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Weather woes scramble Kentucky Derby prep race schedule

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Maxfield, seen winning the 2020 Matt Winn, runs in Saturday's Grade III Mineshaft Stakes at Fair Grounds. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs
1 of 2 | Maxfield, seen winning the 2020 Matt Winn, runs in Saturday's Grade III Mineshaft Stakes at Fair Grounds. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs

Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Mother Nature is not cooperating with this weekend's Kentucky Derby preparations, forcing a one-week postponement in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and threatening rain for the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans on the weekend before Mardi Gras.

Despite that ugliness, the show does go on with a big slate of stakes at Laurel Park, Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita and Fairgrounds.

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On the international scene, two Group 1 races in Australia feature sprinters, including Verry Elleegant. And we have results from Thursday's action at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.

And there's good news from Kentucky -- see "News and Notes."

In short, we're not letting anyone rain on our parade.

The Road to the Roses

In the long litany of "things that can go wrong on the way to the Kentucky Derby," postponement of key races is not at the top. But it's not at the bottom, either.

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In an era when contenders are given only a few prep races for the biggest moment of their lives, even a hiccup on the calendar can be an issue, removing planned R&R time between races or even requiring substitution of a different race altogether.

So the hideous weather forecast -- including single-digit lows and snow showers -- that prompted postponement of this weekend's program at Oaklawn Park, including Monday's Southwest Stakes for 3-year-olds, is not welcome news, especially for such as Brad Cox, who expected his reigning 2-year-old champion Essential Quality to make his first start of 2020 in the Southwest.

Cox said Oaklawn made the right decision, saying Essential Quality and his star mare, Monomoy Girl, set to run in the Bayakoa Stakes on Monday, "will be fine ... I would not have run either of them on a bad track."

The postponement leaves Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds as the weekend's top Kentucky Derby Prep.

The race is the first stop on the Churchill Downs-sponsored "Road to the Kentucky Derby" to offer 50 points to the winner and has some of the legitimate early favorites for the Run for the Roses as well as a few potential late-comers to the party.

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The weatherman calls for rain Thursday and Friday and showers Saturday.

Keepmeinmind, a Laoban colt, looms large in his 3-year-old debut. The Robertino Diodoro trainee finished second in the Grade II Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in just his second start, then was a closing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after a rough start.

He ended his 2020 campaign with a narrow win in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club.

The first four finishers from the local Grade III Lecomte also return for the Risen Star. Midnight Bourbon won the Jan. 16 race on the front end with Proxy chasing him the whole way and Mandaloun a clear third. Santa Cruiser was fourth, beaten 9 3/4 lengths in the Lecomte but shows up again.

The scary newcomers include Senor Buscador, winner of both his previous starts at Remington Park, most recently the Springboard Mile. The late-running Mineshaft colt has yet to be tested. O Besos, an Orb colt, has progressed nicely for trainer Greg Foley, winning his last two, and stretches out to two turns for the first time.

Saturday's $100,000 El Camino Real Derby on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather course has Rombauer in his first start since a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

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The Twirling Candy colt earlier finished second in the Grade I American Pharoah, which is not currently looking like much of a key race. Godolphin's Javanica, a Medaglia d'Oro filly, gets another try on the artificial surface after runner-up finishes at Del Mar and Santa Anita. Petruchio returns from a two-month break.

The seven-horse field for Saturday's $100,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park includes the 1-2 finishers from the 7-furlongs Spectacular Bid Stakes on Jan. 16 -- Kenny Had a Notion and Maythehorsebwithu.

Chad Brown ships Subsidize, an Into Mischief colt, from New York where he recently found the winner's circle for the first time in his fourth start. And Silent Service returns on three weeks' rest after winning at first asking over the course, by 6 3/4 lengths. Keep this race in mind for the Preakness.

Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, meanwhile, opens at noon EST Friday. Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has Essential Quality and West Coast-based Life Is Good as the co-favorite individual interests at 8-1, behind only "All Other 3-year-olds."

Remember, there are no refunds if your horse doesn't make it to the new, 20-stall Churchill Downs starting gate.

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The Road to the Oaks

Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds is a reprise of the Silverbulletday Stakes over the same track Jan. 16 with two of the top three finishers from that heat returning.

Charlie's Penny won the earlier test at odds close to 10-1 with Souper Sensational and Moon Swag in her wake -- the latter at 50-1 odds. Charlie's Penny was entered for the Rachel Alexandra but has been taken out of training with an injury.

If Souper Sensational and Moon Swag don't present a convincing picture, Saturday's field has an alternative feature -- Travel Column and Clairiere -- the winner and runner-up in the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs Nov. 28. Zoom Up could improve into the picture.

There are some promising types among the nine entries for Saturday's $100,000 Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park, a 7-furlongs tilt.

Street Lute, who has six wins and a second from seven starts, is the morning-line favorite, closely followed by Little Huntress, who won last time out in her second start by 14 lengths. Many of these have limited experience so watch and learn.

The $100,000, 6-furlong Dixie Belle at Oaklawn Park was postponed until Feb. 21.

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Classic

Saturday's $600,000 Grade III Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park was reset for Feb. 20.

Maxfield and Wells Bayou top a field of seven for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Mineshaft Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Both 4-year-olds are making their second start after long layoffs. Maxfield, a Street Sense colt trained by Brendan Walsh for Godolphin, won the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland as a 2-year-old, and then started only once last year, winning the Grade III Matt Winn at Churchill Downs on May 23.

He won his comeback effort, the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds on Dec. 19 by 2 1/2 lengths. Wells Bayou won the 2020 Louisiana Derby, then went to the sidelines after finishing fifth in a division of Arkansas Derby May 2. He finished third in his return, the Grade III Louisiana Stakes on Jan. 16.

Steve Asmussen brings Bankit down from New York as the 9-5 favorite for Saturday's $100,000 John B. Campbell at Laurel Park.

The 5-year-old son of Central Banker has done his best work against fellow New York-breds, but the others in here won't strike fear into his heart. Best of the locals may be Cordmaker, a 6-year-old Curlin gelding who is 13-for-20 in the money over the Laurel dirt track.

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Distaff

Trainer Michael Trombetta braves the winter weather, bringing Lucky Stride back from Florida for Saturday's $100,000 Nellie Morse Stakes at Laurel Park.

And why not? The 5-year-old Declaration of War mare finished second in the local Thirty Eight Go Stakes before heading south and won the Wayward Lass Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs Jan. 16. She's the 2-1 favorite in a field of 10 which also includes Lucky Move (no relation).

Monday's $250,000 Grade III Bayakoa Stakes at Oaklawn Park instead will run Feb. 20.

Turf

Judged on the form as of last October, Factor This would be a heavy favorite for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Fair Grounds Stakes. The now 6-year-old gelding then reported eighth in the Breeders' Cup Mile -- not a bad showing, considering.

But he was dull again in finishing eighth again in the Grade II Fort Lauderdale at Gulfstream Park in his last outing in December. Can trainer Brad Cox coax out the talent that saw him win five races in 2020, including this and three other graded stakes?

If not, there are several others ready to step up, including Spectacular Gem, Captivating Moon and Logical Myth.

Fascinating: Danceteria, a 6-year-old, French-bred gelding, makes his second U.S. start after racing in England, France, Germany and, most recently, Australia. He did well everywhere other than Down Under and could improve for trainer Graham Motion.

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Filly & Mare Turf

A mixed bag of 12 fillies and mares it set to contest the 1 1/16 miles of Saturday's $100,000 Albert M. Stall Stakes at Fair Grounds. Dalika won the Blushing K.D. Stakes over the same course and distance Dec. 19, but disappointed in her last outing.

The field also includes the first-, second- and fourth-place finishers from the Jan. 16 Marie Krantz Memorial -- Secret Message, Room to Finish and Xanthique. Dreamalildreamofu won an off-the-turf optional claimer at the New Orleans track by 9 1/4 lengths in her last outing for trainer Brad Cox.

Sprint

New York invader Funny Guy is the 9-5 favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $250,000 Grade III General George at Laurel Park. The 5-year-old son of Big Brown has compiled a record of 6-6-0 from 17 starts, most of them against fellow New York-breds.

But he also finished fourth, beaten just 2 lengths, in the Grade I Forego at Saratoga in August and second in the Grade II Vosburg at Belmont Park in September. Share the Ride also gets some support in the field of 10 going 7 furlongs around one turn.

Mischevious Alex is the 6-5 morning-line favorite among seven registered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Gulfstream Park Sprint.

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The 4-year-old Into Mischief colt won a pair of Grade III events early last year, struggled in Grade I company and returned from a five-months break to win a Gulfstream Park allowance event last month. After him, it's wide open.

Edgemont Road and Cool Arrow are the early favorites for Saturday's $100,000 Pelican Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

The former, a 5-year-old Speightstown gelding, scored a win over the track last month in his first start since Nov. 7 on the Breeders' Cup undercard at Keeneland. The latter, a 7-year-old Into Mischief gelding, exits a fifth-place finish in the Grade III Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream Park.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Hello Beautiful stands out in a field of eight set for Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Runhappy Barbara Fritchie Stakes at Laurel Park. The 4-year-old daughter of Golden Lad, the morning-line favorite, has won three straight races and, while she has not shipped well, she is 7-for-7 at Laurel.

Among the others, Dontletsweetfoolya will defend a five-race win streak, all compiled in Maryland, and Sharp Star has been sharp recently in New York. This is 7 furlongs from the backstretch chute.

Eleven fillies and mares are set for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita and the 7-furlongs event is a real you-pick-'em affair. Hard Not to Love is the 7-2 favorite on the morning line but Merneith, Fair Maiden, Qahira, Golden Principal and Amuse all have legitimate claims.

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Turf Sprint

Leinster makes his first start since finishing third in the Breeders's Cup Turf Sprint in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint. The 6-year-old son of Majestic Warrior won the Grade II Shakertown and Grade II Woodford at Keeneland before tackling the Breeders' Cup.

He took 13 tries to get his first win but, since then, has missed a top-three finish only once in nine starts. He's the 3-5 favorite on the morning line for this comeback effort.

Saturday's $100,000 Colonel Power Stakes at Fair Grounds has nine takers to tackle 5 1/2 furlongs, among them Extravagant Kid, fourth in November's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, beaten just 1 length.

Turned Aside turns up in the entry box for the first time since winning the Turf Sprint Championship at Aqueduct on Nov. 28. Manny Wah, after 22 previous starts on dirt and all-weather tracks, made his turf debut a winning one in his last start, the Duncan F. Kenner over this course and distance.

Monday's $75,000 Wishing Well Stakes for fillies and mares at Santa Anita

Around the world, around the clock:

Dubai

Salute the Soldier emerged as a candidate for the March 27 Dubai World Cup with a determined run down the Meydan stretch Thursday night that landed victory in the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2.

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Salute the Soldier, a German-bred, disputed the lead from midway down the backstretch, put away early challenger Capezzano in deep stretch and ran on to win by 1 length. Thegreatcollection was along for second with Uruguay's Ajuste Fiscal third and Capezzano holding fourth.

Salute the Soldier finished the 1,900 meters in 1:57.37 with Adrie de Vries riding. He was third in Round 1 of the challenge Jan. 21, behind Military Law (GB) and Thegreatcollection. Military Law did not contest Round 2 with his connections opting to shoot for a share of the $20 million Saudi Cup purse Feb. 20 rather than the $293,000 on offer Thursday at Meydan.

"Things had not gone to plan in two runs so far this season so we decided to step him up in trip and it has worked perfectly," de Vries said. "We went a good early pace, but I was keen to pressure Mickael [Barzalona, on Capezzano] quite early, and then my horse really picked up well.

"Perhaps we can look at the 2,000 meters and Dubai World Cup," de Vries added.

In the co-featured Al Rashidiya at 1 1/8 miles on the turf, Zakouski split rivals at the top of the lane, chased pacesetting Court House and Barzalona to the 100-meter mark and edged ahead to win by 3/4 length.

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Lord Glitters was up to take third, just a nose farther in arrears. With William Buick up for trainer Charlie Appleby, Zakouski finished in 1:48.39.

"We were pretty confident coming here," Buick said, "and, from our draw in [gate] one, I was delighted to track Mickael, who carried us into the race.

"When I asked him, he has responded really nicely and that was a very good performance. We would like to think he is still improving and will perhaps now look at Super Saturday and the [Group 1] Jebel Hatta [G1)]" Buick said.

The Godolphin-Appleby-Buick combo also scored with Star Safari in the 2,410-meter Emirates Sky Cargo and Secret Protector in the Meydan Trophy Sponsored by Emirates Holidays at 1,900 meters on the turf.

Australia

Don't look for another Black Caviar in Saturday's Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning Stakes at Flemington but there are a few pretty good ones. Bivouac, a Godolphin homebred by Exceed and Excel, makes his first start since winning the Group 1 Darley Sprint Classic in November by 3 1/4 lengths.

Before that, he was second in the Everest. Nature Strip, a consistent top-level performer, also makes his first start since the Sprint Classic, where he reported second.

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Elite Street rides a three-race win streak, most recently the Group 1 Winterbottom, and Pippie has jumped up to win some big ones.

Saturday's Group 2 Apollo Stakes at Royal Randwick features Verry Elleegant's first run of 2020. The 5-year-old mare won the Group 1 Turnbull and Group 1 Caulfield Cup in the Southern Hemisphere springtime before finishing seventh in the Melbourne Cup.

Chris Waller trains Verry Elleegant and three others in the 10-horse prospective field.

News and Notes

The Kentucky House of Representatives late Thursday passed legislation designed to protect Historical Horse Racing operations in the commonwealth -- a funding source that has breathed new life into the industry and prompted plans to build and renovate tracks from border to border. The bill now goes to the governor, who is expected to sign it.

HHR was thrown into doubt last year when the state Supreme Court said at least one of its iterations did not meet the definition of pari-mutuel wagering and thus was illegal. The court had urged the legislature to fix the problem, which this legislation does.

In the interim, Keeneland and The Red Mile temporarily shuttered their HHR gaming room in Lexington, Churchill Downs Inc. put on hold plans to build a new grandstand and casino at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky and Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs predicted uncertain futures sans HHR.

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Also Thursday, Breeders' Cup announced this year's "Win and You're In" Challenge Series races will be run without the antibleeding medication Lasix.

Additionally, Breeders' Cup will award points toward field selection only for placement in graded stakes races run without Lasix. The organization said the decision builds on a Lasix-free season for 2-year-olds in 2020 and the passage of the federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act which provides a national framework for creating and enforcing regulations, including the use of medication.

"Even before HISA was signed into law, running the World Championships Lasix-free was a goal of Breeders' Cup," said Drew Fleming, president and CEO of Breeders' Cup Limited.

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