Trio of Grade I races at Santa Anita headlines weekend Thoroughbred racing

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Synchrony, seen winning the Fair Grounds Handicap on Feb. 18 in New Orleans, is among the favorites for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Monmouth Stakes on the Jersey Shore. Photo by Hodges Photography, courtesy of Fair Grounds
Synchrony, seen winning the Fair Grounds Handicap on Feb. 18 in New Orleans, is among the favorites for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Monmouth Stakes on the Jersey Shore. Photo by Hodges Photography, courtesy of Fair Grounds

May 24 (UPI) -- The three-week lull between the Preakness and the Belmont seems eternal after the hectic two weeks encompassing the first two legs of the Triple Crown -- but the period is not totally devoid of important and interesting races.

The long Memorial Day weekend finds three Grade I affairs at Santa Anita, one of them a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", and more graded stakes action from Canada to Kentucky to the Jersey Shore.


Here's how it shakes out, along with some results already in the books:


Only five are taking on the 1 1/16 miles of Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita. Bob Baffert fields Flor de la Mar, a Tiznow filly flying the Godolphin blue who finished second in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks, then 11th in the Kentucky Oaks. Sneaking Out, by Indian Evening, has three wins and two seconds from five starts for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Bizwhacks, a Fed Biz filly trained by Doug O'Neill, has been going the wrong direction in her last three starts, albeit in tough company.


Turf Mile

Entries were pending at press time for Monday's $500,000 Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita. The race is a "Win and You're In" for the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Mile and the expected cast includes Blitzkrieg, Bowies Hero, Catapult, Delta Prince, Desert Stone, Le Ken, Ohio, River Boyne, Sharp Samurai and Synchrony.


Synchrony and Almanaar are the favorites in a field of eight for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Monmouth Stakes at 9 furlongs on the Jersey Shore sod. Synchrony, a 6-year-old son of Tapit, won the Grade III Oceanport and the Grade III Red Bank over the course last summer and more recently accounted for the Fair Grounds Handicap. Almanaar, a 7-year-old Dubawi gelding, has been in a slump since finishing second in the Grade I Arlington Million last summer.

A well-matched field of seven awaits Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Charles Whittingham Stakes on the Santa Anita lawn. Marckie's Water is the morning-line favorite because one of them had to be and because he won his last race. But any of these could get the job done so sharpen the old handicapping skills and make some money.

Filly & Mare Turf

Sunday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Nassau Stakes at Woodbine has six distaffers set to tackle 1 mile on the grass. Starship Jubilee, fourth in last year's edition, is the highweight this time around in her first start since winning the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Jan. 19 at Gulfstream Park. Secret Message exits a win in the Dahlia Stakes at Laurel Park and won last year's Grade III Pucker Up Stakes at Arlington Park.


Entries were pending at press time for Monday's $500,000 Grade I Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares on the Santa Anita greensward. That race could include Vasilika, a 5-year-old Skipshot mare claimed for $40,000 Feb. 11, 2018, only to win 11 races since then, eight of them stakes and two of them Grade I events.

Turf Sprint

Eddie Haskel is the morning-line favorite among seven entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Daytona Stakes at Santa Anita. The 6-year-old Square Eddie gelding has missed the top three only once in his last 13 starts, five of those wins. Brandothebartender and Kanthaka also merit a second look.

Eleven are set for a 5-furlongs sprint in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Monrovia Stakes for fillies and mares at Santa Anita. Among them is last year's winner, Belvoir Bay, who comes off a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night in Dubai. Ginger Nut is going well for trainer John Sadler since arriving from the UK. Several others have claims after racing well in local allowances and minor stakes.

Sprint/Dirt Mile

American Anthem, The Hardest Way and Cistron sparkle in a field of eight for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita. American Anthem, a 5-year-old son of Bodemeister from Bob Baffert's bountiful barn, is the 5-2 favorite in his second start of the year. He has been formidable since cut back to sprint distances. The Hardest Way, a 5-year-old by Uncle Mo, climbs up from the allowance ranks. Cistron, a 5-year-old by The Factor, exits a win in the Grade II Kona Gold Stakes over the track.


Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park attracted nine with Jersey-bred Sunny Ridge made the 2-1 favorite on the morning line. Sunny Ridge, a 6-year-old Holy Bull gelding, has an excellent resume down the shore. He won at first asking at Monmouth in 2015 and won that year's Sapling, finished third in the Grade I Haskell the following year and was third in last year's Salvator Mile. Also worthy of note: Diamond King, Bal Harbour, California Note and Nanoosh.

Filly & Mare Sprint

An even dozen fillies and mares filled the entry box for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs and there's not a whole lot to separate most of them. The nominal favorite at 3-1 on the morning line is Awestruck, a 5-year-old Tapit mare. But her resume doesn't really inspire that much awe and the 6-furlongs dash should be a fine wagering opportunity.


Entries were pending at press time for Monday's $500,000 Grade I The Gold Cup at Santa Anita. The track lists as probable: Core Beliefs, Fight On, Gift Box, Lone Sailor, Mongolian Groom and Vino Rosso.

Around and around and around we go:

Arizona Downs

Kudos to the folks who this weekend reopen the old Yavapai Downs under the new name Arizona Downs. The meeting runs into September at the Prescott Valley venue. All the best.



Souper Tapit saved ground well back of pacesetting Mr Ritz in Monday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Eclipse Stakes, switched outside that rival heading into the stretch and won by a head bob after dueling through the final furlong. Are You Kidding Me was third. Souper Tapit, a 5-year-old son of Tapit, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.39. "I just got lucky, getting there first," winning rider Patrick Husbands said of the extremely close margin of victory.

Souper Tapit won the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park in January, then reported sixth in the Grade III Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park and seventh in the Grade II New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds before returning home. The win sealed a magnificent long weekend for trainer Mark Casse, who among other triumphs landed his first Preakness Stakes.

Saturday's feature at Woodbine is the $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Marine Stakes for 3-year-olds on the all-weather course.

Presque Isle Downs

Explorationist blazed the trail in Monday's $100,000 Tom Ridge Stakes for 3-year-olds, gradually edged away and won by 2 1/4 lengths over Crosstown Shootout. Powell was third, another 2 1/4 lengths back. Explorationist, a Pioneerof the Nile colt, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.70 with Jerome Lermyte in the irons.


Sunray Park

Shame On Powers kicked away down the lane in Monday's $60,000 C.O. Ken Hendrick Memorial for state-bred 2-year-olds, winning by 5 lengths over Wiskey Crown. First-time starter Royal Bertrando was third. Shame On Powers, a Shame On Charlie gelding, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 51.90 seconds for jockey Miguel Perez.

Will Rogers Downs

Socks rallied well wide around the turn and made up ground quickly in the stretch to win Monday's $55,000 More Than Even Stakes for Oklahoma-bred fillies and mares by a neck over Spring Steen. The odds-on favorite, She's Shiney, lost a bit of luster by tiring to finish third. Socks, a 5-year-old Maclean's Music mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.95 with Floyd Wethey Jr. up.

Century Mile

Trooper John made steady progress from just off the pace in Monday's $50,000 (Canadian) Journal Handicap and outfinished Born in a Breeze by 1/2 length for the win. Moon King was another 1 length back in third. Trooper John, a 5-year-old Colonel John gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in track-record time of 1:08.31 with Wilmer Galviz at the controls. Tom Rycroft trains the first two finishers.


Ruffenuff dueled for the lead in Monday's $50,000 JetSet Handicap for fillies and mares before edging clear of rival C U At Eau Clair to win by 1 length. Raider was third, giving trainer Greg Tracy a sweep of the trifecta slots. Ruffenuff, a 5-year-old Dialed In mare, finished in 1:08.49 with Dane Nelson up.

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