Sept. 4 (UPI) -- Kentucky Derby week, Saratoga and Del Mar collide this year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Labor Day and the start of the rich Kentucky Downs meeting also driving an embarrassment of horse racing riches.
We're handling the Derby and Kentucky Oaks separately. And, unfortunately, we will have to overlook some of the lower-level stakes races for state-bred horses around the country to make room for all the graded action.
Fortunately, there's plenty of graded action, including the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga, the usual complement of top-rank stakes on the Derby and Oaks undercards at Churchill Downs and four of the most-important Grade I events of the summer for 2-year-olds -- two at Saratoga and two at Del Mar.
Equally fortunately, things are relatively quiet elsewhere around the racing world with only Enable's final Arc prep over the Kempton all-weather course on Saturday of prime note.
We do mark that the Hong Kong 2020-21 season opens Sunday and we wish them the best. They deserve a break after the 2019-20 term.
Since we won't be going into the usual detail on most of these races, for obvious reasons, it might pay to get a deeper dive on some of them from industry guru Jude Feld at popejude.com. He knows whereof he speaks.
Here we go:
Saturday's Kentucky Derby almost certainly will crown the top 3-year-old contender for the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic two months away and about 75 miles up the road at Keeneland. Several other weekend races might add to that mix -- both for the 3-year-olds and for the older horses.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Woodward at Saratoga might be just what the doctor ordered for Tacitus as the 4-year-old Tapit colt looks to put together back-to-back wins for the first time since spring 2019.
He was an 8 3/4-lengths winner in his last start, the Grade II Suburban a Belmont Park on the Fourth of July. As was the case in that race, he catches a field here that does not include some of the division's top contenders.
He did win last year's Wood Memorial and finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby, promoted to third by the disqualification of Maximum Security.
The Woodward field also includes last-race winners Moretti, Global Campaign, Spinoff and Prioritize.
By My Standards and McKinzie headline a field of eight for Friday's $400,000 Grade II Alysheba at Churchill Downs at 1 1/16 miles.
By My Standards comes off second-place finishes in the Grade II Stephen Foster over the track and the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga. McKinzie, trainer Bob Baffert's stalwart, won this race last year, won the 2019 Whitney and was last seen finishing fifth, beaten 2 lengths, in the Grade I Met Mile.
Dr Post comes into Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Jim Dandy for 3-year-olds at Saratoga off a third behind Kentucky Derby contenders Authentic and Ny Traffic in the Grade I Haskell at Monmouth Park and a second, 2 3/4 lengths behind odds-on Derby favorite Tiz the Law in the Grade I Belmont.
Frankly, he looks better than many of the 3-year-olds running Saturday at Churchill Downs and good enough to win here. Watch out, though, for Happy Saver, undefeated in two previous starts and full of promise.
Monday's $100,000 Federico Tesio for 3-year-olds at Laurel Park normally is a race to watch for Preakness Stakes candidates and this year is no exception. Seven are set to start in the 1 1/8-miles race.
Friday's $1.25 million Grade I Kentucky Oaks features a juicy showdown between undefeated Gamine, the even-money favorite, and Swiss Skydiver, winner of four of her last five starts and second in the Grade II Blue Grass.
Gamine, an Into Mischief filly trained by Baffert, has never run past 1 mile and now tries an additional furlong but her 18 3/4-lengths margin of victory in the Grade I Acorn at 1 mile gives a measure of confidence. Swiss Skydiver won the Grade I Alabama at Saratoga going 1 1/4 miles in her last start.
The Oaks has other possibilities, too. The field includes last-race winners Donna Veloce (Grade III Santa Ysabel), Speech (Grade I Ashland), Shedaresthedevil (Grade III Indiana Oaks) and Hopeful Growth (Grade III Monmouth Oaks).
As with the Derby-Classic mix, the Oaks may well tee up a top 3-year-old filly or two for November's Longines Breeders Cup Distaff.
But if Monomoy Girl runs to her standards in Friday's $500,000 Grade I La Troienne at Churchill Downs, she will show the 3-year-olds what they will have to cope with at Keeneland.
The 5-year-old Tapizar mare won five Grade I races in 2018 including the Kentucky Oaks and the Breeders' Cup Distaff, missed all of 2019 and now is 2-for-2 this year. Vexatious, who seems to have found her best form at age 6, might be the big threat.
Maybe it's a good thing there wasn't an Arlington Million this year. What with the Sword Dancer at Saratoga last weekend and Saturday's $1 million Grade I Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic at Churchill Downs -- not to mention a shortage of international runners because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions -- there aren't enough horses to go around.
The Turf Classic got a decent field of 10 with the Chad Brown-trained trio of Rock Emperor, Sacred Life and Digital Age among the favorites. But there really are no total throw-outs, making things even tougher for any Pick 5 and Pick 6 players still alive in this last race before the Derby.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs drew a field of eight 3-year-olds with Smooth Like Strait and Field Pass the morning-line favorites.
Smooth Like Strait has won four of his last six starts, two of them graded stakes. Field Pass exits a seventh-place finish in the Saratoga Derby Invitational, where he was beaten only 3 lengths.
Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Del Mar Derby has a dozen takers. Trainer Peter Miller shows a lot of faith in entering his star filly, California Kook, last seen finishing second in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks Aug. 22.
The third- and seventh-place finishers from that race also resurface here. None of the nine males has shown enough to discourage anyone.
Let's get all the bad stuff out of the way early in the week. First, Wednesday's $150,000 Unbridled Sydney for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs was moved off the turf onto the sloppy main track with six resulting scratches.
Then the odds-on favorite, Break Even, apparently bled after dueling for the lead and was eased and vanned off.
The winner after all that was Ambassador Luna, a Brethren filly who finished 2 1/4 lengths to the good of Tomlin in 1:03.56, improved over second-place finishes in turf sprint stakes at Gulfstream Park and Ellis Park in her last two.
"We have some options now moving forward with her taking to the dirt," winning trainer James Gulick said.
Bound for Nowhere and Extravagant Kid top a full field in Friday's $250,000 Grade II TwinSpires Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs.
Bound for Nowhere, a frequent trans-Atlantic traveler for trainer Wesley Ward, took a beating in last year's Group 1 Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot, but has rebounded well this season with two narrow defeats in top company. Extravagant Kid is moving in the right direction at age 7.
Sharing, winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, is the 6-5 morning-line favorite among eight 3-year-old fillies in Friday's $300,000 Grade II Edgewood at Churchill Downs.
She was second in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot in her last start behind only the well-regarded Alpine Star.
Now that trainer Chad Brown finally is letting Newspaperofrecord tackle distances she can handle, the Irish-bred Lope de Vega filly is the big favorite in Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Distaff Turf Mile for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs.
Last year, she was sent as long as 1 1/4 miles, sans success. This year, at 7 furlongs and a mile, she's 2-for-2.
Brown also has an interesting prospect for Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Red Bank at Monmouth Park.
Analyze It, a 4-year-old Point of Entry colt, was last seen finishing third in the 2019 Breeders' Cup Mile and earlier was second in both the Grade I Secretariat at Arlington Park and the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational. If he's fit, he's much better than the other six.
Kentucky Downs kicks off its rich, well-subscribed and all-too-short, all-turf season Monday with full and competitive fields.
The $750,000 Tourist Mile, one of the Kentucky Downs meet's prime attractions, is about as competitive as you can get with Specacular Gem the morning-line favorite at a generous 4-1.
The co-featured $300,000 One Dreamer for fillies and mares has 12 plus four also-eligibles. Passing Out, Varenka, Dalika and Harmless all have good chances going 1 mile and 70 yards.
Thursday's $115,000 Opening Verse at Churchill Downs came off the turf and six of the original 10 scratched. The survivor was Crafty Daddy, who stalked the pace, rallied to the lead in the lane and got home first by a head over Captivating Moon.
Renaisance Frolic and Cullom Road completed the order of finish. Crafty Daddy, a 4-year-old Scat Daddy gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast main track in 1:34.10 with Brian Hernandez Jr. up.
Filly & Mare Turf
Brown also has the hot favorite, My Sister Nat, among seven in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Glens Falls at Saratoga.
The 5-year-old, French-bred daughter of Acclamation has worked her way up the class ladder and justifies her 4-5 odds on the morning line. It's far from a walkover, though, with rapidly improving Lovely Lucky given a chance here to show she is something special.
Lady Prancealot is the class of eight in Saturday's $150,000 Grade II John C. Mabee at Del Mar. She won the Grade I American Oaks at Santa Anita last December and has been in the mix in three widely spaced graded stakes this season. Pulpit Rider exits a win in the Solona Beach Stakes Aug. 14 and seems on the upswing.
Sprint / Dirt mile
Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs used to be run a week before the Derby as the Derby Trial. Now it's an alternate for those not quite up to Derby standards.
That includes Rushie, who was third in both the Santa Anita Derby and the Blue Grass. But those were distant thirds and he would have required a $45,000 supplemental nomination fee to get into the Run for the Roses.
Instead, he's here as part of a wide-open field of nine with Echo Town and million-dollar-plus baby Cezanne as the favorites.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Smile Sprint at Gulfstream Park has six, ranging in age from 3 to 8, all looking to improve their lot in life. With Verve did win the Hutcheson Stakes over the track in February, but has regressed. Cool Arrow and Double Crown each seek a third straight win.
Filly & Mare Sprint
As with the Derby itself, look to the three outside gates for the favorites in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Derby City Distaff at Churchill Downs.
Those would be 2019 Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress, who recently won the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga; 2019 Santa Anita Oaks winner Bellafina, who was second in the Ballerina; and West Coast invader Ce Ce, a multiple Grade I winner who will benefit from shortening up to the 7 furlongs.
If the track is speed-favoring, though, Mia Mischief could blast out of the No. 1 gate and keep right on running.
Friday's $300,000 Grade II Eight Belles for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs features Mundaye Call, winner of the Audubon Oaks at Ellis Park in her last start, and Four Graces, winner of the Grade III Beaumont at Keeneland in her last start. A field of seven is set with those two drawn No. 1 and No. 7, respectively.
Kimari has been second twice in Royal Ascot sprints for trainer Wesley Ward and looms the favorite in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Prioress for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga. Frank's Rockette, Reagan's Edge and Center Aisle, the first three finishers in the Grade III Victory Ride at Belmont Park on the Fourth of July, also look capable.
Sunday's $150,000 Grade II Honorable Miss at Saratoga has a field of seven. Most have had some success at this level but none has been able to string together a series of victories. A tough one to figure out.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Iroquois at Churchill Downs is a "Win and You're In" for the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Despite the lofty rewards, this pandemic-scrambled year has left us with a largely untested field consisting primarily of maiden-race winners.
The exception is Therideofalifetime, a Candy Ride colt trained by Ignacio Correas IV who exits a respectable second in the Grade II Saratoga Special. Midnight Bourbon was a $550,000 yearling and won at Ellis Park. Pico d'Oro also is well-bred and won the Ellis Park Juvenile.
The outcomes of Monday's $250,000 Grade I Runhappy Del Mar Futurity and $250,000 Grade I Runhappy Hopeful at Saratoga will go a long way toward making up the field for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Entries for those races were not in at press time.
Monday's $500,000 More Than Ready Juvenile at Kentucky Downs has a field of 10 -- small by local standards but highly competitive by any measure. Dreamer's Disease, the morning-line favorite, is cross-entered in the Iroquois on the main track at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
Wednesday's $100,000 With Anticipation Stakes was switched from the Saratoga greensward to the sloppy main track and two of the six entrants were scratched.
No problem for Fire at Will, who rallied up the rail from last of the remaining four to win by 1/2 length over Blame The Booze. The others were well back.
Fire at Will, a Declaration of War colt out of the Kitten's Joy mare Flirt, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.14. He finished sixth in his only previous start.
Monday's $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Turf was not finalized in time for this report.
Thursday's $200,000 Grade III Pocahontas at Churchill Downs was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies with Girl Daddy earning the Annie Oakley.
The Uncle Mo filly was off a step slowly but quickly made up the difference, then opened up to win by 2 lengths, ridden out by Joe Talamo. She finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.94, advancing her record to 2-for-2.
"She's shown some incredible talent for this stage of her career," Girl Daddy's trainer Dale Romans said. "We're thrilled to only have to take a short trip down the road to Keeneland for the Breeders' Cup."
Sunday's $250,000 Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga has six. Beautiful Memories was the odds-on favorite in the Grade Grade III Schuylerville last month but stumbled and was pulled up while trailing badly.
She has worked well since. Esplanade is 3-for-3 but all of those came at Belterra Park and Thistledown in Ohio. The others are question marks.
Sunday's $250,000 Grade I Del Mar Debutante features the top two from the Grade II Sorrento -- My Girl Red and Get On the Bus. My Girl Red is 2-for-2 while the Sorrento was the career bow for Get On the Bus.
Baffert sends out Princess Noor, a seven-figure yearling buy who seeks her second win in as many starts, and Illumination, hammered for $900,000 last year, who was second in her bow.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Sunday's $75,000 Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf drew 11 including Inner Beauty, who makes her first start after coming from Ireland.
She was fourth in a pair of pattern races there before export. Nimbostratus, another Irish import with somewhat lesser credentials, is part of a trio entered by Peter Miller. The others are either recent maiden winners or still winless.
Monday's $500,000 Mint Juvenile Fillies at Kentucky Downs has the usual overflow field with all kinds of possibilities.
The 5-2 favorite is Plum Ali, a First Samurai filly who posted a nice, off-the-pace win going 1 1/16 miles at Saratoga in her only previous race. Wesley Ward has Sunshine City, who was ninth in the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot but victorious in two U.S. starts.
Thursday's $100,000 P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga came off the turf onto the fast main track and was run at 7 furlongs rather than 1 1/16 miles.
Simply Ravishing pressed the pace, and then drew off in the stretch to win by 6 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Con Lima, was second with Union Gables and Thursday completing the order of finish. Simply Ravishing, a Laoban filly, got home in 1:21.85 with Luis Saez up.
Breeders' Cup abandoned its marathon years ago but host tracks traditionally take up the burden and schedule one on the championship undercard.
Tuesday's $115,000 Champions Day Marathon at Churchill Downs could have been a prep. If so, Ry's the Guy would be the guy after leading throughout the 1 1/2 miles and winning by 4 3/4 length from Rated R Superstar in track-record time of 2:29.58. Ry's the Guy, a 4-year-old Distorted Humor colt, had been eking out a living going shorter on the grass.
"I had to change something," winning trainer Ian Wilkes said.
Other notable action, briefly:
Officer Hutchy closed stoutly through the final sixteenth to win Thursday's $100,000 Park Avenue Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies by 1/2 length over Spin a Yam. Officer Hutchy, a daughter of Boys at Toscanova, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.37 for Dylan Davis.
Around the world, around the clock:
Is it really two years since Enable whipped Crystal Ocean in the September Stakes on the Kempton all-weather as a prep for her second victory in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe a month later? Doesn't seem possible, but it's true.
Here she is again, this time with Charlie Fellowes-trained Prince of Arran the only thing resembling a threat in a field of seven. If this is the expected romp, it's on to what should be a bang-up Arc. Best wishes to Prince Khalid, trainer John Gosden and the jockey who loves her above all others, Frankie Dettori. The sport needs this kind of thing.
Saturday's program at Haydock attracted a few good ones. The featured Group 1 Betfair Sprint Cup took a hit when Oxted was ruled out after a subpar work on Tuesday.
Dream of Dreams, Golden Horde, Lope y Fernandez and Hello Youmzain still contribute to a good field. Benbatl was a late defection from nominees for the Group 3 Befair Superior Mile, leaving My Oberon, Khaloosy and Stormy Antarctic as the favorites.