The weekend stakes schedule is short but sweet, including early tryouts for potential Derby horses on both coasts.
Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita drew a field of six, including Secret Circle, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint two months ago at Churchill Downs. The Bob Baffert trainee will be tested for distance in the 1-mile, main-track event, the first step toward the Santa Anita Derby April 7.
Hierro, off a sharp maiden sprint victory for trainer Steve Asmussen, is another who will see if he can handle the added furlongs.
Others in the field are Senor Rain, Out of Bounds, Longview Drive and Handsome Mike.
Saturday's companion stakes at Santa Anita is the $150,000, Grade II San Pasqual Stakes, at 1 1/16 miles for older horses -- an early local test for the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap at 1 1/4 miles March 3. Tres Borrachos, who has run well throughout his career without winning much, is among the favorites off a third-place finish behind Caleb's Posse and Shackleford in the Breeders' Cup Mile and a 1/2-length loss to Kettle Corn in the Dec. 3 Native Diver.
The only other graded stakes event Saturday is the $100,000, Grade III Marshua's River for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles over the Gulfstream Park turf. A full field of 14 is expected, highlighted by multiple stakes winner Daveron, a 7-year-old, German-bred mare from trainer Graham Motion's barn, and Louvakhova, winner of the Frances A. Genter on the Calder turf in her first U.S. start after starting her career in France.
It's not a graded event, but Saturday's $150,000 Count Fleet Stakes for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct could provide an early peek at some Wood Memorial contenders. A field of seven is entered and a key question will be whether Alpha can rebound from his 11th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Before that dud, the Bernardini colt finished second to Union Rags in the Grade I Champagne. Union Rags just did fail to catch Hansen to win the Breeders' Cup. Alpha is the 4-5 morning line favorite in the Count Fleet.
The companion on Saturday's Aqueduct card is the $100,000 Busanda Stakes for 3-year-old fillies -- a potential early prep for Kentucky Oaks candidates.
Sunday, Santa Anita's stakes action switches to the unique hillside turf course and the $100,000, Grade III Daytona Stakes. Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Regally Ready, third in the last year's running of the Daytona, is back to try to set that right. His six rivals include Caracortado, who finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup.
News and Notes: Rapid Redux has had a good week. Wednesday, shortly after it was announced he will receive a special Eclipse Award for individual achievement, the erstwhile gelding won his 22nd straight race -- a starter allowance at Laurel Park. Thursday, he was named winner of the "Vox Populi Award" dreamed up by Secretariat's owner, Penny Chenery, which includes input from fans.
There were no shocking surprises in the Eclipse Awards finalists list released Thursday. Only a few categories have any suspense -- along, of course, with the wide-open Horse of the Year battle. Winners will be announced Jan. 16 at a black tie affair in California.