They're not exactly "Win and You're In" races like in the Breeders' Cup program but four weekend events are almost sure tickets to bigger races down the road.
And, speaking of big races, the Mile Championship, a Group 1 event with a purse of nearly $2.7 million, runs Sunday at Kyoto in Japan.
But first, those "win and you're probably in" events -- Saturday's $1 million, Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot in Louisiana and Sunday's final local preps for the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin.
Victory in the Jackpot will provide ample graded stakes earnings -- $600,000 -- to get the winner into the starting gate for the 2012 Kentucky Derby, should that youngster continue to show promise and remain healthy. A runner-up finish would likely be enough.
Since the first running in 2002, five horses have gone on from the Delta Jackpot to the Run for the Roses the following year. The best showing of that lot was Closing Argument, who was second to Giacomo in the 2005 Derby.
A field of 10 was drawn Wednesday for the 1 1/16-mile test, with the Bob Baffert-trained Drill as the 2-1 morning-line favorite. Drill won the $250,000, Grade I Del Mar Futurity this summer before slogging home 10th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Also entered are My Adonis and Tiz Moe, the 1-2 finishers from the local prep, the $200,000 Jean Lafitte Stakes. Also in for the rich event is Jake Mo, coming off a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint.
For the companion $500,000, Grade III Delta Downs Princess, Baffert also has brought along Candrea, who disappointed in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies with a fading, 11th-place finish. Despite that setback, the Florida-bred Trippi filly was named the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the 1-mile race. She will face half a dozen rivals, including Now I Know, who is undefeated in four starts at Remington Park in Oklahoma.
On the other side of the world, final preparations are under way for what the Hong Kong Jockey Club has successfully branded the Turf World Championships -- four races at a variety of distances on Dec. 11 that for years have been attracting some of the world's top turf runners.
To promote the main event and tie it closer to the local horsemen, the HKJC has packaged three Group II events on Sunday as preps for the International Races. All sponsored by Cathay Pacific and each worth just under HK$3.2 million, the Jockey Club Sprint, Jockey Club Mile and Jockey Club Cup will go the metric equivalent of 6, 8 and 10 furlongs.
Among the horses to watch and the most likely to defend the home team honor in December is Hong Kong's reigning Horse of the Year, Ambitious Dragon. Last season, Ambitious Dragon burst into the ranks of international competitors with victories in the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby and the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup. He kicked off this season by thrashing sprinters and milers in the National Day Cup at 1,400 meters on Oct. 1. This weekend he tries 1,600 meters as a step up to the 2,000-meters Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup next month.
Another to watch is California Memory, who also won at first asking this season and now tackles the 2,000 meters of this weekend's Jockey Club Cup. Also watch for Xtension, winner of last season's BMW Champion's Mile and once-beaten rising star Entrapment.
The likes of Viva Pataca, Good Ba Ba, Irian and Sacred Kingdom have emerged from recent runnings of these races to play major roles in the December classics.
This year's Mile Championship is shaping up to be yet another close race with French raiders Sahpresa and Immortal Verse comprising the foreign contingent. Immortal Verse was third in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot the last time the 3-year-old Pivotal filly ran. Before that, she won three straight, including the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Ascot and the Prix Jacques Le Morais at Deauville. Sahpresa, a 6-year-old Sahm mare, comes into the race off a victory in the Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket after being third behind Immortal Verse in the Deauville race. The local team includes A Shin Forward, who won last season's race in record time. The 1,600 meters goes right-handed over the Kyoto turf.
-- Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Hollywood Turf Cup will include two from Neil Drysdale's barn -- including a surprising, short-rest, dirt-to-turf return for Miss Match, who will start just 15 days after getting home last of nine in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic. "She didn't even run 3 furlongs the other day," Drysdale said earlier this week in announcing his plans. The 1 1/2-mile grass event also will be her first start in more than two years. The trainer said the distance and an expectation of firm going will suit Miss Match, who will accompany stablemate Bourbon Bay. At least five others are expected to line up for the event, including Sanagas, a winner of two of four starts in the United States after going 4-for-5 in Germany.
-- Woebegon, off for 2 1/2 months after a woeful showing in the Del Mar Debutante, makes her return to the races in Sunday's $100,000 Moccasin Stakes at Hollywood Park. The Saint Anddan filly won for fun at first asking at Hollywood in June, then finished fourth in the Landaluce and eighth in the Debutante. Eva's Joy comes into the race off a third-place showing in the Golden Gate Debutante earlier this month. Five are scheduled to go the 7 furlongs.
-- Saturday's $100,000, Grade III River City Handicap at 9 furlongs on the Churchill Downs turf features Tajaaweed, winner of the Arlington Handicap this summer. The 6-year-old son of Dynaformer most recently was sixth in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland. "We were taking a shot in the Shadwell and were hoping to get third or fourth," trainer Dan Peitz said. "It might have been a little short for him and he really didn't get the kind of pace he needed to close. The River City distance is more what he wants and the competition is softer."
-- Eight 3-year-old colts are entered in Saturday's $100,000, Grade 3, $100,000 Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct, with Redeemed the 7-5 early favorite off a victory over graded stakes winners Alternation and Prayer for Relief in the Oklahoma Derby. Before that, he was second to Caleb's Posse at Saratoga and Wilburn in the Smarty Jones at Parx Racing. "You expect to have good horses at Saratoga, but we didn't know what to expect in the Smarty Jones," said Samantha Siegel, whose Jay Em Ess Stable campaigns Redeemed. 'They both turned out to be good races." Eight were entered for the 9-furlong Discovery.
News and Notes
Frankel has been tapped for Europe's top equine honor, Cartier Horse of the Year. The 3-year-old remains undefeated after nine career outings, including all five starts this year. Of those, four were Group 1 events. He is set to remain in training next year. Cirrus des Aigles was named champion older horse off his win in the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot. Danedream, the German-trained filly who was upset winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, was named champion 3-year-old filly. Dabirsim, a French-trained colt who won all five starts, was picked at champion 2-year-old colt and Maybe got the 2-year-old filly honor. Dream Ahead won the sprint division off her defeat of Goldikova in the Prix de la Foret. The awards are based on form marks, expert input and fan balloting.