Two of the world's highest-rated horses were in action during the weekend and neither had any trouble winning -- Winx for the 30th straight time in Australia and Beauty Generation making it seven in a row in Hong Kong.
Grade 1 racing returned to Japan, along with the third leg of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky" Derby -- not exactly a straight thoroughfare for the Thoroughbreds this season.
Let's have a look, shall we?
Winx made it look easy Saturday at Randwick, drawing off in the final 200 meters to win the Group 2 Apollo Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths -- her 30th straight win. With regular rider Hugh Bowman aboard, Winx took station mid-field with clear sailing down the backstretch, waiting for her moment. Happy Clapper, who showed the way around the turn, found no answer when Winx breezed past and was an honorable second. Egg Tart finished third.
"We expected something like that today, but as I said during the week until we get her here under race conditions you really never know until she is put under a competitive environment which she was today," Bowman told Thoroughbred News. "After I rode her here last Saturday morning it really gave me the confidence she was back and she was ready to race. She certainly franked those thoughts this afternoon."
Trainer Chris Waller, noting Winx was coming off a four-months layoff after notching her fourth Cox Plate win, said, "She just showed how good she is. That is what everyone wants to see and it is becoming more of that, making sure the fans, worldwide now get to see her at her best and she certainly was today first up."
In theory, Winx has three more engagements before calling it a career. On the track, she shows no signs of calling it quits. She is the world's No. 1 rated horse, in a tie with Cracksman.
Inti led from the earliest stages in Sunday's Grade 1 February Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse and ran on to win his seventh straight race, also earning a spot in Novemer's Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.
The 5-year-old son of Came Home, with Yutaka Take riding, was well in front midway down the long stretch, then had to hold off a late run by Gold Dream, the 2017 February Stakes winner and last year's runner-up, before securing the victory. Yuranoto was third.
"He has so much potential. We have a lot to look forward to in his future starts," said Take, a Japanese cultural icon who landed his fifth February Stakes victory and 76th overall JRA Grade 1 win. The February Stakes and the Champions Cup, formerly the Japan Cup Dirt, are the country's two top-level events on the dirt.
The February Stakes also marked the first Grade 1 ride for a Japanese female jockey as Nanako Fujita booted Copano Kicking to a fifth-place finish despite a wide trip.
Sunday's program at Tokyo Racecourse also included the Hyacinth Stakes, third leg of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" -- a path proving particularly zig-zag this season. Oval Ace got by Weitblink in the final 200 meters of the 1-mile race to become the third winner in as many races. The Henny Hughes colt also took the points lead in the series. Nova Lenda, who did not run in the Hyacinth, holds the second spot and Derma Louvre, who finished third in the Hyacinth, moved into third position in the standings.
Derma Louvre's connections reportedly would be interested in sending the Pyro colt to Louisville. He has 14 points -- 8 for finishing second at Kawasaki and 6 for the third in the Hyacinth. However, the winner of the fourth and final race, the Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse March 31, will earn enough points to have first claim on the spot held for Japan in the Churchill Downs starting gate.
Beauty Generation won his seventh straight race and again confirmed his status as the world's top miler (or thereabouts) and Exultant continued his somewhat surprising development as a top-level stayer Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse. It also was a big, big day for top jockey Zac Purton.
Beauty Generation, No. 4 overall in the Longines World's Best Racehorse rankings, scored his sixth Group 1 victory with ease in the Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup. The 6-year-old Road to Rock gelding led from the midway point on the backstretch and held on well to win by 1 3/4 lengths over chief rival Beat the Clock.
"It's just a repeat of what he's been doing all season," trainer John Moore said. "Everyone's had a go at beating him. The little bit of hype around a couple of the other horses was fair. But he just keeps doing it."
"It was easy for him," Purton said. "It was pretty straightforward. It was pretty easy. I just had to drag the sprint out of Beat The Clock, so I just made sure I did that and then the race was over."
In the co-featured Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup, Exultant built upon the reputation he started with a surprise win against formidable international competition last December in the Longines Hong Kong Vase. With Purton up on him, too, Exultant unleashed a quick burst of speed on the backstretch to take the lead turning for home in the 2,400-meters race and the contest essentially was over.
Exultant had only to hold off the Dubai-bound Southern Legend for the victory and winning trainer Tony Cruz said Exultant now points to the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at 2,000 meters in April and the Group 1 Champions & Chater Cup at 2,400 meters May 26.
Southern Legend, meanwhile, will leave for Dubai Feb. 28, said trainer Caspar Fownes, who warned not to underestimate his chances in the Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night. "The lack of respect he's being shown is a joke," Fownes said of Southern Legend. "But he keeps running really well and did so again today."
In the final feature of a Feb. 17 stakes triple, Mission Tycoon posted a 92-1 upset in the Hong Kong Classic Cup, middle leg of the Four Year Old Series, winning by 1 length after being allowed to set a slow pace through much of the race. Trainer Frankie Lor not only trains Mission Tycoon but also the better-fancied Dark Dream and Furore, who finished second and fourth in Sunday's race.
The latter two, Lor said, are more likely prospects for the series finale, the BMW Hong Kong Derby.
England and France
Upsets were the order of the day Saturday in All-Weather Championships Fast-Track Qualifier races in both England and the south of France.
Stamford Raffles made all under Richard Kingscote to spring a 33-1 shocker in the 32Red Conditions Race over 2 miles at Kempton Park. The 6-year-old son of Champs Elysees earned a place in the Betway All-Weather Marathon Championship over the same distance and surface at Lingfield Park on Finals Day, Good Friday, April 19.
The Jane Chapple-Hyam trainee was the lowest rated of the five-strong field with a mark of 84, but was immediately sent to the front as the favorite, Grey Britain, was held up in last. After carving out a steady pace, Stamford Raffles withstood a strong late challenge from Spark Plug to prevail by a short head with Grey Britain third.
"The goal was to try and get him qualified for the Good Friday and I would say that Finals Day will be his next aim, Kingscote said.
At Cagnes-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean coast, Volfango, a 5-year-old son of Dutch Art, making his first startsince last August and first for trainer Fabrice Vermeulen, scored at odds of 16-1 in the listed Prix Saonois at 1 mile.
Jockey Maxime Guyon tucked in second-last in a big field, made a wide move late and won by 1/2 length. The victory qualified Volfango for the Sun Racing All-Weather Mile Championship on Finals Day -- a spot to which the winner's connections have not committed.