There were big doings during weekend Thoroughbred racing from South Africa to Hong Kong, with stops along the way as far afield as New Mexico. But the event of the year to date was the world's richest race, featuring the world's best horse.
Arrogate's dominating victory in Saturday's $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park has potentially far-reaching consequences.
For the 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song, it opens the world of opportunities for the remainder of the season. Trainer Bob Baffert said after the race he looks forward to defending the colt's title in the Breeders' Cup Classic. The rest is up in the air.
For Gulfstream Park owner Frank Stronach and his daughter, Belinda, a big gamble apparently returned big rewards. Success was defined as a world-class performance by the winner; a full field of 12 despite a $1 million entry fee; an enthusiastic on-track crowd estimated at 16,000 despite a $100 general admission ticket; extensive live coverage on NBC-TV; worldwide attention and media representation; and an extensive list of semi-major and minor celebrities.
For investors in horse racing, the results showed the $1 million entry fee does not have to be a lost cause or purely an ego trip. California Chrome's poor performance opened the door for runner-up Shaman Ghost to return a profit thanks to his $1.75 million check (albeit right back to Stronach) and Neolithic's team to break even on the investment as he earned $1 million. All other starters got $250,000 as a parting gift. That bodes well for efforts to sell entry slots for Pegasus II.
And the Stronachs plan to do it again. At a post-race news conference, Belinda Stronach scotched stories the race might move to Santa Anita -- another Stronach property -- in 2016. South Florida, she said, feels the "vibe" of the race and needs and deserves its excitement.
California Chrome, the reigning U.S. Horse of the Year, was found after the race to have swelling in a front knee. He is off to start his second career for Taylor Made Stallions in Kentucky.
Arrogate returned to California where trainer Bob Baffert and his owners, Juddmonte Farms, will plan a campaign to get him to the Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar in November. Racing manager Garrett O'Rourke did not sound enthusiastic at the prospect of sending Arrogate to the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March but deferred to trainer Baffert, who did not offer an opinion.
The powerfully built, dark gray colt, who last week was named the world's top horse, was in fine form Sunday morning before leaving Gulfsteam, assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes reported.
"I got here around 5:30, Barnes said. "We didn't have to nudge him or wake him up. He was already up. This is him. He recovers quickly. He's just a freak. He came out of the race in excellent shape. He cooled out quick last night. It was just an awesome race."
Let's race on to other matters.
While Gulfstream Park had some 16,000 people on hand for the Pegasus World Cup and wagering on the 12-race card topped $40 million, Hong Kong's New Year holiday celebration on Monday drew 96,082 and turnover for 11 races was HK$1.759 billion, or about US$226.7 million. That's despite rain.
As at Gulfstream, there also was some excellent racing at Sha Tin.
Trainer John Moore saddled the first three finishers in the featured Group I Stewards Cup at 1,600 meters as Helene Paragon, Joyful Trinity and Able Friend paraded across the line. All three came from well off the pace with jockey Tommy Berry working hard to get Helene Paragon a path to daylight from the 300 meters to score by 3/4 length. Joyful Trinity took the outside route while Able Friend, who may have been the best in the race, was blocked badly through the top of the lane and was gaining ground near the end.
"He had to force a passage today," Moore said of Helene Paragon, who started his career in Spain. "He bulldogged his way out and got to the line really strongly. He beat Beauty Only by the margin I thought he would have beaten him by in the Hong Kong Mile. I thought he was a bit unlucky not to win that."
Moore said Helene Paragon is ticketed for the Group 1 Dubai Turf at Meydan on World Cup night in Dubai, with an intermediate stop in the Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at Sha Tin next month. Oddly, Moore said Able Friend, not Helene Paragon, might be the one to beat in the Silver Jubilee Cup after his troubled trip on Monday. "If Able Friend was the only horse I trained, I'd be up at the bar having a few drinks. I'd be sick," Moore said.
The remaining order of finish in the Stewards Cup included some of Hong Kong's revered names, in order: Contentment, Beauty Only, Werther, Giant Treasure, Designs On Rome, Blazing Speed, Sun Jewellery, Secret Weapon and Beauty Flame.
The Group 2 Centenery Sprint Cup featured a shakeup of the Hong Kong stars who dominated the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint in December. Peniaphobia, who finished third in December, got home first this time around with Lucky Bubbles again playing the bridesmaid while the December winner, Aerovelocity, struggled home last of eight in Monday's race.
Peniaphobia, under Neil Callan, shot right out of the gate and led all the way. Not Listenin'tome, who was seventh on International Day, improved to take third. Aerovelocity raced just behind the winner and looked the real danger right up inside the 300-meters mark, then stopped badly and wasn't asked in the final 100 meters.
"He began very well," Callan said of Peniaphopia. "He just showed effortless speed at the start. Tony (trainer Tony Cruz) said he was the only front-runner in the field and that was my plan, to just let him roll up into position on the front end rather than push him. He did that with minimum fuss because he jumped so cleanly. I was able to cross them and get to the rail."
Cruz said Peniaphobia holds an entry for the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai on World Cup night but he will have to consult with the owner before deciding whether to make the trip.
Moore and Jockey Sam Clipperton combined to win the last race, the Class 3 Kut Cheong Handicap at 1,600 meters, with BMW Hong Kong Derby prospect Booming Delight giving both trainer and jockey a triple. "It looks like we'll have six or seven Derby runners so I'm very happy," said Moore
Whisky Baron caught the favorite, Legal Eagle, in the late going to win Saturday's Grade I Sun Met at Kenilworth by 1 1/2 lengths with the field spread out across the track in the final 100 meters. Captain America, the winner's stablemate, was third after showing the way early and Gold Standard finished fourth. Bela-Bela, the only filly in the race, made a bold move on the inside rail at mid-stretch but could not sustain the effort and finished seventh.
It was the fifth consecutive win for Whisky Baron, a Manhattan Rain gelding, but his first at the Grade I level. Jockey Grey Cheyne said he knew Whisky Baron did not have the depth of experience enjoyed by many of his competitors in Cape Town's premier race. But, he said, he and trainer Brett Crawford were confident. The winner is owned by former international cricket player Craig Kieswetter and his brother, Ross.
Carry On Alice edged the favorite, Trip to Heaven, in the Grade I Betting World Cape Flying Championship. Red Ray was third. Carry On Alice, with S'Manga Khumalo up for trainer Sean Tarry, finished the 1,000 meters in 58.22 seconds.
Khumalo sent Carry On Alice to challenge for the lead with some 300 meters to run. She battled to gain the advantage, then held on gamely to repel the charge of Trip to Heaven in the final yards. The top two are trained by Sean Tarry. Carry On Alice now has won Grade I races at ages 2, 3, 4 and 5. "Amazing," Tarry said of that feat.
Edit of Nantes, toting Frankie Dettori, took the Grade I Investec Cape Derby by a convincing 1 3/4 lengths over Zodiac Ruler with Captain Gambler third. Edict of Nantes, a Count Dubois colt, ran 2,000 meters in 2:07.43.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Sam Houston Race Park
Unbridled Mo rallied to the lead three-wide in Sunday's $40,000 Grade III Houston Ladies Classic and raced on, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, I'm a Chatterbox. Family Tree was third after chasing the early pace. Unbridled Mo, a 4-year-old Uncle Mo filly, toured 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.89 with Jose Ortiz up. It was the first start of the year for the Todd Pletcher trainee, who won four of six starts last year, including the Grade III Monmouth Oaks.
"Todd told me to warm her up good and put her in a good position," Ortiz said. "She's a big filly and when she hit her big stride, I felt I had a good chance. But when I'm a Chatterbox came to us, I got after my filly left-handed and we were able to win."
Bigger Picture got through on the inside to take the lead turning for home in Sunday's $200,000 Grade III John B. Connally Turf Cup, repelled a big from Oscar Nominated and went on to defeat that rival by 1 1/4 lengths. Greengrassofyoming was third. Bigger Picture, a 6-year-old Badge of Silver gelding, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:32.24 with Ortiz aboard. Michael Maker trains the winner for Three Diamonds Farm and also handles second- and third-place finishers.
"The horse continued to train well and Jose had a great trip," Maker said of Bigger Picture. "The rail opened up and he took advantage of it. Greengrassofyoming was compromised by the slow pace and Oscar Nominated ran a credible race in his first start a 4-year-old." Bigger Picture won the Grade III Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct in November but then faltered in the Claiming Crown Jewel, finishing eighth in his last start before Sunday's triumph.
Partly Mocha got the jump on heavy favorite Hogy in Sunday's $75,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint and made the advantage stand up, winning by a head. Hogy, rallying from last of nine, finished 2 lengths ahead of Shadow Rock in third. Partly Mocha, an 8-year-old Half Ours gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.64 seconds with Ortiz riding another winner.
Laughingsaintssong dueled to the lead in Sunday's $50,000 Space City Stakes for 3-year-olds and then kicked away to win by 3 lengths. Prado's Way was second with a late rush from the back of the field and St. Louie Guy got show money. The favorite, En Hanse, finished a dull seventh. Laughingsaintssong, a Songandaprayer gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.92 with Kerwin Clark in the irons.
Hip Hop N Jazz showed the way in Sunday's $50,000 Houston Distaff and edged off in the final sixteenth to win by 1 1/2 lengths over long shot Stormquility. Artistic License was along for third. Hip Hop N Jazz, a 5-year-old Speightstown mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.93 with Florent Geroux in the irons.
Imperative rallied three-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $400,000 Poseidon Handicap and tracked down the favorite, Stanford, in the final jumps to win by a head. Madefromlucky was 4 1/2 lengths farther back in third in the initial running of this race, the backup event to the Pegasus.
Imperative, a 7-year-old Bernardini gelding, saved ground while racing behind the leading pack down the backstretch. He responded quickly when asked by jockey Antonio Gallardo and ran relentlessly outside the favorite through the final sixteenth for the win.
"It reminded me of (California) Chrome and Arrogate in the Breeders' Cup," said winning owner Ron Paolucci.
It was only the fourth win for Imperative in his 36th lifetime start -- many against the top horses in California. Stanford, a 5-year-old son of Malibu Moon, had been first or second in eight of his last 11 starts and won the Grade III Harlan's Holiday going a sixteenth shorter over the same track in December.
Suffused took the lead entering the stretch run in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III La Prevoyante for fillies and mares and held off Arles to win by 1 length. Try Your Luck was was third, edging long shot Quiet Kitten. Two separate claims of foul resulted from the tight stretch run but neither was allowed.
Suffused, a 5-year-old, English-bred mare by Champs Elysees, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:26.04 under Jose Ortiz, overcoming a No. 12 starting slot.
"It was a heady ride from Jose," said Garrett O'Rourke, racing manager for the winning owner, Juddmonte Farms. "I don't think there was any point when it didn't seem she'd be able to show her class."
It was her first start since October, when she was beaten by a nose in the Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine. Of the rest of the year, O'Rourke said, "Another Grade I down the road would be the thought for her." Added trainer Bill Mott, "She'll keep running. She just got good towards the end of last year. I guess it's just maturity." Mott said the $200,000 Orchid Handicap on April 1 may be a goal.
Taghleeb outfinished Saddler's Joy in Saturday's $200,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap, winning by a head over that foe. Patterson Cross led briefly at the top of the lane at odds of 38-1 and held on to get show money. Taghleeb, a 6-year-old son of Hard Spun, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:25.90 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons. "It was great," said trainer Mike Maker. "He had a perfect trip." His current owners claimed Taghleeb from his breeder, Shadwell Farms, for $62,500 last summer at Saratoga. He went on to win the Remington Green Stakes in Oklahoma, then was seventh in the Grade I Canadian International at Woodbine, usually one of the toughest of North American turf stakes. He wound up last year running fourth in the Grade III River City at Churchill Downs.
Curlin's Approval, the heavy favorite, broke a step slowly in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Hurricane Bertie for fillies and mares and ran an unaccustomed few lengths behind the leaders down the backstretch. With Luis Saez at the controls, the 4-year-old Curlin filly worked around the competition on the turn, took the lead at the top of the stretch and got away late to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Genre was second, just in front of long shot Distinta. Curlin's Approval ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.23, scoring her fourth win from seven starts and first in a graded stakes.
"I think this filly will go on and be in the winner's circle in Grade I competition," said winning owner-trainer Happy Alter. "She'd never been that far back before but she proved she could handle it. This is a great day at Gulfstream and I'm glad to be a part of it."
Pretty Perfection sat behind a quick pace in Saturday's $125,000 Ladies Turf Sprint, surged to the lead at mid-stretch and worked clear, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. Everything Lovely held off a late run by Triple Chelsea to finish second. Pretty Perfection, a 5-year-old mare by Majestic Perfection, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in -55.31 seconds with Nik Juarez up. "I think having so much speed helped," said winning trainer Kelly Breen. "I'm just getting to know the filly - I've only had her for a couple of races -- so knowing that she can sit and not go, go, go makes her a very versatile filly."
Power Alert, racing wide the whole way, got to the lead at the furlong marker in Saturday's $125,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint, then was all out to preserve the victory by a nose over a late-running Rainbow Heir. Long On Value added value to the trifecta with a third-place finish. Power Alert, a 7-year-old, Australian-bred gelding by Alert, finished 5 furlongs on firm turf in 54.90 with jockey Julien Leparoux picking up his third win on the rich card. Power Alert made it two in a row, following a win in the Turf Dash at Tampa Bay Downs over the same conditions on New Year's Eve. He also made it two in a row in this race and 5-for-5 at Gulfstream. "I knew they were going fast early because if my horse is not on the lead, they're going too fast," Leparoux said. "He really loves this track. I knew he got up and got his head down at the wire."
Athena came to the lead in the stretch drive in Saturday's $125,000 American Beauty Stakes for fillies and mares, survived some contact with Marquee Miss and prevailed by 3/4 length. Marquee Miss finished second but was set down to sixth for a list of infractions of which the contact with the winner was the latest. That promoted A Gala Day to second and D R C's Pretty Sky to third. Athena, a 5-year-old Street Sense mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.65 with Joe Rocco Jr. aboard. "She was great. Really brave," Rocco said. "I was able to get to the fence and save all the ground. Lukas's horse was kind of lugging out. We were able to get in there before the other horse shut us off too bad. She showed a lot of guts. Really proud of her."
Conquest Mo Money opened up the New Mexico road to the Kentucky Derby with an upset win in Sunday's $100,000 Riley Allison Stakes. With Jorge Carreno up, the New York-bred Uncle Mo colt dueled to the lead after a half mile and drew off to win by 11 lengths at odds of nearly 14-1. Wine N Divine came from last of 10 to finish second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of the favorite, Underwood. Conquest Mo ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.42.
Kell Paso worked to the lead after a half mile in Sunday's $65,000 El Paso Times Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and drew off in the final furlong to win by 2 1/2 lengths. The even-money favorite, Christina's Comet, was easily second-best with a late surge, finishing 3 3/4 lengths ahead of I'm Patriotic. Kell Paso, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Divine Park, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.80 under Ricardo Jaime.
Dublin Girl outfinished Toni Fools to win Sunday's $100,000 Maddie May Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies by 1 length. Bree's Got Heart was third. Dublin Girl, a daughter of Dublin out of the Carson City mare Carson City Girl, ran 1 mileand 70 yards over the fast inner track in 1:46.46 with Kendrick Carmouche riding. The filly, trained by Dominick Schettino, took three tries to get her first win, accomplishing that task Jan. 2 at the Big A.
Haul Anchor did just that at the start of Saturday's $100,000 Gander Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds, racing quickly to the front, then leading all the way to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Carradine. Bourbon Empire and the odds-on favorite, Bavaro, completed the order of finish. Haul Anchor, a Bernardini colt, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast inner track in 1:43.31 with Cornelio Velasquez up. The outcome backed up Haul Anchor's victory in the Damon Runyon Stakes on Dec. 29. He has missed the exacta exactly once in seven career outings.
Enola Gray rolled down the hillside turf course in hot pursuit of the early leader, Desert Steel, in Saturday's $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint, took a short lead after crossing the main track and drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Smoove It rallied to finish second, edging Desert Steel. Enola Gray, a 4-year-old Grazen filly, finished about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:12.10 with Tyler Baze riding.
Sircat Sally pressed the pace in Saturday's $200,000 California Cup Oaks, opened a big lead in the lane and cruised home first by 2 1/4 lengths over How About Zero. Princess Roi was third. Sircat Sally, a Surf Cat filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.08 with Baze up.
Richard's Boy took a narrow lead in the lane in Saturday's $150,000 Cal Cup Sprint, then was all out to win by a nose from the late-running Well Measured. Acceptance was third. Richard's Boy, a 5-year-old gelding by Idiot Proof, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.71 with Flavien Prat at the controls.
Ashleyluvssugar eased by pacesetting What a View at mid-stretch in Saturday's $250,000 California Cup Turf Classic and dueled to the wire with that rival before prevailing by 1/2 length. Ward 'n Jerry was a long shot third. Ashleyluvssugar, a 6-year-old Game Plan gelding, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.43 with Pratt aboard.
Ann Arbor Eddie caught pacesetting favorite California Diamond in the final strides to win Saturday's $250,000 California Cup Derby by 1/2 length. Tribal Storm finished third. California Diamond was the only favorite failing to win in the day's five stakes for state-bred horses. Ann Arbor Eddie, the third choice at the windows, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.65 with Mario Gutierrez up. He is a Square Eddie gelding.
In Sunday's feature, Stormy Liberal stormed down the hillside turf course, leading all the way to a 1 1/2-lengths victory in the $75,000 Clocker's Corner Stakes. Forever Juanito was second, 1 1/2 lengths better than Blameitonthelaw. Stormy Liberal, a 5-year-old Stormy Atlantic gelding, finished in 1:11.91 with Norberto Arroyo Jr. riding.
Ocala Training Center
Master Plan started last of eight in Tuesday's $100,000 colts and geldings division of the OBS Championship for 3-year-olds, rallied between rivals around the turn and got away in the stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Convict Pike and Sailing Home finished second and third. Master Plan, a Twirling Candy colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44 under John Velazquez.
In the $100,000 division for 3-year-old fillies division, Dynatail led all the way to a 1 3/4-lengths victory over On Her Honor with My Arch Enemy running best late to get show money. Dynatail, a daughter of Hightail out of the Dynaformer mare Southern Dynamo, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:46 1/5 with Orlando Bocachica in the irons.
Uncle B dueled to the lead in the OBS Sprint colts and geldings division, then worked clear to win by 3 lengths over My Friend. Storming My Way, who contested the early lead, held on to finish third. Uncle B, a Zensational colt, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:08 3/5 with Luis Saez riding.
Yes I'll Go dueled one rival into submission midway through the OBS Sprint for sophomore fillies, then found another gear and surged away to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Lady Racer was second; Heart Astray, third. Yes I'll Go, a daughter of Yes It's True, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10 4/5. Saez had the mount.
Equation took the lead in the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Big Easy Stakes for fillies and mares and held on for the win despite drifting out badly in the late going. Simple Surprise finished second, 1/2 length back, and her jockey filed an objection based on the stretch run but the stewards let the finish stand. Calypso Run finished third, another 2 lengths back. Equation, a 4-year-old daughter of In Summation, ran about 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.44 with James Graham up.