California Chrome showed he's ready for next month's $12 million Pegasus World Cup by brushing aside an outclassed field Saturday while Stanford and Zulu ran well enough in weekend races at Gulfstream Park to emerge as prospects for the big race.
Frankel did not get his second Grade I winner as a sire on Sunday in Japan but the winner of the race in question appears to have a promising future of his own. Ditto a Grade I winner in South Africa.
Battalion looks like a force in the British All-Weather Championships.
And while weekend juvenile racing might not have much bearing on next year's Triple Crown trail, the result of Saturday's 2-year-old stakes at Mahoning Valley in Ohio could not have tugged any harder at the heartstrings. See the "Road to the Roses" section.
Let's start with next month's big race because there was a lot more going on than just California Chrome.
Pegasus World Cup
"Chrome" got a nice workout in Saturday's $180,000 Winter Classic at his home base of Los Alamitos -- the final stop before a likely career finale in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park Jan. 28. Even though there were 10 horses in Saturday's field, Los Alamitos officials permitted only win betting on the race, averting what could have been all-time "minus pools" for place or, God forbid, show. He paid $2.10 to win.
The striking 5-year-old had Victor Espinoza back up despite some criticism of that jockey's Breeders' Cup Classic ride, when Arrogate shot by in the final yards to victory. In Saturday's race Espinoza sat calmly behind the pace, took an extremely wide trip to the lead on the turn and won off by a dozen lengths. Point Piper and Pappacoolpappacool picked up the change. "Chrome" ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in a course-record 1:40.03.
"You could see he was much the best," said trainer Art Sherman. "I told Victor keep him in the clear and don't get him in any trouble. He rode him like he was about 10 lengths the best horse. It was just perfect. Now I can relax and get ready for the Pegasus. I want Arrogate bad. I have something in my heart that says Chrome can beat him."
California Chrome, in fact, almost held off his 3-year-old rival in the Breeders' Cup and some faulted Espinoza for not riding aggressively enough to hold the advantage he enjoyed through most of the stretch run.
Some other possibilities for this most interesting race:
Those looking for a horse to fill a $1 million gate in the Pegasus may need look to the also-rans from Saturday's $100,000 Harlan's Holiday stakes, run over the same track. In that, Stanford blasted out of the gate and wasn't challenged, winning by 3 lengths. Keen Ice, conquerer of American Pharoah in last year's Travers, continued to show his determination, outfinishing Awesome Slew for second by a neck. Madefromlucky was another 2 1/2 lengths back and three others were well up the track.
Stanford is owned by the Coolmore partners and Stonestreet Stables and Coolmore was one of the 12 who ponied up for a spot in the Jan. 28 Pegasus. Keen Ice is owned by Donnegal Partners, who do not have a gate. Horseless gate owners also may see Live Oak Plantation about Awesome Slew. It's going to be an interesting month leading up to this race.
Stanford's owners and trainer also have Zulu, runner-up in the Grade II Fountain of Youth way back in February. Zulu, coming off a long layoff, took charge in the stretch run of Sunday's $60,000 restricted Tamarac Stakes at Gulfstream and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths over stretch-running Yellow Chips. Fearless Dragon was third.
Zulu, a 3-year-old Bernardini colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.12 with Javier Castellano up. After finishing behind only Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth, Zulu ran 12th as the favorite in the Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland and was not seen again in the afternoon until Sunday's race.
War Story battled for the lead in Saturday's $125,000 Queens County Stakes, then asserted himself in the lane, drawing off to win by 7 3/4 lengths. Unbridled Juan beat the other four with Sunny Ridge third and the favorite, Bay of Plenty, a fading last of six. War Story, a 4-year-old Northern Afleet gelding, ran 9 furlongs on the good inner track in 1:52.56 with Antonio Gallardo riding. It was his first stakes win.
Before this, War Story was eighth in the Breeders' Cup Classic and fourth in the Grade I Cigar Mile and 16th in the 2015 Kentucky Derby. Asked about a potential start in the Pegasus World Cup, winning trainer Mario Serey Jr. said, "You never know. I'll have to talk and discuss with the owners, but we'll see and for now we'll just try to enjoy this win."
Neolithic, owned by Starlight Racing, won a Wednesday allowance race at Gulfstream Park by 9 lengths, in front all the way, and Starlight managing partner Jack Wolf said he's ready to go for the Pegasus. Starlight was an original gate buyer when the race was put up for sale.
"This course can be biased at times and we're looking for a horse that's been able to go over the surface and prove himself," Wolf said "I think that alone ... gives him a little bit of an edge, especially if he draws a good post in the race. Of the top horses, not one of them have done that." In his only stakes appearance, Neolithic, a 3-year-old First Dude colt, finished second behind Stickstaelydude in the Grade III Discovery at Aqueuct. Stickstatelydude's owners report approaches by gate owners seeking a horse to lease for the race, according to Gulfstream.
Satono Ares exploded by the front runners in the final 100 meters of Sunday's Grade I Asahi Hai Futurity at Hanshin, winning by 1/2 length over Monde Can Know. Extreme long shot Bom Servicio held on for third with Mi Suerte fourth. The latter, bidding to give her sire, Frankel, his second Grade I winner, had every chance in the late going but was unable to quicken to the win against male rivals.
Satono Ares, a Deep Impact colt, ran the 1,600 meters on firm turf in 1:35.4 with Hirofumi Shii up for trainer Kazuo Fujisawa. It was his third straight win following a pair of runner-up efforts.
"I rode him for the first time," Shii said, "but was told by the trainer he has a strong late charge. So I decided to race him toward the rear and he responded really well in the stretch. I think his strong point is, indeed, his turn of foot. I think he will definitely be able to aim for the big titles going forward."
William Longsword easily ran by his favored stablemate, Table Mountain, and cruised home first in Saturday's Grade I Grand Parade Cape Guineas at Kenilworth. Table Mountain, widely backed to improve on his third-place showing in the Selangor Cup, instead repeated that placing as the Selangor winner, Gold Standard, also got by to finish second, 1/2 length in the wake of the winner.
Both the winner and Table Mountain are owned by Mayfair Speculators, so the impact of the upset was well cushioned. William Longsword, a Captain Al colt, toured 1,600 meters in 1:33.35 with M J Byleveld up. He was sixth in the Selangor but won a handicap in the interim and still was let go Saturday at long odds. Captain Al won the Cape Guineas in 2000.
Battalion had all the firepower he needed to land Saturday's Betway Quebec Stakes at over the Lingfield Polytrack. Taking the lead with a furlong left in the 1 1/4-miles event, the 6-year-old finished 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Dubai Fashion with reigning British All-Weather champion Grendisar third after a spot of traffic. It made back-to-back victories over the course and distance for Battalion -- enough to convince owner Ian Barratt of Melbourne 10 Racing to rethink plans.
"We were going to go to Dubai with Battalion," Barratt said. "But he won so well last time and the obvious plan now is to stay here" for the Winter Derby Trial, the Group 3 Winter Derby and the Good Friday finals of the All-Weather Championship series. Grendisar's trainer, Marco Botti, said his charge will pursue the same course.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
The Road to the Roses
Bavaro took the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Great White Way Division of the New York Stallion Stakes at Aqueduct and proved too good for the odds-on favorite, Gold for the King, who could only salvage second, 3 3/4 lengths up the track at the end. It was another 8 1/4 lengths back to Remstin in third.
Bavaro, a Freud colt, ran 6 furlongs on the good inner track in 1:11.16 with Manny Franco in the irons. The Gary Sciacca trainee now is 2-for-2. Gold for the King slips to 3-for-3 but has never finished off the board. Sciacca said Bavaro, named after former New York Giants tight end Mark Bavaro, is a "nice horse," adding, "We'll probably keep him at short distances as a sprinter."
Proforma took charge in the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds, kicking clear to win 3 lengths. The odds-on favorite, Running Mate, finished second but was set down to third for interfering with Diving Kaleb, who was awarded place money.
Proforma, a Munnings gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.72 with Florent Geroux in the irons. "Our horse is just really starting to find his way and learn how to run, and today he obviously ran a big race," said winning trainer Mike Stidham.
Ann Arbor Eddie dueled with the favorite, California Diamond, through the early furlongs of Sunday's $100,000 King Glorious Stakes for California-breds at Los Alamitos. The two swapped leads in the stretch before Ann Arbor Eddie pulled away to win by 1 1/4 lengths over his stubborn foe. Milton Freewater was another 3/4 length behind in third.
Ann Arbor Eddie, a Square Eddie gelding out of the In Excess mare Repo, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.98 with Mario Gutierrez in the irons for trainer Doug O'Neill. The gelding won at first asking at Santa Anita, then finished third in the Grade III Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar behind Grade I Cash Call Futurity winner Mastery and California Diamond.
Mobil Sky was along late to take Saturday's $75,000 Joshua Radosevich Memorial Stakes for Ohio-breds at Mahoning Valley by 2 1/4 lengths over Mr. Giggles. Risible finished third. The favorite, made the early going and faded to finish sixth as Mobil Sky completed 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:15.80 with Jacob Radosevich in the irons. Jacob Radosevich's brother, Joshua, for whom the race is named, died at age 16 of injuries suffered in a spill at Beulah Park in 2005. Jacob's uncle, Jeffrey, trains Mobil Sky and joined his nephew and other family members for an emotional winner's circle ceremony.
Not to detract from the emotion of that, but had Mr. Giggles and Risible finished 1-2, their backers would have been laughing all the way to the windows.
Kentucky Oaks Preps
Twelve was the magic number at Los Alamitos Saturday. Seven races before California Chrome won by 12 lengths, it was Sircat Sally kicking away in the lane to take the $100,000 Soviet Problem Stakes for state-bred juvenile fillies by the same margin. Cash Prize and Bella Luma were second and third behind the romping winner.
Sircat Sally, a daughter of Surf Cat out of the In Excess mare Sister Sally, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.42 for jockey Drayden Van Dyke. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, the filly made it 2-for-2. She won her first start at Del Mar by 5 lengths over an odds-on favorite.
"The first time we didn't expect that kind of performance and got it so we were a little spoiled," said Hollendorfer assistant Don Chatlos. "Jerry was very confident today. The way she had galloped out in her race at Del Mar we didn't think the distance would be a problem ... We're excited about her future."
Golden Mischief took the overland route in Saturday's $50,000 Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds but got the job done, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over pacesetter Flatter Up. Forest Circle was third. Golden Mischief, a daughter of Into Mischief out of the Carson City mare Lanai City, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.90.
Winning rider David Flores said trainer Steve Asmussen "wanted me to just put her in the race and then sit on her. She's very tactical, and I was patient, saved ground on the turn, and then I just pointed her out and she accelerated."
Toni Tools circled her rivals on the turn in Sunday's $150,000 Fifth Avenue Division of the New York Stallion Stakes at Aqeuduct, then outfinished Passporttovictory by 1/2 length. The odds-on favorite, Filibustin, started a step slow, surged to the lead and finished third, just beaten a nose for second.
Toni Tools, a daughter of Roaring Fever, ran 6 furlongs on the muddy inner track in 1:14.43 with Manny Franco up. It was the third straight win for the Todd Pletcher trainee.
"She didn't have the speed to keep up with the others which we knew going into the race," said Pletcher assistant Byron Hughes. "We were just hoping the speed came back, which it did.
In other action:
Saturday's $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial at Fair Grounds devolved to a four-way scramble to the wire with Western Reserve holding on to win by a nose over Greengrassofyoming, another nose from Granny's Kitten and a neck from the favorite, Chocolate Ride.
Western Reserve, a 4-year-old Indian Charlie gelding, stalked the early pace, took the lead in the lane and wouldn't yield, finishing about 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.25 with Shaun Bridgmohan up. Formerly raced in England, Western Reserve has 12 in-the-money finishes from 15 career starts.
"He's been working like a really good horse," said winning trainer Brad Cox. "He's a tough horse and showed that today. He tries really hard. We'll look down the road at the other turf stakes here for him."
Heart to Heart went virtually coast to coast in Saturday's $100,000 El Prado Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at Gulfstream Park, shaking off a challenger at the top of the lane and then holding off Flatlined by a neck at the end. Songsational was another 1/2 length back in third with a good effort.
Heart to Heart, a 5-year-old son of English Channel, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:30.03 with Julien Leparoux in the irons. It was his fifth win from his last eight starts, most of those in graded stakes.
Filly & Mare Turf
Cash Control, the even-money favorite, won a stretch battle with Kitten's Roar to take Saturday's $75,000 Blushing K.D. Stakes for fillies and mares at Fair Grounds by a head. Prado's Sweet Ride was third.
Cash Control, a 5-year-old Pioneerof the Nile mare, covered about 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:42.92 under Shaun Bridgmohan. She was seen last winning the Grade III Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs with Kitten's Roar second.
"She's an ultra-game filly," Bridgmohan said. "She dug in today. That horse passed her and she gutted it out."
Neck of the Moon rallied four-wide from far back to take the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 South Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park and fended off a late run by Sandiva to notch the victory by a neck. Excilly was 1/2 length farther back after being stuck in traffic and the favorite, Tuttipaesi, finished a belated fifth.
Neck of the Moon, a 6-year-old More Than Ready mare, won for the first time since September 2015 while running 7 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:31.00 for jockey Paco Lopez.
Green Mask was along in the final yards to nip pacesetting long shot Latent Revenge by a neck in Saturday's $75,000 Bonapaw Stakes at Fair Grounds. Hogy was third. Green Mask, a 5-year-old Mizzen Mast gelding, ran about 5 1/2 furlongs over firm going in 1:03.10 with Robby Albarado at the controls. The globetrotter has competed from Dubai to Hong Kong during an ambitious career and most recently was fifth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
Triple Chelsea squeezed through between rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Lightning City Stakes for fillies and mares at Tampa Bay Downs and edged front-running Nite Delite by a neck. The favorite, Everything Lovely, finished third. Moon River, the Irish-bred filly and not the Brazilian- or Kentucky-bred of the same name and age, failed to draw in from the also-eligible list.
Triple Chelsea, by contrast, is a 3-year-old filly by Japanese-bred sire Hat Trick, out of the French-bred mare Oceane Music. She ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.60 seconds. Jockey Wilmer Garcia said he had some trepidation about sending his filly through traffic.
"I got a little nervous because my filly is kind of tiny and I thought they were going to squish me," he said. "But when I let her go she responded and was flying through the stretch."
Around the ovals:
Dearest dueled with odds-on favorite Stonetastic through the early furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sugar Swirl Stakes for fillies and mares, took over when that rival tired and went on to win by 1 length over You Bought Her. Stonetastic finished third, another 3 1/4 lengths back. Dearest, a 3-year-old Midshipman filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.59 with Edgard Zayas in the irons. She has five wins from seven starts but the Sugar Swirl was her first graded triumph.
Eskenformoney outfinished odds-on favorite Curlin's Approval in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Rampart Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 3/4 length over that foe and another 1 1/2 lengths from Genre, in third. Eskenformoney, a 4-year-old daughter of Eskendereya, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.47 with Javier Castellano up.
Stallwalkin' Dude ran by pacesetting Green Gratto with a furlong left in Sunday's $100,000 Gravesend Stakes and drew off to win by 2 lengths as the even-money favorite. Green Gratto held second, just a neck in front of All Star Red. Stallwalkin' Dude, a 6-year-old City Place gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the muddy inner track in 1:11.80 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. It was his sixth straight in-the-money finish.
"He broke very well," said winning trainer David Jacobson. "But heading into this race Irad and myself had some concerns with his last two races. We thought he had it won and he started hanging when he got to the lead. Today, we had plan. It was Irad's idea more in mind to wait as long as (he) can."
Honorable Duty and Raagheb both came running late in Saturday's $75,000 Tenacious Stakes with Honorable Duty getting there first by 3/4 length. The early leader, Financial Modeling, salvaged third, 2 1/4 lengths farther back. The favorite, Dazzling Gem, was a dull seventh. Honorable Duty, a 4-year-old Distorted Humor gelding, cruised 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast main track in 1:42.37 with James Graham aboard.
"He's a nice horse and I think he'll win some nice races," said winning trainer Brendan Walsh "He's still improving."
Dac rallied from near the back of the field to take Saturday's $50,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes by a head over Luck of the Kitten. Enterprising was another 2 1/4 lengths back in third. Dac, a 5-year-old Distorted Humor gelding who also won the race last year, finished 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in a quick 1:42.76 with Rodney Prescott aboard. The race is named for the winner of the 1993 Jim Beam Stakes (now the Spiral Stakes) at Turfway. Prairie Bayou went on to win the Blue Grass at Keeneland, finish second to Sea Hero in the Kentucky Derby and win the Preakness Stakes before suffering a fatal injury in the Belmont.
Leona's Reward showed the way in Saturday's $75,000 Bobbie Bricker Memorial Handicap for Ohio-bred distaffers and edged clear in the stretch, winning by 4 1/4 lengths. Deniro's Saint rallied to finish second with Startin Something another 23 1/4 lengths behind in third. Leona's Reward, a 3-year-old filly by Parents' Reward, ran 1 1/16 miles on the muddy, sealed track in 1:53.96 under Irwin Rosendo.
Chief Cicatriz dueled for the lead in Saturday's $65,000 KLAQ Handicap, edged clear entering the stretch and drew off to a 3-lengths victory. Indexical had the best late run, nipping Redneck Humor by second by 1/2 length. Chief Cicatriz, a 3-year-old Munnings gelding, ran 5 furongs on a fast track in 56.60 seconds with Alfredo Juarez Jr. in the irons.
Bryn's Fancy Pants made one late run in Sunday's $85,000 New Mexico State Racing Commission Handicap for state-bred fillies and mares and that was sufficient to get the job done. With Juarez in the irons, the 3-year-old Southwestern Heat filly got by Diabolical Dame to win by 1/2 length. Desert Stepper was a non-threatening third. Bryn's Fancy Pants ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.36.
Not My Note pressed the pace in Sunday's $85,000 Johnie L. Jamison Stakes for state-breds, took the lead at the quarter pole and drove home a 2 3/4-lengths winner. Forger was best of the rest, 1 3/4 lengths to the good of Citizen Geller. Not My Note, a 4-year-old Fusaichi Zenon gelding, got 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.37 with Tracy Herbert in the irons.
News and Notes:
It was well noted during the meeting how far Kentucky Downs has come in just a few short years, now offering massive purses and huge, competitive fields at the all-grass layout near the Kentucky-Tennessee border. No surprise, then, that Tourist, winner of the ultra-tough 2016 Breeders' Cup Mile, also is a Kentucky Downs winner, having taken the 2015 More Than Ready Mile there.
Appropriately, that race will be renamed the Tourist Mile starting next year, when it will carry a $400,000 purse.
"It just reaffirms the level of racing and everything we are doing here at Kentucky Downs," said Corey Johnsen, President of Kentucky Downs. "Tourist is one of the best horses ever to race at Kentucky Downs, and it was only fitting to rename the event he won to honor him." Tourist will stand at WinStar Farm this spring for $12,500.