March 27 (UPI) -- As racing grinds to a halt in many jurisdictions in the shadow of corona virus, Kentucky Derby preps continue this weekend without fans at Gulfstream Park and in Japan.
Gulfstream's Saturday card also is rich with promising turf races, and Santa Anita contributes, too.
Australian racing is rushing toward The Championships a week farther out with a pair of Group 1 events on Saturday. And, in Hong Kong, Zac Purton has put a nose in front of Joao Moreira in the hotly contested jockey premiership race.
Kudos to all those in racing who are protecting staff and co-workers and reaching out to others who need aid. It's an unusual and tight-knit fraternity, ever squabbling when times are good, but usually able to pull together when things seem to be going south.
We soldier on, too, with:
The Road to the Roses
Tiz the Law takes a prominent role in Saturday's loaded $750,000 Grade I Curlin Florida Derby. The race drew 13 3-year-olds to tackle 9 furlongs and there are plenty of possibilities.
Tiz the Law, however, seems to check a lot of the boxes. Winner of the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park as a 2-year-old, he returns to action after an eventful trip in winning the Grade III Holy Bull stakes over the same surface Feb. 1.
In that, he was checked, then impeded by rivals and still managed to track down pacesetting Ete Indien before spurting clear to win by 3 lengths. A lot is expected of the Constitution colt, trained by Barclay Tagg for Sackatoga Stable.
If the name Sackatoga Stable seems familiar, that's the bunch that campaigned Funny Cide, winner of the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Tagg trained him, too.
However, as mentioned, the Florida Derby is loaded. Ete Indiene is back with a victory in the Grade II Fountain of Youth to his credit since the Holy Bull defeat.
Two other Constitution colts, Gouverneur Morris and Independence Hall, also could crash the party with moderate improvement. And not much more than that would be enough to put several others right in the picture.
Normally, the Florida Derby is the final Sunshine State prep for the Kentucky Derby and its 100-40-20-10 points on the Churchill Downs leader board would be decisive in securing a spot in the Run for the Roses. Not much is certain in this crazy year but 100 points should be a safe number.
Given the large, tough field, it makes sense to seek some expert guidance. So why not try Jude Feld's ever-thoughtful, usually entertaining thoughts about the Florida Derby and the rest of the weekend's races. That would be at popejude.com
The $750,000 Grade II Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, scheduled for April 4, is postponed along with other important stakes originally scheduled for that date. The current suspension of live racing, announced Thursday, runs through April 5 and NYRA CEO David O'Rourke said the organization "is working hard to determine when we can return to racing while prioritizing the health and welfare of everyone involved in our operations."
The Wood Memorial normally is the final New York prep race for the Kentucky Derby.
Saturday's Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse currently stands as the final leg of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby -- a series that awards the points winner an invitation to Louisville.
However, with the Derby postponed until September, Churchill Downs now is in discussions about adding one or more races to the series so it's hard to tell how important Saturday's 40 winner's points will be.
None of the victors of the first three legs is in the Fukuryu, contested at 1,800 meters, right-handed. So the winner automatically will leap to the top of the standings.
One to watch is Danon Pharaoh, an American Pharoah colt who sold for $1.6 million as a yearling and finished fifth in the first race of the series, the Cattleya Sho Nov. 23 at Tokyo Racecourse. He returned, however, to post his second career win Feb. 15 at Kyoto going the same trip as the Fukuryu.
Danon Pharaoh's dam, Crisp, is by El Corredor, who won the 2010 Santa Anita Oaks.
Bred by Northern Racing, Danon Pharaoh fetched 194.4 million yen (about US$1.6 million) at the 2018 select yearling sale and races for Danox Co. Ltd. He was produced by Crisp, an El Corredor mare who won the 2010 Santa Anita Oaks (G1).
Danon Pharaoh is nominated to the U.S. Triple Crown. His name, unlike that of his sire, is spelled the accepted Egyptological way.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Tonalist's Shape looms the favorite in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks. The Tonalist filly, trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., is undefeated after five starts with the last three of those stakes at Gulfstream. She won the Grade II Davona Dale by 1 1/4 lengths over Spice Is Nice in her last start and faces that rival again Saturday.
Dream Marie, third in the Davona Dale, also returns. Lucrezia enters off a romping win in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 8. Lake Avenue makes her second start after winning the Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct in December.
Zulu Alpha, Channel Cat and Focus group stand out in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Kitten's Joy Pan American Stakes, 1 1/2 miles, at Gulfstream Park. Zulu Alpha, a 7-year-old Street Cry gelding, won the Group 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf in January, then backed that up with a win in the Grade II Mac Diarmida last month.
Channel Cat, a 5-year-old by English Channel, was well up the track at the end of the Pegasus in his last start but otherwise has made the frame in all six starts over the course. Focus Group won this event last year in his only previous start in Florida but drew the outside gate for his first outing since last October.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Appleton Stakes, 1 mile at Gulfstream Park, drew 12 plus four also-eligibles -- a very nice field. Sombeyay and Louder Than Bombs return from a 1-2 finish in the Grade III Canadian Turf over the course. Dr. Edgar could have a shot to lead them all 8 furlongs. El Tormenta was a 44-1 winner in the Grade I Woodbine Mile last year before a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Social Paranoia makes his first start since winning the Dueling Grounds Derby last fall. First Premio makes his first start since a close-up fourth in that crazy finish in the Grade I Shawell Turf Mile at Keeneland last fall. Halladay won the Tropical Park Derby last December, but is on the also-eligible list.
Vitalogy rates the 5-2 favorite spot on the morning line for Saturday's $125,000 Cutler Bay Stakes for 3-year-olds, a 1-mile turf test at Gulfstream Park. The British-bred No Nay Never colt exits a win in the Grade III Palm Beach.
There's plenty of competition, however, including Decorated Invader, winner of the Grade I Summer Stakes at Woodbine last year who makes his first start since a fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Get Smokin, Summer to Remember and others also are poised to step up.
Filly & Mare Turf/Turf Mile
The three morning-line favorites drew the outside gates for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Santa Ana Stakes, a 1 1/4-miles stroll starting on the iconic Santa Anita hillside course. Opus Won, the nominal pick at 3-1, is in gate No. 9 with Siberian Ibis and Tiny Tina, each posted at 7-2 odds, in No. 8 and No. 7, respectively. All three have made more of an impact down the class ladder so the race should be competitive.
Gentle Ruler went 6-for-7 last year when she stretched out on the grass for Ian Wilkes, ending with a win in the Grade III Dowager at Keeneland. The 5-year-old Colonel John mare will be tough to handle if she's ready for the 11 furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Orchid Stakes at Gulfstream Park off the five-months layoff.
Among the others, Mean Mary exits a 5-lengths win in the Grade III La Prevoyante and the 4-year-old has both Johannesburg and Dynaformer two back in her pedigree. Elizabeth Way, a 4-year-old Frankel filly, is 2-for-2 since arriving from Ireland.
Newspaperofrecord resurfaces in Saturday's $100,000 Sand Springs Stakes, 1 mile at Gulfstream Park. The Irish-bred Lope de Vega filly was 3-for-3 as a juvenile, winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, then finished a fading second in her first two starts at age 3 before reporting last of nine in the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational at 1 1/4 miles in July.
She has not raced since and trainer Chad Brown returns her to a more realistic distance while facing some tough ones. Fingers crossed for a filly we've always liked.
There's certainly no shortage of prospective talent in a full field for Saturday's $125,000 Sanibel Island Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, 1 mile on the Gulfstream Park greensward. Among the entries we find Onyx, riding a three-race win skein; Cheermeister, winner of two Grade III events in her last two outings; Walk in Marrakesh, who just missed in the Grade III Florida Oaks in her last start; She's My Type, 2-for-3 and third to Cheermeister in the Grade III Sweetest Chant; plus a few recent impressive maiden winners. Pick 'em right and win big.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Hal's Hope at Gulfstream Park has a field of 11 to tackle 9 furlongs on the main track. At first glance, there's not a whole lot of form here. But looks can be deceiving. Bodexpress, for instance, was last, beaten 19 lengths, in his last start, the Grade II Gulfstream Park Mile.
But the pace in that was far too sharp for him, so, instead, look at his respectable fifth-place finish in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup, behind the winner, Mucho Gusto, who was to have competed in the Dubai World Cup on Saturday.
Continuing the theme, American Tattoo was last of 11 in his most recent start, the Grade III W.L. McKnight. But that was his first -- and likely last -- start on the grass and before than he had won three of his previous five starts.
Sir Anthony also was well beaten in his last start but that was on the Woodbine all-weather course and is better on the real dirt. And then there's old friend Harvey Wallbanger, the 30-1 winner of last year's Grade II Holy Bull over the course. He had not won in eight intervening tries until he scored by 5 1/4 lengths in an optional claimer at Gulfstream Feb. 29, earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 96.
It's not as easy as it looks to sort these things out.
A dozen signed on for Saturday's $75,000 Sir Shackleton at Gulfstream Park, 7 furlongs on the dirt. With some of the top sprinters on the sidelines after being denied the chance to run in Dubai, he field is a little thin.
One intriguing possibility is Vekoma, a 4-year-old Candy Ride colt trained by George Weaver. Vekoma won the Grade II Nashua at Aqueduct in November of 2018, then got into the Kentucky Derby thanks to a victory in he Grade II Blue Grass at Keeneland.
He reported 13th in Louisville, promoted to 12th, and has not raced since. Early foot usually was his top asset so maybe the 7 furlongs is a good starting point for his 4-year-old campaign. Anyway, this is a competitive field from top to bottom.
Around the world, around the clock:
Ireland and South Africa this week joined the list of jurisdictions suspending racing because of the corona virus pandemic. The sport soldiers on in:
Sunday's Grade 1 Takamatsunomiakinen at Chukyo Racecourse is one of two top-level sprint events on the Japanese calendar. The race drew the top three finishers from the other -- last autumn's Sprinters Stakes. In that event, Tower of London landed the big prize, followed by Muzu Superflare and Danon Smash. Those three are joined for Sunday's 1,200-meters race by last year' top Japanese 3-year-old filly, Gran Alegria.
There's a lot at stake in the race with some big shoes to fill due to retirements at the end of 2019. Among them, Tower of London reportedly is a candidate for Royal Ascot or the July Cup in England, should racing resume there in time for those events. And the lightly raced Gran Alegria will need to step up her 4-year-old campaign to take a significant place on the landscape.
The star attraction for local punters will be the simulcast of the Takamatsunomia Kinen, attendant to a well-subscribed but stakes-free card at Sha Tin Racecourse. No fans will be in attendance at either location.
Meanwhile, Zac Purton has a nose in front of his only serious rival, Joao Moreira, for the jockey premiership after landing a double Wednesday night at Happy Valley. That gave Purton a one-win lead over his rival. Both are former local champions and Purton agreed the race likely will be a tight one through to the end of the season.
"It looks that way," he said. "But we'll just see what happens. It's going to come down to which of us gets the better support (from owners and trainers). That'll be the decisive factor."
Neither exactly goes begging for live mounts but the Hong Kong system, which limits both trainer and jockey licenses, promotes a regular game of musical chairs for everyone concerned.
With The Championship looming just a week further down at Royal Randwick, Rosehill Gardens this weekend has a pair of Group 1 events. The AUS$ 1.5 million Kia Tangred Stakes is run at 2,400 meters for 3-year-olds and up. The AUS$500,000 Vinery Stud is a 2,000-meters event for 3-year-old fillies.
Funstar, an Adelaide filly, would be the attraction in the Vinery Stud with five wins from seven starts and recently successful in the Group 2 Phar Lap over the course. Probabeel, second in the Phar Lap, also returns.
Avilius and Verry Elleegant top the ratings among nine entered for the Tangred. That pair was second and third behind Addeybb in the Group 1 Ranvet a week ago.
News and notes:
Edgar Prado rode his 7,057th career winner in Wednesday's third race at Gulfstream Park, tying Angel Cordero for the No. 8 spot on the all-time success list. Russell Baze heads that ranking with 12,842 winners. Laffit Pincay Jr., Bill Shoemaker, Pat Day, David Gall, Chris McCarron and Perry Ouzts trail in that order with Ouzts holding 7,065 wins and counting. Ouzts, now in his mid-60s, rides on the Ohio circuit. Gall is a legend at Fairmount Park, where he turned from riding to training in 1999, and at the former Cahokia Downs.