Highland Reel went out a winner in Hong Kong, Orfevre got his first Group 1 win as a sire in Japan and American 2-year-olds strutted their stuff from coast to coast in highlights of weekend Thoroughbred racing.
Gulfstream Park hosted the Caribbean Cup for the first time, boosting the visibility of the region's vibrant racing culture.
Before proceeding to that, however: There are many fund-raising platforms to help those affected by the tragic loss of horses and property as a wildfire swept through San Luis Rey Downs in California. Pick one and pitch in.
There was something for just about everyone at Sunday's Longines Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin. Highland Reel closed out his career with a win, giving trainer Aidan O'Brien his record 28th Group 1 victory of the year. The top local jockey, Derek Leung, got a hugely popular win. And the Dubai World Cup night next March probably gained a runner or two.
Mostly, it was the local owners and trainers who were smiling as the smoke cleared from the post-race fireworks.
The Group 1 Hong Kong Vase
Highland Reel, making the final start of his globetrotting career, reversed the order of finish from the Breeders' Cup Turf a month earlier at Del Mar, turning back a late challenge by Talismanic to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Jockey Ryan Moore quickly positioned Highland Reel right behind the early leader with Talismanic shadowing him. Highland Reel, a 5-year-old son of Galileo, easily took the lead turning into the stretch and ran on smoothly to score his seventh Group 1 win. He has won at the top level on three continents.
Tosen Basil, representing Japan, closed to get home third with Irish runner Chemical Charge a surprising fourth. Max Dynamite and Tiberian, third and seventh in the Melbourne Cup Nov. 7, finished sixth and 11th in the Vase. The 2,400-meter Vase, worth HK$18 million or US$2.3 million, was run over good turf in 2:26.23.
"I was always happy and always confident," Moore said of Highland Reel's run. "He's the sort of horse when he gets into a fight, he's usually going to win it."
O'Brien said of Highland Reel, "He's irreplaceable, really. "He's a very special horse. We were lucky to get another year out of him at age 5. And at 2, 3, 4, 5 -- he's had winners all the way."
The Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup
Time Warp capped a wonderful day for the local team in the Longines Hong Kong International Races, leading all the way to an easy victory in the 2,000-meters Cup. Time Warp, a 4-year-old, British-bred gelding by Archipenko, entered the Cup after a second-place finish to former Hong Kong Horse of the Year Werther in the BOCHK Jockey Club Cup. In that heat, Werther caught Time Warp in the late going.
This time, Werther came with a late rush but fell 2 1/4 lengths short of the winner. Japanese entrants Neorealism, Stapahanos and Smart Layer were third, fourth and fifth while British, Irish and French runners filled the final four spots in the 12-horse order of finish.
Time Warp, under the tutelage of experienced Hong Kong trainer Tony Cruz, has worked his way quickly through the ranks in Hong Kong, running on turf and all-weather courses at both Sha Tin and the in-town Happy Valley Racecourse. "I would love to take him overseas," Cruz said. "But I haven't worked out that program yet."
The Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint
Mr Stunning, under Nash Rawiller at the controls, more than justified his favorite status in the 1,200-meters Sprint. Always near the front, the 5-year-old Exceed and Excel gelding grabbed the lead inside the 300-meter mark and gamely held off D B Pin to win by a neck. Blizzard, Lucky Bubbles and Amazing Kinds finished third through fifth, giving Hong Kong horses a sweep of the top five spots. The best finish by an invader was Japan's mare Let's Go Donki, who finished sixth.
American runner Stormy Liberal beat only two rivals. The Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1T) winner is trained by Peter Miller for Rockingham Ranch, both hard hit by the tragic fire at San Luis Rey Downs. He broke a step slowly, raced wide and was never in the mix. "He was a little flat and might have been feeling the effects of the trip," said rider Silvestre de Sousa.
"He's had a lovely buildup into the race," said winning trainer John Size. "He drew a good gate (No. 4) and Nash had him in a perfect position. It was hard to see him getting beat from there." Size said he thinks Mr Stunning has more to give but is not likely to do so overseas. "I don't think he's got the constitution for that," he said.
The Longines Hong Kong Mile
Beauty Generation went right to the front in the Longines Hong Kong Mile, set a perfectly measured pace and led yet another parade of local runners to the finish. The 5-year-old New Zealand-bred, ridden by Derek Leung for trainer John Moore, finished a comfortable 1 length in front of Western Express. Helene Paragon and the favorite, Seasons Bloom, were third and fourth. The Aidan O'Brien-trained Lancaster Bomber was off a step slow from the No. 11 gate -- an insurmountable hurdle in this race -- and finished fifth, best of the foreign entrants.
"I decided to go early because my horse is one-paced. And he never stopped," said Leung, who returned to cheers as a popular local rider and product of the Hong Kong Jockey Academy. It was his first win in the Hong Kong International Races from just his second ride.
Orfevre was a dominating force in Japanese racing early in this decade and twice finished second in the race all Japan wants -- the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. So it was with some joy that Orfevre got his first Group 1 win as a sire Sunday when Lucky Lilac circled the leaders into the stretch in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, took over the lead and held off Lily Noble by 3/4 length. Mau Lea was third and the favorite, Rock This Town, another by Orfevre, finished ninth.
Lucky Lilac, with Syu Ishibashi riding for trainer Mikio Matsunaga, covered 1,600 meters on firm turf in 1:31.3. She scored her third win from as many starts for Sunday Racing Co., which fielded the top two finishers.
"She was a bit keen in her last start but was very relaxed today," Ishibashi said. "We were in a good striking position at the top of the stretch, which gave me all the confidence I needed. Her physical ability is extremely high and she is very intelligent, too. Although she has room to improve, I just hope she can start the next season in good form."
Lucky Lilac is out of the Flower Alley mare Lilacs and Lace, winner of the Grade I Central Bank Ashland Stakes in 2012 at Keeneland.
Never Back Down, trained by Hugo Palmer and ridden by Josephine Gordon, rallied strongly to win Saturday's 32Red.com Conditions Stakes at Wolverhampton, a Fast Track Qualifier for the 3-year-old All-Weather Championships Conditions Stakes on Good Friday at Lingfield. Never Back Down lived up to his name. Short of room on in the early going, he was dropped back to last and Gordon said she "nearly came down at one point." He again was bothered approaching the quarter-mile marker but overcame that, found another gear and won by 1 length. Music Society also ran well late to finish second and Corinthia Knight was third. "We have always had high hopes for Never Back Down and he is going the right way at the moment," Gordon said.
Back in North America:
Solomini got there first in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Cash Call Futurity but was set down to third by the stewards for bumping long shot rival Instilled Regard during a tight stretch run. That promoted McKinzie to the victory and Instilled Regard to second. Those three were in a race of their own with the next-closest competitor, For Him, 29 1/2 lengths farther back. McKinzie and Solomini are both trained by Bob Baffert. McKinzie, a Street Sense colt, came into the race off a maiden win at Santa Anita in his only previous start. Solomini was second in both the Grade I FrontRunner at Santa Anita and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Del Mar.
Baffert said Solomini's jockey, Flavien Prat, "rode a great race just sitting behind them. Unfortunately, he (Solomini) will lay on horses in the lane and you have to be careful with him. Prat might have gotten a little over aggressive. It's really too bad they took him down. He was the better horse today."
Dream Tree, the odds-on favorite, had no trouble dispatching three rivals in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Starlet, prompting the pace set by Yesterday's News before drawing off to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Yesterday's News held second with Piedi Bianchi and Exuberance completing the order of finish. Dream Tree, an Uncle Mo filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.87 with Drayden Van Dyke up. Baffert trains the winner, who now is 3-for-3.
"I wasn't sure about two turns," Baffert said of Dream Tree. "But after she came back and worked the way she did is why I changed my mind and decided to run her in this spot."
Whirlin Curlin worked to the lead in the final sixteenth in Saturday's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Futurity for state-bred 2-year-olds and prevailed by a neck over early leader Still Having Fun. Whirlin Curlin, by Curlin out of the Storm Cat mare Lexington Girl, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.96 with Jevian Toledo riding.
Limited View showed unlimited prospects in Saturday's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship, kicking away to an easy 6-lengths victory for jockey Edgar Prado. Deep Red was second at a big price, Vente to Go was third and the favorite, Frechette, got home eighth. Limited View, a daughter of Freedom Child, got the 7 furlongs in 1:23.96.
Struth was on the lead after a half mile in Saturday's $75,0000 Howard M. Bender Memorial for Maryland-breds and got away to win by 4 1/4 lengths from Lewisfield. Winplaceorshowono was third. Struth, a 5-year-old Curlin gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.21 with Jorge Vargas Jr. in the irons.
Ms Locust Point was quickly on the point in Saturday's $75,000 Willa On the Move Stakes for state-bred distaffers and never looked back, winning by 2 3/4 lengths with Ivy Bell in chase. Line of Best Fit was well back in third. Ms Locust Point, a 3-year-old daughter of Dialed In, finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.84 with Vargas riding.
Quezon came from last of five to take Saturday's $100,000 Garland of Roses Stakes for fillies and mares by 3/4 length over Pico Uno. Absatootly was third after leading through the early furlongs. Quezon, a 5-year-old Tiz Wonderful mare, ran 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:11.75 with Joe Rocco Jr. at the controls.
Leavem in Malibu disputed the lead with Ethical Funds through the first half of Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Valedictory Stakes, edged away from that rival and went on strongly to win by 2 1/2 lengths. The even-money favorite, Melmich, was along for second, 3/4 length ahead of Ethical Funds. Leavem in Malibu, a 4-year-old Malibu Moon colt, ran 1 3/4 miles on the all-weather track in 2:58.93 with Patrick Husbands riding.
Silent Sting got through along the rail in the final furlong to win Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Kingarvie Stakes for Ontario-sired 2-year-olds by 3/4 length over Beer Pressure. Be Vewy Vewy Quiet was another neck back in third. Silent Sting, a Silent Name colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.97 with Luis Contreras in the irons for trainer Sid Attard.
Saturday's program featured a series of Caribbean Cup races and six $75,000 events for 2-year-olds. Sadly, the main track was sloppy and the turf course was rated good.
Jala Jala, a Mexican-bred filly, rallied sharply from well back in the field in the day's big race, the $300,000 Caribbean Classic Stakes for 3-year-olds, then drew off in the stretch to win by 9 lengths under Irad Ortiz Jr. Fray Angelico, representing Panama, was best of the rest with another Mexican, Joyme, finishing third. The Dominican Republic and Venezuela also were represented in the 12-horse field.
Ortiz had an equally easy time of it in the $124,000 Lady Caribbean Cup, booting home Mexio's Jaguaryu to a 7 3/4-lengths victory over Gladiadora, representing Venezuela. Panamanian-bred Cigona finished third. Jaguaryu ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.77.
Venezuelan horses finished 1-2 in the $114,200 Caribbean Cup Speed Stakes. Master Supreme, with John Velazquez up, led all the way and won by 2 lengths from Forze Mau. Mexican-bred Justiciero finished third. Master Supreme ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.49.
El Tigre Mono caught pacesetting Arquitecto in the final yards of the $100,000 Confraternity Caribbean Cup and won by a neck over that rival. El Tigre Mono, a 4-year-old Panamanian-bred colt, finished 1 1/4 miles in 2:05.69 with Velazquez in the irons.
Coltimus Prime took over in the lane in the $91,200 Invitational Cup for horses imported by the Confederacion Hipica del Caribe and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths over El Kurdo. Mishigas was third. Coltimus Prime, a 5-year-old son of Milwaukee Brew, ran 1 1/4 miles in the slop in 2:04.90, also with Ortiz up.
In the 2-year-old races:
Diamond Oops tracked the pace in the Buffalo Man Stakes, moved to the lead at the sixteenth pole and edged away to win by 2 lengths. Madamas ran well late to finish second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of pacesetting Aequor. The odds-on favorite, Mojovation, was fourth. Diamond Oops, a Lookin at Lucky colt, finished 6 furlongs in 1:11.40 with Victor Espinoza riding. The Patrick Biancone trainee scored his third win from four starts, the wins all coming at Gulfstream. He was sixth in the Grade II Saratoga Special.
Bal Harbour outfinished Whereshetoldmetogo in the Smooth Air Stakes, winning by a neck over that rival. Stronger was 6 3/4 lengths farther back in third. Bal Harbour, a First Samurai colt, ran 1 mile in 1:38.01 under Javier Castellano. He was fifth in the Grade III Sanford and fourth in the Saratoga Special, then won the Sapling at Monmouth Park before trainer Todd Pletcher sent him south.
Speed Franco raced in second through the slow early furlongs in the Pulpit Stakes at 1 mile on the turf, then asserted himself, winning off by 6 lengths. Pony Up and the favorite, Maraud, filled out the trifecta. Speed Franco, a Declaration of War colt, finished in 1:42.29 with Emisael Jaramillo riding. He finished second in his only previous race.
The 2-year-old fillies:
Miss Mo Mentum drove clear in the stretch to win the 1-mile Hut Hut Stakes by 8 3/4 lengths over Alliya's Story. Luxmimi Princess finished third. Miss Momentum, with Tyler Gaffalione up for trainer Mark Casse, finished in 1:40.41. The win was the third in her last four starts -- a skein broken by a 14th-place finish in the Grade III JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland.
Malibu Saint came from far back in a field of 13, was bumped sideways in the stretch run and still won the Wait a While Stakes by 1/2 length over Gift of Glory. Golden Orb, who caused the stretch issues, was disqualified from third to fourth, promoting Filfila. The favorite, Stainless, came from California to finish seventh. Malibu Saint, a Malibu Moon filly trained by Mark Casse, got 1 mile on the grass in 1:45.76 for jockey Luis Saez, picking up her second career win.
Take Charge Paula and Razorback Lady hooked up in a stretch battle in the House Party Stakes with the former finally eking out a 1/2-length victory. Lil B Quick was another 2 1/4 lengths behind in third. Take Charge Paula, a daughter of Take Charge Indy, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.60 with Paco Lopez in the irons. She now has won both her starts since finishing second in the Grade III Matron at Belmont Park in October. Kelly Breen is the trainer.
Saturday was Louisiana Champions Day in the Big Easy.
Mobile Bay, the odds-on favorite, opened a huge lead early in the $150,000 Classic but was all out in the final strides to preserve victory by a nose over Grande Basin. Under Pressure was third, well ahead of the other two. Mobile Bay, a 5-year-old son of Lone Star Special, ran 9 furlongs on the good main track in 1:51.95 with Diego Saenz up for trainer Victor Arceneaux.
Stand Him Up took charge in the final furlong of the $100,000 Sprint, edging away to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Just Kissing Buck. Hunker Down hunkered down at the back of the field early and then ran on to finish third. Stand Him Up, a 5-year-old Time Bandit gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.03 with Saens in the irons.
My Miss Chiff found her best foot late in the $100,000 Ladies Sprint, surging to a 3/4-length victory over Look Into My Eyes. Wheatfield waved from 3 1/2 lengths farther back in third. My Miss Chiff, a 3-year-old Into Mischief filly, covered 6 furlongs in 1:11.45 under Mitchell Murrill.
On the soft turf course:
Extra Credit came three wide to challenge in the lane in the $100,000 Turf and outfinished Fort Pulaski, winning by 3/4 length over that rival. The favorite, Trust Factor, led briefly turning for home but faded to finish third. Extra Credit, a 4-year-old Proud Citizen gelding, got the about 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.88 with Shaun Bridgmohan in the irons.
Inveniam Viam rallied to the lead at the eighth pole in the $100,000 Ladies Stakes and 1 by 1 length over another late runner, Pacific Pink. Mr. Al's Gal led the way and held on for show money. Inveniam Viam, a 5-year-old Half Ours mare, ran about 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.07 for jockey Bridgmohan.
On the 2-year-old front:
Greeley Went West ran by pacesetting favorite Divine Bean in the late going in the $100,000 Juvenile and went on to win by 1 length over that one. Cajun Creed was third. Greeley Went West, an El Corredor gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the good main track in 1:11.76 with James Graham up.
Minit to Stardom needed only 12.18 seconds more than a minute to star in the $100,000 Lassie, kicking away in the stretch to win by 7 1/4 lengths under Colby Hernandez. Chantal Sutherland piloted Sarah's Holy Bell to a second-place finish, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Girls Life. Minit to Stardom is from the first crop of the former Louisiana sensation Star Guitar.
Hawthorne Race Course
Pass the Gravy seized the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $50,000 Jim Edgar Futurity for Illinois-bred 2-year-olds and held gamely to win by a neck over Sir Anthony. Ghaaleb's Winner was 4 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Pass the Gravy, an Afleet Alex colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.73 with Rodney Prescott in the irons for trainer Larry Rivelli.
Golden Gate Fields
Kathy's Song rallied five-wide around the bulk of the field in Sunday's $65,000 Miss America Stakes for fillies and mares and scooted off to a 3 1/4-lengths victory over Coachwhip. Lady Valeur finished third. Kathy's Song, a 3-year-old Candy Ride filly, got 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:43.04 with Brice Blanc along for the ride.
Fast and Foxy was quickly 3 lengths in front of the field in Saturday's $75,000 Bear Fan Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares, then held on to win by 3/4 length over Cuddle Alert. Run for Retts was third. Fast and Foxy, a 7-year-old daughter of Thisnearlywasmine, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:09.43 with Catalino Martinez riding.