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Triple crown contenders head for a showdown

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Nov. 20 (UPI) — A blizzard of graded stakes at Woodbine, featuring a showdown among this year’s Triple Crown contenders, and more late-season action at Del Mar, Churchill Downs and Aqueduct punctuate weekend horse racing action.

The weekend program at Gulfstream Park West features are four turf races rescheduled from last weekend.

It’s a busy several days on the international front, too, with the Grade 1 Mile Championship in Japan, a trio of races in Hong Kong that will help shape next month’s Longines International Races, and the second running of the Bahrain International.

As a relief to the regular drumbeat of depressing news about the COVID-19 pandemic, both Tampa Bay Downs and Delta Downs are looking forward to their season openers with at a limited number of fans in attendance.

Kudos especially to Delta, which survived two hurricanes barely more than a month apart during the off-season.

And in England, the government Thursday announced a support package of low-interest loans worth 300 million pounds sterling for sports organizations, of which 40 million is earmarked for horse racing.

That’s second only to the 135 million for Rugby Union and superior to the 28 million on offer for football (soccer). Badminton is allocated 2 million, twice what’s proposed for greyhound racing.

While we eagerly await the somewhat longer-term future when COVID-19 is but a bitter memory, here’s a look over the more immediate horizon:

Woodbine

Thanks in part to last week’s cancellations, this weekend’s calendar at the suburban Toronto track includes five graded stakes plus the rescheduled Ontario Damsel. (All dollar amounts are Canadian.)

Seven speedy types are in attendance for Saturday’s $175,000 Grade II Kennedy Road at 6 furlongs on the all-weather course.

Bunched at the top of the morning line are perennial favorite Pink Lloyd, who has won 10 of his last 11 starts and rides a five-race winning streak; Silent Poet, winner of the Grade II Nearctic Stakes last month; and Ride a Comet, winner of the Grade II Del Mar Derby on the turf two starts back who prepped for this with a come-from-the-clouds, 7-furlongs allowance win over the all-weather Oct. 16.

Ride a Comet, a Mark Casse charge, also won on the dirt last December at Fair Grounds.

Saturday’s $175,000 Grade II Bessarabian Stakes for fillies and mares at 7 furlongs on the all-weather course is another contentious event.

Painting, a 4-year-old Distorted Humor filly who captured the Grade II Ontario Fashion Stakes two starts back, is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line, but Souper Escape and Amalfi Coast also get some oddsmaker love.

Eight signed on for Saturday’s $125,000 Grade III Ontario Derby at 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather course — effectively a fourth leg in the Triple Crown.

It’s a rematch between Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes winner Mighty Heart and Queen’s Plate runner-up and Breeders’ Stakes winner Belichik with imposing Kentucky-based Field Pass ready to upset the apple cart. Obviously, year-end honors could be determined here.

Saturday’s $150,000 Ontario Damsel has six Ontario-bred 3-year-old fillies set to travel 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather. Look no farther than the inside gates for the favorites, Curlin’s Voyage and Marveilleux.

Curlin’s Voyage, a Curlin filly, won the Woodbine Oaks in August but then was fifth in the Queen’s Plate and third with a tough trip in the Wonder Where Stakes on the turf. Marveilleux, by Paynter, was third in the Oaks, sixth in the Queen’s Plate and won the Wonder Where. In the No. 3 gate is Afleet Katherine, the Oaks runner-up.

Sunday’s $125,000 Grade III Grey Stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track has a field of nine. Stephen, a Constitution colt, won the Coronation Futurity at Woodbine in his last start.

Barrister Tom won the More Than Ready Juvenile at Kentucky Downs in September but then was eighth in the Grade II Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland. Helium, an Ironicus colt, is 2-for-2 with a win in the Display Stakes last time out. Gospel Way was second in the Display. The others are longer on promise than experience.

Seven 2-year-old fillies turned out to try 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in Sunday’s $125,000 Grade III Mazarine Stakes. Il Malocchio won the Victorian Queen Stakes and finished second in the Princess Elizabeth in her last two starts.

Trainer Graham Motion ships in Batyah, a Pioneerof the Nile filly last seen reporting fifth in the Grade II JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland. Souper Sensational is 2-for-2 for trainer Mark Casse with a win in the Glorious Song Stakes in her second career outing.

Aqueduct

Sadler’s Joy and Red Knight top a field of 11 assembled for Saturday’s $100,000 Grade III Red Smith, 11 furlongs on the turf.

Sadler’s Joy, a 7-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy, won last year’s Red Smith and has performed consistently without winning in seven subsequent starts. Red Knight was second in the 2019 Red Smith and comes to this year’s running on the back of a win in the Grade III Sycamore at Keeneland.

Sunday’s two $100,000 divisions of the New York Stallion Stakes — the Thunder Rumble Division for 2-year-olds and the Staten Island Division for juvenile fillies — are run at 7 furlongs on the dirt.

Churchill Downs

Finite is the 8-5, morning line favorite among nine fillies and mares in Saturday’s $100,000 Grade III Chilukki Stakes at 1 mile on the dirt.

The 3-year-old Munnings filly, trained by Steve Asmussen, won the Grade II Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds last winter, reported fourth in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks and then was off for most of the summer.

She was second in the Grade II Lexus Raven Run at Keeneland a month ago. Grand Cru Classe, the other 3-year-old in the field (the others are all 4), was third in the Raven Run after winning the first three races of her career.

Del Mar

Midcourt is the 4-5 morning-line favorite among five entered for Saturday’s $100,000 Grade III Native Diver Stakes at 1 1/8 miles.

The 5-year-old Midnight Lute gelding won this race last year and since then has been in the money in six of seven starts while winning just once. In his last two starts he finished third in both the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar and the Grade I Awesome Again at Santa Anita.

Extra Hope was second in the 2019 Native Diver and comes off an allowance win at Santa Anita.

Gulfstream Park West

The persistent tropical storms besetting the Gulf Coast forced postponement of last weekend’s turf races at the old Calder Park. So, this Saturday has the Juvenile Fillies Turf and the Millions Turf Preview, both for state-breds. Sunday, it’s the reverse — the Juvenile Turf and Millions Filly & Mare Turf Preview.

Indiana Grand

Piedi Bianchi, the odds-on favorite, surged to the front in the stretch in Wednesday’s $100,000 Frances Slocum Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares and quickly scooted away to a 7 1/2-lengths victory.

Fireball Baby was second as Piedi Bianchi, a 5-year-old Overanalyze mare, finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.25.

Strong Tide tracked the early pace in Wednesday’s $100,000 Too Much Coffee Stakes for state-breds, came three-wide between rivals to challenge for the lead and went on to win by 2 lengths.

Uphold was second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Max Express. Strong Tide, a 3-year-old English Channel colt, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.59.

Lookin At Justice drew off in the stretch run to win Tuesday’s $75,000 Indiana Futurity for state-bred 2-year-olds by 6 1/4 lengths.

Sudden Shift was second with Rockin All Night 2 1/2 lengths farther back in third. Lookin at Justice, an Atreides colt, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:44.19 with Jesus Castanon up.

Russian Influence rallied from next-last of a dozen to upset the odds-on favorite, Hungarian Princess, by 2 3/4 lengths in Tuesday’s $75,000 Miss Indiana Stakes for juvenile Hoosier fillies.

Russian Influence, a daughter of Into Mischief, negotiated 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:45.88 for jockey Marcelino Pedroza

Around the world, around the clock:

Japan

Sunday’s Grade 1 Mile Championship at Hanshin Racecourse has a talented and diverse cast, ranging from last year’s winner, Indy Champ, to 4-year-old filly Gran Alegria.

In her last two starts, Gran Alegria, a 4-year-old daughter of Deep Impact, won the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen at 1 mile at Tokyo Racecourse in June and the 1,200-meters Grade I Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama Oct. 4. She has won six of nine races and missed a top-three finish only once.

Indy Champ, a 5-year-old by Stay Gold, missed the Sprinters Stakes with a minor injury and makes a comeback from a long absence. Nonetheless, assistant trainer Kenichi Shono said he has been working well.

Among the others, Admire Mars won the 2019 Longines Hong Kong Mile and warmed up for this with a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Mainichi Broadcast Swan Stakes at Kyoto.

Three-year-olds worth noting include Salios, second in the Yushun Himba or Japanese Derby, and Resistencia, a filly returning from an injury after finishing second in the Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup in May.

Hong Kong

Three races on Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse will firm up the top tier of local contenders for next month’s Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Races. And, with question marks about foreign participation still in play thanks to the pandemic, the locals might have an easier time of things than usual.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club has won approval from the government for international connections, including trainers, grooms and jockeys, to travel in a kind of “bubble” that will keep them from contact with locals during the December races. And the announced field for the Longines Hong Kong International Jockey Challenge includes a quartet of foreigners.

“Experience tells us,” Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said in early November, “that Longines HKIR plans only really come together in the last few weeks before the big event and, with the world still trying to combat the pandemic, this year presents a series of unique challenges.”

Still, some of the hoped-for out-of-town equine stars already have declined. Glory Vase, winner of the 2019 Longines Hong Kong Vase, is pointed toward the Japan Cup rather than traveling. The same is true for Japan’s star mare, Almond Eye.

With the unknown still unknown, here’s what we can hope to know after Sunday’s races:

Jockey Club Cup

Three tough and experienced horses top this field, all with serious question marks alongside their many achievements.

Time Warp won the Longines Hong Kong Cup in 2017, but finished last in 2019 and now is 7. Furore won the 2019 BMW Hong Kong Derby but then lost 12 straight starts. Exultant is using this 2,000 meters as a prep for the 2,400-meters Vase in December, a race he won two years ago.

Jockey Club Sprint

The horse everyone is talking about for December, Classique Legend, won’t be in Sunday’s race because he’s still under quarantine restrictions after arriving from Australia where he won the rich The Everest in his last start for his old connections.

He now is under the care of Caspar Fownes, who said he is playing a bit of catch-up to get highly ranked horse ready for the big race.

The Longines Hong Kong Sprint could be ripe for the plucking by the newcomer, at least based on the field for Sunday’s race. There are 10 contenders, with Hot King Prawn, the 2018 winner, the highest rated. Hong Kong usually has a much stronger hand for the international sprint.

Jockey Club Mile

This seven-horse field features Hong Kong’s shooting star, Golden Sixty. The 2020 BMW Hong Kong Derby winner has won nine straight races and was last seen winning the Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy over the course.

The next three finishers in that race, Ka Ying Star, Southern Legend and Champions Way, all return.

Bahrain

Saturday’s second running of the Bahrain International Trophy drew both a highly credible field from around Europe and the Middle East but also a stellar cast of jockeys.

The favorite, Sovereign, won the 2019 Irish Derby for Coolmore. Ryan Moore will be in town to ride for trainer Aidan O’Brien.

Japan’s hope, Deirdre, a Group 1 winner in England last year, was second in an undercard race on Saudi Cup night in Riyadh Feb. 29. Godolphin is represented by the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Dream Castle and Charlie Appleby charge Loxley.

Others around the globe are Bangkok, a 4-year-old colt trained by Andrew Balding who finished second in the Qatar Derby in Doha in December 2019, and Global Giant, trained by John Gosden with Frankie Dettori booked to ride.

England

Kinross earned a guaranteed start in the Bombardier All-Weather Mile Championship at Lingfield Park on All-Weather Championships Finals Day with a victory Wednesday evening in the Listed British Stallion Studs EBF Hyde Stakes at Kempton Park.

After being held up at the back of the 10-horse field by jockey Richard Kingscote, the Ralph Beckett trainee was all out along the rail to prevail by 3/4 length over the favorite, Khuzaam.

The Kingman colt had been keeping good company all season, contesting the Group 1 QIPCO 2000 Guineas and the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat, albeit without threatening the winner in either event.

“This should pick his confidence up because he has been running in top races and it is not easy for them to have a year like that,” Kingscote said. “I think tonight will do him the world of good.”



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Woodbine horse racing season cut short

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Nov. 23 (UPI) — Woodbine’s horse racing season ended abruptly Sunday, a victim first of the pandemic and then some nasty weather — a terrible one-two punch only partly balanced out by promising performances in Kentucky, California and New York.

On the international scene, Gran Alegria won her third straight Grade 1 race in Japan, Hong Kong’s finest tuned up for next month’s big international races and Bahrain staged a satisfying second edition of its International Trophy.

Let’s start with our friends north of the border, who did squeeze in some exciting racing Saturday before the government and Mother Nature lowered the boom.

Woodbine

(All figures in Canadian dollars)

The suburban Toronto track was hit with a double whammy during the weekend — a government shutdown order because of the pandemic that forced cancellation of the final three weeks of the meeting, and then a winter storm that eliminated half of Sunday’s unexpected “closing day” program.

The lost races included the Grade III Grey Stakes for 2-year-olds and the Grade III Mazarine Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, both with some very promising youngsters.

Canada’s premier track did manage to provide a pretty spectacular sendoff, though, with a flurry of graded stakes Saturday.

Saturday’s $150,000 Grade III Ontario Derby had the winners of all three Triple Crown races in the field of eight but it was Kentucky invader Field Pass who got the spoils.

The Lemon Drop Kid colt stalked the pace made by Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes winner Mighty Heart, then outfinished Breeders’ Stakes winner Belichick, winning by 1 length over that one. Malibu Mambo finished third as Might Heart faded to get home fourth.

Field Pass, with Kazushi Kimura up for trainer Mike Maker, ran 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:48.24, just 0.15 second off the track record. Trained in Kentucky, he was third in the Grade II Twilight Derby at Santa Anita in his previous start.

“My planning was that I didn’t want to get too forward, but I didn’t want to send him to the front,” said Kimura. “That was the perfect position, just waiting for room.”

Ride a Comet rallied from last of seven to win Saturday’s $210,000 Grade II Kennedy Road Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths as popular favorite Pink Lloyd saw his five-race win streak come to an end, finishing third, 2 lengths behind runner-up Souper Stonehenge.

Ride a Comet, a 5-year-old Candy Ride horse, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:08.25 under Patrick Husbands, who tipped his hat to the three-time local champion sprinter he defeated.

“Pink Lloyd, you have to respect him,” Husbands said. “He’s a legend at Woodbine, and it’s a great honor to run against him and try to beat him. When you beat him, you’ve got to be really happy, but you have to respect him.”

Merveilleux raced patiently right back of the early speed in Saturday’s $150,000 Ontario Damsel for province-bred 3-year-old fillies, surged to the lead a furlong out and drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths.

Avi’s Samurai led briefly and held second, a neck in front of Afleet Katherine. Merveilleux, a Paynter filly from the Holy Bull mare Breech Inlet, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.37 with Rafael Hernandez in the irons.

“The championship is not based on one or two months of the year, it’s over the season, and she’s obviously gotten better as the season’s gone on and she’s at the top of the division right now,” trainer Kevin Attard said.

“We’re just happy that she’s progressed like we wanted her to and hopefully she turns out to be a nice 4-year-old.”

Artie’s Princess opened a daylight lead in the stretch run of Saturday’s $175,000 Grade II Bessarabian Stakes for fillies and mares and held on to win by a head over Boardroom.

It was another 3 1/2 lengths back to Our Secret Agent in third. Artie’s Princess, a 3-year-old filly by We Miss Artie, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:20.90 with Kimura riding.

Churchill Downs

Finite came running down the stretch to overcome the early speed and win Saturday’s $100,000 Chilukki Stakes for fillies and mares by 2 1/2 lengths.

Sanerus was second, another 1 1/4 lengths in front of Whoa Nelly. Finite, a 3-year-old Munnings filly, finished the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.53 with Ricardo Santana Jr. up.

Finite was on the Oaks trail after a win in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds in February. She then finished fourth in the Fair Gounds Oaks, was given time off and was second in the Grade II Raven Run at Keeneland in her second start back.

Asmussen said Finite will head west to tackle the $300,000 Grade I La Brea for 3-year-old fillies on Boxing Day at Santa Anita.

Del Mar

Extra Hope led all the way in Saturday’s $100,000 Grade II Native Diver Stakes, then found enough extra in the tank to survive the late onslaught of the odds-on favorite, Midcourt, and win by 1 length. Combatant and Royal Ship completed the order of finish.

Extra Hope, a 4-year-old colt by Shanghai Bobby, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.11 with Juan Hernandez up for trainer Richard Mandella. He was second in this race last year and returned from a long break to finish fifth, then first, in a pair of allowance races.

Loud Mouth made some noise in Sunday’s $100,000 Cary Grant Stakes for California-breds, outfinishing Take the One O One in the final sixteenth to win by 3/4 length at odds of 13-1.

Rookie Mistake was third and the favorite, Galilean, settled for fourth. Loud Mouth, a 4-year-old Boisterous colt, was close to the lead all the way under Abel Cedillo. Moving up outside the leaders through the stretch run, he hit the front inside the sixteenth pole and inched clear, finishing 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.34.

Aqueduct

North Dakota got the best of an eight-horse charge to the wire in Saturday’s $100,000 Grade III Red Smith on the Big A turf, winning by 1/2 length from Red Knight. Ziyad was third, and the favorite, Sadler’s Joy, finished fourth as the first eight were separated by less than 3 lengths.

North Dakota, a 4-year-old Medaglia d’Oro colt, raced in mid-pack under Jose Lezcano, put away early challengers Red Knight and Ziyad and held off the late bids of the remainder. He finished 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:16.47.

The colt has been a late bloomer. After taking seven tries to find the winner’s circle, he scored in two of three allowance races, then was fourth in the Grade III Sycamore at Keeneland on Oct. 15.

“With his pedigree, being a half-brother to War Front, this means a lot in that respect,” said North Dakota’s trainer, Shug McGaughey. “He’s comes a long way. I wouldn’t have thought he would be running in the Red Smith back when he broke his maiden at Tampa on March 25.

Sunday brought two $100,000 divisions of the New York Stallion Stakes for state-bred steeds.

Espresso Shot shadowed the early leader in the Staten Island Division for fillies and mares, got the lead early in the stretch run and dug in to win by 2 lengths.

Prairie Fire and Officer Hutchy filled out the trifecta. Espresso Shot, a 4-year-old Mission Impazible filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.64 with John Velazquez riding.

In the Thunder Rumble Division, Funny Guy came running late to win by a neck over My Boy Tate, who appeared to have things under control at the sixteenth pole.

Bankit tired to finish third, another 2 lengths in arrears. Funny Guy, a 4-year-old Big Brown colt, got 7 furlongs in 1:23.57 with Joel Rosario riding.

Gulfstream Park

Venezuelan Hug came from the clouds to win Saturday’s $60,000 Millions Turf Preview, outfinishing Second Mate by a head. Scraps finished third and the favorite, Monforte, was a fading seventh.

Venezuelan Hug, a 3-year-old Constitution colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.34 for jockey Joe Bravo.

Inthewinnerscircle lived up to her name in Saturday’s $60,000 Juvenile Fillies Turf for state-breds, rallying from next-last of 10 to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Yafa. Double

Blessed was another 1/2 length back in third. Inthewinnerscircle, a Medaglia d’Oro filly, got 1 mile on firm going in 1:38.70 with Edgard Zayas up.

Saturday’s and Sunday’s turf races were rescheduled from the previous weekend to avoid the impact of the tropical storms that have soaked Florida. That worked out fine Saturday, but Sunday’s races fell victim, anyway, to a move from the turf to the sloppy main track.

Big Thorn, the favorite, splashed to victory in the $60,000 Juvenile Turf Stakes for Florida-breds. A colt by The Big Beast, Big Thorn stalked the pace, advanced to the lead in the lane and got away to win by 4 1/2 lengths.

Fulmini and Castle King were second and third, respectively. Big Thorn, with Paco Lopez up, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.23.

Thismytime apparently found the sloppy conditions of the $60 million Millions Filly & Mare Turf Preview added up to just her time as the 3-year-old Carpe Diem filly quickly shook loose from eight rivals and won off by 11 3/4 lengths.

Starship Nala was best of the rest with the favorite, R Prerogative, third. Thismytime ran 7 furlongs in 1:21.40 for Bravo. The race was for state-bred distaffers.

Golden Gate Fields

The ongoing pandemic restrictions kept the Bay Area track offline for another weekend. The casualties included Saturday’s Oakland Stakes for sprinters on the all-weather course.

Around the world, around the clock:

Japan

With some 300 meters to run in Sunday’s Grade 1 Mile Championship, favorite Gran Alegria appeared to be in trouble. The 4-year-old filly, seeking her third straight Grade 1 score, was well positioned right behind the leading pack and full of run.

But that pack was spread out across the track in front of her and she had other traffic on the outside.

Jockey Christophe Lemaire, Japan’s leading rider, found the answer. Edging outside the front quartet, he got through, showed his filly daylight and she did the rest, rolling home first by a convincing 3/4 length.

Last year’s winner, Indy Champ, was second, with Admire Mars third.

Lemarie said Gran Alegria, a daughter of Deep Impact, “was relaxed and we had a good trip until the last turn where, as a favorite, you’re marked. And it so happens, but we weren’t able to make our move to the outside smoothly for the stretch run.”

He added: “I was a little worried. But the way she exploded into gear in the last 150 meters, it just shows how powerful she is and I’m looking forward to a great season from her as a 5-year-old.”

Gran Alegria won the Grade 1 Oka Sho or Japanese 1,000 Guineas in April of 2019 for her first top-level win.

She opened this season with a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Takamatsunomia Kinen at Chukyo Racecourse, and then reeled off back-to-back wins in the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo Racecourse June 7 and the Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse on Oct. 4.

Hong Kong

Sunday’s Group 2 Jockey Club races at Sha Tin Racecourse are designed as a final shakedown cruise for the local horses bound for the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong International Races three weeks down the road. This year’s edition left the locals feeling pretty good about things.

Hong Kong’s promising star of the future, Golden Sixty, powered to an impressive win in the Jockey Club Mile and will head to the Longines Mile on Dec. 13.

Trainer Tony Cruz had the 1-2 finishers in the Jockey Club Cup at 2,000 meters and both will go on to Longines-sponsored races — Exultant to the 2,400-meters Vase and Furore to the 2,000-meters Cup. And Hot King Prawn showed renewed prowess in winning the Jockey Club Sprint.

In the Jockey Club Mile, Vincent Ho, aboard Golden Sixty, let familiar rival Ka Ying Star set a soft pace down the riverside backstretch and around the turn.

But when Ho unleashed him, Golden Sixty was more than up to the challenge, blowing by Ka Ying Star to win by 1 1/2 lengths over that rival for his 10th straight victory. He will face Group 1 company for the first time in December.

“I think at the moment he’s one of the best horses in Hong Kong,” Ho said of Golden Sixty. “That’s for sure. He’ll be competing at Group 1 [level] now, and hopefully we will be winning next month.

“That was our main goal and main target from last season and these three races have been really good prep for him. He’s got stronger each race and I’m really happy with how those races panned out for him.”

Furore’s victory in the Jockey Club Cup was his second straight win, both of them over stablemate Exultant. Those two races came after a 19-month win drought for the 2019 BMW Hong Kong Derby winner but, together, the successes were impressive enough to make him a likely candidate for the Longines Cup.

“I’ve been asked what the key about this horse is,” said winning jockey Joao Moreira, Hong Kong’s current leading rider.

“But there is no key. I just got on him at the right time. He’s flying and he’s shown how much class he has got and how well Tony Cruz has got him going at the moment,” he said.

“I’m glad they’re not in the same race,” Cruz said of Furore and Exultant, looking forward to December. “We’ll go straight into the International Races with them. We are ready.”

In the Jockey Club Sprint, Hot King Prawn, second in the Longines Sprint last December, “won with authority,” Moreira said. “I just couldn’t be any happier with him. He’s going to December as an improving horse.”

Hot King Prawn benefited in Sunday’s race from some bad luck suffered by rivals. A few were badly blocked in the stretch run and Rattan, who missed the break badly, was flying on the outside to finish third behind runner-up Computer Patch.

The field for the Longines Hong Kong Sprint also is expected to include recent Australian import Classique Legend, who was imported after a win in The Everest back home.

Bahrain

Friday’s second running of the Bahrain International Trophy provided plenty of smiles for the local owners and establishment as locally trained Simsir celebrated a dramatic victory. Locally owned Global Giant was a just-missed second and another local trainee, Port Lions, finished fourth.

The victory was doubly sweet as the race drew an impressive international lineup and Sovereign, the 2019 Irish Derby winner, was third with a late run.

Simsir, a 4-year-old Zoffany gelding purchased from his breeder, the Aga Khan, took the lead early in the stretch run and opened up a huge advantage.

As he began to shorten stride, Frankie Dettori had Global Giant flying on the outside and Ryan Moore was gaining aboard Sovereign. Simsir prevailed by a neck with Global Giant a nose to the good of Sovereign.

“I took the bull by the horns at the five-furlong pole and kicked on from there,” said winning rider Lee Newman, a Scotsman who rode Simsir for the first time.

“It’s a track that you can do that if your horse is a galloper and he is that. It is down to [winner trainer Fawzi Abdulla Nass] for putting his trust in me as he could have asked any jockey from anywhere in the world, but he asked me. I am delighted.”

“To win such an amazing race is an absolute thrill,” Nass added. “He has done it so bravely. [Former trainer] Mick Halford always assured me that he likes it firm and he was right. For me, it was the jockey’s race. I thought he committed early in the straight, but he proved me wrong.”

Simsir scored his fourth win from 10 career starts but first since Feb. 27, when he led home a quartet of Godolphin rivals in a handicap at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. He had never faced rivals of the caliber of Global Giant or Sovereign.

Sovereign, a Galileo colt racing for the Coolmore connections, was supplemented to the Bahrain showpiece race. He was out of action for nearly a year after his Irish Derby win and Friday’s showing was his best effort to date after that break.

Global Giant, a 5-year-old son of Shamardal, campaigned in England during the 2020 season under the care of John Gosden, winning a listed race at Newbury in July. Global Giant is owned by Sheik Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, a key figure in the creation of the race and a promoter of its future.

“The right horses were by the front so we hope the race will achieve pattern status next year,” Sheik Isa said. “We’ll be back next season, absolutely.”

Organizers told Dubai Racing Channel’s Laura King they hope to add an international sprint to the program for 2021.

Australia

Inspirational Girl, the favorite, won Saturday’s Group 1 Kirin Railway Stakes at Ascot in Western Australia by 1 3/4 lengths over Too Close the Sun.

With Willie Pike riding, Inspirational Girl was back in mid-pack, among rivals, with 200 meters to run, challenging for the lead at the 100-meters mark and going away at the wire.

Uni Time was a close-up third. Inspirational Girl, a 5-year-old, New Zealand-bred mare by Reliable Man, ran 1,600 meters in 1:33.79, winning her third straight race.



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Pope Francis meets with NBA players to talk inequality, injustice

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Nov. 23 (UPI) — Players in National Basketball Association met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday to discuss social and economic injustices and inequalities, the players union said.

The National Basketball Players Association said a delegation of five players and three union officials met with the pontiff in the papal library of the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. The meeting was noted on pope’s list of audiences Monday.

Those who met with Pope Francis were Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio Spurs, Sterling Brown and Kyle Korver of the Milwaukee Bucks, Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic and Anthony Tolliver of the Memphis Grizzlies, the union said.

NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts, Foundation Executive Director Sherrie Deans and Chief of International Relations Matteo Zuretti also attended.

Roberts said the pope sought the meeting and said it “demonstrates the influence of their platforms.”

“We are extremely honored to have had this opportunity to come to the Vatican and share our experiences with Pope Francis,” Korver said in a statement.

“Today’s meeting was an incredible experience,” added Anthony Tolliver. “With the Pope’s support and blessing, we are excited to head into this next season reinvigorated to keep pushing for change and bringing our communities together.”

After the NBA resumed its season in July after a COVID-19 hiatus, numerous players voiced and showed support for racial equality and protested the police shootings that killed George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

The league even allowed players to put activist messages on the back of their jerseys, in place of their surnames. Many players did so.

In August, Bucks players even voted not to play a playoff game against the Magic as a show of protest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.

Earlier this month, Brown received a $750,000 civil settlement from the city of Milwaukee after saying several police officers forced him to the ground and used a stun gun on him two years ago during a parking dispute.



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Ole Miss cancels 4 basketball games, Duke delays opener due to COVID-19

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Nov. 23 (UPI) — The University of Mississippi on Monday canceled its first four men’s college basketball games and paused team activities until Dec. 7 after positive COVID-19 tests emerged in the program, the school said.

Duke also postponed its men’s basketball season-opener due to a positive COVID-19 tests in the Gardner-Webb program. The Blue Devils had been scheduled to play Gardner-Webb on Wednesday, but now its season will start against Coppin State at 2 p.m. EST on Saturday in Durham, N.C.

The Ole Miss athletic department said positive tests and contract tracing within the basketball program have led to the cancelation of the Justin Reed Ole Miss Classic, which had been planned for Wednesday through Friday, and the Rebels’ Dec. 5 game against Memphis.

Last week, Ole Miss men’s basketball coach Kermit Davis announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Affected student-athletes and staff are in self-quarantine.

Ole Miss now is scheduled to begin its college basketball campaign against the University of North Carolina Wilmington on Dec. 12 at the Pavilion at Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss.

The Rebels announced Nov. 12 that the Pavilion will be at 25% capacity this season for men’s and women’s basketball games.

Central Arkansas, Jackson State and Arkansas State also had been scheduled to compete in the Justin Reed Ole Miss Classic before it was canceled.

“This is obviously disappointing, but the safety of our student-athletes is paramount,” Arkansas State head coach Mike Balado said in a news release.

“We are hopeful we can get games rescheduled with Jackson State and Central Arkansas, but we will keep the safety of our student-athletes at the forefront of any decision.”

Virginia, Arizona State, Baylor, Florida and Miami previously canceled or postponed their men’s basketball season-openers due to COVID-19.

Louisville, Middle Tennessee State, Vanderbilt and Tennessee Tech are among the women’s basketball programs that have canceled or postponed their season openers.

Baylor men’s basketball coach Scott Drew also announced Sunday that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Longtime men’s basketball coaches Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and Tom Izzo at Michigan State announced earlier this month that they also had tested positive.

The 2020-2021 Division I men’s and women’s college basketball seasons start Wednesday.



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