Weekend horse racing featured some rather spectacular upsets with equally stunning payoff for winning bettors, a Japanese Derby winner who remains undefeated and a pair of 2-year-old fillies whose first race may have earned a trip to Royal Ascot.
Speaking of Royal Ascot, British racing gets going again Monday with a huge stakes program next weekend. And the French Classics start this week. In Hong Kong, the race for the jockey championship hit a virtual pause while an upsetter took the weekend feature.
Lots of ground to cover so let's get on with it.
The Road to the Triple Crown
Nadal, top-ranked among Kentucky Derby contenders, has been retired with a fracture in his left front leg, co-owner George Bolton said Thursday. Two screws were inserted to correct the problem and the injury is not life-threatening. Trainer Bob Baffert said Nadal, undefeated and the winner of one division of the Arkansas Derby in his final start, showed signs something was amiss after a workout early Thursday morning. Nadal, a son of Blame, topped the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard with 150.
Meanwhile, Churchill Downs on Saturday added the $500,000 Grade III Ohio Derby to the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series. The June 27 race at Thistledown will award points on the 20-8-4-2 scale.
When the Kentucky Derby was pushed back to Sept. 5 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Churchill Downs said it would add races to the program, which is used to determine which 3-year-olds will run if more than the maximum 20 are entered.
In addition to the Ohio Derby, the schedule now includes the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, the Belmont Stakes on June 20, the Los Alamitos Derby of June 20, the Indiana Derby on July 8, the Blue Grass at Keeneland on July 11, the Haskell at Monmouth Park July 18, the Shared Belief at Del Mar on Aug. 1 and the Pegasus at Monmouth Aug. 15.
The Ellis Park Derby and stakes races at Saratoga Race Course will be added to the series once their stakes schedules are finalized.
Secret Message circled out toward the middle of the course turning for home in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Old Forester Mint Julep Stakes for fillies and mares, kicked into another gear midway down the stretch and was just up to nip fellow long shot La Signare by a head. Zofelle was another neck back in third, completing a 50-cent trifecta worth $2,305.00. The favorite, Juliet Foxtrot, raced in second most of the way but was swallowed up in the final sixteenth, finishing sixth while beaten only 1 3/4 lengths for it all.
Secret Message, a 5-year-old daughter of the Japan-bred stallion Hat Trick, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.13 with John Velazquez up. It was her sixth win from 15 starts and her first race of the season.
"I was just sort of biding time there on the outside and she kept finding her stride down the lane and was able to get up late," Velazquez said.
Most horseplayers didn't see it coming but Bell's the One was, in fact, the one in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Winning Colors Stakes for fillies and mares. After waiting in mid-pack, the 4-year-old daughter of Majesticperfection swept by the leaders and drew off late, winning by 3 lengths at odds of 13-1. Break Even was second after setting a brisk pace and odds-on favorite Mia Mischief settled for third after chasing Break Even most of the way. Bell's the One finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.70 for jockey Corey Lanerie.
"When she has a target, she'll really do what you want her to do," said Bell's the One's trainer, Neil Pessin. "Her workouts are the same way as she runs in the race. This filly never gets respect. This was a really good group of horses with two Grade I winners. She's always a big price and never gets the respect she deserves."
With many trainers eager to get some racing into their stock, a couple of Friday's allowance trips looked a lot like stakes events.
Change of Control was along late to post an 18-2 upset in the day's ninth race, for fillies and mares at 5 furlongs on the turf. In fact, the whole order of finish was an upset with the favorite, Girls Know Best, finishing sixth. Morticia was fourth as second-favorite and the 50-cent trifecta coughed up a $1,569.75 return.
In the seventh race, for 3-year-olds and up at 7 furlongs, Lexitonian got first run to the lead in the long stretch and held off the late bid of the favorite, Hog Creek Hustle, winning by 3/4 length from that rival. Hog Creek Hustle, by Overanalyze, won the Grade I Woody Stephens last June 8 at Belmont Park but has not won since then. Lexitonian also has been an infrequent winner while racing in some top events.
Fighting Mad crashed a party that was supposed to involve Cee Cee and Hard Not to Love in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Maria Stakes for fillies and mares. Leading all the way, the 4-year-old New Year's Day filly won by 3 1/4 lengths over the closer of the two favorites, Hard Not to Love. It was another 2 1/4 lengths to Cee Cee in third. Mighting Mad, with Abel Cedillo up, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track.
Fighting Mad, trained by Bob Baffert, herself was a graded stakes winner, taking the Grade III Torrey Pines at Del Mar last summer. In her only previous start this year, she was fourth in the Grade III Desert Stormer, disqualified from third.
"She needed her last race and she had trained well coming into this," Baffert said. "We've always been high on her and today, I told the jock to put her on the lead, that's where she wants to be. She can be a little headstrong, but I could see turning for home, I knew she was gonna be tough to beat."
On Saturday, Laura's Light raced second behind a breakaway leader through the early furlongs of the $100,000 Grade III Honeymoon Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got by that rival to take the lead at mid-stretch and won by a diminishing neck over the favorite, Stella Star. Croughavoulke was another neck back in third, also with a late run. Laura's Light, a Constitution filly, got 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.02 with Abel Cedillo piloting.
It was the fourth win from six starts for Laura's Light, who was last seen finishing fourth in the Bourbonette Oaks on the Turfway Park all-weather course March 14.
"She's a gutty little filly and I can't say enough about the ride Abel gave her," said winning trainer Peter Miller. "It was a world class ride. Great judge of pace and knowing when to push the button, that was Abel today ... We've got a lot of options with her. Del Mar's all about turf racing for 3-year-olds and we're looking forward to it."
A pair of Wesley Ward-trained fillies reported 1-2 in a 5-furlongs maiden race Sunday and both could be bound for one of the trainer's favorite destinations -- Royal Ascot. Campanelle, a Kodiac filly, showed the way in the race and won by 3 1/2 lengths over the, perhaps, aptly named Royal Approval, a daughter of Tiznow. They were the only fillies in the eight-horse field and both were making their first start.
"Both horses early on were meant for Royal Ascot, then all this came about," Ward said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. "For the most part, we'd have had a turf race or two at Belmont early on. This is the first turf race in the United States this year (for 2-year-olds). To run 1-2 was a big go."
While Campanelle got the better of her stablemate Sunday, Ward said Royal Approval "is also very talented. She's a bigger filly. We'll sit down with the owners of both fillies to see what they want to do moving forward."
The options for 2-year-old fillies at the Royal meeting are the Group 3 Albany Stakes at 6 furlongs on Friday, June 19, or the Group 2 Queen Mary at 5 furlongs the following day.
Campanelle wins her first start Sunday at Gulfstream Park, could be headed for Royal Ascot's 2-year-old filly races, photo by Ryan Thompson, courtesy of Gulfstream Park
New York racing returns Wednesday from the COVID-19 shutdown with a 10-race card featuring the $100,000 Grade III Beaugay with Rushing Fall, Got Stormy and Fifty Five nominated. Thursday finds Sadler's Joy's name in the entry box for the $80,000 Tiller Stakes at 1 3/8 miles on the grass.
The Belmont Stakes has been rescheduled to June 20.
Tomlin dueled to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Camilla Urso Stakes for fillies and mares, opened a daylight lead in the lane and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Fantasy Heat rallied for second, 2 1/2 lengths better than Mucho Amor. The favorite, Storming Lady, finished eighth. Tomlin, a 4-year-old daughter of Distorted Humor, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.10 seconds under David Lopez.
Penguin Power showed the way in Saturday's $50,000 Confucius Say Stakes for West Virginia-breds and romped home first by 3 1/2 lengths. North Atlantic and V.I.P. Ticket filled the trifecta while the favorite, Runnin'toluvya, faded late to finish last of five. Penguin Power, a 5-year-old Fiber Sonde gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.15 with Arnaldo Bocachica up.
Around the world, around the clock:
Well, this could get interesting: Japan now has an undefeated Derby winner to go with an undefeated Oaks winner.
Contral, under Yuichi Fukunaga, ran his record to 5-for-5 Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse, winning the Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby. He won the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2,000 Guineas in his previous start so he now has the first two-thirds of the Japanese Triple Crown in the bag.
The last 3-year-old to win the first two legs while undefeated was none other than Contrail's sire, Deep Impact.
While he had to come wide from mid-pack to run down Salios in the closing meters of the Satsuki Sho, Contrail had things under much better control in the Derby, thanks in part to a bold move by a rival. After racing third, then fifth into the final sweeping turn, he found plenty of room as the field crested the hill, accelerated smoothly and won by 3 lengths. Salios this time had late work to do and could only manage second with Weltreisende third.
With Daring Impact still undefeated after winning the Grade 1 Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks over the same course a week earlier, it will be interesting to see if any of the late-season Grade 1 events might pit them against one another.
Fukunaga said a mid-race move by Norihiro Yokoyama aboard My Rhapsody, jetting around the field to take the lead on the backstretch, cleared the way for him. "The pace was not really flowing in the first half but I sort of expected Nori-san to make a move like that and it opened up the path for me to reach the horse in front, which was critical," Fukunaga said.
As to the colt's future, Fukunaga added, "I was just focusing on finishing this race on a high note and although he still has room for improvement -- he tends to lose his focus when he's leading -- he still is able to win like he did today," the rider said. "So he's got great potential and there's a lot to look forward to in this colt."
Contrail's trainer, Yoshito Yahagi, confirmed Contrail will target the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Grade 1 Kikuka Sho or Japanese St. Leger, at Kyoto in October. Orfevre was the last of seven horses to sweep the Japanese Triple Crown.
France gets its Classics off Monday at Deauville with the Emirates Poule d'Essai des Poulains and Emirates Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, for 3-year-old colts and fillies, respectively. Both are Group 1 events, at a straight 1 mile, and the equivalent of the Guineas across the Channel. Travel bans restrict them this year to French-based runners.
The Poulains drew nine with Victor Ludorum and Ecrivain the general antepost favorites. Victor Ludorum, a Godolphin homebred by Shamardal, was 3-for-3 last season and finished third in his comeback race May 11 at Longchamp. Ecrivain, a Wertheimer homebred son of Lope de Vega, won two of his three starts in 2019 and was second in that same Longchamp race May 11. The winner of that race, The Summit, also returns but showed less in his 2-year-old season.
A dozen fillies signed on for the Pouliches with Tropbeau the solid early favorite. The Showcasing filly won three of five starts last year, finished third in the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket and won her 3-year-old opener May 11 at Longchamp.
Racing returns to England Monday for the first time since it was shut down Mar. 18 due to COVID-19 restrictions. The final, official green light came Saturday but was so widely anticipated that the initial, 10-race card on the Newcastle all-weather course was vastly oversubscribed. All 10 races will have full fields. There will be no spectators.
"I'm sure the return of racing will be welcomed by all those who've missed the excitement of live sport and the majestic sight of racehorses running at full gallop," said Nick Rust, head of the British Horseracing Authority. "We hope it will lift the nation's spirits in difficult times and look forward to seeing our owners and racing fans back at racecourses as soon as that’s possible."
It won't take long for the big guns to swing into action.
Friday's program at Newmarket includes the Group 1 Coronation Cup, a 1 1/2-miles event with Stradivarius, Anthony Van Dyke, Ghaiyyath and Defoe all nominated. Yikes. Saturday at the same racecourse it's the Qipco 2000 Guineas as Derby hopefuls get a belated start on the campaign. And Sunday the 3-year-old fillies get their Oaks chances tested in the Qipco 1000 Guineas.
Ka Ying Star led from the early jumps in Sunday's Lion Rock Trophy, then was all out to hang on for the victory. Southern Legend and Fast Most Furious were both closing fast and furiously outside the lead in the final meters but Ka Ying Star and jockey Chad Schofield stuck it out, winning by a nose. It took a microscope to find Southern Legend a whisker in front of Fast Most Furious for third. The lukewarm favorite, Beauty Legend, had every opportunity early in the stretch run but couldn't go, finishing eighth.
Ka Ying Star, a 5-year-old, British-bred gelding by Cityscape, is seldom out of the frame for trainer Tony Cruz but posted his first win since April of 2019.
"The horse has deserved this," Cruz said. "He's run some good races in Group 1 but he has hardly any wins on his record so this is a good way for him to end his season." He said the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile in December now is the goal.
The red-hot race for the jockey premiership cooled down a bit as Zac Purton had one winner, moving out to a four-win margin over Joao Moreira, who was blanked on the program. The tab now stands: Purton 127, Moreira, 123. Cruz, meanwhile, is only five wins shy of the lead in the trainers' race, chasing long-time leader Ricky Yiu.