April 30 (UPI) -- The Kentucky Derby overshadows lots of other great horse racing action during the weekend, from Churchill Downs itself to England and Japan -- action too good to miss, so here's what's on tap:
The Guineas meeting at Newmarket in England, featuring stars of the future in the first Classics of the season; Stradivarius prepping (successfully) for a run at his fourth straight Ascot Gold Cup; the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) in Japan; and graded stakes from coast to coast in North America.
We have the latest on the Kentucky Derby is in a separate story. Now, on to the preview:
Classic / Dirt Mile
Maxfield is back in a field of six for Friday's $400,000 Grade II Alysheba at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old Godolphin homebred Street Sense colt finished third as the big favorite in Santa Anita Handicap in his last start, putting paid to his undefeated record after five wins.
He's the early favorite with the danger likely Roadster, who makes his second start off a long layoff. Chess Chief is also in here. He has defeated Roadster and lost to Maxfield in his last two starts.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Westchester at Belmont Park, 1 mile, has a field of six. The morning-line favorites, Dr Post and Mr. Buff, drew gates 6 and 5, respectively.
Dr Post, second in last year's Belmont Stakes, has not raced since finishing fourth in the Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga in September. Mr. Buff has won two stakes at Aqueduct this year.
Several refugees from the Triple Crown wars will contest Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs -- a very competitive affair.
Jackie's Warrior finished fourth as the odds-on favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, then was third in the Grade III Southwest. Dream Shake was third in the Santa Anita Derby. Starrininmydreams was third in the Grade III Lexington.
Saturday's $300,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds has a well-balanced field of seven. The 5-2 morning-line favorite, Scarred, drew the rail in quest of his third win in his fifth career start.
Friday's $1.25 million Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs has all kinds of prospects in a race coveted by breeders and bloodstock professionals of all kinds. The winners of all the important preps will face off, to wit:
Pauline's Pearl won the Grade III Fantasy, Travel Column won the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks, Crazy Beautiful won the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks, Malathaat won the Grade I Ashland at Keeneland and Search Results won the Grade III Gazelle at Aqueduct.
Fillies who finished second and third in those races also are back for another try, making the 147th Oaks a real tossup.
Malathaat is undefeated after four starts and that might have helped influence oddsmaker Mike Battaglia, who made the Curlin filly the 5-2 favorite on the morning line.
Travel Column, a Frosted filly, is 2-for-2 at Churchill Downs and 3-1 on the line. Search Results, by Flatter, has won all three previous starts with the last coming at this 1 1/8-miles distance. Malathaat is the only other Oaks contender who has won at Friday's distance.
Shedaresthedevil and Dunbar Road are the class among seven set for Friday's $500,000 Grade I La Troienne at Churchill Downs. Shedaresthedevil, a Daredevil filly, won the 2020 Kentucky Oaks and comes back to the Twin Spires off a win in the Grade II Azeri at Oaklawn Park on March 13.
Dunbar Road, a 5-year-old Quality Road mare, makes her first start since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Our Super Freak, Lake Avenue, Saguaro Row and Water White all figure prominently in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Ruffian at Belmont Park.
Saturday's $1 million Grade I Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic at Churchill Downs has a field of nine set to go 1 1/8 miles. Colonel Liam, a Liam's Map colt, has turned into a force in the division with four wins in his last five starts including the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Turf.
Others to consider in the Turf Classic include Ivar, winner of the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile last October at Keeneland; Domestic Spending, winner of the Saratoga Derby Invitational and the Grade I Hollywood Derby in his last two starts; last year's Turf Classic winner, Digital Age; and Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile runner-up Smooth Like Strait.
Fourteen signed on for Saturday's $500,000 Grade II American Turf for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs.
Among the fancied are Annex, undefeated in three starts in Florida, two of them stakes: Next, looking to rebound from an atypical drubbing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on the Keeneland dirt, and Scarlett Sky, recent winner of the Grade III Transylvania at Keeneland.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Fort Marcy at Belmont Park has five takers with Rockemperor and Devamani topping the morning line.
Rockemperor, an Irish-bred 5-year-old, has been mixing it up in top company without winning. Devamani, a 7-year-old French-bred, won the Grade II Knickerbocker at Belmont Park in October in his most recent start.
Filly & Mare Turf
Aunt Pearl puts her undefeated record on the line in Friday's $300,000 Grade II Edgewood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs.
The Lope de Vega filly, trained by Brad Cox, she won at first asking on the same course in September, won the Grade II Jessamine at Keeneland a month later and marched right on to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf a month after that.
Watch out for Gift List, making her second U.S. start after a nice try in the Grade II Appalachian at Keeneland.
Always Shopping and My Sister Nat top a field of six for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Sheepshead Bay at Belmont Park -- a 1 3/8-miles affair. Both have been successful in big races, but Always Shopping comes off two recent starts in Florida and My Sister Nat returns from time off.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Senorita for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita drew a field of 11 -- an accomplishment these days in Southern California. Closing Remarks, Madone and Javanica are atop the morning lead.
Madone was 3-for-3 before an eighth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and hasn't raced since. Javanica was fourth in the Santa Anita Oaks in her last start.
Got Stormy and Zofelle, the 1-2 from the Grade III Honey Fox Stakes at Gulfstream Park Feb. 27, are the favorites in Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Longines Churchill Distaff Turf Mile.
Blowout also gets some oddsmaker love after finishing second in each of her last four starts -- by margins of 3/4 length, a neck, a neck and a nose. Blowout?
How wide open is Friday's $250,000 Grade II Twin Spires Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs? The 7-2 morning-line favorite, Fast Boat, picked up his last win at Sam Houston in a similar heat and the second-favorite, Fiya, was last seen winning the Claiming Crown Canterbury Stakes at Gulfstream Park in December. The latter is undefeated in five turf sprints.
They all have Gamine to beat in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Derby City Distaff at Churchill Downs. The Into Mischief filly, trained by Bob Baffert, has won six of seven starts including the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Her only loss came in the Kentucky Oaks, where she couldn't stay the 1 1/8 miles, finishing third. This 7 furlongs is right up her alley and she is 1-5 on the morning line.
With a baker's dozen set to go 7 furlongs, Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Churchill Downs is a real program-stabber. Reigning Breeders' Cup Sprint champ Whitmore is in the field but the rival who has defeated him twice this season, C Z Rocket, is not. Flagstaff comes off a win in the Grade III Commonwealth at Keeneland. After that ...
Filly & Mare Sprint
Dayoutoftheoffice is the morning-line pick among 12 3-year-old fillies entered for Friday's $300,000 Grade II Eight Belles, a 7-furlongs sprint at Churchill Downs.
The Into Mischief filly won her first three starts in 2020 including the Grade III Schuylerville at Saratoga and Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park but ran out of gas late in the 1 1/16-miles Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, finishing second. After her, this is wide open.
The big races come hot and heavy now with the first two English Classics on tap this weekend at Newmarket and Royal Ascot already firmly in everyone's sights.
Even without Darley Dewhurst winner St Mark's Basilica in the lineup, the Coolmore-O'Brien connection has a firm grip on the top rank of a big field for Saturday's Group 1 Qipco 2000 Guineas.
St Mark's Basilica hasn't been seen since that victory last autumn and was left out of the 15-strong field for the Guineas.
Aidan O'Brien still fields Van Gogh, winner of the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud in October; Wembley, second to St Mark's Basilica in the Dewhurst; and Battleground, second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
Son Joseph Patrick O'Brien will saddle Thunder Moon, who defeated both Wembley and St Mark's Basilica in the Group 1 Vincent O'Brien National at the Curragh in September before finishing third behind that pair in the Dewhurst.
While the Coolmore runners are previously unexposed at 3, two of Godolphin's powerful contingent have been in action right along.
Master of the Seas suffered a shocking loss to stablemate Naval Crown midway through the Dubai World Cup Carnival, but rebounded to win the Group 3 Craven Stakes over course and distance April 15.
Both of those are in the Guineas field. A third for Sheik Mohammed, One Ruler, could only finish second to Mac Swiney in the Group 1 Futurity Trophy in his last start in October and meets that one again.
For those following jockeys, Godolphin's No. 1, William Buick, opted for Master of the Seas, leaving One Ruler for James Doyle and Naval Crown to Adam Kirby. Ryan Moore picked Wembley with Frankie Dettori to get a leg up on Battleground and Seamie Heffernan to pilot Van Gogh.
Others in the field would not be a total shock. Chindit and Poetic Flair were ninth and tenth, respectively, in the Dewhurst but the former won his other four starts and the latter otherwise is 3-for-3.
Shadwell ponied up a supplementary entry fee for Mutasaabeq after he won his 2021 debut impressively. After those, however, things get chancier.
With final declarations yet to come, the solid favorite for Sunday's Group 1 1000 Guineas is Santa Barbara, another from the Coolmore-Aidan O'Brien bottomless well. The Camelot filly has run only once previously, winning easily in a 1-mile maiden affair at the Curragh last September.
Others have more experience, including the Joseph Patrick O'Brien charge Pretty Gorgeous, who won the Group 1 bet365 Fillies Mile on Oct. 9, or more recent form.
Aidan O'Brien admitted Santa Barbara might have benefitted from another race but seemed confident in a pre-race media call that natural talent will be sufficient.
"She has never been really asked or looked at to see how much is in there but whatever she works with she always looks to be dominating them at the moment," O'Brien said.
"I suppose everyone will be excited to see what does happen when she comes off the bridle. Really, that's what everyone was always waiting to see."
Meanwhile, Stradivarius warmed up for a shot at a fourth straight Ascot Gold Cup with a win Saturday in the Group 3 Longines Sagaro Stakes.
The 7-year-old, idle for 193 days since an abortive attempt at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, picked up willingly for jockey Frankie Dettori, hit the lead some 2 furlongs out and ran on well to win by 1 length over Ocean Wind. Nayef Road was third in the 2-miles event, run over good to firm going.
Dettori, never given to understatement, said Stradivarius was so ready to run he almost misjudged the situation.
"I was scared to give those fit horses too much rope and I was three lengths behind turning for home, so I asked him to lay up and the next minute I'm on top of them," Dettori said. I thought, 'I'm in front far too soon now.' But what can you do?"
Let him run, Frankie. Let him run.
Sunday's Tenno Sho (Spring) or Emperor's Cup is the longest Japan Racing Association Grade 1 of the year at 3,200 meters and runs this year at Hanshin Racecourse while its normal home at Kyoto is undergoing renovations.
Many of the contenders have serious question marks to go along with their accomplishments so this could be the moment for Curren Bouquetd'or to end a string of frustrating disappointments.
The 5-year-old Deep Impact mare has finished second in seven of her 14 career starts, including the 2020 Japan Cup and 2019 Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks. After a rest, she finished second behind Win Marilyn in the Grade 2 Nikkei Sho on March 27.
Win Marilyn was second in the 2020 Yushun Himba and she returns to contest this heat.
The Grade 2 Hanshin Daishoten, at 3,000 meters, is the second important prep for the Tenno Sho. This year's 5-lengths winner, Deep Bond, will be asked to show he can do it again as he has just three wins and six unplaced finishes from 11 starts.
In a similar situation is Aristoteles, who just missed defeating Contrail in last year's Grade 1 Kikuka Sho or Japanese St. Leger, but finished seventh as the heavy favorite in the Hanshin Daishoten, in which he finished seventh.