Breeders' Cup winner Stormy Liberal and last year's Belmont Stakes runner-up Irish War Cry return to action this weekend.
A latecomer or two might join the Derby picture after weekend action at Turfway Park and Sunland Park. Meanwhile My Boy Jack edged into Kentucky Derby consideration with a victory in Monday's Southwest Stakes but needs qualifying point to get into the race.
There's lots of action on the international front. Qatar hosts its biggest Thoroughbred race of the year Saturday at Al Rayyan Racecourse in Doha. Hong Kong has a pair of Group 1 events Sunday featuring some up-and-coming types. Three Group 1's are on the card at Caulfield in Australia. Saturday is the Winter Derby at Lingfield Park in England.
We also have results from Monday's holiday racing and thanks for your patience. Your winning tickets are still valid.
Around the world, around the clock and away we go.
The Road to the Roses
Trainer Keith Desormeaux has a problem -- one that most trainers likely wouldn't mind finding on their plate. The issue is what to do next with My Boy Jack, the upset winner of Saturday's $500,000, Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The victory gave My Boy Jack 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby start, leaving him with 12 -- likely not enough to get into the maximum-20 field.
"What it does to me, it kind of puts me in a tight spot," Desormeaux said, "because as a trainer, my first instinct, off of this race, and the body of work that this horse has -- he's had plenty of starts, he's dead fit -- I would totally just give him one more start before the Derby. But, because of this point system, I have to think about a fallback plan."
In other words, if he put all his eggs in one basket and My Boy Jack somehow misfired, Desormeaux would lose his only chance to get the colt into the Run for the Roses. Two races would give him two chances but might risk leaving him with either a tired horse or one off schedule.
My Boy Jack, saving ground over a muddy track under Kent Desormeaux, finished the 1 1/16-miles Southwest in 1:46.49. Combatant finished second, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Sporting Chance, who was making his first start since winning the Grade I Hopeful Stakes Sept. 4 at Saratoga for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
This weekend's stepping stones on the Derby path are:
Sunday's $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico. The morning-line favorite among nine entered for this is Reride, a Candy Ride colt trained by Steve Asmussen who is 3-for-4. The loss was a sixth-place finish in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in November. Asmussen also saddles Beautiful Game, who was second in the Riley Allison Stakes over the course in January and again faces the horse who beat him in that, Runaway Ghost.
Friday night's $50,000 John Battaglia Memorial on the Turfway Park all-weather has a well-matched field of 12. The 7-2 morning-line favorite is Roaming Union, a Union Rags colt trained by Kelly Breen who finally found the winning combination Jan. 18 at Aqueduct in his seventh start. Wesley Ward will saddle Arawak, an Uncle Mo colt who competed last summer at Royal Ascot and won his last start over the Turfway surface in December.
Hawaakom had to wait for room along the rail in the stretch drive in Mondays' $500,000 Grade III Razorback at Oaklawn Park. But once jockey Corey Lanerie found him the opening, the 8-year-old Jazil gelding went right through and on to a 3 1/4-lengths victory Leofric led briefly and held second. Rocking the Boat made the early pace and held third. The favorite Untrapped, finished fourth and his rider, Ricardo Santana Jr., claimed foul in stretch run but the stewards let the result stand. Hawaakom ran 1 1/16 miles on a muddy track in 1:45.14.
Irish War Cry and Economic Model, the two morning-line favorites for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Hal's Hope at Gulfstream Park, drew the inside gates for the 1 mile on the main track with seven rivals to their outside. Irish War Cry, a 4-year-old Curlin colt, finished 10th in last year's Kentucky Derby as the second-favorite. He then finished second in the Belmont and fourth in the Grade I Haskell before ending his season with a clunker in the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby in September and has not raced since. Economic Model, a 5-year-old by Flatter, also makes his first start of the season after a 2017 that found him often a bridesmaid in graded stakes but winless save for a season-ending allowance score. A pair trained by Todd Pletcher, Malagacy and Send It In, drew wider but should have a chance if they, too, can shake off some rust. Send It In won the Grade III Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct in his last outing, April 8, 2017.
Saturday's $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park drew a field of six. Trainer Kenny McPeek entered Blueridge Traveler, a 4-year-old Tohonorandserve colt who finished second in last year's Grade III Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park and most recent won an allowance event at Oaklawn Park. Franco, a 4-year-old son of Talent Search, has three wins and two seconds while running at Mahoning Valley and Thistledown and makes his first Texas start.
Martini Glass came and got pacesetting favorite Lewis Bay in the stretch run of Monday's $200,000 Grade III Royal Delta Stakes at Gulfstream Park, winning by 1 length over that rival. Verve's Tale was third, another 3 1/4 lengths back. Martini Glass, a 5-year-old Kitalpha mare, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.48 with Paco Lopez aboard.
Tribal Storm rallied from last of eight to overtake pacesetting odds-on favorite Wellabled in Monday's $65,000 Lost in the Fog Stakes at Golden Gate Fields, winning by 3/4 length. Anyportinastorm pressured Wellabled all the way and held on for third, another head back. Tribal Storm, a 4-year-old Papa Clem Ridgling, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.71 with Irving Orozco up.
Stormy Liberal and Calculator are the oddsmakers picks in a field of seven is set to run down the Santa Anita hillside turf course in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Daytona Stakes. Stormy Liberal, drawn outside for this, won the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint in November but then faded to finish 11th in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint in December. The Stormy Atlantic gelding, now 6, makes his seasonal debut. Calculator, a 6-year-old son of In Summation, finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup but most recently won the Clocker's Corner Stakes going down the hill.
Over the waves:
Saturday's Group 1 H H the Emir's Trophy is the biggest Thoroughbred race of the year in Qatar and an event the Qatar Racing & Equestrian Club is enthusiastically working to make into an important stop on the international schedule. This year's 16-horse field shows good progress toward that goal.
The field includes Money Multiplier, a Chad Brown-trained son of Lookin at Lucky who raced with distinction in the United States, finishing second in the Group 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga last summer. Dean Lavy, representing the owners, Al Shahania Stud, said he feels the race and the surface at Al Rayyan Racecourse in Doha will suit Money Multiplier. But he cautioned the race is becoming harder for invaders to win as the quality of the fields increases.
In evidence of that, British trainer Ralph Beckett and Irish conditioner Jim Bolger send their first-ever starters for the race. Beckett's runner, Chemical Charge, is particularly dangerous off his fourth-place finish in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase last December. Jockey Oisin Murphy is going through some complicated travel logistics to take the mount. Bolger sends the appropriately named Qatari Hunter, an Irish-bred who has been successful in his native land at the handicap level and seeks a spot for a top-level win.
The locals also are well represented with The Blue Eye, winner two years ago, Noor Al Hawa, second last year, Qatar Derby winner Mac Mahon, among others.
"It's a super race. Probably the best one there's been," said local trainer Julian Smart, who cringed at drawing gate No. 13 for his starter, Barwod.
Janoobi edged by pacesetting Championship in the final 50 meters to land Thursday night's Group 2 Zabeel Mile by 3/4 length. Noah From Goa raced third the whole way and held on to finish in that position, giving South African horses and trainer Mike de Kock the first and third prizes in the race. Janoobi, a 4-year-old Silvano colt with Jim Crowley up, toured the 1,600 meters on firm going in 1:35.27. Janoobi ran poorly in a pair of Group 1 events in South Africa before being exported last summer. After a warm-up heat at Meydan, he jumped up in his previous start to finish second in the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort going 7 furlongs.
De Kock said, "We were quite hopeful back over 1,600 meters, which is his best trip, but I think the 1,800 meters of the Jebel Hatta would be too far, so we could try him on dirt. I think he would handle the surface with his style of running, but we will have to talk to (owner) Sheikh Hamdan first." He said Noah From Goa will contest the Jebel Hatta on Super Saturday "and looks as though he will appreciate the extra 200 meters."
Folkswood scraped the paint from the first furlong of the Group III Dubai Millennium Stakes, had to wait for room in the stretch and got free just in time to eke out a short head victory over Leshiaa. Earnshaw was along for third as former South African stars Light the Lights and Al Sahem finished fifth and sixth. Folkswood, a 5-year-old Exceed and Excel gelding, finished 2,000 meters on the grass in 2:02.33 with William Buick up for Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby. Folkswood was making his first start since finishing fifth in the Group 1 Emirates Stakes at Flemington in Australia Nov. 11. Before that, he was third behind Winx in the Group 1 Cox Plate.
"The horse really deserves a lot of credit for that win," Buick said, "because we were in trouble with nowhere to go for a little while. But when the gap opened, he really picked up in style."
In the night's first race, UAE's top-rated horse of 2017, Ertijaal, mounted a thrilling defense of the Group 2 Meydan Spring, in which he set a track record a year ago. Shooting right the lead for jockey Jim Crowley, the son of Oasis Dream scored his sixth win in seven tries over the Meydan 1,000 meters, with the sole loss the 2016 Al Quoz Sprint, which now is raced at 1,2000 meters.
Two Group 1 events grace the Sunday card at Sha Tin -- the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup at 2,000 meters and the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at 1,400 meters. Both have a mix of Hong Kong vets facing some relative youngsters looking to muscle their way into the top ranks.
The nine-horse field for the Gold Cup includes former Hong Kong Horse of the year Werther. His trainer, John Moore, is seeking back-to-back Gold Cup wins -- a feat the trainer already has turned twice as his horses have won nine of the past 12 runnings.
In his last race, the 1-mile Stewards Cup, Werther was third behind Seasons Bloom, who also joins the Gold Cup field. Also here is Time Warp (GB), who won the Longines Hong Kong Cup (G1) over the course and distance in December with Werther finishing second, 2 3/4 lengths back.
Another in the Gold Cup, and one feared by Moore, is Pakistan Star, trained by Tony Cruz, who famously stopped and refused to run further for jockey Joao Moreira some 200 meters into the Premier Plate Handicap (G3) at Sha Tin last June. He subsequently repeated the performance and since has gone through a rigorous schedule to prove himself to the stewards. Moore said jockey Tommy Berry reported Pakistan Star looked brilliant in his most recent barrier trial.
The co-featured Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup (G1) at 1,400 meters also features some of Hong Kong's veteran stars versus some relative newcomers. The newcomers include Fifty Fifty, Southern Legend and Beat the Clock -- all of whom have turned heads in the early stages of their Hong Kong Careers and look to move up. Fifty Fifty was second and Southern Legend fourth in the Stewards' Cup.
Moore saddles Helene Paragon (FR) and Beauty Generation (NZ). The former has struggled to regain his 2017 Group 1 form but Beauty Generation has found new life since the trainer dropped him back to sprinting. Peniaphobia, Beauty Only and Western Express all have experience and top-level success in Hong Kong.
Caulfield hosts a trio of Group 1 events on Saturday.
The Italktravel Futurity, for 4-year-olds and up, runs at 1,400 metres. Darren Weir saddles a trio including Brave Smash and Tosen Stardom, who finished third and 13th, respectively, in the Group 1 C F Orr on Feb. 10, and Humidor, last seen finishing 19th in the Melbourne Cup but more successful at shorter distances. Shillelagh exits a 10th-place showing in the Orr for trainer Chris Waller.
The Ladbrokes Blue Diamond for 2-year-olds at 1,200 meters attracted a full field of 16 with four standbys. It's very much a sorting-out type of race with a lot of well-bred and well-meant youngsters from some of the top stables.
Another full field is on hand for the Ladbrokes Oakleigh Plate, an 1,100-meters dash. The highest rating in this field belongs to She Will Reign, a 3-year-old filly who won the Group 1 Moir Stakes in September at Mooney Valley but then beat only one horse in the rich Everest Stakes at Randwick the following month. She returned with a win Feb. 10.
The big guns are aiming at Saturday's Group 3 Winter Derby at Lingfield, a key preliminary to the All-Weather Championships Finals on Good Friday, March 30. Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien, who has yet to win the race, sends the antepost favorite, Clear Skies, who has an excellent record over the Dundalk Polytrack. Among the 13 he will face are last year's winner, Convey, conditioned by Sir Michael Stoute, and John Gosden charge Utmost.
Wednesday racing produced dual Fast-Track Qualifiers for the finals at both Newcastle and Kempton Park.
Corinthia Knight, a Society Rock colt, scored his second Fast-Track Qualifier win of the season, making all to take the 5-furlongs 32Red Casino Conditions Race at Newcastle. He won an earlier qualifier at Kempton Park and thus is doubly qualified for the 32Red 3-year-old All Weather Championship event. "Corinthia Knight is just amazing, he comes out of his races so well," said winning rider Edward Greatrex. "We probably could have gone straight to Lingfield, but he was so well at home that (trainer Archie Watson) wanted to run him here. He is a very talented young horse."
At Kempton Park, Watersmeet also racked up a second Fast-Track Qualifier success while taking the 32Red Conditions Race over 2 miles of Polytrack. He's well set for the Betway All-Weather Marathon on finals day. Trainer Mark Johnston said, "The plan is now to go straight to Good Friday with him. He was second on Good Friday last and the track at Lingfield suits him. If anything, Lingfield suits him better than Kempton. "He has all the credentials. Touch wood, he can stay as he is for the next month or so as we head to Good Friday.
Around the oval:
Heck Yeah, under Mike Smith, led all the way to a 1 1/4-lengths victory over Violent Ridge in Monday's $200,000 California Cup Derby for state-breds. Continental Divide was another 3 3/4 lengths in arrears while reporting third. Heck Yeah, an Acclamation colt trained by Bob Baffert, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.60.
Pulpit Rider started last of seven in Monday's $200,000 California Cup Oaks, worked by them all got clear late to a 2 1/2-lengths victory over the odds-on favorite, One Fast Broad. X S Gold was third. Pulpit Rider, with Corey Nakatani riding, covered 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.80.