1 of 2 | Just Cindy wins the Schuylerville Stakes for 2-year-old fillies on Thursday's opening day at Saratoga. Photo by Chelsea Durand, Cognianese Photos, courtesy of New York Racing Association
July 15 (UPI) -- Saratoga is back into action this weekend, with trainer Chad Brown ready to make a statement on the turf course and the usual top-self competition from top to bottom, including some early looks at the promising 2-year-olds.
Otherwise, it's a mixed bag from coast to coast with some Breeders' Cup winners and Saudi and Dubai competitors returning from layoffs.
Oddly, there is a lot of action in the turf sprint division with races all over the country for both males and females at all ages from 3 up. In that mix, the reigning Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf champ is on display at the Spa.
With the advent of Saratoga's meet, the Pontiff, Jude Feld, is back from a rejuvenating California visit and ready to point the handicapping way. Check out his expert take at popejude.com.
On the international front, Emily Upjohn will hope a better start in Saturday's Irish Oaks will help her avenge a narrow loss in the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom.
The Group 1 Prix de Paris and Japan's Dirt Derby are in the books and we've got the rundown in the international section. Hong Kong winds up another difficult but successful season, hoping for much better in the next few years.
Shall we? Yes, lets.
Filly & Mare Turf
Six are set for Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Diana Stakes at Saratoga and four of them are trained by -- who else? -- Chad Brown, the dominant force in American turf racing,
Brown fields the 6-5 morning-line favorite, Bleecker Street, undefeated after seven starts including the Grade I New York Stakes at Belmont Park in her last and Technical Analysis, last-race winner of the Grade III Gallorette at Pimlico.
There's also last year's Group 1 Prix de l'Opera winner Rougir, and In Italian, never worse than third in six starts and third in the Grade I Longines Just a Game in her last.
Having two-thirds of the field is no guarantee here, though.
The opposition is Godolphin's Creative Flair, last seen winning the Group 2 Balanchine Stakes at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai and third last year in the Grade III Saratoga Oaks Invitational, and Dalaika, second in the Grade III Old Forester Mint Julep at Churchill Downs last time on the track.
Saturday's $150,000 Wasted Tears Stakes at Lone Star Park has seven plus one for "main track only". Shirley's Temple and Quinn Ella look to defend the home field while Fairchild and Disappearing Act ship in from Churchill Downs.
Already in the books: Princess Grace took the lead early in Tuesday's $200,000 Grade III Dr. James Penny Memorial at Parx Racing, turned back a mid-race challenge and drew off smartly to win by 3 lengths.
Flirting Bridge and Love in the Air were second and third, respectively.
Princess Grace, a 5-year-old Karakonte mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.70. Florent Geroux rode for trainer Michael Stidham.
Turf / Turf Mile
The $300,000 purse on offer for Saturday's Texas Turf Classic at Lone Star Park did its job, attracting Field Pass, Cellist and Megacity from Kentucky to contest the 1 1/8-mile affair.
Then the luck of the Texas draw was less than hospitable as those three drew inside and outside in the eight-horse field with the favorite, Field Pass, on the rail, and the second-favorite, Cellist, installed No. 8. Megacity is right outside Field Pass.
The draw actually might favor Megacity, a speedball, while Field Pass and Cellist tend to come from off the pace and might need some racing luck.
Set Piece and Mira's Mission are the lukewarm favorites in a big field for Friday's $175,000 Grade III Forbidden Apple Stakes at 1 mile on the Saratoga turf.
Both have been in good form and Mira Mission exits a runner-up finish in the Grade I Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.
But it's a good, tough field and a challenging handicapping nut. One note: Art Collector is entered for "main track only" and if the race should come off the grass, he's the one you want in his first start back from Saudi Arabia.
Twilight Gleaming, the 2021 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Sprint winner, is back as favorite in a full field for Friday's $150,000 Coronation Cup for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga.
The daughter of National Defense, second in the Group 2 Queen Mary at last year's Royal Ascot and a stakes winner at Deauville in France, was last seen winning an overnight stakes affair at Churchill Downs May 14 after a rough start.
The Irish-bred filly has never finished worse than second and she should handle this task if she's up to snuff.
Saturday's $150,000 Grand Prairie Turf Sprint at Lone Star Park has a wide open field of 11 and the companion $150,000 Chicken Fried Stakes for fillies and mares drew eight. Yes It's Ginger won last year' Chicken Fried Stakes and returns but both races rate as toss-ups.
Saturday's $100,000 Blue Sparkler Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Monmouth Park has an overflow field and no clear favorite. Worse, the favorite, Marissa's Lady, is cross-entered in the Coronation Cup at Saratoga.
So this presents either a delightful handicapping challenge or a potential wagering bonanza, depending on the point of view.
Already in the books: Creative Credit jumped to an early lead in Wednesday's $100,000 Clarksville Stakes for fillies and mares at Horseshoe Indiana, cleared and held to win by 1/2 length over the odds-on favorite, Elle Z. Cashable was third.
Creative Credit, a 5-year-old Creative Cause mare, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.50 seconds with Thomas Pompell aboard.
Thanks Mr. Eidson was away a bit slowly in Wednesday's $100,000 William Garrett Stakes at Horseshoe Indiana, advanced four wide and was along in time to win by 3/4 lengths over Charcoal. Oceanic was third.
Thanks Mr. Eidson, a 5-year-old More Than Ready gelding, finished in 55.43 seconds with Geovanni Franco in the irons.
Saturday's $150,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park has a field of eight to tackle 6 furlongs. Special Reserve, fourth in the 2021 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Del Mar, arrives from Churchill Downs to assume the favorite's role although he has not raced since the December triumph.
Locally trained Wonderwherecraigis makes his first start since finishing 10th in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen in March. He finished first in this race last year but was disqualified to second.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Already in the books: Tarabi stalked the pace in the first stakes race of the Saratoga season, Thursday's $135,000 Wilton Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, and then took the lead with a furlong and a half left and won by 3/4 length.
Goddess of Fire was closing but settled for second, a head in front of the early leader, Angitude.
Tarabi, a First Samurai filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.53 with Javier Castellano up for trainer Cherie DeVaux. She finished third in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies going 1 1/16 miles and was second in her 2022 debut at 7 furlongs -- the likely distance of her next start, the $500,000 Grade I Longines Test Stakes on Aug. 6.
"The Test is definitely what our goal would be so we're going to have to shorten her back up," DeVaux said. "But she had a race over the track and she's run two good races here. It gives you a lot of confidence to point towards a race like that."
Forte and Andiamo a Firenze are the morning-line favorites in a field of 12 entered for Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Sanford Stakes at Saratoga at 6 furlongs on the main track.
Forte, a Violence colt out of a Blame mare, won at first asking at Belmont May 27, scoring by 7 3/4 lengths as the 1-5 favorite. Todd Pletcher trains that one for Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable.
Andiamo a Firenze, a Speightstown colt from a Langfuhr mare, also won his career debut at Belmont Park, by 4 lengths June 3. Kelly Breen trains for Mr. Amore Stable. The name means "let's go to Florence" but the connections probably would settle for Louisville.
Already in the books: Just Cindy hooked up with the favorite, Summer Promise, midway down the stretch in Thursday's $175,000 Grade III Schuylerville Stakes at Saratoga, brushed lightly with that rival and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Janis Joplin was third.
Just Cindy, a Justify filly out of the Proud Citizen mare Jenda's Agenda, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track on a gorgeous opening day in 1:11.95. Irad Ortiz Jr. rode for trainer Eddie Kennelley. Just Cindy won her only previous start at Churchill Downs on June 17.
Assistant trainer Kelly Wheeler said the plan is to return Just Cindy to Kentucky and formulate a plan.
"I think she'll go longer," Wheeler said. "I don't think that will be an issue at all. We kind of thought the added distance today wouldn't be an issue at all, and it wasn't."
Five are to face the starter in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) My Dear Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather and it's a 'you pick 'em' event. Four exit maiden wins and State of Mind makes her first start.
Around the world, around the clock
Saturday's Group 1 Juddmonte Irish Oaks will go to the post without prospective favorite Emily Upjohn. The Sea the Stars filly was ruled out on Friday when the airplane due to take her to Ireland suffered a bird strike earlier in the day and was put out of service.
It was the second stroke of hard luck for Emily Upjohn, whose stumbling start cost her the victory in the Cazoo Oaks six weeks at Epsom?
In her absence, the Irish Oaks favorite role goes to Magical Lagoon, a Galileo filly trained by Jessica Harrington who exits a win in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot. Aidan O'Brien has three -- Emily Dickinson, History and Toy.
History has shown promise, defeating the highly regarded Agartha at 1 mile in May at Leopardstown before finishing third in the Ribblesdale.
If there is an upside to the transport snafu, it's the prospect of a showdown between Emily Upjohn and Irish Derby winner Westover.
Trainer John Gosden identified the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot on July 23 as an alternate target for the filly and Westover already is the favorite in that field.
Onesto added another top-level win to the account books of his sire, Frankel, with a last-to-first victory in Thursday's Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris for 3-year-olds at Longchamp.
As the field of six cast long afternoon shadows across the course, Onesto and jockey Stephane Pasquier kicked into gear turning for home in the 2,400-meters contest, quickly passed four of five rivals and engaged Simca Mille for a brief duel to the line, winning by a neck.
It was another 2 3/4 lengths to El Bodegan in third with the favorite, Eldar Eldarov, in fourth.
Onesto, a Group 2 winner earlier in the year, was fifth in the Prix du Jockey Club or French Derby with El Bodegan second in that race.
Simca Mille saw a three-race win streak snapped while trying Group 1 for the first time. Elder Eldarov entered undefeated after three starts with a win in the Group 2 Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot to his credit.
Trainer Fabrice Chappet said he had confidence Onesto would stay the 2,400 meters and suggested the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is within reach. "It's a good prep," isn't it?" Racing Post quoted the trainer as saying.
Notturno took the lead at the top of the stretch in the Japanese Dirt Derby on Wednesday at Oi Racecourse and edged away in the final yards to win by 3/4 lengths over Eisha Es.
It was the first listed race victory for the Heart's Cry colt and trainer Hidetake Otonahi said he's hoping for bigger things from Notturno during the second half of the year.
The Dirt Derby is slated for an upgrade during the next two years to become the anchor leg of a new "Dirt Triple Crown" recognizing the country's recent successes on that surface in big international races.
Wednesday's race was run in the rain on a sloppy course. Jockey Yutaka Take kept Notturno close down the backstretch and had plenty left for the stretch run. He finished the 2,400 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) in 2:04.06.
"In the gate, I could feel that the condition of the horse was better than ever so I was able to ride with confidence," Take said.
Notturno won twice earlier this season at Hanshin on the Japan Racing Association circuit. He then finished second in the Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse -- the final leg of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Otonashia said he is "thinking about" the Grade 1 Champions Cup as a target for Notturno. Chuwa Wizard won the Grade 1 Champions Cup each of the past two years and went on from that to finish second, then third, in the Dubai World Cup the following March.
Another difficult but successful season goes into the books after a final program Saturday at Sha Tin Racecourse.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club has battled through more than two full seasons of turmoil, first because of civil unrest, then thanks to pandemic regulations.
Fans have stuck with the program, continuing to boost the wagering turnover despite a few program cancellations, sporadic shutdown of off-track facilities and either outright bans or strict limits on attendance at Sha Tin and Happy Valley.
Things arguably reached their nadir as the HKJC decided to limit the second of this season's big international days to local horses only.
Prospects are brighter, though, for the 2022-23 season and beyond with regular racing on the horizon at the Conghua Racecourse on the Chinese mainland and expansion of that state-of-the-art facility underway, renovation of the Sha Tin stable area and new regulations designed to attract and keep trainers to handle an expected expansion of the horse population.
If COVID is controlled, the sky seems the limit.
Meanwhile, the 2021-22 season will go out with a bang as the jockey championship is very much on the line. The race between Zac Purton and Joao Moreira, each already a four-time champion, could not be tighter.
After 87 race meetings and 825 races, each has notched 132 wins. Purton leads on the strength of having only one of those tallies in a dead heat while Moreira's total includes two such.
Purton and Moreira have traded the lead six times this season. Along the way, Purton endured a lengthy injury absence, then caught up while Moreira sat through a suspension. There are 11 races on the final card. Purton has mounts in all of them, Moreira in 10.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Determined Kingdom rallied from mid-pack to win Monday's $125,000 Punch Line Stakes for Virginia-breds by 5 1/2 lengths over Embolden.
Determined Kingdom, a 4-year-old Animal Kingdom gelding, went to the post as the favorite and got 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:03.50 with Trevor McCarthy in the irons.
Chambeau, a first-time starter, led throughout Monday's $125,000 Tyson Gilpin Stakes for Virginia-bred distaffers and cruised through the stretch, winning by 3 1/2 lengths.
Running against experienced rivals, the 5-year-old Karakonte mare completed 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:03.64 for jockey Horacio Karamanos.
Mo Clare's also led from gate-to-wire in Monday's $125,000 Bookmeade Stakes for Virginia-bred fillies and mares, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Urban Fairytale while finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.42 for jockey Jareth Loveberry.
Mo Clare's is a 5-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo.
Largent shadowed the early pace in Monday's $125,000 Edward P. Evans stakes for state-breds, took at daylight lead early in the stretch run and held off Alex Joon by 1/2 length at the finish.
Largent, a 6-year-old Into Mischief gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:35.81 with Paco Lopez up.