The Dubai World Cup and Kentucky Derby preps are the big deals in weekend racing but far from the whole story.
Gulfstream Park has a huge program, much of it on turf, to support Saturday's Florida Derby. And Santa Anita reopens after a thorough track inspection and implementation of new safety rules in the wake of a rash of horse breakdowns.
Here's how the big races shape up:
Nine classy turf runners entered for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Pan American Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Two of the most consistent, Bigger Picture and Soglio, drew the outside gates for the 1 1/2-miles race. Toward the inside, Focus Group, Melmich and Canessar have performed reliably. As with most of the turf division, none of these has put together much of a winning record despite being in the mix consistently.
Filly & Mare Turf
Eight are lined up for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Santa Ana Stakes at Santa Anita, none of them exactly a dominant force. Streak of Luck finished second to Vasilika in the Grade II Buena Vista in her last start but stretches out to 1 1/4 miles for the first time. Elysea's World usually is in the mix at this level.
Catapult and River Boyne top a field of six for Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita. Catapult, a 6-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, finished second in the Breeders' Cup Mile behind Expert Eye and returned to finish a fading fourth going 1 3/16 miles in the Pegasus World Cup Turf over the soggy Gulfstream Park green in January. River Boyne, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred colt by Dandy Man, won the Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile over the course two starts back and is 6-for-7 over the Santa Anita turf.
Saturday's $100,000 Sand Springs Stakes for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park is the seasonal debut for December's Tropical Park Oaks winner, Too Charming. After celebrating whatever they land on the World Cup program, the Godolpin folks can stay up late to watch this homebred Bernardini filly. She may not be the favorite, though, in a wide-open field with Valedictorian, Midnight Soiree, Andina Del Sur and Proctor's Ledge.
Three-year-old fillies tackle the grassy mile in Saturday's $125,000 Sanibel Island Stakes at Gulfstream Park. A Bit Special, a British-bred filly by Mukhadram, comes with three straight wins, most recently in the Grade III Sweetest Chant over the course and distance. Belle Laura was a tiring third in the Grade III Herecomesthebride Stakes at 1 1/16 miles in her last start. Several of the others exit maiden wins. Keep an eye out for one of those -- Scat Mommy, a Scat Daddy filly who won her only previous start last October.
Saturday's $125,000 Cutler Bay at Gulfstream Park is a 1-mile turf test for 3-year-old colts and geldings with seven promising contenders, none of whom yet merits a letter home.
Sunday's $100,000 Grade III San Simeon Stakes at Santa Anita finds seven going down the hillside turf course. Conquest Tsunami, a 7-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic, drew the rail. La Sardane, a Group 3 winner in France, got the outside gate in this tossup.
Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Beholder Mile at Santa Anita drew the top three finishers from last month's 7-furlongs Santa Monica -- Marley's Freedom, Selcourt and Mopotism. Unique Bella won this race last year and the third-place finisher from that, Paradise Woods, is back for another try after finishing fifth in the Santa Monica. Exuberance could be rounding into shape after some issues.
Prince Lucky was briefly on the Triple Crown trail in 2018, then improved later in the year when trainer Todd Pletcher set shorter goals. He started this year with an impressive win in the Grade III Hals' Hope in February and tackles the same distance in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Gulfstream Park Mile. The others have some finding to do to equal his latest mark.
Kanthaka enters Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Carlos at Santa Anita off a second-place finish to Dubai-bound Roy H in the Grade II Palos Verde. The 4-year-old Jimmy Creed colt drew the rail for the 7-furlongs event and six rivals, including California Cup Sprint winner Touching Rainbows and Dr. Dorr, who shortens up for trainer Bob Baffert.
On the international front:
There are eight Grade 1 winners among the 14 nominated for Sunday's Osaka Hai at Hanshin Racecourse, a relatively new Grade 1 event at 2,000 meters on the turf. The first two runnings since the elevation of the race status went to the favorite, Kitasan Black and Suave Richard -- a pretty impressive record.
This year's renewal finds Blast Onepiece, Kiseki and Wagnerian as likely favorites, although there are plenty of potential upsetters.
Blast Onepiece, a 4-year-old Harbinger colt, has won five of seven starts and wound up 2018 with a victory in the Grade 1 Arima Kinen (G1) at 2,500 meters. Wagnerian, the 2018 Japanese Derby (G1) winner, closed out his 3-year-old season with a victory in the Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2) at Hanshin. Kiseki, a 4-year-old son of Rulership, chased home in second behind Almond Eye in the 2018 Japan Cup but that gallant effort was a component of a season that found him winless in six starts.