Big guns return to the track in weekend horse racing

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
McKinzie, shown winning the 2019 Alysheba at Churchill Downs, returns to sprinting Sunday at Santa Anita in his first race since the $20 million Saudi Cup in February. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs
McKinzie, shown winning the 2019 Alysheba at Churchill Downs, returns to sprinting Sunday at Santa Anita in his first race since the $20 million Saudi Cup in February. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs

June 5 (UPI) -- Some big guns return to the track this weekend as horse racing really breaks out of the pandemic shutdown with the likes of McKinzie, Improbable, Higher Power, Code of Honor and Firenze Fire back in action from coast to coast.

We've got the results of the French 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas equivalents and a look at the British versions coming Saturday and Sunday.


There's also a heavyweight showdown in the Coronation Cup in England, and Almond Eye is back in action in Japan.

The Santa Anita Derby and Oaks renew the long slog toward the big races in Louisville at the start of September.

With the sudden burst of excitement as racing returns, look for handicapping help to all-around expert Jude Feld, whose entertaining and informative ruminations reside at

Before we get to all that, though, we note with a lot of sadness that Arrogate was humanely euthanized Tuesday after falling prey to an as-yet undetermined illness at Juddmonte Farms outside Lexington. Veterinarians worked for four days to try to identify the malady and effect a cure, without success.


Arrogate won the Travers and Breeders' Cup Classic in 2016. He continued his domination in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park before arguably his most impressive and dramatic race -- the 2017 Dubai World Cup.

In that event, he totally blew the start, trailed the field into the first turn and still came like a shot down the stretch to win easily, amazing not only race fans but also trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith.

Juddmonte said Arrogate's third breeding season went well until he started to show signs something was amiss last week. He sired three crops with the first yearlings hitting the sales rings this year.

Now, here goes:

The Road to the Triple Crown

Authentic, another of trainer Bob Baffert's many Kentucky Derby hopefuls, tops a field of seven for Saturday's $400,000 RUNHAPPY Santa Anita Derby.

Authentic, an Into Mischief colt, is 3-for-3 with a victory in the Grade II San Felipe on March 7 his last achievement.

Baffert also runs Azul Coast, a Super Saver colt who was second to Authentic in the Grade III Sham but won his other two starts, including the El Camino Real Derby over the Golden Gate all-weather track.


The field also includes Honor A.P., an Honor Code ridgling who finished second in the San Felipe, albeit 2 1/4 lengths behind Authentic; Anneau d'Or, who was second in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile but hasn't progressed yet as a 3-year-old; and three others, all making their stakes debut.

One of them, Friar's Road, remains a maiden after three outings.

Authentic is the 4-5 favorite on the morning line with Honor A.P. posted at 9-5. The winner gets 100 points on the Churchill Downs "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leader board with 40, 20 and 10 points to the next three finishers.

The Road to the Oaks

After an early scratch, only four remain for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Anita Oaks with Swiss Skydiver drawing the rail and the favorite's role.

Trainer Kenny McPeek ships the Daredevil filly west after she won the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks on March 28 and the Grade III Fantasy at Oaklawn Park May 1. A victory here, even against slim competition, would put her at the front of the class.

Bob Baffert offers Merneith, an American Pharoah filly who finally broke her maiden on the third try April 19 at Oaklawn Park. That win, however, came over a sloppy track at 6 furlongs so she still has a lot to prove at this 1 1/16-miles trip.


The silver-haired maestro also saddles Regal Beauty, who comes off a maiden win over the track but that, also, sprinting. Speech, a Mr Speaker filly, has finished second in three straight races but one of those was the Grade III Santa Ysabel around two turns.


Improbable, Higher Power and Midcourt feature in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita at the classic 10 furlongs.

Improbable, a 4-year-old City Zip colt trained by Bob Baffert, finished second, less than 1 length behind Tom's d'Etat, in the Oaklawn Mile in his last outing April 11. He was second in last year's Arkansas Derby and a close fifth, promoted to fourth, in the Kentucky Derby. Now would be his time to make a statement.

Higher Power, a 5-year-old by Medaglia d'Oro, was third in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, albeit 8 1/2 lengths back of the winner, Vino Rosso. In his only race since then, he finished a fading 10th and last in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 25, so he has something to prove on returning.

Midcourt, a 5-year-old Midnight Lute gelding, was last seen finishing a close-up third in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap March 7 and has not disappointed trainer John Sadler often.


A puzzlement is Parsimony. The 4-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred son of Dominus returns from Dubai, where he won the Curlin Stakes Feb. 27 under William Buick.

This is a horse that took 18 tries to find the winner's circle, and the Curlin was only his second career win. Yet, on the international market, he was second-favorite in that race. He won't be that here.

Code of Honor returns to action Saturday at Belmont Park as the heavy favorite in a field of 11 for the $100,000 Grade III Westchester Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.

Code of Honor, a 4-year-old Noble Mission colt, was third in last year's Kentucky Derby, promoted to second by the DQ of Maximum Security, then went on to win the Grade I Travers at Saratoga and finish second, beaten just a nose by Vino Rosso, in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup.

He got the win in that one, too, again benefiting from a stewards' ruling. He finished up with a fading seventh-place showing in the Breeders' Cup Classic and hasn't raced since.

The Shug McGaughey trainee, a Will Farrish homebred, won't see any of those Breeders' Cup-caliber horses Saturday but he will face some who have raced into form while he idled. That group includes Mihos, Payne and Senior Investment.



Guarana, winner of last year's Grade I Acorn and Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks, was triumphant in her seasonal debut Thursday at Churchill Downs, winning by 5 1/4 lengths in the featured allowance event, run over a sloppy track. It was her first start since a second-place finish in the Grade I Cotillion last September.

Guarana tracked the lead, took command inside the quarter pole and won with something left, finishing 7 furlongs in 1:22.58.

"That's about as easy as a horse can win," rider Tyler Gaffalione said. "She's a super classy filly and incredibly talented."

Sprint-F/M Sprint

Saturday's Grade I Runhappy Carter at Belmont Park drew a field well worthy of its grade and its status as a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Sprint this fall at Keeneland.

Among the likely in the 11-horse field tackling 7 furlongs are: Vekoma, winner of last year's Blue Grass Stakes, sharpened up with a Gulfstream Park win in March and Mind Control, winner of last year's Grade I H. Allen Jerkens at Saratoga and the Grade III Tom Fool at Aqueduct in March.

Also, Network Effect, fresh off a win in the Big Drama Stakes at Gulfstream, Firenze Fire, riding a three-race win skein, and Performer, a winner of four straight to end 2019 with a 109 Beyer Speed Figure in the Discovery Handicap at the Big A.


Performer is the lukewarm, 3-1 favorite on the morning line but, as he and many others exit lengthy vacations, caution is the watchword.

Friday's $80,000 Harmony Lodge Stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park gets West Coast shipper Mother Mother among 10 entries. The Bob Baffert trainee has been a consistent performer but has only three wins from 12 starts. Chalon and Royal Charlotte appear the main dangers.

Bobby's Wicked One, Volatile and Honest Mischief are the morning-line favorites among just six signed on for Saturday's $100,000 Aristides at Churchill Downs.

It's still a mystery why a 6-furlongs race is named for the horse that won the first-ever Kentucky Derby winner in 1875, going 1 1/2 miles in 2:37 3/5. Nonetheless, it's a contentious field and worth a look.

Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Dogwood for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs, 7 furlongs, got a field of eight. Four Graces, Edgeway and Magic Dance all get love on the morning line but none has yet stepped up in a graded stakes event.

Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita might be included among the "Classic" subhead even though it's only 7 furlongs -- that because McKinzie is set to line up for the sprint.


The 5-year-old Street Sense horse, a winner of four Grade I races, returns from an 11th-place finish in the $20 million Saudi Cup Feb. 29. Before that, he had not missed the top two slots in eight consecutive races, including a second to Vino Rosso in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

He's one of two in this race from the Bob Baffert barn, the other being Ax Man, who is 5-for-11 but winless in graded stakes.

Flagstaff hits the Triple Bend off a second to Whitmore in the Grade III Count Fleet Handicap at Oaklawn Park. Fashionably Fast has six straight wins, the last four against fellow Cal-breds. Dark Vader has not run since finishing second in the Grade III Prairie Meadows Cornhusker last July.


Already in the books: Paret led from the early stages of Thursday's $80,000 Tiller Stakes at Belmont Park, then gamely held on through the final furlong to win by a head over Dot Matrix.

The favorite, Sadler's Joy, rallied from last of 12 but settled for third, another 2 lengths in arrears. Paret, a 6-year-old, Australian-bred gelding by Harbour Watch, covered 1 3/8 miles of firm turf in 2:14.05 with Jorge Vargas Jr. in the irons.


Paret scored his first U.S. win in his sixth start since shipping up from Australia in the middle of the 2019 season.

Saturday's $150,000, 9-furlongs Cinema Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita has seven with the favorite, Hariboux, drawn outside. This is another competitive heat with Liar Liar, K P All Systems Go and Club Aspen all looking like they have a shot.

Filly & Mare Turf

Belmont Park finally got its pandemic-delayed summer meet rolling Wednesday and it didn't take Chad Brown long to pick up right where he left off last year.

Brown dominated the local graded stakes turf scene last year, even saddling the top three finishers twice. And just wait -- his runners are everywhere grass grows in Elmont, N.Y., this weekend.

Brown sent out Rushing Fall as the odds-on favorite in the Opening Day feature, the $100,000 Grade III Beaugay Stakes for fillies and mares. And she didn't take long to get going, either, jumping right to the lead and coasting home first, never challenged.

Call Me Love was second, 2 lengths back and 2 3/4 lengths in front of Passing Out. Rushing Fall, a 5-year-old More Than Ready mare, got 1 1/16 miles on the firm inner turf in 1:40.71 with Javier Castellano riding.


Rushing Fall had not raced since Oct. 5, when she was fourth in the Grade I First Lady at Keeneland. Before that, she won the Just a Game at Belmont and the Jenny Wiley during the Keeneland spring meet -- both Grade I events. Brown said those races could be targets again this year.

Brown said Rushing Fall's return was thanks to a change of heart by owner Bob Edwards.

"He had her entered in the sale last year and he scratched her. She would've brought a lot of money," Brown said. "I'm so happy for him and his family. She came back better than ever."

As noted, Brown's fingerprints are all over the weekend stakes schedule, starting with Saturday's $150,000 Fort Marcy, a 9-furlongs trip over the inner turf.

In this case, the Brown barn provides four of the nine starters including the 7-2 morning-line pick Instilled Regard and Flop Shop, a Group 3 winner in France last year under Andre Fabre's care. Devamani and Tribhuvan round out the quartet.

The Fort Marcy is pretty competitive, though, with Social Paranoia, Synchrony and Gucci Factor all likely contenders. And, continuing the Brown theme, there's the Mike Maker-trained filly Somelikeithotbrown.

Sunday's $75,000 Golden Poppy at Golden Gate, 1 1/16 miles, has a field of eight. Trainer Neil Drysdale ships Desert Oasis, a British-bred mare by Medaglia d'Oro, who seeks her first stakes win.


Turf Sprint

The aforementioned Chad Brown has four of the dozen fillies and mares entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Intercontinental for fillies and mares at Belmont Park. Among them -- no surprise -- we find the favorite, Significant Form.

The 5-year-old Creative Cause mare won this 7-furlongs event last year and went on to take two other graded events before year's close.

Brown also has 2018 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Newspaperofrecord, who tries sprinting for the first time after being unable to hold on going longer in three tries last year.

Brown also gives Juddmonte's homebred Viadora her first U.S. start here. His fourth runner, Regal Glory, a 4-year-old Animal Kingdom filly, also showed talent last year, landing the Penn Oaks and two graded stakes at Saratoga.

The others in the Intercontinental appear overmatched although if Newspaperofrecord doesn't get off to a good start, speedball Jakarta might be hard to track down in just her second try on the grass.

The sentimentalist hunch bet of the weekend is an exacta box with Rose Flower and Getmotherarose. If that hits, it would buy quite a few roses.

Saturday's $75,000 Desert Code Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita, 5 1/2 furlongs, got a competitive field of six. None is to write home about but the scramble should be fun to watch.


Saturday's $50,000 Albany Stakes at Golden Gate drew a field of nine to tackle 5 grassy furlongs. The 2-1 morning line pick here is Anyportinastorm, last seen finishing second in the Grade III Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs. The 6-year-old son of La Defense also has had success in the Bay Area.

Sunday's $80,000 First Defence, 7 furlongs at Belmont Park, has a huge field including Jakarta, who as noted is cross-entered in Saturday's Grade III Intercontinental. Mike Maker's decision on this will help shape how this one goes -- quickly if Jakarta is in it.

Around the world, around the clock:


Almond Eye returned from a five-months break to win the Grade 1 Victoria Mile May 17 and now, after just three weeks off, she rolls right back to contest Sunday's Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen, also at 1 mile and also at Tokyo Racecourse.

The race is a "Win and You're In" for the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile Nov. 7 at Keeneland. Almond Eye already holds a "Win and You're In" entry to the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Turf on that same program as a result of the Victoria Mile score.

The 5-year-old Lord Kanaloa mare already has seven top-level wins, including all three legs of the 2018 Japanese filly Triple Crown, a record-shattering performance in the 2018 Japan Cup and an impressive victory in the 2019 Dubai Turf.


That record easily could have been greater had not an ill-timed fever kept her out of the 2019 Hong Kong International Races and, had COVID-19 pandemic not terminated her chances, to repeat in Dubai.

With six Japanese Grade 1 races in the bag, a victory Sunday would tie Almond Eye with the immortal mare Vodka for the most top-level wins on home soil.

It's not like it's a walkover, though. The competition, which will be slightly less than full field of 18, includes last year's winner, Indy Champ, and Admire Mars, whose three top-level wins at the distance include last December's Longines Hong Kong Mile.

Danon Premium returns from a trip to Australia which saw him home third in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Royal Randwick on April 11 -- a good showing over heavy going.

As a sidebar, while we've been watching Joao Moreira and Zac Purton duke it out for the jockey premiership in Hong Kong, Christophe Lemaire and Yuga Kawada are staging a similar battle in Japan.

Lemaire, with 80 wins so far this year to Kawada's 78, pilots Almond Eye while Kawada rides Admire Mars in the Yasuda Kinen. Lemaire has copped the last three premierships.



Three blockbuster Group 1 events enliven the weekend at Newmarket.

Friday's Coronation Cup has Ghaiyyath, Stradivarius and Anthony Van Dyck in a field of seven going 1 1/4 miles.

Ghaiyyath, racing under Godolphin blue, won the Group 1 Grosser Preis Von Baden last fall and the Dubai Millennium Stakes at Medan in February.

He would have been a solid shot in the Dubai World Cup. Anthony Van Dyck, representing the Coolmore "lads," finished third in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes last fall and third again in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He was last seen finishing 10th of 12 in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Turf in December.

There's no question of Stradivarius' class. The 6-year-old son of Sea the Stars is the undisputed champion stayer in the UK and benefits from the John Gosden-Frankie Dettori connections.

The question is whether 1 1/4 miles is too sharp for a horse more accustomed to 2 miles. The answer is another question: Does anyone think Dettori can't rejigger the flight plan to make the distance suit his mount? He won't be the favorite for a change so this might be the time.


Saturday's Qipco 2000 Guineas has 15 3-year-olds, most of them looking to make a Derby case for themselves in the 1-mile event. But most eyes will be on No. 12, Pinatubo, easily spotted in the Godolphin silks.

The homebred Shamardal colt won all six starts as a 2-year-old, finishing with the Group 1 Darley Dewhurst. His return has been, to put it mildly, highly anticipated and he is the heavy antepost favorite.

The opposition includes several Coolmore runners, notably Arizona, a No Nay Never colt who was second to Pinatubo in the Dewhurst, then fifth as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, beaten less than 2 lengths.

Sunday Qipco 1000 Guineas also has 15 but there is no heavy favorite, nor do Godolphin or Coolmore dominate the proceedings.

The antepost wagering favors a Juddmonte Farms homebred daughter of Frankel, Quadrilateral. She was 3-for-3 as a juvenile and concluded that campaign with a win in the Group 1 bet365 Fillies Mile. Coolmore does have the well-fancied Love, a Galileo filly who was third in the Fillies Mile.


Chalk up Victor Ludorum, a Godolphin homebred by Shamardal as the likely favorite for the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club or French Derby.


The colt, with Mickael Barzalona up for trainer Andre Fabre, waited patiently at the back of the field in Monday's Group 1 Emirates Poule d'Essai des Poulains or French 2000 Guineas at Deauville, moved down to the rail with about 300 meters left in the 1-mile tilt and dominated from there, winning by a comfortable 1 1/2 lengths.

The Summit was second, followed by another Fabre charge, Alson. But the race was an affirmation of the Derby chances -- and perhaps Arc chances as well -- for Victor Ludorum, who went to the post as nearly even-money favorite.

He now is 4-for-5 in his career, the only loss coming in this season's opener -- a Group 3 event won by The Summit.

"Before the race, the plan was always the Prix du Jockey Club," Godolphin's Lisa-Jane Graffard told Racing Post. "That said, he showed a lot of class over a mile today. There will be no rush to decide and we'll see how he comes out of it. Andre Fabre will then discuss it with Sheikh Mohammed."

All five of the colt's starts have been at 1 mile.

The name, by the way, is Latin for "Winner of the Games."


In the Group 1 Emirates Poule d'Essai des Pouliches or French 1000 Guineas, Dream and Do got a solid bump from a rival just as she was making her move about 150 meters from home.

Still, the filly kept coming and won a late battle with Speak of the Devil, scoring by a nose over that rival. Mageva was third and the favorite, Tropbeau, settled for fourth.

Dream and Do, a Siyouni filly owned by her breeder, Haras Du Logis Saint Germaine, posted her fourth victory from six starts and finished second to Tropbeau in their last start May 11.

The next logical step for Dream and Do would be the Group 1 Prix du Diane or French Oaks on July 5. But that race is 2 1/2 furlongs farther than Monday's 1-mile trip, which trainer Frederick Rossi said is at the far end of his filly's limit.

"That trip is the end of the world for her and I've always felt we would skip the Diane for that reason," Racing Post quoted Rossi. "I'll speak with the owner but I think she would be much better going up against the colts in the Jean Prat [at 7 furlongs]).

South Africa


The Grade I H F Oppenheimer Stakes at 1 mile tops the Saturday program at Turffontein Standside. Some familiar names reappear including Hawwaam, a 4-year-old by Silvano.

The colt is a multiple Group 1 winner and makes his first start since finishing third in the Group 1 Sun Met on Feb. 1. His stablemate in Mike de Kock's barn, Soqrat, also takes his chance here.

Also on the card are the Group 1 South African Derby and the Group 2 Wilgerbosdrift South African Oaks.

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