Thoroughbred racing is off and running toward the holiday season this weekend with a $1 million race in Louisiana and big doings in Asia.
Churchill Downs and Aqueduct chip in with graded stakes that will keep our minds off the turkey dinner for a few more days.
So let's take a closer look at the short, but sweet, weekend schedule.
First up is Saturday's $1 million, Grade III Delta Jackpot for 2-year-olds at Delta Downs in Louisiana -- a race that anchors a solid card filled with stakes for all ages.
The Jackpot drew a field of nine from all points of the compass. Notables include Hightail, winner of the Breeder's Cup Juvenile Sprint, who will try to stretch out to the 1 1/16-mile distance for trainer D. Wayne Lukas; Know More, who ran impressively on the main track in graded stakes at Del Mar and Santa Anita; Itsmyluckyday, in from Florida and riding a streak of two straight stakes wins; Bern Identity, winner of the Grade II Sanford at Saratoga and the local Jean Lafitte Stakes; Mylute, second in the Jean Lafitte; and Goldencents who was good enough second in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park in his last start.
The Jackpot's $600,000 top prize no longer guarantees a spot in next year's Kentucky Derby starting gate because Churchill Downs arbitrarily changed the rules this summer. But the purse money obviously is still an attraction and the winner still will be among the early Derby favorites.
The $500,000, Grade III Delta Downs Princess drew a contentious field of nine 2-year-old fillies.
Also on tap: The $150,000 Delta Mile; the $150,000 Treasure Chest for fillies and mares at 1 mile; the $150,000 Louisiana Legacy for state-bred 2-year-olds; and the $150,000 Louisiana Jewel for state-bred 2-year-old fillies.
Willy Beamin is the morning-line choice for Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Discovery Handicap for 3-year-olds going 9 furlongs. The New York-bred Suave gelding worked his way up from the $25,000 claiming ranks, winning six straight races culminating in the Grade I King's Bishop at Saratoga. He finished second in his last start, the Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park, yielding late to finish 3/4 length behind Politicallycorrect. Installed in the outside gate in a field of six, the Rick Dutrow trainee is listed as the 7-5 favorite. "He's good. Real good," Dutrow said of Willy Beamin. "I wish I were doing as good as he is." Guilt Trip, breaking from the rail, is posted at 3-1 and Called to Serve, third in the Oklahoma Derby, is 7-2.
The popular "Downs After Dark" program continues with two graded stakes Saturday as darkness creeps ever earlier on the daily clock.
The $175,000, Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes for 3-year-old fillies running 1 1/16 miles on the grass drew a field of 11. Morning-line favorite is Center Court, off victories in the Regret and Lake George this summer and a pair of seconds in the Grade II Lake Placid and the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland. It's no easy race, with five other graded stakes winners set to go. Among them, Leading Astray, an Illinois-bred handled by Team Block, has never been worse than third in seven starts and won the Grade III Pucker Up Stakes at Arlington this summer.
King David, another overachieving former claimer, is the early favorite for Saturday evening's $100,000, Grade III Commonwealth Turf at 1 1/16 miles, also on the lawn. The son of Hat Trick will be looking for his sixth straight win, starting from the No. 11 gate against a full field. He jumped up from the claiming ranks to win the Grade I Jamaica Handicap at Belmont in his last start at odds of 28-1. Also in this heat is Grade III Hawthorne Derby winner Two Months Rent. Another to watch is Finale, who finished sixth at Hawthorne in his second start after a long layoff for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Sunday's Group 1 Mile Championship on the Kyoto turf ushers in a month of world-class racing with the Group 1 Japan Cup a week away and the Japan Cup Dirt a week behind that.
The Mile Championship features four of last year's top five finishers and some promising newcomers. Among the early favorites is Grand Prix Boss, who struggled after traveling to England last year but recently has been showing signs of returning to form. Also in here is Strong Return, who just barely denied Grand Prix Boss a victory in the Yasuda Kinen this past spring. Donau Blue, a 4-year-old full sister to this year's filly Triple Crown winner Gentildonna, is looking for a breakthrough and may be at her best trip in this event. A full field of 18 is set to go on a testing course. The race starts on the backstretch of the right-handed outer Kyoto course, runs 600 meters on the level and then turns into a hill that rises 4 meters over a 400-meter distance. The course then dips and turns into a 400-meter straight to the finish line.
Meanwhile, five overseas horses are on hand for the Nov. 25 Japan Cup, which will provide a rematch of the 1-2 runners from last month's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe -- France's Solemia and Japanese world traveler Orfevre. The other raiders are Sri Putra, seeking a first Group 1 win, American St. Leger winner Jakkalberry, Red Cadeaux and Mount Athos.
A trio of Jockey Club races at Sha Tin on Sunday point the way directly to the Dec. 9 Hong Kong International Races. Sunday's events are the 2,000-meter Jockey Club Cup, 1,600-meter Jockey Club Mile and 1,200-meter Jockey Club Sprint.
Little Bridge, who traveled to Royal Ascot this summer to land a Group 1 sprint, headlines Sunday's shortest event after finishing 10th in the Group 1 Sprinters Stakes in Japan Nov. 9. A victory in that event would have set him up for a $1 million bonus with a win in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint next month -- a prize that will go begging this year. "He's not 100 percent fit," said trainer Danny Shum. "But he's coming right with December the target. Lucky Nine and Cerise Cherry will be hard to beat but he will run well." Super Easy, winner of 12 of 13 starts, also is in from Singapore for the race.
Hong Kong's Champion stayer, Liberator is among 13 signed on for the Jockey Club Cup with the opposition including last year's Hong Kong Cup hero California Memory.
Sweet Orange is among 11 contenders for the Jockey Club Mile, which also includes in the field two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon and dual G1 Champions Mile winner Xtension. Ambitious Dragon could be prepping for either the Mile or the Cup on Dec. 9.
News and Notes:
Got a mare you think would be a perfect match for two-time European Horse of the year Frankel? First, of course, you'll need an OK from owner Khalid Abdullah's bloodstock experts, who will be out to find mares most likely to give their undefeated stallion a stellar first crop of foals. Then, you'll need deep pockets. The fee, set this week, is 125,000 pounds sterling ($198,390). A lot, yes. But maybe a bargain compared to the going fee for Frankel's sire, Galileo, which reportedly is as much as 300,000 pounds $476,136).