Things heat up in Europe, too, with the Irish Champion Stakes and a couple of English Group 1 events on the weekend calendar pointing toward the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and British Champions Day, both just around the calendar corner.
While there's plenty of action at home, let's start overseas.
It's been a long wait for Kingsbarns, the Aidan O'Brien trainee who won last year's Racing Post Trophy but has been sidelined since with a foot infection and an abundance of caution. O'Brien has him in Saturday's Group Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, along with stablemate Declaration of War. The trainer said Kingsbarns "has been coming along steadily and is ready to race." That duo is likely to face Al Kazeem, who won three straight Group 1 races this summer, only to lose to Declaration of war in the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York last month. Al Kazeem's participation likely will depend on the arrival of expected rain, as he prefers softer going. Eight remained in the field on Thursday, including Group 1 Irish Derby winner Trading Leather and The Fugue, who captured the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks in her last outing.
Also at Leopardstown on Saturday is the Group 1 Coolmore Fusaichi Pegasus Matron Stakes at 1 mile for fillies and mares. Elusive Kate was left off the list of starters, reportedly after some questionable blood work. Twelve remain.
At Haydock, the Group 1 Betfred Sprint Cup had 18 left in on Wednesday, among them likely favorites Lethal Force and Reckless Abandon. Lethal Force won the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket before finishing second to Moonlight Cloud at Deauville in his last outing.
Several other races scattered hither and yon could point to fixtures as widely divergent as Champions Day and the Melbourne Cup.
Puissance De Lune puts a four-race winning streak on the line in Saturday's Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes at Flemington. The 5-year-old Irish-bred is by Shamardal out of the Unbridled's Song mare Princess Serena. Fourteen will try to take Puissance De Lune down in the 1-mile event.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Tamarando came from far back in Wednesday's $300,000, Grade I Del Mar Futurity, swung four-wide into the stretch and outfinished fellow closer Dance With Fate to win by 1/2 length. Can was third and the favorite, Albert's Hope, finished fourth with a late run. Tamarando is a California-bred Bertrando colt out of the Dehere mare Tamarack Bay. He ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:23.07 under Julien Leparoux. Tamarando took three tries to break his maiden, finishing fourth, second, then first in a 5 1/2-furlongs heat at Del Mar. "We wanted to win first time out but we didn't do that," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "He came back and won second time and now this, so he looks like a pretty good candidate to do something next year. I was a little disappointed that he was as far back early as he was, but apparently that's the way he wants to run." Leparoux agreed. "He's the kind of horse who wants to run from the back, so that's what we were ready to do," the rider said. "I felt I could move well with him at any point. He just felt strong. He's a handy horse. And I think the farther the better with him."
On Del Mar's turf course, Diamond Bachelor went right to the front in Wednesday's $100,000 Oak Tree Juvenile Turf and cruised home first by 2 1/2 lengths. Ontology was second and Home School finished third. Diamond Bachelor, a War Front colt out of the Pulpit mare Seasoned, finished 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.36, also with Leparoux in the irons. He now is 2-for-2, with both wins over the Del Mar grass.
Coming up this weekend:
Churchill Downs moved Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Iroquois Stakes into its new early-fall meeting and drew a full field of 12 hopeful youngsters. The morning-line favorite is Ride On Curlin, who finished second in his debut over the track in June, then broke his maiden at Ellis Park in July. Tapiture finished second to Strong Mandate in his only previous start at Saratoga. Strong Mandate came back to win the Grade I Hopeful last weekend at the Spa. Rise Up has won two in a row, including the Mountaineer Juvenile. The race is 1 1/16 miles on the main track.
Solitary Ranger hasn't raced since posting a pair of second-place finishes at Keeneland's spring meeting. But one of those seconds was behind No Nay Never, who has gone on to become one of the top 2-year-olds running in Europe this summer. And Solitary Ranger has been working gangbusters at Arlington Park, where he should be among the favorites for Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity. The race is a one-turn mile on the all-weather course. Among the other eight is Captain's Affair, an Irish-bred who makes his first U.S. start after a win and an off-the-board finish in his native land for Team Valor International. The race also drew promising performers from the local barns, Iowa, Kentucky and Indiana.
Look for Got Shades, Mighty Brown and Thunder Run in Saturday's $100,000 Sunday Silence Stakes at 1 mile on the grass on the Super Derby undercard at Louisiana Downs.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs has eight entrants and six of them were hard for oddsmaker Mike Battaglia to separate. The narrow favorite is Stonetastic, a gray Mizzen Mast filly who won by 12 1/2 lengths at first asking at Monmouth Park for trainer Kelly Breen. Untapable, Elena Strikes, Rosalind, Milam and Harlan's Special all are listed at odds of 6-1 or less. Elena Strikes was third in the Grade III Schuylerville at Saragota under Todd Pletcher's tutelage.
Eleven are set to tangle in Saturday's $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie at Arlington Park. Most are coming off maiden wins but among those, Maria Maria might be notable. A Curlin filly out of a With Approval mare, Maria Maria was close in two tries at Keeneland and Churchill Downs in the spring. Divergent View has two wins and a second in the Prairie Gold Lassie at Prairie Meadows in June and also should be well regarded at the windows. Sweetsoutherndame broke her maiden at Presque Isle Downs and then ran second in the $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Debutante at Woodbine -- another likely one.
On the turf, Redgrass Cat and Bern Legacy head a field of 11 for Saturday's $100,000 Happy Ticket Stakes at Louisiana Downs. The former comes off a win in a local grass stakes; the latter, a win at first asking at Ellis Park.
With another Saratoga season in the rear-view mirror, Belmont Park swings back into action Saturday with the $250,000, Grade II Bowling Green Handicap as the main draw. The 10-furlongs turf race drew a field of six, with Boisterous hoping to bounce back from an eighth-place drubbing in the Grade I Sword Dancer Invitational. The Shug McGaughey trainee carries highweight of 122 pounds and will start from the rail. Before the Sword Dancer misfire, the 6-year-old son of Distorted Humor won the Grade I Man o' War at Belmont and the Grade II Monmouth Stakes on the shore. If he runs his best race, the others will be in trouble though London Lane and Hyper did finish 1-2 in the Grade II Colonial Turf Cup two starts back. Shadwell yanked Farhaan out of England last month and he won right off the plane in a Saratoga allowance so we'll see about that. Finnegan's Wake will try to improve on three straight fourth-place finishes in graded stakes.
Eight 3-year-olds are entered to go 9 furlongs on the Delaware Park lawn in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Kent Stakes. Saint Vigeur finished second on the Belmont Park main track in both the Grade II Peter Pan and the Grade II Dwyer this spring and has not raced in the interim. None of the others has shown a whole lot at this level but Hard Enough does have two straight wins in minor Monmouth Park stakes at the same distance and surface.
String King and Major Marvel are the favorites among seven set for the $100,000 Unbridled Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles over the Louisiana Downs grass on Saturday. String King has been a check-producing machine on the Louisiana circuit with 10 wins, five seconds and two thirds from 24 career starts.
Filly & Mare Turf
Kentucky Downs -- the old Dueling Grounds -- has three stakes races for disaffers on the Saturday card, ranging from 6 1/2 furlongs through a mile and up to 1 5/8 miles. All are drew big fields and all provide interesting handicapping challenges. The course is an undulating, European-style layout with a long, long stretch that can find out an unaware jockey.
Artemus Kitten and Grandma Rules are the morning-line favorites for Saturday's $100,000 River Cities Stakes at Louisiana Downs going 1 1/16 miles on the green course.
Departing is the even-money, morning-line favorite among seven entered for Saturday's $500,000, Grade II Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. The War Front colt, winner of the Grade III Illinois Derby and Grade II West Virginia Derby, starts from the outside. Looking for an upsetter? Bashaar finished third in the Grade III Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows two starts back and fourth in the Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga in his last outing. Holiday Mischief won the Super Derby Prelude locally. Ruler of Love finished second in the West Virginia Derby but was 8 3/4 lengths back of Departing in that heat.
Ten are entered for the $100,000, Grade III Locust Grove for fillies and mares on Saturday night's Churchill Downs card. The morning-line favorites are Flashy American, Wine Princess, Bahia Beach and Ami's Dini.
Eight are set for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Ack Ack Handicap under the Churchill Downs lights. Pants On Fire is the morning-line favorite off a win in the Grade II Monmouth Cup on the Jersey Shore. Taptowne finished second in the Grade III Prairie Meadows Cornhusker, then won the West Virginia Governor's Stakes. Brethern, like Pants On Fire, was on the Triple Crown trail with little effect in 2011 but, also like Pants On Fire, seems to be getting good again and exits a win in the Evangeline Mile.
Twelve and an also-eligible are entered for Sunday's $150,000 Presque Isle Mile at Presque Isle Downs. The morning-line favorites are Hogy and Alpha Bettor. The latter drew the rail. Also in this field are Gourmet Dinner, Ponzi Scheme and a New Zealand-bred, Hoofit.
Private Zone led from the start in Wednesday's $90,000 Pirate's Bounty Stakes, survived pressure from several foes and got home first by a neck over Ain't No Other. Chiloquin was third and the favorite, Roman Threat, faded to finish fifth. Private Zone, a 4-year-old Macho Uno gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:09.03 with Martin Pedroza up. A consistent stakes performer in California for trainer Doug O'Neill, Private Zone was making his first start since finishing ninth in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen -- part of the general American debacle (Animal Kingdom excluded) on World Cup night.
2014: The Year in Music [PHOTOS]