Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Rich turf races for the 3-year-olds and the Grade I Whitney for older horses top the weekend racing schedule in the East while grass-running fillies tackle the Yellow Ribbon at Del Mar and the West Virginia Derby puts $500,000 on the line.
Ellis Park fields a full card of prep races for next month's Kentucky Downs turf meeting and serious 2-year-old racing is on the card here and there around North America.
Off we go:
Saturday's $1 million Grade I Whitney at Saratoga has a lineup befitting the purse and the prestige of the event, not to mention the "Win and You're In" rights to the Breeders' Cup Classic. Included in the eight-horse field are Grade I winners McKinzie, Thunder Snow, Vino Rosso and Yoshida. McKinzie is the 7-5 favorite on the morning line after finishing second to Mitole in the Grade I Met Mile in his last start.
McKinzie's trainer, Bob Baffert, said a first-ever Whitney title would be meaningful.
"It's certainly a prestigious race and it would mean a lot to have it on McKinzie's resume," Baffert said. "It looks like a very good competitive field, so we're hoping we can run our race and get a little bit of racing luck as well."
Yoshida, owned by the China Horse Club, WinStar Farm and Head of Plains Partnership, and the Godolphin-owned Thunder Snow are both confirmed world travelers. Thunder Snow has won back-to-back Dubai World Cups but has fared less well on North American shores. Yoshida will need to return to top form. Vino Rosso exits a victory in the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
Mr. Money is the 6-5 favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $500,000 Grade III West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer. The Goldencents colt was on the edges of the Triple Crown trail, then found his niche going shorter, running off consecutive Grade III wins in the Pat Day Mile and Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs and the Indiana Derby up I-65 at Indiana Grand.
The latter two races were at 1 1/16 miles and he tackles an additional sixteenth here. The field also includes Group 2 UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait, who returned from Dubai to finish eighth in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Belmont.
One race before the Derby, Saturday's $200,000 Grade III West Virginia Governor's Stakes at Mountaineer features a wide-open field of 12 going 1 1/16 miles. Silver Dust, who finished fifth in the 2017 West Virginia Derby, is the 3-1 pick on the morning line.
Six are in for Saturday's $200,000 Downs at Albuquerque Handicap. The local standard bearer is Pendleton, a 5-year-old Giant's Causeway gelding who has been a tiger in the Land of Enchantment. Steve Asmussen ships in with Forevamo, a 6-year-old Uncle Mo gelding who has been a disappointment elsewhere but won the Zia Park Championship in his only previous visit to New Mexico.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress continues to cut back in distance for Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Longines Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga. The Alternation filly won at 9 furlongs in Louisville, then finished second to Guarana while going 1 mile in the Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park in June. The Test is run at 7 furlongs.
The Test will, in fact, be a test as the field also includes Santa Anita Oaks winner Bellafina, returning for the first time since finishing fifth in the Kentucky Oaks, Grade III Miss Preakness winner Covfefe, Acorn third Jeltrin and others.
Sunday's $1 million Saratoga Derby is wide open with 11 3-year-olds representing both sides of the Atlantic and a heavy representation from last month's Grade I Belmont Derby. Henley's Joy, the 20-1 upset winner at Belmont, looks for the repeat. Social Paranoia, second in the Belmont heat, is back, as are Rockemperor, Digital Age and Seismic Wave, third through fifth in the Belmont Derby.
Rockemperor and Digital Age, both trained by Chad Brown, are among the favorites but the two shipped by Irish Maestro Aidan O'Brien, Mohawk and Cape of Good Hope, are not. Support is spread rather evenly, if thinly, throughout the remainder of the field. Plus Que Parfait is cross-entered here.
Eight 3-year-olds signed on for Friday's $200,000 Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga. The race is 1 mile on the lawn and features no tigers. Award Winner comes off a second-place finish in the Grade III Kent Stakes at Delaware Park.
Global Access won the Grade III Marine Stakes at Woodbine two starts previous to this and has hit the board in seven of nine starts with three wins. Moon Colony won the Grade II Penn Mile in June but then was 10th in the Belmont Derby.
Ellis Park on Sunday hosts three $100,000 races that figure in this division, each of them a preview of a much richer event during the brief meeting at Kentucky Downs next month. The races provide automatic entry to the Kentucky Cup Turf, the Tourist Mile and the Turf Sprint.
Filly & Mare Turf
Concrete Rose sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise rather lackluster field of eight for Friday's $750,000 Saratoga Oaks. The Twirling Candy filly has won five of six starts, including three in a row coming into this. Her last outing was a victory in the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational July 6.
The main rival appears to be Olendon, a French-bred Le Havre filly who was second in the Group 1 Prix Saint Alary at Longchamp two starts back but eighth in the Belmont Oaks in her first U.S. start. She since has been turned over to Chad Brown, which is never a bad thing.
Two others, Coral Beach and Happen, come from Irish legend Aidan O'Brien's yard. Coral Beach, who finished seventh in the Belmont Oaks, bounced home to run fifth in the Group 2 Kilboy Estate Stakes at the Curragh, then returned to New York -- a veritable shuttle service. The Zoffany filly has not distinguished herself particularly on either side of the Atlantic. Happen, by War Front, won a Group 3 in Ireland and was sixth in the Grade I Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.
At Del Mar, Vasilika is the morning-line favorite among seven entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Yellow Ribbon Handicap. The 5-year-old Skipshot mare at the moment is noted as much for the court-ordered reinstatement of her briefly banned trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, as for her remarkable record. Hollendorfer was ruled off at Santa Anita at the end of that meeting for unspecified reasons and Del Mar followed suit. A judge overturned that decision.
Vasilika, oblivious to all of that, has run off four straight wins, most recently the Grade I Gamely. Hollendorfer claimed her for $40,000 at Santa Anita on Feb. 11, 2018, and she has won 12 of 14 starts since then. The other eight in Saturday's tilt include Beau Recall, shipped in from Kentucky by trainer Brad Cox after winning the Grade II Churchill Distaff Turf Mile and finishing second in the Grade I Just a Game at Belmont Park.
Santa Monica is the even-money favorite on the morning line in a tough edition of Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Fasig-Tipton Waya Stakes at Saratoga. The 6-year-old Mastercraftsman mare has the credentials off back-to-back wins in the Grade III Orchid at Gulfstream Park and the Grade II Sheepshead Bay at Belmont. She faces stiff competition in the likes of Gentle Ruler, recent winner of the Grade III Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park and Fool's Gold, a stablemate of Santa Monica in the Chad Brown barn.
As above, Ellis Park has two $100,000 events here, foreshadowing the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf and Ladies Sprint.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Troy Stakes at Saratoga has a dynamite field including World of Trouble, Disco Partner and Pure Sensation -- all accomplished top-level performers. Adding to the excitement, each of the other three looks capable of jumping up to upset the big boys in this 5 1/2-furlongs tilt.
Wesley Ward saddles half the eight-horse field for Saturday's $75,000 Tyro at Monmouth Park, a 5 1/2-furlongs dash on the turf. Among them, Karak and Foolish Humor, both winners at first asking at Belmont Park, finished 15th and 20th, respectively, in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot. Dixie Mo is in for "main track only". The others are recent maiden winners or still winless.
Saturday's $100,000 Dr. Fager Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park is the start of the annual three-race series for state-breds. We learn more as the distances increase but the races are always worth a look.
Also on the 2-year-old calendar this weekend are the Louisiana Cup Juvenile for state-breds at Louisiana Downs, the Cleveland Kindergarten for Ohio-breds at Thistledown and the Clarendon for Ontario-breds at Woodbine.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Sorrento at Del Mar has a contentious field of six with Amalfi Sunrise, a Constitution filly, the 8-5 morning-line favorite on the strength of a 6 1/2-lengths victory in her only previous start. That showing was enough to deny the favorite status to Comical, who is 2-for-2 with the last race a victory in the Grade III Schuylerville at Saratoga. Shedaresthedevil was a Churchill Downs maiden winner last time at the track and Powerful Attraction won at first asking at Los Alamitos. Princess Mo and Shanghai Keely complete the field.
Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga drew a field of eight with Magic Dance and Frank's Rockette the preferred fillies on the morning line. Magic Dance, a daughter of More Than Ready, is 2-for-2 with both wins at Churchill Downs including the Debutante on June 29. Frank's Rockette, by Into Mischief, won at first asking, also in Louisville, by 6 3/4 lengths.
Also on the program are Saturday's $100,000 Desert Vixen Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park for state-breds, the Louisiana Cup Juvenile Fillies and Sunday's $75,000 Colleen at Monmouth Park.