The Longines Hong Kong International Races headline weekend horse racing, winding down the 2019 season while 2-year-olds from New York to Japan provide a preview of the year to come.
Maximum Security is back in action as the favorite in Saturday's Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. And the Claiming Crown makes its annual visit to Gulfsteam Park.
Starting at the top:
Last year, local horses won all four Group 1 races on Hong Kong's biggest day of racing. All four of those winners return Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse, looking to hold off this year's formidable crop of international raiders.
Beauty Generation, winner of the last two editions of the Longines Hong Kong Mile, seeks to bounce back from two defeats that put an emphatic end to a 10-race winning streak. Trainer John Moore and jockey Zac Purton are optimistic but questions remain about the 7-year-old's chances.
The primary contenders in the Mile are the locals who defeated Beauty Generation in the last two races, Ka Ying Star and Waikuku, plus a quartet of Japanese runners headed by Indy Star. The latter has won both Japanese Grade 1 miles this season and has looked formidable in training.
Last year's winner of the Longines Hong Kong Cup, Glorious Forever, could be the shakiest of the repeat candidates. After the barrier draw, this year's renewal would seem to pit him and his older brother, 2017 Cup winner Time Warp, in a battle for the lead -- a scenario that has served neither of them well in the past.
Irish raider Magic Wand, a recent Group 1winner in Australia, and Japan's Win Bright, winner of the Group 1 FWD QE II Cup at Sha Tin in April, could benefit from a pace duel between the brothers. So, too, could local challengers such as BMW Hong Kong Derby winner Furore.
Japan's star filly Almond Eye was to have dominated the Cup this year but was withdrawn after spiking a fever on the dawn of her planned travel to Hong Kong.
Exultant returns to defend his crown in the Longines Hong Kong Vase at 2,400 meters. But the 5-year-old drew the outside gate in a field of 14 and -- as he did last year -- faces a deep and talented field of world-traveling stayers. Among them is this year's winner of the Investec Derby, Anthony Van Dyck, the first Derby winner ever to contest a race on the HKIR card. Also in the field are Prince of Arran, twice second in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup, and talented Japanese fillies Deirdre and Lucky Lilac.
Mr Stunning will seek a three-peat in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint -- an event dominated in recent years by local runners. But Mr Stunning and other Hong Kong horses have endured injury-riddled seasons this year and last and the door is open for a wide-open renewal of this event.
Japan's Danon Smash and Australian mare In Her Time stand out as potential international prospects in the Sprint.
In Her Time (AUS) working on the Turf on Friday morning, picture Liesl King
More on the international scene after a look at North America:
Maximum Security, who forever will be known for his disqualification from victory in the Kentucky Derby, is the solid 3-2 morning-line favorite in Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Cigar Mile. But, as he chases his third straight win, the New Year's Day colt hasn't scared anyone off as he faces 10 rivals in the historic event.
Since the unpleasantness in Louisville, Maximum Security has finished second in the Pegasus at Monmouth, then first in both the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth and the Grade III Bold Ruler Handicap at Belmont.
His challengers Saturday include Spun to Run, winner of the Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in his last start after a third in the Haskell. The older rivals include Whitmore and Bal Harbour.
While Spun to Run is the primary threat, rather than the favorite, trainer Juan Carlos Gurerreo said he's ready to go after two sharp workouts.
"He's coming into the race very nicely," said Guerrero. "I thought he might have went a little fast in Saturday's work but, watching him gallop today, if anything, it made him pick up the bit even more. Today was a key day to see what the work took out of him and if anything it put him right back into the bit. He's pumped up. He's ready to go."
Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Go For Wand for fillies and mares, also at 1 mile, drew a field of eight with Spiced Perfection the odds-on favorite on the morning line. The 4-year-old daughter of Smiling Tiger most recently was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Santa Anita after winning the Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland. Among her rivals is Another Broad, a 4-year-old Incude filly who was second in the Grade III Turnback the Alarm Nov. 2.
Mirth, a graded stakes winner on the grass earlier in the year, takes a rare spin on the brown course Sunday in the $100,000 Grade III Bayakoa Stakes. Facing seven rivals, the 4-year-old Colonel John filly exits a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, where she led much of the way. She carries highweight of 124 pounds in the Bayakoa while facing the likes of Queen Bee and Lady Suebee.
Nine are set for Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct, a stop on the Churchill Downs-designated Road to the Kentucky Derby with 10 points to the winner. Two of the top prospects on the morning line are Chase Tracker and Alpha Sixty Six, both saddled by Todd Pletcher. Chase Tracker, a Verrazano colt, won his first start at Parx Racing, then was third in the Grade Nashua Stakes at the Big A. Alpha Sixty Six, by Liam's Map, won at first asking, then was fifth in the Grade I Champagne.
Others tabbed by the oddsmaker in a "wait and see" Remsen include Ajaaweed, Forza Di Oro and Cleon Jones. We might know more about the East Coast prospects after this one.
Bob Baffert saddles two of the four starters in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity, another 10-point event on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The morning-line favorite is Thousand Words, a Pioneerof the Nile colt whose only previous start, Oct. 26 at Santa Anita, resulted in a 12-lengths victory. Baffert also sends out High Velocity, a Quality Road product who is 2-for-2 including the Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar.
Opponents are Anneau d'Or, a Medaglia d'Oro colt trained by Blaine Wright who just missed to winner Storm the Court in a battle of very long-odds rivals in the Breeders's Cup Juvenile, and Wrecking Crew, who was third in that Breeders' Cup race.
Previously run at Hollywood Park, the Futurity has been won by stars such as Snow Chief, A.P. Indy, Best Pal, Real Quiet, Point Given, Lookin At Lucky and Shared Belief.
Also on the weekend card for juveniles: Saturday's $75,000 Gold Rush at Golden Gate Fields, Saturday's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Futurity for state-breds at Laurel Park, Saturday's $75,000 Joshua Radosevich Memorial for state-breds at Mahoning Valley, Saturday's $100,000 Pennsylvania Nursery for state-breds at Parx Racing and Saturday's $100,000 Inaugural Stakes for colts and geldings at Tampa Bay Downs.
At Woodbine, Dotted Line battled for the lead early in Wednesday's $100,000 (Canadian) Kingarvie Stakes for Ontario-sired 2-year-olds, then finally opened up in the stretch to win by 2 lengths, scoring his third straight win and furthering his candidacy for the 2020 Queen's Plate. Truebelieve was second, a head in front of The Reign Man. Dotted Line, a Signature Red gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.65 with Justin Stein riding.
"He’s been really good, he's been improving and I loved the way he rode him today,” said trainer Sid Attard. "He broke in front, he saw the horse go in front and I saw him looking, looking. He didn't move until he had to, when he asked him to run. He's a really nice horse."
The 2-year-old fillies
On paper, Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos is a match race between the Simon Callaghan-trained Donna Veloce and Bob Baffert's charge, Bast, with three others along for the ride. Of course, they run the races for a reason.
Donna Veloce and Bast, both daughters of Uncle Mo, finished second and third, respectively, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita, behind British Idiom Donna Veloce came into that race with only one previous start while Bast won both the Grade I Del Mar Debutante and the Grade I Chandelier at Santa Anita before the big race.
A dozen fillies are entered for Saturday's $250,000 Demoiselle at Aqueduct and the 9-furlongs heat is just about anyone's prize. The morning line has five of the 12 at single-digit odds and that hardly covers the conceivable outcomes. Watch and learn.
Also for the juvenile fillies: Saturday's $100,000 Sandpiper at Tampa Bay Downs, Saturday's $200,000 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship for state-breds at Laurel Park and Sunday's restricted $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Lassie at Woodbine.
On Thursday, Antoinette found room on the rail a furlong out in the $100,000 Tepin Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Aqueduct, went through willingly and drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths. The favorite, I Dare You, made the early going and held on for second, 1/2 length to the good of Quality Heat. Antoinette, a Hard Spun filly owned and bred by Godolphin, ran 1 mile on the good main track in 1:38.87 with Joe Bravo up. The race was moved from the turf. It was her second win, following a victory on the grass at Belmont Oct. 24.
"She'll most likely head south [Payson Park] from here for the winter, but we'll talk to the connections and map out a game plan from there," said Leanna Williford, assistant to winning trainer Bill Mott.
The Claiming Crown
The sport's everyday heroes -- steeds who have started for a set claiming price this year or last -- get their moments in the sun Saturday at Gulfstream Park in the Claiming Crown.
The program includes nine races on both turf and dirt at distances from 5 furlongs to 9 furlongs. The highlights are the $200,000 Jewel and, on the turf, the $125,000 Emerald and Tiara.
Further on the international scene:
Sunday's Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies features a big field light on experience but with optimism abounding in the hearts of the runners' connections.
Among the prominent ones in the 1,600-meters race are stablemates Cravache d'Or and Ria Amelia. Cravache d'Or, a Heart's Cry filly, comes off a runner-up finish in the Saudi Arabia Royal Cup (G3), losing only to her half-brother, Salios, as Salios lowered the course record and became a top prospect for the Futurity.
Ria Amelia is by Deep Impact out of the Rockport Harbor mare Ria Antonia, winner of the 2013 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. She won by 8 lengths at first asking in June at Hanshin, came from last to win the Artemis Stakes (G3) Oct. 26 at Tokyo to record her second win.
Maltise Diosa, a daughter of Kizuna, comes off two straight wins and both Resistencia and Woman's Heart are 2-for-2. Woman's Heart's wins include one over Maltise Diosa in the latter's career debut.
The race is run right-handed, starting on the backstretch. Three furlongs from the finish, the course dips sharply, then hits a rise carries the field the final 200 meters to the finish.
Military Law ranged up on the outside to land Thursday's co-featured race at Meydan by 3 lengths with long-time leader Saltarin Dubai seeing off a tiring Gronkowski for second. Military Law, a 4-year-old Dubawi gelding, ran 2,000 meters in 2:07.14 and benefited from a run early in the meeting. Gronkowski, by contrast, was having his first run since finishing second by a nose to Thunder Snow in the Dubai World Cup in March and is targeted for bigger things in the coming months.
“He is a nice horse and I have been riding him almost every day in the mornings,” winning rider Antonio Fresu said. “He moved really well on the dirt. What I expected today was to finish in the first three because we gave him a first run two weeks ago and it was over a mile and that was maybe just to get him ready for this race."
Gronkowski had a wide trip down the backstretch, took a brief lead at the head of the lane and obviously needed the run. His rider, Royston Ffrench, said the effort was "a nice, smooth passage."
The co-featured Garhoud Sprint went to Ibn Malik with Dane O'Neill aboard. He reported a comfortable 4 3/4 lengths ahead of Waady with Bochart third and last year's local 3-year-old sensation Walking Thunder settling for fourth. Ibn Malik, a 6-year-old Raven's Pass gelding racing for Sheik Hamdan, was having his first run since finishing eighth in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile in March.
Pablo Escobarr held off the favored Loxley in the final 100 yards to win Wednesday's Listed 32Red Wild Flower Stakes at Kempton Park for trainer William Haggas and jockey Tom Marquand. Pablo Escobar, a 3-year-old Galileo colt, hit the lead 300 yards out and appeared at the mercy of Loxley before finding enough more to survive by a neck.
Earlier in the year, Pablo Escobarr finished second to Investec Derby hero Anthony Van Dyck in the Derby Trial at Lingfield Park and fifth in the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Maureen Haggas, assistant trainer to her husband, said, "He is a going to be a lovely horse for turf next year and I will leave it up to William and the owners to discuss what they plan to do with him now. He could be one for the All Weather or we could put him away. There are lots of options for him."
On Saturday, 11 2-year-olds are set for an All-Weather Championship Fast-Track Qualifier at Lingfield Park. The winner gets a guaranteed spot in the Ladbrokes 3-year-old All-Weather Championship final on Good Friday over the same course at the same 6-furlongs trip.