Sept. 6 (UPI) -- Million-dollar turf races in New York and Kentucky top the weekend horse racing agenda with Breeders' Cup slots on the line.
On the international front, several U.S. trainers are lining up runners for Sunday's big international races in Korea. Top sprinters go to the post in England and a promising field is assembled for a Group 1 mile in France.
And the winners of this year's National Turf Writers and Broadcasters awards are ... (drumroll) ... listed in "News and Notes,"
It's a green weekend, so we start with:
Saturday's $1 million Jockey Club Derby at Belmont Park is the final leg of NYRA's new turf Triple Crown and a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf. The local heroes are the first two home in the $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational, A Thread of Blue and Digital Age, and Henley's Joy, the winner of the first leg, the $1 million Grade I Belmont Derby.
Digital Age, an Irish-bred colt by Invincible Spirit, is the 5-2 favorite on the morning line despite finishing fourth in the Belmont Derby and second at the Spa. Before that, Chad Brown charge won three straight including the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs. A Thread of Blue was second in the American Turf and the Hard Spun colt has spun his wheels in two starts on wet turf. Henley's Joy was a 20-1 long shot in the Belmont Derby. Don't ignore Tone Broke, who rounded into nice form on the Woodbine all-weather after an unproductive early season in Dubai.
There are three European raiders for the Derby, notably Spanish Mission. The Noble Mission colt tried the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" on the English all-weather courses without much success but has a Group 3 win to his credit since trainer David Simcock put him back on the lawn.
There's another $1 million purse on Saturday's turf program -- the Grade III Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs. With the purse hiked to seven figures, Arklow and Bigger Picture, the 1-2 finishers in last year's edition, return for another try. Arklow appears in finer fettle after recent seconds in the Grade I Man o' War and Grade II Belmont Gold Cup and a third, beaten less than a length, in the Grade II Bowling Green at Saratoga. Bigger Picture won the Grade II Elkhorn in the springtime at Keeneland and has been freshened since finishing fourth in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park in June. Pillar Mountain, Zulu Alpha and Campaign also figure in a big field.
Ten are set for Sunday's $600,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs with the inside draw, Social Paranoia, installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite. The Street Boss colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, is a refugee from the NYRA series where he finished second in the Belmont Derby and fourth in the Saratoga Derby. The Spa result was his only finish out of the top three in 10 career starts. But he has only a single win to show for a tough campaign.
Mike Maker claimed Temple, a Temple City colt, for $35,000 in July at Gulfstream Park and gives him a stern test. Journeyman was disqualified from victory over the Century Mile dirt in his last start after winning on both turf and synthetic at Arlington. There's a lot of potential sprinkled around the rest of the field and by this time next year, this could look like a key race. That would not be unusual for a Kentucky Downs field.
Corruze was awarded the win in Wednesday's $200,000 Caesars Stakes for 3-year-olds at Indiana Grand after a four-horse photo and a blizzard of foul claims were sorted out by the stewards. Spectacular Gem finished first but was disqualified to fourth after objections by two rival riders. The same riders claimed foul against Corey Lanerie, aboard Carruze, but those pleas were rejected. Corruze is an Into Mischief colt.
Get Western led from the start of Thursday's $250,000 Old Friends Stakes at Kentucky Downs and held well, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. Cullum Road was second, 3/4 lengths in front of Space Mountain. The favorite, Mr. Misunderstood, called it quits early and beat only one rival. Get Western, a 4-year-old Get Stormy gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on firm turf in 1:43.96 with Brian Hernandez Jr. up. The race was restricted to non-winners of a stakes race this year.
Filly & Mare Turf
Some really nice fillies come from as far afield as California and France for Saturday's $750,000 Jockey Club Oaks at Belmont Park. The French contingent includes the Aga Khan's homebred Kitten's Joy filly Edisa, who finished second to Mehdaayih in the Group 2 Prix de Malleret, then second in the Group 3 Prix de Psyche at Deauville, and Wonderment, winner of last year's Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud and beaten less than 3 lengths in this year's Group 1 Prix de Diane, albeit seventh behind Channel. Those two are the morning-line favorites.
The Japanese-bred Deep Impact filly Love So Deep comes to the Oaks from England. She may have had a breakthrough when barely beaten in a Group 2 race at Deauville in her last start. Shopping local? California invader Lady Prancealot is a late-running type who should benefit from the stretchout to 1 3/8 miles. Desert Ride exits a win at Woodbine. And trainer Kiaran McLaughlin must see something in Godolphin's homebred filly Romantic Pursuit to have her in her. The Medaglia d'Oro miss steps way, way up in class after two straight wins.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf drew a trio of West Coast tigers and a top New York contender as top guns in a field of nine. Mitchell Road won five of her first seven starts up and down the Eastern Seaboard before catching a tough assignment in the Grade I Diana, where she faded to finish fifth behind division leader Sistercharlie. This is not quite as tough a field and cutting back to 1 mile won't hurt her chances. The California invaders are Storm the Hill, second by a nose in the Grade II Yellow Ribbon in her last start and perhaps better now than when she finished fourth in this race last year; Ms Bad Behavior, who chased Vasilika in several graded stakes before being given a five-months rest; and Simply Breathless, who makes her fourth U.S. start for trainer Neil Drysdale after two earlier wins.
Princess Carolina gets the oddsmaker's nod in Sunday's $350,000 Fifth Third Insurance Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs. The Tapit filly exits a second-place finish in the Grade III Pucker Up Stakes at Arlington and also hit the board in the Grade II Appalachian at Keeneland. Nine rivals include Ellis Park winner Wildlife; Indigo Gin, who defeated the favorite in the Hatoof Stakes at Arlington; Red Rounder and Repatriated Gem.
Winter Sunset split rivals in the stretch in Wednesday's $200,000 Indiana Grand Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and ran on once she saw daylight, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. Amandrea was second, a nose in front of Winning Envelope. Winter Sunset, a Tapit filly, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.92 with Channing Hill at the controls.
Stormy Liberal, the two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, will try to earn his way back to that race in Saturday's $700,000 Grade III Runhappy Turf Sprint at Kentucky Downs, a "Win and You're In" for big dance. The 7-year-old has not won since last fall's Breeders' Cup in Louisville, finishing second twice at Santa Anita before reporting third in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night at Meydan behind Blue Point. He returned home to finish third in the Grade III Green Flash at Del Mar and thus has something to prove in his first visit to Kentucky Downs. The opposition includes Imprimis, who won two early in the year, then was not embarrassed finishing some 4 lengths behind Blue Point in the Group 1 King's Stand at Royal Ascot. Another international traveler, Undrafted, also is here. Leinster comes off a win at Saratoga and a few others should not be dismissed lightly in a race worthy of its status.
Oleksandra, an Australian-bred mare by Animal Kingdom, is the morning-line favorite in an overflow field for Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint. The Neil Drysdale charge didn't make it to the winner's circle Down Under but is 5-for-8 here and comes off a handy win at Saratoga. If she's not the one, try Morticia, who was third in this race last year. Raven's Lady had some success in Europe and should enjoy the long Kentucky Downs stretch.
Nine signed on for Friday's $100,000 Christiecat for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park and most seem to have a chance in the 6-furlongs dash. The nominal favorite at 3-1 on the line is Brooke Marie, a Lemon Drop Kid filly who was a winner two starts back at Monmouth. But it's a program-stabber.
Sunday's $100,000 Allied Forces for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park got a field of 10, including Uncle Benny, a Declaration of War colt who was second in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf but struggled in his 3-year-old debut last month at Saratoga. Neverland Rock, by No Nay Never, has flashed some signs despite not winning much. Chilly In Charge was fifth in the Grade III West Virginia Derby.
Juvenile Turf Sprint
A field of 12 is assembled for Saturday's $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint and most have something to recommend them. Most are recent maiden winners, including the 7-2 morning-line favorite, Chimney Rock. That Artie Schiller colt, trained by Mike Maker, comes off a victory in a restricted maiden race at Saratoga when allowed to settle for the first time and make one run. Souper Dormy, a Mark Casse trainee, won at first asking at Ellis Park and gets some support. Cambria won his first two starts on the Presque Isle Downs all-weather and trainer Wesley Ward gives him a shot on the turf. Watch and learn.
Saturday's $300,000 Grand Prix American Jockey Club Invitational is one lap around the Belmont Park main track -- the same trip as the Belmont Stakes and a quarter mile farther than the Breeders' Cup Classic. Looking to the Grade II Brooklyn Invitational run at the same conditions over the same track June 8, we find the first three finishers back -- Marconi, Rocketry and Realm -- plus You're To Blame, who finished fifth, beaten just 1 length. Add in turf specialist Highland Sky, who would move up if the track is wet, and it's an interesting puzzle. Marconi and Rocketry are the morning-line favorites.
Knicks Go and Rotation head a field of 10 set for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. Knicks Go, a Paynter colt, was on the fringes of the Triple Crown trail and now comes off a second in the Ellis Park Derby. He is owned by the KRA Stud Farm in Korea where fans on Sunday will enjoy their two annual international races. Rotation, a Tapit colt trained by Steve Asmussen, finished fourth in the Super Derby Prelude. The winner of the Prelude, Leader of Men, also returns.
Saturday's $75,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity on the Arlington Park all-weather track attracted 10. The morning-line favorite is Vincent William, a Florida-bred colt by Iqbaal who won at first asking over the track, then finished third at Colonial Downs in his only other start.
Angelcents is the 8-5 favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $75,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie on the Arlington Park all-weather track despite drawing the outside gate among 10. The Goldencents filly makes her second start following an impressive win over the track, albeit against fellow first-timers.
On the international scene:
Advertise, winner of the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest, is the antepost choice in Saturday's Group 1 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock Park, with trainer Aidan O'Brien ready to scratch a tough rival, Ten Sovereigns, over concerns about soft ground. Fairyland and So Perfect would remain for O'Brien with Ryan Moore switching to Fairyland. The field also is likely feature Sheik Hamdan's Khaadem, Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes runner-up Dream of Dreams, Group 1 Commonwealth Cup third Hello Youmzain and Brando, second in this race last year.
Sunday's Group 1 Moulin de Longchamp has a salty bunch in prospect. Still on the list at deadline time were the likes of Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Phoenix of Spain, Group 1 Jacques le Marois winner Romanised, recent Deauville Group 3 winner Olmedo, 2018 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Line of Duty and Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes winner Circus Maximus. None has been particularly consistent but, if even most of them start, it should be a bang-up race.
Sunday's Korea Cup, a local Group 1 event, drew a nice international field leading heavily to the two U.S. representatives. Kenny McPeek has brought Grade II Holy Bull Stakes winner Harvey Wallbanger and Tom Amoss starts Lone Sailor, runner-up in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap and third in the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Hong Kong is represented by Glorious Artist and Jane Chappel-Hyam brings her own 5-year-old, Ambassadorial.
The companion Korea Sprint at Seoul Racecourse has a big field. Trainer Ignacio "Nacho" Correas IV starts Holy Legal, who comes from Brazil.
News and notes:
Trainers D. Wayne Lukas and the late Rick Violette and journalists Tim Wilkin and Caton Bredar will be honored at the 60th annual awards dinner of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters during Breeders' Cup week.
Violette, a distinguished trainer himself, was a long-time leader of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and active in Thoroughbred aftercare initiatives after his retirement. He died after a fall at age 65. He will be remembered with the Joe Palmer Award for meritorious service to racing.
Lukas, whose name speaks for itself in Thoroughbred racing circles, will receive the Mr. Fitz Award for typifying the spirit of racing.
Wilkin, who covers racing and other sports for the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, will receive the Walter Haight Awards for career excellence in turf writing. Bredar, granddaughter of Hall of Fame jockey Ted Atkinson, has more than 30 years' distinguished service in print, radio and television racing journalism, both from a commentator's perch and from horseback doing on-track interviews. She will receive the Jim McKay Award for career excellence in broadcasting.
The dinner is the organization's only fund-raiser and proceeds benefit its scholarship program and various industry charities. The event is Oct. 30 at the Derby Restaurant.Tickets can be purchased at eventbrite.com/e/national-turf-writers-broadcasters-annual-awards-dinner-tickets-71549732175.