A mixed bag of races for American 3-year-olds spices up a relatively light weekend racing schedule but a Hong Kong fixture looms large on the world stage.
Several of the 3-year-old races are on grass or all-weather tracks or at sprint distances, limiting their utility as Kentucky Derby preps. But that's not standing in the way of some inventive trainers.
The $200,000, Grade II Fasig-Tipton Swale Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, for example, is a 7-furlongs event -- normally a bit short for horses prepping to go 10 furlongs in just two months in Louisville. But trainer Todd Pletcher, with more contenders than races available, picked this spot for Daredevil's seasonal debut. Although he ran last in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the More Than Ready colt was brilliant before that and a good showing will have him moving along. Among the six rivals is Souper Colossal, a proven top-level sprinter.
Saturday's $125,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park is run at 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather surface. But that's where wily Wesley Ward has chosen to prepare The Great War for the Kentucky Derby. The War Front colt, previously campaigned in Ireland and England, ran a credible fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on the Santa Anita dirt before romping in Turfway's 96 Rock Stakes in his 3-year-old bow. He drew the outside post in a field of 11 that also includes multiple stakes winner Firespike, who invades from Florida with Edgar Prado in to take the mount.
For turf-running 3-year-olds, Gulfstream's Saturday card also features the $150,000, Grade III Palm Beach Stakes with Night Prowler seeking his second straight graded stakes win and the $150,000, Grade III Herecomesthebride Stakes for sophomore fillies, featuring Consumer Credit, who rides a three-race winning streak. Saturday's co-featured $60,000 Black Gold Stakes at Fair Grounds sends 3-year-olds over about 7 1/2 furlongs on the green course.
Saturday's $100,000 Jimmy Winkfield Stakes at Aqueduct is a 6-furlongs test over the inner track.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Prep, actually. It's Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Santa Ysabel at 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita. In that field are Rainha Da Bateria, winner of the Grade I Jessamine at Keeneland last fall; Landaluce Stakes winner Enchanting Lady; Las Virgenes runner-up Light the City; Laurel Park transplant Stellar Wind; and intriguing recent first-out maiden winner Curlin's Fox.
Sam Houston has a stakes triple-header on Saturday evening, capped by the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at 9 furlongs. A wide-open field of six is on tap.
With a nod toward the autumn program in Australia, most of this weekend's activity revolves around Dubai and the rapidly approaching World Cup program.
On Thursday at Meydan itself, Godolphin Racing scored a significant double, with Local Time winning the UAE Oaks and Safety Check taking down the Group 2 Zabeel Mile. See Richard Gross's full report in the weekend UPI Horse Racing Roundup.
On Sunday at Sha Tin, the Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup, at 2,000 meters on the grass, gets its first running as an international Group 1 event. While the race didn't attract any foreign runners, it does feature a rematch between two locals targeted for Meydan on March 28. Designs On Rome has "hit a purple patch" in his training up to the race, according to conditioner John Moore. He will need all the purple he can find as he takes on Military Attack, who won the last two runnings of this event. All being well, Designs On Rome is targeted for the 2,400-meters Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night. Military Attack, meanwhile, is being pointed to the 1,800-meters Dubai Turf (formerly the Dubai Duty Free) at Meydan and to the Group 1 Singapore International Airlines Cup at Kranji in May by trainer Caspar Fownes. The two have run head-to-head four times and split the difference in terms of which finished ahead of the others. But Designs On Rome has won two of those races while Military Attack has been victorious in one.
The implications of the Gold Cup for the rest of the year are obvious but neither trainer is overlooking this race. "The Gold Cup is important, it's a big race and it's a proper Group 1," said Moore. "The Dubai race is world stage stuff, so for that reason we want to have him absolutely peaking for Dubai. The way things are going right now, we should be able to do exactly that." Added Fownes: "I'll make a decision about Dubai after the race but he's been invited to run in the 1,800-meters (Dubai Turf) there. That's not a problem. I can drop him back a furlong. The big target for him is Singapore," said Fownes.
Nor is this a two-horse race. Others in the field with a chance include California Memory, and Blazing Speed.
Saturday is Blue Diamond Stakes Day at Caulfield, with seven Group stakes. Three are Group 1 events, including the Blue Diamond for 2-year-olds.