March 12 (UPI) -- Saturday's $1 million Rebel at Oaklawn Park features some top Kentucky Derby prospects who have not been seen for months, among them yet another late bloomer from trainer Bob Baffert, Concert Tour.
The ruler of Dubai also added to his already formidable Kentucky Derby arsenal Thursday at Gulfstream Park.
Reigning Kentucky Oaks winner Shedaresthedevil returns to action, and Whitmore tries for a five-peat in the Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn in his first start since winning the 2020 Breeders' Cup Sprint -- facing that day's runner-up again. The 2020 Preakness winner, Swiss Skydiver starts her 2021 season out west.
On the international front, Daring Tact returns to action for the first time since last November's dramatic Japan Cup finish. The field is set for the BMW Hong Kong Derby and so is the schedule for Royal Ascot.
We're set to deliver all of that and more, starting with:
The Road to the Roses
The first thing that strikes the eye about the past performances for Saturday's $1 million Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park is -- there aren't many. For horses at most two races away from a potential start in the Kentucky Derby, this is an inexperienced bunch with lots of recent down time.
The 9-5 morning-line favorite is Caddo River, a Hard Spun colt trained by Brad Cox, who won the Smarty Jones Jan. 22 by 10 1/4 lengths in his first start of the year. He did make three starts last year, winding up with his first win Nov. 15, so he's had one start in four months.
Second on the morning line is Concert Tour, a Street Sense colt shipped in from California by Bob Baffert. He is undefeated in two starts -- a maiden win at Santa Anita on Jan. 15 and the Grade II San Vicente on Feb. 6, in which he went just 7 furlongs.
Others with support include Get Her Number, a Dialed In colt trained by Peter Miller who won the Grade I American Pharoah at Santa Anita on Sept. 28 and has not raced since; Super Stock, another by Dialed In who was last seen finishing second at Churchill Downs on Oct. 25; and Keepmeinmind, who was third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile but then won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club on Nov. 18.
Baffert is the default option in the Rebel. He has saddled 13 horses with at least one starter every year since 2010 and has won the race a record seven times. His charges also have finished second three times and third once, bankrolling $3,171,000 in purses.
"The reason I've been so successful is I've brought some serious horses up there," Baffert said from his California base. "I usually try to bring my best horses there."
Baffert also has Hozier, a Pioneerof the Nile colt who broke his maiden in his second start Feb. 15 at Santa Anita. Steve Asmussen offers Big Lake, an American Pharoah colt who has two wins on the trot at Fair Grounds.
Twilight Blue, with a gilt-edged turf pedigree including Air Force Blue and Rahy, has two wins from six starts, all on dirt surfaces.
The Rebel offers 50 points to the winner on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard with 20, 10 and 5 for the next three placings.
Saturday at Laurel Park, Maythehorsebwithu and Royal Number are the shortest odds on the morning line for the $100,000 Private Terms. Royal Number, a Palace Malice colt, exits a fourth in the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct.
Maythehorsebwithu, by Bullsbay, comes off a victory in the local Miracle Wood. This is one to watch for the Preakness if not for the Derby.
While six-time winner Baffert looks to have a pretty strong hand at this point along the Derby trail, zero-time winner Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and master of Godolphin, loosed another contender this week and looks at least the equal now in terms of likely ones.
The newcomer is Prevalence, a Medaglia d'Oro homebred who turned heads winning his first start at Gulfstream on Jan. 23. He returned Thursday to blitz a one-turn mile, kicking away to win by 3 lengths with plenty left.
Trainer Brendan Walsh said that was good enough to keep his options open, though Prevalence will have to earn his way into the Run for the Roses, likely in the Arkansas Derby or the Wood Memorial.
"We'll get back and let the dust settle and talk to the team at Godolphin and see where we go after that," Walsh said. "It was very important that we did what we did today, and not throw him in too deep.
"I'm very pleased we got this race. Hats off to the guys at Gulfstream for getting the race to go, because I think it was very important for the horse."
Godolphin already has undefeated 2-year-old champion Essential Quality at No. 4 on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard and he would advance to No. 1 with a win in his next start, as yet unannounced.
Sheik Mohammed also has Proxy, the Risen Star runner-up, at No. 7, and potential Derby horses competing in Dubai, Japan and England.
Shedaresthedevil -- she who dared and defeated Swiss Skydiver in last year's Kentucky Oaks -- tops a classy field of five for Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Azeri at Oaklawn Park.
The Daredevil filly wasn't disgraced while finishing third against older rivals in the Grade I Spinster to wind up her 2020 season and won last year's Grade III Honeybee over the Oaklawn strip.
Envoutante also finished 2020 on a roll, winning the Grade II Falls City at Churchill Downs over older foes and also makes her first start of 2021.
Letruska already has a win under her girth this year, having taken the Grade III Houston Ladies Classic on Jan. 31. Getridofwhatailsu exits a from-the-clouds victory in the local Pippin Stakes on Jan. 23.
Speaking of Swiss Skydiver -- she's back in action Saturday, too, in the $300,000 Grade I Beholder Mile at Santa Anita where she is an 8-5 morning-line favorite in a field of eight.
The multiple-Grade I winner does have something to prove after a stumbling start and seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She has not raced since that effort. The opposition in this heat certainly doesn't seem as tough as the Breeders' Cup bunch, including Sanenus and As Time Goes By.
Silver State and Night Ops rate as the top locals in Saturday's $500,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park after finishing first and third in the Fifth Season Stakes on Jan. 23.
The field also includes Tax and Harper's First Ride, who were in over their heads in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup in January and finished up the track but fit much better with this bunch.
Whitmore returns to action in Saturday's $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn Park -- his first race since an emotional victory in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last November at Keeneland.
The 8-year-old Pleasantly Perfect gelding, a favorite at the Arkansas oval, has won this race in each of the past four years but faces some significant hurdles in seeking a five-peat.
Chief among them is C Z Rocket, who won the Grade II Pat O'Brien at Del Mar and the Grade II Santa Anita Sprint Championship before finishing second to Whitmore at Keeneland.
It's worth noting the 7-year-old has not hit the board in three previous starts at Oaklawn but those were before his recent emergence from the claiming ranks to graded stakes glory.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Amuse flew across the continent to top the morning line assessment of a seven-horse field for Saturday's $100,000 Correction Stakes at Aqueduct.
Trainer Richard Mandella obviously hopes the change of scenery will help the Medaglia d'Oro mare get over the hump as she has not won in eight starts since December 2018. She has been facing top company on the West Coast and things might be easier in this field.
There are plenty of chances in an eight-horse field for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III San Simeon at Santa Anita. Jolie Olimpica is the nominal favorite on the morning line, but Gregorian Chant, Bob and Jackie, Sombeyay and Cistron all have legitimate claims in the 6-furlongs test.
Around the world, around the clock:
Saturday's Group 1 Coolmore Classic at Rosehill Gardens, 1,500 meters, has a full field with nary a solid favorite in sight. Check back with our weekend roundup to see how this one played out. Better yet, figure it out and have a flutter. A winning ticket should be worth cashing.
Sunday's Grade 2 Kinko Sho at Chukyo is a Grade 1 event in all but name with a field full of heavy hitters. The story line looks like 4-year-old Daring Tact, last year's filly sensation, against a relatively geriatric set of male rivals.
Daring Tact makes her first start since finishing third in the Grade 1 Japan Cup in November. That race was a classic of classics with Almond Eye winding up her career with a win and Contrail and Daring Tact, the undefeated colt and filly Triple Crown winners, finishing second and third. Contrail has not made his 4-year-old debut.
The remainder of the Kinko Sho field is full of familiar names, mostly from the past. Six-year-old Glory Vase, winner of the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase in 2019, was fifth in the Japan Cup four months ago in his last start.
Kiseki, second in four Grade 1 events over his long career, will see what he has left at age 7. Persian Knight, another 7-year-old veteran of top-level wars, also makes his seasonal debut.
Sunday at Hanshin, a full field is set for the Grade 2 Hochi Hai Fillies' Revue (Japanese 1000 Guineas Trial) at 1,400 meters. Those waiting for the 3-year-old debut of undefeated white filly Sodachi will wait a little longer as she is not in this field.
A field of 14 is set for what promises to be a wide-open renewal of the HK$24 million BMW Hong Kong Derby on March 21 at Sha Tin Racecourse.
Sky Darci, trained by Caspar Fownes, is the top-rated of the entrants for the 2,000-meters event, which also will include winners of the first two legs of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, Excellent Proposal and Healthy Happy.
The Hong Kong Derby dates to 1873 and remains a prime target for local owners despite the expansion of Hong Kong racing to embrace international Group 1 competition.
Past winners, however, have gone on to make their mark in those top-level contests, among them Vengeance of Rain, Viva Pataca, Ambitious Dragon, Designs on Rome, Werther and last year's winner, Golden Sixty.
"The BMW Hong Kong Derby has always been a focal point in the racing season," said Andrew Harding, executive director of racing for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
"The 2021 renewal will provide yet another chapter to an enduring story of excellence and achievement. Without an overwhelmingly dominant favorite, this year's race shapes as one of the most intriguing in recent memory."
Prize money for Royal Ascot 212 will be 6 million pounds sterling -- a nice bump from the 3.61 million pounds offered during the pandemic-devastated 2020 edition. But that's still much less than Ascot officials had hoped to have on offer.
"In 2020 we had hoped to offer record prize money of more than 8 million at the Royal Meeting," Guy Henderson, CEO of Ascot Racecourse, said Tuesday.
"In the event, the pandemic made that impossible and we have now spent nearly a year racing behind closed doors with trading income down 80 percent. This year's prize money of 6 million represents 75 percent of what we had originally planned for 2020," Henderson said.
"Whilst Covid-19 has knocked back our long-term financial trajectory by several years, our aim is to make the largest steps we can toward getting prize money levels back on track as soon as possible."
Ascot's flat racing season commences April 28 and the Royal Meeting will take place June 15-19.
Meanwhile, the All-Weather Championships wrap up their qualifying season this weekend with Finals Day, April 2, just over the horizon.
Wolverhampton offers a feast of All-Weather action on Saturday with a nine-race program that features the Listed Bombardier Lady Wulfruna Stakes as well as two class two handicaps.
Saturday's 7-furlong Bombardier Lady Wulfruna Stakes at Wolverhampton is the final Fast-Track Qualifier for the Bombardier All-Weather Mile Championship at Lingfield Park.
Saturday's chelmsfordcityracecourse.com Conditions Stakes at 2 miles is the concluding Fast-Track Qualifier of the season with a place in the Betway All-Weather Marathon Championship on Good Friday up for grabs.