An international weekend on the Thoroughbred racing calendar found important action from Qatar and Dubai through England, Hong Kong and Australia.
On the American front, could the weekend's major 3-year-old races have an impact on the Kentucky Derby scene? We'll see. But first, we survey the rest of the racing world:
The result of Saturday's Group 1 The H.H. the Emir's Trophy was a triumph for the local racing establishment on two fronts: On the one hand, it was about as global as could be. On the other, a popular local horse won the race for the second time in three years as The Blue Eye swept by pacesetting American invader Money Multiplier in deep stretch to win the $1 million race. Noor Al Hawa, a French-bred, also found late speed and edged Money Multiplier for second.
The Blue Eye, a 6-year-old son of Dubawi, was moved to Qatar early in 2015 after starting his career in France. After lifting the Emir's Trophy in 2016, he was a disappointing ninth last year but jockey Harry Bentley said he felt he "had a massive chance" for the repeat win this time around off a second-place showing in the Trophy Trial and The Blue Eye's proven record over the course.
"Anywhere you go, course form is very important," Bentley said. "And we know that he loves it here."
The Blue Eye's return to glory was greeted with a resounding cheer from the good crowd, which included His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar and sponsor of the three-day meeting. Not even a sprinkling of rain could dampen spirits.
Money Multiplier, under Frankie Dettori, looked for quite a while as if he'd steal the race after moving to the lead entering the first turn of The Trophy. Afterwards, Dean Lavy, representing Money Multiplier's owners, Al Shahania Stud, lamented the move. "If we'd been able to tuck in, we'd have won," Lavy said. Dettori said, "The pace slowed right down and I had no choice but to take him to the lead."
Lavy said the Chad Brown trainee, a 6-year-old Lookin at Lucky ridgling who was second in the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga last summer, will return to the United States. He arrived in Doha following a seventh-place finish in the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Feb. 10 and Levy said the travel did not seem to have troubled him.
The order of finish in the Emir's Trophy reflected the increasingly international flavor of the race. Runner-up Noor Al Hawa is trained in Germany by Andreas Wohler. The fourth-place finisher, Mc Mahon, was bred in Italy and raced there. Elbereth (GB), who rallied to finish fifth, was bred by his owner, David Taylor, a children's guitar teacher in England.
The outcome of the Trophy also might send The Blue Eye back over the waters. "God willing, I would like to travel with him, perhaps to Newmarket," said trainer Jassim Mohammed Ghazali Jahromi. Asked about Royal Ascot, he said, "Maybe."
The eight-race program included events for both Thoroughbreds and Purebred Arabians and offered $3.5 million in purse money. Undercard races also could have implications for racing later this season in England -- even the 2000 Guineas.
Intisaaab won the Group 3 Dukhan Sprint Sponsored by Breeders' Cup in a close finish with Izzthatright. Winning trainer David O'Meara said he was so confident coming into the race he told his party when they landed in Doha, "We're going to take the 'dough' out of Doha. They'll have to just call it 'Ha' when we leave." He said there is a possibility Intissab, a 7-year-old gelding by Elnidim, might return to England to contest the All-Weather Championships finals at Lingfield March 30.
Tip To Win worked to the lead in the final 100 meters to land the Al Biddah Mile (G2) for 3-year-olds, leaving his London-based owner, Anne Cowley, shedding tears of joy and trainer Roger Teal contemplating the 2000 Guineas. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe."
In the most important race of the day for locals, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifi Al Thani horses finished first and second as Gazwan (GB) held on to win over a fast-closing Ebraz (GB) in the H. H. The Emir's Sword. Both are trained by Julian Smart, a native of England whose career has taken him through Canada and California before he settled in Doha.
Hong Kong this year repackaged three of its springtime Group 1 races onto a single day, April 29. On Sunday, two months prior, local runners threw down the gauntlet for any and all international contestants eyeing those big races as Time Warp and Beauty Generation, both Group 1 winners in December at the Longines Hong Kong International Races, doubled up on those wins in a smart card on the Sha Tin turf.
Time Warp, repeating his winning tactics from the Group I Longines Hong Kong Cup, went right to the front in Sunday's Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup and held off former local Horse of the Year Werther by 1/2 length in a furious finish -- in course-record time of 1:59.97. Seasons Bloom and Pakistan Star both ran well to finish third and fourth as only 1 1/4 lengths covered the first four under the wire.
Time Warp, a 5-year-old Archipenko gelding, backed up a somewhat easier win, also on the front end, in the Longines Hong Kong Cup (G1) over course and distance Dec. 10. "That was quite some performance, wasn't it?" Purton said. "We've been racing here for a long time now and there's been a lot of good horses grace this track so it's a credit to the horse."
Trainer Tony Cruz said he plans to keep Time Warp at home for now and let rivals come to him in the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup (G1) on April 29. Later, he said, more international ambition might surface. "I don't want to gamble with the chance that he goes to Dubai and doesn't feel 100 percent when he comes back to run those races in Hong Kong. I'm going to play safe," Cruz said.
In Sunday's Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup, Beauty Generation prompted the pace, hit the front at the top of the lane and stubbornly held on to win by ahead over Beat the Clock Fifty Fifty (NZ) was third on the outside.
Beauty Generation, also with Purton up, ran 1,400 meters in 1:20.86 and franked his form from victory in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile in December. Trainer John Moore said Beauty Generation "will probably have one run before the Champions Mile (Group 1, April 29). But he would be a good hope over the 1,800 meters in Dubai."
The Champions Mile and the AP QE II Cup are part of a newly repackaged Group 1 triple on April 29 at Sha Tin. The third race is the Chairman's Sprint Prize at 1,200 meters. The day is meant to bookend the Longines Hong Kong International Races at the front of the season, lacking only a marathon to be a perfect mirror image.
Master of the World was awarded victory in Saturday's Group 3 Betway Winter Derby when stewards ruled that Mr Owen, the first-place finisher, interfered with his run in the late stages of the race. Both Master of the World and Mr Owen were held up near the rear of the field through the early stages of the 10-furlongs race over the Polytrack. Mr Owen was first to get by the early speed inside the final furlong but then suddenly swerved right, bumping with Master of the World. It was ruled the incident cause enough loss of momentum to change the outcome.
The race was a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Betway Easter Classic March 30 on All-Weather Championships finals day. Kevin Quinn, part owner of the winner, said Master of the World will contest that race "and would have a live chance based on that performance."
Last year's Betway Winter Derby victor, Convey, finished fourth. The 2-2 favorite, Clear Skies, a rare British All-Weather runner for Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, raced in third and held every chance in the straight but then was eased and finished last of 10.
Ironically, Mr Owen, whose number was taken down, is owned by Qatar Racing and the action unfolded only hours after Qatar celebrated its biggest race day of the year in Doha.
Races at Caulfield and Rosehill Gardens on Saturday set up a fine confrontation for next month's rich Group 1 Longines Golden Slipper for 2-year-olds.
In the Group 1 Blue Diamond at Rosehill Gardens, Written By went to the post a lukewarm favorite in a field of 16 after scratches and got home first by a comfortable 2 1/2 lengths over Enbihaar with Oohood a close third.
Written By, a Written Tycoon colt trained by Grahame Begg, now is undefeated in three starts with the wins including the Ladbrokes Blue Diamond Prelude Feb. 10. Begg said he expects more from Written By and has his eye on the Golden Slipper. But, he added, "We'll let the horse do the talking."
Meanwhile, at Rosehill Gardens, a pair of fillies battled to the wire in the Group 2 Silver Slipper with Sunlight just edging away in the final strides to defeat Estijaab. Sunlight, a daughter of Zoustar, scored her fourth straight win while stepping into Group company for the first time. Trainer Tony McEvoy.McEvoy said he expects further improvement from Sunlight. "That's why I have a smile on my face," he said. He added she will have another run in the Group 3 Magic Night Stakes just 7 days before the big race.
Last year, She Will Reign became just the seventh 2-year-old to complete the Silver Slipper-Golden Slipper double.
Also Saturday Down Under, Japanese-bred runners finished 1-2 in the Italktravel Futurity (G1) at Caulfield in Melbourne, one of a trio of top-level events on the day's program, and Russian Revolution was on top in a blanket finish in the Ladbrokes Oakleigh Plate.
Brave Smash (JPN), a 5-year-old son of Tosen Phantom (JPN), is edging up toward stardom in speed-focused Australia after winning the Futurity over stablemate Tosen Stardom (JPN). Before the Futurity, the Darren Weir trainee finished third in the C. F. Orr Stakes (G1), won by Hartnell, and third in the AUS$10 million Everest Stakes (G1) at Randwick, won by Redzel. Winning rider Craig Williams said feels Brave Smash already is the logical pick for this year's Everest.
The Oakleigh Plate, at 1,100 meters, produced the thriller of the trio of top races as less than 1 length covered the top six under the wire. Russian Revolution, with Mark Zahra in the irons, got a neck in front of Snitty Kitty at the end, with Weir trainee Hellbent a short head back in third. Russian Revolution, a 4-year-old son of Snitzel, scored his first top-level win since taking the Galaxy at Rosehill last March 18.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
The Road to the Roses
Magicalmeister pulled a rabbit out of his hat Friday night at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky, rallying from a pace-stalking trip to win the $75,000 John Battaglia Memorial by 1/2 length -- at 39-1 odds. Sky Promise came from the clouds to finish second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of the favorite, Arawak. Magicalmeister, a Bodemeister colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.12 with John McKee up for trainer James Chapman.
The Battaglia was only the colt's third start. He won at first asking Jan. 9 at Mahoning Valley, then reported third in a Turfway allowance affair Feb. 10. "I had really good position," McKee said. "He broke alert and then he turned off going into the first turn. Going down the backside he was just kind of cruising, under control. Then in the middle of the turn he started to pick it up and I called on him and, man, all credit to the trainer. He had this horse ready to run."
In New Mexico, Reride and Runaway Ghost ran away from the other seven would-be contenders in Sunday's $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby. Runaway Ghost led the way but Reride, a Steve Asmussen-trained Candy Ride colt, was along in the stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths over that rival. From them, it was another 15 1/4 lengths to Trooper in third. Reride, with Alfredo Juarez Jr. picking up the mount, finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.06. Based in New Orleans, the colt now has four wins from five starts.
Blueridge Traveler traveled down from the Ozarks to win Saturday's $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Racecourse in Texas. After starting last of six, the 4-year-old To Honor and Serve colt passed them all, winning by a neck over Net Gain. The early leader, Holiday Mischief, finished third. Blueridge Traveler, with Channing Hill riding, toured 9 furlongs of fast track in 1:51.47. Trained by Kenny McPeek, the colt has hit the board in eight of his 10 starts. He was second in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park last year.
A really nice field turned out for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Hal's Hope at Gulfstream Park and an upset ensued. Economic Model got first run to the lead in the 1-mile test and slowly edged away from the favorite, Irish War Cry, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Tower of Texas was third. Economic Model, a 5-year-old son of Flatter, finished in 1:36.50 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. He was really good last summer, finishing second in both the Grade III Dwyer at Belmont Park and the Grade I King's Bishop at Saratoga, but then tailed off. Trainer Chad Brown gave him a four-months rest for the Hal's Hope.
Conquest Tsunami was quickly on the lead as the field headed down the hillside turf course in Sunday's $150,000 Grade III Daytona Stakes, held the advantage and won by 2 1/2 lengths. Breeders' Cup winner Stormy Liberal, making his first start since the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint Dec. 10, was second, 1 1/4 lengths in front of Calculator. Conquest Tsunami, a 6-year-old Stormy Alantic gelding, ran about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:12.03 for jockey Victor Espinoza. Peter Miller, who trains the top three for three different owners, said, "Unbelievable. They all showed up, they got three great rides, and we've got three great owners."
Salmanazar led all the way in Saturday's $75,000 Texas Glitter Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream, winning by 2 lengths over Shangroyal. Barbarossa, the favorite, was a nose behind that one in third. Salmanazar, a Shackleford colt, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.84 seconds with John Velazquez riding. The Todd Pletcher trainee was making his first start since finishing seventh in the Tremont at Belmont Park last June.
Roses in the South shot right to a daylight lead in Sunday's $75,000 Melody of Colors Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfsteam Park and ran on well to win by 2 1/2 lengths over odds-on favorite, March X Press. Treasure for Gold was another 1 length back in third. Roses in the South, a daughter of City Place, ran 5 furlongs on firm going in 55.89 seconds with Alvaro Donis in the irons.
Around the ovals:
Sam Houston Race Park
Wings Locked Up set a pressured pace in Saturday's $50,000 Sam Houston Sprint Cup, turned back several challengers and held on to win by 1/2 length over the last of them, the favorite, Counterforce. Bending Saint was third. Wings Locked Up, a 6-year-old Munnings gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.94 with Glenn Corbett up.
Proud Reunion won a three-way scramble in Saturday's $50,000 Jersey Lilly Turf Stakes for fillies and mares, scoring by a neck over Brooks House and another nose from Stormquility. Proud Reunion, a 4-year-old Proud Citizen filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:45.09 with Sophie Doyle in the irons.
Bonjour Baby captured an even more congested photo in Saturday's $50,000 Houston Turf Stakes for state-breds, winning by a nose over P Miller's Clock, a further neck over Gavin and a nose more from Can't Be Wrong in fourth. Bonjour Baby, a 5-year-old gelding by Sing Baby Sing, ran 1 1/16 miles on the lawn in 1:45.71 with Sasha Risenhoover in the irons.
Ministry raced with the forward pack through the early furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 Downthedustyroad Breeders' Stakes for Arkansas-bred distaffers, came four-wide to take the lead late and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Avisionofchocolate. Ms Fifty First St. showed the way and salvaged show money. Ministry, a 4-year-old Ordained filly, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:13.32 with Thomas Pompell up.
Bourne in Nixa rallied boldly through the stretch, passing rivals to win the $125,000 Gazebo for 3-year-olds by 1 3/4 lengths. The odds-on favorite, Mitole, was second, a neck in front of Direct Dial. Bourne in Nixa, a More Than Ready colt, ran 6 furlongs in the slop in 1:11.75 with Ramon Vazquez riding.
Miss Sunset led the way in Sunday's $100,000 Spring Fever Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares and won by 2 1/2 lengths over Cuddle Alert. The odds-on pick, Majestic Heat, finished third. Miss Sunset, a 4-year-old Into Mischief filly, ran 6 furlongs of a fast track in 1:09.92 with Mile Smith aboard.
Mongolian Shopper dogged the pace set by Algorhythmic in Saturday's $95,000 Wishing Well Stakes for fillies and mares at Santa Anita, shot to a 2-lengths lead at the top of the lane and held off Princess Priness at the end, winning by 1/2 length. Malibu Stacy was third with Miss Southern Miss fourth. Mongolian Shopper, a 5-year-old mare by Any Given Saturday out of the Dynaformer mare Window Shopping, finished in 1:13.01 with Stewart Elliott up.
Aunt Babe outfinished My Roxy Girl in Saturday's $100,000 Franklin Square Stakes for 3-year-old New York-bred fillies while the favorite, Pauseforthecause, faded to finish third. Aunt Babe, a Desert Party filly, ran 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:11.79 with Rafael Hernandez up.
Blamed was much the best in Sunday's $75,000 Island Fashion Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, kicking away from 5 rivals in the lane and winning by 6 1/2 lenghs. Kram was second and Laudation ran evenly to finish third. Blamed, a Blame filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.70 with Ken Tohill up.
Sky Defence pushed the early pace in Saturday's $75,000 Curribot Handicap, took over when asked by Tohill and went on to win by 3/4 length over Deputy's Echo. Looks to Spare finished thid. Sky Defence, a 5-year-old First Defence gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.48.