The Hong Kong Derby, a rich new race in Australia and 3-year-old action in Japan highlight weekend racing around the globe while some top older horses square off at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.
In Dubai, Meydan Racecourse hosted its penultimate meeting of the season, with only Dubai World Cup night still to go before the long hot summer.
Here's how things shape up:
On the international beat:
Sunday's Hong Kong Derby at Sha Tin is the culmination of the local Four-Year-Old Classic Series and the race all local owners most want to win. The Derby also has produced many of Hong Kong's stars.
Top-rated Waikuku, trained by John Size, as well as a trio from the Frankie Lor stable, Furore, Dark Dream and Mission Tycoon, are prominent among 14 entries for the 2,000-meters tilt over the turf. Waikiku has run off four straight wins in Hong Kong but the Irish-bred gelding is drawn outside all 13 rivals -- not the best of gates with a short run to the first turn. "The signs are good that this year's BMW Hong Kong Derby will live up to its billing as a race that produces the champions of the future," Andrew Harding, the Hong Kong Jockey Club's executive director of racing, said as the entries were announced. "Able Friend, Designs On Rome, Ambitious Dragon and Hong Kong's current brilliant standout Beauty Generation are just some of the stars that took the Derby route to the very top and it is looking likely that this year's crop will produce another worthy hero."
Harding could add to his list of past Derby winners who went on to further glory such names as Viva Pataca, Werther and Rapper Dragon. And this year's crop of potential heros has plenty of international flavor. Ka Ying Star won three of four races in the UK before coming to Hong Kong. Helene Leadingstar and Enrichment were winners in Australia. And Victory Harmony landed two Group 1 events in Brazil.
Sunday's Grade 2 Spring Stakes (Japanese 2000 Guineas Trial) at Nakayama is 1,800 meters over the turf with some promising sorts facing a make-it or break-it for the big time.
The Yoshida family doubtless has big hopes for Reversible Lane, a Heart's Cry colt who was last seen finishing third in the Begonia Sho at Tokyo Racecourse Nov. 25. Fantasist, by Lord Kanaloa, won his first three starts last season before finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Asahi Hi Futurity at Hanshin Dec. 16 and makes his first start as a 3-year-old. He again faces Screen Hero colt Kurino Gaudi, who was second in the Asahi Hi Futurity.
We note the presence of Unicorn Lion, an Irish-bred No Nay Never colt out of the High Chaparral mare Muravka.
On Saturday at Flemington, Racing Victoria kicks off a new event, the All-Star Mile with a total purse $3.5 million in U.S. dollars. Fans voted for 10 of the starters and the other four were awarded slots by racing officials. Winx's owners passed on the event, opening the door to Happy Clapper, who has finished second to Winx in four of their nine meetings and, of course, has never beaten her.
But it's far from a one-horse affair. Godolphin filly Alizee enters off a victory in the Group 1 Futurity Stakes at Caulfield and has the services -- since she's not running -- of Winx's regular rider, Hugh Bowman. Group 1 Australian Guineas winner Mystic Journey drew a tough assignment from gate No.1 16 but Hartnell, a veteran of these wars, is more favorably placed in the No. 2 spot.
If nothing else, the race is a preview of a Winx-less future in Australia.
Thursday's program was the penultimate racing day of the season at Meydan Racecourse, with only World Cup night to go. Unsurprisingly, trainer Doug Watson sent out the winners of the two featured races.
Thegreatcollection, dropping in class, stalked the pace in the CNN Travel Handicap, took the lead on the turn and was long gone by the time he straightened for home, winning by 5 1/2 lengths. In two previous races, the 5-year-old Saint Anddan gelding had chased home Super Saturday's Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 winner Capezzano.
"Against the better horses at the Carnival, he struggles to keep pace with them early on," said Thegreatcollection's rider, Sam Hitchcott. "But this was much easier for him. He broke very well and carried me into contention without my asking him. Hopefully he can build on this now he has won again."
In the co-featured CNN Business Handicap, Lytham St Annes used an inside draw and a good start to gain position, then powered clear in the stretch run, winning by 1 1/4 lengths from Beachcomber Bay. The 6-year-old gelding was having his seventh run of the season in the UAE and running back on 12 days rest.
"On turf last time, he ran much better and was bouncing after the race so we were happy to run him back relatively quickly," Watson said of Lytham St Annes. "He is very versatile with regards to surface, likes it here and at Jebel Ali and stays further, but we will try and keep him at 1,200 meters."
The South African breeding industry suffered an almost immeasurable loss Monday when Dynasty died of complications of colic. Wayne Kieswetter, the owner of Ridgemont Highlands, where the 19-year-old stood, told Racing Post Dynasty was "a cornerstone and pillar of our champion farm and, indeed, of the broader South African racing and breeding industry."
Dynasty, a son of Fort Wood and grandson of Sadler's Wells, was a four-time Group 1 winner, landing the Cape Derby, the South African Guineas, the Daily News 2,000, and the Durban July.
His progeny already are successful at stud, suggesting his name was prophetic. That group includes Summerhill Stud's Act of War, Drakenstein Stud's Futura, Bush Hill Stud's Irish Flame and Jackson, who stood alongside his sire at Ridgemont Highlands.
Back in North America:
In addition to splitting the Rebel and announcing the third massive purse increase of its season, Oaklawn has carded some very nice stakes for older horses on Saturday, one for the ladies and one for males.
The $350,000 Grade II Azeri at 1 1/16 miles for 4-year-olds and up, attracted only six but more than makes up for quantity with quality. The field includes Midnight Bisou, a four-time graded stakes winner last year; Eskimo Kisses, winner of last summer's Grade I Alabama at Saratoga; Elate, winner of the 2017 Alabama and Grade I Beldame; and Shamrock Rose, winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint four months ago at Churchill Downs. Tappa Tappa Tappa and Summer's Indy round out the field.
Saturday's $350,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn is spotted in prime time between divisions of the Rebel. The 1 1/16-miles race for 4-year-olds and up has nine takers and, lacking a standout, could be a breakout race for the likes of locally based Heavy Roller. The 5-year-old Malibu Moon gelding has been burning up the track for trainer Joe Sharp, winning his most recent start over the course by 7 lengths with a Beyer Speed Figure of 99. He will contend with the likes of Rated R Superstar and Sonneteer, third and fourth in the recent Grade III Razorback Handicap, Dalmore and California shipper Giant Expectations.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Inside Information Stakes at Gulfstream Park drew eight. Among them: Tequilita, winner of the Grade III Rampart Stakes in December; Teresa Z, making her first start since taking the Grade III Turnback the Alarm at Aqueduct in November; Mexican sensation Jala Jala, who was second behind Blamed in the Grade III Royal Delta Feb. 16; and a few others capable of upsetting.
Saturday's $100,000 Correction Stakes at Aqueduct has six well-matched contestants, none of whom has had an impact yet at the highest levels.