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3-year-olds in Arkansas and Group 1 races in Australia, Japan on weekend menu

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
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3-year-olds in Arkansas and Group 1 races in Australia, Japan on weekend menu
Danon Premium, shown winning the 2017 Asahi Hai Futurity, travels to Australia for Saturday's Group 1 Queen Elizabeth 2 Cup. Photo courtesy of Japan Racing Association

April 10 (UPI) -- The 2020 international horse racing schedule continues to take hits from the coronavirus. The latest is the decision by British racing officials to postpone to a date uncertain the Investec Oaks and Derby and their key preliminaries, the 2000 Guineas and 1000 Guineas.

The Oaks and Derby were to have run June 5 and 6; the Guineas, May 2 and 3. The British Classics follow the path of the Kentucky Derby, already rescheduled to Sept. 5 from May 2.

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The other races of the U.S. Triple Crown series, the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, remain up in the scheduling air.

On a perhaps brighter note, Ascot Chief Executive Guy Henderson announced Tuesday he hopes Royal Ascot can go on as scheduled June 16 to 20. But, even if it does, it will be run without fans -- presumably including Her Majesty and other Royals.

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A decision, Henderson said, will be "dependent on government and public health policy and the approval of the [British Horseracing Authority] for us to restart racing. ... Planning for this is now our complete focus and we will update on our progress as and when we can."

Also this week, Churchill Downs announced it will delay opening its backstretch for training. Churchill-owned Arlington Park earlier announced an indefinite delay in the start of its race meeting from May 1.

With only a handful of the world's tracks still running, and those without fans in the stands, the weekend stakes schedule again looks thin.

RELATED With most U.S. horse racing canceled, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong carry on

On the U.S. front, the action is at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, where Saturday's Oaklawn Invitational is an option to the rescheduled (with fingers crossed!) Arkansas Derby. The Hot Springs track also has a 1-mile event for older steeds.

Australia and Japan shoulder the Grade 1 burden for the world.

Let's enjoy what's on offer:

Oaklawn Park

The uncertainty about the Triple Crown races has everyone's plans up in the air but perhaps none more so than five-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert.

With the Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct both scratched and the Santa Anita Derby only a fond hope, Baffert has a barn full of Derby contenders and only limited opportunity to run them.

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Saturday's $200,000 Oaklawn Invitational is one option, pending the Arkansas Derby, which has been reslotted for May 2.

Even so, Baffert has only one of his top 3-year-olds set for Saturday's race. Thousand Words, a Pioneerof the Nile colt, makes his first start outside California, where he lost his undefeated status with a flat, fourth-place showing in the Grade II San Felipe in his most recent start March 7.

His early wins in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity and Grade III Robert B. Lewis were enough to make him a 5-2 favorite in a field of 13 for Saturday's tilt.

Next in the oddsmaker's estimation is Basin, a Liam's Map colt trained by Steve Asmussen, who won the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last summer, had a long rest and returned to finish third in the Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn March 14. The others seem to have a bit more to prove.

Baffert told NBC Sports this week two of his "superstar material" 3-year-olds, Nadal and Charlatan, could contest the Arkansas Derby. A third colt he accords that description, Authentic, is on hold pending developments in California.

Saturday's $150,000 Oaklawn Mile drew a field of 14 with Tom's d'Etat, Improbable and Mr. Money the morning-line favorites.

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Tom's d'Etat, a 7-year-old son of Smart Strike, wound up his 2019 campaign on a very high note, winning the Grade II Fayette at Keeneland and the Grade I Clark at Churchill Downs back-to-back. He only emerged as a stakes runner at age 6 and makes just his 17th career start.

Who remembers that Improbable, a City Zip colt, went to the post as favorite in last year's Kentucky Derby? He finished fifth in that bizarre event, promoted to fourth by the disqualification of Maximum Security.

He wound up the year finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Mile and makes his 2020 debut, starting from the outside gate.

Mr. Money won the Indiana Derby and West Virginia Derby last year, reported second in the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby and checked in seventh in the Breeders' Cup Mile. The Goldencents colt also makes his first start as a 4-year-old.

Australia

The Star Championships continue Saturday night at Royal Randwick with four Group 1 events, to be run before empty stands.

The Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes at 2,000 meters drew not only many of Australia's top names but also Danon Premium, one of the best in Japan. Danon Premium, a 5-year-old son of Deep Impact, has not raced since finishing second behind Indy Champ in the Grade 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto last November.

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Last October, he was second to Almond Eye in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) and, overall, sports a record of six wins and two seconds from 10 starts. James McDonald is booked to ride for trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida.

The local contingent for the Queen Elizabeth is fearsome, featuring the likes of Lexus Melbourne Cup winner Vow and Declare, making his second start of the season; New Zealand-bred multiple Group 1 winner and Cox Plate third Te Aku Shark; recent Group 1 Ranvet winner Addeybb; Group 1 Tangred Stakes winner Verry Elleegant; multiple Group 1 champ Melody Belle; and 9-year-old, 12-time winner and former Winx chaser Happy Clapper.

Mustajeer is the top-rated among 13 in for the Schweppes Sydney Cup at 3,200 meters. The 7-year-old Medicean gelding exits a second-place finish in the Tangred Stakes March 28 behind only the aforementioned Verry Elleegant.

The likely favorite here, however, is Young Rascal, a first up winner in a Group 3 event March 21. Formerly campaigned in England by trainer William Haggas, he came to Australia after finishing ninth in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase last December. The 5-year-old Intello gelding is best remembered for winning the Group 1 Chester Vase in 2018, leading home Dee Ex Bee and Hunting Horn.

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The Australian Oaks at 2,400 meters features Shout the Bar and Probabeel, the first two finishers in the Group 1 Vinery Stud on March 28. Probabeel also has a top-level win to her credit. In Australia, "shout the bar" apparently means "I'm paying for a round of drinks for all."

The Coolmore Legacy Stakes at 1,600 meters will have a full starting gate. Notable is Nettoyer, the 6-year-old Sebring mare who jumped up a week ago to win the Group 1 The Star Doncaster Mile at odds of 41-1 for jockey James Innes Jr. and trainer Wendy Roche.

Japan

Sunday's Grade 1 Oka Sho or Japanese 1000 Guineas features a developing rivalry between Resistencia, the 2019 champion 2-year-old filly, and Maltese Diosa.

Those two finished first and second, in that order, in the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies last year. But Resistencia lost her undefeated mark when third in the Grade 1 Tulip Sho in her 3-year-old debut -- a race won by Maltese Diosa.

Resistencia is by Daiwa Major. Maltese Diosa is from the first foal crop of Kizuna, a son of Deep Impact and winner of the 2013 Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby.

Cravache d'Or, a Heart's Cry filly, was third in last year's Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and second between Maltese Diosa and Resistencia in the Tulip Sho. She seems capable of making this a three-way rivalry.

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The race is 1,600 meters around the outer loop of the Hanshin turf course.

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