However, heavy favorite Ellafitz flopped in the slop at Santa Anita and international action heated up from Dubai to Singapore.
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The Derby trail
Trainer Bob Baffert is slowly seeing how far his Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint winner, Secret Circle, can go. In Saturday's $500,000, Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park, he proved he can go 1 1/16 miles. After taking an unaccustomed early stalking position well behind the leaders, the Eddington colt worked his way to the lead with a 16th to run and jockey Rafael Bejarano kept him rolling long enough to hold off the late charge of 28-1 long shot Optimizer, who fell 3/4 of a length short at the wire. Scatman was third and Sabercat, making his first start since winning the $1 million Delta Jackpot, finished eighth. Secret Circle finished in 1:44.55 over a fast track. Secret Circle came into the race off a victory in the Southwest Stakes and before that was second behind Out of Bounds in the Sham Stakes in California. He now has five wins from six starts but distance remains the issue. "I'm glad they made the decision to bring him back here," Bejarano said. "The key was getting him to relax. He has lots of talent." Baffert assistant Jim Barnes, asked whether Secret Circle can keep going, said, "It looks like he will. Bob will decide all that. But we did what we had to today. He got the mile and a 16th and showed he could rate a bit. I'll be getting my room for the Arkansas Derby tomorrow."
After Saturday's $75,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park, trainer Todd Pletcher may have yet another candidate for the Triple Crown -- if not for the Kentucky Derby, maybe for the Preakness Stakes. Raconteur caught Hakama in the final strides to win the Private Terms by a head with Brimstone Island taking show money. With Chris DeCarlo up, Raconteur, an A.P. Indy colt out of the Storm Cat mare Miss Kate, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:37.69. "Very determined effort," Pletcher said. "He was ridden perfectly." He said Raconteur may be a candidate for the Canonero II Stakes -- formerly the Federico Tesio -- at Pimlico on Kentucky Derby day.
While most attention was focused on the graded stakes race at Oaklawn, Gulfstream snuck a de facto Derby prep onto Friday's card -- an $80,000 allowance event that featured two potential Derby contenders making their first start of the year. At the end, it was no contest. Gemologist, a Tiznow colt trained by Todd Pletcher, led from the start and drew off smartly in the stretch to win by 7 lengths. The other hopeful, Currency Swap, raced second all the way and finished there, 5 lengths ahead of Angel's Tune. With Javier Castellano up, Gemologist ran the mile on a fast track in 1:35.95 after getting away with easy fractions. "I thought that worked out well for a comeback," Pletcher said. "I thought he ran super. From a conditioning standpoint, I thought he got exactly what we were hoping for out of this race." Gemologist, still undefeated in four career starts, was making his first afternoon trip to the track since the Kentucky Jockey Club victory Nov. 26, where he beat Ever So Lucky by 1 3/4 lengths. Currency Swap, a High Cotton colt, won both his starts last year, culminating in the Three Chimneys Hopeful at Saratoga. Pletcher said Gemologist -- who needs to top off his graded stakes earning to be sure of a spot in the Kentucky Derby, will run in "something, somewhere" during the first two weeks of April.
Street Life caught pacesetting Copy My Swagger late in Saturday's $75,000 Broad Brush Stakes for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct and won by a 1/2 length. Hard Facts finished third and the favorite, Swag Daddy, checked in fifth. Street Life, with Junior Alvarado up, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:47.87. The colt is a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. His dam is by 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, so naturally trainer Chad Brown is looking toward bigger things. "He looked a little green in the lane," Brown said. "We still have a few things to work on. The talent's there." He said he will consider the Arkansas Derby and the Wood Memorial with a preference for the latter because he wouldn't have to ship. On the other hand, Hansen is slated to run in the Wood.
Fillies and mares
Going long and going short, on the grass and on the dirt, fillies and mares were running every which way during the weekend.
Ramon Dominguez had a nice ride over the Fair Grounds track Saturday aboard Havre de Gras but he didn't have to do much work in getting last year's star started on another stellar year. After tracking the pace in the $150,000 New Orleans Ladies, Havre de Grace moved around the leaders turning for home quickly seized the lead. Dominguez checked under both arms to ensure there was no challenge, then it was hands and heels -- mostly hands -- on to a 4 1/2-length victory. Juanita finished second and Sterling Madame was third. Havre de Grace finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.79 after the mile went in 1:36.07. The final time was less than a second off the 18-year-old track record. It was her first race since a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic last November at Churchill Downs. She now has nine wins from 16 career starts. "It's always good to get the first one out from under you, get the cobwebs dusted off," winning trainer Larry Jones said. "And the time of the race -- I haven't seen a lot of 1:36 miles here this meet so it shows she's back fully." Asked what's next, Jones noted his Joyful Victory ran third in Saturday's Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn, "so it looks like we're going to have dig a little deeper in the well if we're going to go to the Apple Blossom. It looks like we may have to go with the first string, but we'll see." He said he will be watching the weights assigned Havre de Gras as he plots her campaign. "I'm not giving anybody 12 pounds," he said.
While Havre de Gras was stretching her legs in New Orleans, it was Tiz Miz Sue rallying by the embattled leaders in the stretch run to win Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Azeri at Oaklawn Park. The 5-year-old Tiznow mare ran past the field easily at mid-stretch and won off by 3 lengths over She's All In, who pressed the early pace. The favorite, Absinthe Minded, paid the price for the contentious early running and faded to finish fourth as Joyful Victory held third. Ravi's Song completed the order of finish. Tiz Miz Sue, with Joe Rocco Jr. up, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.58. Tiz Miz Sue had finished second to Absinthe Minded in their last race, the Bayakoa Stakes over the same oval. "They hooked up in front," noted winning trainer Steve Hobby. "They weren't going crazy, but they were nodding back and forth and taking turns and that had me liking it the whole way. Joe was able to wait and wait." He said he will consider running Tiz Miz Sue back in the Apple Blossom, possibly depending on whether Havre de Grace opts for that race.
And in California, Ellafitz was the heavy favorite in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Santa Margarita Stakes off three straight victories. But after leading the way, Ellafitz hit the wall and it was Include Me Out who raced by and opened up in the stretch, winning off by 3 3/4 lengths. Love Theway Youare took second, Miss Mittagong finished third and Ellafitz finished last of the four starters. Include Me Out, a 4-year-old Include filly, ran the 9 furlongs on the sloppy, sealed main track in 1:47.62 with Joe Talamo up. It was her second try around two turns and her second straight win, the first being the Grade II La Canada in January. "I knew my filly was going to run huge," winning trainer Ron Ellis said. "That's all I knew. I wasn't worried about the favorite. I knew my filly would run a huge race and she did. I had a lot of confidence in her, the way she was training. She was improving in leaps and bounds. I was just worried about the racetrack." Ellafitz's rider, Alan Garcia, also cited the slop in assessing her flop. "I guess she just didn't like the track because she is better than she ran today," he said. "She was good until the three-eighths pole, but when I asked her to go, she didn't respond like she usually does. I just don't think she liked the mud."
At Gulfstream Park, the fillies and mares were sprinting in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Inside Information Stakes and it was Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare sprint champ Musical Romance bouncing back from a defeat in the Sunshine Millions to take this heat by 3/4 of a length over Hot Summer. The favorite, Groupie Doll, was up for third, another 1/2 length in arrears. Musical Romance, a 5-year-old Concorde's Tune mare, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.88 with Juan Leyva in the irons. She has been out of the money only once in her last 11 starts. Trainer and part owner Bill Kaplan, who nursed Musical Romance back from an injury suffered in her last race, credited Leyva's ride. "He just sat in that pocket and waited, and then got through," Kaplan said. "I was afraid it wouldn't open up, but then she came on through there." He said Musical Romance's schedule is not set in stone but could include the Vinery Madison at Keeneland on Apr. 12, the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on Derby Day and the Princess Rooney at Calder on July 7.
Sunday, the Gulfstream action shifted to the turf course and the $150,000, Grade II Honey Fox Stakes, where Tapitsfly rallied outside the leaders in deep stretch to snatch victory by 3/4 of a length over Bay to Bay. It was another nose back to Le Reine Lionne in third. The favorite, Future Generation, got home fourth and Romacaca finished fifth after showing the way. Tapitsfly, a 5-year-old Tapit mare, ran the mile on firm going in 1:34.23 with Julien Leparoux riding. Tapitsfly, the 2009 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf victor, had not won in almost a year and finished third in her previous start, the Grade III Marshua's River. She now has five wins from 18 starts but has been off the board only five times. "She really deserves this to go along with her Breeders' Cup," winning trainer Dale Romans said. "She's learned to relax and is a better horse this year."
Arena Elvira rallied from mid-pack to win Saturday's $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs by a head over R Gypsy Gold. Dash Dot Dash, close all the way, held on for third. Arena Elvira, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper mare, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.57 with Leandro Goncalves riding.
(By RICHARD GROSS)
Dubai trainer Ali Rashid al-Raihe saved his best for last as his charges swept the final five of Saturday's six contests on the final race night at Meydan before the March 31 Dubai World Cup.
"Obviously, it has been a very good evening for all of us,"said assistant trainer Jilani Siddiqui. "We have had four winners before but never five and the whole team deserve a lot of credit on a remarkable night."
A remarkable night it was for the al-Raihe team with all races run on the Tapeta all-weather. El Wasmi gained a 3/4-length victory over Maath Gool over 1,400 meters in the Scene Handicap and Hadba bested Busker in the 1,900-meter Gulf News.com Handicap. Saturday was also a good day for Garbah, a 2 1/4-length winner in the 1,200-meter Friday Handicap. Sharaayeen took the crown in the 2,200-meter GNB Handicap over King Charles, and Rutland Boy was a 1/2 length better than Markazzi in the Gulf News Handicap over 1,600 meters.
The last meet of the regular Carnival racing season at Dubai set up the beginning of anticipation over Dubai World Cup day in two weeks. The race card is beginning to take shape as the Dubai Racing Club released a preview of the likely runners in the nine races on DWC day.
The highlight will be the $10 million Dubai World Cup. Despite the loss of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom to a training injury, the United States will be well-represented in the big race and ladies will get two shots at history.
Game On Dude will enter the gate under the tutelage of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The 2011 winner of the Santa Anita Handicap and runner-up to Drosselmeyer in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic will take a shot at history when regular jockey Chantal Sutherland takes the reins and bids to become the first winning female rider in the UAE.
The son of multiple graded-stakes winner Awesome Again will be joined by trainer Bill Mott's 2011 Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic winner Royal Delta, seeking to become the first filly winner of the Dubai World Cup.
The U.S. pair will be challenged by 12 others in the full field, including two-time Cox Plate winner and early favorite So You Think, seeking to break the $10 million lifetime earnings barrier with a win. Japan again has three entries. Last year's runner-up, Transcend, seeks to ascend to the winner's circle joined in hot pursuit by six-time Group 1 winner Smart Falcon and 2010 Japan Derby winner Eishin Flash.
Other projected runners include Master of Hounds and Gitano Hernando, Monterosso and Mendip, Capponi and Prince Bishop, France's Silver Pond and German 2011 Premio Roma winner Zazou.
Fay Fay won a tough battle to the wire in Sunday's HK-Group 1 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby, giving trainer John Size his first win in the event and possibly earning a berth in next month's Group 1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup. Fay Fay, a gelded son of Felkirk, was drawn widest in gate No. 14 but jockey Douglas Whyte said that may have been an advantage as the race played out. Working through a slow pace, Whyte was able to get Fay Fay into a good position fairly early, then first run to the lead and an advantage he needed nearing the finish. "Your options are limited when you've got Gate 14," he said. "It wasn't our initial option to go that close forward but we were going to be positive on him. But when they slackened up on the stable bend I let him roll forward under his own steam and within a matter of 100 meters I had the race in control. He was just lobbing along beautifully so from that point of view I've got to say that Gate 14 was a blessing in disguise." Same World and Sweet Orange were closing resolutely at the end but finished a neck and a short head in arrears. Zaidan was fourth in a talented field. Fay Fay got the 2,000 meters in 2:04.41 and Size said his post-race condition will dictate the future. The QE II on April 29, he added, "is a pretty good idea but the horse might not agree with that. It depends on what sort of condition he's in and how he takes this race." A crowd of 53,000 turned out at Sha Tin and the day's handle exceeded HK$1.2 billion, roughly US$150 million.
Stars from Australia, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, United States, Hong Kong, England, France, Ireland and South America are among 160 horses nominated to the May 20 Singapore Airlines International Cup and KrisFlyer International Sprint. Both are Group 1 races and the Sprint is the fourth leg of the Global Sprint Challenge. The nominees are a "who's who" of international stars. "It is a strong list of nominations we have for both races," said Mike Wanklin, vice president of racing and head of handicapping at the Singapore Turf Club. "While the numbers may be down slightly on last year, the quality is certainly up. The nomination list for the SAI Cup is particularly strong with 30 individual International Group 1 winners and the KrisFlyer Sprint has held up very well also. We have got a nomination from most of the ones we thought we would and it is extremely pleasing to see some old familiar faces again among the nominations." The SAI Cup nominees include winners of the Kentucky Derby (Animal Kingdom), Irish Derby (Treasure Beach) and Japanese Derby (Eishin Flash). U.S. nominees for the Sprint include Breeders' Cup winner Regally Ready and Smiling Tiger.
Marilyn's Guy pressed the pace in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Excelsior Stakes, rallied by to the lead and then withstood a second rally by early leader San Pablo to win by a neck. Norman Asbjornson finished third. Marilyn's Guy, a 6-year-old Yonaguska gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:52.54 with Charles Lopez in the irons. "He got to the eighth pole and he started to give me an indication he may not want to go quite that far," Lopez said. "But he's a great horse." Winning trainer Tony Dutrow said Marilyn's Guy will remain in New York.
Flat Bold had to work out of traffic to make the winning run in Sunday's $75,000 Time Tested Stakes, getting up late to score by 1 1/4 lengths over Leave of Absence. Sam Sparkle finished third. Flat Bold, a 6-year-old Flatter gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.11 with Ramon Dominguez posting the Yatzee.
Sunday's $150,000, Grade II San Luis Rey Handicap was postponed a week because of heavy rains that drenched the Santa Anita turf course.
Canonize stalked the pace in Sunday's $70,000 Santana Mile Stakes, got by pacesetting Gladding in the lane and battled that one to the wire before winning by a half length. Honour the Deputy finished third. Canonize, a 6-year-old Aldebaran gelding, finished the mile on a "good" main track in 1:33.89 with Victor Espinoza up.
Lindz Winz stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Irish O'Brien Stakes for California-breds, surged to the lead turning for home and turned back a bid from Camille C before winning by 2 1/4 lengths over that rival. Advance Ticket finished third. Lindz Winz, a 4-year-old Vronsky filly, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on the sloppy main track in 1:15.58 with Edwin Maldonado riding. The race was moved from the hillside turf course with three resulting scratches, including Unzip Me.
Daddy O. prevailed after a somewhat frantic stretch run in Sunday's $110,000 New Mexico State University Stakes for state-breds. At least four horses had every chance through mid stretch but Dadd O. outkicked the others to win by a neck. On Down the Road was second, 1/2 length in front of Double Smart. Daddy O., a 7-year-old Chimes Band gelding, finished the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.62 with Alejandro Medellin up.
Ocala Training Center
Four races on Monday were restricted to horses sold at an OBS sale.
Crafty Unicorn, making his first start, pressed the pace in the $100,000 Championship for 3-year-old colts and geldings, took the lead willingly for jockey Angel Serpa and got clear late to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Burn the Mortgage. Moon Traveler was third. Crafty Unicorn, a Friends Lake colt out of the Lemon Drop Kid mare Unicorn Kid, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45 4/5. Dennis Manning is the winning owner/trainer.
Andrew's Girl, coming off a win at Tampa Bay Downs, rallied from last of nine to win the $100,000 Championship 3-year-old filly division by 1 1/2 lengths over the optimistically named Oaks Lily. Ten K Cat finished third. Andrew's Girl, a Lawyer Ron filly out of the Storm Cat mare Pondering, got the 1 1/16 miles in 1:48 3/5 under Leandro Goncalves.
In the $50,000 Sprint for sophomore colts and geldings, Devoted Wildcat backed up a last-race victory at Gulfstream with an off-the-pace score, beating Making Amends by a length. It Takes Heart took third. Devoted Wildat, a Forest Wildcat gelding, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10 4/5 with Kent Desormeaux up.
Who Is Camille tracked the pace in the $50,000 Sprint for 3-year-old fillies, went by the leader and scored by a length over the late rally of Runfor Ro. Quality Lass got home third. Who Is Camille, a Dixie Union filly, took 1:11 to finish with John Velazquez in the irons.
Fordangshore looked like a "shore" thing down the lane in Tuesday's $75,000 Bensalem Stakes, rallying from well back and getting clear late to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Rod's Five Star. Golddigger's Boy took third. Fordangshore, a 5-year-old Forest Danger gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.63 with Kendrick Carmouche up.
News and notes
Hollywood Park and Betfair have entered into an agreement that includes naming rights to "Betfair Hollywood Park," creation of a new "Betfair Lounge" and "Betfair Club" at the track and major upgrades of technology, facility and infrastructure. The partners also promise improve simulcast signal and betting opportunities. The deal hinges on approval of dates for 2013. Betfair boasts its membership averages decades younger than average racing fans and promises to leverage that to improve the LAX track's performance. "We are deeply committed to changing U.S. horseracing for the better and are delighted to find a partner in Hollywood Park Racing Association willing to take the bold step of trying to change every facet of the racing experience to appeal to a broader, younger audience," said Stephen Burn, chief executive officer of Betfair US and TVG.
Ramon Dominguez and Samuel Camacho Jr. were released Sunday evening from North Shore University Hospital where they were transported following a spill in the eighth race at Aqueduct. X-rays reportedly were negative on Camacho and he is expected to ride Wednesday. Dominguez, the 2011 Eclipse Award winner who rode Havre de Gras to victory Saturday, was diagnosed with a dislocated, but not fractured, clavicle and his status is uncertain. "I'm not in any pain and will follow up with my doctors tomorrow," Dominguez told NYRA officials. He said he will not need surgery.
ROBERT KIECKHEFER || UPI Racing Writer
The reigning Horse of the Year, Havre de Gras, made a successful 2012 debut and Secret Circle held on to win his Derby prep in weekend racing.