Weekend racing abounds, with $4 million on the line Saturday at Belmont, the "Summit of Speed" in Florida, the Queen's Plate in Canada, the United Nations on the Jersey Shore and Durban July in South Africa.
The weekend sees the reappearance of Breeders' Cup winners Work All Week, Texas Red and Main Sequence.
There's also the Coral Eclipse in England and the Louisiana Legends series at Evangeline Downs.
While there's nice racing in California, the hiatus between Santa Anita and Del Mar prevents a total overload with only the $350,000, Grade II Los Alamitos Derby retaining our focus.
Let's get this load moving.
The nine entries for the $1.25 million, Grade I Belmont Park Derby at 10 furlongs on the lawn include the top three from the May 30 Pennine Ridge Stakes over the course -- Divisidero, Takeover Target and Startup Nation. Bolo, who was third in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, is 3-for-4 on the grass. Force the Pass has not been worse than second in five career starts and exits a win in the Grade III Penn Mile. Granny's Kitten returns after a close third in that heat. There are two overseas shippers for this popular target. Dermott Weld brings Postulation from Ireland and Mikel Delzangles ships Canndal from France. Both have shown promise.
Some heavyweights turned out among the 14 prospects for the $1 million, Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational at 10 furlongs on the turf, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Lady Eli and Pine Needles finished first and third in the recent Wonder Again Stakes over the course. Spanish Queen and Consumer Credit were 1-3 in the Grade I American Oaks at 1 1/4 miles at Santa Anita. Strict Compliance and Gypsy Jude were first and third in the Penn Oaks. Lady Zuzu was second in the Grade III Regret at Churchill Downs. Aidan O'Brien brings Outstanding from Ireland, where she has won her last two starts. And Olorda, bred and raced in Germany, comes off two races in France, including a Group 3 win.
There's no shortage of speed among the eight set for the $400,000, Grade III Belmont Sprint Championship at 7 furlongs. Private Zone, Green Gratto and Moonlight Song all typically gun for the lead. Should they burn out, the likes of The Big Beast, Stallwalking' Dude and Clearly Now will be around to pick up the pieces.
Texas Red makes his long-awaited return in the $500,000, Grade III Dwyer Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 mile. The winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the Afleet Alex colt returned to finish second in the Grade II San Vicente, then was sidelined with an injury. Six rivals also include Blofeld, winner of last year's Grade II Nashua, and some impressive recent allowance winners.
There are only six in for the $500,000, Grade II Suburban at 10 furlongs on the dirt. Tonalist already this year has won the Grade III Westcheseter and finished second to Honor Code in the Grade I Met Mile. Coach Inge, Mylute and Effinex all have recent graded stakes wins or close calls. Street Babe and Neck 'n Neck round out the field.
The $150,000, Grade III Victory Ride Stakes is for 3-year-old fillies at 6 1/2 furlongs. Promise Me Silver, Enchanting Lady, Kathballu, Irish Jasper and Miss Ella all grace this one. All have run well but consistency has not be the strong suit.
Also worthy of note on this great card, Samraat, undefeated in his first six starts, second in the Wood Memorial and then fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, returns to action in fourth race, a $100,000 optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles.
Sunday's program is all about speed.
The reigning Breeders' Cup Sprint champ, Work All Week, heads the cast for the $250,000, Grade II Smile Sprint Stakes at 6 furlongs. The 6-year-old settled for place money in his 2015 debut, the Grade III Aristides at Churchill Downs on May 30 but has been scorching the track in morning workouts since that heat. He will have to turn the tables on the winner of the Aristides, Alsvid, who is riding a three-race winning streak. Also here are Wildcat Red, who won last year's Grade II Fountain of Youth and cuts back in distance; recent local stakes winners Grande Shores and City of Weston; multiple graded stakes winner Falling Sky, who has been off for nearly 11 months; and a recent upstart from the summertime Florida ranks, Ledokol, who is ambitiously placed, indeed.
Ten are set for the $250,000, Grade II Princess Rooney Handicap for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs. The race is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Merry Meadow had been a force in the local distaff sprint ranks through a win in the Grade III Hurricane Bertie in February but finished last in the Grade II Inside Information in March and has been away ever since. The speedy R Free Roll, also a graded stakes winner, is drawn just to her outside. Even farther out is Naval Command, a winner on turf and dirt who returns from nine months vacation after a fading finish in the Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland. Flutterby, Phaniebdancing and Sweet Basil are in good form and step up in class, as does Kiss to Remember, who shipped in from Canterbury Park in Minnesota.
Jude Feld's favorite 3-year-old, Barbados, resurfaces in the $150,000, Grade III Carry Back Stakes for 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs. The Speightstown colt has won both his starts this year -- the Spectacular Bid and the Grade III Hutcheston, both in January, but hasn't been seen since. He's been working nicely at Churchill Downs. Sunday's rivals include Juan and Bina, unraced since finishing sixth in the Grade II Fountain of Youth; Royal Squeeze, second to Mr. Jordan in his last outing; My Point Exactly; Bluegrass Singer; and a promising newcomer, Sonofaderbywinner, a Fusaichi Pegasus colt who broke his maiden impressively a month ago.
There are lots of prospects among nine entered for the $150,000, Grade III Azalea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 7 furlongs. Five are last-race winners, including Warriorscmoutoplay, victress in the Jostle Stakes at Parx, and Huasca, winner of the Tangelo Handicap at Gulfstream.
The $75,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint at 5 furlongs on the lawn, drew a field of nine, many of them from the optional claimer ranks. However, Breitling Flyer was a close second in the Sawgrass Handicap last year and Anyriderill Do, a graded sprint performer, comes back after a full year's layoff.
The $75,000 Birdonthewire Stakes for 2-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs drew eight, five of them recent maiden winners.
Nine 2-year-old fillies signed on for the $75,000 Cassidy Stakes, also at 5 1/2 furlongs. Among several recent maiden winners is Ballet Diva, a Hear No Evil filly who crushed six rivals in her first start May 28, winning at 5 furlongs by 12 1/2 lengths while earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 71.
The heavyweights will be on display in Sunday's $500,000, Grade I United Nations, at 11 furlongs on the turf, a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Turf. Main Sequence, the reigning Breeders' Cup Turf and divisional Eclipse Award winner, makes his first start since finishing seventh in Dubai on World Cup night. He's joined by Grade I Man o' War winner Twilight Eclipse, Grade I Manhattan winner Slumber, Grade II Pan American winner Imagining, Manhattan runner-up Big Blue Kitten, Grade II Charles Whittingham winner Ashleyluvssugar who is in from California; and multiple graded stakes winner Divine Oath. Despite the name of the race and its storied history, there are no overseas entries.
Ten are set for Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Salvator Mile, including Grade III Razorback and Grade II Oaklawn Handicap winner Race Day, Valid and Pants On Fire.
On Friday, Got Lucky is the morning-line favorite in a field of seven for the $150,000, Grade III Molly Pitcher at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. The A.P. Indy filly comes off a second-place finish in the Monmouth Beach Stakes. Oasis at Midnight, Shayjolie and Stiffed also are fancied.
Plate Trial winner Danish Dynaformer is among 14 entered for Sunday's $1 million (Canadian) Queen's Plate, Canada's premier race. The Dynaformer colt, winner of three of his last four starts, will face one of the two who got the wire ahead of him in the Marine Stakes -- Shaman Ghost. Other notables include Woodbine Oaks winner Academic, the improving Conquest Boogaloo and Ami's Flatter, who faltered early on the Triple Crown trail down south and then finished seventh in the Marine on his return to Woodbine.
Watsdachances would seem to have every chance in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Dance Smartly for fillies and mares at 9 furlongs on the turf off her last-race win in the Grade III Gallorette at Pimlico. She has plenty of competition, though, including Smart Treasure, Smartfly and Australian import Habibi, who came oh, so close to getting her first North American win in her last race, a tough optional claimer over the same course.
Katie's Eyes ships in from Arlington Park as a likely contender among seven entered for Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Highlander Stakes at 6 furlongs on the turf. She has won four straight races, all sprinting on the lawn. Shrinking Violet, Something Extra and Go Blue or Go Home also have credentials.
Dynamic Sky has spent the first half of 2015 running against the best turf horses in the United States, first on the West Coast, then the East Coast. He's likely to find somewhat easier going in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Singspiel Stakes at 12 furlongs on the turf. Among the other seven, Hyper has run some good races in top company, Habibi is cross-entered here, Aldous Snow is a Grade III winner over the course and Java's War gets a rare grass start.
Most of the nine entrants for Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Clarendon Stakes for 2-year-old Canadian-breds are first-time starters and, of the four veterans, Beliveau is the only one with two victories.
Only five signed on for Saturday's $350,000, Grade II Los Alamitos Derby. Gimme Da Lute, never worse than third in six starts for trainer Bob Baffert, comes to this 9-furlongs challenge off a win in the Grade III Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita. Pain and Misery has been consistently good from Churchill Downs to Albuquerque. Kentuckian won the Grade III Lazaro Barrera Stakes at Santa Anita last time out in just his third start and Prospect Park has been competitive at the same level. Completing the field is Follow Me Crev, who wasn't taken for a $50,000 tag while finishing third in his last start.
A well-balanced field of 10 fillies and mares is set to contest Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Among the likely are Coffee Clique, Testa Rossi, Baffle Me, Photo Call and Distorted Beauty.
Saturday evening is "Louisiana Legends" night with a card full of stakes for state-breds and purses topping $750,000. The $125,000 Classic tops off the agenda.
Saturday is Vodacom Durban July day at Greyville -- the premier race day of the year and a major social and economic event for the southeastern coastal city. A full, tough and balanced field for the Grade 1 Durban July itself includes powerhouses The Conglomerate and and Futura as well as last-out winners Legal Eagle, Punta Arenas, French Navy, Ice Machine and Wylie Hall. The race is 2,200 meters around two legs of a roughly triangular turf course nestled in the heart of Durban. The program also includes the Grade I Golden Slipper at 1,400 meters for 2-year-old fillies, the Grade I Golden Horseshoe for 2-year-olds at the same distance, the Grade I Garden Province Stakes for distaffers at 1,600 meters, the Grade II Gold Vase at 3,000 meters and the Grade III Campanajo, named for the first winner of the Durban July.
Saturday's Group 1 Coral Eclipse at Sandown is left with only five runners, headed by undefeated Derby winner Golden Horn. The John Gosden-trained Cape Cross colt has carried all before him in four previous starts, including the Dante Stakes as his run-up to the Epsom classic. The most likely challenger is 4-year-old The Grey Gatsby, who comes off a narrow loss to Free Eagle in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. Also here are Cougar Mountain, Western Hymn and Tullius. The race is 1 1/2 miles with the going expected to be good to firm.