WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 (UPI) -- It's a big weekend on the turf in North America while France stages its final preps for the Arc weekend and England celebrates the world's oldest classic race, dating back to 1776 -- when neither the race nor the winner had a name.
Besides the St Leger referenced above, the weekend also includes a diverse and talent-packed field in the Irish Champion Stakes and the Irish St Leger. And it's worth noting an interesting and promising development Wednesday in China.
Woodbine has top-shelf fields with international spice for its grassy Sunday card, even after the retirement of Wise Dan. Kentucky Downs continues its unique and -- for handicappers -- challenging meeting near the Kentucky-Tennessee border.
It's Super Derby weekend at Louisiana Downs and Churchill Downs swings back into action with the Grade III Iroquois Stakes and Grade II Pocahontas for 2-year-olds tacking two turns.
Speaking of swinging into action: Let's do just that.
Six horses lined up at Cantley Common near Doncaster on Sept. 24, 1776, to contest a race for 3-year-olds conceived by local sportsman Anthony St Leger. The race was not named for its creator until two years later, when it was moved to Doncaster's Town Moor. The Sampson filly who won the first edition, owned by the Prime Minister, was not named Allabaculia until after her victory. The race since has lent its name to many other distance races around the globe, most recently the American St. Leger at Arlington Park. The American track insists on the "St." spelling for unfathomable reasons.
Saturday's renewal of the Doncaster St Leger -- a Group 1 event at 2,900 meters -- features three Irish-based contenders conditioned by Aidan O'Brien. Order of St George, Bondi Beach and Fields of Athenry all have claims as potential young stayers. O'Brien saddled the 2013 winner, Leading Light. Medrano, Proposed, Storm the Stars, Vengeur Masque and Simple Verse round out the field.
The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe weekend is the culmination of the racing season on the Continent and Sunday's festivities at Longchamp are the dress rehearsal. Six Group events will set the bar for the big day, with Treve set to go in the Group 1 Prix Vermille en route to an historic run for a third straight Arc. Trainer Criquette Head-Maarek said after Tuesday's gallop the 5-year-old mare is "getting stronger," which will not come as good news for potential rivals in Vermille or in the Oct. 4 Arc itself. Also on tap on Saturday are the Group 1 Moulin de Longchamp at 1,600 meters, the Group 2 Prix Niel for 3-year-old colts and fillies at 2,400 meters, the Group 2 Prix Foy at 2,400 meters for 4-year-olds and up, and a brace of Group 3 events.
Saturday's Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown may feature a clash between Golden Horn and Gleneagles, with the added dash of the veteran Cirrus Des Aigles, The Grey Gatsby, Prince of Wales victor Free Eagle and the winner of last month's Grade I Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park, Highland Reel. (Wait. That's three "eagles" in one field!). But the filly trio of Found, Legatissimo and Pleascach could prove to be more than a handful for the young colts and veteran gelding. Participation by dual Guineas winner Gleneagles, as usual, is contingent on having reasonably good going and rain is forecast from Friday night into Saturday.
Sunday also finds the Group 1 Irish St Leger off at the Curragh with Brown Panther expected back from injury to defend his title against as many as 15 others. This version is 2,800 meters and open to 3-year-olds and up. Supporting features are the Group 1 Moyglare Stud for 2-year-old fillies and the Group 1 National for 2-year old colts and fillies.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club and the Chinese Equestrian Association Wednesday announced a "strategic cooperation" that will start with collaboration on a day of racing Nov. 7 at Wenjiang, near Chengdu. The HKJC then will move along to help in training jockeys, stewards and judges and developing advanced drug-testing protocols. Assisting in capacity-building and administration "with an advanced focus on integrity, is a key and it is an important mission we share with the Asian Racing Federation and the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities," said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the HKJC. In a news release, the Club said it "hopes that this cooperation can assist in the ongoing advancement of China's horse racing industry towards more international integration." Long-term discussions of the potential for commercial horse racing in China acknowledge many hurdles -- first among them, approval from the Central Committee and local government officialdom. Should that happen, there would be an immediate demand for the kind of capacity the HKJC-CEA agreement seems to presage. The HKJC already has made significant investment on the mainland, including construction of an elaborate training center several hourse north of Hong Kong. Specific details of the 7 November race fixture in Wenjiang will be released at a later date.
Back in North America
It's tough to look past Danish Dynaformer in Sunday's $300,000 (Canadian), Grade I Northern Dancer Turf at Woodbine. After detouring to the all-weather for the Queen's Plate campaign, trainer Roger Attfield put the Dynaformer colt back on the grass in his last outing, the 1 1/2-miles Breeders' Stakes, and he responded with a 7 3/4-lengths victory. Sunday's test is at the same 12 furlongs, albeit against significantly sterner competition. That includes Lucky Speed, winner of the American St. Leger at Arlington; Interpol, winner of the local Grade II Sky Classic; Aldous Snow, winner of the Grade II Singspiel; and Triple Threat, who won the Grade II Monmouth Handicap before flopping in the Arlington Million after a downpour turned that course very yielding. Habibi is cross entered here and in the Grade I Canadian.
Hyper is the morning-line favorite in a full field for Saturday's $600,000, Grade III Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs at 1 1/2 miles. The 8-year-old exits a third-place finish in the Grade III American St. Leger at Arlington Park. In truth, the race is wide open, with contestants coming from all points of the compass. It's either a program-stabber or a handicapping challenge, depending on the point of view.
Ditto for the 11 entered for Saturday's $300,000 Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs. These guys are going 13 furlongs on the undulating, European-style course with Closing Bell as the 2-1 morning-line favorite off his runner-up showing behind the aforementioned Highland Reel in the Grade I Secretariat at Arlington last month. Conquest Pacemaker is in from Canada, Gin Riki from California, Good and Proper from Florida.
Saturday's $200,000 PTHA President's Cup at Parx got a nicely balanced field of nine to try 9 furlongs on the green course. Heart to Heart is the morning-line pick after winning the Grade III Oceanport at Monmouth in his last outing. Also fancied are Inchcape, Cage Fighter and Divine Oath.
Filly & Mare Turf
An international dozen signed on for Saturday's $500,000, Grade II Sands Point Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park, going 9 furlongs. Her Emmynency is in from California fresh off a second-place showing in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks and has Gary Stevens in tow. Mrs McDougal won the Grade II Lake George at Saratoga in her last start. And the top two from the recent Grade II Lake Placid at Saratoga -- Sentiero Italia and Miss Temple City -- reappear in this heat. But they and the others on the home team have something to prove against a wave of invaders. Malabar made an impression while running against some top fillies in France and the UK. Osaila won earlier this year at Ascot and Newmarket. Marabea was second in a Group 3 in Italy before shipping over. Blond Me comes from England with a nice recent record. Iromea has been racing in the minors in France.
Strut the Course is the morning-line pick for Saturday's $300,000 (Canadian), Grade I Canadian Stakes at Woodbine at 9 furlongs. The 5-year-old Strut the Stage mare finished second to Uchenna -- who also is in the field -- in the Grade III Ontario Matron in their last outing. Trainer Graham Motion ships in from California with Hoop of Colour, a 4-year-old Distorted Humor filly who raced well enough in England, then won her first two starts in the United States, most recently the Grade II Santa Ana. The top three from the 1 1/2-miles Flaming Page -- Habibi, Button Down and Llanarmon -- all signed on for this, too.
Sunday's $1 million (Canadian), Grade I Ricoh Woodbine Mile will miss the retired, two-time U.S. Horse of the Year Wise Dan, who was to have made his comeback here. But it's still a tough field, with the usual international interest. Obviously, at age 7, doesn't seem to have lost any of his speed but he was tending to get a bit short at the end of last year's campaign, finishing fourth in the Del Mar Mile and fifth in the Breeders' Cup Mile. He hasn't raced since that effort but has been working quickly for trainer Philip D'Amato for his first trip to Woodbine and has won of a long layoff in the past. He drew the rail, to boot. Trainer Bill Mott has Lea back on the grass and back at a proven distance after his third-place finish in the Dubai World Cup, a second in the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs and a flop in the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga. Grand Arch has been on the grounds since shortly after winning the Grade II Fourstardave at Saratoga in August. Reporting Star, Tower of Texas and Kaigun finished 1-2-3 in the 7-furlongs on the Woodbine lawn three weeks ago. The overseas raiders are Mondialiste, a 5-year-old son of Galileo last seen winning a Group 3 event at York, and Mr. Owen, a 3-year-old Invincible Spirit colt who has run very well in France. Both are dangerous.
Eleven are set for Saturday's $300,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Dash -- a 6 1/2-furlongs affair. It's as contentious as any of the big races at this fascinating venue and Holy Lute is the morning-line favorite off a win in the Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar just three weeks ago.
Saturday's $300,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint, at 6 1/2 furlongs, drew another full and competitive field of 12. Shrinking Violet, Thank You Marylou, Theater Star and Sky Treasure are among the morning-line favorites.
Twelve are entered for Saturday's $100,000 Laurel Dash at 6 furlongs. Few of these are exactly win machines so maybe it's Oak Bluffs, who has taken four straight at Monmouth Park, including the My Frenchman Stakes last time out, or perhaps A.P. Elvis is worth a look off two straight victories in optional claiming company.
Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Super Derby at Louisiana Downs got seven, including the winner of the Super Derby Prelude, The Pickett Factor, who was installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite. The Gold Tribute gelding, out of the Dynaformer mare Dynaspice, has won three straight over the track. Allied Air Raid, a Midshipman gelding who was second in the Grade III Iowa Derby and then second in the Prelude, also is second on the morning line at 9-5. Prime Engine invades from the Pacific Northwest as the winner of the Emerald Downs Derby. Mobile Bay was a three-time winner at Evangeline Downs before getting home third in the Prelude.
Only four signed on for Saturday's $200,000 Temperence Hill Invitational at Belmont Park, at 1 5/8 miles. V.E. Day drew the rail and will seek his first win since last year's Travers. Tacticus is fresh off a victory in the 1 3/4-mile Birdstone Stakes at Saratoga a month ago. Slim Shadey and Indycott round out the field.
Conquest Windycity is Mike Battaglia's morning-line favorite for Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. The Tiznow colt finished second in his only previous start, which came on the grass at Saratoga. He's facing stakes winners Cocked and Loaded and Expected Ruler among 11 rivals, so the 1 1/16-miles test is much more tossup than sure thing.
Also: Saturday's $75,000 Shakopee Juvenile at Canterbury; Saturday's $75,000 Sunday Silence at Louisiana Downs; Saturday's $75,000 Laurel Futurity and Sunday's $75,000 Contender at Los Alamitos.
The Zip Zip Man is back from Arlington Park to assume the favorite's role for Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Summer Stakes at Woodbine. The City Zip colt made the same trip in July to finish second in the Colin Stakes, just missing to Riker. The latter returned last week to win the local Swynford Stakes. Conquest Enforcer is a first-time starter whose speedy workouts have generated some enthusiasm. Hammers Vision finished third in the Grade II Saratoga Special last month.
Just Wicked, winner of the Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga, returns to the races against 7 foes in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Pocahontas at Churchill Downs. Princess Kennedy is an interesting shipper from Emerald Downs outside Seattle, where she won two of four previous starts, including the Barbara Shinpoch Stakes by 8 3/4 lengths. Dothraki Queen will get some play from "Game of Thrones" fans and Ellis Park supporters.
Also: Saturday's $75,000 Selima Stakess at Laurel Park, Saturday's $75,000 Happy Ticket at Louisiana Downs.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Gamble's Ghost is the lukewarm 3-1 morning-line favorite for Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Natalma Stakes at Woodbine at 1 mile on the grass. The Ghostzapper filly won at first asking over the all-weather course, drawing off to score by more than 8 lengths. Stuck on the rail is the undefeated Caren, whose three triumphs include the Shady Well Stakes and the Nandi Stakes, both on the local all-weather. Also well regarded by the oddsmaker are She'll Do It, Pulled the Goalie and Silky Girl -- all maiden winners only.
There's a lot of action to track on the track this weekend. Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net) offers its up-to-the minute preview on Friday and Jude Feld (www.popejude.com) contributes his unique and insightful perspective on potential winners.