Local runners dominated the Longines Hong Kong International Races, a potential star filly remained unbeaten with a Grade 1 win in Japan and, back in America, trainer Bob Baffert saddled the winner of the Grade I Starlet Stakes for the seventh straight year.
Diving right in:
Sunday's Longines Hong Kong International Races were a star turn for the local brigades with Golden Sixty, Romantic Warrior and Lucky Sweynesse winning three of the four Group 1 events.
Eight-year-old Golden Sixty overcame a 224-days layoff and the outside gate to run away with the Longines Hong Kong Mile in an emotional highlight of the program. The three-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year and former local Triple Crown winner is a favorite of Hong Kong fans who backed him strongly despite the negative indications.
Jockey Vincent Ho did his job helping the veteran. After a clean break, Ho gradually eased Golden Sixty in from the cheap seats and, while he could never get cover, he was perfectly positioned at the top of the straight to make a run at the leaders.
He did just that, quickly roaring to the front as the crowd roared its approval and ran on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over reigning Hong Kong Derby winner, Voyage Bubble. Japan's Namur was third.
"He's a monster," Ho said. "When I asked, he just gave me 100 percent. It's a great team effort to come here without any preparation and win this race."
Both Ho and trainer Francis Lui indicated Golden Sixty is likely to continue racing as along as he continues to perform at a high level.
While Golden Sixty is the local golden boy, Romantic Warrior is next in line and did nothing to hurt his reputation with a squeaker of a victory over Irish challenger Luxembourg in the Longines Hong Kong Cup.
Coming off a tough, narrow win in the Group 1 Cox Plate in Australia in his previous race, Romantic Warrior rallied to the front in the stretch run of the 2,000-meters Cup only to be met by a stubborn challenge from Luxembourg and a long shot bid by another Japanese runner, Hishi Iguazu. Romantic Warrior prevailed by a short head with Luxembourg second, another short head to the good of Hishi Iguazu.
"I think he's the toughest racehorse I've ever sat on," said winning rider James McDonald.
The Longines Hong Kong Sprint (G1) historically has been the preserve of local runners and Lucky Sweynesse, an unlucky loser in last year's edition, kept the home cooking going with a rallying victory under jockey Zac Purton. Lucky Sweynesse survived a rough stretch early in the season, losing his first two starts while assigned huge weights by the handicapper.
Back at even weights Sunday, Lucky Sweynesse defeated long shot Lucky With You by 3/4 length with last year's winner, Wellington, another 3/4 length back in third.
"He deserved it," Purton said. "I could just feel in the mornings that he was getting back to where he was … He did what he had to do. I love him."
The day wasn't a total loss for the foreign runners as French-based Junko came with a late run to win the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1) by 1 length over Japan's Zeffiro after missing the break. Ireland's Warm Heart finished third. Junko came to Hong Kong off a victory in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Bayern in Munich but was a question mark over the good-to-firm Hong Kong turf. He handled both the going and a glacial pace perfectly for jockey Maxime Guyon and trainer Andre Fabre.
Ascoli Piceno took a major step down a road to potential stardom with a gutsy victory in Sunday's Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies at Hanshin Racecourse. While lowering the stakes record to 1:32.6, the Daiwa Major filly ran her record to three wins without a loss.
With Hiroshi Kitamura up, Ascoli Piceno rallied from midfield turning into the stretch, found a seam and got to the front inside the 100-meters mark. At that point, she was challenge on the inside by late-running Stellenbosch and was all out to hold that one off by a neck.
"The filly broke better than in her previous start, was relaxed during the race and responded well in the stretch," Kitamura said. "I was a bit worried for a second that we were going to get caught but she gave her all, all the way to the line.
"The stable staff did a great job and she was in very good condition, so I had every confidence in her," he added.
The race has been a star-making turn with previous victories by eventual Horse of the Year honorees Vodka and Buena Vista. Liberty Island, a star still in the making, won last year.
Japanese 2-year-olds also feature in the 1,600-meters Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity Dec. 17 at Hanshin and the 2,000-meters Hopeful Stakes, also a Grade 1 event, Dec. 28 at Nakayama Racecourse.
It's early innings yet in the desert but that won't stop the connections of Colour Up for dreaming of World Cup Night glory after the 5-year-old Mehmas gelding overcame a messy start to win Friday night's listed Garhoud Sprint at Meydan Racecourse.
The winner was bumped soundly out of the gate, then forced wide around the turn. He took the lead at the top of the straight and found just enough to hold off Leading spirit by 1/4 length. "These are the races we all come for," said jockey Sam Hitchcott.
Meanwhile, back in North America
Trainer Bob Baffert got his seventh straight win and 10th overall in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Starlet Stakes as Nothing Like You found herself unchallenged on the lead and zipped away to a 5 1/4-lengths victory. Some stretch interference muddled the results for the other five but there was no question Nothing Like You, a Malibu Moon filly, was best. She took four tries to find the winner's circle but now has three straight wins, also including the Desi Arnaz Stakes at Del Mar.
"It took this filly a while to come around," Baffert said. "She wasn't real quick. We knew once we stretched her out, that would be her game. The longer the better for her."
The Arkansas track kicked off its 2023-24 stakes season with Friday's aptly named $150,000 Advent Stakes for 2-year-olds. While "advent" might refer to the start of the racing season, the season of the year or the beginning of the participating 2-year-olds' careers, the result was a mixed metaphor as Valentine Candy lent a February air to the proceedings, drawing off to score by 6 3/4 lengths as the favorite. The Justify colt posted his second win from five starts for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Tejano Twist rallied from last of eight to win Saturday's $150,000 Ring the Bell Stakes going away, finishing 5 lengths ahead of runner-up Necker Island. Chris Landeros piloted the 4-year-old Practical Joke gelding over 6 furlongs over 6 furlongs in 1:10.02 for trainer Chris Hartman.
Last year's Grade III Iowa Oaks winner, Butterbean, overcame the outside draw to win Saturday's $150,000 Mistletoe for fillies and mares with a late run, edging Misty Veil by 1/2 length. The 4-year-old Klimt filly ran 1 mile in 1:38.54 with Julien Leparoux riding for Kenny McPeek.
Hot Fudge stalked three-wide in Saturday's $120,000 Garland of Roses for fillies and mares, shot to a clear lead at the sixteenth pole and held off Kant Hurry Love by a neck under the wire. The 4-year-old Liam's Map filly got 6 furlongs in 1:10.45 with Kendrick Carmouche up. Linda Rice trains the winner, who got her third straight win.
Tampa Bay Downs
Shaq Diesel edged pacesetting, odds-on favorite Dean Delivers by a nose with a late effort in Saturday's $100,000 FTBOA Marion County Florida Sire Stakes for qualified state-breds. In the Companion City of Ocala for fillies and mares, the favorite, Bluefield, rallied late to win by a neck over Dream Concert.
The centerpiece of Saturday's Louisiana Champions Day, the $150,000 Classic, came down to a virtual match race between defending champ and odds-on favorite Touchuponastar and Tumbarumba with Touchuponastar easily handling that rival for a 1 1/4-lengths victory. The other two were well up the track at the finish. Touchuponastar, a 4-year-old Star Guitar gelding, got 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.12. On the rest of the card:
Free Like a Girl, no stranger to tough competition, led all the way to a 4 1/4-lengths score in the $100,000 Ladies Distaff. The 4-year-old El Deal filly ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.49 with Vincente Del-Cid in the irons.
Mangum charged past the dueling leaders in deep stretch in the $100,000 Sprint and was just up to win by 1/2 length over Bron and Brow. Ova Charged led in the lane in the $100,000 Ladies Sprint and just did hold on to win by a nose over Basalt Street. The Star Guitar mare ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.67.
Good and Stout, a Coal Front colt, nosed El Dinero for the victory in the $100,000 Juvenile. Accommodate Eva dropped back to last of 11, then came with a late outside rush to win the $100,000 Lassie by 3/4 length.
Behemah Star, another by Star Guitar, tracked the pace in the $100,000 Turf, ran by the leaders and won by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Who Took the Money.
Noted, last seen finishing ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on the Santa Anita dirt, rushed from far back to win a five-way scramble to the wire in Saturday's $100,000 Pulpit Stakes for 2-year-olds at 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf. The Cairo Prince colt, representing the Mike Repole-Todd Pletcher connections, finished in 1:27.30 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. He now has thrree wins and two seconds from six starts.
Ortiz also rode the winner in the $100,000 Wait a While Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at the same conditions, guiding Ozara home first by a neck after a pace-stalking trip. The Irish-bred daughter of Lope de Vega was clocked in 1:27.36. She now is 2-for-4.
Golden Gate Fields
Chancery Way led almost all the way to a 1 1/2-lengths win as the odds-on favorite in Saturday's $75,000 Bear Fan Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares. The 4-year-old daughter of Mr. Big ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.81.
Fashionably Fab, the odds-on favorite, sat second, well aft of the leader, through the early furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) La Prevoyante Stakes for fillies and mares, then closed the gap and drew off when asked by jockey Patrick Husbands, winning by 2 1/2 length from Talk to Ya Later. The 3-year-old Silent Name filly covered 1 1/16 miles of all-weather track in 1:45.60.
Catiche worked to the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $125,000 My Charmer Stakes for fillies and mares and ran on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over the late-closing favorite, Mouffy. Catiche, a 4-year-old Arrogate filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.24 under Gerardo Corrales.
Valentine Candy wins the opening-day Advent Stakes at Oaklawn Park, photo by Renee Torbit, courtesy of Oaklawn Park