North American turf racing was nothing if not exciting during 2018 -- largely because the best horses kept beating each other. Especially among the male grass runners, none was able to string together top-level wins.
The new year is off to a familiar start. Here's how things went during the weekend, along with a few other results:
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Marcos at Santa Anita looked wide open on paper -- and played out accordingly. Platinum Warrior, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred colt by Galileo, stalked the pace, led exiting the final turn and built up enough of a cushion to hold off Epical in the final strides by 3/4 length. Beach View was right behind in third and the favorite, Chicago Style, finished fifth with a belated bid. Platinum Warrior, with Shane Foley calling the shots, ran 1 1/4 miles on good turf in 2:02.37. He went to the post at odds of better than 16-1.
"Without a doubt, it was well worth the travel from Ireland for this win," Foley said.
The colt came to the United States last summer to finish fourth in the Grade I Secretariat Stakes at Arlington. The San Marcos was his first U.S. win after four also-rans and trainer John Sadler said an unspecified run in Dubai or the San Juan Capistrano over the Santa Anita turf could be next for Platinum Warrior. "The owner (Yuesheng Zhang) is talking about going to Dubai for the festival so he might go over there and then come back," Sadler said.
Inspector Lynley was along late to capture Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes by 1/2 length from Divisidero. The favorite, Qurbaan, was just a nose farther back and just a pair of necks better than Heart to Heart and Admiralty Pier. Inspector Lynley, a 6-year-old by Lemon Drop Kid, ran 1 1/16 miles on the Tampa Bay Downs grass in 1:40.35 under Jose Ortiz. He exited a fourth-place finish in the Grade II Fort Lauderdale Stakes at Gulfstream Park in January.
Robbie Medina, assistant trainer to Inspector Lynley's trainer, Shug McGaughey, noted the winner "ran really well at Gulfstream in a really tough race from the 13 post. He was last turning for home and he finished fourth and that was a really good race ... We think this is probably his best distance, a mile and a sixteenth or a mile and an eighth."
Filly & Mare Turf
Valedictorian had the last word in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Suwannee River Stakes at Gulfstream Park. After leading all the way, the 5-year-old Temple City mare easily held off the late run of odds-on favorite Rymska, winning by 2 1/2 lengths from that rival. Peach of a Gal was a long shot third. Valedictorian, with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:50.12. It was her first graded stakes win, 10th overall from 24 starts. "She was sharp," said winning trainer Kelly Breen. "I didn't think she could get a mile and an eighth. Things worked out. The pace worked out. Tyler rode her great."
Hawksmoor found a lane between rivals at mid-stretch in Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Lambholme South Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, got through and outfinished Viva Vegas to win by 1/2 length. Conquest Hardcandy stalked the pace, held a brief lead and finished third. Hawksmoor, a 6-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Azamour, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.83 with Javier Castellano in the irons. It was her first win since June of 2017.
Trainer Arnaud Delacour said, "The plan was to be close to the lead and then she was at the back. But that's Javier is in the Hall of Fame -- his ability to adapt to the situation. That's the first time for us that she has come closing. Usually she is not a closer and she doesn't like to be between horses, but it worked out." He said he will consider running Hawksmoor back in the Grade II Hillsborough on March 9.
True Valour rallied from near the back of the field in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Thunder Road Stakes at Santa Anita, swung three-wide into the stretch and was up in time to win by 1/2 length over Ohio. Le Ken was third and the odds-on favorite, River Boyne, settled for fourth. True Valour, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred son of Kodiac, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:36.35 with Andrea Atzeni in the irons during a break from his British racing duties. True Valour picked up his first U.S. win after racing earlier in Ireland and Atzeni got his first win at Santa Anita. True Valour is not to be confused with True Valor, a 5-year-old claimer who also is in training at Santa Anita.
Hembree was shuffled and bumped back at the start of Saturday's $100,000 El Prado Stakes at Gulfstream Park, launched a bid five-wide into the lane and found enough not only to win by a neck over Mr Cub, but to do it in course-record time of 1:27.06 for the 7 1/2 furlongs. Mr Cub subsequently was set down to fifth for interference, promoting Uncle B and Cowboy Culture to second and third. Irad Ortiz Jr. had the mount on Hembree, a 5-year-old son of Proud Citizen, for trainer Mike Maker. He was claimed for $50,000 at Aqueduct in April, 2018, and went on to win the Grade II Nearctic Stakes at Woodbine in October before finishing 10th in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
Heartwood, returning to Arkansas for the first time in nearly two years, tracked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn Park, challenged for the lead at the quarter pole and finally got clear to win by 1/2 length. Control Stake found late speed to edge pacesetting Gordy Florida for second. Heartwood, a 5-year-old son of Tapit, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.99 with David Cohen in the irons. Heartwood made his second start at the Hot Springs oval, finishing second, and had not returned until Saturday. Always competitive, he blossomed late in 2018, finishing second in the Grade III Fall Highweight at Aqueduct and third in the Grade III Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream Park.
"He ran very hard," Cohen said. "The No. 3 horse (Gordy Florida) really dug in and made me really have to work for it. It didn't come easy. I really thought I would get that type of setup and my horse showed a lot of heart. He kind of lived up to his name."
In other action:
Sunday's $100,000 Sweet Life Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, originally scheduled for the downhill turf course, was moved to the wet-fast main course -- no apparent inconvenience for Apache Princess. The daughter of Unusual Heat took the lead in the lane and, despite jockey Kent Desormeaux shedding his whip along the way, won by 3 1/4 lengths over Thriving. Splashy Kisses was third. Apache Princess ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.82.
Frostie Anne blasted out of the stalls in Sunday's $100,000 Bigio's Rose Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares and kept adding to her lead until she sailed home first, 6 lengths in front of runner-up Midnight Disguise. Bonita Bianca was third. Frostie Anne, a 6-year-old daughter of Frost Giant, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.32 with Hector Diaz Jr. in the irons.
Minister of Soul set a pressured pace in Saturday's $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup, shook loose in the lane and rolled on to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Never Give In edged Mr. Jagermeister for second with a late effort. Minister of Soul, a 5-year-old Ministers Wild Cat gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.41 with Glenn Corbett aboard. The California-bred is undefeated in four starts at the Arizona track.
The track was fast for Saturday evening's Louisiana Premier Night for state-bred steeds. But it was not a good night for favorites, especially of the odds-on variety.
Grand Luweege led from the start in the $150,000 Premier Night Championship and held on to win by a neck over Givemeaminit. Mageez was third and the favorite, Afleet Ascent, faded to get home seventh. Grand Luweege, a 4-year-old colt by El Corredor, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.80 under Diego Saenz.
Hyper Piper took over the lead in deep stretch in the $125,000 Matron and edged away, winning by 1 3/4 lengths from the odds-on favorite, Testing One Two. Hyper Piper, a 6-year-old Old Fashioned mare, got 1 mile in 1:40.66 with Tim Thornton in the irons.
Wonder Run took the lead late and won the $100,000 Sprint by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Monte Man. Ours to Run, always close, closed in the late going to take the $100,000 Matron for fillies and mares by 1 length -- a rare win on the night for an odds-on favorite.
Shang tracked the pace in the $100,000 Prince for 3-year-olds, then was up on the wire to win by a neck from odds-on favorite Classy John. Shang is by Shanghai Bobby. Goodprofit, a daughter of Guilt Trip, rallied from last to win the $100,000 Starlet for 3-year-old fillies by a neck over odds-on favorite Midnight Fantasy.