Forbidden Kingdom, shown winning the San Vicente Stakes in his last start, is favorite in Saturday's San Felipe at Santa Anita, a key Kentucky Derby prep. Photo courtesy of Santa Anita
March 4 (UPI) -- Four Kentucky Derby prep races, Super Saturday in Dubai and massive slates of graded stakes from Santa Anita to Gulfstream Park will keep the horse racing world jumping during the weekend.
Aqueduct, Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park also have stakes races of note.
On the international front, in addition to Dubai, the 3-year-old program in Japan heats up with trials for the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas.
With tough-to-figure graded stakes all over the landscape, this might be a good week to check out what industry insider Jude Feld thinks about things. A former trainer on the Southern California circuit, among other credentials, "the Pontiff" offers his take on things at popejude.com.
Off we go with ...
The Road to the Roses
Kentucky Derby hopefuls are at it again this weekend in four races, from sea to shining sea, with three of them offering 50 "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points to the winner.
At Gulfstream Park, a full field is signed on for Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Fountain of Youth.
The oddsmaker likes Simplification, a Not This Time colt trained by Antonio Sano who was second in the local Holy Bull. High Oak and Rattle N Roll return from long absences after indicating as 2-year-olds that they might have what it takes.
Emmanuel is 2-for-2 with nice speed figures. Quite a few others will be taking the off ramp from the Road to the Roses after the race. Mo Donegal, among the early favorites, was a late scratch.
At Santa Anita, Forbidden Kingdom looms over six rivals in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II San Felipe. The American Pharoah colt, trained by Richard Mandella, took a big step forward to win the Grade II San Vicente in his last start Jan. 29.
He was second in the Grade III Bob Hope at Del Mar the start before that. Cabo Spirit finished second in the Grade III Robert B. Lewis, but he was 15 lengths behind the winner, Bob Baffert-trained Messier. Baffert has two in here, Armagnac and Doppelganger.
The latter, by Into Mischief, was fourth in the San Vicente but the increase in distance to 1 1/16 miles could work in his favor. As at Gulfstream, this race could be more a winnowing event than a coronation.
Morello, Dean's List and Rockefeller are the oddsmaker's tops among 10 in Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. Morello, a Classic Empire colt, is 2-for-2 and won the local Jimmy Winkfield Stakes in his most recent for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Dean's List, by Speightstown, won both previous starts at Gulfstream Park for Todd Pletcher. Rockefeller, a Medaglia d'Oro colt, comes from California where has been mixing it up with good ones for Baffert. A convincing case could be made for several others.
An overflow field will be on hand for Saturday's $125,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park, a 1 1/16-miles event on the all-weather track that is the only non-points race of the weekend.
Tiz the Bomb, a Hit It a Bomb colt, is a narrow favorite on the morning line. He has an outstanding record on the turf, including a second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, but finished seventh on the dirt in the Grade III Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in his last start. If he doesn't take to the all-weather, it's anyone's race.
After the weekend action, only 12 races remain on the official Churchill Downs "Road to the Kentucky Derby."
In England, Blue Trail, a Godolphin homebred colt by Teofilo, won Wednesday's "Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes" on the Kempton Park all-weather course, moving into a tie for the top spot on the leaderboard in the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby."
Blue Trail earned 20 points, matching the 20 earned last year during the turf portion of the series by Luxembourg, who likely is pointing toward the English Classics.
Ridden by James Doyle for trainer Charlie Appleby, Blue Trail got going late in the 1-mile race and was just up in the final strides to win by a nose over Harrow, with Find not finding enough to hold the lead through the final furlong.
He now has two wins after finishing second on debut, all on artificial surfaces. He is not, however, an initial nominee to the U.S. Triple Crown.
The Path to the Oaks
Saturday's $250,000 Busher Invitational at Aqueduct is pretty much a "you pick 'em" event with six fillies and Radio Days as a 7-5 morning line favorite after finishing second in the Grade II Forward Gal at Gulfstream Park in her last start.
That's not to say the Gun Runner filly, trained by Shug McGaughey, can't win. But Magic Circle and Venti Valentine, in particular, also have the potential to hit the board with a step forward.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park has seven fillies going 1 mile and most of them look capable of making a mark.
Girl With a Dream is the 3-1 morning-line favorite after consecutive wins at Churchill Downs, Fairgrounds and in the Grade III Forward Gal over the Gulfstream oval. But it's really wide open.
Marissa's Lady is the even-money favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $125,000 Cincinnati Trophy on the Turfway Park all-weather course.
The Violence filly is undefeated after four starts, two on the Churchill Downs dirt and two in stakes events at Turfway. As they say in poker, "If you can beat 'em, bet 'em."
Eda rides a three-race winning streak into Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita. The Munnings filly, trained by Bob Baffert, was last seen winning the Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos Dec. 4, and her latest workout indicates she's sharp and ready.
Baffert also saddles Under the Stars, a Pioneerof the Nile miss who won the Grade III Sant Ynez in her last. The competition includes Cairo Memories, second in the Starlet for trainer Robert Hess Jr. and Ain't Easy, undefeated after two starts including the Grade II Chandelier in her last, back in October.
There's not a single Group I winner among the eight entries for Saturday's $650,000 Grade I Santa Anita Handicap. But there are a couple who have been running at that level, including Stilleto Boy, who was last seen finishing third in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational.
Not so great? Well, the only horses in front of him were the ultra talented Breeders' Cup Mile and Pegasus World Cup winner Life Is Good and 2021 Horse of the Year Knicks Go.
The 8-5 morning line favorite for "the Big Cap" is Express Train, second in last year's edition of this race and winner of two straight Grade II events over the surface.
Warrant exits a third-place finish in the Grade III Louisiana Derby -- again, better than it sounds as he was back of only Kentucky Derby winner Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Beholder Mile for fillies and mares looks like a showdown between the odds-on favorite, As Time Goes By, and Evoutante.
As Time Goes By, a 5-year-old mare by American Pharoah, has back-to-back wins in the Grade III Bayakoa at Los Alamitos and the Grade III La Canada Jan. 1 at Santa Anita after finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She was second behind Swiss Skydiver in the 2021 Beholder Mile for trainer Bob Baffert and the Coolmore connections.
Evoutante, a 5-year-old by Uncle Mo, makes her first start since winning the Grade II Falls City at Churchill Downs for the second year in a row. Kenny McPeek sends her west for the first time. Miss Bigley has been a cash machine but looks a step slower.
Baffert's second entry is Varda, who has been absent since 2020 due to injury after winning the Grade I Starlet at Los Al. Baffert's great with long layoffs (see Country Grammer in last weekend's Saudi Cup), but this is a bigger ask.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile on the turf is packed with talent. Count Again and Subconscious, first and second in the local Grade III Thunder Road Stakes a month ago, catch the oddsmaker's eye.
Space Traveler, a good third in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf Jan. 29, looks like he might have found the situation he needs to score his first win in the United States.
Others who would be no surprise include Law Professor and Beyond Brilliant, first and second in the Grade II San Pasqual in their last; Tell Your Daddy, second in the Grade I Keeneland Turf Mile last autumn; and Bob and Jackie, second in the Grade II San Marcos on Jan. 30.
Leggs Galore, Going to Vegas and Mucho Unusual stand out in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Buena Vista for fillies and mares, 1 mile on the turf.
Leggs Galore has been dazzling mainly Cal-breds with her speed. Going to Vegas won the Grade I Rodeo Drive at 1 1/4 miles before finishing next-last in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Mucho Unusual, usually among the top three, was third in the Grade III Robert J. Frankel in her last.
Baffert's duo of Cezanne and Eight Rings should be among the favorites in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Carlos at 7 furlongs. Brickyard Ride and Shooters Shoot are in with good shots, too.
Never Surprised heads a field of seven for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Canadian Turf at 1 1/16 miles. The 4-year-old Constitution colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, has four wins and four seconds from eight starts and reported just 1 length adrift of Colonel Liam in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf in January.
Mouillage, a Toronado colt, makes his first U.S. start for trainer Chad Brown after a successful two years in France, mostly at secondary tracks.
A full field of 3-year-old fillies is set to go 1 mile on the turf in Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Herecomesthebride Stakes. They're divided between promising fillies with limited experience and a few, like Diamond Wow and Mischievous Kiss, who have been just short while chasing some bigger prizes.
Speaker's Corner, a Godolphin homebred colt by Street Sense, looks like a logical choice in the $200,000 Grade II Gulfstream Park Mile. The 4-year-old exits a victory in the local Fred W. Hooper and is 4-for-7 overall.
Jouster, second in last year's Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, returns from a long absence as a likely favorite in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Honey Fox for fillies and mares, 1 mile on the turf.
The Noble Mission filly went to the sidelines after finishing eighth in the Grade III Lake George at Saratoga. She has been working well for trainer Todd Pletcher at Palm Beach.
Todd Pletcher saddles three of the 11 in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Mac Diarmida at 11 furlongs on the green course and any or all of them could figure in the outcome.
Abaan has won four of his last five, Shamrocket has run some nice turf marathons and Gloustershire might have figured it out in his third U.S. start. Temple and Lure Him In also are in good form.
Saturday's $125,000 Palm Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds, 1 mile on the turf, has a couple also-rans from November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf but features two who ran well in the Grade III Kitten's Joy Feb. 5 -- Royal Spirit and Coinage.
Royal Spirit is a Triple Crown nominee while Coinage is one who rebounded from the Breeders' Cup drubbing in the Kitten's Joy. A few unexposed rivals are eligible to make a move forward in a competitive race.
Saturday's $150,000 Grade III The Very One for fillies and mares, 11 furlongs on the turf, is a puzzle with nine entries, lots of diverse foreign pedigrees and a mix of experience. When in doubt in a turf stakes, look for trainer Chad Brown.
That leads to Virginia Joy, a 5-year-old mare who ran well enough in her native Germany and seems to have come in hand as she faces the starter for the fourth time in the United States. Family Way had a nice win at Kentucky Downs last September, which makes her worth a look.
Chateau is the 4-5 favorite on the morning line against just four rivals in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Tom Fool Handicap. The 7-year-old Flat Out gelding exits a victory in the Gravesend Stakes and was third in the Grade III Fall Highweight in his last two starts.
Around the world, around the clock
Super Saturday's race card provides previews of everything a fan could expect on World Cup night itself -- at least while waiting for the arrival of the top international invaders.
The exception to that late-arrival rule is California-based Doug O'Neill, who has had tremendous success with the string he brought to Dubai early in the Carnival program and has solid chances in several of Saturday's races.
O'Neill's Appreciated will be among the favorites in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3, a prep for the World Cup itself at the same 2,000 meters on the dirt.
Appreciated enters off a win in the Curlin Stakes in his first start in the desert but, if he goes on to the World Cup, will play second fiddle to stablemate Hot Rod Charlie, also a first-time Dubai winner for O'Neill.
The early favorite in Round 3 in the international markets (there is no wagering in the United Arab Emirates) is Hypothetical, a 5-year-old son of Lope de Vega who runs for Sheik Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum.
He was second in last year's Round 3 and fourth in the World Cup. Everfast, Salute the Soldier and Kafoo also get support.
The Group 1 Jebel Hatta, 1,800 meters on the turf, features old Carnival favorite Lord Glitters, still ticking at age 9, 8-year-old Barney Roy and relative youth Zakouski, 6 years old.
A much more wide-open turf event is the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint at 1,200 meters with solid support for at least four runners in the big field.
At the other end of the turf spectrum is the Group 2 Dubai City of Gold, run at just over 2,400 meters. Hukum is a solid favorite for that marathon off a solid 2021 campaign in England.
The 1,400-meter Ras Al Khor is dominated by Godolphin horses with seven of the 19 set to go.
O'Neill's horses feature in the night's dirt races, but certainly have their work cut out for them.
Strongconstitution, second to Hypothetical in his first Dubai start, is right there in the mix for the California trainer in a wide-open field in the Group 3 Burj Nahaar at 1,600 meters on the dirt.
Get Back Goldie, a surprise winner on her local debut for O'Neill, also is one of several at the top of the odds list in wide-open Al Bastakiya for 3-year-olds -- a race with a solid international cast that previews the Group 2 UAE Derby.
O'Neill also has two in the evening's dirt sprint, the Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal at 1,200 meters. Of those, Notre Dame jumped up to win his second Dubai start after an earlier learning experience and Positivity has finished eighth and third in his two Carnival starts.
Staying abreast of the 3-year-old action: Saturday's Grade 2 Tulip Sho is a trial for the Japanese 1000 Guineas and Sunday's Grade 2 Hochi Hai Yayoi Deep Impact Kinen for the Japanese 2000 Guineas.
The Tulip Sho marks the 3-year-old debut of Circle of Life. The Epiphaneia filly extended her win streak to three with a victory in the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in December.
Water Navilllera, a Silver State filly was third in the Hanshin race after three wins and Namur, a daughter of Harbinger, finished fourth in that -- her first loss after two wins.
Do Duce, a son of Heart's Cry, puts his 3-for-3 mark on the line in Sunday's race. The streak incudes Grade I Asahi Hai Futurity at Hanshin in December. The field also includes several also-rans from the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Nakayama.
Fast Raaj, reckoned a potential Classics contender last year before a setback, was good enough in Tuesday's Prix Anabaa on the Chantilly all-weather course that connections now wish he had been targeted for Dubai's World Cup night program.
Instead, the 4-year-old Iffraj colt will use the All Weather Championships Fast-Track Qualifier as a springboard to the Betweay All-Weather Sprint Championship at Newcastle on Good Friday, then seen group race glory.
With Gregory Benoist aboard, Fast Raaj launched a bid 2 furlongs out and the matter was settled shortly thereafter as he strode out to a 1 1/2-length victory over Go Athletico. He now has three wins from four starts on all-weather tracks.
Nicolas de Chambure, whose Haras d'Etreham part-bred and part-owns the colt, said, "After his performance today, you almost start thinking that we should go to Dubai, but he wasn't entered. I think the sensible thing is to stay in Europe and we will go up to Newcastle next before hopefully finding a Group race on the grass over 6 or 7 furlongs."