July 10 (UPI) -- Losing Keeneland's iconic spring race meeting was a blow to the sport, but the replacement program that starts this weekend, which includes delayed versions of many of the spring stakes, goes a long way toward making up for lost time.
Keeneland's massive Saturday card includes the Grade II Toyota Blue Grass, still a major mile marker on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Two more Kentucky Derby preps went into the record book Wednesday -- one in Japan and one in Indiana.
Meanwhile, Del Mar swings into action this weekend. The Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds is Friday's traditional opening-day feature at the track, which will host the 2021 Breeders' Cup World Championships.
On the rest of the international scene, Tactical won the Darley July Cup at Newmarket, and we have the results of some important 2-year-old races. Ascot has the Group 2 Betfred Summer Mile. In France, the Group 1 Qatar Prix Jean Prat Sunday at Deauville includes Pinatubo and Molatham.
As always, for a fresh look at the horses, their weekend prospects and racing's place in life in general, check out Jude Feld's handicapping tips at jopejude.com.
The Road to the Roses
After a raft of injuries and retirements thinned the ranks of early contenders, it's hard to measure what's left for the Kentucky Derby's rescheduled Sept. 5 running.
That adds double interest to Saturday's $600,000 Grade II Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland, where some of the early combatants, with a few more months of development behind them, will try to improve on their springtime performances.
And they'll do it against one of the country's top fillies, Swiss Skydiver.
Trainer Kenny McPeek has a bit of a "freebie" in sending the Daredevil filly against colts in the Blue Grass.
She is way out front in the Kentucky Oaks points standings with 310, including victories in the Gulfstream Park Oaks and Santa Anita Oaks, so if things don't work out on the more ambitious route, she can always fall back to that assignment.
But if she were to win the Blue Grass, earning 100 Kentucky Derby points, or even garner 40 with a runner-up showing, she'd be set for either race.
According to Keeneland's ace publicity crew, Swiss Skydiver would be just the second filly to run in the Blue Grass since it debuted at Keeneland during the track's inaugural Spring Meet in April 1937.
The first was Harriet Sue, who in 1944 won the Ashland and then was fifth behind Skytracer in the Blue Grass. For that war year, Keeneland's spring meet was held at Churchill Downs.
The males looking to step forward in the Blue Grass include Shivaree, second to Kentucky Derby favorite Tiz the Law in the Grade I Florida Derby; Basin, second to Charlatan in one division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby; Rushie, third in the Santa Anita Derby; and Enforceable, second in the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds.
As the 3-year-old crop continues to develop, several others with sterling recent form are somewhat down the class ladder. Were one of them to improve just a bit, doors would open. Look to Art Collector, particularly.
Two Kentucky Derby preps went into the books Wednesday, both leaving some questions.
The outcome of Wednesday's Japan Dirt Derby at Ohi Racecourse didn't change the winner of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" competition. But it might be a cause for concern for the winner's connections.
The winner of the series was decided going in. Café Pharoah's lead, based on two earlier victories, was insurmountable in the final race.
But it was not Café Pharoah but another colt by American Pharoah -- Danon Pharoah -- who powered home to victory while Café Pharoah showed no punch and finished seventh, beaten a dozen lengths.
Before the race, Churchill Downs officials had high hopes of getting the then-undefeated Café Pharoah into the new, 20-horse Kentucky Derby starting gate, although his connections had not publicly announced plans.
Now, they will have to consider whether the muddy Ohi track, a quick turnaround from his last race or some other factor affected him during Wednesday night's "twinkle races" at Ohi.
Both "Pharoahs" are nominated to the U.S. Triple Crown and Danon Pharoah would be next in line for Japan's Kentucky Derby bid should the Café Pharoah camp decline.
Danon Pharoah, however, has produced a spotty record to date -- a few excellent runs, sandwiched amongst several poor ones. His connections, too, are playing their cards close to the vest.
Last year, Master Fencer finished fourth in the series but accepted the Kentucky Derby bid when the first three on the list politely declined. Master Fencer finished seventh in the Run for the Roses, promoted to sixth by the disqualification of Maximum Security.
Back a lot closer to Louisville, Shared Sense rallied from next-last to take the lead at the three-sixteenths pole in Wednesday's $300,000 Grade III Indiana Derby and went on to win by a comfortable 3 lengths.
Major Fed and Necker Island were second and third. Shared Sense, a Godolphin homebred colt by Street Sense, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:49.46 with Florent Geroux riding for hot trainer Brad Cox.
Shared Sense scored his third win from eight starts. It was his first stakes win. He is not nominated to the Triple Crown and would have to be supplemented to the Kentucky Derby -- a $45,000 vote of confidence. Cox said Godolphin management will face the decision whether to pony up.
The Road to the Oaks
Six are entered for Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Central Bank Ashland at Keeneland and most of them won't be sorry to have dodged a rematch with Swiss Skydiver.
Venetian Harbor, the 6-5 favorite on the morning line, won the Grade II Las Virgenes by 9 1/4 lengths, then was second to Swiss Skydiver in the Grade III Fantasy at Oaklawn Park.
Speech, who is cross-entered in Friday's 7-furlongs Beaumont Stakes, was second to the budding superstar in the Grade II Santa Anita Oaks.
Another in this short Ashland field, Tonalist's Shape, has won six of seven starts, the only loss coming in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks, where she was seventh and Swiss Skydiver was the winner.
Other Ashland prospects include Envoutante, a stablemate of Swiss Skydiver who could improve into contention here for McPeek, and Bonny South, a Juddmonte Farms homebred last seen winning the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks impressively.
The longshot special will be Alta's Reward, fourth in each of her last two starts -- behind first Swiss Skydiver and then Shedaresthedevil.
Already in the books:
Shedaresthedevil went to the post as odds-on favorite in Wednesday's $200,000 Grade III Indiana Oaks and made it look easy, talking over the lead in the stretch before saying goodbye to seven rivals.
The Daredevil filly got home 5 lengths clear of her nearest rival, Impeccable Style, with Bayerness another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Shedaresthedevil, with Florent Geroux up for trainer Brad Cox, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.50.
Shedaresthedevil earlier this year won the Grade III Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park and finished third in the Grade III Fantasy over the same Arkansas strip. In her previous outing, she won an allowance event at Churchill Downs June 5.
The filly earned 20 points toward a start in the Longines Kentucky Oaks and now stands No. 3 on the leader board for that race with 90 points. Cox said he will figure out the best way to prepare her for the Sept. 4 Oaks.
Friday's $300,000 Grade I Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland drew its usual stellar field with a pair of Chad Brown's runners taking the top spots on the morning line. What else is new?
Raging Bull, a 5-year-old, French-bred son of Dark Angel, enters from a victory in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita.
Without Parole, a 5-year-old, British-bred by Frankel, was third in the Shoemaker Mile and third in last year's TVG Breeders' Cup Mile but has yet to win in the United States. He did, however, win the Group 1 St James's Palace at 2018 Royal Ascot.
War of Will, Next Shares, English Bee, Parlor and Hembree all have credentials to be in the Mix in the Maker's Mark Mile, normally one of the highlights of Keeneland's glorious spring meeting.
Sunday's $175,000 Grade II TVG Elkhorn at Keeneland has a wonderfully talented and frustratingly well-balanced field of 13 to tackle a mile and a half on the lawn. It's hard to throw out more than a few and even those either have had their moments and could again or show promise while rising through the ranks.
Among the likely for the Elkhorn are Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf and Grade II Mac Diarmida winner Zulu Alpha; California invader Oscar Dominguez; multiple graded stakes winner Arklow, recently second in the Grade III Louisville at Churchill Downs; and last year's Grade I Belmont Derby winner Henley's Joy, who has fallen on hard times of late.
Eleven 3-year-olds are set for Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Kentucky Utilities Transylvania Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the Keeneland grass.
Field Pass won the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks on the Turfway Park all-weather course and more recently scored in the grassy Audubon Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Chad Brown saddles Vintage Point, winner of two straight at Gulfstream Park and Churchill Downs. Also here are Bama Breeze, second in the Audubon, and Kinenos, who lost his rider shortly after the start of that race following two straight wins.
Filly & Mare Turf
A super-tough field is signed on for Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Coolmore Jenny Wiley at Keeneland but, as often happens in U.S. turf racing these days, it looks like trainer Chad Brown is well positioned.
Brown's main hope is Rushing Fall, a 5-year-old More Than Ready mare with nine wins from 12 starts. Four of those have been at the Grade I level. She also is 4-for-5 on the Keeneland greensward, including a front-running win in last year's Jenny Wiley.
Brown also has Altea, who should be running late in the 1 1/16-miles race.
Against lesser company, Jenny Wiley competitors such as Jolie Olimpica, Secret Message, La Signare and Toinette would be solid choices and any will be ready to take advantage of a slipup by Rushing Fall.
Gentle Ruler and Mrs. Sippy top the oddsmaker's list among 10 entered for Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park. Gentle Ruler, a 5-year-old Colonel John mare, won this last year and also was a winner last September at Kentucky Downs -- always a good sign.
She seldom misses a top-three finish, although she did require 12 tries to get her first win. Mrs. Sippy, a 5-year-old daughter of Blame, won the Grade II Glens Falls at Saratoga and was second in the Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont last year, and then ninth in the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
She hasn't raced since. Oddly, it appears to be legal to stage a graded stakes on the turf in Delaware without Chad Brown's participation.
Saturday's $150,000 Appalachian Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland features Alms, looking to bounce back from her first career defeat, and Walk In Marrakesh, a British import who was second in the Florida Oaks earlier this season. Both had troubled trips in their last start -- the Tepin Stakes at Churchill Downs May 23.
Globetrotters Bound for Nowhere and Wildman Jack are the morning-line favorites going 5 1/2 furlongs in Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Shakertown at Keeneland.
Wildman Jack, a 4-year-old Goldencents colt, won the Group 3 Nad Al Sheeba Turf Sprint in Dubai March 7 and would have been in the mix for the canceled Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night for trainer Doug O'Neill.
Bound for Nowhere won this race two years ago, missed by a neck in last year's edition and was one of trainer Wesley Ward's Royal Ascot contenders from 2017 through 2019, finishing third, beaten less than 1 length, in the Grade I Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2018.
Ward also owns the 6-year-old entire son of The Factor. Texas Wedge and Extravagant Kid are among the upset prospects in a full field.
Eight are set to face the starter in Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Connaught Cup at Woodbine. The morning-line favorite for the 7 furlongs, Silent Poet, drew the rail.
The 5-year-old Silent Name gelding had two wins and a second from four starts last year and won a comeback effort June 11. White Flag and Olympic Runner also get some love from the oddsmaker.
Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Delaware Handicap at 1 1/8 miles has a field of eight and, even though it's run on the dirt, Chad Brown trains the favorite.
That's Dunbar Road, a 4-year-old Quality Road filly listed at 6-5 on the morning line. She won last year's Grade I Mother Goose and Grade I Alabama and finished the year with a fifth place in the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff. She returned with a win May 23 at Churchill Downs.
On paper, things drop off a bit after Dunbar Road. Bellara won the Grade III Comely at Aqueduct in November but has tailed off recently. Always Shopping won the Grade III Gazelle at the Big A 15 months ago but hasn't had her picture taken since.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Guarana, a two-time Grade I winner, stars in Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Madison at Keeneland. The 4-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper has made five starts, winning four including the Grade I Acorn and the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks.
Well,She'd be perfect but for a second to Street Band in the Grade I Cotillion last September. The main dangers in the nine-horse field would be Bell's the One and Mia Mischief, the 1-2 finishers in the Grade III Winning Colors at Churchill Downs May 30.
Amy's Challenge led most of the way in last year's Madison, yielding to Spiced Perfection in the final strides. She doesn't face that rival this time around and could take them a long way again.
Speech, one of the potential favorites for Saturday's Ashland Stakes, also is entered for Friday's $100,000 Grade III Beaumont for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland, where she looks like a solid selection after that second to Swiss Skydiver in the Santa Anita Oaks.
Four Grades comes out of a win in the Grade III Dogwood at Churchill Downs. Wicked Whisper won the Grade I Frizette last fall at Belmont Park, then was fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and hasn't been seen since.
Monomoy Girl is back among five in Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Ruffian at Belmont Park. The 5-year-old Tapizar mare had a stellar 2018, capped with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, and then missed all of 2019.
She returned with a win in an allowance event at Churchill Downs May 16 and has been working steadily since beneath the Twin Spires. She's the odds-on favorite with Mother Mother and Vexatious getting some support.
In other action around North American tracks:
Like most everyone, the iconic seaside track's schedule has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic precautions, trimming racing dates and purses. The printed version of the Media Guide slides off into electronics-land, too -- one of the last to do so.
Nonetheless, Del Mar is special and Friday's opening day program is packed with full fields. The traditional feature, the Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds, has a dozen takers.
Two Last Words was last early and first under the wire in Wednesday's $75,000 Hoosier Breeders' Sophomore Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds.
The Commissioner gelding, with Fernando De La Cruz piloting, just outfinished Mai Tai's Gem as the two were bumping near the line. It was another 3 1/2 lengths to Chipofftheoldblock in third. Two Last Words got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.59
She'sonthewarpath stalked the pace in Wednesday's $75,000 Indiana General Assembly Distaff for state-bred fillies and mares, rallied steadily through the stretch and edged clear to a 3/4-length victory.
No Mo Lady was second, 3/4 length in front of Complicit. She'sonthewarpath ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.02 for jockey Chantal Sutherland.
The Black Album raced just behind the early pacesetter in Wednesday's $75,000 Jonathan B. Schuster Memorial, bid for the lead at the top of the lane and got there first by 1 1/2 lengths.
Hay Dakota was second, a nose in front of the favorite, Argentello, and another head in front of Grand Journey. The Black Album, a 4-year-old, French-bred colt by Wootton Bassett, finished 1 1/16 miles on the grass in 1:41.68 with Luis Saez in the irons.
Around the world, around the clock:
Thursday's Group 2 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes for 3-year-olds normally is run as a prep for the Derby and the Group 3 Tattersalls Musidora Stakes, for the Oaks. With those Classics already in the books, victories in the prestigious events nonetheless bode well for the futures of the winners.
Thunderous was the Dante winner, nailing the favorite, Highest Ground, by a neck in the final strides. It was another 2 1/4 lengths to Juan Alcano in third. Franny Norton had the winning ride for trainer Mark Johnston.
Thunderous, an Irish-bred colt by Night of Thunder, was undefeated in three starts as a 2-year-old. He started this season with a second-place showing at Newmarket June 27.
Johnston and Norton also triumphed in the Musidora for 3-year-old fillies as Rose of Kildare led, was headed and came again, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Albaflora. The favorite, Ricetta, was third. Rose of Kildare, a daughter of Make Believe, has been a busy one, scoring her sixth win from 16 starts.
Racing Post quoted Johnston: "It's been a very good hour for the yard and Franny just joked that in a normal year we might have the favorite for the Oaks and Derby after winning the Musidora and Dante, so maybe there is a missed opportunity, but we won't be disappointed with these two big prizes."
Tactical came running from midfield in the final furlong of Thursday's Group 2 Tattersalls July Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings and edged away in the final yards to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Yazaman was second and long shot Escape Route captured third in the final stride from the tiring favorite, Qaader. Tactical, a Toronado colt with William Buick up for trainer Andrew Balding, made it two straight wins, following a score -- also over Yazaman -- in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Dame Malliot dueled with Communique through much of Thursday's Group 2 Princess of Wales's Tattersalls Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, and then got the better of that foe, prevailing by 2 1/4 lengths with Hollie Doyle in the irons.
Communique held second, 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Desert Encounter. Dame Malliot, a daughter of Champs Elysees out of the Galileo mare Stars In Your Eyes, a Group 2 winner in France last year, was having her first go of 2020.
It was Doyle's first win at the Group level and winning trainer Ed Vaughan said he was "delighted for Hollie. She works hard and has a great record for me. She's got good hands, rides them with a good length of rein and I just love the way she rides."
The action continues with Friday's Group 1 Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes for fillies and mares and Group 2 Duchess of Cambridge Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Saturday it's the 6-furlongs,Group 1 Darley July Cup.
Saturday's Group 2 Betfred Summer Mile Stakes has a field of 11 with Sheik Hamdan's Mohaather as the nominal favorite. The 4-year-old Showcasing colt was seventh in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot and needs a wake-up call.
Don't be confused with the aforementioned Mohaather but another of Sheik Hamden's band, Molatham, will have support in Sunday's Group 1 Qatar Jean Prat for 3-year-old colts and fillies at Deauville.
This one is by Night of Thunder and comes out of a victory in the Group 3 Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot. Last year's 2-year-old sensation, Pinatubo, also is in this fray. The Shamardal colt, racing for Godolphin and Charlie Appleby, won all six starts in 2019, but finished third in the Qipco 2000 Guineas, then second in the Group 1 St James's Palace at the Royal meeting.
Tropbeau and Lope de Vega also appear in the nominations list for the Jean Pratt.