A pair of $1 million races and a key outing for reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra highlight the weekend Thoroughbred scene.
The most wide-open race of the three appears to be Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga. Eleven were entered for the 1 1/4-mile classic, known as the "Midsummer Derby," but trainer Nick Zito said he is still considering which of his trio of prospects actually will face the starter.
A Little Warm is the lukewarm, 7-2 morning-line favorite off his victory in the Jim Dandy last month at the Spa.
Miner's Reserve, who finished second in the Jim Dandy, drew post position No. 1 for the Travers, which did not thrill Zito. His Florida Derby winner, Ice Box, got post 6 and Dwyer winner Fly Down drew No. 8.
"People are saying it's a wide-open race," Zito commented Thursday. "Obviously, if it's a wide-open race, maybe "Miner's" has a shot, too. We'll figure it out."
Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver drew the outside post position and was posted at 6-1 on the Spa's morning line.
Across the continent at Del Mar, 10 were entered for Saturday's $1 million Pacific Classic for 3-year-olds and up.
The Usual Q.T. was posted as the 3-1 morning-line favorite off an impressive victory in the Eddie Read earlier in the meeting. That race, however, and all seven of his other wins, came on the grass while the Pacific Classic is 10 furlongs on the all-weather track.
Richard's Kid, who won the Pacific Classic last year at 24-1, would be no surprise if he repeats this year for trainer Bob Baffert, as he is posted at 7-2 on the morning line. Awesome Gem, will be trying for the fourth time to win the classic. And Battle of Hastings, usually close in the big races over the past two years, will be trying to find one more gear this time out.
The icing on the weekend cake is Sunday's $300,000 Personal Ensign at Saratoga where Rachel Alexandra will try to continue on her comeback path. She began the year with a pair of second-place finishes, then bounced back to win two. Sunday's outing will be a little tougher as she faces, among a quartet of rivals, Life At Ten, who is riding a six-race winning streak.
Last year at this time, trainer Steve Asmussen was preparing Rachel Alexandra for what turned out to be a victorious outing against males in the Haskell, a key component in her Horse of the Year campaign.
Now, he said, "We're trying to keep her in a rhythm and keep her happy. We feel that's where she's at."
Life At Ten is really in a rhythm. In addition to her six straight wins, she has a previous victory at the Personal Ensign distance of 1 1/4 miles -- a route at which Rachel Alexandra is unproven.
"The Personal Ensign is a natural progression," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "It made sense to keep her at a mile and a quarter. It just so happens that Rachel Alexandra is going to this race. But we are sticking with our plan."
The three other prospective starters also include Miss Singhsix, who could pick up the pieces late if the two favorites burn themselves out in a speed duel.
Both Saratoga and Del Mar have deep and impressive supporting cards on Saturday, with several races that will help shape the fields for the Breeders' Cup World Championships in November at Churchill Downs.
-- Calder Race Course on Saturday has carded five races for 2-year-olds, including the $100,000, second-round events of the Florida Stallion Series as the youngsters stretch out to 7 furlongs.
-- Del Mar's Sunday card features the $200,000 Del Mar Handicap at 11 furlongs on the grass, a key prep for the Breeders' Cup Turf.
-- Monmouth Park on Sunday offers the $300,000 Molly Pitcher Breeders' Cup for fillies and mares not willing to take on the dynamic duo on Saturday at Del Mar.