Country Grammer wins the Peter Pan Stakes on opening day at Saratoga on Thursday, entering the picture for the Haskell and the Kentucky Derby. Photo courtesy of the New York Racing Association
July 17 (UPI) -- The $1 million Haskell for Kentucky Derby hopefuls Saturday at Monmouth Park heads weekend horse racing's biggest card, while Saratoga's opening day already has produced another new 3-year-old player.
Del Mar plays "now you see us, now you don't," taking the weekend off because of COVID-19.
Both Monmouth and Saratoga host much-anticipated turf races. Woodbine also gets in on the action with major stakes both Saturday and Sunday.
On the international scene, it's the Irish Oaks at the Curragh and the Prix d'Ispahan in France.
Again, for another set of eyes on the past performances, tendencies and quirks of the horses, jockeys and trainers, turn to industry seer Jude Feld at popejude.com.
The Road to the Roses and Oaks
Authentic is the morning-line favorite in a field of seven for Saturday's $1 million Grade I TVG.com Haskell at Monmouth Park.
The Into Mischief colt, trained by Bob Baffert, was undefeated in three starts, two of them graded stakes, before he ran into Honor A.P. in the Grade I RUNHAPPY Santa Anita Derby on June 6.
Although he did break a step slow in that race, he was losing ground in deep stretch and finished second, 2 3/4 lengths adrift of Honor A.P.
The two main rivals in the Haskell are Dr Post, a Quality Road colt trained by Todd Pletcher, and Ny Traffic, a Cross Traffic colt trained by Saffie Joseph Jr.
Dr Post exits a second-place finish in the Grade I Belmont Stakes, where he reported 3 3/4 lengths after Tiz the Law, the current heavy Kentucky Derby favorite. Ny Traffic was second behind Wells Bayou in the Grade II TwinSpires Louisiana Derby and second again in the Grade III Matt Winn at Churchill Downs.
Any of the other four might need divine intervention to get home first in the Haskell, which brings us to Jesus' Team.
The Tapiture colt finished a surprising second June 10 in a Gulfstream Park allowance race designed to give some better-known Derby contenders a chance to race during the COVID-19 shutdowns. Jesus' Team finished behind only Sole Volante, beating the likes of Florida Derby runner-up Shivaree and Fountain of Youth winner Ete Indiene.
The race is a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Keeneland and carries 100 points to the winner on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Already in the books:
Country Grammer and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. got their ABC's right in Thursday's $100,000 Grade III Peter Pan Stakes at Saratoga.
Skimming the rail behind the early long shot speed, Country Grammer found an inside opening turning for home and took the shortest way there. Caracaro, meanwhile, came around rivals to hook up in a stretch duel before Country Grammer pulled away in the late going to win by a neck.
The favorite, Mystic Guide, lagged early, then rushed up for third. Country Grammer, a Tonalist colt, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.79.
The Peter Pan was only the second win from five starts for Country Grammer, who was fifth in the Grade II Fountain of Youth on Leap Day, and trainer Chad Brown said getting him a distance of ground was key -- perhaps a key to the $1 million Grade I Runhappy Travers at 1 1/4 miles Aug 8.
"Irad gave him a beautiful ride. He took advantage of his inside post," Brown said. "He trains that way and he's a bit of a grinder. He's a long-distance horse and we've been wanting to get him back out to a mile and an eighth.
"Obviously, the logical thing is to point him to the Travers at a mile and a quarter," Brown said. "I don't think he'll have a problem with the distance. We'll have to see if he's good enough. He hasn't run many times and there's room for improvement there."
The colt also earned 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leader board, landing him in the No. 11 spot on that list.
In other 3-year-old news:
Charlatan and Gamine, two of Baffert's top-tier 3-year-olds, have been disqualified from their victories in a division of the Arkansas Derby and an Oaklawn Park allowance race, respectively, because of positive post-race drug tests. Oaklawn stewards also slapped Baffert with a 15-day suspension.
The decision strips Charlatan of the 100 Kentucky Derby points he earned in the Arkansas Derby, returning him to zero. That point is moot since the colt is out of contention for the Run for the Roses after ankle surgery.
Gamine went on from the Oaklawn race to win the Grade I Longines Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park in track-record time, earning 50 points toward the Kentucky Oaks -- likely enough to make the field.
Post-race tests found trace amounts of lidocaine in both horses. Baffert's attorney said the drug apparently entered the horses' systems by accidental cross-contamination from an employee wearing a pain patch.
The minute levels found by lab testing would not have affected the horses' performance, the attorney said. An appeal is planned.
Meanwhile, the sixth pool of the Churchill Downs-run Kentucky Derby Futures Wager is this weekend. Multiple grade-stakes winner Tiz the Law is the morning-line favorite with Gamine and Blue Grass runner-up Swiss Skydiver top the individual interests.
None of the candidates from the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby or European Road to the Kentucky Derby is listed as an individual interest.
Café Pharoah, the leader in Japan, closed at 6-1 in Pool 5 but is no longer a contender. Three of the individual betting interests, Dean Martini, Rushie and Shared Sense, are not nominated to the Triple Crown. A $45,000 supplement fee would be needed to make any of them eligible for the Derby.
On the Oaks front, Tonalist's Shape and Paris Lights are the morning-line favorites in a field of six for Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga.
Tonalist's Shape, a Tonalist filly, has won six of her seven starts. Paris Lights, by Curlin, was vicorious in her last two races and enters stakes competition for the first time. Baffert sends Crystal Ball, a Malibu Moon filly exiting her first win at Santa Anita.
Don't be looking for the return of Maximum Security in the Grade II San Diego Handicap this weekend. Del Mar announced Wednesday it is "taking the weekend off" after a significant number of jockeys tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. That put the kibosh on the San Diego on Saturday and the Grade II Eddie Read on the turf on Sunday.
Ten signed on for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Monmouth Cup at 1 1/8 miles. A couple have had success over the track -- Bal Harbour was second in this race last year and Monongahela won the Grade III Iselin some 13 months ago.
Monongahela and a couple others have form compromised by trips in the Grade III Westchester at Belmont Park June 6. That race was run in a driving rainstorm over a sloppy track and dominated by Code of Honor and Endorsed.
Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park could come down to a confrontation between the experienced Horologist, 2-for-2 over the track, and the Chad Brown-trained Royal Flag, who takes a big step up after three impressive wins. She's a Julie has a shot off an upset win in the Grade I Ogden Phipps in her last start.
Another Time, Art of Almost and Theodora B. are the morning-line picks for Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Trillium Stakes at 1 1/16 on the Woodbine all-weather track.
Another Time, the pick at 2-1, seeks her first stakes score but exits a second in the Grade II Nassau on June 27. She has been racing exclusively on the turf for more than a year, however, and is cross-entered in the grassy Royal North Stakes on the same program.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park has some odd entries for a race of this quality and history, especially in this day and age. If trainer Brad Cox lets him run, 6-year-old Arklow might be the favorite while returning on just six days' rest after finishing sixth in the Grade II Elkhorn at Keeneland.
Standard Deviation, another likely contender, was in Qatar two starts back, finishing second to local kingpin French King in the Group 1 HH the Emir's Trophy. Eve's Medal, should he run, would be making just the second start of his career, following a runner-up showing in a local maiden event July 5.
And Muggsamatic was claimed out of three straight races a Monmouth last summer, then beat up on fellow Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park this winter.
There's also a diverse mix that fits the United Nations mold a bit better. Paret, an Australian-bred 6-year-old, looks like he could carry his speed through this 1 1/2 miles.
And one to watch -- Corelli, a Point of Entry gelding who ran well in middle-level races in England for the potent team of John Gosden and Frankie Dettori and makes his second U.S. start for trainer Jonathan Thomas. His debut on June 4 at Belmont promised more.
At Saratoga, Decorated Invader shows up as the even-money favorite among seven (plus one "main-track-only") entries for Saturday's $150,000 Grade II National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Stakes. The race is restricted to 3-year-olds.
Decorated Invader, a Declaration of War colt, won the Grade I Summer Stakes at Woodbine last fall, then finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita. He won his first two starts of 2020, most recently the Grade II Pennine Ridge at Belmont Park, for trainer Christophe Clement.
Also logical in the NMR&HFS are the favorite's stablemate, Gufo, also trained by Clement and also by Declaration of War, winner of four straight heats, and Domestic Spending, a son of Kingman trained by Chad Brown who steps up with a 2-for-2 record on the line.
Filly & Mare Turf
Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Matchmaker at Monmouth Park has a nicely competitive field of eight fillies and mares.
There's hardly any early speed in the past performances so someone -- Xenobia or Tapit Today? -- might try to steal this on the lead. That makes for a jockeys' race and none of the eight has the same pilot as in her last race.
Eight 3-year-old fillies are entered for Sunday's $150,000 Grade II Lake Placid at Saratoga. None is trained by Chad Brown but Graham Motion saddles two -- Blame Debbie and Cat's Pajamas.
Speaktomeofsummer has two stakes wins to her credit, but finished fourth in the Grade III Wonder Again at Belmont in her last start. Queen's Embrace is 5-for-6 this year in allowance events. They're all seeking their level.
Nine are set for Saturday's $210,000 (Canadian) Grade II Royal North Stakes at Woodbine. Another Time, the morning-line favorite, is cross-entered in the Trillium Stakes on the all-weather course on the same program. Summer Sunday and Sister Peacock also figure in this bunch.
Saturday's $75,000 Wolf Hill Stakes at Monmouth Park has a full field, including everything from Snowday, a Group 3 winner in France, to Singanothersong, a 10-year-old gelding claimed two starts back for $8,000.
Dayoutoftheoffice took charge in the lane in Thursday's $100,000 Grade III Schuylerville Stakes at Saratoga and drew off smartly to win by 6 lengths. The early leader, Make Mischief, was second with Hopeful Princess third.
The odds-on favorite, Beautiful Memories, stumbled leaving the gate, then was pulled up entering the stretch but walked off the track on her own.
Dayoutoftheoffice, an Into Mischief filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.43 for jockey Junior Alvarado. Trained by Timothy Hamm, the filly won her only previous start at Gulfstream Park on May 14 by 4 3/4 lengths.
"One of the things you look forward to at Saratoga is getting nice 2-year-old horses like this and to win the big races," Alvarado said. "The second thing is the fans. There's nothing like the fans here at Saratoga. ... We for sure are missing them."
Jockey Jose Ortiz said he pulled up Beautiful Memories as a precaution because she wasn't moving well after the early bobble. "It was a tough decision to make," he said. "She had a small cut on her right foot. I don't think it's serious."
The Minnesota oval celebrated its own Derby Day on Wednesday with a stakes-packed card.
Summer Assault rallied nicely through the stretch to win the $110,000 Mystic Lakek Derby by 1 length over Angelus Warrior with Creative Plan just a head farther back in third. Ask Bailey, the favorite, rallied from last of seven to win the $55,000 Northbound Pride Oaks by 4 1/4 lengths over Urban Fairytale.
On the turf, Tut's Revenge stalked the pace, then won a stretch battle with Giant Payday to take the $85,000 Mystic Lake Mile by a head with the favorite, Temple, another head back in third.
Streak of Luck led all the way to a 3/4-length victory over Winning Envelope in the $85,000 Lady Canterbury at 1 mile on the greensward. And odds-on favorite Wellabled also led gate to wire in the $55,000 Honor the Hero Stakes at 5 furlongs, defeating runner-up Chief Cicatriz by 1/2 length.
Around the world, around the clock:
Aidan O'Brien saddles half of the eight-filly field for Saturday's Group 1 Juddmonte Irish Oaks but it might be a close thing whether he's got the post-time favorite. By the antepost action, the top two for the 1 1/2 miles are O'Brien's Ennistymon and Cayenne Pepper, trained by Jessica Harrington.
Both have been bridesmaids in top races. Cayenne Pepper, a daughter of 2014 Derby winner Australia, exits a second behind Magical in the Group 1 Pretty Polly on June 28. Ennistymon, by 2001 Derby winner Galileo, was second to Frankly Darling in the Group 2 Ribblesdale and second to Love in the Investec Oaks.
O'Brien also fields Munster Oaks winner Snow, Laburnum and Passion, third in the Ribblesdale and fifth in the Investec Oaks. All are daughters of the busy Galileo. His son, Joseph Patrick O'Brien, saddles New York Girl.
Sunday's feature at the Curragh is the Airlie Stud Stakes for 2-year-olds at 6 furlongs. With final declarations pending, O'Brien has a strong hand here, too, although we can't help but like Harrington's entry, Dickiedoodah, a daughter of Starspangledbanner.
Sunday's big race is the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Chantilly with Persian King the heavy favorite and Roseman and Shaman also drawing support. Seven are left after the defection of Sheik Hamdan's Motamorris.
Persian King, a 4-year-old son of Kingman, won the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains or French 2,000 Guineas, last year, finished second to Sottsass in the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club, or French Derby, then sat out the rest of the year. He has a second and a first this season while building up to this engagement for trainer Andre Fabre and Godolphin. Much is expected.
Roseman, a Kingman colt, was fourth in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot last month. Shaman, by Shamardal, won the Group 2 Prix d'Harcourt on May 11, and then was third in the Group 1 Prix Ganay, won by Sottsass.