The world of racing turns its attention Saturday to Epsom Downs, site of the historic Epsom Derby, this year featuring undefeated Camelot.
But this original Derby is not the only Derby or Derby-related event of the weekend. Far from it.
At Churchill Downs, the weekend stakes include Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Aristides Handicap, honoring the inaugural winner of the Kentucky Derby. The Epsom Derby first was run in 1780; the Kentucky Derby, in 1875. Still, tradition is where you find it.
Sunday, it's the Prix du Jockey Club, or French Derby, at Chantilly. This version was established in 1836 but has not been run continuously.
Sunday's 1,600-meter Yasuda Kinen on the turf at Tokyo Race Course was created in 1951 in honor of Izaemon Yasuda, the first president of the JRA. Yasuda is credited with helping to legalize wagering on horse racing in Japan, as well as drawing up designs for the Tokyo Yushun -- that's right, the Japanese Derby.
The weekend is not devoid of Oaks, either. Epsom runs its filly counterpart to the Derby on Friday. And at Woodbine, near Toronto, the Woodbine Oaks highlights a Sunday card that also includes the Plate Trial, a prep for the upcoming Queen's Plate which is -- wait for it -- the equivalent of a "Canadian Derby."
And there's a smattering of challenging graded, non-Derby stakes elsewhere.
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Only nine runners were declared for the $2 million, Group 1 race, currently known officially as the Investec Derby. That's a small field by local standards -- the smallest, in fact, since 1907.
The favorite, Camelot, comes to the race undefeated in three starts for trainer Aidan O'Brien and his jockey son, Joseph. In his last start, he took down the 204th running of the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
But a last-out win isn't definitive in this race.
Astrology comes in off a win in the Dee Stakes at Chester; Bonfire won the Dante Stakes at York last time out; Main Sequence captured the Derby Trial at Lingfield in his last start; Mickdaam was first in the Chester Vase three weeks ago; and Thoughtworthy took a listed event at Newmarket just two weeks ago.
O'Brien also trains Astrology but he left three prospective runners off the final Derby list, including Imperial Monarch, who instead will point to the Prix du Jockey Club on Sunday. But, recognizing the difficulty of winning the Derby, he told BBC he is "used to coming home very humbled. These horses are bred and reared to turn up in the Derby, which is the race that distinguishes the breed and the different pedigrees but we can only try to do our best."
And if the race needed even more tradition and pageantry layered over its top, Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II will be in attendance, as usual, but with the added honor of making the Derby the kickoff event of her Diamond Jubilee celebration. Her Majesty does appreciate horse racing.
If the O'Brien powerhouse is lightly represented in the Derby, it more than makes up for the lack in Friday's $500,000, Grade I Investec Oaks at Epsom. Maybe heads a string of six that will run for O'Brien, nearly half the field of 14 prospective starters. Maybe was a disappointing third in the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket and there is plenty of competition in Friday's field. Among the others, Kailani sports an undefeated record for Godolphin. John Gosden sends out The Fugue for owner Andrew Lloyd-Webber.
Friday and Saturday's cards on the Downs are both fine but the primary supporting race is the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Coronation Stakes at 1 1/2 miles. There is no shortage of top-notch contenders in this one -- St Nicholas Abbey, Red Cadeaux, Treasure Beach, Monterosso and Robin Hood, for example. But given the circumstances, the name of the race and her majesty's attendance, how can you not have a flyer on the admittedly underperforming Windsor Palace? The ticket likely will go into a scrapbook, but it's horse racing so you never know.
A full field of 20 is expected for Sunday's Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club, including three English invaders. O'Brien's Imperial Monarch ducked the Epsom classic in favor of this event. The local runners also have credentials, especially French Fifteen, who got home a close second to Camelot in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. Trainer Mikel Delzangles handles Kesampour off a last-out victory in the Prix Greffulhe. Top Trip and Saonais also figure.
Sunday's Group 1 Yasuda Kinen drew a pair of Hong Kong-based runners -- the quite accomplished Lucky Nine and the aspiring Glorious Days. Lucky Nine also visited Japan last year, running creditably in the Centaur Stakes and the Sprinters Stakes. He was third in his last two starts, the Dubai Golden Shaheen and the BMW Champions Mile over his home turf at Sha Tin. The local crowd, as usual, is favored to have the upper hand.
Mark Casse trains three starters, including the top prospect for Sunday's $500,000 Woodbine Oaks for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies. Dixie Strike is the likely favorite for the 9-furlong event over the all-weather track. She has won four of eight starts and is a half-sister to last year's Oaks and Queen's Plate winner, Inglorious. With a win here, she could step up to the Plate, too. Casse has warned another of his starters, Northern Passion, is one to watch. Coincidentally, Inglorious is set to make her second start of the year Saturday in the $300,000, Grade II Nassau Stakes at 1 mile on the turf. She was second to Marketing Mix in her seasonal debut at 1 mile over the Keeneland grass on April 11.
Churchill Downs. In addition to the Aristides, which drew a nicely balanced field of eight, Saturday's card includes the $100,000, Grade III Early Times Mint Julep Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the lawn and the $100,000, Grade III Winning Colors Stakes for fillies and mares going 6 furlongs on the main track.
Hollywood Park. Saturday's feature is the $150,000, Grade II Californian at 9 furlongs on the all-weather. Game On Dude is the headliner for trainer Bob Baffert but the rest of the five-horse field won't make for any walkover: Uh Oh Bango, Morning Line, Prayer for Relief and Kettle Corn. Sunday it's the $100,000, Grade III Affirmed Handicap for 3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather surface.
Belmont Park. Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Vagrancy Handicap for fillies and mares at 6 1/2 furlongs is a tough handicapping challenge. C C's Pal, Nicole H and She's Cheeky all have claims.