Courvoisier, shown winning the Jerome Sakes, returns for Saturday's Grade III Withers at Aqueduct, a Kentucky Derby prep. Photo by Chelsey Durand, courtesy of New York Racing Association
Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Three official Kentucky Derby prep races top the U.S. weekend horse racing schedule while Hot Rod Charlie, one of last year's Triple Crown contenders, prepares in the Middle East for the $12 million Dubai World Cup.
Santa Anita, Tampa Bay Downs and Aqueduct all chip in with interesting stakes races. Oaklawn Park canceled the weekend's races because of Winter Storm Landon.
Gulfstream Park's Saturday card, in addition to three nice heats for promising Derby and Oaks hopefuls, has some very competitive turf races. Breeders' Cup winner Ce Ce returns to the track at Santa Anita. At Tampa, nice fields are set for a pair of turf events.
With lots of action on tap, check out a fresh look at things by ace analyst Jude Feld at www.popejude.com. Insightful, thought provoking and frequently witty.
Now, without stopping, let's smell the roses, fire up the Hot Rod and get going. Given the season, we'll check the weather along the way.
The Road to the Roses
Two winners of early New York preps for the Kentucky Derby are back in action this weekend -- Courvoisier from the Jerome, who stays at Aqueduct, and Mo Donegal, now enjoying the Florida sun after his victory in the Remsen at the Big A.
A third Triple Crown prep, the Robert Lewis at Santa Anita, has a pair of Bob Baffert runners.
All three races are included in the Churchill Downs "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series with 10 points to the winner and 4, 2 and 1 for the minor placings. Baffert-trained horses, of course, are not eligible for points because Churchill Downs says so.
All of the top finishers from the Jan. 12 Jerome Stakes return for Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Withers over the same Aqueduct track.
Courvoisier, a Tapit colt trained by Kelly Breen, won the 1-mile Jerome convincingly, indicating the added furlong of the Withers is within his reach. Smarten Up, Cooke Creek and Unbridled Bomber, the second- through fourth-place finishers, also return.
There are some additions to the roster, notably Early Voting. That Gun Runner colt, a $200,000 yearling buy, is trained by Chad Brown and won his only previous start going 1 mile.
Saturday' weather forecast for Aqueduct is sunny, with a chilly high of 28 after a couple of warmer days with rain.
Mo Donegal, an Uncle Mo colt trained by Todd Pletcher for Donegal Racing, is the morning-line favorite among nine entered for Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. He's won two in a row since finishing third in his first start.
Trainer Dale Romans continues his relentless quest for a Derby winner, saddling Giant Game, a Giant's Causeway colt making his first start since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Also here are Simplification, winner of the local Mucho Macho Man on New Year's Day; Tiz the Bomb, switching to the dirt in his first start since reporting second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf; and White Abarrio, a gray colt last seen finishing second in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club on Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Claiborne Swale at Gulfstream Park has six 3-year-olds going 7 furlongs. That, of course, doesn't disqualify any of them from stretching out around two turns if they indicate that might suit. Most of these show promise but the best of them have yet to find their niche.
Where was this predicted weather of 80 degrees and partly cloudy when we were shivering there last weekend?
Five are set for Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita and it's a familiar pattern: Two of them are trained by Baffert. Messier, an Ontario-bred colt by Empire Maker, finished second in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity in his most recent outing after winning the Grade III Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar in November.
Stablemate Wharton won at first asking at Santa Anita on New Year's Eve by 5 1/4 lengths. The Candy Ride colt was a $450,000 yearling buy. However, none of the other three -- Sir London, Cabo Spirit and Happy Jack -- would be a total surprise in the winner's circle.
The Santa Anita forecast couldn't be nicer -- 72 and mostly sunny.
The Road to the Oaks
Seven are set for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Forward Gal at Gulfstream Park, but it looks like the race is Radio Days' to lose. The Gun Runner filly, trained by Shug McGaughey, is 2-for-2, winning her last at Aqueduct by 8 1/2 lengths despite a rough start and a wide trip.
Diamond Wow, a daughter of Lookin at Lucky, exits a second-place finish in the Grade II Jessamine on the Keeneland turf last October and could contend if she copes with the layoff and surface switch. She did win an off-the-turf race at Gulfstream in September.
Greatitude steps up from a nice maiden win at this course and the same 7-furlongs distance. Girl With a Dream was last seen winning the Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds on Dec. 27.
More than half of the seven fillies set for Sunday's $100,000 Ruthless at Aqueduct are still looking for their first victory over winners.
The exceptions: Miss Interpret won the P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga in September but came up short in three subsequent starts against quality rivals; Jet Force has won a maiden and allowance, both at Penn National; and Knowing Grace, an Alberta-bred, broke her maiden at Churchill Downs, then won an optional claimer at Keeneland.
Stop us if you've heard this theme before but Bob Baffert saddles two of the five runners set for Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Las Virgenes at Santa Anita, including the likely favorite, Eda. Eda, a Munnings filly, rides a three-race winning streak including the Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos in her most recent outing.
Stablemate Adare Manor, a daughter of Uncle Mo, broke through for her first win in her third start Jan. 7, scoring by 12 lengths when stretched out to a mile. Of the other three, Queen of Thorns, a Violence filly trained by Peter Eurton, looks the least unlikely.
Hopeful Treasure, off a victory in the Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap in his last start, looks a likely candidate among five in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Toboggan at 7 furlongs.
The 5-year-old Oxbow entry has stitched together two straight wins for the first time in his career and faces somewhat lesser rivals here. Drafted, still seeking his first win since returning from Dubai at the end of 2020, might be the stiffest competition. Happy Medium has three straight wins and steps up in class.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Kitten's Joy for 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles on the turf, features the winner and runner-up from the local Pulpit Stakes, Red Danger and Speaking Scout, and the first- and third-place finishers from the local Dania Beach Stakes, Grand Sonata and Father Glado.
Not liking those? Consider Coinage, a Tapit colt who was good enough that trainer Mark Casse sent him to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Granted, he finished ninth in that but he did win the Grade III With Anticipation at Saratoga last summer.
This is easier and he has been working sharply of late. Don't ignore Royal Spirit off his recent maiden win for trainer Todd Pletcher. Coinage and Royal Spirit each cost $450,000 as yearlings.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sweetest Chant for 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles on the turf, has as many variables as anyone could like. There are surface-switchers, recent maiden winners and some well-bred question marks.
A few to note: Battle Charge, a last-race winner in her first turf start; Running Legacy, a Gun Runner filly who won at first asking on the new Gulfstream all-weather; Ocean Safari, second in the local Ginger Brew on New Year's Day; Nostalgic, a Godolphin homebred by Medaglia d'Oro who was fourth in the Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct in her last; and, of course, Myfavoritedaughter.
Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Bayakoa for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles was among the victims of a weekend-long cancellation at the Hot Springs track because of the nasty winter weather. It's rescheduled for next Saturday in support of the Razorback Handicap.
This weekend's scheduled running drew a field of seven with lots of likely candidates. Coach, a 4-year-old Commissioner filly trained by Brad Cox, was the nominal favorite after two victorious spins over the local oval this season.
But Queen Goddess, Matera and Mariah's Princess also got attention from the oddsmaker and none of the seven would be a total shocker if the same bunch assembles a week hence.
Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner and Eclipse Award finalist Ce Ce returns at the one to beat in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Monica for fillies and mares at 7 furlongs. She won three of her last four starts in 2021.
But here's that song again: Four rivals include two graded stakes winners from the Baffert barn, Kalypso and Merneith. Park Avenue was last seen finishing second in the Grade II La Canada and Full of Grace rounds out the lot.
Baffert also has two in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Pasqual at 1 1/8 miles. Spielberg took a nine-months break after finishing eighth in last year's Florida Derby and returned with an allowance win Jan. 14.
Eight Rings has been short on wins but usually is in the money in big races. Among the others, Express Train won the Grade II San Antonio Dec. 26 and Law Professor won the Grade II Mathis Mile in his latest effort. Nice race.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Thunder Road at 1 mile on the turf drew six. Subconscious won the Grade II Twilight Derby in October, then finished fifth in the Grade I Hollywood Derby. Ready Soul exits a third in the Grade III San Gabriel.
Hurricane Cloud, a son of Frankel, makes an ambitious start to his U.S. career after racing in France at lower levels.
Tampa Bay Downs
Bettors or just casual fans couldn't ask much more than what's on offer Saturday in a pair of Grade III stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the grass -- full and competitive fields representing some of the best names in the business.
The $175,000 Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes has a full field and one waiting in the wings. The 3-1 favorite on the morning line is Devamani, an 8-year-old, French-bred Dubawi gelding making his first start since a victory in the Grade III Monmouth Stakes last June.
He made only two starts last year so the question is whether trainer Chad Brown has been able to crank him up again off the layoff. His workouts at Palm Meadows indicate he still has some gas in the tank. The alternatives include Get Smokin, English Bee and another French-bred from Brown's barn, L'Imperator.
A big "watch out" in the Tampa Bay: Trainer Rusty Arnold fields Cellist, a 4-year-old by Big Blue Kitten out of the English Channel mare Cello, who was competitive in the rich New York 3-year-old turf races last summer, finished third in the Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs and makes his first start since being gelded.
The $175,000 Grade III Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares has a field of 10 with Lady Speightspeare as the 3-1 morning-line favorite.
Trainer Roger Attfield scratched the Speightstown filly out of last weekend's Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf at Gulfstream Park in favor of this, but certainly doesn't catch much of an easier field in search of her fifth win from six starts. Three other 4-year-olds -- Oyster Box, Bleeker Street and In Italian -- all look sharp and ready to make a mark.
Saturday night's Louisiana-bred Premier Night program has 11 races for state-breds. Most of the fields are well-subscribed and competitive, full of wagering opportunities.
Around the world, around the clock:
California-based trainer Doug O'Neill sends out Hot Rod Charlie Friday evening at Meydan in the Maktoum Challenge Round 2 -- a prep for the $12 million Dubai World Cup.
The colt was right in the middle of things last year, battling a talented crop of 3-year-olds while finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, second in the Belmont Stakes and first in the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby. He finished first in the Grade I Haskell but was disqualified to last for interference.
After reporting fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic, he was second in the Grade 2 San Antonio at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.
"Hot Rod Charlie galloped as good as we'd wish," assistant trainer Leandro Mora said after watching the colt perform on the Meydan dirt Feb. 1, "and he seems to be very happy in this country. Loves the surroundings. He's floating on the track and we're hoping that will be a nice race for him on Friday."
William Buick, set to sub for regular jockey Flavien Prat in Round 2, told Bloodhorse after his first Meydan work aboard the colt that Hot Rod Charlie "looks great and obviously shipped and settled in well. He's a fit horse and came across this dirt very well."
While Hot Rod Charlie is the class of the race, he does have some opposition. Everfast, the 2019 Preakness runner-up, won his first race in the desert on Dec. 2 -- his first start in more than 11 months. Kafoo, a Curlin colt, won the first two starts of his career late in 2021 at Meydan, then finished third Jan. 14 in the Maktoum Challenge Round 1.
Co-featured on the seven-race program is the Balanchine for fillies and mares at 1,800 meters on the turf, a potential preview for the Jebbel Hatta on Super Saturday and the Dubai Turf on World Cup night, both at the same conditions.
Godolphin makes up for its absence in the Maktoum Challenge, fielding six of the 10 entrants in the Balanchine with William Buick taking the mount on Creative Flair and Frankie Dettori on Soft Whisper. Creative Flair visited New York last summer for NYRA's rich invitational turf races, finishing third at Saratoga and fourth at Belmont Park.
Three-year-olds also tackle 1,800 meters on the green course in the Jumeirah Classic Presented by Longines Elegant, a listed event with the same potential targets. The Firebreak Stakes is 1,600 meters on the dirt.
Royal Ascot winner Rohaan is among the star attractions in two listed races Saturday at Lingfield Park.
Rohaan, a 4-year-old Mayson gelding, tops 10 starters for the 6-furlongs Betway Kachy Stakes, a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Betway All-Weather Sprint Championship on Finals Day.
He was a force in the first half of 2021, topping out with a win in the Wokingham Stakes at Royal Ascot. He was less successful at the Group 1 level although he managed a fifth in the Group 1 Flying Five Stakes at the Curragh in his penultimate start of the season despite a disastrous start.
"He has done really well for a break," said trainer David Evans, who has booked Ryan Moore for the ride. "He has put on weight and matured into a strong, powerful horse.
"Beyond this, he has an entry for the turf sprint in Saudi and there is also the Dubai World Cup meeting to think about. They would look two nice options and we will see how things unfold in the coming weeks."
Rohaan is not the only fancied contender. Good Effort, a three-time listed winner over the course and distance is the slight antepost favorite.
Six are set to run in the Betway Winter Derby Trial over 10 furlongs, including Fancy Man, a Richard Hannon-trained 4-year-old by Pride of Dubai. He was second in Group 3 events on the turf at Haydock Park and Windsor and won his only previous all-weather start in September at Lingfield Park.