Uncontested moved on down the Kentucky Derby trail, Lockdown showed promise among the Oaks contenders and Green Gratto posted a minor upset amongst the sprinters during the long holiday weekend.
Sandiva sparkled in Gulfstream Park's elite turf racing as preparations continued in South Florida for the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational, now less than two weeks off.
Step right up. Read all about it.
The Road to the Roses
Uncontested was right up front in Monday's $150,000 Smarty Jones as Oaklawn Park's Arkansas Derby series got underway and easily drew off through a short stretch run to win by daylight, well geared down. Petrov and Rowdy the Warrior completed the formful order of finish.
Uncontested, with Channing Hill up for trainer Wayne Catalano, ran 1 mile in the slop in 1:36.32, scoring his second win from three starts. He finished a fading fourth in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs to wrap up his brief 2-year-old season.
"He trained well over it," Catalano said of the wet track. "You're always concerned when the track's off. On this kind of track, you want to use the speed. Everything went well."
Asked whether Uncontested, a Tiz Wonderful colt, might continue on to the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 20, he said, "Most likely so." He earned 10 points toward a potential start in the Kentucky Derby.
The Road to the Oaks
Lockdown ran by pacesetting favorite Libby's Tail on the stretch turn in Sunday's $100,000 Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct and drew off in the lane, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over that foe. No Sweat was another 3 1/2 lengths behind in third.
Lockdown, a First Defence filly, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast inner track in 1:44.75 with Kendrick Carmouche in the irons. It was her second straight win after finishing second in her career opener in November and earned 10 points toward a prospective start in the Kentucky Oaks, putting her in a many-ways tie for fourth on that list.
"The plan coming in was to have her in stalking position and take it to them when the time came," said LeAnna Willaford, assistant to winning trainer Bill Mott. "She's been training real well, and I have to think eventually she'll end up in Florida. We'll see where she goes from there after talking to the Juddmonte people."
Yorkiepoo Princess kicked in when asked by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. in Saturday's $100,000 Ruthless Stakes and drew off to win by 7 1/2 lengths. Tiz Rae Anna was best of the rest, 1/2 length ahead of Banty's Girl. Yorkiepoo Princess, a Kantharos filly, ran 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:12.42. She now has won three of her last four starts, the only loss a drubbing on the turf in the Chelsea Flower Stakes at Belmont Park on Hallowe'en Eve.
"We knew it was fast out of the gate," said winning trainer Edward Barker. "I left it up to Irad. I was looking at through binoculars, and he was just sitting on her. But what a turn of foot. I couldn't get over it."
Green Gratto was on the lead, under pressure all the way in Monday's $125,000 Grade III Toboggan Handicap but survived to win a head over All Star Red. The favorite, Stallwalkin' Dude, was third. The other three, Life In Shambles, Story to Tell and Classy Class, all were within 1 length of that. Green Gratto, a 7-year-old son of Here's Zealous, ran 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:10.74 for jockey Kendrick Carmouche.
"All I had to do was point his head forward," he added. "I don't even worry about fractions with him," Carmouche said. "He's got a stride bigger than most sprinters so you just keep him into it, keep him motivated, and nine times out of 10, he'll hold on."
Sunny Ridge was asserting himself as the field turned for home in Saturday's $125,000 Jazil Stakes and drew off down the lane to win by 4 1/2 lengths over Grasshoppin. Doyouknowsomething was third and the favorite, Royal Posse, checked in fourth. Sunny Ridge, a 4-year-old Holy Bull gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast inner track in 1:42.45 with Manny Franco at the controls.
Sunny Ridge was a minor force among last year's 3-year-olds with a victory in the Grade III Withers and a third in the Grade I Haskell.
"The plan going in was to stay as close to the rail as possible," Franco said. "We were able to get there and from the half-mile to the quarter-pole, he took me. I didn't have to urge him. He was ready and did it easy today."
Wonder Gal left no doubt in Friday's $100,000 Ladies Handicap. Leading all the way under Carmouche, the 5-year-old Tiz Wonderful mare went on to win by 13 1/2 lengths. Chorus Line and Jet Majesty picked up the minor awards. Wonder Gal, trained by Leah Gyarmati, finished 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast inner track in 1:42.45.
"I wanted to get to the front," Carmouche said. "I had the one-hole, and the best thing is to see if you can get position and see if everyone is scattering behind you."
Wonder Gal was third in the Grade III Go For Wand Handicap in her previous outing.
Sandiva and Sea Coast both rallied by pacesetting Isabella Sings in the final furlong of Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Marshua's River Stakes for fillies and mares with Sandiva getting the better of the late scrap by 1/2 length. Sea Coast finished second, a nose in front of the early leader. Sandiva, a 6-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Footstepsinthesand, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in a quick 1:39.46 with Javier Castellano up. Originally raced in England, Ireland and France, she has finished in the money in 10 of her last 12 starts. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Sandiva is booked to Mshawish this year and it will be up to the owner, Al Shaqab, to see if she has one more start before that date.
Flatlined, Almanaar and the favorite, Divisidero, all came running from far back in the final furlong of Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Fort Lauderdale Stakes, with Flatlined a neck in front. Almanaar was second, 3/4 length in front of Divisidero while the pacesetter, Heart to Heart, settled for fourth, a nose farther back and a head in front of Rose Brier.
Flatlined, a 5-year-old Flatter gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.29 with Joe Bravo up, scoring his first graded stakes win.
"The Flatters just get better with age, like I had with Flat Out," said winning trainer Scooter Dickey. "If they don't go wrong, they're at their best at 4 or 5 years old. I thought if he ran the race he had last time, he'd have a chance."
Tommy Macho rallied from mid-pack to contest the lead at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Hal's Hope Stakes, then pulled away late to score by 5 3/4 lengths. Bird Song, who led at the top of the stretch, settled for second, 1 1/2 lengths better than Realm. Tommy Macho, with Luis Saez at the controls, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.20. It was his first win for the 5-year-old son of Macho Uno since the Grade III Fred W. Hooper over the same course and distance nearly one year ago.
"Unfortunately, we had to do knee surgery on him after he won here last year so it's almost been a year to get him back on form," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "His first couple of starts he seemed a little bit rusty but he's been training better and it seems like he likes this track a lot."
Domain's Rap got first shot at the lead in the stretch run in Friday's $125,000 Fifth Season Stakes and easily outfinished the favorite, Smack Smack, winning by 2 lengths over that one. Inside Straight was another 2 lengths back in third.
Domain's Rap, a 9-year-old, Illinois-bred gelding by Cherokee Rap, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.23 with Ramon Vazquez in the irons. He was 3-for-5 last year at the Hot Springs oval and also finished second in the Grade III Razorback Handicap, behind only Upstart.
Owner Danny Caldwell said he "really took at chance" Running Domain's Rap for a $25,000 tag in his last race at Remington Park.
"I knew he loves Oaklawn Park," Caldwell said. "But he'd been off form a little bit. I gave him a little break and actually had him again entered for ($25,000) and decided to scratch him and save him for Oaklawn ... He's been very good to us."
The gelding banked $75,000 for Friday's win.
Terra Promessa was quickly out front in Saturday's $125,000 Pippin Stakes for fillies and mares and wasn't challenged, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Ready to Confess. Streamline finished third. Terra Promessa, a 4-year-old Curlin filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.16 with Jose Ortiz in the irons for trainer Steve Asmussen. Terra Promessa won all three of her starts at Oaklawn last summer, including the Grade III Honybee and Grade III Fantasy, then finished 10th in the Kentucky Oaks after leading into the stretch.
"We're just happy to have the filly back here at Oaklawn," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "She obviously has an affinity for the surface here. She trained nicely over it once we got her back here and it's just nice to have her back in the winner's circle."
Vale Dori, the odds-on favorite, led virtually all the way to an easy victory in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II La Canada Stakes for fillies and mares. Show Stealer produced a mild rally to finish second, 2 1/4 lengths back and 7 1/2 lengths ahead of Autumn Flower in third. Vale Dori, a 5-year-old daughter of Asiatic Boy, ran 1 1/16 miles on a good main track in 1:44.95 with Mike Smith riding. The 2016 UAE Oaks runner-up posted her third straight win on the Southern California circuit.
"We'll get her ready for the big guns," said winning trainer Bob Baffert. I wonder if Mike will stay on her," he added with a laugh. Asked about Vale Dori taking on the likes of Songbird, he said, "Well, eventually she'll have to run against that caliber of horse. But I think she's improved since she ran against her and we'll just continue moving forward. If not, we can always put her on a plane and go somewhere else. We have a lot of options with her."
Vale Dori finished third in the Grade I Zenyatta at Santa Anita on Oct. 1, 11 3/4 lengths behind Stellar Wind and Beholder.
Prize Exhibit came roaring down the middle of the course in the final sixteenth to win Monday's $100,000 Grade III Megahertz Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/2 lengths. Jeremy's Legacy and Into the Mystic were a close second and third. Prize Exhibit, a 5-year-old, British-bred mare by Showcasing, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:35.56.
"I was able to get her covered up early, which is very important for her," said winning rider Mike Smith. "If you can't do that, she tends to get rank. It all worked out."
Trainer Jim Cassidy said he was high on Prize Exhibit's chances after scratching her from a race that came off the hillside turf course a week earlier.
Sweet On Smokey got by pacesetting favorite Disco Chick in the late going to take Saturday's $75,000 What A Summer Stakes for fillies and mares by 1/2 length. Lovable Lady was third, another 1 length in arrears after an awkward start. Sweet On Smokey, a 5-year-old Successful Appeal mare, ran 6 furlongs on a good, sealed track in 1:11.89 under Victor Carrasco.
Imperial Hint eagerly overtook the early speed halfway through Saturday's $75,000 Fire Plug Stakes and then took over in the lane, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. Chublicious was along for second, a head in front of Sonny Inspired. Imperial Hint, a 4-year-old colt by Imperialism, ran 6 furlongs on the sealed track in 1:10.52 for jockey Trevor McCarthy.
Ten Carat Rock took the lead nearing the quarter pole in Saturday's $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile and held off all challengers, eventually winning by a neck over Southern California invader Power Ped. Red Zeus came from last of 10 to finish third. Ten Carat Rock, a 6-year-old Maryland-bred gelding by Rock Slide, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.73 with David Lopez up.
Weather Dodger worked his way to the lead at the eighth pole in Saturday's $85,000 Albert Dominguez Memorial Handicap for New Mexico-breds and held on to win by 3/4 length over Hit a Lick. Shining Source was another neck back in third. Weather Dodger, a 5-year-old gelding by Weather Warning, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.51 with Ken Tohill in the irons.
Internationally speaking ...
Fast-Track Qualifiers for the All-Weather Championships finals continue Tuesday at Kempton. Six 3-year-olds will go 6 furlongs for a guaranteed spot in the final with similar conditions on Good Friday. Among them, Munro, a Kyllachy colt, is looking for his third all-weather victory. Sutter County will look for an improvement after twice placing in earlier Fast-Track Qualifiers.
That follows Monday's FTQ at Wolverhampton, where eight are set for an extended 2-miles event leading to the Marathon event on the finals day at Lingfield.
Flying Jess came flying outside the leaders in the late going to win Saturday's Aus$2 million Magic Millions Guineas at the Gold Coast by a neck over multiple Group 1 winner Global Glamour. Also in her wake was previously undefeated Winning Rupert. Flying Jess, a Hinchinbrook filly, was purchased at the 2015 Magic Millions Yearling Sale. Her only previous victory was in a Group 3 last season at Morphettville.
While Flying Jess posted a big upset, it was the favorite, Houtzen, taking the Aus$1.9 million Magic Millions 2-year-old Classic by 1/2 length from Chauffeur. Houtzen, a bay filly by I Am Invincible, remains undefeated in three starts.