There are a few glittery ornaments on racing's tree this weekend, including one of the year's most important races for 2-year-olds.
Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Cash Call Futurity at Hollywood Park has a very promising field and is must-see for those still looking for a 2014 Kentucky Derby candidate.
The Futurity tops a three-stakes card at the soon-to-be-shuttered Los Angeles track. Also on tap are the 1 1/2-mile Hollywood Turf Cup and the Native Diver Stakes on the all-weather course.
Saturday's Louisiana Champions Day at Fair Grounds in New Orleans comprises eight stakes for state-breds, including some juvenile events worth a long glance. The juveniles also are on display in Sunday's $250,000 Remington Springboard Mile in Oklahoma.
Woodbine calls it quits for the year with the appropriately named Valedictory Stakes at 14 furlongs on Sunday. Down Florida way, Gulfstream Park's weekend feature is the $100,000, Grade III Sugar Swirl Stakes for filly and mare sprinters on Saturday.
Hawthorne Race Course on Saturday has the $100,000 Jim Edgar Futurity for state-bred 2-year-olds. That race is named for the former governor -- now a respected political "elder statesman" and a noted owner and breeder of both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds.
Here's the scoop on what's happening on the third-to-last weekend of 2013.
The young 'uns
All Thoroughbreds are calculated another year older on Jan. 1 so, no matter when they were foaled, next year's Derby contenders only have a few weeks left to get that juvenile experience that's so important, historically, for winning the Run for the Roses.
To that end, 13 signed up to tackle Saturday's Futurity at 1 1/16 miles on the Hollywood Park all-weather track. Among the baker's dozen is Tamarando, a Bertrando colt who won the Real Quiet Stakes over the course and distance in his last outing -- by 3 1/4 lengths. The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee has three wins, two seconds and a third to show for seven starts so he may be tired but he's not inexperienced. Hollendorfer's second starter, Shared Belief, is fresher but undefeated in two starts, including the Grade III Hollywood Prevue in last start, going 7 furlongs. The Candy Ride gelding won that race by 7 3/4 furlongs but still needs to show he can go around two turns. John Sadler also saddles two, including Kobe's Back, who was the distant second in the Prevue. Craig Dollase's two include Brother Soldier, the show horse in the Prevue. Kenny McPeek also has two, both of them looking to make an impression. Bob Baffert's lone entry is Tap It Rich, a Tapit colt whose last start was a fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Bond Holder won the Grade I FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita and got home fourth in the Breeders' Cup. Poker Player won the Grade III Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland when that race was moved off the turf. Watch closely for hints to the next Kentucky Derby futures pool. It's less than five months until Derby Day.
And don't overlook this one: An even dozen entered for Sunday's $250,000 Remington Springboard Mile at Remington Park. Alpha and Omega has been tearing up the state-bred ranks and now matches up against open company rivals. Dunkin Bend won the Grade III Sapling at Monmouth Park this summer, then finished fourth in the local Clever Trevor Stakes, a heat in which two other Sunday entrants, Smack Smack and Guns Loaded, finished first and second. Pachanga Party is in from Florida with a stakes win to his credit. The owner-trainer combination of Brereton Jones and Larry Jones brings recent maiden winner Divine View from Churchill Downs. Wesley Ward has Noble Cornerstone, a recent maiden winner in New York. Boji Moon won the Iowa Cradle Stakes on the Prairie Meadows dirt and the Kentucky Downs Juvenile on the grass but finished sixth in the off-the-turf, Grade III Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland. Brereton Jones, by the way, makes it two former governors in weekend racing news. He served as the 58th governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Also on Sunday for the 2-year-olds is the $100,000 Damon Runyon Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Aqueduct.
Saturday finds the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile for state-breds going 6 furlongs at Fair Grounds and the aforementioned Jim Edgar Futurity at 1 1/16 miles at Hawthorne Race Course, the latter for Illinois-breds. The former Illinois governor is not represented in the latter, either as an owner or as a breeder.
No really big events this weekend although Sunday's $100,000 East View at 1 1/16 miles at Aqueduct could be interesting. Also on Sunday are the $100,000 Trapeze Stakes at 1 mile at Remington Park and the $85,000, 1-mile Enchantress Stakes at Sunland Park in the Land of Enchantment. On Saturday, look to Fair Grounds for the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Lassie at 6 furlongs.
Blueskiesnrainbows is among nine in for Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Native Diver Stakes at 9 furlongs on the all-weather course. The 4-year-old English Channel colt finished second in the Grade II Breeders' Cup Marathon in his last outing but -- like most of these -- seems to have a hard time finding the winner's circle. Setsuko returns for the first time since finishing second in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap way back in March. Hear the Ghost is a talented 3-year-old son of Ghostzapper who won the Grade II San Felipe Stakes in March, then returned finishing second in an allowance race a month ago. He will be making only his fifth start.
Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup got a field of six. The field size isn't exactly redeemed by quality, either, as none of these has much to brag about. Temeraine, a 4-year-old Arch gelding, did finish second in the Grade III Arlington Handicap this summer and fifth in the Grade I Arlington Million. He also won the Grade III Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs and finished fifth last time out, in the Grade I Canadian International at Woodbine against a tough field. One of the other starters, Segway, comes off an allowance win but we'll segue into other races.
It's a wide-open field of six 3- and 4-year-old fillies in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Sugar Swirl Stakes at 6 furlongs on the main track. The contestants assemble from all points of the compass and most of them show recent success. R Free Roll is the 2-1 morning-line favorite off a victory last time out in the Bold World Handicap at Calder. But Classic Point is graded-stakes placed and comes out of a narrow loss in the Punkin Pie Stakes at Belmont in late October. It's an interesting handicapping challenge. Or, stab the program with a hatpin.
Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Valedictory, at 1 3/4 miles, is another chapter in a developing U.S. East Coast rivalry between Eagle Poise and Tricky Hat. Shug McGaughey ships in Tricky Hat, with Rosie Napravnik named to ride. The 4-year-old colt is a Chilean-bred son of Japanese-bred Hat Trick. He started his career in Chile and posted victories this year at Gulfstream Park, Saratoga and Laurel Park. He finished third in the Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland last time out. Eagle Poise, trained by H. Graham Motion, was second in the Sycamore but also was second behind Tricky Hat in the Laurel Turf Cup before that. Eagle Poise won this race last year -- after finishing sixth in the Sycamore. Peyton was second in last year's Valedictory but has been less successful since. Address Unknown tries to regroup after shipping from England for an unsuccessful U.S. debut at Saratoga in July. Gallant Eagle almost beat Wilcox Inn in the Grade III Washington Park Handicap in August in his career highlight. Awesome Overture could be dangerous given lots of added ground.
News and notes:
The Turf Publicists of America (TPA) has elected three vice presidents to fill two vacancies and re-elected its secretary-treasurer to a fifth consecutive term for 2014 and 2015. In the race to fill two VP vacancies, Jennifer Hoyt of Oaklawn Park, Rhonda Norby of Equibase and publicist Lynne Snierson ended in a three-way dead heat and all were declared elected, TPA President Mandy Minger announced Tuesday after the organization's meeting in Tucson, Ariz. Secretary-Treasurer Dave Zenner of Arlington Park ran unopposed for another term and commented, "I wish someone (else) would run." Minger and VPs Sophia McKee of Emerald Downs and Jim Mulvihill of NTRA are in the midst of two-year terms.
The TPA presented its "Big Sport of Turfdom" award to jockey Gary Stevens, who returned from a seven-year retirement to have a spectacular year on the track, winning the Breeders' Cup Classic, Breeders' Cup Distaff and Preakness Stakes among other races. Stevens did not attend because he had been in Hong Kong for the HKJC's jockey competition at Happy Valley Racecourse. He was blanked in four races in that event.