1 of 3 | Warm Heart (pink) wins Thursday's Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, likely headed to Breeders' Cup. Photo by Dominick James, Eclipse Sportswire, courtesy of Breeders' Cup
Aug. 25 (UPI) -- The winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes face off Saturday against 2022 juvenile champion Forte in an historic renewal of the Travers Stakes, the "Midsummer Derby," at Saratoga Racecourse.
The race is the focus and anchor of a massive weekend of important racing around North America -- from New York to West Virginia, Pennsylvania and California. Saratoga and Del Mar host Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" races.
Leading up to that, the Ebor meeting at York in the north of England has kept the pot at a full boil with three of those races also providing guaranteed Breeders' Cup entries.
With top-shelf races like these on tap, it never hurts to have an expert eye on things, and that's available from industry insider Jude Feld at popejude.com.
So much to cover, so little time! With apologies to the late Phil Georgeff, here we come, spinning out of the turn ...
The Midsummer Derby
The three winners of this year's Triple Crown races meet again in Saturday's $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga, but none of them is the morning-line favorite.
Mage won the Kentucky Derby and finished third in the Preakness Stakes. National Treasure missed the Derby but won the Preakness, but then finished sixth in the Belmont Stakes. Late-developing Arcangelo missed the first two races, and then jumped up to win the Belmont.
Missing from that recitation is the 2022 2-year-old champion, Forte. He would have been the Derby favorite, but was forced out of that race after being diagnosed with a sore foot in the midst of a rash of horse fatalities at Churchill Downs.
Forte then skipped the Preakness and finished second in the Belmont Stakes before returning with a hard-won victory in the Grade II Jim Dandy in the slop at Saratoga on July 29. He is the morning-line pick for the Travers.
With those four as the stars, the race has never more accurately justified its nickname as the "Midsummer Derby". The winner will jump right to the top of the 3-year-old division and, depending on such minor details as November's Breeders' Cup Classic, easily could be a contender for Horse of the Year honors.
It's certainly not a three-horse race, either, especially at a track famous as the "graveyard of champions."
Tapit Trice was third in the Belmont, beaten just 1 1/4 lengths. Disarm was a closing fourth in the Kentucky Derby. Scotland, the long shot, has three wins and a second from four starts and won the restricted Curlin Stakes at 1 1/8 miles at the Spa in his last start.
While the Travers sucks up a lot of the air this weekend, there's plenty of oxygen left to go around.
There was even ancillary action amongst the 3-year-olds Tuesday in the $300,000 Grade iII Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx Racing as Il Miracolo rallied outside the leaders at the top of the stretch and ran on -- albeit farther and farther outside -- to win by 3 lengths over Cagliostro.
Jockey Luis Saez was fortunate that the rest of the field was out of gas at mid-stretch, as Il Miracolo was so far across the track before the finish that he appeared to be heading for the stands to pick up a hot dog.
The Gun Runner colt, seventh in the Belmont, was coming off a second-place finish in the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga.
Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, provides some interesting choices.
There's 9-year-old Channel Maker, who jumped up at longish odds to win the Grade II Bowling Green over the course in his last start, his first win in more than a year.
There's Bolshoi Ballet, representing the Coolmore-Aidan O'Brien connections, who have not been having their usual way with things in New York so far this year.
Then, there's the morning-line favorite, Stone Age, formerly trained by O'Brien but now with Chad Brown and part-owned by Peter Brant. He was second in last year's Breeders' Cup but his two intervening races resulted in up-the-course finishes in Hong Kong and Qatar. His frequent flyer miles total is higher than his recent Timeform ratings.
Punters not enchanted with those options have other choices.
Soldier Rising was second in the Grade I Manhattan and Grade I Man o' War before encountering traffic issues in the Bowling Green. He was third in the 2022 Sword Dancer. Verstappen and Daunt were second and fourth in the Bowling Green.
On Wednesday at the Spa, Tawny Port tracked pacesetting Tide of the Sea through the early fractions of the $135,000 John's Call Stakes, shot to the lead and won by 3 1/2 lengths. Sy Dog was up for second, 5 3/4 lengths in front of Good Skate.
Tawny Port, a 4-year-old Pioneerof the Nile colt, ran 1 5/8 miles on firm turf in 2:38.63 with Joel Rosario up.
Filly & Mare Turf
Evvie Jets slotted through inside rivals to get the lead a furlong out in Thursday's $300,000 Grade II Ballston Spa Stakes at Saratoga, and then gamely prevailed as seven of the eight runners finished within 1 1/2 lengths.
Fluffy Socks, one of three in for trainer Chad Brown, was second, with British invader Jumbly third.
Evvie Jets, a 5-year-old Twirling Candy mare, was dispatched at odds just south of 30-1 and finished the 1 1/16 miles in course-record time of 1:43.06 so go figure.
Dating to last September, she has won one, lost one six consecutive times. So she was due after finishing sixth in the De La Rose Stakes over the course three weeks ago.
Roses for Debra, winner of six of her eight starts, looks like a handful in Friday's $150,000 Smart N Fancy Stakes for fillies and mares at Saratoga. The 4-year-old by Liam's Map won the Grade III Caress over the course in her last, facing several of the same rivals she meets in this heat.
Nobody Listens got home first in the tight, three-way finish of Tuesday's $100,000 Parx Dash, 1/2 length in front of Just Jeremy. The latter then was set down to third for interfering with Yes I Am Free in the stretch run.
A 5-year-old Conveyance gelding, Nobody Listens ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 58.83 seconds with Luis Saez up.
Friday's $1 million Grade II Charles Town Classic is headlined by Giant Game and Skippylongstocking, the first two past the judge in the Grade III Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows on July 8.
In the interim, Giant Game finished fifth, beaten 11 lengths, in the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga while Skippylongstocking, a multiple graded stakes winner and third in last year's Belmont Stakes, has lounged in Saffie Joseph Jr.'s barn.
Others in the Classic include Doppleganger, who won the Grade I Carter Handicap at Aqueduct in April at long odds and won again in a minor stakes at Delaware Park in his last outing; Call Me Fast, fourth in the Cornhusker; and Chilean import O'Connor.
Saturday's $250,000 St. Louis Derby at FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing (Fairmount Park) drew a nice field of seven representing several of the Midwest's top trainers -- as befits the year's biggest race in Illinois.
The field, with two from Brad Cox, two from Kenny McPeek and a Steve Asmussen charge, will go 1 1/16 miles across the Mississippi River from the Gateway Arch.
Old rivals Clairiere, Nest and Secret Oath all hook up in Friday's $500,000 Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga. They've taken turns beating each other at Oaklawn Park, Belmont Park and Saratoga this season and all are multiple graded stakes winners.
Secret Oath won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks, defeating Nest by 2 lengths. Clairiere was third in a blanket finish in the 2022 Breeders' Cup Distaff with Nest fourth and Secret Oath fifth.
There are three others in the field, and it would not be a surprise to see Idiomatic or Sixtythreecaliber sneak into the trifecta. Malloy would be a surprise, although trainer Wayne Catalano wouldn't be here just for the exposure.
Friday's $750,000 Grade III Charles Town Oaks got a nice field including Hoosier Philly, winner of the last-race Monomoy Girl Stakes at Ellis Park; Vahva, third in the Victory Ride at Belmont Park; and the fast-improving Undervalued Asset.
Look for any scratch, which could draw Twice as Sweet into the field. Note this is a 7-furlong Oaks, but still around two turns at the West Virginia bullring.
Foggy Night found clear sailing in the stretch run of Tuesday's $200,000 Catherine Sophia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Parx Racing.
The Khozan filly got to the front along the rail and kicked clear of pacesetting Yesternight to win by 2 1/4 lengths. With Saez up, Foggy Night ran 1 mile, 70 yards on a fast track in 1:47.34.
Elite Power and Gunite, the 1-2 finishers from the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt in their last start, face off again in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Forego Stakes at Saratoga. They scared away much of the competition and face only three rivals.
No wonder. Elite Power is the 1-2 morning-line favorite after seven straight wins including last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint in Saudi Arabia (with an elite Timeform rating of 124 and Gunite second) and the Grade II True North at Belmont before the Vanderbilt.
Gunite went from Riyadh to Dubai and finished a close third in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen and returned to win the Aristides Stakes in June at Churchill Downs. As they say in poker, "If you can beat 'em, bet 'em."
Six are set for Saturday's $500,000 Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Memorial for 3-year-olds at Saratoga.
Among them: Arabian Lion, winner of the Grade I Woody Stephens at Belmont in his last start; New York Thunder, winner of the Grade II Amsterdam at the Spa in his most recent; Fort Bragg, winner of the Grade III Dwyer July 1 at Belmont; and Verifying, winner of the Grade III Indiana Derby.
Bob Baffert trains Arabian Lion and Fort Bragg, both speedy sorts, and New York Thunder also likes to get out and rolling.
Verifying, who led around the first turn in the Kentucky Derby before fading, cuts way back in distance and could get a nice, late run behind a speed duel, so this should be an interesting 7 furlongs.
Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Pat O'Brien Stakes at Del Mar, a "Win and You're In" for the Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, includes the runner-up from last year's edition of the Breeders' Cup Sprint, C Z Rocket.
But the 8-year-old hasn't returned well from an eighth-place finish in Dubai and got home fifth in the Grade I Bing Crosby in his latest start.
With that one struggling and Baffert's star 3-year-olds running out east, this race looks very competitive with Anarchist, Spirit of Makena, Brickyard Ride, Sir Atticus and Moose Mitchell all featured on the morning line.
Benvengo won his 4-year-old debut at Monmouth Park like an improved horse after an eight-months layoff and is the morning-line pick in an overflow field for Friday's $250,000 Russell Road Stakes at Charles Town.
Ryvit saw a five-race winning streak snapped in the Grade II Amsterdam at Saratoga July 28 and looks to start a new run as favorite in Friday's $350,000 Robert Hilton Memorial for 3-year-olds at Charles Town.
Note the presence of Wood Memorial winner Lord Miles, shortening up to 7 furlongs for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. after disappointing in the Ohio Derby and West Virginia Derby. Joseph also has Jersey Shore winner Swirvin.
Gordian Knot got the lead in the stretch in Tuesday's $75,000 Salvatore M. DeBunda Sprint Stakes for 3-year-olds at Parx Racing and held on to win by a neck over deep-closing long shot Praetorian Guard.
Gordian Knot, a Social Inclusion gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:19.83 for jockey Silvestre Gonzalez.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga is a "Win and You're In" for the PNC Bank Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and features the 1-2-3 finishers from the 2022 showdown at Keeneland -- Goodnight Olive, Echo Zulu and Wicked Halo.
Add into that mix the likes of dual Grade I winner Matareya and multiple graded stakes winner Carmel Swirl and you've got a dynamite race.
Matareya won the Grade I Derby City Distaff in June with Wicked Halo second and Goodnight Olive third, but then tossed in a clunker in her last start, the Grade III Chicago Stakes at Ellis Park.
Eda should be a solid favorite in Sunday's $125,000 Grade III Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar while seeking her seventh straight win. The latest victory for the 4-year-old Munnings filly was in the Grade II Great Lady M Stakes at Los Alamitos on the Fourth of July.
Society won last year's 7-furlongs Charles Town Oaks, blitzed the field at Ellis Park in her most recent start, defeating Matareya and others, and ranks favorite for Friday's $250,000 Misty Bennett Pink Ribbon Stakes back at Charles Town. Frank's Rockette and Wicked Halo are worth a look.
Saturday's $200,000 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park is a tossup. Noted, a Cairo Prince colt trained by Todd Pletcher, is the morning-line favorite because someone had to be. He did win his last outing at Saratoga, but is drawn No. 10 of 10 for this.
Around the world, around the clock
Mostahdaf, benefitting from a canny, confident ride by Frankie Dettori, led all the to a 1-length victory in Wednesday's Group 1 Juddmonte International at York with the filly Nashwa second for Hollie Doyle and Paddington's undefeated season going up in a third-place puff of smoke. The Foxes completed the order of finish.
A 5-year-old son of Frankel and racing with the Shadwell blue and white silks, Mostahdaf never was troubled in the 1 1/4-mile Juddmonte after a flying start that ended with the traditional Dettori flying dismount.
Ryan Moore kept 3-year-old Paddington loosely in touch but when he asked the Siyouni colt in the final furlong, he could not answer the call and lost second in the late going.
"There was only one way of beating Paddington and that was by racing in front of him. We went a nice, even tempo and it was a case of come and catch me. The key was trying to get the fractions right. Thankfully after 36 years, I've learned how to do it," said Dettori, who has announced his retirement at year's end.
Mostahdaf won the rich Group 3 Neom Turf Cup in Saudi Arabia and the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot earlier in the season. Paddington had run off four Group 1 victories on the trot and bid to become the superstar of the season -- a title he did not necessarily relinquish forever.
Nashwa finished fourth in the 2022 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Keeneland. Mostahdaf earned a "Win and You're In" spot in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf with his win.
Coolmore has had great success with crosses between the great Japanese sire Deep Impact and the descendants of its own Galileo.
Wednesday saw a further notch on that tree as Continuous, a son of Deep Impact's Heart's Cry, ran from well behind four rivals to land the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes.
Third in the Dante in his 2023 debut, he had disappointed in the Prix du Jockey Club or French Derby, and then was second in the King Edward VI behind King of Steel. He moved up to favorite with some of the bookmaking shops for the final British Classic of the season, the Group 1 St Leger.
The Coolmore forces indeed landed Thursday's Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, but not with the filly most thought would get the job done.
Warm Heart, with James Doyle in the irons, was along in the final furlong to get the lead and hold off Free Wind and Frankie Dettori by a head while the favorites, Savethelastdance and Bluestocking, reported third and fourth.
Savethelastdance, with Ryan Moore up, led much of the way but had no answer to the winner's bid. Dettori said a 9-pound swing in the weight-for-age event, plus traffic problems, made the difference at the finish.
Warm Heart, by Galileo, is no slouch. She had three straight wins early in the year, culminating in the Group 2 Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot before finishing fifth in the Group 1 Irish Oaks with Savethelastdance and Bluestocking first and second.
O'Brien said the 3-year-old "would probably be made for the Filly & Mare Turf" at the Breeders' Cup in November at Santa Anita, adding, "She loves fast ground and is very slick."
Conveniently, she secured a "Win and You're In" slot for that race with the victory.
In Thursday's opener, Relief Rally found an extra gear in the final yards and powered to a 1-length victory over Cherry Blossom in the Group 2 Skybet Lowther Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The Kodiac filly entered with three wins and a second in the Group 2 Queen Mary already to her credit.
Meanwhile, back in North America
Slotted in between the heavyweight bouts, several tracks host or hosted state-bred series.
Monday was for Pennsylvania-breds with each stakes race worth $100,000.
Mia Tosca outfinished favorite Golden Tabby to win the Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs by 1 1/4 lengths.
Talented Man set a pressured pace in the Marshall Jenney Handicap at 5 furlongs on turf and held off favorite Witty by a head at the wire.
Jody's Ruby beat the favorite, Sirani, by 1 1/4 lengths in the Miss Blue Tie Dye Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.
Twisted Ride stalked and pounced in the Banjo Picker Sprint on the grass, winning by 1/2 length from Beren.
Gamboling Ghost kicked loose in the stretch to win the Whistle Pig Stakes for 2-year-olds by 3 lengths.
Buy Land and See shot clear late to upset odds-on Nimitz Class by 3 1/4 lengths in the Storm Cat Stakes at 1 mile, 70 yards.
Neecie Marie came way wide from far back to capture the Mrs. Penny Stakes for fillies and mares on the lawn by 2 1/2 lengths.
Strong Tide, the odds-on favorite, got rolling late in Wednesday's $100,000 Bucchero Handicap for state-breds and was along just in time to win by 1/2 length from Jeopardy Theory. Cash Logistics was third.
Strong Tide, a 6-year-old by English Channel, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.06 for jockey Joe Ramos.
Louder Than Words also was up in the late going to take the companion $100,000 Peony Handicap for fillies and mares by 2 1/2 lengths with Sassy Katie second.
Louder Than Words, a 4-year-old filly by Mr Speaker, stopped the timer at 1:43.79 with Samuel Bermudez in the irons.
Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Grade III Canadian Derby highlights a weekend second only on the Canadian racing calendar to Woodbine's big days.
Sunday is New York Showcase Day with six races, worth from $200,000 to $250,000 for state-bred steeds.
The Toronto-area track offers four restricted events Sunday, two for 3-year-olds and two for juveniles.
Presque Isle Downs
Nice Ace shadowed pacesetting Franz Joseph into the stretch in Monday's $80,000 Avery Wisman Memorial, bid outside that rival and was just up in the final jumps to win by 1/2 length.
The 5-year-old Noble Mission gelding ran 1 mile and 70 yards on the all-weather course in 1:40.81 with Pablo Morales aboard.