April 19 (UPI) - In the calm before the storm that is the Kentucky Derby, the attention of the racing world this weekend shifts briefly to West Virginia and the $1 million Charles Town Classic.
Laurel Park offers seven stakes, worth a combined $750,000, on Saturday. Prominent there is the Federico Tessio, always a potential springboard to the Preakness.
Keeneland, Santa Anita and Aqueduct chip in important stakes. And Woodbine swings back into action north of the border -- always a sign spring might eventually arrive!
The All-Weather Championships finals are Friday in England, where preparations for the Guineas races are coming fast and furious.
This arrives first:
The Charles Town Classic
Saturday's $1 million Grade II Charles Town Classic drew a well-balanced field of 10 with an also-eligible. The race is so even that half the horses are listed at single-digit odds on the morning line.
Discreet Lover was last seen finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Classic but one race before that, the 6-year-old son of Repent upset the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup for trainer Uriah St. Lewis.
Mongolian Groom, a 4-year-old Hightail gelding out the Dynaformer mare Bourbonesque, jumped out of the allowance ranks to finish third in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap in his last start at odds of 53-1. Rally Cry, a 6-year-old son of Uncle Mo, makes his first start since finishing fourth in the Grade I Woodward last summer at Saratoga.
Something Awesome won last year's Charles Town Classic but hasn't been very awesome since. The 8-year-old Awesome Again gelding has not been close in four intervening races, finishing 10th in his last two, the Grade I Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park and the Grade III General George at Laurel Park. Last year's runner-up, War Story, also is back for another bite. Also winless in the intervening year, the 7-year-old nonetheless is the lukewarm 7-2 favorite on the morning line.
Nanoosh, winner of last fall's Zia Park Derby, may have run into shape in Arkansas, finishing a close fourth in the Essex Handicap in his most recent start.
Those looking for the "horse for the course" need look no farther than Runnin'toluvya. The 5-year-old Fiber Sonde gelding has won eight straight races, nine of his last 10 and 11 of 15 for his career -- all at Charles Town. He does step up in class here.
There's a competitive and challenging undercard, too. If you can't be there in person, check out the live coverage on Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net) and expert thoughts on the races are available from HRRN's ace analyst, Jude Feld, at www.popejude.com.
Triple Crown action
Saturday's $125,000 Federico Tessio Stakes at Laurel Park is a good place to spot candidates bypassing the Kentucky Derby but live for the Preakness Stakes two weeks later. There are six in the field but it's hard to look past Alwaysmining, a Stay Thirsty colt who has won five straight races, all at Laurel. The last four were stakes. He's the 1-5 favorite on the morning line so the oddsmaker couldn't look past him, either. Tybalt, a Kitten's Joy gelding, has been the most effective pursuer in Alwaysmining's recent efforts and might be back for more. He's cross-entered at Aqueduct, however.
There are plenty more stakes on this challenging card, too.
Blue Prize, winner of last fall's Grade I Juddmonte Spinster, returns for Friday's $100,000 Grade III Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland hoping it's a springboard back to the Breeders' Cup. The 6-year-old mare finished fourth behind Monomoy Girl in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff. "We start Friday to see if we can get back," said trainer Ignacio Correas IV. "That's the goal."
The opposition in the Doubledogdare includes former Mexican star Jala Jala and the second and third finishers from the Grade III Bayakoa Stakes at Oaklawn, Promise of Spring and Moonlit Garden.
Ten are on tap for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Dixiana Elkhorn at Keeneland with Zulu Alpha the 8-5 morning-line favorite. The 6-year-old Street Cry gelding comes north after a pair of graded stakes wins in Florida. He also won the Grade III Sycamore at Keenland during the fall meeting. Mike Maker trains and Jose Ortiz rides.
Should Zulu Alpha regress, Soglio, Canessar, Bigger Picture and Red Night are all in with a chance.
Saturday's $100,000 Woodhaven Stakes for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct has a field of six should Tybalt opt for the sod rather than the Federico Tessio. The morning-line favorite here is Forty Under, an Uncle Mo colt who won the Grade III Pilgrim at Belmont Park before finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and hasn't raced since.
Filly & Mare Turf
Eight are entered for Friday's $100,000 Memories of Silver for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct. Three are "main track only" and the weather guessers are calling for 1/2 inch of rain in Friday night thunderstorms.
Among the turfers, Blowout finished second in the Grade III Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, La Feve was fourth in that race and Her Royal Highness was seventh. Feel Glorious, who earlier raced in England and Germany, looks capable in the equally capable hands of Christophe Clement. We can't resist noting that one of the MTO entries, It Justhitthe Wire, finished fourth in the Beyond The Wire Stakes at Laurel Park in her last outing.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Kona Gold at Santa Anita only got five takers but a reasonable case can be made for four of them. Kanthaka has two straight on-the-board finishes in graded stakes over the track. Dr. Dorr was second in the Grade II San Carlos March 30 after a long layoff. Sistron exits a second in the Grade III San Simeon. And All Out Blitz was a stakes winnerat Sunland Park in his last outing. All of which means the fifth starter, Zatter, probably will jump up to win.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Woodbine returns to action Sunday's with the $100,000 Star Shoot Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on all-weather track. A field of 10 is eager to get going.
Good Friday, in British racing circles, has come to mean the All-Weather Championships Finals Day -- seven races on the Lingfield Park Polytrack that conclude the long winter's campaign dating back to Oct. 23.
Wissahickon, trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, dominates the Middle Distance catgegory and heads a field of eight for the 200,000-pounds Betway Easter Classic at 1 1/4 miles. Last year's Cambridgshire Handicap winner is undefeated in three all-weather races this season but faces the first two finishers from last year, Victory Bond and Master The World.
Kachy has four wins and one second on all-weather tracks, the only loss to subsequent Group 1 runner-up City Light in last year's Betway All-Weather Sprint Championship. He comes to the race in fine fettle, having broken course records in both his outings during the winter.
The program also includes finals in the Mile, Middle Distance, 3-year-old, Fillies & Mares and Marathon divisions. The event has attracted such top jockeys as Dettori, Ryan Moore, Christophe Soumillon, and James Doyle and many of the top trainers from the UK and France.
Meanwhile, the preparations for the British Classics were under way this week at Newmarket. Here's a peek into the still-cloudy crystal ball:
Too Darn Hot, the hot favorite for the 2,000 Guineas, has cooled a bit with the bookmakers as trainer John Gosden is taking a wait-and-see attitude after what seems a minor training setback. Questions about the Dubawi colt, owned by Lord Andrew Lloyd Weber, put a brighter light on some others.
In Wednesday's Group 3 bet365 Craven Stakes at Newmarket, Skardu waited at the back of the field, needed room 3 furlongs out and then battled to the finish before besting long shot Momkin by neck. Set Piece and the favorite, Royal Marine, finished third and fourth. Skardu, a Shamardal colt trained by William Haggas, ran his record to 2-for-2.
"Skardu surprised me when winning his maiden here last September," Haggas told Racing Post. "But he looked well beforehand and did well in the race. He doesn't do a lot at home but we can allow ourselves to get excited about the 2,000 Guineas, which, all being well, he'll go for.
Royal Marine's trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, said the Godolphin runner was anxious in the gate and unlucky in the running. He predicted the Raven's Pass colt will be "a better horse in the Guineas."
And in Tuesday's Group 3 Lanwades Stud Nell Gwyn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Newmarket, Qabala overcame a slow start to win by 1 3/4 lengths from Mot Juste with Angel's Hideaway third. Qabala, a Scat Daddy filly trained by Roger Varian for Qatar's Sheik Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Thani, won her only start last year and was making her 3-year-old debut. Stay tuned for more from this one.