1 of 2 | Country Grammer, shown winning the Dubai World Cup in March, returns in Saturday's San Diego Stakes at Del Mar. Photo courtesy of Dubai Racing Club
July 29 (UPI) -- Dubai World Cup winner Country Grammer is back in action in a blockbuster edition of the Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar -- a highlight of weekend horse racing that follows an equally enthralling midweek renewal of "Glorious Goodwood" in England.
Country Grammer, in fact, is one of several horses making their first start back from Saudi Arabia and/or Dubai, providing a benchmark for how much of a physical toll that trip has taken.
Tough-luck Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter looks to get back to the middle of the 3-year-old picture in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga.
Corniche makes his first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Breeders' Cup winner Twilight Gleaming ships cross-country with a tough assignment.
Jackie's Warrior may be the weekend's best-backed.
With horses arriving from all points of the compass, it never hurts to have an expert eye on things at Del Mar and Saratoga. None more expert than the oculus of Jude Feld, whose observations are available at popejude.com. Oculus in the Latin sense, not the VR.
Glorious Goodwood went into the books, well, gloriously, thanks to the likes of Kyprios and Stradivarius, Baaeed and Modern Games, and Nashwa. Look for at least a couple of these stars at the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Keeneland in November.
Let's start with the World Cup winner, move along to Goodwood and the rest of the world scene and then circle back to the North American shores.
Heavy hitters from the ranks of the older horses and a few from the contentious 3-year-old crop mix it up this weekend at Del Mar and Saratoga.
Dubai World Cup winner Country Grammer makes his first start since returning from the Middle East in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar and runs smack dab into the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, Mandaloun, and eight other potential upsetters.
Country Grammer, a 5-year-old by Tonalist, nearly made a clean sweep of the rich races in the desert, losing the victory in the $20 million Saudi Cup in the final jumps before the victory in Dubai.
He has been working steadily and picking things up in the past few weeks as trainer Bob Baffert returned from his suspension.
Mandaloun, awarded the Kentucky Derby victory after a drug positive for first-place finisher Medina Spirit, was ninth in the Saudi Cup and returned to action at his Churchill Downs base July 2, finishing fourth in the Grade I Stephen Foster.
It's not a two-horse race by any means with Royal Ship, Defunded, There Goes Harvard, Stiletto Boy and Tripoli all potentially in the mix.
Meanwhile, at Saratoga, Epicenter will try to claw his way back to the top of the 3-year-old standings in Saturday's $600,000 Grade II Jim Dandy.
It's his first start since finishing second in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and a victory would put him on the inside track for year-end honors with, of course, several laps to go.
He'll have to earn it as the four rivals in the Jim Dandy include Zandon, winner of the Toyota Blue Grass and third in the Run for the Roses, Preakness winner Early Voting and Lexington Stakes and Ohio Derby winner Tawny Port, who finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby. The outsider is Western River.
Nine are set for Friday's $135,000 Curlin Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the Saratoga main track with Creative Minister as the morning-line favorite.
The Creative Cause colt skipped the Kentucky Derby, and then was third in the Preakness and fifth in the Belmont Stakes. Those playing anything Chad Brown saddles can look to Artorius, an Arrogate colt who won his second career start last month at Belmont Park with some panache.
Saturday's $100,000 Deputed Testamony Stakes at Laurel Park drew a field of seven to tackle 1 1/8 miles and lacks marquee names.
Around the world, around the clock
It's obvious there's a new king in the world of elite stayers. But the old king isn't done just yet after Tuesday's Group 1 Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup.
Kyprios was the deserved winner, backing up his victory in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot -- an impressive double that puts him on top of the heap. But he was pushed to the limit by the old guy, Stradivarius.
The 8-year-old, who scored the same double himself three times, just did come up short and his connections said he's showing he's ready to keep going.
It was as good a race as anyone could want with Kyprios getting first run to the front inside the half-mile marker while Stradivarius was momentarily boxed in behind him.
No matter, as Stradivarius responded gamely when shown daylight and came charging up the inside rail to miss by just a neck. Trueshan was third.
Kyprios, a 4-year-old Galileo colt trained by Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, made it 4-for-4 this year and 6-for-8 for his career.
"Those type of horses are very special -- when you have a horse who stays like that and has that class." O'Brien said.
Stradivarius, an entire son of Sea the Stars, might have 3-year-olds of his own on the track by now if he were in other hands.
Although he missed his fifth Goodwood Cup win, his sporting owner-breeder, Bjorn Nielsen, said, "We are not going to say goodbye, not when he is at the top of his game and ran like that today. ... We will go on for at least one more."
If the Cup was a race to savor, Wednesday's performance by Baaeed in the Group 1 Qatar Sussex Stakes was one to inspire awe -- a demonstration that had some people whispering, "Frankel."
The 4-year-old Sea the Stars colt was taking on a quality field, including Godolphin's Modern Games and last year's winner, Alcohol Free, and had to cope with a breakaway pacesetter from Japan, Bathrat Leon.
No matter. After Jim Crowley held him chilly near the back of the field, the Shadwell homebred downshifted halfway through the stretch run and quickly put paid to matters, rolling by the bunch to score his ninth victory without loss.
Modern Games was a game second, Alcohol Free third and Bathrat Leon held on for fourth.
Baaeed now faces two more challenges before embarking on his second career, starting with the 1 1/4-miles Group 1 Juddmonte International at York next month. That will be his first time past 1 mile. The Sussex was a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf but that race wasn't top of mind for trainer William Haggas.
"I'm really looking forward to stepping up to 10 furlongs as I think he will enjoy it," Haggas said of the Juddmonte. "I don't think we need to go for the Arc. I think we'll go for the Champion Stakes or the QE II, depending on how he gets on in York."
Ten years ago, Frankel retired undefeated after taking down the Sussex, the Juddmonte International and Champion Stakes. The York race also was his first time beyond a mile and he won by 7 lengths.
Also Wednesday, Trillium came with a rush through the final 100 yards to win the Group 3 Markel Molecomb Stakes for 2-year-olds. The No Nay Never filly beat male rivals by 1 1/2 lengths and the Breeders' Cup could be in her future.
"We will look at the Prix Morny," said Trillium's trainer, Richard Hannon, "and [bloodstock advisor] Ed Sackville mentioned the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
"I did not put her in the Lowther, as she was not showing this much speed then. She does not have to sprint, and six furlongs won't be a problem."
On Thursday, it was Nashwa's turn to shine in the Group 1 Qatar Nassau Stakes. The French Oaks winner, tackling older rivals for the first time, was dominant with Hollie Doyle aboard.
Rallying from the back of the field through the stretch, the Frankel filly never looked in trouble, winning by 1 3/4 lengths. Arista was a long shot second with Lilac Road third.
Nashwa now is 4-for-5 on the season with a third in the Cazoo Oaks the only blot on the copybook.
"I came down the hill with a double handful," Doyle said. "She travels very well but she takes a while to hit top gear. I was conscious about keeping her balanced down the hill. This is her perfect trip."
"Our target will be the Prix de l'Opera on Arc day and then the Breeders' Cup for the Filly & Mare Turf," said winning owner and breeder Imad Al Sagar. "She has had a busy season and we don't want to overdo it."
Sunday's Group 1Grosser Dallmayr-Preis Bayerisches Zuchtrennen has a field of seven to go 2,000 meters. It's mostly a local affair with Dawn Intello, a well-traveled, 5-year-old son of Intello, among the more fancied.
Meanwhile, back in the States
Shaaz is the 7-2 favorite on the morning line for a contentious renewal of the $400,000 Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes Saturday at Del Mar, a "Win and You're In" for the Qatar Racing Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Shaaz, a 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt trained by Bob Baffert, won his first three starts at Santa Anita going back to last December, and then finished third in the Steve Sexton Mile at Lone Star Park in his most recent outing.
The tough field of 10 also includes multiple graded stakes winner Drain the Clock and American Theorum, coming off a victory in the Grade 2 Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita.
Can anyone lay a glove on Jackie's Warrior in Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga? The oddsmaker (1-5 on the morning line) and the past performances (three straight graded stakes wins, 4-for-4 at Saratoga) argue the answer is "no".
The 4-year-old Maclean's Music colt has finished worse than second only once while sprinting, and that was in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint where he was sixth, beaten by a little more than 4 lengths. Five rivals appear on paper to be running for place money.
A note: The Vanderbilt is one of those races that could attract "bridge jumper" money, assuming NYRA allows a show pool. If that happens and if Jackie's Warrior should happen to falter, minor investments in that pool would pay handsome dividends. It's an unpopular thing to do, though, like betting "don't pass" at craps.
Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Amsterdam for 3-year-olds at Saratoga has a talented field of nine featuring Corniche, idle since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November at Del Mar. He is undefeated and untested after three starts and shows a steady work tab for the return.
The field also has Pinehurst, another of those returners from the desert. The Twirling Candy colt won the Grade III Saudi Derby, but then finished last in the UAE Derby on World Cup night.
Pappacap will be happy not to see Jack Christopher in the Amsterdam field. He's finished second to that superstar in each of his last two starts -- by 10 lengths last time in the Woody Stephens.
He will be less happy to see Corniche. He finished second to that one twice last year, including the Breeders' Cup. A wild card is the Chad Brown-trained Accretive who won authoritatively at first asking at Belmont Park on June 26. It's a huge step up for the Practical Joke colt.
Shahama, winner of the UAE Oaks, is back on track while facing five rivals in Sunday's $250,000 Grade III Monmouth Oaks. The Munnings filly followed the Dubai triumph with a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks, and then was second in the Grade II Mother Goose at Belmont Park on June 25.
The competition includes Shotgun Hottie, third in the Grade III Gazelle and second in the Grade III Delaware Oaks in her last two starts; Juju's map, second in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and third in the Mother Goose; and a couple other progressive types.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Two races already in the books for this division:
Kimari chased down pacesetting Frank's Rockette in the final sixteenth to take Wednesday's $200,000 Grade II Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga by 1/2 length.
Odds-on favorite Bella Sofia, coming off back-to-back graded stakes wins at Belmont Park, was third, 5 3/4 lengths farther back. Kimari, a 5-year-old Munnings mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.78.
Joel Rosario rode for trainer Wesley Ward. It was her first stakes win since the Grade I Madison at Keeneland in April of 2021 and her only her second graded stakes win.
However, she was second in the Group 2 Queen Mary at the 2019 Royal Ascot meeting and second again the following year in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup.
"Our ultimate goal would be the Breeders' Cup in November [at Keeneland] because it's my home track and her home track," Ward said. "So we'll work backwards from there and get together with Coolmore and give them a few options and go from there."
Fun to Dream said goodbye to five rivals with a furlong to run in Friday's $175,000 Fleet Treat Stakes for California-bred 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar and scooted off to a 9 3/4-length victory.
Rose Dawson was second with Connie Swingle third. Fun to Dream, an Arrogate filly out of the Maria's Mon mare Lutess, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.67 under Juan Hernandez. Bob Baffert trains the filly for his wife, Jill, and Connie Pageler.
Sunday's $250,000 Grade II Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar has 12 names in the entry box, four of them horses trained by Phil D'Amato.
Two of those, Hong Kong Harry and Cash Equity, already have started making waves since their recent arrivals from overseas. Cathkin Peak and Masteroffoxhounds have been running competitively in local graded stakes.
Of the others, Beyond Brilliant comes off a win in the Grade II Charles Whittingham and also won last year's Hollywood Derby at Del Mar and several others, including Tarantino, look for breakthroughs.
Six turned out for Sunday's $250,000 Grade II Bowling Green Stakes at Saratoga. Surprisingly, only two of them are trained by Chad Brown, and neither of those is in particularly fine fettle, as Rockemperor finished fifth and L'Imperator seventh in the Grade I Manhattan in their start.
Of course, two other Brown-trained steeds finished first and second. None of the others in the Bowling Green look particularly scary, although it's worth noting that Cross Border won the 2020 running on a disqualification, won last year's outright and is 6-for-8 on the Saratoga turf. He's 8 now, though, and may have slowed a step or two.
Already in the books: Red Knight, coming off an 11-months layoff, rallied four-wide down the stretch in Wednesday's $150,000 Colonial Cup at Colonial Downs and got clear late to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Another Mystery.
Snap Decision was just a head back of that one in third. Red Knight, an 8-year-old Pure Prize gelding, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.31 for jockey Horacio Karamanos. That was just 0.27 second outside the 24-year-old course record.
Wesley Ward (see Filly & Mare Sprint, above) also trains Twilight Gleaming, the 3-year-old National Defense filly who won last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
She was scratched last weekend at Saratoga and shipped cross-country, where she's set to go against older fillies and mares in Friday's $100,000 Daisycutter Handicap at Del Mar.
The favorite, though, is Leggs Galore, a 5-year-old Bayern mare who won three in a row at Santa Anita before a transcontinental journey of her own that resulted in a fifth-place finish in the Longines Just a Game Stakes at Belmont Park on June 11.
Fearless was no secret in Thursday's $200,000 Birdstone Stakes at Saratoga, going to the post as the odds-on favorite for the 1 3/4-mile test on the turf.
He justified the support, rallying to the front in the final sixteenth to win by 3/4 length from Original Intent. Lone Rock led most of the way and finished third.
Fearless, a 6-year-old Ghostzapper gelding, finished in 2:59.80 with Luis Saez riding for trainer Todd Pletcher. He won the 1 1/2-mile Grade II Brooklyn Stakes in his previous outing and has missed a first-three finish only twice in a 17-race career.
Saturday's $100,000 Tyro Stakes at 5 furlongs on the Monmouth Park turf is about as open as they come so best to watch and learn. We'll note, however, the clever name of Sharp Aza Tack, a New York-bred colt by Sharp Azteca. The Doug O'Neill trainee also is the favorite after winning his only previous start at Santa Anita.
Around the ovals
Presque Isle Downs
Nice Ace was in complete control in the stretch run of Tuesday's $100,000 Hard Spun Stakes for Pennsylvania-breds, kicking away from early challengers to win by 5 1/2 lengths. Wait for It came from last of seven to finish second.
Nice Ace, a 4-year-old Noble Mission gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:39.60 with Pablo Morales up.
Tactical Pajamas led from the early stages in Monday's $100,000 Princess of Sylmar Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares and finished nicely to win by 1 3/4 lengths from Midnight Obsession.
Tactical Pajamas, a 4-year-old filly by Uncle Lino, finished 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:41.14 with Huber Villa-Gomez in the irons.
Galaxina shadowed the early leader in Monday's $75,000 New York Oaks for state-bred fillies, took over turning into the stretch and held on gamely to win by 3/4 length while bumping with Eros's Girl through the final furlong.
Eros's Girl held second by a head over Curly Girl. Galaxina, a daughter of Giant Surprise, ran 1 1/16 miles on a good track in 1:49.68 under Dylan Davis. The stewards dismissed an objection from the rider of Eros's Girl. Trained by H. James Bond, Galaxina got her third win from five starts.
News and Notes
The Belmont fall meeting will be held at Aqueduct while construction proceeds on tunnels to provide access to the infield.
The New York Racing Association said the improvements will facilitate complete reconstruction of the turf and dirt courses and the possible future construction of a complementary all-weather track, a la Gulfstream Park's recent move.
After a three-week closure for maintenance, the Belmont training track will reopen and the Oklahoma Training Track will remain open throughout for work on the turf. NYRA announced purse increases for the "Belmont at the Big A" season, and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association expressed support.
Oaklawn Park has added nine stakes races to it's 2021-22 meeting, which for the second straight season starts in December.
The new events, many named for Arkansas tourist attractions, bring the total stakes program to 45 races. Total purses offered for the stakes program have increased by $1.45 million to an all-time high of $13.75 million. The overall purse distribution for the season is projected to exceed $50 million, yet another record.
"One of the reasons Oaklawn has been successful for more than a century is because of where we are located," Oaklawn General Manager Wayne Smith said.
"Tourism is a major industry in our area and Oaklawn is proud to be the state's top tourism attraction. We wanted some stakes with names synonymous with Oaklawn's hometown and the surrounding area."
Say hello to the Valley of the Vapors Stakes, the Dig a Diamond Stakes, the Lake Ouachita Stakes and the Lake Hamilton Stakes.