1 of 2 | Cyberknife, shown winning the Arkansas Derby, runs in Saturday's $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing. Coady Photography, courtesy of Oaklawn Park
Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Saturday's Pennsylvania Derby brings together many of the top U.S. 3-year-olds just hours after a few of the top prospects for next year's European Classics kick off the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" in England and Ireland.
It's a banner day for 3-year-old fillies, too, with reigning Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath back in action and last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies champ, Echo Zulu, running for the first time since losing her undefeated status in that same Kentucky Oaks.
There are some old guys in action, too, up to 9-year-old Rated R Superstar in a rare turf appearance at Remington Park.
Speaking of rare, we're raring to go with ...
Classic / Dirt Mile
Taiba, Zandon, Cyberknife and Tawny Port top an impressive field of 11 set for Saturday's $1 million Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing.
All of them are chasing Travers winner Epicenter for year-end honors, but the door still is wide open, and a good showing here will keep one or more of this field in the running.
Taiba, a Gun Runner colt trained by Bob Baffert, is the 5-2 favorite on the morning line. He won the Santa Anita Derby in his second career start, never fired in the Kentucky Derby and returned to finish second, a head behind Cyberknife, in the Grade I Haskell at Monmouth Park.
Cyberknife, the Arkansas Derby winner, was even farther back at the finish of the Run for the Roses but rebounded to take the Grade III Matt Winn at Churchill Downs and the Haskell before finishing second, 5 1/2 lengths behind Epicenter, in the Travers.
Zandon is in danger of becoming a professional bridesmaid, having finished third in the Kentucky Derby, second behind Epicenter in the Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga and third in the Travers.
Tawny Port won the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland, finished a decent seventh in the Run for the Roses and won the Grade III Ohio Derby before reporting third in the Jim Dandy.
Others in this field who have been in the mix through the first half of the season include Florida Derby winner White Abarrio, Fountain of Youth winner Simplification, speedy Peter Pan winner We the People and West Virginia Derby winner Skippylongstocking.
"It's basically their last chance against horses of their generation at the Grade I level before they have to run against older horses," Brad Cox, trainer of Cyberknife and Tawny Port, told Jenny Rees.
Sunday's $400,000 Grade III Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park has the winners of the Canadian Derby (Great Escape), St. Louis Derby (Rattle N Roll), Manitoba Derby (Red Knobs), Texas Derby (King Ottoman) and Ellis Park Derby (Steal Sunshine), as well as participants in such as the Florida Derby, Indiana Derby, Louisiana Derby and West Virginia Derby.
After all that, Best Actor might be the best bet with three wins from four starts including the Grade III Smarty Jones at Parx in his most recent race. He and Rattle N Roll have by far the best last-out speed figures.
Saturday's $275,000 Bourbon Trail Stakes at Churchill Downs is a 1 3/16-miles test for 3-year-olds with a rather fascinating cast.
The field of nine ranges from past Triple Crown contenders like Creative Minister, Ethereal Road and Gilded Age to late-bloomers, most from Saratoga, like St. Tapit and Warrior Johnny. A few others come from the West Virginia Derby and St. Louis Derby. It's the last race on the card and worth waiting for.
Nine signed on to go 1 1/2 miles in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Goodwood Cup at Parx Racing, with Fearless as the 6-5 favorite on the morning line. The 6-year-old Ghostzapper gelding has won three of his last four starts, including the 1 3/4-mile Birdstone Stakes at Saratoga in his last for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Well down the distance spectrum, Pletcher also saddles the favorite for Saturday's $200,000 Parx Dirt Mile in Mind Control. The 6-year-old son of Stay Thirsty, a multiple graded stakes winner earlier in his career, won this race last year and is 3-for-4 overall at the distance.
On Monday, Surly Furious stalked the pace in the $200,000 Presque Isle Mile, assumed the lead while spinning into the stretch and drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Harlan Estate was second, a neck in front of Novo Sol, with the favorite, Carpenters Call, fading from the lead to finish sixth.
Surly Furious, a 4-year-old Upstart gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:41.93, just 0.02 second shy of the course record. He now has five wins, all at Presque Isle.
Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath returns to action in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Cotillion Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Parx Racing. The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Arrogate filly finished fourth in the Preakness, then second in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks and Grade I Alabama -- both times behind division leader Nest.
She won't face that rival Saturday, but will have to deal with the likes of Adare Manor, an Uncle Mo filly who returns from a break after finishing second in the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan, and Shahama, the winner of the Group 3 UAE Oaks in Dubai and most recently victorious in the Grade II Monmouth Oaks.
Saturday's $275,000 Grade III Dogwood for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs is only 7 furlongs around one turn, but we'll stick it here because of the presence of Echo Zulu.
Trainer Steve Asmussen brings the Gun Runner miss back for the first time since her fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks. Before that loss, she had run off five straight wins including the Fair Grounds Oaks and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Speed is her strength, though, and she was not able to get to the front in Louisville in May, so we'll see how this goes and where she goes thereafter. The main threat might be Tarabi, a First Samurai filly trained by Cherie DeVaux. She was third in the Breeders' Cup, but has improved in each of two starts this year.
Saturday's $160,000 Seneca Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs is a tough one with a few also-rans from the Kentucky Oaks, some from the recent Ellis Park meeting, some from Saratoga and others from Iowa.
Turnerloose has had her moments, including a win in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds, but also has tossed in some clunkers.
Juju's Map is a prohibitive favorite in a field of eight entered for Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Remington Park Oaks.
The Liam's Map filly, trained by Brad Cox, exits third-place finishes in her last two starts, the Grade II Mother Goose at Belmont Park and the Grade III Monmouth Oaks, and should find these much easier.
She won the Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland a year ago and finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies behind only the aforementioned Echo Zulu.
Fourteen 3-year-olds signed on for Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Gallant Bob Stakes at Parx Racing.
The field is well matched with Provocateur, recent winner of the Jersey Shore Stakes at Monmouth, the morning-line favorite at odds of 4-1. Note the Monmouth win came with the addition of Lasix, and that medication is not in the mix Saturday.
Gunite seems the obvious focal point among seven 3-year-olds in for Saturday's $275,000 Harrods Creek at Churchill Downs.
The Gun Runner colt won the Grade II Amsterdam at Saratoga, and then was second, just 1 1/4 lengths back of Jack Christopher, in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at the Spa in his last start.
A question mark is Editorial Comment. The Kenny McPeek charge was a multiple graded stakes winner in his native Argentina but finished last, beaten by 29 lengths, in his first U.S. start. That was his first start on the grass and many handicappers value the "turf to dirt" move.
Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Vigil Stakes at Woodbine has a field of nine. Secret Reserve won the Grade III Bold Venture last time out. Avie's Flatter rates on back class alone.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Artie's Princess rallied four-wide from well back in the pack to take a late lead in Monday night's $400,000 Grade II Presque Isle Downs Masters and kicked away to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Café Society came from last of 11 to take second with Allworthy third. The favorite, Caravel, led much of the way, but could only finish fourth.
Artie's Princess, a 5-year-old mare by We Miss Artie, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in track-record time of 1:14.57. Jose Ortiz had the mount for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. It was her seventh win from 12 starts.
Sunday's $250,000 Grade II Gallant Bloom at Aqueduct has five entries including Kimari and Lady Rocket. Kimari, a two-time visitor to Royal Ascot, exits a win in the Grade II Honorable Miss at Saratoga.
Lady Rocket was last seen finishing sixth in the Grade I Ballerina at the Spa, but before that won the Grade III Chicago Stakes at Churchill Downs. Sterling Silver could be an upsetter.
Twelve signed on to tackle 1 1/8 miles out of the infield turf chute in Sunday's $100,000 Remington Green. The cast is very diverse, ranging from recently claimed Devamani, Shadrack and Logical Myth to 9-year-old Rated R Superstar, making his 64th start, but only fourth on the grass. Rated R Superstar's last start on the course he could eat came in this race in 2018. He finished sixth.
Filly & Mare Turf
Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Athenia at Aqueduct, 1 1/8 miles on the grass, has a field of five and one "main track only" standby. It's pretty much a tossup with a class edge going to Kalifornia Queen, a German-bred mare who's been close at the finish in her last three races, all graded stakes at Monmouth Park, Saratoga and Woodbine.
Twelve, plus three also-eligibles, are entered for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Turf Monster at Parx Racing. The oddsmaker couldn't sort them out so it might be time to break out the hatpin and stab the program. If, however, Vidal should happen to draw in, the fast Midshipman colt would look formidable in his first try on the grass.
Around the world, around the clock
"The European Road to the Kentucky Derby"
It's a big weekend for 2-year-olds in England and Ireland.
The "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" begins a seven-race progression Saturday with the Group 3 Alan Smurfit Memorial Beresford Stakes at the Curragh in Ireland and the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket in England.
The first four years of the European series did not produce much in the way of prospects for the Kentucky Derby, as the four races that make up the autumn portion are all on the grass and more likely to be indicators of ability for the European Classics than the U.S. Triple Crown.
This weekend's races also have short fields -- just seven in Ireland and four in England. Judging by the appearance of top jockeys Ryan Moore and William Buick, the Royal Lodge might the better-fancied race for Coolmore, which fields Greenland, and Godolphin, sending Flying Honours.
Newmarket also has two 1,200-meter races for 2-year-olds on Saturday -- the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes for fillies with 10 signed on and the Group 1 Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes for colts with eight takers.
Daring Tact looks to get back into the win column in Sunday's Grade 2 All Comers Stakes at 2,200 meters at Nakayama Racecourse.
The 5-year-old Epiphaneia mare won her first five starts in 2019 and 2020, but despite some courageous close finishes in top company, has not won in five succeeding starts dating back to a third-place finish in the 2020 Japan Cup.
That, her first loss, was one of the great races of recent memory with Almond Eye bowing out with a win and that year's undefeated Triple Crown winners, Contrail and Daring Tact, second and third.
The rest of the field is not lacking for talent, but has been toiling farther down the class ladder. A wild card is Crystal Black, a 5-year-old by Kizuna. He won his first two starts in December of 2019 and January of 2020, then finished 16th in the Grade I Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2,000 Guineas and has not raced since.
For those keeping track of the prospective field for the Oct. 2 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe field, Australian superstar Veery Elleegant has been supplemented to the race at a price of 120,000 pounds sterling.
The 7-year-old mare is the reigning Lexus Melbourne Cup champ, but has yet to win in Europe after three starts. She finished an improved third in the Group 2 Qatar Prix Foy on Arc Trials Day at the same course and conditions as the big race.
Godolphin's Charlie Appleby says 2021 Cazoo Derby winner Adayar also remains in the mix, pending continuation of decent weather. Monday marks a forfeit stage.
Meanwhile, back in North America
Presque Isle Downs
Christmas Diamond grabbed the lead late in Monday's $75,000 Gem City Stakes for fillies and mares and prevailed by a head over late-running favorite Kate's Kingdom. The pacesetter, Dakota Dancer, finished third.
Christmas Diamond, a 5-year-old, British-bred mare by Bated Breath, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather in 1:42.22 for jockey Samy Camacho.
Nice Ace took command in the lane in Monday's $75,000 Dobbins Landing Stakes and ran on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Enjoy the Music. Quartermaster was third.
Nice Ace, a 4-year-old Noble Mission gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:15.09 with Pablo Morales in the irons.
Relish the Ride kicked away from nine rivals in the stretch run of Thursday's $75,000 Catlaunch Stakes for Ohio-breds, winning by 5 lengths over Authentic Cowtown. Romantic Cowboy was only another head back in third.
Relish the Ride, a 5-year-old Mobil gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a good track in 1:46.44 with Luis Rivera up.