There will be no Dubai World Cup next Saturday but thoroughbred racing, while still in a corona-virus state of flux, managed to provide some diversion during the weekend as Wells Bayou won the Louisiana Derby, Farnan wore the Golden Slipper in Australia and Golden Sixty proved solid gold in Hong Kong.
On the flux front:
Dubai racing officials announced Sunday -- just six days before the races were scheduled to run -- that the $35 million World Cup program is off. Many of the intended runners already had arrived from as far afield as Hong Kong, Japan, Europe and the United States. Many questions remain unanswered.
Oaklawn Park trimmed purses to keep running as long as possible without gaming revenue from its shuttered casinos and announced the Arkansas Derby will be delayed until May 2 -- the day the Kentucky Derby was supposed to be contested.
Fair Grounds in New Orleans managed to run the Louisiana Derby and Oaks on Saturday but then immediately canceled the remainder of its meeting, scheduled to run though the end of the month.
Laurel Park quit live racing "until further notice." Mahoning Valley also shut down. Tampa Bay Downs scrapped its March 29 Florida Cup races for state-breds and will redistribute part of the savings to overnight purses. Ohio racing is canceled for a week with further postponement likely. Canterbury Downs in Minnesota and Lone Star Park in Texas announced delays in opening their backstretch areas, compounding issues for horsemen seeking to leave other tracks, including Sam Houston Race Park, which on Sunday abandoned the final four days of its meeting.
California racing continues, apparently on the assumption it's exempt from a gubernatorial "shelter in place" order since virtually no on is allowed at the track during racing. But stay tuned.
Amid all the uncertainty, here are some things we're (mostly, fairly) sure of:
The Road to the Roses
Wells Bayou led from the first jumps in Saturday's $1 million Louisiana Derby and had no trouble holding off Ny Traffic down the long Fair Grounds stretch for a 1 1/2-lengths victory. Modernist, winner of one division of the Grade II Risen Star, was third but the winner of the other division, Enforceable, could do no better than fifth. For all that, however, Modernist was beaten only 4 1/4 lengths and Enforceable, 5 3/4 lengths.
Wells Bayou, a Lookin At Lucky colt trained by Brad Cox, ran 1 3/16 miles on a fast track in 1:56.47 with Florent Geroux up. Geroux said his colt "took a few breathers around the turn and then when we turned down the lane, he didn't lose his gear."
"You try to put together a game plan and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. In horse racing a lot of time it doesn't. But this time it did," said winning trainer Brad Cox, who saddled three graded stakes winners on the card.
"We have a great team in place and it showed today. We just have to figure out how to get him to the first Saturday in September and not May. It is uncharted territory and we will do the best we can," Cox added.
Wells Bayou came to New Orleans with two wins from his four previous starts. In his most recent outing, he was second behind Silver Prospector in the Grade III Southwest at Oaklawn Park, only surrendering the lead late in the stretch. That effort was enough to merit the trip south.
The victory was worth 100 points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, likely enough to get Wells Bayou into the starting gate in Louisville -- depending on all the variables related to the corona virus crisis.
Sunday's Grade III Sunland Derby in New Mexico was postponed indefinitely as the Land of Enchantment shut down racing.
Wells Bayou wins Saturday's Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds photo
Wells Bayou jumped into the lead on the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings with 104 points. Modernist is now second with 70 and Ny Traffic improved to a four-way tie for fifth with 50 points. Churchill Downs, after postponing the Derby to Sept. 5, plans to add more races to the schedule so it's uncertain how many points will be needed to make it in to the race.
Next weekend (tentatively)
The purse for Saturday's Florida Derby has been cut from $1 million to $750,000 but the winner still gets 100 points. It's a better deal than what's left for the trio of Derby hopefuls sent from the United States to Dubai to contest the $2.5 million Group 2 UAE Derby, which also offered 100 points to the winner before it was canceled abruptly on Sunday.
And on Saturday in Japan, Nakayama Racecourse is set to host the Fukuryu Stakes, the final leg in the four-race "Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby." The winner of this gets 40 points and, since Café Pharoah currently leads the standings with 30 points, the automatic bid to the Run for the Roses is up for grabs.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Bonny South, another Oaklawn shipper trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux, rallied widest of all through the stretch run to take Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks by 2 1/4 lengths. Tempers Rising and Antoinette collected the minor awards while the 1-5 favorite, took a brief lead but then faded to finish fourth, ending a five-race winning streak. Bonny South, a Juddmonte Farms homebred filly by Munnings, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.52.
Bonny South was last seen winning a tough Oaklawn allowance heat by 3/4 length over Shedaresthedevil, who went on to win the Grade III Honeybee in her next outing. The Fair Grounds Oaks was her first stakes try.
"She is getting better every day," Cox said. "I guess she is in the Kentucky Oaks -- just have to figure out how to get to Sept. 4. That's a long way off and just have to see how things play out. Very proud of her she ran a great race today. Congratulations to Juddmonte Farms. Very thankful to have her in the barn."
Scott Blasi, assistant to Finite's trainer, Steve Asmussen, said Finite "wasn't her usual self today. But we will regroup with her and go forward."
Factor This led all the way in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Muniz Memorial Classic on the Fair Grounds turf, scoring by 3 lengths over Don'tblamerocket. Rock Emperor was another 3/4 lengths back in third and the favorite, Instilled Regard, reported sixth. Factor
This, a 5-year-old son of The Factor, backed up his Feb. 15 victory in the Fair Grounds Stakes, which was a big step forward for him, by posting a course-record time of 1:47.21 in Saturday's race. Shaun Bridgmohan rode for Brad Cox.
"Big performance," Cox said. "He obviously loves this track … He ran a great race going a mile and a half at Kentucky Downs last summer. That showed us that he was a good horse. With everything going on we will probably back off a little bit and hopefully he can run later in the spring or this summer."
At Santa Anita, Ward 'n Jerry raced just behind the early leaders in Saturday's $100,000 San Luis Rey Stakes, moved to a late lead and held well, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Camino Del Paraiso. The even-money favorite, Oscar Dominguez, reported third, a further 1 1/4 lengths in arrears. Ward 'n Jerry, a 7-year-old Lucky Pulpit gelding, got 1 1/2 miles of firm turf, starting on the now rarely used downhill course, in 2:28.67 with Flavien Prat up for trainer Mike Puype.
"I hadn't been on him in a long time," Prat said of Ward 'n Jerry, "and Mike told me that he's best at these long distances. He was little keen early but he settled down fine and, as you saw, he had a good turn of foot through the stretch."
Filly & Mare Turf
She'sonthewarpath came charging late in Saturday's $100,000 Tom Benson Memorial Presented by Dixie Beer at Fair Grounds and outfinished Altea by a nose for the big check. Notapradaprice was third with the favorite, Dream Passage, fifth. She'sonthewarpath, a 4-year-old Declaration of War filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the grass in 1:42.23 with Chantal Sutherland up. It was her second straight stakes win over the course and distance.
"She is just a filly that tries so hard," said winning trainer Steve Margolis. "Chantal has a good rhythm and a good presence with her. She has that grit about her that when you go in the barn, she has that fight that you want a racehorse to have that you can't breed into them. She just has the will to win. She has really turned out to be a nice older mare."
Cistron came running late in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III San Simeon Stakes at Santa Anita to collar the pacesetting favorite, Bound for Nowhere, winning by a head over that Kentucky invader. It was another 1 1/4 lengths to Murad Khan in third. Cistron, a 6-year-old son of The Factor, ran 5 1/2 lengths on firm turf in 1:02.68 with Drayden Van Dyke in the irons.
Cistron, trained by John Sadler, was making his first start since taking the Grade I Bing Crosby at Del Mar last July 27.
"He's been away since last summer and we needed a spot to run him in," said Juan Leyva, assistant to trainer John Sadler. "He's run well on the grass before and with this race being 5 1/2 (furlongs) instead of five, we thought it would be okay. It's great to have him back and get him going again."
On Sunday at Santa Anita, Lieutenant Dan got by pacesetting Stealthediamonds in the closing yards of the $100,000 Sensational Star Stakes for California-breds and edged away to win by 3/4 length. Brandothebartender was along to finish third. Lieutenant Dan, a 4-year-old Grazen gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.32 with Drayden Van Dyke riding. He has missed a top-three finish only once in 12 career starts.
Gulfstream Park soldiered on Saturday with a pair of $75,000, 5-furlongs turf sprints for 3-year-olds -- the Texas Glitter and the fillies-only Melody of Colors.
Hear My Prayer dueled with Foolish Humor in the Melody of Colors before shaking loose to win by 1 3/4 lengths in 55.98 seconds with Paco Lopez riding. Compensate got by Foolish Humor to land second.
In the Texas Glitter, Cajun Cassanova's late rally got him up for a neck victory over R Man Joe, who held a big lead until deep stretch. Guildsman put in a late bid to get show money as Miguel Vasquez booted Cajun Cassanova home in 55.28 seconds.
By My Standards raced second behind a moderate early pace in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II New Orleans Classic, got by the leader entering the stretch and carried on, winning by 3 lengths over late-running Captivating Moon. Chess Chief finished third but was demoted to sixth, promoting Tenfold to show money. By My Standards, a 4-year-old
Goldencents colt, finished 9 furlongs on the main track in 1:47.64 with Gabriel Saez in the irons.
By My Standards won last year's Louisiana Derby at odds of 22-1, then finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby, moved up to 11th because of the disqualification of Maximum Security. He then was absent until Feb. 9, when he was a 6-lengths winner in a Fair Grounds allowance event.
"This horse has really developed over time," said By My Standards' trainer, Bret Calhoun. He's going to be one of the top older horses in the country this year. He's trained like it. This was a solid group of horses and he proved today what we have been thinking."
Long Weekend went right to the front and made short work of Saturday's $90,000 Gazebo Stakes for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park, winning off by 4 3/4 lengths. Little Menace was second, 3 1/2 lengths in front of Lykan. Long Weekend, a Majesticperfection colt, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.77 with Joe Talamo up for trainer Tom Amoss. He now is 3-for-4 with the lone loss a sixth-place finish in the Grade II Saratoga Special last summer.
"I thought it was great," Amoss said. "He's an athletic horse and he broke super sharp. They chased him and they came to him. He had plenty in reserve. He's just a really good horse."
Amoss said Long Weekend will be considered for the $100,000 Bachelor Stakes at Oaklawn Saturday, April 25.
In other action:
Sydster had 'em all the way in Saturday's $75,000 Crescent City Derby for state-breds, finishing first by 1 1/2 lengths without a serious challenge. Jax Man was second, 1 1/4 lengths in front of Luckenbacher. Sydster, a Power Broker gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.59. Florent Geroux rode.
Vacherie Girl, with Richard Santana Jr. in the irons, rallied from mid-pack to take the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Crescent City Oaks, then drew off to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Quickfast N Ahurry was second, Saber Cut was third and the odds-on favorite, previously undefeated Steph'sfullasugar, faded late to get home last. Vacherie Girl, a Tapiture filly, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:43.65.
Monte Man shadowed the pacesetter in Saturday's $75,000 Costa Rising Stakes for Louisiana-breds, took the lead past the furlong marker and ran on to win by 1 length over Grand Luwegee. Yankee Seven finished No. 3. Monte Man, a 7-year-old Custom for Carlos gelding, toured 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.49 under Adam Beschizza. His last two starts at the same distance were taken off the turf with Monte Man running third and first in those optional claimers.
Sam Houston Race Park
Saturday's seven stakes events for Texas-breds were canceled and the track announced the final four days of the Thoroughbred meet and the entire Standardbred meet scheduled to open April 10 will be abandoned.
"We share in the disappointment this creates throughout the Texas racing industry and for our valued customers and employees. Sam Houston Race Park looks forward to a time when our entire community can once again enjoy great racing," said vice president and general manager Dwight Berube.
Around the world, around the clock:
Golden Sixty and jockey Vincent Ho left it to the last possible moment but got the job done, winning Sunday's Group 1 BMW Hong Kong Derby by a neck over 289-1 long shot Playa Del Puente. The win cemented a sweep of the Hong Kong Four-Year-Old Classic Series for the Medaglia d'Oro gelding and stamped him as a hot prospect for Group 1 races the rest of this season and into the future.
As the field turned into the stretch, Golden Sixty seemingly faced an impossible task. Playa Del Puente, with a bold move midway down the backstretch, had seized the lead and opened a seemingly insurmountable edge. Golden Sixty, meanwhile, was forced widest of all entering the stretch and still far back of the winging leader with 150 meters to go in the 2,000-meters race.
Then, Golden Sixty hit the extra gear that so often gives the great ones an edge. Closing with every stride, he was just up for the win with stablemate More Than This third.
"I wasn't too worried," Ho said. "I know my horse can produce a really good turn of foot and he relaxed really well for me through the race. When I saw the winning post, I knew I should be able to get him, as long as the other horse didn't accelerate again.
"I didn't mind the tempo, fast or slow, as long as my horse was relaxed and I knew I had to wait until the last bit to ask my horse to pick up. He's got the best turn of foot in the field and I just had to be patient."
Golden Sixty scored his seventh straight victory and 10th from 11 starts and became only the second horse, after Rapper Dragon in 2017, to win all three legs of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series.
He holds entries in both the FWD Champions Mile (G1) and the FWD QE II Cup (G1) at 2,000 meters on Champions Day, March 26. Beyond that, the same distance options would be on display in December in the Longines Hong Kong International Races.
Saturday's AUS$3.5 million Longines Golden Slipper, billed as the richest 2-year-old race in the world, was a wide-open affair with 16 starters. But after the 1,200 meters was done, it was the favourite, Farnan, having his picture made and future assured. Granted, he was favourite at nearly 5-1 odds but, still, a winner by nearly 2 lengths from Away Game. Amaragan was third. Farnan, a Not A Single Doubt colt trained by Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bolt, finished in 1:10.19 with Hugh Bowman aboard.
Farnan now has three straight wins and five from six career starts.
Farnan took the lead right out of the gate and looked to be eclipsed approaching the 100-meters mark. But he quickly found more, turned back the challenge and proved clearly best.
"I've been lucky enough to ride some really good horses over my career as everyone knows but I haven't ridden a better 2-year-old," Bowman told ANZ Bloodstock News. "Just his mannerisms and his professionalism, that is one thing. But his ability is another."
His owners indicated Farnan now is due a break in preparation for the Group 1 events in the Southern Hemisphere springtime.
Also on Golden Slipper Day at Rosehill Garden:
It was not to be for Te Aku Shark in the Group 1 The Agency George Ryder Stakes as the heavy favourite settled for third behind Dreamforce and The Bostonian. Dreamforce, a 7-year-old Fastnet Rock gelding, scored his first win of the season for trainer John Thompson.
Castelvecchio scored another minor upset in the Group 1 Sky Racing Active Rosehill Guineas, defeating Prince Fawaz by 1/2 length with Reloaded third and the favorite, Shadow Hero, fourth. Castelvecchio is a 3-year-old son of Dundeel. Craig Williams had the winning ride.
I Am Excited got the juices flowing for her backers in the Group 1 City Tattersalls Club Galaxy Stakes, barely edging Miss Leonidas with Tofane completing an all-long shot trifecta. I Am Excited, a 5-year-old Snitzel mare, got the 1,200 meters in 1:03.17. The favorite, Cosmic Force, beat only one rival.
Addeybb edged the lukewarm favourite, Verry Elleegant (in a battle of extraneous letters) by 1/2 length in the Group 1 Ranvet Stakes at 2,000 meters. Avilius was third.