Maxfield, shown winning the Grade II Stephen Foster in June, is favored to win Saturday's Grade I Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs. Eclipse Sportswire Photo, courtesy of Churchill Downs
Nov. 26 (UPI) -- The post-Breeders' Cup letdown is over, as another big weekend of horse racing action from coast to coast provides a chance to impact year-end honors.
On the international scene, Sunday's Japan Cup is the career finale for 2021 Triple Crown winner Contrail. And the fields are set for the Dec. 12 Longines Hong Kong International races.
Kentucky Derby 148 already is open for betting, with some unusual circumstances, and qualifying races are scheduled this weekend -- one under the Twin Spires and one virtually in the shadow of Mount Fuji. Read all about it in the "Road to the Roses" section.
Since several of the races on this long Thanksgiving weekend could impact the divisional Eclipse Awards, we'll go back briefly to previewing them on that basis, rather than by track. We're nothing if not adaptable.
Knicks Go seems a shoo-in for the Eclipse Award as best older male and likely Horse of the Year.
But voters must name three in each category and Friday's $750,000 Grade I Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs might sway some votes with the likes of Maxfield and Midnight Bourbon, the morning-line favorites, in the field. Both are seeking their first Grade 1 win of an otherwise good year.
Midnight Bourbon started 2021 with a win in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds and in seven subsequent starts has posted four seconds, three of them in Grade I races
He also was victimized in the Grade I Haskell when Hot Rod Charlie interfered, causing him to clip heels and lose jockey Paco Lopez at mid-stretch.
Maxfield is 3-for-6 this term and finished second in the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga and Grade I Woodward at Belmont Park in his last two races.
None of the other six in the Clark has won at the top-level this year, either, although Happy Saver was second in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup in his last start. Dr Post also gets a nod from the oddsmaker.
A bit down the class ladder, Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Berkeley on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather has a field of seven. The oddsmaker's picks are Extra Hope, an invader from the south, and locally based Camino Del Paraiso.
Already in the books:
Super Stock and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. traveled to the Land of Enchantment for Tuesday's Zia Park Derby and emerged with the lion's share of the $250,000 purse.
Super Stock, a Dialed In colt, faced only three rivals and didn't have to exert himself unduly in the 1 1/16-miles event, run over a fast track. Kept well wide on the track and far out of any potential trouble, he took the lead halfway through and edged clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Tesoro, Pirate Junction and Convention completed the order of finish.
The New Mexico triumph was the third win of the year for Super Stock, trained by Steve Asmussen for a partnership including his father. The colt previously won the Grade I Arkansas Derby and the Ellis Park Derby but finished fourth in the Iowa Derby, third in the Oklahoma Derby and 16th in the Kentucky Derby.
Three also-rans in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf return Friday in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar: Rockemperor, who finished eighth on Nov. 6; Acclimate, who faded badly to finish last of 14; and Astronaut, who was shuffled back to finish 12th.
Rockemperor has improved over the second half of the season since trainer Chad Brown removed blinkers. The seven-horse field also includes four who were prominent in the Grade 2 John Henry Turf Championship Oct. 2, including Acclimate.
Since foreign-trained runners filled six of the first seven slots in the Breeders' Cup Turf, Rockemperor could get some year-end awards attention with a win.
Never Surprised is the odds-on pick among eight plus one also-eligible for Friday's $150,000 Gio Ponti Stakes for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct. The Constitution colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, has three previous starts this year, all in graded stakes and all resulting in second-place finishes.
Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Hollywood Derby at Del Mar seems to clearly illustrate a growing appetite for turf racing. Fifteen 3-year-olds are entered for 14 slots with lots of prospects and excellent wagering possibilities.
The morning-line favorite, another from the Chad Brown operation in New York, is Public Sector, a Kingman colt who seeks his fourth straight win. The deep field also includes a rare Bob Baffert turf runner, Hudson Ridge.
Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap at Del Mar drew seven, including a duo from Chad Brown's bottomless string of grass runners. The morning-line favorite, Sacred Life, is one of those.
Also with early notices is the Mike Maker-trained Field Pass. Both have been competing successfully in graded stakes in New York.
Filly & Mare Turf
Six signed on for Friday's $150,000 Forever Together Stakes at Aqueduct at 1 1/16 miles on the greensward. The morning-line favorite is Flower Point, a 5-year-old mare by Point of Entry looking for the first graded stakes win of her career.
Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Long Island at Aqueduct has a monumentally well-balanced field of eight. Mutamakina is a narrow favorite after two straight wins, both in graded stakes. But only one of the eight is at double-digit odds on the morning line.
The Chad Brown invasion of Southern California continues Sunday in the $400,000 Grade I Matriarch at Del Mar. Brown has two of the six -- last year's winner, Viadera, and multiple graded stakes winner Regal Glory. Princess Grade enters with six wins from eight career starts.
Already in the books:
Neige Blanch showed the way in Thursday's $100,000 Grade III Red Carpet Stakes at Del Mar, turned back a challenge from Nicest, then survived a late assault by the odds-on favorite, Luck, to win by a head.
Neige Blanch, a 4-year-old, French-bred filly by Anodin, ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:15.45 with Juan Hernandez riding for trainer Leonard Powell. A graded stake winner in France, she notched her third U.S. win.
Already in the books:
Envoutante dueled her way to the lead in Thursday's $500,000 Grade II Falls City Stakes at Churchill Downs, then kicked clear and ran on to win by 6 lengths, geared down under Brian Hernandez Jr. The favorite, Bonny South, rallied to finish second, 3 1/2 lengths in front of Audrey's Time.
Envoutante, an Uncle Mo filly, ran 1 1/8 miles on a sloppy track in 1:51.52. Trained by Kenny McPeek, she also won the 2020 Falls City, but went 1-for-6 in the interim.
Army Wife, who finished fourth in the Falls City, had been cross-entered in Friday's $200,000 Grade III Comely Stakes at Aqueduct. Her defection leaves Crazy Beautiful and Played Hard as key players at the Big A.
Already in the books:
Pauline's Pearl tracked down pacesetting favorite Lady Mystify in the stretch run of Tuesday's $200,000 Zia Park Oaks and got by to win by 1 1/2 lengths for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and trainer Steve Asmussen. It was 3 3/4 lengths more to Gemstone Gal in third.
Pauline's Pearl, a Tapit filly, was timed in 1:42.71 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track. It was the fifth straight Oaks for Pauline's Pearl. She finished eighth in Kentucky, third in Iowa and second at both Charles Town and Remington Park.
Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Kennedy Road Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather is the career finale for the legendary Pink Lloyd. The 9-year-old has rewritten the record books north of the border, with long winning streaks and 28 wins from 37 starts for trainer Robert Tiller. Tiller says Pink Lloyd remains sound.
He's a little bit like me, I guess," Tiller said. "He's got little aches and pains. When you get old, that's what happens. They're all minor, but we just feel we'd rather step out at the top of the game."
Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct has a field of eight set to go 6 furlongs under imposts as high as 131. None of the eight is exactly a tiger, so solving the handicapping puzzle could be rewarding.
Already in the books:
Timeless Bounty returned a nice bounty for his backers in Monday's $250,000 Steel Valley Sprint for 3-year-olds, rallying four-wide from far back to win by 3/4 length at odds of 59-1.
Beren led for most of the 6 furlongs before yielding after a lengthy stretch tussle. Mister Luigi was third but disqualified to seventh, promoting Jaxon Traveler to show money.
Timeless Bounty, a Michigan-bred colt by Elusive Hour, finished in 1:11.01 over a fast track with Malcolm Franklin riding.
Just Might certainly did in Thursday's $150,000 Thanksgiving Classic at Fair Grounds. The 5-year-old Justin Phillip gelding led all the way and won by 2 1/2 lengths with Greely and Ben second. Pyron was along for third, relegating the favorite, Necker Island, to fourth.
Just Might, with Colby Hernandez up, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in ... well, we don't know since the timer malfunctioned. It's nice to have the New Orleans track back in action at any time.
Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, a "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points race, attracted a crowd of 14 with Tiz the Bomb, Howling Time and Classic Causeway as the morning-line favorites.
Tiz the Bomb, a Hit It a Bomb colt, was second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf after winning the Grade II Bourbon at Keeneland and the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile, also on the grass. In his last start on the dirt, he won an Ellis Park maiden event by 14 1/4 lengths so there are no surface worries. Howling
Time is 2-for-2 with a win in the local Street Sense Stakes. Classic Causeway was last seen finishing third in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.
Two-year-old sprinters (for now, anyway) tackle 6 1/2 furlongs Saturday in the $250,000 Lively Shively Stakes at Churchill Downs. Tejano Twist, a Practical Joke filly trained by Bret Calhoun, is the 7-5 favorite in a field of eight.
Eleven are set for Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Cecil B. DeMille on the Del Mar turf. It's a mixed bag with some still maidens, others coming off maiden wins and one arriving from a last race in Albuquerque. On the flip side, Optimising was second in the Qatar Golden Mile at Del Mar on Breeders' Cup Friday so circle that name in the program.
Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Grey Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather has 12 takers, several looking to sort out a muddled picture involving local 2-year-olds.
Ironstone won the Simcoe and Clarendon and finished second in the Display Stakes. Hicksy returns after winning the Display. God of Love won the Cup and Saucer but finished fifth in the Coronation Futurity.
The Minkster is 2-for-2 with a win in the Coronation Futurity. Churchtown, an Air Force Blue gelding, could be live in his second start after a convincing first-up win. Part owner-breeder Mike Pietrangelo also is part owner of Grand Glory, who starts in Sunday's Japan Cup.
Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs shapes up as a scramble with the three favorites, Sandstone, Famed and Yuugirl, all well-regarded on the morning line.
Sandstone and Yuugirl were first and second in the local Rags to Riches in their last start. Famed, a Godolphin homebred, won her last outing at Keeneland. Don't immediately dismiss any of the others.
Eight fillies are entered for Saturday's $200,000 Fern Creek at Churchill Downs, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint. This looks like one to watch and learn.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Jimmy Durante on the turf at Del Mar drew a field of 11 to go 1 mile. Three are trained by Peter Miller, who announced this week he will be stepping away from training for an undefined period of time effective Nov. 29.
Eleven are drawn for Sunday's $100,000 Tepin Stakes on the turf at Aqueduct. Mischievous Kiss and Caironi were first and second in the Chelsey Flower Stakes at Belmont Park in their last start. Otherwise, there's not much to separate them.
Anador, a French-bred filly, won her first U.S. start for trainer Christophe Clement at Belmont Park on Oct. 29 with a nice late move.
Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Mazarine Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather has a field of nine. Moira, a Ghostzapper filly, won the Princess Elizabeth Stakes in her first and only previous start. Aubrieta won the Glorious Song in her last.
The Road to the Roses
The first pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager opens Thursday, with wagering on the winner and the sire of the winner. And while he is banned from Churchill Downs and his horses are ineligible to earn qualifying points, it is possible to bet on potential Derby horses trained by Bob Baffert. You just can't do it directly.
Baffert's banishment by Churchill Downs resulted from a string of positive drug tests involving his horses, including 2021 Derby winner Medina Spirit, whose case is still up in the air.
The backdoor is this, from the Churchill Downs announcement on Monday: "Pool 1 assumes that horses under the care of trainers suspended from competing in the 2022 Kentucky Derby will not be under consideration.
"To that end, prospects Corniche, Messier, Pinehurst and Rockefeller are not among the 22 individual betting interests and are included within in the pari-mutuel field."
Those colts, all trained by Baffert, won, respectively, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the Grade III Bob Hope Stakes, the Grade I Del Mar Futurity and the Grade III Nashua Stakes. They will be lumped with "all other 3-year-old colts and geldings" in the field for Pool 1 -- a tempting prospect even though the field is even-money on the morning line.
Meanwhile, Saturday's Kentucky Jockey Club is a points race in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" and the first race in the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" series, the Cattleya Sho, runs Saturday at Tokyo Racecourse.
Around the world, around the clock:
Sunday's Grade 1 Japan Cup features four Japanese Derby winners, including 2020 Triple Crown winner Contrail in his final start, plus this year's Japanese Oaks winner and three impressive foreign runners.
Contrail, Shahryar, Makahiki and Wagnerian all have been crowned Derby champions. Uberleben is the reigning Oaks champion.
The focus, though, is on Contrail, who emulated his late sire, Deep Impact, in winning the Triple Crown while still undefeated. He lost that unbeaten distinction when second to the immortal Almond Eye in last year's Japan Cup and has not won since.
"A horse, born of a horse that won the Triple Crown unbeaten, that goes on to win the Triple Crown unbeaten, is not something you see very often in racing history," jockey Yuichi Fukunaga said.
The internationals are two Coolmore horses -- Broome and Japan, last seen finishing second and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf, and Grand Glory, second in the Prix de l'Opera Longines on Oct. 3.
"Even if my horse wasn't racing, I'd be excited just looking at this lineup," said trainer Tetsuya Temura, whose progressive 4-year-old, Authority, is not without hope of a placing.
"There are a number of Derby winners and a Triple Crown champion. But, with all that, I just want to be able to say that it was a great race when it's over."
The fields are set for the four Group 1 races that make up the Longines Hong Kong International Races on Dec. 12 at Sha Tin Racecourse. Local champion Golden Sixty and Japan's globetrotting star mare Loves Only You highlight the program, with strong participation by Ireland's Coolmore partners.
Golden Sixty, seeking his 16th straight win, is the likely favorite in the Longines Hong Kong Mile with Danon Kingly, Indy Champ and Vin de Garde invading from Japan and Mother Earth from Ireland.
Loves Only You, fresh off victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, is the headliner in the 2,000-meters Longines Hong Kong Cup. After her, it's a scramble with Japan and Bolshoi Ballet from Aidan O'Brien's yard, the Jim Bolger-trained Mac Swiney and Dubai Honor from William Haggis' camp.
Among the locals, Panfield, Ka Ying Star and Glorious Dragon merit attention.
The Longines Hong Kong Vase at 2,400 meters has an unusually strong field with Pyledrier, Glory Vase, Broome and Mogul all arriving from overseas. While we've learned never to discount the locals in these races, this one looks ripe for plundering.
The Longines Hong Kong Sprint is a showdown between a deep and strong group of local speedsters and three from Japan -- Resistencia, Pixie Knight and Danon Smash, top-level winners, all.
England / France
The All-Weather Championships staged a cross-Channel doubleheader of Fast-Track Qualifiers this week at Deauville and Kempton Park.
Tuesday at Deauville, Integrant, with Maxime Guyon aboard, rallied from the back of the field to catch late leader Tarroob inside the field furlong and win by a neck over Angelissima. Charlesquint was third as Tarroob threw in the towel.
Tour To Paris was the early pace in the 9 1/2- furlongs test. Integrant, by Frankel, scored his second win from as many tries on all-weather surfaces. The race was a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Betway Easter Classic at Newcastle on Finals Day.
"I have not given Finals Day much thought but why not?" winning trainer Henri-Francis Devin said.
"I think the fact it is at Newcastle now rather than Lingfield makes it more appealing for this horse. He has got the 'win and you're in' and it is something I will discuss with connections while the horse has a little break."
A day later and back across the Channel, Madame Tantzy came with a late rush to win the British Stallion Studs EBF Hyde Stakes at Kempton Park at odds of 80. The race was a Fast-Track Qualifier for the MansionBet All-Weather Mile on Finals day.
Madame Tantzy, trained by Eve Johnson Houghton for her mother, Gaie, is a half-sister to Accidental Agent, winner of the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes in 2018 and the family was keen to get the black type for the 5-year-old.
Under Georgia Dobie, she delivered nicely, drawing off once on the lead to win by 1 1/2 lengths from Misty Grey with Caspian Queen third and the favorite, Kenzai Warrior, fifth.
"I thought we might get a place," the trainer said. "I didn't see us winning like that. She's really done it well. I'm so happy with her."