While Kentucky Derby doings highlight the weekend's American racing, "Super Saturday" in Dubai presages the $12 million World Cup night March 30 at Meydan.
Action on the Irish all-weather courses also provided a potential Dubai starter.
On the North American front, two weekend Grade I races fell victim to Santa Anita's indefinite suspension of racing. But the remaining card includes some quality sprints and some significant horses making their seasonal debuts.
Starting at the top:
Thunder Snow is the big noise in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 as "Super Saturday" previews the March 30 Dubai World Cup night program.
Thunder Snow, an Irish-bred son of Helmet, won the Group 2 UAE Derby (G2) en route to a promising start in the 2017 Kentucky Derby -- then refused to run over the sloppy Churchill Downs track. In 2018, he and North America dueled through the Maktoum Challenge before Thunder Snow won the World Cup by 5 3/4 lengths as North America was eliminated by a slow start.
Thunder Snow then returned to the United States, finishing second in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup and third in the Breeders' Cup Classic. North America won the first two legs of this year's Maktoum Challenge while Thunder Snow was rested.
The stellar "Super Saturday" program opens with the Group 3 Mahab al Shimaal -- a 6-furlong sprint that leads to the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on World Cup night.
Turf Sprinters -- principally Godolphin star Blue Point -- are on display in the Group 3 Nad Al Sheeba Turf Sprint. This is the preview event for the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night where Stormy Liberal will try to improve on his 2017 second-place finish.
The Al Bastakiya drew 14 3-year-olds to tackle 9 1/2 furlongs on the dirt in a potential pathway to the Group 2 UAE Derby (G2) on March 30. American trainers Kenny McPeek and Steve Asmussen have live prospects in this event. Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby sends UAE Oaks winner Divine Image against the boys.
The Group 3 Burj Nahaar is a prep for the Group 2 Godolphin Mile (G2) and features 2018 Godolphin Mile winner Heavy Metal. While Godolphin is not represented in the Burj Nahaar, the "Boys in Blue" have four of the 10 entered for the Dubai City of Gold -- a lead-in for the Group 1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic -- and half the 10-horse field for the Jebel Hatta, which points to the Group 1 Dubai Turf.
Check back Monday for results and prospects for March 30.
Back in North America
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Santa Anita Handicap fell victim to the California track's temporary closure.
Nun the Less and Sniper Kitten, the two morning-line favorites, drew the inside post positions for Saturday's $100,000 Kentucky Cup Classic on the Turfway Park all-weather. Nun the Less, a 7-year-old Candy Ride gelding, won the Prairie Bayou at Turfway in December, then was a closing sixth in the Grade III Razorback at Oaklawn Park in his most recent start. Sniper Kitten, a 4-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, exits a second-place finish over the turf in the Tropical Park Derby at Gulfstream Park. Eight are entered for the 1 1/8 miles.
Skyler's Scramjet is the early pick among seven in Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Tom Fool at Aqueduct, 6 furlongs on the dirt. The 5-year-old Creative Cause colt won this last year and enters this year's edition after a pair of runner-up showings in the Gravesend and Grade III Toboggan. Also worth a look: Syndergaard and Bavaro.
Eight will go in Saturday's $150,000 Stymie Stakes at 1 mile over the Aqueduct dirt course. The morning-line picks are Sunny Ridge, Stan the Man and Vino Rosso. The latter makes his first start since finishing fifth in the Grade I Travers last summer. Sunny Ridge was third in the Grade I Cigar Mile in December. Stan the Man, after reporting sixth in the Cigar Mile, has reeled off two straight wins.
Saturday's $150,000 Hot Springs at Oaklawn Park. Local favorite and "horse for the course" Whitmore is the even-money favorite with Share the Upside posted at 2-1 in a field of six. Whitmore was third in the 2016 Arkansas Derby and has won his last four starts over the track. He has finished in the money in 20 of 24 lifetime starts. Share the Upside makes his first stakes start but won over the course and distance last time out by 5 3/4 lengths.
Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita also will be run at a later date because of the track issues.
Filly & Mare Turf
A promising and well-balanced field of 11 is entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, going 1 1/16 miles on the lawn. Concrete Rose is the lukewarm 7-2 favorite in her first start since finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf -- that following a victory in the Grade II JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland. Stellar Agent returns from a third-place finish in the same Breeders' Cup race. Elsa shipped to California in November to win the Grade III Jimmy Durante at Del Mar. The ever-dangerous Chad Brown saddles two: La Feve, third in a Group 3 event in France to end her 2018 season and third in the Grade III Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream to open her 3-year-old account, and Blowout, a British-bred Dansili filly who won at first asking Jan. 23 over the course. Good race.
Rymska, Hawksmoore and Onthemoonagain top a field of 10 for Saturday's $225,000 Grade II Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Hawksmoore won the Grade III Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes over the course last time out and she and Rymska are both multiple graded stakes winners. Onthemoonagain, a French-bred mare by Cape Cross, makes her first start since finishing second in the Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont Park Oct. 7.
Here's one already in the books: Student Body led from gate to wire in the $75,000 Mardi Gras Stakes for fillies and mares on Fat Tuesday at Fair Grounds. The 5-year-old Colonel John mare, with Miguel Mena up, was hooked by La Dame Blanche in the stretch, dueled with that one and finally prevailed by 1/2 length. Excessive Spending was along late to take third, a neck farther back. Student Body finished 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:04.52.
A talented field of seven is entered for Sunday's $150,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational at Aqueduct. Filled with stakes and graded stakes winners, the field also includes 4-year-old Road to Victory, who finished second in the last year's Grade II Mother Goose, then was not heard from until finishing next-last, fading from the lead, as the favorite in a minor stakes at Gulfstream Park in January.
Another busy week in the All-Weather Championships as the program hurdles toward the Good Friday Finals Day at Lingfield Park.
At Chantilly in France, jockey Vincent Cheminaud produced Forza Capitano just in time to win Tuesday's Prix Anabaa by 1/2 length over Bakoel Koffie, earning a spot in the Betway All-Weather Sprint Championship. Viscount Barfield reported third.
Forza Capitano, a 4-year-old trained by Henri-Alex Pantall, is a listed winner on turf and was trying the all-weather for only the second time. While he may be headed back to the greensward, a few of his Prix Anabaa victims might be spotted at Lingfield.
I Can Fly was the easiest of winners in the Get a Run For Your Money With BetVictor Fillies Race Wednesday at Dundalk in Ireland and trainer Aidan O'Brien said the effort was but a wee prep for the Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night. "She is a lovely filly and it is great to get her started," O'Brien said. "She is a lovely, straightforward filly and I couldn't be happier." The Fastnet Rock mare was a neck second to Roaring Lion in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day last October
Like "Super Saturday" at Meydan and "Million Preview Day" at Arlington, Ascot this year will have a "Royal Ascot Trials Day." That's the new designation of Opening Day, this year May 1. The very first race will be the Royal Ascot Two-Year-Old Trial with the winner granted a complimentary entry into one of the juvenile races at the Royal meeting -- the Coventry Stakes, Norfolk Stakes or Albany Stakes.
The Group 3 Pavilion Stakes is rechristened the Merriebelle Commonwealth Cup Trial. The Group 3 Longines Sagaro keeps its name and its spot in the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers' Million but will be designated a "Gold Cup Trial" event. The Paradise Stakes also retains its name but gains the definition "Queen Anne Stakes Trial".
Each of the stakes in recent years has been a springboard to success at the Royal meeting. But Nick Smith, director of racing and communications, said the new branding opens "huge potential for the day to grow."