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UPI Horse Racing Roundup

With less than five weeks to go, the Kentucky Derby field started to take some solid shape in weekend racing as last year's 2-year-old Champ, Fierceness, destroyed the Florida Derby and Japanese star Forever Young remained undefeated while winning the UAE Derby in Dubai.

Muth won the Arkansas Derby impressively but is not eligible for the Run for the Roses.

There was lots of other action, to wit:

The Road to the Roses

Last year's 2-year-old champ, Fierceness, is back and looking fiercer than ever as he heads to the Kentucky Derby after destroying Saturday's Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park by 13 1/2 lengths. Ditto Japanese star Forever Young, who earned his way into the Run for the Roses with an impressive victory in the UAE Derby in Dubai.

Muth would be on the same list after winning Saturday's Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Clearly in the top ranks of this year's 3-year-olds, he's ineligible for the Kentucky Derby because his trainer, Bob Baffert, remains under the Churchill Downs interdict.

That Fierceness! The City of Light colt, trained by Todd Pletcher for Mike Repole, finished a fading third in his 3-year-old debut in the Feb. 3 Holy Bull Stakes, tarnishing his Derby credential slightly. He made up for it, in spades, in the Florida Derby. With John Velazquez along for the ride, Fierceness went right to the front and this time didn't stop. His margin increasing with each stride, he crossed the line 13 1/2 lengths ahead of his closest competitor, Catalytic. Grand Mo the First was third.

Fierceness earned 100 Kentucky Derby points and is set to go. Catalytic, a 29-1 long shot Saturday, got 50 points -- potentially enough to get into the maximum-20 Kentucky Derby field.

"That was a pretty awesome performance," Pletcher said after capturing his eighth
Florida Derby win. "That's what we see in the mornings when we breeze him -- a special talent. That's why it was so perplexing his two races that he didn't run brilliantly. He's three times brilliant and two times has had off days."

Pletcher reported Easter morning that Fierceness came out of the race well and will head to Churchill Downs once he, Pletcher, figures out some new rules about when Derby runners must report for duty.

At Oaklawn Park, Muth, second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was impressive, too, if not as flashy, in winning the Arkansas Derby by 2 lengths from Just Steel after pressing the early pace. The Good Magic colt backed up a victory in the Grade II San Vicente in his 2024 debut and, lacking a Derby shot, could be looking for another place to run before the Preakness Stakes. The favorite, Timberlake, finished fourth Saturday.

Muth has four wins from six starts.

"Muth, he's just … the only hose that beat him was Fierceness and we saw what he did today (winning the Florida Derby)," Baffert said. "I'm just happy for everybody. It (the Arkansas Derby) is very important. It's a very prestigious race, winning that. You know how we feel about Oaklawn."

And in Dubai, Forever Young remained undefeated with a stretch-running victory in the Group 2 UAE Derby. Like the other two Saturday races, the Dubai race offered 100 points to the winner, 50 to the runner-up and Forever Young's connections said after the race they're ready to go.

Forever Young, by Real Steel, won his first two races in Japan, then took a shot in the Group 3 Saudi Derby Feb. 24 in Riyadh. He barely won that, catching Book'em Danno in the final strides, but trainer Yoshito Yahagi blamed that close call on the tough travel from Japan.

The second-place finisher in Dubai, South American-bred Auto Bahn, ran well but is slated to go to the sidelines for the summer rather than take his pass to Louisville.

Meanwhile, sources in Japan report the connections of T O Password, the champion of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby," do plan to exercise their option. So, barring mishaps, there will be two Japanese horses in America's premier race.

Reigning 2-year-old champ Fierceness wins Florida Derby, on to Kentucky, photo courtesy of Gulfstream Park

In other action:
 
The Path to the Lilies

Power Squeeze rallied late to win Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks by 1 length over the favorite, Ways and Means. Power Squeeze, a daughter of Union Rags, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.19. She was a bit of a slow developer for trainer Jorge Delgado but now has won three straight races.

At Oaklawn Park, Thorpedo Anna took command in the stretch run of Saturday's $750,000 Grade II Fantasy Stakes, kicking loose to score by 4 lengths over West Omaha. Thorpedo Anna, a Fast Anna filly trained by Kenny McPeek, was making her 3-year-old debut after winning two of five last year. She was second in the Grade II Golden Rod, albeit 5 1 1/4 lengths back of Intricate.

Turf / Turf Mile

Kertez, a 6-year-old making his first U.S. start for trainer Christophe Clement, won a three-horse scramble to the finish at the end of Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Pan American Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The British-bred, French-raced gelding, by the German sire Intello, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:24.93 with Joel Rosario in the irons. The favorite, Tawny Port, finished third.

Set pressed the pace in Saturday's $125,000 Cutler Bay Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park, took the lead and won by 1 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. The Oscar Performance colt, trained by Mark Casse, improved to 2-for-2.

Smokin' T surged by most of the rest of the field in the stretch run in Saturday's $150,000 Appleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park and kept on to win by a head in a blanket finish that saw six horses finish within 1 length. Smokin' T, a 5-year-old by War Front, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.33.

Filly & Mare Turf

McKulick rebounded nicely from a last-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf with a 1/2-length victory over Surprisingly in Saturday' $175,000 Grade III Orchid Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The 5-year-old Frankel mare traveled 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:25.20 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons for trainer Chad Brown.

Vive Veuve outfinished odds-on favorite Ozara in Saturday's $125,000 Sanibel Island Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park, winning by 3/4 length over that one with three others in close attendance. Vve Veuve, a Collected filly, got her second U.S. win from three starts after going winless in three starts in Ireland in 2023.

Cairo Consort found her best stride in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000 Sand Springs Stakes at Gulfstream Park, seized the lead and got clear to a 1 3/4-lengths victory. The favorite, Marketsegmentation, finished fifth. Cairo Consort, a 4-year-old Cairo Prince filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:39.45 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Sprint

Oscar Eclipse got home first in Saturday's $125,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park, edging late-running Dreaming of Kona by a neck. Oscar Eclipse, a 4-year-old Oscar Performance colt, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.23, getting his first stakes win.

Filly & Mare Sprint

American Band found a late burst of speed to catch Daddysruby in the late going and post the 27-1 long shot victory in Saturday's $250,000 Matron Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The 5-year-old Flatter mare scored her third win from her last four starts.

Nice as Pie circled the field in Saturday's $125,000 Serena's Song Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the Turfway Park all-weather course, then kicked away from eight rivals to win by 6 lengths. The
Tapiture filly completed 6 furlongs in 1:09.87.

Classic

Masqueparade was along in the final strides of Friday's $200,000 Temperence Hill Stakes at Oaklawn Park, edging Classic Causeway in a 19-1 upset win. The favorite, Speed Bias, was well back in third. Masqueparade, a 6-year-old son of Upstart, got 1 1/2 miles on a fast track in 2:33.05 with Harry Hernandez up for trainer Robertino Diodoro.

Il Miracolo caught pacesetting Tumbarumba in the closing strides of Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Ghostzapper Stakes at Gulfstream Park and won by a neck over that rival. Il Miracolo, a 4-year-old Gun Runner colt from the Antonio Sano barn, entered off a fading third in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Mile and seemed to enjoy the change in tactics in the Saturday win.

Frosted Grace chased down Silver Prospector in the late going to win Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Oaklawn Mile at Oaklawn Park by 1 1/2 lengths. Frosted Grace, an 8-year-old, entire son of Mark Valeski, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.61 with Ramon Vazquez riding for trainer Mike Maker. It was his 11th win in his 46th start.

Laughing Boy was awarded victory in Saturday's $150,000 Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct after finishing second behind late-charging Messier. The stewards ruled interference inside the sixteenth pole was sufficient to reverse the order of finish. The 1 1/8 miles on a fast track went in 1:49.91 and Laughing Boy, a 6-year-old son of Distorted Humor, got his fourth win from 32 starts.

Around the World, Around the Clock

Dubai

Shock waves started rolling over the Meydan Racecourse grandstand Saturday night as the field turned into the stretch run of the $12 million Group 1 Dubai World Cup. The field was chockablock with talented runners, including the 1-2 finishers from the previous month's $20 million Saudi Cup, Senor Buscador and Ushba Tesoro. But it was the unheralded California transplant, Laurel River, leading them a merry chase and increasing his margin with every stride.

By the 300-meter mark, there was little doubt the unexpected was unfolding. And, indeed, Laurel River and jockey Tadhg O'Shea not only achieved the unexpected but did so in record fashion, winning by 8 1/2 lengths, obliterating the record set in 2000 by Dubai Millenium, who is to Dubai roughly what Secretariat is to U.S. racing.

Ushba Tesoro and Senor Buscador did, in fact, battle it out again, but for second and third, with the Japanese runner barely in front this time.

It was quite the performance from Laurel River, who was good but nothing special when trained in 2021-22 in California by Bob Baffert, missed all of 2023 and was 1-for-2 in his Dubai return this year.

Trainer Bhupat Seemar, once a Baffert assistant, said: "I'm still coming to terms with what’s happened. I think it’ll probably sink in in another day or two. It’s absolutely amazing."

Seemar, however, quickly squelched hopes Laurel River might make a return to the United States for big summer and fall dirt races. Dubai racing, he said, is built around short seasons and lots of rest in between so it's likely the Juddmonte Farms homebred now will spend at least eight months at leisure.

The major disappointment was Kabirkhan, the pride of Kasakhstan, who had been the talk of the World Cup Carnival with two big wins but finished eighth when the chips were downs.

Rebel's Romance saved the night for the Godolphin team of Dubai's ruler, Sheik Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, rallying to a stretch-running victory in the $6 million Grade I Dubai Sheema Classic. The race is the highlight of the program for the large portion of the racing world that competes on grass. Rebel's Romance, a 6-year-old Dubawi gelding, seems to be rounding into top form and trainer Charlie Appleby said he plans to return him this summer to the United States, where he has had success.

In the Sheema Classic, Rebel's Romance stuck close behind the early leader, caught that one easily when asked by jockey William Buick and won by 2 lengths. Japanese contenders Shahryar and Liberty Island finished second and third. The big bust in this race was dual Derby and Breeders' Cup Turf winner Auguste Rodin, who didn't run a lick and finished last.

The $5 million Group 1 Dubai Turf figured to be one of the featured events of the night with Lord North shooting for his fourth straight win in the event while facing the likes of Japan's Do Deuce and 2023 runner-up Danon Beluga, Ireland's Luxembourg, Hong Kong's Straight Arron and others. But it was Facteur Cheval hoisting the flag for France in a close, multi-horse finish. Danon Beluga finished third and Do Deuce fifth. Straight Arron finished sixth and Luxembourg was fourth in an overall disappointing night for Coolmore and trainer Aidan O'Brien.

Tower of London got rolling outside rivals in the stretch, passed most of the field and won the night's longest race, the $1 million Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup, by 2 lengths. Long shot Al Nayyar, who looked like a winner before Tower of London flew past, held second with pacesetting Trawlerman third. Tower of London, a 4-year-old by Galileo, finished the 3,200 meters or about 2 miles in 3:17.29 with Ryan Moore up for trainer Aidan O'Brien. The victory backed up his triumph a month earlier in the $2.5 million Group 3 Red Sea Turf Handicap in Saudi Arabia.

California Spangle carried the Hong Kong banner to victory in the night's shortest turf race, the $1.5 million Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint. With Brenton Avdulla up, the 6-year-old Starspangledbanner gelding emerged from a tightly packed bunch with 300 meters to go and ran on to win by 3/4 length over Godolphin's 3-year-old Star of Mystery. The time of 1:07.50 established a course record for 1,200 meters. California Spangle, after some recent struggles back home, has it a purple patch, winning the Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse before heading for Dubai.

On the dirt, other than the World Cup and the UAE Derby:

Last year's Golden Shaheen winner, Sibelius, was favored for a repeat in a relatively wide-open 6-furlong dash but it was the overlooked Tuz who gave a preview of the World Cup as the Oxbow gelding, trained by Seemar and ridden by O'Shea, who jetted off in the final furlongs to win by 6 1/2 lengths. Sibelius finished 11th.

American invader Two Rivers Over, with Edwin Maldonado up for trainer Doug O'Neill, tracked the warm early pace in the $1 million Group 2 Godolphin Mile, moved into challenging position early in the stretch run and ground down the dueling leaders to win by 3/4 length. Walk of Stars was third, a nose in front of last year's winner, Isolate. Saudi Crown, who finished third in the $20 million Saudi Cup a month earlier, vied for the early lead and faded through the stretch to finish next-last of 13. Two Rivers Over won the Zia Park Derby in New Mexico two starts back.

There was more than just Dubai on the racing's global schedule.

Japan

With many of Japan's top horses visiting Dubai, Sunday's Grade 1 Osaka Hai at Hanshin Racecourse looked like a good spot for some bench players to shine. That didn’t make things any less exciting when all was said and done, though, as Bellagio Opera, after pressing the pace through the whole 2,000 meters, hung on to win by a neck over Rousham Park with Rouge Eveil another nose back in third and just 1/2 length in front of fifth placegetter Stella Veloce.

Reigning Japanese Derby winner Tasteiera chased the pace and faded to finish 11th. He has not won since the Derby

Bellagio Opera reported fourth in the Derby but now has five wins from eight starts.

Australia

Cascadian got through between horses inside the 200-meters mark in Saturday's Group 1 Australian Cup at Flemington and ran on to win by a neck over Pride of Jenni. The favorite, Mr Brightside, could do no better than fifth.

Orchestral, the odds-on favorite, got the job done in the Group 1 Vinery Stud Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Rosehill, winning by 3/4 length from Tutta La Vita. She's won three in a row now.

Kalapour notched a 30-1 upset win in the Group 1 Tancred Stakes at Rosehill, defeating More Felons by a head with Post Impressionist making no impression at all.

England

Good Friday marked the traditional finals of the All-Weather Championships, held for the first time this season at Newcastle. It was not a particularly good day for favorites as only two won on the seven-race program.

A particularly tough beat was Penzance, the favorite in the Easter Classic Middle Distance Handicap. The 4-year-old Wootton Bassett gelding was in line for a £75,000 bonus with a win after taking down the two semifinals in the division. He, however, fell second to one of the winning favorites, Elegant Man, who made all in the 1 1/4-miles test. Oisin Murphy partnered the other winning favorite, Fire Demon, in the 3-Year-olds Division final.

Otherwise, Talis Evolvere won the Mile at 33-1 odds, Fivethousandtoone took out the Sprint at odds of eightoone, Cloud Cover was best at 10-1 in the Fillies' and Mares', and Prydwen, also at 10-1 won the Maraton.

Godolphin captured the All-Weather Champion Owner award for the 10th consecutive season, with Military Order winning the Group 3 Winter Derby and Rebel's Romance also getting a win. Rebel's Romance went on to win the H H the Amir's Trophy in Qatar and the Group 1 Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup night.

Meanwhile, back in the States …

Sunland Park

Todd Fincher was in Dubai to watch Senor Buscador in the $12 million Dubai World Cup this weekend but his presence was well felt back home as Community Leader dueled to the lead in deep stretch and won the $250,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby for state-breds by a neck as the 1-5 favorite. The Diabolical gelding ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.20. He now has nine wins and a second from 10 starts.

Honky Tonk Honey spoiled the otherwise storybook narrative by winning the $250,000 New Mexico Breeders' Oaks by 1 length over the Fincher-trained favorite, Make Up a Story. Honky Tonk Honey, a daughter of Kentucky Wildcat, got home in 1:45.02, scoring her second win from four starts.

                                                                       
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