There's a lot on the line in terms of money and prestige in weekend racing in France, Ireland and Canada.
There are big races at Leopardstown and the Curragh in Ireland. Treve, the defending Arc champion, will try to maintain her status as favorite for next month's renewal with a Group 1 trial heat in France. Dual Derby winner Australia faces some old rivals in Ireland. Queen's Plate winner Lexie Lou is back on the grass at Woodbine.
There are two St Legers -- one at Doncaster in England, the oldest Classic on the planet -- and the other at the Curragh in Ireland. Neither is to be confused with the American St. Leger, run last month at Arlington Park. But the winner of that race, The Pizza Man, is back in action this weekend.
In North America, turf action centers on Woodbine, near Toronto, with two graded races on the green on Saturday and three more on Sunday. The fun culminates in the $1 million, Grade I Ricoh Woodbine Mile, a qualifier for a Breeders' Cup Mile that already looks to be a race for the ages.
Before we age any more, let's plunge ahead:
With the -- possibly -- shocking defeat of Sea the Moon last weekend at Baden Baden, last year's Arc d'Triomphe winner, Treve, has emerged as the default favorite for next month's renewal. That status will depend on how she runs in Sunday's Group 1 Prix Vermeille at Longchamp. Although her ability is unquestioned, she has not won either of her starts since last year's Arc and is rebounding from a back injury sustained while finishing third in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. Unless she wins for fun and full of run, even a victory in the Vermeille would leave some questions as the field is far from the level Treve would face in the Arc. One would have to think the strong Japanese contingent is growing more confident they might finally break through to win this race.
Also at Longchamp, the Group 1 Prix du Moulin pits rivals from across the Channel, Toronado and Night of Thunder, against the seemingly overmatched locals. Richard Hughes will ride Toronado and Ryan Moore will take the call on Night of Thunder. Kingman had been a prospect for this but will not make the trip. A good showing by Toronado would help propel him toward fall/winter engagements in the QE II on Champions Day at Ascot, the Breeders' Cup Mile and the Longines Hong Kong Mile.
Al Naamah, sold last year for a European yearling record price of 5 million guineas, came up short Tuesday at Chantilly in an attempt to run her record to 2-for-2. The filly, owned by Sheik Joaan's Al Shaqab Racing is by Galileo out of the Green Desert mare Alluring Park. She won her first start by 2 lengths but in Tuesday's Group 3 Prix d'Aumale, Al Naamah beat only one rival -- and that one was distanced. Jockey Frankie Dettori said she never got organized in the 1-mile event and trainer Andre Fabre said she's likely to mature into her promise as a 3-year-old.
Saturday's Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown has some top names, not the least of them trainer Aidan O'Brien's star, Australia. Also in for this are The Grey Gatsby, Al Kazeeem, Trading Leather, Kingfisher and Mukhadram -- all proven commodities on their day, as long as the day doesn't include Australia. Australia, winner of the Epsom and Irish Derbies, comes off a win in the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York where he rather easily saw off The Grey Gatsby, Mukhadram and Kingfisher, among others. Anything less than a convincing win here would be a disappointment.
The Leopardstown program also features the Group 2 Clipper Logistics Boomerang at 1 mile, the Group 1 Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron, run at 1 mile for fillies and mares, and the Group 3 John Deere Juvenile Turf.
On Sunday, Irish action shifts to the Curragh and the Group 1 Palmerstown House Estate Irish St Leger. Leading Light comes into this 1 3/4-miles event with three straight wins to his credit -- including the Group 1 Gold Cup at Ascot and the Group 3 Irish St Leger Trial over the course. Cavalryman and Brown Panther also are to be reckoned with if they go. Certerach won the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup on World Cup night.
Also on Sunday's card at the Curragh are the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and the Group 1 Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes for 2-year-old entire colts and fillies. The latter could see Toscanelli and Toscanini facing off.
Saturday's Group 1 Ladbrokes St Leger has evolved as the week goes on and the drama continued on Thursday as trainer Roger Varian said the favorite, Kingston Hill, likely will not run unless the course is watered. Kingston Hill already had drifted a bit as the race sponsor noted strong interest in a pair from the yard of Sir Michael Stoute -- Snow Sky and King's Fete. "King's Fete is proving to be particularly interesting and it's not inconceivable that we see the current favourite drift if the ground continues to dry out on Town Moor," Ladbrokes spokesman David Williams said on Wednesday. The race is 1 3/4 miles on the Doncaster grass.
Saturday's card also includes the Group 2 At the Races Champagne Stakes for 2-year-olds. The favorite is likely to be Sheik Hamdan's Estidhkaar, who is 2-for-3 with a Newmarket Group 2 win to his credit. Among the other six lining up is Aces, a Dark Angel colt out of the Fath mare Cute Ass. Cute Ass was placed in eight of her 14 starts between 2007 and 2009 but notched only a single win.
Saturday finds 11 in for the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes at 1 mile on the Flemington turf. Dissident comes off a Group 1 win at Caulfield. Meanwhile, 15 are entered for Saturday's Group 1De Bortoli Wines Golden Rose Stakes for 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs on the Randwick green.
Back in North America:
Sunday's $1 million (Canadian), Grade I Ricoh Woodbine Mile offers a pass into the Breeder's Cup Mile, which already looks like a potential "race of the year" with Wise Dan leading the home team and Dubai and Hong Kong winner Variety Club starring for the overseas contingent. With Wise Dan taking a more conservative course after his colic surgery, the leading the contenders here are Grand Arch, who drew the outside in a field of 12, and Kaigun. Grand Arch comes off a second-place finish, a neck behind Seek Again, in the Grade II Fourstardave at Saratoga. Before that, he won the Grade II King Edward at Sunday's distance over the course. He has never finished worse than third with four wins, five seconds and six thirds from 15 starts. Kaigun won the Grade II Play the King at Woodbine in his last start and pushed Wise Dan in the Grade I Makers 46 Mile at Keeneland this spring before losing by a mere 3/4 length. His Race to Win, Jack Milton, Bobby's Kitten and River Seven all are graded stakes winners. Qatar Racing is represented by Trade Storm, whose only previous North American start was in this race last year, resulting in a third-place showing behind Wise Dan and Za Approval.
Sunday's Woodbine card also includes the $300,000, Grade I Northern Dancer Turf at 1 1/2 miles. This lineup gives American St. Leger winner The Pizza Man a chance to prove he belongs at the top rank. Among those the Illinois-bred will face are Forte Dei and Sheikhzayedroad. Forte Dei Marmi has struggled since winning this race last year but is top-shelf at his best. But Sheikhzayedroad comes off two straight wins in England, the latter being the Group 2 York Stakes last month. Karibu Gardens and Reporting Star return after finishing 1-2 in the Grade II Sky Classic last month. Dynamic Sky, Aldous Snow and Fortei Dei Marmi all were among the also-rans in that 1 1/4-miles race and return for this. The Pizza Man, a 5-year-old English Channel gelding, well could be up to the task. He is riding a five race-winning streak and, in addition to holding off Dandino to win the American St. Leger, captured the Grade III Stars and Stripes at Arlington Park earlier in the meeting. Should he win, there is an absolute Arlington Press Box ban on using the phrase "The Pizza Man delivers" or any variant thereof.
War Dancer, coming off a fourth-place finish in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga, heads a field of 11 for Saturday's $600,000, Grade III Kentucky Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles over the quirky Kentucky Downs course. The War Front colt won the Grade III Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs back in May. Others to note: O'Prado Ole, Tricky Hat, Holiday Star and Pyrite Mountain. Suntracer, who ran third in this race last year, will try to bounce back from a disappointing ninth-place finish in the American St. Leger last time out. He was second, a head behind War Dancer, in the Louisville Handicap. This race was known as the Kentucky Cup Turf when it was run in conjunction with the innovative, now lamented, Kentucky Cup program at Turfway Park.
Filly & Mare Turf
Xcellence, who ran with distinction but with few wins in France, gets a third chance to pick up her first U.S. tally in Saturday's $500,000, Grade II Sands Point Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 9 furlongs at Belmont Park. The French-bred daughter of Champs Elysees finished third in both the French 1,000 Guineas at Longchamp and the Group 1 Prix Diane at Chantilly, then finished fourth in the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational and third in the Grade II Lake Placid at Saratoga. Saturday's competition includes Daring Dancer and A Little Bit Sassy, first and second in the Grade II Lake George at the Spa; Sea Queen, who was second in the Belmont Oaks; and Duff One, second in the Lake Placid. Ball Dancing makes her U.S. debut off a fifth-place showing in the Prix Diane. Queenofzeenile oddly resurfaces here after she wasn't taken for $30,000 while finishing second in her last outing at Delaware Park.
Queen's Plate and Woodbine Oaks victor Lexie Lou returns in Sunday's $300,000 (Canadian), Group II Canadian Stakes at Woodbine, going 9 furlongs. Since taking the Queen's Plate over Ontario-bred males in July, the Sligo Bay filly kept the engine ticking with a comfortable win over distaffers in the Wonder Where Stakes going 1 1/4 miles on the grass last month. La Tia has won Grade III races on the all-weather tracks at both Woodine and Arlington Park this summer and comes back from a fourth-place finish in a tough edition of the Grade I Beverly D. The Illinois-bred also finished a good fourth in last year's Canadian. Ten are entered for Sunday's renewal.
How popular is the sprawling, Euro-style turf course at Kentucky Downs? Saturday's $200,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf, run at 1 mile, drew a full field of 12, plus four also-eligibles. The morning-line favorite is I'm Already Sexy, who won the Grade III Pucker Up Stakes at Arlington at this time last year and the Grade III Modesty Handicap at Arlington in July but finished a well-whipped sixth in the Grade I Beverly D. last time out. Kiss Moon is cross-entered in this and the Pucker Up. Honey Hues has been dynamite at this distance on the grass.
Nine are entered for Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Noble Damsel at Belmont Park, a 1-mile affair on the lawn. Devilish Love and Love Train would make a lovely exacta and both have been winning in allowance company over the course. Annecdote makes his first U.S. start for trainer Christophe Clement. Among the more accomplished is Medea, who won the Grade III Eatontown at Monmouth Park, then finished seventh in the Grade III Matchmaker.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Pucker Up Stakes for 3-year-old fillies is headed by Stellaris, who finished second in the Grade III Arlington Oaks earlier in the season, then traveled west to finish second in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks. She will face the winner of the Arlington Oaks, Aurelia's Belle, who has not raced since that triumph, as well as the winners of both divisions of the Hatoof Stakes running on the Arlington Million Day card -- Kiss Moon and Annulment. Watch out for Sistas Stroll, who invades from the West Coast after wins at Del Mar and, earlier, at Churchill Downs. The race is 9 furlongs.
Twelve plus three also-eligibles are listed for Saturday's $200,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint at 6 1/2 furlongs for fillies and mares. Among the morning-line selections in a tough handicapping challenge are Sky Treasure, Richies Party Girl and Eden Prairie.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Living the Life seems to like life in the U.S. of A. just fine, making it 2-for-2 in America with a dream-trip victory in Monday's $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters for fillies and mares. With Mike Smith at the controls, the 4-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Footstepsinthesand raced in the second flight behind the early leaders. When the closers swept wide into the turn, Smith found a seam between horses, took the shorter way home and won by 1/2 length over Disco Barbie. Ageless had every chance late but settled for third. Living the Life ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:15.26. She had quite a successful career as a 2- and 3-year-old in England, running primarily on all-weather courses. In her first U.S. start for trainer Gary Mandella, she won a conditioned allowance at Del Mar on the all-weather. She has, however, run and won on grass.
Into Oblivion is the morning-line pick among nine in for Saturday $100,000 Barretts Debutante at Los Alamitos. The Into Mischief won her first start at Del Mar. Sharla Rae won at first asking in the summertime meet at Los Al, then finished fourth in the Grade II Sorrento at Del Mar.
Isabella Sings and Don't Leave Me are the morning-line favorites for the grassy, $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Natalma Stakes at Woodbine. Conquest Harlanate, Dixie Twist and Reserved also get some respect. Isabella Sings comes of a win at first asking at Belmont Park for trainer Todd Pletcher. Don't Leave Me, a Lemon Drop Kid filly, has won both her previous starts, both at Woodbine.
Conquest Tsunami and Saratoga Dreamer head a field of nine for Saturday's $250,000 (Canadian), Grade II Summer Stakes going 1 mile on the Woodbine turf. Conquest Tsunami is 4-for-4, with the latest win coming at 7 furlongs over the course. Saratoga Dreamer won at first asking last month at -- oh, gee -- Saratoga. Don't be confused listening to call as the field also includes Conquest Typhoon and Imperial Dream, either of whom could have an impact.