Despite the pre-Breeders' Cup lull, there are some important races on tap this weekend, including 2-year-old heats at Churchill Downs.
The $350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash heads the Saturday card at Laurel Park, potentially diverting some attention away from politics in the nation's capital nearby.
Overseas, things wind down in England with the year's final Group 1 event. But they heat up in Asia with the Group 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) in Tokyo and an early look at Sha Tin Race Course at some of the locals expected to contend in Decembers Longines Hong Kong International Races.
Sunday is Cox Plate day in Australia, with Black Caviar's half-brother, All Too Hard, set to line up again with once-defeated Pierro. Pierro is generally favored in the field of 14.
And, of course, there's the Breeders' Cup looming just over the horizon with potentially historic matchups in some races and wide-open chances in others. Time to practice up handicapping this week to score big on Nov. 2-3 at Santa Anita. Let's get going, starting with the youngsters:
Thinking ahead to the 2013 Kentucky Derby? Well, don't focus all your attention on next weekend's races at Santa Anita at the expense of Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Iroquois Stakes for 2-year-olds going the one-turn mile at Churchill Downs. The race is not on the list of Kentucky Derby qualifying races. But it does provide a look at whether a youngster can handle the Churchill strip and it leads to the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Nov. 24, which does offer Derby points to the first four finishers. A field of 10 is in prospect and at least a few of them are probably ducking the no-Lasix rules imposed on this year's Breeders' Cup 2-year-old races. Overanalyze won the Grade II Futurity at Belmont after fourth in the Grade II Three Chimneys Hopeful at Saratoga. Pataky Kid, an Oklahoma-bred, won the Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity and then finished fourth in the Grade I Dixiana Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. Five Iron and Uncaptured are in from Woodbine. Heaven's Runway captured the Fitz Dixon at Presque Isle last time out and gets Rosie Napravnik up. Triple Cross has run well. And Positively has a first, second and third in three tries under the Twin Spires.
Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs at 1 mile on the main track shares the characteristics of the Iroquois. It also leads to the Nov. 24, Grade II Golden Rod, which offers points toward the 2013 Kentucky Oaks. The field of eight is a mixed bag of stakes also-rans and maiden winners.
Also Sunday, the $250,000 (Canadian) Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Woodbine is for Canadian-bred 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track.
The Tenno Sho (Autumn), or Emperor's Cup, at Tokyo Race Course is expected to have one kind of royalty in the form of the emperor and empress of Japan. But it will lack the nation's reigning equine royalty, Orfevre, who is not quite up to a return to racing after his devastating, narrow defeat this month in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The presence of His Imperial Highness is a rarity. The emperor has attended the Tenno Sho (Autumn) in person only once in the last 113 years, that coming in 2005. This year's visit commemorates the 150th year of racing in Japan. With Orfevre sitting it out, the provisional field of 18 could include Rulership, winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Hong Kong this past spring; Tosen Jordan, who won this race last year before finishing second in the Japan Cup; and Curren Black Hill, an undefeated 3-year-old who is tackling the 2,000-meters distance for the first time. There are no foreign starters.
Sunday's Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy is, on its face, not a terribly prestigious event. But, looking at the field, it's clear it's plenty important. Two-time HK Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon tops a field that includes five of the 10 highest-rated horses in the SAR. Others include Hong Kong Cup winner California Memory, Champions Mile winner Xtension, Hong Kong Derby winner Fay Fay. Also among the 14 horses provisionally entered are Liberator, Admiration, Glorious Days and Zaidan. Many eyes will be on the Tony Millard-trained Ambitious Dragon to see if he can carry his form along to yet another season at the top level after three straight losses to end his last campaign. If so, he could join others from this field in the Group 2 trial races on Nov. 18 en route to the Longines Hong Kong International Races Dec. 9.
Saturday's Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, the final Group1 of the flat racing season, includes a number of promising 2-year-olds including one -- Steeler -- especially for Horse Racing Radio Network's Mike Penna. Steeler, a Raven's Pass colt with Kieren Fallon set to ride, is among several who come into the 1-mile event off wins. The Aidan O'Brien-trained Kingsbarns, a winner in his only previous start, is among the favorites with Joseph O'Brien set to ride.
Take your pick on Saturday of Group 1 events in Paris or Rome. The Prix Royal-Oak at 15 1/2 furlongs over the Longchamp turf is for 3-year-olds and up. The Premio Lydia Tesio at Rome has fillies and mares going 10 furlongs on the green. Hard to go wrong.
Sunday's Cox Plate at Moonee Valley is a weight-for-age race over 2,000 meters, meaning 3-year-old Pierro and All Too Hard getting a weight break against the older rivals. There are no foreign horses in this race.
On Wednesday, Gatewood hit the gas in the straight to win the Group 3 Centrebet Geelong Cup by 3/4 length over Chateaux Margaux. Brigantin sailed home third. Gatewood, a Galileo colt, got the 1 1/2 miles on good going in 2:34.10 with Glen Boss up for trainer John Gosden. The last two runnings of the Geelong Cup went to Americain and Dunaden. Both used the win as a springboard to victory in the Emirates Melbourne Cup. Gatewood, however, is far down the list of eligibles for the "race that stops a nation" and will need a big boost in penalties from Wednesday's win to make the field.
Eight are set to answer the bell for Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Turnback the Alarm Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. All are graded-stakes tested and the race is a tough one. R Gypsy Gold has won three straight at Belmont and her stablemate in the Todd Pletcher barn, Maristar, also is in the lineup. Arena Elvira won five in a row before finishing third last time out at Hawthorne in the Grade III Sixty Sails.
Also Saturday, 10 are drawn for the $150,000, Grade III Bold Ruler Handicap at 7 furlongs on the dirt. Pletcher is represented here by the seemingly omnipresent Caixa Eletronica, who comes off a second-place finish in the Grade I Vosburgh Invitational last month. Zero Rate Policy and Little Drama also advance from the Vosburgh.
Did you blink and miss the fall meeting at the mothership of North American racing? One more chance -- and one only -- in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Fayette Stakes at 9 furlongs on the all-weather track. Remember Take Charge Indy winning the Florida Derby as Calvin Borel nursed him on the lead while Union Rags lagged and finished third? It's easier to forget Take Charge Indy subsequently finishing 19th in the Kentucky Derby, beating only the eased Daddy Long Legs. He suffered an ankle injury in that race and hasn't been seen since. Well, he's back and listed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite after working steadily and well over the Churchill Downs strip for the past month under the tutelage of Patrick Byrne. He has experience on all-weather surfaces, having broken his maiden at Arlington last fall, then finishing second in the Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity. French import Salto, now with the help of Todd Pletcher and Rosie Napravnik, is second choice on the morning line, followed by Newsdad, Guys Reward and Middie.
Don't tell anyone else but the last horse in the last field on the last day of this Keeneland session is named Cha Ching Jackpot. There were days when we'd bet the bridge tolls on a name like that at Cahokia Downs -- then run the tollbooth on the way home!
Eleven are entered for Saturday's $350,000 Frank J. De Frances Memorial Dash, going 6 furlongs on the main track. Sean Avery is the 5-2 morning-line favorite despite tossing in a clunker last time out in the Grade I Vosburgh at Belmont Park. Before that, the 6-year-old Cherokee Run gelding had five wins and a second from his previous six starts. Pacific Ocean and Royal Currier also are fancied by the Laurel oddsmaker.
The Saturday card also has five turf stakes, ranging from 5 1/2 furlongs for 2-year-olds to 1 1/2 miles for the older steeds.
Even with the Breeders' Cup Mile just a week away, the Santa Anita racing office came up with a competitive and talented field of 11 for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Autumn Miss Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Lady Ten and Charm the Maker are among the likely choices in a well-balanced field that could fatten wise bettors' pocketbooks just in time for the big races next weekend.
Big fields are on tap Saturday for a pair of $200,000 stakes for Indiana-breds -- the open Too Much Coffee and the Frances Slocum for fillies and mares. Each is 1 1/16 miles and betting opportunities abound.