June 11 (UPI) -- Even as the horse racing world gets a little breather this weekend, up pops Kentucky Derby runner-up Mandaloun as the likely favorite in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park.
The Pegasus and a few other exceptions keep the meter ticking between last week's excitement of the Belmont Stakes, Epsom Derby and Oaks and French Derby and next week's Royal Ascot.
In addition to the Pegasus, Santa Anita and Churchill Downs offer graded stakes and both Woodbine and Delaware Park are back in action -- Woodbine after a long pandemic-related delay.
What's the big news from Oaklawn Park? Check out "News and Notes."
And, with apologies to ace race-caller Trevor Denman, who has opted back in for the Del Mar meeting, away we go:
But first, a quiz.
What was the name of the Simpsons episode in which Denman guest-voiced a race caller? Again, see "News and Notes."
Classic / Dirt Mile
Mandaloun returns to action for the first time since his runner-up finish in the Kentucky Derby in Sunday's $150,000 TVG.com Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park.
The Into Mischief colt, who would inherit the Derby win if the drug allegations against Medina Spirit eventually are upheld, faces four rivals in the Pegasus.
Brooklyn Strong, winner of last year's Remsen Stakes, reported 15th in the Derby. Weyburn won the Grade III Gotham in March and finished fourth in the Grade II Wood Memorial, but hasn't raced since that April 3 heat.
Lugamo returns from a 12th-place showing in the Group 2 UAE Derby in March in Dubai. And don't overlook Dr. Jack, a Pioneerof the Nile colt out of the A.P. Indy mare Marion Ravenwood (think Raiders of the Lost Ark). He's undefeated after two starts for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Ny Traffic is the solid morning-line favorite among 10 entered for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park.
The 4-year-old Cross Traffic colt, trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., finished second in the 2020 Haskell at Monmouth, then was eighth in the Kentucky Derby and ninth in the Preakness. He won his first start of 2021 May 2 at Belmont Park.
Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita attracted five 3-year-olds to tackle 1 1/16 miles. The Chosen Vron, a Vronsky gelding, has won two straight, most recently the Grade III Lazaro Barrera Stakes May 15.
Classier won his first start last October, then finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and reappears here off a long, steady series of works for trainer Bob Baffert.
The proverbial "other Baffert," Defunded, was fourth in both the Santa Anita Derby and the Grade II Pat Day Mile. Mr. Impossible is not impossible but unlikely.
Filly & Mare Turf
Juliet Foxtrot tops the morning line for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Old Forester Mint Julep at Churchill Downs, a 1 1/16-miles trip that drew a field of 11.
Juliet Foxtrot, a Juddmonte Farms homebred mare by Dansili, finished sixth in this event last year but enters this year's fray off a victory in the Grade I Coolmore Jenny Wiley at Keeneland in April.
Among the others, Crystal Ball showed promise last year as a 3-year-old and has come along nicely in two starts this year.
Neige Blanche comes to Sunday's $75,000 Possibly Perfect Stakes for fillies and mares at Santa Anita off a breakthrough win in the Grade III Santa Barbara Stakes five weeks ago.
Rideforthecause was second in that and tries again. Last year's Possibly Perfect winner, Dogtag, is back and exits a second in the Grade II Royal Heroine.
Around the world, around the clock:
With Royal Ascot looming and the Hong Kong and Japanese season approaching their summer calm, there's not a whole lot of weekend action on the international front, either.
Royal Ascot opens its five-day run Tuesday with a few of last year's pandemic changes still in place and others eased.
The two races added to the 2020 schedule have been made permanent so there will be seven races each day.
Last year's meeting was held behind closed doors. This year, at least 10,000 spectators will be allowed each day so some of the traditions will return -- fashion, food and drink and the post-racing songfest among them. If Her Majesty returns after an historic absence last year, it will be a statement.
We will have a more in-depth look Monday after recapping this weekend's action, so don't miss it.
Saturday's Group 1 Hollywoodbets Gold Challenge at Greyville in Durban takes on new significance this year thanks to a doubling of its purse by the sponsor from 500,000 rand to 1 million rand.
However, it's an indication of the depressed state of the South African racing establishment that R1 million equates to about $73,700. And that is the second-richest on the South African schedule, behind only to the Group 1 Vodacom Durban July, contested July 3 over the same track.
The 1,600-meters event attracted a field of nine with the venerable Rainbow Bridge topping the list. The 7-year-old gelding continues to roll on, winning his last two starts over some of the same rivals he will face in the Gold Challenge. The Justin Snaith-trained duo of Jet Dark and Belgarion also merit a look.
Hollywoodbets acquired naming rights to the Gold Circle-operated Durban track in 2019. Gold Circle marketing executive Steve Marshall said the support indicated by that move and the purse increase for Saturday's race came "during a time when it has been needed most" as South African racing faces unique challenges on several fronts.
News and notes
Oaklawn Park this week announced it will add December dates to its 2021-22 calendar, opening Dec. 3. The season now will be 66 days, running through May 8, 2022.
"For many years, horsemen have wanted to race here in December to fill a gap in their racing schedule," said Oaklawn President Louis A. Cella. "We have completed our resort expansion. ... Therefore, the timing is right for another expansion - to our live racing season."
Cella said the additional days, subject to regulatory approval, "will provide a huge economic impact for horsemen, Arkansas Thoroughbred breeders and tourism in Central Arkansas."
Trainer Ton Moquett applauded the move, saying the new dates "allow us horsemen to participate in the most lucrative purse circuit in America without any interruptions. It's now a smooth transition between Oaklawn, Churchill, and Saratoga."
Quiz answer: Denman's voice was featured in "Saddlesore Galactica," first aired Feb. 6, 2000. It's worth a look.