July 19 (UPI) -- The Haskell at Monmouth, the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga and the return of Del Mar all mark a midsummer weekend in Thoroughbred racing.
Extreme heat played havoc with weekend racing as Saratoga canceled its Saturday card, moving the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks to Sunday, and Ellis Park scrapped Friday's card while withholding judgment on Saturday.
Other tracks instituted heat protocols to protect horses from soaring temperatures and humidity over much of the Midwest and East.
But the show went on in most places, as do we, with:
Saturday's $1 million Grade I TVG.com Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic, features Maximum Security, disqualified from victory in the Kentucky Derby and subsequently second in the Pegasus Stakes over the Monmouth surface. Six rivals include Pegasus winner King for a Day, West Coast invader Mucho Gusto and Belmont Stakes third Joevia. A rich and prestigious enough prize in its own right, this race leads directly to the Grade I Travers next month at Saratoga, where a 3-year-old championship could be on the line.
Those preferring older horses get their chance earlier on Saturday's Monmouth card in the $200,000 Grade III Monmouth Cup. The oddsmaker gives a fighting chance to five of the seven in this lineup -- Coal Front, Monongahela, Bal Harbour, War Story and Lemonade Thursday. Coal Front, winner of the Group 1 Godolphin Mile on World Cup night in Dubai, is the narrow favorite after checking in seventh in the Grade I Met Mile in his return engagement from overseas. Perhaps the Stay Thirsty ridgling needed the race.
Catalina Cruiser drew the rail and the favorite's role for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, 1 1/16 miles on the main track. The 5-year-old son of Union Rags has but one loss from six career starts, that a sixth-place finish as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last fall at Churchill Downs. He returned June 7 at Belmont Park with a victory in the Grade II True North. The other five include Core Beliefs and Dr. Dorr.
Guarana, undefeated in her only two previous starts, was the odds-on morning-line favorite for Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. The race is re-carded for Sunday in hopes of better conditions and Guarana remains the one to beat. The least unlike to turn that trick would seem to be Champagne Anyone and Point of Honor.
Midnight Bisou takes a four-race winning streak into Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Molly Pitcher Stakes at Monmouth Park, where the 4-year-old Midnight Lute filly will face seven rivals. Since finishing third in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff, Midnight Bisou has run the table in the Grade III Houston Ladies Classic, the Grade II Azeri and Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park and the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. With Mike Smith up for trainer Steve Asmussen, she is the odds-on favorite and strictly the one to beat.
Wow Cat makes her first start since running second in the Breeders' Cup Distaff when she lines up for Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Shuvee Handicap at Saratoga. The Chilean-bred Chad Brown trainee was second in last year's Shuvee in her initial U.S. start and has never been worse than third in 12 career starts. There's plenty of tough competition in the likes of She's a Julie, Pink Sands, Golden Award and the lightly raced Brown stablemate Electric Forest.
Divisidero, Projected and Just Howard are tough to separate in a field of six for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Oceanport at Monmouth Park. None is exactly running out of his shoes but they all show promise at this level.
Last year's winner, Catapult, returns for another round in Sunday's $250,000 Grade II Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar. The 6-year-old son of Kitten's Joy is 2-for-2 where the surf meets the turf and comes off a fifth-place finish in the Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita. Sharp Samurai, second in the race last year, also returns. Ohio won the Grade I Kilroe Mile two starts back at Santa Anita. Marckie's Water exits a win in the Grade II Whittingham at Santa Anita.
Filly & Mare Turf
Friday's $150,000 Grade III Lake George Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga has a field of seven plus one for "main track only." Trainer Chad Brown, who already has saddled two graded stakes trifectas this season in New York, has the three favorites in Dogtag, Blowout and Regal Glory. If the race does come off the grass, the MTO entry, Espresso Shot, is even-money on the morning line. Stillwater Cove, trained by Wesley Ward, is cross-entered here and in the San Clemented at Del Mar (see below).
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Clemente Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar has a field of 12 topped by Stillwater Cove, Maxim Rate and Mucho Unusual. Stillwater Cove is the morning-line favorite in what would be her first visit to California for trainer Wesley Ward. Del Mar would be her sixth different track in seven lifetime starts -- a journey that includes a disappointing 13th-place finish in last year's Group 3 Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Seek and Destroy, Sister Peacock and Holyanna are top-rated among 10 3-year-old fillies entered for Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Ontario Colleen at Woodbine.
Seven answered the call for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III WinStar Matchmaker at Monmouth Park and, like many races on this stakes-rich card, they make a handicapping puzzle. Competitionofideas, Valedictorian and Touriga all have claims. The latter is making his first U.S. start after a pair of group wins in her native Brazil.
Nine are entered for Saturday's $200,000 Caress Stakes for fillies and mares at 5 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga. The oddsmaker nods to Significant Form, Morticia and Mrs. Ramona G. but it's a pretty wide-open dash.
Summer Sunday, winner of two straight stakes events, concedes weight to all rivals in Sunday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Royal North Stakes for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs at Woodbine. The 4-year-old Silent Name filly is undefeated in six starts at Woodbine.
Iridessa, trained by the younger O'Brien, jumped up to win the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes in her last outing, defeating Magic Wand by 2 1/4 lengths. It was her first win of the season after four disappointments. Pink Dogwood, trained by O'Brien, finished third in the Pretty Polly and returns for this engagement. Star Catcher, handled by Gosden, exits a victory in the Group 2 Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot.