Saturday, the Travers Stakes at Saratoga offers $1 million for 3-year-olds. Sunday, Del Mar's Pacific Classic carries a purse of $1 million for older horses.
That could add up to "real money" for trainer Bob Baffert, who has a viable candidate in each race.
The winners of the Jim Dandy, Haskell Invitational, Preakness and Belmont are set to square off in the Grade I Travers Stakes -- the "Midsummer Derby" -- at Saratoga.
Out west, Twirling Candy and Game On Dude headline the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar and either could rise to the top of the handicap division with an impressive showing.
The 5-2 morning-line favorite for the 1 1/4-mile Travers is Stay Thirsty, once the No. 2 horse in the string that includes last year's 2-year-old champ, Uncle Mo. Stay Thirsty comes into the race off a last-out win in the Grade II Jim Dandy over the Saratoga main track and, before that, was a close second to Ruler On Ice in the Belmont Stakes.
"He came up here a couple of weeks before the Jim Dandy and trained lights out," Stay Thirsty trainer Todd Pletcher said after Wednesday's post position draw. "He's gradually improved. He's a horse who's bred to get better as he gets older and he's a horse who's bred to get better as the distances stretch out."
Coil, trained by Baffert and fresh off his win in the Haskell at Monmouth Park, is the second pick at 3-1 after winning four of his last five starts and working up a storm at the Spa. Preakness winner Shackleford is pegged at 9-2. Ruler On Ice starts the wagering at 6-1 odds.
A field of 10 was drawn for the race, including several who could further "The Spa's" reputation as a graveyard of favorites.
"If any of them (top four) win this race, they become the leader of the 3-year-old division," said Mike Repole, who owns Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo. "So this is the race. But the way things have been going this year, don't be surprised if one of the other six horses win it."
Every horse in the race except Ruler On Ice finished first or second in his last outing. Ruler On Ice was third in the Haskell behind Coil and Shackleford.
At Del Mar, Twirling Candy was posted as the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the Pacific Classic, with the Baffert-trained Game On Dude the second pick at 3-1 in a field of 11. Twirling Candy won the Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park in June but then finished third in the Hollywood Gold Cup last month. Game On Dude captured the Santa Anita Handicap in March but has not won since, though he did finish second in the Gold Cup.
Notable by her absence is Blind Luck, the super distaffer who had been considered for the $1 million payday by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. He said he decided not to run because "the Pacific Classic is a tough race. I just didn't want to run her against the colts." The long-range goal, he said, is to get Blind Luck to the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic.
The Pacific Classic will be run at 1 1/4 miles on Del Mar's all-weather surface.
NYRA supports the Travers with four other graded stakes on Saturday. The $250,000, Grade I Ballerina finds fillies and mares going 7 furlongs for a guaranteed spot in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. The $250,000, Grade I Foxwoods King's Bishop, also at 7 furlongs, is a traditional stepping stone to the Breeders' Cup Sprint. The $200,000, Grade II Ballston Spa Handicap finds fillies and mares trying 1 1/16 miles on the grass. And the $100,000, Grade III Victory Ride Stakes is for 3-year-old fillies at 6 furlongs.
Sunday's undercard at Del Mar includes the $250,000, Grade I Pat O'Brien Stakes at 7 furlongs on the all-weather track and the $200,000, Grade II Del Mar Handicap at 11 furlongs on the turf, with a Breeders' Cup Turf spot guaranteed to the winner.
Other weekend highlights:
Calder Race Course moves to the second stage of the unique and popular Florida Stallion Stakes for state-sired juveniles. The $125,000 Affirmed Division is open while the $125,000 Susan's Girl Division is restricted to fillies. Four other juvenile races dot the Saturday card at the South Florida oval.
The Del Mar Mile, a $200,000, Grade II event Saturday, points to the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Saratoga's 9-furlong Bernard Baruch Handicap, a $200,000, Grade II turf affair Saturday, could be a prep for either the Mile or the Turf on the World Championship card.
The $300,000, Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes for fillies and mares at Saratoga Sunday is a natural lead-in to the Filly & Mare Turf on the Breeders' Cup card.
And Woodbine has a pair of turf tests -- the $150,000, Grade III Ontario Colleen Saturday for 3-year-old fillies going 1 mile and the $200,000, Grade II Play the King Stakes Sunday at 7 furlongs.
By the way, the Dirksen quote in the lead paragraph now is frequently stated, "A billion here, a billion there, ... ." The gravel-voiced Dirksen used the lesser figure, which was still meaningful in his day and, in any case, fits better in this context -- unless Sheik Mohammed wants to REALLY up the ante for the World Cup!
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