Three graded stakes on the turf and still more juvenile tests highlight U.S. racing this weekend while overseas action centers in Asia.
Three-year-olds colts and fillies get separate heats on the Churchill Downs grass at 1 1/16 miles. The older set finds 11 furlongs of turf on the agenda at Aqueduct.
With the first Kentucky Derby futures pool only a week away, 2-year-old races at Laurel and Woodbine will be duly noted, though the latter is a restricted event. State-bred events in several jurisdictions also could turn up a surprise or two.
Among the juvenile fillies, the featured event is Saturday's Sharp Cat Stakes at Hollywood Park, with two recent maiden winners representing trainer Bob Baffert.
Overseas, Kyoto hosts the Group 1 Mile Championship to top the weekend card. At Sha Tin in Hong Kong, three locally graded stakes events foreshadow the Longines International races, which are shaping up to be humdingers on Dec. 8.
Let's not waste any time getting down to the nitty gritty.
Fourteen are on tap for Saturday's $175,000, Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Tapped as the morning-line pick is Tapicat, who seems to be rounding into form after a long layoff subsequent to her victory in the Grade III Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs in February. I'm Already Sexy, Nellie Cashman and Emotional Kitten also figure.
An extremely competitive baker's dozen makes up the prospective field for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Commonwealth Turf Cup for 3-year-olds. Oddsmaker Mike Battaglia makes this a program-stabber, with seven of the 13 listed at single-digit odds on the morning line. There's plenty of value to be had in this 1 1/16-miles tussle.
Thirteen plus a "main track only" candidate are entered for Saturday's $250,000, Grade III Red Smith Handicap at 11 furlongs on the lawn. The 5-2 morning-line favorite, Hyper, jumped up to the graded stakes ranks this summer, with a victory in the Grade II Bowling Green Stakes at Belmont Park and runner-up finishes in the Grade II Colonial Turf Cup in Virginia and the Grade I Pattison International at Woodbine. In the latter, he just missed catching international raider Joshua Tree, who is expected in Tokyo next weekend to contest the Group 1 Japan Cup (see below). Others to consider: Howe Great, Sky Blazer, Imagining and the filly, Tannery.
In addition to its 2-year-old races, Laurel on Saturday hosts a pair of $100,000 events on the main track. The field for the 6-furlongs Dave's Friend Stakes features Ben's Cat, returning to the main track for the first time in a year. Trainer King Leatherbury has been struggling to find the best venues for his star sprinter as the Maryland racing landscape undergoes some changes and said he's not sure Ben's Cat will make the start. "I want to see how hard we're going to have to run to win the race," he said. The 1-mile Jennings Handicap for state-breds includes odds-on favorite Eightofasttocatch.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Corfu is the morning-line favorite among 12 in Saturday's $100,000 James F. Lewis III Stakes at Laurel Park. The event is 6 furlongs on the main track. Corfu won his first two starts, including the Grade II Saratoga Special going 6 1/2 furlongs at the Spa. But the Malibu Moon colt faded badly from the lead in the 7-furlongs Hopeful on Sept. 2 at Saratoga, then again coughed up the lead late in the 6-furongs Futurity at Belmont Park. Pure Sensation comes off a stunning maiden win at Belmont Park, going 5 1/2 furlongs, and figures to provide plenty of pace competition for Corfu. Aaron's Orient and Debt Ceiling also have credentials.
Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Coronation Futurity at Woodbine is for 2-year-olds foaled in Canada and drew seven to go 9 furlongs on the all-weather track. The field is headlined by Ami's Holiday, a Harlan's Holiday colt who is undefeated in two starts including the Grade III Grey Stakes. Also set are Matador and Asserting Bear, the first- and third-place finishers in the Cup and Saucer Stakes last time out. The others are more aspirational.
Aqueduct, Beulah Park, Calder Race Course and Parx Racing all have 2-year-old events for state-breds.
Saturday's $100,000 Sharp Cat Stakes at Hollywood Park is not graded but might as well be. Among those set for the 1 1/16 miles over the all-weather course are two recent maiden winners from the Bob Baffert barn -- Georgia and Be Proud. Georgia, a daughter of Tiz Wonderful, scored in her second try, winning by 4 lengths after leading from the start. Be Proud, a Proud Citizen filly, has started five times and has missed the exacta only once. Two of the other four also are winners.
Seven signed on for Saturday's $100,000 Smart Halo Stakes at Laurel Park. The 6-5 favorite is Co Cola, a Candy Ride filly trained by Todd Pletcher who won at first asking at Belmont Park as the odds-on favorite. More seasoned is Who's in Town, a Speightstown filly who also won at first asking at Delaware Park back in July -- then finished fourth in both the Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga and the Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland for trainer Michael Matz.
State-bred events are on tap at Calder and Parx Racing.
As a formidable herd of overseas invaders gathers, Sunday's three stakes events over the Sha Tin turf look to solidify local favorites for the four big Group 1 races on Dec. 8.
The HK Group 2 Longines Jockey Club Cup at 2,000 meters leads directly to the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup and finds Military Attack, the reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year, gearing up for his second start of the season after finishing 3 lengths behind Gold-Fun in a 1-mile start to his campaign. He has been working well and trainer John Moore reports the 5-year-old still has "a little way to go. But the progression from his first run has been right on target and we will have a very fit horse on the 8th of December if things continue as they have done so far." Military Attack was fifth in last year's Hong Kong Cup, but then came on in the spring to land both the Group 1 Audemars Piguet QE II Cup at Sha Tin and the Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup at Kranji. "I'm not saying he can't win on Sunday," Moore cautioned, although he is expected to face the likes of California Memory, who won the Jockey Club Cup last year en route to a second straight triumph in the big race; Hong Kong champion stayer Liberator; and last year's HK Group 1 BMW Hong Kong Derby winner Akeed Mofeed.
Sunday's HK Group 2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile, is a prep for the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile. Expected here are the likes of Gold-Fun, Dan Excel, Packing Whiz, Blazing Speed, Xtension and Helene Spirit -- all well-known names on the local stakes front.
The third race on the card, the HK Group 2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint leads to the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint. Here, a few will be trying to prove they can handle 1,200 meters around a turn after success down the Sha Tin straight. Ricky Yiu will be trying Amber Sky turning right for the first time. Eagle Regiment hasn't shown much liking for the bend in two earlier tries. Among the more experienced, Cerise Cherry, Captain Sweet, Time After Time, Sterling City and Frederick Engels all will be looking for a breakthrough or a return to form.
With only a week to go before the Japan Cup, Kyoto on Sunday hosts the Group 1 Mile Championship. Although open to foreign horses, this year's edition is all-local. Tosen Ra and Danon Shark are the top-rated horses in the field, followed closely by Grand Prix Boss, Dark Shadow and Curren Black Hills.
Attention already is focusing on the US$5.7 million, Group 1 Japan Cup, with the foreign contingent consisting of Joshua Tree, Dunaden and Simenon. Red Cadeaux originally was expected to join the fray but now is targeted for a brief respite before the Hong Kong International Races on Dec. 8. The race also will lack Japan's "dynamic duo" from the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe weekend in Paris -- Orfevre and Kizuna -- but is expected to include such tough customers as last year's winner Gentildonna, Gold Ship and Eishin Flash. Gentildonna has not flashed much of her sterling 3-year-old form in three losses this season but her connections hope a rider change to Ryan Moore will help Gentildonna become the first-ever two-time winner of the Japan Cup.
News and notes
Australian racing officials are planning a two-day meeting dubbed The Championship for next April 12 and April 19 featuring 10 races, eight of them Group 1 events, worth AUS $18 million. The event will run at Royal Randwick in Sydney. Several of the races will get significant purse increases to fit into the program. "This program will lure the finest horses from Australia and New Zealand and from other countries across the globe," said John Messara, chairman of Racing NSW. "Our goal is for this to become the greatest event for racing in the southern hemisphere." The timing is slightly problematic, pitting the races against the Dubai World Cup program at Meydan on March 29. But the event could lead nicely into the Group 1 Audemars Piguet QE II Cup in Hong Kong on April 27 and the Champions Mile at Hong Kong on May 4, then the Singapore international races in mid-May.
Her Majesty the Queen did not make an appearance at the Cartier Awards dinner on Tuesday where Arc winner Treve was named European Horse of the Year. But she did send a video graciously accepting the Cartier Stayers Award for her filly, Estimate. "It's very nice to accept the award on behalf of Estimate, who did all the work," Her Majesty said. "Estimate is sitting in a field at Sandringham right now, having a rest and watching the deer and things like that. Perhaps she'll come back into training next year."