The reigning U.S. Horse of the Year is back in action this weekend, along with some promising youngsters.
In Europe, tension is building toward the big year-end meetings, including Arc weekend in Paris and the British Champions Day at Ascot, with owners and trainers working to position their top runners to peak on those dates. Deauville hosts one of the best 1-mile races of the season.
And some important action already is in the books, as noted right here, right now.
In what's certainly the race of the week in the United States, the reigning Horse of the Year, Wise Dan, will look for his eighth straight win in Saturday's $500,000, Grade II Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga. He's the odds-on favorite despite drawing the rail against six opponents and toting 129 pounds -- 11 more than any of his rivals. Among those is Lea, who finished second to Wise Dan in the last previous race for each of them -- the Grade II Firecracker at Churchill Downs. That heat was roughly run in a heavy rain over a soggy course and Wise Dan had to fight his way through on the hedge to get to the front. "It was as ugly as it could be," says trainer Charles LoPresti. I just want him to get an easy race this time. I don't want it to be one of those where he's trapped and has to overcome a lot of adversity to get to the winner's circle." Lea's trainer, Al Stall Jr., is no stranger to upsetting popular favorites. It was Stall who sent out Blame to beat Zenyatta in the dramatic 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic as she was trying to retire undefeated. And, Stall points out he had no hesitation about sending Lea up against Wise Dan at Churchill Downs. "It we were dumb enough to do it last time, we're dumb enough to do it again," he said. "We just have a schedule we're trying to stick with." The others set to take on the 1-mile turf event are King Kreesa, Willyconker, Mr. Commons, Za Approval and Skyring.
The rest of the major turf mile (or thereabouts) action involves 3-year-olds.
Friday's $200,000, Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes marks the fifth meeting between Rydilluc and Charming Kitten. Rydilluc and Charming Kitten finished 1-2, in that order, in two of those races, the Grade III Palm Beach Stakes and the Penn Mile. Neither distinguished himself in the Grade I Bluegrass on the Keeneland all-weather surface. Then Charming Kitten got home second in the Grade II Virginia Derby while Rydilluc faded badly to finish eighth. "I think that horse and my horse probably know each other," said Rydilluc's trainer, Gary Contessa. "They probably talk to each other going down the backside. I mean, they've run against each other so many times." Get In Line is coupled in the wagering with Charming Kitten as both are owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Notacatbutallama and Balance the Books also have the credentials to figure in the outcome of this race while the remaining starter, North Slope, might need a pipeline to hit the board. Battier is a main-track-only entry.
On the Del Mar lawn, Saturday's $150,000, Grade II La Jolla Handicap at 1 1/16 miles has a whole different feel -- a feel of nine 3-year-olds looking for their identity. Rosengold won four straight before coming in fourth in a division of the Oceanside Stakes. Dice Flavor is still seeking his first win since his return from Dubai. Si Sage makes his second start since coming in from France. Freakin Rocket could be tough after suffering his first loss in an Oceanside division. Bob Baffert continues to search for a way to unlock the riddle of Den's Legacy.
There are lots of youngsters to watch these days, especially at the "boutique" meetings at Saratoga and Del Mar. But when one jets off to win by 11 lengths in his first race, it's worth noting. It's especially worth noting when the colt is trained by Todd Pletcher for WinStar Farm and he beats rivals from Darley and Live Oak Plantation. The colt in question would be King Cyrus, by Bellamy Road out of the Empire Maker mare Queen of Empire. After tracking the early pace, he ran 7 furlongs in 1:25.68 with Javier Castellano up in Monday's third race. "We were happy with the way he came into the race but didn't really expect him to blow them away like that," Pletcher said. But he'll take it.
Seven are set for Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Saratoga Special at the Spa. Wired Bryan comes to the race with two wins from as many starts -- the latter a dominating victory in the Grade II Sanford Stakes at Saratoga on July 12. The Stormy Atlantic colt is trained by Michael Dilger. Pletcher will saddle Danza off a first-out maiden win at Belmont Park and Corfu, who won at first asking over the local surface on Sept. 25. The latter is a Malibu Moon colt owned by the Coolmore juggernaut. Wesley Ward will lead over Ogermeister, who won at first asking at Belmont, then finished nowhere in a Royal Ascot misfire. Twang comes off a maiden win for Al Stall Jr. while Candy Dandy won his first start for Steve Asmussen. Lunar Warfare won his first start at Gulfstream Park last month and is conditioned by Michael Yates. Let's see how they stack up going 6 1/2 furlongs.
Concave won a spirited stretch duel win She's a Tiger in Thursday's $150,000, Grade II Sorrento Stakes at Del Mar, scoring by 1/2 length over that rival. Stop Smiling finished far back in third. Concave, an Ontario-bred daughter of Colonel John, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather surface in 1:17.45 with Mario Gutierrez in the irons. Winning trainer Doug O'Neill, who has been having an ice-cold meeting, said Concave "could be very special if she stays healthy. The Debutante is next, that's the plan." She now is 2-for-2 with her maiden win coming at Hollywood Park.
On Sunday at Saratoga, seven are to face the starter in the $200,000, Grade II Adirondack Stakes -- a race that epitomizes the difficulty and beauty of the upstate New York meeting. The fillies come from all over the eastern half of the country with little to support direct handicapping comparisons. Fiftyshadesofgold has two wins from two starts, the latter a drubbing of 10 rivals in the Debutante at Churchill Downs. Hop the Six has two wins from three races, the last coming in White Clay Creek Stakes at Delaware Park. Coming off maiden wins are Untapable (at Churchill Downs), Thank You Marylou (the Tippett Stakes at Colonial Downs), Who's In Town (Delaware), Designer Legs (the Prairie Gold Lassie at Prairie Meadows), and Charmed Hour (Ellis Park).
Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Monmouth Oaks is competitive, with half the eight-filly field listed at 4-1 or less on the morning line. Seaneen Girl finished second in the Grade III Iowa Oaks, then sixth in the Grade III Arlington Oaks but is the favorite in this 1 1/16-miles heat on the main track. Lucky Rag Doll has won two in a row locally. Makayla's Angel comes off a fourth-place finish in the Grade II Delaware Oaks.
Filly & Mare Turf
Five are entered for Sunday's $250,000, Grade II John C. Mabee Stakes at Del Mar. Tiz Flirtatious comes to the race off a tough loss to Marketing Mix in the Grade I Gamely at Hollywood Park and won't have that one to contend with here. She will face Lady of Shamrock, who finished third in the Gamely, and My Gi Gi, who got home fifth in that race. Tiz Flirtatious has six wins, three second and one third from 10 lifetime starts. Lucy Manet and recent South American import Journaliste round out the field.
Sunday's Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville features both Moonlight Cloud, the filly who almost beat Black Caviar last year at Royal Ascot, Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club winner Intello, Group 1 Falmouth Stakes winner Elusive Kate, Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes winner Declaration of War and Group 1 St James's Palace winner Dawn Approach in a field of 13 going 1 mile. Aljamaaheer, who is multiply group-placed, is available at double-digit odds in this field. The results will go a long way to shaping the remainder of the season among European milers. What a nice race.
Earnest Hemingway had all he could do to win Thursday's Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes at Leopardstown but jockey Joseph O'Brien said the victory sets the 4-year-old Galileo colt up with a "massive" chance for the Irish St Leger.
Sunday's Group 1 Phoenix Stakes for 2-year-old colts and fillies at the Curragh has 10 signed on -- five of them from Aidan O'Brien's yard. War Command is 2-for-2 for the dominant Irish conditioner, with the latter win coming in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes at Ascot. Among the others, Sudriman and Big Time finished 1-2 in the Group 2 Railway Stakes over the same course in their last outing.
Telescope, who returned to the races with a 24-lengths win last month at Leicester, looks to be the brightest hope in Saturday's Group 3 Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock. Trainer Sir Michael Stoute backed the Galileo colt off the Derby trail with a series of minor setbacks and has nursed him along since then. Should he run well against nine on Saturday, Telescope holds entries in the Juddmonte international, Irish Champion Stakes and British Champion Stakes.
Other races run, other bets won:
Holiday Soiree rallied from well back to win Monday's $100,000 Shine Again Stakes for f'illies and mares by 3 3/4 lengths over Delightful Quality. Five Star Momma finished third. Holiday Soiree, a 4-year-old daughter of Harlan's Holiday, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.80 with John Velazquez aboard. "We ended up having a perfect trip," Velazquez said. The filly, winless in more than a year, was starting for the first time for trainer Todd Pletcher after a transfer from Tevis McCauley.
Qushchi rallied five-wide into the stretch in Monday's $100,000 Waya Stakes for fillies and mares and was up in plenty of time to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Anjaz. Mystical Star finished third. Qushchi, a 5-year-old, British-bred mare by Encosata de Lago, ran 1 1/2 miles on the firm inner turf course in 2:27.21 with Edgar Prado in the irons. She has been on the board in all five U.S. starts since arriving from England. Winning trainer H. Graham Motion said he will think about the Glens Falls, a $150,000, Grade III on Sept. 2, but added, "It might be a little quick."
Strut the Course strutted her stuff in the lane in Monday's $125,000 (Canadian) Eternal Search Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, kicking away to a 6 1/2-lengths win over Seeking Toussaud. Dancing Bay finished third. Strut the Course, an Ontario-bred daughter of Strut the Stage, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.67 for jockey Todd Kabel. She was coming off a third-place showing in the Bison City Stakes. "I let her put herself in the race where she wanted to be," said Kabel. "The pace was backed up a bit at the beginning which turned it into a sprint at the turn and I was able to sit and sit."
Paso Doble sashayed to the lead at mid-stretch in Monday's $125,000 (Canadian) Shepperton Stakes for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and up, then held on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Spirit Warnings. Seeley's Bay came from last of nine to take third. Paso Doble, a 7-year-old Bold n' Flashy gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:16.39 with Eurico Da Silva in the irons.
Assembly Hall, one of three in from Canterbury Park, rallied to the lead on the stretch turn in Monday's $75,000 (Canadian) Manitoba Lotteries Derby and kicked clear late, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Stormin Monarcho. John Q finished third. Assembly Hall, a Sharp Humor colt out of the Dynaformer mare Dynaffair, got 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:55 with Alex Canchari up. The other Minnesota invaders, Lewiston and Claypool, finished fifth and last of nine, respectively.
Portales came late to win Monday's $50,000 (Canadian) Assiniboia Oaks by 1 1/2 lengths over Quinnz Away. The later then was disqualified to fifth, promoting Dynasheals and Magical Powder to second and third, respectively. Portales, a Sharp Humor filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:43 with Adrian Ramos up.