Breeders' Cup Classic champ Fort Larned and Ladies' Classic winner Royal Delta are both set to run on Saturday's Churchill Downs card.
Fillies and mares are on display at Hollywood Park in California, Delaware Park and sprinting at Belmont Park in New York. Indiana Downs has a lot of money on the line Saturday and Arlington Park's lush turf course is turned over to top state-breds for a couple of stakes on Saturday.
Two of the well-backed also-rans from the Kentucky Derby resurface at Monmouth Park.
Sunday finds the Group 1 Prix Diane-Longines for 3-year-old fillies at Longchamp in France. The July Festival at Newmarket has become more "royal." And, of course, the final lineups are being set for the Royal Ascot meeting that opens midweek.
Here we go, spinning out of the turn.
Fort Larned may be the Breeders' Cup Classic champ but he's not the favorite for Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Stephen Foster at 9 furlongs. That honor goes to Successful Dan, off a handy win at Keeneland in his only previous start of the year. The 7-year-old, however, has been very lightly raced because of recurring suspensory injuries. "It's been frustrating, admits trainer Charles LoPresti. Fort Larned, on the other hand, stumbled and dropped his rider at the start of his first 2013 race, then finished a dismal fifth in the Oaklawn Handicap. "Fort Larned needs to step up to the plate and become the big dog again," said trainer Ian Wilkes. If you don't like the top two -- and you could be forgiven if you don't off that record, there are other choices. Among them are Ron the Greek and Take Charge Indy, both Grade I winners. Ron the Greek won last year's Foster. Take Charge Indy took charge in the 2012 Florida Derby. Golden Ticket and Pool Play round out the field.
Royal Delta is the 2-5 morning line favorite among five distaffers set to tackle 9 furlongs in the $175,000, Grade II Fleur de Lis at 9 furlongs on the main track. She won this race last year, won the last two runnings of the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic and is coming off her second straight disappointing showing in the Dubai World Cup. The 2012 trip to the Middle East didn't seem to bother her as she used the Fleur de Lis to bounce right back. Trainer Bill Mott did not seem worried this year will be much different. "Royal Delta's timing is the same as it was last year and I think we've got a similar amount of work in her," Mott said. "She's doing well and it's just time to go back to the races with her. I think she's perhaps a little bigger and stronger than last year, appearance-wise. She's a year older and I think she's becoming a fully mature horse." The opposition isn't nearly as accomplished but not totally hopeless, either. Wine Princess is a 4-year-old daughter of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper out of the 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri. She won the Monmouth Oaks last year and opened her season in April with a win over the Churchill strip. Funny Proposition, Ice Cream Silence and She's All In complete the field.
The $100,000, Grade III Matt Winn Stakes is for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt. Code West is a lukewarm 4-1 favorite in a well-balanced field of 11, likely because Bob Baffert trains the Lemon Drop Kid ridgeling and Rosie Napravnik is named to ride.
Kitten's Dumplings is the early favorite in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/8 miles on the grass. Eleven are set for this one, too.
Fillies and mares also tackle 9 furlongs in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Vanity Handicap, with six set to face the starter. Open Water and Lady of Fifty, the 1-2 finishers in the Grade II Marjorie Everett, have a return match. Byrama has run well in graded stakes without winning any of them. More Chocolate won the Grade II La Canada back in January but was fifth at Churchill Downs in the Grade II La Troienne in her last outing last month.
Saturday's card also gets things cranking for some promising 2-year-olds with the $100,000 Cinderella for fillies and the $100,000 Willard L. Proctor Memorial open to all. Both are 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather course.
Here's a wide-open race: Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds going 1 mile on the grass. Twelve are entered with the 7-2 morning-line choice, Infinite Magic, looking to rebound from a ninth-place finish in the Peter Pan. Prior to that, he won a 1 1/16 miles-event on the green course at Keeneland and before that was 2-for-5 in England. Most of the field can't be ruled out at least from a top-three finish.
Things are slightly better in the $150,000, Grade III Bed o' Roses Handicap for fillies and mares on the same card -- but only because there are fewer entries. Six are set to go with Fantasy of Flight and Dance to Bristol the morning-line choices. Fantasy of Flight finished second in the Grade II Vagrancy Handicap in her last outing. Dance to Bristol has won four straight in lesser stakes.
Bryan's Jewel is the oddsmaker's choice among six entrants for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Obeah Stakes for fillies and mares at 9 furlongs on the dirt. She exits a victory in the John W. Rooney Memorial over the Delaware track. Also to consider is Access to Charlie, who has been in the money consistently on the Maryland circuit.
The weekend feature is Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles and punters will be forgiven if they feel they've been transported back in time to the start of the "Road to the Roses" when they see this field. Among the seven are Verazzano, winner of the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial and the previously undefeated 14th-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, and Itsmyluckyday, winner of the Gulfstream Park Derby and the Holy Bull Stakes but 15th in the Kentucky Derby. The latter, of course, did finish second in the Peakness. Verazanno has not run since his Louisville misadventure.
Gaming money helps provide three six-digit purses Saturday. The $200,000 Centaur Stakes finds 3-year-olds going 1 mile on the grass and, not surprisingly, it has drawn most of its starters from states where purses are not supported by gaming. Among those is General Election, who comes off a win in the Grade III Arlington Classic at the Chicago-area oval and is expected back there for the rest of the Mid-America Triple. Also in that category is Ruler of Love, who finished third in the Grade III Derby Trial at Churchill Downs in his last start. Free World won locally last time out and is riding a three-race winning streak.
The track also has the $100,000 Girls Inc. of Shelbyville, Shelby County Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the lawn at 1 mile and the $100,000 J. Kenneth Self Shelby County Boys & Girls Club Stakes for 4-and-up at the same distance on the grass.
Arlington's turf track is host to Illinois-breds Saturday before attention shifts back to the grassy Mid-America Triple and, in August, to the state's only Grade I races, the Arlington Million, Beverly D. and Secretariat Stakes.
Eight are entered for the $100,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap at 1 1/16 miles and six are in the $100,000 Lincoln Heritage Handicap for fillies and mares at the same distance.
The 11 entrants for Sunday's Group 1 Prix Diane-Longines provide a distinctly French flavor as all of them are locals. Flotilla arguably leads the pack off her win in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches. Esoterique was second in that race, however, and both fillies are riding two-race winning streaks. Silasol comes off a Group 1 win at Longchamp and several others boast placings in Group events.
News and notes:
Sir Henry Cecil, trainer of Frankel and many other greats, passed away earlier this week in England after a long battle with cancer. He was 70. Sir Henry was a 10-time English training champion and won 25 classic races in Britain, including the Derby four times and the Oaks eight times. He also scored twice in the United States, with Midday in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf and with Yashmak in the 1997 Flower Bowl at Belmont Park. He likely will be best remembered for struggling Frankel's remarkable undefeated career with his own course of treatment, including chemotherapy. He struggled to travel from his home in Newmarket to York, where Frankel won the Juddmonte International last year in a signature effort. "I just cannot miss the day," Sir Henry said. He will be missed.
Paynter is due to return to the races in Friday's seventh at Hollywood Park. The 4-year-old Bob Baffert trainee has been rehabbing for more than eight months from life-threatening illness and complications. Paynter finished second to Union Rags in the 2012 Belmont Stakes, then won the Haskell at Monmouth and seemed on his way to stardom. After a bout of fever, he missed the Travers, then finally was diagnosed with colitis. While being treated for that, he developed laminitis. He underwent successful surgery last October for the colitis, overcame the laminitis and has been rehabbing since. "Paynter ready to roll," Baffert Tweeted on Monday. So good luck to him.
Newmarket announced this week it has been "bestowed" a second Royal race for its Piper-Heidsieck July Festival. The newly named Duchess of Cambridge Stakes, formerly the Cherry Hinton Stakes, is a Group 2 race for 2-year-old old fillies, to be run at 6 furlongs on July 12. It joins the Group 2 Princess of Wales's Stakes, run the previous day. The renamings mirror changes at Royal Ascot, where the Windsor Forest Stakes, now the Duke of Cambridge Stakes, joins the Prince of Wales's Stakes on the Royal schedule. For those of us not totally familiar with the Royal Family, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge might be more recognizable as "William and Kate." Julian Richmond-Watson, chairman of Newmarket Racecourses, said of the renamed event for the July Festival, "Such is the popularity of the Duchess of Cambridge, I am sure that it will be a much-welcomed addition."