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The week that was in racing, Jan. 11-18, 2016
Here's a collection of some of the biggest stories in horse racing, all in one place. Unless noted, all of the links here are to free stories on DRF.com.
Graded stakes action across the country
There were 28 stakes races in North America over the holiday weekend, but only four of them carried graded status. The Grade 2 La Canada on Saturday at Santa Anita featured a couple of older fillies who ran in Breeders’ Cup races at Keeneland. It was Taris – stretching out from a third-place finish in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint – who dominated her rivals in proving that she could be a force in the older filly and mare division in 2016.
The only graded stakes with Triple Crown points this past weekend was the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, where Mo Tom blew past eight rivals, further flattering Airoforce and Mor Spirit, both of whom finished ahead of him in the Kentucky Jockey Club in November at Churchill Downs.
Chocolate Ride showed his class in the Grade 3 Colonel Bradley at Fair Grounds, going wire-to-wire to capture his third graded stakes win for trainer Brad Cox since being claimed in November 2014. Both Cox and jockey Florent Geroux expect big things from the 6-year-old gelding in 2016 and are optimistic that he can add a Grade 1 win to his resume.
And at Santa Anita on Monday, Keri Belle improved to a perfect 2 for 2 on the course by just nosing out Stormy Lucy in the Grade 3 Megahertz Stakes. It was the first stakes win for the 6-year-old daughter of Empire Maker, who is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss and trained by John Shirreffs, the team best know in racing as the connections of Zenyatta.
45th annual Eclipse Awards
It’s unanimous! American Pharoah was the best horse in the country last year. He received all 261 votes for both Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male when the Eclipse Award winners for the 2015 racing season were announced Saturday night at Gulfstream Park, becoming only the second horse, joining John Henry in 1981, to get every first-place vote for Horse of the Year.
American Pharoah’s dominance also propelled his connections, trainer Bob Baffert and owner and breeder Zayat Stables, to Eclipse Awards in their respective divisions, too. The only member of American Pharoah’s team who did not share in the largesse was jockey Victor Espinoza as he lost out to Javier Castellano, who had a record-setting year for purse earnings.
This year’s Eclipse Awards marked first honors for a few longtime trainers. They were not without their share of controversy, though, leading some to question whether the Eclipse Awards criteria need to be more clearly established.
Here’s the full list of winners, along with the number of first-place votes cast in each category.
Other notable performances
Saturday’s card at Gulfstream Park featured six stakes races restricted to Florida-breds, and two of those races featured performances by horses that could impact open-company stakes last this year. In the Sunshine Millions Classic, Mexikoma inched away from a stubborn Mr. Jordan late, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 106, the highest so far in the young year. In the Sunshine Millions Sprint, X Y Jet backed up his rout in the Grade 3 Mr Prospector with a decisive win that left trainer Jorge Navarro hinting that a trip to Dubai could be next.
The $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes on Monday at Oaklawn Park also offered Triple Crown points, and Discreetness fought gamely for a neck win over Gordy Florida. The win puts the 3-year-old son of Discreet Cat on the Derby trail.
The best maiden winner of the weekend may well have been Mr. Coker at Santa Anita on Monday. The 3-year-old Candy Ride colt backed up his strong debut on opening day, when he was a late-running second to up-and-comer Danzing Candy. This time, Mr. Coker was a bit closer to the pace, stalking the leaders before pulling clear in the stretch and holding off the closers. The effort left some thinking he could be a player on the Kentucky Derby trail for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. His pedigree suggests he can stretch out off the 6 1/2-furlong win. His dam, Our Khrysty, won three stakes races, including the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm Handicap at Belmont Park, and she is the half-sister to three other stakes winners, including Bullsbay who won the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap.
Sire Uncle Mo had a good weekend. On Saturday night, his son Nyquist followed in his footsteps in winning the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. A few hours prior to the Eclipse Awards ceremony, Uncle Mo added a few more Kentucky Derby contenders to his resume, finishing first and third in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds with Mo Tom and Uncle Walter. Laoban also finished third in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes as a maiden Jan. 9. Uncle Mo stands at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky.
Who won the Eclipse Award for outstanding dirt male? Lane's End Farm did, of course. The Versailles, Ky., operation will stand all three finalists for the honor in 2016 – divisional champion Honor Code, classic winner Tonalist, and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam's Map. That trio, along with Grade 1 winner Mr. Speaker, gives the farm a very strong hand in a season when competition for mares will be fierce.
Can Songbird challenge the boys? The best 2-year-olds of 2015 were based on the West Coast, and the best of all of them may well have been a filly, Songbird. The undefeated daughter of Medaglia d’Oro consistently ran faster Beyer Speed Figures than her male counterparts last year, and she increased her Beyer numbers in every start, culminating in a 99 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland. DRF’s Mark Simon takes a look at whether she has the pedigree challenge males at the classic distance.
Horses to watch
SAY CIN CIN
Trainer: Abigail Adsit
Last race: Jan. 15, 6th
Finish: 3rd by 3/4
This filly broke from the far-outside post when stretched out against males the second time back from a layoff and rallied from last while carried out and bumped late.
DRF Plus subscribers can see the rest of Dave Litfin’s horses to watch from last week by clicking here.
– additional reporting by Nicole Russo.