Arrogate was a no-show Sunday at Santa Anita, leaving the New Year's Day heroics to Midnight Storm as the jewel in the crown of weekend racing.
Also starring at rainy Santa Anita were Decked Out in the weekend's sole Grade I event, Solid Wager and Goodyearforroses.
Fair Grounds, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park and Tampa Bay Downs all had better luck with the weather for important stakes races.
On the Kentucky Derby and Oaks front, El Areeb posted a mild upset win in Monday's Grade III Jerome at Aqueduct. Most of the other weekend juvenile races were for state-breds but some of those and a few open events could have a bearing on the Louisville festivities now less than four months in the future.
And looking a little closer down the road, the Dubai World Cup Carnival kicks off Thursday with the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round I and the grassy Singspiel Stakes. More about that in the upcoming weekend preview.
Let's break out the umbrellas and start with:
Sunday's $200,000 Grade II San Pasqual was to have been Arrogate's prep for the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park. But when the rains turned Santa Anita's dirt to mud, trainer Bob Baffert pulled the plug and said his now 4-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro will train up to the promised rematch with California Chrome in Florida.
That left a four-horse field for the San Pasqual, with Midnight Storm seeming to be head and shoulders better than the other three. And that's how it played out as the 6-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile went quickly to the front, shook off persistent pressure from Dalmore and got home first by 1 1/4 lengths. Accelerate got by Dalmore for place money and Prospect Park finished up the track in last.
Midnight Storm ran 9 sloppy furlongs in 1:40.64 with Rafael Bejerano at the controls.
"Obviously," said winning trainer Phil D'Amato, "Arrogate scratching improved our chances of winning today. In my eyes, that horse is the Horse of the Year. At the same time, there's a bit of you that wants to test your horse against the best and see where you stand but I'm very happy with my horse's performance."
The victory could open the door for a deal to get Midnight Storm into the $12 million Pegasus as several owners of gates are still angling for horses to fill them.
As for Arrogate, the long layoff might not be an issue. The grey colt had 10 weeks off between his breakthrough, record-setting victory in the Travers at Saratoga and his defeat of California Chrome in the Breeders' Cup Classic. The vacation between that race and the Pegasus will be 12 weeks.
Decked Out came flying down the stretch to win Saturday's $300,000 Grade I American Oaks by a nose over pacesetting Sassy Little Lila. Lady Valeur finished 1/2 length back in third with long shot Dreamarcher making a late bid to complete a generous $4,899.50 superfecta return. Decked Out, a Street Boss filly, ran 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:47.86 with Kent Desormeaux in the irons.
Decked Out, trained by Keith Desormeaux, has been unpredictable, finishing second in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks in August but 12th in the Grade I Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita in her previous start. She had not won since April.
"She was training awesome coming into today," the trainer said. "I think a key decision was not run her at Del Mar. We skipped a race in hopes of getting her fresh and that may have been the winning decision."
Solid Wager rallied from last of five to finish in a dead heat with pacesetting St. Joe Bay at the end of Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Midnight Lute Stakes. Tough Sunday was third, 1 1/4 lengths behind the winners. Solid Wager, a 5-year-old Birdonthewire gelding, and St. Joe Bay, a 4-year-old gelding by Saint Anddan, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:15.03. Victor Espinoza rode Solid Wager. Kent Desormeaux had the mount on St. Joe Bay. Peter Miller trains both.
"This is unbelievable," Miller said of the dead heat. "Both horses ran super. Both riders rode super. I couldn't call it and obviously the stewards couldn't either, so I'm just elated for everyone involved ... Watching it live, I thought the two won, then when I watched the replay I thought the three won, and when they put up the 'DH' I didn't know what to do!"
Goodyearforroses had no trouble getting traction on the sloppy track in Saturday's $100,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes, taking the lead early and going on to win by 5 1/4 lengths over Pretty Girl. Frenzified and Keri Belle completed the order of finish in a field cut in half by scratches when the race came off the turf.
Goodyearforroses, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly by Azamour, ran 9 furlongs in 1:51.42 with Corey Nakatani in the irons. She arrived in Southern California in early December after a successful season at Woodbine.
"When the race came off the turf," said winning trainer Richard Baltas, "we thought, 'Well, it's a small field. And, she kind of skips across the dirt in the mornings.' I didn't know if she was going to like it or not, but she's a very sound horse, and I thought it was worth giving her a shot, especially with all the scratches."
Bad Ju Ju started last of eight in Friday's $100,000 Kalookan Queen Stakes for fillies and mares, came wide to take the lead a furlong out and won by 2 1/2 lengths over Brainspin. Ponder Lee was third and the favorite, Fantastic Style, faded late to finish fifth. Bad Ju Ju, a 4-year-old daughter of Desert Code, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:16.04 with Norberto Arroyo Jr. in the irons.
The Road to the Oaks
Ms Locust Point was on point all the way in Saturday's $100,000 Gin Talking Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Laurel Park and drew off late to a 4 1/2-lengths score. Star Super was second, 6 1/2 lengths ahead of Lucky in Malibu. Ms Locust Point, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Dialed In, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.43 with Jorge Vargas Jr. up, scoring her second straight win after finishing second in her career bow.
"I just got her out there and she did the rest," Vargas said. "(Trainer John Servis) had her ready. We did not have any trouble in the race, and I think that she can go a lot further."
Miss Sugars tracked a pace duel in Thursday's $100,000 Blue Norther Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Santa Anita, then slipped by in the final strides to win by a head. The embattled leaders, Princess Roi and Tap It All, settled for second and third. Miss Sugars, a British-bred daughter of Harbour Watch, got 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.24 with Tyler Baze aboard.
Bonita Bianca ran like an odds-on favorite should in Friday's $100,000 East View Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-old fillies at Aqueduct. After trailing four rivals, the Curlin filly advanced around the turn and kicked away easily in the lane, winning by 5 1/4 lengths. Tiznow's Smile was second, 5 lengths ahead of Bree's Got Heart. Bonita Bianca, with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the good inner track in 1:46.46. She's 3-for-3 versus state-breds and finished third in the Grade II Demoiselle. Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said the filly will get a rest.
"We want to try and keep her fresh for next year. Maybe Saratoga. That's the main goal, to be fresh for it," Rodriguez said.
Mr. Al's Gal went right to the front in Saturday's $100,000 Louisiana Futurity for state-bred 2-year-old fillies at Fair Grounds and kept on going, eventually winning by 12 3/4 lengths. Princess Samurai beat the rest with Quarter Carat third and the favorite, Sharp Henny, tiring to finish fourth. Mr. Al's Gal, a Salute the Sarge filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.64 under Richard Eramia over a sealed track rated good as rain fell during the program in the Big Easy.
Sippin dropped back early in Tuesday's $85,000 La Senora Stakes for New Mexico-bred 2-year-old fillies at Sunland Park, then closed relentlessly to win by 1/2 length as the 1-5 favorite. Rappakuba led briefly in the lane and held second, 3 lengths ahead of Ivy Gimlet. Sippin, a daughter of Swissle Stick, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.55 with Tracy Hebert up. She remains undefeated in six starts.
The Road to the Roses
El Areeb turned Monday's $150,000 Grade III Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct into a rout. After tracking the favorite, Takaful, through the early furlongs, jockey Trevor McCarthy sent El Areeb on his way and the Exchange Rate colt jetted off, winning by 11 1/4 lengths. Bonus Points was along late to finish second, 1/2 length ahead of True Timber. Takaful "came up empty," according to jockey Jose Ortiz, and finished last of seven.
El Areeb completed 1 mile and 70 yards on the muddy, sealed inner track in 1:46.17. He now has three straight wins and collected 10 points toward a potential start in the Kentucky Derby.
"He can rate," said winning trainer Cathal Lynch. "He's shown a lot of speed the last two times and everyone thought he had to be on the lead, but he's ratable ... He's just a good horse. Good horses run through their class."
Irish War Cry eventually did just enough to win Saturday's $100,000 Marylander Stakes for 2-year-olds at Laurel Park. After fighting restraint from jockey Feargal Lynch through the early furlongs, the New Jersey-bred Curlin colt finally settled, took the lead on the turn and held on gamely in a long duel with O Dionysus before defeating that one by a nose. It was 10 lengths back to Undulated in third. Irish War Cry, trained by Graham Motion for owner/breeder Isabella de Tomaso, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.71, remaining undefeated in two outings.
"His first out was very good and we were very impressed with him," said Motion assistant Adrian Rolls. "He's trained on and improved."
Haul Anchor did just that in Thursday's $100,000 Damon Runyon Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-olds, leading from the first jumps en route to a 4 1/2 -lengths victory. Mo Maverick was second, 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Carradine. Haul Anchor, a Bernardini colt, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the muddy inner track in 1:45.69 for jockey Cornelio Velasquez. It was only his second win but the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee did finish second in the Bertram F. Bongard Stakes at Belmont Park in October over a good track.
Jack Snipe's pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Louisiana Futurity for state-breds at Fair Grounds, took over when asked by jockey Donnie Meche and went on to win by a neck over Run Away Ralph. Street Honor was another 2 lengths back in third. Jack Snipe's, a Half Ours gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:11.68.
On the grass: Vending Machine delivered an upset win in Friday's $75,000 Eddie Logan Stakes at Santa Anita, tracking the pace along the rail and then outfinishing the favorite, Soglio, by 3/4 length for the victory. Cistron led early and held third. Vending Machine, a Hard Spun colt, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:35.87 under Norberto Arroyo Jr. He was dispatched at 12-1 odds despite finishing second in the off-the-turf Grade III Cecil B. DeMille at Del Mar in his previous start.
Swinging around the ovals:
Caledonian got by pacesetting favorite Always a Suspect in the final jumps to take Sunday's $100,000 Lost in The Fog Stakes for newly turned 3-year-olds by a Neck. Butch Walker was third, 6 1/2 lengths farther back. Caledonian, a New York-bred colt by Concord Point, ran 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:12.08 with Eric Cancel in the irons. It was his second win from four starts.
Caledonian's trainer, John Terranova, seemed almost rueful about the outcome.
"I was going to run him in a starter this week, but I don't know if it was going to go or not, because he still had that condition," Terranova said. "Now he's wiped that one out, so now we're stuck in stakes. But there could be a lot worse things."
Send It In tracked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Alex M. Robb Stakes for New York-breds, shifted out to take the lead at the top of the lane and went on to win by 3 3/4 lengths from Empire Dreams. Testosterone was third. Send It In, a 4-year-old Big Brown gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:45.41 with Manny Franco in the irons.
Winning owner/trainer Paul Pompa said he will discuss Send It In's future and is looking at the New York-bred series. He added, "There is interest" in Send It In as a candidate for the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park or the $400,000 Poseidon on that Jan. 28 undercard. "But I'd have to make that decision," he said.
Tampa Bay Downs
Power Alert powered quickly to the start in Saturday's $100,000 Turf Dash and held sway, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over Incensed. Fast Flying Rumor was third. Power Alert, a 6-year-old, Australian-bred gelding by the Argentine-bred stallion Alert, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.25 seconds under Daniel Centeno. "He's run in some very good races and lost some head-bob finishes, and he's run on some turf courses that probably wouldn't be his desired surface and still run well," said winning trainer Brian Lynch. "So it was nice to see a firm turf course today. "I'm very happy for him. He's a really honest horse."
One Mean Man, who quietly has had a pretty good year, hooked up with Tiznoble in a stretch duel in Saturday's $75,000 Woodchopper Stakes for 3-year-olds, prevailing by a head. Cordon put in a big late run to finish just another head back in third. One Mean Man, a Mizzen Mast colt, ran about 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.98 for jockey Robby Albarado. In 12 starts during 2016, One Mean Man posted six wins including the Grade III American Derby at Arlington Park. He was second in the Grade III Arlington Classic and fourth in a tough edition of the Grade I Secretariat Stakes at Arlington.
Believe in Bertie was off and winging from the opening bell in Saturdays $75,000 Pago Hop Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, led by a big margin and won by 7 3/4 lengths. Gianna's Dream was best of the rest, a nose in front of Frozen Hannah. Believe in Bertie, a daughter of Landfuhr, got about 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.22 with Shaun Bridgmohan riding.
Kathballu surged to a big lead early in the stretch run in Saturday's $60,000 Pan Zaretta Stakes for fillies and mares and eased home first by 3 1/2 lengths over Power of Snunner. Calypso Run was a further 2 3/4 lengths back in third. Kathballu, a 4-year-old Bluegrass Cat filly, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.72 with Florent Geroux in the irons.
Giant Run put in a big, late run to upset Oscar Nominated in Saturday's $75,000 Tropical Park Derby. With Joe Bravo up, Giant Run circled the early leaders into the stretch to take the lead, then finished with authority. Oscar Nominated got going a bit later and came up 1 1/2 lengths short at the wire. Another closer, Two Step Time, was only a nose farther behind in third. Giant Run, a Giant's Causeway colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.02.
Ultra Brat pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Tropical Park Oaks, moved up inside the quarter pole and held off a late bid from Shaan by 1 length for the win. The favorite, Try Your Luck, was just a nose farther back in third. Ultra Brat, an Uncle Mo filly, negotiated 1 1/16 miles on the green course in 1:41.23 with Angel Cruz in the irons.
Paige raced in close touch with the leaders through the early going in Saturday's $75,000 Via Borghese Stakes for fillies and mares, battled for running room at the top of the lane and finally got through to post a 21-1 upset win. Desiree Clary was second, 1/2 length back and a head in front of Flipcup. The favorite, Happyness, provided none for her backers, finishing ninth in a dull effort. Paige, a 4-year-old Sky Mesa filly, ran 1 3/16 miles on firm turf in 1:54.23 under Paco Lopez.
Taghleeb dawdled at the back of the pack until the final turn of Saturday's $100,000, 2-miles H. Allen Jerkens Stakes, found a big lane between horses and drove through to a 1 3/4-lengths victory. Montclair and Hunter O'Riley also showed good late foot to land second and third. Taghleeb, a 5-year-old son of Hard Spun, finished the marathon in 3:22.20 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons.
Mageez rallied from last of 10 to win Saturday's $65,000 B-Connected Stakes for state-breds by 1 1/2 lengths. Southern Argument also ran well late but settled for second, 1/2 length to the good of the favorite, Fort Pulaski. Mageez, a 3-year-old colt by Musket Man out of the Spectacular Bid mare Spaseeba, ran 1 mile on a muddy, sealed track in 1:37.90 with Ashley Broussard up.
Illusion Artist trailed early in Friday night's $65,000 Lookout Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares, advanced up the backstretch and was in command by the time the field hit the stretch. The 3-year-old Drosselmeyer filly went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Strike Pleasure and another 2 over Glide Baby Glide. With Broussard aboard, Illusion Artist ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.71, scoring her fourth win from five starts.
John Jones led from the start in Saturday's $75,000 Jennings Stakes for Maryland-breds and kicked clear in the final furlong to win by 5 lengths. Rockinn on Bye was second, a head in front of Kaitain. John Jones, a 4-year-old Smarty Jones gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.34 with Luis Garcia up.
High Ridge Road stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes for fillies and mares, then won a stretch battle with the favorite, By the Moon, for a 1/2-length victory. Ten lengths farther up the stretch, Ansible finished a fading third. High Ridge Road, a 4-year-old Quality Road filly, got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.58 with Horacio Karamanos riding.
Heaven's Runway caught pacesetting favorite Chief Lion in deep stretch of Saturday's $100,000 Dave's Friend Stakes, winning by 1/2 length over that rival. Sir Rockport was third, another 1 length back and a nose in front of Chublicious. Heaven's Runway, a 6-year-old son of Run Away and Hide, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.74 with Cornelio Velasquez in the irons.
Diabolical Dame got to the front a furlong from home in Sunday's $65,000 Bold Ego Stakes for fillies and mares and came home first by 1 length over Bryn's Fancy Pants. Tilla Cat was another 3/4 length back in third. Diabolical Dame, a 5-year-old daughter of Diabolical, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a slow, sealed track in 1:04.77 under Tracy Hebert.
He's Another Who came from last of 10 to win Sunday's $85,000 Four Rivers John Deere Stakes for 3-year-old New Mexico-breds by 1 1/4 lengths over Go For a Stroll. The early leader, El Tule, held on for third. He's Another Who, a Quinton's Gold gelding, got 6 furlongs on the slow track in 1:12.05 with Justin Shepherd riding.