Sharp Azteca won the Cigar Mile in New York, Gold Dream took the Champions Cup in Japan and the Claiming Crown races in Florida were predictably unpredictable in highlights of weekend racing.
Also, Godolphin had a good day on both U.S. coasts and Turfway Park swung back into action as mild weather across much of North America belied the arrival of December.
While it's still nice out, let's get going.
Sharp Azteca was sharp as ever in Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Cigar Mile, tracking the early pace, then dominating the stretch run en route to a 5 1/4-lengths victory. Mind Your Biscuits was second, completing an exacta featuring horses who both performed well on Dubai World Cup night in March at Meydan. Sharp Azteca was third that night, beaten just 1 length, in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile. Mind Your Biscuits was a romping winner in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at 6 furlongs. In the Cigar Mile, jockey Javier Castellano let Sharp Azteca settle, drew even with the speed turning for home and quickly put matters to rest, finishing in 1:35.17.
Sharp Azteca is by Freud out of the Saint Liam mare So Sharp. He started his 4-year-old season with a win in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap. He was second in the Grade I Met Mile upon his return from Dubai, then won the Grade III Monmouth Cup and the Grade II Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park before finishing second, beaten 1/2 length by Battle of Midway, in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
"We've known this is a special horse for a long time," Castellano said. "You don't see too many horses do this -- when they're going too fast in the Breeders' Cup, then they have a short rest and the way they perform today. A mile race against a good field of horses, I think he's very impressive."
Asked if Sharp Azteca might be a candidate for the $16 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January, winning trainer Jorge Navarro said, "After this performance, why not? We are going to see how he comes out of this first."
In Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Go For Wand Handicap, Indulgent stepped up to score her first stakes win, emerging from a pace duel to score by 1 length. Highway Star was second, 1/2 length in front of Verve's Tale. The favorite, Jamyson 'n Ginger, was never involved and finished last of seven. Indulgent, a 4-year-old Bernardini filly bred by Darley and owned by Godolphin, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.75 with Luis Saez riding. It was only her third start of the year.
Indulgent is a half sister to multiple graded-stakes winner Frosted. "To put a graded victory under her name is very, very important," said Godolphin USA President Jimmy Bell. "It's great for Sheik Mohammad's breeding to carry on this great family that's been so good to us with Frosted, obviously, Midshipman and some others. This should make her a very welcome addition to the breeding operation.
"I think we'll just take this a step at a time. I don't know if this is her last race, but this is her most important race," Bell said.
Saturday's program also featured early preps for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
Catholic Boy bounced back from a fourth-place showing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf to post a convincing, 4 3/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Remsen Stakes -- his first race on the main track and always an early indicator of Kentucky Derby potential. The More Than Ready colt, with Manny Franco in the irons, raced well off the pace, drew even on the turn and the outcome wasn't in doubt in the late going. The favorite, Avery Island, attended the early pace and held on for second, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Vouch. Catholic Boy now is 3-for-4, with the Breeders' Cup loss the only blot on his record, and earned 10 points toward a start in the Run for the Roses.
Catholic Boy's trainer, Jonathan Thomas, said, "He just galloped out so well in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf that we thought we have to try this horse at a distance as far as possible to see how long he may want to go." He said the colt will go to Florida for at least a brief rest but might return to pursue New York's Kentucky Derby prep series.
Avery Island is another Godolphin-bred candidate for the American Classics and Bell said the colt "learned a lot today," being caught in tight quarters and taking dirt in his face, yet staying well. "It doesn't always come in a winning race but he grew up some today," he said of the winner of last month's Grade II Nashua.
In Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Demoiselle Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, Wonder Gadot proved she can run on the main track. The Medaglia d'Oro filly, with John Velazquez up, shadowed the early pace, took the lead heading into the lane and drew off to win by 3 3/4 length. Maurer Power was second, 3 lengths to the good of Layla Noor. Wonder Gadot finished 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.91, earning 10 points toward a potential Kentucky Oaks start. Her first two starts at Woodbine were on the turf and she also won on that track's all-weather surface. But in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies on the dirt at Del Mar, she finished sixth. Saturday's performance indicates traffic issues, rather than the surface, may have accounted for that showing.
"I was talking to the trainer (Mark Casse) about staying closer to the speed," Velazquez said. "We were hoping she would be comfortable and I was happy where she put me ... She has a beautiful stride. I was very happy with the way she did it."
The Claiming Crown races, restricted to horses who had run for specific claiming prices during specific time periods, kicked off Gulfstream's Championship Meeting on Saturday with entries coming from all over the country. The main track was fast and the turf was firm.
Mended had 'em all the way in the $110,000 Glass Slipper for fillies and mares and kicked off at the end to win by 6 3/4 lengths as the favorite, running 1 mile in 1:36.42 with Ricardo Gonzalez up. Sugar Cube was best of the rest with a late run. Mended, a 4-year-old Broken Vow filly, was in from trainer John Martin's base at Golden Gate Fields.
First Growth, based at Thistledown in Ohio, came from a pace-stalking trip to capture the $110,000 Express by 3 1/2 lengths over Bling's Express. First Growth, a 5-year-old Candy Ride gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.61 with Gerardo Corrales in the irons.
Blue Bahia pressed the pace in the $110,000 Distaff Dash at 5 furlongs on the turf, came to the front in the stretch and won by 2 3/4 lengths from My Sweet Dove. Raced at Monmouth Park, Saratoga and Parx in the summer, Blue Bahia has been based at Palm Meadows for the past few months. The 4-year-old Wildcat Heir filly got home in 56.89 seconds for jockey Paco Lopez.
Twocubanbrothersu led all the way to a minor upset in the $110,000 Iron Horse, holding off the favorite, Rich Daddy, by 1 1/2 lengths. Twocubanbrothersu, a 7-year-old Harlington gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.22 with Daniel Centeno riding. He has been training at Tampa Bay Downs since finishing a summer campaign mainly at Delaware Park.
Pay Any Price didn't pay much of a price as the 1-2 favorite in the Canterbury at 5 furlongs on the grass. But the locally based, 7-year-old Wildcat Heir gelding did win, by 1/2 length over Oak Bluff, finishing in 56.49 seconds with Edgard Zayas handling the reins.
The $110,000 Rapid Transit went to Cautious Giant, who rallied from well back and won by 1 length over Manhattan Mischief. Cautious Giant, a 6-year-old Giant's Causeway gelding, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.78 with Emisael Jaramillo riding. His eventful year saw him at Santa Anita, Charles Town, Thistledown, Presque Isle Downs and Saratoga before he settled in Florida in September. He's been claimed twice this year, most recently for $16,000 on Sept. 24.
Martini Glass was claimed for $16,000 out of her first career start in February 2016 and has gone on to relative glory, most recently finishing second in the Grade I Spinster at Keeneland Oct. 8. But the long-ago claim made her eligible for Saturday's $125,000 Tiara for fillies and mares on the grass and she was up late to win by a nose over Peru. Martini Glass, a 4-year-old Kitalpha filly, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.65 under Paco Lopez. The favorite, Starship Jubilee, was third. Starship Jubilee was taken twice early this year, each time for $16,000 at Gulfstream Park, then blossomed at Woodbine, winning the Grade II Nassau and the Grade II Dance Smartly, the latter in a dead heat.
Special Ops was along late to win the $125,000 Emerald at 1 1/16 miles on the grass by 1 3/4 lengths over Bingo Kitten. Special Ops, a 6-year-old Big Brown gelding, was in from Churchill Downs. He finished in 1:50.41 with Julien Leparoux up for trainer Mike Maker.
The final race of the day, the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel, produced some fireworks as the first three under the wire were all at double-digit odds and a winning $1 trifecta investment returned $7,026.26. Flowers for Lisa, claimed for $20,000 at Monmouth Park in July and now based at Gulfstream, led all the way and won by 1 1/2 lengths over the aptly named Flashy Jewel with Diamond Bachelor third. Flowers for Lisa, a 4-year-old Flower Alley gelding, ran 9 furlongs in 1:48.78 with Lopez up. The favorite, Gigantic Breeze, was a gigantic bust, finishing 11th of 12.
Majestic Heat ran by pacesetter Champagne Room in the stretch in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Bayakoa Stakes for fillies and mares and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Champagne Room, last year's 2-year-old filly champ, held second comfortably, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Madame Stripes. Majestic Heat, a 5-year-old Unusual Heat mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.15 with Mike Smith aboard. It was her second straight win, following the Betty Grable at Del Mar, since trainer Richard Mandella switched her from turf to the main track. "We do that a lot and sometimes it doesn't work," Mandella said. "So we can't brag too much ... It gives us a lot of options for next year."
One Fast Broad came from last of 10 to win Saturday's $100,000 Soviet Problem Stakes for California-bred 2-year-old fillies, beating Spiced Perfection by 3/4 length. Twisted Rosie was third. One Fast Broad, a Decarchy filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.26 with Corey Nakatani riding. "Funny thing is, even though she is 3-for-3 on dirt we think this filly is much better on turf," said winning trainer Mick Ruis. He said the filly will get about 30 days to "chill out," then come back at 1 mile on the turf in the $200,000 California Cup Oaks Feb. 19 at Santa Anita.
Luckyallmylife swung into contention five-wide entering the stretch in Friday night's $50,000 Holiday Inaugural Stakes for fillies and mares and ran on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Miner's Cat. Marquee Cal Gal was third and the favorite, Grace's Treasure, checked in fifth. Luckyallmylife, a 4-year-old Lookin at Lucky filly, scampered 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.85 for jockey Perry Ouzts.
Cowgirl Callie stalked pacesetting favorite Richie'slilwildcat through the early furlongs of Saturday's $50,000 Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies, then took the lead and held on to win by a nose over Royal's Position. Isabellacannetella was third and Richie'slilwildcat faded to get home fifth of six. Cowgirl Callie, a daughter of Cowboy Cal, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track on a gorgeous Chicago day in 1:47.33 with Diego Sanchez in the irons.
Rapid Rhythm hit her best rhythm late in Saturday's $50,000 Richard Scherer Memorial for fillies and mares, edging to the front and a 1/2-length victory in the final furlong. Contributing was along for second, a nose in front of Miss Gossip. Rapid Rhythm, a 5-year-old daughter of Successful Appeal, ran about 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:04.01 under Shaun Bridgmohan.
Bound to Windsor set a pressured pace early in Saturday's $50,000 Eleanor Casey Memorial for West Virginia-bred 2-year-old fillies, the shook loose to win by 5 lengths. B's Wild Cork was second, a neck in front of Imagoodchatterbug. Bound to Windsor, a Windsor Castle filly, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.63 with Christian Heraldo in the irons.
City Plan started well back in Saturday's $75,000 Gold Rush Stakes for 2-year-olds, circled five-wide into the stretch and was up to win by 3/4 length. The favorite, Ayacara, was second, 1 1/2 lengths better than Respect the Hustle. City Plan, a Street Sense colt owned and bred by Godolphin, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:39.01 with Tyler Connor riding. "I've never rode him in a race before but worked him a few times and he worked well," Connor said. "Galloping out, he was rolling. I think he can definitely go further."
Mobil Solution, trained by Jeffrey Radosevich, drew off in the stretch to win Saturday's $75,000 Joshua Radosevich Memorial for Ohio-bred 2-year-olds by 2 3/4 lengths over Midnight Mikey. Freekson led the way early and finished third. Mobil Solution, a Mobil gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.04. The race is named for the jockey who died in a race-riding accident in 2005 at Beulah Park. Jeffrey is his uncle.
Leona's Reward showed her heels to six rivals in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Bobbie Bricker Memorial for Ohio-bred fillies and mares, winning by 14 lengths. True Cinder was second, 10 3/4 lengths ahead of Grizabella. It was another 8 1/2 lengths back to Blanconia in fourth, so 33 1/4 lengths covered the first three finishers. Leona's Reward, a 4-year-old Parents' Reward filly, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:48.55 with Pablo Morales riding.
Prince Lucky rallied to a late lead in Saturday's $100,000 Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old colts and geldings and edged clear, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Tudox Expectations. Jw'strickymischief finished third. Prince Lucky, a Corinthian colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.62 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons.
Admiralty Pier rallied from near the rear of the field to challenge in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Display Stakes for 2-year-olds, dueled with Pipers Warrior through the final sixteenth and won by a head over that rival. Sent From Heaven was third. Admiralty Pier, an English Channel gelding out of the Kitten's Joy mare Full Steam Ahead, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.52 with Luis Contreras up.
Kingsport swept by the leaders in the stretch run to win Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Sir Barton Stakes for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and up by 2 1/2 lengths. The odds-on favorite, Mr. Havercamp, finished second but was disqualified down to seventh for intereference. That promoted Roxy's Vision and Ratface Macdougall to second and third. Kingsport, a 5-year-old son of Milwaukee Brew, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.23 for jockey Jesse Campbell.
Dixie Moon settled right behind the early leader in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Lassie for Ontario-sired 2-year-old fillies, assumed command in the lane and held off a late bid from Queen's Fate to win by a nose. Loopety Loo was 3 lengths farther back in third. Dixie Moon, a Curlin filly out of the Rahy mare Dixie Chicken, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.43, toting Eurico Da Silva.
One brief overseas trip:
Gold Dream came with a dramatic rush through the final 200 meters to win Sunday's Group 1 Champions Cup at Chukyo Racecourse, edging the favorite, T M Jinsoku, by a neck and Copano Rickey by another neck. With Ryan Moore up for trainer Osamu Hirata, Gold Dream raced well back in the bunched field until he hit the straight. When Moore asked for run, the 5-year-old son of Gold Allure responded instantly and enthusiastically, closing ground with every stride and going away at the end. He covered 1,800 meters on the dirt course in 1:50.1.
Gold Dream was a disappointment in last year's Champions Cup, finishing 12th. But he bounded back to win the Group 1 February Stakes at Tokyo, going 1,600 meters, earning a trip to Dubai, where he finished 14th in the World Cup. He had been unsuccessful in two recent starts in Japan.