Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Kentucky Derby candidates are on display this weekend at Tampa Bay Downs and Aqueduct, while another Derby prospect put on a show Thursday in Dubai -- although for which Derby ... well, stay tuned.
Three-year-old fillies also will be looking for a leg up on the Kentucky Oaks trail during weekend horse racing, and there are some nice turf events in Florida.
Internationally, Cox Plate winner Sir Dragonet returns to action in Australia. There's the Winter Derby Trial in England. And we have those results from Dubai.
We're off and running.
The Road to the Roses
Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Withers at Aqueduct drew a promising crew of nine. Although the participants are light on experience, several seem capable of moving right into Triple Crown consideration with a good effort.
Chad Brown will saddle Risk Taking, a Medaglia d'Oro colt who showed nothing in his first two starts, then jumped up to win Dec. 13 when blinkers were added and the distance was stretched out to 1 1/8 miles -- the very distance of the Withers.
Todd Pletcher has two well-bred recent maiden winners: Donegal Bay, an Uncle Mo gelding who sports the silks of Donegal Racing, and Overtook, a Curlin colt racing for Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable and the Irish Coolmore connections.
Overtook, a $1 million yearling purchase, is out of the multiple graded stakes winner Got Lucky, an A.P. Indy mare.
Capo Kane, a California-bred colt by Street Sense, has won his last two starts, most recently the Jerome Stakes at 1 mile over the Aqueduct track.
Eagle Orb was second in the Jerome, which was his first venture outside the state-bred ranks. Shackqueenking is in from Laurel, where the Shackleford colt had two wins, two seconds and a third from five starts
A bit more accomplishment is on display in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
Trainer Dale Romans, doggedly still seeking his first Kentucky Derby win, has Smiley Sobotka, who is making his first start since finishing second in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28.
Bill Mott will saddle two -- Nova Rags, who won the local Pasco Stakes Jan. 16, and Candy Man Rocket. Todd Pletcher also has a pair -- Known Agenda, third in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct Dec. 5, and Millean.
Boca Boy comes to the Sam F. Davis off a victory in the $400,000 In Reality Division of the Florida Sire Stakes. Then there are several recent maiden winners and one entry still a maiden.
The Withers and the Sam F. Davis are both included in the Churchill Downs "Road to the Kentucky Derby". The winner of each gets 10 points with 4, 2 and 1 points awarded for the minor placings.
And as we all look forward to Sunday's Super Bowl, here's a relevant proposition bet offered by BetOnline (betonline.ag): Which number will be higher -- Travis Kelce receptions (+110, 11/10) or Kentucky Derby winning horse number (-150, 2/3)? Since we, personally, prefer pari-mutuel wagering on horse races to gambling, we have no idea what those numbers mean.
But, since the Derby field likely will be close to 20 horses this year, Mr. Kelce might have to be a busy man to threaten.
The Path to the Oaks
Five 3-year-old fillies are set to contest Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Las Virgenes at Santa Anita, going 1 mile on the dirt.
Bob Baffert leads over Kalypso, a Brody's Cause filly who won the Grade II Santa Ynez on Jan. 3 and has not missed a top-three finish in five starts. Brilliant Cut, a daughter of Speightstown, returns after finishing third in the Santa Ynez, beaten 3 1/4 lengths.
The other three are recent maiden winners -- all nice enough fillies but, still, the Las Virgenes would appear to be Kalypso's to lose.
Saturday's $150,000 Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs has a field of 10 with Gulf Coast and Honorifique heading the morning line. Gulf Coast, a Union Rags filly, has two wins and a second for trainer Rodolphe Brisset, but also was cross-entered for Sunday's $100,000 Ruthless Stakes at Aqueduct.
Honorifique, a daughter of Honor Code, hails from the Eddie Kenneally barn and finished second to Gulf Coast in their last start, the Cash Run Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
As noted above, Gulf Coast is entered both for Sunday's $100,000 Ruthless Stakes at Aqueduct, going 7 furlongs, and for Saturday's Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. She also is a likely favorite in New York, where she would face just four rivals. None of those four is particularly scary.
A very competitive field of six signed on for Saturday's $150,000, 6-furlongs King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The 8-5 morning-line favorite is Flagstaff, a 7-year-old Speightstown gelding who will make his first start outside California.
In the Golden State, Flagstaff has hit the board in 13 of 15 starts. He was last seen finishing second in the Grade II Santa Anita Sprint Championship last Sept. 27 and has put in two serious works since arriving in Hot Springs.
Strike Power, a 6-year-old entire son of Speightstown, Minnesota-bred Mr. Jagermeister, Boldor, Mucho and Seven Nation Army round out the King Cotton field.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Marcos has six entries to tackle 1 1/4 miles at Santa Anita, starting on the downhill turf course. Someone needs to step up because there is not a lot of recent form on display.
Perhaps this is an opportunity for Masteroffoxhounds, a War Front colt who raced in Ireland last year, finished seventh in his first U.S. start in November at Del Mar and then turned right around to win three weeks later on the same course when given more distance by trainer Richard Baltas.
Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes drew a competitive field of 12 to go 1 1/16 miles. The favorites, Fancy Liquor and Greyes Creek, drew the No. 10 and No. 12 gates, respectively, which should make things interesting.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Thunder Road at Santa Anita, run at 1 mile, attracted eight entries with Bob and Jackie joining Hembree as the morning-line favorites.
Those two also drew the outside gates. Both have solid, if not flashy, resumes and Hembree has stitched together back-to-back wins for the first time in more than two years.
Filly & Mare Turf
Counterparty Risk and Logic N Reason are the morning-line favorites for Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
Counterparty Risk, a Chad Brown charge, makes just her fourth start after a December trip found her finishing second in the Lady of Shamrock Stakes at Santa Anita.
Logic N Reason, from the Christophe Clement Barn, exits a local win and is cross-entered at Gulfstream Park Saturday. New York Girl, an Irish-bred filly, makes her second U.S. start for trainer Bill Mott.
La Signare is the morning-line pick in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Suwanee River Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
The 6-year-old, French-bred Siyouni mare was fifth in the Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont Park last Oct. 10 and before that was third in the Grade II Longines Churchill Distaff Turf Mile.
Also well-noted on the oddsmaker's notations are Great Island and the aforementioned Logic N Reason.
Lady's Island and Hear My Prayer are the morning-line favorites among eight entered for Saturday's $100,000, 5-furlongs Ladies Turf Sprint at Gulfstream Park. As with several other weekend stakes, the favorites drew the outside gates so caveat emptor.
Around the world, around the clock:
Thursday evening's program at Meydan, week three of the Dubai World Cup Carnival, produced potential candidates for the (fill in the blank) Derby and for the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on World Cup night itself.
The (fill in the blank) indicates the winner of Thursday's Group 3 UAE 2,000 Guineas, Mouheeb, now is primed to shoot for the $1.5 million Saudi Derby Feb. 17, the Group 2 UAE Derby four weeks after that and/or the Kentucky Derby, another five weeks down the road.
"We'll see how he comes out of the race and go from there," said trainer Nicholas Bachalard.
Mouheeb, ridden by Ryan Curatolo, came from off the pace with a late run to catch pacesetter Meshakel by a neck in the final strides. Naval Crown was third.
"To be honest, I thought on the backside they were going a bit too fast for my horse and I just wanted to keep him relaxed," said Curatolo, who won for the first time at Meydan. "Then, when I got to the turn, I started improving a little bit and, changing legs, I knew I would get there."
In the co-featured Group 3 Firebreak Stakes, Secret Ambition opened a big lead in the stretch and won by 3 3/4 lengths from Hypothetical. Secret Ambition, an 8-year-old Exceed and Excel gelding, finished the 1,600 meters on the dirt track in 1:36.12.
Winning trainer Satish Seemar said he might take Secret Ambition directly to World Cup night, presumably for the Group 2 Godolphin Mile (G2) on the dirt, "or try him farther in distance between then and now. ... The win is very important and does give us some confidence."
Godolphin runners finished first through fifth in the Meydan Cup Sponsored by P & O Marinas, a turf handicap at about 1 3/4 miles. Dubai Future, with Frankie Dettori riding for trainer Saeed bin Suroor, won by 1 1/2 lengths as the favorite in the international markets.
He was followed across the line by Volcanic Sky, Global Heat, Ispolini and Ghostwatch, all toting the Godolphin blue silks.
The program-opener, the Mina Rashid Handicap at 1,600 meters on the turf, went to Canvassed as trainer Doug Watson returned to Meydan after three weeks away because of COVID-19 tests at his Red Stables. Canvassed won easily in a quick 1:10.44 and moved into the picture the Group 1 sprint features on March 27.
Next Thursday's Carnival races include the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round Two at 1,900 meters on the dirt and the Group 2 Al Rashidiya at 1,800 meters on the turf.
Saturday's Group 1 Neds C.F. Orr Stakes at Caulfield features last year's Group 1 Cox Plate winner, Sir Dragonet.
The 5-year-old son of Camelot makes his first start since finishing sixth in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup Nov. 6. Sir Dragonet is tackling the shortest race of his career, an interesting task first up.
The rest of the nine-horse field for the 1,400-meter race includes Humidor, not seen since finishing 12th in the Cox Plate.
Also on the program, Probabeel towers over his opposition, at least on paper, in the Group Geoffrey Belmaine Stakes at 1,200 meters.
If any further evidence were needed of the close relationship between the British All-Weather Championship program and the rich winter and early-spring races in the Middle East, let Bangkok be it.
The 5-year-old is the 6-4 favorite for Saturday's Betway Winter Derby Trial at Lingfield Park, a key indicator for the Grade III Winter Derby on Feb. 27 and a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Betway Easter Classic on Finals Day, Good Friday.
The hitch was, as decision day approached, trainer Andrew Balding was awaiting a call from Riyadh.
"The other option for him hinges on whether or not he gets an invite for the Saudi Cup meeting, which is still a possibility," Balding said. "Johnny Drama is entered for the trial as well and will probably run if Bangkok doesn't."
Whether the call didn't come or new travel restrictions intervened, Bangkok is in for Lingfield.
The other Fast-Track Qualifier on the card is the Listed Betway Kachy Stakes, a 6-furlongs affair recently renamed in memory of Kachy, who won the race twice in addition to taking out the 2019 Betway All-Weather Sprint Championship.
News and Notes
Keeneland on Tuesday announced it will open its spring meet April 2 and is "working on plans for ticketing options under our COVID-19 safety protocols. The $800,000 Grade II Toyota Blue Grass, a key steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby, is set for April 3.
"With the cancellation of last year's spring meet because of the pandemic, it is critical to the Thoroughbred industry that we are able to offer our full slate of April stakes on their traditional dates," Keeneland president and CEO Shannon Arvin said. "These races are key fixtures on the international racing calendar."
Meanwhile, two Republican senators Tuesday introduced legislation that would end the legal threat to Historical Horse Racing gaming in Kentucky -- a mainstay of purses for the past decade.
The Kentucky Supreme Court has held at least one version of the slot machine-like gaming devices does not meet the definition of "pari-mutuel wagering" and thus is illegal in the Commonwealth.
Keeneland and The Red Mile recently closed the gaming facility they operate jointly at The Red Mile in Lexington pending resolution of the issue.
Churchill Downs Inc. has put on hold plans to build a new grandstand at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky -- a massive reconstruction job with funding expected to come from HHR.
Many industry officials have lent support for Senate Bill 120, emphasizing the legislation would do no more than preserve the status quo. Gaming opponents, naturally, would like nothing better than to upend the current gaming picture.
The Kentucky Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee approved the measure Thursday, advancing it for a floor vote in the full chamber.