July 24 (UPI) -- Maximum Security returns to action this weekend at Del Mar, while Enable gets a pass from some of her most dangerous foes in the King George at Ascot.
Important grass stakes are scheduled on both coasts, including the Eddie Read and San Clemente at Del Mar and the Bernard Baruch -- with Sistercharlie -- at Saratoga. And there's a smattering of 2-year-old racing, albeit for state-breds, in New Mexico, Texas and California.
The Triple Crown scene is mercifully quiescent, so we'll start with:
Maximum Security makes his first start since winning the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29 when he lines up for the $150,000 Grade II San Diego Handicap Saturday at Del Mar.
The race, delayed a week because of a rash of COVID-19 positive test results for jockeys, also is Maximum Security's first start for trainer Bob Baffert, who took over from Jason Servis after the latter's indictment on doping charges.
Maximum Security not only ranks high in this year's polls, but also on the all-time controversy list.
The New Year's Day colt was disqualified from victory in last year's Kentucky Derby after a long inquiry into an incident at the top of the stretch. And the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia has had a long hold on the purse money from the Saudi Cup pending its own investigation of the charges against Servis.
Maximum Security presumably is unaware of all of that and has gone about establishing a superior record with eight wins from 10 starts. Were it not for that 17th-place finish decreed by the Churchill Downs stewards in the Run for the Roses, his only loss would have been a second-place finish in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park in June 2019.
"I've been very happy with him," Baffert told Blood-Horse's Byron King before the one-week delay in the San Diego. "He's been working like a good horse. I feel good about it. He should run well."
He also gets a new rider, Abel Cedillo, because Luis Saez is unable to travel due to the pandemic restrictions. Under handicap conditions, he also gives away 5 pounds or more to each of five rivals.
Those five opponents are Baffert charge and likely pace factor Ax Man, Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup runner-up Higher Power, turf mile specialist Sharp Samurai, Grade I Santa Anita Handicap winner Combatant, and Grade II San Pasqual winner Midcourt.
Sharp Samurai and Combatant are cross-entered in the grassy Eddie Read at Del Mar on Sunday.
Saturday's $150,000 Grade II San Clemente at Del Mar is for 3-year-old fillies, going 1 mile on the lawn. It's a full and competitive field with the oddsmaker nodding to Laura's Light and Warren's Showtime.
The former won both the Grade III Sweet Life Stakes and the Grade III Honeymoon Stakes at Santa Anita earlier this year. The latter won the Melaire Stakes in her last outing, but will try graded stakes company for the first time.
Three-year-olds tackle 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course at Woodbine in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Marine Stakes. The 6-5 favorite in a field of seven is Shirl's Speight, a Speightstown colt making just his second start -- and that on the local turf.
The race was an impressive one, though, as Shirl's Speight showed his heels to nine rivals, winning by 8 lengths, well in hand. Roger Attfield trains the Charles Fipke homebred.
The older steeds go Sunday at Woodbine in the $125,000 (Canadian) Seagram Cup, also at 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather. Skywire comes off a victory in the Grade II Eclipse Stakes on July 4.
Avie's Flatter and Mr. Ritz return after finishing second and third in that heat. Tiz a Slam has plenty of back class and Explode invades from the western provinces.
Filly & Mare Turf
Sistercharlie is the class, and then some, of Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Balston Spa at Saratoga. The 6-year-old, Irish-bred Myboycharlie mare has won 10 of 13 starts for trainer Chad Brown, including seven at the Grade I level.
Six of those Grade I's were consecutive -- a record matched in North America only by Zenyatta, who won nine in a row.
Sistercharlie has not raced sine November, when she finished third in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita -- a race she won in 2018 en route to divisional Eclipse Award honors. But Brown expressed confidence and gratitude that owner Peter Brant elected to keep her in training.
"She's been ready to run for a little while now," Brown said. "It's great that he decided to race her as a 6-year-old. To have a star horse like this in training is good for the entire industry, so hopefully she has another great year."
There is a little competition, including 2019 Canadian Horse of the Year Starship Jubilee and Group 2 Premio Lydia Tessio winner Call Me Love, both with more recent experience.
Six are in for Sunday's $150,000 Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the Saratoga turf. Chad Brown and Mike Maker saddle two each.
Brown's pair is composed of Good Governance, a 4-year-old, British-bred Kingman colt making just his fourth start with two wins and a second in the Grade II Saranac, and Olympico, a French-bred who was fifth in last year's Baruch.
Maker brings Somelikeithotbrown, third in the Grade II Fort Marcy in his last outing, and Mr Dumas, seemingly still seeking his niche. Seismic Wave and Halladay complete the lineup for the Baruch.
Out West, Sunday's Grade $200,000 Grade II Eddie Read at Del Mar is packed with talent: Bowies Hero, Originaire, Sharp Samurai, Cleopatra's Strike and Neptune's Storm also have solid resumes at the graded stakes level. United has won two straight -- the Grade II San Marcos and the Grade II Charles Whittingham.
Combatant also is entered here but, after three straight graded stakes tries on the dirt, is more likely to go in Saturday's San Diego.
Sunday's $100,000 Jersey Derby has a field of eight and will be one to sit out and watch with some interest.
Seven-year-old Whitmore returns to action in Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at the Spa, facing four quality rivals. Whitmore has been a dominant force at his favorite track, Oaklawn Park, and won his last start over that surface, the Grade III Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, in April.
In his only previous appearance in Upstate New York, he won the Grade I Forego in 2018. The old warrior has hit the board in 27 of his 34 starts and banked more than $3 million.
Whitmore faces formidable opposition in Firenze Fire, recent winner of the Grade II True North at Belmont Park and fourth in last year's Vanderbilt, and Mind Control, winner of three of his last four starts, including the Grade I H. Allen Jerkens over the Saratoga track last August.
Volatile gets put to the test after four wins and a second from five career starts for trainer Steve Asmussen -- all at lower levels. His two previous starts this year have been devastating.
Already in the books: Pink Lloyd dominated the stretch run Thursday at Woodbine to win the Shepperton Stakes for the third time.
With Rafael Hernandez up, the 8-year-old multiple champion ran to his notices and won by nearly 2 lengths over Silent Jimmy, finishing 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.44. He won the race in 2017 and 2019 and finished third in 2018. He has won 24 of 30 starts, 21 of those victories in stakes races.
"He's got the heart and desire to be probably the best sprinter in Canada the last 50 years," said trainer Robert Tiller. "He is amazing. He was in trouble all the way. We got the box trip with the one-hole, and it worked out well. Raffi waited and waited. We're very proud of him and I love him dearly."
Jack and Noah, the even-money favorite, might share the spotlight with Turned Aside in Friday's $100,000 Grade III Quick Call Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga. Jack and Noah is 3-for-6 and was seen last winning the Sir Cat Stakes at Belmont Park.
Turned Aside was second in that heat and has missed a top-three finish only once in six career starts. This is 5 1/2 furlongs
Stealthediamonds and Jo Jo Air are the morning-line picks among nine for Friday's $65,000 Daisycutter Handicap at Del Mar -- a 5-furlongs dash. Stealthediamonds exits a third in the Grade II Monrovia. Jo Jo Air, sent west from Keeneland by Wesley Ward, looks for a wakeup call after three sub-par efforts so far this year.
There's not a lot of action in this division this weekend, other than the $125,000 (Canadian) Selene Stakes at Woodbine. In that 1 1/16-miles, all-weather heat, the oddsmaker found little to separate Owlette and Merveilleux -- other than the former being drawn No. 1 and the latter No. 7 in the field of seven 3-year-old filies. Both have been impressive over the local course, and it should be an interesting matchup.
Around the world, around the clock:
Saturday's Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot Racecourse is a match race -- John Gosden, represented more than ably by Enable and Fanny Logan, and Aidan O'Brien, represented by three from the mighty Coolmore army.
That's it. Only four are set for one of the summer's most prestigious races.
Enable, despite her loss to Ghaiyyath in the Coral-Eclipse, remains firmly on course for another try at a third in in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in the autumn.
Gosden, her adoring jockey Frankie Dettori and owner Khalid Abdullah all would be grateful for a sign the lack of a late punch at Sandown was due to the 273-days break after last year's heartbreaking Arc loss to Waldgeist.
O'Brien had six entered for the King George, but announced midweek that Magical, Magic Wand and Dragonette have been rerouted to other races. That leaves Japan, Anthony Van Dyck and Sovereign to challenge Enable. Her stablemate, Fanny Logan, also has been detoured elsewhere.
Enable, a 6-year-old mare by Nathaniel, already has won the King George twice and Dettori has won it six times. Gosden said he mare has come on well from the Coral-Eclipse defeat, saying it's harder each year to get a horse of her size into top racing shape.
Japan was fourth in last year's Arc and third in the Coral-Eclipse. A progressive campaign could see him traveling the world in the fall, perhaps to Japan, the United States or Hong Kong.
Anthony Van Dyck, the 2019 Investec Derby winner, was third in last year's Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, second to Ghaiyyath in his 2020 debut but a disappointment in the Group 2 Hardwicke at Royal Ascot, won by Fanny Logan. Sovereign, winner of last year's Irish Derby (with Anthony Van Dyck second), returned from a full year's break to run third in a Group 3 event at the Curragh June 27.
All three are Galileo 4-year-olds.
The race is a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf on Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
The runners for Sunday's Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh still were not confirmed at press time. We'll sort that out for you the easy way -- with the results in front of us.
Saturday's Group 1 Vodacom Durban July is being run three weeks behind schedule and without fans. Other tracks face the same issues but the no-fans pandemic restriction bites particularly deep for this race, the social event of the year in the Indian Ocean town.
Normally, fans would be dressed to the nines, following a theme -- this year, "Butterflies." That's, of course, except for the overserved young folks who annually stage an unauthorized but tolerated "13th race" down the Greyville stretch -- sans clothing.
But the race is the thing, and that, too, is missing something this year. Hawwaam, a fan favorite and the force of South African racing, is off to quarantine as his owner, Sheik Hamdan, prepares to unleash him on the world. Soqrat, who shared billing in Mike de Kock's barn, takes over the load.
The race also includes Do It Again, winner of the 2018 and 2019 Julys, who seeks to be the first ever to do it again and again. Justin Snaith, another internationally minded South African trainer, handles Do It Again.
There are plenty of others with talent in the full field and the narrow stretch on the Greyville turf course makes for tight quarters in the late going and a chance for upsets.