Amid the bounty of things for which to give thanks this holiday weekend, let's not forget a splendid lineup of horse racing, including the Japan Cup.
What's not to like, after all, about a showdown between the winners of the Dubai World Cup and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe for one of the biggest purses on the planet?
Thanksgiving Day in the States is stuffed with goodies -- graded stakes at Aqueduct, Calder and Churchill Downs and the return of racing to Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
Saturday has four graded stakes at the Big A, featuring the $250,000, Grade I Hill 'n' Dale Cigar Mile and the $250,000, Grade I Gazelle. Calder has graded stakes on the turf and the main track. Churchill Downs offers the Kentucky Jockey Club and the Golden Rod, each $150,000 and Grade II, for juveniles. And Hollywood Park on Saturday features the $250,000, Grade II Citation on the turf and the $100,000, Grade III Vernon O. Underwood for main-track sprinters.
Sunday, Hollywood has the $250,000, Grade I Hollywood Derby at 1 1/4 on the lawn and the $100,000, Grade III Generous Stakes for 2-year-olds, also on the green course.
Sunday also is Japan Cup day in Tokyo. With international racing quickly gaining in interest and stature, the Japan Cup is among the year's elite events, along with races like the Breeders' Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup, Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The purse of more than $6.7 million doesn't hurt the Japan Cup's appeal, either.
A closer look:
Most of the weekend races are a little far out for a true reading. But Thursday's are in sharp focus. And Friday's $500,000, Grade I Clark Handicap at 9 furlongs over the Churchill Downs main track might even help clarify the Eclipse Award picture -- for 3-year-olds, anyway.
Flat Out, winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup but fifth as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Classic, is the highweight and drew post No. 6. A win likely would help him in the older-horse award category and even in the wide-open Horse of the Year race. But the Eclipse Award for 3-year-old males is still up in the air, too, and Ruler On Ice and Prayer for Relief will be running for votes in that category.
Thursday's Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct is a muddle, with several of the entries already set to scratch. The day's other big race is the $100,000, Grade III Hollywood Prevue at 7 furlongs, featuring a bunch with potential but no significant track record. Among them is the Bob Baffert-trained So Brilliant, a son of Medaglia d'Oro, just off a maiden win in a sprint. Fair Grounds kicks things off with the Thanksgiving Handicap at 6 furlongs. Eight are entered and Mambo Galliano is the morning-line favorite.
Never Retreat comes into Friday's $250,000, Grade I Matriarch on the Hollywood Park turf with three wins in her last four starts. A win would be a nice consolation for trainer Chris Block, whose Giant Oak was eliminated from the Clark Handicap after a training accident at Hawthorne Park. Unbridled Humor has lost only twice in seven trips to the track and several others in the tough field are graded stakes winners.
Saturday's Cigar Mile at Aqueduct drew a testy field of eight with such recognizable names as Calibrachoa, Caixa Eletronica and Sangaree. To Honor and Serve, the lone 3-year-old in the field, also would be looking for Eclipse Award votes should he win the heat. The Grade I Gazelle got 10 3-year-old fillies to try 9 furlongs on the main course. And the Remsen and Demoiselle for the youngsters will provide potential launching pads for next year's classics.
Eleven entered for the $150,000, Grade II W.L. McKnight Handicap at 12 furlongs on the Calder Race Course sod on Saturday. And the companion $100,000, Grade III Fred W. Hooper Handicap, at 9 furlongs on the main, with Mambo Meister and Flatter This cross-entered in both events.
If the leftover pumpkin pie is all gone by Sunday, the Japan Racing Association offers an alternative confection in the 2,400-meters Japan Cup. That race is expected to pit Japan's first-ever World Cup winner, Victoire Pisa, against the German-trained mare Danedream, who lifted this year's Arc in a shocking upset.
Joining Danedream from overseas are Shareta, the 3-year-old runner up in the Arc, Canadian International champion Sarah Lynx and 7-year-old veteran Mission Approved, who won the Manhattan Handicap in June. In all, 11 of the 18 prospective starters are Grade I or Group 1 winners.