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SUNDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2014

Racing Headlines

Soi Phet meets Japanese dirt stars in Tokyo Daishoten

Soi Phet, pictured schooling in the paddock, will compete against the likes of six-time Grade 1 winner Hokko Tarumae (Courtesy of Leonard Powell Racing via Twitter)
Los Alamitos track record-setter Soi Phet has crossed the Pacific for Monday's Grade 1 Tokyo Daishoten at Ohi Racecourse, where he will meet the past two winners -- defending champion Hokko Tarumae and 2012 hero Roman Legend.

Soi Phet is trying a bold gambit, for the reformed claimer has questions to answer, especially going about 1 1/4 miles at this level. The Leonard Powell trainee struck top form at Los Alamitos over the summer, romping in a pair of stakes and breaking his own track record for the mile. A 3 3/4-length winner of the July 3 Bertrando in 1:34.50, the Cal-bred aired in the September 6 Los Alamitos Mile in open company by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:33.95. Both came with Kent Desormeaux in the saddle, and the Hall of Fame rider makes the trek to Tokyo.

But Soi Phet was only fifth last time out in the October 30 Big Bear at Santa Anita. And in his lone American Grade 1 tilt, he was a well-beaten third behind Mucho Macho Man and Paynter in the 2013 Awesome Again. He has tried this distance only once, finishing sixth in the May 24 Charles Whittingham. Admittedly, that was on the Santa Anita turf, and he's better on the main track. Still, he'll need to step up his game against a tough home team.

Hokko Tarumae just scored his biggest career win in the December 7 Champions Cup (formerly the Japan Cup Dirt), with Roman Legend back in third. Others exiting the Champions Cup are Wonder Acute (fifth), Copano Rickey (12th as the favorite) and Chrysolite (14th).

A son of King Kamehemeha, Hokko Tarumae boasts a total of six career Grade 1 titles on dirt. The first five of them had come on this local NAR circuit, before his breakthrough at the JRA level in the Champions Cup. He had previously finished third in its past two runnings as the Japan Cup Dirt.

Earlier this year, Hokko Tarumae attempted the March 29 Dubai World Cup, but tired to an uncharacteristic last of 16 and came down with colitis. He later had a setback with a muscle in his hip, and was short on fitness when fourth in his title defense in the November 3 JBC Classic. Much sharper for the Champions Cup, he makes his third start off the layoff here.

Roman Legend will try to regain his Tokyo Daishoten crown from the far outside post 16. When seeking a repeat a year ago, he suffered a fractured hind leg in the gate and somehow managed to finish sixth. Roman Legend returned to action with a hard-fought score in the July 27 Elm Stakes, and didn't resurface again until his third in the Champions Cup.

The other Champions Cup alumni are all worthy of respect. Wonder Acute had been runner-up in three consecutive editions of the Japan Cup Dirt before his latest fifth, and he has also placed in the last three runnings of this race. The eight-year-old showed that he was still capable of snaring a major prize in the June 25 Teio Sho at this track and trip, beating Copano Rickey.

Copano Rickey in particular is eligible to rebound here after breaking awkwardly in the Champions Cup. He merited favoritism that day, having upset Hokko Tarumae in the February Stakes and followed up with wins in the Kashiwa Kinen and JBC Classic.

Chrysolite is another with a trouble line from the Champions Cup, where he had to check about 1 1/2 furlongs from home and never recovered. The seven-length conqueror of the 2013 Japan Dirt Derby at this track and trip, he was second to Copano Rickey in the JBC Classic two back.

Three-year-old Happy Spirit missed by a nose in the July 9 renewal of the Japan Dirt Derby, while Summit Stone enters in career-best form off a win in the November 19 Urawa Kinen, and Royal Crest captured the Marine Stakes back in July.

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Gentildonna ties Japanese record in victorious Arima Kinen finale

Gentildonna emulated her sire Deep Impact by earning her seventh Grade 1 win and retires as the all-time richest racemare (Tomoya Moriuchi/Horsephotos.com)
Making the final start of her career in Sunday's Grade 1 Arima Kinen, Gentildonna padded her resume with another historic triumph. She equaled the Japanese record of seven Grade 1 titles, thereby joining her own sire Deep Impact in that exclusive club. Moreover, Gentildonna retires as the richest racemare with a bankroll of ¥1,726,030,400 (approximately $14.3 million). That puts her second overall on the all-time earnings list, exceeded only by T. M. Opera O.

Owned by Sunday Racing Co. Ltd. and trained by Sei Ishizaka, Gentildonna was sent off as the 7-1 fourth choice at Nakayama. The five-year-old mare had not won in three starts since capturing the March 29 Dubai Sheema Classic, and most recently checked in fourth as the two-time defending champion in the November 30 Japan Cup. As it turned out, she saved one of her best efforts for last.

Gentildonna secured a good stalking trip from post 4, well placed just off the moderate tempo established by Verxina. Epiphaneia, the 3-1 second choice in the wake of his Japan Cup romp, tracked in second until cornering for home, when he launched his bid. The 5-2 favorite, Gold Ship, was also making good progress from further back on the outside.

Unlike in the Japan Cup, however, Epiphaneia could not put his pursuers away. Gentildonna accosted him and wrested control in deep stretch. Sophomore To the World, a 30-1 shot, flashed home late, but Gentildonna held him at bay by three-quarters of a length. She negotiated about 1 9/16 miles on firm turf in 2:35.3, improving her record to 19-10-4-1.

"I'm really glad she was able to show her best performance in the last race of her career," said winning rider Keita Tosaki, who had previously guided her to a runner-up effort in the November 2 Tenno Sho (Autumn). "When I rode her the last time she was easy to ride and very clever, so I felt very comfortable riding her this time. I was able to race her just as I had imagined, settling her towards the front and making use of her persistent late charge. She responded well until the end."

Gold Ship missed second by a nose while edging fellow closer Just a Way for third. Just a Way, the world's highest-rated racehorse, recorded the fastest final three-furlong split in :33.6. Also retiring like Gentildonna, he will enter stud at Shadai Stallion Station. Epiphaneia was a one-paced fifth in the blanket finish. Early leader Verxina faded to 14th in the 16-horse field.

Gentildonna was honored as Japan's Horse of the Year in 2012 after sweeping the Fillies' Triple Crown and upending Orfevre in the Japan Cup. The only sophomore filly ever to win that international feature, she made history again in 2013 by becoming the only two-time Japan Cup winner. That earned her the champion older mare crown, a title she's sewn up for 2014 as well. Her resume also includes a second in the 2013 Dubai Sheema Classic, a third in that season's Takarazuka Kinen, and seconds in the past two runnings of the Tenno Sho (Autumn).

Bred by Northern Racing in Japan, Gentildonna is a full sister to multiple Grade 3 winner and Grade 1-placed Donau Blue. Their dam, the Bertolini mare Donna Blini, scored her signature wins in the 2005 Cheveley Park and Cherry Hinton.

A retirement ceremony was held for Gentildonna at the conclusion of racing, and more than 40,000 fans remained on track for the festivities.

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Main Sequence to use Mac Diarmida as Dubai prep

Main Sequence, who got back to work at Fair Hill on Christmas Eve, arrived at Palm Meadows Sunday (Breeders' Cup Ltd. Photo)
Multiple Grade 1 winner Main Sequence, a leading candidate for Horse of the Year, arrived in South Florida on Sunday morning to begin preparations for his 2015 campaign.

Bred in Kentucky and owned by the Niarchos family's Flaxman Holdings, the five-year-old chestnut son of Aldebaran is stabled with trainer Graham Motion at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream Park's satellite training center in Palm Beach County.

Undefeated in four North American starts, all in Grade 1 turf races, Main Sequence arrived around 11 a.m. (EST) Sunday from the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland, where he breezed four furlongs in :51 over the Tapeta surface on December 24.

"They had a little bit of a long trip, but everything seems to have gone smoothly," Motion said. "It took a little bit longer than normal just because they hit a little bit of traffic, but everything went well. It's exciting to have him down here."

His most recent work was the first for Main Sequence since his half-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf on November 1. Motion said he plans to give Main Sequence 10 days to acclimate to his new surroundings before scheduling the first of five or six works at Palm Meadows prior to his anticipated six-year-old debut in the Grade 2, $200,000 Mac Diarmida on February 21 at Gulfstream Park.

"He's been great," Motion said. "I actually had kind of planned on giving him a little longer off perhaps, but he was so full of himself and doing so well that we started him off. He had his first breeze the day before Christmas, so he basically kind of had a month of not doing very much at all, which was good."

Main Sequence won four of 14 starts in England and was winless since May 2012 before joining Motion in January. He reeled off four consecutive Grade 1 wins starting with the United Nations on July 6 at Monmouth Park and followed by the Sword Dancer at Saratoga in August and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park in September.

"He came to me almost at this same time last year," Motion said. "He got very sick when he got to quarantine and ended up spending almost a month in quarantine. He had pneumonia and it wasn't really his fault that he didn't get going earlier in the year."

Motion is following a similar blueprint with Main Sequence that he used with Animal Kingdom. The 2011 Kentucky Derby winner ran second in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Mile and began his 2013 campaign with a runner-up finish in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap before heading overseas to capture the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

"My plan would be to run him in the Mac Diarmida to prep him to go to Dubai. That would give him five weeks before the Dubai race," Motion said. "I'm really pleased with how he's done, knock on wood. He's really on the same schedule that we did with Animal Kingdom. We've kind of tried to do things the same way."

Main Sequence figures to get plenty of consideration for Horse of the Year, which will be announced at the 44th Eclipse Awards ceremony being hosted by Gulfstream Park for the third straight year on January 17.

"It's very flattering that he's included in the conversation," Motion said. "Honestly, he hasn't put a foot wrong in his campaign. He's four-for-four in Group 1s, which as we know is very hard to do. I don't think there's another horse out there that's been able to put that kind of a streak together.

"The knock I hear on him is he didn't start until late in the year, but that wasn't his fault. I've never had a horse that put four Group 1s together and had an unblemished record. Even Animal Kingdom wasn't able to do that. It's very flattering to be considered."

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In brief

Bettors couldn't see much beyond 6-5 favorite Awesome Baby (Awesome Again) or the 5-2 Tribal Gal (Tribal Rule) in Sunday's $95,850 Kalookan Queen, but the 17-1 Harlington's Rose (Harlington) upstaged them both at Santa Anita. Awesome Baby set a fast pace of :21 3/5 and :44 in her comeback from a nine-month layoff, but shortened stride at the top of the stretch and was soon finished. Tribal Gal, who had been pressing the favorite, took a brief lead until Harlington's Rose bore down. Rolling from off the pace for Joe Talamo, the Steve Knapp filly collared the tiring Tribal Gal and edged 1 1/4 lengths clear. Awesome Baby wound up fifth. Harlington's Rose completed 6 1/2 fast-track furlongs in 1:15 2/5 to notch her first stakes win. Runner-up in the April 5 Evening Jewel at this track and trip, as well as in the 2013 Barretts Debutante, the bay has earned $277,680 from her 18-3-5-0 record. She races for the partnership of Halasz, Johnson, Newhart, Miller et al...

Posse juveniles swept both divisions of the New York Stallion S. at Aqueduct on Sunday. The Lewis Dinner kicked off the double in the $147,000 Fifth Avenue division for juvenile fillies. After vying through the opening quarter-mile, the 1-5 favorite shook free and went on to romp by 4 3/4 lengths. The Lewis Dinner negotiated six furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:12 2/5 with Manuel Franco. Trained by Rudy Rodriguez for Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables and Gary Aisquith, The Lewis Dinner has now won three straight. She sports a mark of 6-3-2-1, $229,500, including a victory in the November 16 Key Cents. Two races later, Windhorse Thoroughbreds' Chasing Bubbles sprang a 16-1 upset in the $150,000 Great White Way division. The Ken McPeek juvenile sprinted to the early lead and never looked back en route to a 1 1/2-length score over Disco Partner (Disco Rico), the troubled 1-2 favorite. Under Israel Rodriguez, Chasing Bubbles stopped the clock in 1:12 3/5 and upped his line to 6-2-1-0, $124,597. He was coming off a $40,000 maiden claiming win on December 13...

Bob Baffert has impressive maiden winner Callback (Street Sense) ticketed for Saturday's Santa Ynez (G2) for three-year-old fillies at 6 1/2 furlongs. The Hall of Fame trainer has won the Santa Anita race four times, starting in 2004 with Yearly Report for Golden Eagle Farm and as recently as last year with Awesome Baby (Awesome Again) for Kaleem Shah...

Also at Santa Anita Saturday, Jim Cassidy expects Tom's Tribute (Lion Heart) to rebound from a third-place finish as the 3-2 favorite in the Seabiscuit H. (G2) at Del Mar November 28 when he runs in the San Gabriel (G2) for four-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on turf. "He got cut up pretty good in the race," the trainer said. "His whole hind leg was all cut up, but he worked yesterday (five furlongs on turf in 1:06 2/5), and everything's all right now." With six wins from 15 starts including the Eddie Read (G1) at Del Mar last July, Tom's Tribute is the most accomplished runner slated for the San Gabriel, having earned $622,880 for the Braly Family Trust...

Holmark Stables VI's Bourbon Cowboy (Cowboy Cal) came out of his game runner-up performance in the December 20 Sugar Bowl in fine shape, according to his conditioner Richie Scherer. His excellent showing -- losing by a half-length to multiple stakes-winning favorite Cinco Charlie after a stretch-long battle -- may have opened some doors for the colt whose connections previously believed he could possibly be a turf horse. "He's doing really well," Scherer said. "He came out in good shape and right now our plans are up in the air. It is really surprising how well he handles dirt. It's a lot better than I thought he would." Bourbon Cowboy earned a career-best 101 BRIS Speed rating for the effort. "No doubt, it was his best race," Scherer said. "He showed himself as a different kind of horse where he really stalked and responded, but he's still figuring out what's going on. We're still not sure what we'll do with him, but we nominated to the Lecomte ([G3] on January 17) and we are also eligible for the stakes at Ocala." Being a $50,000 purchase at Ocala Breeders' Sale in April of this year, he is eligible to compete in the $100,000 OBS Championship Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on January 27 over its Safetrack synthetic surface...

Trainer Jeff Bonde, on what he liked when he bought Saturday's Midnight Lute (G3) winner Distinctiv Passion (With Distinction) as a yearling at OBS August for $65,000: "He's built like Michael Jordan and he runs like him."...

Santa Anita's opening day on-track attendance Friday of 40,810, fueled in part by the track's free infield admission program that brought in more than 10,000 race goers, was up 33 percent over last year and was the largest opening day gathering since 2011. All sources handle of $17,026,448 represented a healthy 29 percent hike over 2013, while the on-track handle of $3,431,886 was up 11 percent over a year ago...

Tim Richardson, manager of the Niarchos family's Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard, will retire after 36 years at the helm the stud announced Sunday. He will be succeeded by Pierre-Yves Gibert -- who already has experience at Fresnay-le-Buffard -- in January. Richardson started in 1979 and during his tenure the farm produced such luminaries of the turf as Dream Well, Hernando, Sulamani and Bago. "Pierre-Yves will be happy to carry on the successful work of his predecessor, continue to maintain the excellence of Haras and contribute to its modernity," the farm said in a statement.  Richardson will continue working for the Syndicat des Eleveurs on the European disease front and will also be starting his own agency, the Equine Advisory Agency.

Graded Recaps

Bettys Bambino continues love affair with downhill turf in Daytona

Bettys Bambino began the year as an unraced four-year-old and finished it as a Grade 3 winner (Benoit Photo)
Sharon Alesia, Bran Jam Stable and Ciaglia Racing's homebred Bettys Bambino captured his stakes debut in Sunday's Grade 3, $101,000 Daytona Stakes at Santa Anita, extending his record over the downhill turf course to four-for-five. Under Martin Garcia, the 3-1 second choice outkicked 6-5 favorite Sweet Swap and fended off Lil Bit O'Fun by a half-length.

Garcia rode with a banged-up knee, sustained when Bettys Bambino pinned him against the inside of the gate. He subsequently took off his mount in the 9TH race, Pleasure Point.

"My horse hit me in the head and then he hit me in the (right) knee, too, against the gate," Garcia said. "He was leaning on my knee that was in between him and the gate. In the moment the win was just exciting with the adrenaline. Now, I just need to go to the doctor to get checked out."

Breaking sharply, Bettys Bambino was content to ease back off the contentious early pace. Fleet Eagle swooped to lead through an opening quarter in :21 4/5, but Eddie's First moved up to match strides through the half in :43 3/5. Sweet Swap was perched right behind them, and although he got the desired seam in the lane, he couldn't make the most of it. Flashing much stronger momentum wider out were Bettys Bambino and Lil Bit O'Fun, with the former prevailing in 1:12 2/5 for about 6 1/2 firm-turf furlongs.

The Peter Eurton-trained Bettys Bambino paid $8 to win and enhanced his resume to 9-5-0-3, $258,036.

Sweet Swap reported home another 1 1/2 lengths astern in third, followed by Play Hard to Get, Ankeny Hill, Mr. Sexy, Fleet Eagle, Eddie's First and the ever-trailing Clubhouse Ride. Indianapolis was scratched after running fourth in Friday's Malibu, along with Majestic Kitten.

Bettys Bambino didn't make it to the races until turning four this year. A 9 1/2-length debut winner in an off-the-turf sprint here February 28, he romped by 4 1/4 lengths in his first taste of the downhill March 21. Both came in Cal-restricted company. The dark bay gelding plied his trade unsuccessfully in open -company allowances in his four ensuing starts, but put it all together in dynamic fashion this fall. He won his last two over this course and distance by 9 1/2 lengths combined, and made it three in a row Sunday.

"He loves this course, and who knows, he might like a mile, but we never really had the opportunity," Eurton said. "He was scratched at Del Mar going to the gate in a mile turf race (on November 20) when he blew his shoe and they had to scratch him.

"But he does love the downhill and I don't think we'll ever change that. He needed a good draw because he kind of missed a little time after we scratched him at Del Mar, so it was a little funky.

"We're just kind of going to enjoy this one right now and see what comes up at a later date."

Bred by Alesia, Ciaglia and Mellen (of Bran Jam) in the Golden State, Bettys Bambino is by Unusual Heat and out of the winning High Brite mare Brite Betty. His second dam, the winning Balboa Betty, is a full sister to Hall of Famer Tiznow, $2.8-million earner Budroyale, Grade 2 scorer Tizdubai and stakes-winning sire Tizbud. This is also the immediate family of Grade 1-winning millionaire Paynter and 2013 Preakness hero Oxbow.

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Spot Plays/Highlights/Weather

SPOT PLAYS

For Monday

TRACK   (RACE) HORSE, MORNING LINE
Fair Grounds   (3rd) Lori's Darling, 7-2
    (7th) Go Go Rocket, 8-1
Mahoning Valley   (1st) Talk Tough, 3-1
    (6th) Solar Maximus, 5-1
Parx Racing   (4th) Pac Yer Tack, 5-1
    (9th) Irish Rose, 6-1
Sunland Park   (6th) J P Gluxx, 5-1
    (7th) We Need Art, 3-1
Turf Paradise   (2nd) Flattering Life, 10-1
    (6th) Narc, 4-1

HANDICAPPER'S EDGE is compiled by Bloodstock Research Information Services. This newsletter may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. Copyright 2011, Bloodstock Research Information Services. Information as to the races, race results and earnings was obtained from Equibase Company LLC and is utilized herein with the permission of the copyright owner, Equibase Company LLC.

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