Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Weekend horse racing was a thing of dreams, as would-be candidates for the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and Dubai World Cup all kept the flame flickering with victories.
And, despite the first serious onslaught of winter across much of North America, warm-weather venues managed to get in some action on both turf and dirt.
Bundle up and let's get going.
The Road to the Roses
It might be a stretch to see the weekend's results actually impacting this year's Triple Crown races, but hopes and dreams are the stuff racing's made of, so let's look.
At Tampa Bay Downs, there was no mystery about New York import Book'em Danno in Saturday's $125,000 Pasco Stakes. The New Jersey-bred gelding went to the post at 1-10 odds and did not disappoint his backers, drawing clear in the stretch to win by 12 1/2 lengths. West Saratoga was second.
Book'em Danno ran the 7 furlongs in 1:23.26, with Samuel Marin riding for trainer Derek Ryan. He now is 4-for-5.
While the Pasco was only 7 furlongs, Ryan said he got what he wanted from Book'em Danno.
Saturday's $200,000 Cal Cup Derby at Santa Anita, restricted to state-bred 3-year-olds, went to Mici's Express, who rumbled from off the pace to win by 1 1/2 lengths from Stolen Treasure.
The even-money favorite, Last Call London, a last-out stakes winner at Los Alamitos, faded from the lead to report third.
Mici's Express, a Slew's Tiznow colt, got his second win from 11 starts.
The Path to the Oaks
If the "Road to the Roses" races were a little iffy in terms of distance or restrictions, there was little question Saturday's $100,000 Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct was a move forward toward the Kentucky Oaks.
Gin Gin, a Calumet Farm homebred filly by Hightail, got a perfect trip under Trevor McCarthy, drafting behind the leading duo, challenging for the lead a furlong and one-half out and prevailing by 1 length over Princess Mayfair.
The favorite, Shimmering Allure, finished third, a disappointing 9 lengths farther back.
Gin Gin finished second in the Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill Downs in October, then was fifth in the Grade II Golden Rod in November. Trainer Brad Cox said her next test likely will be the Grade III Gazelle in April at the same 9 furlongs, a race that offers 100 Kentucky Oaks points to the winner.
At Tampa Bay Downs, Mystic Lake was way too good for six rivals in Saturday's $125,000, 7-furlongs Gasparilla Stakes. The Mo Town filly went quickly to the lead, dictated terms and coasted home first a comfortable 3/4 length in front of late-running Gorgeous Girl.
Midshipman's Dance rallied to the lead in the lane in Saturday's $150,000 Mockingbird Stakes at Oaklawn Park and held off the late-running Tanya Showers for a 1/2-length victory -- her second in as many starts.
Sunday's $100,000 Franklin Square Stakes at Aqueduct was a sprint for New York-bred fillies but noteworthy as the winner, My Mane Squeeze, got her third victory to go with two thirds from five starts. Owner-breeder William Butler said he hopes she can persevere around two turns.
On the Santa Anita grass, Grand Slam Smile dueled to the lead in Saturday's $200,000 California Cup Oaks for state-breds, and then drew away to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Asada Fries in her first turf start.
Opus Forty Two saved ground behind the speed in Saturday's $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, launched a bid heading into the stretch and got by the favorite, Dream Concert, in the late going to win by 3/4 length. Magical Lute completed the musical trifecta.
It's hard to imagine a mare named Icicles could go off at odds of 15-1 on such a frigid weekend, but she did, and then warmed the hearts of her backers with a $32.58 win payout after winning Saturday's $125,000 Likely Exchange Stakes at Turfway Park.
Phil D'Amato saddled the exacta in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Las Cienegas Stakes for fillies and mares but it was his 19-1 long shot, Honey Pants, on the winning end rather than the even-money favorite, Elm Drive.
Both rallied from off the pace, but Honey Pants, a 6-year-old Cairo Prince mare, simply outfinished her stablemate, winning by a head under Frankie Dettori.
Saturday's $150,000 Don Valpredo California Cup Sprint was restricted to state-breds and it was no surprise that experienced graded stakes performer The Chosen Vron went to the post at virtually invisible odds.
It also was no surprise when the 6-year-old Vronsky gelding romped home first, 2 1/4 lengths in front of pacesetting Brickyard Ride, in what amounted to a well-paid workout.
Around the world, around the clock
Kabirkhan and Hero Mo, both Kentucky-breds previously raced in Russia, came home first and second, respectively, in Friday's Dubai Island Stakes at Meydan Racecourse, and their new trainer, Doug Watson, said the owners' ambitious goal is the Dubai World Cup.
It's a long way from Friday's well-described "modest handicap" to the big race, but Kabirkhan does have the edge that he was sired by California Chrome, winner of the 2016 World Cup.
"I'd love to see them run in it," Watson said of the World Cup. But let's see what happens in the next few weeks."
Also on Friday's card:
Star of Mystery, a Godolphin homebred daughter of Kodiac, got the job done in the 1,200-meter Wasl Stakes with a smooth, late run for jockey William Buick.
Star of Mystery was making her 3-year-old debut after closing out a promising juvenile season with a close sixth-place finish in the Group 2 Lowther Stakes at York on Aug. 24.
Ouzo, an 8-year-old gelding trained by Jamie Osborne, wove through the field in the stretch runt to land the Lord North Handicap at 1,800 meters on the turf.
Osborne noted the win will raise the veteran campaigner's rating to new levels, forcing him into ever-tougher competition if he moves forward.