UPI Horse Racing Weekend Preview

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, led by assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, leaves the Churchill Downs backstretch Thursday, headed back to California. (Churchill Downs photo)
U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, led by assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, leaves the Churchill Downs backstretch Thursday, headed back to California. (Churchill Downs photo)

WASHINGTON, June 19 (UPI) -- Disappointment for California Chrome and defeat for Able Friend marked the first days of Royal Ascot while U.S. racing largely looked forward to a weekend breather.

Highlights on a short weekend of U.S. graded stakes include the $500,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown, the Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita, the Pegasus at Monmouth Park and some early but important 2-year-old races.


Our "carriage list" starts with:

Royal Ascot:

Free Eagle just held on to beat The Grey Gatsby by a short head in Wednesday's Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes -- the race California Chrome missed because of a bruised foot. Free Eagle, a 4-year-old High Chaparral colt making his first start since last fall, went to the lead early in the day's feature. The Grey Gatsby, with Jamie Spencer in the irons, found himself blocked by a rival at the critical juncture and got a late start on his run, still nearly catching the winner. Western Hymn, the cause of the traffic jam, held on for third. Free Eagle got home in 2:05.07.


"He's a very good horse and when you've a brilliant horse like him, it makes the training easy," said winning trainer Dermot Weld, who nonetheless has had a difficult time keeping Free Eagle on the course through injury and illnesses. He was third in the Group 1 Qipco Champion Stakes in October but had not raced since. "He had a heavy head cold a couple of weeks ago, and I thought today was going to be very much in doubt," Weld added. "But we got him right on the day that matters." He mentioned the Irish Champion Stakes but said the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe "would be his long-term objective."

Kevin Ryan, trainer of The Grey Gatsby, said he is looking forward "to the big races ahead." And Western Hymn's trainer, John Gosden, said a brisker pace would have helped his cause. "We probably wished we had more pace to run at, and poor old California Chrome could have helped us with that," Gosden said. California Chrome, the reigning U.S. Horse of the Year and runner-up in the Dubai World Cup, had spent months in England training for the Prince of Wales's only to come a cropper with a foot bruise two days before the race. His schedule for the remainder of the summer is yet to be announced.


In Tuesday's Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes for 3-year-olds, Gleneagles faced only four rivals and none of them could stay with the Galileo colt when Ryan Moore turned him loose for his stretch run. At the end, the dual Guineas winner was in front by 2 1/2 lengths without too much urging. Latharnach was second, followed by Consort, Aktabantay and French Guineas winner Make Believe. Gleneagles finished in 1:38.86.

"Royal Ascot and riding proper horses - that's why we do it," Moore said, "You want to ride the best horses and he's about the best one of his generation at the minute." Trainer Aidan O'Brien added, "I don't think we've had a miler as good as him." Gleneagles now has won eight straight races since finishing fourth in his career debut last June. O'Brien said if the going is right, Gleneagles could try older horses in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, then potentially stretch out to 10 furlongs.

Solow took another big step forward in capturing Tuesday's Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes with a determined late effort down the straight mile. With Maxime Guyon up, the Singspiel gelding reported home 1 length to the good of Esoterique, with Cougar Mountain third. The opening heat of the Royal Ascot meet also produced what's likely to be its biggest disappointment as Hong Kong's star miler, Able Friend, failed to find any run, was never involved and finished a dull sixth. Winning trainer Freddy Head, who also won this race with the immortal Goldikova, called Solow "a fantastic horse."


"I hope he lasts and we have many more years with him. Maybe we will come back for the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. We'll see. I'm not going to run in everything that comes because I want him to last," Head said. But Head, who campaigned Goldikova in the Breeders' Cup Mile four straight years, said Solow won't be going to Keeneland for this year's edition of that race. "I'm not a fan of the Keeneland track," he said. "I think it's a bit tight so we won't go to America this year. Next year will be the same. He hasn't got that many races to run, so it's Dubai, Longchamp and Ascot."

Able Friend's jockey, Joao Moreira, could find no excuse for his mount's disappointing performance. "Obviously, there was something he did not quite enjoy today," the "Magic Man" said. "It could be the uphill of the track, the pace of the race, first time out of Hong Kong, I don't know." Trainer John Moore said Able Friend will return to Hong Kong "and start winning there again."

Goldream, liking the solid going, just caught 50-1 chance Medicean Man on the line to win Tuesday's Group 1 King's Stand Stakes by a short head. Muthmir was second, followed by Pearl Secret and Sole Power. Goldream, a 6-year-old Oasis Dream gelding, ran 5 furlongs in 59.11 seconds under Martin Harley. Asked about plans for Goldream, trainer Robert Cowell said, "Obviously the Nunthorpe, maybe the Abbaye. But it's got to be fast ground."


On Thursday, trainer Ed Dunlop may have turned up a successor to his globetrotting stayer Red Cadeaux as Trip to Paris got the 2 miles of the Group 1 Gold Cup in some style, winning by 1 1/4 lengths from Kingfisher. The latter had some trouble finding a path forward in the late going. Forgotten Rules was another neck back in third. Trip to Paris, a 4-year-old gelding by Champs Elysees, was purchased for 20,000 guineas at a breeze-up sale for a syndicate of which Dunlop remains a partner and supplemented to the Gold Cup for 35,000 pounds sterling. "Those who know me know I'm not the most adventurous when it comes to stumping up 35,000 pounds, particularly when I own a bit of the horse," Dunlop said. He said Australian friends urged him, partly in jest, not to run Trip to Paris in the Gold Cup "'because you'll spoil his mark for the Melbourne Cup.' But I think his owners will want to do it now. Why not?" Red Cadeaux has finished second three times in Australia's premier race.

Buratino, racing in Godolphin Blue, captured Tuesday's Group 2 Coventry Stakes for 2-year-olds, opening up options for his future. The son of Exceed and Excel, trained by Mark Johnson, won by 2 lengths over the Aidan O'Brien-trained Air Force Blue and another 2 lengths from Eltezam. "I love horses," said Sheik Mohammed Bin Rasheed al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and master of Godolphin. "I was born on a horse and I love coming to Royal Ascot to see the horses here. He is my son, Sheik Hamdan's, horse and we will discuss with him where he wants to go."


Among the 2-year-old fillies, American trainer Wesley Ward saddled Acapulco to victory in Wednesday's Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes. She came off a third-place finish in her first race at Churchill Downs and later worked better on the Keeneland turf. But the win was hardly a victory for the over-the-ocean crowd as Acapulco is owned by Coolmore. "I think she's got a big future on turf," said Ward, who praised the Keeneland administration for letting the 2-year-old work on the grass. "She's a beautiful, gorgeous filly and, to look at her, you'd think she's 4." Ward has been a pioneer among American trainers patronizing Royal Ascot and said he thinks word eventually will spread back home. "Royal Ascot is such an international event that more American trainers will come over, especially the bigger-name trainers who have a lot of the better pedigrees and fast horses that could come over and enjoy such a wonderful meeting." Easton Angel was second in the Queen Mary, 1 1/2 lengths in arrears. Her Majesty the Queen's starter, Ring of Truth, finished seventh.

Curvy found running room late in Thursday's Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes for 3-year-old filles and got through to win by 1 length from Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Pleasach. Pamona was third, Gretchen was fifth and Wedding Vow finished seventh. Curvy, a Galileo filly, now could head to either the Irish Derby or the Irish Oaks.


Waterloo Bridge took Thursday's Group 2 Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds, beating Log Out Island by 1/2 length and King of Rooks by a similar margin in the 5-furlongs event. The Zoffany colt had Ryan Moore aboard for Aidan O'Brien. "He wants a fast pace, like all those Zoffanys," O'Brien said. "Fast horses go on fast ground. He might go to Goodwood or something like that."

Friday's features are the Commonwealth Cup and the Coronation Stakes. Saturday brings the Diamond Jubilee.

Looking ahead

The 2-year-olds

Six are entered for Saturday's $125,000 Santa Anita Juvenile at 5 1/2 furlongs. None has more than a maiden win to his credit and two don't even have that. Watch and learn.

Seven are in for the companion $125,000 Landaluce Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Santa Anita. The same comments apply, with six maiden winners and one without a win comprising the field.

On Saturday at Woodbine, eight juveniles are set to mix it up at 6 furlongs on the grass in the $150,000 Victoria Stakes. The morning line points to Conquest City Girl, the lone filly in the field and a first-time starter, and recent maiden winners Get'erdonebud and Bellveau.

The 3-year-olds

It's that time of year when the refugees from the Triple Crown rigors meeting the late-blooming types to see who might be able to move up a notch in the 3-year-old division before year's end. The $500,000 Ohio Derby on Saturday at Thistledown is a prime example, featuring: Whiskey Ticket, the undefeated winner of the Grade III Illinois Derby for trainer Bob Baffert; Divining Rod, winner of the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland and third in the Grade I Preakness; Far Right, second to American Pharoah in the Grade I Arkansas Derby but 15th in the Run for the Roses; War Story, third in the Louisiana Derby and 16th in Louisville; Mr. Z, third in the Arkansas Derby, 13th under the Twin Spires and fifth in the Preakness; Bodhisattva, winner of the Federico Tessio and eighth in the Preakness; and Tencendur, second in the Grade I Wood Memorial and 17th in the Kentucky Derby. The longer shots in the 1 1/16-miles race are Thirtysilverpieces and Dekabrist. Something good could come of this.


Bodhisattva is cross-entered in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park on the lovely Jersey Shore along with seven other 3-year-olds. Among the others, Don'tbetwithbruno was a good third in the Parx Derby, Mr. Jordan has run well in Florida and Chipit has won both his starts, also in Florida.

For the 3-year-old fillies, it's Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. Stellar Wind, winner of the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks, will try to make amends for her fourth-place showing in the Kentucky Oaks. Nine challengers include Fantastic Style, Sheer Pleasure and Tara's Tango, all with enough upside to spring an upset if the favorite comes up short.

And, as we look to the future, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah has shipped back to Santa Anita from Churchill Downs, where he was taking life a little easy after winning the Belmont Stakes. With his "second career" spoken for -- for big bucks -- we'll have to wait and see where and when the Pioneerof the Nile colt will race again.

Belmont Park

Eight fillies and mares are entered for Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Bed o' Roses Handicap at 7 furlongs on the main track. Dame Dorothy is the morning-line favorite as she returns from winning the Grade I Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs but La Verdad also merits a look after two straight victories on the New York circuit. Room For Me and Street Story also have claims.


Delaware Park

Saturday's $100,000, Grade II Obeah Stakes for fillies and mares is a prep for the Grade I Delaware Handicap. With 11 entered and several evenly matched, it's a contentious field. The narrow morning-line favorite is Fortune Pearl, who won last season's Grade II Delaware Oaks but has had her ups and downs since that heat.


Eight are set for Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II King Edward Stakes at 1 mile on the grass. None of these is quite ready for prime time but Tower of Texas, a 4-year-old Street Sense gelding, has won both his starts this year over the Woodbine all-weather course.

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