Sept. 20 (UPI) -- A showdown in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, a Breeders' Cup berth and another $1 million purse on the line for 3-year-old fillies, a big day at Laurel Park and some major sprints highlight weekend horse racing.
On the "news and notes" front, the Illinois Racing Board is threatening, seriously, to put the state's premier track out of business in a direct challenge to Churchill Downs Inc. And the $20 million Saudi Cup now has $6.8 million worth of supporting events.
It's a quiet weekend on the international front as the big year-end showdowns loom.
Let's get this party started with:
With apologies to Shakespeare, this is the summer of our discontent -- at least in the 3-year-old division.
In a chaotic season topped by the first-ever race-day qualification of a first-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, the latest disaster involves that very same colt -- Maximum Security. The New Year's Day colt was to have been part of a pretty solid field in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing -- until he was stricken Monday with a severe bout of colic.
Trainer Jason Servis said the attack was so bad, it probably also eliminates Maximum Security from the Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
Still, the Pennsylvania Derby remains a good test, with Improbable, beaten as the favorite in both the Derby and Preakness, taking over the favorite's role after the scratch. Preakness winner War of Will also is in the mix, as is the improving Mr. Money, who avoided the Triple Crown madness and rides a four-race winning skein. Both arrived at Parx on Wednesday.
Trainer Bret Calhoun, after watching Mr. Money test the track Thursday morning, said, "He's full of himself, just like he has been. He's been really sharp for a while. I expected that this morning with the cool weather. He hasn't felt cool weather like this since last winter."
Jimmy Barnes, assistant to Improbable's trainer, Bob Baffert, said the inherited favorite's role is not intimidating to the colt or his handlers. "Wherever we go, we have a target on our back. We are used to walking out there and having the light blinking," Barnes said. "You are not going to get into my head or his head by the light blinking, that's for sure. We just live with the pressure."
Baffert-trained McKinzie won this race last year and the silver-haired one trained West Coast to victory in the 2017 edition.
And speaking of Baffert, the Paulick Report suggests his 2018 2-year-old champ, Game Winner, might be done with racing and that owners Gary and Mary West are looking for a spot to stand him at stud. Another whack at this year's 3-year-old piñata.
Saturday's $1 million Grade I Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies at Parx Racing, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Distaff, has more than its share of fillies who have flashed brilliance, then disappointed. So it makes sense the 9-5 morning-line favorite is the Chad Brown-trained Guarana, a Ghostzapper filly whose entire career consists of three wins -- two of them at the Grade I level in the Acorn at Belmont Park and the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga.
The disappointers are led by Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Princess, who has finished second in both starts since the first Friday in May, one of those being the Acorn, where she was 6 lengths adrift of Guarana. Close behind is Jaywalk, last year's Breeders' Cup and divisional Eclipse Award winner who, other than a romp in the Grade III Delaware Oaks, is 0-for-2019. Fair Grounds Oaks winner Street Band has been in-and-out as trainer Larry Jones deals with health issues. Santa Anita Oaks winner Bellafina then was beaten 8 lengths in Louisville and 9 1/4 lengths in the Grade I Test at Saratoga.
A live long shot in the Cotillion? Horologist, winner of four straight. The most recent was the Grade III Monmouth Oaks, where she saw off Jaywalk by 3/4 length.
Filly & Mare Sprint
This already in: Hotshot Anna eased by Talk Veuve to Me in the final furlong of Monday's $400,000 Grade II Presque Isle Downs Masters and stayed on strongly to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Misericordia was best of the long shots, finishing third, 3/4 length back of Talk Veuve to Me. Hotshot Anna, a 5-year-old Trappe Shot mare, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:15.32 with Antonio Gallardo up. She also won this last year and has finished first and second in the last two editions of the Grade III Chicago Handicap at Arlington Park. Earlier in her career, however, she has won on the dirt at several tracks.
A field of 10 is set for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Charles Town Oaks with Fashion Faux Pas tabbed the 7-2 favorite on the morning line. The Flatter filly finished second in the Delaware Oaks, albeit 9 lengths behind Jaywalk, but struggled home last in her most recent start at Parx. Also catching the oddsmaker's eye are Newly Minted, who is 3-for-4 while competing against fellow New York-bred fillies; La Chancla, 2-for-3 with a nice win at Saratoga; and South of France, who was second to Talk Veuve to Me in her only previous start of the season.
Saturday's $125,000 Dogwood Stakes at Churchill Downs shapes up as a Breeders' Cup workout for Covfefe. The Brad Cox trainee, a daughter of hot sire Into Mischief, makes her first start since defeating Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress in the Grade I Test Stakes at Saratoga Aug. 1. "Our goal was to get Covfefe a Grade I win and we were able to do just that in the Test," Cox said. "It was such an awesome race that afternoon with two great fillies battling down the lane. She's come to Churchill and worked fantastic into the race. This race fits well on the calendar and we don't have to ship her." Shaun Bridgmohan will break Covfefe from the outside gate in a field of six.
The versatile Come Dancing looks for a second straight sprint win in Sunday's $250,000 Grade II Gallant Bloom Handicap for fillies and mares at Belmont Park. The 5-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon started 2019 with a 7 3/4-lengths win in the Grade III Distaff at Aqueduct, won the Grade II Ruffian at Belmont by 6 3/4 lengths and then was second to Midnight Bisou in the 1 1/16-miles Grade I Ogden Phipps. Back sprinting, Come Dancing survived a rough trip to win the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga in her most recent start by 3 1/2 lengths. "Of course, our year end goal is the Breeders' Cup and hopefully we can cap her year with a championship," said trainer Carlos Martin. There are only four rivals in Sunday's contest.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park has a field of seven with the three top picks on the morning line all with names starting with "P". Prince Lucky, a 4-year-old Corinthian gelding, is the 2-1 favorite. Pat On the Back, a 5-year-old son of Congrats, is posted at 3-1. Plainsman, a 4-year-old Flatter colt, is 4-1. Prince Lucky is 3-for-5 this season with one of the wins coming in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Mile. He was ninth in the Grade I Met Mile two starts back.
California shippers King Jack and Landeskog are the morning-line favorites among nine entered for Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Gallant Bob for 3-year-olds at Parx Racing. King Jack, a Jimmy Creed colt trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, was second to Improbable in his last start, the Shared Belief Stakes at Los Alamitos. Landeskog, a Munnings gelding handled by Doug O'Neill, has two wins from four starts but the victories came a bit down the class ladder. Larry Rivelli brings Get Hammered and Strong Will from Arlington Park and Trophy Chaser arrives from Florida.
The field for Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Xpressbet Frank J. DeFrancis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park is a bit of a mish-mash -- talent flashing here and there and little consistency. The 5-2 favorite, New York Central, steams into Maryland, site of victory in the Grade III Maryland Sprint at Pimlico back in May, on the heels of a dreadful, last-place finish in the John Nerud at Belmont Park in July. Killybegs Captain was a good third in the Grade I Forego in his last outing but fourth in a restricted stakes before that. Some of the longer chances show better form. Notable among them is Altissimo, first or second in each of his last five races. But those mostly were state-bred affairs. Sparticle won his last race at Penn National by 6 lengths with a Beyer Speed Figure of 100. But he was claimed from that heat for $25,000. Tough one to figure.
Coal Front, winner of the Group 2 Godolphin Mile in March in Dubai, is the even-money favorite in Saturday's $150,000 Parx Dirt Mile. The 5-year-old son of Stay Thirsty has been thumped in two starts since returning from the Middle East but has an easier task here. Monongahela, winner of the Grade III Iselin at Monmouth two starts back, also looks promising. Six others, not so much.
He's No Lemon and Jais's Solitude are the morning-line favorites in Saturday's $150,000 Bald Eagle Derby at Laurel Park. He's No Lemon, a Lemon Drop Kid gelding, won his last start at Saratoga. Jais's Solitude, by Afleet Alex, was a close second in the Grade III Virginia Derby in his previous outing. Ten are entered for the 1 1/2-miles race.
Significant Form seeks her third graded stakes win of the year in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Noble Damsel for fillies and mares at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old daughter of Creative Cause is joined by stablemate Stella di Camelot -- both from the Chad Brown barn. Bill Mott sends out Capala Temptress, a Juddmonte Farms filly by Lope de Vega who looks for a breakthrough on North American grass.
Glorious Empire is the lukewarm, 3-1 favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Baltimore/Washington Turf Cup at Laurel Park despite not having raced since Dec. 15, when he won the Grade II Fort Lauderdale at Gulfstream Park. He was eased in the Breeders' Cup Turf while Enable and Magical battled things out but before that won the Grade II Bowling Green and Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga. If the long layoff makes him a shaky proposition, so might the fact that he bled and was eased in this same race in 2017. So might the fact that five of the other seven won their last start. Most of those were far below graded-stakes level, of course.
Ten signed on for Saturday's $100,000 Laurel Dash and it's tough to narrow things down too much. The morning-line favorite, Dirty, is listed at 3-1 despite not having won in any of his last three starts. Several others look at least as capable.
Goldwood, winner of four straight races at Monmouth Park this summer, is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's $150,000 Turf Amazon for fillies and mares at Parx. The Medaglia d'Oro 5-year-old is coupled in the wagering with Boos.
Goldwood also is the morning-line favorite in Saturday's $100,000 Sensible Lady Turf Dash at Laurel Park in a field of 13.
City Man and Moonachie are 7-5 and 8-5 virtural co-favorites among five in Friday's $150,000 Bertram F. Bongard for state-breds at Belmont Park. City Man, a Mucho Macho Man colt, was an easy winner in the Funny Cide Stakes at Saratoga Aug. 23 and is 2-for-2. Moonachie, a Central Banker colt, won his only previous start, also at the Spa, by 10 lengths.
Saturday's $75,000 Capote Stakes for colts and geldings at Los Alamitos attracted seven. Most are maiden winners only with a couple still maidens. Raging Whiskey, a Bourbon Courage colt, has only a single win but trainer Doug O'Neill thinks enough of him to have put him in the Grade III Sanford at Saratoga, where he reported third, and the Grade II Best Pal at Del Mar, where he was sixth. This would seem much easier.
Saturday's $75,000 Smoke Glacken at Monmouth Park has seven to go 6 furlongs. Topping the morning line at 3-2 odds is Meru, a Sky Mesa colt who won his only previous start July 13 over the same track.
Naked Avenger hit the afterburners passing the furlong marker in Wednesday's $150,000 Joseph A. Gimma Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies at Belmont Park, zoomed by the leaders and won off by a convincing 2 lengths. The Congrats filly, coming off a maiden win at Saratoga, surprised even rider Luis Saez. "At the three-eighths, I thought we were done ... "When we got to the stretch I thought the favorite (Fierce Lady) was gone. But she made a huge move and I knew we were going to be there," Saez said.
Saturday's $100,000 Dickie Moore Stakes at Charles Town has a well-matched field of eight. The morning line reflects that balance with Josie, Stickingtogether, Colby, Gifted Heart and Nautical Gem all at single-digit odds.
Already in the books: Quality Response dominated three rivals in Thursday's $75,000 Phone Chatter Stakes at Los Alamitos -- a race postponed from last weekend. The Quality Road filly, trained by Bob Baffert, tracked the pace while off the rail, came around rivals and drew off to win by 5 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Convoluted, Aqua Seaform Shame and Mean Sophia completed the order of finish. Joe Talamo rode Quality Response 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.71. He won his only other start, that during the Del Mar meeting.
Nine are set for Saturday's $200,000 Laurel Futurity with Field Pass the morning-line favorite. The Lemon Drop Kid colt won his second start July 13 at Saratoga, then finished second in the Grade III With Anticipation. Doc Boy comes off a stakes win at Colonial Downs. Mischevious Alex just missed in the Sapling at Monmouth. Jack the Ripper, now trained by Mike Stidham, was last seen winning a minor stakes in France.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Sharing, a Speightstown filly trained by Graham Motion, heads a field of seven for Saturday's $200,000 Selima at Laurel Park. Sharing won impressively in her second try at Saratoga but that was in an off-the-turf event. She was third, beaten just a neck, when starting her career on the green course. Sunset Promise exits a fifth-place finish at Kentucky Downs and runners from that track are always worth a second look.
News and Notes
The Illinois Racing Board, its members very upset Churchill Downs Inc. opted not to apply for a casino license for Arlington Park, is threatening to shut down the suburban Chicago track absent a change of heart in Louisville.
Arlington lobbied for many years for the right to run a casino as a way to supplement purses. The state finally gave the okay in June and in August, CDI abruptly declined, citing unfavorable economics. The decision costs Illinois purse accounts untold millions of dollars and the IRB agreed with horsemen that it represented a fundamental breach of faith with the state's ailing racing industry.
The board gave CDI one week to come up with a change of heart or face having its license denied for 2020. The company had no immediate response and it's unclear what a 2020 schedule would look like absent Arlington since Hawthorne Race Course, the only other Chicago-area track, does not plan to host Thoroughbred racing until the fall while it builds out its casino.
Times also are tough in Hong Kong, where the threat of ongoing and sometimes violent demonstrations forced cancellation of Wednesday night's popular Happy Valley program. Demonstrators unhappy with actions of the central government in Beijing reportedly were upset that a prominent supporter of those policies entered a horse on the Happy Valley card.
On a brighter note:
The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia announced Monday six undercard races, worth a total $6.8 million, to support the Feb. 29 initial running of the $20 million Saudi Cup in Riyadh. Three of the races will be run on a new turf track at King Abdulaziz Racecourse.
"We believe the new races will help make Saudi Cup Day a wonderful sporting occasion," HRH Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club, said at the announcement event at Fortnum & Mason in London. "And we will be thrilled to welcome international competitors to these new races. I am especially pleased that we will be having turf racing in Riyadh for the first time. Things are really beginning to take shape."
The newly unveiled undercard is topped by a 3,000-meters turf handicap with a purse of $2.5 million. A 2,100-meters turf race for 4-year-olds and up will offer $1 million and a 1,350-meters sprint for 4-year-olds and up has a purse of $1 million. The dirt races added to the featured Saudi Cup are an $800,000 mile race for 3-year-olds and a $1.5 million, 1,200-meter (about 6 furlongs) sprint for 3-year-olds and up.
Pre-eminent European trainer John Gosden attended the ceremony and said, "I'm already thinking about which horses I could take." The Saudi Cup also has attracted interest from Hong Kong and several U.S.-based racing organizations.