Contenders for 2020 Kentucky Derby in action in weekend horse racing

Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Yoshida, seen winning the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga in 2018, is the favorite to repeat in Saturday's renewal. Photo by Chelsea Durand, courtesy of New York Racing Association
Yoshida, seen winning the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga in 2018, is the favorite to repeat in Saturday's renewal. Photo by Chelsea Durand, courtesy of New York Racing Association

Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Next year's Kentucky Derby and Oaks contenders start sorting themselves out in weekend horse racing, with big 2-year-old stakes from coast to coast and in between, on both dirt and turf.

Kentucky Downs fires up the first weekend of its very rich and all-too-brief season, running on only the European-style turf course in North America. It's no surprise the gigantic purses attract big fields and equally big wagering opportunities


Older horses take their chances Saturday in the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga and the Grade III Smarty Jones at Parx Racing.

On the international front, Hong Kong opens its 2019-20 season at Sha Tin, South Korea stages its two major international stakes and one of Germany's iconic races, the Grosser Preis von Baden, renews Sunday at the Black Forest spa resort town.

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There are 2-year-old races all over the place and many of them will produce contenders for the all-juvenile first day of this year's Breeders' Cup World Championships. So we'll start there.


Two big pointers to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and next year's Triple Crown are staged on Labor Day -- the $350,000 Grade I Runhappy Hopeful at Saratoga and the $300,000 Grade I Runhappy Del Mar Futurity. Entries for those were pending at press time but both are intended for serious players.

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Also to watch in this category are Saturday's $200,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Sire Stakes for state-breds at Gulfstream Park and Sunday's $100,000 Sapling at Monmouth Park.

Already in the books: Rockcrest swept to the lead on the turn in Wednesday's $175,000 (Canadian) Simcoe Stakes for Canadian-bred 2-year-olds at Woodbine, quickly opened a big lead and coasted home first by 3 1/4 lengths. Red Astaire was second, a head in front of Goldmine Cat. The 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track took 1:18.14 with Sahin Civaci riding the winner, an Old Forester gelding.

Juvenile Turf

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The big one here is Saturday's $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile. As is usually the case at this iconic track, it's a full field, lacking a standout favorite. Topping the morning line at 7-2 odds is Our Country, a Constitution colt trained by George Weaver. He finished fourth in the Grade III With Anticipation at Saratoga just this Wednesday (see below), so we'll see if he really goes here. The fallback on the morning line is Are You Kitten Me, a Kitten's Joy colt from Mike Maker's barn who won at first asking at Saratoga a month ago. In truth, it's anyone's race, especially first time around this unique course.


Speaking of Kitten's Joy, also on the agenda are Saturday's $100,000 Kitten's Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs, Saturday's $100,000 Proud Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park and Sunday's $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Turf.

Already in the books: Fighting Seabee was embattled all the way around in Wednesday's $150,000 Grade III With Anticipation at Saratoga, turning back multiple challengers before prevailing by 1 length over Field Pass. Andesite was third, a neck in front of the favorite, Our Country. Fighting Seabee, a Summer Front colt trained by Kenny McPeek, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.34 under Brian Hernandez. He won at first asking on the Ellis Park turf and now is 2-for-2.

"We've been around enough young horses over the years that the good ones stand out," McPeek said of Fighting Seabee. "He's never been outworked in the mornings and up to now in the afternoon as well. It's a good position to be in and hopefully he takes us to the Breeders' Cup."

Juvenile Fillies

As with the males, the weekend brings two big races, and several others, pointing toward the Breeders' Cup and the 2020 Kentucky Oaks.

Sunday's $350,000 Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga features Perfect Alibi and Frank's Rockette, the 1-2 finishers from the Grade II Adirondack over the track Aug. 4. Miss Peppina was fourth in that race and also returns. Shippy was third in the Grade III Schuylerville. Seven are entered.


Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Del Mar Debutante attracted eight fillies. Inspiressa, Leucothea and Bast, the morning-line favorites, will test race caller Trevor Denman. All three are recent maiden winners over the Del Mar track and this race will be a significant sorting process.

Also worthy of a close look: Saturday's $200,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes for state-breds at Gulfstream Park and Sunday's $100,000 Sorority at Monmouth Park.

Already in the books: Blessed Truly broke inward at the start of Wednesday's $175,000 (Canadian) Muskoga Stakes for Canadian-bred 2-year-old fillies at Woodbine, corrected course for jockey Eurico Da Silva and was in complete command thereafter, winning by 5 lengths over Tara Dawn. She's a Dream was third, another 1 3/4 lengths adrift. Blessed Truly, a Souper Speedy filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:16.51.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Kentucky Downs also has the headliner here with Saturday's $500,000 Exacta System Juvenile Fillies. Fifteen are entered with 12 to start and there are few throw outs. The 7-2 favorite on the morning line is Fly So Pretty, a Sky Mesa filly from the Mark Casse barn who won at Saratoga in her second try July 21. Monedas de Oro, a Munnings filly, is the only one of the bunch who has beaten winners and she makes her turf debut. If you can pick 'em, you should be rewarded well.


Already in the books: Crystalle, the favorite in Thursday's $100,000 P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga, was looking around at the start and spotted the field a good lead. But with Joel Rosario keeping his cool, the Palace Malice filly got things together in the final furlong, passed her six rivals and won by a neck over Sweet Melania. English Breeze also ran well late to take third, another 1/2 length back. Crystalle, trained by John Kimmel, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.36. It was her first win after a third place in her career debut. "We're thinking about the Breeders' Cup," Kimmel said, with the $200,000 Grade II Miss Grillo on Sept. 29 at Belmont Park as a final prep.

Action in this division also includes Saturday's $100,000 Sharp Susan Stakes at Gulfstream Park and Monday's $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Juvenile Turf Sprint

This division was new for last year's Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs and packages nicely on the Nov. 1 "Future Stars Friday" this year at Santa Anita.

Weekend preps are Friday's $100,000 I'm Smokin Stakes for California-breds at Del Mar and Saturday's $100,000 Rosie's Stakes at Colonial Downs



Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Woodward at Saratoga has a very competitive field of nine. The narrow morning-line favorite is last year's winner, Yoshida, the 5-year-old Japanese-bred son of Heart's Cry who has proved his ability on both turf and dirt. He comes off a second-place showing in the Grade I Whitney and could go on to the Breeders' Cup Classic, where he finished fourth last year, then to the Pegasus World Cup on either turf or dirt, Dubai on either surface and even to the new $20 million Saudi Cup next Feb. 29.

First, though, his Woodward competition includes such as Grade I Santa Anita Gold Cup winner Vino Rosso, Grade II Suburban winner Preservationist and recent Alydar Stakes winner Tom's d'Etat.

Entries for Monday's $300,000 Grade III Smarty Jones at Parx Racing were yet to be posted at press time.


Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Saranac for 3-year-olds at Saratoga drew a field of six and there's not much to choose among them. Good Governance, a British-bred colt by Kingman, is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line, likely in part because he's trained by Chad Brown. The colt won his only previous start over the course Aug. 4, rallying from far back from an outside post.


Sunday's $250,000 Grade II Del Mar Derby finds the Bob Baffert-trained Kingly making his second start on the green course. The Tapit colt won the Grade III La Jolla Handicap in his first turf effort Aug. 4. He drew outside all nine rivals, who include La Jolla runner-up Neptune's Storm, Affirmed Stakes third Visitant, Grade II Los Alamitos Derby runner-up (to Game Winner) Parsimony and some others with potential.

Monday's $250,000 Grade II Bernard Baruch at Saratoga remained undrawn at deadline time.

Filly & Mare Turf

Saturday's $200,000 Grade II John C. Mabee at Del Mar drew a super-tough field with the favorite, Vasilika, drawing the inside gate of 10. One of the best claims of all time, the 5-year-old Skipshot mare has won 12 of her last 14 starts, most against top company, but saw a four-race win streak snapped when she reported third in the Grade II Yellow Ribbon Aug. 3. That was after a layoff and she should be sharper for this race, which she won last year. If not, the likes of burgeoning 3-year-old stars Toinette and Juliet Foxtrot are waiting to pounce.

Limari tops a tough field of 10 for Saturday's $250,000 One Dreamer at Kentucky Downs. The 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly, trained by Brad Cox, was a close third in the Grade III Mint Julep two starts back, a race won by the very hot Mom's On Strike. Beyond Limari, there are plenty of chances. Trainer Steve Asmussen tries Area on the grass for the first time. Classy Act and Smart Emma were second and third in the designated prep for this race at Ellis Park. Ignacio Correas IV saddles Na Pali Spirit. She, like her trainer, is overdue for a win.


Santa Monica tops a field of nine, plus one "main track only" nominee, for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Glens Falls at Saratoga. Santa Monica, a 6-year-old, British-bred mare by Mastercraftsman, already has two wins, a second and a third this season for trainer Chad Brown and finished second in this race last year. Among the others, Fools Gold exits a win in the Grade III Waya Stakes and Mrs. Sippy makes her first U.S. start for trainer Graham Motioin. The MTO entry, Indy Union, would be interesting if the race comes off the grass.

Turf Mile

Great Wide Open is one of 14 in Saturday's $750,000 Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs -- a race that truly is wide open. Next Shares and Hembree are the lukewarm morning-line favorites at 7-2 and 3-1, respectively. Next Shares was the upset winner of the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last fall after posting a win at Kentucky Downs, took his lumps in three previous starts this year, all Grade I events, and gets big-time class relief. Hembree had three straight close-call seconds in graded stakes before finishing sixth in the Grade I Fourstardave at Saratoga in his last outing. Mr Cub won the preview for this at Ellis Park. Watch for horses who have run well at KD in the past.


Turf Sprint

Monday's $300,000 Grade III Turf Monster at Parx Racing was pending as this was compiled.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Break Even is the 1-2 morning-line favorite among six entered for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Prioress for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga. The Country Day filly, trained by Brad Cox, is 6-for-6 and returns to the main track following a front-running score in the Coronation Cup over the Saratoga turf July 14.



Wednesday was the seventh annual Canadian Millions Sales Stakes night with plenty of stakes action on the card. In addition to the 2-year-old events noted above (all amounts in Canadian dollars):

Cooler Mike led all the way to a 2 1/4-lengths win in the $100,000 Halton Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on the turf. Full Extreme was second. Cooler Mike, a 4-year-old Giant Gizmo gelding partnered by Luis Contreras, reported in 2:27.77.

Pink Lloyd continued to roll, winning the $100,000 Kenora Stakes at 6 furlongs on the all-weather for the third straight time. It also was his fifth straight stakes win in as many starts this year. With Eurico Rosa Da Silva aboard, the 7-year-old Old Forester gelding got home in 1:08.28, 5 1/4 lengths ahead of runner-up and stablemate Circle of Friends.


Red Cabernet stalked the pace in the $100,000 Algoma Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 on the all-weather, got by pacesetting Crumlin Queen and outfinished Bear Paw to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Crumlin Queen held third. Red Cabernet, a 5-year-old Signature Red mare, was clocked in 1:45.45 under Emma-Jayne Wilson.

Kingsport faced only two opponents in the $100,000 Elgin Stakes for colts and geldings on the all-weather track and dueled both into submission, finally winning by a head over Thor's Rocket with Aheadbyacentury behind by another 3/4 lengths in third. Kingsport, a 7-year-old son of Milwaukee Brew, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.18 with Patrick Husbands up.

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