March 26 (UPI) -- The Dubai World Cup program, the Florida Derby and a key race in Japan all share one common characteristic this week: They all could impact the makeup of this year's Kentucky Derby.
The Florida Derby, with the likes of Greatest Honour and Spielberg, obviously promises to send one or more from its field to the Louisville starting gate.
So, too, might Saturday's UAE Derby, which has an international field including at least one runner sent from Florida specifically to qualify for the Run for the Roses.
And Saturday's Fukuryu Stakes will crown the winner of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby," which offers a guaranteed spot in that race.
For some deep and unusual insights into the Derby doings, have a gander at Jude Feld's "Pope Jude" sheet -- popejude.com.
Meanwhile, five Group 1 races postponed last weekend at Rosehill Gardens in Australia will go Saturday, including the featured Golden Slipper for promising 2-year-olds.
And Sunday brings the Grade 1 Takamatsunomia Kinen -- one of Japan's great sprint events.
As Ed Sullivan was wont to say, "It's a reeely big shew." Let's get it on the road.
The Road to the Roses
Saturday's $1 million Grade I Curlin Florida Derby certainly looks to be Greatest Honour's race to lose.
The Tapit colt, trained by Shug McGaughey, won the Grade III Holy Bull by 5 3/4 lengths, then won the Grade II Fountain of Youth by 1 1/4 lengths, finding an extra gear in the stretch run.
Based on the last effort, he should be happy with the added distance of this 1 1/8-miles race -- and probably the 1 1/4 miles of the Run for the Roses, too.
A bit of a surprise in the 11-horse Florida Derby field is Spielberg, the $1 million yearling purchase by Union Rags who keeps promising for trainer Bob Baffert.
He will be Baffert's first Florida Derby starter and would be a formidable foe if he runs back to his second-place finish behind Essential Quality in the Grade III Southwest at Oaklawn Park in his last start.
Not so much if he runs back to his dull fourth, beaten more than 11 lengths, in the Grade III Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita two races back.
The other nine range are all over the board, experience-wise. There are a couple recent maiden winners and who could not like Soup and Sandwich, undefeated in two previous starts for trainer Mark Casse and now taking a big jump in class. Etch that name on a Derby Glass!
Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park is run at 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather course, giving it a unique twist on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" schedule.
Nonetheless, it offers the same points as the Florida Derby -- 40 to the winner with 40, 20, and 10 for the minor placings.
The favorites in a field of 12, not surprisingly, are the first three finishers from the local prep, the Battaglia Memorial on Feb. 26 -- Hush of a Storm, Like the King and Gretzky the Great.
Gretzky the Great is a Grade I winner on turf but did not appear to like the 1 1/16 miles of the Battaglia, fading from the lead in the stretch run. Hush of a Storm rallied from far back for the win while Like the King enjoyed a stalking trip.
Also of note in the Battaglia is Tarantino, a Pioneerof the Nile colt who won on turf last year but finished second and fourth in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth on the Gulfstream Park dirt. Among the others, Hard Rye Guy, fourth in the Battaglia, could pick up the pieces of an early pace battle.
The name of the race is a play on the identity of the sponsor -- the Jeff Ruby Steakhouse chain. This is the latest in a series of names for the one-time Spiral Stakes that also included the Jim Beam Stakes and, for one year, the Galleryfurniture.com Stakes.
The Road to the Oaks
Crazy Beautiful is the 5-2 favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks. The Liam's Map filly, trained by Kenny McPeek, finished second in the Grade II Davona Dale on Feb. 27.
As a juvenile, she was second in both the Grade III Pocahontas at Churchill Downs and the Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland, then sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
So she needs to get back to the form that saw her win her first two career starts. Three others in this field finished behind Crazy Beautiful in the Davona Dale.
While the locals get the most attention in the Jeff Ruby Steaks, it's a New Orleans invader as the 3-1 favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $150,000 Bourbonette Oaks on the Turfway Park all-weather.
That is Adventuring, a Godolphin homebred filly by Pioneerof the Nile. The Brad Cox trainee was entered three times on the turf at Fair Grounds and every one of those races was rained off onto the main track. She finished third. She finished second. And finally she finished first Feb. 16.
Into Vanishing is the best-regarded of the Turfway-based runners. The Into Mischief filly has won both her starts over the strip.
Last Judgment and War Stopper top a field of seven for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Ghostzapper Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Last Judgment, a 5-year-old Congrats gelding, won the Grade III Challenger at Tampa Bay Downs in his last start after being overwhelmed in the Pegasus World Cup.
War Stopper, a 4-year-old Declaration of War colt, was third in the Challenger but won two straight before that, both at Gulfstream.
Saturday's $150,000 TwinSpires Kentucky Cup Classic on the Turfway Park all-weather brings back a lot of memories of the glory days of the northern Kentucky track when the this springtime meeting was echoed with the Kentucky Cup program in the fall and drew top horses from around the country.
With Churchill Downs now running the joint, things are looking up again and the field for this race reflects that -- at least a little bit.
The favorite is Fair Grounds-based Set Piece, who visited on New Year's Eve to win the Prairie Bayou Stakes, named for one of the olden-days Jim Beam Stakes stars. He returned to Louisiana to finish a close fourth in the Grade III Fair Grounds Stakes.
It's also worth a nod to Plus Que Parfait, who exactly two years ago was in Dubai, winning the Group 2 UAE Derby and earning his way from that into the Kentucky Derby. He has not won in 13 starts since the Dubai triumph.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Pan American at Gulfstream Park drew a field of eight to tackle 1 1/2 miles. Cross Border, a 7-year-old English Channel ridgling, makes his first start since a close third in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf in January.
Moon Over Miami and Temple were third and fourth in the Grade II Mac Diarmida last month. It's never wise to discount 8-year-old Sadler's Joy, who won his first graded stakes in this race four years ago.
What's perhaps most notable about these is there are few bad races in any of their past performances -- albeit at differing rungs on the class ladder.
Filly & Mare Turf
A well-matched field of eight is set for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Santa Ana Stakes at Santa Anita.
The morning-line favorite for the 1 1/4-miles event, however, is Mucho Unusual, a 5-year-old Mucho Macho Man mare. She disappointed in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf but, other than that, has been in the money consistently for the past nine months. Going to Vegas and Tapwater also get some support.
Always Shopping, winner of three of her last four starts, returns as a solid morning-line favorite in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Orchid Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
The 5-year-old Awesome Again mare also is 3-for-4 overall on the Gulfstream turf and 3-for-5 at this 1 3/8-miles trip. An unknown is Sorrel, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly who wound up her 2020 campaign with three straight wins in England for trainer Sir Michael Stoute and now makes her U.S. debut for Christophe Clement.
Sweet Melania gets her first test as a 4-year-old in Saturday's $100,000 Sand Springs Stakes for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park.
The American Pharoah filly was on a roll through 2019 and most of 2020 while competing in top company but then faded badly in last November's Grade I QE II Cup at Keeneland when asked to go 1 1/8 miles. This is a sixteenth shorter and she's almost 5 months older. This field also may be a bit easier. If not her, almost any of the other six could have a shot.
Eight 3-year-old fillies are set for Saturday's $100,000 Sanibel Island Stakes at 1 mile on the Gulfstream Park greensward. There's plenty of potential, including the third- and fourth-place finishers from the Grade III Herecomesthebride Stakes -- Joy of Painting and I Get It.
Others try the turf for the first time, come off a maiden win and all those things that apply to young horses at this point in their career. World Tour, making just her second career start, is the 3-1 morning line favorite.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Kitten's Joy Appleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park got eight takers with the morning-line favorite, Frostmourne, drawn in the cozy No. 3 gate. The 7-year-old Speightstown gelding was last seen finishing third in the Grade II Tropical Turf at Gulfstream in January.
Saturday's $100,000 Cutler Bay Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park drew several looking to make amends for earlier disappointments.
An exception is the 5-2 morning-line favorite, Annex, a Constitution colt trained by Bill Mott who is 2-for-2, both wins coming at Gulfstream Park. He was a narrow winner in the Palm Beach Stakes in his most recent outing.
Step Dancer, a War Dancer colt, had two wins and a third in New York last year and steps out for the first time in 2020. Hyperfocus and Fulmini come off recent allowance wins.
Saturday's $100,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park has a field of eight with Basin and Yodel A. E. Who as the morning-line favorites.
Basin was a distant second to Charlatan in his division of the 2020 Arkansas Derby, raced twice more that summer and returns from a seven-months layoff. The speedy Yodel A. E. Who has been toiling in the optional claiming ranks.
Around the world, around the clock ...
The entire World Cup program will be available in the United States on FS-1, plus various streaming options. Wagering is available hither and yon, except of course at Meydan Racecourse where it's illegal.
Here's how the program shapes up, from the first Thoroughbred race at 8:15 a.m. EDT to the World Cup itself:
The $750,000 Group 2 Godolphin Mile on the Meydan turf gets things off to a flying start with a big field and a heavy favorite in Midnight Sands. The 5-year-old son of Speightstown has won six in a row at the Dubai track and comes off an impressive win in the Group 3 Burj Nahaar on Super Saturday.
There are horses from England and Japan and the United States is represented by Snapper Sinclair, Avant Garde and Parsimony.
The $750,000 Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup is 2 miles -- all the way down the long chute and through the stretch, then once around the turf track.
Four of the 11 entries are from the Godolphin barns, incuding the favorite, Secret Advisor. He exits a third-place finish in the $2.5 million Red Sea Turf Handicap on the Saudi Cup undercard. International rivals include Spanish Mission and the venerable Red Verdon.
Godolphin also fields the favorite, Space Blues, for the $1 million Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint at 1,200 meters on the turf. The 5-year-old son of Dubawi rides a five-race winning streak, including the $1 million stc1351 Turf Sprint in Saudi Arabia in his last start.
The U.S. contingent for this includes Cowan, who was second in the Saudi Derby in his last start, True Valor and Extravagant Kid.
The $750,000 Group 2 UAE Derby, a 100-points qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby, has a fascinating international field, plus a few American horses who made the journey hoping to use it as a back door to Louisville.
Japanese runners Pink Kamehameha, winner of the Saudi Derby, and France Go de Ina, both are in with a chance. Panadol, winner of the Al Bastakiya on Super Saturday, is among the favorites.
Mnasek, runaway winner of the UAE Oaks, takes on the boys. Godolphin runners Rebel's Romance and Soft Whisper both disappointed in Saudi Arabia and are likely to be overlooked a bit back home. El Patriota represents Uruguay.
Lugamo and Ambivalent are the U.S. horses looking for a way into the Run for the Roses.
The $1.5 million Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen is 1,200 meters on the dirt and has 14 entries, most with chances.
The field includes the first- and second-place finishers from the $1.5 million Riyadh Dirt Sprint in Saudi Arabia, both from Japan -- Copano Kicking and Matera Sky.
Canvassed and Good Effort, first and second in the Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal on Super Saturday, also are back. A strong U.S. contingent arguably is led by Yaupon and Wildman Jack.
Two tremendous back-to-back turf races start with the $4 million Grade I Dubai Turf, an 1,800-meters affair. Lord North, making his first start since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf, is the early favorite with Frankie Dettori riding for John Gosden.
Lord Glitters and Al Suhail, the first two in the Grade I Jebel Hatta on Super Saturday, also are in this field. Felix was second in the Group 3 Winter Derby in England in his last start.
The turf tussles get better yet in the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic at 1 1/2 miles.
Great horses have won this and that trend is likely to continue with the field including Grade 1 Arima Kinen winner Chrono Genesis from Japan, $20 million Saudi Cup winner Mishriff returning to the turf, Group 1 Hong Kong Vase winner Mogul starting his 4-year-old campaign for Coolmore, Grade I Sword Dancer and Grade I Turf Classic winner Channel Maker representing the United States and Godolphin's Walton Street looking to reprise his victory in the Group 2 Dubai City of Gold on Super Saturday.
There are others, too, in a great, great race that will help shape the proceedings in Europe, Japan, England and elsewhere for the rest of 2021.
Most observers probably would agree this is not a vintage running of the $12 million Group 1 Dubai World Cup, if only by the lofty standards of the previous 24 runnings of the innovative fixture. But it certainly is an interesting renewal, with lots of chances and excellent wagering opportunities.
And, as so often happens in this race, the favorite role falls to an American horse, albeit this time around, one owned by Godolphin. Mystic Guide, a 4-year-old Ghostzapper colt trained by Michael Stidham, comes to Dubai fresh off a 6-lengths victory in the Grade II Razorback Handicap over a sloppy track at Oaklawns Park.
He has not missed a top-three finish in seven career starts. Pegasus World Cup runner-up Jesus' Team, Grade III Louisiana Stakes winner Title Ready and Saudi Cup fifth Sleepy Eyes Todd also figure to play a role.
The locals are led by Salute the Soldier, a 6-year-old German-bred who won both Round 2 and Round 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge which leads the way to the World Cup.
Japan, France and Uruguay also are represented and Great Scott, a Saudi-owned 5-year-old, could be a live long shot after finishing third in the Saudi Cup -- especially as Frankie Dettori climbs aboard.
A return to Grade 1 racing at Chukyo Racecourse on Sunday and the final leg of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" on Saturday compete for weekend attention in Japan.
The Grade 1 Takamatsunomia Kinen, contested over 1,200 meters on the Chukyo Turf, drew top contenders Danon Smash and Resistencia as part of a field of 14.
Danon Smash, a 6-year-old son of champion sprinter Lord Kanaloa, finished 2020 in his best form ever with a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama and a victory in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin. He makes his 2021 debut.
Resistencia, a 4-year-old Daiwa Major filly, takes a step back in distance after establishing a course record in the Grade 3 Hanku Hai at Hanshin going 1,400 meters in her 2021 debut. She finished the first 1,200 meters of that race in 1:07.4, faster than the winning time of any of the last 10 runnings of the Takamatsunomia Kinen.
Last year's winner, Mozu Superflare, has fallen on hard times since that victory but returns for another try. Last year's Japanese champion miler, Indy Champ, also turns back in distance to tackle the Takamatunomia Kinen.
Sunday's Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse wraps up the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" with, frankly, diminishing interest. Only five of the 14 starters have contested even one of the previous three legs in the series and, of those, only the filly Ladybug has hit the board in any of those.
Churchill Downs lists only three qualified contenders for the series' automatic bid to the Kentucky Derby and none of those is in the Fukuryu.
Nonetheless, the winner will earn 40 points and have the right of first refusal for the spot in the Louisville starting gate. If that horse is not already nominated to the Triple Crown, that would require a $6,000 supplement fee due no later than Monday.
Rosehill Gardens in New South Wales tries again Saturday to run its prestigious, five Group 1 program featuring the Longines Golden Slipper for 2-year-olds. The races were washed out a week earlier by the torrential downpours plaguing the area.
The Golden Slipper gets the glory as a showcase for potential stars of the future but the Ranvet has a couple stars of today.
Only five originally signed on for the 2,000-meter Ranvet, promising a showdown between local star mare Verry Elleegant and British invader Addeybb. But the delay opened up the race and the field swelled to nine, now also including Sir Dragonet and Colette.
Last year's Caulfield Cup winner, Verry Elleegant, comes off a victory in the Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes. Addeybb returns to Australia, where the 7-year-old William Haggis trainee won this race and the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Cup last year.
He makes his first start since winning the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot last October, defeating Magical, Serpentine and some other good ones. Before that, he won the Doonside Cup at Ayr by 3/4 length over Lord Glitters, who projects as one of the favorites for the Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night March 27.
If, as expected, the track is deep and testing, Addeybb should feel right at home.
As for the Golden Slipper, it's never easy to sort out the youngsters, especially in a 16-horse field like this one. The early support has been for Profiteer and Stay Inside with additional money on Artorius and Four Moves ahead.
Lion's Roar looks a likely chance in the Skyracing Active Rosehill Guineas at 2,000 meters. The Contributor gelding exits a 1 1/4-length victory over Mo'unga in the Randwick Guineas on March 6 and faces that one again, along with 11 others.
The Agency George Ryder is 1,500 meters, with Kolding the top-rated in a field of 13.