Saturday's Whitney Handicap and West Virginia Derby promise to shake out some Breeders Cup Classic contenders.
The Whitney, at Saratoga, has a well-balanced field of nine, including several who are a short step from stardom. The West Virginia Derby, at Mountaineer, features last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Eclipse Award winner, Hansen.
And those races are only the icing on the cake of a weekend that also includes key races for sprinters and one of the first big-deal races for the 2-year-olds.
Across the Atlantic, "Glorious Goodwood" winds down the top-shelf meeting that kicked into gear with Frankel's 12th straight win on Wednesday.
Tear yourself away from the Olympics for a few minutes and take a look:
Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Whitney is a highlight of the Spa's annual summer doings, and with good reason. Four of the last 10 divisional Eclipse Award winners have won the race -- Blame in 2010, Lawyer Ron in 2007, Invasor in 2006 and Left Bank in 2001. There is no clear-cut leader among the older horses in the east, so the Whitney is an opportunity for all. The morning-line favorite among nine entered for the 1 1/8-mile event is 5-year-old Ron the Greek, winner of the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap in March and the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs last month.
"He's starting to come around at the right time," said trainer Bill Mott, who also will saddle Flat Out for the Whitney.
Todd Pletcher also has two for the event -- Rule and Caixa Eletronica. Fort Larned comes off a win in the Grade III Cornhusker. Hymn Book, winner of the Donn Handicap way back at Gulfstream, will be saddled by Shug McGaughey. Trickmeister, recently second in the Suburban, could be the early leader.
Hansen has been worse than second only once in eight lifetime starts -- that a ninth-place showing in the Kentucky Derby. He comes into Saturday's $750,000, Grade II West Virginia Derby off a handy, 10-lengths win in the Grade III Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows, his first run since the Run for the Roses. He hasn't scared off any competition, though. Ten were entered for the 1 1/8-miles test, including the second- and third-place finishers from Iowa -- Louisiana Derby winner Hero of Order and Macho Bull. Macho Macho is graded stakes-placed. Morgan's Guerrilla was second in the Grade III Illinois Derby and third in the recent Grade II Dwyer. Le Bernardin won the Grade III Pegasus at Monmouth in his last start.
There's a race for older horses on the Mountaineer undercard, too. The $200,000 West Virginia Governor's Handicap attracted Tapizar, winner of the Grade II San Fernando. He finished second in the Grade III Razorback at Oaklawn but has been on the sidelines since that race in March. Headache, winner of last year's Grade III Cornhusker Handicap and Grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup, also figures in the field of nine. Ponzi Scheme is entered just a week after finishing second in the Majestic Light at Monmouth Park.
Pool Play drew the inside post position for Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Seagram Cup at Woodbine but looks like a contender off a victory in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs two starts back. He misfired in the Ontario Jockey Club last month upon his return to Canada, however, finishing fourth. Stunning Stag, the winner of that race, also is back for another try. So is James Street, who won this last year, hasn't won since but returns to defend the crown.
Glorious Goodwood rings down its curtain Saturday and, thanks to Frankel's stellar performance Wednesday, not even the Olympics could totally eclipse -- pun intended -- the noteworthy meeting. Saturday's card winds things up with the Group 1 Markel Insurance Nassau Stakes for fillies and mares, going a little less than 1 1/4 miles. Izzi Top, a 4-year-old Pivotal filly, is the early choice, sporting four straight Group wins and the services of the red-hot duo of trainer John Gosden and rider William Buick. A good price is offered on Sir Henry Cecil and Tom Queally's Timepiece but she hasn't won for more than a year now. Aidan O'Brien entered Was, a lightly raced Galileo filly who most recently was fourth in the Irish Oaks.
A Breeders' Cup berth is on the line in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar. The 1 1/16-mile race drew a very nice field of eight. Include Me Out couldn't hold off Love Theway Youare last time out in the 9-furlong Vanity at Hollywood Park, but won't have to face that rival this time. Include Me Out won three straight graded stakes before the Vanity. Quaintly has been on the board in all four U.S. starts since arriving from Ireland. Switch was a close third in this race last year and comes back from a victory last time out in the Grade II A Gleem Handicap going 7 furlongs at Hollywood. She finished second to Musical Romance with a dramatic rally in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Amani is making her first U.S. start after shipping up from her native Chile with 10 wins and a second from 11 starts. Star Billing ended her 2011 season with a win in the Grade I Matriarch and may have needed a race in her first start this year. Take a close look at Zafeen's Pearl, making her third U.S. start. Great Hot has struggled of late but ran well earlier.
The filly winner of the Prince of Wales Stakes, Dixie Strike, is the 5-2 morning-line favorite for Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Breeders' Stakes, the third jewel in Canada's Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, at Woodbine. The 122nd running of the Breeders', restricted to Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, covers 1 1/2 miles on the E.P. Taylor Turf Course.
Shackleford is the marquee name in Sunday's $400,000, Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at 6 furlongs at Saratoga. The 4-year-old Forestry colt continues to shed distance after winning the Met Mile, then the 7-furlong Churchill Downs Handicap in his last two starts. He won both of those races on or near the lead so jockey John Velazquez will have the option of gunning him from the No. 1 post position. Rothko, winner of the Alcibiades at Churchill Downs (see below), also is in the field, as are six others.
California-bred 3-year-old speedsters line up in Friday's $200,000 Real Good Deal Stakes at Del Mar. Remember Rousing Sermon, the third-place finisher in the Louisiana Derby? He subsequently finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby and now trainer Jerry Hollendorfer shortens him up for this effort against seven rivals. Among them, Unusual Heatwave showed good speed when finishing fourth in the 1 1/16-miles Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood in June against some good ones. And since it's probably illegal to run a 3-year-old stakes race without Bob Baffert involved, check out Derby Gold, a Bertrando colt who finished second in his career debut at Santa Anita in, came back in three weeks to win the Echo Eddie Stakes and has been absent since. He's been working steadily since June for the comeback.
The West Virginia Derby undercard includes the $100,000 Senator Robert C. Byrd Memorial at 6 furlongs and the West Virginia Legislature Chairman's Cup for short-hitters at 4 1/2 furlongs. Guam Typhoon, Will's Wildcat and Ravalo are among nine entered for the Byrd. In the Chairman's Cup, look for last year's winner, Immortal Eyes, and local runner He's Speightful in a field of 11. Whiskey Rebellion finished third in the Aristides at Churchill Downs earlier this year with Will's Wildcat second.
The weekend's top events for filly and mare sprinters are both at Saratoga -- Friday's $200,000, Grade II Honorable Miss Handicap and Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Prioress for 3-year-old fillies.
C C's Pal and It's Me Mom are the morning-line favorites among eight in the 6-furlong Honorable Miss. C C's Pal doesn't win as often as trainer Dick Dutrow Jr. might like but always has been competitive in graded stakes company. It's Me Mom is stepping up in class after winning the Satin and Lace Stakes at Presque Isle Downs. She won the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint at Gulfstream Park back in January.
Agave Kiss is the favorite among seven starters in the Prioress. The Lion Heart filly won her first six starts, then came a cropper in the Grade III Victory Ride Stakes at Belmont last time out, fading to finish fifth after a pace duel and taking down a pot of bridge-jumper money in the show pool. Her nemesis in that race, Jamaican Smoke, is back for more so look for a change of tactics and a more cautious betting pattern. Tu Endie Wei, Emma's Encore and Judy the Beauty also figure to be in the mix.
Saturday's $100,000 West Virginia Secretary of State drew 12 distaffers going 6 furlongs at Mountaineer. Speedacious is 3-1 morning-line favorite with Calvin Borel visiting to ride her, among others.
Sunday's $150,000, Grade II Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar should start to separate the sheep from the goats -- well, the good from the less good -- among the West Coast 2-year-olds. Miss Empire, an Empire Maker filly taking on colts, won the Cinderella and finished third in the Landaluce at the recent Hollywood Park gathering. Scherer Magic, an Iowa-bred Doneraile Court gelding, has won both his starts, including the Grade III Hollywood Juvenile. Amarish won the Willard Proctor Memorial at Hollywood, then finished sixth in the Hollywood Juvenile. We'll know more after the race about Know More, a first-timer Lion Heart colt out of the Seattle Slew mare Seattle Qui.
Other juvenile events for both genders enliven the weekend schedules at Arlington Park, Mountaineer, Prairie Meadows, Monmouth Park, Woodbine, Emerald Downs, Delaware Park and Louisiana Downs. It's that time of year and you never know where a star may step up.