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Saratoga Derby and Oaks, Whitney Stakes top weekend horse racing agenda

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
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Saratoga Derby and Oaks, Whitney Stakes top weekend horse racing agenda
Knicks Go, seen winning the Grade I Pegasus World Cup in January, is favorite for Saturday's Grade I Whitney at Saratoga. Photo courtesy of Gulfstream Park

Aug. 6 (UPI) -- Rich purses drew some top foreign talent for the Saratoga Derby and Oaks on Saturday and Sunday on the upstate New York turf to highlight a big weekend of Thoroughbred racing.

The Grade I Whitney on the Saratoga dirt attracted five talented protagonists, including Knicks Go and Maxfield. Seven are in for a competitive renewal of the $500,000 West Virginia Derby.

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In France, Ireland's Mother Earth eked out a narrow win in Tuesday's Group 1 Prix Rothschild, likely earning another Breeders' Cup trip. Sunday it's the Group 1 Prix de Gheest at Deauville. Sunday's schedule also includes the Grosser Preis von Berlin and the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh in Ireland.

Lots to ponder, including that big Whitney Day card at Saratoga. To focus thoughts and gain some insights, have a peek at expert analyst Jude Feld's ruminations, available at popejude.com.

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Turf

The success of the Irish invaders in Bemont Park's two rich Grade I Turf races last month obviously has emboldened others from across the pond to seek fame and fortune in New York.

Thus, five of the 11 entries for Saturday's $1 million Grade I Saratoga Derby Invitational were last seen running on the other side of the Atlantic, including the 2-1 morning-line favorite, Bolshoi Ballet, winner of the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational in his last visit for Coolmore, trainer Aidan O'Brien and jockey Ryan Moore.

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The raiders also include Cadillac and State of Rest from Ireland, Secret Protector from Charlie Appleby's Moulton Paddocks in England and Soldier Rising, previously raced in France and now making his first start for U.S. connections.

The locals include Cellist, Du Jour and Palazzi, who were third, fourth and sixth, respectively, in the Belmont Derby. New shooters include the promising Yes This Time, Flashiest and King Fury, who makes his turf debut as a prep for the Grade I Travers on Aug. 28 back on the dirt.

Sunday's $150,000 Grade III La Jolla Stakes for 3-year-olds at Del Mar has a promising field of six. Hudson Ridge, an American Pharoah colt, has been progressing nicely for trainer Bob Baffert and seeks a third straight win. Ditto Cathkin Peak and Sword Zorro, a pair of Irish-breds.

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Sunday's $100,000 Oceanport Stakes at Monmouth Park has nine takers and that guy Chad Brown is here again. This time the master of East Coast turf racing fields Analyze It and Sacred Life. Neither has done much winning recently but, then, neither has anyone else in this group.

Filly & Mare Turf

Perhaps the most notable thing about Sunday's $700,000 Grade III Saratoga Oaks Invitational is the absence of Santa Barbara, the Camelot filly who won the Belmont Oaks last month.

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Coolmore and trainer Aidan O'Brien, as noted above, sent Belmont Derby winner Bolshoi Ballet back for Saturday's Saratoga Derby but Santa Barbara stays home.

Instead, the Irish hope is the much lesser-regarded Messidor, trained by Joseph Patrick O'Brien. The Vadamos filly has but a single win outside the maiden ranks and finished eighth in the 1,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown.

Given Ireland's recent record in these races, Vadamos probably will win anyway. But, if not, the foreign baton passes to Creative Flair, a Godolphin homebred filly by Dubawi, who has won three of six starts and finished third in the Group 3 Prix Chloe at Chantilly in France last time out.

Or, maybe the winner's share stays in local hands this time. Higher Truth is an Irish-bred by Galileo but trains for Chad Brown and finished third in the Belmont Oaks. Con Lima was second in that heat and Gam's Mission fourth and both return.

Brown also has recent Irish import Rocky Sky, making her U.S. debut after two wins and two seconds in four starts at Dundalk and Navan. Out of Sorts comes off a victory in a minor stakes at Delaware Park.

There's not a lot to separate the 10 fillies and mares entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Yellow Ribbon Handicap at Del Mar. Maxim Rate is the 7-2 pick on the morning line, followed at 4-1 by Charmaine's Mia and Dogtag and three others at single-digit odds.

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Maxim Rate, a 5-year-old Exchange Rate mare, won the Grade I Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita in her most recent trip.

War Like Goddess is the solid morning-line favorite among seven set for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Glens Falls at Saratoga. The 4-year-old English Channel filly is 4-for-5 for trainer Bill Mott and was last seen winning the Grade III Bewitch at Keeneland by 3 3/4 lengths.

With little speed in the field, Dalika and jockey Miguel Mena could be a threat with an early lead. My Sister Nat, second in this race last year, looks the better of two for trainer Chad Brown.

Brown also seems to hold a strong hand with Viadera and Regal Glory among seven in Sunday's $120,000 Fasig-Tipton De La Rose Stakes at Saratoga. Viadera, a 5-year-old mare by Bated Breath, has won three straight starts for Brown, most recently the Grade I Matriarch last November at Del Mar.

Turf Mile

Friday's $200,000 Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga has a field of eight. Original and Public Sector were first and second in the Manila Stakes at Belmont Park on the Fourth of July and Public Sector, a Kingman colt trained by Chad Brown, gets in with a 4-pound weight break from that rival.

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Easy Time, a Not This Time colt, exits a win in the Grade III Marine Stakes at Woodbine. Wolfie's Dynaghost is 2-for-3 with a fifth in the Grade III Peter Pan sandwiched in between.

Saturday's $120,000 Fasig-Tipton Lure Stakes at Saratoga has 11 to go on 1 1/16 miles on the grass plus, as noted above, one for "main track only." It's no surprise Chad Brown entered three, Delaware and the morning-line favorites, Value Proposition and Flavius.

Classic

Even though there aren't many horses -- five -- there's a lot to like in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Whitney at Saratoga, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Knicks Go got a confidence boost with a 10 1/4-lengths victory in the Grade III Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows after finishing fourth in both the $20 million Saudi Cup and the Grade I Met Mile.

A fourth Grade I win would look good on his resume when he eventually ships out to start stud duty in Korea. Although he's the 6-5 pick on the morning line, the task won't be easy.

Maxfield has won seven of eight starts and was an easy winner in the Grade II Stephen Foster in his last start. Silver State has won six in a row, most recently that same Met Mile in which Knicks Go faded from the lead.

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By My Standards returns from a second-place finish in the Met Mile. And then there's Swiss Skydiver. The 4-year-old Daredevil filly already has three Grade I wins to her credit, including last year's Preakness Stakes over male competition.

Note that trainer Bill Mott has Tacitus as a "Main Track Only" entry for the Lure Stakes (see below) on Saturday's program at the Spa rather than in this.

The 5-year-old, second in the 2019 Travers, has never raced on the green course and has not raced since finishing seventh in the Saudi Cup in February and is unlikely. The weatherman says rain is unlikely so he may wait longer.

Saturday's $500,000 Grade III West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park tops a program full of well-endowed stakes and finds Mr. Wireless, Warrant and Bourbonic atop a field of seven.

Mr. Wireless, a Dialed In gelding, won the Grade III Indiana Derby in his last start July 7. Warrant, a Constitution colt from the Brad Cox barn, enters with two wins, two seconds and a third from five previous starts. His last start was the May 31 Texas Derby, which he won by 3/4 length over Mr. Wireless.

If class rules over form, Bourbonic stands out. The Todd Pletcher charge won the Grade II Wood Memorial but then finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Belmont Stakes and has not been seen competitively since.

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And if miracles happen, turn to Americainaed, winless after four starts in which he finished, in chronological order, seventh, sixth, fifth and fourth. He was gelded after the latest effort and would earn $3,500 just for finishing this race -- more than three times his total earnings to date.

Saturday's $200,000 Grade III West Virginia Governor's Cup at Mountaineer Park for the older crowd has a field of seven with five of them at single-digit odds on the morning line.

Sprawl, a 4-year-old City Zip colt, is the 8-5 favorite after finishing third in both the Blame Stakes and Grade II Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.

Already in the books: It was the stayers on display in Thursday's $120,000 Birdstone Stakes at Saratoga at 1 3/4 miles. And it was the odds-on favorite, Lone Rock, taking over after a stalking trip to win by a comfortable 4 lengths over Shooger Ray Too. Moretti was third.

Lone Rock, a 6-year-old Majestic Warrior gelding, finished in 2:56.45 with Ramon Vazquez aboard. It was his fourth straight win and seventh from his last eight starts.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Longines Test Stakes at Saratoga has a wide-open field of seven 3-year-old fillies. Search Results, second in the Kentucky Oaks at 1 1/8 miles and winner of the Grade I Acorn at 1 mile, turns back even farther to this 7-furlongs test and gets the nod as the morning-line favorite.

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The Oaks was her only loss in five starts. Trainer Bob Baffert returns to New York -- or at least sends a runner -- for the first time since a court ordered NYRA to suspend his suspension resulting from Medina Spirit's drug test positive after the Kentucky Derby.

Baffert fields long shot Illumination, a Medaglia d'Oro filly who travels cross-country from Del Mar for the run.

Already run: Bayerness caught Aunt Kat in the closing yards of Wednesday's $120,000 Shine Again Stakes, winning by 1 length over that rival. Casual was third. Bayerness, a 4-year-old Bayern filly, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.80 with Luis Saez in the irons.

Turf Sprint

Friday's $200,000 Grade III Troy Stakes at Saratoga looks like a real cavalry charge with a dozen entries and no clear favorite. The oddsmaker nods, without much conviction, toward Imprimis, Bound for Nowhere and Casa Creed.

Already in the books: Just Might drafted back of early leader Francatelli in Monday's $100,000 Da Hoss Stakes at Colonial Downs, responded when asked by jockey Colby Hernandez and got by to win by 1/2 length over that rival. Holiday Stone was a non-threatening third.

Just Might, a 5-year-old Justin Phillip gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:01.77. He was produced by Dynamite Babe, by Dynameaux, a son of Dynaformer. Just Might is 3-for-6 this year with earlier stakes wins at Fair Grounds and Churchill Downs.

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Juvenile


Okay. Let's start looking seriously at the young 'uns. After all, it's only three months until the best of them line up on the first day of the Breeders' Cup World Championships.

Seven are in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Best Pal at Del Mar and you'd have to figure most of them have a chance. The favorite Pappacap, a Gun Runner colt who won at first asking for trainer Mark Casse May 14 at Gulfstream Park. He shows two healthy workouts at Del Mar since being sent west.

From there, the Best Pal assemblage includes Bet on Mookie, an Uncaptured colt trained by Peter Miller who has a second and a win from two starts at Santa Anita; Finneus, a Stay Thirsty colt also coming off a maiden win at Santa Anita; the 2-for-2 Thirsty Always, who comes off a stakes win at Pleasanton.

Also, Aquitania Arrival, a winner in his only previous start, that at Churchill Downs May 28; and Olympic Legend and Our Empire, who won their previous starts at Los Alamitos and Belterra Park, respectively.

Saturday's $100,000 Tyro Stakes on the Monmouth Park has 10 set to try 5 furlongs on the turf. Wesley Ward trainee Chi Town Lady, a Verrazano filly, is the favorite on the morning line in what looks like a fairly wide-open affair. She is saddled with the outside gate.

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Sunday's $100,000 Graduation Stakes at Del Mar is for California-bred juveniles and drew a field of six. It's worth a look especially with the Breeders' Cup being run over the same track in November.

Already in the books: Local Motive tracked down pacesetting Roll Dem Bones late in Monday's $100,000 Hickory Tree Stakes on the turf at Colonial Downs and ran on to win by 1/2 length. Wow Watta Summer was third with a late effort.

Local Motive, a Divining Rod gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm going in 57.52 seconds. He's 2-for-2 with the earlier win coming on the dirt at Pimlico.

Juvenile Fillies

Nine turned out for Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga. Most are maiden winners but Mainstay and Saucy Lady T wheel right back from second- and third-place showings in the Grade III Schuylerville on July 15 and Ontheonesandtwos and Wicked Halo exit second- and third-place finishes in the Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Already in the books: At the Spa was not at "the Spa" Thursday but, rather, at Del Mar, winning the $100,000 CTBA Stakes for California-bred fillies for her third victory without a loss. The Outwork filly tracked the early pace before outfinishing Drizella by a neck.

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The favorite, It's Simple, faded from the pace to finish sixth. At the Spa, with Tyler Baze in the irons, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:06.11.

Another in the books: Cavalier Cupid was up just in time to win Monday's $100,000 Keswick Stakes on the Colonial Downs turf. Pacesetter Rambert held second easily, 5 1/2 lengths in front of Determined Truth.

Cavalier Cupid, a Quality Road filly out of the Big Brown mare El Vedado, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.52 seconds, winning her second straight after a career-opening second at Belterra Park.

Ellis Park

Saturday's and Sunday's cards feature seven races, each worth $100,000 or more, previewing the corresponding events at Kentucky Downs late this summer.

We'll have the results in the weekend roundup, which will serve as a reminder that a unique slice of American racing is just around the corner down by the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

Around the world, around the clock:

France

A couple furlongs out, it looked like Ryan Moore had Mother Earth locked and loaded to run away with Tuesday's Group 1 Prix Rothschild. Indeed, when the 3-year-old Zoffany filly switched to her left and found daylight, the door seemed wide open for her to score her first win since the Qipco 1,000 Guineas three months earlier.

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But then, the rest of the pack refused to back down and Mother Earth eventually was all out to hold on and win by a head over Sagamiyra. It was two more short heads to Speak of the Devil and Rougir in third and fourth.

"She has a great mind, settles well, travels well and quickens well," Racing Post quoted trainer Aidan O'Brien of Mother Earth as saying. "Sometimes when she goes to the front she waits a little bit and doesn't want to be in front for too long, but we think at the moment a mile is perfect."

With stringent new veterinary protocols restricting foreign runners in the Melbourne Cup, Coolmore has announced it will seek other year-end goals for its traveling crew. For Mother Earth, that likely will mean a return to the United States and the Breeders' Cup, where last year she finished second to Aunt Pearl in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

France

Brando, Kinross and Lope Y Fernandez are among those still eligible for Sunday's Group 1 Larc Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville, a 6 1/2-furlongs dash down a straight course.

Ireland

Sunday's Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix at the Curragh awaits final declarations. Among those expected to go, Go Bears Go is a narrow favorite with some bookmakers after a Group 2 win over the course in his last outing.

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Germany

Sunday's Group 1 Longines Grosser Preis von Berlin at Hoppegarten has a field of eight with Charlie Appleby sending Godolphin's Walton Street and Sir Mark Prescott fielding recent Group 2 Lancashire Oaks winner Alpinista against the locals.

Meanwhile, back in North America:

Saratoga

Sport Model was up just in time to edge Funwhileitlasted by a nose in Wednesday's $150,000 Statue of Liberty Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies.

port Model, a daughter of Freud, covered 1 mile on the firm inner turf course in 1:37.91 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up.

Indiana Grand

Hard Luck Justice hit the gas in the stretch run in Wednesday's $150,000 Governor's Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds and raced away to win by 8 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Nobody Listens was second and A Few too Many was third.

Hard Luck Justice, a Harry's Holiday gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:41.53 for jockey Samuel Bermudez.

Pearl Tiara led most of the way in Wednesday's $150,000 Indiana First Lady for state-bred 3-year-old fillies, was headed by Diamond Solitare but came again to beat that one by a neck. Russian Influence was third.

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Pearl Tiara, a daughter of Majestic Harbor, finished the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:43.65 under Fernando De La Cruz.

Assiniboia Downs

Uncharacteristic rallied through the final furlong Monday to catch pacesetting U.S. invader Myopic and win the $100,000 (Canadian) Manitoba Derby by 1 1/4 lengths over that one. It was another 10 lengths to Warrior's Hero in third.

Uncharacteristic, a Kentucky-bred Texas Wildcatter gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:53.60 under Alexander Marti. Myopic, now trained by Robertino Diadoro, made his first two starts at Santa Anita for Bob Baffert, then broke his maiden June 23 at Indiana Grand.

Presque Isle Downs

Arzak outfinished Smokin' Jay by a nose after 6 furlongs over the all-weather track in Monday's $75,000 Tom Ridge Stakes for 3-year-olds. The favorite, Nicky Two Shoes, led early and finished third. Arzak, a Not This Time colt, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.08 for jockey Antonio Gallardo.

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