Well Defined, Sparky Ville and Haikal raised Kentucky Derby hopes with victories in the weekend'sthree big -year-old races while Bellafina had all she could do to secure victory among the three-year-old filly ranks.
With all the action in, last year's Juvenile champion, Game Winner, remained atop the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings while continuing to prep for his first start of the year. He also was the top solo choice in the second pool of the Kentucky Derby Futures wager -- closing Sunday at 5-1 behind the 5-2 favorite, "all others".
A side note: Sparky Ville and the winner of a big Japanese Oaks prep (see the International roundup) were both produced by Storm Cat mares, yet another reminder of the impact that superstar continues to have on the breed.
Here's how it went with just 12 weeks left on:
The Road to the Roses
Well Defined took the lead straight out of the gate in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and was never threatened, winning off by 2 3/4 lengths over Kentucky Wildcat. The others were double-digit lengths behind -- among them the favorite, Grade I Breeders' Futurity winner Knicks Go, who faded badly for the second straight race to finish fifth, 13 lengths behind the winner. Well Defined, a With Distinction colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.70 with Pablo Morales up for trainer Kathleen O'Connell.
Well Defined ran against fellow Florida-breds early in his 2-year-old season, then finished 12th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He was a fading fifth, beating only one rival, in his only intervening start, the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park.
"He's had little things that have happened and he's grown up mentally and physically, and today he showed up with his game face on," O'Connell said. "He is kind of a free-running horse. His rear end slipped out from underneath him in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and he was compromised on early position when he ran in the Mucho Macho Man and got bottled up inside. But he's a young horse who's improving, mind-wise and everything-wise."
Well Defined earned 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings, moving in to a six-way tie for the No. 9 spot but O'Connell said his next race will be up to the owners, Stonehedge LLC.
The weekend's big 3-year-old race on the West Coast, the $200,000 Grade II San Vicente, was run at 7 furlongs Sunday on a wet Santa Anita track and produced an upset. Sparky Ville, a Candy Ride colt who was competitive without winning in graded stakes as a juvenile, finished the job Sunday, rallying from well off the pace to outfinish Dressman and win by a nose. It was another 6 1/2 lengths back to the odds-on favorite, Coliseum, whose effort was hampered by a slow start. Sparky Ville, out of the Storm Cat mare Lorelai K, finished in 1:21.93 under Joel Rosario. The winner is trained by Jeff Bonde. Dressman and Coliseum are from the Bob Baffert barn.
"We are very happy with the way our horse had trained for this race," Bonde said. "But it's always scary when you get a look at those Baffert 'Maseratis'. It pretty much unfolded the way we had hoped." Still, he said, Sparky Ville is an unlikely Derby prospect. "This horse seems like he's more adept at 7 furlongs to a mile so I'm not sure he wants a mile and a quarter," Bonde said.
At Aqueduct, Haikal tracked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, saved ground through the turn and finally found room inside the early leader to go through and win by a neck. Joevia held second after surrendering the lead and Tikhvin Flew was third. Haikal, a Daaher colt trained by Kiaran McLaughlin for Shadwell Stable, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.24 with Rajiv Maragh in the irons.
"This horse, if the track plays fair, I think he can sit where he wants to sit and make his move," said McLaughlin assistant Joe Lee. "Rajiv said he finished full of run. The Gotham (March 9 at Aqueduct) could be next, hopefully, he comes out of this in good shape. We'll obviously leave it up to the boss and Sheikh Hamdan. It's their decision."
Friday night's $75,000 John Battaglia Memorial was postponed until next Friday because of the frigid weather at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky.
Well Defined moves well into the Kentucky Derby picture with a win in Saturday's Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, Tampa Bay Downs photo
Kentucky Oaks preps
Bellafina led from the start in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Las Virgenes at Santa Anita and held off a late bid by Enaya Elrabb, winning by 3/4 length. Calf Moon Bay was along late to edge Mother Mother for third. Bellafina, the heaviest of odds-on favorites, ran 1 mile on a good track in 1:35.99 with Flavien Prat up for trainer Simon Callaghan. The Quality Road filly won for the fifth time from seven starts. She finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
"I think the main track was a little bit sticky today and Mother Mother never gave us a break the whole way, so I think it was a good performance," Callaghan said. "Obviously, when you come off such a scintillating win by a length, many people are disappointed, but we are happy to get the win and we're going to freshen her up for the Santa Anita Oaks."
Point of Honor took back early in Saturday's $100,000 Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, made steady progress through the turn and won going away. Lady Kate dueled to the early lead and held on for second, 2 3/4 length to the good of Sweet Diane. Point of Honor, a Curlin filly, ran 1 mile and 40 yards on a fast track in 1:39.78 for jockey Javier
Castellano. She won at first asking at Gulfstream Park in December and was making the second start of her career in the Suncoast.
"She won her first race very easy, but the horses behind her that day were not much," said Point of Honor's trainer, George Weaver said. "I think this was probably an acid test for her and she passed it with flying colors. She was very responsive to Javier and the way she drew away was very impressive … Hopefully, it's on to bigger things. We'll try to work backward now to get her to the Kentucky Oaks."
In the other divisions:
North American turf racing was nothing if not exciting -- 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 dring 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.
On the international scene:
Early Derby preps in Japan and nearly final Derby preps in Hong Kong dominated international racing during the weekend. In Australia, 2-year-olds vie for position in the rich races yet to come in the Southern Hemisphere autumn.
Sunday also saw the retirement -- amid a wild celebration by his fellow riders -- of 13-time Hong Kong champion jockey Douglas Whyte.
Here's the scorecard:
Danon Kingly posted a minor upset in Sunday's Grade 3 Kyodo News Hai for 3-year-olds, defeating the 2018 2-year-old colt champion, Admire Mars, by 1 1/4 lengths. Courageux Guerrier was four lengths farther back in third. Danon Kingly, a Deep Impact colt, completed the 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) on firm turf in 1:46.8 with Keita Tosaki riding.
Danon Kingly, out of the Storm Cat mare My Goodness, won at first asking Oct. 8 at Tokyo and backed that up with a win at Nakayama in December. Sunday's effort was his third career start. Admire Mars, a son of Daiwa Major, was undefeated in his four previous starts, most recently the Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity Dec. 16 at Hanshin.
The race is an early test for the Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun, or Japanese Derby, on May 26.
Saturday's card at Tokyo Racecourse was canceled because of snow. The program, including the Grade 3 Daily Hai Queen Cup for 3-year-old fillies, will be run Monday instead.
Manuel blasted right to the lead in Saturday's million Group 1 C. F. Orr Stakes at Caulfield and held on bravely through the final 100 meters to win by 1/2 length over the dead-heat duo of Kementari and Land of Plenty. It was a bit of an upset and gives Manuel a shot at a slot in the Aus$5 million All-Star Mile at Flemington on March 16 -- a decision for Racing Victoria officials. His only recent claim to fame was a win in the listed Kilmore Cup in November.
"He's a horse we've had so much time for," Calvin McEvoy, son of trainer Tony McEvoy, said of Manuel, a 5-year-old Commands gelding. "We came here today as the outsider but what a ride by Luke (Currie). He just got to the front and didn't have to do too much to get there and he was strong to the line," he told Racing.com.
Amongst the 2-year-old set jockeying for position in the March 23 Golden Slipper, Castelvecchio upset a promising field in Saturday's Aus$2 million Inglis Millennium at Warwick Farm, winning by a convincing 2 lengths from Accession with Dawn Passage third. The Dundeel colt, trained by Richard Litt for Ottavio Galletta, notched his second win and the trainer said the Golden Slipper might be a bit too ambitious. Winning rider Josh Parr, however, said he feels Castelvecchio won on sheer ability, not really understanding the game yet. He was last with 600 meters to run, came extremely wide into the stretch and was in full flight at the finish.
Douglas Whyte ended his record-setting Hong Kong riding Sunday career Sunday at ShaTin, without a victory but with the adulation of the fans. Whyte could do no better than a pair of second-place showings -- one that could have been a win but for some traffic issues -- before the champagne flowed.
"Of course, I'm a sportsman," the South African native said after his final weigh-out. "You'd love to ride a winner on your last day but the main thing is the fantastic ending, the good reception from the crowd."
Whyte retires with a Hong Kong career total of 1,813 wins, 894 more than reigning champion Zac Purton, total stakes money of HK$1,587,210,086.67, multiple Group 1 scores and his defining 13 consecutive premierships, from 2001 to 2013. His win strike rate over more than 22 years riding at Happy Valley and Sha Tin stands goes into the books at 14.78 percent.
On the track, Enrichment likely booked a slot in the March 17 BMW Hong Kong Derby with a win in the Class 2 Daffodil Handicap over the Derby distance of 2,000 meters. Jockey Joao Moreira said the Teofilo gelding "should get in the Derby. He deserves that. The 2,000 meters, for him, is probably the shortest he would like and I think he'd appreciate a bit farther." The win was his first in Hong Kong after three tries at shorter distances.
In Friday's trials, the world's top-rated miler, Beauty Generation, stretched his legs with an easy, 2-lengths win from Pakistan Star. Beauty Generation is idling before a run in the Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup Feb. 17 and a potential trip to Japan. "He's going well. He gave me a good feel," Purton said after riding the drill. Pakistan Star is headed for the Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup at 2,000-meters on the same Feb. 17 card.
Douglas Whyte is hosted high by hosted high by his fellow riders, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club