May 8 (UPI) -- The COVID-19 pandemic drives horse racing close to rock bottom this weekend with only one major stakes race anywhere in the world -- the Grade 1 NHK Mile Championship in Japan.
We'll get to that interesting test for 3-year-olds in due course. And a high-quality turf race at Gulfstream Park is set, too.
But, first, there is some light on the horizon for the rest of the spring and the summer as Churchill Downs and Golden Gate Fields received the green flag to resume operations.
Churchill Downs has the go-ahead to resume racing May 16, and has issued its first condition book covering that date to June 5.
The compressed schedule includes a bounty of rich stakes and the first "added" Kentucky Derby points race, the $150,000 Grade III Matt Winn on May 27. Closing day has four graded stakes headed by the $500,000 Grade II Stephen Foster.
In California, local officials gave Golden Gate conditional approval to load the starting gate Thursday -- a month after operations ceased. Track officials said they plan to run the Bay Area oval's signature race, the $250,000 Grade II San Francisco Mile, on closing day, June 14.
Monmouth Park plans to open its backstretch June 1 and resume racing July 3. The "down the shore" track has tossed the schedule against the wall and put the Grade I Haskell and the Grade I United Nations together in a super day of competition with six stakes worth more than of $2 million.
Monmouth honcho Dennis Drazin noted those plans still depend on decisions from the governor's office relative to reopening the New Jersey economy.
Two key players -- the New York Racing Association and Santa Anita -- await word from local health officials about when they might get racing back on track. Both have plans in place but the meter continues to tick, as it does for many parts of the nation's economy, while officials weigh public health against other concerns.
On the international front:
British racing officials are holding their breath, waiting for official government word they can resume racing May 15 with a compressed schedule, including the key Classics. Everyone is walking on eggshells, trying not to jinx the thing, but hopes are high.
Scottish officials also have met with government, adding their pennies' worth to the British Horseracing Authority appeal down south.
France is set to resume racing Monday, and Racing Post reports three meetings set for that day drew more than 1,000 entries. Hungary and the Czech Republic plan to follow a week later.
And, of course, Hong Kong and Japan continue their racing programs behind closed doors.
It's not all milk and honey, however. South African officials continue to push back the date for resumption of sports activity, with Capetown-area tracks, already on the skids financially before the coronavirus came on the scene, now seriously reeling.
Phumelela Gaming, which operates tracks that include Turffontein and Vaal and provides pool betting services, said it is trying to raise capital to stay afloat.
"Should these discussions not prove conclusive soon, the board will have to decide on whether there is any reasonable prospect that the group's business can be rescued, or whether to make application for voluntary liquidation," Phumelela said in a statement.
Irish racing officials are struggling to get out from under a ban on sporting activities that currently runs through the end of June, with potentially dire consequences.
Canadian racing remains on hold and a group of tracks, including Woodbine, have approached the government in Ottawa about legalizing Historical Horse Racing -- a slot machine-like gaming system based on the results of already-run races.
The group said the move "would provide much-needed financial relief to the Canadian horse industry without requiring government funding."
Historical Horse Racing has provided substantial support for purses in Arkansas, Kentucky and other jurisdictions but has met legal roadblocks elsewhere, including Illinois.
Now, lets have a look at this weekend, comprised of:
If we have to settle for just one big race this weekend, we could do a lot worse than Sunday's NHK Mile Championship for 3-year-olds at Tokyo Racecourse -- a race that traditionally attracts colts and fillies and horses who have been racing at a variety of distances.
This year's likely favorite, Resistencia, a daughter of Daiwa Major, will look to return to the form that won her champion honors in the 2-year-old filly division for 2019. She was 3-for-3 that year, finishing with a win in the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, but has posted only a second and a third this season.
The early line has three main contenders to keep Resistencia out of the winner's enclosure:
Satono Impressa, a Deep Impact colt, steps up in class while cutting back in distance after sweeping his three previous starts.
Lufstrom, a son of Australian-bred sire Kinshasa no Kiseki, was unraced last year but is 3-for-3 in 2020.
Taisei Vision, by Turtle Bowl, was second in the Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity in December and opened his 3-year-old campaign with a win in the Grade III Arlington Cup at Hanshin April 18.
Saturday's $75,000 Sunshine Forever Stakes is the only ray of stakes sunshine on the U.S. racing calendar this weekend. The 1 1/16-miles turf test drew a field of 12 with one main-track-only alternate. Admission Office, Social Paranoia and Halladay are the morning-line favorites.
Social Paranoia, a 4-year-old Street Boss colt, finished second in the $1 million Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational last summer, then won the $600,000 Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs. He was idle until March, when he won the Grade III Appleton at Gulfstream.
Admission Office, a 5-year-old by Point of Entry, has yet to win a stakes race, but steps down in class after respectable showings in several graded events. He most recently was second in the Grade II Mac Diarmida.
Halladay, a 4-year-old War Front colt, has a record of 4-2-4 from 11 starts. He won the Tropical Park Derby early in the Gulfstream season and exits a victory in an allowance race.
News and notes:
Congratulations to the newest electees to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The contemporary selections, chosen by a voting panel, are trainer Mark Casse and two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan.
The Historic Review Committee admitted jockey Darrel McHargue and the horse Tom Bowling. Three new "Pillars of the Turf" are Alice Headley Chandler, J. Keene Daingerfield Jr. and George D. Widener Jr.
Casse, 59 has won 2,865 races with purse earnings of $174,628,624. A trainer since age 17, he already is enshrined in the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame. His family has been a fixture in North American racing for three generations.
Wise Dan, a son of Wiseman's Ferry from the Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle, was bred and owned by the late Morton Fink and trained by Charles LoPresti. The chestnut gelding raced from 2010 to 2014, winning 23 of 31 starts and earning more than $7.5 million along with Horse of the Year honors in 2012 and 2013.
"It's hard to find horses like that," The Blood-Horse quoted LoPresti about Wise Dan. "People spend millions, trainers have hundreds [of horses]. It's really fantastic to have a horse like that and what he accomplished every time he went over there.
"After he's gone, you deal with mediocre horses, you realize how good he was, everything he overcame. Whether he got a bad post position, a bad break, a bad turf course, he ran every time. You don't see that in horses all the time."