1 of 2 | Forte, shown winning the 2022 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, starts his 3-year-old campaign in Saturday's Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Eclipse Sportswire, courtesy of Breeders' Cup
March 3 (UPi) -- Super Saturday in Dubai and a round of semifinal Kentucky Derby preps, including the 3-year-old debut of last year's juvenile champion, headline the weekend horse racing schedule.
There's also lots of turf action, centered mainly in Gulfstream Park's really nice Saturday program, and a smattering of important events on the dirt, notably the Santa Anita Handicap.
Internationally, in addition to Super Saturday and an Irish run at the roses, Australia's string of autumn Group 1 events continues and England's All-Weather Championships finish up the Fast-Track Qualifier list in France.
With all that great action, it's a good time to check the thoughts of industry insider Jude Feld at popejude.com.
And the nominees for induction into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame are ... in "News and Notes" below. Check it out.
The Road to the Roses
There are Kentucky Derby preps all over the map this week, from Ireland through Florida, New York, Kentucky and New Mexico all the way out to California.
The big three races are the Gotham at Aqueduct, the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park and the San Felipe at Santa Anita, each worth 50 points to the winner with awards dwindling down the 20-15-10-5 scale.
The John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park offers 20-8-6-4-2 points. Tuesday's delayed Sunland Park Derby was pointless, in the literal sense, and the Patton Stakes in Ireland is on a different scale altogether.
Got it? There'll be a short quiz at the end.
Forte, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Eclipse Award winner of 2022, gets his 3-year-old campaign off and running in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.
The Violence colt is giving away experience to the likes of Rocket Can and Shadow Dragon, who were first and second in the Grade III Holy Bull on Feb. 4, and General Jim, who won the Swale Stakes on that same program.
But trainer Todd Pletcher didn't get where he is without knowing how to get his horses ready. His numbers prove it. And while Forte is coming to the race off a four-month layoff, he also is coming from a 3-year-old campaign that saw him win three consecutive Grade I races -- the Hopeful at Saratoga, the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
The 100 Beyer Speed Figure he earned in that last effort towers over his rivals' best efforts and Pletcher said the colt's extensive experience in 2022 gave him all the foundation he needs to make it to the Kentucky Derby off two prep races.
"With that type of seasoning, I'm very comfortable with two races leading up, hopefully, to the Derby," Pletcher said. "We've approached it from various angles and felt like this was the right path for him. So far, everything has been going to plan. Hopefully, it continues to do that."
Forte, the 7-5 morning-line favorite, drew gate No. 4 and regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr. will be aboard as he sets sail.
Four of the 11 3-year-olds entered for Saturday's $400,000 Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita are recent switches from Bob Baffert's barn to the care of Tim Yakteen. Ironically, one trained by Yakteen all along also has credentials for the 1 1/16-miles trip.
That's Practical Move, a Practical Joke colt who won the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) Dec. 17 and returns off a pair of strong works.
The ex-Bafferts are National Treasure, third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile; Fort Bragg, third in the Los Al Futurity; and two recent maiden winners, Mr Fisk and Hejazi. Hejazi cost Amr Zenden $3.55 million as a juvenile and that maiden-breaker, off a three-months rest, was a corker.
The switch of stables results from the Churchill Downs banishment of Baffert through this year's Derby following several medication infractions. The action prevents any Baffert-trained horse from earning qualifying points for the Derby. Enter Yakteen, a former Baffert assistant who played a similar role last year.
Chase the Chaos is a wild card. The gelding is by the Australian-bred sire Astern and won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in his last start, but has raced almost exclusively on all-weather tracks. Geaux Rocket Ride makes just his second start but his 6-furlong debut was a beaut.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct drew an overflow field of 14 plus one also-eligible -- perhaps because none of the 3-year-olds has yet jumped up to show special talent.
Many of them have shown promise, including Jerome Stakes winner Lugan Knight and California shipper Carmel Road, another of the Baffert barn-switchers. Two others already have four wins but step up to graded stakes.
Given the boatload of promise, it probably will take a special effort to win this and a good showing will be worth noting going forward. Looking for a favorite? So was the oddsmaker who has Eyeing Clover topping the morning line at 4-1.
The big three events get the spotlight but don't overlook Saturday's $150,000 John Battaglia Memorial on the Turfway Park all-weather course.
Since Churchill Downs purchased the track, installed a new racing surface and opened a casino, top-level trainers have taken notice and there are solid horses both on the grounds and nearby to ship in.
The favorite, Gilmore, ships all the way from California where the Twirling Candy colt finished second in the El Camino Real Derby on the Golden Gate all-weather.
Sunday's $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby was delayed until Tuesday because of weather at Sunland Park and Henry Q apparently was revving his engine through the whole 48-hour delay. Once the gates opened, the Kentucky-bred Blame colt seized the lead, shook off some competition and disappeared through the stretch run to win by 14 3/4 lengths.
Stablemate Giroovin was easily best of the rest. Henry Q previously raced at Santa Anita for trainer Doug O'Neill but was transferred to Todd Fincher.
Before dismissing New Mexico Derby preps, recall that this race's namesake came out of Sunland Park to win the 2009 Kentucky Derby by 6 3/4 lengths at odds of 50-1.
The "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" resumes Friday at Dundalk in Ireland. The first four races were conducted on turf in the autumn and, as usual, are irrelevant to any planning for Louisville.
This heat has an interesting entry in the Charles Fipke homebred Stormy Entry. Fipke downplays his chances but says if he gets the Euro invite, he'll be going to the Derby.
Coolmore and Juddmonte have starters, too, but their intentions may or may not involve the Run for the Roses. Cairo, running in one of the Coolmore silks, is the odds-on favorite with Ryan Moore due in to ride and could be auditioning for the UAE Derby.
The Path to the Oaks
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park is a 1-mile test featuring the first four finishers from the Grade III Forward Gal run at 7 furlongs Feb. 4. Red Carpet Ready dominated that race, stalking the pace before drawing off to win by 2 1/4 lengths and is the 2-1 morning-line pick here.
Undervalued Asset rallied behind her to finish second and Atomically ran evenly to get third. Positano Sunset was a well-beaten fourth after a poor start.
The Davona Dale also has Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Leave No Trace, making her 3-year-old debut.
Six signed on for Saturday's $200,000 Busher at Aqueduct and there's a case to be made for most of them.
On the other hand, it's not much of a case as two favorites on the morning line both come off first-start maiden wins and the third is 2-for-2 over the Turfway Park all-weather course.
That one, though, is Capella, a Juddmonte homebred by Quality Road out of a Tapit mare, trained by Brad Cox, which is not a bad case.
Speaking of Turfway, another Brad Cox trainee, Botanical, is the 8-5 morning line favorite among nine contesting Saturday's $150,000 Cincinnati Trophy on the all-weather.
Baffert is still listed as trainer of Faiza, a Girvin filly putting a 3-0 record on the line in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita. That means she's ineligible for any of the Kentucky Oaks points on the line.
A couple of the others in the six-filly field -- Pride of the Nile and Justique -- might make that a moot point.
Flying Connection drew off in the stretch run to win Tuesday's delayed $75,000 Island Fashion Stakes at Sunland Park in New Mexico by 9 1/4 lengths. The Nyquist filly ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.04 with Alfredo Juarez Jr. up for trainer Ken Tohill. She's won three of her last four starts, all in the Land of Enchantment.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Santa Anita Handicap has a competitive field of 11 including the second- and third-place finishers from the Grade I Pegasus World Cup, Defunded and Stiletto Boy.
Proxy was fifth in that race in a return from winning the Grade I Clark Stakes in November. Also on deck are the top three from last month's Grade II San Pasqual, Newgrange, Hopper and Parnelli.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II WinStar Gulfstream Park Mile features a pair of 2022 Triple Crown victims in Charge It and Oh Captain. Charge It finished second in the Florida Derby and 17th in the Kentucky Derby.
He then won the Grade III Dwyer at Belmont Park by 23 lengths before going to the sidelines and came back with an easy win Feb. 5 at Gulfstream. He's 4-5 on the morning line.
Oh Captain was third in the Fountain of Youth, fifth in the Florida Derby and fourth in the Grade II Pat Day Mile on Kentucky Derby weekend. He's 20-1 on the line. The first four home from the Grade III Fred W. Hooper return here.
Turf / Turf Mile
Nine top turfers, most familiar foes on the West Coast circuit, are set for Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita with trainer Phil D'Amato holding a strong hand in Hong Kong Harry, Masteroffoxhounds, Balnikov and Gold Phoenix.
Hong Kong Harry returns from a three-months break with a sparkling record of five wins and a second since arriving in Phil D'Amato's barn from England.
He wound up 2022 with wins in the Grade II Del Mar Mile and the Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap at Santa Anita. Masteroffoxhounds was third in the Seabiscuit, and then third in the Grade II San Gabriel and second by a neck in the Grade II San Marcos.
Gold Phoenix exits a 10th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Among the others, Du Jour, Air Force Red and Irideo all come off good efforts in local graded stakes.
There's a full gate for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Mac Diarmida Stakes at Gulfstream Park and if Astronaut picks up where he left off in November, the others will have him to catch.
The 6-year-old Quality Road entire moved from California in September and finished a good third in the Grade I Turf Classic at Aqueduct and followed that with a victory in the Grade II Red Smith, both with triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures.
Value Engineering, Wicked Fast and Shawdyshawdyshawdy, the second, third and fourth in the Grade III W.L. McKnight on Jan. 28, also are in this 1 3/8-mile tilt.
Ten turned out for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Canadian Turf at Gulfstream Park at 1 1/16 miles. Emmanuel was switched to the green course last year after finishing fourth in the Fountain of Youth and third in the Grade I Blue Grass on the Keeneland dirt.
He's 2-for-3 since including a win in the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes in his last and looks tough here, but the 8-5 odds on the morning line don't offer much value.
Saturday's $200,000 Colonel Liam Stakes at Gulfstream Park has nine lightly raced 3-year-olds including undefeated Grade III Grey Stakes winner Bluebirds Over and a diverse trio from the Todd Pletcher barn. An interesting mix.
Filly & Mare Turf
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Herecomesthebride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park has a dozen assorted entries including three making their U.S. debut, a few stepping up to the 1-mile distance and others trying grass for the first time.
In other words, a fun "you pick 'em" race with potentially worthwhile rewards.
Last year's winner, Virginia Joy, returns for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III The Very One Stakes at Gulfstream Park with a solid chance to post the repeat. She makes her first start since finding the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf a bit too tough.
Other than that, she's dependably in the mix. Chad Brown trainee Mylady was a force in her native Germany and will contend if she retains that mojo.
Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Honey Fox at Gulfstream Park has a full field to go 1 mile. Trainer Chad Brown contributes Faith in Humanity and Speak of the Devil, a pair of French-breds who look poised to fire.
White Frost comes off a handy win over the course and distance Jan. 26 for trainer Bill Mott, whose horses are running well.
Trainer Phil D'Amato has half the eight-horse field for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Buena Vista Stakes at Santa Anita at 1 mile on the greensward.
The field may lack achievement but it's certainly cosmopolitan, bred in France, Ireland, England, and Brazil as well as Kentucky and California. Quattrolle and Closing Remarks, the first and third finishers from the Megahertz Stakes Feb. 4 look like major players.
Nine signed on for Sunday's $100,000 Grade III San Simeon at Santa Anita. They're all pretty good but none stands out.
There's a lot of inexperience among the 10 entered for Sunday's $100,000 Baffle Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita.
Then there's Sharp Aza Tack, who had two wins and a second last year before finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint and makes his 3-year-old debut. First Peace has improved steadily and finished second in the Eddie Logan in his last outing.
Around the world, around the clock
The first Thoroughbred race on the Super Saturday program, the $250,000 Group 2 Dubai City of Gold at 2,410 meters on the turf, lost its star Wednesday as Rebel's Romance was scratched from his scheduled 5-year-old debut.
The Dubawi gelding finished 2022 with a bang, winning five in a row including two tough German Group 1 events and concluding with the Breeders' Cup Turf at Keeneland.
He was found to have an inflammation in a foreleg, but still expected to go in the Dubai Shema Classic on World Cup night. His absence leaves a still-powerful four-horse Godolphin herd in the now-14-horse field.
The $450,000 Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 normally is a rehearsal for locals aiming for the $12 million World Cup and if anything is different this year, it's a relative lack of depth among those locals.
Bhupat Seemar has four of the 15 and Bendoog looks the best of them off a runner-up showing in Round. However, he was 6 lengths behind the winner that evening, Algiers, who sits this one out.
American trainer Doug O'Neill fields Sifting Sands, who disappointed in his first two starts of the Dubai season going shorter than this 2,000 meters.
Godolphin has another strong representation in the $350,000 Group 1 Jebel Hatta at 1,800 meters on the grass.
William Buick gets the leg up from Appleby on Master of the Seas, winner of the Zabeel Mile in his seasonal debut. James Doyle hops back on Valient Prince, winner of the Group 2 Al Rashidiya and Group 2 Singspiel earlier in the Carnival for Appleby.
Daniel Tudope rides Real World, second in Baaeed in two Group 1 races in England last season for trainer Saeed bin Suroor and making his first start as a gelding.
There's a Hong Kong horse in here, too. Russian Emperor, a multiple Group 1 winner at home, exits a victory in the H H The Amir Trophy in Doha on Feb. 18.
The $250,000 Group 3 Burj Nahar is 1,600 meters on the dirt, a prep for the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on World Cup night. It drew a full field with trainer Doug Watson fielding a talented trio in Everfast, Canvassed and Fanaar. William Buick hops on Royal Mews for trainer Bhupat Seemar.
The $300,000 Ras Al Khor at 1,400 meters on the turf has a sea of blue silks. Shadwell has entered four and Godolphin has three. With 14 runners going all out, its tougher than usual to figure the outcome.
For what it's worth, Buick rides Al Suhail and Doyle is up on Path of Thunder, both trained by Appleby.
Tuz and Isolate look like horses prepping for something tougher in three weeks time as the highest rated among 10 in the $250,000 Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal at 1,200 meters.
Tuz, another trained by Bhupat Seemar, and Isolate, another from the Doug Watson yard, finished 1-2 in the Al Shindagha Sprint Feb 3.
The $250,000 Group 3 Nad Al Sheeba Turf Sprint at 1,200 meters has contenders from all around Europe. Miqyaas enters on a three-race winning streak including the Group 2 Blue Point Sprint on Feb. 10.
$170,000 Al Bastakiya for 3-year-olds looks like a wide-open affair at 1,900 meters on the main track. Just on names, Slava Ukraini, Go Soldier Go and Sharp Army would make a nice trifecta bet.
Saturday's Group 1 Australian Guineas at Flemington has a full field despite at least one defection to the competing event at Randwick. The antepost favorites are Jacquinot, Eliptical and Attrition with some very long prices on the rest.
Osipenko was entered for both the Australian Guineas in Sydney and the Randwick Guineas in Melbourne but a better draw -- 4 versus 13 -- likely will keep him in the Randwick. There, the Hobartville Stakes winner would face such as Manzoice, Aft Cabin, Matcha Latte and Williamsburg.
The Canterbury Stakes at 1,300 meters at Randwick has a tough bunch with Cascadian, Artorius, Lombardo and Converge and 3-year-old Golden Mile.
France / England
The final Fast-Track Qualifier of England's All-Weather Championships goes to the post Saturday at Chantilly in France with the Prix Anabaa, a gateway to the £150,000 All-Weather Sprint Championships on Finals Day, Good Friday, at Newcastle.
Diligent Harry, a 5-year-old trained by Clive Cox, has thrived since being gelded and returns a shot to get back to finals day where he won the All-Weather Three-Year-Old Championship in 2021.
"Diligent Harry has come back from his winning run at Newcastle very well and, just with time frames in mind, it made sense to come here for his third qualifying run," Cox said.
"He has always been a good horse. We have campaigned him highly since his win on All-Weather Finals Day as a three-year-old and always felt he justified that sort of approach."
The penultimate FTQ is Saturday at Lingfield Park with Iconic Moment seeking to use the Spring Cup as a springboard to the £150,000 All-Weather Three-Year-Old Championships.
News and Notes:
Nine horses, six trainers and one jockey are on the National Museum of Racing's 2023 Hall of Fame ballot.
Chosen by a standing committee and subject to approval by a broader swath of industry figures, the equine finalists are Arrogate, Blind Luck, California Crome, Game On Dude, Havre de Grace, Kona Gold, Lady Eli, Rags to Riches and Songbird.
Trainers nominated are Christophe Clement, Kiaran McLaughlan, Graham Motion, Doug O'Neill, John Sadler and John Shirreffs. Corey Nakatani is the jockey nominee.