Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Two-year-olds are on display from Ireland to California in weekend horse racing with Churchill Downs' brief autumn meeting featuring the first official preps for the 2020 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
Ten weekend races, including those beneath the legendary Twin Spires, are "Win and You're In" events for the Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 1-2 at Santa Anita. Meanwhile, some prime prospects for the Oct. 6 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe program will be on display Sunday at Longchamp.
And, there were some very notable retirements during the week, including No. 2 on the Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings. See "News and Notes."
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Iroquois at Churchill Downs is a "Win and You're In" for the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the first race in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series with 10 points to the winner. And if there's a sentimental favorite for anything in racing, it would be for Dale Romans, the trainer of likely favorite Dennis' Moment, to win the Kentucky Derby. The veteran trainer, who grew up in the shadow of the Twin Spires, has never won the Run for the Roses despite having saddled 10 starters. Dennis' Moment, a Tiznow colt who dominated a maiden field at Ellis Park July 27, could be the one.
"I think we are all looking at a potential future star," Romans said. "Even though this horse is only a maiden winner, the way he was able to just simply dominate the competition that day at Ellis Park left me breathless. I am going to start acting like a football coach and say, 'One race at a time' with him. Let's just get it done Saturday and then see where we stand."
It won't be an easy task. Lebda and Flute Maker each won his last race by 11 lengths, Lebda at Delaware Park while facing winners and Flute Maker in an off-the-turf maiden event at Saratoga. The field also includes Grade II Saratoga Special runner-up Scabbard amd Ellis Park Juvenile winner Rowdy Yates, plus the usual cast of candidates looking for a breakthrough.
And, just because you never know where something good might pop up:
Wednesday at Indiana Grand, Two Last Words wrested the lead from the favorite, Mai Tai's Gem, in the stretch run of the $100,000 Hillsdale Stakes for state-breds and ran on to beat that one by 1 1/4 lengths. It was a further 11 1/4 lengths to Wicked Slider in third. Two Last Words, a Commissioner gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.34 with Jose Riquelme in the irons. It was his second win from five starts but he also was fourth in the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs in June.
Wednesday at Retama, Bubba Bling stalked the pace in the $65,000 My Dandy Division of the Texas Stallion Stakes for state-bred colts and geldings, took over when prompted by jockey Rodolfo Guera and won by 2 lengths over early leader Wonders of Hislove. Luckenbacher was third. Bubba Bling, a Too Much Bling colt, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.84. The Steve Asmussen trainee was making his fourth start at his fourth track and won for the second time.
Richard Ronald and Happy Hour Cowboy are the morning-line favorites for Saturday's $75,000 Shakopee Juvenile Stakes at Canterbury Park. The former is 2-for-2 with a win in the Prairie Gold Juvenile at Prairie Meadows. The latter won the Northern Lights Futurity over the course in his last outing.
On Monday at Finger Lakes, Listentoyourheart battled for the lead in the $100,000 Aspirant Stakes for 2-year-old, state-bred colts and geldings, then edged away to win by 2 lengths under continued urging by Manny Franco. The Afleet Alex colt, trained by Christophe Clement, finished in 1:13.44, improving on a third-place finish in the Funny Cide Stakes at the Spa.
Note Saturday's KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, which features Coolmore's hot thing, Mogul.
Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Grade I Summer Stakes at Woodbine, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, has a tough field of 11 with some trans-Atlantic interest. Keep On Truckin is 2-for-2 for trainer Catherine Day Phillips and won the local Clarendon Stakes in his last start. Others are stakes-placed at Saratoga or recent maiden winners. Joseph Patrick O'Brien fields Vitalogy, a No Nay Never colt who exits a fourth in the Group 3 Acomb Stakes at York.
Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Ontario Racing Stakes at Woodbine, 5 furlongs
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Pocohontas at Churchill Downs is both a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and the first race in the "Road to the Kentucky Oaks" series. Likely favorite is Portrait, a 12 1/2-lengths maiden winner at Ellis Park. Most of the competition facing the Tapizar filly, trained by Brad Cox, also comes into the race with only a maiden win.
And, just because you never know where something good might pop up:
Monday at Finger Lakes, heavy favorite My Italian Rabbi cleared the field early in the $100,000 Lady Finger Stakes for New York-bred misses and kicked away to a 6 3/4-lengths victory. The Competitive Edge filly, with Jaime Rodriguez up for trainer Jeremiah Englehart, ran 6 furlongs in 1:13.02 and could have done better if asked. She now is 3-for-4 with earlier wins at Belmont Park and Saratoga.
On Wednesday at Indiana Grand, Shes the Cause rallied by Lady Ally in the final strides to take the $100,000 City of Anderson Stakes for state-breds by a head. Long shot Mintchocolatechip was along for third. Shes the Cause, a Creative Cause filly out of the Red Bullet mare Scarlet Bulletin, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.10 under Santo Sanjur breaking her maiden after running second in her first outing.
Wednesday at Retama, It's My Money dominated three rivals in the $65,000 Darby's Daughter Division of the Texas Stallion Stakes for state-breds, leading all the way to a 3 1/4-lenths victory. Miss Yachty, Stillatune and Sue's Easter Girl trailed. It's My Money, a daughter of Early Flyer, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13.10 with Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez riding. She's now 2-for-3.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Walk In Marrakesh, a Siyouni filly trained by Mark Johnston, makes her first U.S. start in Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Grade I Natalma Stakes at Woodbine, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She comes off a third-place finish in the Group 3 Prix du Calvados at Deauville. Fair Maiden has wins at Arlington and Woodbine. Abscond comes off a second in the Bolton Landing at Saratoga. Trainer Mark Casse has three of the nine fillies. Coach Lori won at first asking at Woodbine. Diamond Sparkles and Secret Stash each took one of two starts before shipping across the Atlantic.
See the international section for Sunday's Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Cares Stakes at 5 furlongs drew a wide open field of 12.
Old Persian journeys across the Atlantic as the even-money favorite among six in Saturday's $300,000 (Canadian) Grade I Northern Dancer at Woodbine. The 4-year-old Dubawi colt, carrying Godolphin blue, was last seen finishing third in the Group 1 Longines Grosser Preis von Berlin. He started the year with two wins in Dubai, including the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic and trainer Charlie Appleby brings jockey James Doyle for the ride. There is a bit of speed in the race, including second pick on the morning line Tiz a Slam, who rides a three-race winning streak. Focus Group, a son of Kitten's Joy from a Dynaformer mare, stretches back out to the 1 1/2 miles, which looks like his best distance.
See the International section for Saturday's Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf.
Filly & Mare Turf
Gentle Ruler waited within striking distance through most of Thursday's $500,000 Ramsey Farm Stakes at Kentucky Downs, split rivals and used the long stretch to win by 1/2 length over Lantiz. Gaining was, in fact, gaining to finish third and we missed Mike Battaglia, who would have called it, "Gaining ground, that's Gaining!" Gentle Ruler, a 4-year-old Colonel John filly, ran 1 5/16 miles on firm turf in 2:12. 73 with Chris Landeros in the irons. She took 12 tries to find the winner's circle but, since then, has won five of six, all at different tracks.
Competitionofideas ships north for Saturday's $250,000 (Canadian) Grade II Canadian at Woodbine. The 4-year-old Speightstown filly won the Grade I American Oaks Dec. 29 but this season has posted three seconds and a third, all in top company, for trainer Chad Brown. She is the morning-line favorite but faces some tough ones in Starship Jubilee and Holy Helena.
Saturday's Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron at Leopardstown, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, is in the international section.
Sunday's Derrinstown Stud Flying Five at the Curragh, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, is detailed in the international section.
A pair of Del Mar invaders trained by Doug O'Neill, Legends of War and Stubbins, finished first and second in Thursday's $500,000 Grade III Nevada State Bank Franklin-Simpson Stakes for 3-year-olds at Kentucky Downs. Legends of War, a Scat Daddy colt out of the Rahy mare Madera Dancer, set a pressured pace, opened up a lead in the lane and won by 1 3/4 lengths over his stablemate. Uncapped was third, uncapping a trifecta payoff of $2,341.35 for a 50-cent investment. Legends of War, with Rafael Bejarano riding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:16.83. He raced well in some big races in Europe as a 2-year-old but had trouble getting untracked in the United States until Aug. 3, when he won an optional claimer at Del Mar.
Another week, another million-dollar race. This time, though, it's Saturday's Ricoh Grade I Woodbine Mile, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Mile, and the dollars are Loonies. Still, an important race with a significant history. This time around, the big guns are Got Stormy and Raging Bull, the 1-2 finishers in the Grade I Fourstardave at Saratoga in their last start. The difference is that Got Stormy, a 4-year-old Get Stormy filly, has two straight wins and three from her last five while Raging Bull, a 4-year-old, French-bred colt by Dark Angel, hasn't had his picture taken since the Grade I Hollywood Derby last December. He has run competitively, however, in four straight Grade I's.
If not those two in the Woodbine setpiece, look to another 4-year-old filly, Awesome Tank. The British-bred daughter of Intense Focus finished second in the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington Park in her first U.S. start, losing ground late in the 1 3/16-miles event. She should enjoy the cutback to a distance where she fared well in England.
Blowout is a narrow morning-line favorite in Saturday's $200,000 Pebbles Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park. The British-bred Dansili filly was second and third in a pair of graded stakes at Saratoga and has not missed the board in six career starts. Her stablemate in the Chad Brown shedrow, Seek and Destroy, has Grade III wins at Belmont Park and Woodbine. East, a Frankel filly, was second in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filles Turf but couldn't quite match the best of her generation in three starts this year in Europe.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Groupie Doll Stakes runner-up Divine Queen figures prominently in a field of seven for Saturday's $125,000 Open Mind Stakes at Churchill Downs. The daughter of Divine Park has scored three of her five career wins at the Louisville track, including a 51-1 upset of the $100,000 Dogwood Stakes a year ago. America's Tale returns from a four-months layoff for this one.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Locust Grove at Churchill Downs Features Mylady Curlin in a quest for her fourth straight stakes win at four different tracks. The earlier scores came at Thistledown, Indiana Grand and Pimlico as trainer Brad Cox has been willing to travel to find the right spots. The opposition includes Moonlit Garden, Go Google Yourself and Pink Sands.
Pink Lloyd looks to extend his new winning streak to six in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Bold Venture Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather. The remarkable 7-year-old Old Forester gelding reeled off 11 consecutive wins over the 2017-18 season and started the new skein with the opening race of his 2019 campaign. He's the odds-on favorite to add to that string.
Already in the books: Mr Ritz stalked the pace in Monday's $200,000 Presque Isle Mile Stakes, took over when asked by jockey Patrick Husbands and held off Special Forces in deep stretch, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Ohio was third. Mr Ritz, a 4-year-old, British-bred colt by Oasis Dream, finished 1 1/16 miles (despite the name of the race) in 1:41.91. The win backed up a victory in the Grade III Seagram Cup at Woodbine Aug. 11. Special Forces was third in that race. Ohio came from California off a fourth-place finish in the Grade II Del Mar Mile, a turf event that actually was run at 1 mile.
On the international scene:
Aidan O'Brien sends out half the eight-horse field for Saturday's Group 1 QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown -- a contingent led by the 4-year-old Galileo filly Magical. Magical, after finishing a gallant second to Enable in last year's Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, returned with three straight wins this year, then finished second to Crystal Ocean in the Grade I Prince of Wales's at Royal Ascot and second again to Enable in both the Group 1 Coral Eclipse at Sandown and the Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks. With Enable awaiting the Arc and Crystal Ocean retired after a Thursday training injury (see "News and Notes"), Magical is the logical choice here.
Ready to pounce on any regression are the likes of Elaquam, Headman, Madhmoon and the Japanese mare Deirdre, whose shocking upset win in the Group 1 Qatar Nassau Stakes last month brought joy to Japanese racing fans. The race is a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf.
Saturday's Group 1 Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes at Leopardstown is a "Win and You're In" for the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf and features a very competitive cast of seven. Laurens, the antepost favorite, has only one win from four starts this year but that came in the Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville. Hermosa and I Can Fly appear the better half of the four-filly O'Brien entry. Joseph Patrick O'Brien saddles Iridessa.
Mogul is the hot favorite for Saturday's Group 2 KPMG Champions Stakes at Leopardstown, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. The Galileo colt, yet another from the Coolmore-O'Brien conveyor belt of top horses, finished second in his career debut. But, second time around, he was an easy winner at the Curragh over yielding turf. Rebel Tale has more experience and has been competitive while winning once from five starts.
Sunday's four-stakes program at the Curragh had yet to be drawn at press time but some of the most promising Coolmore-O'Brien juvenile types will be on display in the Goffs Vincent O'Brien Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings and the Moyglare Stud for 2-year-old fillies.
Also on Sunday at the Curragh is the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. It looks like a quality field and don't blink or you'll miss it. Check back in the weekend roundup to see how it goes.
Stradivarius puts his long winning streak on the line against Dee Ex Bee again in Friday's Group 2 Magners Ross Doncaster Cup. Stradivarius, a 5-year-old son of Sea the Stars, defeated Dee Ex Bee by 1 1/4 lengths in the Group 2 Weatherbys-Hamilton Lonsdale Cup at York Aug. 23, posting his ninth straight win and earning his second straight million-pound bonus. Dee Ex Bee, a 4-year-old son of Farhh, has finished second to the champion in three straight races -- the latest in a string of runner-up finishes that extends back to the 2018 Investec Derby. The other four entered for Doncaster will need some good fortune to finish anywhere near the top two.
On Saturday at Doncaster, attention turns to the 3-year-old stayer candidates in the Group 1 William Hill St Leger and, as with Stradivarius on Friday, the favorite is trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori. This time, it's Logician, a Juddmonte Farms homebred Frankel colt who puts his undefeated record on the line in his fifth start. The seven rivals include Sir Dragonet, who was all the rage for the Derby after a startling victory in the Chester Vase. The Camelot colt, however, stalled out at Epsom, finishing fifth, and was fourth in the Grade III Royal Whip at the Curragh last month in his comeback race. Another to watch: Il Paradiso returns to his age group after trailing only Stradivarius and Dee Ex Bee in that last race at York and was only a nose short of the latter.
Sunday's program at Longchamp should sort out some contenders for the undercard on Arc Day, Oct. 6. The action includes The Group 1 Prix Vermeille for fillies and mares, the Group 2 Prix Niel for 3-year-old colts and fillies and the Group 2 Prix 4 for 4-year-olds and up. The big names from both sides of both channels are well represented.
The spring season heats up with Saturday's Group 1 Makybe Diva, a 1,600-meters test at Flemington. Some of the big names are represented and the third running of the Everest is just over the horizon for those who run well here.
Also of note in early-week action:
Presque Isle Downs
Ledecka won a tight, three-way struggle in deep stretch to take Monday's $100,000 Malvern Rose Stakes for Pennsylvania-bred 3-year-old fillies by 1/2 length. Redeem My Heart led most of the way and just did hold off late-running Key Light to hold place money. Ledecka, a Tiznow filly, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:38.64 with Daniel Centeno in the irons. She scored her maiden win in her previous start on the Colonial Downs turf Aug. 24.
Unbridled Class overcame a stumble at the start of Wednesday's $100,000 Merillville Stakes for Indiana-bred fillies and mares, quickly took the lead and ran on to win by 3/4 length. Expect Indy was second with Obsolete 4 3/4 lengths back in third. Unbridled Class, a 4-year-old Unbridled Express filly, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.10 with Rodney Prescott up.
Little Kansas, away last of 10 in Wednesday's $100,000 Brickyard Stakes for state-breds, rallied strongly down the stretch and put a nose in front of pacesetting Mr Manning on the wire. Operation Stevie also closed quickly to snatch third from You Go Boy. Little Kansas, a 4-year-old El Kingdom gelding, reported in 1:10.95 with Jon Court in the irons.
News and notes:
Some important turf warriors have been retired recently, each a loss to the sport.
Just Thursday, Grade I Prince of Wales's Stakes winner Crystal Ocean suffered a career-ending injury on the gallops at Newmarket. After surgery, his prognosis for a stud career was rosy but the loss will be felt, perhaps on both sides of the Channel, for the remainder of the year. The son of Sea the Stars finished second to Enable in the King George and second to Japan in the Juddmonte International and appeared to be at his peak. He was, according to Racing Post, a general 7-1 chance for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe next month. Hours before his injury was confirmed, he was ranked No. 2, behind Enable, on the Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings.
Vaziribad, three-time winner of the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup for the Aga Khan and trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre, calls it quits on the back of his courageous second behind Stradivarius in this year's Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
Qurbaan is retired after notching his second straight win in the Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap Sept. 2. The Speightstown 6-year-old suffered a minor injury in that race and heads off to his second career at Shadwell Farm.
And last year's European 2-year-old filly champion, Pretty Pollyanna, retires sound, bypassing a start this weekend at Doncaster and the season-ender at Ascot. Racing Post reports the Oasis Dream filly, owned by Bill Gredley, is slated to visit Frankel in the springtime.