The final tuneup for the Arkansas Derby highlights the weekend U.S. racing calendar while two Hong Kong shootouts cap overseas action.
Out west, Santa Anita has an early prep for the Breeders' Cup Turf and a Grade I event for fillies and mares. Gulfstream Park has the ladies on turf and dirt. Fair Grounds features a pair of turf dashes.
My Miss Aurelia hopes to get back on the winning track at Oaklawn Park. And the final stakes race of the year at Aqueduct means spring is coming. Soon. Probably.
Off we go.
Kentucky Derby preps
They're coming from all points of the compass for Saturday's $600,000, Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The 1 1/16-mile heat looks so tough that the winner will have to be considered right up there with Tampa Bay Derby winner Verrazano as a favorite for the Run for the Roses. Bob Baffert is back from California with two, including Super Ninety Nine, who ran away with the Grade III Southwest Stakes over the same track on Feb. 18, winning by 11 1/4 lengths. Baffert's other starter is no slouch either. Den's Legacy has been in the money in four straight graded stakes and finished second to Flashback in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis on Groundhog Day. If you don't like Baffert's duo, D. Wayne Lukas also will saddle two. Oxbow was the runaway winner of the Grade III LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds before finishing fourth with a wide trip in the recent Grade II Risen Star at the New Orleans oval. Lukas also has Will Take Charge, who won the Smarty Jones stakes at Oaklawn before finishing sixth in the Southwest. Also in from Santa Anita is Treasury Bill, recent runner-up in the Grade II San Vicente, going 7 furlongs. From the east comes Delhomme, a Todd Pletcher trainee who finished third behind Overanalyze and Normandy Invasion in the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in November and makes his 3-year-old debut. He has been working well at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida. A couple others have shown promise, too. The race is worth 50 points to the winner toward getting into the Kentucky Derby field.
My Miss Aurelia kicks off her 2013 campaign in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park, going 1 1/16 miles. The 4-year-old Smart Strike filly won her first six races before finishing second by 1 1/2 lengths to champion Royal Delta in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic last fall. The latter is set to run in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in two weeks' time. My Miss Aurelia then finished third, beaten just two necks, in the Grade I La Brea Stakes at 7 furlongs on Boxing Day before retiring for the season. Tiz Miz Sue won this race last year and is back, but has not won in six starts in the interim. She's All In was second in the 2011 Azeri but also has struggled since. Don't Tell Sophia has won three straight, the last two at Oaklawn. Songs and Sonnets, this week's "name of the week," comes out of the allowance ranks.
Six fillies and mares signed on for Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Santa Margarita Invitational at 9 furlongs. Brushed By a Star has missed the exacta only once in her last nine races and makes her first California start for trainer Eddie Kenneally. Joyful Victory, however, defeated that one handily in their last start at Sam Houston Race Course and is back for more. She also has been in the money consistently. Great Hot comes off a win in the Grade II Santa Maria Stakes but had struggled in several previous starts. More Chocolate has jumped quickly up the class ladder and comes off a win in the Grade II La Canada Stakes in January.
The first- and second-place finishers in the recent 1 1/4-mile, Grade II San Marcos Stakes will duke it out again in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II San Luis Rey, with an added quarter of a mile to run on the Santa Anita grass. Slim Shadey led all the way to a 1-length victory in the Feb. 9 San Marcos, with Interaction rolling from far back to come up just short. All Squared Away, who finished third in the San Marcos, also is in this 9-horse field. The others include Bourbon Bay, a graded stakes winner and second in last year's running of the San Marcos, and some aspirational ones.
Centre Court is the highweight among nine entered for Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Honey Fox Stakes at 1 mile on the lawn. She makes her seasonal debut after a 3-year-old season that saw her rise from the maiden ranks to finish second in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, then win the Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill Downs. She has figured in the exacta in eight straight starts. Channel Lady, a 4-year-old English Channel filly, has four wins and two seconds from seven career starts and won the Grade III Suwannee River Stakes over the course in her last outing. Class Included was always first or second during her career in the Pacific Northwest but finished seventh in two California starts late last season and tries the East Coast for the first time. Heavenly Landing has jumped up to score a time or two. Samitar is one to watch. After running creditably in England, she ran well in three graded stakes last fall after shipping to the United States.
Golden Mystery won the Grade III Hurricane Bertie Stakes last month and takes on some of the same rivals in Sunday's $150,000, Grade II Inside Information Stakes at 7 furlongs. This interesting field also includes some multiple allowance winners (among them, another "name of the week," Starship Truffles) and some comebackers. Aubby K, third in the Grade I Acorn at Belmont last summer, is on the track in the afternoon for the first time since last August. Ice Cream Silence has been silent since finishing second in the Grade III Iowa Oaks last June and won three in a row before that. Burban won three in a row during the 2012 Churchill Downs spring meeting, then vanished.
Elghayoor and Railtown Girl, who finished first and second in last month's Dearly Precious, will tackle five other 3-year-old fillies in Saturday's $100,000 Cicada Stakes at 6 furlongs on the inner track. Both are trained by Kieren McLaughlin. The race is notable as the last stakes scheduled on the inner oval. The main track is set to open March 20 -- a much surer sign of spring that any groundhog activity.
Sum of the Parts and Chamberlain Bridge are among the likely ones for Saturday's $75,000 Colonel Power Stakes at about 5 1/2 furlongs on the lawn. Same Cross, an undefeated 4-year-old filly, is the morning-line choice in the companion $75,000 Happy Ticket Stakes for distaffers at the same distance on the turf.
Sunday's card at Sha Tin is brimful with quality in the HK-Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at 1,400 meters and the HK-Group 1 Hong Kong Derby at 2,000 meters. The Silver Jubilee Cup brings together some of the SAR's heavyweight stars while the Derby showcases some of the potential heroes of the near future.
The Jubilee Cup, final leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series, pits two-time Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon against Glorious Days, winner of the HK-Group 1 Stewards' Sup, and Lucky Nine, last year's winner and victor in the second leg, the HK-Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize. Six others are set to go and none is a pushover.
Trainer Richard Gibson will saddle three of the hopefuls in the Derby, including probable favorite Akeed Mofeed and HK-Group 1 Classic Mile winner Gold-Fun. Trainer John Moore also has three, including Ashkiyr, who could be peaking after finishing third in the HK-Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Cup. The 14-horse field also includes It Has to Be You, who will try to back up his victory Classic Cup, and President Lincoln, who was second in that race.
While still hoping Little Mike and Dullahan can improve on their dismal showing on Super Saturday, American hopes for World Cup night are swinging to Animal Kingdom and Royal Delta.
Trainer Graham Motion said Wednesday at Gulfstream Park that Joel Rosario will keep the mount on Animal Kingdom despite a questionable ride in his prep race -- the $300,000, Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. Riding Animal Kingdom for the first time in that heat, Rosario sent the son of Leroidesanimaux to the lead midway down the backstretch and he was caught and defeated in the late going by Point of Entry.
Without stating the obvious, that Point of Entry is no slouch himself and it's better to make a mistake for $300,000 than for $10 million, Motion said one bad ride should not disqualify a jockey.
"It's not a science," he said. "Sometimes it takes an experience like that to get to know a horse better. I think all riders are open to making the odd mistake."
The trainer added Animal Kingdom has been working well and the extra effort in the earlier race "put him right where we wanted him to be." He said Animal Kingdom will work Monday at the Palm Meadows training facility and ship to Dubai on Tuesday.
Also, the recently unretired Gary Stevens reportedly has been offered a job as stable jockey for Donegal Racing, which would find him replacing Kieren Fallon aboard Dullahan in the World Cup. Stevens won the World Cup with Silver Charm in 1998, at the old Nad Al Sheeba track. The National quoted Donegal officials as saying a deal is in the works.
Already in the books:
The Ocala Training Center had its showcase day Monday, with four races restricted to steeds sold at an OBS sale.
Michael With Us rallied relentlessly down the stretch to win the $100,000 colt and gelding division of the OBS Championship for 3-year-olds by 1/2 length over Brazilian Court. Brown Almighty had every chance at the top of the lane but faded to finish third, 4 3/4 lengths farther back. Michael With Us, a Bluegrass Cat colt out of the Unbridled's Song mare Unbridled Melody, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45 for jockey Edgar Prado.
In the $100,000 3-year-old filly division of the Championship, Spring Venture ventured a second effort after being headed in the stretch run and got home first by 3/4 length over Spring in the Air. Toasting was third. Spring Venture got the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44 4/5 under Jermaine Bridgmohan.
Conquestor raced at the back of the field early in the $50,000 Sprint for 3-year-old colts and geldings, circled all his rivals and kicked clear to win by 3 lengths. King Solomon was second and Mind Spell, who led early in the stretch run, settled for third. Conquestor, a Broken Vow colt, finished 6 furlongs on the all-weather surface in 1:11 with Gary Boulanger in the irons.
In the $50,000 3-year-old filly division of the Sprint, Cor Cor led all the way and was never threatened, winning by 4 3/4 lengths. Over the Counter was best of the rest with Leinan third. Cor Cor, a Smoke Glacken filly, got home in 1:09 3/4 under Scott Spieth.