year-old daughter of Thisnearlywasmine led all the way under Catalino Martinez and finished 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.48.
Rapid Rhythm raced last of seven until the field was turning for home in Saturday's $75,000 Battle of New Orleans Stakes for fillies and mares, then circled widest of all to get home first by 1/2 length. Adrianne G. finished second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Calypso Run. Rapid Rhythm, a 4-year-old daughter of Successful Appeal, ran about 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.12 with James Graham up. She has won two in a row since finishing second in the $350,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint in September.
Marquee Miss got going at the quarter pole in Saturday night's $50,000 Holiday Inaugural for fillies and mares, engaged with Marquee Cal Gal and got by that one in the final strides for a neck victory. Touch and Smile was third and the favorite, Dear Elaine, was eighth, never a threat. Marquee Miss, a 3-year-old Cowboy Cal filly, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.10 with Didiel Osorio in the irons. The top two finishers are full sisters. Marquee Cal Gal is a 5-year-old mare.
True Cinder, the prohibitive favorite, ran to her notices in Saturday's $75,000 Glacial Princess Stakes for Ohio-bred 2-year-old fillies. The daughter of Alcindor went right to the front, opened a daylight lead and coasted home in front by 5 lengths. First-time starter Roses for Sharon was second, 1 length ahead of Princess Brooke. True Cinder ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.00 without being asked by jockey Ricardo Feliciano. She took five tries to break her maiden, then came to life in her first start at Mahoning Valley, winning by 12 lengths.
Eightthehardway took the lead in the lane in Saturday's $75,000 Ruff/Kirchberg Memorial for Ohio-breds and edged clear to a 1 3/4-lengths victory over Geppetto. Mixed Colors was third. Eightthehardway, a 4-year-old Parents' Reward gelding, went to the post as the odds-on favorite and finished 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:54.72 with Luis Gonzalez up.
Downhill Racer had to duck down to the inside for running room before getting up to victory in Saturday's $100,000 Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old colts and geldings. Heat Dome stalked the pace, led briefly and was edged by a neck. Indominus Rex finished third. Downhill Racer, a Jump Start colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.04 with Andrew Wolfsont in the irons.
Now, about the Claiming Crown ... The turf was firm and the track was fast at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.
Spectacular Me rallied when shown running room in the stretch to take the $110,000 Distaff Dash at 5 furlongs on the turf, beating My Sister Caro by 1 3/4 lengths. Jose Ortiz rode the winner, a 6-year-old daughter of Catienus, in 56.91 seconds. Spectacular Me, the favorite, last raced at Laurel Park.
Shaft of Light was in from Parx Racing to take the $110,000 Rapid Transit, leading from the early going and winning off by 6 3/4 lengths over Flashy Jewel. Emisael Jaramillo rode Shaft of Light, a 5-year-old Smart Strike gelding, covering 7 furlongs on the main track in 1:21.84. He was the post-time favorite.
Tormenta de Oro, at odds of 44-1, rallied late in the $110,000 Glass Slipper for fillies and mares and won a four-way scramble to the wire by a neck over Esken Lady with the favorite, A Place to Shine, back in seventh place. Tormenta de Oro, a 4-year-old Benny the Bull filly, ran 1 mile on the dirt in 1:38.53 with Luca Panici in the irons.
Defer Heaven, the favorite, stalked the pace in the $110,000 Express, got by the leaders and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Proper Freud. Defer Heaven, a 6-year-old Freud gelding who last raced at Parx, got 6 furlongs on the brown track in 1:09.77 with Jaramillo up.
Cheapstow led from the start in the $110,000 Iron Horse but had to battle down the stretch to hold safe a persistent challenge from the favorite, Goodtimehadbyall. At the line, it was Cheapstow by 1/2 length, covering 1 1/16 miles on the main track in 1:43.90 under Edgard Zayas.
Super Spender started last of 12 in the $110,000 Canterbury Stakes at 5 furlongs on the lawn and got by all 11 rivals to win by a neck over the favorite, Partly Mocha. Midway through the race, the top three finishers were racing ninth, 10th and 11th, respectively, behind a quick pace. Super Spender, a 4-year-old Super Saver gelding, finished in 56.54 seconds with Nik Juarez riding.
Marabea, another Laurel import, dawdled well back in the $125,000 Tiara for fillies and mares on the grass, came five wide in to the stretch and won by a neck over Lobelia with the favorite, Daddy's Boo, a fading fifth. Marabea, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Archipenko, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.43 with Jose Lezcano handling the reins.
Royal Posse came five-wide around rivals in the $200,000 Jewel and outfinished Diamond Bachelor, winning by 1/2 length over that rival. Royal Posse, last seen at Belmont Park, ran 9 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:49.84 for jockey Luis Saez. He also was the post-time favorite.
Keystoneforvictory pressed the pace in the $125,000 Emerald at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, took the lead in the lane and gamely held off late-running longshot Flashy Chelsey by a neck with three other closers also within a length. Keystoneforvictory, the pari-mutuel favorite, finished in 1:43.09 with Jose Ortiz up. The winner is a 3-year-old colt by Shakespeare.
Thinking internationally ...
Sound True was next-last and far back down the backstretch run in Sunday's Group 1 Champions Cup at Chukyo Racecourse, got going only after the field straightened out for the stretch run and still as able to reel in the favorite, Awardee, in the final jumps to win by a neck in stakes-record time of 1:50.1.
Asukano Roman was third in the Cup. Some well-fancied rivals, Gold Dream and Copano Rickey, finished 12th and 13th, respectively.
Sound True, a 6-year-old gelding by French Deputy, was third last year in this race, formerly known as the Japan Cup Dirt.
"I raced him along the rails through the last two corners as planned and was able to find space entering the homestretch," said winning rider Takuya Ono. "It seemed that the horses in front tired somewhat in the last 100 meters. I was unable to race him smoothly in the stretch last year but the ride was perfect this year. The horse seems to be in good form during this time of the year so I am looking forward to defending the title in the year-end Tokyo Daishoten."
That Group 1 is 2,000 meters on the dirt on Dec. 29. In last year's edition, Sound True denied Hokko Tarume's bid for a third straight win in the race.
There are a lot of things to watch for in next weekend's Longines Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin but not the least will be Able Friend's comeback attempt in the Group 1 Mile. The 7-year-old Shamardal gelding, a former Horse of the Year and winner of the 2014 Longines Hong Kong Mile, suffered a tendon injury after running third in last year's renewal of that race.
After recovering from that injury, he suffered a setback when a freak stable injury resulted in problems in his hindquarters. Able Friend overcame that, too, to finish an encouraging fourth in the Group 2 BOCHK Wealth Management Hong Kong Sprint in November and posted an even more smile-inducing second in this week's barrier trial under "Magic Man" Joao Moreira.
"We never trialled him before the big race last year, we just went straight in," said trainer John Moore. "But this time it's been a little bit of a different prep. We've just needed to get that little bit more fitness into him ... We're happy the way things are going - that trial was what we wanted to see."
Reigning South African Horse of the Year, Legal Eagle, was all out to win Saturday's Grade 2 World Sports Betting Green Point Stakes at Kenilworth, edging Marinaresco by just less than 1/2 length at the wire. Jockey Anton Marcus, who got first run to the lead, admitted his mount was "running on empty" at the end but cited Legal Eagle's courage. The winner got 1,600 meters in 1:36.92. Legal Eagle, a 5-year-old gelding by Greys Inn, currently tops a list of 27 entries for the Jan. 28 Sun Met at 2,000 meters, a race in which he finished second last time around.
Marcus also had the winner in the Grade 1 World Sports Betting Cape Fillies as Just Sensual got home first by 1/2 length over Safe Harbor. Trained by Joey Ramsden, Just Sensual scored her third win from four starts -- a promising future for the 3-year-old Dynasty filly.
Godolphin qualified another for the All-Weather Championship finals as Dubai One, under Pat Cosgrove, took the lead a furlong out and ran on to win Saturday's Fast-Track Qualifier on the Lingfield Park Polytrack. Gheedaa was second, 1/2 length back, and the favorite, Sutter County, rallied to finish third, beaten just 1 length. Dubai One, a 2-year-old Exceed and Excel filly, scored his third win from five starts on all-weather surfaces.
Stratum Star posted a mild upset in Saturday's Group 1 Kingston Town Classic at Ascot in Perth, edging Railway Stakes winner Scales of Justice in a driving finish. Winning trainer Darren Weir, who took the race for the first time, said he now has several options for the 5-year-old Stratum Star. He suggested Sydney for the autumn carnival or Brisbane might be on the agenda but hinted the dual Group 1 winner also might have a nice retirement job. After the race, the stewards interviewed Douglas Whyte, who rode Scales of Justice, about the final yards of the race, questioning why the veteran Hong Kong rider went to "hands and heels" rather than continuing with the whip. The matter was not resolved immediately.