1 of 2 | Stradivarius wins the Goodwood Cup for the fourth straight year, may be headed to the Arc. Photo courtesy of Goodwood Racecourse, via Racenews
July 31 (UPI) -- Stradivarius and Mohaather starred at Glorious Goodwood this week in England while North American fans sharpened their handicapping skills for a glut of Grade I weekend events from coast to coast with the likes of Midnight Bisou, Tom's d'Etat and hot Kentucky Derby prospect Honor A.P.
"Win and You're In" races for the Breeders' Cup Distaff run at both Saratoga and Del Mar.
The 2-year-old action also heats up a bit with the first round of the Florida Sire Stakes series at Gulfstream Park and other events from Canada to California. It's never too early to watch the developing youngsters.
Amid all the other action, Ellis Park on Sunday has Kentucky Downs Prevue day -- five races pointing toward the rich and well-patronized program down the road, spatially and temporally, at the only European-style, all-turf track in North America.
Lots of top racing, lots of talented runners. To get a jump on the action, check out the thoughts of a top handicapper, Jude Feld, at popejude.com.
Let's start with what we know for sure, mainly the results of a spectacular renewal of Goodwood's midsummer week's dream. Then we'll prevue what we're about to find out domestically.
"Glorious Goodwood," officially stripped of that evocative name and, this year, of its summertime society fans and fashion, nonetheless is producing glorious racing indeed.
Now known as the "Qatar Goodwood Festival", the first few days produced a surprise candidate for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Stradivarius, a likely player in this fall's Breeders' Cup Mile at Keeneland in Mohaather, and a potential candidate for almost anything in 3-year-old Fancy Blue. All sparkled in Goodwood victories.
Here's a day-by-day rundown:
Champion stayer Stradivarius looked to be in a world of trouble with a couple of furlongs to run in Tuesday's Group 1 Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup.
Nayef Road had been on the lead since the opening strides with lightly weighted 3-year-old Santiago giving chase. Stradivarius was drafting right behind Santiago but boxed in by Eagles By Day -- nowhere to go.
Not to worry. As Eagles By Day began to falter, he moved just enough to give Stradivarius a running lane and he immediately downshifted, went about his business and won by 1 length over a brave Nayef Road.
Santiago got the trip but, despite getting an official 10 pounds from the winner, could only manage third, another 1 1/4 lengths back.
It was the fourth Goodwood Cup win for Stradivarius, a 6-year-old son of Sea the Stars whose career can easily be summed up: Dominated stayers of his generation.
Owned by Bjorn Nielsen, trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, his record includes winning three straight Gold Cups at Royal Ascot and, twice, the 1 million-pounds Weatherbys Hamilton Bonus for a sweep of four British Cup races.
Now, Gosden said, Nielsen has a new plan.
"He would like to freshen him up, give him a nice holiday and go for the Prix Foy at Longchamp in September," Gosden said. "If he runs a nice race there and handles the track and everything, then he will run in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe."
That would force Dettori to choose between Enable and Stradivarius. Since even Dettori couldn't straddle two runners, circus-style, and given how he feels about the mare, Stradivarius would need a new partner.
Also on Tuesday at Goodwood, Coolmore's expected star of the future, Battleground, answered all the questions, swooping to an authoritative, 2-lengths victory in the Veuve Cliquot Vintage Stakes at 7 furlongs.
The Kentucky-bred colt is by War Front, out of 2016 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Found, she by Galileo. Battleground obviously learned his lessons in a fifth-place career debut June 8 at Naas in Ireland and now is a hot ticket for the 2021 Guineas.
"We think he will be a miler, probably," trainer Aidan O'Brien said of Battleground. "He is a strong traveller, but he is by War Front, and being out of Found we thought he might get a mile and that is what we would be hoping for.
"Obviously all the 2-year-olds got a little bit missed up with the start of the season not being there, and then we had to rush some of them to get them to Ascot," O'Brien said.
"It is very early for horses yet. An awful lot will come out and some will improve, some will stand still and some will go back. But we are delighted with this horse. "We think his next run will be the National Stakes, everything being well."
That Group 1 event is back home at the Curragh Sept. 13 on Irish Champions Weekend.
Space Blues rallied to the lead in the final furlong of Tuesday's Group 2 Qatar Lennox Stakes and coasted home first, 1 length in front of Duke of Hazzard, in the 7-furlongs tilt.
The 4-year-old Dubawi colt, toting William Buick and the Godolphin blue, improved to 3-for-3 this season for Charlie Appleby.
"On the back of that, it would be nice to see how fresh we can get him as I feel the Prix Maurice de Gheest [Group 1, Aug. 9 at Deauville] is something to target," Appleby said.
"It would be nice to give him a crack at a Group 1 again, but obviously it does come in 12 days' time." He was third in that race last year but Appleby noted Space Blues "is a stronger horse this year."
Wednesday's Group 1 Qatar Sussex Stakes turned out to be a tactical challenge with plenty of race riding in the final three furlongs.
At the end of things, though, it was pretty clear the best horse won as Mohaather finally sprung free from imprisonment along the rail and shot by rivals to score by 3/4 length.
Circus Maximus led most of the way and held second, a further 1/2 length to the good of Siskin with Kameko fourth. Mohaather, a 4-year-old Showcasing colt, is trained by Marcus Tregoning for Sheik Hamdan al Maktoum. Jim Crowley had the cool winning ride.
"It was a tactical race and we thought it would be," Tregoning said. "I don't blame anyone for that. It's just racing. He struggled to get out as he's not the biggest, but Jim kept his calm and the horse has that massive kick.
"It was a little bit of a nightmare to watch. But I knew if Mohaather got out, he would have the speed. He has got a very good turn of foot, as you can see. He's very impressive and if he'd got out earlier he'd have won easily. He won easily, anyway"
The Sussex was a "Win and You're In" for the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile in November and Tregoning said that is "a possibility." The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes a month earlier at Ascot also beckons.
Wednesday's Group 3 Markel Insurance Molecomb Stakes for 2-year-olds went to Steel Bull, an Irish-bred Clodovil colt who improved to 2-for-2.
Squeezed back at the start of the 5-furlongs race, jockey Colin Keane urged Steel Bull through a narrow opening in the final furlong and outfinished Ben Macdui by 3/4 length.
In Thursday's Group 1 Qatar Nassau Stakes for fillies and mares, Coolmore's Fancy Blue ran by her pacesetting stablemate and favorite, Magic Wand, to take the lead at the furlong marker and held off a late bid by One Voice to win by a neck.
Magic Wand, with Frankie Dettori up for trainer Aidan O'Brien, tired through the late going and was passed by Nazeef and Queen Power, who secured third and fourth.
Fancy Blue, with Ryan Moore riding for Aidan's son, Donnacha O'Brien, improved to four wins from five starts, the victories also including the Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines, or French Oaks. She is by the late, great Japanese sire Deep Impact, out of the Sadler's Wells mare Chenchikova.
The younger O'Brien confessed he is the lucky one to have such a filly at the start of his career.
"It is unbelievable that I get a filly like her in my first year. People go a lifetime without getting a filly like her. I am no under no illusions as to how lucky I am, and I just need to do the best I can with her."
O'Brien said the Breeders' Cup will be an option for Fancy Blue if American COVID-19 pandemic restrictions permit.
He also mentioned as an option the Queen Elizabeth II Cup Nov. 15 at Hanshin in Japan, which offers a big bonus for a horse winning that race after a Prix Diane victory. Being by Deep Impact, that visit would be noteworthy.
And, with the enthusiasm of youth, he added, "I think she would be competitive anywhere from a mile to a mile and a half. With a fillies' allowance in the Arc, I wouldn't be writing her off either."
Supremacy found the rail and the lead early in Thursday's Group 2 Qatar Richmond Stakes for 2-year-olds, showed the way under pressure and then drew off in the final few hundred yards to win by 4 lengths.
Yazaman, the favorite, raced widest of all and just did nip lauded for runner-up honors. Supremacy, an Irish-bred colt by Mehmas, backed up his second-out victory July 6 at Windsor.
Things wind down Friday with the 5-furlongs, Group 2 King George Qatar Stakes the focus, thanks mainly to the presence of Battaash, one of the world's top sprinters.
The 6-year-old Dark Angel gelding is gunning for his fourth consecutive King George and enters on the back of a handy win in the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, where he defeated a few of Friday's rivals.
Racing Post quoted Angus Gold, racing manager for owner Sheik Hamdan, as comparing Battaash favorably with his superstar of two decades ago, Dayjur.
Also on Friday, Goodwood offers a trio of Group 3 events. The week wraps up Saturday with the Group 2 Qatar Lillie Langtree Stakes at 1 3/4 miles.
Now, let's get back to North America and those juicy races set for the first weekend of August.
The Road to the Roses
Saturday's $100,000 Shared Belief at Del Mar is another of those "bonus" races brought to you courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the Kentucky Derby pushed back to Sept. 4 this year, some late-developing 3-year-olds have a chance they otherwise would have missed.
And to accommodate them, Churchill Downs added a bunch of extra qualifying races to the "Road to the Kentucky Derby"series. This is one, with the winner getting 50 points and the next three garnering 20, 10 and 5.
It's a worthy bonus race, at that, featuring Grade I Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P. against three of the top prospects remaining to five-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert.
Honor A.P., an Honor Code ridgling, has won two of four starts with the Santa Anita Derby far and away his best effort. He stands in the No. 3 spot on the Churchill Downs list with 120 points -- trailing only Tiz the Law and Baffert's top hope, Authentic.
The Baffert trio here comprise Los Alamitos Derby winner Uncle Chuck, who would put a 2-for-2 record at risk if he doesn't scratch in favor of the Travers at Saratoga; Cezanne, also 2-for-2 but making his stakes debut; and Thousand Words, who excelled in his first three starts, not so much in his three most recent.
Thousand Words is on the bubble at No. 18 with 33 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The other two need to score.
Also in this field are Anneau d'Or, second in both the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Los Alamitos Futurity but nowhere in his last three races, and the seemingly outclassed Kiss Today Goodbye.
The Road to the Oaks
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Monmouth Oaks has a field of nine and no clear favorite. Give a look to Piece of My Heart, winner of the Gardenia Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and Lucrezia, second in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks, but this is a good place to test those old handicapping skills.
McKinzie returns in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Bing Crosby at Del Mar, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
The 5-year-old son of Street Sense has tackled a varied list of chores for trainer Bob Baffert, from last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, where he finished second behind Vino Rosso going 1 1/4 miles, to the $20 million Saudi Cup, where he reported 11th, to the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont Park where he was fifth, beaten 2 lengths. Now he cuts back even farther, to 6 furlongs, the shortest trip he's ever tried.
Among the others in the Crosby: Lexitonian ships in from Kentucky, looking for an easy spot; Collusion Illusion is 4-for-5 in his young career and Wildman Jack would have been one to consider in the $2 million Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night in Dubai had that race not been canceled.
On the flip side: Heartwood was last seen winning an $18,000 optional claimer at BelTerra Park in southern Ohio and P R Radio Star has been claimed four times already this year, most recently for $25,000.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Memorial at Saratoga pits 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs and features the first three finishers from the Grade I Woody Stephens at Belmont Park June 20 -- No Parole, Echo Town, Shoplifted and Mischevious Alex.
Baffert hopes to get last year's Grade I Del Mar Futurity winner Eight Rings going again after two lackluster efforts. Tap It To Win led the way early in the 9-furlongs Belmont Stakes and shortens up here hoping to hang on.
Midnight Bisou faces five rivals in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff. Midnight Bisou, second in the $20 million Saudi Cup in February, returned to action June 27 with a victory in the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs.
Midnight Bisou, who won this race last year, by a nose over Elate, gives six pounds to each rival in the 9-furlongs event so she'll need to be on her toes. The main rivals would appear to be Fleur de Lis second Motion Emotion and reliable stakes performer Point of Honor.
The top three from the Grade II Santa Maria -- Fighting Mad, Hard Not to Love and Ce Ce -- return for Sunday's $250,000 Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar, another Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In".
Hard Not to Love is hard not to like with five wins, two seconds and a third from eight starts -- most of those against the best available compeition. Fighting Mad posted a bit of an upset in the Santa Maria while Ce Ce, an Elusive Quality filly, won three in a row, including the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, before finishing third as the odds-on favorite.
Another in the Hirsh, Ollie's Candy, won the race last year but otherwise is the picture you see in the dictionary next to the definition of "bridesmaid". In her last 10 starts, all graded stakes, the Candy Ride filly has that one win, along with four seconds, three thirds, a fourth and one clunker.
You couldn't ask much more from a five-horse field than what's in Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Whitney at Saratoga, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic.
Tom's d'Etat enters off four straight wins, dating back to October with the most recent an impressive score in the Grade II Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs June 27.
Improbable's last start produced a 3 1/4-lengths win in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap and he was a close second to Tom's d'Etat when they met in the Oaklawn Mile back in April.
The last time Code of Honor stepped onto the Saratoga track, he won the Grade I Travers. If there's a throw-out, it's Mr. Buff, who is more at home against fellow New York-breds.
Some familiar names appear on the program page for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Bowling Green at Saratoga, but none is exactly on a tear at this point in the season.
Those competitors include Sadler's Joy, Channel Maker and Cross Border. The latter won over the Spa's green course against state-breds in the Lubash stakes July 20 and boasts a 4-for-4 record at the joint. It's an interesting race if not a spectacular assemblage.
Ten are set to face the starter in Saturday's $200,000 Caress for fillies and mares at Saratoga. There's not a whole lot to separate them despite a disparity of experience.
Worth noting: Bob Baffert gives Mother Mother her first try on the greensward. She did turn in a worthwhile work on the surface on Sunday but this is not a move that's been successful historically for the silver-haired trainer.
Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies
It's still a little early to judge the 2-year-olds but there are some opportunities to get some early impressions this weekend. The lineup for the youngsters stretches from Woodbine to Gulfstream Park on the north-south axis and from Monmouth Park to Del Mar on the east-west.
The Florida Sire Stakes series, which kicks off at Gulfstream on Saturday, is always fascinating even if it rarely has produced open-company competitors.
The Dr. Fager Division drew 12 entries and the Desert Vixen for fillies attracted 10. Each 6-furlongs sprint is worth $100,000. A big part of the attraction is the growing distance as the series progresses.
Also on tap:
Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) My Dear Stakes for fillies at Woodbine.
Sunday's $100,000 Graduation Stakes for state-breds at Del Mar
Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Victoria Stakes on the Wooodbine all-weather course
Sunday's $75,000 Colleen for fillies at Monmouth Park
Sunday's card features the Kentucky Downs Prevue races, five $100,000 events offering spots in the September program at the old Dueling Grounds all-turf, European-style track on the Kentucky-Tennessee border.
The program is designed to help both tracks and feeds into a schedule that has become a prolific producer of top turf performers during the second half of the year. It's well worth a look and well worth taking notes.