Two-year-olds were strutting their stuff during the weekend from Oklahoma to Florida, New York and California -- some with potential for the coming year's Kentucky Derby trail.
Gulfstream Park had the weekend's graded stakes, with Chad Brown bringing Lewis Bay back to victory fresh from a 13-months layoff in a highlight.
Danon Premium whipped some of Japan's top 2-year-olds with ease and there were other races of note in South Africa, England and the UAE.
Aunt Babe won at Aqueduct but Bodacious Babe finished second -- to Rich Mommy, no less, at Gulfstream Park. Diabolical Dame was third in New Mexico.
Before we get into trouble with that theme, let's move right along to:
Greyvitos, evacuated from the San Luis Rey Training Center during the disastrous fire at that facility, stalked the pace in Sunday's $400,000 Remington Springboard Mile, took over the lead in the stretch run and easily held off the Kentucky-based favorite, Combatant, scoring by 2 1/2 lengths. A pair of locals -- Kingsville and Night Strike -- filled out the superfecta slots well in back of the top two. Greyvitos, a Virginia-bred colt by Malibu Moon, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.14 with Victor Espinoza up for trainer Adam Kitchingman. It was his second straight win, following the Grade III Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar.
"It's been a lot to overcome," Kitchingman said of the fire, relocation of his colt to Santa Anita for his final work and shipping to Oklahoma for the win. The race was worth 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby start but the trainer said his first order of business will be to give Greyvitos a bit of a rest. "The races are only going to get tougher," he said.
Intimidate did battle with Lucky Romano through much of Saturday's $100,000 King Glorious Stakes for California-bred 2-year-olds at Los Alamitos but was not intimidated, eventually shaking free to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Campaigner finished third and the favorite, Bookies Luck, was never in contention with a wide trip, finishing next-last of seven. Intimidate, a Vronsky colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.76 with Mike Smith. He won his first two starts at Golden Gate Fields, then finished fifth in the Golden Nugget Stakes over that same all-weather course in a rough trip. The King Glorious was his first try on dirt.
"He was lucky he didn't go down last time," winning trainer Bob Hess Sr. said of Intimidate. "I didn't know if he could run a mile. I didn't know if he could run on dirt. But I knew he can run. We had to find out and this looked like a pretty good spot. Mike rode him exactly the way I told him."
Tricks to Doo worked his way to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, then took over in the lane, drawing clear to a 7 1/4-lengths victory as the odds-on favorite. Arazi Like Move lacked an Arazi-like move (as do most) and settled for second, a head in front of Twin Farms. Tricks to Doo, an Into Mischief colt out of the Polish Numbers mare Doolittle, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.58 with Daniel Centeno up.
"We have always liked this horse and knew he has tons of speed, and he did not disappoint us," said Tricks to Doo's trainer, Arnaud Delacour. "I told Danny it would be great if he could sit off the pace and teach him something, but he was so aggressive and has so much natural speed. It was very impressive." Delacour said the $125,000, 7-furlong Pasco Stakes on Jan. 20 is a likely target.
Aqua Bel Sar, at odds of 37.5-1, stalked the pace in Sunday's $125,000 Great White Way Division of the New York Stallion Series, went by the speedsters heading for home and drew off to win by a neck over Belleville Spring. Spectacular Kid was third at an even more spectacular price than the winner. Aqua Bel Sar, a Trinniberg colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in an unspectacular 1:13.43 with Trevor Simpson riding. "We are going to see how he comes back," said winning trainer Bisnath Parboo. But, most likely, he will run the races his father ran at Aqueduct," including the Grade III Bay Shore in April. "His father, Trinniberg, won it like nothing. I think he will win it too."
Only three faced the starter in Saturday's $60,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Land Battle went right to the lead under Jose Valdivia Jr. and wasn't caught, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over the 1-5 favorite, Steel Shot. It was another 6 1/4 lengths back to Silis in third and last. Land Battle, an Istan gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.61 over a fast track. It was his third win from seven starts. Steel Shot, a Trappe Shot colt trained by Mark Casse, was coming off a front-running maiden win at Churchill Downs. "It was almost like a match race," Valdivia said. "There were only three horses so I figured I would see if I could get him to the lead and take a little bit of spunk from the favorite."
Those backing "all others" in the Kentucky Derby futures wager can take heart from the results of Friday's third race at Aqueduct, a 1 1/8-miles test for 2-year-old maidens. Marconi, a Tapit colt trained by Todd Pletcher for Bridlewood Farm and the Coolmore Partners in Ireland, looked like he learned his lesson from his first start, where he ran greenly to finish second. Friday, he broke last, worked into a trap midway down the backstretch and had to steady, then came three-wide into the lane and drew off to win by 5 1/2 lengths with Javier Castellano keeping him to task. He got home in 1:54.51 over a fast track, acting like he was ready for more. The owners landed Marconi for $2 million at the September 2016 Keeneland yearling sale so much is expected of the gray colt.
Another Pletcher charge, Navistar, was an impressive winner in a Gulfstream Park maiden affair on Saturday's card. The Union Rags colt, second in his first outing at Belmont Park Oct. 20, sat just off the pace and ran confidently through the stretch under John Velazquez to win with authority over late-running He Takes Charge.
Principe Guilherme, a Steve Asmussen trainee, won a conditioned allowance event at Fairgrounds on Saturday by 11 3/4 lengths, easily handling the two turns. The Tapit colt, a Three Chimneys Farm homebred out of the Street Sense mare Aubby K., now is 2-for-2. His first win came at Churchill Downs.
Cosmic Burst kicked away from the competition in the final furlong of Sunday's $100,000 Trapeze Stakes at Remington Park, winning by 5 1/4 lengths. Rose of Malibu rallied from far back to finish second, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Stronger Than Ever. Cosmic Burst, with Richard Eramia up, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.94. The Violence filly, trained by Donnie Von Hemel, scored her third straight win following victories at Keeneland and Churchill Downs.
Aunt Babe started last of six in Saturday's $150,000 Fifth Avenue Division of the New York Sire Stakes, angled out for room at the furlong marker and was along in the final sixteenth to win by a nose over Pure Silver. The odds-on favorite, Miss Hot Stones, was another 1/2 length back in third. Aunt Babe, a Desert Party filly, got 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:12.92 with Eric Cancel in the irons. She went to the post at odds of almost 40-1 after finishing up the track in her last two races at Belmont Park and Finger Lakes. "We got the right spot," said winning trainer Jimmy Ferraro. "The race came up light. There were over 300 fillies who were eligible for this race and only six of them showed up, so, it was a little surprising."
Almond Roca wasted little time getting by pacesetting favorite Toni Ann's Miracle in Saturday's $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, then showed her heels to seven rivals, winning off by 9 1/4 lengths. Toni Ann's Miracle held second, 3 1/2 lengths to the good of R True Talent. Almond Roca, a Speightstown filly from the Holy Bull mare Styler, got 6 furlongs in 1:10.01 with Pablo Morales up.
"I thought she won very impressively," trainer Graham Motion said of Almond Roca. "She had a very tough trip in her previous race so I more or less threw out that race. We thought today was a good chance to get her some black type, but I was surprised how easily she won." Motion said a return engagement in the $125,000, 7-furlong Gasparilla Stakes Jan. 20 is a possibility.
She's Pretty Lucky was up in the final yards to win Saturday's $60,000 Letellier Memorial Stakes at Fair Grounds by a nose over Upset Brewing. The favorite, Vision of Justice, led early and held on for show money. She's Pretty Lucky, a Lookin At Lucky filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.06 with Florent Geroux in the irons. She now is 2-for-3 with the earlier win coming at Churchill Downs.
Around the ovals:
Lewis Bay returned from nearly 13 months on the sidelines to win Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Rampart for fillies and mares by 1 length over Curlin's Approval. Nona Mela was third. Lewis Bay, a 4-year-old daughter of Bernardini, grabbed the early lead, surrendered it to Curlin's Approval, then took over for good on the turn. She finished the one-turn mile on a fast track in 1:36.14 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. Winning trainer Chad Brown said he figured Lewis Bay would be sharp off the layoff and told Ortiz to let her go if she broke well. "It's not easy to do after 13 months, especially to go against a really good filly like that," Brown said. "She's had a series of minor setbacks but she's back on track now, it looks like."
Locally based Rich Mommy was along late in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sugar Swirl for fillies and mares, defeating some nice shippers. The 3-year-old daughter of Algorithms, making her first stakes start, rallied under Luis Saez to win by 2 lengths from Bodacious Babe. Extreme long shot More Than a Party was along for third ahead of the fading odds-on favorite, Dearest. Rich Mommy ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.44, picking up her third straight win and fourth from her last five starts. "We have taken it step by step with this filly and at this moment she is doing very well," said trainer Victor Barboza Jr. He said Rich Mommy may start in the $125,000 Grade III Hurricane Bertie on the Pegasus World Cup undercard Jan. 27.
On Leave, the odds-on favorite, did what she had to do in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III My Charmer for fillies and mares. After waiting behind the leaders, the 4-year-old War Front filly came wide into the lane and outfinished Giana's Dream by a neck. Stormy Victoria came from last of nine with a late run up rail to finish third. On Leave, with Ortiz up, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.35, picking up her seventh win from 14 lifetime starts. In her last outing, she finished third in the Grade II Goldikova on the Breeders' Cup undercard at Del Mar. "We've had a good year with her," said winning trainer Shug McGaughey. "We're going to race her next year. We'll give her a little time at Payson Park and see where she takes us."
Fear the Cowboy roped in pacesetting Mr. Jordan turning for home in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Harlan's Holiday and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths over that rival. Richard the Great ran evenly to finish third. Fear the Cowboy, a 5-year-old son of Cowboy Cal, finished 1 1/16 miles on the fast track in 1:42.23 with Javier Castellano in the irons. He also won the Grade III Skip Away over the same track earlier in a season that has found him traveling from Louisiana to Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Indiana, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and back to Florida. "He's an amazing horse," said winning trainer Efren Loza Jr., who picked the Harlan's Holiday over another race in New Orleans. "He's traveled a lot these years."
Shakhimat, a recent snowbird arrival from Ontario, took over the lead halfway through Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Tropical Turf Handicap and kept on rolling to a 3/4-length victory. Galton, Tower of Texas and the favorite, Blacktype, were second, third and fourth in a tight bunch. Shakhimat, a 4-year-old Lonhro gelding, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:36.03. Jockey Edgard Zayas said he planned to stalk the pace but when things slowed down, "I just put my hands down and let him roll from there." It was his fifth career win for trainer Roger Attfield and biggest since he took the Grade III Transylvania at Keeneland in the spring of 2016 en route back to Canada, where he finished fifth in that year's Queen's Plate. Attfield also trains Tower of Texas and said one of them, probably Shakhimat, will be in the $200,000, Grade II Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 13.
Ready to Confess stalked the pace three-wide in Sunday's $100,000 She's All In Stakes for fillies and mares, rallied to the lead on the turn and won off by 2 3/4 lengths. Dream Call came from last of nine to finish second, 1/2 length in front of the favorite, Adore. Ready to Confess, a More Than Ready filly out of the Holy Bull mare Confessional, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:41.93 with David Cabrera aboard.
Dan the Go To Man set a pressured pace in Sunday's $75,000 Jeffrey A. Hawk Memorial, surged to a 3-lengths lead in the stretch and then just survived the late bid of Dazzling Gem, winning by a head over that rival. The favorite, Shotgun Kowboy, was a neck farther back in third. Dan the Go To Man, a 4-year-old Smoke Glacken colt, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:41.29 with Iram Diego up.
Hallelujah Hit pressed the pace in Sunday's $50,000 Jim Thorpe Stakes for Oklahoma-bred 3-year-olds, took a narrow lead in the stretch and won by 1/2 length over Curmit. Hallelujah Hit, a Mr. Nightlinger gelding, ran 1 mile in 1:37.64 under Luis Quinonez.
Okie Diva was at the back of the field at the quarter pole in Sunday's $50,000 Useeit Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies but got past them all to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Honolulu was was best of the rest. Okie Diva, a daughter of Chitoz, finished in 1:39.17 with Quinonez up.
Giada Vegas was squeezed back to last at the start of Saturday's $75,000 Blushing K.D. Stakes but still managed to squeeze out a 1 length victory over Joyous Thunder. The favorite, Prado's Sweet Ride, settled for third. Giada Vegas, a 4-year-old Scat Daddy filly, finished about 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:46.62 with Corey Lanerie up.
Dimension, at just shy of 40-1 odds, stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Stakes, eased to the lead in the lane and edged off to a 1 1/4-lengths victory over Sir Dudley Digges. Up With the Birds was third with Saham, High Noon Rider and Applicator all in close attendance. Dimension, a 9-year-old, British-bred gelding by Medicean, toured about 1 1/16 miles of firm turf in 1:46.07 with James Graham riding.
Imma Bling outfinished fellow long shot Ballandeen in Saturday's $75,000 Bonapaw Stakes, winning by 1 length with Show Bound another 1 length back in third. The favorite, was another 1 1/2 length in arrears in fourth. Imma Bling, a 4-year-old Too Much Bling gelding, finished 5 furlongs on firm turf in 1:04.67 with Joe Bravo up.
Cooptado dueled with Shut the Box through the final sixteenth of Saturday's $75,000 Tenacious Stakes, prevailing by a nose with Leofric third. Cooptado, a 7-year-old Argentine-bred gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast main track in 1:42.78 with Declan Cannon up.
Tampa Bay Downs
Surprise Wedding was up late to take Saturday's $125,000 FTBOA City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes for 3-year-old state-bred fillies. Stormy Embrace and the favorite, R Angel Katelyn, fought for the early lead and finished second and third in that order. Surprise Wedding, a High Cotton filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.40 with Jesus Rios riding.
In the companion $125,000 FTBOA Marion County FSS for 3-year-old colts and geldings, Mo Cash got first run to the lead and held off the favorite, Three Rules, by 3/4 length. Zipping was another 5 3/4 lengths back in third. Mo Cash, an Adios Charlie gelding, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.84 with Antonio Gallardo up.
Tilla Cat was on the lead but under pressure all the way in Sunday's $85,000 New Mexico State Racing Commission Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, finally edging clear to win by 1/2 length over Tijuana. Diabolical Dame was up for third and My Bikini Fell off was fourth. Tilla Cat, a 4-year-old Attila's Storm filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.28 for jockey Tracey Hebert.
Shining Source was off a bit slowly in Sunday's $85,000 Johnie L. Jamison for New Mexico-breds but made up all the ground and kicked clear in the stretch run, scoring by 2 1/2 lengths over Go For a Stroll. Way Nifty finished third. Shining Source, a 6-year-old Source gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.94 with Luis Contreras up.
Mt Veeder stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 KLAQ Handicap, came five-wide into the stretch and got home first by 1 1/2 lengths. Concord Fast was fast enough to take second, 3/4 lengths to the good of the favorite, Redneck Humor. With Alfredo Juarez Jr. in the irons, Mt Veeder scampered 5 furlongs on a fast track in 55.35 seconds.
On the international front:
Danon Premium looked the winner all the way in Sunday's Group 1 Asahi Hai Futurity at Hanshin Racecourse. With Yuga Kawada up, the Deep Impact colt was away alertly from the inside post, saved all the ground while racing third into the stretch and commenced his bid turning for home. After a few taps of the whip, Danon Premium was well in front and ran on to his third win without a loss. Stelvio was second, mirroring the finish of the Group 3 Saudi Arabia Royal Cup. Tower of London was third. Danon Premium finished the 1,600 meters in stakes-record time of 1:33.3.
"He's a smart horse," Kawada said of Danon Premium. "He was a bit keen to go today but I believed in his strength and urged him to go when I saw a clear path entering the lane. He stretched and accelerated really well, just as we had expected. We need to extend the distance of his races in order for him to win the classics next year," the rider added. "But I think he will continue to develop well toward this goal."
While there were no foreign horses in the race, the outcome still reflected the international nature of racing in Japan. Tower of London was bred by Darley Japan and is owned by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. The winner's dam, Indiana Gal, is an Irish-bred mare by Intikhab. Intikhab raced for Sheik Mohammed's Godolphin from 1996 to 1999, reaching his career zenith with a victory in the Queen Anne Stakes (G2) at Ascot.
Tap O'Noth overcame a wide draw in Saturday's Grade I Cape Guineas at Kenilworth and rallied down the stretch to capture the first leg of the South African Triple Crown by 1/2 length over White River. Like a Panther and Cot Campbell were third and fourth. Tap O'Noth, a Captain Al colt out of the Western Winter mare Wintersweet, was making his first start since winning the Cape Classic in October. The colt went to the post as a slight favorite in a wide-open field with handicappers eyeing the No. 15 gate and two-months layoff with suspicion. Still, jockey M. J. Byleveld said, "I don't think I've ever been so confident coming into a Grade I race. His work has just been magnificent. He's matured."
United Arab Emirates
Ormindo rallied down the center of the track to win the Friday feature at Jebel Ali on a card that found Satish Seemar and Helal Al Alawi posting doubles. Ormindo, a 7-year-old trained by Ahmad bin Harmash, got to the front 200 meters out in the 1,400-meters handicap and stayed strongly to pick up his sixth career win, all at Jebel Ali. "That 1,400 meters would be very much his minimum trip but they went a proper good early gallop, which really suited him," said winning rider Connor Beasley. Al Alawi scored with Rothenburg in the second race of the day and Shillong in the fourth. Seemar saddled the winners of the two final heats, Invincible Strike and Au Coeur, the latter part-owned by ace Dubai racing television presenter Laura Martin.
Mountain Bell rallied from last to land Saturday's Betway Conditions Race at Newcastle, a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Betway All-Weather Marathon Championships Final on Good Friday, March 30, at Lingfield. Mountain Bell, a 4-year-old Mount Nelson filly, owned by Qatar Racing, dawdled through most of the 2-mile race over Tapeta, not finding her stride until the stretch run. Then, she quickly surged to the fore and scored by 2 lengths over Cape Cova. Watersmeet was third.
Jockey Josephine Gordon, who tallied her 106th victory of the season, said Mountain Bell was so keen early in the race she "had to switch her off ... When she finally got the hang of it, she has won quite comfortably. It is hard to come from the back here, especially when there is not much pace on but she has done it nicely. I gave two little flicks and she got into the race." She said she might ride Mountain Bell "a bit more handy" at Lingfield.
It was the calm following the storm Sunday at Sha Tin as the frenzy of another successful Longines Hong Kong International Races week gave way to local competition. The common thread was jockey Derek Leung -- a popular upset winner in last week's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile and an unlikely winner in Sunday's Class 2 Lukfook Jewellery Beloved Collection Handicap on Pingwu Spark. That's the 1,336-pound Pingwu Spark, mind you, the heaviest starter in Hong Kong since October of 2010. And, yes, they do keep such statistics in Hong Kong.
It's not actually fair to say Sunday's win was unlikely as Pingwu Spark was the favorite. But victory seemed much in question as the behemoth found himself trapped in a pocket with 300 meters to go in the 1,400-meters race. "I couldn't go anywhere," Leung lamented. But when the gap opened, the 5-year-old Mastercraftsman gelding got the momentum swinging in his direction and quickly surged to a 1/2-length victory over Happy Agility.
Trainer Benno Yung added, "I was so scared, I thought his chance had gone. He's such a big horse, he needs time to wind up. You can't just expect him to sprint." Now, Yung said, he's looking at a program that will get his "horse every trainer wants" to the group-race level. Watch for the large, light-grey gelding. You can't miss him.
Earlier on the program, trainer John Moore got some encouragement from one of his prospects to fill the shoes of retired stars as Easy Go Easy Win rallied in the final 100 meters to take his first Hong Kong start in the Class 3 Lukfook Jewellery PT Bridal Collection. "There's still a lot of improvement there. He's looking for further," Moore said of the Aussie import, a candidate for the BMW Hong Kong Derby. "Today is the start of a new brigade coming onboard."
News and notes:
Some sad news, as reported by The Blood-Horse: Fasig-Tipton says its "Turf Showcase", held Sept. 10 as an effort to boost interest in turf-prone yearlings, will not be repeated in 2018. This year's Showcase sold 74 yearlings for gross receipts of $5,035,000, an average price of $68,041, and a median of $52,500. Of the 145 through the ring, 71 went unsold for an RNA rate of 48.9 percent.
Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency told The Blood-Horse after the Turf Showcase that excellent turf horses can sell in America but average ones will not. He added there was not much European presence at the sale. "That wasn't pushing the demand so Americans got to buy what they wanted," he said.
On a brighter note, Ben's Cat, four-time Maryland Horse of the Year, is the winner of the 2017 Secretariat Vox Populi, or "Voice of the People" award. The honor, created by Secretariat's late owner Penny Chenery, annually recognizes the horse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the American public and gained recognition for Thoroughbred racing. During Ben's Cat's eight-year career, the 11-year-old finished in the money in 48 of his 63 starts, including 26 stakes victories andearned $2.6 million. Hall of Fame trainer King Leatherbury bred, owned, and trained Ben's Cat, who passed away from complications of colic just weeks after his retirement in June.