Mott's World Cup dark horse Lea returns in style
Report: USA, Saturday
Gulfstream Park: Hal's Hope Stakes (Grade 3) 1m, dirt, 4yo+
POTENTIAL Dubai World Cup dark horse Lea (Bill Mott/Joel Rosario) defied an absence of nearly a year to make an impressive winning comeback at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.
The six-year-old also won the Hal's Hope last year and looked set for bigger and better things after following up in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap when he beat the top-class Will Take Charge a month later.
However, he contracted a virus following that success and Mott eventually decided to give him the rest of 2014 off.
That could prove an inspired decision after the son of First Samurai returned to action in some style.
Sent off the evens favourite in the five-runner Grade 3, which was worth $150,000, Lea was settled off the leaders by Rosario and looked to be short of room entering the home straight.
He was switched wide and picked up well to nail Confrontation late for an authoritative half-length victory.
A return to Gulfstream Park for a defence of his Donn crown on February 7 could be next for Lea, who is 16-1 with British bookmakers for the $10 million Dubai World Cup, although Coral are now 10-1.
Mott won the first ever World Cup in 1996 with the mighty Cigar, who - like Lea - blossomed when switched from turf to dirt, which the world's richest race is back on at Meydan after five runnings on the artificial Tapeta surface.
>>On the same card, Belmont Stakes runner-up Commissioner was narrowly beaten into third after a seven-month layoff in allowance company. A rough race was won by Ulanbator (Ian Wilkes/Julien Leparoux).
Also on Saturday
Gulfstream Park: Fort Lauderdale Stakes (Grade 2) 1m½f, turf, 4yo+
Al Shaqab Racing's classy turf performer Mshawish (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) overcame trouble in running to earn his first Graded win in the States.
Santa Anita: San Pasqual Stakes (Grade 2) 1m½f, dirt, 4yo+
One-time Kentucky Derby prospect Hoppertunity (Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia) could replace sidelined stablemate and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Bayern in next month's San Antonio Stakes after making his first start of 2015 a winning one.
Santa Anita: Sham Stakes (Grade 3) 1m, dirt, 3yo
The form of last year's leading juvenile American Pharoah was boosted when Calculator (Peter Miller/Elvis Trujillo) won the Sham Stakes, named after the horse who battled with the great Secretariat in his Triple Crown races in 1973.
Calculator had finished second to American Pharoah twice last season and ran out a smooth winner of the Grade 3.