Kentucky Derby winner Mandaloun works out at Churchill Downs in preparation for Saturday's Stephen Foster Stakes. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs
July 1 (UPI) -- The Fourth of July weekend kicks off the second half of the horse racing year with a bang as Mandaloun, Life Is Good, Ce Ce and other notables return from layoffs.
Adding to the interest, Mandaloun and Life Is Good will see what they can do in their first starts since the Dubai World Cup on March 26.
Japanese horses returning from that card have struggled to find the winner's enclosure back home. And Hot Rod Charlie, second in the Group 1 World Cup, was second in his American return in the Grade III Salvator Mile.
There's graded stakes action from Canada to Florida and from New York and Delaware through Kentucky and out to California, on dirt, turf and all-weather tracks. Churchill Downs, however, canceled its turf racing to give the grass on the new course more time to grow.
The international scene is hot, too. The Group 1 Coral-Eclipse topping England's schedule is, in fact, red hot with a field full of Group 1 winners while France has the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and budding superstar jockey Hollie Doyle journeys to Hamburg to ride Wagnis in the Group 1 Deutsches Derby.
Africa's signature race, the Durban July, runs Saturday near the shores of the Indian Ocean. And there's some good news from Hong Kong in "News and Notes."
Remembering that all Americans, no matter their differences, must celebrate our one country and strive to make it better if that nation is to survive, we move along to the task at hand. Happy Fourth!
Classic / Dirt Mile
Mandaloun returns to action in Saturday's $750,000 Grade II Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs, his first start since a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup (G1) on March 26.
The 4-year-old Into Mischief colt, winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby by the disqualification of Medina Spirit, saw a four-race winning streak evaporate in the desert as Country Grammer took home the big prize.
He won't find Saturday's rivals much easier. Among them, Olympiad, a 4-year-old Speightstown colt looks to extend a four-race win skein; Last Samurai, a 4-year-old by Malibu Moon, exits a win in the Grade I Oaklawn Handicap; Americanrevolution has won five of eight, including the Grade I Cigar Mile.
Caddo River, Title Ready and Proxy round out the field for the 1 1/8-mile challenge, which is a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Keeneland.
Mandaloun will be chasing a minor slice of history. According to Churchill Downs, since the race debuted in 1982, no horse has won the Kentucky Derby and Stephen Foster.
"He's been doing great training over this track so it makes sense to target a race like the Foster that is at home," trainer Brad Cox said. "We kept our options open but this race you don't have to ship and can run out of your own stall."
Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Dwyer Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park features experience in the form of Charge It, second in the Florida Derby but 17th in the Kentucky Derby, and a fresh face in Nabokov, fresh off his maiden win over the same track.
Charge It is a Tapit colt trained by Todd Pletcher; Nabokov, an Uncle Mo colt from the Chad Brown barn. Four others look less enticing.
Rondure, Fuerteventura and Duke of Love all show promise in an eight-horse field entered for Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Marine Stakes for 3-year-olds on the Woodbine all-weather track
Artie's Storm, Frosted Over and 2020 Queen's Plate winner Mighty Heart all get some oddsmaker attention in a field of nine set for Friday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Dominion Day Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the Woodbine all-weather track. Mighty Heart won this last year.
Speaking of the Dubai World Cup, the winner of that $12 million heat and second in the $20 million Saudi Cup, Country Grammer, has been on the work tab for a month at Santa Anita.
Equibase still lists Bob Baffert as his trainer, so one might expect him back once Baffert's official suspension ends in early July.
Only five signed on for Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Fleur de Lis Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the Churchill Downs dirt but it's a quality bunch, indeed.
Shedaresthedevil won the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, one of three Grade I's in her "W" column. But she faces the mare who has finished in front of her in their last two meetings, Pauline's Pearl.
Then again, Pauline's Pearl has to deal with She's All Wolfe and Ava's Grace, who were 1-2, respectively, at the finish of the local Shawnee Stakes on June 4 with Pauline's Pearl fourth.
The field is rounded out by Super Quick who earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure while winning her last start, the Grade III Allaire Du Pont at Pimlico, by 14 1/4 lengths.
Shotgun Hottie is the lukewarm morning-line favorite in a well-matched field for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park. The Gun Runner filly comes off a third in the Grade III Gazelle at Aqueduct in April.
Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Selene Stakes at Woodbine has eight 3-year-old fillies set to go 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track.
Catiche, an Arrogate filly, is the morning-line favorite after a sharp local win last time out but the event looks like a right tossup. Mrs. Barbara showed promise last year, winning the Grade III Mazarine and might be working back into form.
Life Is Good is the big deal in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II John A. Nerud Stakes at Belmont Park and, should he run well, we'll move the recap of this race to the "Classic / Dirt Mile" category, where he's likely headed by Breeders' Cup time.
As noted, He makes his first start since fading late in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup to finish fourth in his first start at 1 1/4 miles. Prior to that, he had won six of seven starts including the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar.
The Into Mischief colt has been working steadily at Belmont for trainer Todd Pletcher and his owners, China Horse Club and WinStar Farm.
The only rival in this field who looks capable of testing Life Is Good is Speaker's Corner, a Godolphin homebred colt by Street Sense who has six wins from 10 starts.
Both Life Is Good and Speaker's Corner like the lead and both can fly so oil up the stopwatches.
Pletcher blamed the Meydan racing surface, not the increased distance, for Into Mischief's fade in Dubai and said he is using the Nerud as a springboard to the $1 million Grade I Whitney at Saratoga on Aug. 6 -- a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"It was the wrong racetrack for him," Pletcher said of the Dubai defeat. "We were a little concerned about that going in. I thought they would have it a little tighter on that night, but it didn't play to his style at all."
Nine speedy types are set to line up for Saturday's $160,000 Kelly's Landing Stakes at Churchill Downs. Among them are Aloha West, winner of the 2021 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Del Mar, but winless in two starts this term.
Those, however, were tough Grade I affairs and this looks like an easier assignment for the Wayne Catalano trainee.
Drain the Clock is the favorite among six entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Smile Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
The 4-year-old won a trio of graded stakes last year including the Grade I Woody Stephens at Belmont Park almost exactly a year ago. But he's another being tested for the first time since a trip to Dubai, where he finished seventh in the Group 1 Golden Shaheen in March.
Willy Boi was fourth in this last year and returns after two straight wins.
Sunday's $160,000 Maxfield Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs drew Gunite, a Gun Runner colt who won the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga last year, but then finished fifth in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park and went into hibernation.
He returned with a second in a Churchill Downs allowance and we'll see what trainer Steve Asmussen has been able to put back together for him.
Sunday's $100,000 Bob Umphrey Sprint, 5 1/2 furlongs on the Gulfstream Park all-weather track, drew a free-for-all field of 11.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Ce Ce is the feature attraction in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Princess Rooney Invitational at Gulfstream Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
The 6-year-old Elusive Quality mare is the reigning champ in that race and has amassed six graded stakes wins, three in Grade I races. She won this race last year. If she falters, Glass Ceiling also is a multiple graded stakes winner and Spirit Wind, a 3-year-old Bahamian Squall filly, has won three straight races, all at Gulfstream.
Entries were not available at press time for Monday's $200,000 Grade II Great Lady M Stakes at Los Alamitos.
Turf / Turf Mile
Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Wise Dan Stakes was put "on hiatus" this year as the new Churchill Downs turf course continued to show enough wear and tear that the track shut it down for the final weekend of the season.
Saturday's $200,000 American Derby also is off the ailing Churchill Downs turf and, with the move to the main track, drew a rather motley field of 11.
Among them is Rattle N Roll, winner of the Grade I Breeders' Futurity last fall at Keeneland and a fringe player in this year's Triple Crown wars. Otherwise, it's a tough one to figure.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Kent Stakes at Delaware Park has a field of nine topped by Main Event and Tommy Bee, both with something to prove at this level.
Entries for Monday's $100,000 Manilla Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park were not available at deadline time.
On the subject of turf racing: Churchill Downs' decision to close down the green course to let it grow leaves open the question of what becomes of the "Arlington Million" weekend the company transplanted from its shuttered Chicago-area track.
CDI had been engaged in trying to lure European competition for the prestigious grass races, three of them Grade I events, which were popular with foreign trainers in large measure because of the excellent Arlington turf course.
Churchill Downs would not comment on plans for the Million program, which leaves horsemen and European promoters very much hanging.
Filly & Mare Turf / Turf Mile
Seven signed on for Saturday's $200,000 Tepin Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs -- another of the races moved off the turf to allow the grass to grow deeper roots.
The field left to run on the dirt ranges from recent maiden winner Runaway Wife to dual graded stakes winner Wicked Halo.
Lady Speightspeare won her first four career starts, all at Woodbine. Then she failed to find the winner's circle in her next five races in Florida and Kentucky.
She's back at the Toronto-area oval for as the favorite in a field of 11 for Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Nassau Stakes at Woodbine. Should she not reacclimate, Plum Ali and Crystal Cliffs look like likely prospects for the 1-mile tilt.
Sunday's $100,000 Boiling Springs Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Monmouth Park has a field of seven with Radio Days, a Gun Runner filly trained by Shug McGaughey, coming off a third in the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan and a second in the Grade III Beaumont at Keeneland.
Sunday's $100,000 Perfect Sting Stakes at Belmont Park has graded stakes winners Jouster and Cheermeister in a field of six.
Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Grade II Highlander Stakes at Woodbine has a field of 11 with the Wesley Ward-trained 8-year-old, Bound for Nowhere, as the morning-line pick. Silent Poet, Tap It to Win and Voodoo Zip seem viable alternatives.
Monday's $175,000 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs has a field of six. All won at first asking but only two have raced since -- Mr. Gordy finishing fourth and Simply Super eighth in the Kentucky Juvenile May 5. They were all relative bargains in the auction ring. Watch and learn.
Monday's $175,000 Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs has seven 2-year-old fillies. Like their colt counterparts, most have faced the starter only once. Two took a second try to get the first win. Another of the seven remains a maiden. Again, watch and learn.
Speaking of bargains, Frango Electrico sold for $4,000 at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale and earned $10,000 for winning at Belterra Park in her second start.
Around the world, around the clock:
French Derby winner Vadini, a Churchill colt racing for the Aga Khan, is the antepost favorite among six finalists in Saturday's Coral-Eclipse at Sandown with fellow 3-year-old Native Trail, Godolpin's Irish 2,000 Guineas winner, a close second.
The winner will earn his reward, though, as the field also includes last month's Prince of Wales's Stakes runner-up Bay Bridge, 2021 Saudi Cup and Dubai Sheema Classic winner Mishriff and Alenquer, who comes off a win in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh.
How tough is it? We'll tell you how tough: Lord North is the outsider in the early wagering at odds of 20-1 and higher in some shops. While it's true he's dropped two in a row, he did win the Group 1 Dubai Turf in a dead heat with Panthalassa back in March, seeing off the rest of a solid field.
A big field is on tap for Sunday's Group 1 Deutsches Derby at Hamburg with some of the sport's superstars on hand to ride. Hollie Doyle takes the mount on Wagnis for trainer Markus Klug, who has seven of the 20 entries and also named Frankie Dettori on So Moonstruck. Sibylle Vogt is up on Nerik for trainer Pieter Schiergen.
It's an interesting field including the winner of the Group 2 Derby Italiano at Capannelle. Txope, winner of the German 1000 Guineas, is not entered but the runner-up, Mylady, takes her chance against the colts.
Pending final declarations, a tough bunch is engaged for Sunday's Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. Alpinista ran the table in 2021, winning all five starts including three Group 1 events and makes her first start of 2022.
Hurricane Lane, third in last year's Arc, is in here for Godolphin and High Definition represents Coolmore. Mare Australis and Bubble Gift return after finishing first and second in the Group 2 Grand Prix de Chantilly June 5.
Baratti, a progressive Frankel colt bred and owned by Juddmonte, steps into the big time. It should be a most interesting 1 1/2 miles.
Saturday's Group 1 Durban July, Africa's signature race, has a full field of 18 and, despite the troubles that have diminished the sport in South Africa, an enthusiastic, well-costumed crowd can be counted on to cheer the runners down the Greyville stretch.
The theme this year is "Show Me the Honey," which is sure to elicit some imaginative and daring bee-related outfits.
Among the 18 in the field are Do It Again, who won the race in 2018 and did it again in 2019, then was third in 2020 and fourth last year; the 2020 winner, Belgarian; and last year's winner, Kommetdieding.
Justin Snaith saddles five of the 18, including Do It Again. Mike de Kock trains four, including the promising 3-year-old Aragosta.
Meanwhile, back in North America:
Half of the six-horse field scratched out of Wednesday's $50,000 Stanton Stakes for Delaware-breds. Of the remaining trio, Witty, under Carol Cedeno, started last and finished first by 5 lengths.
Crabs N Beer was second after making the early pace with Liltonytwophones another 5 3/4 lengths in arrears. Witty, a Great Notion gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.60.
Nobody Listens did all the talking with his hooves in Wednesday's $100,000 Brickyard Stakes for Indiana-breds quickly crossing over from the outside gate to seize the lead, then extending the advantage all the way to a 6-lengths margin at the finish.
Flowerpecker was second at a big price and Meetmeinkingston was third.
Nobody Listens, a 4-year-old Conveyance gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.03 with Joseph Ramos up.
Hungarian Princess drew off in the final furlong to win Wednesday's $100,000 Checkered Flag Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares by 4 1/2 lengths from Chandana. Wellington Wonder was up for third. Hungarian Princess, a 4-year-old Pataky Kid filly, was home in 1:11.00 with Samuel Bermudez in the irons.
Both of Monday's $100,000 stakes for Pennsylvania-breds came off the turf onto the good, sealed main track.
That appeared to work to the liking of Undercover Kitty, who scampered off in the stretch to win the Crowd Pleaser Stakes for 3-year-olds by 6 lengths over Loose Ends. Charlie Marquez rode the winner, a Kitten's Joy gelding, finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.20.
Chub Wagon, the odds-on favorite, ran by pacesetting Hey Mamaluke in stretch run of the Power By Far Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares and went on to win by 3/4 length. Hey Mamaluke was second, 8 lengths in front of the rest of the competition.
Chub Wagon, a 5-year-old Hey Chub mare, ran 5 furlongs in 58.00 with Silvestre Gonzalez up.
News and Notes:
The Hong Kong Jockey Club and Swiss watchmaker Longines announced Thursday they have extended the Longines sponsorship of the Hong Kong International Races for five years, through 2026.
The deal also includes the jockey competition and the Longines "World's Best Jockey" award which normally accompany the HKIR each December.
Purses for the four Group 1 races included in the event have been bumped up HK$10 million to HK$110 million (about US$14 million). The HKJC calculates the Sprint, Mile and Cup are the richest turf races in the world at their respective distances.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club, founded in 1884, is a prime economic mover in the former British colony and one of the top 10 charitable institutions in the world.
It also is a major employer and taxpayer in the Special Administrative Region of China. The club has persisted since 2019, coping with civil unrest and stringent pandemic lockdowns while maintaining its high-quality local racing program and a dozen annual Group 1 international races.