A little of this, a little of that during the final shopping weekend of the holiday season. Three-year-old Blast Onepiece won the Arima Kinen in Japan, Gray Attempt took a step closer to the Kentucky Derby and Santa will bring a sleigh-full of goodies in the next seven racing days.
Let's start with:
The Road to the Roses
Gray Attempt led from gate to wire in Saturday's $75,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds, winning by 1 length from Manny Wah. Hog Creek Hustle was another 2 1/2 lengths back in third. Gray Attempt, a Graydar colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.45 with Shaun Bridgmohan riding for trainer Jinx Fires. The colt broke his maiden in his second trip, at Churchill Downs Nov. 25.
"We were going to run him in the Springboard Mile in Oklahoma but it's a mile and we thought that going two turns for the first time against a group of horses like that was an awful lot to ask," Fires said. "We'll hopefully run him in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn ($150,000 on Jan. 25). It's a mile going two turns so we'll see where we are with that."
Bell's the One rallied from next-last to win Saturday's $75,000 Letellier Memorial Stakes at Fair Grounds by 1/2 length over Idle Hour. Unholy Alliance was third with a late rush. Bell's the One, a Majesticperfection filly, finished the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.80 under Florent Geroux. She's 3-for-3 with the earlier wins coming at Arlington and Keeneland.
Coal Front chased the leading duo into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Mr. Prospector Stakes, reached contention at the top of the lane and won by 3 3/4 lengths, going away. Storm Advisory held a brief lead early in the stretch run and saved second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Heartwood. Coal Front, a 4-year-old Stay Thirsty ridgling, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.16 with John Velazquez aboard while making his second start after a 13-month layoff. The Kentucky-bred now has five wins from seven starts.
"The things he's been showing us training and the way he ran today and galloped out, I think he's wanting to stretch out," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "We've got to see if that's a mile or two turns. We've got all kinds of options."
Name Changer stalked the early pace in Saturday's $125,000 Queens County Stakes, moved to the lead a furlong out and held off Monongahela for a 1/2-length score. Bal Harbour led early and held on for show. Name Changer, a 5-year-old son of Uncle Mo, ran 9 furlongs over a muddy track in 1:53.87 with David Cohen up. He won the Grade III Monmouth Cup in July, then finished third in the Pennsylvania Derby Champion Stakes in September.
"We got a nice duel on the front end down the backside, and I was lucky enough to be able to save ground the whole way around there," Cohen said. "When I asked my horse, he responded very well."
Sunday, Recruiting Ready went quickly to the lead in the $100,000 Gravesend Stakes, opened a daylight lead and then was all out to preserve the victory by a head over Skyler Scramjet. The odds-on favorite, Gold for the King, settled for third with an even run. Recruiting Ready, a 4-year-old colt by Algorithms, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.52 with Eric Cancel in the irons. It was his first start since finishing fifth in the Grade II True North Stakes at Belmont Park in June.
"To be honest, the trip went very nice and easy," said Cancel. "The plan was to let him break and try to get the lead comfortably without doing too much with him, and that's the way it worked out. I let him on the lead, put my hands down, and when he was ready to run, I asked him, and he was still grinding it out."
Wynn Time shadowed pacesetting Latent Revenge throughout Saturday's $75,000 Bonapaw Stakes, then surged past with a late move to win by a neck. It was another 3 lengths to Fort Fortitude in third and the favorite, Kitten Cat, checked in sixth. Wynn Time, a 4-year-old, Illinois-bred gelding by Three Hour Nap, finished about 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:02.64 with Marcelino Pedroza in the irons. He has earlier wins on all-weather and dirt tracks.
"He'll pretty much run on anything but he's just got a lot of try to him," trainer Hugh Robertson said. "He knows where the wire is and he wants to get there first. Good horses will run on anything but I doubt that this is his best surface."
Beau Recall saved ground into the stretch while trailing the field in Saturday's $75,000 Blushing K.D. Stakes for fillies and mares, came out for room and got by all eight rivals, winning by 1/2 length. Vagabond Princess and Dubara also showed good late foot to finish second and third. Beau Recall, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly by Sir Prancealot, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:41.71 under Shaun Bridgmohan.
Trainer Brad Cox said he was confident Beau Recall would give a good account of herself. "Shaun did a great job. It set up for her with some speed up front and it collapsed and she picked up the pieces," Cox added.
Tom's d'Etat, the odds-on favorite, was wide on both turns in Saturday's $75,000 Tenacious Stakes yet still got the job done, drawing off to a 3 1/2-lengths victory. Phat Man was second, 2 lengths to the good of Pioneer Spirit. Tom's d'Etat, a 5-year-old Smart Strike entire, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast main track in 1:42.49 with Bridgmohan up.
"It's all about talent. He's a blue-blooded horse," trainer Al Stall Jr. said of Tom's d'Etat. "He's got some fancy horses in his pedigree like Candy Ride, a world-class stallion. He's one of the last sons of Smart Strike that's still around and so there's a lot to like about him. Hopefully we can move him up and give him a second career as a stallion somewhere also."
Great Wide Open led all the way to a 4 1/2-lengths victory in Saturday's $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial. Big Changes was second and Sir Dudley Digges was third. Oscar Nominated was pulled up in the stretch but walked off. Great Wide Open, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Starspangledbanner, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:41.47. In October, he was second in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland at odds of 81-1.
Jockey James Graham said Great Wide Open was "a little more aggressive than I would have liked for him to be but he's a horse that wants to be let alone."
Blast Onepiece, the only 3-year-old in a highly accomplished field, blasted by front-running Kiseki down the stretch in Sunday's Grade 1 Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse and outfinished the favorite, Rey de Oro, winning by a neck.
Cheval Grand was third and fan favorite Oju Chosan, primarily a jumps horse, finished ninth despite Utaka Take in the irons.
Blast Onepiece, a 3-year-old colt by Harbinger, raced outside rivals in mid-pack through most of the 2,500 meters He gained ground around the final turn and, as Kiseki shortened stride heading for home, both Blast Onepiece and Rey de Oro shot past and battled to the wire.
"As I had drawn a middle gate (No. 8), I was a bit worried of being caught between horses," winning rider Kenichi Ikezoe said. "So I settled him toward the outside. He ran well and though we were closed in by the race favorite at the end, he held on really well.
"I've been telling everyone that he is a Grade 1 horse and I'm happy that I was able to prove it," added Ikezoe. Blast Onepiece ran out of the money in each of two previous attempts at the highest level -- the Japanese Derby and the Japanese 2,000 Guineas.
Wissahickon, the odds-on favorite, shot through a wide gap between rivals a furlong from home in Saturday's Betway Quebec Stakes at Lingfield Park and roared home first by 2 1/4 lengths from Big Country. The 3-year-old son of Tapit, trained by John Gosden, was making his first start since winning the bet365 Cambridgeshire Stakes at Newmarket Sept. 22.
"I think the Winter Derby and then the Easter Classic is the plan," said winning jockey Robert Havlin,"and hopefully it is onwards and upwards."
Big Country's connections indicated he also is a candidate for those All-Weather Championship key races.
On Boxing Day at Wolverhampton, top sprinter Kachy kicks off his All-Weather Championships campaign in the 6-furlongs Betway Conditions Race. The Tom Dascombe-trained 5-year-old's only loss in the 2017-18 All-Weather Championships came in the Sprint Championships on Good Friday in March, when he finished runner-up to French raider and subsequent Group 1 Diamond Jubilee runner-up City Light.
Those looking toward the onrushing BMW Hong Kong Derby had some instructive lessons Sunday at Sha Tin.
Perfect Match overcame some serious traffic issues to win the Griffin Trophy, restricted to 3-year-old imports, by 1 1/2 lengths over Quadruple Double, seemingly looking for more. "If I would have had a choice I would have led but the leader had me in tight early," said Keris Teetan, who rode for the suspended Zac Purton. "As soon as he gets behind a horse he just sleeps -- I felt that when I worked him. But he's a very smart horse with a nice turn of foot." The Danny Shum-trained gelding came into the race off two smart wins at Sha Tin.
In the Class 2 Long Ke Handicap, Queensland Derby winner Dark Dream furthered his case for another Derby try with a 4 1/2-lengths demolition of a very good field. Giant Turtle was best of the rest. Trainer Frankie Lor has several Derby candidates to vet before the March 17 showdown and allowed a rain-softened track might have played in Dark Dream's favor. "Maybe that helped him," Lor said. "At the turn he was last or second last, so I was nervous, but he came so strongly up the inside. Coming back to 1600 meters for the Classic Mile may be a bit short but I have to try and, of course, I hope he's a Derby horse."
The Classic Mile is the first in the three-race series for 4-year-olds that ends with the Derby.