California Chrome pleases Sherman with turf work
The colt jogged easily around the clubhouse turn to the backstretch, then broke off from the accompanying pony and started the half-mile work. The turf course "dogs" (marker cones) were well out from the inner rail to protect the surface and the work was conducted more than halfway toward the outer rail.
Track clockers had splits of :13 4/5 and :26 3/5 for the first two furlongs and :52 for the half-mile, meaning a final quarter in :25 2/5. Espinoza had California Chrome well in hand the entire way and clockers labeled it "breezing," an assessment not routinely accorded on the Southern California circuit.
"I'd love to run him on the grass," Sherman reiterated.
Top Decile likely to have two preps on road to Kentucky Oaks
"She's doing great right now," Stall reported. "She got three weeks off by design. There was nothing for her and we just gave her a little break before bringing her here. As far as her races, things have been a little awkward for her. She missed the break at Keeneland and what happened at Santa Anita with the track and it having rained for the first time in six months. They had it sealed up."
Such is in the past for Stall, who remains very high on his filly and expects a big year out of her.
"I purchased her myself on behalf of Klaravich Stable and Bill Lawrence and she started getting our attention in June at Churchill and then we took her up to Saratoga and she kept going forward," he explained.
"Rosie (Napravnik) worked her a few times and -- interestingly enough -- the first thing she said was that she was a route filly. I had thought she might be a speed horse, but obviously Rosie was right. That's why I waited for the 6 1/2 (furlong race) at Saratoga to get a little more ground underneath her. Once we won that, we took a long look at the (Alcibiades) and that's how she ended up in there. There was (initially) no plan to go to Santa Anita -- she earned her way out there."
A social and very kind personality around the barn, Top Decile can often be found observing her surroundings and curious as to what the humans around the barn doing.
"She is always in front of the stall and spends most of her time looking at what's going on," Stall said. "That's just the way she is. Some horses will just go to the back of the stall and stay there, but not her. She spends 95 percent of her time with her head out."
Even with her gregarious disposition, the athletic charge amplifies herself once it is time to do her work. At Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup, she was noticeably on her toes prancing around the paddock and often seen with her head high in the air in the mornings during training.
"She was really fired up and on her toes leading into the Breeders' Cup," Stall explained. "She was ready to run, but she has the right kind of energy you want to see."
With a lucrative local stakes set that lends itself as a preparatory program for the Kentucky Oaks, it will be no surprise to see Top Decile race once or twice this Fair Grounds season -- perhaps even as early as the Rachel Alexandra Stakes on February 21.
"I will look at two races for her (leading into the Kentucky Oaks)," Stall confirmed. "It's hard to dance every dance. We'll look at the Fair Grounds Oaks or Ashland and a race back of those to get her started."
Ben's Cat tries for Fabulous Strike three-peat
Bern Identity, the 7-2 favorite, has drawn the far outside in post 12. The winner of the Sanford and runner-up to Goldencents in the Delta Downs Jackpot as a juvenile in 2012, he was sidelined for virtually all of his three-year-old season.
Trainer Kelly Breen got him back to top form off an 18-month layoff last summer, and Bern Identity returned to action with a three-race winning streak -- the August 2 My Frenchman at Monmouth, the August 22 Tale of the Cat at Saratoga and the September 6 Dave's Friend at Laurel. Bern Identity has dropped his last pair, finishing third in both the October 3 Phoenix at Keeneland and the November 15 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash back at Laurel. He wheels back on short rest here.
Trickmeister, who exits a third to Bern Identity in the Dave's Friend, has back class and could be sitting on a big effort in his third start off a year-long absence. The four-time stakes winner, and multiple Grade 2-placed performer, has some longshot appeal at 10-1.
Strapping Groom, hero of the 2013 Forego and this year's Tom Fool, was last seen tiring to fifth in the April 5 Carter Handicap. He leads the quartet of those holding an alternate engagement in the Fall Highweight, along with River Rocks, runner-up in the Kelso and fourth in the Bold Ruler in his last two; New York-bred stalwart Weekend Hideaway; and Tightend Touchdown, a frequent rival to Ben's Cat on the turf sprint scene, who was most recently sixth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. All would be worthy challengers if they opt for Penn National instead.
The Thanksgiving Eve card also offers a couple of stakes appetizers. The $75,000 Blue Mountain Juvenile Fillies has lured a field of nine Pennsylvania-breds, topped by recent allowance romper Brennan and Maryland Million Lassie third Rockin Jojo.
Notable contenders in the $100,000 Swatara, a 1 1/16-mile test, include Stormin Monarcho, coming off a convincing score in the Richard W. Small at Laurel on November 15; his stablemate from the David Jacobson barn, Wealth to Me, who trounced a starter allowance at Belmont last out; Ground Transport, who was just denied in the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial; the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Irsaal; and Integrity, third in a tight finish with Golden Ticket and Pants on Fire in the Left Bank two starts back for Chad Brown.
Hollendorfer fields solid team for Zia Park stakes
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has assembled a solid team for Wednesday's lucrative stakes program at Zia Park. The Hobbs, New Mexico, track offers five Thoroughbred stakes on Thanksgiving Eve, including the $200,000 Zia Park Derby and the $300,000 Zia Park Oaks.
Hollendorfer's Tonito M. has been installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the 1 1/16-mile Zia Park Derby. Last seen rolling by 2 3/4 lengths in the September 28 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park, he notched a field-best 100 BRIS Speed rating that day. The former Puerto Rican star previously finished a distant third to Shared Belief in the Los Alamitos Derby and to the older Soi Phet in the Los Alamitos Mile. Regular rider Rafael Bejarano has the mount.
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert is represented by Can the Man, a prominent two-year-old on the Southern California scene in 2013. Sidelined until this summer, the Into Mischief colt made a winning return in the June 7 Affirmed, only to regress badly and retreat to fifth in the July 5 Los Alamitos Derby. Can the Man has been freshened since then, and looms dangerous off the break with Martin Garcia.
Alert Bay ships in off a pair of victories at Hastings, where he beat fellow sophomores in the British Columbia Derby and older foes in the BC Premier's Handicap in his latest. Bay of Biscay, second to Tonito M. in the Oklahoma Derby, warmed up with a turf allowance score at his Turf Paradise base. Heading the local contingent is the undefeated Proceed, winner of three stakes for Joel Marr.
Hollendorfer is double-handed in the Zia Park Oaks, also at 1 1/16 miles, with Taste Like Candy and Thegirlinthatsong. Taste Like Candy, second in both the Hollywood Starlet and Santa Ynez last winter, has taken some time to find herself this season. But her last two allowance efforts at Santa Anita were encouraging -- a win on October 9 and a best-of-the-rest performance behind Yahilwa on October 29 -- and the daughter of Candy Ride has earned her way into another stakes try. She was flattered when Yahilwa when came back to win Saturday's Treasure Chest at Delta Downs.
Stablemate Thegirlinthatsong must find a way to reverse form with Oaks morning-line favorite Shanon Nicole, who drubbed her by 5 1/4 lengths in the September 28 Remington Park Oaks. Trained by Mike Maker, Shanon Nicole had landed the Indiana Grand in her prior start, and has been pegged at 2-1 to complete the hat trick here.
The well-bred Cassatt is an excellent rebound candidate for Larry Jones. Always highly regarded, the Tapit filly extended her winning streak to three in the August 9 Monmouth Oaks. Subpar when fifth in the Cotillion and ninth in the Raven Run, Cassatt has been firing bullets of late at Fair Grounds.
Jojo Warrior would warrant great respect as the winner of the Summertime Oaks and Torrey Pines, and third-placer to presumptive champion Untapable in the Cotillion. But co-owner Ahmed Zayat tweeted that she would not run in this spot.
Hollendorfer has entered the five-year-old veteran Blueskiesnrainbows in the $150,000 Zia Park Distance Championship Handicap. Winless since wiring the San Pasqual in January, the son of English Channel will be making his second start off a seven-month layoff. The 3-1 early favorite will meet such rivals as Code West, Broadway Empire and Isn't He Clever.
The morning-line choice in the $75,000 Zia Park Distaff, Doinghardtimeagain, likewise hails from the Hollendorfer barn. The 5-2 shot has been off form since taking the July 12 Great Lady M at Los Alamitos, however, and must deal with once-beaten Remington invader Fast N Fine Lookin.
Kicking off the Thoroughbred stakes action is the $140,000 New Mexico Eddy County for state-bred juveniles. The first three across the wire in the New Mexico Classic Cup Juvenile for colts and geldings -- Liberty Lover, Caliente Carson (subsequently disqualified) and Lux -- all stretch out to a mile.
Shark nips Fiero in stakes-record time in Mile Championship
Danox Co. Ltd.'s Danon Shark came up the fence to deny Fiero on the head-bob in Sunday's Grade 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto. Aside from earning his first top-level win, the Ryuji Okubo veteran also clocked a new stakes-record time of 1:31.5 for the metric mile on firm turf.
Danon Shark and Fiero were both sired by Japanese all-time great Deep Impact, who was responsible for four of the top five finishers. Grandezza, by Agnes Tachyon, prevented a clean sweep for the Deep Impact tribe by checking in third, followed by defending champion Tosen Ra and Extra End.
Under Yasunari Iwata, Danon Shark was settled a little past midpack early. Leading the way was three-year-old filly Horai Akiko, attended by fellow sophomore and race favorite Mikki Isle, with Grandezza stalking in third. Mikki Isle launched his bid for glory swinging for home, but soon came up empty and was swamped by the rallying Fiero.
Just when Fiero appeared to have made the winning move, Danon Shark dove to the inside and emerged as a danger. Fiero kept on one-paced as Danon Shark drew alongside, and the two flashed past the wire in unison. The camera proved that Danon Shark, a 17-1 outsider, had his nose down at the right instant.
"I was instructed (by Okubo) to keep him covered in midfield early, and he settled nicely," Iwata recapped. "There was just room enough for us to squeeze through in the inside at midstretch and he responded with a really good turn of speed. I am glad that I was able to contribute to his long-waited and well-deserved Grade 1 win."
Grandezza did well to hold third, another 1 1/2 lengths astern, to finish best of those near the fast early pace. Mikki Isle faded to 13th, and Horai Akiko was distanced when trailing the 17-horse field.
The six-year-old Danon Shark has been a mainstay in Japan's graded ranks for three consecutive seasons. He had competed in the past two Mile Championships, finishing a respectable sixth in 2012 and third in last year's running. Danon Shark has also acquitted himself well in the premier mile contest of the summer, the Yasuda Kinen. Third in 2013, he was fourth in the June 8 renewal.
His prior stakes victories had come in the 2013 Kyoto Kimpai and the Fuji Stakes, both Grade 3 events, and his resume sports a total of nine stakes placings. With this new career high, he has bankrolled ¥433,674,000 from his 29-7-8-5 record.
Bred by Shimokobe Farm in Japan, Danon Shark was produced by the winning Caerleon mare Carla Power, who has also foaled stakes scorer Lei Carla. This is the further family of the world-class Montjeu.
The Mile Championship is the second event of the Japan Autumn International series. Next up is the Japan Cup at Tokyo on November 30, and concluding the quartet is the December 7 Champions Cup (the successor to the Japan Cup Dirt) at Chukyo.
Blazing Speed, Able Friend, Peniaphobia take HK preps
Zac Purton had kicked Military Attack to the lead with the best part of the Sha Tin straight ahead of him and Hong Kong's Horse of the Year in 2012/2013 battled on gamely as a clutch of rivals snapped at his heels. Last year's winner Endowing closed with purpose; California Memory, twice victorious in the Hong Kong Cup, attacked down the rail; current Horse of the Year Designs on Rome, hard at it as usual a full 600 meters out, pounded down center track; but it was Blazing Speed who made the pressure tell.
"I was probably a length further back than where Tony had wanted me to be but the horse was relaxed and that was the most important thing -- I took it and kept his rhythm going," said Callan. "At the corner I felt him just change legs and he instantly gave me a kick. From that point I thought he was either going to win or be second. He's got a good kick, and the further he goes, he's got a better kick."
The John Size-trained Endowing was a short-head behind the Caspar Fownes-trained Military Attack in third. California Memory was another neck in fourth with the John Moore-trained Designs on Rome the same distance back in fifth.
Cruz now has two leading hopes for the Hong Kong Cup at the Hong Kong International Races after California Memory ran on well to claim fourth, while Willie Cazals, seventh here, closed off from the tail to give the trainer hope that he will be a chance for the same day's Hong Kong Vase.
"Blazing Speed will definitely go to the Hong Kong Cup," said the trainer. "We've really found the key to him, he's a brilliant 2,000-meter horse and I think he's getting better as he gets older, just like wine.
"I was happy with California Memory's run. He was fourth, he was coming on strong and I believe he'll be spot on for the Hong Kong Cup. Willie Cazals will go for the Hong Kong Vase, he's a horse that really likes cut in the ground but the 2,400 meters will be perfect for him."
No three-year-old has ever claimed the big one in December but jockey Douglas Whyte is also of the opinion that Peniaphobia, winner of the Weatherbys Super Sprint in England as a juvenile, is now a serious candidate for international honors next month.
"I would be very confident going forward. I think Tony can tweak a few things and I think if a similar or a slightly better Peniaphobia can turn up on international day, he'll be a force to be reckoned with!" said the South African.
Whyte did not have everything go to plan from post 14 -- widest of all in the 14-runner field. Peniaphobia was caught three and four wide at stages during the race before quickening emphatically to lead halfway down the home stretch. That injection of pace proved decisive.
"It looked awkward on paper and it was even more awkward when the gates opened because the Singapore horse (Spalato) dug up underneath me and had more initial gate speed. It just seemed that the whole field dug up and I was posted (wide). Fortunately enough I got into a three wide position with cover and from that point on in he started to travel. I started to get real confident turning for home and when I pressed the button he was there in a matter of strides. I actually thought I'd gone too soon, but he was dour in the end and he stuck on pretty tenaciously.
"I think the key to him is finding a rhythm that he's comfortable with," continued Whyte. "I think when he was younger and more immature he used to jump out in the straight five furlongs and probably wanted to overdo things a little."
Lucky Nine, Hong Kong's champion sprinter, had no luck in the run. Trapped in a pocket down the homestretch, the race was over when jockey Brett Prebble saw daylight and the seven-year-old cruised home in fifth, 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
Amber Sky had led the runners into the home stretch but weakened to finish eighth, while Singapore's previously unbeaten star Spalato faded out in the run to finish 13th. Sterling City was a disappointing 12th.
"There doesn't have to be much improvement based on his run today," Moreira added of his prospects for the Hong Kong Mile. "He's such a good horse. He's probably one of the best horses I've ridden in my life so let's look forward and see what he can do in the Hong Kong Mile."
Trainer Moore has long asserted that the Australian-bred Able Friend has all the hallmarks of a champion and is now looking forward to the Hong Kong Mile with eagerness.
"We all know that I said I thought he was slightly underdone for today but after that facile win, I don't think I've got to do much more before the international meeting," said the handler. "He ran a very strong 1:33 on the bit, so from that point of view I'll just keep him at this level for the big day. Going in, we're full of hope now."
Able Friend's exact winning time was 1:33.46 with a final 400-meter split of :21.41. Hong Kong's champion miler, the Richard Gibson-trained Gold-Fun, chased in vain to claim second place. Former two-time Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon, having his second start after an 18-month injury layoff, ran on to finish 2 3/4 lengths behind the winner in third.
A reminder: Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager will open Friday at noon (EST) and continue through Sunday, November 30, at 6 p.m. The 23 individual wagering interests will be announced Tuesday...
Tachycardia Stables and Tom Mansor's Big Macher (Beau Genius) lost all chance when flubbing the start in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1), but made no mistake as the 7-5 favorite in Sunday's $100,000 Cary Grant S. at Del Mar. Vying with 16-1 longshot Rousing Sermon (Lucky Pulpit) throughout, the Richard Baltas charge was all heart on the rail as he dug in and edged a neck clear. Red Outlaw (Tribal Rule) briefly loomed on the outside of the duelists at the top of the stretch, only to retreat to fourth. Big Macher, who was spotting Rousing Sermon five pounds, negotiated seven furlongs on the Polytrack in 1:21 4/5. In the process, he gave jockey Rafael Bejarano his third of a total of four winners on the card. The reformed claimer has now won two Del Mar stakes named after entertainment legends, following his signature score in the July 27 Bing Crosby (G1). His resume now reads 14-6-2-2, $553,678, including victories in this season's Potrero Grande (G2) and Cal Cup Sprint and a close second in the San Carlos (G2)...
Soi Phet (Tizbud), who was scratched from the Cary Grant, will ship to Japan for the December 29 Tokyo Daishoten (Jpn-G1). Trainer Leonard Powell gave the scoop to @Quigleys_Corner. Powell tweeted that Soi Phet would have a prep race prior to his international venture. Worth approximately $1.2 million, the Tokyo Daishoten is held over 2,000 meters on the dirt at Ohi, one of the tracks under the local government system (as opposed to the Japan Racing Association courses). Soi Phet could clash with runners exiting the December 7 Champions Cup (Jpn-G1), the rebranded Japan Cup Dirt, at Chukyo...
Juddmonte Farms' Skywarn (Congrats), a juvenile half-sister to Eclipse Award candidate Close Hatches (First Defence), broke her maiden in the 7TH race at Churchill Downs Sunday. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, the 2-1 favorite attended the pace, opened up in midstretch, and held on by three-quarters of a length from Shook Up (Tapit). Skywarn had to survive an objection lodged by Shook Up's rider Julien Leparoux, but the stewards upheld the original order of finish. The winner splashed seven furlongs on the sloppy, sealed track in 1:26. Runner-up to Martz (Scat Daddy) in her October 31 unveiling beneath the Twin Spires, Skywarn has earned $32,800 from her 2-1-1-0 line. The dark bay is out of the winning Storm Cat mare Rising Tornado, whose first registered foal is five-time Grade 1 star and $2.7 million-earner Close Hatches, a leading contender for champion older female honors...
Hall of Famer Gary Stevens notched his first victory since undergoing knee replacement surgery when he got Grand Yodeler (Swiss Yodeler) home for trainer Mike Puype in Saturday's 1ST race at Del Mar. "Feels pretty good," Stevens said after the race. "I wasn't supposed to be riding yet, but I really wanted to get back." Stevens, 51, had the surgery on July 25. He made his riding comeback on October 31 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), finishing fifth on Sivoliere (Sea the Stars). He was 0-for-8 in mounts at Santa Anita and Del Mar before Saturday's breakthrough. Also Saturday, newly minted Hall of Famer Alex Solis got career victory number 4,997 aboard Sayes So (Congrats) for trainer Richard Mandella in the nightcap...
Mahoning Valley Racecourse in Austintown, Ohio, kicks off its inaugural racing season on Monday with an eight-race program that begins at 12:45 p.m. (EST). The 2014 season is comprised of 21 racing days thru Saturday, December 30, and will feature a four day a week schedule, Monday through Wednesday and Saturday with a 12:45 p.m. post time. Starting in 2015, Mahoning Valley Racecourse will offer 100 racing dates during two meets, January through April and October through December, as well as a complete a circuit with Thistledown, which is located in nearby North Randall, Ohio.
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