Justify came out of his Kentucky Derby tour de force in fine shape and, judging by initial reactions, he won't have many of his Derby rivals to kick around in the next stop on the Triple Crown trail.
Only a handful of the also-rans from the 144th Run for the Roses are expected to move along to the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico -- the second jewel in the Crown -- in two weeks' time.
We'll have more on that, plus a recap of all the other great weekend races at Churchill Downs, Belmont Park and elsewhere -- from South Africa to England, Japan and Hong Kong.
It was a bad weekend for favorites -- bar, of course, Justify -- as the winners of last year's Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and Preakness all went down to defeat. And Ireland's premier trainer, Aidan O'Brien didn't have his best weekend ever, either.
Japanese-bred horses, however, had a great weekend on the world stage, winning a Group 1 Classic in England and a Grade I event at Churchill Downs.
Without further ado:
The Triple Crown
"He looks phenomenal today," trainer Bob Baffert said of Justify the morning after his Kentucky Derby romp. "He's full of himself. He knows he's a stud."
"It was just an awesome performance," said Baffert, savoring his fifth Derby win. "We were hoping he had that in him. At the three-eighths pole I thought, man, he better be a really good horse. We saw another gear that we hadn't seen yet. That's where the greatness comes in. He's got that big, long stride and he's just so efficient, he does it so easily."
Is he going to the Preakness? Baffert said Pimlico officials called Sunday morning to extend a formal invitation and he did not qualify his response.
"I didn't tell them, 'I'll think about it,'" Baffert said. "We'll take it day by day but today there's no reason to say no."
Good Magic was second in Louisville and not making up any ground in the final furlong. But his trainer, Chad Brown, didn't sound Sunday morning like he's been scared off the Preakness.
"I want him back in New York and that gives me time to decide what's next," Brown said. "I want to provide the owners with as much information as possible about what I see and then let them decide. You run a horse back in two weeks off an effort like this, even if he's not going to run for a while, it doesn't mean it's good for the horse long-term. That said, his sire [Curlin] came back in two weeks and won the Preakness."
Trainer Todd Pletcher said plans are up in the air for third-place finisher Audible, who shares ownership with Justify.
None of the other Derby trainers seemed much interested in taking on Justify in the second jewel of the Triple Crown, save D. Wayne Lukas. He said of plans for Bravazo, who reported sixth at Churchill Downs, "I'll talk to [owner] Brad Kelley. He's pretty game. I'd say we'll probably go."
And there always are "new shooters" at Pimlico -- horses that passed on the Derby to have a fresh chance in the Preakness. The Triple Crown is not supposed to be easy. Nor is it.
Otherwise on a jam-packed weekend of top-shelf action:
Backyard Heaven, making his first stakes appearance in just his fourth career start, dueled last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Always Dreaming, into submission and humbled a field of more experienced rivals in Friday's $400,000 Grade II Alysheba at Churchill Downs. Backyard Heaven, a Tizway colt trained by Chad Brown, battled with Always Dreaming through much of the 1 1/16 miles, put that one away as he straightened into the stretch and went on to win by 4 1/2 lengths over long shot Hawaakom in 1:41.73. Irad Ortiz Jr. had the mount. Good Samaritan was third, the venerable Hoppertunity finished fourth and Always Dreaming sagged home fifth.
Backyard Heaven, running in the white and red Ken and Sarah Ramsey colors, finished second in his career bow at Belmont Park in September, won at Aqueduct in December and scored again at the Big A in March.
Brown said Backyard Heaven's career was delayed because, "He just kept getting sick. We gave him the time he needed and here we are now ... When this horse was just turning 3, we asked ourselves, 'Is this horse good enough to get him to the Derby?' It was just not to be."
Always Dreaming's rider, John Velazquez, said, "He didn't pick it up at all. I don't know what else I can say."
Salty stalked the pace, then rallied along the rail in the final furlong to catch loose-on-the-lead long shot Farrell and win Friday's $350,000 Grade I La Troienne at Churchill Downs by 1 3/4 lengths. Farrell held second by 1 1/4 lengths over Martini Glass. The odds-on favorite and last year's Kentucky Oaks winner, Abel Tasman, flattened out late to finish fourth in her first start since November.
Salty, a 4-year-old Quality Road filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.78 with Tyler Gaffalione at the controls. It was her third race of the season and followed a fifth-place finish, beaten less than 1 length, in the Grade I Madison at Keeneland.
Winning trainer Mark Casse said Salty "ran some huge races last year and got very unlucky -- Able Tasman got the good trip and we didn't. Today, we got the trip and Able Tasman was coming off a long layoff."
Able Tasman's rider, Mike Smith, lamented the scratch of two rivals who might have prompted a livelier pace. "I'm sure she got a lot out of the race and she'll come back very well," he said of Able Tasman, a confirmed closer. "That race didn't set up at all for her."
Sunday at Belmont Park, Pacific Wind tracked down pacesetting Highway Star in the final furlong to win the $250,000 Grade II Ruffian Stakes by 1 length. Tequilita was third. Pacific Wind, a 4-year-old Curlin filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.22 under Irad Ortiz Jr. It was her first stakes win and fourth overall.
Fault, the odds-on favorite, was up late to win Sunday's $100,000 Adoration Stakes at Santa Anita by 1/2 length from long shot Shenandoah Queen. Mended led most of the way and salvaged show money. Fault, a 4-year-old Blame filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.84 with Geovanni Franco in the irons.
Yoshida and Beach Patrol surged to the lead turning into the stretch in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Old Forester Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. Yoshida, on the outside, gained a narrow advantage and edged clear, winning by 3/4 length. Synchrony was gaining late but settled for third. Deauville was scratched, which is about the best result Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien achieved on the day.
Yoshida, with Jose Ortiz up for trainer Bill Mott, finished 9 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:54.64. The 4-year-old Japanese-bred son of Heart's Cry posted his fourth win from eight starts and has finished out of the frame only once in his career. His owners, China Horse Club and WinStar Farm, are considering the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot for the colt. "Royal Ascot is possible. We'll see how he comes back," said WinStar President Elliott Walden. Ortiz added, "If they go, I'm going."
At Belmont Park, Robert Bruce continued the winning ways he demonstrated in his native Chile, rallying from a pace-stalking trip to win Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Fort Marcy by 3/4 length. Spring Quality and Lucullan filled out the trifecta as Robert Bruce toured 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:47.56 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons.
Robert Bruce, a 4-year-old colt by Fast Company, did not race at age 2 but won all six of his starts in Chile last season, including four Group 1 events. Chad Brown now handles the budding star and his assistant, Whit Beckman, said, "He's only been up here for a couple of weeks, but he settled in just fine. He's pretty versatile and adaptable. He looks like he can go further if you need to, I don't know if you want to go much shorter than this, but we'll have plenty of options in the future."
Maraud was along in the final sixteenth to upset Saturday's $300,000 Grade II American Turf for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over the dead-heat duo of Captivating Moon and Untamed Domain. The favorite, River Boyne, settled for fifth. Maraud, a Blame colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:47.52 with John Velazquez in the irons. It was his fourth win from seven starts for trainer Todd Pletcher.
"We were concerned about the weather today and I'm glad we decided to take a shot," Pletcher said of Maraud's run. "We'll probably take him back to New York and see what we have there. I'd love to make a race like the Belmont Derby."
Filly & Mare Turf
On Saturday at Belmont Park, last year's Queen's Plate winner, Holy Helena, rallied outside of three rivals down the stretch run of the $200,000 Grade II Sheepshead Bay for fillies and mares and got there first by 1/2 length. Lottie was second, a nose in front of the favorite, Santa Monica. Holy Helena, a Ghostzapper filly out of the Holy Bull mare Holy Grace, ran 1 3/8 miles over the firm inner turf course in 2:15.15 with Manny Franco up for trainer Jimmy Jerkens. It was her third win of the year, following two at Gulfstream Park during snowbird time -- her first races on turf.
Jerkens said once he decided to take Holy Helena to Florida for the winter, he decided, "We might as well freshen her up a little bit and try the turf and see if she likes it. There was nothing to lose." With that experiment a rousing success, he said the issue now is to "sit down and look at the schedule for longer turf filly races and take it from there.
Toinette was late to the party in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Edgewood for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs but arrived just in time to eke out a narrow win. Down the stretch, even-money favorite Rushing Fall had her perfect record on the line in a ding-dong duel with Daddy Is a Legend and it appeared to be between those two. But Flavien Prat had Toinette in full stride farther out on the course and the assault was perfectly timed. The race was timed in 1:41.70.
Rushing Fall settled for second, Daddy Is a Legend third and Got Stormy fourth. Both Toinette and Daddy Is a Legend are by Scat Daddy. Toinette made it three in a row after earlier wins at Santa Anita and Keeneland.
Pratt said Toinette, after trouble at the start, was farther back than he wanted. "That was not good. But she gave me a nice run down the lane," he said. Winning trainer Neil Drysdale agreed the start "didn't help things. But she has a sharp turn of foot so she can get in a lot of trouble and still work it out."
Limousine Liberal stalked the pace in Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes, rallied through the stretch to gain the lead a sixteenth from home and won by a head over Warrior's Club. It was just another head back to Awesome Slew in third while the favorite, Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up Imperial Hint, faded from the lead to finish sixth. Limousine Liberal, a 6-year-old Successful Appeal gelding, finished 7 sloppy furlongs in 1:22.73 under Jose Ortiz.
"Ideal conditions for him, maybe," said Limousine Liberal's trainer, Ben Colebrook. "He loves the wet racetrack and he's a fighter. He just wasn't going to get beat today ... We're going to try to work backwards from the Breeders' Cup here."
Funny Duck stumbled at the start, hit the rail and trailed through the early stage of Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Pat Day Mile for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs. But under a patient ride by Brian Hernandez Jr., the Distorted Humor colt started passing foes, finally surged by New York Central to take the lead in the lane and won by 4 3/4 lengths, going away, in 1:37.16. New York Central held second and Givemeaminit was third. The three double-digit long shots combined to return $8,579.25 for a winning 50-cent trifecta wager.
Funny Duck took five tries to break his maiden, then ran seventh in the Grade III Transylvania at Keeneland in his last outing for trainer Rusty Arnold. Arnold said owner Brad Kelley of Calumet farm insisted on giving Funny Duck another chance on the main track. "So he gets all the credit because we would have been in the turf race," Arnold said.
In Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Westchester at Belmont Park, Tale of Silence rallied around the stretch turn to reach contention, altered course in the lane to get a narrow path to the lead and scored the upset by a nose over Vulcan's Forge and another nose from Tommy Macho. The favorite, last year's Preakness winner, Cloud Computing, led briefly in the stretch but hung, finishing fourth.
Tale of Silence, a 4-year-old Tale of the Cat colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.14. Winning trainer Barclay Tagg said he told jockey Dylan Davis, "Take him back and sit there. And when you think you can't wait any longer, just wait a little longer."
Sunday at Lone Star Park in Texas, Bee Jersey led gate to wire in the $200,000 Grade III Steve Sexton Mile and kicked away at the end to win by 5 1/2 lengths. Girvin was second, a neck in front of Shotgun Kowboy. Bee Jersey, a 4-year-old colt by Jersey Town out of the Rahy mare Bees, finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.78 with Ricardo Santana Jr. riding.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Mia Mischief disputed a hot early pace in Friday's $200,000 Grade II Eight Belles for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs, then held on bravely through the stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Talk Veuve to Me. Previously undefeated Gas Station Sushi ran evenly to finish third. Mia Mischief, a daughter of Into Mischief, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.84 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons for trainer Steve Asmussen. She now has four wins and three seconds from seven career starts.
"She's a very talented filly," Asmussen said of Mia Mischief. "She came into the barn fast. I did make a few mistakes with her and those are the only blemishes on her record."
American Gal pressed the early pace in Saturdays' $300,000 Grade I Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs, took over and opened a daylight lead heading for home and won by 2 lengths over Ivy Bell. Lewis Bay was up for third, edging the favorite and early leader, Finley'sluckycharm. American Gal, with Jose Ortiz in the irons, ran 7 furlongs on a track rated wet-fast in 1:22.33.
American Gal, a 4-year-old Concord Point filly, won the Grade I Test Stakes last summer at Saratoga, then was idle until April when she finished a close fourth in the Grade I Madison at Keeneland -- a race won by Finley'sluckycharm.
Proctor's Ledge found a seam between the leaders in the stretch run of Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Longines Churchill Distaff Mile, slipped through and ran down On Leave in the closing yards for the win. The favorite, Dream Awhile, was gaining with a late bid that could only achieve third. Proctor's Ledge, a 4-year-old Ghostzapper filly, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:36.30 with John Velazquez up. She won both the Lake George and Lake Placid last summer at Saratoga but had not visited the winner's circle in three intervening races.
Trainer Brendan Walsh said he will look at races at Belmont Park and Saratoga for Proctor's Ledge. "We'll be careful with her because I think she'll get better and better as she goes along. I think her best races are still in front of her."
Treasuring worked to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Senorita Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita, opened a daylight advantage and cruised home first by 1 1/2 lengths. Pursuing the Dream was second, a neck in front of Movie Moment. Treasuring, a British-bred daughter of Havana Gold, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.43 with Brice Blanc in the irons.
Blame the Rider hounded the early pacesetter in Saturday's $100,000 Singletary Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita, then outfinished the late-closing favorite, La La Land, winning by a head over that one. Move Over was third. Blame the Rider, a Jimmy Creed colt, finished in 1:34.65 with Mario Gutierrez riding.
Will Call came calling down the middle of the course in the final furlong to grab the win in Friday's $200,000 Grade III TwinSpires Turf Sprint. The 4-year-old Country Day colt, with Shaun Bridgmohan up, got there 1 1/4 lengths in front of Kid Perfect with Bucchero in third. The 5 furlongs on firm going took 56.68 seconds. Will Call, trained by Brad Cox, scored his fifth win from nine starts. His only sub-par effort was last time out in the Grade II Shakertown at Keeneland, where he finished ninth over soft turf.
"We thought a lot of him all winter," Cox said. He really developed on the grass. That last race was a throw-out, for whatever reason. He hope to be back here in the fall for the Breeders' Cup."
Two days before Derby 144, youngsters eligible for Derby 145 took the track at Churchill Downs and the result was an upset win by a Yes It's True colt, Weiland. Under Carlos Villasana, Weiland pressed the pace made by Myhotrodlincoln, stuck a head in front in the stretch run and won by that margin after a long tussle. Baytown Macca was third, a head in front of the odds-on favorite, Luv This Lifestyle. Weiland ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 59.32 seconds. He ran fifth in his career debut last month at Keeneland. "He's an honest, gutsy colt and there's more to come from him," said owner/trainer John Ennis.
On the international front:
While Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore were at Churchill Downs waiting for Mendelssohn to contest the Kentucky Derby, another of their charges got the day off to a rousing start with a victory in Saturday's Group 1 Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in England. Saxon Warrior, a Japanese-bred colt by Deep Impact out of the Galileo mare Maybe, raced in mid-pack until the final 200 meters down the straight course, surged quickly to the fore and held off a determined bid by 50-1 longshot Tip to Win, scoring by 1 1/2 lengths over that rival.
Godolphin's prime 3-year-old hope, Masar, went to the post as favorite in the first of the season's British Classics and stayed on for third, a short head behind Tip to Win.
Donnacha O'Brien subbed for Moore in the plate, scoring his first Classic win and his trainer-father's 300th at the Group 1 level, as Saxon Warrior scored his fourth win sans loss. It was his first run of the year. Asked if he expects Saxon Warrior to carry on to the Investec Derby in June, owner Michael Tabor said, "Like night follows day."
Sunday's Group 1 Qipco 1000 Guineas produced a rather stunning upset as Billesdon Brook, under Sean Levey, took the lead a furlong from the wire and held sway. Laurens was second and the favorite, Happily, settled for third without ever threatening the winner -- another setback for O'Brien and the Coolmore Lads.
Billesdon Brook, at odds of 66-1, scored her fourth win from 10 starts. None of the earlier was at this level.
Deep Impact sired the first two finishers in Sunday's Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup at Tokyo Racecourse as Keiai Nautique rallied from next-last to post a narrow upset win over Gibeon. Keiai Nautique broke a step slowly for jockey Yusuke Fujioka and was well behind the leaders until the hit the turn. Swinging around the field with a perfectly timed effort, Fujioka found another gear from Keiai Nautique, who finished in 1:32.8.
"He was a bit slow to pick up speed so we had to race from behind," said Fujioka, who scored his first JRA Grade 1 win. "But he more than made up with his speed and sheer determination. His potential is so great and I think he can handle longer distance."
The favorite, Godolphin-owned and Darley-Japan-bred Tower of London, stumbled at the start, raced mid-field while saving ground and was hopelessly bottled up on the rail through the stretch run. The Raven's Pass colt, whose owners have Royal Ascot aspirations, finished 12th in the field of 14 colts and four fillies.
Hero's Honor, a winner only once previously from five starts, got the job done in Saturday's SA Derby, emerging from a pace-stalking trip in the final strides to edge the favorite, Surcharge, by 1 1/2 lengths. Noble Secret was third. Hero's Honor is by Await the Dawn out of the Galileo mare Grail Maiden.
Coral Fever posted another upset over the Turffontein course in the Premier's Champions Challenge. At odds of 7-1, Coral Fever edged Abashiri while multiple Horse of the year Legal Eagle faded from a pace battle to finish eight lengths in arrears.
Exultant, under Zac Purton, took a long-awaited step toward the top ranks of Hong Kong runners with a confident victory in Sunday's Group 3 Queen Mother Memorial Handicap at 2,400 meters over the Sha Tin turf. Next-last the first time past the line, Exultant bided his time patiently until Purton called on him about 1,200 meters from the wire. He quickly cruised to the lead, picked up the tempo and cruised away, winning by 6 lengths over Prawn Baba. It was his first stakes win.
"I think he's at his best at 2,000 meters and above," said winning trainer Tony Cruz. "But, unfortunately, there aren't many races for horses like him. When he gets conditions to suit, he's capable of a win like he produced today. He showed everyone his class." Cruz said he now must consider Exultant for the Group 1 Champions & Chater Cup, also at 2,400 meters, the final Group 1 of the Hong Kong season. "I've already got a few horses for the race but, on his performance, I think he deserves his chance if he's okay after today," Cruz said. "At this stage, I'll also have Pakistan Star, Time Warp and Gold Mount in there, but given he's just won by 6 lengths, I think Exultant should be there too."
Back in North America, around the ovals:
Hard Study took charge late in Friday's $100,000 Flat Out Stakes and kicked away to a 5 1/2-lengths victory. Zanotti was second, Backsideofthemoon finished third. Hard Study, a 5-year-old son of Big Brown, ran 1 3/8 miles on a fast track in 2:17.02 with Manny Franco riding.
Double Star went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Equine Sales Derby for 3-year-old colts and geldings from qualified sales, took back and came again with authority, winning by 2 3/4 lengths from Honor My Speed. Double Star, a Star Guitar colt, got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.21.
Charlee's Magic dueled for the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Tall Stack Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-olds, finally edged clear in the late going and won by 1 3/4 lengths. Over Icee was along for second and Buster's Boy settled for third after contesting the pace. Charlee's Magic, a Jump Start gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:18.40 with Irwin Rosendo riding.
Fight to Glory was quickly out front of three rivals in Saturday's $50,000 L'Etoile du Nord Stakes for fillies and mares and wasn't challenged, winning by 4 lengths over Hotshot Anna. Escape Clause and Shar Ran completed the order of finish. Fight to Glory, a 4-year-old daughter of American Lion, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.46 under Orlando Mojica.
Only three turned out for Saturday's $50,000 Paul Bunyon Stakes and Malibu Max rallied late to finish best of the small lot. Bourbon Cowboy finished second and World Famous Sam T was a distant third. Malibu Max, a 5-year-old son of Malibu Moon, got home in 1:10.28 with Jareth Loveberry up.
He's Bankable was, indeed, in Saturday's $75,000 English Channel Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf. Quickly out front, the Arch gelding edged away from the field and won by 2 1/2 lengths over Scrapper. Zippy was third. He's Bankable, with Miguel Vasquez riding, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:43.60.
In the companion Honey Ryder Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Camila Princess rallied from last of eight to win by 2 3/4 lengths from pacesetting Classy Dancer. Sister Sunday was third with a late rush. Camila Princess, a daughter of Animal Kingdom, got home in 1:42.85, also with Vasquez aboard.
Force the Pass dueled down the stretch with the favorite, Irish Strait, before prevailing by a nose. Dalarna was third. Force the Pass, a 6-year-old son of Speightstown out of the Dynaformer mare Social Queen, toured 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.73 under Jevian Toledo.
Tampa Bay Downs
Prospective Lady led all the way to a 1/2-length win in Saturday's $100,000 Ivanavinalot Florida Sire Stakes for eligible state-bred 3-year-old fillies. Starship Bonita was second, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of the odds-on favorite, Florida Fuego. Prospective Lady, a daughter of Prospective, ran 1 mile and 40 yards on a fast track in 1:41.35 with Jose Bracho in the irons.
In the companion Silver Charm FSS for 3-year-old males, Noble Drama was along late to catch pacesetting favorite Yeehaw, winning by 1/2 length over that rival. Boston Breeze was third. Noble Drama, a Gone Astray gelding, finished in 1:40.34 with Willie Martinez riding.
Leona's Reward tracked the leaders in Saturday's $75,000 Dr. T.F. Classen Memorial for Ohio-bred fillies and mares, then was along just in time to win by 1 length over True Cinder. My Girl Friday finished third. Leona's Reward, a 5-year-old Parents' Reward mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.48 with Pablo Morales up.