A Dubai World Cup prep, a smattering of Kentucky Derby teasers and a whole bunch of top-rank grass events headline weekend racing.
Even more action is on tap for Monday, President's Day, as the first round of Derby preps winds up.
But first, the task at hand:
Sunday's feature, the $100,000, Grade III Sabine Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the main track, drew the marquee matchup of the weekend: Reigning champion female Royal Delta versus Grace Hall. Three others fill out the field. Royal Delta has won the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic two years in a row and has been victorious in four of her last five starts. She got some support for 2012 Horse of the Year. Grace Hall finished fourth behind Royal Delta in the Breeders' Cup but won last year's Grade II Delaware Oaks and Grade II Indiana Oaks. The others appear to be running for show money. Royal Delta used last year's Sabine as a prep for the Dubai World Cup on a night that saw all the U.S. horses flop badly. She finished ninth.
"Anytime you run the first time (after a layoff), I guess it can be termed a prep," said trainer Bill Mott. "We want to see how she's going here in the afternoon. We are planning on going to Dubai."
Grace Hall's trainer, Tony Dutrow, said his filly has been training well at Palm Meadows.
"She got back a little farther than I expected early in the Breeders' Cup and they kind of got away from her," he said. "I'm not sure she handled that track as much as the ones she was running on back east."
Ten are set for Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Mac Diarmida Stakes at 1 3/8 miles on the grass. Newsdad, Ioya Bigtime and Twilight Eclipse are the highweights in the field but Teaks North is coming off a win in the Sunshine Millions Turf. Lucky Chappy returns after a third-place finish in the Grade I Hollywood Derby but hasn't won since he was in Rome a year and a half ago. Nikki's Sandcastle won a couple of minor stakes earlier in the meeting but then finished fourth in the Grade II Ft. Lauderdale in his last outing. Fifty Proof has been tough at Woodbine.
Saturday's $100,000, Grade III The Very One Stakes drew nine fillies and mares. Starformer comes off a win in the Grade III Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct. Closing Range jumped up to win the Grade III Prevoyante Handicap at Calder in a big upset in her last start in November. Kadaya has won two straight for trainer Robert Hess Jr. at Gulfstream after racing at minor tracks in France back in 2011. My Pal Chrissy has been a consistent money-earner.
Sunday's $150,000, Grade II San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita is only 7 furlongs and Bob Baffert trains half of the entries -- Belvin, Shakin It Up and War Academy. Shakin It Up, a Midnight Lute colt, was last seen finishing third in the Grade III Hollywood Prevue Stakes in November. War Academy is a promising sort, coming off a convincing maiden win and boasting a "could be any kind" pedigree. Mudflats finished seventh in his last start, the Grade II Jerome, at Aqueduct -- his first start out of the maiden ranks.
Carving, trained by Baffert and owned by his wife, Jill, along with superskier Bode Miller, gets another chance in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. The Any Given Saturday colt is among nine 3-year-olds set to go 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track. Carving won the Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park last November before finishing a disappointing sixth in the Cash Call Futurity in December. He has not run since Dec. 15. Zeewat and Wildcat Moon, the 1-2 finishers from the California Derby, are in this field. Manando finished third in the Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.
Nicole H is almost always in the money and Saturday will try to improve on last year's second-place finish in the $250,000, Grade II Barbara Fritchie Handicap -- a 7-furlongs affair for fillies and mares. She has nine prospective opponents, including My Wandy's Girl, who comes off a third-place finish in the Grade I Gazelle at Aqueduct in November. Onepointthreekarats has won three in a row but steps up in class. Withgreatpleasure has finished second in each of her last four starts. Morrow Cove invades for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Jerry Hollendorfer trains three of the six fillies and mares entered for Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Santa Maria Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. Among them, Lady of Fifty is a graded stakes winner and Snow Fall won the ungraded Paseana Handicap in her last race last month. More likely are Book Review, winner of the Grade I La Brea and second in the Grade II La Canada in her last two outings for Baffert; and two enigmatic South American imports, Great Hot and Private Affair, both struggling to find North American form.
Tampa Bay Downs
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes is run at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. The field is headed by Grade II winners Big Blue Kitten and Doubles Partner. The latter won this race two years ago. Also on the list of entrants are the first four finishers from last year's edition of this race -- Roman Tiger, El Commodore, Swift Warrior and Allie's Event.
Black Caviar returns to action Saturday at Flemington, trying to win the Lightning Stakes for a third time. The race now carries her name. Black Caviar has not raced since her close call in winning the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in June -- her 23rd win without a loss. Trainer Peter Moody says his star is in the best shape ever, as evidenced by her final piece of work last weekend at Caulfield. She is expected to face up to seven rivals in the Lightning Stakes but bookmakers are giving odds on her margin of victory, in addition to her chance of winning.
Sunday's card at Sha Tin features the HG-Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Cup, the second leg of the SAR's 4-year-old series. Fourteen are entered and Gold-Fun and Garlic Boy, the 1-2 finishers in the first leg, the HK-Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Mile, will square off again. They will be joined by some impressive newcomers, including Autumn Gold and Akeed Mofeed. The race should help establish some form for the HK-Group 1 BMW Hong Kong Derby.
Lucky Nine, Frederick Engles and Joy and Fun headline a nine-horse field for Sunday's HK-Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize at 1,200 meters.
Sunday's $2.5 million, JP-Group 1 February Stakes is run at 1 mile on the dirt at the Tokyo Race Course and finds Curren Black Hill trying to do something never before accomplished in Japan -- win this historic stakes in his first try on the dirt course. Trainer Osama Hiratu admitted he's rolling the dice but added, "If he can get off to a fast start and capitalize on his speed, I think he might have a good shot." Sixteen are set to go.