Super Saturday in Dubai, a slew of Kentucky Derby preps and the Santa Anita Handicap top weekend Thoroughbred racing action.
After this jam-packed weekend, the local contingent for World Cup night March 28 should be well formed up. We'll have a better idea who's moving along to the final steps on the Road to the Roses. And we'll see where we stand with Shared Belief among the older horses.
In addition, there are top-shelf heats on the grass and for sprinters, from coast to coast.
Besides Dubai, international action includes the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas trials in Japan and the Barbados Gold Cup. And be sure to check "news and notes" to find what's the top-rated race in the world, at least according to one yardstick. You might not guess it right off.
Let's get right off on this.
With most of the foreign horses yet to ship in, Super Saturday at Meydan isn't by any means World Cup night. But it's not chopped liver, either.
The Group 1 Maktoum Challenge Round 3 presages the $10 million World Cup and features the first two finishers from Round 2 -- Frankyfourfingers and Prince Bishop. Last year's World Cup winner, African Story, gets another chance after showing little in his first try over the new Meydan dirt course. Whoever wins will find the waters a bit deeper on March 28.
The Group 1 Jebel Hatta at 1,800 meters on the grass is a preview of the Group 1 Dubai Turf. Vercingetorix won this event last season before finishing second to Just A Way in the big race and comes here after winning the Al Rashidiya over the course in January. He will face Hunter's Light, Elleval and some other good ones on Saturday.
The Group 2 Dubai City of Gold is 2,410 meters on the green course and includes the likes of Sheikhzayedroad, Songcraft and Sky Hunter. While it certainly is worth a look, horses coming out of this would face the likes of American champ Main Sequence, Hong Kong's formidable Designs On Rome, globetrotting Flintshire and the Japanese duo of One And Only and Harp Star if they opt to move along to the Sheema Classic -- arguably the toughest race on World Cup night or maybe all year.
Saturday's Group 3 Burj Nahaar at 1,600 meters on the dirt is a lead-in to the Group 2 Godolphin Mile and attracted the likes of Tamarkuz, Haatheq and Gold City. Romansh, a puzzle for the Godolphin team in America, showed improvement in two prior starts at Meydan.
Sole Power, a tough and tested international veteran, is the marquee name in the Group 3 Meydan Sprint at 1,000 meters on the turf, a preview of the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on the big night. He struggled at the end of 2014 and, if he's not quite ready, this is a wide open field. Among the others is Caspar Netscher, last seen finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Mirza will be live at a price if he's ready following a long layoff after Longchamp.
The evening's dirt sprint, the Group 2 Mehab Al Shimaal at 1,200 meters, features Krypton Factor, who, despite an off year in 2014, is a proven commodity at Meydan and, after his last outing, on the dirt course. American invader Cool Cowboy could steal the show on the lead. The target down the road is the Group 1 Golden Shaheen.
The Al Bastakiya, at 1,900 meters on the dirt, is a prep for the Group 2 UAE Derby, featuring a small field with Uruguayan star Sir Fever now carrying the Godolphin flag. He was undefeated in his first 10 starts at home, never winning by less than 2 1/2 lengths. Is he as good in the new surrouindings for the new owners?
Read all about the results in the Dubai section of Sunday' UPI Horse Racing Roundup, authored by Richard Gross from trackside.
Also worthy of note, the Emirates Racing Authority announced Terry Bailey, Racing Victoria's Chairman of Stewards, will join the panel of officials overseeing the World Cup meeting. Bailey played a similar role at the Longines Hong Kong International Races in December at Sha Tin.
Back to North America now.
The Kentucky Derby preps
Dortmund, undefeated in four starts, is the marquee attraction in Saturday's $400,000, Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita. The son of Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown returns from a tough trip in the Grade III Robert B. Lewis a month ago, where he gave up the lead to Firing Line at mid-stretch but rallied to win by a head. In December, he also beat Firing Line by a head -- and Mr. Z by another nose -- in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity. His trainer, Bob Baffert, also sends out Lord Nelson, who won the Grade II San Vicente in his last start, defeating Breeders' Cup winner Texas Red. Bolo, Ocho Ocho Ocho and Prospect Park provide plenty of opportunity for an upset. And the unfortunately named Pain and Misery, a stakes winner in New Mexico, could surprise in his first try around two turns.
In Saturday's $400,000, Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, El Kabeir will try to make amends for his narrow loss to Far From Over in last month's Withers. Before that, the Scat Daddy colt won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club and the Grade III Jerome. Far From Over is absent from this event, working in Florida, and none of his nine rivals in the Gotham has anything like El Kabeir's resume. Still, he will tote 123 pounds, giving up 7 pounds to the entire field. "He's doing great," trainer John Terranova said of El Kabeir. "We've been lucky in the fact that we've gotten several races into him so far ... It looks like he's coming into this race really well."
Ocean Knight, the unbeaten winner of the local Sam F. Davis Stakes, lands in Saturday's $350,000, Grade II Tampa Bay Derby rather than the Gotham at Aqueduct and can be expected to duke it out with Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up Carpe Diem. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said the Gotham was in the plans for Ocean Knight because Stonestreet Stable owns both colts. But, he said, "It's a kind racetrack, the weather is supposed to be beautiful ... and he came out of the (Davis) real well. So we feel like going back to Tampa is a win-win for everybody." The Stonestreet duo drew gates 2 and 3, with Carpe Diem on the outside. There's plenty more potential in the race, including Souper Colossal and the rest of the superfecta from the Sam Davis -- Divining Rod, My Johnny Be Good and Ami's Flatter. Still, the big two are the big two. "I think we're in deep water," said Eoin Harty, trainer of Johnny Be Good.
Daredevil makes his 3-year-old debut going 7 furlongs in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Fasig Tipton Swale Stakes at Gulfstream, a race postponed from last weekend because of unseasonable torrential rain. Trainer Todd Pletcher said he's still hoping for the best for the winner of last October's Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. "It rarely happens here but we deal with similar situations in New York," said the trainer with Derby contenders everywhere. "It's not ideal but everyone's in the same boat." This boat's passengers also include X Y Jet, Ready for Rye, Senor Grits, the speedy Bluegrass Singer and Souper Colossal, cross-entered here and at Tampa Bay.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Palm Beach Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the grass also was delayed from last weekend. The redrawn field includes nine hopefuls.
If you can't get there in person, catch the action live on Horse Racing Radio Network with Mike Penna on site at sunny Santa Anita and Jude Feld braving the elements at Aqueduct although he'd rather be watching the Barbados Gold Cup. They're streaming live on www.horseracingradio.net or check that web site for their Sirius channels.
Fourteen are entered for Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Florida Oaks on the grass at Tampa Bay Downs. After Consumer Credit and Quality Rocks, the 1-2 finishers in the Grade III Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream, it's pretty much a program-stabber. Consumer Credit has won three in a row. The only poor outing for Quality Rocks came in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last fall.
Perhaps the biggest news about Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Honey Bee at Oaklawn Park is that last year's 2-year-old filly champion, Take Charge Brandi, was not entered. That sets up a showdown between her and 2-year-old champion male American Pharoah, in the $750,000, Grade II Rebel next weekend. "I really want to find out how good she is," said owner Willis Horton. More about that next week. The remaining field of nine for the Honeybee is headed by the undefeated Promise Me Silver, whose six wins include the Dixie Belle over the course in January. She tries two turns for the first time. Oceanwave could surprise off a big allowance win.
You know it's a big weekend when the Big 'Cap is shoved this far down the preview. Shared Belief is the big gun in Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Santa Anita Handicap. Defeated only once in 10 starts, that in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the 4-year-old Candy Ride gelding will carry 125 pounds against a dozen rivals. While most of them are credible horses, none should be able to run with Shared Belief if he's where he should be after easily whipping California Chrome in the San Antonio last month. "The racing secretary told us Shared Belief is the best horse in the country," said Dan Ward, assistant to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, explaining the 125-pounds impost.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares at Tampa Bay Downs features Stephanie's Kitten, Filimbi and Ball Dancing as the morning-line favorites in a field of 12. Stephanie's Kitten makes her first start since finishing second to Dayatthespa in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Filimbi hasn't raced since winning the Grade II Goldikova Stakes at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. Ball Dancing was second in the Grade I QE II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in her most recent start.
A field of 12 is set for Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita and the quality of the runners befits the status of the race. Among the dozen we find last year's winner, Winning Prize, back from a seven-months layoff, plus graded stakes winners Mr. Commons, Silentio, Summer Front, Home Run Kitten, Ring Weekend, Za Approval and Dimension.
Salutos Amigos seeks his fourth straight win in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Tom Fool Handicap at 6 furlongs at Aqueduct. He has been unbeatable at the Big A since returning from a seventh-place showing in last fall's Breeders' Cup. Dads Caps and Maleeh look like the main rivals in a seven-horse field.
Saturday's $300,000, Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap, a one-turn mile, drew six, including Grade I Cigar Mile winner Private Zone. Returning here is Wicked Strong, who won last summer's Jim Dandy and finished second in the Travers before clipping heels in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and failing to finish. Honor Code, East Hall and Valid all have valid credential for this start. Loverbil is moving way up in class.
Nine are entered for Saturday's $250,000, Grade II San Carlos at Santa Anita. Chitu is interesting after a close third behind Shared Belief and Conquest Two Step in the Malibu in his last outing, going the same 7 furlongs. While Shared Belief is chasing a loftier prize, Conquest Two Step is back for this, also.
Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Las Flores at Santa Anita has fillies and mares going 6 furlongs on the main track. None of the seven entrants stirs the soul and one -- Patriotic Brother -- wasn't taken when entered in a $16,000 claimer in her last start.
Gentleman's Kitten will defend his owners' title in Saturday's Group 1 Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup at Garrison Savannah, at 1,800 meters on the grass. The Mike Maker trainee faces nine rivals. Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey lifted the 2014 Gold Cup with Major Marvel as Patrick Husbands, a native of Bridgetown, Barbados, returned home for the ride.
News and notes:
The 10 finalists on this year's ballot for inclusion in the National Museum of Racing Hall of fame are: Thoroughbreds Black Tie Affair, Kona Gold, Lava Man and Extra Heat; jockeys Chris Antley, Victor Espinoza and Corey Nakatani; and trainers King Leatherbury and David Whitely. A 14-member nominating committee picked those 10 from 68 suggestions submitted by fans, journalists and members of the racing community. Voters may cast ballots for any or all of the 10. The top four vote getters gain admission to the Hall.
The world's highest rated race, at least according to the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities, isn't run at Ascot, Longchamp, Churchill Downs, Meydan, Sha Tin, Tokyo or Durban or wherever the Breeders' Cup surfaces in a given year. To find that gem, look north and east of London. No, farther than that -- to York and the Juddmonte International. The IFHA this week confirmed that race, with a ranking last year of 124.7, now has topped the list now from 2012 to 2014, benefitting from the presence of superstars like Frankel, Declaration of War and Australia. Rounding out the Top 10, in order, are: the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (123.67), QIPCO Champion Stakes (123.50), Breeders' Cup Classic (123.42), Prince Of Wales's Stakes (123.33), Prix du Haras De Fresnay-le-Buffard - Jacques Le Marois (123.17), King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (123.00), The Japan Cup in association with Longines (122.92), Arima Kinen (122.67), and Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (122.58). Although none of its races cracked the top 10, Australia had the most in the Top 100 -- 26, followed by 24 in the United States, 16 in Great Britain, 10 in Japan, nine in France, six in Hong Kong, five in Dubai and one each in Canada, Germany, Ireland, Singapore and South Africa. The top 3-year-old race of 2014, according to the IFHA criteria, wasn't the Epsom Derby or the Kentucky Derby but, rather, the Qipco 2,000 Guineas which will be renewed this year on May 2 -- coincidentally the same date as the Run for the Roses. More details? See www.ifhaonline.org.