Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah will continue his Triple Crown quest from the inside post position in Saturday's Preakness Stakes with stablemate Dortmund right alongside.
Internationally, Singapore hosts the world on Sunday in the Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup and Group 1 KrisFlyer Sprint, pre-Derby action continues in England and fillies and mares try a Group 1 mile in Japan.
Let's try this:
Eight are entered for the Grade I Preakness after a little intrigue that found Kentucky Derby 13th-place Mr. Z changing hands at the last moment to run in the Calumet Farm colors. But most of the attention will be centered near the rail where Victor Espinoza will work to position American Pharoah for a shot at the second jewel of the Triple Crown from the No. 1 gate while Dortmund, third in the Derby, will start No. 2 under Martin Garcia. The horse who split those two in Louisville, Firing Line, starts from the outside post position with Gary Stevens up. The field also includes Danzig Moon, who was fifth in the Derby, and "new shooters" Tale of Verve, Bodhisattva and Divining Rod. Bodhisattva won the local prep for this race, the Federico Tessio, and Divining Rod took the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland in his last start. Tale of Verve comes off a maiden win at Keeneland -- that in his sixth career start.
Bob Baffert, who trains both American Pharoah and Dortmund, has won the Preakness with all three of his previous Kentucky Derby winners -- Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002. He also won the Preakness with Derby also-rans Point Given in 2001 and Lookin at Lucky in 2010. "I always won with the best horse," Baffert said. "Usually those were the best horses of that crop."
Both Baffert and Firing Line's trainer, Simon Callaghan, said the shorter distance of the 1 3/16-miles Preakness could make a difference in the outcome. Callaghan noted Firing Line came up just 1 length short of American Pharoah in Louisville after an all-out stretch drive and added, "I think that the race being 1/16 of a mile shorter could help us. We've got a good post and they have probably a tougher post." Baffert said Dortmund "deserves another chance. He ran his race (in the Derby). It's a little shorter. He might like that. In my barn, everyone gets an equal, fair shot."
The race will be without a Todd Pletcher trainee. Pletcher, who three months ago seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of 3-year-olds, came down to Materiality and Carpe Diem, the sixth- and 12th-place finishers, respectively, in the Kentucky Derby, as Preakness candidates. He said Florida Derby winner Materiality will be trained up to the Belmont. The decision to bypass the weekend's big race leaves Pletcher with a strong hand in later events.
Mr. Z is in the race after his previous owner first said he would not run, even as trainer D. Wayne Lukas was shipping him to Baltimore. Then, when entries were taken, his name was on the on the list, with Calumet as the new owner.
Worthy of note: American Pharoah is ranked as tied for the third-best horse in the world in this week's Longines World's Best Racehorse rankings. He's tied with French runner and Dubai winner Solow with only Hong Kong sprinter Able Friend and Shared Belief rated 1 pound better. Firing Line is rated in a tie for No. 7.
The last two winners of the Singapore Airlines International Cup, both from Hong Kong, will face off, along with nine others, in Sunday's Group I set piece at Kranji. Dan Excel, last year's winner, starts from gate No. 10 while Military Attack, winner in 2013 and third last year, drew the No. 3 slot. The race also includes French runner Smoking Sun, last year's runner-up, French Group 2 winner Free Port Lux and Japanese Derby third Meiner Frost against a promising field from the improving Singapore local population. Dan Excel's trainer, John Moore, said his horse wasn't really at his best last year. This time around, he said, "He's traveled much better than he did last year. Even though he's drawn gate 10, he's got gate speed and he can get over." Dan Excel won last year on the pace. He likely will be fighting to get over with Wild Geese, who pressed the pace in the 2014 edition of the Cup and drew the outside gate this time around.
In the Group I KrisFlyer Sprint, Hong Kong's Aerovelocity looks tough against eight opponents. Aerovelocity, a winner last time out in the Group 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen in Japan, also won the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin last December. Trainer Paul O'Sullivan admitted, "He's at the end of a long campaign," but said the 6-year-old gelding has traveled well. Hong Kong also sends out Lucky Nine, who won the last two editions of this race, and Rich Tapestry, who was third in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen in March after a misfire in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
It's Able Friend -- and a friend -- to Royal Ascot from the former British colony. Able Friend, co-rated the top horse in the world, is confirmed for the Queen Anne Stakes, subject only to a satisfactory performance in a barrier trial expected June 2 at Sha Tin. Able Friend ran out of local competition at Hong Kong a while back and trainer John Moore has been pressing the owner, Dr. Cornel Li Fook-kwan, to give the 5-year-old a chance on the world stage. Stablemate Not Listenin'tome will travel with Able Friend and is slotted for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Ascot.
Golden Horn was a bit of a surprise winner in Thursday's Group 1 Betfred Dante Stakes at York -- a prime trial for the rapidly approaching Investec Derby at Epsom. But the colt is no cinch even to run in the big race. With William Buick up, Golden Horn performed perfectly, rating well off an honest pace, sweeping to the lead when asked and getting clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Jack Hobbs. Elm Park was third and the two Aidan O'Brien-trained starters, Ol' Man River and John F Kennedy, finished sixth and seventh in the seven-horse field. The top two are trained by John Gosden and Jack Hobbs was the better-fancied before the race. Golden Horn, now undefeated in three starts, is not entered for the Derby and his owner, Anthony Oppenheimer, will decide whether to put up the 75,000 pounds sterling to get him into the race. Gosden, of course, said he can see the logic in putting up the money and Buick said he sees improvement in the colt's future. But Oppenheimer argued the French Derby "looks more attractive in some ways" and noted Golden Horn's pedigree does not promise much more than 1 1/4 miles. The Derby tacks on 2 furlongs beyond that distance. The Golden Horn is the waterway that joins the Bosphorus at Istanbul in Turkey.
Eighteen are in for Saturday's Group 1 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury with Godolphin's Night of Thunder the likely favorite. The rich, seven-race card also features some recognizable names in other races, including Telescope in the Al Rayyan stakes at 12 furlongs.
Sunday's Group 1 Victoria Mile at Tokyo Racecourse finds fillies and mares tackling 1 mile around the sweeping turn and into the long homestretch. The race has produced some important winners, including Vodka, Buena Vista and Apapane. It's open to foreign horses but the field for this year's renewal is all-local. Among those is last year's Oaks winner, Nuovo Record.
Back in North America:
The $300,000, Grade II Dixie, with an overflow field of turf miler types, is a northern extension of this winter's Florida turf battles. Most of the major contenders have duked it out at Gulfstream Park during the cold-weather months. War Correspondent, Arepika and Grand Tito were 1-2-3 in the Grade III Appleton in March. Lochte was seventh in both that race and the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, beaten only 2 lengths in the latter, but won the Grade III Tampa Bay. Long On Value, Grand Tito and Arepika finished in that order in the Grade III Canadian Turf in February. Manchurian High makes his first start since a close fourth in the Grade I Gulfstream Park Handicap at 9 furlongs. On the way north, Arepika and Long On Value finished second and third in the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland. Newcomers to this mix include Up With the Birds, making his first start since finishing rearward in the Group 1 Japan Cup in November, and Legendary, coming off a fourth in the Keeneland race in his seasonal bow.
A baker's dozen distaffers are set for the $150,000, Grade III Gallorette Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the grass. The field includes recent imports from France and England as well as American runners from all points of the compass. With several making just their first or second start of the year, the race seems pretty wide open.
The $150,000, Grade III Maryland Sprint Handicap has a field of nine, from diverse locations and last-start conditions. Coup de Grace, Picko's Pride and Happy My Way would appear to be in good recent form, with their last races coming in Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida, respectively.
The $100,000 The Very One at 5 furlongs on the turf attracted 11 fillies and mares, including Breeders' Cup fourth-place finisher Ageless. Shrinking Violet comes off a win in the Grade II Monrovia, also down the Santa Anita hill. Aquinnah, Satan's Mistress and Tizgale filled the trifecta slots in the April 12 Sunset at Gulfstream Park.
Nine 3-year-olds not quite ready for prime time are entered for the $100,000 Sir Barton at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. Donworth and Fame and Power, who finished second and third behind Divining Rod in the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland, are among the likely ones in this. Others come from the Illinois and Arkansas Derbies. Noteworthy Peach was second in the local Federico Tessio.
The $100,000 James W. Murphy has 3-year-olds running 1 mile on the turf. The field ranges from Lysander the Greek, who has been running on British all-weather tracks, to Bluegrass Singer, winner of the Parx Derby on the dirt and Force the Pass, victorious in the Cutler Bay on the Gulfstream Park grass. There are only nine but they're tough to sort out.
The $100,000 Chick Lang is for 3-year-old sprinters. The 11-horse field includes an eclectic mix of Triple Crown dropouts and up-and-coming types.
Black-Eyed Susan Friday
Only one runner from the Kentucky Oaks continues on in Friday's $250,000, Grade II Black-Eyed Susan for 3-year-old fillies. That's Include Betty, who finished eighth in Louisville after encountering traffic. In Baltimore, she faces Grade I Santa Anita Oaks runner-up Luminance as well as several from the Gulfstream Park Oaks, the rapidly improving Sweetgrass and Ahh Chocolate and several local runners.
Commissioner is the morning-line favorite for the $300,000, Grade III Pimlico Special at 1 3/16 miles on the main course. The 4-year-old A.P. Indy colt exits a victory in the Grade III Skip Away at Gulfstream Park at the same distance and will face the likes of Encryption, Cat Burgler, Vyjack, Albano, Transparent and Tapiture.
Lady Sabelia is the even-money pick on the morning line in the $100,000 Skipat Handicap at 6 furlongs on the main course. She won four straight to wind up 2014 but was crushed in the Grade I Madison at Keeneland in her seasonal debut, finishing last of six after making the early lead. Eight others wait to take advantage of any similar vulnerability.
Also on the Friday card: The $150,000, Grade III Allaire DuPont Distaff at 9 furlongs on the grass with last year's Black-Eyed Susan winner Stopchargingmaria the main attraction; the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint at 5 furlongs with Ben's Cat looking to bounce back from a rare defeat against the horse who beat him, Bold Thunder; the $150,000, Grade III Miss Preakness for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs; The $100,000 Hilltop for distaffers at 1 1/16 miles on the green course.
La Verdad is the odds-on favorite among five fillies and mares entered for Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Vagrancy Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs. The 5-year-old Yes It's True mare won her first start of 2015 with ease, taking the Grade II Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct by 5 1/4 lengths. Trainer Linda Rice said a good showing Saturday could lead to bigger targets in the remainder of the mare's racing career. "She'll be going to the breeding shed in the fall. If we could get her a Grade I win, that would be the ultimate goal," Rice said. The competition includes Room For Me, who won the Videogenic Stakes at Aqueduct by 13 1/2 lengths on March 21, just six weeks after being claimed for $12,500. She is a 5-year-old daughter of Harlington.
Heart to Heart is the narrow favorite for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Red Bank Stakes at 1 mile on the grass. The 4-year-old English Channel colt won three straight races at the end of last year's campaign and warmed up for this by running fourth in the Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile at Santa Anita, fading from the lead in the final yards. Also in the seven-horse field, with three main-track-only also-eligibles are Rose Briar and Aztec Brave.
Ami's Flatter, U S Marshal and Danish Dynaformer are the favorites among nine entries for Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Marine Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track.
On Sunday, a tough field of five is set for the $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Vigil Stakes at 7 furlongs. Calgary Cat, Za Approval and Pender Harbour all have strong cases. Also in are Puntrooskie and Black Hornet.