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Look beyond Kentucky Derby upset to find some stars in weekend horse racing

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Look beyond Kentucky Derby upset to find some stars in weekend horse racing

Secret Oath, ridden by Luis Saez, wins the Kentucky Oaks on Friday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mark Abraham/UPI | License Photo

May 9 (UPI) — It will be a long time before any racing fan forgets the name Rich Strike, the 80-1 winner of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. But there were lots more names to remember from the weekend of top graded stakes events.

Among them: Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath, Pauline’s Pearl, Olympiad, Jack Christopher, Bleecker Street, Speak of the Devil, Jackie’s Warrior and Juju’s Map.

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Based on their performances Friday and Saturday, any or all of those could be right there in November when the Breeders’ Cup World Championships return to Keeneland.

Here’s a look beyond the headlines, plus a recap of a Sunday race in Japan that almost produced an upset that would have been far, far bigger than the Derby shocker.

Shall we? Why, yes we shall:

Distaff

So what’s next for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath? Trainer D. Wayne Lukas reported the filly was in fine fettle after landing the female equivalent of the Kentucky Derby in a performance that, again, opens the door to a potential run against males in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

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“She bounced back very quickly last night, and she’s very sharp here this morning,” the 86-year-old trainer said as the sun rose over his barn Saturday morning.

“Looks very good. We’re tickled to see her come out of that tough race and to be bouncing around here this morning. She’s excellent.”

The obvious choices are the Preakness against colts and geldings and the Black-Eyed Susan against other 3-year-old fillies.

Lukas and owner Rob Mitchell did start Secret Oath in the Arkansas Derby, in which she finished third. But they both insist that wasn’t a test to see if she could go in the Kentucky Derby. Maybe things are different now?

“I’m going to let a few days go by and then I’ll get with Rob Mitchell,” Lukas said. “I’ll let him have an opinion. … The big difference is a million dollars and a Grade I. Would be nice to get her a second Grade I.”

Whether she goes to the Preakness or not, Secret Oath will have many chances at more Grade I wins if she stays healthy and in training, likely against other fillies and mares.

Among those will be Nest, the Oaks favorite who finished second as the best of trainer Todd Pletcher‘s three starters. Pletcher, not a regular supporter of the Preakness program, indicated he’s unlikely to change that habit pattern.

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“They’re all likely to be headed up to New York,” he said. “We’ve got to do some checking on flight schedules, but they’ll be headed out in the next little while.”

And then there will be the older fillies and mares, many of whom were in action during the weekend.

Prominent among that set, Pauline’s Pearl closed relentlessly down the stretch in Friday’s $750,000 Grade I La Trioenne at Churchill Downs and nailed pacesetting Shedaresthedevil in the shadow of the wire for the win. Ava’s Grade was third.

Pauline’s Pearl, a Stonestreet Stables homebred filly by Tapit, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.46 with Joel Rosario up. Shedaresthedevil entered the La Troienne with a perfect 5-for-5 record at Churchill Downs, including the 2020 Kentucky Oaks and the 2021 La Troienne.

Pauline’s Pearl finished eighth as a long shot in last year’s Kentucky Oaks, and trainer Steve Asmussen commented, “It is so satisfying for her to come back and get her first Grade I on Oaks Day. She did her best last year in the Oaks. You can see the improvement one year has made in her.”

On the Kentucky Oaks undercard, Juju’s Map made a statement in an otherwise unremarkable optional claimer.

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In her first start of the year, the 3-year-old Liam’s Map filly showed her runner-up finish to Echo Zulu in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies was no fluke as she crossed over from the No. 7 gate to take the lead around the first turn, was never seriously challenged and won off by 4 3/4 lengths, never asked for her best by jockey Florent Geroux.

Trained by Brad Cox, Juju’s Map won the Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland before the Breeders’ Cup and will be one to reckon with going forward. “She’s a good filly,” Cox said. “Real good.”

On Sunday at Belmont Park, Chad Brown saddled the exacta in the $200,000 Grade II Ruffian Stakes at 1 mile on the muddy main track as Search Results stalked the pace, then drew off to win by 3 lengths and stablemate Royal Flag came from last of six to take second.

The early leader, Lady Rocket, salvaged third. Search Results, a 4-year-old Flatter filly, finished in 1:34.88 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. Search Results, second in last year’s Kentucky Oaks and winner of the Grade I Gazelle and Grade I Acorn, confirmed she will be a factor in the division going forward.

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At Monmouth Park on Sunday, Miss Leslie took the lead turning for home in the $100,000 Serena’s Song Stakes and quickly drew off to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Moraz was second with Flight to Shanghai third.

Miss Leslie, a 4-year-old Paynter filly, completed 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.14 with Angel Cruz riding. In addition to the $60,000 winner’s share, Miss Leslie earned free entry into the $400,000 Grade III Molly Pitcher Stakes on July 23.

Classic / Dirt Mile

Olympiad, the odds-on favorite, found his best stride in the final furlong of Friday’s $500,000 Grade II Alysheba at Churchill Downs, clearing the field to win by 2 1/2 lengths.

Happy Saver, who seized a brief lead early in the stretch run, was no match in the late going as Olympiad blew by on his inside. Happy Saver did save third with Title Ready third and Weyburn fourth.

Olympiad, a 4-year-old Speightstown colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.60 with Junior Alvarado riding for trainer Bill Mott.

Olympiad made it four straight wins, following the Grade III Mineshaft and Grade II New Orleans Classic, both at Fair Grounds. He has missed a top-three finish only once, when fourth in the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in December.

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The one-turn dirt mile at Churchill Downs often is tough to figure out, but the punters had no trouble with Saturday’s $500,000 Grade II Pat Day Mile.

Jack Christopher, sidelined since winning the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park, raced close to the lead down the backstretch, challenged around the turn and eventually drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite.

Papacap, second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and winless since, again finished second with My Prankster third. Jack Christopher, now undefeated after three starts, finished in 1:34.81 over a fast track.

“I asked a lot of him today and he really came through,” winning trainer Chad Brown said. Brown also gave credit to jockey Jose Ortiz, who settled behind a few horses after being squeezed at the start.

Brown also said he feels Jack Christopher can handle two turns — although he wouldn’t say how far around two turns so the Preakness remains a question mark for him.

On the flip side, the wagering public missed badly in Saturday’s $100,000 Knicks Go Stakes for older horses at the same 1 Mile at Churchill Downs.

In that, jockey Raphael Bejarano got Three Technique rolling down the stretch, got by the early speed and drew off to win by 1 length at odds of 36-1. Injunction was second with South Bend third.

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Three Technique, previously a $40,000 claimer and winless in his last 10 starts over nearly one year, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.48.

Belmont Park also runs a one-turn dirt mile around its sweeping stretch turn, and the odds-on favorite, Cody’s Wish, won Saturday’s $200,000 Grade III Westchester at those conditions by 5 lengths. The early leader, Sound Money, easily held second with Zoomer third. Cody’s Wish, a Godolphin homebred 4-year-old Curlin colt, finished in 1:34.68 for jockey Junior Alvarado. It was his fourth win from his last five starts.

On Friday at Belmont, First Constitution took a big early lead in the $100,000 Flat Out Stakes and wasn’t challenged, reporting first by 4 lengths after running 1 3/8 miles on a sloppy track in 2:18.37 with Jose Lezcano riding for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Portos was second with Locally Owned third in a widely drawn-out finish.

First Constitution is a 5-year-old, Chilean-bred son of Constitution.

Turf

Santin and Mira Mission swapped the lead early in the stretch run of Saturday’s $1 million Grade I Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, then Santin found a little bit in reserve, regained the lead and won by a neck. It was another 6 lengths from Mira Mission to Adhamo in third.

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Santin, a Godolphin homebred colt by Distorted Humor, ran 1 1/18 miles on firm turf in 1:49.72 with Tyler Gaffalione up.

Gaffalione and trainer Brendan Walsh both credited the decision to add blinkers to Santin’s equipment with keeping him focused on his task through the stretch run — a tactic Walsh also used to help filly NewYear’s Eve to an upset win a day earlier in the Edgewood Stakes.

“I’ll have to buy more pairs of blinkers,” Walsh said.

At Belmont Park, L’Imperator was quickly out front in Saturday’s $200,000 Grade II Fort Marcy Stakes and rolled along to win by 3 1/4 lengths over stablemate Sacred Life. L’Imperator, a French-bred, 5-year-old gelding by Holy Roman Emperor, ran 1 1/8 miles on the yielding inner turf course in 1:59.72 with Eric Cancel riding.

In scoring his first stakes win, he was the longest priced of three starters for Chad Brown. The six runners made their last starts at five different tracks, from nearby Aqueduct to Fair Grounds, Keeneland, Tamp Bay Downs and Del Mar.

Stolen Base, back on the green course after two outings on the Turfway Park all-weather strip, re-rallied through the stretch run to take Saturday’s $500,000 Grade II American Turf Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over a stubborn Balnikhov.

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Sy Dog came from near the back of the field of 3-year-olds to snatch third from Smokin’ T. Stolen

Base, a Bodemeister colt trained by Mike Maker, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.57 over firm turf. The colt won at first asking at Saratoga last summer, but was winless in seven intervening starts.

He finished second in the Battaglia Memorial at Turfway before reporting a well-beaten seventh in that track’s Kentucky Derby prep, the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks.

“We were pointing for the Derby,” winning trainer Mike Maker said. “After we stubbed our toe there, we rerouted to this.”

Filly & Mare Turf

Things looked bleak for undefeated Bleecker Street entering the stretch run of Friday’s $250,000 Grade III Modesty Stakes at Churchill Downs. The Quality Road filly was last of eight and had to swing out to the middle of the course to get room.

No matter, as jockey Flavien Prat got Bleecker Street’s engine revving, passed them all and won by 1/2 length from Fluffy Socks. Hendy Woods was third. Bleecker Street kept her perfect record going while winning for the sixth time, finishing 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:50.10.

New Year’s Eve gave her backers something to celebrate with a decisive, last-to-first win in Friday’s $500,000 Grade II Edgewood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs.

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The Kitten’s Joy miss, trained by Brendan Walsh and ridden by Luis Saez, raced off the pace, swung way wide out to the middle of the course at the top of the stretch and blasted off, winning by 2 3/4 lengths.

The Chad Brown-trained duo of McKulick and Dolce Zel finished second and third. New Year’s Eve ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.39 while winning for the third time in four starts. Walsh said the addition of blinkers two starts back put New Year’s Eve on the road to the upset stakes win.

At Belmont Park on Saturday, Virginia Joy scored her second straight graded stakes victory, leading from gate to wire in the $200,000 Grade II Sheepshead Bay Stakes, showing her heels to three rivals in the lane to win by 14 1/4 lengths.

Luck Money was second, 6 1/2 lengths in front of Lovely Lucky. It was another 20 lengths to the trailer, Sister Otoole, who earned $12,000 for the 1 3/8-miles stroll over yielding turf.

Despite the sodden going, Virginia Joy, a German-bred mare by Soldier Hollow, finished in course-record time of 2:30.88 with Trevor McCarthy up for trainer Chad Brown.

At Santa Anita, Island of Love stalked the pace in Saturday’s $100,000 Grade III Senorita Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, took the lead in the final furlong and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Sterling Crest. It was another 1 1/4 lengths to Baby Steps in third.

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Island of Love, an Irish-bred filly by Kodiac, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:35.35 with Juan Hernandez at the controls. Previously raced in Italy, she notched her first win in her third U.S. start.

Turf Mile

Speak of the Devil strolled out of the gate in Saturday’s $500,000 Grade II Longines Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, raced last most of the way down the backstretch, and then unleashed a relentless charge that quickly brought her to the front and a 2 3/4-length victory.

Her stablemate in trainer Chad Brown’s barn, In Italian, led the way and held on for second with Wakanaka third.

Peter Brant, who owns the first two, bought Speak of the Devil last fall in France for $2.2 million after a nice career in France that included a third, beaten just a head, in the Group 1 Prix Rothschild.

“So lucky to have this filly and appreciative that Mr. Brandt bought this filly and turned her over to us,” Brown said.

Sprint

Reigning Eclipse Award sprint champion Jackie’s Warrior made it 2-for-2 on the season with a commanding win in Saturday’s $750,000 Grade I Churchill Downs Stakes.

Quickest out of the gate under Joel Rosario, the 4-year-old Maclean’s Music colt got away with a moderately slow pace for the first half of the 7-furlongs sprint, stepped on the gas turning for home and got away to an effortless 4-lengths win.

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Reinvestment Risk was second and Aloha West, who won November’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint with Jackie’s Warrior fading to finish sixth, this time was third under the wire as the 7 furlongs went in 1:21.95.

Jackie’s Warrior, trained by Steve Asmussen, now has 10 wins from 14 career starts. “Now he’s a Grade I winner at [age] 2, 3 and 4, and as good as they get,” the trainer said.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Obligatory returned from Florida and came flying down the stretch with a last-to-first move in Saturday’s $750,000 Grade I Derby City Distaff at Churchill Downs, winning by 3/4 lengths. Three rivals coming from the Grade I Madison Stakes at Keeneland — Four Graces, Just One Time and Bell’s the One — finished second through fourth.

Obligatory, a 4-year-old Curlin filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.17 for jockey Jose Ortiz, closing smartly into an unexpectedly sharp pace. She won her last start at Gulfstream Park, the Grade III Here Comes the Bride on March 12, and returned to a track where she already was 2-for-2.

“That was the target, to get her a Grade I,” said trainer Bill Mott. “We pointed for this race and it worked out great. … Somebody’s gotta go. Obviously they did today and it set up for us.”

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The 3-year-old filly sprinters went at it in Friday’s $500,000 Grade II Eight Belles Stakes at Churchill Downs. Matareya started sixth, closed up quickly and came out for running room entering the stretch.

Under encouragement from jockey Flavien Prat, the Pioneerof the Nile filly quickly cleared her rivals and kicked off to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

The early leader, Pretty Birdy, held second with Wicked Halo putting in a late bid to finish third. Matareya, trained by Brad Cox for owner/breeder Godolphin, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.86.

Cox also won an allowance race Friday with Juju’s Map, another top 3-year-old filly (see the Distaff section, above).

“The Acorn [Grade I at Belmont Park] is going to be interesting five weeks from now,” Cox said. “Both are good fillies. This filly is probably going to do her best going around one turn. Juju’s Map definitely can handle two turns.

“At some point, they’re going to sort themselves out, and if they meet up in the Acorn, I don’t know.”

Sunday at Woodbine, Our Secret Agent stalked the early pace in the $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Whimsical Stakes, bid three-wide for the lead and got clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths from Boardroom.

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It was another 1/2 length to Dreaming of Drew in third. Our Secret Agent, a 5-year-old Secret Circle mare, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.62 with Kazushi Kimura in the kip.

Turf Sprint

Arrest Me Red broke sharply in Friday’s $500,000 Grade II Twin Spires Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs, took back briefly and came with one big rush to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Bran was along for second with Gregorian Chant rallying from far back to finish third.

Arrest Me Red, a 4-year-old Pioneerof the Nile colt trained by Wesley Ward, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:04.18 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up.

“They were pressuring Irad from the outside and he told me he decided to take back a little. He got a little breather,” Ward said.

“They were a little wide coming around the turn but when they got to the quarter pole I could see he still had quite a bit of horse. I was crossing my fingers down the lane that no one was coming.”

Around the world, around the clock:

Japan

For a few, fleeting seconds, it looked like Sunday’s Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup for 3-year-olds at Tokyo Racecourse was going to produce an upset that would make the Kentucky Derby outcome pale by comparison.

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Danon Scorpion took a late lead and hooked up with Matenro Orion in what seemed, and eventually turned out to be, a battle for the win.

But then, along came Kawakita Reverie, gobbling up ground to their outside at odds just short of 230-1 — nearly three times of price Rich Strike carried to victory at Churchill Downs

But the upsetter ran out of room in the Mile Cup and settled for third, with Danon Scorpion gaining the win and Matenro Orion second. The margins were a neck and another neck.

“It was a close victory, and I knew that the horses on the outside route were all coming up with a lot of force,” said Danon Scorpion’s rider, Yuga Kawada. “So although I felt we had won crossing the wire, I had to be sure by watching the video after the race.”

Danon Scorpion, a Lord Kanaloa colt out of the 2014 Queen’s Plate winner Lexie Lou, finished third in the Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes at Hanshin in his 2021 finale. He was seventh in his 3-year-old debut but returned from that to win the Arlington Cup (G3) on April 16.

“Danon Scorpion was in perhaps his best condition coming into this race so I had a lot of confidence,” Kawada said. “He was in good rhythm and balance so I had no worries.”

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