Bravazo earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby with an upset victory in Louisiana while Sumahama clinched a spot in the Louisville starting gate with a win in Japan -- highlights of a busy and varied weekend in Thoroughbred racing.
X Y Jet rolled down the Tampa Bay Downs stretch like he was on takeoff for Dubai, which, come to think of it, he is.
Speaking of the international front, Redzel was upset in Australia and Gold Dream was defeated in Japan. But Heavy Metal ran to his notices in Saturday's feature in Dubai.
There's lot's more, so, off we go:
The Road to the Roses
It's a big weekend on the Kentucky Derby trail, with races all around the globe having a potential impact. See the international section for the Japanese and Dubai connections. Back at home:
In New Orleans:
Bravazo, largely overlooked among the early Derby contenders, virtually guaranteed himself a spot in the Louisville starting gate with an upset win in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds. The Calumet Farm homebred, trained by veteran D. Wayne Lukas, pressured pacesetting Snapper Sinclair through most of the 1 1/16 miles, hooked up in a prolonged stretch duel and prevailed by a nose. It was 2 more lengths back to Noble Indy in third and the favorite, Lecomte Stakes winner Instilled Regard, finished fourth.
Bravazo, an Awesome Again colt out of the Cee's Tizzy mare Tiz o' Gold, finished in 1:42.95 under Miguel Mena. Mena, the meet's leading rider, picked up the mount because Gary Stevens, who originally was named, had a previous commitment in Arkansas. Bravazo's young career has been up and down. After finishing second behind Free Drop Billy in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October, he was third in a minor stakes at Churchill Downs, then 10th in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club. He started his 3-year-old year with a hard-fought win going 1 mile at Oaklawn Park.
Lukas said Bravazo is "a fighter. He's tough. He's got real good tactical speed. He's a horse that carries his weight well and can withstand training up to the (Kentucky) Derby."
Javier Castellano, who rode Instilled Regard, said, "He relaxed behind horses and I looked for that kick but he never gave it to me today. He felt good and healthy but unfortunately today wasn't the day."
The race was the first in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series offering 50 points to the winner. That normally is enough to guarantee a spot in the maximum 20-horse starting field. Bravazo now has 54, including the 4 points he earned for a second last year in the Grade I Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.
Paved, a filly by Quality Road, rallied from mid-pack to win Saturday's $100,000 El Camino Real Derby on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather course. City Plan came from far back to finish second, 1 1/4 lengths back but 1/2 length to the good of Blended Citizen. The morning-line favorite, Choo Choo, finished fifth Paved ran 9 furlongs in 1:50.04 with Drayden Van Dyke up for the ride. She broke her maiden in her previous start on the Santa Anita turf. Paved picked up 10 Kentucky Derby points with the win and is the only filly currently holding points toward a start in the Run for the Roses. "She's just a Cadillac," Van Dyke said. "She looked around a little bit towards the end. I think there is more left in there, too. She is very talented."
Still Having Fun, the even-money favorite, overcame a slow start in Saturday's $100,000 Miracle Wood at Laurel Park, advanced steadily through the stretch and was along to win by a neck over Old Time Revival. Wentz was another neck back in third. Still Having Fun, an Old Fashioned colt, ran 1 mile through the snow on a good track in 1:31.51 with Feargal Lynch aboard. He won for the third time in four career starts and should be watched for the Preakness.
Primo Touch was away a touch slowly in Saturday's $50,000 Turf Paradise Derby, made up the ground entering the backstretch and was never challenged after that, winning off by 3 1/2 lengths. Fortified Effort was second, 1 1/2 lengths better than Bocephus. Primo Touch, a Midas Touch gelding, finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.30 with Andrew Ramgeet in the irons.
The Derby trail winds along Monday in Arkansas with:
The $500,000 Grade III Southwest at Oaklawn Park. The field of 12 is headed by Mourinho, a Bob Baffert-trained colt by Super Saver, out of the More Than Ready mare Sandi's Ready. Drayden Van Dyke is named to ride, giving him the chance at a second Kentucky Derby points-scoring win on the weekend. Super Saver won the 2010 Kentucky Derby. More Than Ready was fourth in the 2000 edition.
Monomoy Girl returned to the winner's circle despite a somewhat adverturous trip in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds. The Tapizar filly, who suffered her first career loss in her last start, hit the gate and raced last of seven through the early furlongs of the Rachel Alexandra. After getting the go-ahead from jockey Florent Geroux, she took the lead at the top of the lane, then shied from a left-handed whip. Once back on course, she went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Classy Act, finishing the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.26.
Trainer Brad Cox said he cringed at the start. "I wasn't thinking good thoughts. I was shocked she got away like that ... She showed us a lot. Overcoming things, dirt in her face, passing horses, stuff like that. She's becoming a big girl."
Monomoy Girl won her first three starts as a 2-year-old, then was beaten by a nose by Road to Victory in the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in November. She had not raced since. Cox said Sunday morning the "Plan A" now is to move along to the Grade I Central Bank Ashland Stakes at Keeneland April 7. Monomoy Girl earned 50 points toward a Kentucky Oaks start.
Enchanted Ghost bounced back from a third-place finish in the Marshua Stakes to win Saturday's $100,000 Wide Country at Laurel Park by a comfortable 3 1/4 lengths over Deep Red. Aggregator was a neck farther back in third and the favorite, Marshua runner-up Last True Love, reported last of five. Enchanted Ghost, a Ghostzapper filly, finished 7 furlongs on a muddy track on a snowy day in 1:25.49 with Angel Cruz in the irons.
The Player dealt a winning hand from the start in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Mineshaft Handicap at Fair Grounds. With Calvin Borel in the irons, the 5-year-old son of Street Hero was right out in front and never challenged, winning by 4 1/4 lengths under steady urging. Thirstforlife finished second, a nose to the good of Scuba. The Player, trained by William Bradley, won the Grade II Fayette at Keeneland last fall and was fifth in his seasonal debut on Jan. 13. Bradley added blinkers for the Mineshaft. Bradley said the $400,000 Grade II New Orleans Handicap on March 24 could be the next stop for The Player.
Afleet Willy, the odds-on favorite, jumped right to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 John B. Campbell at Laurel Park, showed the way and won by 2 1/2 lengths from Zanotti. Dattt Melody was third. Afleet Willy, a 5-year-old Wilburn gelding, toured 9 furlongs on a good but deteriorating track in 1:50.58 with Jomar Torres riding. It was his fourth win from his last five starts, all on the Maryland-Delaware circuit.
Saturday's third race at Fair Grounds was a "non-winners of two other-than" affair. But the lineup didn't reflect that, including last year's Kentucky Derby runner-up, Lookin at Lee, and multiple graded-stakes placer Han Sense. Lookin at Lee, sadly, didn't run a lick in his first start since a 10th-place finish last summer in the Travers. Always trailing, the Steve Asmussen charge finished last of five, beaten 7 lengths. The other four horses could have been covered by a big bandanna with Jess I Am a neck in front of Han Sense. Another pair of noses back were Hollywood Handsome and St. Louie Guy. Jess I Am, a 5-year-old Eskendereya ridgling, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:41.71.
This division carries on with Monday's $500,000 Grade III Razorback at Oaklawn Park -- a wide-open affair with 11 set to go 1 1/16 miles.
Streamline came from last of six in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Bayakoa at Oaklawn Park, took the lead early in the stretch run and edged away under Gary Stevens to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Terra Promessa was second, 1 length ahead of Torrent. The favorite, Farrell, was never involved and was eased through the stretch by jockey Channing Hill. Streamline, a 6-year-old, Illinois-bred mare by Straight Line, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:47.22. Although often overlooked, as pointed out here in the Weekend Preview, Streamline came into the Bayakoa with 19 in-the-money finishes from 20 starts. The win was at least a consolation prize for Stevens, who was named in the entries to ride Bravazo, the upset winner of the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds.
Stevens said of Streamline, "My mare settled for me and was just dragging me around there. I actually made the lead about an eighth of a mile too early with her, though. She fought it out. But she's got more in the tank, believe me. She is just an old pro, a pleasure to ride and a lot of fun."
Miss Inclusive led from gate to wire in Saturday's $100,000 Maryland Racing Media at Laurel Park, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over Line of Best Fit. In the Navy Now was third, another 2 1/2 lengths in arrears. Miss Inclusive, a 5-year-old Include mare, got about 1 1/16 miles on a muddy track in 1:44.89 under Jorge Vargas Jr., scoring her fifth win in her 15th career outing.
Monday's $200,000 Grade III Royal Delta at Gulfstream Park has a field of eight with Lewis Bay the 5-2 favorite.
Synchrony, making his first start since last May, came far wide from far back in Saturday's $150,000 Grade IIII Fair Grounds Handicap and was along to win by 2 lengths over the favorite, Mr. Misunderstood. Tiz a Slam was third, another 5 lengths behind. Synchrony, a 5-year-old son of Tapit, ran about 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.82 with Joe Bravo up. Mr. Misunderstood came to the race with a perfect 8-for-8 record over the turf. "It's all about how the horse is doing and their mental and physical attitude," winning trainer Michael Stidham said of Synchrony's long layoff. "I had him for a short time last year but he is like a completely different horse this time around. You can see it in his training and he just telegraphed it and showed it this afternoon."
Filly & Mare Turf
Fault rallied to the lead along the rail with a sixteenth to run in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Buena Vista at Santa Anita and got home first in a parade of long shots. Thundering Sky was 1 length back in second and a head in front of Juno, who made most of the going. All three went to the post at double-digit odds and a winning 50-cent trifecta bet returned $2,161.95. The favorite, Madame Dancealot, finished fifth. Fault, a 4-year-old Blame filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.49 with Geovanni Franco at the controls. It was her first win since the Grade III Pucker Up Stakes at Arlington Park last August.
"She's shown me a lot in the mornings and she trained like she belonged in here," trainer Phil D'Amato said of Fault. "You never know until you run against these girls in here and she showed that she fits." Part-owner Gary Fenton said the filly may get a try on dirt.
Compelled outfinished Finley'slucky charm in Tuesday's $75,000 Mardi Gras Stakes for fillies and mares at Fair Grounds, winning by 1 length. Triple Chelsea was only a neck farther behind in third. Compelled, a 4-year-old War Front filly, ran about 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:04.32 with Corey Lanerie up. It was her first race since May of 2017. Finley'sluckycharm, a multiple graded stakes winner, was having her first run since finishing ninth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
X Y Jet dusted six hapless rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Pelican, a 6-furlongs sprint at Tampa Bay Downs, and is off to Dubai and a second run in the Group 1 Golden Shaheen -- whether he wants to or not. The 6-year-old Kantharos gelding wasted no time asserting himself in the Pelican and won by 7 lengths, with jockey Emisael Jaramillo still keeping him involved. X Y Jet, second in the Golden Shaheen two years ago, has endured lengthy injury-related layoffs but obviously is back in top form now. Trainer Jorge Navarro said it was up to the rider to keep X Y Jet running in the final furlong. "He has not been an easy horse to train," Navarro said. "He has great ability but he can have a horrible temper. Emisael said he didn't want to take a chance -- if he's going to win, make sure he's going to win.
As for Dubai, the trainer said with a grin, "He wants to go to Dubai. We want a vacation. "We did the right thing coming here today and now we're ready for Dubai."
Something Awesome rallied from next-last to take Saturday's $250,000 Grade III General George at Laurel Park by a neck over Fellowship -- who got going dead last in the field of eight. It's the Journey attended the early pace and held on for third. Something Awesome, a 7-year-old Awesome Again gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:23.31 with Elvis Trujillo up for trainer Jose Corrales. The Laurel-based veteran, more often seen in the optional claiming ranks, was coming off a third-place finish in the Fire Plug Stakes Jan. 20. "He's old, but he came here and trained like a good horse. To me, he's the best horse I've ever trained," said Corrales, who handles Something Awesome for owner Frank Stronach.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Ms Locust Point led all the way to a convincing 4 1/2-lengths victory in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Barbara Fritchie at Laurel Park. Moiety was second and Berned third as Ms Locust Point finished 7 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:24.13 under Jorge Vargas Jr. The 4-year-old Dialed In filly scored her fourth straight win and sixth from her last seven starts. Trainer John Servis said he couldn't see much detail of the race because heavy snow. "I saw her break sharp and I know there wasn't a whole lot of speed in here but I really couldn't tell if she was settling or if she was running against the bit. Jorge came back and said she settled great, so that was a good thing." He said the Grade I Madison at Keeneland April 7 could be a target for Ms Locust Point.
Selcourt and Coniah battled head-to-head for most of Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Las Flores at Santa Anita before Selcourt finally got clear in the final yards to win by 3/4 length. Skye Diamonds made up ground late to finish third, just another head back. Selcourt, a 4-year-old Tiz Wonderful filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.65 with Tyler Baze in the irons. "She was in with really good horses and their strategy seemed to be to take it to her," said winning trainer John Sadler. "She took the pressure and just kept going." He said he will try to stretch Selcourt out a bit through the rest of the season.
Holding Gold came wide into the turn and then eased by pacesetting Will Call to win Saturday's $60,000 Colonel Power Stakes by 1/2 length over that one. Flashaway was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. Holding Gold, a 5-year-old Lonhro gelding, ran about 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.60 with John Velazquez in the irons.
Mom's On Strike unleased a bold, five-wide rally into the stretch run to take Saturday's $75,000 Albert M. Stall Memorial for fillies and mares by 1 1/2 lengths over Vagabond Princess. Five Hearts and I'm Betty G dead-heated for third and fourth. Mom's On Strike, a 5-year-old First Dude mare, ran about 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.82 with Adam Beschizza riding.
Hit It Once More made all the going and went on to post a 16-1 upset win in Saturday's $100,000 Haynesfield Stakes for New York-breds. The favorite, Can You Diggit, made up some ground in the stretch but settled for second. Papa Shot was third. Hit It Once More, a 5-year-old son of Hard Spun, ran 1 mile on a muddy track in 1:39.52 with Rafael Hernandez in the irons.
Nine Route led from the start in Sunday's $100,000 Gander Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds, winning by 3 lengths over Gio d'Oro. The odds-on favorite, Empire Line, and Engineers Report completed the order of finish. Nine Route, a The Factor colt, ran 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:41.25 with Dylan Davis up.
Startwithsilver started with a lack of speed in Sunday's $100,000 Broadway Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares but made up all the ground and then some, winning by 6 lengths over Bee Noteworthy. The favorite, Picco Uno, settled for third. Startwithsilver, a 5-year-old Jump Start mare, ran 6 furlongs in the slop in 1:11.44 with Junior Alvarado aboard.
Publius Syrus stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Baffle Stakes for 3-year-olds down the hillside turf course, took over and went on to win by 1 length over Afleet Ascent. Colosi was third. Publius Syrus, a Candy Ride colt, ran about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:13.04 for jockey Kent Desormeaux.
Tampa Bay Downs
Just Be Kind ran by pacesetting Grand Prix in the stretch drive of Saturday's $50,000 Minaret Stakes for fillies and mares and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Stormy Embrace was third. Just Be Kind, a 4-year-old Sky Mesa filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.59 with Emisael Jaramillo up.
Sippin was always close in Sunday's $85,000 Peppers Pride Handicap for New Mexico-bred fillies and mares, moved to the lead in the lane and carried on, winning by 3 lengths over Sunday Rose. Pink Cadillac was third. Sippin, a 4-year-old filly by Swissle Stick, ran 1 mile on a track officially listed as "slow" in 1:40.99 with Roimes Chirinos in the irons.
On the international scene
United Arab Emirates
Heavy Metal turned up the amps in the stretch run of Saturday's Group 3 Firebreak Stakes at Meydan, drawing off in the stretch to win easily by 9 3/4 lengths after showing the way throughout. Cosmo Charlie stayed close until they hit the top of the stretch and got home second, 6 1/4 lengths in front of Fantastic Four. Heavy Metal, an 8-year-old Exceed and Excel gelding, ran 1,600 meters (about 1 mile) out of the backstretch chute in 1:36.74 with Mickael Barzalona in the irons.
It was his second run in just nine days, following a third-place finish behind the impressive Thunder Snow in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2. Heavy Metal preceded that with a victory in Round 1 as Thunder Snow finished second, 4 1/2 lengths back.
"The 1600 meters is probably his ideal trip and he has won that today without me having to ask him to do anything," Barzalona said. "He seems to anticipate the start and knows when it is time to go. That helps him get to the lead, and the rail, after which he has proved many times he is a hard horse to pass. The 1900 meters last week was probably too far for him and I guess the Godolphin Mile will be his main target."
In Saturday's co-featured Group 2 Balanchine Stakes at 1,800 meters (about 9 furlongs) on the turf, Promising Run tracked the pace, took over the lead turning for home and held off a persistent run by Furia Cruzada out toward the middle of the course, finally winning by a short head. Last year's winner, Opal Tiara, was well back in third. Promising Run finished in 1:49.74 over firm going with Patrick Cosgrave in the irons for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
Promising Run, a 5-year-old, American-bred mare by Hard Spun, now is 2-for-2 at the Dubai World Cup Carnival after scoring a much easier win in the Cape Verde, going 1 mile, Jan. 25. Furia Cruzada was coming off a fourth-place finish in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 nine days earlier. The race is a logical prep for the $6 million Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night -- a race that promises to be one of the books.
Cosgrave said the race was too slowly run for his liking. "I was in front plenty soon and we were there to be aimed at. In fairness to her, she has seen off the challenges well and then had enough to thwart the very last one. A faster run race will suit her and, remember, she has done that under a penalty, so you have to be happy." The weight penalty resulted from the Cape Verde win.
Nonkono Yume rallied by the favorite, Gold Dream, in the final 100 meters to win Sunday's Grade I February Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse by a neck. Incantation was another neck back in third at the end of the first of two Japanese Grade I events contested on the dirt.
Both Nonkono Yume and Gold Dream were slow to start in the 1,600-meters event and both raced at the back of the field until the turn. At that point, jockey Ryan Moore kicked Gold Dream into contention and he swept by the leaders to take the advantage with some 300 meters to go. But Nonkono was rallying even farther out on the middle of the course, came even with Gold Dream and found just enough in the final strides.
The victory carried an automatic entry, plus prepaid fees and a travel allowance, for theBreeders' Cup Classic (G1) Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs through the international Breeders' Cup Challenge.
"The staff tuned him up beautifully and he was in very good form," said winning rider Hiroyuke Uchida. "I kept him wide and in good striking position so that he could unleash his good late charge at any point, which is probably the reason why we were able to win today."
The February was not the only race on Sunday's card that pointed toward Churchill Downs. The Hyacinth Stakes was the third and last leg of the Japan Road to the Derby, established by Churchill Downs to encourage foreign competition in the Run for the Roses.
Sumahama, a son of Neo Universe and grandson of Sunday Silence, stalked the pace through the early stages of the 1,600 meters. When jockey Yusuke Fujioka asked him to run, he responded quickly, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Taiki Ferveur. Ruggero was 1 1/2 lengths farther back in third.
Sumahama, had not participated in the first two legs of the series but the 30 points he earned Sunday left him at the top of the leaderboard with first dibs on the spot in the Run for the Roses. Sumahama, however, is not nominated to the U.S. Triple Crown. If his connections decline the Derby invitation, the spot would be offered to Ruggero, a Triple Crown nominee who won the second leg of the series, the Cattleya Sho, and finished third in the Hyacinth for a total of 16 points.
Trainer Ryo Takahashi wasn't making any commitments after the Hyacinth concerning international travel. "We will check his condition and decide his next race," the trainer said. "But until now he could perform the tasks step by step, so we hope he will go on to bigger and better things."
Last year, Epicharis won the Japanese series, then finished second to Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby but did not contest the Kentucky Derby.
Singapore Sling stalked the pace in Sunday's HK$10 million Hong Kong Classic Cup, then shot right past pacesetting The Golden Age 150 meters out and on to a 1 1/2-lengths victory. Exultant was along for second with The Golden Age third and Nothingilikmore fourth. "I just put my hands on the horse's neck and let him tell me where he wanted to be and that was nice and close in the box seat," said winning rider Chad Schofield. "I was worried that perhaps I was too close because it was a strong pace throughout."
The victory moves Singapore Sling squarely into the picture for next month's BMW Hong Kong Derby, where he will add 200 meters to Sunday's 1,800. "The 2000 metres in the Derby will be no problem," Schofield said. "He's just on the right path, he's getting better all the time, he's relaxing, and mentally and physically I'm very happy with him. He's a lovely horse to have heading into the Derby."
A crowd of almost 90,000 celebrated the Chinese New Year by wagering HK$1.738 billion on the 11-race program.
England (well, France, actually)
Marie D'Argent remained undefeated and earned a guaranteed spot in the All-Weather Championships Finals Day with a victory Saturday in the Prix Saonois over the Cagnes-sur-Mer all-weather course in the south of France. Marie D'Argent, a 4-year-old filly by Kendargent, ran last in the field of nine, then swept outside the field to take the lead well inside the final furlong. She won by 1 1/2 lengths from Lilly Kafeine with Roc Angel third. The race was a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Sun Bets Mile Championships on the Good Friday finals at Lingfield Park. "We will definitely think about coming to Lingfield now for the All-Weather Championships," said winning trainer Frederick Rossi. "She's a very good filly with a great turn of foot who is now unbeaten in four starts."
Redkirk Warrior rallied from dead last, altered course and caught Everest winner Redzel in the final yards to win Saturday's Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning Stakes at Flemington, ending that rival's six-race winning streak. Missrock was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third at the end of the 1,000 meters, clocked in 56.33 seconds. Redkirk Warrior, a 7-year-old British import, appeared hopelessly beaten with 300 meters to go when jockey Regan Bayliss suddenly shifted him to the stands-side rail. Redzel hit the front with 150 meters to go and Redkirk Warrior still well behind. But the winner's momentum, well timed, prevailed.
In his two previous runs, Redkirk Warrior had finished 11th in the Group 1 Darley Classic and 10th in the Everest, both won by Redzel. Trainer David Hayes said shorter sprints down the straight obviously play to Redkirk Warrior's strength and said he will talk to the owner about a trip to Royal Ascot in June for the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee.