Medina Spirit's dramatic, long shot victory in the Kentucky Derby unquestionable was the highlight of the American horse racing weekend but far from the only important action.
With Malathaat dominating the Kentucky Oaks and the likes of Gamine, Maxfield, Shedaresthedevil, Colonel Liam, Domestic Spending and Whitmore all in action, there was plenty to keep the pot boiling.
And, even though trainer Brad Cox had to settle for second and fourth in the Kentucky Derby, he had a very satisfactory weekend at Belmont Park and Oaklawn Park and with some other stars at Churchill Downs -- not that he wouldn't have traded it all for another 1/2 length plus a nose in the Run for the Roses.
We have an update on the Derby and the outlook for the Preakness Stakes, second leg of the Triple Crown, in a separate dispatch, which please see. We also have a report on the weekend doings on the international front, including Guineas weekend at Newmarket in England. Please see that, too.
First, let's tour the U.S., division by division, starting with:
Classic / Dirt Mile
Maxfield got back into the win column in Friday's $400,000 Grade II Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs. After seeing his perfect record go by the boards with a third-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap last month, the 4-year-old Street Sense colt left no doubt he's still to be reckoned with. With Jose Ortiz riding, the Godolphin homebred relaxed off the lead, responded when called on midway around the far turn and dominated the stretch run to win by 3 1/4 lengths. The longshot early leader, Visitant, held second with Chess Chief third. Maxfield got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.39.
"Physically he's a stronger horse," trainer Brendan Walsh said of Maxfield. As time's gone on, he's gradually filled out and he's up to his full maturity, which is exciting. He loves this track, and he hasn't done anything wrong. But actually he hasn’t done anything wrong at any track where he's run. He's just a very good horse."
At Belmont Park on Friday, Musical Heart opened a big lead early in the $100,000 Flat Out Stakes, repelled a couple mild challenges and went on to win by 3/4 length over Ajaaweed. The favorite, Rocketry, was another 9 1/4 lengths up the track while salvaging show money. Musical Heart, a 6-year-old Maclean's Music gelding, ran 1 3/8 miles on a fast surface in 2:19.35. Trevor McCarthy had the mount for trainer Rob Atras.
On Saturday at Belmont Park, Dr Post shadowed the early speed in the $200,000 Grade III Westchester Stakes, took over the lead from Mr. Buff at the three-sixteenths and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Wicked Trick got by Mr. Buff to finish second. Dr Post, a 4-year-old Quality Road colt, finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.14 with Manny Franco up.
At Oaklawn Park, two Brad Cox-trained runners, Fulsome and Warrant, reported first and second in the $300,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds. Cox doubtless would have traded that outcome for an improvement over his second- and fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby but now might think of either of these two for future graded stakes assignments. Cox, commenting from Kentucky, called Fulsome a "nice horse" and said the owner, Juddmonte Farm, will have a say whether he might go in the Preakness Stakes in two weeks.
Fulsome, an Into Mischief colt, now boasts three wins from his last four starts. Warrant, by Constitution, has a win to go with two seconds and a third.
Maxfield, picture Keeneland
Friday's $1.25 million Grade I Kentucky Oaks worked out just as a world-class race should -- two undefeated fillies battling side-by-side to the wire. In this event, it was Malathaat getting the better of Search Results but just by a neck after overcoming some adversity in the early furlongs. It was 2 3/4 lengths more back to long shot Will's Secret in third as Malathaat, a Curlin filly out of an A.P. Indy mare, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.99 under John Velazquez.
Velazquez' Hall of Fame credentials were put to the test early as Malathaat was nearly squeezed right out of contention in the first few strides. After a small course correction to find daylight, she had to race wide through both turns, ranging up outside her main rival for the fight to the finish. Velazquez and Search Results' rider, Irad Ortiz Jr., exchanged pats on the back as they galloped out.
Winning trainer Todd Pletcher said Velazquez' quick, early decisions saved the day after the problematic start.
"I thought Johnny made a key decision to quickly try to get her back into position after that," Pletcher said. "And I felt a lot better after about a sixteenth of a mile once he got to a good stalking position, had her in the clear, and had her in a rhythm. Then it was just a matter of hopefully there was enough pace on up front that they would come back to her a little bit."
Malathaat, bred by Stonestreet and owned by Shadwell Stable, was 3-for-3 as a 2-year-old, landing the Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct in her seasonal finale. She won her only previous start this year, the Grade I Ashland April 3 at Keeneland, narrowly defeating Pass the Champagne, who finished next-last of 13 in the Oaks. Search Results came to Louisville off a win in the Grade III Gazelle at Aqueduct -- her third victory in as many tries.
A lot of the conversation after the Oaks was how well Malathaat might do running against males at some point in the year.
Rick Nichols, representing Shadwell, said he is "sure Todd will come up with some really good suggestions from where we go from here. And we'll discuss it with Sheikh Hamdan's family and develop a plan." With a smile, he added, "I would have loved to run her tomorrow (in the Derby)."
Just a few races before she turned over her 2020 Kentucky Oaks crown to Malathaat, Shedaresthedevil led all the way to a 1-length victory in Friday's $500,000 Grade I La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs. The Daredevil filly, with Florent Geroux in the irons, got a bit of a scare from Envoutante in the stretch but turned back that determined bid to get her second straight win and fifth from her last six starts. Envoutante held second, 2 lengths in front of Finite as Shedaresthedevil completed 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.69.
"She's moved forward at 4," said Shedaresthedevil's trainer, Brad Cox. "She's shown that in her two starts. She has a lot of fight and determination down the lane. She showed that again today down the lane. She's now a Grade 1 winner at 4. We'll target the Breeders' Cup Distaff and work our way back from that."
Cox struck again in Sunday's $200,000 Ruffian at Belmont Park as Vault started last of six and finished first, going away. The 5-year-old Jump Start mare bobbled at the start and saved ground into the turn. Joel Rosario then steered her out for running room and she responded willingly, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Water White. Our Super Freak was third and the favorite, Lake Avenue settled for fourth after dueling for the early lead. Vault finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.81.
"They had her down in Kentucky and it took us a while to figure her out," said Cox assistant Dustin Dugas. "But now it looks like we got the wheels spinning finally and she showed it today.
Colonel Liam was the clear favorite on the tote board in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic at Churchill Downs but had all he could do to get home first in a dead heat with Domestic Spending. That pair was only a neck in front of Smooth Like Strait, whose saddle slipped in the closing yards of the 1 1/8 miles. The embattled winners got home in 1:47.99 with Irad Ortiz Jr. on Colonel Liam and Flavien Prat on Domestic Spending.
Ortiz had to choose between the horses, opting for Colonel Liam, and Domestic Spending's trainer, Chad Brown, said he understood. "You can see why it was a very tough decision," Brown said. "It was very close between the horses."
Colonel Liam, a 4-year-old by Liam's Map, won for the sixth time in eight starts, notching his second Grade I after January's Pegasus World Cup Turf. Domestic Spending, a 4-year-old, British-bred Kingman colt, now is 5-for-6 with wins in the Grade I Hollywood Derby and the Saratoga Derby Invitational. Their performance heralds some interesting racing through the summer and into the Breeders' Cup Turf at Del Mar.
It was Du Jour's day Saturday in the $500,000 Grade II American Turf for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs. The Temple City colt, trained by Bob Baffert for his wife, Jill, and a partner, wove through traffic at the top of the stretch, tracked down Winfromwithin inside the sixteenth pole and went on to win by --------. Lucky Law edged Winfromwithin for second. Du Jour, with Flavien Prat in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.49, scoring his third win in a row.
"I got caught up in the bidding and bought the horse," said Baffert, who trains almost exclusively on the dirt. "It's been a fun ride. It's exciting to see my wife, Jill, win this race. She's over the moon. She has to deal with what I go through in life, 24/7. I buy her these horses just to keep her in the game through all the ups and downs."
"Plus," he added, "I need to get more turf horses to train."
Tribhuvan opened a big lead in the early furlongs of Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Fort Marcy Stakes at Belmont Park and made that early advantage stand up. City Man's late bid fell 1 1/2 lengths short and Rockemperor was 2 lengths behind that one in third as the even-money favorite. Tribhuvan, a 5-year-old, French-bred gelding by Toronado, ran 1 1/8 miles on the firm inner turf course in 1:46.11. Eric Cancel had the mount for trainer Chad Brown, who also trains Rockemperor and the fourth-place finisher, Devamani. Tribhuvan was pulled up in the 2020 Fort Marcy with an equipment malfunction.
Filly & Mare Turf
Magic Attitude rallied from last of six to take Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Sheepshead Bay Stakes at Belmont Park, winning by 3 lengths. Mutamakina was second-best, 1/2 length better than the favorite, Always Shopping. Magic Attitude, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Galileo, stopped the timer at 2:14.32 after 1 3/8 miles of firm turf. Trevor McCarthy rode for trainer Arnaud Delacour.
Magic Attitude was a force in Europe last year, finishing second in the Group 1 Prix St Alary at Chantilly and fifth in the Group 1 Prix Diane at Longchamp. She won the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational in her first U.S. start in October but missed in two intervening starts.
"She likes it at Belmont," Delacour said. "It's more like the European style for her. She can take her time, get balanced, and then produce acceleration." He said the $750,000 Grade II New York on June 4 could be a target now.
Gift List stalked the pace in Friday's $300,000 Grade II Edgewood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs, blew by the leaders when turned loose by jockey Javier Castellano and ran on to win by 4 1/4 lengths. A pair of long shots, Barista and Line Dancing, filled out the trifecta. Previously undefeated Aunt Pearl, making her first start since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, led into the stretch and then tired to finish fifth. Gift List, a British-bred filly by Bated Breath, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.52. It was her second U.S. start following a runner-up showing in the Grade II Appalachian at Keeneland four weeks earlier.
Gift List's trainer Brian Lynch said, "I had a good feeling going into this race, that if Aunt Pearl were to stub her toe, we'd have a good shot. She (Aunt Pearl) was a big obstacle, no doubt. Undefeated filly. Breeders' Cup winner. But we all know, and I've run into it myself … some of them take to this course and some just don't."
Flagstaff came six-wide down the stretch in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Churchill Downs Stakes and prevailed by a head over Lexitonian in a wild finish that saw defending Breeders' Cup Sprint champ Whitmore just another nose back in third. Lexitonian and Whitmore each held a brief lead before the issue was decided in the final strides. Flagstaff, a 7-year-old Speightstown gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.82 with Luis Saez in the irons.
Flagstaff spent most of his career in California and finished fourth and third in Oaklawn Park stakes events on his way to Kentucky, where he now is 2-for-2 for trainer John Sadler.
"When I saw everybody coming past me I thought it was over," Saez said. "But he never gave up and finally he gave me the last little bit and we got there. John told me to ride him with confidence and that he likes to fight and we broke and then you saw that at the end."
Jackie's Warrior burned up the track through the first half of Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs, finally getting the lead and then holding on gamely through the stretch as Dream Shake did everything but get by him. At the line, the margin was ---------- with Whiskey Double well back in third. After the blazing early fractions, Jackie's Warrior completed the one-turn mile in 1:34.39 for jockey Joel Rosario.
The Maclean's Music colt won his first four races last year, including Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga and the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park, but then faded to finish fourth when sent around two turns in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He was a well-beaten third in the two-turn Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park but trainer Steve Asmussen declined to pigeonhole the colt as a sprinter-miler.
"Jackie's Warrior, what a pleasure it is to run him," Asmussen said. What an amazing horse. It just validates who we think he is. He'll be held in the esteem he deserves. I loved the race today."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Gamine, the monster of the division, overcame a slight bobble at the start of Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Derby City Distaff at Churchill Downs then was good enough, turning back a challenge from Sconsin at the top of the lane and running on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Sconsin, who never got alongside the winner, finished second with Estilo Talentoso finished third. Gamine, a 4-year-old Into Mischief filly trained by Bob Baffert, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.50 for jockey Johnny Velazquez, winning for the seventh time in eight starts. She has not been beaten sprinting and now has four Grade I wins to her credit. It was Baffert's 220th Grade I win -- a record, surpassing the mark set by D. Wayne Lukas.
"I was a little worried there at the start," Baffert said. "She had to regather herself. There's more pressure because everybody expects her to win. She's 'Queen Gamine'. That's what we call her around the barn."
Baffert said he hasn't planned a campaign for Gamine. "Probably something in New York," he said, with the obvious target back home in Southern California in November in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Obligatory overcame all kinds of misfortune to win Friday's $300,000 Grade II Eight Belles Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs. The Curlin filly broke slowly, retreated to last of 12 and then had to rally seven-wide to challenge for the lead in the stretch. After all that, she outfinished the favorite, Dayoutoftheoffice, to win by 1 length. Make Mischief was third. Obligatory, with Jose Ortiz riding, finished the eventful 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.89. The win was just her second from four starts and followed a fourth in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks.
Bill Mott, who trains the Juddmonte Farms homebred, said she "may have been a little confused when she ran two turns in New Orleans." Experience, he said, might fix that but, in the meantime, he mentioned the Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park as a target.
For the first 6 furlongs or so, it appeared Blowout would turn Saturday's $500,000 Longines Churchill Downs Grade II Distaff Turf Mile into a blowout, indeed. Leading by a huge margin into the stretch turn, the British-bred Dansili mare began to shorten stride and appeared about to be swallowed up by several closers. But with urging from jockey Flavien Prat, she found just enough to hang on by -------, finishing in 1:36.30 on firm turf. That ended a string of four straight fourth-place finishes, all by minute margins. New York Girl was second with Zofelle third.
"She has a tendency to wait on horses," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "I thought Flavien did an excellent job to settle her down. As you can see, she can be a little difficult to handle."
Thursday at Churchill Downs, Set Piece rallied from well back to win the $130,000 Opening Verse Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over Snapper Sinclair. Gray's Fable was third as Florent Geroux steered Set Piece home in 1:38.26 over turf rated good. Brad Cox trains the 5-year-old Dansili gelding who finished second in the Kentucky Cup Classic on the Turfway Park all-weather in his previous start. Snapper Sinclair was last seen finishing fourth in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile at Meydan on Dubai World Cup Night.
Madone stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Senorita Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita, surged to the lead near the sixteenth pole and won by 1 length. Golden finished second at a big price but was set down to sixth for interference. That promoted Closing Remarks to second and Sweetest Angel to third. Madone, a daughter of Vancouver, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.17 for jockey Juan Hernandez.
Fast Boat was slow into stride in Friday's $250,000 Grade II Twin Spires Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs, rallied five-wide at the quarter pole to become involve and survived some bumping to win by 1/2 length from Sombeyay. Classy John was a long shot third with last year's winner, Diamond Oops, fourth. The favorite, Fiya, contested the lead into the stretch, stopped quickly and was vanned off after finishing the race. Fast Boat, a 6-year-old City Zip gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.29 for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., backing up a victory in his last start in the 5-furlongs Turf Sprint at Sam Houston Race Park.
"I had the perfect trip," said Fast Boat's rider, Irad Ortiz Jr. "I sat there and bided my time. When I asked him, he responded all the way to the wire."
She's My Type, back from a long vacation, rallied late to win Friday's $100,000 License Fee Stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park by 1 3/4 lengths. Robin Sparkles, was along for second, 3/4 length better than Caravel. The favorite, Sweet Melania, was eased late and jogged home last. She's My Type, a French-bred, 4-year-old filly by Dunkerque, ran 6 furlongs on the good inner turf course in 1:08.34 under Hector Diaz Jr.
"We'll bring her back and start looking for some bigger and better things," said She's My Type's trainer, Christophe Clement, mentioning the $200,000 Grade III Intercontinental in June and the $500,000 Grade I Just a Game.
Thursday's $150,000 Unbridled Sidney for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs went to Into Mystic, a 5-year-old Into Mischief mare who rallied from just off the pace to score by 3/4 length over Change of Control. Florent Geroux had the mount and got Into Mystic over 5 1/2 furlongs of good turf in 1:05.89.
Make of it what you will: Averly Jane, a Midshipman filly, rallied past the early leader in Wednesday's $150,000 Kentucky Juvenile at Churchill Downs and ran on through the sloppy track to win by 3 1/4 lengths, well in hand. Vodka N Water was second, a head in front of pacesetting Bohemian Frost. Averly Jane, trained by Wesley Ward, finished 5 furlong in 58.64 seconds with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons. She won her only previous start April 15 at Keeneland by 8 3/4 lengths.
Around the ovals:
Tempt Fate showed the way in Friday's $200,000 Arkansas Breeders' Championship for state-breds and held well, winning by 2 lengths over Man in the Can. The Mary Rose was another 2 1/4 lengths back in third. Tempt Fate, a 4-year-old colt by Hamazing Destiny, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.12 with Cristian Torres up.
Door Buster missed the start in Saturday's $75,000 Its Binn Too Long Stakes for West Virginia-bred 3-year-old fillies but hustled along past rivals and edged away once in front to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Shutupn'kissme was second, 4 lengths better than Got Your Number. Door Buster, a Speightster filly, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 53.13 seconds with Denis Araujo riding.
Con Lima settled right behind pacesetting Por Que No in Saturday's $75,000 Honey Ryder Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, took over when prompted by jockey Paco Lopez and won off by 4 lengths. Karakatsie was along for second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Mischevious Dream. Con Lima, a Texas-bred Commissioner filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.57. Honey Ryder was the rather hapless, shell-gathering heroine in the James Bond book and movie "Dr. No". The mare of the same name won many graded stakes from 2005 through 2007.
Well Defined worked quickly to the front in Saturday's $75,000 Big Drama Stakes for Florida-breds, bounded along into the stretch and shot clear, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over R Mercedes Boy. Old Chestnut and Glory of Florida completed the order of finish. Well Defined, a 5-year-old With Distinction gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.30 for jockey Emisael Jaramillo.
Astute set the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Angels Flight Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and wasn't caught, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over odds-on favorite Missy P. Heels Up and Stella Noir completed the order of finish. Astute, a Speightstown filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.94 for jockey Juan Hernandez.
Dancin' Rosie waltzed to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Dr. T.F. Classen Memorial for Ohio-bred fillies and mares, set a pressured pace and cleared late to score by 3 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Edge of Night, was second with Mobil Lady third. Dancin' Rosie, a 6-year-old Vaquero mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13.46 with Jose Bracho riding.
We're still looking for someone who can explain by the Cleveland-area track is named Thistledown.