Important turf races, some key tests for the 2-year-olds and a jockey challenge in England highlight weekend racing.
There also are a few big-deal races for the fillies and mares, including Ellis Park's big race. And the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville challenges the language-impaired among us. Although, come to think of it, there's a little language issue around Ellis Park, too.
A closer look, in only the best linguistic style:
On the greensward:
Wise Dan finished second to Ron the Greek last time out in the Stephen Foster Handicap on the Churchill Downs main track. And he has done some of his best work on the all-weather surfaces. That hasn't discouraged trainer Charles Lopresti from entering the 5-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding in Saturday's $500,000, Grade II Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga -- a 1-mile grass event that attracted some tough turf terrors. "I think he's a better mover on grass," Lopresti told Brisnet after working Wise Dan on that surface late last week. Also in the 10-horse field: Data Link and Get Stormy, who finished 1-2 in the Monmouth Stakes at 9 furlongs on the grass last time out; Guys Reward, winner of three straight including the Grade II Firecracker at Churchill Downs in his last start at 1 mile on the grass; Corporate Jungle, victorious in the Elkhorn Stakes at 1 mile on the lawn at Monmouth two starts back; Upgrade, winner of Belmont's 7-furlong, Grade II Jaipur Stakes in his last race; Yield Bogey, third in the Jaipur; and Crossbow, a Bernardini colt who stretches out and switches to grass for the Darley operation. That's a tough heat.
The Spa actually gets the weekend off to a head start with Friday's $200,000, Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes, with 3-year-olds taking a 1 1/16-mile turf tour. Eight are entered with Raconteur as an also-eligible. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas entered Skyring and Optimizer, who will run coupled in the mutuels. Daddy Nose Best is the morning-line favorite after rebounding a ninth-place showing in the Preakness to get home fourth at Arlington Park in last month's Grade III American Derby. Yari and Csaba also figure in a race that shapes up as a chance for someone to step up.
Three-year-old grass runners not up to the Hall of Fame can try Sunday's $100,000 Gio Ponti Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the Saratoga lawn.
On the West Coast, the big grass race of the weekend is Sunday's $250,000, Grade II John C. Mabee Stakes for fillies and mares at 9 furlongs. This is another race where just about everyone seems to be struggling. Three of the six entrants come out of the Grade II Royal Heroine Stakes at Hollywood. But they finished fourth, seventh and eighth in that event. Cambina may have the best record against the toughest company, having finished second by just a nose to Capital Plan last time out in the Grade III Beverly Hills. But that race was at 1 1/4 miles. And she hasn't won in her last eight starts, covering more than 13 months.
Del Mar's feature on Saturday also is on the green course -- the $150,000, Grade II La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles. Again, the field of five doesn't have much in the way of accomplishments with My Best Brother and Midnight Crooner, winners of the two divisions of the 1-mile Oceanside Stakes three weeks ago, staking the best claim. Old Time Hockey, Chips All In, Blingo and Facoltoso also return from the Oceanside.
Del Mar on Friday offers the $85,000 Daisycutter Handicap for fillies and mares going 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf. Nine signed on there, including Mega Dream, who shortens up from last month's 1-mile, Grade II Royal Heroine at Hollywood Park, where she ran second to Quiet Oasis. West Ruler finished second to Unzip Me down the Santa Anita hillside in the California Cup Distaff last fall but hasn't raced since. Mentioned mainly for the name: Madoffwiththemoney, who has won two of three starts at Golden Gate.
In the company of fillies and mares:
Morrow Cove heads a field of six entered for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Monmouth Oaks. The Yes It's True filly has won her last two, including the Serena's Song Stakes at Monmouth in her last outing, for trainer Todd Pletcher. Jemima's Pearl was third in the Fantasy at Oaklawn in the spring but then 10th in the Kentucky Oaks in her last start. Don't confuse her with Proud Pearl, who has yet to string much together. She and the others need to take a step forward.
At Ellis Park, Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Gardenia Stakes didn't lure the most accomplished field in the history of racing. But the nine fillies and mares going 1 mile should provide a lot of betting opportunities for fans of the "pea patch."
Saturday's $200,000 Governor's Cup at Remington Park came up light on numbers but strong on talent. Among the five entered are Alternation, winner of the Razorback and Oaklawn handicaps in Arkansas this spring; Prayer for Relief, winner of last year's Iowa Derby, West Virginia Derby and Super Derby; and Get in Da House, who has hit the board in each of his last eight starts, including third-place finishes in a pair of graded stakes at Lone Star Park.
Apart is off to a bit of a slow start for trainer Al Stall Jr. but could get things back on track in Saturday night's $125,000 Evangeline Mile at Evangeline Downs. The 5-year-old son of Flatter was competitive at the highest levels early last year but was sidelined after finishing ninth in the Whitney at Saratoga. He showed little in two earlier starts this year -- graded stakes at Churchill Downs and Lone Star Park. He will face nine rivals, including Miami Mile winner Imperial Czar.
You never know department: Heliskier, an undefeated Minnesota-bred 3 year old, headlines the $65,000 Minnesota Derby Saturday at Canterbury Park. Heliskier won the $55,000 Northern Lights Futurity last year and this summer has dominated in all three starts including the $50,000 Victor S. Myers Stakes and the $35,000 MTA Stallion Laddie, all by daylight margins. The Appealing Skier gelding will be stretching out from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 mile and 70 yards. Stay tuned.
My Miss Aurelia had been absent since her victory in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. There was no rust in evidence, however, as she returned to action Wednesday with a 3-lengths win in the Mandy's Gold Stakes at Saratoga, overcoming a stumble at the start. The Smart Strike filly got to the lead at the head of the stretch and won without much effort on the part of jockey Julien Leparoux. "I was very confident," Leparoux said. Trainer Steve Asmussen said the "minor shin problem" that necessitated the layoff is a thing of the past. "I think she'll have a huge year," Asmussen said of My Miss Aurelia, who remains undefeated in five starts after the comeback win.
Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Saratoga Special is the marquee event in this division. Todd Pletcher will saddle two -- Shanghai Bobby, undefeated in two starts including a minor stake at Belmont Park, and Drum Roll, who won at first asking at Monmouth Park. The five others also have only a maiden win each although Dan the Tin Man ran fourth in the Victoria Stakes at Woodbine before breaking through against maidens in his second outing at the same track. There might be something to get excited about after this one is over.
Other juveniles will be on display in stakes events at River Downs and Prairie Meadows.
Executiveprivilege remained undefeated in three starts by taking Wednesday's $150,000, Grade III Sorrento Stakes at Del Mar. The First Samurai filly, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Rafael Bejarano, took charge at the top of the stretch and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Speedinthruthecity, finishing 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.98. She came into the race off a win in the Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park last month. "She just trains herself," Baffert said. "We just let her run around there in the mornings. We haven't really done a lot with her. She loves this surface, she loves dirt. Hollywood Park, she didn't have any problem with it." He said Executiveprivilege will move along to the Debutante.
Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga found six takers. Cayllano won at first asking at Indiana Downs, then scored by 8 1/2 lengths in the White Clay Creek overnight stakes at Delaware Park. Salamera arrives from Calder, where she won a maiden event, then took the J J'sdream Stakes. Fully Living and Sweet Shirley Mae bounce right back from finishing fourth and fifth in the Grade III Schuylerville over the same course on July 20.
The only Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" race of the weekend is at Deauville, where Excelebration could be expected to celebrate not having to run against Frankel in Sunday's Group 1 Prix du Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard-Jacques le Marois at 1 mile on the grass. Frankel is prepping for a stretchout at York, leaving the field a little more open for Excelebration, who has finished second to Frankel in three of his last four starts. Also expected is Cityscape, who has struggled since winning the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan in March. An intriguing prospect is Moonlight Cloud, who won last weekend's Group 1 Maurice de Gheest over the same course. The 4-year-old Invincible Spirit filly, like Excelebration, has had "superstar" problems this year, finishing second by just a head to Black Caviar in the Diamond Jubilee at Ascot in June. Other than that, she's been great. Golden Lilac and Caspar Netscher are among those left on the list on Wednesday.
Perhaps memory is playing tricks, but it seems jockey competitions used to be gimmicky things designed to drum up attention and fill an otherwise empty day around a big race meeting. Now, they seem to be taking on a life of their own. See, for example, the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Saturday at Ascot. Four teams represent Great Britain and Ireland, Europe, "the rest of the world" and "the girls." The latter is composed of Haley Turner, Emma-Jayne Wilson and Chantal Sutherland. Frankie Dettori, Andreas Suborics Cristian Demuro represent Europe, Kieren Fallon, Johnny Murtagh and James Doyle carry the GB/Ireland banner and Aaron Gryder, Yutaka Take and Matthew Chadwick shoulder the rest of the world like three little Atlases. The quality of the riders tells you it's serious business. Ladbrokes weighs in, listing GB/Ireland as the 7-4 favorite with Europe at 5-2, "the girls" at 3-1 and the rest of the planet at 4-1. The event has its own, 37-page Media Guide. Oh yes, the races. There are six handicaps, each worth 30,00 pounds sterling. The event started in 2001 and the good folks at Dubai Duty Free have been involved since the start. They took over title sponsorship in 2006.