Some budding 3-year-old rivalries took center stage in weekend thoroughbred racing with action building to both the Kentucky Derby in two weeks and "the" Derby a month later on Epsom Downs.
In the weekend's richest race, Imperative got the job done in the Charles Town Classic. Collected showed promise while winning the Californian at Santa Anita. Unbridled Mo continued her run as Keeneland's all-too-brief season chugged toward its conclusion.
It was nice to see Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth celebrating her 91st birthday at the races, looking splendid in a blue outfit.
And it was a nice weekend for Sheik Mohammed's Godolphin racing, with a Group 1 win in Australia, two promising juveniles performing in England and four wins on Saturday's Keeneland program.
Enough promising. Let's get to it:
Twisted Tom and O Dionysus continued their rivalry in Saturday's $125,000 Federico Tessio Stakes at Laurel with the former coming out on top for the second straight time. With Feargal Lynch up, Twisted Tom battled his way to the lead on the turn, fought off a challenge from O Dionysus at the top of the lane and got away to win by 2 1/4 lengths. O Dionysus held second with Action This Day third. The odds-on favorite, Carradine, was fourth in a race that often showcases candidates for the Preakness Stakes.
Twisted Tom, a Creative Cause gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:53.60. Winning trainer Chad Brown noted Twisted Tom is not nominated to the Triple Crown, which currently would be a $200,000 problem.
"It certainly complicates things, so I'll speak to the ownership group," Brown said. "Right now we'll just enjoy this win. We'll see how the horse comes out of the race physically and then we'll all probably speak about it next week sometime and come up with a plan."
In suburban Chicago, Multiplier saved ground into the stretch turn in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Illinois Derby, came out for running room and outfinished the favorite, Hedge Fund, winning by a head. It's Your Nickel was well back in third.
Multiplier, a bay colt by The Factor, ran 9 furlongs on a fast Hawthorne Race Course track in 1:47.98 with James Graham aboard. The colt made his first three starts during the Fair Grounds meet, finishing third, then second and finally scoring on the third try for trainer Brendan Walsh.
"He might have settled a bit too well," Graham said. "He's kind of lazy. But he has a great career ahead of him. Have you seen him? He's gorgeous. All kidding aside, he's a beautiful horse and Brendan has done a great job with him. I'm just happy to be a part of this."
For the second straight time in a big-money race, Imperative has got the better of Stanford. Last time the two met, Imperative dueled with Stanford throughout the $400,000 Poseidon Handicap on Pegasus World Cup Day before nailing down a close decision.
Saturday, Imperative rallied from well back to win the $1.25 million Grade II Charles Town Classic while Stanford, making his first start over a sloppy track, faded from a hotly contested lead to finish fifth. Matt King Coal and War Story filled the trifecta slots in Saturday's race.
Imperative, a 7-year-old Bernardini gelding, either shows up or he doesn't -- apparently depending on locale. After the Poseidon triumph, he shipped to California to finish last of nine in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, beaten 22 lengths. He was fourth in last year's Charles Town Classic, won by Stanford.
With Javier Castellano up this time around, Imperative waited until the final furlong to put in a bid. As Stanford folded, Matt King Coal took a brief lead, only to give way in the final strides, losing by a neck. War Story was another neck back in third as the 1 1/8 miles around three turns went in 1:53.05.
"Plenty of pace. We had a smooth trip," said winning trainer Bob Hess. "I thought we might be in trouble going into the far turn and I thought he was really wide but I didn't know how much horse he had left. Javier found that extra gear and when he got to the front, he might have hung a touch but then kind of surged again, so it was exciting. Very exciting."
Part owner Ron Paolucci said the key to Imperative "is getting him away from California ... It's not a good surface for him to train on." He said his runner will stay east and eye the Met Mile.
Collected dueled for the lead in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Californian at Santa Anita, started to assert himself on the stretch turn and got home first by 3 3/4 lengths to collect the big check. Follow Me Crev was second and Prospect Park third.
Collected, a 4-year-old City Zip colt, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:47.73 with Martin Garcia in the irons for trainer Bob Baffert. He now has won both starts this month following a vacation that stretched back to a 10th-place finish in last year's Preakness.
"He's really matured into a big strong horse and now we're able to conserve that speed a little bit," Baffert said. "Before, he was just wanting to go, go, go and now he's learning to conserve. The more he's learning to conserve it, the more we're able to stretch him out a little. He handled it really well today, even with pressure." Baffert said the $500,000 Grade I Gold Cup on May 27 "is possible". Part-owner Peter Fluor said the plan is to "look to the Breeders' Cup (Classic) at Del Mar in November and work your way back."
Unbridled Mo continued to make her mark with a handy victory in a short field in Friday's $100,000 Grade III Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland. After tracking the pace under John Velazquez, the 4-year-old Uncle Mo filly swept to the lead approaching the turn and held off a determined bid by Power of Snunner to win by 3/4 length, finishing 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.11. Lady Fog Horn was third and Dear Elaine completed the order of finish.
Velazquez said Unbridled Mo filly wanted to relax once she found the front. "It was her, just waiting, looking at the crowd and everything. Thank God the other horse came to her and made her run again," he said. Unbridled Mo scored her sixth win from eight lifetime starts.
On the turf
Itsinthepost was right there at the winning post in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland. After tracking the pace, the 5-year-old French-bred gelding by American Post switched out four-wide entering the stretch and ran by the leaders to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Charming Kitten put in a late bid from the back of the eight-horse field to take second, a neck in front of Bigger Picture and another neck in front of Danish Dynaformer.
Itsinthepost, with Tyler Baze up, ran 1 1/2 miles on yielding turf in 2:31.22. The victory backed up his score in last month's Grade II San Luis Rey at Santa Anita.
"This horse has been just a phenomenal horse, especially the last year," Baze said. "He gives it everything. Once I got him to the outside, it was just a matter of being patient because this stretch is a long stretch." Winning trainer Jeff Mullins added, "It seems like the further he goes the better he gets."
Inordinate outfinished Syntax by 1/2 length after 1 3/4 miles in Saturday's $100,000 San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita. Power Foot led briefly at the top of the lane before being passed by the top two but held third.
Inordinate, a 5-year-old son of Harlan's Holiday, finished in 2:50.51 over firm turf with Corey Nakatani up. It was his first win since a Group 3 event at Chantilly in France nearly two years earlier and followed a seventh-place showing in the San Juan Capistrano.
Trainer Richard Baltas: "I don't know why I put the blinkers on last time. We took 'em off today and got a great ride. I thought the top two horses both ran big races. The cheap speed went and these two decided it. It was a helluva race."
Secretary at War showed the way in Saturday's $100,000 Woodhaven Stakes for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct and held on gamely to win by 1/2 length over the favorite, Frostmourne. The latter mounted a stern challenge but could never come to even terms. Bird's Eye View was 4 1/2 lengths farther back in third. Secretary at War, a War Front colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf with Junior Alvarado up for trainer Jimmy Jerkens. "Our horse might have been a little sharper, being it was the other guy's first race of the year," Jerkens said. He added Secretary at War could stretch out to longer distances later in the year.
Filly & Mare Turf
Party Boat tracked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Memories of Silver Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct, moved joined pacesetting favorite Team of Teams a sixteenth out and prevailed by 1 length over that one. Fifty Five was third. Party Boat, a daughter of Into Mischief, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.05 for jockey Joel Rosario. "I got clear turning for home and I was just trying to hold it together," said Rosario. "She responded very nicely with a nice finish." The Graham Motion trainee entered the race off a third-place finish in the Grade III Herecomesthebride at Gulfstream Park.
Stormy Liberal sat third in a four-horse field through the early furlongs of Sunday's $75,000 Siren Lure Stakes at Santa Anita, then outfinished Ambitious Brew, winning by 3/4 length. Eddie Haskell and Coastline completed the order of finish. Stormy Liberal, a 5-year-old Stormy Atlantic gelding, ran the gravity-assisted 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:11.88 with Norberto Arroyo Jr. up.
Paquita Coqueta, a Chilean-bred mare by Scat Daddy, won a long battle with Coniah in Saturday's $75,000 Mizdirection Stakes for fillies and mares down the Santa Anita hillside course. At the wire, Paquita Coqueta prevailed by a nose with Coniah second, a neck in front of Smoove It. Gary Stevens guided the winner about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:12.80. It was her second win in six North American starts.
Lokinforpursemonee found an extra gear in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Woodstock Stakes for 3-year-olds at Woodbine, edging clear from the favorite, Uncle B, to win by 1 1/4 lengths. The pacesetter, Yorkton, held on gamely to get show money. Lokinforpursemonee, an Ontario-bred colt by Silent Name, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:09.16 with Luis Contreras in the irons. He won two stakes at Woodbine last fall but then finished well out of the money in the Cup and Saucer and Coronation Futurity to wind up his 2-year-old campaign. "I got a perfect race, Contreras said. "I got a perfect trip. I was waiting for the three-eighths to make my move. I asked him a little and he started to make his move by himself. Once I hit the quarter pole, I just swung outside and he gave me everything."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Southern Ring was on the lead but under pressure most of the way in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Whimsical Stakes at Woodbine, then finally shook loose to win by 1 length. River Maid made a late run to finish second, a nose in front of Euroboss. Southern Ring, a 5-year-old Speightstown mare, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.70 with Eurico Da Silva riding. She has won half of her 10 career starts. Trainer Malcolm Pierce said he's eager to try Southern Ring on the lawn. "I was really looking forward to her running in the Royal North on the turf, 6 furlongs, last year," said Pierce. "She had a little injury in the stall before that race and we missed the race. Maybe we'll make it this year."
Saturday's Newbury card was a place to get an early jump on the Classics. It also was a good chance to see Her Majesty, the Queen, who attended the races on her 91st birthday on Friday and returned for Saturday's card.
Barney Roy collared the favorite, Dream Castle, inside the final 100 yards and went on to land the Group 3 JLT Greenham Stakes by 2 lengths over that rival. Both are owned by Godolphin. Zainhom was another 4 lengths in arrears in third.
The race is a good indicator of future success, having helped launch the likes of Frankel, Kingman and Muhaarar in recent runnings.
Barney Roy, an Excelebration colt out of the Galileo mare Alina, was making just his second career start. He won at first asking last September at Haydock, also by open lengths, before being purchased privately by Sheik Mohammed's juggernaut. James Doyle had the mount Saturday for trainer Richard Hannon.
Dream Castle, a Frankel colt trained by Saeed bin Suroor, also made his second appearance, following an easy win over the same 7 furlongs three weeks previously at Doncaster.
Hannon said he is thinking the 2,000 Guineas and even the Derby for Barney Roy, although he would have to be supplemented to the latter. "I did say in the summer he might get a Derby trip," Hannon said. "Whether he gets that far, I don't know. I definitely think he will stay further, but a strong-run mile will suit him well."
Bin Suroor said the English or French Guineas could be on Dream Castle's dance card with Royal Ascot further down the agenda.
In the Group 3 Dubai Duty Free Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Frankie Dettori sent Dabyah right to the fore and made the advantage stand, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Urban Fox. Promising was another 3/4 length back in third.
Dabyah, an Irish-bred daughter of the Australian-bred sire Sepoy, scored her third win from four starts. Her only loss was a close third in the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac at Chantilly Oct. 2 at 1 mile so distance remains a question.
John Gosden trains Dabyah -- and also Daban, winner on Wednesday at Newmarket -- for owner Abdullah Saeed Al Naboodah. He said the owner appears to favor France for the Dabyah's spring campaign with Daban to remain in England. "We will see where we go and, as long as this filly comes out of the race all right, we will make some bold plans," Gosden said.
On Friday at Newbury, Bacchus, a Kheleyf gelding, was prominent from the start in the Dubai Duty Free Full of Surprises Handicap, took the lead with more than 2 furlongs left and held off the late-running favorite, Chessman, by a neck. Winning Ways was third. As a gelding, Bacchus is excluded from the Classics, leaving Chessman as the main beneficiary of the experience. Chessman, an Acclimation colt trained by John Gosden, was making just his second start. He won easily on the Kempton Park all-weather in November.
Across the world, Polarisation provided Godolphin with a Group 1 win, posting an upset in Saturday's Group 1 Schweppes Sydney Cup at Royal Randwick. With Corey Brown up for trainer Charlie Appleby, the 5-year-old Echo of Light gelding survived a late scrum to edge Who Shot Thebarman at the wire in the 3,200-meters fixture, run over heavy turf. The lukewarm favorite in a well-matched field, Big Duke, was third.
This was the second running of this year's Sydney Cup, which was declared "no race" two weeks earlier when a pair of horses, including Who Shot Thebarman, fell during the first lap. Polarisation also "won" that abandoned event. It was the first official Australian start for Polarisation, who is headed back to England as a possible candidate to return in November for the Melbourne Cup as Appleby assistant James Ferguson allowed, "He's proved he suits Australian racing more than he suits English racing."
Lights of Medina wore down pacesetting Forever Liesl in the stretch run in Saturday's $125,000 Weber City Miss Stakes at Laurel Park -- a "Win and You're In" for the Black-Eyed Susan on Preakness weekend. Frank's Folly and Star Super completed the order of finish. Lights of Medina, a daughter of Eskendereya, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:45.22 under Feargal Lynch. Todd Pletcher trains the filly for Sumaya U.S. Stable. It was her second win from five starts.
Gold for the King came flying five-wide in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 Times Square Division of the New York Stallion Stakes and got there in time for a 1 3/4-lengths victory. T Loves a Fight and Reason to Soar both also rallied late to finish second and third in the event, restricted to New York-bred 3-year-olds. Gold for the King, a Posse gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.53 under Joel Rosario.
Bluegrass Flag was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Park Avenue Division of the New York Stallion Stakes and drew off in the lane, winning by 6 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Noble Freud. Frosty Gal was third. The race was restricted to state-bred 3-year-old fillies. Bluegrass Flag, a daughter of Bluegrass Cat, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.67 with Kendrick Carmouche riding.
A program filled with stakes races attended Saturday's Classic. Unfortunately, the rains came and the track was sloppy.
Mia Torri led all the way to a 3 1/4 lengths victory in the $100,000 Sugar Maple Stakes for fillies and mares. Kinsley Kisses was second, 2 lengths to the good of Lake Ponchatrain. Mia Torri, a 4-year-old daughter of General Quarters, ran 7 furlongs in the slop in 1:25.84 with Javier Castellano up.
Shaft of Light was quickly on the lead in the $50,000 Russell Road Stakes, extended the advantage throughout and won by 4 1/4 lengths. Rockinn On Bye was second, 6 1/2 lengths to the good of Golden Glint in third. Shaft of Light, a 6-year-old Smart Strike gelding, got 7 furlongs in 1:24.93 for jockey Tyler Gaffalione.
Hot Mic pressed the pace, then outfinished fellow long shot Pistolinmypocket, winning by a neck in the $50,000 Coin Collector Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds at 4 1/2 furlongs. In the filly equivalent, the Its Binn Too Long Stakes, odds-on favorite Moonlit Song drew off late to win by 3 lengths over Lies and Scandals.
Spa Creek was along late to take the $50,000 Original Gold Stakes at 7 furlongs for state-bred fillies and mares by 1/2 length over the favorite, T Rex Express. Cool Arrow kicked clear late to win by 3 1/2 lengths over favorite Liar's Dice in the $50,000 Robert Hilton Memorial for state-breds, also at 7 panels.
Slip the Cable led gate-to-wire in the $50,000 Confucius Say Stakes for West Virginia-breds and won by 3 1/2 lengths over Follow the Notion.
Absatootly took the lead in the lane in Saturday's $75,000 Primonetta Stakes for fillies and mares and carried on, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Lovable Lady. Next Best Thing rallied from last of eight to get show money. Absatootly, a 4-year-old Mineshaft filly, ran 6 furlongs over a sloppy track in 1:11.00 for jockey Kevin Gomez.
Danilovna emerged from just behind the leaders to take over in the stretch run and win Saturday's $75,000 Dahlia Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 length over Northern Smile. Cambodia was a neck farther back in third. Danilovna, a 4-year-old Irish-bred filly by Dansili, finished 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:36.80 with Trevor McCarthy in the irons.
Ascend did just that in Saturday's $75,000 Henry S. Clark Stakes, rising through the field from last of 12 to win by 1/2 length over Synchrony. Ghost Hunter and Irish Strait were close up in third and fourth. Ascend, a 4-year-old Candy Ride gelding, got the 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:36.30 with Feargal Lynch aboard.
Hawthorne Race Course
Recount drew off in the stretch to win Saturday's $40,000 Robert S. Molaro Handicap for Illinois-breds by 3 1/4 lengths over Scitech. Infinite Mischief was just a neck farther back in third. Recount, a 5-year-old Limehouse gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.92 with Robby Albarado in the irons.
My Mertie kicked away in the final furlong to post a mild upset in Saturday's $40,000 Third Chance Stakes for state-bred distaffers. The 5-year-old Magna Graduate mare was 2 1/4 lengths better than Go Lady Jay, with the favorite, Game Time Decision, settling for third. My Mertie ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.09 with Edgar Perez at the controls.
Yo Y Me asserted himself in the stretch run in Saturday's $50,000 Gene Fleming Breeders' Derby for Arizona-breds, kicking away to a 4 1/2-lengths victory. Ida Goodest was second, 3/4 length ahead of Wolf Bounty. Yo Y Me, a Dixie Chatter gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.45 with Ry Eikleberry in the irons.
Lone Star Park
Zippit E showed the way in Sunday's $50,000 Wayne Hanks Memorial for Texas-bred fillies and mares and held a comfortable margin to the wire. Valid Bride was 1 3/4 lengths back in second with My Master Plan third. Zippit E, a 4-year-old daughter of My Golden Song, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:19.32 for jockey Eddie Martin Jr.
Distinctiv Passion, a multiple graded stakes winner at Santa Anita, led from the start in Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) Swift Thoroughbreds Inaugural and prevailed by 1 length over Venetian Mask. Modern was third. Distinctiv Passion, a 7-year-old son of With Distinction, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:16.38. Enrique Gonzalez had the mount for trainer Philip Hall.
Dear Lilly caught pacesetting Chianti at the top of the lane in Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) Brighouse Belles Stakes and went on to win by 1 length over that rival. Castelanni was third. Dear Lilly, a 7-year-old Graeme Hall mare, finished 6 1/2 sloppy furlongs in 1:17.39 with David Lopez up.