Two key races for 3-year-olds take center stage in American weekend racing while some of the world's top horses square off in England.
From the $1 million Haskell at Monmouth and the $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga to the 1 million-pound King George at Ascot, a lot of money and a lot of talent will attend the weekend races.
Saratoga has its usual complement of outstanding events besides the Jim Dandy, including the Grade I Diana Stakes for turf-running distaffers. Del Mar's weekend schedule features a qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. The Haskell has a passel of important races attendant.
There's big money on the line for 2-year-olds in scenic Ruidoso, N.M., not too far from the ripening chiles in the Hatch area. Thistledown gets a day in the spotlight while hosting the Grade III Ohio Derby.
It's a long stretch from the southern highlands of New Mexico to the royal precincts of Ascot. So pay attention and let's get the carriage rolling.
Saturday's Group 1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot promises to be one of the better races of the summer, despite the career-ending injury suffered Tuesday by the favorite, St Nicholas Abbey. That sad mishap leaves Cirrus Des Aigles, the world's top-rated horse at the start of the year, to try to avenge his season-opening loss to Novellist at Saint-Cloud last month. Novellist also is in the King George field and bids to follow in the hoofprints of fellow German trainee Danedream, who won last year's renewal. Trading Leather bounces back from his victory in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby. Red Cadeaux, a veteran world traveler, also is looking for a reversal of form. With St Nicholas Abbey out, trainer Aidan O'Brien could saddle Ernest Hemingway or Chamonix. Sir Michael Stoute has Hillstar, who comes off a Group 2 win over Battle of Marengo at Ascot. In addition to the prestige value, the 1 1/2-miles race is worth more than 1 million pounds sterling and fits into the middle distance division of the British Champions Series.
St Nicholas Abbey suffered a career-ending and life-threatening broken pastern during routine training Tuesday morning. Coolmore reported Thursday St Nicholas Abbey was recuperating in intensive care at Fethard Equine Hospital "and has many bridges to cross before he is considered out of danger. This morning he is well and comfortable and back enjoying his hay." The pastern is a two-bone complex between a horse's hoof and fetlock. St Nicholas Abbey won nine of 21 starts, including six at the Group 1 level. Those included the 2011 Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs and, this year, the Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night at Meydan and the Coronation Cup at Epsom on June 1 -- his final start. His retirement follows that a week earlier of the multiple Group 1-winning mare Snow Fairy, who aggravated an old injury while training.
In the "moving forward" department, Charlie Appleby, former assistant to disgraced trainer Mahmood al Zarooni, was licensed Thursday by the British Horseracing Authority to train for Godolphin and will take over operation of the Moulton Paddocks. Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, commented: "Charlie has been with Godolphin for nearly 15 years and worked his way up to the top." Appleby, 38, said, "I cannot thank Sheik Mohammed enough for giving me this opportunity. My main way of repaying Godolphin will be by producing winners and good horses." Al Zarooni was banned for eight years and sacked after the discovery he had administered steroids to Godolphin horses lodged at Moulton.
Back in the colonies:
Since there were three different winners in the Triple Crown races, this division is wide open either for one of those to build on success or for another sophomore to step up and take charge. Two weekend races provide a stage for those developments: the $1 million, Grade I Haskell at Monmouth Park on Sunday and Saturday's $600,000, Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga.
Some of the once-bright lights from the Triple Crown trail are looking to flip their switch back on in the 9-furlongs William Hill Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. See, for example, Oxbow and Verrazano. Oxbow, plagued by bad post-position draws during the first half of the year, finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby, won the Preakness and then finished second to Palace Malice in the Belmont. Verrazano was 4-for-4 going into the Run for the Roses but finished 14th. After a month and a half off, he returned to win the Grade III Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth and a win here would restore trainer Todd Pletcher's faith. Pletcher also will saddle Micromanage. Also looking to step up is Vyjack, who won his first four starts, then got home third in the Grade I Wood Memorial, 18th in the Kentucky Derby and eighth in the Belmont. Remember Golden Soul? He may have busted your trifectas by finishing second at 34-1 in the Kentucky Derby, then settled for ninth in the Belmont in his last outing. Power Broker was slow getting going for trainer Bob Baffert but finished fifth in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby and now is riding a two-race winning streak against somewhat easier foes. Pick of the Litter (yes, by Kitten's Joy), finished sixth in the Florida Derby and third in the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland in his last start and has been working well at Saratoga for trainer Dale Romans.
Speaking of Saratoga:
Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice gets his chance as the favorite among 10 entered in the 1 1/8-miles Jim Dandy, a lucrative stepping stone to the $1 million, Grade I Travers on Aug. 24. Palace Malice has won only two races -- a maiden event last year at Saratoga and the Belmont. He was third in the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds in late winter, then second in the Blue Grass on the Keeneland all-weather. After finishing 12th in the Kentucky Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher elected to skip the Preakness. Will Take Charge will keep trying. He was eighth in the Derby, seventh in the Preakness and 10th in the Belmont. Mylute, also with only two career wins, was fifth at Louisville and third in Baltimore, then skipped the Belmont. Vyjack is cross-entered here and in Jersey. Then there are those who bypassed the rigors of the Triple Crown trail. Bob Baffert ran Code West in supporting stakes around the Derby and Preakness and since then, the Lemon Drop Kid ridgeling has won two straight, including the Grade III Matt Winn at Churchill Downs. Moreno struggled in California but is 2-for-2 since shipping to New York, including a win in the Grade II Dwyer. The first- and third-place finishers of the Grade III Iowa Derby are here too in the horseflesh of Looking Cool and Bashaar. Pletcher acknowledged the importance of the Jim Dandy's position on the 3-year-old calendar. "I think we need a bridge from the Belmont to the Travers, and this is a good place to do it," Pletcher said this week. "The Jim Dandy on its own is a very significant race and we're not using it as a prep. We're hoping to run well here and move forward to the Travers."
The Classic division has its own intrigue and Saturday's $200,000, Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar is likely to add to that. Bob Baffert saddles two of the six prospective starters -- Paynter and Liaison. Paynter famously won last year's Haskell, then was taken ill and nearly died. Nursed back to health and into training, he picked up where he left off, winning an allowance race at Hollywood Park last month by 4 1/2 lengths, ridden out. That was 7 furlongs and, if the Awesome Again colt can repeat at Saturday's 9 furlongs, he moves way up toward the top of the list among older horses. Liaison finished ninth in last year's Travers but has been better this year, winning two of three so far. But he was beaten by Clubhouse Ride in his last outing, the Grade II Californian, and Clubhouse Ride also is in this field. Frequent runner Kettle Corn is, too, and he rebounds from a game second behind one of the division leaders, Game On Dude, in his last start, the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup -- a race in which Clubhouse Ride finished fourth. Chief Havoc has been good against his fellow 3-year-olds and jumps into much deeper waters here. Batti Man rounds out the field.
Golden Ticket finished second to defending Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned in his last start -- the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, beating the likes of Ron the Greek, Successful Dan and Take Charge Indy. He also won the Travers last year, in a dead heat with Alpha. Saturday he tackles five considerably less imposing rivals in the $100,000 Prairie Meadows Handicap at 1 1/4 miles over the Iowa track.
Title Contender is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Ohio Derby at 1 1/16 miles at Thistledown. The race attracted hopefuls from several Midwestern states.
Filly & Mare Turf
A really tough field of six is entered for Saturday's $600,000, Grade I Diana Stakes at Saratoga. Stephanie's Kitten is the slim morning-line pick with two straight graded stakes wins under her girth for trainer Wayne Catalano. Rusty Arnold brings Centre Court, who finished behind Stepanie's Kitten last time out but won three straight before that. She has been out of the exacta only twice in 12 starts. Dream Peace has finished third in four straight races, all graded events, and finished second in this race last year behind the subsequently retired Winter Memories. Samitar has run consistently well in both England and America and comes off a win at Belmont Park. Dayatthespa won five of six starts last year at the highest level and has a win and a second in two starts this year. Laughing is cross-entered at Monmouth Park, where she is 2-for-2, both Grade III stakes.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Matchmaker Stakes at Monmouth Park features Laughing, winner of a local Grade III last time out, and Channel Lady, a last-out winner at Colonial Downs, among eight starters. A ninth is entered for main-track only. Laughing is cross-entered in the Diana at Saratoga. The race is 9 furlongs on the lawn.
The only bad races Take Charge Indy has run in his 13-race career have come over the Churchill Downs course and, sadly, those included the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the 2012 Kentucky Derby. Saturday he is the highweight in a talented field of seven for the $200,000, Grade II Monmouth Cup on the Haskell undercard. Also in this heat are Pants On Fire, Ponzi Scheme, Hymn Book, Norman Asbjornson, Big Sur and Small Town Talk.
In the Grade II Molly Pitcher for fillies and mares on Saturday at Monmouth, Funny Proposition is a likely favorite in a field of five distaffers going 1 1/16 miles.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Oceanport Stakes at Monmouth drew a field of 11, including such notables as Swift Warrior, Howe Great, Silver Max, Change of Command, Hudson Steele and Hobbs. The race goes 1 1/16 miles on the turf.
Six are set to go in Sunday's $300,000, Grade I Bing Crosby Handicap at 6 furlongs over the all-weather track in at Del Mar. Jimmy Creed tossed in a clunker in the Grade I Triple Bend at Hollywood Park but won two straight graded events during the winter at Santa Anita. Goldencents, the only 3-year-old in the field, won the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Preakness. Comma to the Top and Majestic City boast graded stakes wins.
Javerre hit a career high point winning the Grade III General George Handicap at Laurel Park back in February, but has shown little in three subsequent starts. He tries again versus six others in the $100,000 Teddy Drone at Monmouth Park on Saturday. Immortal Eyes has won two straight. Well Spelled is well spotted here.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Kauai Katie is the even-money favorite in a field of seven for Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Prioress Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga. The Todd Pletcher trainee has six wins from eight career starts but comes off a third-place finish in the Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park in her last outing. The two who beat here there are absent from this field, however. So Many Ways will try to forget a third-place finish in her last race, the Grade III Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows. She won both her starts as a 2-year-old at the Spa. Wildcat Lily is advancing up the class ladder with a win in the Grade III Azalea at Calder last time out. Ju Ju Eyeballs starts on short rest after winning her fifth straight race last Sunday at Monmouth.
A field of 10 fillies and mares is set to go 6 furlons in Satuday's $100,000 Regret Stakes at Monmouth. My Place Anytime and Irish Exchange are co-highweights at 123 pounds.
Competitive fields of 10 New Mexico-breds are entered for both the Senor and Senorita Rio Grande Futurity on Sunday.
You can't bet on these anymore:
Kitten's Dumplings uncorked her usual frantic late rally to win Wednesday's $200,000, Grade II Lake George Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, outfinishing Watsdachances by 1/2 length. Tapicat finished second. Kitten's Dumplings, a Kitten's Joy filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:42.21 with Joel Rosario riding. It was her third straight stakes win. "On paper it looked like there was plenty of pace," said winning trainer Michael Maker of the Lake George. "You can't change her running style, so it worked out well."
Bigger is Bettor finished a head in front of Awesome Vision in Monday's $100,000 Evan Shipman Stakes for New York-breds when the latter repeatedly bore out in the stretch run. Readthebyline was a neck farther back in third and just a neck in front of Groomedforvictory. Bigger is Bettor, a 5-year-old son of Grand Reward, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.07. Winning rider Joe Rocco Jr. celebrated his first win at the Spa. "It feels good, absolutely," he admitted. "You always feel good in the winner's circle."
Among the 2-year-olds, Big Sugar Soda rebounded nicely from a career-opening third-place finish at Churchill Downs to win a Monday maiden event by 8 1/4 lengths for trainer Steve Asmussen. "He showed a lot of talent before we ran him," Asmussen said of the Ready's Image colt. "We honestly couldn't believe he got beat the first time." The name was inspired by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to limit the size of sugary soft drinks sold in the Big Apple.
Jade Dragon stalked the pace in Wedneday's $175,000 (Canadian) Deputy Minister Stakes for 3-year-olds, went by in the lane and held off the odds-on favorite, Langstaff, by 1 length. Silent Admirer and early pacesetter Canuspellpatience completed the order of finish. Jade Dragon, an Ontario-bred Trajectory gelding, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:24.08 under Tyler Pizzaro. "I think this was a jockey's race and there's no doubt Tyler rode the race," said winning trainer Bob Tiller. "He got the jump on him and he was gone." Tiller also trains Langstaff and predicted that one will be "a far better horse on the grass. I'm not disappointed" in the Deputy Minister outcome, he added.
Indy Point, making his first U.S. start after stardom in Argentina, swept to victory in Wednesday's $95,000 Wickerr Stakes, scoring by 1 1/4 lengths and just missing the course record for 1 mile on the Jimmy Durante turf course. With Gary Stevens up, the 4-year-old Indygo Shiner colt finished in 1:32.74. Endorsement was second and Tigah finished third. Richard Mandella trains Indy Point.