Wellington (No. 1), shown winning the 2022 Sprint Cup, faces off with key rivals in Sunday's Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup in Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club
March 17 (UPI) -- Thoroughbred racing has become such a global sport that even Kentucky Derby candidates are popping up from Europe to the Middle East to Japan, sometimes racing in multiple countries as they eye the first Saturday in May in Louisville.
Long gone are the days when the debate centered around the relative merits of the Derby hopefuls training on the East Coast and in California. Now, handicappers have to have an eye on tracks as diverse as Kempton Park in England, Meydan in Dubai and Nakayama in Japan.
The situation is perfectly illustrated this week and next as Derby contenders from Japan and Ireland race in Dubai, while the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" and its European counterpart soldier on with other rivals.
While we track all that, we also have a look at a few weekend races in other divisions with key action at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.
And elsewhere on the world scene, it's Hong Kong Derby weekend and Australia stages five more Group 1 races.
The Road to the Roses
Brave Emperor won the penultimate race in the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" Wednesday at Kempton Park in England but it looks increasingly like the best horses coming out of both that series and the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" will be on display a week later in the Group 2 UAE Derby in Dubai.
Brave Emperor, a Sioux Nation gelding earned 20 points in the "European Road" leaderboard. That would put him in a tie for the top spot except he is not nominated to the U.S. Triple Crown and thus not officially ranked.
His connections would have to pony up a $6,000 late nomination fee by March 27 to make him eligible.
Even then, he might not get the invite as the last race in the series awards 30 points to the winner, who would be the overall points champ.
Complicating the situation, the other horse with 20 "European Road" points, Cairo, is a top prospect for global powerhouse Coolmore and will be among the favorites in the March 25 UAE Derby.
He could qualify for the Kentucky Derby with a win there. But since points from the UAE Derby would transfer back to the European series, even a minor placing would make Cairo the champ.
But then, Cairo also is entered for Irish and English Classics this spring and trainer Aidan O'Brien has not outlined any plans beyond Dubai.
The UAE Derby field also is expected to include three of the top four points-earners in the "Japan Road," with similar complications for that competition.
Back home in the States, Saturday's $100,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park can be an incubator for one or more of the "new shooters" in the Preakness Stakes -- horses that skip the Kentucky Derby but join the Triple Crown series midway through.
There is no firm favorite with half the eight entries posted at 4-1 or lower on the morning line.
Looking forward, the following weekend is a big one on the Road to the Roses. In addition to the UAE Derby on March 25, sees the Grade II Louisiana Derby, the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks on the Turfway Park all-weather course and the final and deciding race in the Japan series, the Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse. Sunday's contribution is the Grade III Sunland Derby in New Mexico.
In the more straightforward divisions:
Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park looks like a competitive heat with Last Samurai, Forzi Di Oro and Vittorio all attracting attention in the 10-horse field.
Ten-year-old Rated R Superstar is back to tackle the 1 1/16 miles. He was fourth last time out in the Razorback Handicap, albeit 12 1/2 lengths adrift of the winner, Last Samurai.
Cogburn, Tejano Twist, Edge to Edge and Flash of Mischief are prominent among 10 entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Whitmore Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Tejano Twist is a lukewarm 3-1 favorite on the morning line after finishing second in the King Cotton Stakes over the same 6 furlongs Jan. 28.
That was won by Gunite, who went on to finish second in the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint in Saudi Arabia and is listed as a likely starter for the $2 million Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on World Cup night.
Saturday's $100,000 Hutcheson Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park runs at 7 furlongs and used to be an edgy spot for potential Triple Crown stretch outs. Now it's later on the calendar and more likely to be a proving ground for sprinters.
Super Chow comes to the race as winner of five of his seven starts, most recently the Grade III Swale Stakes over the course and distance. Two of a Kind was third in the Swale and returns.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Downtown Mischief is the even-money favorite on the morning line among six 3-year-old fillies entered for Saturday's $100,000 Cicada Stakes at Aqueduct. The Into Mischief filly, trained by Linda Rice, won her first two starts easily and steps into stakes company for the first time.
Twelve are entered for Saturday's $100,000 with Big Invasion and Yes I Am Free as the morning-line favorites for the 5-furlongs dash. Big Invasion is 6-of-8, but hasn't run since finishing third in the Grade II Franklin-Simpson Stakes at Kentucky Downs last September. Yes I Am Free exits a victory in the Grade III Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint on Feb. 11.
Around the world, around the clock
It will be another big day down under with five Group 1 events at Rosehill Gardens.
The Longines Golden Slipper has 2-year-olds at 1,200 meters. The George Ryder Stakes is 1,500 meters with Anamoe as the heavy favorite. The Ranvet Stakes is 2,000 meters with several chances. The Galaxy has a field of 13 after one scratch to tackle 1,100 meters. Eight are in for the Sky Racing Rosehill Guineas at 2,000 meters.
Sunday's program at Sha Tin Racecourse features a Group 1 event with the cream of the local sprinting crop, the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup, and the BMW Hong Kong Derby a stern 2,000-meter test that finishes the Four-Year-Old Classic series.
The Silver Jubilee Cup might have the grade, but the Derby is the race the locals most want to win, for the purse, for the promise of future glory and mainly for bragging rights in the Hong Kong Jockey Club clubhouses.
Super Sunny Sing, winner of the second leg of the series, is well-fancied in the Derby but needs to prove he can outrun a largely sprinters pedigree.
Beauty Eternal has won three in a row and four of five overall. But he's had some interruptions in his season due to minor training setbacks. After those, a case can be made for many of them.
Straight Arron was good in Australia and finally broke through for his first Hong Kong win in his last start.
The Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup has just five, but features the reigning Hong Kong sprint king, Wellington, his younger challenger for the title, Lucky Sweynesse, and California Spangle, conqueror of local kingpin Golden Sixty in the Longines Hong Kong Mile in December.
News and Notes
Woodbine has restored the Canadian International for its 2023 season. The iconic turf race was omitted from the 2022 schedule because of the pandemic. It returns Oct. 8 with the distance cut from 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/4 miles -- just in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Secretariat's 6 1/2-lengths victory in his final race.
"This race holds a special place in the heart of many at Woodbine and we're excited to see what the future has in store," said Tim Lawson, Woodbine's director of Thoroughbred racing.