If crafty moves are going to win the Kentucky Derby, mark down trainer Dale Romans for his first score in the Run for the Roses.
Romans, a Louisville native, scratched one of the likely favorites, Free Drop Billy, from Saturday's Fountain of Youth in Florida, targeting him instead to the Gotham Stakes in New York. He then sent out Promises Fulfilled to win the Fountain anyway in an 18-1 upset.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg that was this weekend in Thoroughbred racing. Also in the mix: Winx won her 23rd straight race on a warm, early-autumn day in Australia while England and Ireland battled disastrous, early-spring weather to stage any racing at all. Orfevre already is making his mark as a sire in Japan with just his first crop of foals.
Here's the scoop:
The Road to the Roses
The two major players in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Xpressbet Fountain of Youth were to have been Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic and Grade I Breeders' Futurity winner Free Drop Billy. But trainer Dale Romans at the last minute decided against sending Free Drop Billy against the juvenile champ, instead pointing him toward the Gotham at Aqueduct.
But that didn't leave Romans empty-handed by any means. Promises Fulfilled, in fact, was locked and loaded, coming off a long rest after finishing third with a rough trip in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club in November. Starting from the outside gate, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. quickly got the Shackleford colt out front and over to the rail and he was never caught, drawing off to win by 2 1/4 lengths in a promising show of both speed and stamina. He finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.17.
Strike Power, who was second in the Grade II Swale going 7 furlongs in his previous start, chased all the way and stayed well enough but finished second. Good Magic couldn't pull the rabbit from the hat but held on to finish third, another 2 1/4 lengths in arrears.
"I had a lot of confidence in this horse because of the way he trained," Romans said. "He trained so well, and the race he ran when he was third was as impressive a race as a horse can run. To do what he did and be as compromised as he was and still run third to two good horses, he's a special horse," Romans said.
Good Magic's trainer, Chad Brown, said the colt "came back a little tired. He was blowing pretty good. It looked like he needed the race. Hopefully, he got what he needed out of it and go on to the next step."
For Promises Fulfilled, the next step apparently is the Grade I Florida Derby, won the past two years by Nyquist and Always Dreaming, both of whom went on to victory in the Run for the Roses. "If a horse runs good here, you keep them here," Romans said. At least until the first Saturday in May.
The Road to the Oaks
Fly So High, stepping into stakes company for the first time, tracked the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park, surged to the lead at the eighth pole and won going away by 3 lengths over Take Charge Paula. Heavenhasmynikki was third. Fly So High, a Malibu Moon filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.69 but Jockey Jose Ortiz quickly pulled her up on the first turn, where she was unsaddled and then vanned off.
"She felt a little sore in her left front," Ortiz said. "When I asked her to go she was taking care of herself a little bit, but I felt like she had a chance to win so I kept riding. She didn't feel bad all the way, but when I pulled up and she jogged, she was a little off." Trainer Shug McGaughey, who recorded his 2,000th training win, said nothing was found amiss with Fly So High when she returned to her stall.
Fly So High broke her maiden in her second start Nov. 16 at Aqueduct. She backed that up with a clear win Jan. 4 at Gulfstream.
The weekend's other two Oaks preps both went to daughters of Midnight Lute.
In Saturday's $200,000 Busher Stakes at Aqueduct, Midnight Disguise took the overland route around the turn from the back of the field and was along in time to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Sara Street. My Miss Lilly was shut off twice in the stretch run and still held on to finish third. The favorite, War Heroine, led into the stretch but faded to get home fifth. Midnight Disguise, an imposing daughter of Midnight Lute, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.15 with Trevor McCarthy up.
"She's a big filly and she's obviously learned a lot," trainer Linda Rice said of Midnight Disguise. "We've made a lot of progress with her in the last three months and I was delighted. This was a much tougher race then she'd run in thus far." Rice said the Grade II Gazelle on April 7 would be the "natural stepping stone" to the Kentucky Oaks. "I've never run in the Oaks and the possibility is very exciting," she added.
Out west in California, Midnight Bisou, the odds-on favorite, waited behind a pair of rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes, moved when cued by jockey Mike Smith and smartly drove home first by 2 1/4 lengths. Thirteen Squared was second, 8 lengths in front of Spring Lily. Midnight Bisou ran 1 1/16 miles on a wet-fast track in 1:41.10.
"This was a test of two turns and she passed it with an A-plus," Smith said. "I really didn't know what to expect today." Trainer Bill Spawr said he wasn't concerned. "No matter where you put her, she's going to try. She's push-button," he said, adding the April 7 Santa Anita Oaks and the Kentucky Oaks are the targets.
Filly & Mare Turf
Holy Helena ran by the pacesetting favorite, Daring Duchess, inside the final furlong of Saturday's $150,000 The Very One at Gulfstream Park. Palinodie was third. Holy Helena, a 4-year-old Ghostzapper filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:54.67 under Jose Ortiz and scored her second straight win and fifth from eight career starts for trainer James Jerkens.
Team of Teams led all the way to a 3-lengths upset win in the $100,000 Sand Springs at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. Grizzel was along for second and Island Reward finished third. The favorite and last year's winner, Celestine, chased the leaders but lacked a rally in the stretch, finishing fourth. Team of Teams, a 4-year-old daughter of Elusive Quality, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:35.94 with John Velazquez up.
Thewayiam took the shortest way around in the $100,000 Grade III Herecomesthebride for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfsteam Park on Saturday, finding room on the inside turning for home before rolling on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Amertume. Brattata was third. Thewayiam, a French-bred daughter of Thewayyouare, covered 1 1/16 miles over firm ground in 1:41.41 under Jose Ortiz. She now has won four of five starts since coming to the United States from France last summer.
Thewayiam's co-owner, Michael Dubb, said, "She loves the course. I don't know if this is a horse for the course or a horse that's just getting better. I think it's a case of both. I really do. She did win for us at Churchill Downs on a different type of turf course with some give in it and everything else, so we'll see what happens from here."
Sadler's Joy came from last to first in the stretch run in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream Park, blew by pacesetting One Go All Go in the final strides and went on to win by 3/4 length over that one. Nessy also rallied from far back to take third. Sadler's Joy, a 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy out of the Dynaformer mare Dynaire, finished 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:12.93 with Julien Leparoux up.
Sadler's Joy was making his first start since finishing a close fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf with a similar late rush -- the very tactics he used to land the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga last summer. Leparoux said the plan this time was to get a better start. No dice.
"It was kind of the same old running style with him," said winning trainer Tom Albertrani. "He makes you sweat it out for two minutes ... He has such a strong kick. He really turns the motor on." Albertrani said he hasn't plotted a course for the horse but added, "There's a lot to look forward to this spring and summer."
Maraud chased down pacesetting favorite Speed Franco a furlong out in Saturday's $100,000 Palm Beach for 3-year-olds, raced head-to-head with that rival down the stretch and won by a neck. It was 2 1/4 lengths back to Therapist in third. Maraud, a Blame colt trained by Todd Pletcher, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.01 with John Velazquez riding. The colt scored his third win to go with a pair of thirds in his five-race career.
"I'm not sure what's next," Pletcher said. "There's the race on Florida Derby Day (the $125,000 Cutler Bay), or I might wait until Keeneland. We'll see how he comes out of it."
Hogy rated well off the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Canadian Turf at Gulfstream Park, advanced along the fence on the stretch turn and kicked home boldly to win by 3 lengths. Galleon Mast, the favorite, was along for second and March finished third. Hogy, a 9-year-old Offlee Wild gelding, finished 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.28 under Irad Ortiz Jr.
"He's an older horse and he knows what he's doing," Ortiz said of Hogy. "I just wanted to let him break and he'll relax, and he did. At the three-eighths pole he was picking it up on his own. He knows what he's doing and he came running."
Classic Rock prompted the tempo in Saturday's $100,000 Grade II Gulfstream Park Sprint, cranked up the volume in the stretch and rolled on to win by 3 lengths. A 95-1 long shot, Sweetontheladies, came from clouds to finish second while Eight Town and Mr. Jordan filled the minor placings. The favorite, Favorable Outcome, didn't have one after bobbling at the start. He finished sixth. Classic Rock, a 4-year-old colt by Maclean's Music, finished 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:18.32 with Luis Saez up, notching his second straight No. 1 hit and fifth from nine starts overall.
"He ran a great race," trainer Kathy Ritvo said of Classic Rock. "Luis rode a perfect race. The horse was ready today. He needed some time after his last race because he had run such a big race."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Chanteline survived a three-way battle for the lead in Saturday's $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes at Oaklawn Park, emerged with a slim advantage at the top of the stretch and held on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Marquee Miss. Swing and Sway was another neck back in third. Chanteline, a 6-year-old mare by Majestic Perfection, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.29 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons. "We got a perfect trip today," Santana said. "We sat off the pace and turning for home she picked it up. She was much the best today. My filly, when she started feeling the other horses from behind, she never gave up. She found the wire first."
Around the ovals:
Trust Factor forced his way through the narrowest of openings on the rail in the stretch run of Saturday's $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace Stakes, got to the front and held on to win by a nose over the favorite, Extra Credit. Morning Mischief, who failed to guard the rail while hanging onto the lead, weakened to finish third. Trust Factor, a 5-year-old son of Paddy O'Prado, ran about 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.93 for jockey Corey Lanerie.
Dragon Drew stalked the pace in Saturday's $60,000 Black Gold Stakes for 3-year-olds, took over in the lane and drew off to a 4-lengths victory. G's Turn was second. Fascilitator finished third but was set down to seventh, elevating Major Brown to the $4,800 show prize. Dragon Drew, a Get Stormy colt, ran about 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.55 with James Graham up.
J.E.'s Handmedown rallied through the lane to pull a big upset in Saturday's $100,000 Nodouble Breeders' Cup for Arkansas-breds, winning by 3/4 length over Glacken's Ghost at odds of 17-1. The odds-on favorite, Five O One, finished 1/2 length farther back in third with a belated rush. J.E.'s Handmedown, a 4-year-old gelding by Storm and a Half, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.47 with Ramon Vazquez aboard.
On the international front:
Five months off? No problem. Schedule disrupted? No problem. Jockey back from suspension? Pressure from 22 consecutive wins and counting? No problem.
The super mare took her time getting going in Saturday's Group 1 TAB Chipping Norton Stakes at Randwick. Then when jockey Hugh Bowman got her going on the turn, she swept around the field, hit the front and won as she pleased. The official margin was 7 lengths over Prized Icon but undoubtedly could have been more. Classic Uniform was third.
Winx had not raced since wining her third Cox Plate last October. She had been scheduled to run in the Group 1 Apollo Stakes in February but trainer Chris Waller decided not skip that dance because Bowman was suspended and he didn't want to leg up a replacement. Instead, he gave Winx an extra trial, simulating a race, and she won that, too.
Winx's 23rd straight win also was her 16th at the Group 1 level, pushing her out of a tie with Black Caviar for that mark. Waller and the ownership group have discussed a European tour for the 6-year-old Street Cry mare -- or at least a visit to Royal Ascot in June. But no timetable has been set to decide about that.
"She's better now than she was as a 4-year-old," said Waller, who was choked with emotion after the race. "Nothing much has changed in the past 12 months."
Announcements for the BWM Hong Kong Derby are due Wednesday and, thus, Saturday's Class 2 Snipe Handicap at Sha Tin was a last call for hopefuls.
Among those answering was Ruthven, a John Moore runner who has the 2017 Queensland Derby on his resume. He was the winner by a head over Sergeant Titanium. Another of Moore's Derby hopefuls, Rivet, was scratched at the gate after becoming fractious and still could make the big dance.
Trainer John Size also is rethinking his predisposition not to point Ping Hai Star to the Derby despite the fact he is a son of Group 1 Australian Derby winner Nom Du Jeu.After Ping Hai Star took Sunday's Class 2 Flycatcher Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths, Size allowed, "He might have a rating now where we might have to consider it."
Ken Ramsey loves the Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup and supports it win some of his good horses. No surprise, then, that Ramsey-owned Sir Dudley Digges and Shining Copper got home 1-2 in Saturday's renewal at Garrison Savannah Racecourse in the Caribbean island nation, blowing by the best of the Barbadians, Infrared, who led much of the way.
Dorsett, who denied Ramsey victory in each of the last two runnings of the Gold Cup, finished fourth with a late effort as Sir Dudley Digges, a 5-year-old son of Gio Ponti who won the 2016 Queen's Plate, emerged from well back in the field to nip his stablemate in the final strides.
"What a day we've had and we'll be back again next year," Racing Post quoted Ramsey. "I've raced all over the world but nothing can beat the color and the atmosphere of Barbados on Gold Cup day."
Lucky Lilac, from the first crop of the great Orfvre out of Grade I Ashland Stakes winner Lilacs and Lace, swept to a 2-lengths victory over Mau Lea in Saturday's Grade 2 Tulip Sho, or 1000 Guineas Trial, at Hanshin. Lily Noble was third. Lucky Lilac, with Shu Ishibashi up, broke well and took up station third, well behind the leading pair. She moved up around the turn and was easily the best in the stretch run. She finished 1,600 meters on firm going in 1:33.4 and now is 4-for-4 with the earlier wins including the Grade I Hanshin Juvenile Fillies Dec. 10 -- Orfevre's first Grade 1 win as a sire.
Sunday it was the 3-year-old colts' chance and Danon Premium stepped right up, winning Sunday's Grade 2 Hochi Hai Yayoi Sho, or 2000 Guineas Trial, at Nakayama for his fourth victory without a loss. That string also includes the Grade 1 Asahi Hi Futurity Dec. 17. The Deep Impact colt, with Yuga Kawada up, finished 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Wagnerian. Gendarme, an American-bred Kitten's Joy colt out of the Sunday Silence mare Believe, finished third. Danon Premium rated patiently behind an early speedball, moved to contend on the turn and closed smartly under a confident hand ride through the final 200 meters. He got home in 2:01.0 over firm turf.