Bob Baffert was up to his usual, successful tricks with 2-year-olds during the pre-Thanksgiving weekend while Mr. Misunderstood continued his dominance of Churchill Downs.
In top-shelf racing on the international front, Stelvio secured the Mile Championship in Japan. And at Sha Tin Racecourse, the local candidates for the Dec. 9 Longines Hong Kong International Races put on a show that should intimidate would-be foreign contenders.
Before we get going on the weekend results, let's note Thanksgiving week, as always, delivers a cornucopia of fabulous racing with major graded stakes at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, Del Mar, Golden Gate and Woodbine -- not to mention the Japan Cup at Tokyo and its companion Cattleya Sho, the first race in the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby " series. Watch for results and previews of all that while digesting the turkey!
Starting with the youngsters:
Mucho Gusto, another in the long line of promising juveniles saddled by Bob Baffert, shook loose from a crowded start to lead the way in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Bob Hope at Del Mar and kept on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Savagery was second, a head in front of Sparky Ville. Mucho Gusto, a Mucho Macho Man colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.51 for jockey Joe Talamo, running his record to 2-for-2.
"He's a pretty cool horse," Baffert said of Mucho Gusto. "There's nothing flashy about him but he gets the job done. They went fast early but when they came to him, he rebroke like the good ones do."
Baffert teamed with Talamo for another nice juvenile win as Coliseum led virtually gate-to-wire in the day's first race and won by 6 3/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. The Tapit colt, owned and bred by Godolphin, got 7 furlongs in 1:23.13 in his career debut.
"My barn is all younger horses, and it's nice when they're running well," Baffert reflected Sunday morning. "Our clients get excited about these 2-year-old races and Derbies, but usually when they get older their value is at stud and they leave. There are challenges. Things can go wrong. But that's what we do and it's fun."
Sunday at Woodbine, Avie's Flatter took back after a stumbling start in the $225,000 (Canadian) Coronation Futurity for Canadian-foaled 2-year-olds, raced wide all the way and still was able to get home first, winning by 1/2 length over Federal Law. Mood Swings was third. Avie's Flatter, a Flatter colt trained by Josie Carroll, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:51.73 under Eurico Da Silva. He also captured the Cup and Saucer turf stakes Oct. 7 at Woodbine and now is 3-for-4 in his juvenile campaign. Queen's Plate, anyone?
Café Du Monde, never far back, rallied by the leaders in the lane to take Saturday evening's $100,000 Louisiana Legacy stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds by a widening 2-lengths gap. Jimi's a Star was second, another 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Musada. Café Du Monde, a New Year's Day colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.95 with Gerard Melancon riding. He finished second and first in two previous starts at Gulfstream Park.
Preferred Guest found an extra gear down the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) South Ocean Stakes for Ontario-sired 2-year-old fillies, running past the dueling leaders to win by 3/4 length. The favorite, Notice Me, was second, 2 1/2 lengths in front of the tiring early leader, Miss Ariel. Preferred Guest, a daughter of Society's Chairman, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:46.10 with Jerome Lermyte up, winning for the first time in four starts.
Mobil Lady circled the field at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Glacial Princess Stakes for Ohio-breds at Mahoning Valley Race Course and outfinished Show Me Some Sass to win by 3/4 length. The odds-on favorite, Hey Adrian, was part of the three-way early pace battle and could only salvage show money. Mobil Lady, by Mobil, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:14.96 with Christian Pilares in the irons.
With apologies: Good Profit returned $6 for a $2 win bet -- a $4 profit -- after a stretch-running victory in Friday's $75,000 Louisiana Jewel for state-bred 2-year-old fillies at Delta Downs. The odds-on favorite, Silvercents, returned only a silver dime's profit on a $2 place or show bet. Good Profit, a daughter of Guilt Trip from the Charismatic mare Charming Colleen, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:41.96 with Gerard Melancon in the irons.
On the international scene:
Stelvio, with William Buick at the controls, shot through between rivals in the final 100 meters to win Sunday's Grade 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto by a head. Last year's winner, Persian Knight found the same hold and accelerated with Stelvio but could never quite close the gap. Al Ain finished third.
Stelvio became the second straight 3-year-old winner of the event. He, Buick and trainer Tetsuya Kimura all notched their first Japanese Grade 1 win.
"It's my first Grade 1 win in Japan and this race is obviously one of the world's biggest mile races so it's very special for me," Buick said. "The horse was in great condition and when I saw he was drawn 1, I thought that if he can make use of the draw and get a good position, he has a chance, which the horse managed to do. He had a good finishing kick. He won like a class horse and hopefully this is the beginning of this horse's Grade 1 career."
Mozu Ascot, a Frankel colt who went to the post as the favorite, got home 13th as jockey Christophe Lemaire could not find running room. Second-favorite Aerolithe was 12th under Ryan Moore.
Stelvio, a 3-year-old colt by Lord Kanaloa, did better against older rivals than against his own generation. Earlier in the season he finished fourth and eighth, respectively, in the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2000 Guineas and the Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby.
Saturday's local preps for the Longines Hong Kong International races proved several things, notably that the home team will be hard to beat in the Dec. 9 showdowns.
They also confirmed Beauty Generation's status as the world's top turf miler and confirmed Joao Moreira hasn't lost anything during his sojurn to Japan. Beauty Generation, Hong Kong's reigning Horse of the Year, and Eagle Way, both trained by John Moore, set course records.
Beauty Generation's victory in the Group 2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile was so impressive it invited comparisons with Australia's star mare Winx. Jockey Zac Purton initially took back behind some early speed. But as the leaders slowed, he quickly urged Beauty Generation nearing the turn. Turning into the stretch, Beauty Generation was fully in charge but drifted far out past the middle of the track while winning by 3 lengths over Southern Legend in record time of 1:32.64.
Southern Legend's trainer, Caspar Fownes, called the winner's performance "Winx-like." And Moore compared it to his former star, Able Friend, the 2014-15 Hong Kong Horse of the Year.
In the Group 2 BOCHK Jockey Club Cup, Time Warp and Glorious Forever set a hot early pace, then had nothing left in the lane as Eagle Way swooped down the outside to win by 1 length, followed by Exultant and 2016-17 Horse of the Year Werther. Eagle Way finished the 2,000 meters in 1:59.30, still full of run, and Moore said he now will consider the 6-year-old for the Longines Hong Kong Cup at the same distance, rather than the 2,400-meters Vase -- his original target.
Moreira took a while to get going on his return after failing an initial bid to win a permanent license in Japan. He was unplaced in his first six rides but then rode the final three winners, starting with the front-running victory on Hot King Prawn in the BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint for trainer John Size. Mr Stunning and the Beat the Clock chased the favorite home but couldn't make up any ground in the stretch and settled for second and third, 1/2 length and another 3/4 length in arrears.
Final fields for the international events will be set after supplemental entries close Monday.
Master The World won Saturday's Betway Churchill Stakes at Lingfield Park for the second straight year, rallying in the final strides for jockey Sean Leavey to nip Big Country. The favorite, Addeybb, was third. The victory guarantees Master The World a spot in the Betway Easter Classic on the Good Friday, April 19, finals of the All-Weather Championship. He also won that race last season, promoted by the stewards after suffering stretch interference.
"Master The World is a good old boy and he likes it around here," said trainer David Elsworth. "He will have a bit of a break now until the spring and then he may have a prep race, or else he might come straight back for the Betway Winter Derby."
In the day's other Fast-Track Qualifier, trainer Hugo Palmer also enjoyed a repeat victory in the day's other Fast-Track Qualifier but with 3-year-old Encrypted, who won the Betway Golden Rose Stakes while Palmer's defending champ, Gifted Master, finished fifth. Encrypted got to the front inside the furlong marker and held off Intisaab by a head. The son of Showcasing earned a spot in the 6-furlongs Betway All-Weather Sprint Championship on Good Friday.
"I had to sit and suffer a bit, as Encypted can be a bit keen," said winning rider Josephine Gordon. "But I think he is even better on the all-weather as he has just beaten some really competitive horses and he has done it nicely. I think there is a lot more to come."
Making the rounds of the ovals:
Saturday's $200,000 Red Smith came off the grass onto a fast main track with 10 scratches from the original overflow field. The survivor was Village King, who settled off the early speed, came four-wide to take the lead in the stretch and won by a nose over Soglio. Control Group and the favorite, Exulting, were third and fourth. Village King, a 4-year-old, Argentine-bred colt, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.95 with Javier Castellano riding.
Village King's trainer, Todd Pletcher, saw the off-the-turf switcheroo as an opportunity. "This horse had trained pretty well on the dirt. He had also run well in South America on the dirt so we felt it was worth a try," Pletcher said. "It kind of gives us a ton of options going forward from here. He seems versatile and we'll see what's next."
Gold for the King swallowed up the leaders turning for home in Sunday's $125,000 Thunder Rumble Division of the New York Stallion Stakes and quickly put the matter to rest. The 4-year-old Posse gelding, quickly out front, kept going to win by 9 1/4 lengths. Winston's Chance beat the other three. Gold for the King, with Joel Rosario riding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.25. "He was just the best horse in the race," Rosario said. He now 3-for-4 in NYSS events.
Mr. Misunderstood needed the best part of the long Churchill Downs stretch to overhaul and pass Big Changes in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III River City Handicap. But the 4-year-old Archarcharch gelding, the odds-on favorite, finally got the job done and inched away to win by 1/2 length. It was another 4 1/2 lengths to Team Colors in third. Mr. Misunderstood, with Florent Geroux at the controls, got 9 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:55.94. He now is 4-for-4 on the Churchill Downs turf but exited sixth-place finish in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland.
Trainer Brad Cox said Mr. Misunderstood "will probably get a little bit of a break before we bring him back at Fair Grounds and if he keeps improving we'll keep the Breeders' Cup on our target for next year."
Ours to Run did plenty of running late in Sunday's $50,000 Happy Ticket Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares, showing her heels to seven rivals in an 8 3/4-lengths victory. The favorite, My Miss Chiff, was second, a nose to the good of Shakopee Town. Ours to Run, a 4-year-old Half Ours filly, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.42 with Gabriel Saenz up.
Monte Man showed the way in Saturday's $50,000 Heitai Stakes for Louisiana-breds and rolled home first, beating Divine Bean by 2 3/4 lengths. It was the same margin again to Greeley Went West in third. Monte Man, a 5-year-old Custom for Carlos gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.23 with Saez riding.
Remember Daisy got to the lead in the lane in Thursday's $50,000 Tom Benson Memorial for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares and survived the late bid of Eskenformore to win by a neck. Bermuda Star was third. Remember Daisy, a 3-year-old daughter of Misremembered, ran about 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.69 with Mitchell Murrill in the irons.
In the Navy cruised right behind the early leader in Friday's $50,000 Mr. Sulu Stakes for state-breds, took over when prompted by jockey Adam Beschizza and sailed on to win by 1 length over Grande Basin. Ninety One Assault was third. In the Navy, a 4-year-old Midshipman gelding, ran about 1 mile on firm going in 1:37.98.
Solid Wager raced well off the early pace in Sunday's $100,000 Cary Grant Stakes for California-breds, came well wide into the stretch and easily cleared the field, winning by 6 1/4 lengths. The favorite, Edwards Going Left, was left in second, 1/2 length to the good of Brandothebartender. Solid Wager, a 7-year-old Birdonthewire gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.47 with Drayden Van Dyke up.
Mocito Rojo opened a big lead in the stretch run in Saturday evening's $75,000 Delta Mile and coasted home first, 3 1/4 lengths in front of Line Judge. The favorite, Secret Passage, rallied from last of seven to get show money, 3 1/2 lengths farther in arrears. Mocito Rojo, a 4-year-old colt by Mutadda, finished in 1:38.03 under Filemon Rodriguez.
Testing One Two raced right behind the leading pair through the early furlongs of Friday's $75,000 Treasure Chest Stakes for fillies and mares, hooked Inspeightof through a tight stretch duel and prevailed by a neck over that one. Early leader Americium finished third. Testing One Two, a 3-year-old daughter of Star Guitar out of the Scat Daddy mare Yes Sir, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.49 with Diego Saenz up.
Welder pressed the pace in Friday's $70,000 Silver Goblin Stakes for Oklahoma-breds, asserted himself in the lane and won off by 6 1/4 lengths as the 1-20 favorite. Shannon C, Rockport Kat and Perfect to Please completed the order of finish. Welder, a 5-year-old gelding by The Visualizer, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.61 with David Cabrera up. There was no place or show wagering and Welder returned $2.10 for a $2 win ticket.
Mahoning Valley Race Course
Leona's Reward settled just behind the leaders in Saturday's $75,000 Ruff/Kirchberg Memorial Handicap for Ohio-breds, hooked up in a stretch duel in tight quarters with Mobil Solution, then edged away to win by 2 1/4 lengths over that rival. Mobil At Last was third. Leona's Reward, a 5-year-old mare by Parents' Reward, finished 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:54.48 with Luis Colon up.
T Rex Empress led all the way in Saturday night's $50,000 My Sister Pearl Stakes for West Virginia-bred fillies and mares and prevailed over Frozen Tundra by 1 3/4 lengths. The track wasn't frozen tundra but it was muddy and sealed and T Rex Empress, a 5-year-old Warrior's Reward mare, needed 1:55.57 to cover 9 furlongs. Gerald Almodovar rode for trainer Jeff Runco, who saddled the entire trifecta ($52.80 for $1).
Golden Gate Fields
Saturday's racing, including the $50,000 Oakland Stakes at 6 furlongs on the all-weather course, was canceled because of the smoke from California's devastating wildfires. Racing did resume Sunday.
News and Notes:
Here's one that wasn't hard to handicap and couldn't be more deserved:
The Turf Publicists of America announced Friday the 2018 Big Sport of Turfdom award will be presented posthumously to John Asher, the late vice president of racing communications at Churchill Downs and a former TPA president. The award recognizes a person or group of people who enhance coverage of Thoroughbred racing through cooperation with media and racing publicists.
"The TPA tagline is 'telling great stories since 1951' and no one told horse racing's stories better than John Asher," said TPA President Rhonda Norby. "The Big Sport of Turfdom award is about honoring a person who promotes the sport in cooperation with the media, and there is no one more deserving for this award than John."