Melbourne Cup controversy marks weekend horse racing

Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Golden Award, seen winning the Shuvee Handicap at Saratoga this summer, returns in the Grade III Turnback the Alarm at Aqueduct on Saturday. Photo courtesy of New York Racing Association
Golden Award, seen winning the Shuvee Handicap at Saratoga this summer, returns in the Grade III Turnback the Alarm at Aqueduct on Saturday. Photo courtesy of New York Racing Association

Oct. 30 (UPI) -- The Breeders' Cup, of course, is the big story in weekend horse racing but there's plenty more action outside Southern California, from England to Hong Kong and even Australia, where final preparations are under way for the Melbourne Cup.

We cover the Breeders' Cup separately. Here's the rest of the scoop you don't want to overlook:


Santa Anita

We'll start with the Breeders' Cup host track, which offers the usual fine supporting program.

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The Breeders' Cup abandoned its brief flirtation with stayers years ago but it's become traditional for the host track to take up that slack. So, Friday's $200,000 Grade II Marathon, at 14 furlongs on the main track, features a field of six with Campaign as the 4-5 favorite. The 4-year-old Curlin colt won the 1 1/2 Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar this summer and was second to Zulu Alpha over the same distance in the Grade III Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs in his last outing.

Saturday's $200,000 Damascus Stakes at 7 furlongs on the dirt has a field of five with Flagstaff, Roadster and Extra Hope topping the morning line. Roadster, the Santa Anita Derby winner, makes his second start for Baffert since finishing 15th in the Kentucky Derby. Flagstaff exits a third in the Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship, behind only Breeders' Cup competitors Omaha Beach and Shancelot. Extra Hope needs to find a little extra.


A baker's dozen entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Qatar Twilight Derby, 9 furlongs on the grass. Lacking a clear favorite, the oddsmaker nods to Grade II Del Mar Derby winner Nolde; Neptune's Storm, who traveled across the continent to win the Grade II Hill Prince at Belmont Park in his last start; and Kingly, still looking for the right spot for trainer Bob Baffert.

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Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sen. Ken Maddy Stakes for fillies and mares, 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf, has a field of nine. Girls Know Best, who landed on the also-eligible list for the Breeder's Cup Turf Sprint, is the morning-line favorite for this. A pair of California-breds, Just Grazed Me and Don't Sell, look dangerous.


Friday's $150,000 Tempted Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, 1 mile on the main track, has six starters and features 8-5 morning-line favorite Power Move. The More Than Ready filly comes off a maiden win at Belmont Park.

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Nine turned out for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Turnback the Alarm Handicap for fillies and mares at 9 furlongs on the dirt. Golden Award is the 121-pound heightweight on the strength of her victory in the Grade III Shuvee at Saratoga but then was pulled up and did not finish the Grade II Personal Ensign in her most recent start, Aug. 24 at the Spa. She has been working steadily and well since then.


Churchill Downs

Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Chilukki Stakes for fillies and mares drew a field of seven to contest the one-turn mile on the main track. The roster includes graded stakes winners Mylady Curlin and Chocolate Martini. Divine Queen won her last two starts under the Twin Spires for trainer Buff Bradley.


Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Maple Leaf for fillies and mares is 10 furlongs on the all-weather course. Entries were pending at press time.

Over the bounding main:


The Group 1 Vertem Futurity, rescheduled from last weekend because of torrential rain at Doncaster and moved to the Newcastle all-weather course, doubled in size when entries were reopened. Originally set to run with six starters, five saddled by Aidan O'Brien and one by Andrew Balding, the field for England's final Group 1 event of the flat season grew to a dozen.

Mogul and Innsifree, two of the O'Brien lot, and Balding starter Kameko are among the antepost favorites along with Kinross, a late entry from Ralph Beckett who earned a 101 Racing Post Rating in his only previous outing, at Newmarket.

The race normally is an important pointer to the following year's Classics but, because of the surface switch, this year's edition might be seen a bit differently. Rather than rewarding horses who can cope with the usual testing autumn turf, it will favort those who can glibly glide on the Tapeta footing. This will be the first British Group 1 ever run on an all-weather surface.


Hong Kong

Two weeks after trainer Caspar Fownes sent out Rise High to take down Hong Kong Horse of the Year Beauty Generation, he will try to defeat another champion, Exultant, while saddling Southern Legend in Sunday's Group 3 Sa Sa Ladies' Purse Handicap at Sha Tin. And the outcome will have repercussions for the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong International Races in December.

"Southern Legend could be dangerous getting 6 pounds off the champ," Fownes said at Sha Tin on Tuesday. "Southern Legend is in good form going into this race. I think he's there the next few runs to pick up some stakes money."

Southern Legend is assigned 127 pounds while the 2018 Longines Hong Kong Cup winner, Exultant, makes his seasonal debut under top weight of 133lb. The 11 entries also include last year's winner, Time Warp, and last season's BMW Hong Kong Derby victor, Furore.

Looking ahead, Fownes said he hopes to keep Southern Legend and Rise High apart as the December races approach. On the big day, Rise High could bid for the Cup at 2,000 meters or the Vase at 2,400 meters while Southern Legend is entered for both of those and the Mile. "As long as they're healthy and fit, we've got options," the trainer said.


"I'm hoping Almond Eye runs in the Japan Cup and doesn't come here because I wouldn't want to take her on just yet. She's just a freak," Fownes added. The Lord Kanaloa filly holds entries in the Cup and the Mile but also is a candidate to try to repeat last year's victory in the Grade 1 Japan Cup Nov. 24 at Tokyo Racecourse.


Tuesday's Melbourne Cup is embroiled in some controversy after Racing Victoria on Tuesday ordered the withdrawal of last year's runner-up, Marmelo, and Godolphin's hopeful, Ispolini. The governing body said CT scans showed Marmelo had "incomplete fractures" in two cannon bones and Ispolini had "pre-fracture pathology" in one leg.

Marmelo's trainer, Hugh Morrison, was "utterly appalled" by the decision, according to Racing Post. He called the scan results "unfounded" and said he will appeal.

Godolphin already had lost Melbourne Cup hopeful Red Galileo, who pulled up lame from a workout. The global Thoroughbred powerhouse now is down to last year's winner, Cross Counter, who will tote top weight as the defending champ.

The scanning process was a recent addition to safety protocols in the wake of a spate of fatal injuries to Melbourne Cup runners in the past half dozen years.


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