Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Finally, it's the last big weekend of trials for the COVID-delayed Kentucky Derby, with big favorite Tiz the Law looking to stay on top of the rankings and take home the winner's share in the $1 million Travers at Saratoga.
A dozen potential rivals, meanwhile, will be on display at Kentucky in the Ellis Park Derby.
Gamine, a hot latecomer to the ranks of Kentucky Oaks hopefuls, gets a 7-furlongs blowout at Saratoga. Last year's 2-year-old champ, Storm the Court, detours off the Road to the Roses to see if he can get back to winning ways on the Del Mar turf.
And speaking of 2-year-olds, this year's youngsters wind things up a bit tighter with competition from New York and Florida to Kentucky and California.
Internationally, Military Style showed Thursday in Ireland that Coolmore's steady stream of good ones won't be drying up in 2021.
There's seldom been a better weekend to enlist a second pair of eyes on these races. None better than the peepers belonging to industry expert Jude Feld, whose views on the doings are available at popejude.com.
The Road to the Roses
Tiz the Law, the heavy favorite for the Sept. 4 Kentucky Derby, is an even heavier favorite for Saturday's $1 million Grade I Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga -- the Midsummer Derby.
The Constitution colt is 5-for-6 with the wins including the Florida Derby in March. After a short break, he started his run to Louisville with a powerful victory in the Belmont Stakes on June 20.
Having outlasted and/or defeated most of the other top 3-year-olds so far, Tiz the Law faces a whole new crop of rivals taking advantage of the four-month delay in the Run for the Roses. Only two of Saturday's seven rivals have faced him before, and those weren't close at the finish.
The newcomers give evidence the delay in the schedule worked to their advantage. Uncle Chuck, trained by five-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, is undefeated in two starts, both in California.
Country Grammer and Caracaro were 1-2 in the Grade III Peter Pan earlier in the Saratoga meeting. South Bend detoured off the turf to finish a bold second in the Grade III Ohio Derby in his last start.
Baffert noted he lost several of his early Kentucky Derby contenders to injuries, and that the delay allowed a couple others to emerge to take their places.
"And so now we have a different group here where a horse like Uncle Chuck, he was, you know, he would never run in the Derby, now he's got a chance," Baffert said on a media call Wednesday. "If he runs well, he's got to run well in the Travers."
Uncle Chuck has 20 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leader board and probably needs to add to that to be assured a spot in the Louisville starting gate. The Travers winner gets 100 points, but the any of the 40, 20 and 10 awarded for the minor placings likely would get him into the starting gate.
But, Tiz the Law, trainer Barclay Tagg, the Sackatoga Stable ownership team and jockey Manny Franco are in the enviable position of eyeballing all comers with, "C'mon. Take your best shot."
Sackatoga's Jack Knowlton said Wednesday on the same National Thoroughbred Racing Association media call, moderated by Alicia Hughes, that Tiz the Law could even be better going the 1 1/4 miles of the Travers.
"I think two things. One, Manny hasn't really had to dig deep with him. But secondly, every indication that we have from him from his breeding, from his works, from his races is that he'll relish a mile and a quarter.
"And we're hoping that we'll find that out on Travers Day on Saturday and that that we're right about that."
The short break before the Belmont will stand Tiz the Law in good stead if Tagg and company expect him to power through the compressed schedule that finds the Kentucky Derby followed by the Preakness Stakes on Oct. 3 and the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7.
Contesting all those races really would be old school, no matter how scrambled the 2020 season has become.
Since you're not able to be there in person, catch the action on Fox FS/1 and FS/2 and on Horse Racing Radio Network.
Sunday's $200,000 Runhappy Ellis Park Derby offers 40 "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points to the winner.
But the favorite, Art Collector, doesn't need them after nailing down a spot with a victory in the Toyota Blue Grass during Keeneland's abbreviated summer meet -- his third win without a loss since being turned over to trainer Tom Drury.
He faces 11 rivals, none with a credential matching the Blue Grass score. But, to listen to the trainer, the rivals may be catching Art Collector and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. at the right time.
Noting heavily favored Tom's d'Etat's stumbling start cost him any chance of victory in the Grade I Whitney last weekend, and acknowledging Art Collector is already safely in the Kentucky Derby field, Drury said victory at all costs is not on the table at Ellis Park.
"I think Tom's d'Etat over the weekend was a perfect example of things that can go wrong in horse racing," the trainer said.
"And it's something, you know, if something like that were to happen, I certainly wouldn't want to see my jock come whipping and driving to be third. If he wins it, that's fantastic.
"But if somewhere along the race, something doesn't go our way or we're not getting the trip, then, you know, I certainly wouldn't want to try to get to the bottom of him in this one."
The rivals include Anneau d'Or, who was second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Los Alamitos Futurity but has failed to progress as a 3-year-old; Oklahoma-bred Rowdy Yates, who makes his second start back from finishing fourth in the Saudi Derby in Riyadh; Ohio Derby upset winner Dean Martini and Indiana Derby winner Shared Sense.
It's last call for any of them to make it into the brand-new, 20-stall starting gate Sept. 4 at Churchill Downs.
The Road to the Oaks
Gamine already seems to have locked up a spot in the Sept. 3 Kentucky Oaks by winning the Grade I Acorn going 1 mile at Belmont Park in June -- by 18 3/4 lengths.
But if trainer Baffert is thinking along those lines, it's a bit of a head scratcher why he has the undefeated Into Mischief filly in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Longines Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga at 7 furlongs.
She will be the overwhelming favorite and needs the race to stay sharp. But in her only previous outing past 1 mile, she barely hung on to win by a neck at Oaklawn Park on May 2, and then was disqualified from prize money because of a drug positive Baffert's attorney described as accidental.
Baffert, on a media conference call Wednesday, admitted the pandemic-scrambled schedule this year has made planning tough and played into the decision to run Gamine back in the Test, rather than the 1 1/8-miles Coaching Club American Oaks, won July 18 by Paris Lights.
"If I hadn't sent her long before, I probably would have maybe done that," he said. "But we ran her at Oaklawn, and she was going two turns there so we know she can handle that part. So, it's such a weird year, you know, it's sort of hard to, you know, we've tried to map things out."
Five rivals in the Acorn have lesser credentials although Venetian Harbor also is a free-running filly and could push Gamine on the front end. Venetian Harbor, by Munnings, was second in the Grade I Ashland at Keeneland in her last start.
Back in Kentucky, with no dominant players, the favorite's role in Sunday's $100,000 Runhappy Audubon Oaks at Ellis Park falls to Sconsin, an Include filly who finished second, 4 3/4 lengths behind Four Graces, in the Grade III Beaumont at Keeneland in her last start.
The 11-filly field also has also-rans from such as the Grade I Acorn, Grade III Forward Gal, Grade III Iowa Oaks, Grade III Indiana Oaks and Grade I Spinaway. Those who can figure it out should be well rewarded.
Saturday's $100,000 Not Surprising for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park drew a field of nine, one of them "main track only."
Monforte, by Carpe Diem out of the Rahy mare She's a Ketch, has won three in a row at Gulfstream, moving up from the maiden claiming ranks. A lot of the others live up to the name of one of them -- Lookintogetlucky.
Storm the Court hasn't visited the winner's circle since last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and, after the Court Vision colt could only summon up a third in the Grade III Ohio Derby, trainer Peter Eurton evidently felt it was time for a change.
Thus, Storm the Court appears among eight entries for Sunday's $125,000 Grade III La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds on the green course at Del Mar.
The field also includes Azul Coast, who won the El Camino Real Derby on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather surface for trainer Bob Baffert. There also are some proven 3-year-old turfers so it should be an interesting heat.
Filly & Mare Turf
The three favorites for Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Yellow Ribbon at Del Mar drew the outside gates in a field of eight. Jolie Olimpica, with two win and two seconds from four U.S. starts, is parked outside.
Beau Recall, last year's Yellow Ribbon winner, is right to her inside. Keeper Ofthe Stars, winner of the Grade 1 Gamely two starts back, is in the No. 6 stall for the 1 1/16-miles test.
A cast of seven is assembled for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Waya at Saratoga. My Sister Nat, one of two entered by Chad Brown, has finished a good second in each of her two previous starts, the Grade III Long Island at Aqueduct and the Grade II New York at Belmont Park.
Those were at 1 3/8 miles and 1 1/4 miles, respectively, and the French-bred mare's late run should benefit from the 1 1/2 miles of this test.
Mrs. Sippy, a British import, also ran well in her first two U.S. starts, winning the Grade II Glens Falls last year at the Spa, then finishing a close second to Sistercharlie in the Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont Park.
A bad start put paid to her chances in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf and she has not raced since. Olympic Games and Brown's other runner, Fools Gold, would figure on their best effort.
Saturday's $100,000 Martha Washington for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park has 10 takers, two of them for "main track only."
Yesterdayoncemore, an Irish import, has shown significant upside potential for trainer Patrick Biancone. Tournesol has two straight wins, most recently a minor stakes at Gulfstream, and a few others have performed with some credit in other stakes.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Troy Stakes at Saratoga doesn't boast much in the way of consistent performers but it does have this going for it: Old Guys Rule.
Among the OGs in this field are 9-year-old Pure Sensation, a close fifth as the favorite in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, and 8-year-old American Sailor, a speedball who could steal this on the front end. Impremis is in his sixth year, but has fewer miles on the odometer with only 13 previous starts.
He hasn't raced since finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup and likely will be coming late. Also here is Shekky Shebaz, third in that Breeders' Cup dash but an infrequent winner.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Seven turned out for Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. A logical selection here is Bellafina.
The 4-year-old Quality Road filly was second in last November's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint but, despite some valiant tries, hasn't done much winning of late.
Victim of Love and Come Dancing come to the Ballerina off a 1-2 finish in the Grade III Vagrancy at Belmont Park. Serengeti Empress, the 2019 Kentucky Oaks winner, shortens up after two dismal, fading outings.
Cookie Dough, a product of the 2018 Florida Sire Series (see below), also looks to rebound from a bad outing, as does Pink Sands. An interesting race.
Street Band looks to return to the winner's circle for the first time in a while in Sunday's $100,000 Groupie Doll Stakes at Ellis Park. The race drew an overflow field with several likely contenders.
Street Band, a 4-year-old Istan filly, last won in the Grade I Cotillion last September at Parx Racing. She's been competitive since but finds a bit softer spot here. She drew the outside gate and there's plenty of speed to her inside so jockey Sophie Doyle will earn her money.
Cazadero could set some tongues a-waggin' if he continues to move forward in Friday's $150,000 Grade II Saratoga Special Presented by Miller Lite.
The Street Sense colt, a Stonestreet homebred out of the Forest Wildcat mare Wild Gams, is 2-for-2 and the most recent win came in the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs June 27. Steve Asmussen trains the colt, who failed to make his reserve at the Keeneland September sale last year.
There are lots of impressive recent maiden winners in the Saratoga Special, including Rideofalifetime, a Candy Ride colt who graduated July 11 at Keeneland -- by 8 1/4 lengths -- for trainer Ignacio "Nacho" Correas.
Wesley Ward entered Roderick, an expensive Into Mischief colt who won at first asking at Belmont Park -- oddly enough, also by 8 1/4 lengths -- but reportedly has sent him to California for the Best Pal.
Speaking of which, Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Best Pal at Del Mar is a 6-furlongs affair with seven takers. Roderick is cross-entered here as the 9-5 favorite on the morning line.
After him, the second-favorite is the aptly named Herd Immunity, a Union Rags colt who exits a third-place finish in the Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs.
Cowan is the even-money favorite among seven 2-year-olds in Sunday's $100,000 Runhappy Juvenile at Ellis Park.
The Kantharos colt won at first asking at Churchill Downs in May and now moves from that 4 1/2 furlongs to a 7-furlongs challenge for trainer Steve Asmussen. Medicine Tail, also by Kantharos, improved through his first three starts, winning the latest at Ellis on July 19. Waist Deep exits an impressive win at Delaware Park.
Saturday's $75,000 Cleveland Kindergarten at Thistledown drew seven Ohio-breds. Two fillies, Esplanade and Alexandria, take on males after winning state-bred stakes. Both are undefeated after two outings.
Saturday's $75,000 Tyro at Monmouth Park has eight entries, one for "main track only." Rather than try to sort these out, we'll take a parlay of Herd Immunity in the Best Pal at Del Mar (see above) with Fauci in this race. The latter is one of three trained by Wesley Ward in the Tyro.
Seven young misses are set for Friday's $150,000 Grade II Sorrento at Del Mar and three are to be saddled by James Chapman. That trio drew the three outside stalls in a field of seven. All are ship-ins from Kentucky.
While the imports fail to stir much excitement, the locals don't have much to brag about, either. My Girl Red won a maiden special weight at Santa Anita on June 14. Two of the others exit wins in maiden claiming events and the third makes her first start.
Plenty of prospects exist among the dozen entered for Sunday's $100,000 Runhappy Debutante at Ellis Park. Crazy Beautiful, a Liam's Map filly trained by Kenny McPeek, is the 3-1 favorite on the morning line.
But the likes of Hipnotizada, Fabricate, Lacey Boss and Puye Timing -- all recent maiden winners -- seem to ensure a lively match.
Saturday's $75,000 Miss Ohio for state-breds at Thistledown has seven entries. Get out the hatpin and stab that program.
Elsewhere around North America:
Strong Tide put in a strong move through the stretch to win Wednesday's $75,000 Snack Stakes for Indiana-bred 3-year-olds by 2 3/4 lengths over Cash Logistics.
Leading the Charge was third as Strong Tide, under Rodney Prescott, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:43.93. Strong Tide is by English Channel.
Nothingbutflowers did nothing but lead in Wednesday's $75,000 Ellen's Lucky Star Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies and clung to the lead at the end by a diminishing 1 length.
Mintchocolatechip was second, 5 lengths in front of Dontyouremember. Nothingbutflowers, a Violence filly, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:44.96 for jockey Deshawn Parker.
Mongolian Wind rallied to the lead in the lane in Monday's $60,000 (Canadian) Manitoba Derby, then held on gamely to win by a head over Mr. Unusual.
The favorite, Something Natural, was third as shippers swept the top placings. Mongolian Wind, a Mucho Macho Man gelding based in Southern California, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:54.00 with Wilmer Galviz up.
Mr. Unusual came from Churchill Downs and Something Natural traveled from Churchill Downs via Canterbury Park, where he posted his last workout.
Around the world, around the clock:
Military Style rolled on the front in Thursday's Group 3 Japan Racing Association Tyros Stakes at Leopardstown and held off Coolmore stablemate Van Gogh by a neck at the finish.
Juddmonte Farms' Masen was just another 1/2 length back in the race, which has a significant list of previous winners. Military Style is a War Front colt from the Galileo mare Together Forever.
He now is 2-for-3 and trainer Aidan O'Brien projects him as useful up to 1 mile. Van Gogh is an American Pharoah colt out of the Sadler's Wells mare Imagine and Masen is a Kingman colt who won at first asking last month.
Sunday at the Curragh it's the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes, with plenty more potential stars from Coolmore and elsewhere.
Sunday's Group 1 LARC Prix Maurice de Gheest, pending final declarations, has quite a list to go 6 1/2 furlongs down the straight.
Among those still on the last Thursday were Space Blues, Hello Youmzain, Golden Horde, Lope Y Fernandez, Wichita and Earthlight.