Japan won three of the four Group 1 races in Hong Kong on Sunday while a potential new superstar blazed through the Group 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies back home in top weekend horse racing action around the globe.
In North American weekend highlights, Maximum Security ran strongly to win the Grade I Cigar Mile and likely earn some year-end honors while Spiced Perfection won the Go For Wand Handicap at Aqueduct.
Hopefuls for the 2020 Kentucky Derby and Oaks were on display at both Aqueduct and Los Alamitos with perennial winner Bob Baffert knocking down the West Coast features and a long shot earning 10 Derby points at the Big A.
But the Big Action was in Hong Kong and that's where we get things rolling:
All four winners from the 2018 Longines Hong Kong International Races were back Sunday, seeking repeat wins. All were defeated as Japanese runners enjoyed a bang-up day, winning three of the four Group 1 events over the Sha Tin turf.
The biggest winner of the day, however, was the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which pulled off the races without a hitch despite the political unrest and street demonstrations that have forced cancellation of most other sports and entertainment fixtures in Hong Kong. Attendance was down for Sunday's races but total turnover was at a record high, boosted by off-track and commingled pool wagering.
"Despite the challenges, we staged something I don't think a lot of organizations in the world could have done," said HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, giving full credit to the Club's staff.
Aptly named Glory Vase got things off on the right foot for Japan in the Vase, a 2,400-meters event. The 4-year-old Deep Impact colt raced in mid-pack with cover for jockey Joao Moreira, tracking the leader, last year's winner Exultant. With 200 meters to run, Moreira pointed Glory Vase to an opening and he shot by rivals to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Another Japanese runner, Lucky Lilac, edged Exultant for second.
Glory Vase scored his first Group 1 win and handicapper Nigel Gray predicted a significant uptick in his international rating.
"The horse settled well and I was in a tricky spot for a while," Moreira said. "But he handled it well. There was an opening and we got our shot to go."
The bright spot for the Hong Kong team came in the Sprint as Beat the Clock rolled by the pacesetting 3-year-old favorite, Aethero, and on to win by a neck over Hot King Prawn. Aethero held third, giving the locals a 1-2-3 finish. Mr Stunning the winner in 2017 and 2018, finished a decent fourth.
Beat the Clock, a 6-year-old, Australian-bred gelding, has never missed a top three finish in 23 Hong Kong starts -- nine of those being wins. He also won the Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize in April to earn the title of top Hong Kong sprinter for the 2018-19 season.
Moreira, winning back-to-back Group 1's, said Beat the Clock "was not where I wanted him to be" when the gates opened. "But I knew I was coming to win a furlong out."
In the Mile, Admire Mars jumped up to post a 27-1 upset win for Japan. The 3-year-old colt by Daiwa Major outfinished Waikuku by 1/2 length with two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year Beauty Generation third. Beauty Generation was seeking a third straight Mile title but instead suffered his third consecutive defeat after a 10-race win skein.
"The first time I saw Beauty Generation running this year," said Admire Mars's rider, Christophe Soumillon, "I saw he didn't have the magic he had last year. That gave me hope I could win."
Although light on experience, Admire Mars did win the Group 1 NHK Mile Cup for 3-year-olds at Tokyo Racecourse in May and now has a promising future at a distance with few top-level options in Japan.
The day's Group 1 racing was capped by a stirring finish in the 2,000-meters Cup. Yet another Japanese runner, Win Bright, grabbed the lead in the stretch and held on gamely to win by a short head over Irish filly Magic Wand. Win Bright backed up his victory in April in the Group 1 FWD QE II Cup at Sha Tin and erased the memory of two subpar finishes at home in his last two races.
Defending champion Glorious Forever finished sixth after he and his full brother, Time Warp, battled it out in an early pace duel. Time Warp finished last of eight.
"It went the way we were expecting," said winning rider Masami Matsuoka. "I thought the pace would be slow so I sat about third or fourth. I was really happy with the way it went."
Ryan Moore, who rode Magic Wand through some devastating traffic problems, said only, "She ran super. She was unlucky."
Is a new superstar filly on the horizon in Japan? It appeared so in Sunday's Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies as Resistencia, a daughter of Daiwa Major, not only scored her third win without a loss but, in the process of destroying 15 rivals, also lowered the stakes record time set by the immortal Vodka in 2006.
All in all, a remarkable performance and one that prompted jockey Yuichi Kitamura to say, "She was so strong and has so much potential. Her future is definitely something to look forward to."
There wasn't much to the 1-mile race. Resistencia blasted nicely out of gate No. 4 and took an immediate lead, turning for home, Kitamura give her a couple taps and she quickly left her rivals behind, finishing in 1:32.07, 0.4 second faster than Vodka.
Maltese Diosa, a Kizuna filly, finished second, a nose in front of Cravache d'Or. The favorite, Ria Amelia, a Deep Impact filly out of the 2013 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia, made a late run from near the back of the field but could only finish sixth.
"I knew she had the necessary speed as long as she broke well so I concentrated on keeping her relaxed in the middle stages," Kitamura said of Resistencia. "We were hoping she would mature mentally and I'm happy to see that she was calm and relaxed
Resistencia, out of the Argentinian dam Malacostumbrada, won at first asking Oct. 14, then won the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes Nov. 2. Those races were both at Kyoto at 1,400 meters.
Maystar took the early lead Saturday in the Wolverhampton feature and rolled home first, earning a guaranteed spot in the 3-year-old All-Weather Championship Finals on Good Friday next. Hollie Doyle booted home the Mayson gelding, extending to 108 her record for wins in a year by a British female jockey. Get Boosting issued a late challenge but fell 3/4 length short. Auchterarder was third despite a stumble turning into the straight.
"Maystar has been invited to Qatar for a 7-furlong race later this month and, if he ran well here, which he did, I am assuming that it will now be taken up, said Howard Lofthouse of the winning Hambleton Racing syndicate. "So we will all be going out there, hopefully, and then on to Lingfield."
Meanwhile, back in North America:
Maximum Security certainly secured some year-end honors with an impressive, front-running victory in Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. There was nothing complicated about the effort by the colt who was disqualified from victory in this year's Kentucky Derby. Jockey Luis Saez stepped on the gas when the bell rang, the New Year's Day colt sprang out first and then gradually worked clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Spun to Run and True Timber were second and third in a field that included some accomplished older foes. Maximum Security reported in 1:36.46 on a fast track that returned slow times all day.
Maximum Security romps to victory in the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, Chelsea Durand photo courtesy NYRA
"We were concerned," said winning trainer Jason Servis. "I didn't get up out of the chair until late stretch. This track was very slow today and it was hard to go fast and sustain that. I've got to hold back tears. He's special, that horse. It's just a shame because he was the best horse in the Derby."
Maximum Security now has six wins from eight starts this year with the Derby DQ and a second in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth the only blots on his account. Saturday's win was his third Grade I after the Florida Derby and the Haskell. The late effort likely isn't enough to overtake Bricks and Mortar for Horse of the Year honors but easily should be sufficient to earn him the 3-year-old male Eclipse.
Servis agreed, saying, "I'm the wrong guy to ask, but I think it would be hard to not give it to him. Even if Omaha Beach wins the Malibu, I don't think his form looks anything like ours."
He said Maximum Security is likely to resurface in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park Jan. 25.
Spiced Perfection set a pressured pace in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Go For Wand Handicap for fillies and mares, then eased clear in the final furlong to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Saguaro Row applied the early pressure and held second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Our Super Nova. Spiced Perfection, a 4-year-old Smiling Tiger filly, got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.11 with Javier Castellano riding for trainer Peter Miller. Coming off a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, she now has three wins from six starts in 2019, including the Grade I Matron at Keeneland.
"We decided to let her take the lead and see if she would relax," Miller said by phone from California. "Javier is a Hall of Famer and gave a great ride." Miller said Spiced Perfection is likely to make her next start back home in California.
Feel Glorious saved ground at the rear of the field in Saturday's $150,000 Winter Memories Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, launched a bid heading into the stretch and was up in time to defeat Sorrentina Lemon, also making a late run. Atomic Blond was third. Feel Glorious, a British-bred daughter of Bated Breath, ran 1 1/16 miles on yielding turf in 1:43.16 with Junior Alvarado up.
Saratoga Treasure let the others go early in Saturday's $125,000 Autumn Days Stakes for fillies and mares, came three-wide at the top of the stretch to pass them all and drew off to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Rocky Policy was second, a nose in front of Rose Flower and another nose better than Fire Key. Saratoga Treasure, a 4-year-old filly by Treasure Beach, finished 6 furlongs on the yielding turf in 1:11.68. Eric Cancel rode.
Shotski shot right to the lead in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Remsen at Aqueduct, opened a daylight lead in the stretch and then held on to win by 1/2 length from Ajaaweed. Chase Tracker was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third. Shotski, dismissed at odds of nearly 9-1, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:54.25. Luis Saez rode for trainer Jeremiah O'Dwyer. He now is 2-for-4 with wins at Laurel Park and the Big A but reported fourth in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs in October.
"Luis said that he did everything right," O'Dwyer reported. "He doesn't do any more than he's asked, but when you ask him he's there for you. "He broke his maiden at 6 furlongs, so we know he has speed as well. He has the right demeanor for racing. He just does what you ask him to do and he has some talent on top of that as well.
"He'll go back to Laurel to train," O'Dwyer added. "We'll keep him and train there. We'll discuss with the owners and make a plan going forward." Shotski earned 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby start with the win.
Out West, Thousand Words pressed the pace made by stablemate High Velocity through the early fractions of the $200,000 Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity, took over when prompted by jockey Flavien Prat and held off the late bid of Anneau d'Or to win by a neck. High Velocity paid the price for the early speed, fading to finish third, 5 lengths farther in arrears. The only other starter, Wrecking Crew, trailed throughout and was eased down the stretch.
Thousand Words, a Pioneerof the Nile colt from Bob Baffert's barn, ran 1 1/16 miles on a good, sealed track in 1:43.19. He has had his picture taken (worth 1,000 words!) after each of his two starts.
"Turning for home I thought I could run 1-2," Baffert said. "But then I saw (Anneau d’Or) and I thought, 'Oh no, he's going to get us.' But he (Thousand Words) was game. When that horse came to him he took off and when he came back after the race he wasn't even blowing hard. Distance isn't going to be a problem … I told Prat before he ran that I thought I had found a good one for him for the Kentucky Derby next year."
Thousand Words earned 10 points toward a Derby start with his win Saturday.
Zaino Boyz, at odds of 28-1, quickly sprinted clear of five rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and shook loose to win by 6 lengths. No Getting Over Me and Cajun Cassanova picked up the minor awards with the odds-on favorite, Another Miracle, never in the mix and finishing fifth. Zaino Boyz, an Arkansas-bred colt by Daaher, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.55 with Daniel Centeno up.
At Golden Gate Fields, Bettor Trip Nick led from gate to wire in the $75,000 Gold Rush Stakes, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Sacred Rider chased gamely the entire 1 mile but couldn't close the gap and settled for second, another 1 1/4 lengths in front of Music Icon. Bettor Trip Nick, a Boat Trip gelding, got home in 1:38.92 over the all-weather course with Catalino Martinez at the controls.
Laddie Liam led early in Saturday's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Futurity for state-breds at Laurel Park, shook off an early challenge and kept going to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Stone Courageous gave futile chase to finish second but was never gaining ground. Tommy Shelby got show money. Laddie Liam, a Golden Lad colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.51 under Sheldon Russell.
Betchaiwill did, indeed, in Saturday's $75,000 Joshua Radosevich Memorial for Ohio-bred 2-year-olds at Mahoning Valley. After tracking the pace, the William's Kitten colt moved to the lead along the rail, then fended off a late challenge by Authentic Cowtown, winning by 3/4 length. Garrett was third. Betchiwill, with John McKee up, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.24.
Hockey Puck outfinished Golden Candy in Saturday's $100,000 Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes for state-breds at Parx Racing, winning by 1/2 length after that rival had opened a daylight lead in midstretch. The favorite, Newstome, faded from a pace duel to finish third. Hockey Puck, a Well Spelled gelding, toured 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.44. He now lacks one of a hat trick of victories.
On the turf, Pixelate was off last in Friday's $100,000 Central Park Stakes at Aqueduct, improved steadily throughout the 1 1/16 miles and outfinished the favorite, Homeland, winning by a head. Mr. Kringle -- on St. Nicholas Day, no less -- held a brief lead in the lane and finished third. Pixelate, a Godolphin homebred City Zip colt, finished in 1:45.14 with Jose Lezcano in the irons. "He'll go to Fair Grounds and train there," said winning trainer Michael Stidham. "There's a new race at Sam Houston for $200,000 (the Texas Turf Mile on Jan. 26 that we'll look at."
The 2-year-old fillies
Bast led the way in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Starlet at Los Alamitos, chased closely by the odds-on favorite, Donna Veloce, then gradually inched away and got home first by 1/2 length. It was a further 12 lengths back to K P Dreamin in third. Bast, an Uncle Mo filly trained by Bob Baffert, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a good, sealed track in 1:43.36 under Drayden Van Dyke. She won the Grade I Del Mar Debutante and the Grade I Chandelier at Santa Anita before finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Donna Veloce, also by Uncle Mo, was second in the Juvenile Fillies.
Baffert, who won the Starlet for the third straight year and won five races on Saturday's card, said the Breeders' Cup loss was his fault for mandating Bast be put into the race early. "She did well to hang on for third because that track was so deep and tiring," he said. "We knew when we got her on this dirt surface she would love it and she just bounced over it. Turning for home I was confident because she had been doing so well and her last work was so strong. She looked great in the paddock today."
Back east, Lake Avenue, a Godolphin homebred by Tapit, led easily throughout Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct and cruised home first by 4 lengths. The favorite, Maedean, was up for second, a neck in front of Blame Debbie. Lake Avenue, with Junior Alvarado up, got the Bill Mott trainee home in 1:54.55 over a fast track. She finished second in her career debut at Belmont Park Oct. 6, then got into the win column Nov. 24 at Aqueduct.
"We thought this would be the logical start for her today to see how she would get along going nine furlongs, and then that would give us some indication on where she wants to go next year," Mott said. "She'll go to Florida from here. We haven't talked to the ownership group yet, but I'd say she'd go to Payson Park and have a working vacation from there."
Lucrezia stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, advanced three-wide into the stretch and rolled home first by 1 3/4 lengths as the even-money favorite. Two Sixty and Bridge Dancer were second and third. Lucrezia, a daughter of Into Mischief, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.16 with Daniel Centeno in the irons.
Hello Beautiful was way too good for seven rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship for state-breds at Laurel Park. Leading right out of the gate, the Golden Lad filly kept putting daylight between herself and the field, finally crossing the line 11 3/4 lengths in front. Miss J McKay was best of the rest, 2 lengths in front of Naughty Thoughts. Hello Beautiful, with Sheldon Russell in the irons, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.43.
Saturday's Claiming Crown program produced a record handle for the event, nearly $13.85 million, and four wins for jockey Paco Lopez. The races, for horses entered for a tag during a preset period, has become a mainstay of Gulfstream's early-season program, followed by the Caribbean Classic (see below). Winners came from all over the East Coast and as far away as California.
Brother Chub rallied from well back to win the $110,000 Claiming Crown Express by a nose over Fast Pass. The Hey Chub gelding, last seen at Laurel Park, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.09 with Jorge Vargas Jr. in the irons.
Liza Star led from the start in the $110,000 Claiming Crown Glass Slipper for fillies and mares and reported first by 1 length from Potra Liza. Liza Star, a 5-year-old Cool Coal Man mare, ran 1 mile under Ricardo Santana Jr. in 1:36.62. She raced at Parx earlier in the autumn.
Thinkin Cowtown, under Tyler Gaffalione, came with a late rush to take the $110,000 Claiming Crown Distaff Dash at 5 furlongs on the turf by 1/2 length over Unaquoi. Thinkin Cowtown, a 6-year-old Cowtown Cat mare coming off a win at Gulfstream Park West, finished in 55.48.
Royal Squeeze led, took back and then came again to win the $110,000 Claiming Crown Rapid Transit by 1 3/4 lengths. Empire Power was up for second. Royal Squeeze, a 7-year-old gelding by Wildcat Heir, got 7 furlongs in 1:23.63 with Lopez in the kip. He also came east from GP West.
Shekky Shebaz, one of the day's hottest favorites, ran to notices in the $110,000 Claiming Crown Canterbury on the green course, tracking the pace before rallying to win by 3/4 length over Rocket Heat. Last raced at Santa Anita, Shekky Shebaz, a 4-year-old Cape Blanco gelding, finished 5 furlongs on the firm going in 54.25 with Lopez riding.
The $110,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse, at 1 1/16 miles on the main track, went to 66-1 shot Yes I See, who rallied sharply to edge pacesetting Sensational Ride by a neck in 1:42.80. Rajiv Maragh rode the 8-year-old, West Virginia-bred gelding, last raced at Churchill Downs.
Lucky Long, the tepid favorite, was along late from the back of the field to win the $125,000 Claiming Crown Tiara by 3/4 length from Una Luna. Lucky Long, a 5-year-old mare by Lookin at Lucky, got 1 1/16 miles on the grass in 1:40.39 with Lopez scoring another one.
Chilean-bred Leitone got by pacesetting Create Again when asked by Jose Lezcano and cruised home first by 2 1/2 lengths in the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel. The 5-year-old son of Dunkirk, last raced at Belmont Park, finished 9 furlongs on the main track in 1:49.54 with Jose Lezcano riding.
Muggsamatic took over in the final furlongs in the $125,000 Emerald at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, winning off by 1 1/4 lengths over Apreciado. Muggsamatic, a 5-year-old gelding by Any Given Saturday, finished in 1:41.02 with Lopez up. His previous race was at Monmouth Park.
Chicago invader Jean Elizabeth had 'em all the way in Friday's $75,000 Holiday Inaugural Stakes for fillies and mares. Leading from the start under Albin Jimenez, the 4-year-old Adios Charlie filly extended the advantage through the stretch and reported first by 3 1/2 lengths. Domonette was second, 4 1/4 lengths in front of Psalmody. Jean Elizabeth, trained by Larry Rivelli, went off as the heavy favorite and got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.39. She now has four straight wins, including the Grade III Ontario Fashion Stakes at Woodbine, and has never finished out of the top three in 17 career starts.
Anna's Bandit kicked home gamely between rivals to win Saturday's $75,000 Gamely Stakes for Maryland-bred or -sired fillies and mares. Majestic Reason was 1 length back in second, a head in front of Three Hawk. Anna's Bandit, a 5-year-old Great Notion mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.38 with Xavier Perez in the irons.
Lewisfield, pressured all the way on the lead, survived all challenges to win Saturday's $75,000 Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial Stakes for state-bred or -sired horses by a neck. Still Having Fun and Clubman were a close second and third. Lewisfield, a 5-year-old Great Notion gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.97 with Horacio Karamanos up.
Leona's Reward was in complete control throughout Saturday's $75,000 Bobbie Bricker Memorial for Ohio-bred fillies and mares, leading comfortably to a 7 1/4-lengths win. Grizabella was along for second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of Here Comes Jiggs. Leona's Reward, a 6-year-old Parents' Reward mare, finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.65 with Gerardo Corrales in the irons.