Preakness candidates line up in weekend horse racing

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Japanese contender Forever Young trains at Churchill Downs for the May 4 Kentucky Derby. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs
1 of 2 | Japanese contender Forever Young trains at Churchill Downs for the May 4 Kentucky Derby. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs

April 19 (UPI) -- While the Kentucky Derby contenders gather at Churchill Downs, there's other potential Triple Crown action this weekend at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and Laurel Park in Maryland, as candidates for the Preakness Stakes get final test runs.

Oaklawn also has the $1.25 million Oaklawn Handicap. Keeneland's springtime meeting continues on both turf and dirt and Santa Anita is back in action, ditto.


And the Illinois Derby is back at Hawthorne Racecourse, not what it once was, but perhaps a needed step forward for the beleaguered state racing industry.

On the international front, 3-year-olds audition for the English and French Guineas. And Australia's autumnal run of Group 1 races rolls on at Royal Randwick.

Triple Crown Doings

Preparations for Kentucky Derby 150 were well underway at Churchill Downs, as the countdown approached two weeks to the big day. No excitement is good news as trainers try to bring their horses to peak condition while avoiding injury or other mishap.


The lineup for the race remained intact, with no defections heading into the weekend.

There is a lawsuit bouncing around Louisville courts that could toss a hand grenade into the proceedings by forcing Churchill Downs to let into the race at least one horse trained by the currently banned Bob Baffert. That suit seemed a long shot chance at best as a judge Thursday denied a request for an injunction.

Elsewhere on the Triple Crown trail:

Saturday's $200,000 Bath House Row Stakes at Oaklawn Park has three Triple Crown nominees among the eight entries.

Two of them, Informed Patriot and Imperial Gun, are trained by Steve Asmussen and finished fifth and eighth, respectively, in the Arkansas Derby. The third, Count Dracula, has more of a turf and all-weather pedigree, but has performed well on dirt in his last two starts.

At Laurel Park, nine of the 11 entered for Saturday's $125,000 Federico Tessio Stakes are Triple Crown nominees. The race is a traditional launchpad for "new shooters" for the Preakness.

Look for Copper Tax, Inveigled and Speedyness, the closely bunched 1-2-3 finishers in the local Private Terms Stakes in March.

The 3-year-old fillies


Eleven are signed up for Saturday's $200,000 Valley of the Vapors Stakes at Oaklawn Park. It's a quality field, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see some of the 11 making headlines before the year's over.

Shimmering Alure, once a solid Kentucky Oaks prospect, looks to get back on track in Saturday's Weber City Miss Stakes at Laurel Park after a couple of disappointments. As with the Tessio, locals look tough.


Baffert's conveyor belt to the rich Oaklawn Park stakes schedule carries Reincarnate to Arkansas for Saturday's $1.25 million Oaklawn Handicap.

The 4-year-old Good Magic colt finished third in last year's Arkansas Derby while on loan to trainer Tim Yakteen. He hasn't exactly been dominant since finishing 13th in the Kentucky Derby, but did finish a decent third in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap in his latest start.

They're not giving anything away in this one, with the field also including the last-out winners of the local Razorback Handicap, Octane; the New Orleans Classic, Red Route One; and Challenger Stakes, Skippylongstocking, among other talented runners.

Kingsbarns and Smile Happy headline a field of nine for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland.

Five are lined up for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Californian at Santa Anita with Judge Miller as the 4-5 favorite on the morning line after two straight impressive victories.



The Godolphin team is back for Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Elkhorn at Keeneland with Bold Act as the 3-2 morning-line favorite in a talented field of 11. Frankie Dettori is booked to ride for trainer Charlie Appleby.

Filly & Mare Turf

Eight are entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita. Medoro tops the morning line and seeks her fourth win without loss.

Sunday's $150,000 Plenty of Grace Stakes at Aqueduct has nine entries, but three are "main track only" starters. Rain is in the forecast, so stay tuned.

Around the world, around the clock


While the colonies look at the first weekend in May as Kentucky Derby weekend, England sees May 4 and 5 this year as the dates of the first 2024 Classics. The sorting out process for the Guineas, thus, is in the final stages and this week's doings at Newmarket count for a lot.

Pretty Crystal got the lead in the final furlong of Wednesday's Group 3 Nell Gwyn Stakes and fended off the favorite, Dance Sequence, who was wandering a bit despite the best efforts of Ryan Moore.

At the finish, it was a neck in favor of Pretty Crystal, trained by Richard Fahey. The Dubawi filly had only a single win from five starts in 2023.


Dance Sequence, also by Dubawi, won both starts as a 2-year-old. Fahey said ownership will see about supplementing to the 1,000 Guineas. Dance Sequence's trainer, Charlie Appleby, said Dance Sequence ran well enough to go on to the big race.

Haatem was 2-for-9 as a juvenile, but shrugged that off in his 3-year-old debut in Thursday's Group 3 Craven Stakes.

The Phoenix of Spain colt, trained by Richard Hannon, raced just off the pace made by the Godolphin and Coolmore entries, Native Approach and Cambridge, asserted himself before the 2-furlongs marker and drew off to win by 3 1/2 lengths.

Eben Shaddad was second, Sons and Lovers third. Cambridge and Native Approach faded to report fourth and fifth. Alcantor was sixth.


Friday's Group 3 Prix Cleopatre (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at Saint-Cloud has 7 promising, but largely untested, 3-year-old fillies going 1 5/16 miles in quest of a shot at the French Guineas. Watch and learn.


Royal Randwick has the bubbly and the mixer on tap Saturday -- the Moet & Chandon Champagne Stakes at 1,600 meters and the Schweppes All-Aged Stakes at 1,400 meters.

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