Aug. 28 (UPI) -- Yes, yes. The Kentucky Derby, finally, is just more than a week away. But first, there's plenty of action this weekend from West Virginia to Saratoga to Gulfstream Park and out to Del Mar, so lets put first things first.
Charles Town, set amid the scenic West Virginia hills outside Washington, D.C., puts on its best face Friday with the $500,000 Grade II Charles Town Classic and Grade III Charles Town Oaks.
Saratoga has a pair of prestigious Grade I events in the Sword Dancer on the turf and the Forego for the sprinters on the main track. The quick ones also have the Pat O'Brien at Del Mar. The Sword Dancer and the Pat O'Brien are Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" races.
Gulfstream Park has four heats for 2-year-olds -- the second round of the Florida Sire Stakes for state-breds on the main track and an open set on the turf.
Even though a lot of folks overlook this weekend with the Kentucky Derby next up, there are some fascinating races and, as usual, ace industry analyst Jude Feld offers assistance in sorting through the big ones. Check it out at www.popejude.com.
And the question of the weekend is: Will there be an historic Saunhac-Sarnac double? See the "Turf Mile" section.
The weekend kicks off early with Friday's $600,000 Grade II Charles Town Classic at 1 1/8 miles for 3-year-olds and up. The nominal morning-line favorite is Math Wizard, a 4-year-old Algorithms colt who exits a second-place finish in the Grade III Monmouth Cup last month.
Also high on the oddsmaker's list are War Story, making his first start since a third in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January; Tenfold, third in graded stakes at Fair Grounds and Santa Anita in his last two starts; and Mr. Money, whose most impressive efforts came a year ago.
The Charles Town Classic has had some impressive winners, including Imperative in 2014 and Game On Dude in 2013.
Tonalist's Shape heads the full field for Friday's $200,000 Grade III Charles Town Oaks. The Tonalist filly was last seen finishing fourth in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks but earlier won the Grade III Forward Gal and Grade II Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park.
The opposition in the Charles Town Oaks includes Wicked Whisper, winner of last year's Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park, trying to get back on track after finishing fourth in the Grade III Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland in July. Also look to Boerne and Hopeful Growth.
Most of those set for Sunday's $125,000 Grade III Shuvee at Saratoga have shown ability at this level but few have been able to put together a string of successes.
Nona Madeline, a 4-year-old Candy Ride filly, has been improving steadily and comes off a win in the Summer Colony Stakes against some of these same foes.
Royal Flag, another 4-year-old by Candy Ride, won three straight before finishing third in the Grade III Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park last month.
Lucky Stride makes her first start up from Puerto Rico, where she was a terror, winning eight of 11 starts including two local graded stakes.
Sprint / Dirt Mile
Whitmore and Firenze Fire, both classy veterans, take on a mixed bag of rivals in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Forego Presented by America's Best Racing at Saratota.
Whitmore, the morning-line favorite, was second, then third in the last two runnings of the Breeders' Cup Sprint and doesn't seem to have lost anything despite turning 7. He won this two years ago.
Firenze Fire, now 5, was second in last year's Forego and has won four times since. Both competed in the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt over the same track in July with Whitmore second and Firenze Fire fourth. Mind Control, third in the Vanderbilt, also is back.
The Forego field also includes two Chad Brown trainees -- the lightly raced but improving Fortin Hill, a Mucho Macho Man colt, and the speedy Complexity.
Funny Guy has beaten up regularly on fellow New York-breds but in his only try against open company finished sixth in the Grade III Oklahoma Derby last fall.
Lexitonian shouldn't be ignored as he returns from a second-place finish, beaten just a nose, in the Grade I Bing Crosby at Del Mar on Aug. 1.
Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Amsterdam for 3-year-olds at Saratoga drew a field of six with the three favorites inside. Yaupon, an Uncle Mo colt making just his third start, puts an undefeated record on the line while trying stakes company for the first time.
Just to his outside is Long Weekend, who won three straight before a narrow loss on a sloppy track in his last start. Both feature early speed and if they should get too enthusiastic, Liam's Pride might benefit in the last of the 6 furlongs.
Basin, winner of last year's Grade I Hopeful over the track, also is in the field, returning to sprints for the first time since that 7-furlongs triumph.
A nice and well-matched field of eight is set for Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Pat O'Brien at Del Mar, a "Win and You're In" for the Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
Flagstaff, a 6-year-old Speightstown gelding, is the morning-line pick but respect is scattered throughout the lineup with only two of the eight listed at double-digit odds. Nice race, good wagering prospects.
Some of the nation's top turf horses signed on for Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf and one of the landmark races in this division -- especially with the Arlington Million mothballed for the year.
Sadler's Joy and Cross Border top the morning line for the 1 1/2-mile test. They finished first and second, in that order, last time out in the Grade II Bowling Green over the course, but Sadler' Joy was disqualified to fourth in that.
Sadler's Joy, a 7-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, has the better record by far having won the 2017 Sword Dancer and missed by just a neck last year. Cross Border was toiling in the claiming ranks two years ago.
The first- and third-place finishers from the Grade I United Nations on July 18 at Monmouth Park also resurface at the Spa for the Sword Dancer.
The winner of the UN, Aquaphobia, has blossomed into a top-level performer this year at age 7. Rival Corelli makes his third U.S. start after a moderately successful career in England.
Another of the "Old Guys Rule" brigade, 6-year-old Channel Maker, also is capable of handling the Sword Dancer field on a good day.
And among the youngsters there's French-bred Pedro Cara, who won the Grade II Qatar Derby in Doha last December. But his only previous start this year was a last-place finish in the $1 million HH The Emir Trophy over the same track Feb. 22. Graham Motion now trains the Pedro the Great gelding.
Filly & Mare Turf
Sweet Melania, the 8-5 morning-line favorite, drew the rail for Friday's $100,000 Grade III Lake George Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga.
The American Pharoah filly won the Grade II JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland last fall, then finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
She won the Grade III Wonder Again at Belmont Park in June in her only intervening start. Micheline, Cat's Pajamas and Selflessly all get minor nods from the oddsmaker.
Nay Lady Nay is the favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Eatontown at Monmouth Park.
The Irish-bred No Nay Never filly, trained by Chad Brown, won the Grade II Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs last fall and most recently accounted for the Grade III WinStar Matchmaker at Monmouth Park.
Brown also fields Noor Sahara, an Irish-bred filly by Lope de Vega who had some success racing in France and now exits a second in the De La Rose Stakes at Saratoga.
Walk in Marrakesh tops a field of seven in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Colleen for 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine.
The Irish-bred Siyouni filly, trained by Ignacio Correas IV, has yet to win since coming to North America last autumn but does have three seconds from five tries, including the Grade I Natalma over the Woodbine course and the Grade II Appalachian at Keeneland in her most recent outing.
There's a talented field of 3-year-olds for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Saranac at Saratoga but no clear favorite. So we'll just note the coincidence that recent French import L'Imperator comes to the Sarnac off a victory in the Prix Saunhac at Toulouse in his last start.
It's not often you see that elusive Saunhac-Sarnac double but with Chad Brown now calling the shots for the well-bred Holy Roman Emperor colt, this could be the year. He's 5-1 on the morning line with Vanzzy, Don Juan Kitten and Bodecream all getting attention.
Saturday's $200,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Sire Stakes sees the return of the top two from the Aug. 1 Dr. Fager Division -- Breeze On By and Gatsby.
The earlier race was run over a sloppy track and Breeze On By, a Cajun Breeze gelding, led all 6 furlongs. Gatsby, by Brethren, made up some ground late and was way clear in second without threatening for the win. They add 1 furlong for this.
Saturday's $200,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes features the first three finishers from the Aug. 1 Desert Vixen Division -- Go Jo Jo Go, Princess Secret and Freak.
They add a furlong to that 6-furlongs tilt. Go Jo Jo Go and Princess Secret were sired by Khosan. Freak is a Brethren filly.
Saturday's $75,000 Proud Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park isn't restricted to Florida-breds but all nine entries are Florida-breds, nonetheless.
Fulmini, a daughter of Overdriven from a Kitten's Joy mare, is the nominal morning-line favorite but this is a good spot to let the sorting hat do its job.
By contrast, seven of the 10 entries for Saturday's $75,000 Sharp Susan Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park are Kentucky-breds. Go figure.
One of those, Spanish Loveaffair, by the Japenses sire Karakontie, is the solid morning-line favorite after winning her career debut by 11 lengths over same course July 23.
Around the world, around the clock:
Sheik Mohammed and trainer Charlie Appleby, in hindsight, clearly made the right call to send Benbatl to the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29, where he finished third, rather than waiting for World Cup night at home, which was canceled.
Following all that, the 6-year-old son of Dubawi has been on the sidelines since Leap Day and now returns in Saturday's Group 2 Ladbrokes Celebration Mile at Goodwood.
Assuming Appleby has knocked off any rust, Benbatl looks the class of the seven-horse field. If not, the antepost wagering points to Regal Reality, a 5-year-old Intello gelding trained by Sir Michael Stoute with Ryan Moore booked to ride.
Regal Reality comes off a Group 3 win at Salisbury -- a rare triumph as he is 4-for-15 lifetime.
In other action:
Introduced pressed the pace in Thursday's $85,000 Smart N. Fancy Stakes for fillies and mares, moved to the lead in deep stretch and got away to win by 3 1/4 lengths.
Peaceful did her best to stay with the winner but settled for second, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Saratoga Treasure.
Introduced, a 4-year-old El Padrino filly, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the muddy main track in 1:03.06 with Manny Franco up. The race came off the turf with three resulting scratches.
Jack and Noah left "noah" doubt" about it in Wednesday's $85,000 Mahony Stakes for 3-year-olds -- a 5 1/2-furlongs turf sprint.
Leading by as much as 8 lengths midway through, the French-bred colt by Bated Breath finished first by 3 1/4 lengths with John Velazquez keeping him busy.
Competitive Saint and Buy Land and Sea filled out the trifecta as Jack and Noah got home in 1:01.28 over firm going.
Trainer Mark Casse scored his first win of the Saratoga meeting while Jack and Noah upped his batting average to .500 -- 4-for-8. The colt now has won at all three major New York tracks.
Wellington Wonder took total command in the stretch run of Wednesday's $100,000 Indiana First Lady Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies, kicking clear to win by 6 1/4 lengths.
Serena Beck was best of the rest, 3/4 length in front of Dontyouremember. The favorite, Copper Nickel, dueled for the lead, and then faded to finish fourth. Wellington Wonder, a daughter of Warrior's Reward, got 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:44.48 with Alex Achard up.
Flatter Hymn held the lead, gave it up and then came again to win Wednesday's $100,000 Governor's Stakes for Indiana-bred 3-year-olds by 1 1/4 lengths.
Mai Tai's Gem, who held a brief late lead, settled for second, 1/2 length better than the favorite, Two Last Words. Flatter Hymn, a Flat Out gelding, finished in 1:42.76 with Deshawn Parker aboard.
Presque Isle Downs
Caravel pressed the pace in Monday's $75,000 Lady Erie Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, took over when asked and ran on to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Owlette. It was 8 more lengths to Bucky's Drama in third.
Caravel, a Mizzen Mast Filly from the Congrats filly Zeezee Zoomzoom, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.08 with Pablo Morales in the irons.