Black Caviar's long-awaited appearance at Royal Ascot headlines a weekend packed with racing action around the globe.
The lineup also includes the Queen's Plate in Canada, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in France and the Takarazuka Kinen in Japan.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, 3-year-old fillies take center stage in the Mother Goose at Belmont Park and the Hollywood Oaks out west.
Officials at Woodbine cast a dark shadow over the proceedings, however, by announcing at Thursday's post position draw that this year's running of the Queen's Plate may be the last -- and even a swan song for all of Ontario racing -- as a result of a government decision to cut off slot machine revenue to the tracks.
Here's the scoop, translated from a variety of languages, including Canadian, eh?
Frankel more than lived up to his billing in opening Royal Ascot with a dominant win in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday and now it's up to Australian superstar mare Black Caviar to close things down in Saturday's Group 1 Diamond Jubilee. Fourteen signed up to try to deny the undefeated 6-year-old mare her 22nd straight win. None has anything like the favorite's credentials but there are some concerns: Black Caviar never before has traveled outside Australia to race; and recent rains could leave the going soft for the 6-furlong race. Black Caviar's trainer, Peter Moody, has said the course condition won't matter to his star. "I'm not worried at this point," he said after briefly showing off Black Caviar for the media in Thursday's heavy rain. "The big concern for us was the traveling aspect and we appear to have overcome that.'' If there is a threat, it could be another invader, French-based Moonlight Cloud, a 4-year-old filly from Freddy Head's stable. Moonlight Cloud upset the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville last August over soft going.
Sunday's Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud should be a cracker with last year's German-based Arc winner, Danedream, scheduled to go against the likes of Cirrus des Aigles, Shareta, Red Cadeaux and Goldikova's little sister, Galikova. The race is a pointer toward this year's Arc.
Sunday's 2,200-meters, Group 1 Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin Racecourse near Osaka will be contested by the locals. The only international nomination was Red Cadeaux, who instead is targeted for Saint-Cloud later in the day. Topping the list of contenders is four-time Group 1 winner and Triple Crown champion Orfevre, whose recent races have been, at best, erratic. Rulership returns from victory in Hong Kong in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup in April. With Australian rider Craig Williams up, he adds some international flavor to the race after all.
Strait of Dover, River Rush and Irish Mission head a field of 14 Canadian-bred 3-year-olds for the $1 million Queen's Plate Sunday at Woodbine. Strait of Dover, listed at 3-1 on the morning line, has won his last three starts and comes off a 6 1/2-lengths victory in the Marine Stakes. However, he missed the June 3 Plate Trial because of an illness. "He's training super right now," trainer Daniel Vella said after selecting gate No. 4. River Rush, who won the Plate Trial by 5 1/4 lengths, drew the rail and was posted at 4-1. Irish Mission upset the Woodbine Oaks on June 3 and will try to become only the sixth to pull off the Oaks-Plate double, following Inglorious last year.
This will be the 153rd running of the Plate, the oldest continuously run stakes race in North America. And if dire predictions come true, it could be the last.
Earlier this year the Ontario Government canceled contracts between the province's tracks and the government-run Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. "The cancellation of these contracts will devastate the province's horse racing and breeding industry," said Nick Eaves, president and CEO of the Woodbine Entertainment Group. "As a result of the government's current position, premier race events such as the Queen's Plate, as well as day-to-day horseracing, are in jeopardy."
Eaves said race tracks made significant changes in their business operations to partner with the government in development of the gaming operations, including dropping admission and parking charges, and provided "ready-made fans" for the gaming operations. The decision to cut racing adrift, he said, "is all about growth and expansion of the government's gambling business."
The operators of Fort Erie Race Track, site of the Prince of Wales's Stakes -- the middle jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown -- already have announced they plan to close the 115-year-old track at the end of the year because of the decision.
Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can tops a short field of five for Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park. The Proud Citizen filly, also the winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks, however, is not the morning-line favorite for the 1 1/16-mile event. That honor goes to Contested, who has won four straight races, including the Grade I Acorn Stakes over the local oval in her last outing. Trainer Bob Baffert elected not to send Contested against the big field in the Oaks and instead let the Ghostzapper filly win the Group 3 Eight Belles Stakes at 7 furlongs on the Oaks Day undercard. Her subsequent 5-lengths victory in the 1-mile Acorn apparently gave Baffert the confidence to try the stretchout, especially at one turn on the big Belmont strip. Also in the field are Zo Impressive, second in the Gulfstream Oaks and the Acorn; Disposablepleasure, second to In Lingerie in the Black Eyed Susan; and Wildcat's Smile, third in the same race.
Santa Anita Oaks winner Willa B Awesome is the early favorite in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Hollywood Oaks. She will be looking for her third graded stakes win of the year, following the Grade I Santa Anita score and the Grade III Santa Ysabel. Also in the eight-filly field is Eden's Moon, winner of the Grade I Las Virgenes at Santa Anita back in March and third in the Santa Anita Oaks. However, Eden's Moon was last in the Kentucky Oaks, beaten some 48 3/4 lengths. Baffert trains Eden's Moon.
And then …
The Queen's Plate is supported by four other stakes events including turf races at 6, 8 and 12 furlongs and the My Dear Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.
Churchill Downs' weekend feature is Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Debutante Stakes for 2-year-old fillies going 6 furlongs. Ten signed up with Blueeyesintherein the morning-line favorite off a smashing maiden win May 31. Under the new system, this race is meaningless in terms of qualifying for next year's Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks.
Fillies and mares go 6 furlongs in the $150,000 Sweet and Sassy Stakes at Delaware Park.
Monmouth on Saturday cards the $100,000, Grade III Boiling Springs Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles on the turf.
Sprinters go 7 furlongs in Saturday's $150,000 Donald LeVine Memorial Handicap at Parx Racing.
Fillies and mares tackle 10 furlongs on the grass on Sunday in Hollywood Park's $100,000, Grade III Beverly Hills Handicap.