Almond Eye's victory in Sunday's Japan Cup over older and more experienced male rivals announced her arrival as Japan's top horse and the nation's latest hope to finally win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Leofric won the weekend's biggest U.S. race, the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, possibly paving the path to the Pegasus in January in Florida.
There were Kentucky Derby preps at Churchill Downs and in Tokyo, although the latter was won by a filly.
The most impressive effort of the weekend, however, was:
The Japan Cup
Japan's leading rider, Christophe Lemaire, said he knew Almond Eye was a winner shortly after the start of Sunday's Grade 1 Japan Cup in association with Longines. The Lord Kanaloa filly drew the inside post in a field of 14 and Lemaire said feared either asking her for too much too early, or getting trapped in traffic.
But Almond Eye broke alertly and as the field swung around the first turn on the Tokyo Racecourse turf, Lemaire settled her second, behind Kiseki.
"I was very happy with how the race was going on," Lemaire said in the post-race interview. "I really enjoyed being in such a position with such a filly. I knew the race was over."
Almond Eye maintained her position until midway down the stretch, accelerated smoothly when asked to go and won by a comfortable 2 1/2 lengths. Kiseki held second with Suave Richard third and last year's winner, Cheval Grand, fourth. Almond Eye's seemingly effortless win was accomplished in course-record time of 2:20.6, albeit over firmer than normal going.
Neither of the foreign runners, Capri and Thundering Blue, was ever a factor in the race, which has been the sole province of Japanese horses since Alkaased won in 2005.
Although Almond Eye had easily swept through the Japanese filly Triple Crown series earlier in the year, Sunday's race was a statement of her superiority and an invitation to expand her owners' ambitions.
"She's a special horse," Lemaire said. "With special horses you can go anywhere and choose the race you want to win. When you see what she did today, you can expect her to do that, or at least be competitive, in the big races."
"She is a monster, a machine," he added. "I don't know what else to say. She's nearly perfect. She can run in any position. She has a tremendous turn of foot. She's got stamina."
While the list of potential international targets is long, the obvious goal is the Group 1 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe next fall at ParisLongchamp. Asked specifically about the potential for contesting the Arc, trainer Sakae Kunieda said, "Absolutely. We would love to face Enable in that race."
Enable is expected to seek an historic third straight victory in France's signature race. Japanese horsemen, meanwhile, have compiled a string of bitter disappointments in the Arc, dating back to Speed Symboli's 11th-place finish in 1969. The list of Japanese superstars who have failed in Paris includes El Condor Pasa, Deep Impact and Orfevre.
Signalman signaled his readiness for top-level competition with a hard-won victory in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs -- an early pointer to the 2019 Kentucky Derby.
The General Quarters colt, with Brian Hernandez Jr. up, waited behind the leading pack into the stretch, split rivals and got to the front. He then found enough to survive a late bid by Plus Que Parfait, winning by a neck. Limonite, like Plus Que Parfait, rallied from the back of the field to finish third and the favorite, Knicks Go, faded from a pace duel to get home 11th. Signalman, trained by Kenny McPeek, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:45.29.
Signalman, third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, "has taken us a long way so far and It's been a lot of fun," McPeek said. "This is what we all work for." He said the colt will have a break in Florida, then be pointed to one of the major Derby preps. "We'll let him tell us but obviously the big one is in May."
On the Del Mar turf, Flying Scotsman tracked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Cecil B. DeMille for 2-year-olds, took the lead at the top of the stretch and won off by 4 1/2 lengths. Rijeka was best of the rest, 1/2 length ahead of Vantastic. Flying Scotsman, an English Channel colt out of the French Deputy mare Padmore, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.44. "He's done very well since we've had him," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "I think we'll stay on the grass with him in the future if that's possible."
In New York, La Fuerza stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Notebook Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds at Aqueduct, surged to the lead in the lane and won by 2 3/4 lengths. Analyzethisandthat was second with Kosciuszko third. La Fuerza, a Flatter colt trained by Todd Pletcher, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:12.28. Pletcher said his future probably is in the New York-bred program.
Liora set a pressured pace throughout Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs, then gamely held off Restless Rider through a spirited stretch duel. The final margin of victory over the odds-on favorite was a nose with High Regard another 2 1/2 lengths back in third. Liora, a Candy Ride filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:46.24 with Channing Hill in the irons for trainer Wayne Catalano.
Liora took three tries to find the winner's circle, getting the job done Oct. 28 at Churchill Downs. Restless Rider came to the race off a victory in the Grade I Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland and a second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
"On paper it was a really tough race," Catalano said. "This filly showed a lot of talent training for this race. She's been full circle. We ran her at Saratoga and that didn't really work out. Then, we tried her on the grass and she ran okay but when she broke her maiden she showed her talent ... and now she's on the Kentucky Oaks trail."
At Aqueduct on Sunday, the $100,000 Tepin Stakes for 2-year-old fillies came off the grass onto the muddy main track with nine scratches. No More Fast Women ducked in and lost her rider at the start. Guacamole fell to her face out of the gate and was virtually eased. That left South of France to take charge in the stretch run, winning by 5 lengths over Hollywood Glory. Slieve Mish was another 11 3/4 lengths behind in third. South of France, a Quality Road filly, finished the 1 mile in 1:41.17 for jockey John Velazquez. "This turned out to be a good spot when the race came off the grass," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher.
All the way across the Pacific Ocean in Tokyo, Saturday's Cattleya Sho nominally is the first in a four race "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" series. But with a promising filly, American-bred Make Happy, the dominant winner, the race instead might have been a preview of the Kentucky Oaks.
Make Happy, a daughter of Square Eddie, was purchased by the Yoshida family in Florida this spring and won her first start by 10 lengths over the Tokyo dirt. In the Cattleya Sho, she broke alertly, took back and came with a rush after cresting the stretch hill, winning by 2 1/2 lengths.
Teruya Yoshida noted the filly is an unlikely candidate for the Kentucky Derby but did not rule out the Longines Kentucky Oaks. "If she will be this good from now on, we'll consider it," Yoshida said.
The 10 points Make Happy earned toward a Kentucky Derby start do not carry over to the Oaks so she likely would have to earn her way into that race with at least one win in the United States.
Japanese horses recently have been more likely to seek springtime glory in Dubai than in North America. But Make Happy's trainer, Koichi Shinkai, said the Yoshida family has concluded the filly is better suited to Kentucky than the Arabian Peninsula.
Around the ovals:
Leofric got first run to the lead in Friday's $500,000 Grade I Clark Handicap and gamely held off the late bid of Bravazo, prevailing by a neck. Seeking the Soul was another 2 3/4 lengths back in third. Leofric, a 5-year-old son of Candy Ride, got 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.59 under Florent Geroux.
Leofric, trained by Brad Cox, has been ultraconsistent, not out of the top three since he broke his maiden in January 2017 at Oaklawn Park. The victory was his fourth from his last five starts, a skein broken only by a third-place finish in the Grade I Woodward in September. Bravazo has been a warrior this season for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, contesting all three legs of the Triple Crown. He was second in the Preakness and Haskell.
"The Pegasus is an option that we'll keep on the table" for Leofric, Cox said Sunday. "This horse developed so much over the summer and has really come into his own." Longer range, he said, the $750,000 Grade II Oaklawn Handicap on April 13 is a possibility.
Princess Warrior rallied from well back in the 10-horse field to win Friday's $200,000 Grade II Mrs. Revere for 3-year-old fillies by 1 length. Get Explicit came from still farther in the clouds to finish second, 2 lengths in front of Cool Beans. The odds-on favorite, recent European import Stella di Camelot, finished fifth with a rough trip. Princess Warrior, a Midshipman filly, ran 1 1/16 miles over yielding turf in 1:47.61, picking up her first stakes win and third overall. Brian Hernandez Jr. had the ride.
"She's a lighter type of filly and has really handled the grass well," trainer Kenny McPeek said. "I hope this race can get us an invite to the American Oaks," a Grade I at Santa Anita Dec. 29.
Plainsman showed the way in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Discovery Handicap for 3-year-olds, disposed of an early rival and ran on to win by 1 3/4 lengths from Title Ready. Gronkowski was third and Bon Raison was a distant fourth and last. Plainsman, a Flatter colt out of the Street Sense mare S S Pinafore, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:52.14 with Joel Rosario up. It was his third straight win but first in a graded stakes. He finished sixth in the Arkansas Derby.
"He was still fighting at the end," Rosario said of Plainsman. It looked like the longer it went, the more he wanted to do it. He did it pretty easy in the last part. He ran a big race."
Lady Paname worked her way into contention early in the stretch run in Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Long Island Stakes for fillies and mares, was set down in earnest a sixteenth out and responded with a 1/2-length victory. Tricky Escape was second, another 1/2 length to the good of Danceland. Lady Paname, a 4-year-old, French-bred filly by Soldier of Fortune, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:16.15 with Irad Ortiz Jr. at the controls. It was her second U.S. start for trainer Chad Brown -- both wins -- after he sorted through some physical issues.
"It just took her a little time to get here and the patience by everyone involved was really rewarded today," Brown said. "I'm really proud of the horse."
White Flag didn't surrender after a poor start in Saturday's $125,000 Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship but, rather, rated nicely for jockey David Cohen until the furlong pole loomed. Given his cue, the 4-year-old War Front colt went to the front and prevailed by 3/4 length over the odds-on favorite and Breeders' Cup third, Disco Partner, with Kitten's Cat a long shot third. White Flag ran 6 furlongs on firm going in 1:07.84, just 0.14 second shy of the course record.
Blamed led the way in Friday's $200,000 Grade III Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct, opened a daylight lead in the stretch and survived a late bid by Remedy to salvage a 3/4-length victory. It was another 10 lengths back to Indy Union in third. Blamed, a daughter of Blame out of the Giant's Causeway mare Salsa Star, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.98 with Julien Leparoux in the irons for trainer Bill Mott.
Mott said, "We looked around the country for 3-year-old races that were left for her and this was one of the only options we had. Of course, I think it will tell us something about her going forward into next year. It will give us an indication of what her possibilities might be."
Sassy Agnes went quickly to the lead in Friday's $100,000 Key Cents Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-old fillies and ran on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Espresso Shot. Take Me to Hardoon was third in an all long-shot trifecta and the favorite, Collegeville Girl, was never in contention. Sassy Agnes, a daughter of Central Banker, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.79 with Jose Ortiz up. The win completed a stakes hat trick after two consecutive wins at Finger Lakes. Trainer Linda Rice said she may try open company as a 3-year-old.
Friday's $150,000 turf races both came off the grass and onto a fast main track with disastrous fallout for the field. Of the three left in the Gio Ponti Stakes for 3-year-olds after seven scratches, Bal Harbour led all the way and beat the prohibitive favorite, Life's a Parlay, by 2 1/4 lengths. In the Forever Together Stakes for fillies and mares, after eight scratches it was Bombshell emerging from a stretch duel to win by 4 1/4 lengths over Sexy Reasons as five faced the starter.
On Sunday's weather-plagued card, Yorkiepoo Princess kicked away down the stretch in the $125,000, off-the-turf Autumn Days Stakes for fillies and mares and won by 5 3/4 lengths over Jean Elizabeth. Fear No Evil was third and the favorite, Sounds Delicious, chugged home last of eight. Yorkiepoo Princess, a 4-year-old Kantharos filly, finished 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:11.41 with Dylan Davis in the irons.
Only three faced the starter in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Native Diver Stakes. Battle of Midway and Dabster swapped leads early, then dueled to the wire with Battle of Midway and Flavien Prat prevailing by a neck. The Equibase chart caller reckoned it was another 26 lengths back to Isotherm, who earned $12,000 for finishing third. Battle of Midway, a 4-year-old Smart Strike colt from the Jerry Hollendorfer barn, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.23.
"We thought the tactics of Dabster would be to try and get the lead or be right there with us, so it worked out kind of like we thought it would," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "They rode a good tactic trying to beat us, but he showed some guts. Sometimes they have to. In the end, we were a neck ahead and that worked out for us."
Elsa trailed most of the field halfway through Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Jimmy Durante Stakes for 2-year-old fillies on the turf, came three-wide around rivals on the turn and steadily gained ground through the lane to win by 2 1/4 lengths. The early leader, Courteous, held on for second, a head in front of the favorite, Pivotina. Elsa, a daughter of Animal Kingdom, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:35.68.
Joe Bravo was in to ride the Godolphin homebred who last raced at Laurel Park, finishing seventh in the Selima Stakes. Trainer Michael Stidham blamed the going for that poor effort. "She didn't like the soft ground ... She broke sharp and then just started retreating backwards and that's not her. We couldn't wait to get her out here," Stidham said. Caribou Club survived a stumbling start in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap, came around the early leaders and was along in time to collar 72-1 shot Secretary At War, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. The favorite, Synchrony, was third, a head short of Secretary At War. Caribou Club, a 4-year-old City Zip gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.38 under Joe Talamo.
Winning trainer Tom Proctor, the son of long-time trainer Willard Proctor, said, "I hot-walked this horse's seventh dam for my dad and trained from about the fifth dam on. It's nice to win one. This is a good horse. I think he'll run well down the hill (Santa Anita's iconic downhill turf course)."
Chicago Style came running from last of seven in the stretch to win Friday's $200,000 Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup by a neck over Bigger Picture. Beach View was third. The stretch run turned into a minor freeway traffic jam, resulting in an objection by the trainer of the fifth-place horse that was disallowed by the stewards. Chicago Style, a Kitten's Joy gelding, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:28.53 with Drayden Van Dyke in the irons.
"I knew they were going slow," Van Dyke said. "But my horse was relaxed and I was comfortable with where we were. He's a straightforward horse -- you ask him and he gives. When it came time, I tipped him out and he went. It's sure fun to ride ones like him."
Moonlit Promise emerged from the middle of the pack to make her bid in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian) Grade II Bessarabian Stakes for fillies and mares and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Silent Sonnet. Let It Ride Mom was third. Moonlit Promise, a 5-year-old Malibu Moon mare, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.28 with Eurico Da Silva at the controls.
Ikerrin Road took control with a furlong to run in Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Kennedy Road Stakes and inched clear, winning by 1 length from Holding Gold. Call Me Wally was third, 1/2 length to the good of the front-running favorite, Yorkton. Ikerrin Road, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Iffraaj, finished 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.42 with Ademar Santos up.
"Last year we thought when he finished second to Pink Lloyd, he's going to come back next year. But it doesn't work that way," said winning trainer Vito Armata, adding Ikerrin Road survived sickness to return to top form this fall. "The horse is lucky to be here. It's coming true. We gave him lots of time and there he is."
Golden Gate Fields
Editore won a furious, three-way battle to the wire in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Berkeley Handicap, scoring by a neck over Camino Del Paraiso and another nose from Flamboyant. Editore, a 6-year-old, Brazilian-bred gelding by Redattore, negotiated 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.94 with Brice Blanc in the irons.
Tomlin stalked the pace in Friday's $50,000 Golden Gate Fields Debutante for 2-year-old fillies, shot past the early leader and ran on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. La Aguillia and Swing Thoughts were along to fill out the trifecta slots. Tomlin, a Distorted Humor filly, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:09.88 under Frank Alvarado.
Late Night Pow Wow surged to the front in the lane in Saturday's $100,000 Willa On the Move Stakes for fillies and mares and drew off smartly, winning by 5 lengths over Ms Locust Point. Moonlit Song was third. Late Night Pow Wow, a 3-year-old, West Virginia-bred daughter of Fiber Sonde, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:10.53 with Fredy Peltroche up.
Victory Rally rallied to the lead along the rail turning for home in Saturday's $75,000 Geisha Stakes for Maryland-bred fillies and mares, got the lead and held on to win by a neck over Another Broad. The favorite, My Magician, was 4 1/4 lengths farther in arrears, securing show money. Victory Rally, a 4-year-old Jump Start filly, ran 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:38.08 with Jorge Vargas Jr. in the irons.
D Toz pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Don C. McNeill Stakes for Oklahoma-bred 2-year-olds, took over late and drew off to win by 2 lengths. Cowboy Mischief was along for second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Dobbins G. D Toz, a Chitoz gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.99 with Lane Luzzi riding.
Dicey rallied four wide through the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Slide Show Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies and caught the favorite, She's Shiney, who held only a short lead before settling for second, 1 length back. Brew Casa was third. Dicey, a daughter of Flat Out, finished in 1:41.64 under Kevin Roman.