Trainer Brad Cox has great weekend with Kentucky Derby, Oaks contenders

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Hot and Sultry (blue colors) wins Saturday’s American Beauty Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Coady Photography, courtesy of Oaklawn Park

Jan. 23 (UPI) — Instant Coffee jumped to No. 2 on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” standings with an impressive weekend victory at Fair Grounds, doing nothing to help trainer Brad Cox sort out nearly a dozen Derby contenders in his care.

Cox also saw two of his 3-year-old fillies finish 1-2 in their stakes race in New Orleans, adding to his hopes for the first weekend in May in Louisville.

Oaklawn Park, Aqueduct and Laurel Park also chipped in to make it a productive few days of racing from coast to coast. Betsy Blue and Hot and Sultry both made stides in the filly and mare turf division.

On the international front, potential runners for the Group Dubai Turf on World Cup night surfaced both in Dubai itself and on the all-weather course at Lingfield Park in England.

No surfacing here. We’re diving right in with:

The Road to the Roses

Weekend races didn’t do much to sort out the bounty of Kentucky Derby candidates trained by Brad Cox. Two ran at Fair Grounds, one winning and the other finishing second in a photo.

Instant Coffee got his 3-year-old campaign off to a caffeinated start with a professional and convincing off-the-pace victory in Saturday’s $200,000 Grade II Lecomte Stakes.

The win earned the Bolt d’Oro colt 20 points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” leaderboard. Added to 12 points earned earlier, that puts him second in the standings behind only Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Forte.

Luis Saez rode with complete confidence. As the field rounded the first turn, Instant Coffee dropped well behind his five rivals and stayed there through the backstretch run.

After gaining ground quickly outside rivals on the turn, he accelerated to the front, blew by his final rival, Two Phil’s, mast mid-stretch and won by 2 1/2 lengths. Two Phil’s held second with Confidence Game another 5 1/4 lengths back in third.

Instant Coffee wound up his 2022 season with a win in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. That followed his only defeat, a fourth-place finish in the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.

Cox said he “really liked the way he [Instant Coffee] picked them up at the three-eighths pole. Oftentimes in these two-turn, 3-year-old races there’s some speed and there was. Luis did a good job guiding him to the outside and he stayed on down the middle of the track.”

The trainer indicated the Louisiana Derby series is the likely path back to Louisville for Instant Coffee since he’s already proved his affinity for the long stretch and unique track at Churchill Downs.

“You have to be able to put them on a van, ship them around,” he said. “That’s what good horses are going to have to do. You can’t have any excuses. This horse has been able to do that but right now I’m pretty content with keeping him right here.”

Cox scratched his second entry in the race, Tapit’s Conquest, in favor of an allowance event at the same distance earlier in the card. Tapit’s Conquest did little to hurt his cause in that, rallying from last and just failing by a neck to catch pacesetting Determinedly.

“I think there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Cox said Sunday of Tapit’s Conquest. “Mentally he’s not there yet and he hadn’t run in a while. He’s figuring things out and he’s going to be a lot better horse two months from now than he is right now.”

With 11 of the 38 horses in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager lineup and three of the first six on the “Road” leaderboard residing in his care, Cox looked at the bigger picture, per Fair Grounds publicity.

“The goal is to map out a plan to get as many of them into the (Kentucky) Derby as possible,” he said. “We’ve gotten off to a great start in these preps but we need to keep it going.

“That can be challenging but we’ve got a deep bench and hopefully some of these horses can continue to improve. Let’s see where they take us.”

No trainer has saddled more than five horses in any Kentucky Derby. Todd Pletcher has had five twice, D. Wayne Lukas and Nick Zito once each. Of those, only Lukas came away with the roses when Grindstone put a nose in front of Cavonnier at the finish.

In other 3-year-old developments:

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Forte returned to formal training Saturday with a 3-furlongs breeze — a first step toward a potential comeback start in the $400,000 Grade II Fountain of Youth March 4 at Gulfstream Park.

“It was very good,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “It was his first work back, just a nice introductory three-eighths. We’ll probably go a half-mile next week.”

Trainer Wesley Ward again showed his dominance on the Turfway Park all-weather course as his charge Funtastic Again led virtually all the way to a 3 3/4-length victory in Saturday’s $125,000 Leonatus Stakes. Equibase said the Funtastic colt, owned by Three Chimneys Farm, “won for fun.”

American Speed and Ironsides finished second and third as Funtastic Again, with Gerardo Corrales up, got 1 mile in 1:37.05. He’s won three of five starts, including a maiden score in an off-the-turf event at Saratoga.

At Laurel Park in Maryland, Prince of Jericho drew off in the lane to win Saturday’s $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes by 4 lengths over the favorite, Coffeewithchris. It was another 4 1/2 lengths to B West in third.

Prince of Jericho, a Munnings colt trained by Brittany Russell, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.93 with Carol Cedeno in the irons. He’s won three of his five starts, all at Laurel.

Finally, Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager closed Sunday with “all other 3-year-old colts and geldings” still the solid 2-1 favorite. Among the individual interests, Forte was first at 7-1, followed by Instant Coffee at 15-1.

Next Saturday, the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” winds back through Oaklawn Park, where the $750,000 Grade III Southwest Stakes offers 20 points to the winner.

The Path to the Oaks

The aforementioned Mr. Cox did just as well with the 3-year-old fillies as with the colts on Saturday’s Fair Grounds card, saddling The Alys Look and Chop Chop to finish 1-2 in the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes, a way station on the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks.”

The Alys Look, a Connect filly, prompted the pace, took the lead in the stretch and held off her stablemate, the odds-on favorite, to win by 1 length. The other five finished in a different ZIP code.

The Alys Look broke her maiden in encouraging fashion at Fair Grounds on Dec. 1, but then was second in the Untappable Stakes on Dec. 26.

Chop Chop, a City of Light filly, won a $500,000 stakes race on the Kentucky Downs turf last September, and then was second, a nose behind division leader Wonder Wheel, in the Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland. She flopped in the Breeders’ Cup, however, reporting last of 13.

“Chop Chop may have needed the race,” Cox said. “She was freshened up a little bit since the Breeders’ Cup. She had been training well and gave us the confidence to run her today and she ran well.

“The Aly’s Look … really showed some determination and grit the last sixteenth of a mile today and I think we have to make a march towards the [Kentucky] Oaks. We’ll see how she comes out of it.”

At Laurel Park, L Street Lady closely shadowed pacesetting favorite Chickieness through the early furlongs of Saturday’s $100,000 Xtra Heat Stakes, got by that rival in the stretch and won off by 2 1/2 lengths. Chickieness was second, 8 3/4 lengths clear of her nearest rival, We’ll See.

L Street Lady, a Munnings filly trained by Brittany Russell and ridden by Jevian Toledo, finished 6 furlongs on a fast strip in 1:12.81.

In the other divisions:

Classic / Dirt Mile

Happy American came from well back in the field in Saturday’s $150,000 Grade III Louisiana Stakes at Fair Grounds, hooked up in a three-way duel down the stretch and prevailed by a neck over Mr. Wireless. Pacesetter Forza Di Oro was third, another neck back, and the favorite, Zozos, faded to finish fifth.

Happy American, a 5-year-old Runhappy gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.33 for jockey James Graham and trainer Neil Pessin. He won the Tenacious Stakes over the same course and distance in his previous start.

Filly & Mare Turf

A mile and one-half on the turf is more of a European condition than American so no surprise the winner of Saturday’s $100,000 Astra Stakes, Duvet Day, is an Irish-bred filly by Starspangledbanner.

With Kazushi Kimura up, the 4-year-old raced next-last in a field of nine through most of the marathon, had to swing way wide to escape traffic on the final turn and finally got clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Queen Ofthe Temple was second with the favorite, Australia Mia, third.

Duvet Day finished in 2:28.16, starting on the downhill course.

“Duvet Day, a mile and a half is right up her alley,” winning trainer Mike McCarthy said. “Kazushi rode a great race, took his time. They kind of came back to us, and at the three-eighths pole he wheeled her out and she kind of kept on grinding and grinding.”

Rain predicted by the weather guessers didn’t materialize at Fair Grounds on Saturday and the $100,000 Marie G. Krantz Stakes stayed on the green course.

Even though it was dry, it was a watery exacta with Wave of Goodness outfinishing Lake Lucerne to win by 1/2 length and early pacesetter My Philly Twirl fading to finish third. The favorite, Charlie’s Penny, was fourth.

Wave of Goodness, a 5-year-old Cairo Prince mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:49.17 with Mitchell Murrill in the irons. She was last seen finishing second in the Blushing K.D. Stakes at the same trip.

Turf

Saturday’s $100,000 Col. E.R. Bradley Stakes also stayed on the grass at Fair Grounds, providing an opportunity for Gentle Soul to rally to an upset win.

The 6-year-old Tapizar gelding, who drew in from the also-eligible list, fanned out way into the middle of the course turning for home, got the lead late and was home first, 1/2 length in front of Two Emmys. The favorite, Price Talk, was third.

Gentle Soul, with Reylu Gutierrez up, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:48.82.

Turf Sprint

Saturday’s $100,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes did come off the Fair Grounds turf and the three resulting scratches allowed Surveillance to take his place in the starting gate.

The 6-year-old Constitution gelding has spent most of his career on the dirt and had no trouble with the surface switch, rallying late to win by 1 length.

The favorite, Bango, also getting in from the also-eligible list, finished second with Manny Wah closing late to take third.

Surveillance finished 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.05 under James Graham.

Sprint

Factor It In came five-wide to get the lead in Saturday’s $100,000 Fire Plug Stakes at Laurel Park and eased away to a 2-lengths victory as the odds-on favorite. Yodel E.A. Who was second, 1 length in front of Five Dreams.

Factor It In, a 7-year-old entire son of The Factor, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:18.01 with Angel Cruz up.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Hot and Sultry, the heavy favorite, was along just in time to win Saturday’s $150,000 American Beauty Stakes at Oaklawn Park by 1/2 length over I’m the Boss of Me. Sarah Harper was another 3 lengths back in third.

A 4-year-old Speightster filly, Hot and Sultry covered 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.10 with David Cabrera up for trainer Norm Casse.

It was Hot and Sultry’s third win to go with two seconds from just five career starts. “I really do think the sky’s the limit with this filly,” Casse said. “I’m happy.”

Betsy Blue, the odds-on favorite, came from last of five to capture Saturday’s $100,000 Interborough Stakes at Aqueduct by 1 length over stablemate Piece of My Heart. Both are trained by Linda Rice.

Betsy Blue, a 5-year-old Tonalist mare, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.94 with Jose Lezcano in the irons.

After racing in the allowance ranks for most of her career, Betsy Blue hit the stakes trail last October and has won two of four such starts. She also reported third in the Grade III Go For Wand at Aqueduct in September.

Now, Rice said, she could target the Grade 3, $250,000 Grade III Barbara Fritchie at 7 furlongs Feb. 18 at Laurel Park with an eye toward the $150,000 Grade III Distaff Handicap April 7 at Aqueduct.

At Laurel Park, Fille d’Espirit took charge in the stretch run of Saturday’s $100,000 What a Summer Stakes, drawing clear of the odds-on favorite, Swayin to and Fro, for a 5 1/4-length victory. Snicket was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third.

Fille d’Espirit, a 7-year-old Great Notion mare, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.70 for jockey Xavier Perez.

Around the world, around the clock

Dubai

Master of the Seas stalked the pace in Friday’s Group 2 Zabeel Mile, got through a gap early in the stretch run and went on to win by 1/2 length in course-record time.

Showing no ill effects from a nine-months layoff, the Godolphin homebred Dubawi gelding set himself on course for a shot at the Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night. William Buick was aboard for the record-setting 1:34.28 ride.

“The race couldn’t have gone any better,” trainer Charlie Appleby said. “Now he’s entitled to come on from that run.”

In the secondary feature, the UAE 1000 Guineas, Mimi Kakushi had to battle for the lead but, once in front, shot away to win by 4 1/2 lengths. The early challenger, Awasef, held on for third and Unjokable was third.

Mimi Kakushi, a Kentucky-bred filly by City of Light, backed up her first career win in the Dec. 23 UAE 1000 Guineas Trial.

“Our first aim is the Oaks,” said winning trainer Salem bin Ghadayer, referring to the UAE Oaks (G3) on Feb. 17. “I think four weeks’ time will be more than enough for her to be ready. She’s the best filly I’ve trained.”

The UAE Oaks is part of the Churchill Downs “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” series.

England

Al Agaila survived a dramatic, three-way lunge to the wire to win Saturday’s Group 3 Winter Oaks at Lingfield Park, potentially setting herself up to become the first filly winner of the Group 3 Winter Derby on Feb. 25 over the same all-weather course.

With James Doyle up, Al Agaila raced just behind the pace into the final turn in the 1 1/4-miles handicap and challenged for the lead on the outside. Makinmedoit was making a run along the rail at the same time and Morgan Fairy was between that pair.

At the line, Al Agaila was a head in front of Morgan Fairy and another head from Makinmedoit. The winner is by Lope de Vega out of the Dansili mare L’Amour De Ma Vie.

“She is supremely well-bred, and genetically, she deserves her place in a good stakes race,” co-trainer Simon Crisford said. “That is definitely what we should try to do as her future will be as a broodmare.

“We will speak to her owner Sheikh Khalid [bin Hamad Al Khalifa] and see if he is interested in coming back here for the Winter Derby … Entries for Dubai World Cup Night close on Monday, and she will certainly get an entry for the Dubai Turf.”

Meanwhile, the All-Weather Championships continue Monday at Kempton Park with a 6-furlong conditions stakes that’s a Fast-Track Qualifier for the £150,000 All-Weather Three-Year-Old Championships at Newcastle on Good Friday.

The four-horse field includes listed race winners Shouldvebeenaring and Alpha Capture.

Meanwhile, back in the States:

Aqueduct

Stonewall Star was the runaway star of Sunday’s $100,000 Franklin Square Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct. After working quickly to the front, the Flatter filly increased her lead throughout the 6 1/2 furlongs to win by 6 1/4 lengths in 1:19.20.

Kendrick Carmouche rode for trainer Horacio De Paz. She has three wins, a second and two third from six starts. De Paz said Stonewall Star is “worthy of” a chance against open company soon.

Laurel Park

Plot the Dots waited behind most of the field in Saturday’s $75,000 Jennings Stakes for Maryland-breds, dueled to the lead outside rivals and got away in the stretch to win by 5 lengths.

Galerio was best of the rest as Plot the Dots, a 6-year-old Uncle Mo gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.27 with Jevian Toledo in the irons.

Award Wanted stalked the pace in Saturday’s $75,000 Geisha Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, found the front in the lane and drew off to score by 5 3/4 lengths over Bourbon Wildcat.

The odds-on favorite, Malibu Beauty, finished third. Award Wanted, a 6-year-old mare by Macho Uno, ran 1 mile in 1:40.76 with Angel Cruz riding.

Gulfstream Park

Roaring Forties showed the way in Saturday’s $75,000 Sunshine Turf Stakes for Florida-breds and held on through the final strides to win by 1/2 length over Hot Blooded. Me and Mr. C was along late to get show money.

Roaring Forties, a 7-year-old Stormy Atlantic gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.57 under Shaun Bridgmohan.

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