Long shots won both divisions of the Risen Star Stakes in New Orleans -- the weekend's big Kentucky Derby prep -- leaving the picture as muddled as ever with less than 11 weeks until the big race.
Among the 3-year-old fillies, Finite and British Idiom finished 1-2 in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes over the same Fair Grounds track, promising a spirited rivalry to come.
Firenze Fire and Hard Not to Love won big sprints and Cookie Dough looks like a force in the somewhat depleted Distaff ranks after a big weekend win in Florida.
On the international front: In Australia, Alligator Blood was all out to get the job done in Flemington but finally managed to post his ninth win with a spot in October's Everest now in view. And in Hong Kong, Beauty Generation returned to the winner's enclosure while Time Warp upset stablemate Exultant Sunday in a pair of Group 1 affairs.
Before too much time warps, we get right to:
The Road to the Roses
Saturday's Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds was split into two divisions, each worth $400,000 with 50 Kentucky Derby points to each winner. Long shots won both divisions.
In the first division, Mr. Monomoy, third in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 18, showed the way, turned back a challenge turning for home and powered past the finish line out front by 2 1/2 lengths. Lecomte winner Enforceable settled for second this time with the favorite, Silver State, third. Mr. Monomoy, a Palace Malice colt sent off at odds of 7.5-1, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.43 under Florent Geroux, picking up his second win from five career starts.
"He galloped out well last time and I thought he could get this distance," said Mr. Monomoy's trainer, Brad Cox. "We have a long way to go but we expect him to come out in good order. It will probably be one more race before the (Kentucky) Derby. What race that will be, we don't know."
Enforceable's rider, Julien Leparoux, said his colt "ran a great race. There wasn't really any pace and the winner was on the lead easy. My horse responded when I asked and put in a really good run down the lane. I'm happy with how he ran and look forward to having him go longer in distance."
In the second division of the Risen Star, Modernist, making his first start since breaking his maiden Jan. 25 at Aqueduct, pressed the early pace, then shook clear a furlong out, scoring by 1 length. Major Fed was second and Ny Traffic was third. The favorite, Anneau d'Or, making his first start since finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, finished ninth with a tough trip.
Modernist, an Uncle Mo colt, is trained by Bill Mott, who won his first Kentucky Derby last year when Country House was elevated to victory by the disqualification of Maximum Security. Modernist went to the post at odds of nearly 13-1 and finished in 1:51.28 for jockey Junior Alvarado. The start was delayed as two of the broke through the gate during loading.
"He won at a mile and an eighth in New York and has progressed really well in this early part of his 3-year-old year," Mott said of Modernist. "He's become more mature and has been more professional about everything … I think the plan is going to the Louisiana Derby. He is very similar to Country House and I want to follow the same path as I did."
Friday evening at Turfway Park, Invader stalked pacesetting favorite High Holy while racing three-wide in the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial, worked by that rival early in the stretch run and won off by 6 1/4 lengths. High Holy held second, 4 lengths in front of Toma Todo. Invader, trained by Wesley Ward, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.92 with Albin Jimenez in the irons. The colt has an interesting pedigree -- by War Front out of the Galileo mare Say. Yet, he was 0-for-4 on the turf before Ward put him on the Turfway all-weather, where he scored by 12 3/4 lengths Dec. 4.
"He's a good horse from the gate, really quick," Jimenez said. "But there were a couple of speed horses in there and I didn't want to go to the lead too early. I wanted to wait as long as I could, but he's such a strong horse. By the three-eighths pole he was taking it by himself so I just him go."
As if Bob Baffert didn't have enough good Derby candidates down south, he sent Azul Coast up the coast Saturday to win the $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields by 1 1/4 lengths. The Super Saver colt got the best of a three-way stretch battle, leaving American Farmer second after a bold bid from the back of the field and Indian Peak another 1/2 length back in third. Azul Coast ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.58 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. From three starts, the colt now has two wins and a second in the Grade III Sham Stakes.
"I figured he would get a good trip," Blood-Horse quoted Bejarano. "He was going well the entire time under me and he showed me a real nice kick when (American Farmer) tried to come get us at the sixteenth pole." Azul Coast earned 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby berth.
On Friday at Tampa Bay Downs, Gouverneur Morris picked up where he left off in October, winning an allowance event by 1 1/4 lengths despite having to go to "Plan B" when the gates opened. Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez said they expected Dudley Square to set the pace. When that one stumbled at the start, unseating rider Daniel Centeno, Velazquez was forced to use Gouverneur Morris to press the pace made by Untitled. That he did, then slid by and went on to victory. Untitled was second with Letmeno and Sounion third and fourth. All are Triple Crown nominees.
Gouverneur Morris, a Constitution colt named after the "founding father" who wrote the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, won his first career start late in the Saratoga meet last summer, then finished second behind Maxfield in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in his only other start. Pletcher said the plan was to give him two races to see if he can make it to the Kentucky Derby. The next would have to be a "points" race. "If not," said part-owner Barry Irwin, "there are plenty of other races."
Lebda surged to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park, took a huge advantage into the stretch and then barely survived, winning by 3/4 length from the fast-closing Mine Not Mine. It was another 4 1/2 lengths back to Romanoff in third and the favorite, Dreams Untold, finished fifth. Lebda, a Raison d'Etat colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.38 with Alex Cintron riding. He is not nominated to the Triple Crown but Mine Not Mine is.
Mr. Monomoy and Modernist now top the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard with 52 and 50 points, respectively. Enforceable is third with 33.
Mr. Monomoy wins the first division of Saturday's Grade II Risen Star Stakes, earning 50 Kentucky Derby points, Fair Ground photo
Kentucky Oaks Preps
Finite extended her winning streak to five and put paid to the undefeated mark of last year's juvenile filly champion, British Idiom, in an early-season showdown in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Rachel Alexandra presented by Fasig-Tipton at Fair Grounds.
Finite, a Munnings filly, raced close to the early leaders, made her bid three-wide turning for home and drew off under steady urging to win by 4 3/4 lengths. British Idiom, a daughter of Flashback, had only one rival beaten halfway through the 1 1/16-miles event and her late rally was well short of the goal. Swiss Skydiver got show money, another 1 3/4 lengths in arrears. Finite, with Ricardo Santana Jr. riding, reported in 1:43.97. She was coming off a hard-fought win in the Silverbulletday over the same course Jan. 18 while British Idiom had not raced since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last November.
Finite got 50 points toward a Kentucky Oaks start; British Idiom, 20.
"She's a tremendous filly," said Finite's trainer, Steve Asmussen. "I think the last race put us in this position. This race has obviously been a producer of really nice fillies and I think we have something to work with now with her. She's always been a really game filly and has always showed a lot of heart."
British Idiom's rider, Javier Castellano, said he was "really happy with how she did it today. We were second best but I think she ran a good race and Finite has been running consistently, we've been off since Breeders' Cup, so she needed this race … I think next time will be a different story."
Karak showed the way in Friday evening's $75,000 Cincinnati Trophy Stakes on the Turfway Park all-weather course, then kicked clear through the stretch run to win by 8 1/2 lengths. Secretly Wicked was second, 3 1/4 lengths to the good of Fashion Code. Anna's Fast, a Wesley Ward stablemate of the winner, faded to finish eighth as Karak got 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.40 for jockey Gerardo Corrales. Karak, by Karakontie, returned from a 15th-place finish in last June's Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot to win the Tyro at Monmouth Park and was fourth in the Grade III Matron at Belmont Park Oct. 5.
Factor This led all the way to an 8-1 upset win in Saturday's $150,000 Fair Grounds Stakes, defeating the favorite, Synchrony, by 1 lengths. Botswana finished third. Factor This, a 5-year-old gelding by The Factor, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.29 with Shaun Bridgmohan up. The Brad Cox trainee posted his first win since last August a Ellis Park. "We were much more confident today as opposed to last time out," Cox said.
Filly & Mare Turf
Majestic Reason, the longest shot in the six-horse field, rallied late to win Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Barbara Fritchie Stakes at Laurel Park by 2 1/4 lengths. Victim of Love was second with Anna's Bandit third, another 1/2 length in arrears. The odds-on favorite, Saguaro Row, was never in the mix and finished last. Majestic Reason, a 5-year-old Majestic Warrior mare, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.35. Trevor McCarthy rode for trainer Graham Motion. Despite her long-ish odds, Majestic Reason was coming off a victory in the Willa On the Move Stakes at Laurel in late December.
"I wanted to put her away for the winter, but I just couldn't not point for this race," Motion said. "It's just too big a deal. It's a graded race, it's right here at Laurel and she loves Laurel, and she was doing great coming off a big win. There was discussion about retiring her or giving her the winter off, but I'm glad we stayed the course."
She'sonthewarpath got first run to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Albert M. Stall Memorial at Fair Grounds and ran on to win by 2 lengths from the favorite, Mitchell Road. Quick Witted rallied from last of 14 to get show money. She'sonthewarpath, a 16-1 shot with Chantal Sutherland aboard, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:42.25. The 4-year-old Declaration of War filly scored her fourth win in her 10th career start.
Laura's Light rallied by pacesetting Lighthouse in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 Sweet Life Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita and edged clear to win by 3/4 length over that one as the odds-on favorite. Roadrunner's Honor was third and a potential all-light trifecta was obviated when Shines Her Light was a late scratch. Laura's Light, a Constitution filly, scooted 5 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:02.90 with Abel Cedillo in the irons. The Peter Miller trainee now has three wins and a second from four career starts.
Just Might just did pull off the 20-1 upset in Saturday's $100,000 Colonel Power Stakes at Fair Grounds, leading all the way and holding off the favorite, Chaos Theory, by a neck at the end. Fast Boat was third. Just Might, a 4-year-old Justin Phillip gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.15 with Colby Hernandez up.
Firenze Fire looked to have found a comfortable spot in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III General George at Laurel Park and his performance as the odds-on favorite confirmed the assessment. After waiting behind the speed for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., the 5-year-old son of Poseidon's Warrior took the overland route around those rivals in the lane and won off by 4 lengths, ridden out. Threes Over Deuces added some value to the exotic bet payoffs while finishing second, a neck in front of Still Having Fun. Firenze Fire took only 1:22.37 to complete 7 furlongs over a fast track. He now has three wins in a row since finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita in November.
Owner Ron Lombardi said Firenze Fire is likely to run next in the Grade I Carter Handicap at Aqueduct April 4. "He's invited to Dubai, but Dubai takes a lot out of horses," Lombardi said. "I'm not ruling it out, but most likely we'll stay local, stay in the States and continue racing, rather than lose a couple of months with the traveling."
At Tampa Bay Downs, Killybegs Captain took charge early in Saturday's $100,000 Pelican Stakes and ran on strongly to win by 2 3/4 lengths, ridden out by Samy Camacho. He Hate Me was best of the rest, another 2 3/4 lengths in front of Wind of Change. Killybegs Captain, a 6-year-old Mizzen Mast entire, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.24 in his first start since a sixth-place finish in the Grade III Bold Ruler at Belmont Park in October.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Hard Not to Love was hard not to like in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Monica at Santa Anita and ran to her notices as the odds-on favorite, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over Mother Mother. Zusha was third, 1 1/2 lengths farther back. Hard Not to Love, a 4-year-old Hard Spun filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.19 with Mike Smith at the controls. She won the Grade I La Brea in her previous start and now is 5-for-6 in her career.
"She's getting better and better," said Hard Not to Love's trainer, John Shirreffs. "She's getting into those repeat performances … We're thinking about going into the Beholder Mile (a Grade I on March 14). I think as long as she can (relax), with her style of running, it shouldn't be a problem." Smith agreed, saying, "It's probably time to go around the second turn."
Ring Leader got the lead in the stretch in Saturday's $125,000 Dixie Belle for 3-year-old fillies at Oaklawn Park and the favorite, Specially, couldn't make up enough ground after starting last, finishing second, 1/2 length back. It was another 5 1/2 lengths to Wasabi Girl in third. Ring Leader, a daughter of Paynter, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.46 with Joe Talamo riding. She remains undefeated after three starts.
Trainer McLean Robinson had an unusual take on Ring Leader's potential arc of success: "She's improving." Obviously, she went from winning by a head at Canterbury to winning by five (lengths in her previous race) at Oaklawn. That's a big move. Usually when they make that big of a move, they make another one. I don't think it’s foolish to be high on a horse like that. They always come again. When they come that much from 2 to 3, they always come again. It might not be next time. Might be in the fall or next year, but they come again. They get better."
Naughty Thoughts drove quickly to the fore in Saturday's $100,000 Wide Country Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Laurel Park, then held sway, winning off by 4 3/4 lengths for her first stakes win. Princess Cadey was second, 1 length to the good of She'smysunshine. The favorite, Bella Aurora, was never in the mix after being bumped at the start and finished fifth. Naughty Thoughts, by The Factor, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.01 with Jevian Toledo in the irons.
Silver Dust rallied three wide to take the lead at the three-sixteenths pole in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Mineshaft at Fair Grounds and held off long shot Gun It in the final yards to win by 3/4 length. The early leader, Pirate's Punch, settled for third. Silver Dust, a 6-year-old Tapit gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.40 with Brian Hernandez Jr. riding. He also won this event last year and started the 2020 campaign with a victory in the Louisiana Stakes last month.
"This horse is just getting better and better. You just have to trust him. He is a little bit of a quirky horse from what I've seen," Hernandez said. "I learned from watching replays to stay out of his way and give him the most comfortable trip I can. That's what we did today."
Always Mining led much of the way in Saturday's $100,000 John B. Campbell Stakes at Laurel Park, surrendered the advantage to the favorite, Monongahela, and then came again to win by a neck over that rival. Someday Jones was third, 1 1/4 lengths farther back. Always Mining, a 4-year-old Stay Thirsty gelding, toured about 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.46 with Julian Pimentel riding. It was his ninth win from 12 starts at Laurel.
Cookie Dough pressed the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Royal Delta Stakes at Gulfstream Park, floated well wide out onto the track turning for home and survived late threats by two rivals to win by 3/4 length. Golden Award was second, a nose in front of Queen Nekia. Cookie Dough and jockey Paco Lopez then survived an objection by the rider of Golden Award, who was carried out on the turn, before the official sign was illuminated. Cookie Dough, a 4-year-old daughter of Bretheren, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:43.57. Restless Rider, making her first start since last May 3 with high hopes, trailed the field throughout and finished last.
Asked if the plan was to rate Cookie Dough, trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said, "That was Paco. He came into the paddock and said he wanted to sit second. I said, 'Paco, don't premeditate it. Play the break.' That was a good place to sit. She got a little tough. She's tough in the morning." Cookie Dough has placed first, second or third in 10 of 13 starts but the Royal Delta was her first graded stakes win.
Elsewhere around U.S. ovals:
Chowda led throughout Sunday's $100,000 Gander Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds, gave up the lead to Bank On Shea and then came again to win by 3/4 length over that foe. The favorite, Bourbon Bay, was third, 3 1/2 lengths farther adrift. Chowda, an Emcee colt, finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.36 under Eric Cancel. He's won three of his last four starts against fellow state-breds.
Kept True pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Broadway Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares, then drew away from five rivals in the stretch, winning by 3 lengths. Cash Offer and Hay Field filled out the trifecta. Kept True, a 4-year-old filly by Yes It's True, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.51. Dylan Davis rode.
Tampa Bay Downs
Lady's Island was all alone on the lead throughout Saturday's $50,000 Minaret Stakes for fillies and mares and coasted home first by 2 lengths. Into Chocolate was second, 1 1/2 lengths better than Caught Up in You. Lady's Island, a 6-year-old Greatness mare, reported in 1:09.97 with Emisael Jaramillo at the controls.
Swagsational rallied strongly through the stretch run to win Saturday's $50,000 Turf Paradise Derby by 3/4 length. Wicked Winnings was second, a neck in front of the favorite, Race Home. Swagsational, a Washington-bred gelding by Gallant Son, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.50. The race was contested by local runners.
The Adrie Factor tracked the early speed in Saturday's $30,000 Arizona Oaks, took command in the lane and kicked away to win by 3 1/4 lengths as the solid favorite. Our Magic Moment and Trafficiskillingme filled out the trifecta. The Adrie Factor, a daughter of The Factor, got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.00 under Heribert Martinez.
Chary Ride lost a stretch battle with Shugs Charlie in Sunday's $100,000 Enchantress Stakes for New Mexico-bred 3-year-old fillies, only to have the stewards reverse that order of finish after reviewing repeated bumping in deep stretch. The favorite, Two Stepper, finished third, 2 lengths back of the combattants. Chary Ride, a daughter of Excessive Passion, was ridden by Jimmy Coates. The 1 mile on a fast track took 1:40.43.
Around the world, around the clock:
Beauty Generation and Time Warp starred in Sunday's dual Group 1 races at Sha Tin with Beauty Generation keeping alive hopes for a trip next month to Dubai and Exultant, despite losing to stablemate Time Warp, also looking at the same trip.
Beauty Generation rebounded from four disappointing defeats earlier in the season, rallying from off the pace to win the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup by 1/2 length from Ka Ying Star with Hot King Prawn third. Beat the Clock never fired and finished fifth.
Beauty Generation, ridden confidently by Zac Purton came three-wide to take the lead at mid-stretch and finished with enough of his old kick to secure the win. But Purtin and trainer John Moore admitted the race didn't go to plan.
"We thought we might be able to lead this race," Purton said. "But Hot King Prawn, as we know, can lead 1,000-meter races and had too much speed for us early. I couldn't take the position so I had to ride him where I was and had belief in the horse."
Moore said he still hopes to convince owner Patrick Kwok send Beauty Generation to the
Group 1 Dubai Turf on Dubai World Cup Night.
Purton had less luck in Sunday's Group 1 City Hong Kong Gold Cup as well-fancied Exultant got going late from near the back of the field and was unable to flag down his stablemate in the stretch run, missing by 3/4 length. Citron Spirit was third at a big price.
Exultant started to pick things up as the field rounded the stretch turn but was strung out widest of all. By the time Purton got him into full flight, he missed by 3/4 length with long shot Citron Spirit (IRE) finishing third.
"That was a big surprise," said Tony Cruz, who trains both Exultant and Time Warp. "I was expecting Exultant to win the race."
Instead, Time Warp, under Joao Moreira, took advantage of a good draw and a good start to get an easy lead. "Thank you very much. Now I can go," Moreira described the feeling.
Cruz said Time Warp will remain in Hong Kong but Exultant remains a candidate for the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) next month at Meydan.
Gytrash pulled the upset in Saturday's Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning at Flemington, bettering Redzel by 1 length with Loving Gaby third and the favorite, Nature Strip, a well-beaten fourth. Gytrash, a 4-year-old Lope de Vega gelding, raced in a group of three along the inner rail and took the led from Redzel inside the 100-meters mark. Loving Gaby was the best of the outside group. Gytrash (pronounced "gee-trah") was having only his second run since Aug. 31, when he was a good second in the Group 3 Heath Stakes at 1,100 meters. With Mark Zahra up, he finished 1,000 meters Saturday in 57.53 seconds. "I just love the way he's coming and there's a lot more to come from him," jockey Craig Williams said as he walked the winner back. "He's a spring horse, for sure."
Meanwhile, the heralded Alligator Blood had all he could do to edge Catalyst in Saturday's Group 3 C S Hayes Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1,400 meters. Alligator Blood led from the early jumps but Catalyst was always close. The two raced stride-for-stride down the stretch but Catalyst could never quite get there with the final margin no more than a short head. Alligator Blood now is 9-for-10 with his only loss coming in the Caulfield Guineas last October, a close second to Super Seth. His owner reportedly has been approached by a slot holder for the Everest -- one of two potentially lucrative targets for the All Too Hard gelding in the Australian springtime.
The All-Weather Championships visited the south of France Saturday with Volfango ran by the favorite with ease in the final 100 meters to win the Prix Saonois at Cagnes-sur Mer, earning a guaranteed berth in the Bombardier All-Weather Mile Championship at Lingfield Park on Good Friday, April 10.
With Maxime Guyon riding, the 6-year-old made one late run to win by 3/4 length from the favorite with Rocquemont third. Despite the loss, Irish runner Bowerman remains a candidate for the Good Friday races, too.
On Sunday, Jockey Oisin Murphy, back from a three-months stint in Japan that included victory in the Japan Cup, scored his first winner of 2020 in Britain riding Rainbow Dreamer in the 32Red Conditions Stakes at Kempton Park. Rainbow Dreamer now has five wins from as many starts on all-weather courses and has won two of the four Fast-Track Qualifiers for the Betway All-Weather Marathon Championship at Lingfield Park on Good Friday, April 10.
King's Advice led the way in the 2-miles test but Rainbow Dreamer seized the advantage with some 2 furlongs to run and pulled away to a 4-lengths win. Chipiron was second, lacking a late kick, with King's Advice fading to third.
"Rainbow Dreamer has a good turn of foot and is going up into the higher ratings now," Murphy said. "You can really look at him as a very decent horse."
"I will keep very busy with trips to Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain over the coming weeks, but it is time to get back to work in England. The annual tally might not be important to the press and most people, but to me it is," Murphy added.
News and Notes:
Country House, awarded victory in the 2019 Kentucky Derby by the disqualification of Maximum Security, has been retired due to complications of laminitis. A statement released by Blackwood Stables said the Lookin At Lucky colt survived his maladies and currently is turned out but will not be able to return to racing. He retires with an official record of two wins, two seconds and a third from seven starts.
Meanwhile, in Japan, California Chrome's breeding season is on hold as the two-time U.S. Horse of the Year recovers from a bout of enteritis. California Chrome was sold to JS Company late last year and relocated from Taylor Made Stallions, where he entered stud in 2017. JS Company posted a video of California Chrome in his stall with the comment, "He is eating a lot!"