For Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, it's on to the Preakness, where he will find some familiar rivals and some new challenges.
Always Dreaming's impressive victory at Churchill Downs was the apex of a full weekend of Thoroughbred racing that included preliminaries for "the" Derby at Epsom Downs, the Queen's Plate in Canada and, of course, next month's Royal Ascot. The Breeders' Cup World Championships is now just six months away.
The China Horse Club celebrated its biggest U.S. win ever in the Kentucky Oaks. A 3-year-old filly shone in Japan. A sterling young rider won three Group 1 events Saturday in South Africa.
The downer in the weekend's action was the fatal breakdown in Hong Kong of rising star Rapper Dragon in the Group 1 Champions Mile.
Starting with the positive:
The Triple Crown
Trainer Todd Pletcher, celebrating his second Kentucky Derby win, said he plans to ship Always Dreaming to Pimlico on Tuesday in pursuit of the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness. The early shipping is to provide a peaceful environment for the colt who proved a headstrong handful while training at Churchill Downs.
"Looking at what the options are, at Pimlico, there's generally not a lot of horses training there," Pletcher said Sunday after pronouncing the Bodemeister colt none the worse for wear. "I think it will be a quiet environment, give us time to get him settled in and if we have to make any adjustments we'll have time to do that."
Pimlico officials said as many as three other Derby competitors are potentially in for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown -- runner-up Lookin At Lee; Classic Empire, who finished fourth; and Gunnevera, who was seventh.
There will be no shortage of what's known locally as "new shooters." Among them: Royal Mo, who just missed drawing into the Derby field; Lexington Stakes winner Senior Investment; Illinois Derby winner Multiplier; Wood Memorial third Cloud Computing; and Conquest Mo Money, second in the Arkansas Derby.
Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien has nominated two horses to the Preakness including Lancaster Bomber. That horse was second in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, fourth in the UAE Derby on the Meydan dirt and a good fourth, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths by some excellent Irish, English and French 3-year-olds in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. Ironically, the winner of the UAE Derby, Thunder Snow, was the Kentucky Derby runner who unaccountably decided not to run, jumping and bucking at the start Saturday before being pulled up by jockey Christophe Soumillon.
Abel Tasman rallied from last of 14 to win Friday's $1 million Grade I Kentucky Oaks by 1 1/4 lengths as three highly touted competitors were done in by an early speed duel.
In her last start, Abel Tasman finished second in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks, 11 1/2 lengths behind Paradise Woods, who went to the post as a solid favorite in Friday's race. But Paradise Woods hooked up in a hot battle for the lead with Miss Sky Warrior, whose last race produced a 13-lengths victory in the Grade II Gazelle at Aqueduct. Farrell, winner of the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks, shadowed the leading pair.
But after sailing along at a good clip over the sloppy track, all three of those would-be stars were eclipsed. Meanwhile, jockey Mike Smith had Able Tasman in full charge mode, flying past tired rivals for what amounted to a clear victory. Daddys Lil Darling also came from well back to finish second, 1 lengths ahead of Lockdown.
Smith, who famously rode Zenyatta to dramatic come-from-behind wins and duplicated that feat in March on Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup, said he felt confident once he got Abel Tasman to a good spot on the sloppy Churchill Downs track.
"I felt if I could get her comfortable somewhere, she would make up some ground and we would see what would happen after that," said the rider known as "Big Money Mike". "Once I was able to get her off (the rail), she started picking them off one by one. If anything, I probably hit the front a bit too soon. In the slop, once you got them going, you might as well keep them going."
Joking with Smith at the post-race news conference, winning trainer Bob Baffert said, "Last thing I told him, 'Don't think you are running Arrogate.' Sure enough, 'Well, you rode her just like Arrogate.'"
Abel Tasman, a daughter of Quality Road, is owned by the China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms. Baffert, who took over as trainer less than two months earlier, scored his third Kentucky Oaks win.
Teo Ah Khing, founder and chairman of the China Horse Club, said the victory means a lot to him and its wealthy Chinese members. "Our investment in the United States will continue and increase because of this victory," Teo said.
CHC bloodstock advisor Michael Wallace added, "To win a classic like this here at Churchill Downs, this will take great weight and carry a lot of news through China and worldwide. Yeah, it's a really important result and something we're very proud of."
The excitement of Sunday's Group 1 doubleheader at Sha Tin turned to gloom as Hong Kong's brightest rising star, Rapper Dragon, suffered a fatal breakdown in the Champions Mile. Rapper Dragon, who earlier in the season became the first ever to sweep Hong Kong's Four-Year-Old Classic series, suffered a severely fractured pelvis with complications.
"Despite our intensive care in the equine hospital, we were not able to save him," said attending veterinarian Dr. Christopher Riggs.
Contentment took an early lead in the Champions Mile, gave it up nearing the turn and then put in a determined late bid to regain the lead inside the final 100 meters and won by a neck over Beauty Only. Helene Paragon was third and the two foreign entrants, Stormy Antarctic and Convey, finished fifth and sixth. Contentment, a 6-year-old Hussonet gelding, scored his first win in some 15 months.
"When he got to the front today, he was waiting again and looking," Prebble said. "And when Beauty Only came to him, he dug deep again." Trainer John Size said Contentment likely will have a chance to better the 12th-place finish he posted in last year's Group 1 Yasuda Kinen in Japan.
In the companion Chairman's Sprint Prize, frequent bridesmaid Lucky Bubbles finally got his first Group 1 victory, surging to the lead inside the 100-meters mark and holding on to win by a neck over the onrushing Mr Stunning. Not Listenin'tome was third. Aerovelocity, who pipped Lucky Bubbles at the line in December's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint, was a late scratch from Sunday's race.
"It has been a tough year," said winning trainer Francis Lui. "He's tried so hard but he's been a little bit unlucky. He struck trouble in a couple of his runs and so he should have won one or two more." The race was the fourth leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, which offers a US$1 million bonus for any horse winning three of the 10 legs in three different jurisdictions.
Fittingly, on the biggest day of the year at Churchill Downs, it was a colt named Churchill victorious in Saturday's Group 1 QIPCO 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. With Ryan Moore up for the Coolmore connections, the Galileo colt let stablemate Lancaster Bomber make the early pace, slipped down to the rail and took over in the final 200 yards, winning by 1 length. Barney Roy, winner of the Group 3 JLT Greenham Stakes at Newbury in his previous outing, was second. French-based Al Wukair was third. Churchill now has won six straight, dating back to last June.
Also Saturday at Newmarket, Seventh Heaven drew off strongly in the late going to take the Group 2 Dunaden Jockey Club Stakes by 5 lengths from One Foot In Heaven. Seventh Heaven, a 4-year-old by Galileo, also racing for Coolmore, finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf last fall and followed that with a runner-up showing in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night in Dubai, behind only Jack Hobbes and ahead of Postponed.
Coolmore also struck 1-2 in Sunday's Group 1 1,000 Guineas, although not in the order most would have expected as 9-1 long shot Winter defeated the heavy favorite, Rhododendron by 2 lengths. Winter, another Galileo offspring, scored her second win from five starts while Rhododendron's record fell to 3-for-6. She also is a Galileo filly.
Callan Murray, a babyfaced 20-year-old not long out of the South African Jockey Academy, booted home three Group 1 winners Saturday at Turffontine -- defeating the formidable Legal Eagle in one of those.
Murray clicked first with Mustaaqeem in the Group 1 South African Nursery for 2-year-olds, defeating Naafer by an easy 4 lengths. Mustaaqeem, by Redoute's Choice, was the even-money favorite and covered 1,160 meters in 1:05.80. Four races later, he was first under the wire on Rafeef in the Group 1 Computaform Sprint. That 4-year-old colt also is by Redoute's Choice and, like Mustaaqeem, is trained by Mike de Kock. Rafeef, however, was a 7-1 shot.
In the upset of the day, Murray prevailed in the Group 1 Premier's Champions Challenge at 2,000 meters with Deo Juvente narrowly edging South African star Legal Eagle. The victory was no cakewalk, either, as Murray's mount dashed for the wire between Legal Eagle and another rival and just got his nose on the prize in the final jump. Deo Juvente, a 5-year-old Trippi gelding, was dispatched at odds of 25-1.
Murray already has international experience from a summertime racing visit to Australia and looks poised to break into the limelight elsewhere when opportunity knocks.
Aerolithe jumped quickly, settled nicely outside and behind the leaders, then wore down the front-runners in deep stretch to take Sunday's Group 1 NHK Mile Cup for 3-year-olds at Tokyo Racecourse by 1 1/2 lengths over Rieno Tesoro. Bom Servico led to mid-stretch and held on for third. Aerolithe, a 3-year-old filly by Kurofune out of the Neo Universe mare Asterix, was bouncing back from a fifth-place finish a month ago in the Group 1 Oka Sho, or Japanese 1,000 Guineas, over the same distance at Hanshin.
"She was a bit too quick out of the gate but settled nicely without me actually hitting the brakes," said winning rider Norihiro Yokoyama. "She still appears to have a lot more in her and I expect her to be even more powerful in the autumn season."
Churchill Downs undercard on Saturday
Divisidero was last of 11 approaching the stretch turn in the $500,000 Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, found clear sailing coming out of the turn and just got by pacesetting Beach Patrol, winning by 1/2 length. Oscar Nominated also came from far off the pace to get third. Divisidero, with Julien Leparoux up, ran 9 furlongs over good turf in 1:52.42. The 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy also won last year's Turf Classic but had not scored in three intervening races, culminating in a runner-up showing in a Keeneland allowance event. "That was our plan," said winning trainer Buff Bradley, "to get the Keeneland race in and this was our goal."
Limousine Liberal waited behind a speed duel in the $500,000 Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes, surged to the lead with a three-wide move and held on to win by a head over Awesome Slew. Tom's Ready was another 3/4 length back in third while the favorite, Masochistic, wilted after contesting the pace and finished next-last of 14. Limousine Liberal, a 5-year-old Successful Appeal gelding, ran 7 furlongs with the track rated "wet fast" in 1:23.22 under Jose Ortiz. It was his first win in 13 months and followed a third-place finish in the Grade III Commwealth at Keeneland. "It kind of went according to plan for once," said winning trainer Ben Colebrook. "The plan was just to follow the two speed horses and try to pounce."
Paulassilverlining took the lead in the stretch run in the $300,000 Grade I Humana Distaff, then held off the favorite, Finest City, by a neck. Carina Mia was 3/4 length farther back in third. Paulassilverlining, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper mare, ran 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:23.68 with Jose Ortiz in the irons. It was her third straight win and fourth from her last five starts -- a string interrupted only by a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare sprint, won by Finest City. "She had no trouble with the track and Jose gave her a great ride," said winning trainer Chad Brown, who had a very good weekend.
Roca Rojo chased Believe In Bertie into the stretch in the $300,000 Grade II Distaff Turf Mile, took over the lead and then held off another charge by Believe In Bertie to win by a head. Linda was 3 1/4 lengths farther back in third. The pre-race favorite, Miss Temple City, was a late scratch, trainer Graham Motion saying he did not want to run the filly on wet turf after a long layoff. Roca Rojo, an Irish-bred mare by Strategic Prince, finished in 1:37.57 over turf rated good with Florent Geroux in the irons. Brown, once again the winning trainer, said the Grade I Just a Game on the Belmont Stakes undercard "makes a lot of sense.
Wild Shot chased pacesetting Uncontested through the early furlongs of the $250,000 Grade III Pat Day Mile for 3-year-olds, took over during the long stretch run and drew off to win 4 lengths. No Dozing edged Uncontested for second. Wild Shot, a Trappe Shot colt, finished the sloppy mile in 1:35.67 with Corey Lanerie riding, picking up just his second career victory. He was a fading seventh and last in the Grade II Blue Grass at Keeneland in his previous outing. Trainer Rusty Arnold said he "probably" will go to Belmont Park for the Grade I Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes day.
Arklow, scored his first career win at Keeneland and made it two in a row, surviving a rough start in the $300,000 Grade II American Turf for 3-year-olds, then rallying from near the back of the field in the stretch to win by 1 length over Good Samaritan. Big Score was third and the favorite, Oscar Performance, tired after making the pace and finished last of 10. Arklow, an Unbridled Empire colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:44.64 with Mike Smith in the irons. "We wanted to try and make him a Derby horse but it didn't pan out that way," said winning trainer Brad Cox.
Churchill Downs Friday
The entry of La Coronel and Dream Dancing finished 1-2 in the $150,000 Grade III Edgewood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Both bided their time and then dominated the stretch run with La Coronel edging her entrymate by 1/2 length. It was another 2 3/4 lengths back to Sweeping Paddy in third. The top two are trained by Mark Casse for owner John Oxley. La Coronel, a Colonel John filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:45.56, backing up her victory last month in the Grade III Appalachian at Keeneland. Casse said he told himself at the wire, "Maybe I should have run just one." He said he might have run La Coronel Saturday in the American Turf but was dissuaded by a bad post position draw. "I never intended to run her today, but today is a nice day," he said. "We want to take her to Ascot and I thought about trying her with a little give in the ground."
Big World went straight to the lead in the $300,000 Grade I La Troienne Stakes for fillies and mares and made the advantage stand, scooting home first by 1 1/4 length over Romantic Vision. Streamline was third and the even-money favorite, Paid Up Subscriber, was fourth after racing in traffic most of the way. Big World, a 4-year-old filly by Custom for Carlos, ran 1 1/16 miles on the sloppy track in 1:44.91 with Florent Geroux up. Tom Amoss trains the filly for owner Maggi Moss. It was her third straight win. "I saw some speed in the race, so I left it up to Florent," Amoss said. "He made the front end and was able to control it up there, and that made all the difference."
Julien Leparoux gunned Bird Song right to the lead from the inside post in the $400,000 Grade II Alysheba and the 4-year-old Unbridled's Song colt held on gamely down the stretch to win by 1 1/2 lengths from Honorable Duty. International Star rode the rail to edge American Freedom for third. Bird Song, a Marylou Whitney homebred trained by Ian Wilkes, ran 1 1/16 miles in the slop in 1:44.34. Wilkes said he feels Bird Song can get 9 furlongs and he will look to the Whitney at Saratoga -- named for the family of the colt's owner/breeder. American Freedom was making his first start for trainer Bob Baffert since finishing second behind Arrogate in last year's Travers Stakes. Jockey Rafael Bejarano said, "He didn't like this track. We were afraid of that."
Green Mask tracked down pacesetting long shot Latent Revenge in the final sixteenth to win the $150,000 Grade III Twin Spires Turf Sprint by 2 lengths. Latent Revenge held second, 1 3/4 lengths in front of West Coast invader Why Two. The favorite, Pure Sensation, was fourth in his first start since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last fall. Green Mask, a 6-year-old Mizzen Mast gelding, ran 5 furlongs on good turf in 58.02 seconds with Javier Castellano at the controls. "Javier did a great job putting him where he needed to be," said winning trainer Brad Cox, who said he's looking forward to a repeat try in the Breeders' Cup, where Green Mask finished fifth last year.
Benner Island showed the way in the $200,000 Grade II Eight Belles for 3-year-old fillies and just did survive a late bid by Union Strike to win by a head. Laney was third at a big price. Benner Island, a Speightstown filly, ran 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:24.28 with Castellano scoring his second straight win on the card for trainer Brad Cox. Benner Island scored her third career win, first in a stakes. Cox said he will look at the Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes day, June 10.
Churchill Downs Thursday
Buy Sell Hold tracked pacesetting favorite McErin through the first half of the $100,000 Kentucky Juvenile, then went to the lead and held off Amberspatriot by a neck at the wire. McErin was third, just a nose farther back. Buy Sell Hold, a Violence filly, ran 5 furlongs on a good track in 58.33 seconds with Florent Geroux in the irons. She now is 2-for-2, starting with a victory at Keeneland on April 20.
Pleuven rallied by pacesetting Take the Stand in the stretch run of the $65,000 Opening Verse Stakes and carried on, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over that foe. Thatcher Street finished third. Pleuven, a French-bred 6-year-old gelding, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:36.15 for jockey Corey Lanerie.
Sea Calisi relaxed early in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Sheepshead Bay for fillies and mares, came around the speed to take the lead heading for home and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Suffused was along for second and it was another 10 3/4 lengths back to Apple Betty in third. Sea Calisi, a 5-year-old French-bred mare by Youzmain, ran 1 3/8 miles on yielding turf in 2:16.83 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. It was her first win since last year's Grade I Beverly D. on Arlington Million day and her first start since finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. "She just had a little time off after the Breeders' Cup," said Cherie DeVaux, assistant to winning trainer Chad Brown, "and Chad felt it was a good starting point for her."
Connect, the odds-on favorite, swept to the lead in the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Westchester Stakes and got away to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Virtual Machine was second, 8 3/4 lengths to the good of Frammento with Mohaymen fourth. Connect, a 4-year-old Curlin colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.49 and becomes a prime contender for the Grade I Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day. Connect has won six of his last seven starts, missing only in the Travers, where he finished sixth. "I thought he ran really, really well," said DeVaux, who saddled another winner for Brown.
Smooth Daddy went to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Fort Marcy Stakes over the inner turf course and held on gamely through the stretch to defeat the odds-on favorite, Time Test, by a nose. Messi was third. Smooth Daddy, a 6-year-old son of Scat Daddy, ran 9 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:52.64 with Eric Cancel in the irons. He was second in this race last year but in his two previous outings had finished 10th and 11th.
By the Moon pursued pacesetting Pretty N Cool through the first half of Friday's $200,000 Grade III Vagrancy Handicap for fillies and mares, challenged on the turn and edged away in the final furlong to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Pretty N Cool finished second, 3 1/4 lengths to the good of Quezon. By the Moon, a 5-year-old mare by Indian Charlie, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:17.44 with Rajiv Maragh up.
Sunday's $100,000 Flat Out Stakes featured two Chilean-breds and one of them, Tu Brutus, led all the way to win by 11 lengths. Doyouknowsomething was second, Royal Posse was third, the other Chilean, Turco Bravo, finished fourth and Scuba completed the order of finish. Tu Brutus, a 5-year-old son of Scat Daddy, ran 1 3/8 miles on a fast track in 2:14.87 under Irad Ortiz Jr.
Stallwalkin' Dude overcame an awkward start to win Sunday's $100,000 Diablo Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths, closing stoutly through the stretch. Noholdingback Bear rallied belatedly to get second and Life in Shambles was third. Stallwalkin' Dude, a 7-year-old City Place gelding, finished 6 furlongs in 1:10.16 with Joe Bravo riding. It was his first start since finishing sixth in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan on World Cup night.
Bonus Points gave trainer Todd Pletcher his second Derby win of the day, rallying from last of seven to take Saturday's $100,000 Parx Derby by 1 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Alex Again. Upper Room was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Bonus Points, a Maryland-bred Majestic Warrior colt, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.42 with John Bisono in the irons. The colt was third in the Grade II Jerome, fourth in the Grade III Withers and fifth in the Grade II Wood Memorial and could give Pletcher another option for the Preakness Stakes in two weeks' time.
With the U.S. signature race out of the way, it's time to talk about Canada's premier attraction and the results of Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Wando Stakes for 3-year-olds provide a perfect opening. King and His Court was bumped at the start, stumbled and still was able to catch odds-on favorite Tis a Slam, winning by 1 length over that rival. Megaray was third. Tis a Slam was the winter book favorite for this year's Queen's Plate after King and His Court, Canada's 2016 juvenile champ, disappointed in two starts in Florida. King and His Court, a Court Vision gelding, toured 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.41 with Gary Boulanger up for trainer Mark Casse. "It was a pretty tough race," said assistant trainer Kathryn Sullivan. "But he's been working really well and I thought he was really happy to be home."
Pink Lloyd easily dispatched seven foes in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) New Providence Stakes for Ontario-foaled 3-year-olds and up, clearing in the lane to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Ted W was best of the rest, 3/4 length ahead of Sweet Grass Creek. Pink Lloyd, a 5-year-old Old Forester gelding, got 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.59 for jockey Eurico da Silva.
Vale Dori tracked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Adoration Stakes for fillies and mares, led and then held on to win by 1/2 length over Skye Diamonds. It was another 9 3/4 lengths back to Sensitively in third. Vale Dori, a 5-year-old, Argentine-bred mare by Asiatic Boy, ran 1 1/16 miles on a wet-fast track in 1:42.35. Rafael Bejarano rode for trainer Bob Baffert and owner Sheik Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum. It was her fifth straight win, four of those in graded stakes.
Sircat Sally, the odds-on favorite, ran to her notices in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Senorita Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Leading all the way, the Surf Cat filly edged clear at the end, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. Beau Recall came from last to finish second and Pacific Wind was third. Sircat Sally ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.83 with Stewart Elliott riding.
Bowies Hero stumbled at the start of Saturday's $100,000 Singletary Stakes for 3-year-olds, raced near the back of the pack and then made up all the ground through the stretch to win by 1/2 length over Bird Is The Word. Vending Machine got show money. Bowies Hero, an Artie Schiller colt, finished the 1 mile on the green course in 1:35.06 for jockey Tiago Periera
Adorable Miss, always eager, was given her cue on the turn for home in Saturday's $75,000 Honey Ryder for 3-year-old fillies and quickly got the job done, drawing off to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Noble Ready was second, followed by Blame the Law. The favorite, Conquest Hardcandy, led much of the way and tired, finishing next-last of seven. Adorable Miss, a Kitten's Joy filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:42.42 with Emisael Jaramillo up.
Bronson wore down pacesetting General McGooby in the final furlong of Saturday's $75,000 English Channel Stakes for 3-year-olds, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over that rivals and another neck over late-running Lunaire. Bronson, a Medaglia d'Oro colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the green course in 1:41.28 with Edgard Zayas in the irons.
Lone Star Park
Mor Spirit led all the way in Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Steve Sexton Mile and drew off to a 5 3/4 lengths victory. Texas Chrome and Iron Fist filled the trifecta slots. Mor Spirit, a 4-year-old Eskendereya ridgling, finished in 1:36.86 over a fast track with Mike Smith making the quick trip from Louisville to take the mount for trainer Bob Baffert. Mor Spirit was second in last year's Santa Anita Derby and 10th in the Kentucky Derby. He won the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn in his previous start.