Big matchups at Saratoga, Monmouth point toward year-end racing honors

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Malathaat, shown winning the 2021 Kentucky Oaks, faces old rival Clairiere in Saturday's Shuvee Stakes at Saratoga. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs
1 of 3 | Malathaat, shown winning the 2021 Kentucky Oaks, faces old rival Clairiere in Saturday's Shuvee Stakes at Saratoga. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs

July 22 (UPI) -- The battle for year-end honors is hotter than the weather, as weekend horse racing has Clairiere versus Malathaat at Saratoga, top 3-year-olds in the Haskell at Monmouth and a rematch between first two finishers from this year's Kentucky Oaks -- Secret Oath and Nest.

There's also the Woodbine Oaks and the Plate Trial at Woodbine and plenty of other action around North America, including the return of Del Mar to the racing scene.


A word of warning: Woven throughout these previews is the name "Chad Brown." The omnipresent trainer has horses running everywhere from the Jersey Shore to the Woodbine Oaks -- and many of them are favorites.

There's a lot to analyze so why not get a head start with the views of ace industry insider Jude Feld. Jude muses on racing at three tracks this week, all at


In England, Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes pits two top 3-year-olds against four very accomplished earlier rivals. And next week's schedule is filled with "Glorious Goodwood."

And ... where will the 2023 Breeders' Cup World Championships be run? See "News and Notes."


With 3-year-old honors still very much up for grabs, Saturday's $1 million Grade III Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park looms as an important test and a "Win and You're In" free pass to the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Taiba is the 3-2 favorite on the morning line, with Bob Baffert back to take charge of the Gun Runner colt after finishing his 90-day suspension.

Taiba won the Grade I Santa Anita Derby by 2 1/4 lengths in his second career start but then was among those victimized by suicidal pace set by the Dubai-based horses in the Kentucky Derby, eventually finishing 12th.

Jack Christopher enters the Haskell undefeated after four starts and basically untested.

He won the Grade I Woody Stephens at Belmont Park in his last start by 10 lengths. But he has never gone around two turns or past 1 mile, and this is two turns at 1 1/8 miles.


If the Munnings colt can handle the distance and win this, he'll jump right up among the division leaders. It doesn't hurt that his trainer is Brown -- a name that, as mentioned earlier, will recur in the rest of this missive.

The Haskell also drew Florida Derby winner White Abarrio, who was sixteenth in the Run for the Roses and most recently second to Tawny Port in the Grade III Ohio Derby at Thistledown.

It also drew Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife, 18th home in Louisville, and then winner of the Grade III Matt Winn at Churchill Downs. Four others seem a lot less likely.

Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Monmouth Cup has some awfully impressive last-race running lines in the past performances of a few of the seven entries. But most were achieved somewhat down the class ladder.

Exceptions are the favorites -- Pipeline, a 9-lengths winner in his last at Aqueduct and third in the Perryville at Keeneland last fall, and Highly Motivated, making a key third start back after a layoff. He finished 10th in last year's Kentucky Derby, proving again he's not a turf-only maestro, both are trained by Brown.


Secret Oath and Nest, the 1-2 finishers from the Kentucky Oaks, meet again in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga.


Both return to filly competition after coming up just a little short against males -- Secret Oath finishing fourth in the Preakness and Nest third in the Belmont Stakes.

While Secret Oath triumphed by a clear 2 lengths in Louisville, circumstances are different now and there's not a lot to separate them.

Nest likes to sit close to the pace while Secret Oath usually runs from farther back, but with only five entrants, that's not likely to be a consideration.

Don't totally dismiss the others. Nostalgic was 10th in the Oaks after a slow start, but won the Grade III Gazelle at Aqueduct before that.

Butterbean exits a 3-lengths win in the Grade III Iowa Oaks.

And Society is another of those Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Runner offspring. She's undefeated after three starts and has a chance to make her presence known.

Brown has another favorite, Search Results, in Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Molly Pitcher Stakes at Monmouth Park. It's a tough field, also including Army Wife and Bonny South.

Search Results comes off a third-place finish in the Grade I Odgen Phipps and Belmont Park, where she chased home super talents Clairiere and Malathaat. She faces nothing like that here.


But, speaking of Clairiere and Malthaat, they meet for the sixth time in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Shuvee Stakes at Saratoga.

Malathaat defeated Clairiere in each of their first four meetings, including the 2021 Kentucky Oaks en route to Eclipse Award-honors as Champion 3-Year-Old Filly.

Malathaat also finished one place in front of Clairiere when second in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks last July at Saratoga and when third in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Distaff in November at Del Mar.

Clairiere finally got the better of her old rival in the Ogden Phipps on Belmont Stakes day, winning by a head.

Such rivalries build followings for the horses involved and Clairiere's trainer, Asmussen, reflected on that.

"I can thoroughly understand becoming attached to them," Asmussen said. "Their qualities are extremely admirable and the way they go about their racing is impressive.

"I've always thought it's amazing how a horse's accomplishments can make you feel good about yourself. We're just along for the ride."

Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian) Grade II Dance Smartly Stakes at Woodbine drew a tough field of eight.

Lady Speightspeare enters off a win in the Grade II Nassau Stakes over the course and is perfect in four previous tries on the Woodbine greensward.


Munnyfor Ro won last year's Woodbine Oaks and finished a close fourth in the Queen's Plate.

Keyflower comes from California, and Fev Rover, previously based in England, where she was a group winner, was last seen finishing fourth behind winner Lord Glitters in the Group 3 Bahrain International Trophy.

Turf / Turf Mile

It does sound like a broken record but Brown has the favorite -- and two of the top three on the morning line -- for Saturday's $600,000 Grade I United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Brown saddles Tribhuvan and Adhamo, who finished first and second, respectively, in the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park in their last start.

The obvious competition is Gufo, a proven top-level performer who, nonetheless, will have to step it up after finishing third in the Manhattan. The other seven look a lot less likely.

Friday's $100,000 Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar is always noteworthy as the first stakes event of the season at the ... well ... oceanside track.

This year, there's added interest with McKinnon and Balnikhov among the 14 3-year-olds testing 1 mile on the grass.

McKinnon, an American Pharoah colt, won last year's Del Mar Juvenile Turf and finished third in that infamous Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. He also has performed well on the all-weather and the dirt, but is back to what looks like his preferred surface.


Because McKinnon typically is a stalker-closer type, jockey Juan Hernandez will have to work out a trip from the inside gate.

Balnikhov finished second in the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs two starts back.

Filly & Mare Turf / Turf Mile

Friday's $175,000 Grade III Lake George Stakes at Saratoga has nine 3-year-old fillies set to go 1 mile with a pair of Chad Brown trainees as the morning-line favorites.

Eminent Victor at 5-2 and Dolce Zel at 3-1. Dolce Zel has finished second and third in her last two, arguably against tougher competition. Eminent Victor was a winner last time out at Belmont Park.

Brown also has three of the eight entrants for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III WinStar Matchmaker Stakes at Monmouth Park. None of these -- Fluffy Socks, Flighty Lady and Lemista -- really has come to hand yet for the barn, although they all have shown the potential do so.

Lady Rockstar, on the other hand, is 2-for-2 in the United States for trainer Brendan Walsh and takes a step up here. Vigilante's Way has finished second in her last three starts for Shug McGaughey -- all at Monmouth.

Someone had to take the favorite's role on the morning line for Saturday' $200,000 Grade II San Clemente Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar and maybe it was the oddsmaker stabbing the program this time around to accord that honor to Belabel.


The Irish import won her only previous U.S. start, the Blue Norther Stakes at Santa Anita, good enough for odds of 4-1 on the line in the very wide-open affair. Solve the riddle and expect a generous reward.

Turf Sprint

Ten fillies and mares signed on for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Caress Stakes at 5 1/2 grassy furlongs at Saratoga.

Last year's winner, Caravel, is back, but appears to be in deeper water with this field. She also drew the rail, so tactics come quickly into play. Bout Time, a rapidly improving Not This Time filly, could get a good setup for a late run.

Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Connaught Cup, 7 furlongs on the Woodbine all-weather has a full field with plenty of graded stakes experience.

Among them are last year's first- and second-place finishers Avie's Flatter and Olympic Runner, Shirl's Spight, March to the Arch, Chewing Gum, Artie's Storm, Tap It to Win and Silent Poet.

Eight are entered for Saturday's $100,000 Wolf Hill Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs on the Monmouth Park grass. Belgrano and Proven Strategies come off a 1-2 finish in the local Select Stakes. The Critical Way was a fading fourth in that one and returns for another try.


Already in the books:

Front Run the Fed rallied five-wide to challenge through the stretch in Monday's $150,000 Van Clief Stakes at Colonial Downs and was up in the final strides to win by a head over Grateful Bred.

It was 2 1/2 lengths to Matta in third and another 3/4 length to the favorite, Just Might, in fourth. Front Run the Fed, a 6-year-old son of Fed Biz, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.77 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up.

Change of Control rated just behind the leading duo in Monday's $150,000 Andy Guest Stakes for fillies and mares at Colonial Downs, got by those rivals after turning for home and drew clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths.

Pacesetter Jeanie B was second, 1/2 length in front of Social Chatter. Change of Control, a 6-year-old Fed Biz mare, was clocked in 1:02.86 with Colby Hernandez in the irons.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Boardroom headlines Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Hendrie Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather. The 5-year-old Commissioner mare exits a victory in the Grade II Royal North sprinting on the Woodbine turf, but also has graded stakes scores on the all-weather.

The race also drew the first two finishers from the restricted Ballade Stakes on June 26, Artie's Princess and Lorena. Both have excellent local records with Artie's Princess boasting a Grade II win last season. Dynasty of Her Own is in from California where she ran well on the Golden Gate all-weather.


Juvenile Fillies Turf

Sunday's $100,000 Colleen Stakes at Monmouth Park has a field of eight. All come off maiden wins except Margaret Burbridge, a Twirling Candy filly trained by Wesley Ward who makes her career debut.


The Woodbine Oaks has an excellent recent history of sending fillies along to compete in the Queen's Plate, but if that's to be the case this year, one of the 10 fillies in Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) renewal is going to have to step up big time.

The field looks to have a lot more potential than accomplishment, with two still maidens and five others owning just one victory.

The logical focus goes to Moira, second as the favorite in the Grade III Mazarine last fall and winner by a head in the Fury Stakes in her only previous start this year.

Believe it or not, Brown has a chance here, too, with Sahlabiya. The Medaglia d'Oro filly finished third, and then second, in two starts at Belmont Park to start her career.

Eight 3-year-olds are set for Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Plate Trial, looking for a leg up on Canada's signature race Aug. 21.

The Minkster enters undefeated after three starts, all against restricted company but two of the wins in stakes races. Todd Pletcher brings Causin' Mayhem, an Into Mischief colt who won at Belmont Park in his last start with a nice speed figure. Duke of Love and Lac Macaza look like contenders.


Around the world, around the clock

Saturday's Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot provides an early test of the best 3-year-olds against older rivals. This year's edition is something to behold, particularly as the two 3-year-olds both look like superstars, but still have a little something to prove on the course.

Sure, Westover won the Irish Derby for laughs, but that was after his third-place finish in the Cazaoo Derby at Epsom -- yes, with traffic excuses. The skeptics in the crowd are saying, "Let's see you do it again."

And poor Emily Upjohn. After losing Cazoo Oaks with a stumbling start she was to have made all good in the Irish Oaks last weekend. But the aircraft that was to transport her to the Emerald Isle was out of service at the last minute so, instead of facing Magical Lagoon, she gets:

Mishriff, a Group 1 winner in four different countries; the reigning Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Torquato Tasso; multiple Group 1 winner and last year's Breeders' Cup Turf runner-up, Broome; and 2021 Longines Hong Kong Vase runner-up Pyledriver.

Emily Upjohn could win this, of course. But one suspects the Oaks would have been easier.


Coming up next week is what used to be called "Glorious Goodwood" -- a midsummer festival of comparatively relaxed fashion and racing contrasting nicely with the formality of Royal Ascot. Racecourse officials tell us King Edward VII referred to the meeting as "a garden party with racing tacked on."

The week opens with the Group 1 Goodwood Cup on Tuesday, with Stradivarius, Kyprios and Trueshan among the eight confirmed. Andrea Atzena replaces Frankie Dettori on Stradivarius.

Wednesday's feature is the Group 1 Sussex Stakes and Thursday it's the Group 1 Nassau Stakes for fillies and mares. The whole shebang now is the "Qatar Goodwood Festival."

News and notes

The Breeders' Cup World Championships will return to Santa Anita in 2023 for a record 11th time. The dates are Nov. 3-4.

Santa Anita has established a high bar in attendance and wagering over the years. The 2016 World Championships at Santa Anita set the event's all-time attendance record, with 118,484 fans attending over two days.

When the World Championships were last held at Santa Anita in 2019, a wagering record of more than $175 million was bet.

This year's event is slated for Nov. 4-5 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.


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