April 5 (UPI) -- One of the big questions to be answered in weekend Thoroughbred racing, other than Kentucky Derby prospects, is who can step up to be the next star among the veteran runners.
Trainer Bob Baffert will take his eyes briefly off his 3-year-olds to see if McKinzie can provide the answer in Saturday's Grade I Santa Anita Handicap.
The "Big Cap" is one of several major races on turf and dirt around the country -- many of them at Keeneland, which opens its all-too-brief spring meeting. There, Late Night Pow Wow has along winning streak on the line in the Grade I Madison.
Internationally, 3-year-old fillies are on display in Japan in a race won previously by the likes of Almond Eye and Gentildonna.
Here's the scoop:
Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Santa Anita Handicap has six older horses set to go the American classic distance of 1 1/4 miles. Two of them stand out: McKinzie, the Grade I Malibu winner who easily could have gone to the Dubai World Cup last weekend, and Gift Box, last seen winning the Grade II San Antonio the day after Christmas.
Trainer Bob Baffert long ago said he felt McKinzie was his "Derby horse" for 2018 -- a role eventually filled instead by Justify. But the colt came back from injury to win the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby and the Malibu and Baffert said when the Santa Anita Handicap was delayed, and Gronkowski almost upset Thunder Snow in Dubai, he was second-guessing his decision to skip the World Cup.
"And the Dubai World Cup, it was -- it's easy to say, 'You would have won that, Bob.' But you don't know," he said.
Gift Box has been slower to come around, had only three starts last year and also hasn't been seen in the afternoon since December. The long absences could open the door to some of the others.
Across the continent, Discreet Lover is a lukewarm favorite among eight in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Excelsior at Aqueduct. The 6-year-old son of Repent upset the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup last fall and wasn't totally embarrassed while finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Classic in his most recent start.
Eleven 3-year-olds are in for Friday's $150,000 Grade III Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland with the likes of Onthewaytonevrland, Avie's Flatter and Henley's Joy among the morning-line favorites.
Filly & Mare Turf
Vasilika is a deserving odds-on favorite in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Royal Heroine at Santa Anita. She's the winner of 10 of her last 11 starts, the last six graded stakes, and she is 9-for-10 overall over the course. The wild card is Raven's Lady, making her first U.S. start after a nice career in England and Europe where she competed a bit shorter than this 1-mile race. Unless tactics are changed, she and Vasilika likely will be coming late.
Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Providencia for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita drew a diverse field of 12. Among them are a graded stakes winner, a smattering of recent maiden winners and two promising European imports. Looks like one to watch.
Eleven 3-year-old fillies will contest Sunday's $200,000 Appalachian at Keeneland.
Disco Partner, Conquest Tsunami, Imprimis and Bound For Nowhere are among the likely ones in a big field for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Shakertown at Keeneland. But they all have questions to answer and the 13 horses going 5 1/2 furlongs can bring traffic issues into play. Nonetheless, an exciting contest in prospect. Bound for Nowhere, by the way, could use a good showing to justify a return to Royal Ascot, where he finished third, beaten less than 1 length, in the 2018 Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Already in the books: WinStar Farm and China Horse Club look to have another star on their hands after Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint winner Bulletin extended his unbeaten win streak to three with a front-running victory in Thursday's $100,000 Palisades Turf Sprint for 3-year-olds at Keeneland. The City Zipi colt, under Javier Castellano, never looked back after a sharp break, finishing 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.92 over firm turf. Real News and Abyssinian were second and third. WinStar's Elliott Walden said the hope is to take Bulletin to Royal Ascot in June.
Limousine Liberal heads a cast of 14 for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II I Commonwealth at Keeneland, a 7-furlongs affair. The 7-year-old has been a consistent performer, earning more than $1.7 million, but finished a fading fifth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in his most recent start. Recruiting Ready and Copper Town also have claims in this.
World of Trouble is the big deal -- even money favorite on the morning line -- in Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Carter Handicap at Aqueduct. The 4-year-old Kantharos colt just missed upsetting Stormy Liberal in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last fall but has been equally effective on the dirt. Seven others look for an upset in this 7-furlongs race.
Four of the five entered for Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Bay Shore for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct have the look of potential stars. Mind Control and Much Better cut back to 7 furlongs after finishing second and fourth in the 1-mile Gotham. Mucho was second in the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga last summer -- behind Mind Control. Call Paul won the Grade III Swale at Gulfstream Park in February.
Filly & Mare Sprint
LateNight Pow Wow, winner of nine straight races on the East Coast, joins a pair of Oaklawn Park shippers -- Amy's Challenge and Shamrock Rose -- for Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Madison at Keeneland. Also in the mix are California-based Spiced Perfection, who shipped east to give Late Night Pow Wow all she could handle in her most recent start, and America's Tale, a recent Grade II winner in Florida. A field worthy of a Grade I, indeed.
Kathryn the Wise and Come Dancing caught the handicapper's eye among nine set for Friday's $150,000 Grade III Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct
Six signed on for Saturday's $150,000 Carousel Handicap at Oaklawn Park with Amy's Challenge and Miz Mischief the morning-line favorites.
Trainer Bob Baffert redirects one of his star fillies, Mother Mother, onto a sprint course in Sunday's $150,000 Grade III Beaumont for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland. The Pioneerof the Nile filly faces seven rivals in no easy task.
Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Las Flores at Santa Anita drew 10 with Baffert fielding Dream Tree and Emboldened.
On the international front:
The 2018 Japanese juvenile filly champion, Danon Fantasy, tops a field of 18 in Sunday's Grade 1 Oka Sho, or Japanese 1000 Guineas -- a race won previously by the likes of Almond Eye and Gentildonna.
The 1,600 meters test at Hanshin Racecourse points the way to the Grade 1 Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks, at 2,400 meters at Tokyo Racecourse May 19.
Danon Fantasy comes into the race with a record of 4-for-5. The Deep Impact filly got the year off to a good start with a victory in the Grade 2 Tulip Sho over the course and distance. As a 2-year-old, she worked quickly up the class ladder toward a year-ending win in the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies.