UPI Horse Racing Roundup
Sunday's Japan Cup, the lineup for Hong Kong's biggest day, top-shelf racing in Dubai and big doings on Turkey Day weekend in the United States -- all on tap this week in thoroughbred racing.
Lots to do so let's get doing it before the turkey haze kicks in.
Japan's top middle-distance runners, including defending champ Kitasan Black, face an unusually strong lineup of foreign rivals in Sunday's Group 1 Japan at Tokyo Racecourse. The invaders include stars from Ireland, Australia and Germany, two of them contenders in this year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) at Chantilly.
But, as usual, the visitors have their work cut out for them. The last 11 runnings of Japan's signature race have been won by local horses. In addition to Kitasan Black, this year's home team includes Satono Crown, who defeated Kitasan Black among others in the Takarazuka Kinen (G1) and also won the Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1) last December in Hong Kong, and pre-eminent 3-year-olds Soul Stirring and Rey de Oro, winners of the Japanese Oaks and Japanese Derby, respectively.
Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien, chasing his 28th Group 1 victory of the season, sends Idaho, a full brother to Highland Reel who has competed at the highest level in England and Ireland but looks for a breakthrough at this level. The German contingent is Iquitos and Guignol, who have been running against one another at the top level in Germany all season. Iquitos was a good seventh in last year's Japan Cup. Up from Australia is Boom Time, the Caulfield Cup winner. He is the first Australian-based Japan Cup contender in 14 years but has the benefit of the experience of owner-trainer David Hayes, who saddled 1990 Japan Cup winner Better Loosen Up.
The race, worth $5.6 million, is run over 2,400 meters or about 1 1/2 miles, left-handed around the Tokyo Racecourse turf with an uphill climb early in the stretch run.
United Arab Emirates
Trainer Doug Watson saddled four winners Thursday night as Meydan staged its second meeting of the new season. The dominant trainer also celebrated his 500th UAE winner during the evening. Watson gave Pat Dobbs the leg up on Cosmo Charlie in the featured 1,600-meters conditions race and he won easily, with stablemates Faulkner and Layl filling the minor placing. "Cosmo Charlie has really strengthened up since last season and is a horse we have high hopes for this campaign," Watson said. "He looks a really nice prospect and, I would imagine, we will look at the Godolphin Mile with him."
"It is a nice landmark to reach, 500," Watson added. "And it is testament to all the team who work so hard on a daily basis."
Second Thought, winner of the 32 Red 3-year-old All-Weather Championships Final last season, qualified for a return trip to the finals this coming Good Friday -- for the Sun Bets All-Weather Mile -- with a 1/2-length victory Wednesday on the Kempton Park Polytrack. The William Haggas trainee, ridden by James Doyle, was held up well back of the pace, made progress 2 furlongs out and outfinished Keystroke for the win in the Fast-Track Qualifier. Mr Owen was third while the favorite, Accidental Agent, finished eighth. Second Thought, a Kodiac colt, now is 5-for-5 on all-weather tracks.
"We fancied trying a mile with him, even though he is not bred for it," Haggas said. "He will go for the mile final on Good Friday and, as he had a long All-Weather season and then ran on turf this year, we will probably give him a quiet time now."
Fields are in place for the Dec. 10 Longines Hong Kong International Races and the four Group 1 events promise once again to be cracking good.
The Longines Hong Kong Cup, at 2,000 meters, features former Hong Kong Horse of the Year Werther, who showed in his prep race last weekend he's fit to fight. The local bunch also includes Secret Weapon, Time Warp and the South African import Naasa. Irish conditioner Aidan O'Brien brings Deauville, third in this year's Arlington Million, and Group 2 winner War Decree. From England, Sir Michael Stoute has Poet's Word, second in Group 1 events in his last two starts; Harry Dunlop enters ever-promising Robin of Navan; and Andrew Balding will saddle Blond Me, winner of the Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine in his last start
French trainer Corine Barande-Barbe, who campaigned the popular Cirrus des Aigles through multiple Hong Kong engagements, has entered Garlingari, who was seventh in last year's Hong Kong Vase and rides a two-race win streak at home. Japan's Staphanos, third in this last year, and Neorealism, winner of the Group 1 Audemars Piguet QE II Cup at Sha Tin in the springtime, are real threats. Another Japanese runner, Smart Layer, completes the 13-horse field.
The Longines Hong Kong Mile often is the province of the Hong Kong horses and the presence of such local stars as Beauty Only, Helene Paragon and Contentment make that a real possibility again. Nine of the 14 prospective starters are local. O'Brien has entered a pair of 3-year-olds: Lancaster Bomber and the filly, Roly Poly. Neither would be a shock although Roly Poly's dismal showing in the Breeders' Cup Mile could indicate a long campaign at the highest level has taken its toll.
The Longines Hong Kong Sprint also looks like a tough nut for the invaders to crack with the likes of Mr Stunning, Lucky Bubbles, Peniaphobia, Thewizardofoz and Not Listenin'tome all lurking. Signs of Blessing and The Right Man come from France and The Tin Man from England. Let's Go Donki and Once In a Moon represent Japan. The race has an all-too-rare American entrant, Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal, trained by Peter Miller.
The Longines Hong Kong Vase is run at 2,400 meters -- a distance rarely attempted by Hong Kong horses and thus a more tempting target for the foreigners. O'Brien has last year's runner-up, Highland Reel, and his younger full brother, Idaho. The former comes off a third in the Breeders' Cup turf and the latter's participation likely depends on his performance in Sunday's Japan Cup. Andre Fabre's Breeders' Cup Turf winner Talismanic and Alain Couetil's Tiberan, a respectable seventh in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup, represent France. Sir Michael has former South African champ Smart Call, who was not selected for either of the Breeders' Cup races she entered. Japan and England also are in with chances in a Vase renewal that promises to be more exciting than many in recent years.
Highland Reel at Sha Tin in 2016, picture Liesl King
Back in North America:
Friday's $500,000 Grade I Clark Handicap highlights weekend action in the United States. Nine signed on for the 9 furlongs with the favorites, Hoppertunity and Diversify, drawn in the inside and outside stalls, respectively.
Also on the Friday program at the Twin Spires track is the $200,000 Grade II Mrs. Revere for 3-year-old fillies on the turf.
Saturday is given over to the 2-year-olds with the $200,000 Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club and the $200,000 Grade II Golden Rod -- the latter restricted to fillies. These races offer points toward starting slots in next year's Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
Blue Prize pressed the pace in Thursday's $200,000 Grade II Falls City Handicap, charged into the stretch run with the lead and was all alone at the finish. Tiger Moth was second, 8 1/2 lengths back and 1 length ahead of the even-money favorite, Faithfully. Blue Prize, an Argentine-bred 4-year-old filly, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.30 for jockey James Graham. It was her first win since coming from Argentina, following four straight seconds and then a third in the Grade I Spinster at Keeneland Oct. 1.
"She took a little bit to put things together mentally when I first got her to the United States," trainer Ignacio "Nacho" Correas VI said of Blue Prize. "I thought she was training the best she has been in her career leading into this race and she proved it."
Shining Copper, making his third start after a 13-months layoff, led all the way to a 1 3/4-lengths victory over Kasaqui in the $100,000 Grade III River City Handicap. Revved Up, Thatcher Street and Team Colors were all closely bunched in third, fourth and fifth. Shining Copper, a 7-year-old Aragorn gelding, ran 9 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:52.78 with Corey Lanerie in the irons. He won his previous race on the Keeneland grass Oct. 15 for trainer Michael Maker. "He got pretty sick at the end of the Saratoga meet last year," Maker said. "He was off for nearly a year but has come back and done well with everything we've asked of him. His best way of going is on the front end and he got a perfect setup today."
Friday's card includes the $250,000 Grade III Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 9 furlongs on the main track, featuring Actress and Miss Sky Warrior, and the $150,000 Gio Ponti Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.
Saturday it's the $200,000 Grade II Discovery Handicap for 3-year-olds at 9 furlongs and a pair of $125,000 turf races for 3-year-olds.
Stallwalkin' Dude raced last of seven in Thursday's $200,000 Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap, came around the leaders into the lane and drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Threefiveindia was second, a neck in front of Life in Shambles. Stallwalkin' Dude, a 7-year-old City Place gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.11 with 136 pounds aboard, including Joel Rosario. The venerable runner, who has competed in everything from the Claiming Crown to the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaeen, finished second in last year's Fall Highweight. "As far as I'm concerned," said winning trainer David Jacobson, "he is as good, if not better, as he has ever been." He said the $100,000 Gravesend on Dec. 22 is a possibility for the old warrior.
Rymska rallied from last of nine to emerge victorious in Thursday's $100,000 River Memories Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Dancing Breeze led briefly in the stretch and finished second, 1 1/4 lengths adrift of the winner. Thais was third with an even run. Rymska, a French-bred daughter of Le Havre, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:45.48 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up.
The $200,000 Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup is the Friday feature. It's 1 1/2 miles on the greensward. Flamboyant and Chicago Style are the morning-line favorites in a field of just seven.
Saturday's program includes the $300,000 Grade I Hollywood Derby and the $100,000 Grade III Jimmy Durante for 2-year-old fillies -- both on the grass. On the main track, it's the $100,000 Grade III Native Diver.
Sunday finds three graded stakes on the lawn -- the $300,000 Grade I Matriarch for fillies and mares at 1 mile, the $200,000 Grade II Seabiscuit at 1 1/16 miles and the $100,000 Grade III Cecil B. Demille for 2-year-olds at 1 mile.
How Unusual was away slowly from the outside post in Thursday's $100,000 Red Carpet Handicap for fillies and mares, came out for room entering the stretch and was up in time to win by 1/2 length in a well-judged effort by jockey Corey Nakatani. The favorite, Responsible for Love, held a brief lead in the stretch and held second, 1/2 length to the good of Laseen. How Unusual, a 4-year-old daughter of Unusual Heat, got 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:14.92. It was her first graded stakes win.
"She's coming around, this filly," trainer Mike Pender said of How Unusual. "Every race gets a little bit better than the one before. We bought her for a ham sandwich (actually, $80,000) at the end of last summer ... We're really happy with this filly and that was a great ride by Corey."
Yockey's Warrior put the pedal to the metal in the stretch run in Thursday's $75,000 Thanksgiving Handicap, drawing off to win by 5 lengths. Chublicious was second, 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Blue Wings. Yockey's Warrior, a 5-year-old son of Warrior's Reward, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.60 with Miguel Mena riding. "That was his best race I've ever seen," said winning trainer Al Stall Jr. "He had a throat procedure this summer during his time off and it seems to have really helped him. I think he'll be better this year than last year." Interestingly, some British racing figures are upset by new requirements that throat surgeries are to be reported publicly.
Heartwood, last seen at Thistledown and dispatched at odds of 68-1, was up in the final yards to win Monday's $200,000 Steel Valley Sprint Stakes for 3-year-olds. The Tapit colt was trailed by Shadow Tracer and Cake Pop -- a result that triggered eye-popping mutuel returns as the favorite, Lasting Legacy, finished fifth. Heartwood, with Hector Rosario Jr. up, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.62 and picked up his third win from 11 career starts.
Moiety toted the Godolphin blue to victory in Monday's $75,000 Hollywood Gaming Mahoning Valley Distaff. After breaking in a tangle and trailing 10 rivals, the 4-year-old Bernardini filly had no trouble overcoming all adversity and crossed the line first by 1 1/4 lengths from Tune Up. Everyone's favorite, Crabcakes, was third. Moiety, with Jose Valdivia Jr. in the irons, finished 6 furlongs in 1:12.66.
Chief Lion was quickly on the lead in Wednesday's $200,000 Fabulous Strike Stakes, enjoyed a comfortable lead and got home first by 1/2 length over Favorite Tale. Flashy Kyem was third. Chief Lion, a 7-year-old Wildcat Heir gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.06 with Martin Garcia in the irons.
Discreet Lover pressed the pace in Wednesday's $100,000 Swatara Stakes, took the lead when asked by jockey Jose Flores and persisted to the wire, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. Sea Raven was up for second, a neck in front of Fear the Cowboy. Discreet Lover, a 4-year-old colt by Repent, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.84.
Bronx Beauty outfinished Indian Beauty in Wednesday's $100,000 Blue Mountain Juvenile Fillies, winning by 1/2 length. It was 10 more lengths back to Golden Promise in third. Bronx Beauty, a Liaison filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.09 with Luis Saez in the irons.
Zia Park Derby day Wednesday featured six stakes races, all on the fast track.
Cedartown got first run to the lead in the $200,000 Zia Park Derby and extended the advantage in the late going to win by 1 3/4 lengths. The favorite, Untrapped, was along for second, 1 length ahead of Chief Know It All. Cedartown, a Candy Ride colt owned by Godolphin and trained by Michael Stidham, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.76 with Ry Eikleberry riding. Currently based at Fair Grounds, Cedartown now has three wins and two seconds from six starts. Zia Park was his sixth different track.
Sandy's Surprise chased the early leaders in the $300,000 Zia Park Oaks, took the lead in the stretch and kicked away to a 4 3/4-lengths victory under Mario Gutierrez. Ever So Clever came from last of seven to finish second, a neck in front of The Incident. The favorite, Proud and Fearless, finished fourth. Sandy's Surprise, a Drosselmeyer filly trained by Doug O'Neill, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.66. It was her third win and first in a stakes event.
Mt Veder dueled to the lead in the $75,000 Zia Park Sprint and worked clear to win by 2 lengths over the favorite, Redneck Humor. Counterforce was third. Mt Veder, a 4-year-old Ghostzapper gelding, got 6 furlongs in 1:09.56 with Alfredo Juarez Jr. in the irons.
K P Wildcat was along late to edge Game Time Decision by 1 length in the $75,000 Zia Park Distaff. Summer House ran evenly to finish third. K P Wildcat, a 4-year-old daughter of Include, finished in 1:09.50 with Roimes Chirinos up.
Iron Fist stalked the pace in the $150,000 Zia Park Championship, then took over and ran on to win by 2 1/4 lengths. The early leader, Code West, held second, 10 lengths to the good of Way Striking. Iron Fist, a 5-year-old son of Tapit, finished 9 furlongs in 1:50.36 with Ricardo Santana Jr. riding for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Indian Jack rallied four-wide to mount a challenge in the $140,000 Eddy County Stakes for New Mexico-bred 2-year-olds, then held off Jet N G in the final sixteenth, winning by 1/2 length over that rival. Hennessy Express was the early leader and finished third. Indian Jack, an Indian Firewater gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:46.37 with Juarez riding.