The second weekend of the new year produced some prospects for Dubai World Cup night, both locally and in Hong Kong, while Godolphin notched another international success in Australia.
In the United States, a relatively short slate of stakes featured some consistent winners at Laurel Park who look poised to move right up the ladder.
We'll move right along, too, with:
As noted here Thursday, the Phoenix Ladies Syndicate is having a fabulous run of success in its inaugural season, most recently winning the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial at Meydan as Walking Thunder destroyed talented field in his career debut. Well, things just keep getting better for the ladies.
On Friday at Jebel Ali, another of their first-timers, Golden Jaguar, overcame a sit-down at the start, ran through the field in the second half of the 1,000 meters and won by a stylish 3 1/4 lengths under Connor Beasley. The colt is a son of 2013 Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom and looks to have a bright future.
"Apart from that moment in the gates, he was very professional and will certainly have learned a lot from the experience," Beasley said. "Having been slowly into stride, it actually suited in the end because he had to face the kickback and that will have helped him learn to race. He's a big horse and will come on a lot for that, both fitness-wise and mentally."
Speaking of Dubai, Trainer Tony Millard has his bags packed after Elusive State scored his fourth straight win in Saturday's Leighton Handicap on the Sha Tin all-weather track. Millard has the 5-year-old All American gelding entered for both the Group 1 Dubai World Cup and the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on March 30 but admits those are a stretch and knows his steed will need a further jump in ratings to merit the trip.
"It's one thing winning in Class 2 and another thing winning the Godolphin Mile or the World Cup," Millard said. "But what we see here is a little bit special. He's a late developer and a big animal. He's the real deal."
"He needs to earn more rating points. But if they do put on a race in March (in Hong Kong) and he can win it, then we'll see," the trainer added.
And speaking of Godolphin, the blue-clad team from Dubai, which enjoyed a spectacular 2018, got things going nicely in 2019 as Exhilarates came rolling down the middle of the course Saturday to take the AUS$2 million The Star Gold Coast Magic Millions by 3/4 length over Dubious.
The race is restricted to products of the Magic Millions sales -- to which Godolphin returned last year, buying eight. Among them was Exhilarates, a Snitzel filly. She was fifth at first asking in November, then turned in a pair of runner-up showings before breaking through at Gold Coast Jan. 5.
Kerrin McEvoy, who rode the winner for trainer James Cummings, told Racenet, "I was worried up until about the 600 meters. I didn't begin great and I was back amongst horses that weren't going to take me far."
Theobald, a 4-year-old Teofilo colt, took the lead a furlong out in Friday night's All Weather Championships Fast-Track Qualifier and ran on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over 10-year-old All-Weather veteran Captain Joy. Tony The Gent was third in the 1-mile jaunt over the Dundalk Polytrack. Theobald earned a guaranteed free start in the Sun Racing All-Weather Mile Championships Finals Day on Good Friday, April 19.
Ger Flynn, traveling head lad for trainer Jim Boler, said: "The option to go to Lingfield for the Final is there if the boss wants. Theobald is progressing, loves Polytrack and hopefully it is onwards and upwards with him."
The All-Weather Championships program continues with a field of six contesting a 2-miles Fast Track Qualifier Monday on the Wolverhampton Tapeta surface.
Among the contenders is Watersmeet, who narrowly saw off French challenger Funny Kid in the same race last year before finishing a close third behind the same horse in the Betway All-Weather Marathon Championships on Friday.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Doctor Mounty, after racing last, came flying outside rivals in the stretch run to win Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Tropical Turf Stakes at Gulfstream Park by 1 length. Your Only Man edged the favorite, Heart to Heart, for place money. The latter endured a rough trip early and led at mid-stretch but paid the price for the early misfortune. Doctor Mounty, a 6-year-old son of Street Sense from the A.P. Indy mare On a Roll, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.62 with Javier Castellano up. He won the Grade III Baltimore-Washington International Turf Cup at Laurel Park last fall but most recently finished eighth in the Grade II Fort Lauderdale over the Gulfstream greensward.
"His last race (in the Fort Lauderdale), he didn't run that bad," said winning trainer Shug McGaughey. "It was just too tough. He was 70-1. Today, he's 5-1. He only got beat 8 lengths and there were five Grade I winners in the race. I've been a little bit puzzled about how far he wants to run. Today, the big thing was to get him relaxed. Javier got him to relax and when he gets that, he finishes up like he did today."
Bellavais got room on the rail a furlong out in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Marshua's River Stakes for fillies and mares and ran by pacesetting I'm Betty G for a 3 1/2-lengths victory. Valedictorian, Bombshell and Hogans Holiday followed in that order, tightly bunched. Bellavais, a 5-year-old Tapit mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on the firm Gulfstream turf in 1:41.98 with Castellano scoring the stakes double. The Todd Pletcher charge scored her first graded stakes win.
"I loved the way she was training coming into the race," Pletcher said of Bellavais. "She drew the rail and Javier's plan was to try to save ground and maybe tip out at some point. But a hole opened up and she shot through it like a star."
Escape Clause stalked the early pace in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III La Canada Stakes for fillies and mares at Santa Anita, barreled by three-wide in the lane and drew off to win by 5 1/2 lengths. K P Wildcat was second, 2 3/4 lengths in front of Lemoona. Escape Clause, a 5-year-old, Manitoba-bred mare by Going Commando, ran 1 1/16 miles on a wet-fast track in 1:41.89 with Tyler Baze in the irons. She moved to Southern California after dominating rivals in Minnesota and Canada and quickly proved she belonged. After Saturday's win, her California record is 2 wins, a third and a fourth from five starts.
Owner-trainer Don Schnell said, "I used to say any time I got a good horse I'd like to come to Santa Anita and win a race, and then I went years without having a good horse and then all of a sudden I get one and I've got an option. But I want to come to Santa Anita, I want to come to Southern California and I'm glad I did now."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Spring Lily sprang the upset in Sunday's $100,000 Kalookan Queen Stakes at Santa Anita. When the favorite, Selcourt, stumbled at the start, Spring Lily and Lake Time wound up battling for the early lead. Selcourt recovered to briefly take the advantage on the turn but then could not hold off a second effort by Spring Lily, who won by 2 1/4 lengths. Selcourt, the odds-on favorite, held second, 3 3/4 length better than Tyfosha. Spring Lily, a 4-year-old Union Rags filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.55 with Evin Roman up for trainer John Shirreffs. She scored her third career victory.
"This filly likes to be head-and-head," Shirreffs said. "She battles back. She doesn't give it up ... You have to take it away from her."
Late Night Pow Wow dueled for the lead through the first half mile in Saturday's $100,000 What a Summer Stakes at Laurel Park, shook loose and got away to a 6 1/4-lengths victory as the odds-on favorite. Devine Mischief was second, a neck in front of Behrnik's Bandit and Moonlit Song completed the order of finish. Late Night Pow Wow, a 4-year-old Fiber Sonde filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.27 with Fredy Peltroche in the irons. She won for the eighth straight time and has 10 wins and one second from her 11 trips.
"She's pretty special," said Late Night Pow Wow's trainer, Javier Contreras. "Not too many horses do that kind of stuff. She's very special to us. We're aiming for the Barbara Fritchie next month, and hopefully we can get the same results." The $250,000 Grade III Barbara Frichie is Feb. 16, part of Laurel's Winter Carnival.
Timeless Curls pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Nellie Morse Stakes, moved to the lead when asked and drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Mzima Springs sprang from last of five to finish second, a neck to the good of Enthral. Timeless Curls, a 4-year-old Curlin filly, finished about 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.66 under Weston Hamilton. It was her fourth straight win and she has not missed the board in nine career starts.
"She was training very well going into this race," trainer Dale Capuano said of Timeless Curls. "We scratched a couple weeks ago out of the Thirty Eight Go Go. We had a bad post, it was a big field and we thought we'd give her a little more time. Luckily, it paid off."
General Downs took back early in Saturday's $100,000 Native Dancer at Laurel Park, took the lead early in the stretch run and held on to win by 3/4 length over Rich Daddy. Just Call Kenny was third, another neck behind. General Downs, a 6-year-old Mineshaft gelding, ran about 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.92. It was his second straight win and first in a stakes. "He's a really nice horse," said winning rider Julian Pimentel. "I had a really good trip. I was able to sit behind the speed and when it was time to go, he did."
Home Run Maker found enough in the late going in Saturday's $100,000 Fire Plug Stakes to get by Sheikh of Sheikhs for a 1/2-length score. The early leader, Shane's Jewel, tired to finish third, 2 1/4 lengths farther in arrears. Home Run Maker, a 4-year-old Into Mischief colt, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.42 for jockey Jorge Vargas Jr., winning for the third straight time.
"This horse is doing fantastic right now," Vargas said. "I worked him last week and he dragged me. Jeremiah (trainer Englehart) was here, and he was amazed the way he did it. You can see the results. He dragged me out there today and when I ducked him out and he saw clear, he just took off."
And around the ovals ...
Saturday's $100,000 Las Cienegas Stakes for fillies and mares came off the downhill turf course and onto the wet-fast main track with four resulting scratches. Selcourt was a fifth scratch and she was re-entered for Sunday. With only four left, Belvoir Bay tracked the pace made by Lady Suebee, went by that one in the lane and won by 1 1/4 lengths. Lady Suebee held second, followed by Compelled and Painting Corners. Belvoir Bay, a 6-year-old, British-bred mare by Equiano, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.06 with Flavien Prat in the irons.
Blindwillie McTell fought his way to a daylight lead in the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Rego Park Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds, then held off Kadens Courage for a 3/4-length victory. Thorny Tale was third, 1 1/4 lengths farther back. Blindwillie McTell, a Posse gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:18.99 with Dylan Davis in the irons.
Honor Up was next-last through the early furlongs in Saturday's $100,000 Say Florida Sandy Stakes for New York-breds, then was up just in time to nip Syndergaard by a neck for the win. Gold for the King was third, another 1 3/4 lengths back. Honor Up, a 4-year-old colt by To Honor and Serve, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.56 with Manny Franco riding.
Ohio, invading from California, outclassed nine rivals in Saturday's $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile, kicking clear to win by 6 1/2 lengths after a stalking trip. Thegloryisallmine led the way and held second, 1/2 length better than Gato Guapo. Ohio, an 8-year-old, Brazilian-bred gelding by Elusive Quality, finished in 1:35.87 under Ruben Fuentez. The veteran was racing in the claiming ranks at Del Mar last summer but jumped up to finish third in the Grade II City of Hope Mile at Santa Anita in September.
Raagheb rallied from last of six to take Sunday's $65,000 Winsham Lad Handicap by 2 lengths over Deputy's Echo. It was another 3/4 length back to American Dubai in third. Raagheb, a 7-year-old Street Cry gelding, finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.21 with Luis Contreras in the irons.