Melbourne Cup back in Australian hands in weekend horse racing

Nov. 8 (UPI) — The Melbourne Cup is in the books and safely back in Australian hands with international visitors left to squabble among themselves over the minor placings, while Japan’s Autumn festival of Grade 1 racing rolls on with some promising fillies taking on their elders.

Japanese champion Almond Eye apparently is headed to Hong Kong and so, too, might be a newly discovered stayer from the British all-weather circuit.

In North America, Del Mar takes the baton in Southern California and Churchill Downs has the weekend’s only graded stakes. With potential record cold and actual snow already invading the north, Gulfstream Park has the Sunshine Millions preview Saturday, along with a quartet of races for 2-year-olds.

Let’s clear the decks, starting with a rather memorable Melbourne Cup.

The international scene:

Australia

Vow and Declare, an all-Australian runner, took the lead no one else seemed to want in Tuesday’s Group 1 Lexus Melbourne Cup and made it stand up, holding on in the final cavalry charge to win by a head.

While Vow and Declare returned the Cup to local hands, the final 50 meters of the “Race That Stops A Nation” found international invaders fighting among themselves for placings — a battle that moved to the stewards’ room after an objection.

In the final strides, Master of Reality, under right-handed encouragement from Frankie Dettori, drifted in sharply, bumping with Il Paradiso and jockey Wayne Lordan, who was sandwiched just outside the winner. Master of Reality finished second while Prince of Arran, outside the trouble, finished third, a whisker in front of Il Paradiso.

Lordan claimed foul against Dettori — a challenge that set the father-and-son trainer team of Aidan and Joseph Patrick O’Brien against one another. Aidan O’Brien trains Il Paradiso and the younger O’Brien handles Master of Reality.

After an extended look-and-think, the officials found in favor of Lordan, demoting Master of Reality to fourth. That moved up Prince of Arran to second, even though he was not involved in the objection, and Il Paradiso to third.

None of that mattered to the throng packing Flemington and celebrating the victory of a local runner after Godolphin invader Cross Counter took down last year’s race.

“It’s getting harder and harder with all the internationals coming in,” said Matt Harrington, general manager for winning trainer Danny O’Brien’s stable. “He’s just a dude.”

Danny O’Brien (tough to keep all the O’Briens sorted!) noted Vow and Declare, while produced by an American sire, is “owned by an Australian, trained by an Australian and ridden by an Australian.” And he credited that Australian jockey, Craig Williams.

“It was a race that was not going according to plan,” O’Brien said. “But Craig grabbed the bull by the horns when no one else was going on and that was probably the winning move.”

Vow and Declare, a 4-year-old colt by Declaration of War, came to the Melbourne Cup on the back of just two prep races on the season — a fourth in the Group 1 Turnbull behind Kings Will Dream and a second behind Japanese star Mer De Glace in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup.

Charlie Fellowes, whose Prince of Arran was elevated to second after finishing third last year, said he already is looking forward to another Melbourne Cup. But, he said, other opportunities await in the meantime.

“We just, in the past two minutes, have been invited to the Japan Cup,” Fellowes said. “And then there’s the Hong Kong Cup. “We have to have a little think.”

Japan

Speaking of Japan, Sunday’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup for fillies and mares at Kyoto pits two top-notch 3-year-olds against older rivals.

Did we mention those 3-year-olds are top-notch? One is Loves Only You, a Deep Impact filly from the Storm Cat mare Loves Only Me. All she’s done is win all four previous starts, including the Grade 1 Yushun Himba, the Japanese Oaks, in her last start. The other is Chrono Genesis, by the French sire Bago. She captured the Grade 1 Shuka Sho at Kyoto in her last outing, her fourth win from seven starts.

The older rivals include Crocosmia, a 6-year-old mare by Stay Gold who has finished a close second in the last two editions of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, and Lucky Lilac, a 4-year-old daughter of Orfevre who is bidding to live up to the promise she showed at age 2.

The race is contested right-handed at 2,200 meters on the turf. This year’s renewal drew no foreign entrants but Snow Fairy invaded from England in 2010 and 2011, winning both times.

England

Young Rascal moved to the lead inside the furlong grounds in Monday’s Matchbook Floodlit Stakes at Kempton, then ran on well for jockey Tom Marquand to win by 3 lengths. Loxley was second with no finishing kick and Spirit of Appin lost ground late, settling for third, another 1/2 length in arrears at the end of 1 1/2 miles of all-weather surface.

Trainer William Haggas said Young Rascal was gelded after a disappointing summer and now will have to earn his keep on the track — potentially a very nice keep in some very prominent places.

“I think he will stay, and Saudi Arabia has thrown a spanner in the works by putting on a $2.5 million staying (race) over a mile and seven furlongs, which could be very tempting,” Haggas said, with the caveat he must first inspect the track in Riyadh.

“Then there is obviously the Dubai Sheema Classic and Dubai Gold Cup as well. We have lots of options and it is great that he has jumped the first hurdle. If he can jump the others, we will be very pleased.” Haggas also mentioned the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase Dec. 8 at Sha Tin as a more immediate target.

Hong Kong

And speaking of Hong Kong — not to mention Japan and Dubai — it seems Japan’s international star filly Almond Eye won’t be chasing her second Japan Cup victory later this month. Instead, she reportedly will take on some tough rivals at Sha Tin Dec. 8 in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup.

Masashi Yonemoto, CEO of the filly’s owner, Silk Racing, told Asian-racinghub.com: “Of course, the Japan Cup was a consideration. But after checking the horse after the Tenno Sho we decided to give her more time and leave space for her to go to Hong Kong.”

Almond Eye is a 4-year-old daughter of Lord Kanaloa, a two-time winner of the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint. She has won six Group 1 races, including last year’s Japan Cup and the Dubai Turf in March at Meydan in her only previous venture outside Japan. She returned to the winner’s enclosure after the Grade 1 Tenno Sho in her last start.

It took the filly some time to recover from the Dubai trip and Yonemoto said after the Tenno Sho the additional two weeks between the Japan Cup and the Hong Kong Cup were the deciding factor in opting for the latter.

Dubai

And speaking of Dubai, if any trainer were to be nominated to sweep an entire card at Meydan, who would it be, other than Doug Watson? And so it was Watson who saddled all six winners Thursday at the imposing facility.

“We looked at it on paper this morning and we had a couple horses we knew were going to run really well,” Watson said. “It’s just an unbelievable feeling. We have such a great team at home and a lot of these horses have been training well. The races just suited us and the horses have been training well. It’s a sweet feeling and it’s more for the yard and Pat did an amazing job, too.”

Jockey Patrick Dobbs booted home five of the six. Dane O’Neill had the other winner as Dobbs finished fourth on another Watson trainee.

Back in North America:

Churchill Downs

Is turf racing gaining popularity in the United States? Judging by the overflow field for Saturday’s $175,000 Grade III Commonwealth Turf for 3-year-olds, the answer would be an emphatic: Yes. Fourteen are in the main field with another two as also-eligibles and there’s not a favorite in sight. The best the morning line has to offer is Tracksmith, a New York-bred colt by Street Sense, posted at 5-1. Faraway Kitten, Armistice Day and Spectacular Gem are all 6-1 on the line. Knicks Go and Louder Than Bombs also are in this wide-open field so grab those last-ditch handicapping tools, the program and a hatpin.

Del Mar

The Turf Meets the Surf on Friday with the $75,000 Kathryn Crosby Stakes for fillies and mares taking center stage. Nine signed on for the 1 mile over the turf with Excellent Sunset, Super Patriot and Poster Girl catching the eye. Saturday it’s the $75,000 Let It Ride Stakes for 3-year-olds and Sunday 2-year-olds go 6 1/2 furlongs in the $100,000 Desi Arnaz Stakes.

The meeting runs to Dec. 1 with three graded stakes, including the Grade I Hollywood Derby on Nov. 30, as the highlight.

Gulfstream Park West

Nine stakes races for Florida-breds worth an aggregate $675,000 make up the Saturday card and look both to the immediate future and beyond.

Five of the nine are preps for the Sunshine Millions program Jan. 18 at the main Gulfstream facility. The others are for 2-year-old Florida-breds, two on turf and two on the dirt.

Indiana Grand

Copper Nickel kicked clear in the stretch run to take Tuesday’s $100,000 Miss Indiana Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies by 4 1/4 lengths from the favorite, Lady Aly. Sentimentaljourney was third. Copper Nickel, a Stroll filly, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:44.50 with Jon Court up.

Mai Tai’s Gem dueled for the lead in Tuesday’s $100,000 Indiana Futurity for state-bred colts and geldings, then took over for good in the lane and won by 1 1/4 lengths. Strong Tide was second at long odds and the favorite, Two Last Words, got show money. Mai Tai’s Gem, a gemologist gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:43.41 for jockey Deshawn Parker.

Mystery Unbridled dueled Flowerpecker into submission in Wednesday’s $150,000 Too Much Coffee Stakes for Indiana-breds, then gave up the lead briefly to Operation Stevie before coming back to win by a nose over that rival. Solitare Game was third. Mystery Unbridled, a 5-year-old gelding by Unbridled Express, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.13 with Samuel Bermudez in the irons.

Marina’s Legacy was quickly out to the lead in Wednesday’s $150,000 Frances Slocum Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares and extended the advantage all the way to a 3 1/2-lengths victory. Expect Indy was second with Magical Peapod third. Marina’s Legacy, a 5-year-old daughter of Divine Park, finished in 1:44.93 with Jesus Castanon at the controls.

News and Notes:

Vino Rosso, Thunder Snow, Yoshida and Blue Prize are among the recent retirees and all of them will be missed on the top-level racing scene. Vino Rosso exits a commanding victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and heads for Spendthrift Farm. Thunder Snow won the Dubai World Cup twice and details of his stud plans are yet to be announced. Yoshida was a Grade I winner on both turf and dirt and will stand at WinStar Farm. Successful second careers seem likely. Blue Prize was barely cooled down from her victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff before she sold Tuesday for $5 million to OXO Equine at the Fasig-Tipton sale in Lexington. OXO’s Larry Best said the mare was irresistible and will be the foundation of a new broodmare band.

Finishing up the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita:

Attendance for the two days was 109,054 and total handle, including common pool wagering, was $174,000,574. Comparable figures for last year’s event at Churchill Downs: 112,667 and $157,445,842. For the last Santa Anita Breeders’ Cup in 2016: Santa Anita Park 118,484 and $156,861,811.

The two-day event returns to Keeneland next year.