With the polar vortex headed back to the barn, at least for now, a big weekend for the 3-year-olds features Derby and Oaks preps in California, Florida, Arkansas, New York and northern Kentucky.
Saturday's Grade II San Pasqual at Santa Anita has McKinzie back in action for trainer Bob Baffert.
Thursday's session at Meydan in Dubai was a triumph for Drafted and a disappointment for American visitor Switzerland. The Phoenix Ladies Syndicate won again.
A slow weekend on the international front nonetheless includes the first stop -- of two -- on Douglas Whyte's farewell tour. See "News and Notes."
The Road to the Roses
It's that time of year when the Triple Crown hopefuls are beginning to sort themselves out and Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Withers at Aqueduct could be -- to borrow a Harry Potter reference -- a sorting hat. Seven are set to go 9 furlongs and the NYRA oddsmaker has five of them at single-digit odds.
The 2-1 favorite on the morning line is Tax, an Arch colt who won his second start, then finished third in the Remsen, won by Maximus Mischief before that one fled to winter grounds in Florida. Tax is out of the Giant's Causeway mare Toll. Our Braintrust was turned over the Mark Casse after finishing second in the Jerome on New Year's Day but merited only 6-1 odds on the Withers line. Moretti, a Medaglia d'Oro colt campaigned by Todd Pletcher, exits a maiden win over the course and is 3-1. At 7-2 we find Lucky Lee from the John Servis barn, a Parx allowance winner. Not That Brady beat fellow New York-breds in the Damon Runyon Stakes for his second win. Admire and Sir Winston are the long shots.
In Florida: His connections are going to be mighty disappointed if the aforementioned Maximus Mischief doesn't win Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. The Into Mischief colt, trained by Robert Reid Jr., is 3-for-3 with his last effort being that 2 1/4-lengths victory in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct Dec. 1. The bay colt has been training up a storm in Florida and Jose Ortiz takes the reins from Frankie Pennington. Federal Case is one of those Todd Pletcher charges who could be a good one. He finished 2018 with a pace-pressing win going 1 mile at Gulfstream Dec. 23.
The others in the Holy Bull look a bit suspect although Mihos and Garter and Tie did finish first and third in the Mucho Macho Man over the same surface Jan. 5. That was 1 mile and the Holy Bull adds a sixteenth.
Mucho Gusto, from the mucho-loaded Bob Baffert barn, returns to action against five foes in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. The Mucho Macho Man colt was 2-for-3 as a juvenile, winning the Grade III Bob Hope at Del Mar, then just missing to stablemate Improbable in the Grade I Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity Dec. 8. The chief rival would appear to be Gunmetal Gray, an Exchange Rate colt who finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile but won the Grade III Sham in his 3-year-old debut Jan. 5 at Santa Anita. Mike Smith has the mount for Jerry Hollendorfer. The others have less imposing credentials.
None of the 11 set for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Swale at Gulfstream Park has yet made a significant impression but several have shown early promise. This is a 7-furlongs effort, sometimes a last chance to jump up and take a position on the Road to the Roses. Look for Call Paul, who won the Grade II Saratoga Special last summer but faltered when stretched to a mile. Country Singer has won two straight in South Florida while showing plenty of speed.
Friday's $50,000 Cincinnati Trophy at 6 1/2 furlongs on the Turfway Park all-weather track drew an overflow field. The 2-1 favorite on what promises to be an interesting weather evening is Iva, a Scat Daddy filly trained by Wesley Ward. Iva won both her starts on the circuit last year, then finished second in the House Party Stakes at Gulfstream Park Dec. 8. She's been working at Turfway since late December so she should be used to the cold -- and thaw.
Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Forward Gal, 7 furlongs at Gulfstream Park, has a few fine fillies featuring "F" names. Fashion Faux Pas, a Flatter filly, won her last two starts by open lengths -- a maiden event at Laurel Park in November and the Sandpiper in the Tampa Bay Downs slop Dec. 15. Feedback, a daughter of Violence, has been idle since winning her debut at Saratoga last summer by 8 lengths. Bye Bye J ran a good one last time out over the Gulfstream strip.
Saturday's $125,000 Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park got eight takers to go 1 mile. The favorites are Sunset Wish and Taylor's Spirit, first and second in the Take Charge Brandi at Delta Downs. Marathon Queen and Japanese-bred Power Gal seek their first score against winners.
Sunday's $100,000 Busanda at Aqueduct features Afleet Destiny among 11. The Hard Spun filly, trained by upset specialist Uriah St. Lewis, took five tries to get to the winner's circle, then jumped up to finish second in the Grade II Demoiselle in her most recent outing. Filly Joel, third in the Demoiselle, also returns in this field. After that, there are plenty of maiden winners, a few allowance winners and one still a maiden.
McKinzie, whose only career finish out of the top two came in the Breeders' Cup Classic, runs again in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Pasqual at Santa Anita. The Street Sense 4-year-old rebounded nicely from the disappointment in Louisville to win the Grade I Malibu on Boxing Day at Santa Anita. He also accounted for the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby last year and the Grade I Cash Call Futurity as a juvenile. Trainer Bob Baffert passed on a chance to run McKinzie in the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational last weekend at Gulfstream Park in favor of staying home for this slot, which could open the door an alternate big payoff in the Dubai World Cup.
The San Pasqual field also includes Pavel, 10th in the Breeders' Cup Classic, then last in the Grade 1 Champions Cup in Japan, and Battle of Midway, the show horse in the 2017 Kentucky Derby and most recently second in the Grade II San Antonio. Several of the others are solid graded stakes performers.
On Thursday evening at Meydan:
Drafted drafted in behind the field through the first half of the Group 3 Al Shindaga Sprint, rallied on the outside to engage the lead at mid-stretch and eased clear, winning by 3/4 length from Tato Key. Ibn Malik was third. American hopeful Switzerland, trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Ryan Moore, chased the quick pace and tired to finish last. Drafted, a 5-year-old son of Field Condition, finished in 1:12.34 with Patrick Dobbs up for trainer Doug Watson.
"He just does not have that natural speed, but he tries every time for us and he has been a delight to train," Watson said. "The smaller field tonight probably helped him a little bit because it kept him out of the kickback early, so he travelled a little bit better. He is not great with kickback."
The UAE 1000 Guineas was a runaway victory for Silva, who seized the lead at the top of the lane and drew away easily to a 9 3/4-lengths victory. The Kodiac filly, owned by Zalim Bivov and trained by Pia Brandt, was making her UAE debut. She won on her third start in December on the Deauville all-weather course. "I gave her a good run up and she jumped and she probably avoided all the kickback," said winning rider Oisin Murphy. Her next assignment might be tougher, but that was a great result."
The Guineas was a bit of a moral victory for Godolphin's Divine Image. The highly regarded Scat Daddy filly, victorious in her only previous start, missed the break badly and spotted the big field a half dozen lengths. She still had only one rival beaten on the stretch turn but was along for second, a head in front of early leader Lady Parma. Dubai Beauty was fourth. "She was a little bit restless in the gate," said jockey William Buick. "She ran a great race to be second in her first time on dirt. She got a lot of kickback and she's a very game and honest filly. I think she'll improve for the step up in the UAE Oaks."
The Phoenix Ladies Syndicate continued its run as Golden Jaguar won the Meydan Classic Trial by 2 lengths on the turf course. Golden Jaguar earlier won on the dirt at Jebel Ali. "It shows you how good he is," said PLS member Amer Abdulaziz.
The Dubai Racing Club is in receipt of 1,440 nominations for 739 horses from 20 countries for the 2019 Dubai World Cup night festivities March 30. With only a few exceptions, the world's best are on the list, which is available here.
The Betway Winter Derby Trial may be slightly eclipsed at Lingfield Park Saturday by the listed Betway Cleves Stakes -- the latter featuring Katchy. The 6-year-old won the 2018 Cleves and went on to finish second behind only City Light in the All-Weather Sprint Championship on Good Friday last. In his second start of this season's All-Weather Championships, Katchy broke the Wolverhampton 6-furlongs track record on Boxing Day.
Trainer Tom Dascombe said he was pleased with the Wolverhampton effort and Katchy "has been well since." But, he said, "We need to run him again before Finals Day in order to quality because he must either win a Fast-Track qualifier or run at least another twice.
The Winter Derby Trial is run over the same 10 furlongs as the Group 3 Betway Winter Derby on Feb. 23 and 15 of Saturday's 16 entries also are in for the Derby itself. The Derby Trial is a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Betway Easter Classic on Finals Day, April 19. Among the likely for the Trial is Wissahickon, a John Gosden charge last seen winning the Betway Quebec Stakes over course and distance Dec. 22.
News and Notes:
Kukulkan to stay at GP
Kukulkan, Mexico's Triple Crown winner Kukulkan, undefeated in 14 starts before his 11th-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, will remain at Gulfstream Park to seek further glory, trainer Fausto Gutierrez said Wednesday. Gutierrez also said jockey Frankie Dettori, who rode the 4-year-old in the Pegasus, told him the colt didn't like the sloppy track.
Kukulkan easily won the Clasico del Caribe over a fast Gulfstream strip facing restricted company so Gutierrez said he still is unsure of his charge's true level of talent. "We'll look at all our options," he said. "Maybe we'll run in an allowance race. We need to try again."
He said 2017 Clasico del Caribe winner Jala Jala also will be stabled at Gulfstream and is a possibility for the Grade III Royal Delta on Feb. 16, depending how tough that field looks.
Whyte says 'goodbye' to Happy Valley fans
It wasn't Douglas Whyte's final ride as a jockey Wednesday night. But it was his last spin around the iconic, in-town Happy Valley course where has piled up 572 wins and uncounted memories during a Hong Kong career that encompassed a run of 13 successive championships. The local punters develop relationships with the riders and Whyte is a favorite. After his final race, the South Africa native jogged California Gungho down the length of the straight, to the end of the beer garden, greeting the crowd, reaching down to shake hands and tossing signed goggles.
"I'm going to miss the electricity of Happy Valley. It's been a long time and it's molded into me now. It's in my blood," said Whyte, who will hang up his tack for the final time Feb. 10 at Sha Tin Racecourse. "To be able to give some time back to the Valley crowd was something really special. I hope I've earned them a dollar or two over the years and I hope they've enjoyed watching me," he told the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Graham Cunningham.