Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and $200,000, Grade II Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct are the final graded stakes before the May 5 Run for the Roses, save only for the following weekend's Derby Trial, which really is misnamed these days.
Since the Kentucky Derby field is limited to 20 starters and those are determined by graded stakes earnings, the scramble is on to get into the "Top 20" list.
Thus, Castaway is a late addition to the Lexington field. The colt, conveniently owned by the Coolmore racing operation, is trained by Bob Baffert and sitting on $150,000 in graded stakes earnings, gleaned from winning a division of the Grade II Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He then finished seventh in the Grade III Sunland Park Derby, worth $12,000. A win Saturday would put his graded stakes earnings at $282,000 and likely get him into the Kentucky Derby field.
Of course, that would require that he return to form after the New Mexico disaster and that Coolmore would want to move him along to the Run for the Roses. Maybe not. "We're just trying to win some money," Baffert told Daily Racing Form on Tuesday. We'll see.
Also in the 1 1/16-miles Lexington over the Keeneland all-weather track are the likes of Illinois Derby runner-up Morgan's Guerrilla, Spiral Stakes runner-up Holiday Promise, Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Golden Ticket, Fountain of Youth runner-up News Pending and the undefeated but untested Summer Front. Morgan's Guerrilla also conceivably could make the Kentucky Derby field with a win Saturday but would need at least two others in the current top 20 to withdraw. The others really are just trying to win some money.
The Jerome, a one-turn mile on the Aqueduct dirt, doesn't have any Derby prospects. But a couple in the seven-horse field might be contenders for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the May 19 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, which always sees "new shooters" after the Derby winnows the 3-year-old field.
Baffert has Stirred Up revved up for the Jerome. The Lemon Drop Kid colt finished third in the Sunland Derby. And, dipping deeper into his pool of 3-year-olds, Baffert also will send out the promising -- but not yet delivering -- Brigand. Others to watch include The Lumber Man, who was fifth in the Wood Memorial, and Dan and Sheila, who finished 11th in the Gotham on March 3 and has been working steadily at Belmont since for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Elsewhere around the racing circuits with only two weeks to go until the Kentucky Derby:
Keeneland sandwiches the Lexington with Friday's $100,000, Grade III Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles and Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Ben Ali Stakes at 9 furlongs. Pachattack is the early favorite in a field of eight for the Doubledogdare as she makes her first start since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic last fall. Joyful Victory, Kathmanblu and La Gran Bailadora also are fancied. The Ben Ali drew seven entries including Wise Dan, who won the Grade II Fayette at Keeneland and the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs last year before going on vacation. He has won four of his last five. Cease won the Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston in his last start. Big Blue Kitten was third in his seasonal debut in the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap but won five straight last year.
Hawthorne Race Course on Saturday has the $200,000, Grade III Sixty Sails Handicap for fillies and mares at 9 furlongs. The hightweight is Arena Elvira, a Bill Mott trainee who has won her last five races, including the Grade II Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs. The morning-line favorite, however, is Juanita, who finished second to Havre de Gras in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes in her last outing -- albeit 4 1/2 lengths back and Havre de Gras wasn't asked for much. Todd Pletcher sends Love and Pride, second in the Grade II Top Flight Handicap at Aqueduct last time out.
Calder's weekend highlight is Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Miami Mile on the grass. A full field of 12 with also-eligibles signed up. Among the early picks are Yummy With Butter, Mutual Trust, Monument Hill, Za Approval and Upgrade. This looks like a good investment opportunity.
Santa Anita has a trio of graded turf stakes: the $150,000, Grade II Santa Barbara for fillies and mares at 1 1/4 miles and the $100,000, Grade III San Simeon at 6 1/2 furlongs -- both on Saturday -- and Sunday's traditional closing day feature, the $150,000, Grade II San Juan Capistrano at 1 3/4 miles. Vamo a Galupiar, upset winner of the Grade II Santa Ana in her last start, headlines the Santa Barbara field. Seven-year-old California Flag will try to atone for his 12th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint -- his last start -- in the San Simeon. Bourbon Bay is a likely favorite in the San Juan Capistrano.
On the international front, Australian racing continues Saturday at Randwick with three local Group 1 events -- the Doncaster Handicap at 1 mile, the AJC Australian Oaks at 1 1/2 miles and The Galaxy at 5 1/2 furlong, all on the grass.
Sunday is Hong Kong Trophy Day at Macau's Taipa racecourse.
Woodbine's Sunday schedule includes the $150,000 (Canadian) Can-Grade III Whimsical Stakes for fillies and mares going 6 furlongs.
Looking forward, Hong Kong stages its International Group 1 spring races on consecutive weekends, with the Audemars Piguet QE II on April 29 and the BMW Champions Mile the following Sunday.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club opened the BMW Champions Mile to foreigners in 2005 but, so far anyway, it's like they didn't really mean it. No overseas raider has yet won the event.
This year, however, the local crowd could be hard pressed to hang onto the trophy with the likes of Cityscape and African Story slated to contest the May 6 event at Sha Tin. African Story comes to Hong Kong off a dominating, 4-lengths victory for Godolphin Racing in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on World Cup night. Cityscape won the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free by 4 1/2 lengths. Also slated to invade are Musir and King's Rose.
Still, the SAR is not without resources as the likes of Ambitious Dragon, the reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year, has been rerouted from the previous week's Audemars Piguet QE II Cup to contest the BMW Mile. Also among the 14 selected runners are Hong Kong stars Xtension and Lucky Nine. "This is the finest field ever assembled for the BMW Champions Mile," said William Nader, HKJC executive director of racing. "And it is particularly pleasing to have four overseas challengers of such exceptional talent, along with our superb group of Hong Kong milers."
News and notes:
Australia's undefeated super mare, Black Caviar, finally has a firm schedule for the next few months. After a Tuesday workout at Caulfield, trainer Peter Moody said Black Caviar will go for her 20th straight win next weekend in the Aus-Group 1 Sportingbet Classic at Morphettville in Adelaid. Then, he added, she will run back in the May 12 Goodwood over the same track before heading to England for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot June 23. Should she make that race, it would be her first run outside Australia as Moody and her owners ducked a potential trip to Dubai earlier this year for the Golden Shaheen. A win at Royal Ascot also would give Black Caviar two victories in the Global Sprint Challenge, the first having come in the Coolmore Lightning Stakes at Flemington back in February. She would need one more in a different country to trigger a $1 million bonus payout. She could try for that third win in the Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama in Japan Sept. 30 or the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin Dec. 9.
Keeneland President and Chief Executive Officer Nick Nicholson is retiring, effective Sept. 1. Nicholson has headed the Keeneland Association for nearly 13 years. Bill Thomason, currently vice president and chief financial officer, has been selected by the Keeneland trustees to succeed Nicholson as Keeneland's eighth president.
Joel Einhorn has been randomly selected to make a $100,000 win bet on the Kentucky Derby in the DreamBet online contest offered by Churchill Downs, NBC Sports and CNBC. "I saw Kelso run in an allowance race at Aqueduct in 1960 and have been hooked ever since," said Einhorn, 68. "I've been an owner, a spectator and a handicapper for over 50 years." In 2010, Glen Fullerton turned the $100,000 into $900,000 with a win bet on Super Saver. Last year, Dave "Rico" Flores put the money on Mucho Macho Man's nose, only to see him run third.