Local horses won all four of Group 1 events Sunday in the Longines Hong Kong International Races with Beauty Generation confirming his status as a world star.
In the United States, it was a good weekend for trainer Gausto Gutierrez in the Caribbean Classic at Gulfstream Park and a great weekend for trainer Bob Baffert's 2-year-olds in California. Those outcomes, of course, were both odds-on.
We'll get to that and some other odds and ends, right after an international diversion.
For the first time since the Hong Kong International Races took their current form in 2002, local runners triumphed in all four Group 1 events Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse.
In the day's feature, Beauty Generation put on a display of brilliance in winning the Longines Hong Kong Mile. The 6-year-old gelding, already the world's highest-rated turf miler, overcame an outside draw, fought off competition from his inside and was in full flight by the time the field hit mid-stretch. He eventually won by 3 lengths over Japanese mare Vivlos but the margin could have been more if jockey Zac Purton had asked for it.
Beauty Generation also won the Mile last year en route to Hong Kong's Horse of the Year award. Now trainer John Moore is looking for new challenges overseas.
"Hong Kong's got one of the best horses in the world now," Moore said. "Now he needs to go away to make him a world great."
Moore, a legend among Hong Kong trainers with horses such as Able Friend and Designs on Rome, said Beauty Generation's performance is "the most impressive in my time ... I need to be pinched, I think, to take in what happened today."
The Longines Hong Kong Vase, run at 2,400 meters, was by far the most competitive event of the day -- on paper. But in the end, it came down to Hong Kong's Exultant and Japan's Lys Gracieux dueling down the stretch and swapping the lead before Exultant prevailed by a neck. Ireland's Eziyra ran evenly to finish third, the only top-three result in any of the four races for the European contingent.
Trainer Tony Cruz gave full credit to Purton, Hong Kong's leading rider, saying he rode "a perfect race." Purton, however, admitted when Lys Gracieux came even with him, "I thought at that point he had the better of me. He actually bumped me and that seemed to fire him (Exultant) up again and he found his second wind."
Cruz said he will consider taking Exultant overseas, with Dubai and Royal Ascot as potential targets.
The Longines Hong Kong Sprint gave the locals another repeat win as Mr Stunning tracked the pace, got to the front at mid-stretch and edged D B Pin by 3/4 length at the wire. Beat the Clock was flying on the outside in the final 100 meters but could do no better than third, 1/2 length farther back.
"He came out so good," said winning rider Karis Teetan, a product of the South African Jockey Academy who scored his first HKIR win. "I was pretty happy to sit third with no cover. He was sort of relaxed under me and I knew when I pushed the button, he would go."
Mr Stunning, a 6-year-old Exceed and Excel gelding, came off a second-place finish behind Hot King Prawn in the local prep for the Sprint and had not won since his year-ago triumph. This time around, Hot King Prawn faded to get home ninth in the big race.
Nash Rawiler rode Mr Stunning for trainer John Size when he won the 2017 Sprint. Ironically, Size, one of Lor's mentors, trains D B Pin.
The Longines Hong Kong Cup, with only nine runners, turned out to be a tactical race. Glorious Forever, under Silvestre de Sousa, got away to a clear lead as his older brother, Time Warp, was allowed to lope along in second. At the top of the stretch, both of them kept going but Time Warp could never get to even terms. While Glorious Forever went on to win by 1 length, Time Warp was nipped for second by Japanese filly Deirdre.
It was turnabout fair play for the brothers. In their first showdown, 4-year-old Glorious Forever chased Time Warp, losing to his sibling by a nose. Rematched in the BOCHK Jockey Club Cup Nov. 18, they burnt each other out in a furious pace duel, Glorious Forever finishing sixth and Time Warp ninth.
"Everything was in my favor," de Sousa said of Sunday's race. "I was going well at the 800 (meters) and I thought, if anyone would come and take the race away from me, they would have to be very good -- one of the Europeans, not Time Warp."
Danon Fantasy, a Deep Impact filly, came with a rush from the back of the field to take Sunday's Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies by a neck over Chrono Genesis. Beach Samba and Schon Glanz were third and fourth.
Danon Fantasy, with Cristian Demuro in the irons, settled third-last in the field of 18 as the fillies rolled down the backstretch. Forced way wide around the turn, Danon Fantasy began making progress with Chrono Genesis plastered to her flank. The two ran as a team to the wire with Danon Fantasy finishing in 1:34.1. The victory backed up her win in the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes.
"The filly was relaxed and when I saw the second favorite come outside us after the fourth corner, I told her it's time to go, we have to fight, and sheresponded really well," Demuro said.
"She responds very quickly and has a very good turn of foot. She's a good horse and I think she will have a very good chance in the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) next year," Demuro added.
Back in North America:
The Road to the Roses
It was Baffert 1-2 in the weekend's biggest Kentucky Derby prep.
Improbable waited eagerly behind the pace in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity, came three wide to take the lead and drew off in the lane, winning by 5 lengths. Mucho Gusto was second, 3 lengths clear of Extra Hope. Improbable, a City Zip colt from the A.P. Indy mare Rare Event, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.18 with Drayden Van Dyke up.
There was a bit of déjà vu in the outcome as Bob Baffert trains Improbable for WinStar Farm and China Horse Club. The same team, with slightly different minority partners, was responsible for Justify's remarkable 2018 Triple Crown success.
"He's running another one against us," China Horse Club founder Teo ah Khing said at a Friday night reception before the Hong Kong International Races, referring to Much Gusto, another Baffert trainee for different owners. "But I think we're okay."
They're more than okay. Improbable now is 3-for-3 with one of those wins coming in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs -- by 7 1/4 lengths and WinStar's Elliott Walden knows full well what that could portend. "The best thing about it was his last eighth of a mile and the way he galloped out," Walden said. "That gives you the hope for the future and that's what we're all looking for going towards the Spring classics."
Baffert, who installed Improbable in Justify's stall at Del Mar this summer, said he was happy with both horses but centered his comments on the winner. "We'll just let these horses come along at their own pace and hope they stay healthy," the trainer said. "That's the key. Improbable has a long stride like Justify. He's just a smaller version. I'm not saying he's at Justify's level yet. But he's a really good horse."
It was Baffert's fifth straight victory in the Cash Call Futurity and 11th overall.
At Woodbine, Sir Winston parked behind the early leader in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Display Stakes, rallied by at the top of the stretch to a daylight lead and held on to win by 1 length from Inclusive. Global Access was another 2 lengths back in third. Sir Winston, a Kentucky-bred colt by Awesome Again, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.02 with Jeromy Lermyte up for trainer Mark Casse.
"He's been doing nothing else but improving and that's awesome when you can get that feeling," said Lermyte, who has surged into the top 10 in Woodbine's jockey ranks this season. "Even in the morning, he was giving us some very nice breezes in the morning, so we were very confident today."
Gulfstream Park enlivened its Caribbean Classic card with a quartet of races for the U.S. juveniles.
Garter and Tie came with a three-wide rally in the $75,000 Smooth Air Stakes, just getting there in time to win by a neck from Souper Jackpot. Union's Destiny was another 2 3/4 lengths in arrears while third. Garter and Tie, a Brooks 'n Down colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.44 for jockey Tyler Gaffalione. He contested all three legs of the Florida Sire Series with a win and two seconds in that state-bred competition.
Zenden stalked the pace in the $75,000 Buffalo Man Stakes, hooked up with pacesetter Jackson at the top of then lane, then worked clear to win by 2 lengths over that rival. Combination ran evenly to finish third. Zenden, a Fed Biz colt, completed 6 furlongs in 1:12.32 under Emisael Jaramillo.
On the Gulfstream Park turf, Henley's Joy made steady progress from mid-pack in the $75,000 Pulpit Stakes and shook clear late to win by 4 1/2 lengths over pacesetter Life Mission. Henley's Joy, a Kitten's Joy colt out of the Bluegrass Cat mare Blue Grass Music, got 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.34 with Gaffalione at the controls.
And it was Baffert two-of-three in the weekend's biggest Kentucky Oaks prep.
Chasing Yesterday, a half-sister to American Pharoah, ran by pacesetting Mother Mother in deep stretch in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos, winning by a head. Enaya Alrabb, racing between those two, put a neck in front of Mother Mother at the end to get place money. Chasing Yesterday, by Tapit, ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:42.59 with Van Dyke landing the Grade I riding double.
Chasing Yesterday bow has won four of five starts. She was seventh in the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga in her only defeat. Enaya Alrabb, an Uncle Mo filly, was coming off a maiden win at Santa Anita. Mother Mother, by Pioneerof the Nile, now is 2-1-1 from four starts.
"Turning for home, I really thought Mother Mother was going to kick on and keep going," Baffert said. It was a really thrilling finish. I didn't think (Chasing Yesterday) was going to get there because she had been so wide. She's a nice filly, but Drayden really sat patient. He loves this filly and he had a lot of confidence in her ... Pretty nice to get a Grade I win with American Pharoah's (half) sister."
At Gulfstream Park:
Classic Fit raced last of seven into the stretch turn in Saturday's $75,000 Hut Hut Stakes, came around the field into the lane and got by stablemate Sweet Diane in the final strides, winning by a neck. Bella Ciao was third. Classic Fit, a Bernardini filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.84 with Albin Jimenez in the irons. Michael Stidham trains the first two -- Classic Fit for Godolphin and Sweet Diane for Stallionaire Enterprises.
Bye Bye J shadowed the pace set by Iva in Saturday's $75,000 House Party Stakes, got by that one and went on to win by 2 lengths. Iva was easily second, 8 1/2 lengths in front of Horoligist in third. Bye Bye J, an Arkansas-bred daughter of Uncaptured, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.26 with Miguel Vasquez up.
On the Gulfstream turf, A Bit Special came with a late rush to take the $75,000 Wait a While Stakes by a neck over longtime leader Fortunate Girl. The latter held second by 2 3/4 lengths from Vow to Recover. A Bit Special, a British-bred filly by Mukhadram, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.67 with Romero Maragh in the irons.
It was Fausto Gutierrez Fest in South Florida as the Mexican trainer's horses swept the featured races in the Caribbean Classic series -- with ease. The event marked its second straight year at Gulfstream Park, the only site it has visited outside Latin America and the Caribbean.
The $300,000 Caribbean Classic for 3-year-olds posed no problem for Kukulkan, a Mexican-bred colt by Point Determined. With Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons, Kukulkan drove between rivals turning for home and cleared the field, eventually winning by 10 1/4 lengths. Bukowski was second and Kandinsky, a stablemate of Kukulkan in Gutierrez' barn, finished third. Kukulkan now is undefeated in 14 starts.
One race earlier, Jala Jala put a four-race win streak on the line for Gutierrez in the Confraternity Caribbean Cup for 3-year-olds and scored No. 5 with a 4 3/4-lengths victory. Irad Ortiz Jr. had that ride, too. Fray Angelico was second, 10 1/2 lengths in front of Exclusivo. Jala Jala, a 4-year-old filly by Point Determined, also accounted for last year's Caribbean Classic.
Vertical Oak waited behind the dueling leaders in Saturday's $100,000 Garland of Roses Stakes for fillies and mares, came wide into the stretch and got by for a 1 1/4-lengths victory. Yorkiepoo Princess and Sower, the early combattants, were second and third with Tigalalu completing the order of finish. Vertical Oak, a 4-year-old Giant Oak filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.28 under Eric Cancel.
It's not often you see a horse win the same race five years running but that's just what Buggin Out accomplished with a last-ditch surge Friday at Fair Grounds in the $50,000 Magic City Classic. The 7-year-old son of Indy, with Corey Lanerie up for trainer Ronnie Ward, raced near the back of the pack, moved outside rivals at the furlong pole and was just up to nick Menewa for the win. The magnitude of the feat is muted a bit by the fact the race is restricted to Alabama-breds. But, still!
"When we were in the paddock I was telling Corey how hard it is for a horse to win something five times," Ward reported. "He said, 'It's horse racing. Nothing is impossible'. It all turned out great for us."
Saturday was Louisiana Champions Day in the Big Easy. Sadly, the track was sloppy and the turf races were moved to the slop.
Underpressure relaxed early in the $150,000 Classic, closed smartly when asked in the lane and won by 3 1/2 lengths over Grande Basin. Underpressure, a 4-year-old Birdstone colt, ran 9 furlongs in 1:52.82 with Corey Lanerie up.
Midnight Fantasy, the odds-on favorite, led all the way in the $100,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies and won by 3 1/4 lengths over Silvercents. Classy John, an even heavier favorite, also led from the early jumps and won the $100,000 Juvenile by 4 1/4 lengths from Jimi's a Star.
Magic Vow spotted the field a good lead in the Turf, took the lead with a wide trip into the stretch and won by 4 lengths over Theoryintopractice. The off-the-turf Ladies turned into a romp for Remember Daisy. The 3-year-old Misremembered filly led early and drew off to win by 8 lengths over Hyper Piper.
Givemeaminit outfinished Divine Bean in the $100,000 Sprint, winning by a neck over that rival with Monte Man third, ending a long winning streak. Ours to Run was a romping, 5-lengths victress in the $100,000 Ladies Sprint.
Hawthorne Race Course
Irish Marvel improved to 2-for-2 with a dominating victory over four rivals in Friday's $50,000 Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies. With Edgar Perez riding, the Daaher miss stalked the pace, took over at the top of the lane and quickly drew clear, winning by 9 lengths. Ronan was second and Booda Lou third. Irish Marvel completed 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:47.05.
Golden Gate Fields
The Spiral Jetter rallied from near the back of the field to win Saturday's $75,000 Bear Fan Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares, edging Isa Firecracker by a head and Vronilla Parfait by another neck. The stewards later reversed the second and third placings. The Spiral Jetter, a 5-year-old Don'tsellmeshort mare, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.33 for jockey Julien Coulton.
Both $60,000 divisions of the Miss America Stakes for fillies and mares came off the turf onto the all-weather track. Lynne's Legacy, a 5-year-old Unusual Heat mare, came from last to win the first heat by 1 1/2 lengths over Fiery Lady. Psycho Sister, a 5-year-old daughter of Freud, led all the way to win the second by 3 lengths from Fizzy Friday.
Alwaysmining led from the early stages in Saturday's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Futurity for state-bred 2-year-olds and ran on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Our Braintrust was second, another 2 1/4 lengths to the good of Scrap Copper. Alwaysmining, a Stay Thirsty gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.91 with Daniel Centeno up.
Money Fromheaven rallied not quite from the heavens to win Saturday's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship by a neck over No Mo Lady. Belial was third. Money Fromheaven, a daughter of Munnings, finished the 7 furlongs in 1:24.18 for jockey Victor Carrasco.
Laki pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial for Maryland-breds, then slowly edged to the lead and a 1/2-length score. Rockinn On Bye rallied five-wide but came up just short. Lewisfield was third. Laki, a 5-year-old Cuba gelding, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:07.99 with Horacio Karamanos up.