Epicenter, shown training before his second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, meets the winner of that race, Rich Strike, again Saturday in the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs
Aug. 26 (UPI) -- The "Midsummer Derby" at Saratoga pits the first three finishers from the Kentucky Derby against one another again in a highlight of a weekend racing program filled with tough races that will preview November's Breeders' Cup World Championships.
Along the way, top American turf runners face a tough Irish import, talented fillies and mares face off in both distance and sprint events and male sprinters are in action at both Del Mar and Saratoga.
There's a $1 million purse on offer in West Virginia.
Why wait? Let's go.
The $1.25 million Grade I Runhappy Travers Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga is known as the Midsummer Derby, but this year's renewal could just be called a rematch.
The first three finishers from the Kentucky Derby are all in the field: Rich Strike, who shot up the rail to steal the win from Epicenter by 3/4 length, and Zandon, who held on for third.
Rich Strike finished sixth in the Belmont Stakes in his only start since the Run for the Roses.
Epicenter, after the Louisville stunner, finished second in the Preakness, skipped the Belmont and won the Grade II Jim Dandy, and continues to be the buzz as the best of this year's 3-year-olds. Still, he has yet to win a Grade I and it's about time he proves his potential. No better time than now.
Zandon and Early Voting, second and third in the Jim Dandy, are back. So is Cyberknife, who won the Grade I Arkansas Derby, finished 18th in the Run for the Roses and came back to win the Grade III Matt Winn and Grade I Haskell.
Artorius, an Arrogate colt trained by the ubiquitous Chad Brown, is the "new shooter." He's undefeated after three starts and stepped up to win the restricted Curlin Stakes in his last start.
Year-end honors remain wide open, and the Travers is an important way station on that journey. It's also a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland, where things probably will be decided.
But wait. There's more.
Art Collector and trainer Bill Mott will be looking for lightning to strike a second time in Friday's $1 million Grade II Charles Town Classic in the West Virginia hills.
A year ago, Art Collector entered the race off a win in the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga, won the Classic and went on to win the Grade I Woodward at Belmont Park.
This year, he's won the Alydar in his first start since returning from Saudi Arabia and is the 6-5 morning-line favorite for Friday's race.
Mott said Art Collector is doing well, and noted he's proved he can handle the track and three turns. But he wouldn't commit to any thing past the Classic. "We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves," he said.
There is some serious competition. Mind Control, a 6-year-old son of Stay Thirsty trained by Todd Pletcher, exits a hard-won victory over Hot Rod Charlie in the Grade III Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park, but is more of a 7-furlong specialist than the 1 1/8 miles of the West Virginia race.
Last Samurai won the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap in April, but the Malibu Moon colt was a distant seventh in the Grade II Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs upon his return July 2 and third in the R.A. "Cowboy" Jones Stakes at Ellis Park a month later.
Officiating, a 4-year-old colt by Blame, responded when stretched out to 1 1/8 miles for the first time in his last race by trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., winning the Grade III Cornhusker Handicap (G3) at Prairie Meadows in his last race July 9.
The lone local runner, Muad'dib, is undefeated after 10 starts, but all came at Charles Two and eight were in state-bred races.
On Tuesday at Parx Racing, Best Actor stalked the pacesetting long shot in the $300,000 Grade III Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds, breezed right on by that one and won by 5 3/4 lengths.
Kissalot was second, 2 lengths in front of the late-running favorite, Creative Minister.
Best Actor, a Flatter colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.14 with Florent Geroux up for trainer Brad Cox.
Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga is a wonderful race despite having only five entries. Clairiere, Malathaat and Search Results, the first three past the judge in the Grade I Ogden Phipps in their last race, all return.
Letruska is here. She was fifth in the Phipps, but won the 2021 Personal Ensign and is a multiple Grade I winner in the United States and Mexico.
Clairiere and Malathaat came back from the Phipps to finish 1-2 in the Grade II Shuvee July 24 at the Spa. Crazy Beautiful was third in that race and tries again in this heat.
Society and Midnight Stroll highlight a field of nine set for Friday's $500,000 Grade III Charles Town Oaks.
Society, another Gun Runner offspring trained by Steve Asmussen, has won three of four, but came up short after stumbling at the start in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks in her last start. Midnight Stroll, a daughter of Not This Time, exits a victory in the Grade III Delaware Oaks.
Three other entrants in the Oaks won their last race, but all of those came well down the class ladder.
On Tuesday at Parx Racing, Green Up ran by the odds-on favorite Interstatedaydream and on to a 3 3/4-length victory over that rival in the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. It was another 6 1/4 lengths to Morning Matcha in third.
Green Up, an Upstart filly trained by Todd Pletcher, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:39.77. Irad Ortiz Jr. had the mount.
Sprint / Dirt Mile
As Bret Maverick said when he laid down a straight flush, "If you can beat 'em, bet 'em."
Anyone who thinks the straight flush known as Jackie's Warrior can be beaten in Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Forego at Saratoga is welcome to try and there are six others in the field.
But if the 1-2 morning-line favorite is up to par, they're all running for second place. Jackie's Warrior has won 12 of 16 starts and four straight. He's 5-for-5 at Saratoga. Among the rest, Cody's Wish has won five of his last six starts and might come running late.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Memorial for 3-year-olds at Saratoga features Jack Christopher in a field of nine going 7 furlongs around one turn.
Jack Christopher easily won his first three starts, including the Grade I Champagne and the Grade I Woody Stephens. The undefeated record fell in the Grade I Haskell at Monmouth on July 23 when he got the lead, but couldn't hold off Cyberknife and Taiba, settling for third and beaten by 2 lengths while trying two turns for the first time.
Now, he's back at a proven distance, and Cyberknife, the Arkansas Derby and Grade II Haskell winner, is running later in the program in the Travers.
Speaker's Corner reigns as the 6-5 morning-line favorite in a field of 10 for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Pat O'Brien Stakes at Del Mar, a "Win and You're In" for the Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
Speaker's Corner, a Godolphin homebred Street Sense colt trained by Bill Mott, ships in from New York, where he won the Grade I Carter Handicap three starts back. He was third in the Grade I Met Mile and second in the John A. Nerud in his most recent.
Amerian Theorum, Laurel River and Defunded look most likely to give Speaker's Corner a run for his money at 7 furlongs on the Pat O'Brien dirt.
Filly & Mare Sprint
If Saturday's Personal Ensign is a super race, Sunday's $500,000 Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, isn't far behind, with Cee Cee, Bella Sofia, Obligatory and Lady Rocket all in the field of seven.
Cee Cee, the reigning Breeders' Cup champ, was last seen winning the Grade 2 Princess Rooney at Gulfstream Park. Bella Sofia, her younger rival, was fourth in the Del Mar Breeders' Cup, but has two wins and a third since then. She also won the Grade I Longines Test Stakes at the Spa a year ago.
Obligatory had three graded stakes wins in a row before finishing second to Bella Sofia in the Grade II Bed o' Roses in her last start. Lady Rocket won the Grade III Chicago Stakes at Churchill Downs in her most recent.
Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer at Saratoga, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, has a field of 10 including Broome, an interesting prospect from Aidan O'Brien's yard who finished second in last year's Breeders' Cup.
Broome is, in fact, the morning-line favorite although he's not had a whole lot of success since last November, finishing 11th in the Japan Cup and fourth last time out in the King George at Ascot against some of Europe's finest -- Pyledriver, Torquato Tasso and Mishriff. Is he really better than the best Americans?
He'll stack up against the likes of three trained by Chad Brown: Grade I United Nations winner Adhamo, Grade II Bowling Green winner Rockemperor and Grade I Manhattan winner Tribhuvan.
Bill Mott has the venerable Channel Maker. Christophe Clement saddles Gufo and long shot Soldier Rising. It should be instructive.
And, speaking of instructive, so are the insights and tips from industry insider Jude Feld, available at popejude.com. Jude usually has a fresh and pertinent look at these things.
Filly & Mare Turf
Brown saddles three of the five entered for Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Ballston Spa Stakes at Saratoga and looks for his seventh winner in the event.
Most likely is the even-money favorite, Technical Analysis, a Kingman filly who exits a second-place finish in the Grade I Diana earlier in the meet. Lemista and Fluffy Socks complete the trio with Our Flash Drive and High Opinion looking to derail the Brown Express.
Tuesday's $200,000 Parx Dash came off the turf with four scratches, opening the door for Violent Turbulence to lead all the way to a 3 1/4-length upset win. Extreme Force ran second all the way at even longer odds and the odds-on favorite, Doc Amster, settled for third.
Violent Turbulence, a 5-year-old Violence gelding, ran 5 furlongs on the fast main track in 57.95 seconds with Silvestre Gonzalez up.
Eight signed on for Saturday's $200,000 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth, and it's one of those for which the ladies used to stab the program with a hatpin to make their selection. Whaddaya think? Todd Pletcher sends two, Lost Ark and Major Dude.
Tyler's Tribe is the even-money favorite among six entered for Saturday's $100,000 Prairie Meadows Freshman. The Sharp Azteca gelding is 3-for-3, all at the Iowa oval, and might need a stiffer challenge if he continues on the same path.
Nine are entered for Saturday's $100,000 Prairie Meadows Debutante and the 6-furlong event looks to be a real tossup.
Around the world, around the clock
Saturday's Group 1 Magic Millions Memsie Stakes at Caulfield drew a field of 14 to tackle 1,400 meters. It's a pretty wide-open affair with Illation, Tofane, Western Empire, Alligator Blood, I'm Thunderstruck and Cascadian all drawing lots of early action. Many of these have been around for a while.
Illation, a 4-year-old son of So You Think, enters undefeated after three starts and would be off to a good start on a bright career if he can overcome more experienced rivals from the No. 13 gate.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Wednesday's $135,000 John's Call Stakes was taken off the turf and shortened from 1 5/8 miles to 1 1/4 miles, none of which bothered Girl Dad. The 4-year-old Malibu Moon gelding battled on the front end most of the way and edged Bluegrass Parkway by a head at the wire. It was another 6 1/4 lengths to the favorite, Tide of the Sea, in third.
Girl Dad, with Luis Saez riding for trainer Mike Maker, finished in 2:06.34 on a fast track.
Monday's program had seven stakes for state-breds, each worth $100,000. The main track was fast, but two turf races were switched off.
Love in the Air led under pressure in the off-the-turf Mrs. Penny Stakes for fillies and mares, then dominated in the stretch to win by 6 lengths over Midnight Obsession.
The 4-year-old Constitution filly ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:47.29. In the second re-routed race, the 5-furlongs Marshall Jenney Stakes, Smooth B ran by odds-on favorite Admiral Abe in the closing stages, winning by 3 1/4 lengths.
Smooth B, a 7-year-old son of Weigelia, stopped the timer at 57.71 seconds.
Remain Anonymous drew off in the stretch run of the Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial to win by 5 3/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Chubb Wagon. The 5-year-old daughter of Anonymous finished 6 furlongs in 1:10.93. In the companion Banjo Picker Sprint,
Fortheluvofbourbon weighed anchor turning for home and won off by 4 lengths over the favorite, Beren.
Fortheluvofbourbon, a 5-year-old Bourbon Courage gelding, reported in 1:10.53.
Ninetyprcentmaddie went quickly to the front in the Whistle Pig Stakes for 2-year-olds and cruised through 5 furlongs, winning by 3 1/2 lengths. The Weigelia colt now is 2-for-2 with both wins at Parx.
Flor de Sombra opened a gaping lead in the Miss Blue Tye Dye Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and won by 2 lengths, geared down by jockey Sylvestre Gonzalez. The Social Inclusion filly also improved to 2-for-2.
Presque Isle Downs
Carpenters Call rallied four-wide into the stretch in Monday's $100,000 Peach Tree Stakes and got clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Declared. Nice Ace held a brief lead and salvaged show money.
Carpenters Call, a 4-year-old Tourist colt, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the all-weather track in track-record time of 1:38.97 with Samy Camacho up.
Bumble of Love rallied from far back to win Wednesday's $100,000 Peony Stakes for Indiana-bred fillies and mares by 3/4 length. Louder Than Words came from last to get place money and the favorite, Timeless Rose, surrendered a late lead to finish third.
Bumble of Love, a 5-year-old daughter of Hampton Court, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.81 with Rodney Prescott up.
Leading the Charge came on late to take the companion $100,000 Bucchero Stakes for state-breds by 1 length. Rockin Justice and Akami filled the trifecta.
A 5-year-old Suntracer gelding, Leading the Charge was clocked in 1:44.81 under Marcellino Pedroza Jr.