North American Thoroughbreds celebrated their official birthday Jan. 1 and there was no delay in testing some of the newly turned 3-year-olds for Triple Crown mettle.
The action continues through the weekend with potential Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks preps in Florida, Louisiana and California adding to the results of the Jan. 1 Jerome at Aqueduct.
Santa Anita also has graded stakes for the older set.
On the international front, the Dubai Carnival is under way, the weekend brings two of South Africa's most important races and the All-Weather Championships continue apace in England.
Let's kick off the New Year with ...
The Road to the Roses
Mind Control went right for the lead in Tuesday's $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, was under pressure until the final sixteenth and finally drove clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Our Braintrust chased the winner home to finish second, 4 lengths to the good of Family Biz. Mind Control, with John Velazquez up, finished the one-turn mile in 1:39.06 over a track rated "good".
Mind Control broke his maiden at Monmouth Park in August, then jumped right up to post a front-running upset victory in the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga Sept. 3. In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he was shut off early, bobbled and never recovered, finishing seventh.
"He's still green and learning," trainer Greg Sacco said after the Jerome win, which earned Mind Control 10 points on Churchill Downs' "Road to the Kentucky Derby" list. "We're overwhelmed with this performance today. Of course, when you run like that, it's hard to fault the way he ran today."
Sacco said the fact the Stay Thirsty colt is stabled at Belmont Park makes the New York Derby preps attractive, with the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct next up on Groundhog Day. "We would take every race, race by race," he added. "But it certainly is appetizing and enticing."
Yet to come this weekend:
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita is 1 mile with Kentucky Derby points on offer. The even-money favorite is Coliseum, a gray Tapit colt trained by Bob Baffert whose only previous start resulted in a 6 3/4-lengths victory at Del Mar Nov. 17. He's a Godolphin homebred and Sheik Mohammed still seeks his first Kentucky Derby victory. It could be a gray day at the Great Race Place as the others meriting note on the morning line are Gray Magician and Gunmetal Gray, the latter coming off a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Code of Honor is a solid 7-5 favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $100,000 Mucho Macho Man -- 1 mile at Gulfstream Park. The Noble Mission colt, owned and bred by William Farish, won at first asking at Saratoga, then finished second behind Complexity in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park in his only other start as a 2-year-old. Complexity went on to finish a fading 10th as the second-favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Garter and Tie continues his journey out of the Florida-bred ranks, where he ran impressively last year.
Eight are set for Saturday's $75,000 Big Drama at Delta Downs and there's not a lot to choose among Ninth Street, Six Shooter and Troy Ounce. Ninth Street takes the track for the first time since winning the Jean Lafitte Stake over the same surface in October. Six Shooter was going great guns at Churchill Downs and Indiana Grand before finishing 11th in the Remington Springboard Mile Dec. 16. And Troy Ounce comes off a nice maiden win in Louisville for trainer Steve Asmussen.
And, on the turf, Henley's Joy is the 3-5 favorite in a field of nine for Saturday's $100,000 Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The colt, sired by the race's namesake, won the Kentucky Downs Juvenile and finished second in the Grade III Dixiana Bourbon at Keeneland as a 2-year-old but beat only one rival in the Breeders' Cup. He rebounded to win the Pulpit Stakes Dec. 8 over the Gulfstream turf.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Bellafina and Mother Mother go at it again in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita. Bellafina easily blew by Mother Mother to win the Grade I Del Mar Del Mar Debutante Sept. 1. The Quality Road filly, trained by Simon Callaghan, came back to win the Grade I Chandelier at Santa Anita and ran fourth as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Mother Mother, a Pioneerof the Nile filly from the Bob Baffert barn, won the Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill Downs the weekend before the Breeders' Cup, then finished third in the Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos in her 2-year-old finale.
Tomlin, a very cleverly named Distorted Humor filly, journeys down from Golden Gate Fields for the Santa Ynez. Reflect and Sold It each look to take a step forward.
Eight will line up for Friday's $75,000 Take Charge Brandi at Delta Downs with Taylor's Spirit the 3-2 morning line favorite. The Algorithms filly was 4-for-5 as a juvenile but the loss was an eighth-place finish behind some nice ones in the Grade II Pocahontas at Churchill Downs.
And, on the turf, the favorites -- Pivottina and Boxwood -- drew the inside posts for Saturday's $75,000 Ginger Brew Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Pivottina, a French-bred filly by Vision d'Etat, finished fourth in the Grade I Natalma at Woodbine and third in the Grade III Jimmy Durante at Del Mar after shipping over from her native land. Boxwood, an English Channel filly, was 2-for-4 last year and exits an allowance win at Churchill Downs.
Ten are set for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Gabriel at 9 furlongs on the Santa Anita greensward. Chicago Style, a 6-year-old Kitten's Joy gelding, is a narrow favorite on the morning line after winning the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup in his last outing in November. Next Shares won the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland in October but finished 13th in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Liam the Charmer won the Grade II John Henry Turf Championship in September but was massively outgunned in the Breeders' Cup Turf, finishing 12th. Big Score and Flamboyant have an opportunity in this.
Caribou Club rallied from last of eight to win Tuesday's $75,000 Grade III Joe Hernandez Stakes down the Santa Anita hillside course by 1 1/4 lengths over two-time Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal. Conquest Tsunami led the way and held on to finish third. Caribou Club, a 5-year-old City Zip gelding, zipped about 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:11.66 with Joe Talamo aboard. He came into the race off a victory in the Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap at Del Mar, going 1 1/16 miles on the lawn.
"He's such a cool horse," Talamo said. "I think six and a half (furlongs) to a mile, or a mile and a sixteenth ... I think he can really do anything because of his style. They went quick early today, so he was further back. But when they go two turns he can lay up a little closer. Like I said, he's a really cool horse to ride."
On the international beat:
Legal Eagle goes after his fourth victory in the Grade 1 L'Ormarin's Queen's Plate on Saturday at Kenilworth in one of two top-level events.
Legal Eagle, a 7-year-old gelding by Greys Inn, also seeks his third straight victory. On Dec. 8, in the Grade 2 Green Point Stakes over the course, he served notice by winning over four of his rivals in Saturday's race. Anton Marcus will have the mount as Legal Eagle seeks to match Pocket Power's four consecutive wins in the iconic race.
The companion Cartier Paddock Stakes is for fillies and mares at 1,800 meters on the grass. Well fancied Oh Susanna, a 4-year-old Street Cry filly, has been dominant beyond 1 mile in South Africa, even beating Legal Eagle in last year's Grade 1 Sun Met going 2,000 meters. But she saw a three-race winning streak ended Nov. 15 when finihsing second to Lady in Black, who returns for another try in the Paddock.
They're off and running at Meydan in the three-months run-up to World Cup night.
Dream Castle came running down the middle of the straight in Thursday night's Group 3 Singspiel Stakes and got there first by 1 1/2 lengths as Godolphin color-bearers swept the first five placings. Following Dream Castle across the finish were Racing History, Salsabeel, Team Talk and Bay of Poets. Well-fancied Deauville led into the stretch but faded to finish 11th in his first start since finishing third in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown Sept. 15.
Christophe Soumillon rode Dream Castle, a 5-year-old by Frankel, for trainer Saeed Bin Suroor. Dream Castle was making his first start since being gelded after finishing 11th in the Group 3 Burj Nahaar last March.
"The big race for him now will probably be the Turf, over the same distance," Soumillon said, referring to the Group 1 Dubai Turf, contested at 1,800 furlongs on World Cup night, March 30. "I am sure he can run between 7 furlongs and 1,800 meters without a problem -- just depends on the pace."
In Thursday's Group 3 Dubawi Stakes at 1,200 meters on the dirt, Raven's Corner was well in control straightening out into the stretch, opened a big lead for jockey Richard Mullen and coasted home first. Drafted made a big late run to finish second, 1 3/4 lengths back, and My Catch was third after making the early going.
Raven's Corner, a 6-year-old Raven's Pass gelding, was making his second start of the year following a fourth-place finish Dec. 6 over course and distance in a race won by Drafted. Raven's Corner, trained by Satish Seemar, finished eighth in last year's Group 2 Godolphin Mile.
"We'll see how he comes out but the Al Shindagha would be the plan," said Mike Keye, principal of Raven's Corner's ownership group, Touch Gold Racing. "If we give him a little break, it would be between that and the Dubai Golden Shaheen." The Golden Shaheen is the Group 1 sprint on the World Cup program. The Group 3 Al Shindagha is Jan. 31.
Island Of Live scored her third straight win of the All-Weather Championships season with a victory in the Ladbrokes Fillies' Conditions Race Wednesday at Wolverhampton. The win also earned the 5-year-old Dubawi mare a guaranteed spot in the Ladbrokes Fillies and Mares Championships at Lingfield Park on Finals Day, Good Friday, April 19.
Island of Life, trained by William Haggas and ridden by Richard Kingscote, raced last early in Wednesday's 7-furlong event over Tapeta. When Kingscote showed her an opening on the inside, she went through and on to a 3/4-length victory over Castle Hill Cassie.
"Mr Haggas said to find a rhythm and get her switched off," Kingscote said. "She was lovely, to be fair, and once the gap opened, off she went ... Finals Day was mentioned this morning. She is going the right way and on today's win you would hope she would be getting thereabouts."
On Friday at Kempton Park, Charming Kid will seek a Fast-Track Qualifier spot in the Three-Year-Old Championship on Finals Day when he starts in 32Red Conditions Race at 6 furlongs over Polytrack. The Charm Spirit colt boasts a third-place finish in the Group 2 July Stakes on the Newmarket turf last July. But he has something yet to prove after reporting six-furlong Fast-Track Qualifier on Tapeta at Wolverhampton Dec. 8.
Several of the others in the Kempton Park feature have given good account of themselves over all-weather surfaces.