A pair of names seldom heard in Kentucky Derby previews – Girvin and Conquest Mo Money – nonetheless were the winners in weekend Derby preps.
On the international scene, some often-heard names were big winners, including Winx in Australia and Werther in Hong Kong.
Ever-expanding Thoroughbred action also included The Emir's Sword Festival in Qatar and the Winter Derby in England.
Winter is coming ... to an end. But we're just getting started.
The Road to the Roses
Girvin, making just his third career start, upset Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Risen Star, saving ground much of the way behind the early speed, then getting through when a spot opened on the rail to win by 2 lengths. Untrapped was second, 2 1/4 lengths behind Local Hero, who made all the early going.
Girvin, a Tale of Ekati colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.08 with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons. The favorite, Grade II Remsen winner Mo Town, finished fifth.
Girvin won at first asking over the same track in December, then finished second, beaten only 3/4 length, in his second start, that on the Fair Grounds grass. Saturday's race was the first in the Churchill Downs-designated series worth 50 points toward a potential start in the Run for the Roses and the victory jumped Girvin to the top of that list.
"The horse did the job for us," Hernandez said. "You have to give him the credit. He put us in a good spot the whole way and traveled like a true professional. For a horse to come out and do what he did today in just his third start, that shows what kind of special animal he truly is."
Added winning trainer Joe Sharp, "We believed in the horse all along. I lost my voice (from cheering) and we're in shock and very excited. He will stay here and probably run in the Louisiana Derby. We'll let him tell us, but that's my inclination." Ricardo Santana Jr., aboard Untrapped, said his colt had "no excuse. He ran his race and ran hard and maybe got a little tired."
Conquest Mo Money worked to the lead a half mile through Sunday's $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico and easily held off Southern California-trained favorite Irap, winning by 2 lengths. Oh So Regal was third, another 2 lengths back.
Conquest Mo Money, a New York-bred Uncle Mo colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.12 with Jorge Carreno up. He now is 3-for-3 with all his races run at Sunland. Owner Tom McKenna said the colt will stay home for the $800,000 Grade III Sunland Park Derby on March 26.
Irap, by Tiznow, finished second in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in his previous outing and also was second in the Grade I Cash Call Futurity at Los Alamitos.
The Road to the Oaks
Farrell stretched her winning streak to three with a front-running win in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds. The Malibu Moon filly went out to a big early lead under Channing Hill, easily held off a challenge by Valadorna and went on to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Long shot Majestic Quality caught Valadorna to finish second and the favorite, California invader Shane's Girlfriend, got home fifth. Farrell ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.09.
Farrell broke her maiden at Churchill Downs in October, then won the Grade II Golden Rod by 6 lengths when stretched out around two turns for the first time. She was equally impressive in her initial start as a 3-year-old, winning the Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds.
"She's really versatile, so I just let her have her way," Hill said. Trainer Wayne Catalano, asked about the Kentucky Oaks, said Farrell "should be one of the top choices. But there are a few more races to go."
Yorkiepoo Princess charged five-wide from well back in the field to win Saturday's $150,000 Busher Stakes at Aqueduct by 1 3/4 lengths. Full House was second and Tiz Rae Anna, a 37-1 long shot, led the way, then held on for show money. Yorkiepoo Princess, a Kantharos filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:47.69 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. It was her third straight win, all on the Big A's inner oval.
"I thought it was a great trip," said winning trainer Edward Barker. "He rode her perfect. She ran the race basically like we trained her -- to rate a little bit and try to come off of the pace, and she was able to do it."
Mopotism, the odds-on favorite, had to work for it but eventually got clear to a 3/4-lengths victory in Sunday's $75,000 Island Fashion Stakes at Sunland Park. After trailing the early speed, Mopotism took over at the three-quarters pole, was headed by Kell Paso and then came again to get the winner's share. Sippin finished third, 7 1/2 lengths behind Kell Paso.
Mopotism, a Kentucky-bred Uncle Mo filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.18 with Mario Guterriez up for trainer Doug O'Neill. She finished second in the Grade II Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita in her last start, 8 3/4 lengths behind Unique Bella, the division leader and possibly the best 3-year-old of either gender.
Werther returned to top form Sunday, winning the capper of two Group 1 races at Sha Tin in a dramatic finish with stablemate Able Friend, earning a trip to Dubai and polishing off a super day for his trainer, John Moore.
Werther, the reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year, missed much of the season with a suspensory injury, returning only in January to finish sixth in the Grade I Stewards' Cup. But Moore had faith in him – a faith that was rewarded as the 5-year-old Tavistock gelding got by Blazing Speed in deep stretch in the Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup after working his way through some serious traffic issues on the final bend.
At the end, he won by a short head with Secret Weapon third. The 2,000 meters went in 2:03.78 with Hugh Bowman at the controls.
"I'm ecstatic that we got away with it today," Moore said. "And, had he not been interfered with, he probably would have won by a length or so. But that's racing and I'm now looking forward to Dubai with him. Hopefully he doesn't do anything silly beforehand, though, because he is a bit quirky."
Four races earlier, in the Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup, Moore sent out the first three finishers – Helene Paragon, Able Friend and Joyful Trinity. Tommy Berry, aboard Helene Paragon, began an attack from near the back of the field as the they entered the turn and Joao Moreira, fresh from a Group 1 win the day before in Australia, went right with him. They swept by the early leaders with just 100 meters to go and it was only in the final strides that Helene Paragon separated from his stablemate to win by 3/4 length. Joyful Trinity was making up ground at the end as Helene Paragon covered 1,400 meters in 1:21.31.
Helene Paragon, a 5-year-old entire son of Polan, was last seen winning the aforementioned Stewards' Cup, with Joyful Trinity and Able Friend second and third in that 1,600 meters.
Moore said he's not yet ready to declare Helene Paragon has surpassed Able Friend as the stable star. But he clearly was happy with his sweep of the placings.
"It is satisfying. It was good that all of them dug deep in the end, and 'The Bulldog', as Tommy describes him, never gives up. It was a nice fight to the line," Moore said. As to plans for Helene Paragon, he added, "We'll just have to have a look but his target will be the Champions Mile," another Group 1 at Sha Tin on May 7.
Winx scored her 15th straight victory and surpassed the winning streak of the mighty Phar Lap on Saturday, overcoming a short turnaround and heavy going as she cruised to a 2-length victory in the Group 1 TAB Chipping Norton Stakes at Royal Randwick.
Winx was virtually on cruise control as she pulled away from the opposition in the late going, finishing 1,600 meters in 1:40.37 despite a downpour that produced heavy turf and caused trainer Chris Waller to consider scratching the 5-year-old Street Cry mare. Lasqueti Spirit was second with Who Shot the Barman taking third. Hartnell, who was second to Winx in last year's Group 1 Cox Plate, was a non-factor Saturday, finishing eighth in a field of 10.
Waller said the conditions gave him serious pause and it was only after walking the track that he gave Winx the go-ahead. And go ahead she did. Jockey Hugh Bowman said he had Winx geared down when it was clear the race was won.
Winx's winning streak dates back to May of 2015, when she won the Sunshine Coast Guineas (G3T). She has scored at distances from 1,300 meters to 2,200 meters and ran Saturday on just 12 days rest as her previous outing was delayed by extreme hot weather.
In Group I action Saturday at Caulfield, where the turf was good:
Black Heart Bart was all out to nip Japanese import Tosen Stardom in the Group 1 italktravel Futurity Stakes at 1,400 meters.
Catchy, a Fastnet Rock filly, remained undefeated in four starts, edging Pariah in the Group 1 Ladbrokes Blue Diamond Stakes for 2-year-olds.
Sheidel, with Hong Kong's star rider Joao Moreira in for the ride, posted a small upset in the Group 1 Resimax Group Oakleigh Plate, beating Faatinah by 1 length with the favorite, Extreme Choice, third.
Chopin easily turned back Germany-trained favorite Noor Al Hawa to take Saturday's $1 million H.H. The Emir's Trophy, presented by Longines, by 4 lengths over that rival. Fundamental finished third and the only American-trained runner, Royal Albert Hall, got home 12th in a field of 16 with Alan Garcia up for trainer Doug O'Neill. Alberto Sanna rode the winner over 2,400 meters on the grass, taking over on the back straight and never surrendering the advantage. The 7-year-old German-bred is by Santiago. He is trained in Bahrain but raced last year in Ireland and, before that, in Germany under trainer Andreas Wohler, who saddled Noor Al Hawa in Saturday's feature.
In Saturday's $250,000 Dukhan Sprint, sponsored by Breeders' Cup, Izzthatright, an Irish-bred, defeated Black Granite by a head with Caspian Sea third, another head in arrears. It was a sweep of the top spots for Irish-breds in the initial race of a partnership agreement between Breeders' Cup and the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club. The QREC sponsors the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint this November at the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Del Mar.
Convey, under new ownership and trained by Sir Michael Stoute, found his best stride late to win Saturday's Group 3 Betway Winter Derby at Lingfield Park and earn a guaranteed spot in the Betway Easter Classic on All-Weather Championship Finals Day on Good Friday, April 14, over the course an the same 2,000 meters.
With Andrea Atzeni up, the 5-year-old was along just in time to nail pacesetting Pinzolo by a neck. Absolute Blast, Zhui Feng and reigning All-Weather champion Grendistar were along after those two, all within a length of the winner. The antepost favorite, Mutakayyef, was scratched with a foot absess.
"After Mutakayyef came out, I thought that Convey was the best horse in the race," Atzeni said. "He obviously likes the All-Weather, having won on it before, and is a horse that has always had a lot of ability. He has been gelded and could be a decent horse over the summer."
On the same card, jockey Aaron Jones won in his first-ever Listed-level race, guiding home Royal Birth in the 5-furlongs Betway Hever Sprint. That win was good enough to ensure a spot in the Betway All-Weather Sprint Championship over 6 furlongs at Lingfield on finals day. He ranged up from mid-field to catch Lancelot Du Lac in the shadow of the wire, winning by 1/2 length with Verne Castle third and the favorite, Pretend, fifth after a slow start.
"Royal Birth stays six furlongs, so we always knew that he would come home, and he has got plenty of speed," said winning trainer Stuart Williams. Hopefully, he will head to Finals Day now." Williams said Jones "really gets on well on the horse and is a steal for his three-pound claim."
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Enterprising shadowed pacesetting favorite Oscar Nominated through the early stages of Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap, moved up outside that rival in the stretch run and prevailed by 3/4 length. One Mean Man was third, 1 length farther back. Enterprising, a 6-year-old Elusive Quality gelding, ran about 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.80 with Julien Leparoux riding for trainer Mike Maker. Has moved up from the claiming ranks since going unclaimed for an $80,000 tag at Belmont Park last summer.
"Mike told me to get him into the race because he can be a bit lazy," Leparoux said. "There was a slow half, but I got him into the race. At the quarter pole, I tried to get a jump on him. From there it was straight on home."
Honorable Duty came from the middle of the field to win Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Mineshaft Handicap by 1/2 length over International Star. Dazzling Gem finished third and the favorite, December Seven, faded to finish fifth. Honorable Duty, a 5-year-old Distorted Humor gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.03 with Leparoux up. It was his fifth win from his last seven starts.
Believe in Bertie, the odds-on favorite, scored her second straight win in Saturday's $75,000 Daisy Devine Stakes for fillies and mares. Quickly on the lead, the 4-year-old Langfur filly held on at the end to win by 1/2 length from Kitten's Roar. Cambodia was another neck back in third. Believe in Bertie, with Shaun Bridgmohan in the irons, ran about 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.31.
Hogy got by Green Mask in the stretch run to win Saturday's $60,000 Colonel Power Stakes by 1 length. Grand Candy was another 3 1/2 lengths in arrears while finishing third. Hogy, an 8-year-old Offlee Wild gelding, ran 5 fulongs on firm turf in 1:01.56 under Florent Geroux.
Unified led all the way in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes, opened a daylight lead in the lane and held off the favorite, Mind Your Biscuits, for a neck victory. Squadron A finished third. Unified, a 4-year-old Candy Ride colt, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.30 for jockey Jose Ortiz.
Unified won the Grade III Bay Shore at Aqueduct and the Grade II Peter Pan at Belmont. But he then finished fifth in the Grade III Pegasus at Monmouth Park in June and wasn't seen again in the afternoon until Saturday's race. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said he has ambitious plans for Unified.
"You definitely need to look at the Met Mile for sure with his easy speed," Jerkens said. "Belmont can be so speed-favoring, especially in the spring time, and you can get a little further than you would otherwise. [The Met] would be a big race to go for, for sure."
Morticia also led from the start in winning Saturday's $75,000 Melody of Colors Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. With Jose Lezcano driving, the Twirling Candy filly got home 3/4 length ahead of Attyia, who shadowed her through the 5-furlongs turf contest. Morticia was timed in 55.06 seconds.
Derek's Smile was on the lead but under pressure throughout Saturday's $75,000 Texas Glitter Stakes for 3-year-olds and then survived a late bid from Uncle B, winning by 3/4 length. Apache Brave was third. Derek's Smile, a Brother Derek colt, finished 5 furlongs on firm going in 55.77 seconds with Paco Lopez up.
Racer started first and finished first in Saturday's $100,000 Nodouble Breeders' Stakes for Arkansas-breds, defeating the odds-on favorite, Weast Hill, by 1 1/4 lengths. Rock City Roadhog was third. Racer, a Jonesboro gelding, toured 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.22 with Jon Court in the irons.
Easter Indy tracked the pace in Friday's $100,000 Downthedustyroad Breeders' Stakes for Arkansas-bred fillies and mares, rallied four-wide into the turn and sailed home first by 1 length over Lady's Lake. Nikki's Rose was a nose farther back in third. Easter Indy, a 5-year-old mare by A.P. Million, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.66 for jockey Walter De La Cruz.
Avanti Bello stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Tiznow Stakes for California-breds, moved to the lead turning into the stretch and won off by 1 3/4 lengths. Grazen Sky was second with Solid Wager third, another 1/2 length adrift. Avanti Bello, a 5-year-old son of Include, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.95 with Flavien Prat in the irons.
Only three horses lined up to contest Saturday's $100,000 Sensational Star Stakes for state-breds down the hillside turf course and Ambitious Brew proved best, catching Richard's Boy in the final jumps to win by a nose. Betty's Bambino was third and last, only another 1 1/2 lengths behind. Ambitious Brew, a 7-year-old Tizbud gelding, finished about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:12.05 with Mike Smith riding.
The $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup topped a four-stakes program on Saturday's card.
In the Gold Cup, Iron Fist set a pressured pace, shook off his pursuers in the stretch and ran on to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Fear the Cowboy. Money Flows completed the trifecta. Iron Fist, a 5-year-old son of Tapit, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.88 with Iram Vargas Diego up. The gray horse, trained by Steve Asmussen, has been in the money in several important graded stakes but the Gold Cup was his first added-money win of any type. "My horse was running easily, so I let him go," Diego said. "When Money Flows started to get a little closer, I hit my horse, and he took it to another gear."
Partly Mocha caught pacesetting American Sailor in the final jump to win the $50,000 Bucharest Turf Sprint by a head with Mascherato third. Partly Mocha, an 8-year-old gelding by Half Ours, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.44 with Colby Hernandez aboard.
Stormquility outfinished Susie Bee in the $50,000 Jersey Lilly Turf Sprint for fillies and mares, winning by a neck. The pacesetter, Enchanteresse, was only a neck farther back in third. Stormquility, a 6-year-old Aftermarket mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on the grass in 1:45.66 with Curtis Kimes in the irons.
Taco rallied from halfway back in the pack to take the $50,000 Texas Heritage Stakes for 3-year-olds by 1 1/2 lengths over Tiz a Melody. Fast Talkin Man was third. Taco, a Gio Ponti colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the green course in 1:45.67 under Jesus Rios.
Forest Mouse stalked the pace in Sunday's $75,000 Curribot Handicap, took the lead halfway home and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Overland Park. The odds-on favorite, Semper Fortis, reported third. Forest Mouse, a 9-year-old son of Teton Forest, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.17 with Ry Eikleberry up.