May 29 (UPI) -- Churchill Downs and Santa Anita carry the heavy end of the weekend racing load with important graded stakes at each track.
Golden Gate Fields' Sunday card features the California Oaks with several fillies shipping up the coast from Santa Anita to test the all-weather track. Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park roll on in Florida.
On the international front, Grade 1 racing continues in Japan with the Tokyo Yushun, or Japanese Derby. Contrail looks to keep his unblemished record in this feature.
As racing continues its sometimes agonizing reopening from the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, handicapping challenges proliferate. For some helpful thoughts on those big races, have a look at analyst Jude Feld's educated perspective at popejude.com.
Moving right along:
Fillies and mares go 1 1/16 miles on the turf in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Old Forester Mint Julep Stakes with Juliet Foxtrot and her stablemate, Beau Recall, among the preliminary favorites. Twelve are entered, with eight already graded stakes winners.
Juliet Foxtrot has not missed a top-three finish since shipping to the United Stakes from England last spring with three wins in those six outings. This is her 2020 debut. Beau Recall, winner of the Grade I Churchill Distaff Turf Mile last spring, also comes off a layoff. The Brad Cox trainees drew the two inside gates.
Nay Lady Nay, a No Nay Never filly trained by Chad Brown, won the Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill Downs in her last start back in November.
In Saturday's co-feature, graded stakes winners Break Even and Mia Mischief are the morning-line picks in a competitive, nine-horse affair in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Winning Colors. The 6-furlongs event is restricted to fillies and mares.
Break Even, a 4-year-old filly by Country Day, won the Grade II Eight Belles Stakes over the track on Kentucky Derby weekend last year and exits an allowance win at Oaklawn Park.
The day after Break Even's victory in the Eight Belles, Mia Mischief won the Grade I Humana Distaff. Mia Mischief, a 5-year-old Into Mischief mare, enters off two straight wins at Oaklawn.
Also in this field and not to be ignored is Spiced Perfection, a 5-year-old daughter of Smiling Tiger who is a multiple Grade I winner and finished fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Honeymoon Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, 9 furlongs on the turf, drew a field of nine with Stella Star, Laura's Light and Parkour well fancied on the morning line.
Stella Star, an Irish-bred lass, was second in the China Doll Stakes March 3 in her only previous U.S. start. Laura's Light, a Constitution filly, won the Grade III Sweet Life Stakes sprinting on the Santa Anita turf in February. Parkour, by Carpe Diem, exits a nifty allowance victory.
Hard Not to Love and Ca Ca are hard not to like among five in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Maria Stakes for fillies and mares, 1 1/16 miles on the dirt. The Ontario-bred Hard Spun filly had a three-race winning streak snapped when finishing second to Ca Ca in the Grade I Beholder Mile in March.
After that rousing win, Ca Ca ventured to Arkansas where she won the prestigious Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap.
Fighting Mad and Horologist also are graded stakes winners and Kaydetre looks to take a step forward in the Santa Maria.
Tampa Bay Downs
The Gulf Coast track soldiers on, adding dates to provide horsemen racing opportunities while taking advantage of a shortage of simulcast signals.
As they go along, the track added Friday's $30,000 Florence Nightengale Stakes for fillies and mares at 7 furlongs and Saturday's $30,000 Memorial Day Handicap at 1 1/16 miles.
Golden Gate Fields
Saturday's $75,000 Camilla Urso Stakes for fillies and mares, 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf, filled the starting gate with four also-eligibles. All that's missing is a solid favorite. Have a look and get rewarded if you solve the puzzle.
Éclair ships back north from Santa Anita for Sunday's $75,000 California Oaks, 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track. The Bernardini filly, trained by Bob Baffert, won the Golden Gate Debutante Stakes in November in her last start.
Paige Anne, a daughter of Take Charge Indy, also journeys up the coast. She won her only previous start at the Bay Area track and reported fourth in the Grade III Santa Ysabela March 8 at Santa Anita.
Around the world, around the clock:
After Daring Tact's dramatic, stretch-running victory in last weekend's Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks, attention turns this Sunday to the 3-year-old colts and the Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby.
The field includes the first five finishers from the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2,000 Guineas, all but one of them looking to improve their showing. The winner, Contrail, a Deep Impact colt, will be looking to improve his record to five wins from five starts while trying 2,400 meters for the first time.
Trained by Yoshito Yahagi and ridden by Yuichi Fukunaga, Contrail dueled with Salios through the final furlong in the Satsuki Sho before edging away to win by 1 length. Salios was trailed by Galore Creek, Win Carnelian and Satono Flag but the top two were well clear at the end of that 2,000 meters.
Group 1 racing may be done for the season but the there's still plenty to be decided in the jockey and trainer ranks.
Joao Moreira, sidelined with a suspension, could only watch Wednesday at Happy Valley as Zac Purton rode three winners, taking a three-win tie over Moreira for the jockey premiership. The duo had been tied at 123 wins each after each scored four times Sunday at Sha Tin.
Purton's third win Wednesday was touch-and-go as he drove Enfolding to catch Touch of Luck in he final stride of the Class 3 Peacock Handicap.
On the trainers' side of things, Tony Cruz posted a triple of his own, bringing him to 51 wins for the season, just six shy of leader Ricky Yiu. "I think I'd better give it a go," Cruz chuckled.
News and notes
Del Mar has moved up its opening day from July 18 to July 10 and plans to race three days a week throughout the summer, closing with a four-day extravaganza Labor Day weekend.
The seaside track said it is "preparing to operate without spectators, but will continue to work with state and local officials to adopt any changes as they happen." Everything is conditioned on approval of health officials and the California Horse Racing Board.
Illinois has cleared the way for racing to resume "in June." Hawthorne Race Course officials said last week they would be ready to resume their harness meeting quickly, but Arlington Park is holding out for approval to allow fans to watch the races.