Magnum Moon won the Arkansas Derby and My Boy Jack ensured a trip to Louisville with a victory in the Lexington Stakes in weekend Thoroughbred racing action.
Otherwise, it was a tough weekend for favorites as Accelerate, Wonder Gadot, Unique Bella and Lady Aurelia all were defeated.
In Australia, though, Winx continued her march through the history books, winning her 25th consecutive race, putting her in a tie Black Caviar. Another Breeders' Cup "Challenge" slot was awarded on the same card at Royal Randwick.
Here's a winner:
The Road to the Roses
Magnum Moon served notice in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Arkansas Derby that he will need to be accounted for on the first Saturday of May. The Malibu Moon colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, went quickly to the lead, shook off a challenge from Quip and ran on to win by 4 lengths over that rival despite veering out in the lane after apparently shying from tracks. Quip held second by a neck over Solomini and another head from Combatant. With Luis Saez up, Magnum Moon ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in an unremarkable 1:49.86.
Magnum Moon, now 4-for-4 in his career, finished atop the Kentucky Derby points list with 150. Quip and Solomini also have sufficient points to get into the Churchill Downs starting gate but Combatant stands at No. 21 to make the field, limited to 20. Fans needn't panic as, with three weeks to go, defections are likely to create at least one opening.
Pletcher said of the stretch incident: "It looked like he sort of halfway thought about jumping over the tire marks when he went by the eighth pole where the gate was and sort of skipped over those. I think he was maybe just drifting away from that … Aside from that, I thought he finished with good energy and was pulling away from some nice horses."
"He showed his versatility," the trainer continued. "He's won a number of different ways now and I think he's proven that he's the kind of horse that doesn't need the race to unfold a certain way, that he's able to kind of make his own race."
Pletcher said Magnum Moon will return to his Florida base at Palm Meadows before heading for Churchill Downs.
At Keeneland on Saturday, My Boy Jack overcame the outside post position to win the $200,000 Grade III Stonestreet Lexington Stakes by a head over Telekinesis and secure his position in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Pony Up was third and Greyvitos faded from the lead to finish fourth, losing any chance of a Derby start.
My Boy Jack, a Creative Cause colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.22 for jockey Kent Desormeaux and trainer Keith Desormeaux. Kent Desormeaux, who rode My Boy Jack extremely wide into the stretch in a third-place effort in the Louisiana Derby, said the Lexington was a virtual repeat of that come-from-behind effort, except, "Fortunately I didn't grab a hot dog at the quarter pole and that made the difference."
"Unbelievable," said part-owner Kirk Godby. "Everyone knows we came here to get points and he got the job done today. We're just thrilled. When I saw Kent bring him out down the backstretch and we were within six or seven lengths, I felt pretty good about it. I was just hoping he had the gas to get home in the short stretch."
Magnum Moon wins Saturday's Arkansas Derby, remaining undefeated as he heads for the Kentucky Derby, picture Oaklawn Park
Sassy Sienna put a nose in front of the favorite, Wonder Gadot, at the wire in Friday's $400,000 Grade III Fantasy at Oaklawn Park, earning 100 points toward a start in the Kentucky Oaks on May 4. With Gary Stevens up, the Midshipman filly waited behind breakaway leader Amy's Challenge, mounted a challenge alongside Wonder Gadot at the top of the stretch and just prevailed. Amy's Challenge held third.
Sassy Sienna, trained by Brad Cox, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.63. "She's a tough filly," Cox said. "She's shown us a lot from the get go. On to the Oaks."
Unique Bella bobbled at the start of Friday's $700,000 Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park and that was all the edge Unbridled Mo needed to mow her down late for the upset win. Unbridled Mo, a 5-year-old Uncle Mo mare, bided her time as Unique Bella rushed up to take the lead after her poor start. But in the stretch, Unique Bella paid the price and could only hold on for place money as Unbridled Mo ran by to win by 2 1/4 lengths.
Fuhioursly Kissed rallied from well back to finish third. Unbridled Mo, with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.94. She improved her record to seven wins from 10 starts.
"We knew that there's a very short-priced favorite we had to beat," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "We felt like if she'd won -- even if she was second or third -- it would be a positive result. Decided to go ahead and take a shot and very happy that we did."
Unique Bella's rider, Mike Smith, said, "She squatted in the gate. I was trying to stand her up. The next thing I knew they opened the gates and she squatted back. She totally missed the break … After she got left, she just wanted to catch up. I could have thrown her down, but I never had to do that and I wasn't about to start. It was just unfortunate."
City of Light hit the gas in the stretch run of Saturday's $750,000 Grade III Oaklawn Handicap and got by the favorite, Accelerate, winning by a neck over that rival. The early leader, Untrapped, held onto third despite finishing 10 lengths behind Accelerate. City of Light, a 4-year-old Dehere colt, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.26 with Drayden Van Dyke in the irons.
For City of Light, it was his first race outside California and his first beyond 7 furlongs. "He was loaded at the half mile pole," said winning trainer Mike McCarthy. "At the time I was nervous, because you worry if they are going to show up after the running starts. But when they got to the quarter pole and Drayden hadn't moved his hands, I had the utmost confidence in my horse."
Accelerate's trainer, John Sadler, added: He's been a little tricky in the gate. I just think he was looking around at this strange environment and 65,000 fans. He broke okay. First time out of town and I thought he ran a great race. I was pleased. Remember, it was a handicap and we were giving away the weight."
High North pressed the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Northern Spur Stakes for 3-year-olds, moved to the lead at the three-eighths pole and quickly took command in the lane, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Ike. It was another 3 3/4 lengths back to Higher Power in third and the favorite, Title Ready, faded through the stretch to get home fourth. High North, a Midnight Lute colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.73 with Florent Geroux up.
"We put blinkers on him, hoping it would put a little more speed into him. It did, obviously," said winning trainer Brad Cox. "Florent did a good job, knuckling down on him a little bit and getting him into position into the first turn. That's kind of what we were looking for. He really ran well. I was very proud of the performance. We thought a lot of this horse all along."
Rated R Superstar rallied from last of seven to win Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Ben Ali at Keeneland by 2 lengths from front-running favorite Chip Leader. It was another 5 1/2 lengths back to Guest Suite in third. Rated R Superstar, a 5-year-old Kodiak Kowboy gelding, finished 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.31 with Javier Castellano riding. "I'm very impressed the way he did it today," Castellano said. "It was a slow pace and he still finished really good. I liked the way he moved turning for home, and he won very easy."
Whitmore had to be much the best to get home first as the odds-on favorite in Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park. Conceding weight to all five rivals, the 5-year-old Pleasantly Perfect gelding was steadied early, boxed in between horses midway through the 6 furlongs and had to swing seven-wide in the stretch to find running room. Despite all that, he reported first, 3/4 length ahead of Wilbo. Wynn Time completed the all-W trifecta. Whitmore, with Ricardo Santana Jr. earning his keep in the kip, finished in 1:09.77 over a fast track.
"I was really happy with how he did it because he didn't have to use him but the last quarter of a mile," said winning trainer Ron Moquette. "We're going to look at our options, obviously, but we've always wanted to try him at Churchill Downs in one of those stakes races there and hopefully he comes back home there to run in the Breeders’ Cup."
Hart to Heart went virtually coast to coast in Friday's $300,000 Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland. The 7-year-old son of English Channel quickly worked to the lead, saw off a persistent challenge from Om and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths from Ballagh Rocks. Forge was along late to edge Om for third. Hart to Heart, with Julien Leparoux up, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.71.
Of Heart to Heart's advancing years, trainer Brian Lynch said, "He's just become a much stronger horse. He's not a very big horse, but this year he's put on an enormous amount of weight, and he's just become that much bigger and stronger. He's got a little more stamina to him, and we're seeing it in his races."
Uni chased down the pacesetter, Stallion Heiress, in the late going to win Saturday's $100,000 Plenty of Grace Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 length. Fifty Five was along to take second by a neck from Stallion Heiress. Uni, a 4-year-old, British-bred daughter of More than Ready, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.42 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up.
Filly & Mare Turf
Sistercharlie won a battle of closers in Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland, scoring by 2 1/4 lengths over Fourstar Crook. Off Limits was another neck behind in third. Sistercharlie, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly by Myboycharlie, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.41 with John Velazquez riding.
Chad Brown trains all of the first three finishers in the Jenny Wiley. "You bring your best ones to Keeneland or you won’t have any luck here," he said. "Luckily I have a lot of good horses and my staff has been working overtime. All the credit goes to them."
Triple Chelsea outfinished the heavy favorite, Lady Aurelia, in Saturday's $100,000 Giant's Causeway Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. Lady Aurelia, making her first start since the Breeders' Cup in November, led briefly in the stretch and finished second, 1 length ahead of Morticia. Triple Chelsea, a 5-year-old Hat Trick mare, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.40 with Adam Beschizza in the irons. Trainer Wesley Ward has taken Lady Aurelia across the Atlantic to win Group 1 races in her last two seasons and looks loaded for a repeat trip.
Black Stetson went swiftly to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Bridgetown Stakes for 3-year-olds and held sway, winning by 1/2 length over Nootka Sound. Coltandmississippi was third, missing second by just a nose. Black Stetson, a More Than Ready gelding, ran 6 furlongs on firm going in a swift 1:07.84 with Junior Alvarado aboard.
Elsewhere around the ovals:
B Squared won a stretch battle with the favorite, Tough Sunday, in Saturday's $100,000 Thor's Echo Stakes for California-breds, scoring by a neck after swapping the lead. Make It a Triple finished third, 1 1/4 lengths farther in arrears. B Squared, a 4-year-old Square Eddie colt, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.09 with Mario Gutierrez in the irons.
Flame Mingo drew off in the final furlong to take Saturday's $100,000 Austintown Filly Sprint for 3-year-old fillies by 5 lengths over Frigid Sister. Wendy Peffercorn was third. Flame Mingo, a Blame filly out of the Housebuster mare Destroy, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13.91 with Orlando Mojica up. It would be fun to have a contest to dream up names for a filly with that pedigree.
Buster's Boy led most of the way to a 1 1/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $75,000 Howard B. Noonan Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-olds. Charlee's Magic was second, 4 lengths ahead of Indian Fever. Buster's Boy, a Twinspired gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:13.39 with Walter De La Cruz aboard.
Winx. This time around, the 6-year-old Street Cry mare's victory in Saturday's Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Royal Randwick was distinguished as the race that tied Black Caviar's record of 24 consecutive wins. Should it come, the next will break the record. Then what? "Ho hum, she won again?"
The QE was a rematch between Winx and Happy Clapper, who pushed her a bit in her previous win in the Group 1 George Ryder. This time, Winx won by 3 3/4 length and Gailo Chop edged Happy Clapper for second. With her connections having ruled out an international campaign, the goal now is for a shot at a fourth straight Cox Plate -- which would be another angle for a lead.
On the same Saturday card at Sydney, Godolphin's 3-year-old filly Alizee reversed some setbacks with a last-to-first win in the Group 1 Coolmore Legacy Stakes, earning an automatic entry into the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf through the Breeders' Cup "Challenge" program.
Alizee, the only 3-year-old filly in Saturday’s race, broke from post 1 at odds of 15-2 with Glyn Schofield up for trainer James Cummings. She settled toward the rear of the pack and maintained that position approaching the turn before Schofield found room on the outside of rivals. She drew even with Prompt Response and ran on, finishing the mile in 1:34.94.
"She's the best 3-year-old in the country," Cummings told Races.com.au. "She's just waited to get back to Randwick to a track that suits her. The team had her in the perfect condition today, fully wound up. She showed what she could do with the Randwick mile under her belt."
News and notes
Kentucky Downs announced Friday it will fund four new turf stakes, each potentially worth $100,000, at Ellis Park on Aug. 5. Positioned as Kentucky Downs Preview Day, each race offers a $75,000 base purse, with an additional $25,000 available in Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund purse supplements for horses sired and born in the commonwealth. The stakes are designed as steppingstones for Kentucky Downs races during that track's five-date meet Sept. 1-13, as well as being summer objectives in their own right.
The Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup for 3-year-olds and upward at 1 1/4 miles is a prep for the Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles, which last year carried a $600,000 purse, including KTDF money. The Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf for fillies and mares at 1 mile is a prep for the Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf, worth $350,000 last year.
The Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf is a prep for the Grade 3, Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint, worth $400,000 last year. The Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Mile is a prep for the Tourist Mile, worth $400,000 last year.
"Horse racing needs creative modeling," said Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen. "The new Kentucky Downs Preview Day is a perfect example of that. We're proud and pleased that we're in position to help strengthen Ellis Park, which strengthens the entire Kentucky circuit."
The Preview Day date is one week before the Arlington Park "International Festival of Racing" and also could attract turf runners who competed in "Million Preview Day" in July.