Two-year-old races at Del Mar, Saratoga and at the Curragh in Ireland offer not only big purses but clear paths to the championship events later this fall.
As added spice, there are graded stakes for horses going longer and shorter on the grass.
Let's get going ourselves:
Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga originally was the optimistic comeback target for Horse of the Year Wise Dan following his colic surgery. That timetable has been pushed back, leaving a field of six to contest the race that Wise Dan had won for two years running. Silver Max looks like a logical choice, with only a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile between him and a five-race winning streak. Seek Again won the Grade I Hollywood Derby last December in his first start off the plane from England, then finished second and third in two starts this season, going longer in the Grade I Turf Classic at Churchill downs and the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park. Grand Arch comes off a win in the Grade II King Edward Stakes at his Woodbine base.
Bobby's Kitten highlights a field of seven 3-year-olds for Friday's $200,000, Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame at Saratoga. The race is 1 1/16 miles on the grass. The distance might suit the Kitten's Joy colt better than the 1 1/4 miles of his last start, the Grade I Belmont Derby, where he faded from contention late. He earlier won the Penn Mile and, last year, the Grade III Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont. The rest of the field is pretty well balanced.
Six West Coast, grass-running 3-year-olds are entered for Saturday's $150,000, Grade III La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar, going 1 1/16 miles. The field includes Enterprising and Argyle Cut, who finished 1-2 last time out just three weeks ago in the Oceanside Stakes over the course. Sammy Mandeville, fourth in that race, also is back for more. Schoolofhardknocks shipped to Chicago to finish fourth in the Grade III American Derby at Arlington in his last race.
Nineteen remain in for Sunday's Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville in France, a 6 1/2-furlongs event for 3-year-olds and up. The majority of those are raiders from England and Ireland and one of the more interesting is Lucky Kristale who drops back in distance after recent disappointments at a mile. The local contingent is headed by Prix Ris-Orangis winner Thawaany, trained by Freddy Head, who has won six of the last eight runnings of the Gheest.
Tricky Hat attended the pace in Wednesday's $100,000 John's Call Stakes at Saratoga, engaged Holiday Star in a stretch duel and finally prevailed by a nose after 1 5/8 miles of firm turf. Manchurian High added value to the trifecta and the favorite, Winning Cause, settled for fourth. Tricky Hat, a Chilean-bred gelding by Japanese-bred stallion Hat Trick, finished in 2:41.87 with Rosie Napravnik aboard.
Filly & Mare Turf
Miss Serendipity had been knocking on the door until she finally broke through in her last race, upsetting the Grade I Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita at odds of 13-1, beating Emollient and Parranda. She returns Sunday in the $250,000, Grade II John C. Mabee at Del Mar, facing eight fillies and mares going 9 furlongs. The competition here is not quite as strong. Stormy Lucy had two graded stakes win at the long Santa Anita meeting but tailed off in the past few months. A couple of others come off minor stakes victories and others are in the same spot Miss Serendipity found herself before the Gamely. It should be interesting.
Lexie Lou, winner of the Woodbine Oaks and the Queen's Plate, makes her return on the grass in Sunday's 1 1/4-miles Wonder Where Stakes at Woodbine. The Sligo Bay filly heads a field of eight 3-year-old fillies. All 12 of her previous starts came on the Woodbine all-weather course -- five wins, two seconds and one third among them.
The Saratoga meeting just flies by and it's already time for the second round for the 2-year-olds at the Spa. Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Saratoga Special finds the second- and third-place finishers from the Grade III Sanford -- Mr. Z and Cinco Charlie -- back for another try. Big Trouble, the longshot winner of the earlier heat, is taking a pass. Nona's Boy who finished fourth in the Sanford, returns. With this bunch looking for a clear leader, the rest are recent maiden winners from as far afield as Canterbury Park, Gulfstream Park and Lone Star Park. Watch and learn.
In Ireland on Sunday, three impressive stakes winners are set to go head-to-head-to-head in the Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix at The Curragh. The 6-furlongs heat drew, among others, Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes winner Anthem Alexander, Group 3 Anglesey Stakes victor Dick Whittington and Kool Kompany, winner of the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin. Those three haven't scared many away as 15 remained in the race on Thursday.
Wonder Gal ran to her name in her first start and she'll get a chance to run to her subsequent notices in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga. The Tiz Wonderful filly, making her first start in the 6-furlongs Lynbrook Stakes for New York-breds, lagged 8 lengths behind early, then kicked into gear and wound up winning by 14 1/2 lengths, ridden out. "She's doing great," trainer Leah Gyarmati said, boding ill for her open-company rivals on Sunday. Those include a couple other impressive debut winners, including Angela Renee and Cavorting, as well as Schuylerville runner-up Take Charge Brandi.
Already in the books: Sunset Glow, making her first start since Royal Ascot, had no trouble handling four local 2-year-old fillies in Thursday's $200,000, Grade II Sorrento Stakes at Del Mar. The Wesley Ward-trained Exchange Rate filly went right out to the lead and cruised home first by 3 3/4 lengths. La Grange and Heart of Paradise filled the trifecta with the even-money favorite, Caval, eased in the stretch to finish last. Sunset Glow, with Victor Espinoza in the irons, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:16.61. Not a synthetics specialist, the filly finished second at first asking at Presque Isle Downs but then rebounded with a win at Belmont Park. In the Group 3 Albany Stakes at Ascot, she led a field of 21 into the stretch, finishing second, 2 lengths back of the winner. In that race, Espinoza said, "she caught a very soft course and the last part of that race was uphill. They said she ran 6 furlongs, but it was more like 7." Ward's assistant, Blake Heap, said the boss will pick Sunset Glow's next race. "But I would have to think that with the Debutante right here, he wouldn't have to go too far." That's a Grade I on Aug. 30.
Ten are set for Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Play the King Stakes at Woodbine. Among those in the 7-furlongs event on the grass are Something Extra, recent winner of the Grade II Highlander Stakes at 6 furlongs; Winning Prize, who ships from California after winning the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile and the Grade II Arcadia Stakes earlier this year; and Excaper, winner of the Grade II Connaught Cup two races back.
Other races already in the books:
Mark My way made his way toward the lead a quarter mile out in Monday's $100,000 New York Stallion Stakes for 3-year-olds, then forged clear in the lane, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Free Mugatu. Prophet's Cat finished a nose farther back in third. Mark My Way, a Noonmark gelding, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.57 with Cornelio Velasquez up.
In the companion NYSS for 3-year-old fillies, Selenite rallied to the lead at the sixteenth pole and went on to post the 10-1 upset win, beating the favorite, Old Harbor, by 1 1/2 lengths. Henry's Gal finished third. Selenite, a daughter of Cosmonaut, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:36.64 under Irad Ortiz Jr.