WASHINGTON, June 12 (UPI) -- With the Triple Crown in the rear-view mirror, weekend racing action shifts back to Churchill Downs, where three graded stakes are headed by the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap.
Beholder returns to action in California while Belmont Park and Santa Anita both have important grass mile races.
On the international front, 3-year-old fillies will contest the Prix Diane-Longines at Longchamp on Sunday.
Let's get on with it:
The $500,000, Grade I Stephen Foster is the highlight of the Churchill Downs post-Derby season and, fittingly, Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert will saddle one of the favorites for Saturday's renewal, Hoppertunity. The 4-year-old colt by Any Given Saturday won the Grade I Clark Handicap over the course last November but finished third -- behind Shared Belief and California Chrome -- in his last outing, the Grade II San Antonio on Feb. 7. He has been working well at Churchill Downs for his comeback. It won't be easy. Rivals include Dubai World Cup third-place finisher Lea, dual graded stakes winner Commissioner and a rapidly improving Noble Bird. With Shared Belief still recovering from a hip fracture and California Chrome training for Royal Ascot, the Classic division could use another top contender and this spot could produce one.
As if that weren't enough for Baffert, his charge Fame and Power seems to stand head and shoulders over seven rivals in the $100,000, Grade III Matt Winn 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. The First Defence colt ran a good third in the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland two starts back, then returned to win the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico. Bold Conquest was third in the Sir Barton and seems to be improving but would have to make up several lengths to catch Fame and Power. The others, while eligible to improve, are less accomplished and one remains a maiden.
The $200,000, Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap for fillies and mares drew a field of nine to tackle 9 furlongs on the main track. Sheer Drama and Gold Medal Dancer bounce back from their second- and third-place finishes in last month's Grade I La Troienne over the course. My Sweet Addiction exits a victory in the Grade I Vanity at Santa Anita. America, Yahilwa, Tiz Windy, Pearl Turn and Frivolous all have credentials for this.
Seven 3-year-old fillies are on board for the $100,000, Grade III Regret Stakes at 9 furlongs on the turf. Lady Zuzu, Return to Grace and Don't Leave Me seem best equipped although recent Arlington Park maiden winner America Mon Ami is coming along.
A competitive field of 10 is entered for Saturday's $300,000, Grade III Poker Stakes at Belmont Park. Graded Stakes winners abound, including 2013 Poker winner King Kreesa, Ironicus, Vyjack, Long On Value, Heart to Heart, Howe Great. However, other than the ultra-consistent Ironicus, most of these have gone a long while between wins. Il Campione makes his first start up from Chile, where he posted nine wins from 11 starts. Chad Brown takes over his training.
Bal a Bali and Talco finished 1-2, separated by just 1 length, in the Grade III American Stakes last month and they are back for Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita. Also on tap in the five-horse field is Winning Prize, who finished fourth in the American after a very slow start. Midnight Storm has won three straight races, including last summer's Grade II Del Mar Derby. Seek Again won the Grade I Hollywood Derby two years ago and has had some good moments.
Two-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder returns to action Saturday at Santa Anita in the $100,000, Grade III Adoration Stakes going 1 1/16 miles against a half dozen foes. The 5-year-old Henny Hughes mare missed the chance to defend her Breeders' Cup crown last fall with an ill-timed illness. She won her comeback race in convincing fashion in April and has been working fairly steadily since then for trainer Richard Mandella. Warren's Veneda has been racing with distinction at the top level and is dangerous here if Beholder isn't yet fully cranked. The others appear to be more allowance types.
Queen's Jewel, undefeated in three starts including the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary last month, is among 18 still in for Sunday's Group 1 Prix Diane-Longines at Longchamp. Many of these have shown talent and the race should be hard fought. Queen's Jewel, a Pivotal filly trained by Freddy Head, will have Maxime Guyon up seeking her fourth and most important victory. John Gosden sends out Star of Seville, who had a three-race winning skein snapped when she finished ninth in the Oaks at Epsom in her last start. Sound of Freedom finished second against colts in her last outing, the Group II Derby Italiano. Katania steps up after three wins against lesser foes.
Woodbine on Sunday has both the $150,000 (Canadian) Plate Trial and the $500,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Oaks.
News and notes
Ogden Mills Phipps is stepping down as Chairman of the Jockey Club after 32 years at the helm. Phipps, 74, a mainstay of the industry, cited ongoing health issues. The Jockey Club has recorded a steady string of advances during his tenure. A search committee headed by Breeders' Cup President Craig Fravel will seek a successor.
Jockey Garrett Gomez, one of the most accomplished riders of the past two decades, has officially announced his retirement. Gomez, who struggled with substance abuse issues, had not ridden since October of 2013. Gomez won 76 stakes races in 2007 and won the Eclipse Award that year and in 2008. In 2011, his peers voted him winner of the George Woolf Award. He recorded 3,769 wins from 21,639 starts and his mounts earned $205,224,899.