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UPI Horse Racing Weekend Preview

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer   |   March 4, 2016 at 10:18 AM

Weekend racing action stretches from Super Saturday at Meydan in Dubai to the Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup at Garrison Savannah to the Grade III Gotham Stakes, a Kentucky Derby prep on the Aqueduct inner track.

The Grade III Santa Ysabel for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita features undefeated 2-year-old champion Songbird against a surprisingly large field. Could we possibly see Songbird against Dubai's sensational filly Polar River on Oaks day in Louisville? Polar River rather easily beat a talented rival on Thursday at Meydan.

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Gulfstream Park features the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap at 1 mile on the dirt and a pair of graded grass stakes. And Oaklawn Park's highly successful spring meeting reaches its halfway point with the Hot Springs Stakes for top-shelf sprinters.

Let's sprint right into action. {b: Dubai}

Super Saturday marks three weeks until the richest night of racing anywhere on the globe. It's also a chance for horses that haven't yet stamped their ticket to get into the eight Thoroughbred races, worth a combined $29 million, on the March 26 card.

Keen Ice will see what he can do with challengers from as far afield as Hong Kong when he lines up for the $400,000, Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 at 2,000 meters on the dirt -- the final local prep for the $10 million World Cup. Keen Ice, trained by Dale Romans for Donegal Racing, famously defeated American Pharoah in the Grade I Travers at Saratoga last summer. But he hasn't come close in three starts since the Travers and exits a sixth-place finish in the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park -- a race won by Mshawish. In fact, Keen Ice has only two wins from 14 career starts. He gets Ryan Moore, who is in from his temporary venue in Hong Kong. Speaking of Hong Kong, one of the rivals here is Gun Pit, who comes from the SAR and also has only two wins to his name -- one on the all-weather and the other on dirt. The Caspar Fownes trainee has Hong Kong's "Magic Man," Joao Moreira, in the irons. Mubtaahij, winner of last year's Group 2 UAE Derby, and Faulkner, representing the red-hot Doug Watson barn, are among the logical local contenders. Godolphin sends out Watershed, who was third in the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes in his last outing. Sheik Mohammed likes to put his money back in his own pocket at the end of the World Cup. And, of course, whoever moves on from this to the World Cup will face an even tougher bunch, including California Chrome and Mshawish.

Market Rally, winner of two of his three previous starts, is top-rated among just four 3-year-olds entered for the $250,000, Listed Al Bastakiya at 1,900 meters on the dirt track. The race is a gateway to the Group 2 UAE Derby three weeks down the road. Market Rally, an American-bred colt by Unbridled's Song, won the UAE 2,000 Guineas by 6 lengths in his previous outing. Lazzam and Hombre Rojo, second and third in the Guineas, are joined by Godolphin's dangerous Blue Creek. The latter is by Street Cry out of the Dynaformer mare Blue Bunting, a dual Oaks winner in 2011. Blue Creek, with a win and a second from two starts, would benefit mightily from a first-ever clean start.

The $175,000, Group 3 Meydan Sprint at 1,000 meters of turf down the straight looks like an old-folks home. Headed by 10-year-old Medicean Man, the field also includes 9-year-olds Sole Power and Mirza, 8-year-olds Krypton Factor and Fityaan and three 7-year-olds. While Medicean Man, Sole Power and Krypton Factor have accounted for their share of Group 1 glory, it might be time to look for relative youngsters like Godolphin's pair of 4-year-olds, Jungle Cat and Toscanini. And there will be others with claims in the $1 million, Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint over the course and distance on World Cup night.

A field of 10 is in for the $300,000, Group 1 Jebel Hatta at 1,800 meters on the turf, a trial for the $6 million, Group 1 Dubai Turf at the same distance in three weeks' time. This bunch includes Tryster, who successfully shifted from all-weather to the turf to win the Dubai Millennium Stakes at Meydan in his last outing; U.S. visitor Prayer For Relief, now trained by South African Mike de Kock and ridden by the world's Ryan Moore; Australia-bred and South African-raced Harry's Son, winner of last year's Gauteng Guineas at Turffontein; and a well-matched crew that should make for an interesting tussle.

Postponed is the highest-rated among eight entered for the $250,000, Group 2 Dubai City of Gold at 2,400 meters on the green course, which foreshadows the $6 million, Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic. Postponed hasn't raced since September, when he won the Group 2 Prix Foy at Longchamp. Dariyan makes his first start since finishing third in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase in December at Sha Tin. Haafaguinea comes off a gallant second behind Tryster in the Dubai Millennium.

Hong Kong sprinter Rich Tapestry heads a short field for the $200,000, Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal at1,200 meters on the dirt. This one points to the $2 million, Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on the big night.

Eight are scheduled to go in the $200,000, Group 3 Burj Nahaar at 1,600 meters over the dirt course but many of the contenders for the March 26 $1 million, Group 2 Godolphin Mile are sitting this one out.

On Thursday at Meydan, super filly Polar River coasted home first in the Group III UAE Oaks, opening a big lead in the stretch and beating Vale Dori by 3/4 length, well geared down. Dolly Dagger technically prevented it being a match race but was never a factor. Polar River, an American-bred filly by Congrats, scored her fifth straight win from as many starts, finishing 1,900 meters in 2:00.57. Jockey Pat Dobbs let Polar River open a big lead after straightening into the stretch didn't ask the filly thereafter. Vale Dori, an Argentine-bred daughter of the great Asiatic Boy, showed great promise by leading most of the way, surrendering the advantage and making up ground late. There was some concern about Polar River's idling finish but trainer Doug Watson noted the race was well won, adding, "We didn't want a hard race." Polar River now is bound for the Group 2 UAE Derby on World Cup night and her future is almost literally unlimited. Her victory in the Oaks earned 50 Kentucky Oaks points, likely enough to secure a position in the May 5 race at Churchill Downs. The UAE Derby, which looks like having a relatively weak field unless Blue Creek or Market Rally steps up, is the first official prep race to offer 100 Kentucky Derby points to the winner -- plenty to qualify for the big race on May 6 under the Twin Spires.

Other than the Oaks, it was a whole lotta Godolphin goin' on at the Thursday evening meeting. Very Special led all the way to win the Group 2 Balanchine at 1,800 meters on the turf -- a logical prep for the $6 million, Group 1 Dubai Turf at the same conditions in three weeks. Euro Charline, winner of the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington Park in 2014, gave chase late in the Balanchine but Very Special was long gone and won by 2 1/2 lengths. Excilly was third. Very Special has never finished worse than third in seven races and is on an upward trajectory. "Hopefully we will go to Dubai World Cup night with her," said winning trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "She is a really lovely filly and has thrived in the Dubai sunshine since she arrived." Pure Diamond and Comicas gave Godolphin a 1-2 in the listed Meydan Classic at 1,400 meters on the turf. "We will think about the UAE Derby or a Classic in Europe," said bin Suroor. Sheikhzayedroad emerged from a ground-saving trip in mid-pack to win the Group 2 Nad al Sheeba Trophy at 2,810 meters on the grass by 3 3/4 lengths from the pacesetter, 8-year-old Certerach, with Star Empire third. The Trophy could point to the $1 million, Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup at 3,200 meters on World Cup night or the $6 million, Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic at 2,410 meters. Godolphin didn't have a runner in the Nad al Sheeba but the "Boys in Blue" also scored with American Hope in the Emirates Holidays handicap.

Barbados

Ten are in for the XXXV Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup at Garrison Savannah at 1,800 meters on the turf. The invaders include last year's winner, Sayler's Creek -- owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trained by Mike Maker, and his stablemate, Watchyourownbobber, who comes off a third in the Tropical Park Derby. War Envoy from Wesley Ward's international string, has experience in England, France and the United States. The others are Derby Kitten, Dorsett, Dashing David, Daunting David, Indiano Jones, Just a Fashion, Marcus Antonius. Long the premier race in the Southern Caribbean, the Gold Cup's visibility has risen significantly with the Ramseys' participation in the past few years. It takes another huge leap as Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net) already is on the scene, making the sacrifice to bring the action live from Garrison Savannah on Saturday.

England

Presaging the season, initial entries are in for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas and the Qipco 1,000 Guineas and the Newmarket fixtures have a decidedly international flair. Among the 65 initial entries for the colt's heat are Hit It a Bomb, the impressive winner of last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland and the Group 1 Criterium International winner Johannes Vermeer. Among the filly entrants is the first-ever American, Dothraki Queen. "To win the QIPCO 1,000 Guineas would be beyond special and Dothraki Queen has already shown enough class to justify giving it a shot," said trainer Kenny McPeek. "People don't know that I have been taking horses to England since long before Wesley Ward began to do so and almost every one of my runners there has pleased me. "I think that English racing is very special. I have always been attracted to the history of the sport and it is a life goal of mine to win an English Classic." It's the 350th anniversary of racing at Newmarket.

This is the penultimate weekend of Fast-Track Qualifiers for the All-Weather Championship finals on Good Friday at Lingfield. There's action from Thursday through Saturday at Chelmsford, Wolverhamption, Dundalk and Lingfield.

Catching up from last weekend:

Grendisar was steadied at the start of Saturday's Coral Winter Derby at Lingfield, lagged through much of the race, then came running to take the lead inside the final furlong and won by 1 1/4 lengths from Maverick Wave. Furia Cruzada was third in the prep for the All-Weather Championships on Good Friday over the same course. Grendisar, a 6-year-old son of Invincible Spirit, picked up his second straight win at Lingfield, preceded by two second-place showings. The Marco Botti trainee was ridden by Adam Kirby. In last year's finals, Grendisar finished third behind Tryster, winner last month of the Group 3 Dubai Millennium Stakes at Meydan, in the Coral Easter Classic and Coral currently holds him 6-4 to win that event on Good Friday. "We always thought that Grendisar has tons of ability," Boti said. "He travels so well and has a turn of foot. He just needs the gap at the right time ... If all goes to plan, the Coral Easter Classic will be his next target."

The Road to the Kentucky Derby

This week's fixture is the $400,000, Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. The 1 1/16-miles test drew eight, including a pair from the abnormally thin ranks of Todd Pletcher Derby contenders. The Pletchers are Mo Power, an Uncle Mo colt coming off a maiden win at Gulfstream Park, and Rally Cry, a Gulfstream maiden winner in December who finished third in his sophomore debut. The likely favorite is Sunny Ridge, winner of the Grade III Withers over the course and distance in his last start and second in both the Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot and the Grade I Champagne at Belmont last year. The Holy Bull colt is trained by Jason Servis and Manny Franco has the mount. Laoban, another Uncle Mo, arrives from California where he ran third in the Grade III Sham in his last outing and remains a maiden after three starts. Adventist was third in the Withers. Conquest Big E was fourth in the Grade II Holy Bull in his last start. Shagaf, a Bernardini colt, is 2-for-2.

Kentucky Oaks preps

Songbird has been such a dominant winner in all five of her starts that it's a bit surprising nine rivals are entered against her in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita. The Medaglia d'Oro filly won at first asking at Del Mar in July, then took three straight Grade I events, culminating in a 5 3/4-lengths victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, beating Rachel's Valentina and Dothraki Queen. She won her 2016 debut, the Grade II Las Virgenes on Feb. 6, by 6 1/2 lengths, well geared down at the end. Four of the five rivals who chased Songbird home last month are back for another try. The others would have to improve many, many lengths to fly with the favorite. Perhaps of most note among that flock is Code Warrior, who finished second in the Grade II Santa Ynez on Jan. 2 but was fourth when stretched out around two turns in the California Oaks on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather course.

In other action:

Gulfstream has three graded stakes Saturday, two on the grass. The lone main-track event, the $500,000, Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap, drew seven with Valid, the Grade I Donn Handicap runner-up to Mshawish, the standout. Grande Shores also has been running well. The $200,000, Grade III Mac Diarmida at 1 3/8 miles on the lawn. Five of the seven entrants -- Kaigun, Grand Tito, Da Big Hoss, Mr Maybe and Twilight Eclipse -- are graded stakes winners. A sextet of filly and mare turfers will tackle 1 3/16 miles in the $150,000, Grade III The Very One Stakes. Among those, Chilean import Dacita well could atone for her ninth-place finish in her last race -- the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Sapphire Kitten gets the morning-line nod in a full field for Saturday's $50,000 Allen Black Cat LaComb Memorial for 3-year-old fillies on the lawn at Fair Grounds. Also consider last-race winner Pancake, who drew outside last time and inside this time.

Seven speedballs will go at it Saturday in the $100,000 Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The 6-furlongs race features everything from last year's runner-up, Ivan Fallunovalot, and three graded stakes winners, to Majestic Ride, who is winless in 11 starts.

Saturday's $150,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational at Aqueduct finds seven fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles. Include Betty, Call Star and House Rules are in this one.

News and notes:

The Hong Kong Jockey Club Wednesday announced it successfully shipped horses from its Sha Tin stables to its new Conghua Training Center in Guangzhou, a significant first in smoothing international transport of equine athletes. The horses traveled across the border on Monday, stabled overnight at the CTC and returned to Sha Tin on Tuesday. The training center, still under construction, is designed to vastly increase the Jockey Club's capacity for horses and owners and complements its initiatives to provide an infrastructure for eventual commercial racing on the Mainland. The Jockey Club noted the first-ever cross-border movement of this type was made possible by 20 government departments in Mainland China and Hong Kong coming together to establish an internationally recognized Equine Disease Free Zone. The Conghua Training Centre, currently under construction in Conghua, Guangzhou, will provide world class horse training and care facilities, and a solid platform for boosting Hong Kong racehorses and racing. Although the HKJC does not bill it as such, it also could be converted with relative ease to a world-class racing facility. The cross-border transit is noteworthy, both because of the potential for development of equine sports in Mainland China and because it represents significant progress in development of uniform and workable regulations for the international movement of horses. The latter issue has hampered development of international racing, particularly affecting jurisdictions such as South Africa, which could have a significant impact on the global sport if quarantine regulations were eased.

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