Cracksman kicked off his 4-year-old season with a stirring win at the new ParisLongchamp and Pakistan Star got his act together to win the finale of three Group 1 races in Hong Kong Sunday while the last pieces of a potentially epic Kentucky Derby were falling into place at Churchill Downs.
Rainbow Line took the Tenno Sho (Spring) in Japan amid concerns about his status after the race.
The international scene
Pakistan Star finally got his mind right and Zac Purton continued his "on fire" streak of victories as the Hong Kong Jockey Club for the first time put together three of its springtime Group 1 races to make up Sunday's Champions Day program.
In the marquee race, the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup, Pakistan Star finally abandoned the pre-race and mid-race antics that had brought him to the corrective attention of the stewards several times this season. The misbehavior had prevented the 5-year-old Shamardal gelding from realizing the promise he exhibited in finishing second in last year's QE II.
Not Sunday. With jockey William Buick subbing for Kerrin McEvoy, who had been subbing for Silvestre de Sousa, Pakistan Star took up station behind a pace battle involving multiple Group 1 winner Time Warp. When they straightened out in the run for home, Pakistan Star suddenly was single-minded and his mind was on running. Quickly in front, he reported first by 3 lengths. Gold Mount and Eagle Way finished second and third while Time Warp finished last, likely losing any chance at Horse of the Year honors on the local front.
"He never gave me any indication he was going to do the kind of thing he's done in the past," said Buick, who found out he had the mount Saturday when his plane landed in Hong Kong. "He's quite a famous horse from his antics. I was aware of what he could do and I felt it was important to ride him with a fresh mind."
Trainer Tony Cruz credited the improved behavior in part to experience. "Today, he showed the public his true ability," he said. "He needs racing. Maybe to Royal Ascot or something."
In the Champions Mile, jockey Zac Purton had to work to get Beauty Generation going from his inside gate. But once he managed to secure both the rail and the lead, the race was all but over. Beauty Generation held the advantage all the way, winning by 1 length over Western Express with Southern Legend third.
"Drawing gate 1, what a positive that was," said winning trainer John Moore, who landed his sixth Champions Mile. "He was a bit dour at the start but that's because it's been a long season."
Purton agreed the start "wasn't ideal. He just didn't jump as well as he usually does."
Beauty Generation, a 5-year-old gelding by Road to Rock, has won three Group 1 races this season at Sha Tin, previously taking the Longines Hong Kong Mile and the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup. Coupled with Time Warp's disappointment, he is a good candidate for Hong Kong's Horse of the Year award.
In the third of the Group 1 events, Ivictory rallied from behind embattled leaders to land the Chairman's Sprint Prize by 1/2 length over Mr Stunning. Beat the Clock was third, just another neck in arrears, giving trainer John Size the top three places. Japan's Fine Needle was a well-beaten fourth and Godolphin's Blue Point, who contested the early lead, faded to finish last under Buick.
It was the seventh victory from eight starts in Hong Kong for Ivictory, a 4-year-old Mossman gelding who was taking a big class jump from handicaps to the top level.
"It's a big of a relief to me," said Size, who won the Chairman's Sprint Prize for the first time. "Especially to finish 1-2-3. He gave us all the signs. They've been emphatic victories in the last few so I thought we'd give it a try."
Purton added, "Hopefully, he can improve off of that."
Cracksman provided a, well, cracking inauguration for Group 1 racing at the new ParisLongchamp in Sunday's Prix Ganay. Into the bargain, the 4-year-old Frankel colt served up what could be a preview of a stunning season to come.
After tracking the early pace made by long shot Wren's Day, Frankie Dettori turned Cracksman loose with 200 meters left in the 2,000-meters race. He responded immediately and easily kicked away, winning by 4 lengths. Wren's Day rather shockingly held second, 3/4 length to the good of his Godolphin stablemate Cloth of Stars, for whom he was supposed to be a "rabbit." Rhododendron was another 3/4 length back in fourth.
The race was the 4-year-old debut for Cracksman, who now looks to be a dominant force this year for trainer John Gosden and his owner, Anthony Oppenheimer -- at least, unless he runs against fellow Gosden charge Enable. Cracksman was third in last year's Ivestec Derby, then ran off three straight wins, culminating in a 7-lengths triumph in the Group 1 Qipco Champions Stakes at Ascot.
Cloth of Stars landed last year's Ganay for Godolphin, ran second to Enable in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and most recently was third behind Hawkbill and Poet's Word in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night in Dubai. Rhododendron was making her first start since a runner-up finish to Wuheida in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf last fall at Del Mar.
Gosden said he was happy to see Cracksman handle good going and noted he has matured physically. "He's a stronger horse this year and is filling out from three to four, let alone four to five," the trainer said. "I'm impressed how cool he is, how relaxed and professional he is."
The Tattersalls Gold Cup in Ireland could be a prelude to the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, Gosden added.
Incidentally, the race this year was formally known as the Prix Ganay - Prix de l'Inauguration de ParisLongchamp in honor of the new facility, under construction for the past two years.
Rainbow Line found running room between rivals at the last moment and was just up to win Sunday's Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) at Kyoto Racecourse over Cheval Grand and Clincher. Shortly after the victory, however, Rainbow Line's trainer and jockey expressed concern about his post-race status.
Rainbow Line, a 5-year-old son of Stay Gold, landed his first win at the Grade 1 level and second in a row, following the Grade 2 Hanshin Daishoten. He was 12th in last year's Tenno Sho (Spring).
With Yasunari Iwata up, Rainbow Line raced near the rear of the field for much of the early part of the race. Midway through the second run down the backstretch he was steadied in traffic, shifted out and began to pass rivals around the final bend. In the last 200 meters, he altered course dramatically to the inside, finally threading through rivals to find daylight. He finished in 3:16.2 over firm going.
Cheval Grand, winner of last November's Japan Cup in Association with Longines, raced close to the pace, took the lead in the final 200 meters while chased by Clincher, only to see Rainbow Line burst through to win by a neck. It was 1/2 length to Clincher in third and Mikki Rocket was fourth.
"While our rivals were making early moves in the backstretch, my mount waited patiently, and I knew he had the needed late kick to reach the front before the wire," Iwata said.
But both he and trainer Hidekazu Asami expressed concern about Rainbow Line's post-race status.
"It's great that he was able to win the race but I'm concerned about his condition after the race," Asami said. "I hope to give him the best care possible so that he can recover for his next race." He did not mention what condition afflicted his runner or what a potential next race might be.
Clincher, a promising 4-year-old colt by Deep Sky, franked his status as a candidate for the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe this fall.
Even before he enjoyed Cracksman's win Sunday, the positioning for this year's Investec Derby at Epsom continued to go Gosden's way on Friday as Sevenna Star caught Ispolini in the final strides to take the bet365 Classic Trial at Sandown. Two days earlier, Gosden sent out Crossed Baton to win Epsom's Derby trial.
Both Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori reported Sevenna Star's performance was worthy of Derby consideration. Alex Merriam, assistant to trainer Charlie Appleby, who is in Hong Kong, said Godolphin regards Ispolini as a middle-distance horse.
Sevenna Star is a Redoute's Choice colt from the Galileo mare Sevenna. It was his second run of the year, following a 14-lengths romp at Windsor April 16. Gosden said a further run before the Derby is likely.
Back in North America
The Road to the Roses
UAE Derby winner -- by 18 1/2 lengths -- Mendelssohn was scheduled to arrive Monday at Churchill Downs where he will be among the favorites in what shapes up as a cracker of a race. Godolphin Racing's Enticed also is due Monday as the last stragglers assemble.
"It's probably the most competitive Derby I've seen in years," trainer Bob Baffert said on a media conference call Thursday. "We know we have a really good horse but there are a lot of good horses out there right now." His hope is Justify, unbeaten and as yet really untested. Justify had his final pre-Derby work on Friday at Santa Anita.
Chad Brown, who will saddle 2017 2-year-old champ and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic, echoed Baffert's sentiments. After watching his colt work 5 furlongs Saturday morning at Churchill Downs, he said Good Magic is coming up to the Derby as he did to the Breeders' Cup -- in top form. "It took all winter to get him to this point," Brown said to Daily Racing Form. "The plan was for this to be his best race." But he added of the field, "This is a really, really good group."
We'll have much more on this and the Oaks and associated stakes during Derby week in coming days.
Filly & Mare Turf
Mom's On Strike struck late to take Friday's $150,000 Grade III Bewitch at Keeneland by 3 1/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Daddys Lil Darling. Ickymasho was third. Mom's On Strike, a 5-year-old daughter of First Dude, was unhurried early, rallied around the leaders and drew off in the stretch under Adam Beschizza. She finished 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:30.02, also finishing the stakes season at Keeneland.
Winning trainer Joe Sharp said, "With her running style, we just figured she needed more ground. The stretch here at Keeneland is nice and long." He also said a bit more give in the ground helped her improve on a fourth-place finish in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds in her previous outing.
Queen Blossom saved ground through most of Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Santa Barbara at Santa Anita, came out entering the stretch and split rivals, getting up to win by 1/2 length. Causeforcommotion had first run to the lead but settled for second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of late-running Pantsonfire. Queen Blossom, an Irish-bred 5-year-old mare by Jeremy, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.65 with Flavien Prat in the irons. It was her first win in 10 starts since coming from Ireland at the end of the 2016 season.
Incidentally, this Pantsonfire is not the same as the Pants On Fire Rosie Napravnik piloted in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. That one, now 10, finished 14th at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 19 in his first start in more than 4 years, according to Equibase.
Blind Ambition led the way in Saturday's $125,000 Elusive Quality Stakes at Belmont Park and easily withstood a late bid by Conquest Panthera, winning by 2 lengths over that foe. Undrafted closed well in the final furlong to be up for third. Blind Ambition, a 4-year-old Tapit colt, finished 7 furlongs on good turf in 1:20.65 under John Velazquez. He finished fifth in the Grade III Canadian Turf at Gulfstream Park in his previous outing.
Byron Hughes, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher, said, "There wasn't a whole lot of speed coming into the race, so when he broke well, that really helped Johnny out and he gave him a great ride. He cut back from a mile for this this and I think six and a half, to seven or mile is right up his alley."
Beckford, the favorite, got away to a troubled start in Saturday's $100,000 William Walker Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs. After waiting patiently around the turn, he swung five-wide and rallied by pacesetting Salmanazar in the final furlong to win by 3/4 length. Masked, always close, finished third. Beckford, a British-bred colt by Bated Breath, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.28 seconds with Julien Leparoux in the irons.
"We thought he was a special horse when we first got him," winning trainer Brendan Walsh said of Beckford. "Just by simply looking at his past performances he ran some very nice races as a 2-year-old. He does his best running with a target in front of him. We'll probably regroup and see how he comes out of this race to determine a plan for him the rest of the year."
Lady Alexandra stalked the pace in Sunday's $125,000 License Fee Stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park, got to the lead in the lane and won by 3 1/2 lengths. The odds-on favorite, Stormy Victoria, raced last of seven and closed strongly but settled for second, a nose in front of Jennifer Lynette. Lady Alexandra, a 4-year-old More Than Ready filly, ran 6 furlongs on the good inner turf in 1:08.29 with Jose Ortiz riding.
Belvoir Bay pressed the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III San Simeon at 6 1/2 furlongs down the Santa Anita hillside turf course, took over from pacesetting Mongolian Saturday entering the stretch and won by 2 lengths over the favorite, Coniah. Isotherm was third. Belvoir Bay, a 5-year-old British-bred mare by Equiano, finished the gravity-aided 6 1/2 furlongs over firm turf in 1:12.37 with Tyler Baze up. Mongolian Saturday now is 1-for-17 since he won the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland in 2015.
Conquest Sandman set a leisurely pace in Saturday' $75,000 Miesque's Approval Stakes at Gulfstream Park, quickened when asked turning for home and held the lead to the wire. Fast and Accurate made a late bid and finished second, 3/4 length back and 1/2 length ahead of Uncle B. Conquest Sandman, a 5-year-old Scat Daddy gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:42.05 with Carlos Montalvo up.
Susie Bee came from well back to capture Saturday's $75,000 Powder Break for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park by 1 1/4 lengths over Conquest Hardcandy. Lipstick City rallied from even farther back to get show money and the favorite, Madame Uno, could do no better than sixth. Susie Bee, a 6-year-old English Channel mare, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:35.77 with Reyfu Gutierrez in the irons.
Multiple Group 1 winners Halo Holiday, La Extrana Dama and defending champion Kiraki headline a field of 13 fillies and mares entered for Tuesday's Group 1 Gran Premio Criadores (G1) at 1 1/4 miles on dirt at Palermo Racecourse in Buenos Aires. The winner gets the right to an automatic starting position into this year's $2 million Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff through the international Breeders' Cup Challenge.
Dr. Dorr stalked the early pace in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Californian at Santa Anita, took the lead on the second bend and kicked away to a 7 1/4-lengths triumph. Prince of Arabia was second, a neck in front of The Lieutenant. Dr. Dorr, a 5-year-old Lookin at Lucky gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.84 for jockey Joe Talamo. Jill Baffert owns the horse. Bob Baffert trains and is listed as breeder, along with Jack Klugman and Madeline Auerbach. It was his third straight win and fourth from his last five.
"I really thought he was a Derby horse which is why I named him after Dr. Dorr, such a great guy," Baffert said. "I was going to run him in the Los Al Futurity but then he got hurt, so I had to give him time off. I got him back and then he had something with his throat so we did throat surgery ... He's spent more time at the horse spa."
He said the Grade I Gold Cup on May 26 "might be the next race" for Dr. Dorr.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Let It Ride Mom edged out favorite Moonlit Promise at the wire to win the $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Whimsical Stakes in a photo finish Saturday at Woodbine. The 4-year-old Into Mischief filly was making her seasonal debut. "She left the gate running and I didn't want to leave because she's shown in her form that she likes to run at horses," said Husbands after the race. "Down the lane, I was just looking for any little break through and it unfolded right and we got there."
Elsewhere around the ovals:
The Elmont track opened its stakes season with Friday's $100,000 Affirmed Success Stakes for state-bred sprinters and Eye Luv Lulu had the honor of being the seasons's first stakes winner. Under Irad Ortiz Jr., the 7-year-old Pollard's Vision gelding shadowed the early pace, took the lead with a quarter mile to go and held off Pat On the Back by 1/2 length at the end. Weekend Hideaway finished third. Eye Luv Lulu got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.78.
Summer Sunday led from the start in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Fury Stakes for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Glamanation despite drifting out badly through the lane. Avie's Mineshaft finished third. Summer Sunday, a daughter of Silent Name, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:24.17 with Rafael Hernandez at the controls.
Hawthorne Race Course
Dandy Gal pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Third Chance Stakes for Illinois-bred fillies and mares, surged to contend with a bit more than a furlong to run and held on by a neck over Go Lady Jay. The favorite, My Mertie, finished third. Dandy Gal, a 5-year-old Cherokee Rap mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.56 with Chris Emigh in the irons.
Gone Ghost went right to the lead and was gone in Saturday's $75,000 Milwaukee Avenue Handicap for state-breds. At the wire, the 5-year-old gelding by Cherokee Rap was out front by 2 1/4 lengths with Prado's Sweet Ride second and Babybluesbdancing third. Gone Ghost, with Emigh at the controls, got home in 1:41.67.
Recount got the best of just two rivals in Saturday's $75,000 Robert S. Molaro Handicap, battling with Cashel Rock much of the way, then easing clear to win by 1 length, ridden out by Alex Canchari. Cashel Rock and President Elect completed the order of finish. Recount, a 6-year-old Limehouse gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.75.
Grasshoppin set a pressured pace in Saturday's $100,000 Lyman Stakes for Pennsylvania-breds, then quickly drew clear in the lane, winning by 3 1/4 lengths from Driven to Compete. Red Razzo, off slowly, advanced to finish third. Grasshoppin, a 7-year-old Cat Thief gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.25 with Edwin Rivera riding.
Power of Snunner languished last of eight in Saturday's $100,000 Foxy J. G. Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, then came with a late rush on the outside of rivals to win by a neck over Trace of Grace. Formal Class was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. Power of Snunner, an 8-year-old mare by Power by Far, negotiated 7 furlongs in 1:25.32 with Dana Whitney aboard.
Golden Gate Fields
Pulpit Rider, the odds-on favorite, was up in the late going to win Sunday's $100,000 Campanile for California-bred 3-year-old fillies by 3/4 length over pacesetting Lavadia. Gettin Sideways rallied from last to finish third. Pulpit Rider, a Lucky Pulpit filly, finished the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:38.63 with Corey Nakatani riding.
Altissimo jumped to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Edward Babst/Albert Palacios Memorial Handicap for Ohio-breds, had things all his own way and reported first by 6 lengths. Rivers Run Deep ran second, 3 3/4 lengths to the good of Cake Pop. Altissimo, a 5-year-old Noble Causeway gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.89 with Christian Pilares up.
Pain and Misery waited behind the pace in Saturday's $75,00 Gus Bosselman Pump and Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes, came five-wide around the leaders and drew off to score by 3 1/4 lengths. Pinson was second, Midnight Ruler third. Pain and Misery, a 6-year-old Bob and John gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.80 under Israel Hernandez.