Nov. 20 (UPI) -- A blizzard of graded stakes at Woodbine, featuring a showdown among this year's Triple Crown contenders, and more late-season action at Del Mar, Churchill Downs and Aqueduct punctuate weekend horse racing action.
The weekend program at Gulfstream Park West features are four turf races rescheduled from last weekend.
It's a busy several days on the international front, too, with the Grade 1 Mile Championship in Japan, a trio of races in Hong Kong that will help shape next month's Longines International Races, and the second running of the Bahrain International.
As a relief to the regular drumbeat of depressing news about the COVID-19 pandemic, both Tampa Bay Downs and Delta Downs are looking forward to their season openers with at a limited number of fans in attendance.
Kudos especially to Delta, which survived two hurricanes barely more than a month apart during the off-season.
And in England, the government Thursday announced a support package of low-interest loans worth 300 million pounds sterling for sports organizations, of which 40 million is earmarked for horse racing.
That's second only to the 135 million for Rugby Union and superior to the 28 million on offer for football (soccer). Badminton is allocated 2 million, twice what's proposed for greyhound racing.
While we eagerly await the somewhat longer-term future when COVID-19 is but a bitter memory, here's a look over the more immediate horizon:
Thanks in part to last week's cancellations, this weekend's calendar at the suburban Toronto track includes five graded stakes plus the rescheduled Ontario Damsel. (All dollar amounts are Canadian.)
Seven speedy types are in attendance for Saturday's $175,000 Grade II Kennedy Road at 6 furlongs on the all-weather course.
Bunched at the top of the morning line are perennial favorite Pink Lloyd, who has won 10 of his last 11 starts and rides a five-race winning streak; Silent Poet, winner of the Grade II Nearctic Stakes last month; and Ride a Comet, winner of the Grade II Del Mar Derby on the turf two starts back who prepped for this with a come-from-the-clouds, 7-furlongs allowance win over the all-weather Oct. 16.
Ride a Comet, a Mark Casse charge, also won on the dirt last December at Fair Grounds.
Saturday's $175,000 Grade II Bessarabian Stakes for fillies and mares at 7 furlongs on the all-weather course is another contentious event.
Painting, a 4-year-old Distorted Humor filly who captured the Grade II Ontario Fashion Stakes two starts back, is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line, but Souper Escape and Amalfi Coast also get some oddsmaker love.
Eight signed on for Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Ontario Derby at 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather course -- effectively a fourth leg in the Triple Crown.
It's a rematch between Queen's Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes winner Mighty Heart and Queen's Plate runner-up and Breeders' Stakes winner Belichik with imposing Kentucky-based Field Pass ready to upset the apple cart. Obviously, year-end honors could be determined here.
Saturday's $150,000 Ontario Damsel has six Ontario-bred 3-year-old fillies set to travel 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather. Look no farther than the inside gates for the favorites, Curlin's Voyage and Marveilleux.
Curlin's Voyage, a Curlin filly, won the Woodbine Oaks in August but then was fifth in the Queen's Plate and third with a tough trip in the Wonder Where Stakes on the turf. Marveilleux, by Paynter, was third in the Oaks, sixth in the Queen's Plate and won the Wonder Where. In the No. 3 gate is Afleet Katherine, the Oaks runner-up.
Sunday's $125,000 Grade III Grey Stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track has a field of nine. Stephen, a Constitution colt, won the Coronation Futurity at Woodbine in his last start.
Barrister Tom won the More Than Ready Juvenile at Kentucky Downs in September but then was eighth in the Grade II Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland. Helium, an Ironicus colt, is 2-for-2 with a win in the Display Stakes last time out. Gospel Way was second in the Display. The others are longer on promise than experience.
Seven 2-year-old fillies turned out to try 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in Sunday's $125,000 Grade III Mazarine Stakes. Il Malocchio won the Victorian Queen Stakes and finished second in the Princess Elizabeth in her last two starts.
Trainer Graham Motion ships in Batyah, a Pioneerof the Nile filly last seen reporting fifth in the Grade II JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland. Souper Sensational is 2-for-2 for trainer Mark Casse with a win in the Glorious Song Stakes in her second career outing.
Sadler's Joy and Red Knight top a field of 11 assembled for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Red Smith, 11 furlongs on the turf.
Sadler's Joy, a 7-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, won last year's Red Smith and has performed consistently without winning in seven subsequent starts. Red Knight was second in the 2019 Red Smith and comes to this year's running on the back of a win in the Grade III Sycamore at Keeneland.
Sunday's two $100,000 divisions of the New York Stallion Stakes -- the Thunder Rumble Division for 2-year-olds and the Staten Island Division for juvenile fillies -- are run at 7 furlongs on the dirt.
Finite is the 8-5, morning line favorite among nine fillies and mares in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Chilukki Stakes at 1 mile on the dirt.
The 3-year-old Munnings filly, trained by Steve Asmussen, won the Grade II Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds last winter, reported fourth in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks and then was off for most of the summer.
She was second in the Grade II Lexus Raven Run at Keeneland a month ago. Grand Cru Classe, the other 3-year-old in the field (the others are all 4), was third in the Raven Run after winning the first three races of her career.
Midcourt is the 4-5 morning-line favorite among five entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Native Diver Stakes at 1 1/8 miles.
The 5-year-old Midnight Lute gelding won this race last year and since then has been in the money in six of seven starts while winning just once. In his last two starts he finished third in both the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar and the Grade I Awesome Again at Santa Anita.
Extra Hope was second in the 2019 Native Diver and comes off an allowance win at Santa Anita.
Gulfstream Park West
The persistent tropical storms besetting the Gulf Coast forced postponement of last weekend's turf races at the old Calder Park. So, this Saturday has the Juvenile Fillies Turf and the Millions Turf Preview, both for state-breds. Sunday, it's the reverse -- the Juvenile Turf and Millions Filly & Mare Turf Preview.
Piedi Bianchi, the odds-on favorite, surged to the front in the stretch in Wednesday's $100,000 Frances Slocum Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares and quickly scooted away to a 7 1/2-lengths victory.
Fireball Baby was second as Piedi Bianchi, a 5-year-old Overanalyze mare, finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.25.
Strong Tide tracked the early pace in Wednesday's $100,000 Too Much Coffee Stakes for state-breds, came three-wide between rivals to challenge for the lead and went on to win by 2 lengths.
Uphold was second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Max Express. Strong Tide, a 3-year-old English Channel colt, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.59.
Lookin At Justice drew off in the stretch run to win Tuesday's $75,000 Indiana Futurity for state-bred 2-year-olds by 6 1/4 lengths.
Sudden Shift was second with Rockin All Night 2 1/2 lengths farther back in third. Lookin at Justice, an Atreides colt, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:44.19 with Jesus Castanon up.
Russian Influence rallied from next-last of a dozen to upset the odds-on favorite, Hungarian Princess, by 2 3/4 lengths in Tuesday's $75,000 Miss Indiana Stakes for juvenile Hoosier fillies.
Russian Influence, a daughter of Into Mischief, negotiated 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:45.88 for jockey Marcelino Pedroza
Around the world, around the clock:
Sunday's Grade 1 Mile Championship at Hanshin Racecourse has a talented and diverse cast, ranging from last year's winner, Indy Champ, to 4-year-old filly Gran Alegria.
In her last two starts, Gran Alegria, a 4-year-old daughter of Deep Impact, won the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen at 1 mile at Tokyo Racecourse in June and the 1,200-meters Grade I Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama Oct. 4. She has won six of nine races and missed a top-three finish only once.
Indy Champ, a 5-year-old by Stay Gold, missed the Sprinters Stakes with a minor injury and makes a comeback from a long absence. Nonetheless, assistant trainer Kenichi Shono said he has been working well.
Among the others, Admire Mars won the 2019 Longines Hong Kong Mile and warmed up for this with a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Mainichi Broadcast Swan Stakes at Kyoto.
Three-year-olds worth noting include Salios, second in the Yushun Himba or Japanese Derby, and Resistencia, a filly returning from an injury after finishing second in the Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup in May.
Three races on Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse will firm up the top tier of local contenders for next month's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Races. And, with question marks about foreign participation still in play thanks to the pandemic, the locals might have an easier time of things than usual.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club has won approval from the government for international connections, including trainers, grooms and jockeys, to travel in a kind of "bubble" that will keep them from contact with locals during the December races. And the announced field for the Longines Hong Kong International Jockey Challenge includes a quartet of foreigners.
"Experience tells us," Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said in early November, "that Longines HKIR plans only really come together in the last few weeks before the big event and, with the world still trying to combat the pandemic, this year presents a series of unique challenges."
Still, some of the hoped-for out-of-town equine stars already have declined. Glory Vase, winner of the 2019 Longines Hong Kong Vase, is pointed toward the Japan Cup rather than traveling. The same is true for Japan's star mare, Almond Eye.
With the unknown still unknown, here's what we can hope to know after Sunday's races:
Jockey Club Cup
Three tough and experienced horses top this field, all with serious question marks alongside their many achievements.
Time Warp won the Longines Hong Kong Cup in 2017, but finished last in 2019 and now is 7. Furore won the 2019 BMW Hong Kong Derby but then lost 12 straight starts. Exultant is using this 2,000 meters as a prep for the 2,400-meters Vase in December, a race he won two years ago.
Jockey Club Sprint
The horse everyone is talking about for December, Classique Legend, won't be in Sunday's race because he's still under quarantine restrictions after arriving from Australia where he won the rich The Everest in his last start for his old connections.
He now is under the care of Caspar Fownes, who said he is playing a bit of catch-up to get highly ranked horse ready for the big race.
The Longines Hong Kong Sprint could be ripe for the plucking by the newcomer, at least based on the field for Sunday's race. There are 10 contenders, with Hot King Prawn, the 2018 winner, the highest rated. Hong Kong usually has a much stronger hand for the international sprint.
Jockey Club Mile
This seven-horse field features Hong Kong's shooting star, Golden Sixty. The 2020 BMW Hong Kong Derby winner has won nine straight races and was last seen winning the Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy over the course.
The next three finishers in that race, Ka Ying Star, Southern Legend and Champions Way, all return.
Saturday's second running of the Bahrain International Trophy drew both a highly credible field from around Europe and the Middle East but also a stellar cast of jockeys.
Japan's hope, Deirdre, a Group 1 winner in England last year, was second in an undercard race on Saudi Cup night in Riyadh Feb. 29. Godolphin is represented by the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Dream Castle and Charlie Appleby charge Loxley.
Others around the globe are Bangkok, a 4-year-old colt trained by Andrew Balding who finished second in the Qatar Derby in Doha in December 2019, and Global Giant, trained by John Gosden with Frankie Dettori booked to ride.
Kinross earned a guaranteed start in the Bombardier All-Weather Mile Championship at Lingfield Park on All-Weather Championships Finals Day with a victory Wednesday evening in the Listed British Stallion Studs EBF Hyde Stakes at Kempton Park.
After being held up at the back of the 10-horse field by jockey Richard Kingscote, the Ralph Beckett trainee was all out along the rail to prevail by 3/4 length over the favorite, Khuzaam.
The Kingman colt had been keeping good company all season, contesting the Group 1 QIPCO 2000 Guineas and the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat, albeit without threatening the winner in either event.
"This should pick his confidence up because he has been running in top races and it is not easy for them to have a year like that," Kingscote said. "I think tonight will do him the world of good."