While American racing takes a breather before the Kentucky Derby, weekend racing action features Group 1 events in France and Hong Kong.
Oddly enough, the May 3 Run for the Roses has a kind of reverse impact on Saturday's Derby Trial on opening weekend at Churchill Downs. Other U.S. Grade I action is primarly among the ranks of the milers, on both dirt and turf.
Keeneland winds up its all-too-brief spring season Friday with the 1 1/2-miles Elkhorn Stakes on the grass and those who sort out this big field should be well rewarded.
Santa Anita, Hawthorne and Aqueduct all have important state-bred races.
But let's start with those big-deal doings on the international front.
Military Attack and Designs on Rome head a strong home team for Sunday's Group 1 Audemars Piguet QE II at Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong. But the locals will face a stiff challenge from a pair of raiders from Japan and two more from South Africa. Four of the locals, including Military Attack and Designs on Rome, are trained by John Moore, who seeks his fourth win in the 2,000-meters event. "Military Attack will go forward from (gate number) four and look to slot in behind the speed," Moore said after Thursday's barrier draw. "Designs on Rome will hopefully land midfield" from the No. 5 slot. Military Attack won this race last year but has been inconsistent since. He captured the HK Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup in February but then finished 10th in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup on March 29. Designs on Rome comes off two local Group 1 victories at Sha Tin. Moore also has Dominant and Same World. South African trainer Mike De Kock brings Vercingetorix and Sanshaawes, who drew No. 3 and No. 8, respectively. Vercingetorix won two tough heats in Dubai this winter before finishing second behind Just A Way in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night. The Japanese runners, Uncoiled and Epiphaneia, drew the rail and No. 6. The latter of that pair captured the Group 1 Kikuka Sho, or Japanese St Leger, last October in Kyoto and started the year with a good third in a Group 3 event at Hanshin.
Sunday's card also includes the HK Group 2 Sprint Cup at 1,200 meters.
An early-season collision of stars is on tap for Sunday's Group 1 Prix Ganay at Longchamp. Treve, the undefeated superstar filly who romped off with last fall's Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, will face ageless globetrotter Cirrus des Aigles, who comes off a sharp second-place showing behind Japan's superstar filly Gentildonna in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night at Meydan in Dubai. Those two were among eight left in the field after Wednesday's forfeit stage. Among the others is Smoking Sun, who has accepted an invitation to run in the Singapore Airlines International Cup next month and may pass Sunday's event in preparation for that Group 1 race at Kranji.
Back in North America:
It's been a long time since the Grade III Derby Trial has played much of a role in the Kentucky Derby selection process. In a reverse kind of way, the Run for the Roses will have an impact on Saturday's renewal of the Trial at Churchill Downs. Trainer Bob Baffert has entered two Kentucky Derby contenders for the Trial -- Chitu and Bayern. He said, however, he plans to scratch Chitu and run him in the Derby. Bayern is in the Trial field because he sits No. 23 on the list of Derby entrants, with only 20 allowed to start in the Run for the Roses. If three horses higher on the list were to defect in the next few days, Bayern also would scratch from the Trial in favor of the May 3 classic. Those two aside, the field for Saturday's 1-mile event is topped by Spot, a Nick Zito-trained Pulpit colt who won the Grade II Swale Stake at 7 furlongs at Gulfstream Park but faded from contention at 9 furlongs in the Grade I Florida Derby. Other likely contenders are Matador, Friendswith K Mill and Myositis Dan.
A contentious field of nine is set for Saturday night's $200,000, Grade III Texas Mile at Lone Star Park. Taptowne is the morning-line favorite off a third-place finish in the Grade III Razorback at Oaklawn Park in his 2014 debut. Bourbon Courage was fourth in the Grade I Donn Handicap, then finished second in a 1-mile allowance event at Oaklawn in preparation for this. Grand Contender has worked up from the claiming ranks and finished second in the Grade III Mineshaft Handicap at Fair Grounds two starts back.
Eight are entered for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III San Francisco Mile on the all-weather track at Golden Gate Fields. The field is composed mostly of allowance-level performers but Summer Hit, a 5-year-old Bertrando gelding, does have graded stakes wins over the track in last year's All American Stakes and Berkeley Handicap. He's one of three entered by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Filly and mare turf milers will get their chance in Sunday's $100,000, Group III Wilshire Stakes at Santa Anita.
You can close your eyes and stick a hatpin in the program to pick the winner in Friday's $250,000 Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland. Fourteen are set to contest the 1 1/2-miles turf tussle and there's little to separate most of them. The morning-line favorite, at odds of 5-1, is Temeraine, a 5-year-old Arch gelding, trained by Tom Proctor. He has not won since last September when he took the Grade III Kentucky Turf Cup over the unique Kentucky Downs course. He also finished second in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup out west in December and was third last month in the Grade II San Luis Rey Stakes at Santa Anita. Other recognizable names include Suntracer, Optimizer, Amen Kitten, Forte Dei Marmi and Tricky Hat.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Goldstryke Glory looks to pick up where she left off in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Whimsical Stakes at Woodbine at 6 furlongs on the all-weather track. The British Columbia-bred, 4-year-old filly won three straight at Woodbine last fall and comes to her 2014 bow with some hot workouts. Among the competition is Youcan'tcatchme, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred mare who, on her best days, lives up to her name. Spring in the Air, who was good enough to take fourth in last year's Queen's Plate, will try to show that she has matured into the top ranks as a 4-year-old. Six are set to run in this one.
Saturday's Santa Anita program includes four rich races for California-breds, including the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds at 9 furlongs on the grass and the $250,000 Melair for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt.
Hawthorne Racecourse loaded up its spring stakes races late in the season, wisely avoiding the worst of a truly awful Chicago winter. Saturday's card includes four $100,000 events for Illinois-breds.
Aqueduct on Sunday presents Times Square and Park Avenue divisions of the New York Stallion Stakes. The former is for 3-year-old colts and geldings; the latter, for 3-year-old fillies. Each is run at 6 1/2 furlongs and each is worth $100,000.