Cheval Grand won the Japan Cup, Seeking the Soul took the Clark Handicap, Mo Town crossed the United States to win the Hollywood Derby and two prospective Kentucky Derby candidates moved forward -- Ruggero in Japan and Enticed under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs -- all in a jam-packed weekend of racing.
There was even more action, from South Africa to Dubai, New York and California.
Buckle that seat belt. We're about to take off:
Cheval Grand bided his time while saving ground in Sunday's Group 1 Japan Cup as defending champion Kitasan Black made the lead -- just as he did in winning last year's Cup. This time, Kitasan Black ran low on petrol in the late going. Cheval Grand got to his outside and ran by, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Japanese Derby Rey de Oro was up to finish second, a neck in front of Kitasan Black, marking himself as the 3-year-old to watch as Japan searches for new stars when Kitasan Black goes to the breeding shed.
Cheval Grand, a 5-year-old son of Heart's Cry, is owned by Kazuhiro Sasaki -- better known outside racing circles as a very effective pitcher for the Seattle Mariners from 2000 to 2003.
"The good draw really played into the horse's favor," said winning rider Hugh Bowman, "and allowed me to sit near the pace in third or fourth position without spending petrol and within two or three lengths of Kitasan Black in the lead. Everything went as I hoped it would."
Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi admitted Cheval Grand was not in top form last season, contributing to his lack of a top-level win. "This year, he came into his fall campaign in great condition," the trainer said, adding he will seek another Group 1 score in the Arima Kinen on Dec. 24 -- slated to be the final race of Kitasan Black's career.
None of the four foreign entrants made much impact. Idaho, trained by Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, finished fifth. Caulfield Cup winner Boom Time was 12th in a rare appearance by an Australian-based horse. German invaders Guignol and Iquitos finished ninth and 13th, respectively. Assistant trainer Thomas Comerford said Idaho ran well but will skip the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase Dec. 10, leaving that to his older full brother, Highland Reel.
Saturday's action at Tokyo featured Ruggero, a grandson of Sunday Silence, winning the first of three races comprising the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby," the Cattleya Sho. And his trainer said he could be a candidate for the first Saturday in May in Louisville. With Keita Kosaki up, Ruggero emerged from a stalking trip and was just easing past pacesetting Morito Yubu when the latter shied into the rail and fell just inside the 100-meter marker. Ruggero went on to win by 1/2 length from Mic Ben Hur with Meiner Yukitsubaki third.
Neither Morito Yubu nor jockey Hiroshi Kitamura appeared seriously injured in the fall.
Ruggero posted his second win from four starts while making his first race on dirt and his trainer said he will get one more chance to prove himself worthy of international travel. "I would like to consider traveling the horse to USA positively," said trainer Yuichiro Shikato. "But at the moment I have no plan to enter the horse in the next selection race," the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun Dec. 13 at Kawasaki Racecourse. That means Ruggero would have to win the final leg of the three-race series, the Hyacinth Stakes in February, to be considered for Louisville.
Last year, Epicharis won the series, then finished second in the UAE Derby (G2) in Dubai but skipped Louisville. He was entered for the Belmont Stakes (G1) but scratched on the morning of the race.
Back in North America:
Seeking the Soul produced the race of his life in Friday's $600,000, Grade I Clark Handicap, squeezing through between horses at the top of the lane and running strongly through the stretch to defeat Good Samaritan by 1/2 length. Jockey John Velazquez, trainer Dallas Stewart and owner-breeder Charles Fipke then had to sweat out a long stewards' look into an objection by Florent Geroux, who rode third-place finisher Hoppertunity, before the result was final.
Seeking the Soul's move as he entered the stretch caused a chain reaction involving three horses to his outside -- none of whom was involved in the outcome. But the 4-year-old Perfect Soul colt came out again shortly before the finish, squeezing Hoppertunity. In the end, the stewards took no action and Seeking the Soul posted by far the biggest win of his career, finishing 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.88. Good Samaritan, rallying still farther out into the track, was not involved in the traffic and was gaining in the final yards. The favorite, Diversify, made the pace under a strong hold and faded to finish fourth.
"After he won the allowance race in his last start at Keeneland I really wanted to run him right back in the Breeders' Cup Classic," Stewart said. "But I settled down and thought about it and pointed him for this race. I think we got a bit aggressive with him early in his career when we tried in the Belmont Stakes but I knew he was that caliber of horse."
He might get a chance to validate that opinion in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park Jan. 27 -- a race in which the Stewart-trained Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Forever Unbridled is expected to line up against likely Horse of the Year and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Gun Runner. "I hope he's the second horse in the barn that will be in the Pegasus. We'll see," the trainer said Saturday morning, reporting all well with Seeking the Soul.
In Friday's $200,000 Grade II Mrs. Revere for 3-year-old fillies, Lovely Bernadette shadowed a long shot pacesetter, took over when asked by Geroux and held off Journey Home to win by 1/2 length. The favorite, Daddys Lil Darling, found her best speed late and missed second by just a neck. Lovely Bernadette posted her third straight win for trainer Jimmy DiVito, finishing 1 1/16 miles on yielding turf in 1:47.02.
"The sky is the limit for this horse," DiVito said of Lovely Bernadette. "She's shown us how talented she is on the grass and I think she'll just keep getting better with age."
Also Friday, Hailstorm Slew rallied from a pace-stalking position to win the $80,000 Dream Supreme Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths over Ivy Bell. Auntjenn was third. Hailstorm Slew, a 4-year-old Munnings filly training at Remington Park, got 6 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:09.56 with Jon Court in the irons.
Saturday, with the Kentucky Derby Futures Wager on offer, Derby and Oaks hopefuls were on display under the twin spires.
Enticed, a lukewarm favorite in a field of 14, pressed the pace in the $200,000 Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club, put away pacesetting Promises Fulfilled in the lane and held off Tiz Mischief by a head for the victory. Promises Fulfilled fulfilled the dreams only of his show bettors. Enticed, a Medaglai d'Oro colt owned and bred by Godolphin, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.42 with Junior Alvarado riding. Enticed won at first asking at Saratoga, then finished third in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park, a race in which eventual Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic finished second.
"This was a huge win," said trainer Kiaran McGlaughlin by text from his cruise ship. "He is so well bred and to win a Grade II with him as a 2-year-old is very important. And it makes it special to win it at Churchill Downs. Knowing that he likes the track is great, and Junior rode him very well." Enticed earned 10 Kentucky Derby points to go with the 2 he scored in the Champagne. Dale Romans, who trains both Tiz Mischief and Promises Fulfilled, lamented, "To get narrowly defeated like that isn't fun. But you have to be proud of these horses for the future."
In the Golden Rod Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, Road to Victory closely shadowed pacesetting favorite Monomoy Girl, found her best stride in the final sixteenth and was up to win by a neck. Monomoy Girl held second, 5 3/4 lengths ahead of Cash Out. Road to Victory, a Quality Road colt, ran 1 1/16 mile on the fast main track in 1:43.36 with Julien Leparoux up. She won her only other start Oct. 1 at Woodbine on the turf. Norm Casse, assistant to his father and winning trainer Mark Casse, said, "You don't know how they'll take to the dirt until they run the race. Dad sent her down here to see if she was a quality dirt horse and she's had no bad days since we've had her."
Mo Town, in from New York, was off a step slow in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Hollywood Derby, rallied around the turn and through the stretch and was along to win by 1 length. Channel Maker rallied right with Mo Town and finished second, a nose in front of Big Score. That one, in turn, was a nose in front of the favorite, Sharp Samurai. Mo Town, an Uncle Mo colt out of the Bernardini mare Grazie Mille, got 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.36 with John Velazquez riding.
Owned by the Coolmore partners from Ireland, Mo Town won the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct a day short of a year before Saturday's race, putting him on the Triple Crown trail. But after a seventh-place finish in the Grade I Wood Memorial, he was given a rest. After a pair of also-ran experiences upon his return, he got back to the winner's circle at Belmont Park Oct. 12.
"So I got to try something different with this horse today," Velazquez said of Mo Town. "I've been trying to get him to settle. He broke slow, so I didn't panic with him. I let him settle and run right along. Then when I asked him, he responded. He responded very well."
Off Limits was last of 11 down the backstretch in Sunday's $300,000 Grade I Matriarch Stakes for fillies and mares, moved up on the inside around the turn and then got through between rivals to score by 1 length over Hawksmoor. Isat Erma was third and the favorite, Cambodia, finished fourth. Off Limits, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Mastercraftsman, trained by Chad Brown, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.34 with Joel Rosario directing traffic. It was her fourth straight win, the last three in graded stakes. "Perfect trip. Just what we wanted," said Rosario, a regular at Del Mar from 2008-2011. "She's got that great turn of foot. That's what makes her so special. And she wants to win. When she sees horses in front of her, she wants to go get them."
Hunt outfinished He Will to win Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap by a nose over that rival. Pacesetting favorite Pee Wee Reese held third, 1 length to the good of Om. Hunt, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Dark Angel, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.03 with Flavien Pratt riding. Hunt scored two consecutive Grade II victories during the Del Mar summer meet but was 13th and last in the Breeders' Cup Turf over the same course attempting 1 1/2 miles. "The race set up and went just about the way we thought it would," Pratt said. "I was in a good spot with him. But the finish was close. Very close. He was brave at the end."
Analyze It led from gate to wire in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Cecil B. DeMille for 2-year-olds, drawing away late to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Pubilius Syrus was second, 2 1/4 lengths clear of East Rand. Analyze It, a Point of Entry colt, finished 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.05 for jockey Jose Ortiz. It was his second win from as many starts for trainer Brown, following a similar romp on the Belmont Park turf Oct. 28. "Wow!" said Brown assistant Jose Hernandez. "He's an amazing horse to work with and be around ... As soon as they turned for home, he was gone."
Daddy Is a Legend was away slowly in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Jimmy Durante Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, encountered repeated traffic issues and still managed to get there, winning by 1 length over Data Dependent. Raucus was 3/4 length farther back in third. Daddy Is a Legend, a Scat Daddy filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.06 with Joe Bravo taking the mount. She found the winner's circle on her third try, at Keeneland in October, after racing in New York during the summer. "She's a big filly. She's a special one, too," Bravo said.
Prime Attraction shadowed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Native Diver Stakes, took a short lead on the stretch turn and extended the advantage down the lane, winning by 2 1/2 lengths despite drifting out late. Irish Freedom was second, 1 length in front of the late-running favorite, Mubtaahij. Prime Attraction, a 4-year-old Unbridled's Song colt, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.87 with Victor Espinoza up for trainer James Cassidy. It was his first graded stakes win and followed a runner-up finish in the Grade II John Henry Turf Championship at Santa Anita Oct. 1. She was scratched from Friday's Hollywood Turf Cup to return to the dirt. "The speed was inside me so I could just let him go along there early," Espinoza said. "And when you can do that, he finishes strong. Just like he did today."
Manitoulin dueled Tequila Joe into submission after a long struggle in Friday's $200,000 Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup, then had to deal with an equally persistent bid by Chicago Style before prevailing by a neck over that rival. Flamboyant was third and Tequila Joe finished fourth. Manitoulin, a 4-year-old Awesome Again gelding, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:30.16 with Mike Smith calling the shots and posted his first graded stakes win. Smith, who rode both Awesome Again and Manitoulin's dam, Soaring Softly, said trainer James Toner warned him the gelding needed encouragement to keep running. "He said warm him up good, get his blood pumping. Make him think he's running a half mile instead of a mile and a half. It worked out just right," the veteran rider said.
Fire Key closed three-wide on the turn in Sunday's $125,000 Autumn Days Stakes for fillies and mares, then worked clear through the stretch, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Stormy Victoria, was second and First of Spring was along late to take third, a neck farther back. Fire Key, a 4-year-old daughter of Friesan Fire, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:09.23 with Paco Lopez up.
Sea Foam, under Nik Juarez, tracked the early speed of Morning Breez in Sunday's $100,000 Notebook Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-old, found another gear in the final few furlongs and flew home first by 1 length. Stoney Bennet edged Morning Breez for second. Sea Foam, a Medaglia d'Oro colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.79.
Control Group controlled things from the start in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Discovery Stakes for 3-year-olds, leading by daylight throughout and winning by 3 lengths over Senior Investment. Bonus Points was another 8 1/4 lengths back in third. Control Group, a Posse colt, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:52.83 with Joel Rosario up. The win was his fourth from his last five starts and first ever in a graded stakes. Winning trainer Rudy Rodriguez said he had considered Control Group for the Claiming Crown at Gulfstream Park but changed directions when NYRA officials said they needed horses to fill the Discovery field. "Everything worked out good," he said, pointing to the $100,000 Alex Robb for New York-breds on New Year's Eve as the next spot for Control Group.
Rainbow Heir had all he could do to outfinish 60-1 shot Dubini in Saturday's $125,000 Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship, winning by 3/4 length. Conquest Panthera finished third, another 1/2 length in arrears. Rainbow Heir, a 7-year-old son of Wildcat Heir, completed 6 furlongs on the firm outer turf course in 1:08.60 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons.
Penjade won a three-way photo in Saturday's $150,000 Forever Together Stakes for fillies and mares, scoring by a nose over Not Taken and another nose from the favorite, My Impression. Penjade, with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard, rallied from well back outside the two rivals and finished 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.60.
Actress chewed the scenery in the stretch run in Friday's $250,000 Grade III Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, easily stealing the show from the favorite, Miss Sky Warrior and running on to an 8 1/4-lengths victory. Parade then edged Miss Sky Warrior for second. Actress, a Tapit filly, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:52.66 without much urging from jockey Jose Ortiz in the final furlong. " "I think Jose read the form really good going into the race and made the decision that he wouldn't let someone get an easy lead," said winning trainer Jason Servis. Servis said he plans to keep Actress in New York for now.
Small Bear was up in the final strides to take Friday's $150,000 Gio Ponti Stakes for 3-year-olds by a neck over Funtastic. The favorite, Secretary at War, made the early going and salvaged show money, 1 1/4 lengths farther back. Small Bear, a Macho Uno gelding, ran 1 mile on the firm outer turf course in 1:42.79, which, according to the Equibase chart, lowered the course record by nearly a full second. Rajiv Maragh had the ride for trainer Jeremiah Englehart.
I Still Miss You dueled to the lead in Friday's $100,000 Key Cents Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-old fillies and never looked back, winning by 1 length over the favorite, Pure Silver. Indy's Lady was up late for third. I Still Miss You, a daughter of Majestic Warrior, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.98 with Manny Franco up.
Pink Lloyd wrapped up a perfect season, 8-for-8 and all stakes, with a win in Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Grade II Kennedy Road Stakes. He tracked the pace, advanced around the turn between horses and got the edge in the lane, winning by 2 1/4 lengths. Ikerrin Road applied some late pressure but faded to finish second. Majestic Slew added value to the trifecta. Pink Lloyd, a 5-year-old Old Forester gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.46 under Eurico Da Silva. For his career, he has 11 wins from 13 starts. "He just won eight stakes in a row," said trainer Robert Tiller. "What do you do for an encore here? ... We're so blessed to have him and I hope we can be around next year and have a lot more fun with him."
Moonlit Promise prompted the pace in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Bessarabian Stakes for fillies and mares, rallied to the lead in the lane under encouragement by jockey Gary Boulanger and held on gamely to win by a head over Scotty's Model. Sister Nation closed sharply to take third. Moonlit Promise, a 4-year-old Malibu Moon filly, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.79. She now has six wins and two seconds from nine starts. "I think when she made the lead early, she got a little overconfident," said winning trainer Josie Carroll. "I saw her ears kind of prick and I thought, 'Uh oh, she thinks this is it.' But then she heard that horse beside her and I don't think she would have let her by."
Scuba stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Hawthorne Derby, then outfinished Futile to win by 1/2 length. The pacesetter, Side Pocket, held third, well in front of the favorite, Eagle, who was off poorly. Scuba, a 6-year-old Tapit gelding, got 1 1/4 miles on a fast track on a beautiful Chicago afternoon in 2:03.12 for jockey Alonzo Quinonez. It was his first victory since the Grade II Marathon at Santa Anita during the 2016 Breeders' Cup festivities. "He had been going for the lead but tiring so we decided to try to get him to settle behind horses," Quinonez said. "It worked.
Goneghost, the odds-on favorite, dominated six rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Lightning Jet Handicap for Illinois-breds, leading all the way to a 3 3/4-lengths victory. Devileye was second, 4 1/4 lengths ahead of D' Rapper. Goneghost, a 4-year-old Cherokee Rap gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the main track in 1:08.20 under Victor Santiago.
In Saturday's $50,000 Powerless Handicap for state-bred fillies and mares, Shar Ran collared the frontrunning favorite, Puntsville, in the final yards and won by a neck over that foe. Dr Winn Kyi rallied from last of eight to finish third. Shar Ran, a 3-year-old Munnings filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.41 with Edgar Perez riding.
Golden Gate Fields
Brazilian-bred Editore rallied to the lead between rivals on the stretch turn in Saturday's $100,000 Berkeley Handicap and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Force was second and Camino Del Paraiso completed the trifecta. Editore, a 5-year-old gelding by Redattore, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.37 with Brice Blanc riding.
Steph Being Steph tracked a quick pace set by She's No Drama in Friday's $65,000 Golden Gate Debutante for 2-year-old fillies, mounted a drive in the lane and was along in time to win by 3/4 length. Streetwithnoname rallied boldly but fell 3/4 length short of catching She's No Drama for second. Steph Being Steph, a Majestic Warrior filly, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.23 with Aaron Gryder in the irons.
Sydney Freeman came from last of eight to take Saturday's $75,000 Slide Show Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by a head over Cherokee Lass. Rosie O'Prado was another 2 1/4 lengths back in third. Sydney Freeman, a daughter of Tizway, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.78 with Luis Quinonez in the irons.
Night Strike rallied three wide into the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Don C. McNeill Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds and kicked away to win by 3 lengths. Kirk of Diamonds was along for second, 3/4 length ahead of Bruhlmeyer. Night Strike, with Ramon Vazquez riding, strode 1 mile in 1:39.87. He is a Liaison colt.
Back to international action:
United Arab Emirates
Trainer Doug Watson just doesn't quit. After saddling four winners Thursday at Meydan, the champion conditioner had only one Thoroughbred race on Saturday's card at Abu Dhabi -- so he sent out the first- and second-place finishers. It was close, though, as Empoli got to Ostaad in the final stride for the victory. Empoli was making his first start for Watson after a 13-months layoff. Way back in 2014, the Halling gelding finished fourth in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic, a race won by the great Japanese racemare Gentildonna, and won the Group 1 Preis von Europa at Cologne. So he could be a nice addition to the Red Stable going forward in his 7-year-old season. "The horse has a touch of class as we know from his past achievements," said winning rider Pat Dobbs.
The Group 1 Gauteng Sansui Summer Cup was postponed from to Saturday to Sunday because heavy rains made part of the course too dangerous on the scheduled day. The change made no difference to Liege, a 5-year-old Dynasty gelding trained by Sean Tarry, who emerged between horses with some 300 meters to run and got clear for a 2 1/4-lengths victory. A filly, Fort Ember, was best of the rest, narrowly edging Coral Fever for second. The lukewarm favorite, Pagoda, finished fourth. Liege, with Raymond Danielson up, ran 2,000 meters in 2:04.4. Tarry, a champion among South African trainers in past seasons, has been enduring a relative dry spell. "If you can't be good all the time, be good at the right time," he joked after landing the Group 1.