In the lull between the Arc and British Champion Day, an international cast is lined up for Sunday's big turf races in Canada.
Those events at Woodbine, near Toronto, top a heavy weekend slate of grass racing and important events for 2-year-olds in America and in Europe. Appropriately, the festivities got off to an early start this week on Columbus Day with a flurry of grass races for 2-year-olds.
Santa Anita hosts the California Cup races Sunday and, with the Breeder's Cup over the same track just three weeks down the road, those races bear watching.
The Queen Elizabeth II Invitational Saturday at Keeneland annually draws some of the top 3-year-old grass-running fillies. Hawthorne has graded stakes action for the second straight weekend with the Grade III Hawthorne Derby over the suburban Chicago lawn.
And it's already time for the climactic races in the Florida Stallion Series on Saturday at Calder Race Course.
Internationally, Sunday finds the Group 1 Shuka Sho for 3-year-old fillies at Kyoto in Japan and the Group 1 Gran Criterium for 2-year-olds at Milan in Italy. England's Saturday includes two Group 1 events at Newmarket -- the Dubai Dewhurst for 2-year-olds at 7 furlongs and the 6-furlong Emaar Middle Park, restricted to 2-year-old colts. Australia is heating up as spring is well under way down under. Pierro is expected to put his undefeated record to the test on Saturday in the Caulfield Guineas.
Looking a little farther into the future, the world's No. 1 rated horse, Frankel, is getting primed for what's likely to be his final race in the Champion Stakes on Oct. 20 at Ascot -- perhaps against both Cirrus des Aigles and Nathaniel. And then it's only two weeks after that until the Breeders' Cup World Championship races at Santa Anita.
Before we get to the Woodbine headliners, here's what's up in the 2-year-olds, where much of the action already is in the books:
Noble Tune rolled from near the back of the field to win Monday's $150,000, Grade III Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park, drawing off late to finish 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Notacatbutallama. Special Skills finished third. Noble Tune is an Unbridled's Song colt out of the Storm Cat Mare Serena's Cat, which is nice breeding! He finished the 1 1/16 miles on the yielding inner turf course in 1:47.81 under Ramon Dominguez and now is 2-for-2 following a maiden win at Saratoga.
"It's always encouraging to see a horse with this much class who has the sense to maneuver around, slip inside, slip outside, accelerate, and switch off early in the race," said winning trainer Chad Brown.
Gervinho had some problems with the surface turning for home, then was just up at the wire to win Monday's $100,000 Zuma Beach Stakes at Santa Anita by 1/2 length over Den's Legacy. Dancin Upside Down waltzed home third. Gervinho, an Unusual Heat colt, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.59 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. He now has won both his starts, the first being a maiden race at Del Mar.
"He lost his footing," trainer Carla Gaines said of Gervinho's bobble on the turn.
She said Bejarano reported he "was starting to make a move and like the ground slipped out from under him. He really thought he got hurt." As for the next race, she said, "Breeders' Cup. We got to look at it, right?"
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Moonwalk, a 36-1 longshot, tracked the pace in Thursday's $150,000, Grade III JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland, then battled among three rivals to get the best of a four-horse photo finish. The camera found Moonwalk a nose ahead of Kitten's Point with Summer of Fun a head farther behind and just a nose in front of Oscar Party in fourth. The favorite, Always Kitten, was never in the mix and finished next-last of the 11 starters. Moonwalk, a Malibu Moon filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:45.17 with Corey Lanerie up for trainer Dale Romans. Moonwalk came into the race off a third-place finish in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies and has never finished off the board in four starts.
Asked about the Breeders' Cup, Romans said, "I don't know why we wouldn't."
Watsdachances rallied from well back in Monday's $150,000, Grade III Miss Grillo Stakes at Belmont Park, wove through some traffic and survived some bumps in the stretch, then kicked away to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Sustained was second and the early leader, Manuka Honey, finished third. Watsdachances, an Irish-bred filly by Diamond Green, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the yielding inner turf course in 1:47.90 with Javier Castellano up. She now has won three straight -- one in Ireland, one at Saratoga and Monday's race.
"Javier gave her a terrific ride," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "To be that patient and wait for a seam on the inside ... Javier made a big difference today. He rode her with a lot of confidence and made good decisions out there."
Flashy Ways flashed by outside the leaders in the stretch run of Monday's $100,000 Surfer Girl Stakes at Santa Anita and quickly kicked clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Wishing Gate and Somthingabouther completed the trifecta. Flashy Ways, a daughter of Catienus, ran the 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.45 with Joe Talamo handling the reins. She now is 2-for-2 after starting with a maiden win at Del Mar.
Winning trainer Richard Baltas said, "She's really bred for the turf. Her third dam is the dam of Precious Kitten and Kitten's Joy, so I knew she wanted to go long on the grass."
Asked about the Breeders' Cup, he said, "I think she's eligible. I have to check." Actually, Breeders' Cup records show she is not nominated and a $100,000 supplement would be required.
Sunday's card at Woodbine has grown to be among the richest and most prestigious one-day turf programs in the world. This year's is no exception, with three races offering $3 million (Canadian) in purses, including a sprint. All are Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" races, too.
A lucky 11, with a world of international credentials, entered for Sunday's $1.5 million (Canadian), Grade I Pattison Canadian International at 12 furlongs. All of them need to get by the first three finishers in last month's Grade I Northern Dancer, run over the same sweeping grass layout -- Wigmore Hall, Al Khali and Forte Dei Marmi. Wigmore Hall just caught Al Khali in the final yards in that one with Forte Dei Marmi gaining steadily late. Wigmore Hall doesn't win often -- only seven times in 27 starts. But he won both his starts at Woodbine, also including last year's Northern Dancer. German-based Scalo was fourth in the Northern Dancer and is back, having fortunately avoided the quarantine that grounded Danedream. Reliable Man comes from France off a second-place finish in a Group 3 event at Maisons-Laffitte. Joshua Tree has raced as far afield as Qatar, Japan and the UAE but has visited the winner's circle infrequently. Aidan O'Brien is represented by the lightly raced 3-year-old Galileo colt, Imperial Monarch. And from Shug McGaughey's barn, look for Air Support, winner of last year's Grade II Virginia Derby and the recent Grade II Bowling Green at Belmont Park.
Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian), Grade I Neartic Stakes at 6 furlongs on the grass got a field of 11, many with top credentials but few with consistently good resumes. Locally based Big Band Sound was in the money five straight times locally before finishing sixth in the Grade I Woodbine mile in his last outing and could appreciate the turnback in distance.
Last year's winner, Boisterous, is back for another bite of the Big Apple in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Knickerbocker Handicap going 9 furlongs at Belmont Park. The 5-year-old son of Distorted Humor was going well in New York this summer but then finished ninth in the Grade I Arlington Million in his last start. Tune Me In has won two straight graded stakes at Monmouth. Bombaguia stepped up to graded stakes company in his last start, the Grade II Bowling Green Stakes, and finished second. The improving Stormy Lord won the PTHA President's Cup at Parx Racing last time out. Barocci, a Japanese-bred and French-raced import, could be nearing a breakthrough. And See Tobe won the Japan Racing Association Stakes at Laurel in his last race. In all, eight are set to go.
Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Hawthorne Derby at 9 furlongs on the grass drew an overflow field of 12 with two also-eligibles, with contenders coming from every point of the compass. The entire Saturday card, in fact, is composed of big and competitive fields. Todd Pletcher has an interesting Derby starter in Finale, who won the Summer Stakes at Woobine last year, then finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. After getting home second in the Dania Beach at Gulfstream in December, the Scat Daddy colt was sidelined until July 30, when he finished 10th in the Equalize Stakes at Saratoga. He's been working well at Saratoga. Bill Mott sends Film Shot, who was second in the Equalize. All Stormy was second in the Grade III American Derby at Arlington this summer. All Squared Away won the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland in the spring. Al Stall Jr. sends Lea, who won two straight at Saratoga with Rosie Napravnik named to ride. Quick Wit won the off-the-turf National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga.
Filly & Mare Turf
Thirteen are in the $1 million (Canadian), Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine for fillies and mares at 10 furlongs. Barefoot Lady came from England to win last month's Grade II Canadian over the local turf and is looking to double up on that win. All Star Heart was a force in California before detouring across the continent to finish second in the Canadian in her last start for trainer Ron McAnally. Kapitale, another German who avoided the quarantine by visiting North America, comes off fourth-place efforts in the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington and the Canadian. Dream Peace was third in last year's E.P. Taylor and since has raced in Singapore and New York. Locally based Stars to Shine was third in the Canadian. French-based Pagera won a Group 3 at Baden Baden in her last start. Chilean import Vamo a Galupiar has been in-and-out for Neil Drysdale in California during the summer. Freddie Head sends lightly raced Havant with Frankie Dettori to ride. Princess Highway won the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Ascot was a good fifth in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille at Longchamp last time out.
Stephanie's Kitten and Samitar headline a field of eight drawn for Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland. The 3-year-old fillies will tackle 9 furlongs on the grass. Stephanie's Kitten used a victory in last fall's Grade I Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland as a springboard to a win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Her wins this year include the Grade II Lake Placid at Saratoga and the Edgewood at Churchill Downs. Samitar comes to Keeneland off a win in the Grade I Garden City at Belmont Park last month in her second start since shipping from England to Chad Brown's barn. Centre Court won three in a row, including the Group II Lake George, defeating Samitar, before a narrow loss to Stephanie's Kitten last time out. Most of the others also have graded stakes placings to their credit.
Nine are entered for Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Athenia at 1 1/16 miles on the Belmont Park grass. The race is fairly wide-open. Ruthenia comes in off a pair of fourth-place finishes in graded stakes. Laughing won the Grade III Matchmaker at Monmouth two starts back. Lightly raced French import Dealbata has been moving up in class and finished second last time in the Grade III Noble Damsel.
There are two divisions of Saturday's $125,000 John Deere California Cup Distaff for state-bred fillies and mares going 6 1/2 furlongs down the Santa Anita hill. The second includes Willa B. Awesome, who was awesome at Santa Anita in the winter and spring, winning the Grade III Ysabel and the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks. Sugarinthemorning has finished second in her last five starts in California -- four of them graded. The first division got a nice field of 11, several of them graded stakes performers. Logical Single, however, may be misnamed for those playing the multi-race gimmicks.
Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Spend a Buck Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the Calder main track got a field of eight, including Gourmet Dinner, comes off a seventh-place performance in the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga. The Trippi colt, however, has been a solid performer at Calder and earlier won the $1 million, Grade III Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs.
It might be a stretch to imagine a jump to the Breeders' Cup for any of the eight starters in Saturday's $125,000 Lava Man California Cup Classic for state-breds at 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita. But stranger things have happened and the Dirt Mile or even the up-in-the-air Classic could be on the radar for a few of these who have shown flashes of ability in the past. Rousing Sermon and Thirtyfirststreet, in particular, could take a step forward.
There are a couple live ones among the 10 signed on for Saturday's $100,000 Donald Valpredo Cal Cup Sprint for state-breds at Santa Anita. Watch out for Derby Gold, making just his fourth start for trainer Bob Baffert. He ran well over the Santa Anita surface in the spring but finished fifth over the Del Mar all-weather in his comeback effort in August. He's been burning up the Santa Anita dirt in the morning for the past few weeks. Mensa Heat was third in the Grade III Eddie D Stakes at Santa Anita just two weeks ago. Several others have been consistently tough in the local allowance ranks.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Nicole H headlines a field of nine set for Saturday's $100,000 Endine Stakes at Delaware Park. The Mr. Greely filly has finished second four times in her last seven starts, including several graded stakes events. Eve Giselle has won all three of her starts over the track and is the second-favorite on the morning line for the 6-furlong event.
Saturday's $300,000 In Reality Division of the Florida Stallions Stakes at Calder promises a rubber match between the winners of the first two legs, Two T's at Two B and D'nied Permission. The In Reality, a 1 1/16-miles test for progeny of Florida-based stallions, got a field of 10. Two T's at Two B won his first three career starts before getting home third behind D'nied Permission in the $125,000 Affirmed Division. The latter has won twice in five starts. Joshua's Comprise, who has been right there with the other two in the earlier races, also is back for Saturday's rematch.
Saturday's $250,000 Bob Benoit Cal Cup Juvenile for state-breds at 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita drew a field of 10, including three from John Sadler's barn.
Shanghai Bobby, undefeated in four starts after winning the Grade I Champagne on Belmont Park, has been confirmed as a candidate for the Breeders' Cup. Part-owner Jack Wolf had expressed some reservations after the Champaign but said he's ready to take trainer Todd Pletcher's word the Harlan's Holiday colt is ready to rumble.
A field of nine is set for Saturday's $300,000 My Dear Girl Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder, with daughters of Florida stallions going 1 1/16 miles. As with the colts and geldings, this race features a showdown between the winners of the first two divisions -- Candy Coded Kisses and Putyourdreamsaway.
Ten are entered for Saturday's $250,000 Keith E. Card Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies for state-breds at 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita. Keep an eye on it to see if anyone impresses.
News and notes
This week's Racing Post listings find Wise Dan tied with Camelot for No. 6 on their overall world rankings. He's tied with some very exalted company for seventh among turfers and rated No. 1 worldwide on dirt and all-weather surfaces.