Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon put on a show in New Orleans that promises to reverberate around the globe later this year while another Kentucky Derby prospect emerged one race later over the same track in highlights of weekend horse racing.
On the international front, Golden Sixty's long winning streak came to an end in Hong Kong while the Dubai World Cup Carnival continued to churn up candidates for the Saudi Cup and World Cup programs.
In Florida, final preparations are under way for next weekend's Pegasus World Cup program, which also has potential implications for the Middle East.
It's post time!
The Big One
Saturday's Louisiana Stakes at Fair Grounds was "just" a $150,000 Grade III affair but its impact promises to reverberate around the globe in multimillion-dollar races and further a head-to-head rivalry as good as any the sport has seen.
There were six runners but it always figured to come down to a two-horse race and the 4-year-old favorites ran to expectations. Joel Rosario sent Midnight Bourbon right to the lead the first time past the finish line and he had things all his own way down the backstretch. Florent Geroux called on Mandaloun rounding the far turn, got to even terms at the furlong marker and slowly and steadily went about winning the race from that point, inching away to a 3/4-lengths score. The other four were well up the track.
Mandaloun, a Juddmonte Farms homebred by Into Mischief, notched his sixth win from nine starts and finished second in the Kentucky Derby. His ability to run down the lone speed in Saturday's race was all the remarkable as he had not raced in more than six months.
Midnight Bourbon, a Tiznow colt racing for Winchell Thoroughbreds, is the best horse in a long time to have a record of just two wins from 14 trips.
He was second in the Louisiana Derby, Preakness, Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, all Grade I affairs. His eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby came with traffic issues. He easily could have won the Grade I Haskell had he not stumbled and lost his rider after clipping heels with Hot Rod Charlie at mid-stretch -- a mishap that promoted Mandaloun to victory when Hot Rod Charlie was demoted to last.
As Bloodhorse scribe Bob Ehalt eloquently pointed out, "The Louisiana gave Mandaloun a 3-2 edge over Midnight Bourbon in races when both horses crossed the finish line with a jockey aboard."
Since the owners of both colts have been sporting enough to keep them on the track this year, fans can look forward to some great racing, possibly with next month's $20 million Grade I Saudi Cup, if not the $12 million Dubai World Cup a month later, on the immediate horizon.
"I think he took a big step forward off a layoff and ran down a very good horse that was on the lead," trainer Brad Cox said of Mandaloun. "Hopefully we can build off this if we are going to have the year we are expecting to have."
About the Saudi Cup, he said he will "hit the huddle-up" with Juddmonte "and come up with a game plan. But it is very possible … The Saudi Cup is a mile and an eighth so it's something I think he can definitely handle."
Mandaloun defeats Midnight Bourbon in Saturday's Louisiana Stakes, photo courtesy of Fair Grounds
The Road to the Roses
Before Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, you'd have been hard pressed to make a case for Call Me Midnight as a legit Derby contender. It still would have been a tough call as the Midnight Lute colt raced down the backstretch near the tail end of a nine-horse field that included the leader in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" standings.
Then, lo and behold, James Graham got Call Me Midnight out for running room, asked him to go and got past them all, winning by a head over pacesetting Epicenter. Pappacap, the favorite, made his bid along the rail in the stretch run but then settled for third as Call Me Midnight finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.36.
Call Me Midnight won for just the second time in seven starts. He took five tries to get his first victory, albeit while running in some tough maiden races on the Kentucky circuit. Then he showed little in finishing seventh in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club in November at Churchill Downs in his most recent start.
Now, he joins nine other 3-year-olds in a tie for third on the "Road" leaderboard. Epicenter's 4 points moved him into a first-place tie with Pappacap, who has yet to win a race on the schedule. Division leader Corniche isn't on the leaderboard because he's trained by Bob Baffert, who is banished from the Derby through 2023.
"They went quick early," Graham said. "He settled real nice. Halfway down the backside I said, 'Man, I'm going to get a piece of this.' He was getting to them easy without me having to ask him. Halfway around the second turn I said, 'Well, I just need a spot to go.' I wheeled him out down the stretch, gave him all the daylight, and he flew home like he did at Churchill when he broke his maiden."
The next race in the Fair Grounds 3-year-old series is the $400,000 Risen Star Grade II on Feb. 19 and winning trainer Keith Desormeaux said, "I can't see why not. Hell, it's a month away. That's an eternity the way I run 'em. But, yes, absolutely."
Saturday on the Turfway Park all-weather course, Erase led most of the way to a 2-lengths victory over Twenty Four Mamba in the $100,000 Leonatus Stakes for 3-year-olds. Rich Strike was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. Erase, a Dialed In colt, ran 1 mile in 1:39.70 with Joe Talamo riding for trainer Brad Cox. Erase now is 2-for-4 with the earlier win coming on dirt at Indiana Grand.
Next weekend's Derby prep is the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.
The Road to the Oaks
While Call Me Midnight was posting the upset among the colts, La Crete was cementing her status among the Kentucky Oaks favorites with a hard-won victory in Saturday's $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds. The Stonestreet Stables homebred filly by Medaglia d'Oro, out of the Bernardini mare Cavorting, led early, was headed by Fannie and Freddie and rallied again to win by 1 length over that rival, running 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:43.93 with Joel Rosario aboard.
La Crete, a half-sister to 2021 Rachel Alexandra winner Clairiere, was making just her second start but the ease of her victory in that and her stellar pedigree marked her as special even before the demonstration of fighting spirit in Saturday's heat. She now is likely to tackle the Rachel Alexandra herself.
"She's a little more forward than Clairiere was early on," said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. "But as far as working and training for a race they are very similar … This filly is going to continue to develop, a big step forward here today and we're just very proud of her. Awesome-bred filly from Stonestreet, lucky to have her."
Asmussen also trains Echo Zulu, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and likely Eclipse Award champ. She has yet to post a timed workout this year.
Sunday at Aqueduct, Magic Circle wasted no time taking the lead in the $100,000 Busanda Stakes, opened a big lead in the stretch run and rolled home first by 2 3/4 lengths. Morning Matcha was second, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Reigning Chick. Magic Circle, a Kantharos filly trained by Rudy Rodriguez, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:51.29 with Jose Ortiz aboard.
The Busanda was Magic Circle's second win from five starts but she also was fourth in the Grade I Frizette and third in the Grade II Demoiselle last year.
Asked about the $250,000 Busher Invitational on March 5 or the $250,000 Grade III Gazelle on April 9, Rodriguez said, "I don't know. You never know. Right now she's learning, so we just have to hope for the best."
Around the world, around the clock:
Speaking of the various "World Cup" events, Friday's final race at Medan Racecourse was expected to shed some light on prospects based in Dubai with Rebel's Romance and Plus Que Parfait, the winners of the 2021 and 2019 UAE Derby, both in the field. Instead, it was Dubai Icon, perhaps the least-heralded of five Godolphin runners, who seized the lead under Pat Cosgrave and ran on to win by 8 1/2 lengths. Rebel's Romance was eighth and Plus Que Parfait was 12th.
Rebel's Romance doubtless needed the race since he had been idle since last March. Plus Que Parfait, despite the back class, was a long shot to return to the big time. And Dubai Icon, a 6-year-old New Approach gelding, seems unlikely to take a place in the big races. So … we shall see.
The featured races, both Group 2 events on the grass, may have done more to produce contenders for the undercards in Riyadh and back at Meydan.
Desert Fire, a 7-year-old Cape Cross gelding, rallied to the lead 400 meters out in the Al Rashidiya at 1,800 meters and led a 1-2-3 finish for Godolphin. The Al Rashidiya could point to the $1 million Neom Turf Cup in Saudi Arabia in February and/or the $5 million Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night.
It was Godolphin again in the Al Fahidi Fort as Naval Crown, a 4-year-old Dubawi colt, kicked into gear in the lane and ground out a professional victory, winning by 1 length. Eight rivals were spread across the track behind the winner, who posted a course-record time of 1:22.02 for the 1,400 meters. The Al Fahidi Fort could be a prep for the $1 million 1351 Turf Sprint in Riyadh and/or the $1.5 million Al Quoz Sprint March 26 at Meydan but trainer Charlie Appleby indicated Naval Crown ultimately will pursue a summer in Europe.
Two races on the program were for this year's 3-year-olds. Rawy, a Frosted colt, led all the way to win the Jumeirah Derby Trial 1,800 meters on the turf and Island Falcon, an Iffraaj colt, outfinished the favorite, stablemate New Kingdom, to win the UAE 2,000 Guineas Trial at 1,400 meters on the dirt by 1 1/4 lengths.
Al Tariq, who opened his campaign with a win at Jebel Ali in November, led all the way to a 2-lengths victory in the 1,200-meter Dubawi Stakes on the dirt. He finished
sixth in last year's Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen.
All good things come to an end but few observers of the Hong Kong racing world expected Golden Sixty's 16-race win streak to be halted in Sunday's Group 1 Stewards' Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse.
It was. And the Hong Kong record of 17 consecutive victories still belongs solely to Silent Witness.
Waikuku, a good enough horse in his own right, got to the front early in the stretch run and held off Golden Sixty to win by 3/4-length. Golden Sixty was gaining but, compromised by an inside gate and a questionable pace, he couldn't close the gap in time. Russian Emperor was third.
Golden Sixty, the reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year, has dominated local rivals for more than two years and seen off some top foreign invaders. This time, it wasn't his day.
"I was really happy with the way the race was run. I was in a lovely rhythm and I knew he was going to give me a kick," said winning rider Zac Purton. "But with Golden Sixty in the race, you're never home until you pass the post."
"He's run many horses down the last few years," Purton said of Golden Sixty. "He's a champion and obviously the race wasn't run to suit him today."
Golden Sixty's trainer, Francis Lui, his champion pulled up well and could be a candidate for the Group 1 City Hong Kong Gold Cup at 2,000 meters or the Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at 1,400 meters, both on Feb. 20.
In the day's co-featured Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup, Stronger battled down the stretch with Sky Field and held on to win by a head. Hot King Prawn was third. Sky Field was last seen winning the breakdown-marred Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint in December -- a race in which Stronger finished fifth with some damage to a leg.
Trainer Douglas Whyte, a former champion jockey who notched his first Group 1 training win, said a brief rehab stint at the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Conghua Racecourse and training center on the Mainland helped put him back into shape.
"His trial last week he indicated he would arrive in great shape but, I tell you, today was the longest 400 meters of my life so far," Whyte said of the Sprint Cup stretch run.
Lower Street delivered a power-packed finish to take the inaugural Coral Winter Oaks Fillies' Handicap Saturday at Lingfield Park. The David Simcock-trained 4-year-old hit the front inside the final furlong and won by 1 length over fellow closer Enfranchise.
The Kingman filly was coming off a win just six days earlier at Southwell -- a heat Simcock said was all about Saturday's victory.
"As soon as we saw this race, that is why we went to Southwell to get up in the weights to make sure she definitely got in," Simcock said
"The plan before today was to have a break and then come back for fast ground in the summer. Whether that changes I don't know, but the likelihood is that she will have a break."
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Saturday's $150,000 American Beauty Stakes for fillies and mares always looked pretty wide open so it was no big surprise when Miss Mosaic, at odds a little north of 7-1, came along late to win by a neck, holding off fellow long shot Joy's Rocket through the final yards. Ain't No Elmers was third and the favorite, Li'l Tootsie, could only muster a sixth-place finish. Miss Mosaic, a 6-year-old Verrazano mare, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.71 with David Cabrera riding.
It was Miss Mosaic's swan song as a racemare. She is slated to visit Tapit this spring.
Forty Under tracked pacesetting Two Emmys into the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley Stakes at Fair Grounds, then outfinished Halo Again to win by a head. Two Emmys salvaged third. Forty Under, a 6-year-old Uncle Mo gelding out of the Black Tie Affair mare Argent Affair, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:43.45 with Mitchell Murrill up for trainer Mike Maker.
Pass the Plate, winless in eight starts in 2021, got the New Year off to a proper start with a late-running victory over Lovely Ride in Saturday's $100,000 Marie G. Krantz Stakes for fillies and mares. The 5-year-old Temple City mare was last of seven down the backstretch, rallied four-wide around the turn and scored by a head. Adelaide Miss was third and the favorite, Abscond, beat only one rival. Pass the Plate ran 1 1/16 miles on the grass in 1:44.15 with Marcelino Pedroza Jr. in the irons.
Just Might in fact did (finish first) Saturday's $100,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes but then the stewards said, "No you didn't." First across the finish line by 2 3/4 lengths, Just Might was disqualified back to last of eight for causing some serious bumping on the backstretch. That promoted Cowan, a Kantharos colt, to victory with Strike Me Down and Mr. Hustle moved up to second and third in the 5 1/2-furlongs turf sprint.
Barraza set a pressured pace early in Saturday's $98,900 Clocker's Corner Stakes, opened things up a bit midway along and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Commander. Comradery was third. Barraza, a 4-year-old Into Mischief colt, toured 6 furlongs of firm turf in 1:07.30 with Kent Desormeaux in the kip. The race was restricted to non-winners of a graded stakes during 2021-22.
First Constitution went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Jazil Stakes and extended the advantage through the 1 1/8 miles, winning by 6 3/4 lengths. Why Why Paul Why was second, 10 lengths in front of Twelve Volt Man. First Constitution, a 5-year-old, Chilean-bred son of Constitution, finished in 1:47.96 with Jose Lezcano riding for trainer Todd Pletcher.
"He's a Group 1 winner going a mile and three sixteenths in South America, so you would imagine a mile and an eighth wouldn't be a problem up here," said assistant trainer Byron Hughes. "Todd will get with the ownership group and decide what's next for him."
Sterling Silver raced in mid-pack in Saturday's $100,000 Franklin Square Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies, made steady progress into the stretch and got by pacesetting Sandy's Garden to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Sandy's Garden held second by another 2 3/4 lengths over Thinking It Over. Sterling Silver, a Cupid filly trained by Tom Albertrani, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.28 under Trevor McCarthy.
Saturday's $75,000 Sunshine Turf and Filly & Mare Turf were both rained off the grass and onto the new all-weather track. The good news is the switch from turf to the all-weather surface, now in its first season of operation, resulted in only one scratch from each race.
Lure Him In chased down pacesetter Siglioso turning for home in the Turf and ran on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over that rival. Shamrocket was third and the favorite, Max K.O., reported fourth. Lure Him In, a 5-year-old Khozan gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.13, a record for the recently introduced surface.
Lovely Luvy rallied from last of six to win the Filly & Mare Turf, clearing at the end to score by 2 1/4 length from Sugar Fix. Key Biscayne was third. Lovely Luvy, a 6-year-old mare by He's Had Enough, got 1 mile and 70 yards on the all-weather in 1:41.63 -- also a course record.
Pinky Ring Bling battled for the lead in Thursday's $75,000 My Dandy Division of the Texas Stallion Stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings, then ran on to win by 3 1/4 lengths from his early rival, Grami's Boy. Pinky Ring Bling, a Too Much Bling colt, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.67 for jockey Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez.
Texas Thunder, at odds of 28-1, led all the way to a 5 1/2-lengths victory in the Darby's Daughter Division for 3-year-old fillies. Eagle Express and Kim's Texas Bling were second and third. Texas Thunder, a Bradester filly, reported in 1:05.78, also with Valdez-Jiminez in the irons.
Mine That Star drew off in the stretch run to win Sunday's $65,000 Winsham Lad Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths over Convention. The odds-on favorite, Zestful, got home third. Mine That Star, a 5-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.04 with Francisco Amparan riding.