WASHINGTON, Aug. 28 (UPI) -- American Pharoah is the jewel in the crown that is Saratoga's Saturday program -- seven stakes races, six of them Grade I events and four of them Breeders' Cup qualifiers.
Some of the 3-year-olds who would rather avoid American Pharoah, thank you very much, are on display in Pennsylvania and in New Jersey. Top distaffers go to the post at the Spa and at Del Mar. And the New York Racing Association hasn't forgotten the state-bred crowd. Far from it.
It's a bit of a quiet week on the international front as momentum gathers toward the big season-end meetings in England, France and Ireland, the upcoming Group 1 events in Japan and the looming start of the Hong Kong season.
Wise Dan is on course for his return to the races but Lexie Lou missed the start her connections were eyeing.
And Rachel Alexandra's first foal finally made it to the races and. It didn't look good at first, it all worked out in the end.
But we start at the beginning, with:
U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is the 1-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday's $1.6 million, Grade I Travers at Saratoga, the "Mid-Summer Derby." But that doesn't mean much to nervous trainer Bob Baffert, who sees himself protecting the legacy of a living legend. Speaking by phone from California at Tuesday's post position draw, Baffert singled out Texas Red as a threat. That rival, he said, "is a very nice horse. He won the Breeders' Cup (Juvenile) very impressively ... He is going to be tough. It's not an easy race. You've got Frosted in there. There are the new shooters coming up. So, we're prepared for a tough race."
Texas Red got gate No. 4, two slots outside American Pharoah. NYRA oddsmaker Eric Donovan installed Frosted, the Godolphin Racing stalwart, as the second choice on the morning line at 6-1. Texas Red, who narrowly defeated Frosted in the Grade II Jim Dandy over the course on Aug. 1, was listed at 8-1. The others in Saturday's 146th running of the Travers -- Upstart, Tale of Verve, Smart Transition, Frammento, King of New York and Mid Ocean -- all were posted at double-digit odds. American Pharoah overcame a long history of failure to win the Triple Crown and the Pioneerof the Nile colt will have to do the same to win at the Spa. Only three previous Triple Crown winners have contested the Travers and, of those, only Whirlaway in 1941 came away with the victory. Affirmed finished first in the 1978 edition but was set down to second behind Alydar. Gallant Fox finished second in 1930.
This isn't the only action in the Classic division. Those who opted not to take on American Pharoah can be found at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania for Saturday's $300,000, Grade III Smarty Jones (Souper Collosal, Divining Rod, Bluegrass Singer, Tekton and four others) or in Sunday's $150,000 Philip Iselin Stakes at Monmouth (Valid, Bradester and four others). Both races are worth a look.
Remember, if you're out for a late-summer drive on Saturday, you can catch the action live from Saratoga exclusively on Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net) on Sirius XM. And for an informed perspective, try www.popejude.com where Jude Feld applies what he learned during last week's visit at Del Mar to this week's festivities at the Spa.
Six of the best are set to mix it up -- again -- in Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga. The 9-furlongs test features Stopchargingmaria, the 2-1 morning-line favorite off her last-out victory in the Grade III Shuvee Handicap over the course and distance. She faces the second- and third-place finishers from that heat, Untapable and Tiz Windy, as well as the first- and third-place finishers from the Grade I Delaware Handicap, Sheer Drama and America. The field is completed with Got Lucky, winner of her last two, including the Grade III Molly Pitcher. There's not a whole lot of proven early speed among the half dozen, so the race could be quite tactical.
Stellar Wind blows back into action in Sunday' $100,000, Grade III Torrey Pines Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar, going 1 mile against five rivals. The Curlin filly last was seen winning the Grade II Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita in June. Before that, she won the Grade III Santa Ysabel and the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks en route to a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks. Among the others, Big Book is undefeated in three starts.
Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga drew as international a field as any big race could want, with runners originally from France, Brazil and Germany among the eight entrants. Flintshire, a French-based globetrotter, hasn't won since the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin last December but that's more due to the competition he's faced than to any lack of ability. In the interim he's been second behind Dolniya in both the Prix Darshaan at Chantilly and the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan; third behind Pether's Moon and Dolniya in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom; and second behind Treve -- and ahead of Dolniya -- in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. The other foreigners -- France's Guardini, Germany's Messi and Brazilian import Fixador -- have a ways to go to match strides with Flintshire or with the local group -- graded stakes winners Red Rifle, Imagining, Twilight Eclipse and War Dancer.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Every one of the eight prospects for Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga is a proven commodity but, in truth, it's hard to look past La Verdad. The 5-year-old Yes It's True mare has won all four of her starts this year, most recently the Grade II Honorable Miss over the same course but at 1 furlong shorter than the 7 furlongs of the Ballerina. Potential negatives: She faded to finish fifth in this race last year and concedes weight to every rival save Dame Dorothy. The latter has won two in a row, including the Grade III Bed o' Roses at Belmont in June at 7 furlongs. Street Story is here, too, and she was the runner-up in both the Honorable Miss and the Bed o' Roses. Unbridled Forever, Kiss to Remember, Room for Me, Merry Meadow and Sarah Sis all won their last start.
Filly & Mare Turf
Tepin is hard not to like in Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Ballston Spa at Saratoga -- a race which might be slightly overlooked as the next-up heat after the Travers. Tepin, a 4-year-old Bernstein filly, would be undefeated in her last three starts but for a nose loss to Hard Not to Like in the Grade I Diana in her last start. The winner from that is not contesting this race but the third-place horse, Kitten's Queen, is back and looking tough. My Miss Sophia and Coffee Clique both have claims here and there are some foreigners to stir the pot, notably Chilean import Dacita, who makes her first U.S. start for trainer Chad Brown.
Photo Call is the morning-line favorite among seven in for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Violet Stakes at Monmouth Park. Campaigned earlier in Ireland, the 4-year-old Galileo filly hasn't won much so far in the United States but has show talent for trainer Graham Motion. The others are Cushion, Maximova, Granny Mc's Kitten, Means Well and American Girl.
Lexie Lou, last year's Canadian Horse of the Year, was scratched from her scheduled start Wednesday at Woodbine. Trainer Mark Casse said the filly apparently scratched her eye on some straw and it swelled shut. He said Lexie Lou will return when the eye heals. Her 2014 campaign included not only victories in the Woodbine Oaks and Queen's Plate but also a second-place showing in the Grade I Hollywood Derby on the Del Mar turf. In the latter race, she finished second, beaten only 2 lengths by California Chrome -- the only race California Chrome has won since the 2014 Preakness. She then was second to Thegirlinthatsong in the Grade II La Canada on the Santa Anita dirt on Jan. 17 before going to the sidelines.
Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan worked 5 furlongs in 59 seconds flat Tuesday at Keeneland and is on course to return from a trouble-filled year in the Grade I Woodbine mile on Sept. 19. The Blood-Horse quotes trainer Charlie LoPresti: "I don't want to get ahead of myself but I don't anticpate any problems. He looked really good this morning. Wise Dan made a complete recovery last spring from a scary encounted with colic, only to be diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture in his right front fetlock after winning the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last October. He hasn't raced since. Before the ill-starred 2014 campaign, the son of Wiseman's Ferry won two straight Breeders' Cup Miles and two Horse of the Year Eclipse Awards for LoPresti and owner/breeder Morton Fink. Altogether, he has earned six of the statuettes.
Barbados is the 5-2 morning-line choice for Saturday's $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury Park in Minnesota. The Speightstown colt comes off a disappointing third-place finish in the Grade II Amsterdam at Saratoga but won two stakes events at Gulfsteam Park during the winter. Syntax comes to this from a victory in the Grade III Kent Stakes at Delaware Park. Nun the Less and Gallery also are stakes winners.
Saturday's $500,000, Grade I King's Bishop for 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs is a fascinating mix of Triple Crown refugees and fresh, lightly raced latecomers. A likely favorite, though, is Holy Boss, who's somewhere in between those extremes. After fading out of contention in the Grade I Champagne last fall, trainer Steve Asmussen backed off the Street Boss colt and he developed nicely sprinting this year, four straight wins leading up to the Grade II Amsterdam at the Spa on Aug. 1. Competitive Edge looked like a monster in his first four starts but faded badly in his last two outings. Among the tested warriors is Mr. Z, who finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Preakness. At the other end of the spectrum, Watershed makes just his second career start for Godolphin and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin after rallying from last to victory in his career opener three weeks ago over the same track. There are several other prospects among the 11 entries.
An even dozen older horses are entered for Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Forego, the race after the King's Bishop. The Big Beast won the King's Bishop last year and reappears here, seeming to be on his game after a close second in the Grade I Vanderbilt over the course. Tamarkuz, winner of the Group 1 Godolphin Mile on World Cup night, makes his second start since that triumph, hoping to improve on a dull fourth in the Grade I Met Mile. Private Zone won the Grade III Belmont Sprint in his last outing and seldom misses the frame. Salutos Amigos is nigh unbeatable when he's on his game, which isn't as frequently as owner/trainer David Jacobson might like. Race Day was a beast at Oaklawn Park in the spring but returned from a freshening to throw in a clunker in the Grade III Salvator Mile. Bourbon Courage just missed catching Private Zone for show money in last fall's Breeders' Cup Sprint and can participate in this with his best effort.
Otherwise and elsewhere:
Friday's lineup at the Spa would be a dream for almost any track. Here, it's six stakes worth a total of $1.15 million -- all for New York-breds. Yikes.
Rachel Alexandra's first foal, Jess's Dream, looked more like a nightmare for the first two thirds of his first start, lagging the field badly in a Monday maiden event at Saratoga. But with John Velazquez instructing, the Curlin colt proved a quick learner and ran by them all in the stretch to win by 1 length. The competition wasn't anything to write home about, the final time wasn't so hot and the come-from-behind move was aided by a hot early pace. Still, it was a pretty remarkable effort and Jess's Dream is one to watch. He's owned by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. McLaughlin, obviously relieved at the outcome, quipped: "He'll get better with racing. An (allowance race) at Belmont is probably next for him. Or the Travers. One of the two. No, an (allowance race) is next." Rachel Alexandra, who raced for Stonestreet, won 13 of 19 starts and, in 2009, swept the Fair Grounds Oaks, Fantasy, Kentucky Oaks, Preakness Stakes, Mother Goose, Haskell and Woodward. Curlin, also campaigned by Stonestreet, wasn't so bad, either.
Also Monday, Catch My Drift ran right by pacesetting favorite Tiz So Sweet and drifted off to a 6 1/4-lengths victory over that one in the $100,000 Summer Colony Stakes for fillies and mares. Imposing Grace was another 5 3/4 lengths back in third. Catch My Drift, a 4-year-old daughter of Pioneerof the Nile, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.72 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. "She had a few little issues and got her year started late, but now I think we finally have her back on track and hopefully we can build off this race," said winning trainer Chad Brown.