Big races for 2-year-olds in California, Louisiana and Japan highlight an otherwise peaceful weekend in Thoroughbred racing.
With the juveniles all set to officially turn 3 on Jan. 1, it's last call to get that all-important first-year victory. So all eyes will be on events that could be stepping stones to next season's Kentucky Derby and Oaks.
And, speaking of last calls, Saturday's Tropical Park Derby and Tropical Park Oaks -- both on the turf at Gulfstream Park -- are the final chances for this year's 3-year-olds to score in those categories.
Only five are entered for Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity at 1 1/16 miles. But there's no shortage of talent. No Problem enters off two straight wins, including the Grade III Bob Hope Stakes over Del Mar's all-weather course. Dortmund is 2-for-2, with victories last month at Santa Anita and Churchill Downs. Mr. Z has but a single win but posted runner-up finishes in four graded stakes earlier this year, plus a fifth in the Breeders' Cup. Firing Line and Bench Warrant each come to the race off maiden wins. A good showing here will boost any of the five right into the Derby picture.
Way down yonder in New Orleans, Cinco Charlie heads a field of five for Saturday's $50,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds. The Indian Charlie colt will be making his eight start, with the previous seven including victories in the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs, the First State Dash at Delaware Park and the James F. Lewis Stakes at Laurel Park. He also finished third in the Grade II Futurity at Belmont Park and the Grade III Sanford at Saratoga. Among the others, Control Stake finished second in the Jean Lafitte at Delta Downs before posting a big win in a Fair Grounds Allowance. The Sugar Bowl, at 6 furlongs, comes at a time when serious Derby contenders are stretching out to two-turn events.
Six are in for Saturday's $50,000 Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, headed by Promise Me Silver. The Silver City filly is undefeated in three starts, including the Debutante at Churchill Downs. The others have yet to prove themselves.
Saturday's $50,000 Eleanor Casey Memorial at Charles Town is for West Virginia-bred juvenile fillies at 7 furlongs.
A full field is set to run in Saturday's $75,000 Tropical Park Derby with Other Cheek and Bashart, the 2-3 finishers in the Grade III Commonwealth Turf at Churchill Downs among the likely ones. The field also includes the second- and third-place finishers from the Grade III Hill Prince, run over soft turf at Belmont Park, and Cabo Cat, who has shown promise. Sky Flight and Ironicus are lightly raced and not to be ignored.
The companion $75,000 Tropical Park Oaks boasts a full and competitive field that promises holiday riches for those who can solve the handicapping puzzle. Eight of the runners come out of last-race victories over a variety of surfaces at tracks from Canada to Florida. One to check might be Granny Mc's Kitten, who has not raced since August at Saratoga.
Watch out for Dr No in the fifth race on Saturday. The James Bond-themed, 2-year-old Aussie Rules gelding is making his first U.S. start after racing with moderate success in England. Joel Rosario rides for trainer Graham Motion and the colt gets first-time Lasix after some decent works at Palm Meadows. It's a 1-mile turf race.
There are no foreign entries in Sunday's Group 1 Asahi Hai Futurity for 2-year-olds at Hanshin Racecourse. But, in a bit of an oddity, the last four runnings of this important event have been won by international jockeys -- Mirco Demuro in 2010 and 2012, Craig Williams in 201 and Ryan Moore last year. It's a tough race to figure but the likely favorite in Sunday's renewal is Ash Gold, a full brother to the international star Orfevre and to Dream Journey, who won the Asahi Hai in 2006. He finished second in the Group II Hai Nisai Stakes at Kyoto last month after breaking his maiden on his second try. The colt appears to be moving forward and the Hanshin course should suit his late turn of foot.