Saratoga and Del Mar swing into full action this weekend and serious action for the 2-year-old set dots the racing landscape.
Fillies and mares, including defending division champ Royal Delta, tackle some of their most important mid-summer assignments at Delaware Park and Saratoga. Zenyatta's younger sister is finally back in action in this division.
Across the bounding main, 3-year-old fillies will bound around the Curragh in Saturday's Irish Oaks. In England, Telescope is finally on the board as a 3-year-old. In France, Treve has been sold to Sheik Joaan of Qatar.
As a bonus, some early results are in.
Let's go racing.
Last year's winner, Royal Delta, is the morning-line favorite in Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park at 1 1/4 miles on the dirt. But as she seeks to repeat as division champion, she has something to prove. The 5-year-old Empire Maker mare won the Grade III Sabine Handicap at Gulfstream Park back in February but then clunked in Dubai, finishing 10th in the World Cup, beaten more than 20 lengths. She returned home to finish second, beaten 5 lengths, in the Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs last month -- a race she dominated last year. Trainer Bill Mott, however, remains optimistic. "She is doing very well," Mott said. "We could not ask for her to be doing any better. I would love to see her run in the Delaware Handicap the way she ran in the Fleur de Lis last year. When she runs a good one, she is awesome." She'll need to run a good one as her five rivals include proven graded stakes performers Authenticity, Centring, Summer Applause, She's All In, and And Why Not. Summer Applause and Authenticity are cross-entered at Saratoga.
Seven are entered for the $200,000, Grade III Shuvee Handicap Saturday at Saratoga. The 9-furlongs event is notable as the third race for Eblouissante, a half sister to Zenyatta. She won at first asking last fall at Hollywood Park, then came back in January to win an optional claimer at Santa Anita but has not been seen since. Trainer John Shirreffs said he has waited with Eblouissante to give her a chance to grow and to fill out. "She looks strong," Shirreffs said ."I think time is the most important ingredient in a horse's development. Their bodies need a chance to catch up." The field also includes Authenticity, second in the Grade I Ogden Phipps last time out; Summer Applause and Flashy American, winner of the Iowa Distaff at Prairie Meadows three weeks ago. All eyes will be on Eblouissante, though -- provided she runs. Shirreffs has entered her in an optional claimer next Monday as a backup. As noted above, Summer Applause and Authenticity are cross-entered in Delaware.
Seven are entered for Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Matron at Woodbine, going 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather surface. Sisterly Love is the morning-line pick off a win in the Trillium Stakes but she found the graded stakes waters too deep in a pair of earlier tries. Layali Dubai, a Godolphin filly, raced well in the minor leagues in England last year, less well in Dubai this spring and then won an optional claimer for fun last month at Arlington Park.
And for the remainder of the year in all divisions, the older horses will be looking back over their shoulders to see what 3-year-olds might be gaining on them. Here, they can gaze to the Spa, where Princess of Sylmar makes her first start since winning the Kentucky Oaks two and a half months ago at 38-1 odds. That start is the $300,000, Grade I TVG Coaching Club American Oaks, contested at the same 9 furlongs as the Churchill Downs race. Princess of Sylmar is the morning line favorite, though only by a smidgeon over Unlimited Budget, who was third in the Kentucky Oaks, then sixth in the Belmont Stakes. The Street Sense filly was undefeated in four starts before the Churchill Downs effort. Todd Pletcher trains both the top two. My Happy Face, Cue the Moon and Marathon Lady complete the short but talented field.
At Arlington Park, Seaneen Girl is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Arlington Oaks at 9 furlongs over the Polytrack. The Spring at Last filly has been knocking on the door with a third in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks and a second in the recent Grade III Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows. The race really is a tossup, though, with six of the seven entries listed at 6-1 or less.
Don't look for consistent, high-level winners in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar. There aren't any of those among the 10 entrants set to go 9 furlongs on the lawn. The likes of Fed Biz, Jeranimo, Slim Shadey and Lucayan have had good days -- but not consistently or recently. Lacking much in the way of local talent, take a gander at Sofast, a recent import from France. The 4-year-old Rock of Gibraltar colt finished seventh in the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp in May but before that was third in the Group 2 Prix du Muguet at Chantilly for trainer Freddy Head. Gary Mandella has assumed training duties. Another 4-year-old Giant's Causeway colt, Cogito, came from France to finish a not-bad seventh in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf, then appeared to need a comeback race in May, then has been sidelined since but working well for trainer Doug O'Neill. This is one of those "hmmm" races.
Riding the River heads the cast for Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Nijinsky Stakes at 9 furlongs at Woodbine. The 6-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding won the race last year and now is fresh from a win in the Grade II King Edward Stakes over the course. Also in the 10-horse field are Pool Play, winner of last fall's Grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup; Pender Harbour, winner of two-thirds of the 2011 Canadian Triple Crown; and Hotep and So Long George, close-up third and fourth in the King Edward.
Filly & Mare Turf
Sunday's $150,000, Grade II San Clemente Handicap is for 3-year-old fillies going 1 mile on the grass. A field of 10 plus one also-eligible is set, including Iotapa, who finished second in both the Santa Anita Oaks -- behind Beholder -- and the Hollywood Oaks, but won all three other starts in her brief career. Unusual Way has been in the trifecta in seven consecutive starts. Charlie Em won the Grade III Senorita Stakes two starts back. Miss Empire finished third in the Grade I Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita last fall. Wishing Gate is in from Arlington Park with a win in her last race.
Souper Speedy is the early favorite for Friday's $100,000, Grade III James Marvin Stakes at 7 furlongs over the Saratoga main course. The 4-year-old Indian Charlie colt comes off two straight wins, including the Jaipur Stakes at Belmont Park through a disqualification. Eight rivals include the show horse from the Jaipur, Politicallycorrect, as well as Sage Valley, Strapping Groom and Jaguar Paw.
Already in the books: In Wednesday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Bold Venture Stakes at Woodbine, two-time Canadian champion sprinter Essence Hit Man hit the front early and held off onrushing long shot Dimension to win by a neck. Paso Doble was well back in third. Essence Hit man, a 6-year-old Speightstown gelding, covered 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:15.46 for jockey Jesse Campbell. Campbell said trainer Larry Cappuccitti told him to give Essence Hit Man his head, "not slow him down as much as I have been and it worked out. He was in his rhythm, so I just let him be."
Debt Ceiling, undefeated in three starts including the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs, looks like the chalk in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Sanford Stakes at Saratoga. The Discrete Cat colt, trained by John Robb, won at first asking at Laurel Park, accounted for the Rollicking Stakes at Pimlico, then won the Bashford Manor with a big move to a daylight lead at the top of the stretch, hanging on to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Saturday he will tackle a similar 6-furlong distance. Todd Pletcher has two of the seven entrants but one of them is the filly Yes Liz, who also is entered in Saturday's Schuylerville. The other is All In Blue, a More Than Ready colt who was more than ready for his first race at Belmont, winning by 6 1/4 lengths. Also off maiden wins are Southern Blessing, Wired Bryan and Jake's Magic Hat. Hollywood Talent won at first asking at Keeneland, then chased Debt Ceiling home to finish second in the Bashford Manor. Watch this one to see who looks like handling longer distances.
Conquest Two Step is the even-money favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $125,000 Colin Stakes at Woodbine. The field of seven will tackle 6 furlongs on the all-weather course. Conquest Two Step won at first asking at Churchill Downs a month ago, also as the even-money favorite. Mark Casse trains the Florida-bred son of Two Step Salsa. Also in here is Go Greeley, who won his first race and then just missed by a nose in the Clarendon Stakes two weeks ago as the odds-on favorite.
Six are set for Saturday's $75,000 Prairie Gold Juvenile at Prairie Meadows. The morning-line picks are Big Blue Talent, a Talent Search colt coming off a maiden win at Churchill Downs for Wesley Ward, and Bad Boy Peter, a Fusaichi Pegasus gelding fresh from his maiden victory at Arlington Park for Tom Swearingen.
The Florida Stallion Series kicks off Saturday at Calder Race Course with 10 set for the $75,000 Dr. Fager Division at 6 furlongs. There's not a lot to sort them out, with a few maiden winners and a couple of first-timers. But sorting them out is part of what this series is about. It's in its 32nd year and total purses for the six races are an estimated $1 million.
The Saratoga juvenile filly series kicks off with seven youngsters going 6 furlongs in Friday's $150,000, Grade IIII Schuylerville. The 7-5 morning-line favorite is Bahnah, an Elusive Quality filly who won at first asking last month at Churchill Downs -- by 6 lengths in a 4 1/2-furlongs race. She turned 4 furlongs in 47 2/5 seconds in her final tuneup for this under Brett Calhoun's tutelage. Todd Pletcher has a Stonestreet Stables entry of first-out maiden winners Yes Liz and Elena Strikes and Steve Asmussen brings Brazen Persuasion off a win at Churchill Downs.
Three of the starters in Saturday's $75,000 Desert Vixen Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes -- Scandalous Act, Proverbs Thirtyone and Holiday Magic -- already have a win under their girth. In Luv With Willie looks for her first win in the 6-furlong tussle after two seconds.
More Than Beauty is the early favorite among eight set for Saturday's $75,000 Prairie Gold Lassie at Prairie Meadows. The More Than Ready filly, with Calvin Borel named to ride, won at first asking at Churchill Downs, then finished second -- granted, by 8 lengths -- to Fiftyshades of Gold in the Debutante in her last outing.
It was nothing more than a paid workout but Telescope easily put paid to a pair of rivals at Leicester on Thursday in a minor stakes for non-winners of a pattern race. After waiting behind the other two, the Galileo colt asserted himself 3 furlongs out and won by 24 lengths. Telescope, trained by Sir Michael Stoute for Highclere, missed the Dante Stakes with an infection, then missed the Epsom Derby with sore shins. In two starts last year, he finished second and first. Sir Michael said Thursday's romp was "a good workout" and allows him to consider Telescope for some of the big races in the second half of the year. British bookmakers are taking action on him for the St Leger and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
A field of eight is entered for Saturday's Group 1 Irish Oaks at the Curragh. Epsom Oaks winner Talent, a winner of three straight, shares favorite status with Ribblesdale winner Riposte. Aidan O'Brien entered three, headed by Venus de Milo, undefeated in two starts including the Naas Oaks Trial. Joseph O'Brien, however, will be aboard American-bred Just Pretending, who was second in the Ribblesdale. Chicquita, an Irish-bred but French-trained Montjeu filly, comes off a second-place finish behind Treve in the Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines at Chantilly a month ago.
Speaking of Treve, the Motivator filly has been purchased by Qatar's Sheik Joaan Bin Hamad al Thani.
It's becoming traditional for the opening day Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds to be divided. So it was with Wednesday's renewal as everyone wanted in on the first action where the surf meets the turf.
In the first division, Gervinho bided his time under Rafael Bejarano, came three-wide into the stretch and won by a neck over Greeley Awesome, who roared in from the clouds. Freakin Rocket was third and the favorite, Undrafted, also was unplaced, finishing fourth. Gervinho, an Unusual Heat colt, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.88. "He was ready for this mile today. And I think he'll go on. A mile and a sixteenth, more. He'll go on," Bejarano said.
Rising Legend and Gabriel Charles came from next-last and last in the stretch run to finish 1-2 in the second division. Olympic Blue tracked the pace and held third while the favorite, Den's Legacy, clunked around to finish sixth. Rising Legend, a British-bred Rock of Gibraltar colt who was making his first start since November, ran 1 mile on the firm going in 1:33.96. "He's a nice horse," said winning rider Julien Leparoux. "And he's got a great, late kick. Just what you want from a turf horse."