June 26 (UPI) -- The Road to the Kentucky Derby winds through the Cleveland area this weekend with an Ohio Derby lineup that includes last year's juvenile champion.
Trainer Chad Brown seeks a fourth straight win in the Just a Game Stakes for fillies and mares on the Belmont Turf and has three of Saturday's seven starters.
On Saturday at Churchill Downs, the Stephen Foster with Tom's d'Etat and the Fleur de Lis with Midnight Bisou are "Win and You're In" races for the Breeders' Cup Classic and Distaff, respectively. Also on that card is the Bashford Manor for 2-year-olds -- always a race to watch for next year's Derby pointers.
On the international front, there's the Irish Derby and Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in France, the World Sports Betting Premier Champions Challenge at Turffontine Standside in South Africa and the final Grade 1 event of the first half of the Japanese racing season, the Takarazuka Kinen.
There are some really tough races on the program. For thoughts and pointers, turn to expert analyst Jude Feld at www.popejude.com. Insightful analysis with a refreshingly human touch.
But first, this:
The Road to the Roses
Some might overlook Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Ohio Derby at Thistledown as a gateway to the Kentucky Derby. After all, it offers only 20 points to the winner on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leader board, where Tiz the Law stands No. 1 with 272 points. No play on words intended, but what's the point? Right?
Well ... the 20 points awarded the winner, even if the winner started at zero, would be enough to spring that horse into a tie for the No. 21 spot on the list, which shapes a maximum Derby field of 20.
There's a way to go yet but that would be a good start. And, should the morning-line favorite and 2019 2-year-old champion Storm the Court win the Ohio Derby, the Court Vision colt could add 20 points to the 32 he already has in the bank and leapfrog all the way from his current No. 15 standing to No. 9.
There's an overflow field for the 1 1/8-miles Ohio Derby and Storm the Court, winless since his Breeders' Cup Juvenile win, is only a lukewarm 3-1 favorite with a whole bunch of others in with legit chances.
This should be an excellent wagering opportunity and one to watch for coming attractions among the 3-year-olds, given how many have fallen to injuries in the past few weeks.
That said, how can you pass up the Ohio Derby exacta of Dean Martini and Dack Janiels?
Wondering about the odds for the Kentucky Derby? Triple Crown? The three-months delay in the Derby to Sept. 5 gave Churchill Downs a chance to add three additional weekends to its Future Bet pools and, of course, they jumped at the opportunity.
Pool No. 5 kicks off this weekend and, for a change "all other 3-year-olds" is not the morning-line favorite. That's Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law, at 7-2. "All other 3-year-old males" is co-second on the line at 5-1 along with Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P.
Churchill Downs has added "all other 3-year-old fillies" since Gamine and Swiss Skydiver have performed well enough to stack up against most of their male rivals.
Here's an outside view of the odds, courtesy of BetOnline (www.betonline.ag) just because their PR guy, Jimmy Shapiro is kind enough to send them to me, unbidden:
Tiz the Law, after the Belmont Stakes win, is the 3-2 Derby favorite, followed by Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P. (9-2), Authentic (12-1), Cezanne (12-1) and Dr Post (16-1). Note that Cezanne, a Curlin colt, has made exactly one start so far, that at 6 1/2 furlongs.
He did win. He's trained by five-time Derby winner Bob Baffert. And he did cost $3.6 million as a yearling. He's 30-1 on the Churchill Downs morning line but unlikely to close the weekend at that generous a number.
With the Belmont already in the books, BetOnline offers 3-1 (+300) on a bet there will be a Triple Crown winner. It's 1-4 (-400) against.
Meanwhile, Churchill Downs also announced Thursday it has received permission to allow spectators for the Derby. The statement was vague on such details as how many spectators and what pandemic precautions will be either encouraged or enforced, other than plans calling for reduced attendance.
"We really want to learn from what we've seen over the last three months in society," Kevin Flannery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack, said in a media standup in front of the track entrance. He pointed out the Churchill Downs infield has 26 acres for people to spread out and the facility has 1.6 million square feet under roof -- plenty of room for "social distancing".
Enough of that, already. Back to the horses:
Tom's d'Etat returns to Churchill Downs as the even-money morning-line favorite for Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic. Small wonder.
He's been in the money in six of seven starts at the track and on his last visit won the Grade I Clark Handicap by 3 1/4 lengths. The 7-year-old son of Smart Strike won the Oaklawn Mile on April 11 as a preliminary for this event, in which he was third last year.
Also worth a look in the Foster are By My Standards, the 2018 Louisiana Derby winner who rides a three-race win streak culminating in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap in his last start, and Owendale, second in the Clark in November and also a recent comeback winner.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs features Midnight Bisou, the Eclipse Award 2019 Champion Older Dirt Female. Her record has "Hall of Fame" written all over it with.
She has never missed a top-three finish in 20 career starts, most of those graded stakes, and makes her return after a second-place finish, 3/4 length behind Maximum Security, in the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29.
The one thing missing from her resume is a Breeders' Cup win as she was third in the 2018 Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs and second last year at Santa Anita. The Fleur de Lis is a "Win and You're In" this year's edition at Keeneland on Nov. 7.
Assuming Midnight Bisou is recovered from her Middle Eastern travels, she is a solid favorite. If there's some rust to knock off, look to 2019 Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress, who comes off a too-bad-to-be-true showing in the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. Chocolate Kisses and Go Google Yourself also could figure if the favorite falters.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Just a Game for fillies and mares at Belmont Park might be renamed the Chad Brown Stakes before long. New York's dominant turf trainer has won the event three years running and has this edition surrounded, saddling three of the seven entrants.
Brown's bunch: Uni, the reigning Eclipse Award filly and mare turf champion and winner of seven of her last eight starts including last fall's Breeders' Cup Mile; Newspaperofrecord, winner of the 2018 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and winner June 6 of the Grade III Intercontinental; and Regal Glory, second in the Intercontinental and a consistent money-earner.
They will face multiple graded stakes winners Beau Recall, Got Stormy and Valedictorian and British import Zofelle, who is 3-for-6 since arriving in the United States.
Malakeh and Amalfi Coast are the favorites among seven fillies and mares set for Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Nassau Stakes at Woodbine. Malakeh, a 5-year-old Harbour Watch mare, returned from a winter break to win an allowance race at Churchill Downs May 25.
Amalfi Coast, a 4-year-old Tapizar filly, won the Grade II Bessarabian at Woodbine last November, then came up short in her return June 6, finishing sixth in an allowance tilt.
Filly & Mare Turf
The seven-horse field for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II New York Stakes at Belmont Park is so talent-laden that neither of Chad Brown's two mares is the favorite. That honor goes to Call Me Love, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Sea the Stars who came to this country after winning the Group 2 Premio Lydia Tesio in Rome last November.
In her first U.S. start for trainer Christophe Clement she finished second to Brown's Rushing Fall in the Grade III Beaugay June 3. Rushing Fall is not in this heat.
Call Me Love will, however, face such as Mrs. Sippy, second to the Brown-trained Sistercharlie in the Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont last fall, and Mean Mary, winner of three straight races at Gulfstream Park this winter and spring, two of them Grade III affairs.
Brown's duo for the New York certainly can't be ruled out. My Sister Nat just missed in the Grade III Long Island in her 2019 finale and wasn't disgraced in a sixth-place finish, beaten less than 4 lengths, in the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera Longines a year earlier. Fools Gold has been a consistent performer but arguably steps into deeper waters here.
Thirteen 3-year-old fillies signed on for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs and go figure who might prevail among them. The 3-1 favorite on the morning line is Crystal Cliffs, a French-bred filly by Canford Cliffs.
She was an impressive winner in her second start over the all-weather at a minor French venue. In her first U.S. start for trainer Graham Motion, she rallied to win easily going 9 furlongs on the Churchill Downs green course May 31. This is the same trip. All of these are still facing the sorting hat, though.
Saturday's $150,000 Grade II True North at Belmont Park finds the favorites, Promises Fulfilled and Firenze Fire, drawn No. 6 and No. 7 -- the outside positions.
Promises Fulfilled, a 5-year-old son of Shackleford, does have some promises to fulfill since he burned a lot of money with sixth-place finishes in his last two starts last fall. Firenze Fire got a break after winning three in a row during the winter, switched barns and tossed in a clunker in his return, finishing fourth, beaten 12 lengths, in the Grade I Carter Handicap June 7.
Chalon comes off a long layoff for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Vagrancy for fillies and mares at Belmont Park. The 6-year-old Dialed In mare has been nothing but consistent for trainer Arnold Delacour, hitting the board in 15 of 18 career starts, and in the past has run well after extended vacations.
She was second to Shamrock Rose in the 2018 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Others worth a look include 4-year-olds Mother Mother and Royal Charlotte.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs has seven 2-year-olds. Each has one previous start and each won that debut. They're not all equal, of course, and the morning-line favorite is Cazadero, a Stonestreet homebred colt by Street Sense who took his career start by 8 3/4 lengths going 5 furlongs under the Twin Spires on May 29.
Also in here are first-time winners from Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park and Mountaineer. The latter, Crown and Coke, won a 4 1/2-furlong race at Mountaineer by 13 1/4 lengths, then was gelded and pops up on the morning line at 30-1. Hyperfocus, a Constitution colt trained by Todd Pletcher, looks promising.
Also of note:
This one's already in the books from Woodbine: Canada's reigning three-time champion male sprinter, Pink Lloyd, kicked off his 8-year-old campaign with a record fourth straight victory in the $125,000 (Canadian) Jacques Cartier Stakes, recording his 20th overall stakes win. With Rafael Hernandez up, Pink Lloyd rallied down the stretch to take the lead and kicked away smartly to a 2-lengths win.
"This is one of the greatest sprinters that's ever raced in Canada and I think his record speaks for itself," trainer Robert Tiller of the six-time Sovereign Award winner and Canada's 2017 Horse of the Year.
"He really has a lot of heart, a lot of desire. He wants to do it, he loves winning and I don't know if there will ever be another one like him ... not for me, that's for sure."
Saturday's $75,000 Daniel Sterns Cleveland Gold Cup attracted eight Ohio-breds to tackle the same distance as that day's Ohio Derby -- 1 1/8 miles. Liberate and Betchaiwill, the morning-line favorites, drew gates 6 and 7 for the event.
Los Alamitos welcomes back the Thoroughbreds. Saturday's $100,000 Soi Phet Stakes for California-breds drew a field of eight.
Prairie Meadows in back in action with stakes races for Iowa-breds both Saturday and Sunday.
Lone Star Park on Sunday has the Grand Prairie Derby and Lone Star Mile, both on the dirt, and the Lone Star Park Turf Stakes
On the international front:
Saturday's Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin Racecourse is a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf and for Australia's Group 1 Cox Plate. It's contested at 2,200 meters, right-handed on the inner turf course.
It's one of those races where the fans vote for the horses they want to see run and, this time around, star filly Almond Eye, the No. 1 draft choice, disappoints her fans with a no-show.
But, the race did get a powerful field including eight Grade 1 winners. Among them are the No. 2 and No. 3 vote-getters, Lucky Lilac and Saturnalia. Other to watch out for are Chrono Genesis, Blast Onepiece and Kiseki.
The Takarasuka Kinen is the final Grade 1 event of the first half of the Japanese season. Top-level racing returns Oct. 4 at Nakayama with the Sprinters Stakes.
Saturday's Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby has a field of 15 with six to be saddled by Aidan O'Brien, three by Joseph Patrick O'Brien and one by Donnacha O'Brien -- two thirds of the field by "athair agus mic" (Gaelic for "father and sons").
The two antepost favorites, Santiago and Arthur's Kingdom, are trained by Aidan. Santiago, an Authorized colt, comes off a win in the Group 2 Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot June 19. Arthur's Kingdom, by Camelot, was second in the Group 2 King Edward VII at the Royal meeting.
Pending final declarations for Sunday's Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes for fillies and mares at the Curragh, "himself" has an even stronger hand with Magical, Magic Wand and Fleeting.
Magical makes her 5-year-old debut hoping to get to a third Prix de l'Arc de Triomph where she finished 10th behind Enable in 2018 and fifth in the wake of Waldgeist and Enable in 2019.
Our abiding memory, though, is that gallant second behind Enable's gallant victory in the 2018 Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs, with Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore touching hands on the gallop-out. That was magical.
Magic Wand, whose career has been defined by second-place finishes in some of the world's biggest races, also is back for a 5-year-old season. And Fleeting, a 4-year-old Zoffany filly, looks for just her third win and first since September of 2018.
Joseph Patrick O'Brien has four in the Pretty Poly with only New York Girl held in much esteem by the betting concerns.
Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud has five takers. High on the list are Way to Paris, second to Sottsass in the Group 1 Prix Ganay on June 14, and Old Persian, winner of last year's Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic and Grade I Northern Dancer but coming off a long layoff. The others, Nagano Gold, Falamour and Ziad, offer less hope.
Trainer Mike de Kock sends out two of the likely ones for Sheik Hamdan in Saturday's Group 1 World Sports Betting Premier's Challenge at Turffontine Standside -- Hawwaam and and Soqrat.
This could be the final appearance in South Africa for Hawwaam, a 4-year-old son of 2001 Arlington Million winner Silvano. Hawwaam defeated stablemate Queen Supreme in the Group 1 H F Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes on June 6 and might have been a candidate for the Group 1 Durban July -- billed as "Africa's Greatest Horse Race" -- but a yet another in the long line of delays in reform of restrictions on movement of horses out of South Africa.
Sheik Hamdan is eager to thrust Hawwaam into world competition and, with lengthy protocols still in place, needs to get the colt into quarantine if he's to compete elsewhere this year.
Sean Terry also has two in Saturday's race -- Tierra del Fuego and Tilbury Fort. The former was fourth in the Horse Chestnut, beaten only 3 lengths and a neck better than Soqrat.