Top grass runners are in action around the country this weekend with Breeders' Cup slots also available for sprinters and marathoners.
In England, Newmarket is in the midst of one of its top meetings. And 3-year-olds from both sides of the Channel are set to compete in the Grand Prix de Paris.
Hear ye, hear ye:
Saturday's Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket is packed with credentialed sprinters and, as usual, will play a role in deciding year-end honors in this division. Bated Breath and Society Rock front the local team and invaders are on the order of Ortensia and Krypton Factor. Sepoy is set to make his European debut in the race. Fifteen are set to go.
Friday's Etihad Airways Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket drew a field of 11 fillies and mares to try 1 mile on the July Course. The tough bunch includes the first four finishers in the Windsor Forest Stakes at Royal Ascot -- Joviality, Chachamaidee, Lay Time and Barefoot Lady. A French trio is headed by Golden Lilac, winner of last year's Poule d'Essai des Pouliches and Prix de Diane. Maybe seeks to rebound after finishing third in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas and fifth in the Investec Oaks. Elusive Kate will make her 2012 debut.
The meeting started Thursday with the Group 3 Bahrain Trophy and Shantaram may have earned his way into the St. Leger with a well-run, 3 1/4-lengths win. With William Buick up, the colt avenged his second-place finish behind Main Sequence in the Lingfield Derby Trial. Since that time, he broke his maiden in his last outing over the Newmarket green. "We also have Michelangelo for the Leger but both horses are owned by different people and both are entitled to run," said winning trainer John Gosden. "Someone's got to take on Camelot, Don't they?" he added.
The Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris on Saturday at Longchamp looks like a good heat with a competitive field of 3-year-olds going 1 1/2 miles. The Nine starters include the second-place finishers in the Prix du Jockey Club and the Investec derby, Saint Baudolino and Main Sequence. Also aboard are Nutello and Top Trip, who got home third and fifth, respectively, in the Jockey Club. Aidan O'Brien will send out Imperial Monarch, who finished full of run in the Jockey Club but could do no better than eighth after being bottled up in traffic.
Meanwhile, back in North America:
On the turf
The weekend's top race is Saturday's $600,000, Grade I Man o' War at Belmont Park. Treasure Beach heads up an eight-horse field with all the international connections one could ask. The 4-year-old Galileo colt, handled by the omnipresent Aidan O'Brien, has not raced since finishing fourth in his seasonal debut, the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night. He was third as the favorite in the Canadian International to wrap up his 3-year-old season -- a year that also found him victor in the Grade I Secretariat Stakes at Arlington and 14th when overmatched in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. This April, he was up the track at the finish of the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup at Sha Tin in Hong Kong. The Man o' War is far from a walkover. Point of Entry is an improving, 4-year-old son of the recently deceased sire Dynaformer who won the Grade II Elkhorn at Keeneland in his last start. The Bill Mott-trained Newsdad accounted for the Grade II Pan American at Gulfstream two starts back. Hudson Steele was winner of the Grade II Dixie Stakes at Pimlico in May.
Arlington Park presents "Million Preview Day" on Saturday, with four graded races leading directly to the newly expanded International Festival of Racing Aug. 18. The latter card includes Arlington Million XXX, the Beverly D. for fillies and mares and the Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds, all Grade I affairs. This year, Arlington adds the American St. Leger, catering to the "international" part of the festival's name.
Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Arlington Handicap is run at the Million distance of 1 1/4 miles and features some handicapping challenges. Boisterous ships in from the East Coast for the Phipps Stable off a third-place finish in last month's Manhattan Handicap but seems to do his best work over turf that's less than firm. After a very dry spring and early summer, the Arlington course should be firm enough on Saturday to hear the hooves rattling. Rahystrada, an 8-year-old Rahy gelding, won this race two years ago before finishing fourth in Million XXVIII. Last year, he prepped with a win in the Colonial Turf Cup before placing fifth in the waterlogged Million XXIX. One to watch could be Mavericking, a 4-year-old Empire Maker gelding who drew the rail and could be rounding into form for the ever-dangerous Team Block. Trainer Chris Block also saddles Mr. Mardi Gras for other owners. He was second in this race last year.
Silver Max was the impressive winner of the first leg of the Mid-America Triple, the Arlington Classic, and returns for the second leg, Saturday's $200,000, Grade III American Derby, which also is a prep for the Secretariat. The 1 3/16-mile event also drew Daddy Nose Best, who was 10th in the Kentucky Derby and ninth in the Preakness but did win twice on the grass last year. The lightly raced Sachem Spirit, second to Silver Max in the Arlington Classic, also is back for another try as the outside starter in the field of 10.
A field of 11 signed on for the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes Stakes, a $150,000, Grade III event that leads to the St. Leger on Million Day. Prominent among them are Musketier, a 10-year-old Acatenago gelding who continues to defy the inroads of age, and Joinem, who is running well enough to be cross-entered in the Arlington Handicap.
Also on Saturday, 3-year-olds will contest the $150,000 (Canadian) Toronto Cup at 9 furlongs on the Woodbine green. Five were enlisted with Hammers Terror the even-money favorite on the morning line. He comes off a win over Excaper in the 1-mile Charlie Barley Stakes last month.
The action shifts west on Sunday for the $100,000, Grade III Sunset Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on getaway day (Del Mar is coming soon!) at Hollywood Park. Five are entered with Dhaamer shooting for his second U.S. victory. He won the Round Table Stakes back in May. Juniper Pass was fourth last time at the track in the Grade I Charles Whittingham. The Patrick Biancone filly Quaintly will try males again after finishing second in the Round Table.
Filly & Mare Turf
Romacaca was fourth in the Beverly D. two years ago but the 6-year-old Running Stag mare has been running well of late and is among the favorites in the eight-horse field entered for Arlington Park's $200,000, Grade III Modesty Handicap at 1 3/16 miles on Saturday. She is drawn right inside the only other likely speed in the race and could dictate the pace. The morning-line favorites for the Beverly D. prep, however, are recent Arlington Matron winner Upperline and Bizzy Caroline, winner of the Mint Julep Handicap last month at Churchill Downs. She's All In won the Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne last fall on the main course but is 2-for-3 in turf tries.
East Coast grass-running distaffers have Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park, at 1 3/8 miles. Bubbly Jane, last year's runner-up, leads the parade here while making her second start of the year for trainer Todd Pletcher. Senada and Team also figure in the field of eight.
Out west, it's Saturday's $350,000, Grade I American Oaks at Hollywood Park at 1 1/4 miles. Lady of Shamrock has won four of her last six starts but again will have to face the rapidly improving My Gi Gi, who beat her by a nose last time out in the Honeymoon Handicap. Stormy Lucy was third in that race, ending a three-race winning skein and is back for more. Best Present Ever is riding a three-race win streak. Miss Cato makes her first U.S. start for Three Chimneys Racing LLC after going 4-2-1 in seven starts in England. Nayarra also transfers from England, with but one win to show for 13 previous starts. Lightly raced Colonial Flag is in from Kentucky with potential.
Fort Erie hosts the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown Sunday -- possibly for the last time, as the provincial government decision to pull gaming income away from racing has the plant scheduled to close at year's end. Meantime, Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Prince of Wales Stakes attracted a field of nine, including the second- and third-place finishers from the Queen's Plate, Irish Mission and Dixie Strike, but not the winner, Strait of Dover, who appears to prefer the all-weather course at Woodbine to natural dirt like Fort Erie's.
On Saturday at Parx Racing, eight are entered for the $200,000, Grade III Greenwood Cup with Redeemed as the even-money choice on the morning line off his win in the Brooklyn Handicap. Win Willy, Birdrun and Eldaafer are among the competition in this Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" for the Marathon.
The Tony Dutrow entry of Grace Hall and Singlet is the morning-line favorite in a field of seven for Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park. Grace Hall has never been off the board in seven career starts and is returning from a short break after getting home third in the Kentucky Oaks. She was second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall behind My Miss Aurelia. Singlet has won four of seven. Via Villagio comes from out west after finishing third in the Hollywood Oaks last time out.
Three-year-olds will tackle 6 furlongs on the Monmouth Park main strip in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Jersey Shore Stakes. Six are entered with Isn't He Clever the morning-line pick despite a rather dismal recent record. Well Spelled, Wildcat Creek and Cape Cod Canal also figure.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Switch was second, with excuses, behind Musical Romance in last year's Breeders' Cup but now is looking to right the ship after finishing fifth and fourth in her 2012 comeback races. Saturday's $200,000, Grade II A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood Park would be a perfect opportunity, as the race is a "Win and You're In" for a return trip to the Breeders' Cup. There are no Musical Romances in the field although Teddy's Promise and Sugarinthemorning did run 1-2 in the Grade I La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita at the same 7-furlong distance last December. The rest in the eight-horse field are talented but still have something to prove at this level.
The Young 'Uns
Saturday's card at Hollywood Park includes the $150,000, Grade III Hollywood Juvenile and the $150,000 Landaluce for 2-year-old fillies, both at 6 furlongs. It's a similar distance at Woodbine on Saturday in the $150,000 (Canadian) Colin Stakes for 2-year-olds.