Gunmetal Gray and Moshaher moved squarely into Kentucky Derby contention with victories in California and Dubai and Bellafina was dominant in her Oaks prep as the 3-year-olds dominated weekend racing action.
Amongst the older set, Next Shares is headed for the Pegasus Turf after a stretch-out win at Santa Anita. Contributing claimed a hard-fought victory in a tough turf sprint in New Orleans.
On the international scene, Oh Susanna was a handy winner in Grade 1 racing in South Africa but Legal Eagle came up short in his effort to win the Grade 1 Queen's Plate for the fourth time.
And, see News and Notes for the 2018 Media Eclipse Awards.
The Road to the Roses
Gunmetal Gray trailed the field into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, rallied outside his six rivals when prompted by jockey Mike Smith and flew home, winning by 1 length from Sueno. Much Better seized the lead on the turn but tired to finish third. The favorite, Coliseum, was away slowly, raced wide and finished sixth but was beaten only some 4 lengths in his second career start.
Gunmetal Gray, an Exchange Rate colt trained by part-owner Jerry Hollendorfer, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.96. It was his second career win and followed a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
Smith said Gunmetal Gray got off to a slow start when he was bumped at the start by Coliseum but showed great ability by rallying from so far back. "I learned that distance shouldn't be a problem, which is very important," said Smith, who rode Justify to the 2018 Triple Crown. "The best part of his race was certainly the last part of it. Going around two turns and stretching out a little bit farther shouldn't be a problem."
Gunmetal Gray earned 10 points toward a start in the Kentucky Derby, adding to the four he got for a runner-up finish behind Game Winner in the American Pharoah in September. Game Winner, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, tops the list with 30 points. Gunmetal Gray moved up to the fourth spot.
In Dubai, Moshaher, a Kentucky-bred colt by Santa Anita Derby winner and two-time Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile champ Goldencents, was an easy winner against some promising rivals in his career debut Saturday at Meydan. With Pat Dobbs up for trainer Doug Watson, Moshaher took station right behind the early pace, got to the lead midway around the turn and was never asked for much as he won off by 6 1/4 lengths. He was followed home by Lacienegaboulevard and Raayan in the 1-mile District One Panorama Win for 3-year-olds.
"We were very hopeful coming into the race because his work at home has been exceptional, but you just never know if they will reproduce that," Watson said. "He did not trial as he arrived a bit late but we did work him out of the gates and he did everything right. We think he is a nice horse, so it is nice to see him win like that first time out. Hopefully, there is more to come with the UAE 2000 Guineas his next race."
The $250,000 Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas is on Feb. 7 and leads to the Group 2 UAE Derby, which effectively offers the winner a free pass to the Kentucky Derby.
At Gulfstream Park, Mihos rallied from next-last to capture Saturday's $100,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes by a neck over Trophy Chaser. Garter and Tie was another 2 1/4 lengths back in third but well in front of the favorite, Code of Honor, in fourth. Mihos, a Cairo Prince colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.56. Jose Ortiz rode for trainer James Jerkens. The colt broke his maiden at Aqueduct in his second start Nov. 24. The Mucho Macho Man was his first stakes try.
"I don't have a schedule really in my head as far as dates and things like that," Jerkens said. "But we'll certainly look at all the usual spots down here. I wanted to get by this first and then figure it out." Gulfstream Park's 3-year-old program moves next to the $350,000 Grade II Holy Bull Feb. 2, then the $400,000 Grade II Fountain of Youth March 2 and culminates in the Florida Derby March 30.
At Delta Downs, Six Shooter shot through along the rail in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Big Drama Stakes and ran on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Ninth Street. Mr Money Bags was another 1/2 length in arrears in third. Six Shooter, a Trappe Shot gelding, finished the 7 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:35.04 under Thomas Pompell.
On the grass, Casa Creed stalked long shot leader Royal Um through the early furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park, got to the front in the stretch and won by a neck over the onrushing favorite, Henley's Joy. Royal Um gamely held third, another neck in arrears. Casa Creed, a Jimmy Creed colt, ran about 7 1/2 furlongs over the firm turf in 1:30.64 with John Velazquez riding for trainer Bill Mott. He finished seventh in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park last fall. The Kitten's Joy was his turf debut.
Bellafina raced alongside Mother Mother until midway through the turn in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Ynez at Santa Anita, then easily drew clear and, without the least bit of urging from jockey Flavien Pratt, won by 8 1/2 lengths. Mother Mother was second, 1 3/4 lengths to the good of Tomlin. Bellafina, a Quality Road filly owned by Kaleem Shah and trained by Simon Callaghan, could easily have bettered her actual time of 1:22.00 over a fast track had she been asked.
The victory was Bellafina's fourth from her last five starts -- the loss being a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
"After the disappointment of the Breeders' Cup, you want to see this sort of a performance," Callaghan said. "We've loosely talked about two races before the Santa Anita Oaks and we'll see how it comes out. We're in a good position now and have the first race of the year under our belt. Kaleem is ultra-patient and we'll just let the filly tell us the best plan."
Sunset Wish, with Tim Thornton up, rallied by the early leaders in Friday's $75,000 Take Charge Brandi Stakes at Delta Downs and easily cleared to win by 2 3/4 lengths. The favorite, Taylor's Spirit, held the lead into the stretch but settled for second. Cover Charge was another 2 3/4 lengths back in third. Sunset Wish, a Malibu Moon filly out of the Storm Cat mare Burgundy Ice, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:34.65.
Sunset Wish, owned by Godolphin and trained by Michael Stidham, picked up her third straight win.
On the turf: Boxwood led from the early jumps in Saturday's $100,000 Ginger Brew Stakes at Gulfstream Park and just held off the favorite, Pivonetta, by a head under the wire. Red Rounder was another 1 length behind in third. Boxwood, an English Channel filly, ran about 7 1/2 lengths on firm turf in 1:30.53. Brian Hernandez Jr. had the mount for trainer Eddie Kenneally. She now is 3-for-5 and has never finished off the board.
Next Shares came running in the stretch after a leisurely early stroll through Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Gabriel at Santa Anita and was there in time to nip Cleopatra's Strike by a nose at the line. Liam the Charmer was only a head farther behind in third. Next Shares, a 6-year-old Archarcharch gelding, got 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.61 with Geovanni Franco riding.
Next Shares won the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland in the fall, then finished 13th in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Part-owner Michael Iavarone said Next Shares will get his next chance in three weeks' time in the $7 million Grade I Pegasus Turf at Gulfstream Park.
"Yeah, he's going to the Pegasus. It's all about the Pegasus Turf Cup Invitational right now. It's what we wanted and what we were hoping for," Iavarone said. "We tried to stretch him out with that in mind and it worked out amazingly well. I told Geovanni to make sure to save a little for the Pegasus."
Contributing and Goldberry came running from the absolute rear of the 11-horse field in Saturday's $75,000 Pan Zaretta Stakes for fillies and mares at Fair Grounds with Contributing prevailing by a head. Excessivespending tracked the early pace and held third. Contributing, a 5-year-old Medaglia d'Oro mare, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:03.85 with Joe Bravo up for trainer Brad Cox. Cox also saddled Goldberry. Contributing finished second in last year's Pan Zaretta, then was eighth in the Mardi Gras Stakes the following month. After a break, she finished 11th in her return engagement in December.
On the international front:
Oh Susanna continued her star turn Saturday at Kenilworth but Legal Eagle fell short of a fourth straight win in the L'Ormarin's Queen's Plate, finishing fourth as 2018 Durban July winner Do It Again got the win.
Do It Again earned a spot in the Breeders' Cup Mile through the international Challenge program. Oh Susanna's win in the Grade 1 Cartier Paddock Stakes was worth a starting spot in Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Oh Susanna, a 5-year-old Street Cry Filly, blasted right to the lead in the Paddock but then had to hang on in a hard drive to hold the advantage by 1/2 length over familiar rival Lady In Black. Cascapedia was third. Oh Susanna has beaten Lady in Black three of the four time's they've faced off but Lady In Black won their prep for the Paddock, the Grade 2 Pinnacle Stakes, in November.
In the Queen's Plate, Do It Again rallied through the final 100 meters to win by a narrow margin over long shot Soqrat. Rainbow Bridge was third and Legal Eagle, with every chance in the late going, could only edge Undercover Agent to secure fourth.
Both winners are trained by Justin Snaith and both were ridden by Richard Fourie.
No Nonsense, making just his third career start, rallied from last to win Friday's 32Red Conditions Race at Kempton Park. The 6 furlongs over Polytrack was a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Ladbrokes Three-Year-Old Championships at Lingfield Park on All-Weather Finals Day on Good Friday, April 19. No Nonsense, a son of Acclamation, chased down James Street in the final furlong to win by a short head. Charming Kid was third and the favorite, You Never Can Tell, could never get going, finishing last of seven. With Liam Keniry up for trainer David Elsworth, No Nonsense got home in 1:12.45.
"Speaking to Mr Elsworth, I think the plan is to go straight to Good Friday," Keniry said. "I would say No Nonsense is a pretty smart horse. He was a lot more inexperienced than the other runners coming into today's race. He took a while to pick up, but he has gone and won well in the end. He looks a horse for the future."
Elsworth also has Master The World qualified for finals day. That one is in the Betway Easter Classic, a race in which he was a close second last year.
Back in the States and around the ovals:
Kathryn the Wise was also Kathryn much the best in Saturday's $100,000 La Verdad Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares, winning off by 10 3/4 lengths as the favorite. Playinwiththeboys was next-best, a neck in front of Pauseforthecause. Kathryn the Wise, a 6-year-old Uncle Mo mare, ran 7 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:25.22 with Manny Franco up. The lightly raced Chad Brown trainee improved her record to 4-for-6 and looks like one to reckon with if she's healthy enough to keep running after three starts in less than four months.
A M Milky Way rallied four-wide in Saturday's $50,000 Sam's Town Stakes and edged away late to win by 1 length over Hold Me Back. It was another 6 3/4 lengths to Imma Bling in third. A M Milky Way, a 7-year-old Elusive Bluff gelding, got 5 furlongs on a fast track in 58.72 seconds with Eguard Tejera riding.
Oxford Comma pressed the pace in Friday's $50,000 Orleans Stakes for fillies and mares, edged ahead of Fairwayngreen in the stretch and held off that one's final effort to win by a neck. It was 2 lengths more to Shes Our Fastest in third. Oxford Comma, with Gerard Melancon up, ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 59.03 second. She is a 4-year-old daughter of Majesticperfection.
Seismic Jolt drew off down the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Limehouse Stakes for 3-year-olds, winning by 3 1/2 lengths. Splicethemainbrace was best of the rest, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Final Jeopardy. Seismic Jolt, a Kantharos colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.28 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons.
Fancy Dress swept down the lane to win Saturday's $75,000 Glitter Woman Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 5 3/4 lengths with Horologist second, a nose in front of Brunette Princess. Fancy Dress, a daughter of Munnings, got 6 furlongs in 1:11.81 for jockey Luis Saez.
African Heat spurted out to a big early lead in Sunday's $85,000 La Senora Stakes for New Mexico-bred 3-year-old fillies, then saw the advantage steadily diminish until she won by just 1/2 length over the odds-on favorite, Roll On Matilda. It was another 5 1/2 lengths to Flight Song in third. African Heat, a daughter of Southwestern Heat, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.90 with Ry Eikleberry in the irons.
Roll On Diabolical stalked the early pace in Sunday's $85,000 Four Rivers John Deere Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds, took the lead when asked by jockey Alejandro Medellin and kicked away to a 6-lengths win. Stoney Who was second, a neck in front of Sunscreen. Roll On Diabolical, a Diabolical colt, finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.58.
Woman At the Well rushed up to the lead from an outside post in Sunday's $65,000 Bold Ego Handicap for fillies and mares and drew off easily to win by 4 1/2 lengths over Life of Illusion. Super Humor reported third. Woman At the Well, a 4-year-old filly by Old Fashioned, ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.80 with Roimes Chirinos up.
News and Notes:
Congratulations to the newest Media Eclipse Award winners, announced this week.
Jeremy Balin, based in Southern California, won in the News/Enterprise category for a thoroughly researched and tellingly written account of what went wrong in the response to the December 2017 fire at San Luis Rey Downs. The story was published in The Blood-Horse.
Tim Layden of SI.com won in the Feature/Commentary category for a feature recalling Chick Anderson's iconic call of Secretariat's equally iconic 1973 Belmont Stakes victory.
NBC Sports won in both television categories -- in Features for coverage of the Lan Luis Rey fire and in News for coverage of the 2018 Belmont Stakes.
The Mucho Macho Man was the first major stakes of Gulfstream's program for 3-year-olds and will be followed by the $350,000 Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull (G2) Feb. 2, the $400,000 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth (G2) March 2, and the Florida Derby March 30.
In the Audio/Multi-Media Internet category, the winners were Christie DeBernardis and Patty Wolfe from TDN Weekend, "Cozmic One: Shining New Light on OTTBs".
Barbara Livingston, chief photographer for Daily Racing Form, won her fourth Eclipse Award for news photos with an image of Whereshetoldmetogo attempting to bite the neck of Firenze Fire in the stretch run of the Grade III Gallant Bob at Parx Racing.
Well done, one and all.