The Hong Kong International Races highlight weekend racing with a hefty dose of U.S. events for 2-year-olds.
Gulfstream Park and Hollywood Park both feature graded stakes for fillies and mares on Saturday. Saturday also is Louisiana Champions Day at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
First, the overseas action:
The four races on Sunday's card at Sha Tin are billed as the "World Turf Championships" and they live up to that description. All are Group 1 events and each has attracted a top field of international runners -- although there is no U.S.-based runner this year.
The $2.8 million Longines Hong Kong Cup features Cirrus des Aigles, a French-based 6-year-old gelding now rated the world's top horse after the retirement of Frankel. Cirrus des Aigles, in fact, pressed Frankel in his final race, the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot, before settling for second behind the undefeated superstar. Cirrus des Aigles, who drew No. 5 in a field of 13, will have Olivier Peslier up for trainer Corine Barande-Barbe. The competition is tough, including defending champion California Memory, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's Carlton House, top French runners Saonois and Giofra, German hopeful Feuerblitz and several proven Hong Kong runners along with California Memory. Barande-Barbe said she is satisfied with No. 5 for Cirrus des Aigles. "It will prevent him being boxed in or having to go wide," she said. "Now it will be up to Olivier and the horse."
The $1.9 million Longines Hong Kong Sprint has been won by a local horse nine of the past 10 years and in 10 of its overall 13 runnings. There are plenty of talented locals in this year's 12-horse field, including Joy and Fun, defending champion Lucky Nine and Super Easy. However, they will need to contend with the likes of the 1-2 finishers in the recent Group 1 Sprinters Stakes in Japan, Lord Kanaloa and Curren Chan, and Australian star Sea Siren. Singapore sensation Super Easy will be stepping up but has won 13 of 17 lifetime starts. Lucky Nine's trainer, Caspar Fownes, frowned at his No. 12 post position at Thursday's draw -- a handicap with a short run into the turn. "It's just one of those things and we just have to see how good the horse is now," he said. His three main rivals drew gates 6, 7 and 8.
The $1.9 million Longines Hong Kong Vase, a 2,400-meter marathon, has a field of 13 and many of them appear on paper to have a shot. Dunaden is the defending champion but, after winning the Group 1 Caulfield Cup in Australia two months ago, ran unaccountably poorly in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup. Group 1 Singapore Cup winner Chinchon, Grade I Secretariat Stakes winner Bayrir, Dancing Rain and Sea Moon all have run well enough in the past year to contend on Sunday.
The $2.6 million Longines Hong Kong Mile also has been dominated by locals as eight of the last 10 winners were Hong Kong-based. The home team is loaded again with Ambitious Dragon, the two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year, leading the way. Glorious Days, who defeated Ambitious Dragon in the local prep for this race, also is in the field, along with several others with good credentials over the Sha Tin surface. Rivals from England, Ireland, Japan and France will try to turn the tide.
The star attraction here is Executiveprivilege, likely to the heavy favorite in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Hollywood Starlet at Hollywood Park. Executiveprivilege won her first five races, including two previous Grade I events, before finishing second, 1 length behind Beholder, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Should she win Saturday, Executiveprivilege would give Eclipse Award voters a tough choice in balloting for this division. The Bob Baffert trainee will have seven rivals, including stablemate Blonde Fog, coming off an impressive maiden win. Midnight Ballet and Miss Empire could contend and Pure Fun ships in from Kentucky as a supplemental entry making her first start on an all-weather track.
On Sunday, Hollywood has the $200,000 Soviet Problem Stakes for California-bred 2-year-old fillies.
Other state-bred events for the juvenile fillies are scheduled at Parx Racing, Retama Park, Aqueduct and Woodbine.
The deal here is Sunday's $300,000 Remington Springboard Mile in Oklahoma. The $75,000 Gold Rush Stakes tops the Saturday card at Golden Gate Fields. State-bred races are on tap, including the $125,000 Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity for state-breds at Hawthorne Park and at Aqueduct.
In addition to the juvenile races, the LAX track on Saturday cards the $200,000, Grade II Bayakoa Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather surface. Inglorious comes off a long layoff and a long trip from Woodbine. She has been extremely tough on the all-weather surface for trainer Josie Carroll. Lady of Fifty, Charm the Maker and Willa B Awesome also have claims in the field of eight.
A field of seven distaffers is set to go 6 furlongs on the main track in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Sugar Swirl Stakes. Dust and Diamonds comes off a second-place finish in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint as the likely favorite. She has never been out of the money in 10 starts. Sacristy finished second in the Lexus Raven Run at Keeneland in her last start.
Louisiana Champions Day Saturday comprises a full card of rich races for steeds bred in Louisiana. The $150,000 Classic tops the list with 11 scheduled to contest the 9 furlongs.