The Derby Trial at Churchill Downs highlights a weekend of racing that also includes a pair of Top Group 1 events in Asia.
A relatively peaceful week in America -- one week out from the Kentucky Derby -- has most of the graded stakes action at the 1-mile distance, both on the grass and on the dirt.
And the world watches and awaits the fate of Godolphin trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni, found to have administered illegal steroids to some of his top horses in England.
All the news, good and bad, is here for all to see.
Kentucky Derby preps
Nine 3-year-olds signed on for Saturday's $175,000, Grade III Derby Trial at 1 mile under the fabled Twin Spires. With the field of contenders for next Saturday's Kentucky Derby shrinking, the 20 points on offer for the winner of the Derby Trial conceivably could provide last-minute entry into the Run for the Roses. Trainer Todd Pletcher, already assured of as many as five starters on May 4, has two more in here. Forty Tales comes off a fifth-place finish in the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park; Capo Bastone finished third in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile but got home ninth in his last start in the Grade III Spiral Stakes over the Turfway all-weather course. Bob Baffert brings Zee Bros off a maiden win at Santa Anita. D. Wayne Lukas has a pair: Titletown Five, who finished ninth in the Louisiana Derby, and Tour Guide, who could use one after racing at six different tracks in his short career. Officer Alex won the Bachelor Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Titletown Five could make the Kentucky Derby field on qualifying points with a win. The chances of any of the others running back on a week's rest in the 1 1/4-miles Derby depend on defections by other horses with more points -- and the optimism of their owners and trainers.
A nicely balanced field of 11 will wrap up the spring stakes schedule in Friday's $150,000, Grade II Elkhorn Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on the grass. The morning-line favorite, Al Khali, drew the outside post position and will have to contend with the likes of hard-knocking veterans Pool Play, Ioya Bigtime and Forte Dei Marmi directly to his inside.
The Derby Trial at Churchill Downs is only one of three graded races at that course and distance this weekend.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Westchester Stakes at Belmont Park drew eight entries, including Flat Out, who is undefeated in three starts at Belmont, including victories in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup in each of the past two years. He also finished third in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic. There are two from the Pletcher barn. Of those, Mordai's Miracle comes off a second-place showing in the Grade III Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct while Cross Traffic was undefeated in two starts at Gulfstream Park. Rattlesnake Bridge looks dangerous after winning his seasonal debut.
A half dozen signed on for Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Texas Mile at Lone Star Park. Morning-line favorite Master Rick was drawn inside with Majestic Harbor, Good Lord and Prayer for Relief to his outside. Donoharm has the outside post with longshot Get in Da House going from No. 5. Master Rick comes off his first win of the season at Oaklawn for trainer Steve Asmussen.
The rest of the weekend graded stakes action is at 1 mile on the grass at Golden Gate Fields and Hollywood Park.
Saturday's $100,000, Grade III San Francisco Mile got 10 entries, most coming from the allowance ranks. Barney Rebel did finish fifth in the Grade I Charles Whittingham Memorial at Santa Anita in his last outing. Summer Hit has four wins from his last five trips.
Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Wilshire Handicap at Hollywood Park is for fillies and mares going the grassy mile.
Sunday's Group 1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup has several interesting storylines. Rising local star Akeed Mofeed will tackle two-time Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon. Ambitious Dragon will stretch out to 2,000 meters for the first time this year -- and then may be wheeled back on one week's rest to contest the Group 1 Champion's Mile over the same course. Akeed Mofeed is attempting to double up on his victory in the HK-Group 1 Hong Kong Derby -- a feat which has been accomplished twice -- once by Ambitious Dragon, two years ago. Not to be eclipsed by that duo is two-time Hong Kong Cup winner California Memory. Meanwhile, there is plenty of foreign completion to be considered, including Japanese star Eishin Flash and Godolphin Racing's Sajjhaa, who comes off a victory last month in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night at Meydan. The Duty Free-QE II double already has been achieved by Archipenko in 2008 and Presvis in 2009.
Red Cadeaux comprises the entire foreign contingent for Sunday's Group 1 Tenno Sho Spring at Kyoto Racecourse -- but a formidable contingent he is. The 7-year-old gelding finished eighth in last fall's Group 1 Japan Cup but then jumped up to win the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin and started his 2013 campaign finishing second in last month's Dubai World Cup, making up ground late on the winner, Animal Kingdom. The local contingent is headed by last year's top Japanese 3-year-old, Gold Ship. The race is 3,200 meters right-handed over the turf and is worth nearly $3.5 million.
Saturday's Sydney Cup Day at Royal Randwick includes four Aus-Group 1 races but of the most interest is the AUS$400,000 All Aged Stakes at 7 furlongs. That event features the younger half-brother of recently retired Black Caviar -- All Too Hard, against seven rivals. A win at the Sydney oval likely would send All Too Hard in the hoofprints of his older relation to Royal Ascot in June. His target, however, would be the 1,600-meters Queen Anne Stakes. But trainer John Hawkes said the international travel depends on the 3-year-old's performance in the All Aged. "I'd imagine if he got beat, he wouldn't be going," the trainer told RSN Racing & Sport. "But you never say never." The competition on Saturday includes More Joyous, a multiple Aus-Group 1 winner.
News and notes
One of Godolphin Racing's trainers, Mahmood Al Zarooni, faces the loss of his license and several of Godolphin's horses have been suspended from competition in a British scandal involving administration of anabolic steroids. Among the horses placed on a do-not-run list is the filly Certify, who is unbeaten and had been a candidate for the Qipco 1,000 Guineas May 5 at Newmarket. The action resulted from an inspection at Al Zarooni's stables at Newmarket. "I have made a catastrophic error," said Al Zarooni, adding he did not realize administration of steroids for training purposes was illegal. Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said Godolphin master Sheik Mohammed bin Rasheed al Maktoum "was absolutely appalled when he was told and this is totally unacceptable to him." He said Sheik Mohammed, also the ruler of Dubai, ordered a comprehensive investigation and corrective measures. The British action is doubly embarrassing for Sheik Mohammed because of the timing. Oliver Tait, chief operating officer of his other racing "brand," Darley, resigned from the board of Breeders' Cup early this year in protest of that organization's decision not to expand its Lasix ban to cover all races run in this year's World Championships at Santa Anita. "A true world championship," Tait said at the time, "needs to be medication-free."