A celestial weekend of Thoroughbred racing found Magnum Moon rising on the Kentucky Derby trail and Ping Hai Star victorious in the Hong Kong Derby.
Blended Citizen took to the sky -- from California to New York -- to win the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park and dip his hoof into the Derby picture. Three-year-old races at Laurel Park could impact the Triple Crown picture.
Elsewhere, Hedge Fund, Martini Glass and Fault all showed big promise for the remainder of the season.
And there was the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Let's jump right to it.
The Road to the Roses
Magnum Moon, always prominent, took complete charge in the stretch run and went on to win Saturday's $900,000 Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park by 3 1/2 lengths. California invader Solomini, the post-time favorite for trainer Bob Baffert, held on gamely in the final yards to save second by a head over late-running Combatant. Title Ready and Sporting Chance were fourth and fifth in the 1 1/16-miles challenge.
Magnum Moon, a Malibu Moon colt out of the Unbridled's Song mare Dazzling Song, finished in 1:42.68 with Luis Saez up for trainer Todd Pletcher. It was his third start, following victories at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs. He did not race at age 2.
"We felt like we had a very talented colt," Pletcher said. "Very pleased with his first two races. But this was a step up in class and running against accomplished, seasoned colts. We were confident that he was training very well, coming into it in great shape and just hoping he could handle the continued rise in class."
Pletcher said the Arkansas Derby is "the most likely and most logical" next step for Magnum Moon.
Blended Citizen came all the way from Southern California to contest Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park. So he could be excused for finding the shortest way home, right down the rail, as he rallied to win by a neck over Pony Up, a Florida shipper who took the overland route with a rally that just fell short. Arawak, trained by Wesley Ward, also ran well in the stretch to take third -- best of the locally based horses.
Blended Citizen, a Proud Citizen colt trained by Doug O'Neill, ran 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:50.85 with Kyle Frey in the irons. His only other win in seven previous starts came on the turf at Del Mar in November. O'Neill added blinkers for the Ruby.
"I knew he would run good," said O'Neill assistant Octavio Vergara. "Last time out, he should have won the El Camino Real Derby (at Golden Gate Fields) but he got stopped twice. Doug O'Neill sent him here to win and get into the Kentucky Derby."
Also on the Jeff Ruby Steaks card at Turfway, Alternative Route pressed the pace in the $75,000 Rushaway Stakes, took the lead late and won by 1 3/4 lengths. Truth Be Tolled finished second but was busted down to fourth, promoting Year of the Kitten and Road to Damascus to the minor awards. Alternative Route, a Tiznow colt out of a Storm Cat mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:46.38. Trainer Al Stall Jr. shipped Alternative Route up from New Orleans for the race.
V.I.P. Code produced a shocker in Saturday's $100,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park. The City Zip colt, well beaten into fifth in his previous start, the Miracle Wood Stakes, dueled down the lane with Forest Fire in the Private Terms before edging that one by 3/4 length -- at 36-1 odds. Dynamic Asset was third at 63-1 as a 50-cent trifecta ticket returned $1,471.65. The winner of the Miracle Wood, Still Having Fun, had none Saturday, stumbling at the start and chasing to finish fourth. V.I.P. Code, with Carlos Quinones in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.22 in his most impressive showing since he finished second in last season's Awad Stakes on the Belmont Park turf at 71-1.
After Saturday's action, Magnum Moon had jumped into a tie for fifth place on the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard with 50 -- normally plenty to make the Run for the Roses. Solomini advanced to the ninth spot with 34 and Combatant ranked 13th, with 22 points, in a tie with Snapper Sinclair and Blended Citizen, although the latter is not nominated to the Triple Crown.
Next weekend: Bravazo and My Boy Jack are the headliners for the 105th running of the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, a $1 million, Grade II affair that awards the winner 100 points toward a Kentucky Derby start. In New Mexico, the Sunland Park Derby is a Grade III worth $800,000 and 50 points to the winner. Check back Thursday or Friday for more on those.
The Lane to the Lillies
Mark down Smokinpaddylassie for the Black-Eyed Susan on Preakness weekend -- if not for the Kentucky Oaks -- after Saturday's 2 1/4-lengths victory in the $100,000 Beyond the Wire Stakes at Laurel Park left her undefeated in three starts. The gray Paddy O'Prado filly waited patiently in second as Limited View opened up a big early lead, then reeled in that foe at the sixteenth pole and carried on. Limited View finished second, 1 length to the good of Mo Shopping. Smokinpaddylassie toured 1 mile of fast track in 1:38.02 under John Bisono. Both of her previous wins came sprinting at Parx Racing.
Go Noni Go broke awkwardly from the outside gate in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park, started next-last and then had to take a six-wide course around the field heading for home. Despite all that, the Get Stormy filly and jockey Tyler Gaffalione stormed down the lane to win by 2 lengths over In the Mood. Homemade Salsa was third. Go Noni Go ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:39.09, scoring her third career win in her first try on the artificial surface. "Everything went as planned," Gaffalione said. "She broke well today, she relaxed, and that was the main thing."
Hedge Fund led the way early in Saturday's $300,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park, was headed turning into the stretch and came again to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Untrapped was second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of a rallying Blueridge Traveler. Hedge Fund, a 4-year-old Super Saver colt, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.06 with Jose Ortiz up. "I was a little concerned," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "The fractions seemed pretty quick early on and he was sort of under pressure the whole way. It looked like at the top of the stretch they had him collared. He just kept finding more and fought back. Big, big effort for him."
Hedge Fund, owned by WinStar Farm, Head of Plains Partners, China Horse Club and SF Racing, finished second in last year's Grade III Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course. He now is 2-for-2 this season. Pletcher said he will be considered for the Oaklawn Handicap and the Charles Town Classic.
Camelot Kitten found his way back to the winner's circle after Saturday's $100,000 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park, ending a losing streak extending back to October of 2016. With Rafael Hernandez in the irons, the 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy settled behind the leading pack, moved to contend entering the stretch dive and edged by pacesetting Chip Leader in the final yards, winning by 1/2 length. Fast and Accurate, a 4-year-old Hansen colt who won last year's Grade III Spiral Stakes, was 2 1/2 lengths farther back in third.
Camelot Kitten, a Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred, finished 9 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:49.76. He was a powerhouse in 2016, winning the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs and the Grade II Hall of Fame at Saratoga. But he went winless in four starts in 2017.
Something Awesome successfully stretched out to the 9 furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial at Laurel Park, tracking the early pace, then taking over and kicking away to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Zanotti was second, 3 1/4 lengths better than Discreet Lover. Something Awesome, a 7-year-old Awesome Again gelding, finished in 1:50.86 with Edgar Prado up. It was his first time at the distance after contesting sprints for much of his recent career.
Fault started from the outside gate in Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Santa Margarita at Santa Anita, had trouble finding position on the first turn and settled for a wide trip the rest of the way in the 9-furlongs tilt. But no matter as the 4-year-old Blame filly ran by pacesetting Mended at the top of the lane and drew off to an easy, 6 1/2-lengths victory. Mended held second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Mopotism, the rival who kept Fault wide early in the contest. Fault, with Geovanni Franco in the irons, finished in 1:50.58 over a fast track.
Fault, who raced most of last year in the Midwest, now is 2-for-2 in California. She scored in the Grade II Buena Vista Feb. 1 in her 2018 bow. That race, like most of her previous efforts, was on the grass. Said trainer Phil D'Amato, "We'll take a step back, knowing she can run on both surfaces now, which makes her more dangerous. But this was a very impressive Grade I win and it helps her out tremendously down the road."
Martini Glass rallied from just off the pace to score her second straight win, capturing Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Azeri at Oaklawn Park by 3 lengths over the favorite, Actress. The early leader, Farrell, was another 1/2 length back in third. Martini Glass, a 5-year-old Kitalpha mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.95 for Paco Lopez. She won the Grade III Royal Delta at Gulfstream Park a month earlier in similar fashion.
Martini Glass "loves to run," said winning trainer Keith Nations. "She loves to train. She does everything with a lot of enthusiasm. I can just tell she's getting better." He said she is in the picture for the $700,000 Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn April 13.
Sky Flower moved to the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Latonia on the Turfway Park all-weather course and edged away to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Purely a Dream. You Cheated was just a neck back of that one in third with a late rush. Sky Flower, a 4-year-old Flower Alley filly, ran 1 mile on the all-weather course in 1:38.81 under John McKee.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Ivy Bell, the even-money favorite, had to wait for running room at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Inside Information Stakes at Gulfstream Park. But once clear, the 5-year-old Archarcharch mare blitzed by rivals to win by 1 length with authority. Jordan's Henny was second, a neck in front of Mines and Magic. Ivy Bell, with Javier Castellano riding, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.29. Seldom out of the top three, Ivy Bell was making her first start of 2018.
Despite the traffic, Castellano said he had "a perfect trip. That's what I was looking for. I saved all the ground, I tipped outside. I was kind of concerned a little because everyone hooked up in the same spot, but I had so much confidence ... I know she's going to move forward. I rode with a lot of patience and had good results today."
Sounds Delicious was sent quickly to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Correction Stakes at Aqueduct and never looked back, drawing off to an 8-lengths victory. Spice Lady ran second all the way and held that spot at the end by a head over the favorite, Startwithsilver. Sounds Delicious, a 4-year-old Yes It's True filly, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.25 with Angel Arroyo up. Linda Rice trains both Sounds Delicious and Startwithsilver. "Linda told me to try to go to the lead," Arroyo said. "I felt if I went to the front, we'd win the race, and that's what happened. Out of the turn when I switched leads, I knew I had a lot of horse left. She responded nice."
Anna's Bandit rolled by most of the field in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 Conniver Stakes at Laurel Park and went on to win by 3 3/4 lengths over She Rolls. The favorite, My Magician, was third with a late bid, just a head farther back. Anna's Bandit, a 4-year-old daughter of Great Notion, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.77 for jockey Xavier Perez. It was her third straight win; first in a stakes race.
River Boyne rallied four-wide down the Santa Anita stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Pasadena Stakes for 3-year-olds, got by Inscom in the closing yards and won by 1 length. Inscom held second with La La Land finishing third. Pubilius Syrus and Ax Man were scratched. River Boyne, an Irish-bred colt by Dandy Man, finished 1 mile over firm turf in 1:35.92 with Joel Rosario riding.
Filly & Mare Turf
Madam Dancealot trailed the field in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Ana at Santa Anita, saving ground into the stretch. Asked for run by jockey Corey Nakatani, the Irish-bred filly split rivals and won a three-way sprint to the wire by 1/2 length over Midnight Crossing. Sassy Little Lila, who led most of the way, finished another 1/2 length back in third. Madam Dancealot, a daughter of Sir Prancealot, ran 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:49.51. It was her first win since the Grade II San Clemente at Del Mar last July.
Richard Baltas trains both Madam Dancealot and Midnight Crossing, but for different owners. Of the winner, he said, "I never would have thought she could've gone this far when we first got her, but she's really changed. She still hasn't won a Grade I, but she's been knocking on the door."
Ping Hai Star wasn't even a candidate for the BMW Hong Kong Derby until he demonstrated to trainer John Size in his last race that he belonged there. And then he had to show jockey Ryan Moore that he had the right formula for winning Sunday's renewal at Sha Tin. Who's the brains of this operation, again?
The Derby -- the premier race of the Hong Kong season for locals -- is the third and final leg of the Hong Kong Classic Four-Year-Old series, which started with the Hong Kong Classic Mile, won by Nothingilikemore and proceeded to the 1,800-meter Hong Kong Classic Cup, won by South African import Singapore Sling. Run at 2,000 meters, the Derby usually sorts out which of the earlier contestants can stay a distance of ground.
Ping Hai Star had none of that. His last three races, all victories, were run at 1,400 meters. "The last time he raced, I saw something that I liked about him as far as a Derby prospect was concerned," Size said. "The only gamble was whether he was fit enough and had the stamina to run 2,000 (meters) with his inexperience."
He did. Starting last and racing at the tail of the field into the final turn, Ping Hai Star kicked into gear outside rivals and won going away, by 1 3/4 lengths. Singapore Sling looked a winner for a brief time and held second, just in fast of a closing Exultant.
In recent years, the Derby has produced winners for some of the forthcoming international Group 1 races on the Hong Kong calendar. Could the 2,000-meters QE II Cup on April 29 be next up for Size's new star? "We'll have a think about what he'll do," the trainer said. "I'll absorb what's happened and look to where he goes now."
Those who follow this venue know we concentrate on racing in which the horses do not jump over things or pull things behind them. Nonetheless, we acknowledge the affection others have for races where the contestants do jump (presumably, a vestige of the days of actual hunting over rural fields) or pull (which used to be the horse's job). So ... Friday's Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase ...
It actually was pretty exciting at the end as Native River, who led virtually all the way, fended off the late bid of Might Bite as that pair hit the last of 22 jumps. Both obviously were at the end of their endurance but Native River found more and Might Bite apparently had bitten off more than he could chew. Native River ran on to win by 4 1/2 lengths with Richard Johnson riding. Anibale Fly was along for third at generous odds.
Native River, is an 8-year-old son of French-bred Indian River. His dam, Native Mo, is by Be My Native, who finished second in the Grade I Budweiser Arlington Million in 1982 and won the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom the following year. Be My Native is by Our Native, who finished third in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 1973. Two generations before that was Raise a Native, a son of Native Dancer.
Back in the States, around the ovals:
Miss Sunset led all the way and expanded the advantage through the stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Irish O'Brien Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares by 7 lengths. Cuddle Alert and Desert Steel were second and third. Miss Sunset, a 4-year-old Into Mischief filly, got 6 1/2 furlongs on the good main track in 1:16.30 with Mike Smith riding. The race originally was carded for the hillside turf course.
Dontmesswithjoanne rallied strongly from the furlong marker to win Saturday's $60,000 Red Camelia Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares by 2 3/4 lengths over Mr. Al's Gal. Pera was a nose short of that in third. Dontmesswithjoanne, a 4-year-old Pioneerof the Nile filly, ran about 1 mile on good turf in 1:40.48 with Joe Bravo aboard.
Golden Gate Fields
Mother of Dragons flew by pacesetting Cash Prize in the late going to take Saturday's $65,000 Camilla Urso Stakes for fillies and mares by 1/2 length over that foe. Alliford Bay was another 1/2 length back in third. Mother of Dragons, a 4-year-old daughter of First Dude, got 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.58 with Julien Couton in the irons.
Sam Houston Race Park
Howbouthiscowgirl, the odds-on favorite, led all the way to a 1 3/4-length victory in Saturday's $65,000 Two Altazano Stakes for Texas-bred and eligible 3-year-old fillies. She's Our Fastest was second-fastest, yet finished 14 1/2 lengths better than the third-place filly, Little Prowless. Howbouthiscowgirl, a daughter of My Golden Song, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.74 with Lindey Wade up.
In the similarly-conditioned Jim's Orbit for 3-year-old colts and geldings, Direct Dial, also the odds-on favorite, had no trouble winning by 4 1/4 lengths. Redatory was second, followed 2 1/4 lengths by Galactica. Direct Dial, a Too Much Bling colt, completed 6 furlongs in 1:10.43 under Iram Diego.
Tilla Cat caught pacesetting favorite Rappakuba in the closing yards of Saturday's $85,000 La Coneja Stakes for New Mexico-bred fillies and mares and drove on to win by 1/2 length. Rappakuba held second, 1/2 length ahead of Explosive Spy. Tracy Hebert handled the reins as Tilla Cat, a 5-year-old daughter of Attila's Storm, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.69.