The Memorial Day weekend kicks off summer and, with no Triple Crown hopes to extend the spring, also kicks off a "second season" of racing.
There are important turf races at Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, Hollywood Park and Arlington Park. Some of the nation's top steeds will be on display in the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont. Fillies and mares are in action from coast to coast and there are a couple nice sprint races thrown into the mix.
Handicap horses run Monday in Texas in the Group III Lone Star Park Handicap.
Come Breeder's Cup time in the fall, we'll be studying past performance data from this weekend's events.
Across the Atlantic, there is Group 1 action at the Curragh in Ireland and Longchamp in Paris. The Group 1 Japanese Derby runs Sunday in Tokyo and Hong Kong has an important race at Sha Tin on Sunday as its season winds down.
Not to argue with the old song but, while they may be hazy and crazy, these summer days won't be lazy. Read on:
The Met Mile
Monday's $750,000, Grade I Metropolitan Handicap is expected to lure graded stakes winners Fed Biz, Jimmy Creed and Sahara Sky from California, the New York Racing Association said. Others on the tentative entry list for the 1-mile fixture on the Belmont Park main track include Fort Loudon, Mark Valeski, Much Macho Man and Swagger Jack. Handsome Mike is listed as a possible.
On Saturday 10 will tackle 1 mile on the Arlington Park all-weather course in the $150,000, Grade III Hanshin Cup. The field includes Nate's Mineshaft, making his first start since finishing third behind Ron the Greek and Wise Dan last June in the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. "He was never injured," trainer Anne Smith said. "He just had time off and he's fit and happy right now ... We want to see if, at age 6, he still wants to be competitive." Mister Mardi Gras also bears watching.
Monday's holiday card features the $300,000, Grade III Lone Star Park Handicap at 1 1/16 miles and the $100,000, Grade III All American at Golden Gate Fields, also at 1 1/16 miles.
Fillies and mares:
Belmont Park has action Monday for both the older set and the 3-year-old fillies. Anticipated for the $400,000, Grade I Ogden Phipps Handicap for fillies and mares are the likes of Disposablepleasure, Centring, Joyful Victory and Tiz Miz Sue. The Phipps is run at 1 1/16 mile on the main track. The $300,000, Grade I Acorn for 3-year-old fillies is carded at 1 mile and is expected to draw Kauai Katie, Cue the Moon, Let Me Entertain U, Midnight Lucky, Manuka Honey and Momentary Magic.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Arlington Matron is 9 furlongs on the main track. Lotta Lovin has scored six of her seven career wins over all-weather surfaces. Ice Cream Silence and Hooh Why also are proven stakes performers.
The action ranges from 7 furlongs to 1 1/2 miles.
The longest lawn ramble is Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs with a field of nine drawn. Dark Cove is the morning-line favorite off a victory last time out in the Grade II Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland. Trainer Mike Maker claimed the son of Medaglia d'Oro last spring for $50,000. Asked about the Elkorn effort, Maker said, "Was I surprised at how easily he won? A little bit. Was I surprised he won? Not at all." Also on this roster are Ioya Bigtime, Atigun, Heathcote and Harrod's Creek -- any of them capable of a winning effort.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Arlington Classic at 1 1/16 miles got full field, including Fordubai, who ran second to Departing in the Grade III Illinois Derby in his last outing. He broke his maiden in his only other try on the grass in November at Hawthorne. Admiral Kitten was second in the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs on Oaks Day. Brown Almighty, General Election and California invader Procurement also are in the deep field of 12.
Turf milers get their chance in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II American Handicap at Hollywood Park. Obviously appears an obvious contender in a field of six. The Irish-bred Choisir gelding finished third in the Breeders' Cup Mile last fall -- behind only eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan and Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom -- then got home second in his seasonal debut last month after a slow start. But the rest of the field is interesting, too. Lucayan makes his first U.S. start for trainer Neil Drysdale after racing in his native France last year. The high point of his career was a victory in the Group 1 Poule de Essai des Poulins at Longchamp just over a year ago but he was ineffective against top company thereafter. Barocci is a Japanese-bred who raced in France earlier. Bob Baffert has two -- Drill and Racing Aptitude.
And the grass sprint set is on display in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Connaught Cup at Woodbine -- a 7-furlongs event.
Distaffers on the grass:
The fillies and mares get plenty of action.
Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Nassau Stakes at 1 mile at Woodbine drew a field of seven with morning-line favoritism divided among Irish Mission, Dancing to Town and Solid Appeal. Irish Mission, the narrow choice at 5-2, was second in last year's Queen's Plate and won the Breeders' Stakes. She was third in the Grade III Orchid at Gulfstream before shipping back north.
Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Sheepshead Bay Stakes at Belmont Park is 11 furlongs on the grass. Hessonite stepped up to take her first graded stakes win last time out in the Grade III Beaugay and will try to repeat. Six of her rivals have European races on their resume, including Starformer, Strathnaver and Julie's Love. "It's a competitive field, but it will give us a little line on what path we want to take with her this summer," said Hessonite's trainer, David "Slam" Donk.
Three-year-old fillies will be asked to go 1 1/16 miles on the Belmont Park turf in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Sands Point Stakes with Carolina Thomas, Unbelievable Dream, Watsdachances and Wave Theory on tap.
Monday's $250,000, Grade I Gamely Stakes is at 9 furlongs at Hollywood Park.
The action here is on Memorial Day. The $100,000, Grade III Los Angeles Handicap at Hollywood Park and the $100,000, Grade III Winning Colors for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs both are run at 6 furlongs.
Planteur and Beauty Parlor are among the entries for Sunday's Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp. Eleven are left in for the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary on the same card.
Five of the nine remaining in Sunday's Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh are trained by Aidan O'Brien. Among them is Camelot, the 2012 Derby winner who ended his 3-year-old season with a seventh-place finish in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, then needed surgery following a serious bout of colic. He easily thrashed four rivals in his 4-year-old debut but Sunday's race should be a better pointer toward his current condition. O'Brien also has Windsor Palace, El Salvador, Ernest Hemingway and the 4-year-old filly Was.
Eighteen are in for Sunday's Group 1 Etihad Airways Irish 1,000 Guineas. A half dozen of the starters have attracted significant support.
Sole Power and Reckless Abandon are favorites among 12 left for Saturday's Group 2 Betfred Temple Stakes at Haydock, a 1,000-meters event included in the British Champions Series. Sole Power is a veteran world traveler with a fourth-place showing in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint earlier this year on his resume. Reckless Abandon, a 3-year-old Exchange Rate colt making his first start of the year, was undefeated in five starts in 2012, topped by the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket in October and is one to watch.
Goodwood's May Festival wraps up Saturday and while the top races are not Group events, the 32Red Festival Stakes at 10 furlongs is noteworthy because of the presence of Afsare. Trainer Luca Cumani sent the now 6-year-old out to a second-place finished behind Little Mike in last year's Grade I Arlington Million and was only ruled out of the Group 1 Cox Plate in Australia later in the year by a fetlock injury from which he is fully recovered. "I think he was unlucky at Arlington because, given how the race panned out, it didn't really run for him," Cumani said. "It is one of the races under consideration and he could go back there again this year."
Sunday's Group 1 Tokyo Yushun, or Japanese Derby, is the second leg of the Triple Crown and set to have a huge field including Logotype. The son of Lohengrin was the victor in the first leg of the series, the Group 1 Satsuki Sho, or Japanese 1,000 Guineas. He will have Mirco Demuro up again and Demuro is confident. "I think I've got a very good chance because I'll be on a very good horse," said the Italian native, who became the first foreign jockey to win the Derby 10 years ago aboard Neo Universe. There are plenty of others to watch in the crowd, including Codino, Epiphaneia, Kizuna and Meiner Ho O.
California Memory tops the field for Sunday's HK-Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup. But the two-time Group 1 Hong Kong Cup winner faces some significant competition in the final top-level event of the Sha Tin racing season. Dominant comes from the barn of red-hot trainer John Moore, whose recent triumphs include the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup and the Champions Mile at Sha Tin and the Singapore Airlines International Cup at Kranji -- all international Group 1 events and all within a month's time. Thumbs Up and Fay Fay also are recognizable names in the field.
News and notes
Sheik Mohammed bin Rasheed al-Maktoum, marrying his dual roles of Ruler of Dubai and master of Godolphin Racing, is moving to criminalize the use of steroids in racing in the United Arab Emirates. The Godolphin empire was rocked with a scandal this spring when trainer Mahmood al-Zarooni was found to be using steroids in horses at his stable in England. "I have, in light of the unfortunate recent event, directed that a decree be issued making, with immediate effect, the import, sale, purchase or use of anabolic steroids in horse sports a criminal offense under the UAE penal laws," Sheik Mohammed said on the Godolphin website. He said it is his intention that Godolphin "will go from strength to strength and lead, once again, adherence to the highest standard" in racing. Steroid use is permitted for horses not in training in some jurisdictions around the world. The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities is expected later this year to consider imposing a worldwide ban, although some members have said they would permit exceptions for a horse recovering from injury and not in active training.