British Champions Day anchors the weekend racing schedule with some rich state-bred cards filling the U.S. lull before the Breeders' Cup.
Saturday also finds the Caulfield Cup up for grabs in Australia.
Keeneland continues with its usual quality stakes races and Woodbine is gearing up for its big weekend with some turf action.
Meanwhile, Monday was Canadian Thanksgiving and Columbus Day in the U.S., which prompted some stakes racing, noted below.
Let's get on with it. Or, to paraphrase Eliza Doolittle's unfortunate but hilarious outburst at Royal Ascot: "Move your bloomin' ...."
Qipco Champions Day this year lacks its retired star, Frankel, but otherwise continues its rise into the rarefied air of top international meetings. The day comprises five races, including two Group 1 events and three Group 2s. The Ascot sod is expected to be soft on Saturday.
A stellar field looms for the Group 1 Champion Stakes at 1 1/4 miles with Cirrus Des Aigles the general favorite off his recent return to the form that made him the world's top-rated Thoroughbred at the start of the year. He comes to the race off a win in the Group 2 Prix Dollar at Longchamp. This is no walkover, though. There's plenty of support for Farhh, winner of the Group 2 Lockinge Stakes in his last outing; Derby winner Ruler of the World; and Group 2 York Stakes victor Mukhadram. Godolphin starts Hunters Light, who was last seen finishing well back in the Arlington Million. In all, 10 are set.
The Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at 1 mile looks to be the other big-name event of the day, featuring the likes of Group 1 St. James's Palace winner Dawn Approach; South African and Dubai star Soft Falling Rain; Group 1 Prix Rothschild winner Elusive Kate; and Maxios and Olympic Glory, who finished first and second in the Group 1 Prix de Moulin de Longchamp last month. Kingsbarns is in the mix just to provide a joker for the pack. That Galileo colt has but a single start in the past 12 months -- that a last-place finish last month at Leopardstown. But with Aidan O'Brien training and Joseph O'Brien in the irons and double-digit odds ... well, stranger things have happened on the race track.
The Group 2 Fillies and Mares Stakes at 1 1/2 miles has Talent among its talented and balanced field of nine, along with Dalkala, Hot Snap and Waila. Talent comes off a runner-up showing in the St Leger. Dalkala won the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera at Longchamp last month. Another to watch: Igugu, who has not run well since leaving South Africa but showed promise last month when returning from a long break following a trip to Hong Kong in April.
Maarek looks like the favorite among 14 set for the Group 2 British Champions Sprint at 6 furlongs. He shows two straight wins, the most recent being the Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye on Arc day at Longchamp.
The Group 3 British Champions Long Distance at 2 miles features a popular favorite in Her Majesty's runner, Estimate. Eleven are set to oppose that 4-year-old Monsun gelding, who has won his last two races, including the Group 1 Gold Cup at 2 1/2 miles over the course.
The Caulfield Cup goes Sunday at 2,400 meters with a field limited to 18 -- from more than 40 subscribed. Hawkspur, the pre-race favorite, drew post No. 16 but likely will start around 14 after the "emergency" starters are sorted out by race day.
On Wednesday, Guelph landed the Group 1 Thousand Guineas for Godolphin, completing a double for the same team following Long John's win in the Caulfield Guineas. The latter is bound for the Cox Plate in another week's time.
Back in North America:
On Thursday, Najjaar had to work around and through some traffic before getting up late to win the off-the-turf, $100,000 Sycamore Stakes by 3/4 lengths over Eagle Poise. Tricky Hat was a neck farther back in third and Suntracer trailed by just another head, finishing fourth Najjaar, a 4-year-old Jazil colt, ran 1 5/8 miles on the all-weather course in 2:41.49 under James Graham. The race originally was carded for 1 1/2 miles on the grass.
Friday's $150,000, Grade III Pin Oak Valley View features a full field of 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles on the grass. Summer of Fun is the morning-line favorite at 2-1 despite a disappointing showing in her last outing in the Grade I Garden City at Belmont Park. Nellie Cashman, Overheard and Sustained also are on the oddsmaker's good side.
Saturday, the 3-year-old fillies tackle 7 furlongs on the all-weather course in the $250,000, Grade II Lexus Raven Run. Another full field is on tap, headed by Silsita, Lighthouse Bay and Ciao Bella Luna.
And Sunday, 10 fillies and mares try 1 1/2 miles on the grass in the $125,000 Rood and Riddle Dowager.
With most of the graded stakes action on hold in the run-up to the Breeders' Cup, the workaday steeds who provide a lot of our day-to-day action get a chance to shine and earn some big bucks in:
Friday's Oklahoma Classics at Remington Park.
Saturday's Empire Showcase at Belmont Park with $1.25 million in seven purses.
Saturday's Maryland Million at Laurel Park, giving government workers something to do with the back pay from the shutdown weeks.
Saturday's four restricted events at Indiana Downs.
The West Virginia Breeders' Classic on Saturday at Charles Town.
These events are worth a look, often featuring rich wagering opportunities with horses, trainers and riders who have decipherable records at the track and likely have been pointing to these races.
In Monday's holiday action:
Discreet Marq hooked up with Tapicat at the top of the stretch in the $200,000 Pebbles Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and needed the length of the lane before finally edging ahead to win by 3/4 length. It was another 2 3/4 lengths back to Teen Pauline in third. Discreet Marq, a New York-bred daughter of Discreet Cat, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.19 with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard. It was her fourth win in five starts since switching to trainer Christophe Clement -- a skein that includes the Grade I Del Mar Oaks. "I've always thought she was a top-class miler," said Clement. "We've been stretching her all year long. But she's good and she overcame me, which is wonderful."
Blingo came from far back to upset the $100,000 I'm a Banker Stakes, winning by 1/2 length over Don Dulce. The latter's entrymate, Praetereo, finished third and the favorite, Percussion, rounded out the trifecta. Blingo, a 4-year-old Artie Schiller gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.57 with Alex Solis up.
Can the Man stalked the pace in the $100,000 Speakeasy Stakes for 2-year-olds, engaged pacesetting Hi Fashioned entering the stretch run and won by 1 3/4 lengths over that one with Alpine Luck 6 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Can the Man, an Into Mischief colt conditioned by Bob Baffert, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.53. Martin Garcia rode. Can the Man finished fourth in the 1 1/16-mile Forerunner in September and Baffert said the two turns of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile might be too much for him at this point. "Right now, I think one turn is his race ... He's still a young horse. He's a nice horse and he'll get it," Baffert added.
Flashy Margaritta showed the way in the $125,000 Bull Page Stakes for 2-year-old, Canadian-bred colts and geldings and scooted home first, 1 length to the good of the odds-on favorite, Spin the King. Spadina Road finished third. Flashy Margaritta, with Patrick Husbands up, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.99. The winner is a Bold n' Flashy gelding. It was his third race. After a debut dud, Flashy Margaritta won by 9 lengths in his second try. "The first race, we didn't break that well," said trainer Ralph Biamonte. "I think that's the secret with him. You just gotta go."
Hastings (all funds in Canadian dollars)
Commander was in charge all the way in the $100,000, Grade III BC Premier's Handicap, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Title Contender. Wilo Kat finished third. Commander, a 5-year-old Broken Vow gelding, ran 1 3/8 miles on a fast track in 2:16.15 with Aaron Gryder in the irons.
Madeira Park came from a pace-stalking trip to take the $100,000, Grade III Ballerina Stakes for fillies and mares by 3/4 length over Wando Woman. Touching Promise finished third. Madeira Park, a 4-year-old Langfuhr filly, toured 9 furlongs in 1:50.26 with Rico Walcott up.
Neverabettercause took over in the lane in the $75,000 Ascot Graduation Stakes for 2-year-old, getting clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Majestic Mark. Off the Top finished third. Neverabettercause, a Cause to Believe gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.90 under Frank Fuentes.
Architecture outfinished Fire Beauty in the $75,000 Fantasy Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, then worked clear in the final strides to win by 1 3/4 lengths. The favorite, Ole's Miss, settled for third. Architecture, a daughter of Dixie Chatter, got home in 1:45.51 with Enrique Gonzalez handling the reins.
Northlands Park (Canadian funds)
Aces Again led from the start in the $50,000 Harvest Gold Plate and held off the favorite, Silver Baubles, with ease, winning by 2 lengths over that one. For Cash finished third. Aces Again, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper gelding, finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.63 under Mario Velazquez.
Canaveral Leader rallied from last of seven to win the $50,000 Duchess of York Handicap for fillies and mares by 2 1/4 lengths over Salsa Express. Tempered Sapphire finished third. Canaveral Leader, a 3-year-old Cape Canaveral filly, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:48.06 with Shannon Beauregard up.
News and notes:
This week's list of retirements is long and distinguished, including Camelot and Novellist on the Euro side and Kettle Corn and Include Me Out in North America. Watch the 2-year-olds for budding replacements.