This weekend will be all about Frankel, the world's top-rated Thoroughbred, running in what's likely to be his final race.
The third jewel of the Japanese Triple Crown, the Group 1 Kikuka Sho, or Japanese St Leger, is contested Sunday at Kyoto. Saturday is Caulfield Cup day at Melbourne in Australia. And there are state-bred "festivals" all over the United States and one 2-year-old race of note.
But, for all of that, eyes will be on Ascot Saturday as Frankel faces as many as eight rivals in the $2 million, Group 1 Qipco British Champion Stakes.
A little closer look at the interesting, if compact, weekend ahead:
Frankel, a 4-year-old son of Galileo, is undefeated in 13 starts and his ratings put him among the top horses of all time. But the Champion field includes some other movers and shakers -- chief among them Cirrus des Aigles. While Frankel has built his unassailable record at home, Cirrus des Aigles has traveled the world, knocking heads with the best everywhere from Hong Kong to Dubai. He won this race last year.
Others to watch include Nathaniel, who came within 1/2 length of ending Frankel's undefeated streak before it even began when the two first-time starters met 14 months ago at Newmarket. Nathaniel finished second to Snow Fairy in the Irish Champion Stakes in his last start, then missed the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe with a fever.
The others also have credentials save, perhaps, Bullet Train, Frankel's older half-brother, who customarily is entered by trainer Sir Henry Cecil as a "rabbit" to ensure an honest early pace.
"It's building up to be a really true test for him," said Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager for Khalid Abdullah, who owns Frankel and doubtless is eager to see him start producing new generations of runners. "I have always come to this with the idea that we have to enjoy him."
Barring the totally unexpected, the Champion Stakes isn't necessary to end any arguments about Frankel's ability. It will, however, fan the flames of debate about his place in history.
Proving that lightning doesn't always strike in the same place, Frankel's 2-year-old half-brother, Morpheus, got home an undistinguished seventh in his first career start Wednesday in a maiden race at Nottingham. Racing Post indicates the Oasis Dream colt dwelt, or left the starting gate late, made some progress midway through but had no finishing punch. Tom Queally was in for the ride for Sir Henry -- the same team Frankel enjoys.
Frankel, Morpheus and Bullet Train share the dam Kind, an Irish-bred mare by Danehill out of the Rainbow Quest mare Rainbow Lake. In 2009 she produced Noble Mission, who has three wins and three seconds from seven starts.
The Champion Stakes is one of five graded events on Saturday's card at Ascot and any of the others would be a headliner if it weren't for the superstar in the main event.
Fame And Glory is back to defend his title in the Group 3 Quipco Long Distance Cup, as is Dancing Rain in the Group 2 Fillies' and Mares' Stakes.
The Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at 1 mile attracted a stellar field including Excelebration, Cityscape, Elusive Kate and Her Majesty's own runner, Carlton House.
A big field is in prospect for the Group 2 Sprint, including Whiz Kid, Starspangledbanner, Hawkeyethenoo and Delegator.
The Kikuka Sho, at 3,000 meters, pits the winners of the first two legs of the Japanese Triple Crown: Japanese 2,000 Guineas victor Gold Ship and Deep Brillante, the winner of the Japanese Derby. Orfevre, the hard-luck second-place horse in this year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, finished his sweep of the 2011 Triple Crown with a commanding win in this race. Foreign horses are allowed in the Kikuka Sho but none are entered this year.
A field of 22 was drawn for Saturday's Group 1 Caulfield Cup and defending Melbourne Cup champion Dunaden was installed widest of all, to the dismay of stable spokesman Geoffery Faber. "Nobody wants to be out there," he said. Americain was drawn No. 19 but is questionable to start depending on the course condition. Jakkalberry was assigned stall 13 and American representative Winchester got the No. 16 post. Glencadam Gold, undefeated in four starts in Australia, drew No. 21 but remained the local wagering favorite. All of those positions could be shifted inward slightly after late withdrawals.
Back in North America, things slow down a bit for the "big guns" with the Breeders' Cup World Championships now just two weeks away.
Keeneland continues its colorful fall meet Friday with $150,000, Grade III Pin Oak Valley View Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles on the turf ; Saturday with the $250,000, Grade II Lexus Raven Run for 3-year-old fillies at 7 furlongs and Sunday with the $125,000 Rood & Riddle Dowager Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/2 miles on the grass.
Santa Anita's weekend feature is the $100,000, Grade III Senator Ken Maddy Stakes for distaffers down the hillside turf course.
Delta Downs cranks things up in Cajun country. The track's meeting opens Friday with the $150,000 My Trusty Cat Stakes for juvenile fillies and continues with Saturday's $200,000 Jean Laffitte Stakes for 2-year-olds. The former is a prep for the $500,000, Grade III Delta Princess; the latter, for the $1 million, Grade III Delta Jackpot.
Those graded races, on Nov. 17, will be an early gauge of the impact of Churchill Downs' new scheme for earning points toward a start in the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.
In the past, graded stakes earnings determined the Derby starters and the $600,000 winner's share of the Delta Jackpot guaranteed the winner a spot in the following year's Derby field. In the new system, a win in the Jackpot is worth 10 points toward a Derby start, compared with the 50 or 100 points assigned the winner of next season's prep races.
North of the border, Woodbine on Saturday cards the $250,000 (Canadian) Cup and Saucer Stakes for Canadian-bred 2-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles on the grass. Nine are entered, including His Race to Win, who is winless in two starts so far.
Beyond all that, there are "festivals" for Oklahoma-breds at Remington Park, New York-breds at Belmont Park, West Virginia-breds at Charles Town and Delaware-breds at Delaware Park. Hawthorne has split up its "festival" this year to offer stakes races on more weekend dates. Saturday's allotment is comprised of a pair of 6-furlong sprints, one open and one restricted to fillies and mares.
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