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3 Breeders' Cup spots on the line in Canada; Churchill Downs, Aqueduct return

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
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Modern Games, shown winning the 2021 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, returns to North America for Saturday's Grade I Ricoh Woodbine Mile. Photo by Alex Evers, EclipseSportswire, courtesy of Breeders' Cup
Modern Games, shown winning the 2021 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, returns to North America for Saturday's Grade I Ricoh Woodbine Mile. Photo by Alex Evers, EclipseSportswire, courtesy of Breeders' Cup

Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Racing moves back to Churchill Downs and Aqueduct this weekend, but the main focus is north of the border, where Woodbine stages an extravaganza on the turf, including three Breeders' Cup qualifiers.

A pair of talented runners from Germany and another from England add interest to short fields for the weekend's rich turf stakes at the "Belmont at the Big A" meeting, a.k.a Aqueduct.

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Meanwhile, the Churchill Downs return is only on the dirt as the track continues efforts grow grass on the new turf course.

It's definitely time to pay attention to the 2-year-olds, and they're in action hither and yon on both turf and dirt.

RELATED Breeders' Cup, Arc d'Triomphe, contenders surface in weekend horse racing

International action slows a bit, but Australia contributes a pair of Group 1 events to keep the pot simmering as Nature Strip returns from Royal Ascot glory.

Let's start up in the Northeast.

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Turf

Saturday's $1 million Grade III Caesar's Jockey Club Derby Invitational at Aqueduct features Nation's Pride from England and Ardakan from Germany against a notably weak assemblage of four locals.

Nation's Pride, a Godolphin homebred by Teofilo, finished second to Classic Causeway in the $1 million Belmont Derby when left too much to do, but rectified matters with a convincing win in the Saratoga Derby in his last. Frankie Dettori takes the mount while William Buick is otherwise occupied at Woodbine.

Ardakan's resume is a little less imposing, but German racing is tough and sends out fit and talented runners. The Reliable Man colt was third in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Berlin in his most recent start and was scratched from the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden in favor of this.

RELATED Epicenter finally gets Grade I win in weekend horse racing

Among the locals, Classic Causeway seems to have found a new and better life on the turf after his 11th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

He stole the Belmont Derby on the lead, but couldn't repeat in the Saratoga Derby, won by Nation's Pride. The others look badly overmatched. Joe Sharp claimed Wicked Fast for $35,000 out of a second-place finish at Saratoga on Aug. 20 and wheels him right back against some of the world's best.

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Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Singspiel Stakes at Woodbine got six takers to try 1 3/8 miles on the turf. If the names are unfamiliar, it's because they haven't made much news to this point in their career.

British Royalty did jump up to finish second in the $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup three starts back but that's an outlier result for this field.

Filly & Mare Turf

Saturday's $700,000 Grade III Jockey Club Oaks Invitational at Aqueduct, like the Derby, has a short field of six. It could be a much more competitive race, though, unless the German invader, Toskana Belle, is as good as she's indicating she may be.

The French-bred filly has won three of five starts, capping that with a victory in the Group 1 Henkel-Preis der Diana or German Oaks at Dusseldorf on Aug. 7. Frankie Dettori takes the mount for top trainer Andreas Wohler.

Heading the locals is McKulick, winner of the Belmont Oaks and second in the Saratoga Oaks. The others would have to take things up a notch, but Nostalgic showed flashes early in the year and moves to the turf -- often a positive angle.

On Tuesday at Kentucky Downs, Adventuring got the lead in the $550,000 Grade III AGS Ladies Marathon and rolled home first at the end of 1 5/16 miles.

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The favorite, Family Way, gave chase through the stretch but settled for second, 1 1/2 lengths in arrears. Luck Money was third, another neck back.

Adventuring, a 4-year-old Pioneerof the Nile filly, was clocked in 2:08.28. Joel Rosario had the mount on the Godolphin homebred for trainer Brad Cox. Rosario also was aboard last year when Adventuring won the Dueling Grounds Oaks.

Turf Mile

Saturday's $1 million (Canadian) Ricoh Woodbine Mile, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup FanDuel Mile, features 3-year-old British invader Modern Games and Kentucky-based 6-year-old Ivar.

Modern Games, a Godolphin homebred, infamously won last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar, racing for purse money only after a mix-up behind the starting gate.

Ivar has competed in the Breeder's Cup Turf Mile twice, finishing fourth and third. This year, trainer Paolo Lobo has given him a little easier path to get back to the race -- save, of course, Modern Games. Several of the other nine deserve a look if only for the exotic bets.

Sunday's $150,000 Grade III Pebbles Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct has a full field with lots of ways to go. Gina Romantica, Faith in Humanity and A Mo Reay, the first three past the judge in the Riskaverse Stakes at Saratoga, are all in this field.

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Lia Marina was good at Gulfstream Park late last year but hasn't started since March. Sail By, Breeze Easy and Bahamian Club have claims and some recent European arrivals add spice.

On Wednesday at Kentucky Downs, Play Action Pass pressed the pace in the $400,000 Pepsi Gun Runner Stakes for 3-year-olds, took the lead inside the quarter pole and drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Fuerteventura was second, 3/4 length better than American Mayhem.

Play Action Pass, a Cairo Prince colt trained by Robert Medina, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.27. Jose Lezcano had the mount as the colt posted back-to-back wins for the first time in his 11th career start.

One race later on the Kentucky Downs card, Alms was up in the final strides to win the $400,000 Pepsi One Dreamer Stakes for fillies and mares by a nose over pacesetting Burning Ambition.

Alms, a Godolphin homebred mare by City Zip, zipped 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:37.94 with Jose Ortiz riding for trainer Michael Stidham. Alms started her career with four straight wins in 2019-20, but since had gone 11 trips without a victory.

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Turf Sprint

Freedom Speaks swung four-wide to challenge in Tuesday's $500,000 Nelson's Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey Music City Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and arrived in time to celebrate by a head over Happy Soul. The favorite, Poppy Flower, finished fifth with a late run from far back.

Freedom Speaks, a daughter of American Freedom, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.35 on firm turf. She now has three wins and a second from four starts for trainer Jeremiah Englehart.

Distaff

Six registered for Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Locust Grove at Churchill Downs, with Crazy Beautiful, Envoutante and Played Hard as the morning-line favorites. Lil Tootsie, winner of the Groupie Doll Stakes at Ellis Park in her last, should not be overlooked with three wins from five Churchill Downs starts to her credit.

Sprint

Isolate rates as the morning-line favorite for Saturday's $275,000 Louisville Thoroughbred Society Stakes at Churchill Downs after winning four of his last five starts while climbing the class ladder.

Miles Ahead has been putting up some nice numbers coming into this. Top Gunner might provide some value off an eighth-place finish with a nasty trouble line in Iowa in his most recent start. Ditto Necker Island except in Virginia rather than Iowa.

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Filly & Mare Sprint

Bell's the One and Sconsin renew their seemingly unending personal vendetta in Saturday's $300,000 Open Mind Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Bell's the One seems to be getting the better of her old rival these days, albeit narrowly, and is the 6-5 favorite in the 6-furlongs dash. Sconsin is 8-5 on the morning line, with the speedy Joyful Cadence the shortest price of the other three.

Lady Speightspeare looms prominently in a field of 10 set for Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Seaway Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather.

The 4-year-old Speightstown filly, more frequently seen on the green, is 2-for-2 on the local all-weather and overall has six wins from 11 starts.

Hazelbrook has strung together three wins, all local. Souper Sensational just missed by a head in the Grade II Royal North, then shipped south to finish second in the Grade III Caress at Saratoga. Others have chances on a good day.

Juvenile

Echo Again and Damon's Mound stand out in a field of nine set for Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Iroquois at Churchill Downs.

Echo Again, yet another of those Gun Runner progeny trained by Steve Asmussen for Winchell Thoroughbreds, won at first asking Aug. 20 at Saratoga, drawing off easily to win by 6 3/4 lengths, geared down. That was 6 1/2 furlongs. This is 1 1/16 miles.

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Damon's Mound, by Girvin, also won at first asking, by 12 1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs on July 2. He then traveled to Saratoga to triumph by 3 1/4 lengths in the Grade II Saratoga Special. Long shot players should look at Jace's Road and Curly Jack.

Juvenile Turf

Saturday's $500,000 (Canadian) Grade I Pattison Summer Stakes at Woodbine, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, is another race with one European against one logical local and five who need a small step up.

The Euro is Mysterious Night, another Godolphin homebred, this one by Dark Angel. The colt hasn't missed a top-three finish in five starts in England and France and comes off a win in a Grade III event at Deauville. William Buick rides for Charlie Appleby.

The most likely local is Philip My Dear, a Silent Name colt undefeated after two starts, but several wouldn't need much improvement to compete with him.

Saturday's $500,000 Now Now Now Stakes at Monmouth Park has a field of 10. Oxymore enters undefeated after two starts. The Astern gelding was last seen winning the Skidmore Stakes at Saratoga for trainer Chad Brown.

Power Attack finished second in the local Tyro Stakes in his last. Most of the others are recent maiden winners although two are maidens still.

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On Wednesday at Kentucky Downs, Reckoning Force rallied from the back of the field to hook up in a stretch battle with Deer District in the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile, finally prevailing by a neck over that rival. The favorite, Really Good, was good enough to get show money, another 3 1/2 lengths back.

Reckoning Force, a Kentucky-bred colt by Air Force Blue, made one start in Ireland, finishing third, before shipping across the ocean. He was fourth and third in two Saratoga starts and entered the Kentucky Downs fray still a maiden. Joseph Patrick O'Brien is listed as trainer.

On Tuesday at Kentucky Downs, Danse Macabre dueled her way to the lead in the $500,000 Ainsworth Untapable Stakes, then held on to win by a nose over the late-running favorite, Alluring Angel. Number Seis was third.

Danse Macabre, an Army Mule filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:16.62 with Adam Beschizza up. The win was her second from four starts. She also finished second in the Bolton Landing Stakes at Saratoga.

Juvenile Fillies

Speaking of Gun Runner progeny trained by Steve Asmussen, Grand Love is the virtual co-favorite among 12 entered for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Pocahontas at Churchill Downs.

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The filly, owned and bred by Three Chimneys Farm, captured her only previous start at Saratoga by 4 3/4 lengths while posting an 84 Beyer Speed Figure.

Justa Warrior, by Justify, is 2-for-2 with both starts at Ellis Park. She won the Debutante Stakes there by 1 length. Naughty Gal won the Grade III Adirondack at Saratoga, but then faded badly through the stretch in the Grade I Spinaway to finish ninth.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Eight are in for Saturday's $500,000 (Canadian) Grade I Natalma at Woodbine, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Godolphin apparently couldn't spare one for this after running so many 2-year-olds last weekend in Europe, so it's a tossup.

Four of the top five finishers from the Aug. 20 Catch a Glimpse Stakes all back for another try. A few recent maiden winners also look capable of improvement stretching out to this one-turn mile. Graham Motion ships in with G Laurie, a daughter of Oscar Performance who won her career debut at Colonial Downs by 6 lengths going 1 1/16 miles.

Around the world, around the clock:

Australia

Nature Strip is the headliner in Saturday's Group 2 The Shorts at Royal Randwick. The 7-year-old returns home after winning the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, the race in which Golden Pal finished last as the favorite after a disastrous start.

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On the same program, Anamoe and Zaaki have claims in the Group 1 Fujitsu General George Main Stakes.

I Wish I Win is among the likely for Saturday's Group 1 Caulfield (VIC) Neds Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes at 1,400 at Caulfield. The 4-year-old by Savabeel comes off a win over the course Aug. 27. Ayrton and Tuvalu also get early support.

Meanwhile, back in North America:

Fort Erie

Only seven 3-year-olds signed on for Tuesday's $400,000 (Canadian) Prince of Wales Stakes, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, and only five were official finishers, as Sir For Sure lost his rider early in the backstretch run and Hunt Master was outdistanced and pulled up but walked off.

Amid all that, Duke of Love shadowed the pace made by Ironstone, got by that one in the four-path in the stretch and won by 3/4 length. Ironstone was 6 lengths clear of Ice Road at the finish. Duke of Love, a Cupid colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a muddy, sealed track in 1:58.07 with Justin Stein up.

The Queen's Plate winner, Moira, did not contest the Prince of Wales and plans for the filly's future are in abeyance. Sir For Sure finished third in the Queen's Plate, Ironstone was fourth and Duke of Love reported eighth after an awkward start.

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Bossy Holiday dueled with Uncle Joe through the stretch run of Tuesday's $100,000 Lake Erie Stakes for Ontario-bred colts and geldings and finished first, a head in front of that rival. The favorite, Silent Runner, was third, 1 length farther back.

Bossy Holiday, an Ami's Holiday colt, ran six furlongs on a track rated fast before late rains in 1:10.23.

Pleasure's Gold took charge in the stretch run of Tuesday's $100,000 Rondeau Bay Stakes for province-bred 3-year-old fillies, edging away to win by 2 lengths from the odds-on favorite, Souper Flashy.

Pleasure's Gold, a Souper Speedy filly, was clocked at 1:11.23 with the track sealed by still rated fast.

Horseshoe Indianapolis

Max Express found his best stride in the stretch run of Wednesday's $100,000 Empire Stakes for state-breds, rallying from fifth to win by 1 length from Mr Chaos. Me and Chili was another neck back in third.

Max Express, a 6-year-old Unbridled Express gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.95 for jockey Geovanni Franco.

Fireball Baby won a three-way sprint to the wire in Wednesday's $100,000 Hoosier Heartland Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, edging the favorite, Hungarian Princess, by a neck with Anna's Tribute another neck back in third.

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Fireball Baby, a 6-year-old daughter of Noble's Promise, was clocked in 1:45.72 with Marcelino Pedroza Jr. riding.

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