The historic Epsom Derby and an ambitious new stakes program in Pennsylvania take center stage on the weekend racing schedule.
With a week to go before the Belmont Stakes, Belmont Park has an important festival Saturday for New York-breds. Hollywood Park has graded stakes both Saturday and Sunday, as does Woodbine in Canada.
In Japan, sprinters tackle 1,000 meters in Sunday's Group 1 Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo. And French 3-year-olds will be tested at 2,100 meters in Saturday's Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly.
The early bird gets the worm -- and also gets to see the big race at Epsom. Read on.
Dawn Approach is the general favorite for Saturday's Group 1 Investec Derby at Epsom Downs but the rest of the field will be hoping his pedigree works against him getting the 1 1/2-mile distance. The undefeated Godolphin runner and Jim Bolger trainee is by New Approach, who won the Derby in 2008. But his overall pedigree, according to some analysts, suggests middle distances will be his limit. Even so, horses outrun their pedigrees and it will be up the remainder of the field to get the better of Dawn Approach, whose seven wins include the 2,000 Guineas in his last outing. He will not have to contend with Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Magician, who was not entered despite some teasing comments by his owners after last weekend's win at the Curragh. Trainer Aidan O'Brien's good sense apparently prevailed, leaving him five runners in Saturday's Epsom classic. German-trained Chopin was supplemented to the race Wednesday for 75,000 pounds sterling. Andreas Wohler trains Chopin and a good showing would improve by another notch a German racing industry that already has made impressive inroads on the world stage. O'Brien, even without Magician, has an impressive string for the Derby in Battle Of Marengo, the winner of his last five races and likely second-favorite behind Dawn Approach; Festive Cheer; Flying The Flag; 2,000 Guineas sixth-place finisher Mars; and unbeaten Ruler Of The World.
Eleven are set to go in Friday's Investec Oaks at Epsom. Secret Gesture, a Galileo filly owned in part by Qatar Racing, is the favorite after winning the Lingfield Oaks May 11 by 10 lengths. Talent won the Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket May 5. Liber Nauticus comes off a win in the Musidora Stakes at York two weeks ago for Sir Michael Stoute. And Irish guru Aidan O'Brien brings the duo of Moth and Stay. The former was third in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas and is the riding choice of the trainer's son, Joseph O'Brien.
Also on the Saturday program at Epsom is the Group 1 Coronation Cup, with St Nicholas Abbey expected to head a field of as many as seven to go 1 1/2 miles. Also listed as potential starters are Dunaden and Ernest Hemingway.
While Epsom offers centuries of history, Penn National Saturday presents an ambitious stakes card centered on the $500,000 Penn Mile for 3-year-olds on the grass. The race is intended to fill a gap in the schedule in that division and possibly to attract some sophomores who didn't pan out on the main track during the rigors of the Triple Crown. With an interesting field of eight, the race appears to have been successful in attaining that goal.
Chad Brown has Noble Tune, an Unbridled's Song colt who has four wins and one second from five starts -- all on the turf. The second came in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita when he was outfinished by the Irish invader George Vancouver. Todd Pletcher brings two, including Charming Kitten, who has been a tiger on the turf but finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby in his last start. Stablemate Jack Milton comes off a win in the Grade III Transylvania on the Keeneland lawn. Rydilluc also was tough on the grass but misfired when trainer Gary Contessa tried him on the artificial surface at Keeneland in the Grade I Blue Grass.
The race is generously supported with five other stakes, including the $250,000 Mountainview Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at 9 furlongs on the main track and the $150,000 Pennsylvania Governor's Cup for 3-year-olds and up going 5 furlongs on the grass. The Mountainview also drew eight starters, among them Rattlesnake Bridge, Macho Macho, Pants on Fire and Easter Gift.
Kudos for Penn National's efforts to forge ahead.
Saturday's feature is the $150,000, Grade II Californian at 9 furlongs on the all-weather course. Bob Baffert has the rejuvenated Liaison going week. After taking the second half of 2012 off, the 4-year-old Indian Charlie colt came back to win the Santana Mile in March and the Grade II Mervyn Leroy Handicap on May 4. Kettle Corn was second in the latter race and returns here. Clubhouse Ride is riding a streak of five straight second-place showings, including the Grade II Charles Town Classic in his last start. In the last three races of that string, he lost to Game On Dude, who is sitting this one out. He lost to "the Dude" by just 1/2 length in the West Virginia race and was closing at the end. The winner's share of that purse was $1 million; the runner-up share, $250,000.
Sunday it's the $100,000, Grade III Affirmed Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track.
Saturday's feature under the Twin Spires is the $100,000, Grade III Aristides at 6 furlongs on the main track. Rothko, last year's winner, is the favorite in a surprisingly tepid field of just five starters. He comes off a fourth-place finish in an optional claimer in his seasonal debut. The race is named for the first Kentucky Derby winner -- in 1875.
They're sprinting in the Toronto suburbs this weekend.
Saturday it's the $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Hendrie Stakes for fillies and mares at 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather course. The morning-line favorites are Delightful Mary and Acting Naughty and they are drawn in the outside and inside posts, respectively, in a field of eight. Delightful Mary hasn't raced in more than a year but was tough when she did. Acting Naughty has hit the board in 10 of her last 11 starts.
Only four signed on for Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Vigil Stakes with 4-year-olds and up going 7 furlongs on the artificial footing. Among them is last year's winner, Essence Hit Man, who makes his second start of the year after winning the Jacques Cartier Stakes last month over the course. Laugh Track returns home after finishing fourth in the Grade II Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Saturday's card features state-bred horses running on dirt and turf, short and long, for big bucks. While they aren't all big fields, they are contentious and should provide plenty of wagering excitement while the fans await next Saturday's third jewel of the Triple Crown -- the Belmont Stakes.
Twenty-one colts remained in the mix Thursday for Saturday's Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club, or French Derby, at Chantilly. The race is run at 2,100 meters and looks to be a wide-open scramble. Many of France's big-name owners are represented as well as Irish and English hopefuls who are bypassing the Epsom engagement. Dastarhon, runner-up to Style Vendome in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains at Longchamp, was supplemented to Saturday's race. Adding a little spice to the race is Frankie Dettori getting the mount on Team Valor International runner First Cornerstone. Dettori is coming off a six-months suspension for a drug positive he later said was cocaine. He also is named to ride Friday at Epsom in England. First Cornerstone finished fifth in the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh.
Sunday's Group 1 Yasuda Kinen is a 1-mile event popular with not only local trainers but also with Hong Kong invaders, who have won twice, with Fairy King Prawn in 2000 and Bullish Luck in 2006. This year's lineup again includes representatives of the SAR -- Glorious Days, who was 14th in last year's running but a good second in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile last December, and Helene Spirit, second in the Group I Champions Mile at Sha Tin in his last outing. The local contingent is headlined by Lord Kanaloa, one of the worlds' top sprinters and a likely favorite, and also includes last year's runner-up, Grand Prix Boss.