March 20 (UPI) -- The Kentucky Derby's four-month delay notwithstanding, some prep races continue apace with Saturday's Louisiana Derby still a major steppingstone.
Although Aqueduct is the latest track to suspend racing in the fight against the corona virus, l some major turf action is expected at tracks still running.
On the international front, Sunday's BMW Hong Kong Derby seems to be Golden Sixty's to lose and, should he handle the added distance, he could loom a force for years to come.
And Wednesday found not only the likely fields announced for the Dubai World Cup program a week down the road but also the entries for Hong Kong's Champions Day races April 26.
Many of the Hong Kong nominees also are set to run in Dubai and it's far from clear that either horses or their human caretakers will be allowed into Hong Kong in April in any event.
In any event, this much seems clear:
The Road to the Roses
The Derby now is set for Sept. 5. The timing of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes remains up in the air, as does planning to add more qualifying races for Churchill Downs classic.
The New York Racing Association Thursday suspended live racing at Aqueduct until further notice after a backstretch worker who lives at Belmont Park tested positive for the corona virus. That makes it unlikely the Wood Memorial, New York's final Derby prep, will be run as scheduled April 4.
Owners and trainers are making all the proper noises about what's really important during an international crisis. But the fact remains, some of the 3-year-olds were just about locked and loaded for a May 2 Kentucky Derby while others weren't going to be ready by that date.
One factor: A Triple Crown series in late summer or early autumn will be a natural lead-in to the Breeders' Cup Classic and all those rich international races that follow early in 2021. There's zero chance Kentucky Derby 147 won't be run on the first Saturday of May 2021. Tradition is too great. But, for one year, the September date has some things to enjoy amid the chaos.
Modernist, winner of a division of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes, and Enforceable, runner-up in the other division, both return for Saturday's $1 million Grade II TwinSpires Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. Enforceable, a Tapit colt, gets the oddsmaker's nod as the 7-2 morning-line favorite in a field of 14.
Enforceable was second to Mr. Monomoy in the faster division of the Risen Star, making up a lot of ground late after a typical slow start. Mr. Monomoy currently is sidelined with a minor ankle injury -- another potential beneficiary of the date change for the Run for the Roses. Earlier, Enforceable won the Grade III Lecomte over the Fair Grounds track.
Modernist won for the first time in his third start when stretched out to 9 furlongs in the race before the Risen Star. The Uncle Mo colt, trained by Bill Mott, has been working up a storm since those victories but was drawn in the No. 14 gate for Saturday's event.
After those two, several promising contenders are out there who finished second in their last starts: Major Fed in the Risen Star, Wells Bayou in the Grade III Southwest at Oaklawn Park and Royal Act in the Grade III Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. Silver State was second in the Lecomte and third in Monomoy's division of the Risen Star.
Enforceable is "doing as good, if not better, coming into the Louisiana Derby than he was going into the Risen Star," said David Carroll, assistant to trainer Mark Casse. "It's naturally a stepping stone. As the distances are extended, I think it plays even more in his favor."
It's an interesting and complex equation and, for pointers, see ace analyst Jude Feld's thoughts at popejude.com.
The Louisiana Derby is contested at 1 3/16 miles, just 1/16 mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby distance with a similar long run down the stretch to the first turn. The race offers 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner with 40, 20 and 10 for the minor placings.
Modernist already is tied for the No. 3 spot on that leader board with 50 points and Enforceable stands at No. 7 with 33. Silver Prospector has 21 points, good for the No. 12 slot.
Normally 50 points would be more than sufficient to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. But with the promise to add more qualifying races to the program, that calculation is in a cocked hat.
Sunland Park has been shut for at least three weeks and management said that means the Sunland Park Derby and Oaks, originally set for Sunday, "will not take place as scheduled." Whether that means the races are abandoned or rescheduled, it leaves the nine Derby entrants and 10 Oaks contenders in limbo.
Kentucky Oaks preps
While the Louisiana Derby field is full to overflowing, Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Louisiana Oaks drew only six fillies. The reason could have something to do with Finite, the Munnings filly who will take the track as the odds-on favorite on the back of a five-race winning streak.
The Steve Asmussen-trained miss was second twice at Saratoga last summer, joined the ranks of winners on the Kentucky Downs turf in September and then won twice at Churchill Downs last fall, including the Grade II Golden Rod.
Finite returned with a hard-won victory in the Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds in January, and then took the Grade II Rachel Alexandra by 4 3/4 lengths last month with previously undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner British Idiom relegated to second.
Among the other five: Juddmonte Farms homebred filly Bonny South, another by Munnings, exits an off-the-pace win over subsequent Grade III Honeybee Stakes winner Shedaresthedevil at Oaklawn Park; and Antoinette, a Godolphin homebred by Hard Spun, makes her first start since winning the Tepin Stakes at Aqueduct on Dec. 5.
Bonny South's trainer, Brad Cox, said his filly "got a really good speed figure out of the Oaklawn race and I think it is very comparable to the favorite. If she can get a good trip and move forward a little bit, I think this filly is going to make some noise. I've always liked her."
In other weekend action:
Synchrony, making his second start off a layoff, is the 3-1 favorite on the morning line in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Muniz Memorial Classic at Fair Grounds. The 7-year-old son of Tapit is 4-for-6 over the Fair Grounds greensward and finished second to Factor This in his last outing, the Grade II Fair Grounds Stakes. Factor
This took a big step forward in that race and would factor in the outcome of this one with a repeat.
The Muniz field is replete with graded stakes competitors, including Instilled Regard, Dot Matrix, Rockemperor, Henley's Joy and Channel Maker.
Out West, a nice field of seven is assembled for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III San Luis Rey, 1 1/2 miles on the grass. The early picks are Oscar Dominguez, a 7-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Zoffany who was third in the Grade II San Marcos in his last start, and Ward 'n Jerry, a 7-year-old Lucky Pulpit gelding who was third behind Oscar Dominguez' winning effort in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup in December.
Also watch for 7-year-old Camino Del Paraiso, second in the Grade III Thunder Road in his last start.
For those who noted the three favorites are all 7 years old, the field also includes 9-year-old Ashleyluvssugar. As Jude Feld would say, "Old guys rule."
Filly & Mare Turf
Some promising 4-year-old fillies get a chance to move up in Saturday's $100,000 Tom Benson Memorial Presented by Dixie Beer at Fair Grounds.
Fullness of Life, a Holy Roman Emperor filly campaigned last year in Italy, was a close fifth in her first U.S. start earlier this month. She'sonthewarpath exits a handy win in the Stall Memorial over the course.
Winning Envelope scored in the Jersey Lilly at Sam Houston in her most recent outing. And Desert Ride, a Candy Ride filly, was good against fellow Canadian-breds last summer but less so against open company.
The morning-line favorite, however, is 5-year-old Altea, who was second, beaten just a neck, in the Grade III Endeavour at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 8.
Trainer Wesley Ward had planned to run his start turf sprinter, Bound for Nowhere, in the Shakertown Stakes on April 4 at Keeneland. Then, Keeneland's decision to cancel its spring races left Bound for Nowhere, well, bound for nowhere.
That is, until Santa Anita postponed last weekend's $100,000 Grade III San Simeon Stakes until Saturday because of rain in Southern California. Suddenly, Bound for Nowhere was bound for California, where he will join six others for the 5 1/2-furlongs test.
Most of the field will be racing for the first time this year, complicating the handicapping problems. Ward's ward is the 6-5 morning-line favorite but noteworthy are the two Grade I winners he faces -- Voodoo Song and Cistron.
Sunday's $100,000 Sensational Star Stakes at Santa Anita is for California-breds, but that doesn't mean they're not good ones and we'll be back with the results after the weekend action is done.
Silver Dust is a solid morning-line favorite among nine set to contest Saturday's $400,000 Grade II New Orleans Classic over 9 furlongs of the Fair Grounds main track. The 6-year-old Tapit gelding has three wins and three seconds from eight trips in the Big Easy and comes off a second straight win in the Grade III Mineshaft.
Eight 3-year-olds signed up for Saturday's $125,000 Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn Park with Little Menace, Long Weekend, Beau Oxy and Marvin topping the morning line.
Little Menace, an Into Mischief colt trained by Steve Asmussen, won at Churchill Downs in December and also took his 3-year-old debut, that at Oaklawn on Groundhog Day. Long Weekend comes off a win at Sam Houston. Beau Oxy was last seen winning at Fair Grounds. Marvin's lone win came at Hawthorne Race Course last November.
Filly and Mare Sprint
Saturday's $100,000 Cicada Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct bit the dust with Thursday's announcement that live racing is put on hold.
Around the world, around the clock:
We'll have plenty more next week on the Dubai World Cup card and more in the coming month on the FWD Champions Day races a month later in Hong Kong.
Sunday's Hong Kong Derby has stablemates Golden Sixty and More Than This back at it for glory in the race all locals want to win. Golden Sixty won both earlier legs in the Four-Year-Old Classic Series with More Than this second in the Hong Kong Classic Mile and third in the Hong Kong Classic Cup.
As usual, distance concerns exist as these horses -- young by Hong Kong standards -- stretch out to 2,000 meters for the first time. But Golden Sixty's performance in the Cup, after spiking a fever that threatened his participation, then encountering traffic at the top of the stretch, didn't give any concern. He caught Champions Way inside the 200-meters marker and was running on at the finish.
Golden Sixty now has a six-race win streak and bids to become only the second horse to win all three legs of the Classic Series, following Rapper Dragon who achieved the feat in 2017.
Both Golden Sixty and More Than This worked March 17 at Sha Tin and trainer Francis Lui said, "Both jockeys were happy with how the horses galloped. It's the same as usual this week. It'll be normal work and the two horses have good form."
After the work, though, jockey Vincent Ho echoed the uncertainty about Golden Sixty at 2,000 meters.
"Fingers crossed he can see out the 2,000 this Sunday. We'll see. We just don't know yet."