Cold weather, short field produce bumps in Road to the Kentucky Derby

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Algiers, shown winning Round 1 of the Maktoum Challenge in January, takes on Round 2 Friday night in Dubai. Photo Courtesy of Dubai Racing Club
Algiers, shown winning Round 1 of the Maktoum Challenge in January, takes on Round 2 Friday night in Dubai. Photo Courtesy of Dubai Racing Club

Feb. 3 (UPI) -- What normally would be a hot weekend on the Triple Crown trail hit a few bumps along that Thoroughbred thoroughfare as cold weather forced postponement of one big race and another drew only four horses -- all trained by Bob Baffert.

That leaves the Holy Bull Stakes and the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park as the top 3-year-old events of the weekend.


Three-year-old fillies also have their chances at Gulfstream, Tampa Bay Downs resumes its stakes program with a pair of turf events and Santa Anita also has graded stakes on both turf and dirt.

On the international scene, Hong Kong has yet another big race Sunday, and the All-Weather Championships in England continue to provide candidates for The Saudi Cup and Dubai World Cup programs.

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Meanwhile, Punxsutawney Phil, the resident groundhog at Gobblers Knob, Pa., saw his shadow Thursday morning, so we supposedly have six more weeks of winter in store.


As an aside, the groundhog emergence is one of the few U.S. events that brings out Americans wearing top hats, a la the Royal Enclosure at Ascot.

The Road to the Roses

Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Withers at Aqueduct was pushed back a week because of a weather forecast promising dangerous, sub-zero, groundhog-style wind chills.

There were six entries, including the aptly named Arctic Arrogance, a Frosted colt who was second in the Grade II Remsen in December and second again in the Jerome Stakes Jan. 7. Entries for the new date will be taken Wednesday. The race offers 20 "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points to the winner.

Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park has a field of eight, all looking for a breakthrough to the big time.

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Lacking any other proven top-level talent, this could be a nice step forward for Cyclone Mischief and his Louisville-native trainer, Dale Romans, who is still chasing his first Kentucky Derby win.

Cyclone Mischief has won two of four starts, most recently destroying five rivals in an optional claimer over the Gulfstream dirt with an excellent speed figure. He finished seventh in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club in November, but was beaten less than 3 lengths after disputing the pace.


That race was won by Instant Coffee, who returned to win the Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 21 and now holds the No. 2 spot on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby".

Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Claiborne Swale at Gulfstream Park is 7 furlongs and normally attracts horses with sprinting aspirations. Prominent among the six in here is Super Chow, perhaps the best bet of the weekend anywhere.

The Lord Nelson colt has won five of six with his only loss a third in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special. He was last seen winning the Limehouse Stakes on New Year's Day.

Two of a Kind won the 5 1/2-furlong Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park in June. The Overanalyze colt was absent after that until finishing a well-beaten third in the Limehouse behind Super Chow and Turbo.

Baffert's horses have dominated 3-year-old races in California for some time now, but Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita takes things to a whole new level.

Baffert trains all four entries in the 1 1/16-mile event. From the rail out, that's Arabian Lion, Newgate, Worcester and Hard to Figure.

Newgate was second in each of his last two starts -- the Grade III Bob Hope at Del Mar and the Grade III Sham at Santa Anita.


Arabian Lion, not to be confused with another Baffert prospect, Arabian Knight, needs a turnaround after finishing second at Keeneland on Breeders' Cup weekend and fifth in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity.

The others look like filler, but who knows what the crafty trainer has up his sleeve? The morning line: Arabian Lion with John Velazquez up, 7-5; Newgate and Frankie Dettori, 8-5; Worcester with Juan Hernandez, 9-5; Hard to Figure and Ramon Vazquez, 8-1.

Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park is 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Candidate enters with a three-race winning streak on the line, including the local Dania Beach Stakes on Jan. 7.

Congruent won the Laurel Futurity last year, but has struggled since and finished fourth in the Dania Beach.

Souzak wound up his 2-year-old season in France with three straight wins, but was fifth in the Dania Beach in his U.S. debut for trainer Graham Motion. Major Dude, Boppy O and Lights of Broadway also are major players in a quality field.

The Path to the Oaks

Atomically, winner of two legs of the Florida Sire Series, hasn't been seen since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland, where she finished a decent seventh.


She returns in Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Forward Gal at Gulfstream Park, a 7-furlongs affair against what looks like an easier crowd.

Red Carpet Ready is 2-for-2 while making her 2023 debut. And there are some imposing maiden winners in the field, including Undervalued Asset from Chad Brown's barn.

Saturday's $100,000, 7-furlongs Ruthless Stakes at Aqueduct also fell victim to the weather and was pushed back to Sunday. Five fillies are entered for that.

It's a close call in a tightly bunched field, but Cairo Consort and Stephanie's Charm look to be the favorites in Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Sweetest Chant Stakes at Gulfstream Park at 1 1/16 miles on the turf after finishing 1-2 in the local Ginger Brew Stakes on Jan. 7.

While this is on the grass, both have run well on the local all-weather, has have several others in the field. Watch out for Malleymoo in her second U.S. start.

Around the divisions


Shippers from New Orleans and Lexington are on hand to challenge locally trained Lovely Ride in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Bayakoa at Oaklawn Park. Lovely Ride is 2-for-2 this season at the Arkansas oval for trainer Robertino Diodoro.


Brad Cox brings A Mo Reay from Fair Grounds, where she won the Pago Hop Stakes in her last outing. Powder River also comes north for trainer Norm Casse.

Ignacio Correas IV has the well-traveled Chilean-bred La Da Vida. Trained at Keeneland, she shipped to Arkansas to finish fourth in the Mistletoe Stakes on Dec. 10, and traveled to Fair Grounds to report third in the Pippin Stakes on Jan. 7.


Dicey Mo Chara tops field of familiar rivals in Sunday's $200,000 Grade III San Marcos at Santa Anita. The 5-year-old Aaday gelding exits a win in the Grade II San Gabriel, but many of the 10 set for this race have faced each other repeatedly, taking turns winning. Whose turn is it this time?

An evenly matched overflow field greets handicappers in Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Chez Pierre, a French-bred gelding by Mehmas, could blow up that "evenly matched" description if he's fit after a nine-month layoff. The 5-year-old is undefeated after five starts, but takes a class jump, so backers need a bit of a leap of faith. It should be a fun race to watch.

Filly & Mare Turf


Marketsegmentation and Scotish Star are lukewarm favorites among 11 set for Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Marketsegmentation, a 4-year-old American Pharoah filly trained by Chad Brown, has two wins and a second so far. Scotish Star, a 6-year-old, Argentine-bred mare from the Todd Pletcher barn, was a Group 1 winner at home, but has only one win from six U.S. starts.

Turf Mile

Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Thunder Road Stakes at Santa Anita has a well-matched and imposing field of 12. The past performances are full of wins and close calls in graded stakes.

Cabo Spirit won the Grade II at Santa Anita two starts back. Air Force Red has back-to-back wins, most recently the Grade II Hernandez Stakes at Santa Anita on New Year's Eve.

Saturday's $100,000 Megahertz Stakes for fillies and mares at Santa Anita boasts a powerhouse field of eight including the progressive School Dance, who just missed by a head winning the Grade I American Oaks in her last start.

Hamwood Flyer typically tries to steal these on the front and, with no obvious pace rival, will have to be reeled in by someone. That could be tough to do.



Most of the six set for Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Palos Verde Stakes at Santa Anita have flashed ability but none has demonstrated consistency at a high level. Radical Right makes his first start on the Left Coast for trainer Peter Miller after running well enough at lower levels back east.

Filly & Mare Sprint

A few races after he wins the Robert B. Lewis, Baffert saddles Fun to Dream as the 8-5 morning line favorite in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Monica at Santa Anita. The Arrogate filly has won five of her six starts, including the Grade I La Brea in her most recent.

The quality field also includes La Brea runner-up Awake at Midnyte and Lady T, winner of the Grade III Las Flores on New Year's Eve.

Around the world, around the clock


Don't think time flies? The Dubai World Cup Carnival hits its midpoint Friday evening at Meydan Racecourse and the five group races on the program make it obvious that World Cup night itself is a mere seven weeks away -- already!

The feature is the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 at 1,900 meters on the dirt. Round 1 winner Algiers faces Remorse, Salute the Soldier, First Constitution, Atletico El Culano and others in a race won by Thunder Snow in 2018 en route to World Cup victory.


Also on tap are two Group 2 events on the turf, the Singspiel Stakes at 1,800 meters and the Cape Verdi Stakes for fillies and mares at 1,600 meters. Think the 1,800-meter Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night as targets after those.

Friday's Group 3 Al Shindaga Sprint is 1,200 meters on the dirt and a prep for the Group 1 Golden Shaheen at the same trip on the big night, March 25.

Hong Kong

It's almost as if the racing gods are trying to make it up to the Hong Kong fans for more than two years of pandemic restrictions. Things got seriously better just in time for the Longines Hong Kong International Races in December and Golden Sixty,

Romantic Warrior and California Spangle easily sated the appetite of the big crowd for dramatic action. Then some 80,000 people packed the massive grandstand for the Chinese New Year meeting, happily setting wagering records amid the festivities.

The good times continued last weekend as the same trio that provided the fireworks in December finally met head-to-head-to-head for the first time in the Grade I Stewards' Cup with Golden Sixty prevailing.

On Sunday, Wellington will try to make a little history in the Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup at 1,200 meters. Should he prevail, he would become just the second horse to sweep the top four Hong Kong sprints.


Those also include the Grade I Longines Hong Kong Sprint, the Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize and the Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup. Only the immortal Silent Witness has accomplished that sweep to date.

Alexis Badel will be back aboard Sunday after an injury forced him to hand off the reins to Ryan Moore in December. Wellington is sure to have firm backing after and impressive win in December.

But Lucky Sweynesse, an unlucky sixth as the favorite in last month's sprint, will have his supporters hoping for a cleaner run.


Shouldvebeenaring booked his spot in the £150,000 All-Weather Three-Year-Old Championship Final on Good Friday with a "just enough" victory in Tuesday's evening's Fast-Track Qualifier at Southwell. Shouldvebeenaring, with Sean Levey up for trainer Richard Hannon, raced last of three into the final furlong.

With the victory up for grabs, Shouldvebeenaring grabbed the brass ring, winning by 3/4 length over Alpha Capture. Glorious Angel made the early going and finished third.

"Shouldvebeenaring deserved this," Levey said. "It is hard to have a total gauge on him on the back of that because he is a clever horse who holds back a little bit for himself.


"I am delighted for everyone at [owning syndicate] Middleham Park, and hopefully they will have a good time with him this year."

The series continues Saturday with two Fast-Track Qualifiers at Lingfield Park. The big noise there is not for the All-Weather Championships finals but Sir Busker's final preparations for the Group 1 Neom Turf Cup in Saudi Arabia on Saudi Cup day.

Sir Busker was last seen finishing third behind Baaeed in York's Group 1 Juddmonte International in August and Sam Hoskins, syndicate manager for the owner, Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds, said he's currently ahead of his 2022 pace.

"Saturday will be a stepping-stone towards Saudi Arabia and Dubai," he said. "But this has been the plan for a while and it is good to support a new Listed race at Lingfield ... Ryan Moore definitely takes the ride.

"He is going to ride him in the Neom Turf Cup and the idea was that whoever rides him in Saudi would be on board at Lingfield, as well."

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