Three of racing's top venues -- Ascot, Saratoga and Del Mar -- are in high gear this weekend with quality fields chasing big purses.
Delaware Park hosts its biggest race of the year, the $750,000 Delaware Handicap for fillies and mares. And Colonial Downs is the site of the Virginia Derby and Virginia Oaks.
Sunday's racing features the Group 1 Irish Oaks at the Curragh and the Group 1 Grosser Prieis von Berlin.
The details? Here they come, spinning out of the turn:
Top runners from around the world are set to converge on Ascot for Saturday's Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. The 1 1/2-mile test is expecting the likes of Japanese Derby winner Deep Brillante, Germany's Arc-winning Danedream and French invaders Shareta, Reliable Man and Melbourne Cup victor Dunaden. The Irish side likely will include the likes of Breeders' Cup Turf winner and runner-up, St Nicholas Abbey and Sea Moon, and Windsor Palace. British hopefuls include the recent Coral-Eclipse Stakes winner and defending champion Nathaniel, Masked Marvel and Brown Panther. Some of the runners, including Shareta, are conditional, depending on the weather and course condition.
Looking a little farther ahead, Godolphin has announced Farhh, second in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, will challenge the unbeaten and top-ranked Frankel in the Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood Aug. 1 -- provided the going is not too hard.
"I know that sounds like a bit of a joke at the moment," Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said at a news conference Tuesday in London. "But we seriously hope the ground will dry out sufficiently but not be too firm for him to be able to take his chance."
England has been enduring dreadful weather with many cancellations due to heavy rain and some meetings run under far from ideal conditions. Crisford said the decision to try Frankel came directly from Sheik Mohammed bin Rahseed Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and master of Godolphin.
"I asked Sheik Mohammed what his preferred option was -- the QIPCO Sussex Stakes, in which he could come second to Frankel if not win, or the Jacques Le Marois at Deauville. He said, 'I want to go to Goodwood,'" Crisford reported.
Farhh, a Pivotal colt, has been a bit of a hard-luck case. He was injured in the stalls before a race at Doncaster last year, keeping him out of action most of the year. Still, he won his first three starts before badly missing the break in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at this year's Royal Ascot, eventually finishing third behind So You Think and Carlton House. He then missed by 1/2 length to Nathaniel in the Coral-Eclipse.
On the grass
Silver Max rides a five-race winning streak at five different tracks into Saturday's $600,000, Grade II Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs, where he will face eight rivals going 10 furlongs. The wins include the Grade III Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland and the Grade II American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs. Lucky Chappy resurfaces here for the first time since he finished seventh in the UAE Derby on World Cup night, March 31, as part of the general U.S. washout. His only two career wins came as a 2-year-old in Italy and he was fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas continues his optimistic placement of Optimizer, who has but a maiden win and finished 10th in the Belmont in his last outing. Summer Front won the 1-mile, Grade III Hill Prince Stakes on the Belmont Turf in his last race. Easy Crossing has two wins and three seconds from five starts, including two minor stakes. The rest of the field is looking for direction.
Topping the weekend schedule for grass-running older horses, Acclamation returns to action facing four rivals in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar. The 6-year-old son of Unusual Heat showed no ill effects from an eight-month layoff as he ran his winning streak to six in last month's Grade I Charles Whittingham at Hollywood Park. Slim Shadey finished second in three straight graded stakes, including the Whittingham and is entered here just two weeks after finishing fifth in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park.
Pender Harbour, winner of two-thirds of last year' Canadian Triple Crown, is among six in a well-balanced field for Sunday's $300,000 (Canadian), Grade II Nijinsky Stakes at 9 furlongs over the Woodbine turf course. Riding the River won the Grade II King Edward in his last outing.
Elsewhere on the green courses:
-- Summer Front, second in the Grade II Lexington at Keeneland and most recently victor in the Grade III Hill Prince Stakes on the Belmont grass, is among 10 3-year-olds entered in Sunday's $100,000 Duluth Stakes at Saratoga at 1 mile. Film Shot, Gold Megillah, Heavy Breathing and Star Channel have shown promise. The ever-promising Howe Great also contributes to what should be a good betting race.
-- Nine are set to go in Saturday's $100,000 Sussex Stakes at 1 1/16 mile over the Delaware Park grass.
Fillies on the grass
In Sunday's $150,000, Grade II San Clemente for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar, Killer Graces will try to get her 3-year-old career back on track. Last November's Hollywood Starlet winner has not visited the winner's circle in four tries so far this year. Eden's Moon was 14th in the Kentucky Oaks but then second in the Hollywood Oaks in her last start. Indigo River was third in the China Doll Stakes last time out for owner Michael House and trainer Jeff Mullins. Eight are entered.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Virginia Oaks at Colonial Downs attracted an aspirational field of seven. Zultanite has only one win from eight starts but has finished second in her last two starts, both graded stakes. Many of the others in this field are coming off maiden wins.
In a relatively quiet weekend for main-track runners, Friday's $100,000, Grade III James Marvin Stakes at Saratoga drew a strong field. Caixa Eletronica, one of the best and most versatile ex-claimers in recent days, tops a field that also includes Pacific Ocean, Golddigger's Boy and Jackson Bend. Caixa Electonica, taken by Todd Pletcher in the spring of 2011 for $62,500, won the Charles Town Classic at 1 1/8 miles three starts back and the 6-furlong True North Handicap last time out.
Went the Day Well has joined the 3-year-old injury list. Owner Barry Irwin said the fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby had not responded to time off after his 10th-place showing in the Preakness and is done for the year. He said he hopes the colt will be ready for Gulfstream Park in January. Earlier, trainer Bob Baffert announced his has scrapped plans to prepare Bodemeister for the Haskell after that colt came down with a fever. And, of course, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, I'll Have Another, is retired and on his way to stud career in Japan.
Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Delaware Handicap shapes up as a rematch between last year's Breeders' Cup winner, Royal Delta, and Awesome Maria. Awesome Maria caught Royal Delta prepping for Dubai in the Sabin at Gulfstream Park back in February and spanked her by 8 lengths. In turn, Awesome Maria had her own six-race winning streak broken by It's Tricky in the Grade I Ogden Phipps on May 28 -- as Awesome Maria was an uninspiring third. Trainer Todd Pletcher said he opted to send Awesome Maria to Delaware because Saratoga isn't running the Ruffian Handicap this year, leaving a gap until the Aug. 26 Personal Ensign. Pletcher also plans to start Love and Pride, who won the Obeah Stakes at Delaware in her last outing. Another intriguing possibility in the field of seven is Pachattack, normally at home on the turf or the all-weather track. Tiz Miz Sue seldom misses the trifecta and the lightly raced Cash For Clunkers was just caught in the final sixteenth by It's Tricky in her last start, the Ogden Phipps.
In Lingerie, winner of the Grade III Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway and the Grade II Black Eyed Susan at Pimlico, is among the stars in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. The six-filly field also includes Zo Impressive, who finished second in Grade II Gulfstream Oaks and the Grade I Acorn, then won the Grade I Mother Goose in her last outing. Disposable Pleasure has been knocking on the door in many of the same races.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Arlington Oaks at Arlington Park signed on a field of eight, many with the credentials to get the job done. Near the top of the list is Treasured Up, who finished third in the Grade III Regret at Churchill Downs in her last start. While that race was on the grass, Treasured Up also has been successful on Keeneland's all-weather surface. Sky Dreamer invades from Canada off a win in an allowance event over that track's all-weather. La Tia was very impressive beating fellow Illinois-breds in the Purple Violet on Prairie State Festival day.
Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Sanford Stakes at Saratoga is another race looking for a star. The third- and fourth and fifth-place finishers from the Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs -- Special Jo, Hightail and Good Tickled -- are in the field of nine. Good luck figuring out the rest of it.
Mylute is the favorite in a field of eight in Saturday night's $75,000 Prairie Gold Juvenile at Prairie Meadows. The Midnight Lute colt finished third in his only previous start at Churchill Downs. Others well fancied on the morning line include Stormin Monarcho and He's a Rockstar.
Friday's $150,000, Grade III Schuylerville kicks off the important Saratoga 2-year-old filly series but it's a big-time program-stabber. Seven 2-year-old lasses are entered and each of them comes into the race off a maiden win -- most at first asking.
Quiet Success headlines Friday night's $75,000 Prairie Gold Lassie at Prairie Meadows. She broke her maiden at second asking at Churchill Downs, then finished a closing second to Blueeyesintherein in the Grade III Debutante under the twin spires a month ago. Six others are set to go in the Iowa race.