This week in horse racing is an exercise in anticipation: Will California Chrome win the American Triple Crown? And can Australia live up to his billing in the Investec Derby on Epsom Downs?
Meantime, the Japanese Derby went into the books with a minor upset while a Group 1 event in France could impact the odds on the Epsom Derby itself.
Don't forget, though, there were some nice races in their own right during the weekend. Those looking to make sense of the rest of this year's campaign should take note.
The Belmont Stakes
California Chrome was reported in fine fettle Sunday after breezing 4 furlongs the previous day at Belmont Park, a week before his date with destiny -- and a potential Triple Crown -- in Saturday's Belmont Stakes. The colt was clocked in 47.69 seconds under regular exercise rider Willie Delgado and "came out of the work in great shape," said Alan Sherman, son and assistant to trainer Art Sherman. "He was pulling Willie around the shedrow this morning. Everything is cold and tight and we're ready for Saturday," the younger Sherman said. California Chrome wasn't ready to pull up after 4 furlongs, either. Galloping out, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner was timed in 1:12.95 for 6 furlongs and 1:26.27 for 7 panels over a fast track. Potential Belmont rivals Wicked Strong, Ride On Curlin and Commanding Curve all worked on Sunday morning without incident. There has been no Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
Well before California Chrome faces the starter, another editon of the original Derby -- the one started in 1780 -- will be in the record books at Epsom. Australia remains the heavy favorite for the Investec Derby across the British betting shops, at odds hovering around even despite the fact the Galileo colt finished third in his only previous start this year. Geoffrey Chaucer, an American-bred Montjeu colt who also finished third in his only 2014 race, is among the more highly regarded challengers. A couple others -- Arod and True Story -- were flattered by Sunday's results from France and their odds dropped a few points accordingly. Trainer Aidan O'Brien has voiced concern about the prospect of soft turf on Sunday, saying that "wouldn't be ideal" for Australia. But he hasn't said there's a chance of withdrawing his star performer because of the going.
Friday's Investec Oaks finds several with viable chances on the record. Among them, Sheikh Hamdan's Sea the Stars filly, Taghrooda, remains undefeated in two starts but tries a new level of competition. Marvelous, a Galileo filly, won the Irish 1,000 Guineas for trainer Aidan O'Brien. Among the more experienced, Godolphin Racing's Ihtimal won the UAE 1,000 Guineas and the UAE Oaks in Dubai but finished third in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket. Sheikh Hamdan also has Tarfasha, who is drawing some support.
The Grey Gatsby backed up his victory in the Dante Stakes with a nice repeat effort to win Sunday's Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly by 3 lengths over Shamkiyr. Prince Gibraltar was a close third as the favorite among the 16 3-year-olds who ran. The Grey Gatsby, an Irish-bred Mastercraftsman colt, won the Dante at York in something of an upset and Sunday's confirmation of his ability boosted the Epsom Derby stock of the two who finished behind him in the North -- Arod and True Story. In Sunday's race, Ryan Moore kept the eventual winner well back and on the rail until the field fanned out for the stretch run. Finding running room when needed, Moore quickly had The Grey Gatsby out front and the issue was settled. Winning trainer Kevin Ryan said he will think about the Juddmonte at York later in the summer, then longer trips in view of the ease with which The Grey Gatsby handled Sunday's 10 1/2 furlongs. Japan One and Only turned the tables on rival Isla Bonita, winning the Group 1 Tokyo Yushun, or Japan Derby, by 3/4 length over that rival, who earlier won the Satsuki Sho, or Japanese 2,000 Guineas, with One and Only fourth. Sunday was a different story with jockey Norohiro Yokoyama coping with a slow pace and still keeping One and Only in position to win a battle to the wire. The victory was the first in 20 Derby tries for veteran trainer Kojiro Hashiguchi, who said he was so overwhelmed that "I can't feel my feet on the ground." The winner's sire, Heart's Cry, also produced the winner of last weekend's Japanese Oaks, Nuovo Record.
Back in North America: Sprint Delaunay stalked the early pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs, then powered off to win by a comfortable 3 1/2 lengths with Scatman trailing in his wake. Captain Genius offered a bit of a late run to get show money. Delaunay, a 7-year-old Smoke Glacken gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.59. Rosie Napravnik had the mount for trainer Tom Amoss and owner Maggi Moss, who claimed Delaunay in 2012 for $40,000. He now has nine stake wins. "It was one of those rare races that went the way we thought it would, " Amoss said. Added Napravnik, "He's so fast and he has no problem sitting off of another horse. He really knows what he's doing and he just cruised home." The race is named for the winner of the first running of the Kentucky Derby. Turf Mile Bobby's Kitten rated just off the early speed in Saturday's $500,000 Penn Mile at Penn National, took over when asked by jockey Javier Castellano and won off by 2 3/4 lengths. Global View finished second and Storming Inti was third. Bobby's Kitten, the favorite, ran 6 furlongs on good turf in 1:35.82. Chad Brown trains for Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Bobby's Kitten, third in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, was coming off a dismal showing on the Keeneland all-weather course in the Grade I Blue Grass. Regally Ready pressed the pace in Saturday's $65,000 Opening Verse Stakes at Churchill Downs, moved to a daylight lead in the stretch and held off Villandry at the end for a 3/4-lengths win. Paris Vegas finished third. Regally Ready, a 7-year-old More Than Ready gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:42.26 with Rosie Napravnik up. Interrupted caught pacesetting long shot Je Suis Enchantee in the final strides to win Saturday's $100,000 Penn Oaks at Penn National by a neck. Ready to Act finished third. Interrupted is a Broken Vow filly out of the Seattle Slew mare Alternate. She ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:37.02 with Angel Serpa in the irons. Filly & Mare Turf Room Service rallied four-wide from well back to challenge for the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $350,000, Grade I American Oaks at Santa Anita, then got clear at the end for a 1 3/4-lengths win. Diversy Harbor was second, Little Journey third and the favorite, Nashoba's Gold, finished fifth. Room Service, a daughter of More Than Ready, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:01.28 with Shaun Bridgmohan up. She won for the third straight time, following the Grade III Herecomesthebride Stakes at Gulfstream Park and the Grade I Central Bank Ashland at Keeneland. "It's always worth the trip when you win," said Midwest-based trainer Wayne Catalano. "And it's nice weather, anyway ... She's mainly a grass horse but she will handle the synthetics pretty well." Turf Sprint Excaper won a three-way dash to the wire in Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Connaught Cup at Woodbine, scoring by 1/2 length over pacesetter Something Extra and another head over Laugh Track. The favorite, Dimension, finished last. Excaper, a 5-year-old son of Exchange Rate, ran 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:19.32, missing the 10-year-old course record by 0.15 second. Justin Stein rode for trainer Ian Black. It was his first stakes win while Something Extra had won two previous running of the Connaught Cup. "I have a lot of respect for that horse the way he ran today," said Stein. "He dug in and we went by him by a long neck and then he started coming back. He got within our throatlatch and then my horse just found an extra gear." Tightend Touchdown saved ground into the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Pennsylvania Governor's Cup at Penn National, got running room and went though to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Stormofthecentury finished second, a head in front of pacestetting Bold Thunder. Tightend Touchdown, a 5-year-old gelding by Pure Precision, ran 5 furlongs on good turf in 56.77 seconds with Javier Castellano up. Classic Clubhouse Ride rallied from last of seven in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Californian at Santa Anita and went by pacesetting favorite Fury Capcori in the final furlong to win by 1/2 length over that foe. Majestic Harbor was a non-threatening third. Clubhouse Ride, a 6-year-old son of Candy Ride, got 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.74 with Joe Talamo along for the ride. Winning trainer Craig Lewis said the race didn't play out as predicted but added, "We don't care how it comes out, just as long as we're victorious." He said the $500,000, Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita on June 28 is "a strong likelihood." Last Gunfighter came four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Mountainview Handicap at Penn National and was just up in time to win by a nose over pacesetting Valid. Sailor's Revenge finished third. Last Gunfighter, a 5-year-old son of First Samurai, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.55 with Javier Castellano in the irons.
Frac Daddy stalked the pace in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Eclipse Stakes at Woodbine, got fired up late and won off by 5 lengths, nearly fracturing the track record. Really Sharp was the best of the others with Alpha Bettor third. Frac Daddy, with Luis Contreras up, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.74. The record is 1:42.22. Elsewhere: Arlington Park I Got It All got it all with a late stretch move in Saturday's $100,000 Springfield Stakes for Illinois-bred 3-year-olds. The Tiz Wonderful gelding surged to the lead and kicked away to win by 9 1/4 lengths. Prado U beat the others with Flashdance Road third and the favorite, Easy Solution, fading to finish next-last of nine. I Got It All, with Emanuel Cosme in the irons, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.18. Belmont Park In a day of competition for New York-bred horses, Zivo wound things up with a last-tot-first victory in Saturday's $200,000 Commentator Handicap, finishing a neck in front of Big Business. Weekend Hideaway led most of the way and held on for show money. Zivo, a 5-year-old son of True Direction, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.11 with Jose Ortiz aboard. La Verdad had the lead in the lane in Saturday's $200,000 Critical Eye Stakes for New York-bred distaffers but had to work to hold off Hot Stones in the final strides before securing a 1/2-length victory. Lady Gracenote was well back in third. La Verdad, a 4-year-old Yes It's True filly, got 1 mile in 1:34.30 with Jose Ortiz up. Captain Serious led from the start in Saturday's $125,000 Mike Lee Stakes for 3-year-olds and held well in the stretch to win by 3 lengths. Empire Dreams was best of the rest with deceived third. With Jose Ortiz up, Captain Serious ran 7 furlongs in 1:20.99. One-time Triple Crown contender Uncle Sigh was among the late scratches. Mah Jong Maddnes played her tiles right in the $125,000 Mount Vernon Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 mile on the firm turf. With Taylor Rice aboard, the 5-year-old Freud mare led from the start and won by 3/4 length from the odds-on favorite, Effie Trinket. Lady's Lunar Luck finished third. Mah Jong Maddness finished in 1:34.42. Isabelle was on the engine from the start in the $125,000 Bouwerie Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Storied Lady. Flipcup Finished third while the favorite, Henry's Gal, struggled home fourth. Isabelle, daughter of Successful Appeal, ran 7 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:22.20 under Alex Solis. Kharafa stalked the pace in the $125,000 Kingston Stakes on the turf, took the lead in the stretch and held of Lubash to win by 1 length. Hidden Vow got show money. Kharafa, a 5-year-old Kitalpha gelding, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:32.85 for jockey Javier Castellano. Prairie Meadows Jessica's Star recovered from a rough start to win Saturday's $75,000 Prairie Mile Stakes for 3-year-olds by a neck over Tairneach. Smack Smack finished third. Jessica's Star, a Magna Graduate gelding out of the Dynaformer mare Bimini Knot, got home in 1:37.88 over a muddy, sealed track with David Mello riding. In Saturday's $75,000 Panthers Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, overwhelming favorite Sugar Shock led from the early jumps and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Dream Spinner. Phaniebdancing finished third. Sugar Shock, a Candy Ride filly, covered 1 mile in the mud in 1:37.36 with Channing Hill riding. It was her first start since finishing eighth in the Kentucky Oaks. Before that, she won the Grade III Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Calder Race Course Our Free Roll rolled freely to the lead in Saturday's $65,000 U Can Do It Handicap for fillies and mares and gathered no moss en route to a 3 3/4-lengths victory as the odds-on favorite. Centrique was best of the rest with Salamera third. Our Free Roll, a 4-year-old Rockport Harbor filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.00 with Edgard Zayas riding. Mr. Baker got first run to the lead in Saturday's $65,000 Ponche Handicap and easily held off the favorite, Dad'z Laugh, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over that one. Trinni Heart finished third. Mr. Baker, a 5-year-old son of Imperialism, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.41 with Zayas bagging another win. Florida Sun rallied from near the back of the field to win Saturday's $65,000 Leave Me Alone Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1 1/4 lengths over Scandalous Act. The favorite, Curlin's Gold, got to the lead but faded to finish third. Florida Sun, a Belgravia filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.00 with Kevin Krigger in the irons. Bolita Boyz outfinished Rasta Rant in Saturday's $65,000 Unbridled Stakes for 3-year-olds, scoring by a head. The favorite, C. Zee, finished third but far back of the first two. Bolita Boyz, an Act of Duty colt, finished in 1:11.23 with Zayas making it 3-for-4 on the day's stakes. He also rode Curlin's Gold and scored two more wins in the day's first two races. Gulfstream Park E B Ryder rallied from the back of the pack to take Saturday's $75,000 Anka Germania Stakes for fillies and mares by 1/2 length over Adriani. Magical Steps was up for third. E B Ryder, a 4-year-old Bluegrass Cat filly, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.80 with Jiver Chamafi in the irons. Monmouth Park
Pino Grigio took over the lead turning for home in Sunday's $60,000 Open Mind Handicap for New Jersey-bred fillies and mares and kicked clear, winning by 3 lengths over P J's Superego. World Gone Wright led early, then went wrong enough to finish a fading third. Pino Grigio, a 5-year-old Unbridled Jet mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.28 under Gabriel Saez.
Partyallnightlong dueled to the lead in Saturday's $60,000 John J. Reilly Handicap for New Jersey-breds and got off to a 3-lengths win. Zealevo couldn't go with the winner in the final furlong but held second, a nose in front of Gunfighter. Partyallnightlong, a 7-year-old son of Put It Back, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.67 under Paco Lopez.
Rivers Run Deep, the prohibitive favorite, ran to his notices in Sunday's $50,000 Green Carpet Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-olds, shaking clear in the lane to win by 10 lengths without much encouragement from jockey Jareth Loveberry. Doctoriat stayed closest early and held on for second. Dr. Advo Cat finished third. Rivers Run Deep, a Ready's Image colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.20. It was his second straight win at Belterra after a profitable winter at Oaklawn Park.
City by the Bay rallied to the front with a four-wide move in Sunday's $50,000 Seattle Handicap for 3-year-old fillies and held in the late going to win by 3/4 length over Chu and You. Mylast Sweet Pea finished third, 3 lengths farther back. City by the Bay, a City Zip miss, got 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.76 with Juan Hernandez aboard.