Hi Happy (yellow cap) en route to victory in Saturday's Grade I Man o' War at Belmont Park. Photo courtesy of Robert Mauhar/NYRA
Hi Happy won the Grade I Man o' War on a stellar program at Belmont Park to highlight weekend Thoroughbred racing while the English, Irish and French 3-year-olds jostled for room in their countries' upcoming Classics.
Redzel was defeated, albeit narrowly, in Australia in an early run-up to the second Everest Stakes.
And, the question of the day: Is Pink Lloyd, as his trainer suggests, the "LeBron James of Canadian horse racing?" See the Woodbine section, below.
But we'll get the game going with:
The Triple Crown
Blended Citizen, after just missing the Kentucky Derby field, rewarded his connections with a late-running, 1/2-length victory in Saturday's $350,000 Grade III Peter Pan at Belmont Park. The Proud Citizen colt, with Kyle Frey up, caught Core Beliefs, the show horse in the Santa Anita Derby, in the final yards. The early leader, Just Whistle, faded in the lane to get home third, 4 lengths farther back. Blended Citizen, saddled by Doug O'Neill, finished 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.75.
Blended Citizen won the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park but then finished fifth in the Grade II Blue Grass at Keeneland, missing his chance to make the Derby field. He was the lone "also-entered" and excluded when there were no scratches from the 20-horse field.
"When horses started to drop out of the Kentucky Derby we thought we'd take a chance there and we didn't get it," said assistant trainer Jack Sisterson. "But everything happens for a reason and here we are today."
He said the Belmont Stakes is a possibility.
"We wish Justify the best and hope he'll win the Preakness for a chance with a Triple Crown on the line. But we like our chances and he'll stay here and train up to it," Sisterson said.
Meanwhile, trainer Chad Brown confirmed Sunday that Derby runner-up and 2017 juvenile champion Good Magic will take on Justify again in Saturday's Preakness Stakes. "The horse has just been training very well since the Derby," Brown said. "He bounced out of the race in great condition and I think he deserves a chance in the race. He's doing great."
In each of the past two years, the Derby runner-up finished ahead of the Derby winner in the Preakness but Brown said that's no indicator that Justify is beatable. Good Magic, the trainer said, "needs to again move forward and we need to have Justify come back to us a little bit. I think that the margin that I saw between the two horses (2 1/2 lengths) is not out of the question that we'll be able to make up that difference."
Quip, owned by the same partnership as Justify, put in his final pre-Preakness work Sunday at Keeneland, touring 4 furlongs in 48 1/4 under his trainer, Rodolphe Brisset. "It was a usual maintenance work for him," Brisset said. Quip finished second behind Magnum Moon in the Grade I Arkansas Derby, then passed up the Run for the Roses.
Justify has remained at Churchill Downs and galloped 1 1/2 miles there Sunday morning. Kentucky Derby sixth-place finisher, Bravazo, also a Preakness candidate, worked 4 furlongs in 50 3/5 under the twin spires.
Preps for the "original" Derby:
It was an interesting weekend on the Derby trail, and perhaps a disheartening one, for Coolmore's "Lads," trainer Aidan O'Brien and jockey Ryan Moore. Although Coolmore had three live chances in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at home at Leopardstown, Moore journeyed to Paris Sunday to partner U S Navy Flag in the Group 1 Emirates Poule d'Essai des Poulains. The War Front colt, a full brother to star filly Roly Poly, looked a potential world-beater last season, winning a pair of Group 1 events at Newmarket, including a defeat of Mendelssohn. But he finished 10th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and, after finishing a fading fifth Sunday at Longchamp, now has disappointed twice as a 3-year-old. Sunday's loss was perhaps partly explained by a stumble and a resulting controversy over the safety of the Longchamp middle track. The later Group 1 Emirates Poule d'Essai des Poulains was moved to the outer course after jockey objections.
The picture was much brighter for Olmedo, who came from mid-field to win the Longchamp classic by a neck over Hey Gaman. The Declaration of War colt, with Cristian Demuro up for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget, avenged a narrow loss to Wooton in his only previous start of the season. Dice Roll was third and Wooton fourth on Sunday. Rouget said the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club, rather than the alternative St James's Palace at Royal Ascot, now is the target.
At Derrinstown, O'Brien fielded Nelson, Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon, who filled the first three places in the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes over course and distance April 14. But it was Hazapour, a Shamardal colt from the Aga Khan's stud and stable, who took the lead in the final furlong and held on to win by 3/4 length over Delano Roosevelt with The Pentagon third and Nelson fading from the lead to get home fourth. Hazapour, making his first start of the season, showed vast improvement after a non-taxing 2-year-old campaign.
The Derrinstown race is an important Derby pointer. Sinndar in 2000, Galileo in 2001 and High Chaparral in 2002 all won this heat before snatching the Derby honors. Trainer Dermot Weld noted Hazapour is a close relative -- an "uncle" -- of Harzand, the winner of the 2016 Derby, adding to Racing Post, "He represents the family well. We'll see if he can emulate his uncle. That's the plan."
The Aga Khan already has five Derby winners: Shergar (1981), Shahrastani (1986), Kahyasi (1988), Sinndar (2000) and Harzand (2016).
Trials continue next week at York with the Group 3 Tattersalls Musidora Stakes Wednesday and the Group 2 Betfred Dante Stakes Thursday.
Tappal, French-bred by English-trained by David Simcock, was along late to defeat Coure De Beaute by a short neck in Sunday's Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches at ParisLongchamp. Wind Chimes finished third. Tappal, by Camacho, remains undefeated after three starts, the previous two coming last year at Lingfield and over the Kempton all-weather course.
At Leopardstown, Who's Steph came to the lead a furlong out in Sunday's Group 3 Derrinstown Stud 1,000 Guineas Trial and held on to defeat Ship of Dreams by 1 length with Alghabrah third. Who's Steph, a daughter of Zoffany, scored her second win from as many starts on the season for trainer G.M. Lyons. Hard as it is to believe, Aidan O'Brien had only a single filly among the 11 starters -- Ballet Shoes, who finished fifth. His son, Joseph O'Brien, fielded two, including Ship of Dreams.
Elsewhere this weekend:
Hi Happy, a four-time Group 1 winner in his native Argentina, got his first U.S. win at the highest level with a handy, pace-stalking win in Saturday's $700,000 Grade I Man o' War at Belmont Park. After tracking pacesetter One Go All Go, the 6-year-old son of Pure Prize took the lead a furlong out and held off the late charge of Sadler's Joy, winning by 1/2 length. One Go All Go held on for third. Hi Happy, ridden by Luis Saez, ran 11 furlongs on good turf in 2:14.79.
"We had a feeling we would be right there, but everything came so well," Saez said. "When we came to the three-eighths, he was ready to run. I felt the other horses coming, but he never gave up. He was always trying, so I just kept going with him and he finished very strongly."
Winning trainer Todd Pletcher said Hi Happy could be pointed to the $1 million Grade I Woodford Reserve Manhattan on Belmont Stakes Day on Saturday, June 9.
"We'll see how he bounces out of it," Pletcher said.
Filly & Mare Turf
As suggested here Thursday, German import A Raving Beauty was the standout in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Beaugay at Belmont Park, emerging from a pace-stalking trip to win the 1 1/16-miles test by 3 lengths over the favorite, Inflexibility. Lido was just a neck behind in third. A Raving Beauty, a 5-year-old Mastercraftsman mare, finished in 1:41.64 over good turf with Irad Ortiz Jr. up for trainer Chad Brown. Brown also trains Inflexibility.
"She broke a lot better than I thought she would," Brown said of A Raving Beauty. "I thought Irad did a really good job to cover up. He had a choice there at the first eighth to maybe put her outside the other speed horse to see if he could settle her that way or cover up. But I think if he chose to put her outside she might have run off so I think he really won the race by choosing to cover up and then she did settle down."
A Raving Beauty was making her first U.S. start after a reasonably satisfactory early career in Germany, France and Italy. She wrapped up that part of her story finishing second in the Group 1 Premio Lydia Tesio at Capannelle last Ocober.
Triple Chelsea got rolling late in Saturday's $70,000 Unbridled Sydney Stakes for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs, just in time to nip pacesetting Morticia by a head. Long shot Excessivespending was another head behind in third. Triple Chelsea, a 5-year-old mare by Japanese-bred sire Hat Trick, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.23 seconds under Adam Beschizza. She notched her third straight win at three different tracks -- Fair Grounds, Keeneland and Churchill Downs. She was second in last year's Unbridled Sydney.
"She's typically an aggressive mare from the gate and we got into a good stalking position, just like she likes," Beschizza said. "She has run some very good races sprinting on the turf so I knew we would be very competitive. She does her best running late and even though the trip didn't entirely go to plan, her class followed through."
Westwood battled with the favorite, Skyler's Scramjet, through most of Saturday's $150,000 Runhappy Stakes at Belmont Park, opened a slim lead in the lane and held on to win by 3/4 length. Skyler's Scramjet finished second, 3/4 length to the good of Always Sunshine. Westwood, a 4-year-old Bernardini gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.45 with John Velazquez up. The Godolphin sprinter now has four wins, two seconds and a third from eight starts.
"He's a very nice horse," said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "It looks like 6 furlongs might be best for him and there's plenty of opportunities. He's a gelding so we won't think too highly looking at Grade Is or anything, but we'll just spot him around."
Matrooh rallied five wide from last of nine to win Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Hanshin Cup at Arlington Park. At mid-stretch, it appeared Goneghost had the race wrapped up. But with Santo Sanjur riding, Matrooh, an 8-year-old Distorted Humor gelding, came with a rush, ran by and won by an impressive 2 1/2 lengths. Goneghost held second, 5 lengths ahead of Western Elegance while the favorite, Master Merion got home fourth after a stumbling start.
Matrooh, a graded stakes winner three years ago, was taken for $25,000 in his third start in the claiming ranks during this year's Oaklawn Park meeting. He earned almost double that price while winning an allowance event in his last Arkansas start.
"I just let him break, and he broke really well," said Sanjur, who notched his first graded stakes win. "It was easy after that. I knew that I had a lot of horse."
Mr. Jordan prompted the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Big Drama Stakes at Gulfstream Park, got by Kroy in the final furlongs and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over that one. It was 5 more lengths back to Hy Riverside in third and the favorite, Three Rules, reported fifth. Mr. Jordan, a 6-year-old Kantharos gelding, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.17 with Edgard Zayas in the irons. It was his ninth win from 29 starts overall but first in his 13th start at Gulfstream. "When they say he can't win on this racetrack, well, today he won on this racetrack," said trainer Eddie Plesa Jr.
Kanthaka got through between horses at the top of the lane in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Lazaro Barrera Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita and kept running, winning by 3/4 length from Beautiful Shot. Zulfikhar was third. Kanthaka, a Jimmy Creed colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.23 with Flavien Prat riding. It was his first step off the Triple Crown trail, where he won the Grade II San Vicente, finished third in the Grade II San Felipe and finished sixth in the Grade II Blue Grass at Keeneland.
"When he saw the opening, he went right through," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "So I was really proud of him and the rider. I think he has the potential to run longer distances but there are 7-furlong races that fit him really good."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Kirby's Penny outfinished Chalon in the stretch run of Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Vagrancy Handicap at Belmont Park, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over that rival. The favorite, Holiday Disguise, was third, 3 1/4 lengths farther in arrears. Kirby's Penny, a 5-year-old Macho Uno mare, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a good track in 1:16.42 with John Velazquez in the irons for trainer Wesley Ward. Claimed twice during the 2017 spring meet at Keeneland, the victory was her fifth win from her last seven starts.
"Ultimately, what we'll try to do is try to get her in the [Breeders' Cup] Filly & Mare Sprint in the fall at Churchill," Ward said. "She'll probably get a race in Saratoga and sometimes it rains a lot there, so hopefully we'll get lucky again, and then in the fall at Keeneland. It gets a little rainy there too. That's the key, is she loves an off going."
Jockey Eurico Da Silva had his hands full with Sly Beauty in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Star Shoot Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine. But, despite racing rank and drifting out in the stretch after taking the lead, the Into Mischief filly managed to win by 1/2 length over pacesetting Closer Still. The favorite, Dream It Is, checked in third. Sly Beauty, trained by Mark Casse, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.03.
"I gave her a big warm up and the last quarter was tough," said Da Silva. "She was running off with me and I was very close to clipping a heel there one time. Finally, in the turn she gave me a little break and when I swung outside she just took off from there. She ran a big race."
On the international scene:
Jour Polaire began picking up rivals from the middle of the pack through the stretch run of Sunday's Group 1 Victoria Mile at Tokyo Racecourse, hit the lead just before the wire and just before the favorite, Lys Gracieux, arrived on the outside to finish second. Red Advancer and Aerolithe finished third and fourth in a blanket finish. Soul Stirring, the filly who gave Frankel her first Grade 1 win as a sire, continued to disappoint as a 4-year-old, finishing seventh.
Jour Polaire, a 5-year-old Deep Impact mare, finished in 1:32.3 over good turf. It was her sixth win from 14 starts but the first at the Grade 1 level. "I wasn't worried about the rain and going getting softer because it was perfect for my mare," jockey Hideaki Miyuki said. "I was hoping to race a little more near the pace. She showed a great turn of foot but it was so close, I couldn't make out if we were beaten by Lys Gracieux from the outside at the end or not."
The top three finishers in the Victoria Mile earned automatic, fees-paid starting positions in the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) Aug. 12 at Deauville, plus a transportation subsidy.
English led a trio of upsetters in Saturday's Group 1 Kirin Doomben 10,000, leading Impending and Le Romain across the wire with the hot favorite, Redzel, settling for fourth. English, a 5-year-old Encosta De Lago mare, trained by Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott, finished the 1,200 meters in 1:09.58 over soft going with Tim Clark in the irons. It was her 15th start in a Group 1 event and only her second win. Bott said the victory was sufficient to keep moving forward with English, possibly pushing her to a try in the Everest in October -- a race in which she finished sixth last year as Redzel landed the big prize. Jockey Kerrin McEvoy said Redzel performed well despite the loss. "He was only beaten half a length," McEvoy said. "When I asked for a kick he gave one. He just found a couple better on the day."
Back in North America, around the ovals:
O'Kratos stalked the pace in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Marine Stakes for 3-year-olds on the Woodbine all-weather, charged to the lead in the lane and survived the late threat of Machtree, winning by 3/4 length over that rival. It was another 6 1/4 lengths back to Aheadbyacentury in third. O'Kratos, a Paddy O'Prado colt, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.90 with Eurico Da Silva up. As a Kentucky-bred, he is not eligible for the Queen's Plate but several others in the field are pursuing that goal.
Pink Lloyd rolled to his 10th straight stakes victory in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) New Providence Stakes for Ontario-breds, leading most of the way to score by 6 1/4 lengths. Lokinforpursemoney, Goodoldhockeygame and Marten River completed the order of finish. Pink Lloyd, a 6-year-old Old Forester gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:09.60 with Da Silva riding. He now now has 13 career wins from 15 starts including back-to-back renewals of the Jacques Cartier and New Providence Stakes. "You just watched this horse win his 10th stakes in a row and we should really appreciate this horse because they just don't come along," said trainer Robert Tiller. "The LeBron James of Canadian horse racing. Does that fit? That's what I'm saying."
With only three horses facing the starter, Engage and Forced staged a virtual match race down the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Gold Fever Stakes for 3-year-olds with Engage finally prevailing by a nose. The only other starter, A Different Style, chased the early pace, then faded to finish 19 1/4 lengths behind Forced. Engage, an Into Mischief colt, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:09.95 with Jose Ortiz up.
Emboldened rallied alongside the favorite, Moonshine Memories in Saturday's $100,000 Angels Flight Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and kicked away from that rival in the late running to win by 2 1/4 lengths. First Dudette led briefly and held on for show money at odds of nearly 40-1. Emboldened, an Elusive Quality filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.59 with Martin Garcia up. Bob Baffert trains the filly for Godolphin.
Berned opened a daylight lead in the stretch in Saturday's $60,000 Serena's Song Stakes for fillies and mares and ran on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over A Place to Shine. Teresa J was 3 1/2 lengths farther back in third as the favorite. Berned, a 4-year-old daughter of Bernardini, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a sloppy track in 1:42.14 with Jersey Joe Bravo up.
Buckeye Bullet, the prohibitive favorite, put a little scare into his backers, just holding on in the final strides to win Saturday's $75,000 Michael F. Rowland Memorial for Ohio-breds by 1/2 length after leading all the way. Bubba J and Eightthehardway were both hot on the trail, finishing second and third, a nose apart. Buckeye Bullet, a 5-year-old gelding by Dark Kestrel, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.28 with Luis Quinonez aboard.
Court Date ran like he had one in Saturday's $50,000 It's Only Money Stakes for West Virginia-breds, making all the pace en route to a 1-length victory over Eutaw Street. The odds-on favorite, Aaron's Tap, finished fifth with a rough trip. Court Date, a 4-year-old Fiber Sonde gelding, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 52.72 seconds with Gerald Almodovar in the irons.
Golden Gate Fields
Bella Luma circled five-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $65,000 Golden Poppy Stakes for fillies and mares and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Coachwhip. Dream Archer was third. Bella Luma a 4-year-old filly by Minister's Wild Cat, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.12 for jockey Catalino Martinez.
With apologies to the late Phil Georgeff, Spinning Top came spinning out of the turn in Sunday's $75,000 Tomboy Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-old fillies, circled the leaders and just caught pacesetting Missap, winning by 1/2 length. Keep the Ring was third and Heavenhasmynikki, the odds-on favorite after finishing ninth in the Kentucky Oaks the previous weekend, was a fading fifth. Spinning Top, a Data Link filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.45 with Carlos Villasana up.