WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- It's a green kind of weekend in U.S. horse racing, with most of the action on the turf in Kentucky, Maryland and New York.
Kentucky Downs, with some terrible weather in the rear-view mirror, retained full and competitive fields for its rich grass races, with a full card in the books early in the week and yet more action on Saturday. We've got it all.
The $1 million Pennsylvania Derby is replete with Derby winners from other jurisdications. And a smattering of juvenile events could offer a hint toward the big races coming up in those divisions.
A Group 1 event in Australia highlights a mostly interim weekend.
In the interim, consider this:
Da Big Hoss posted the biggest win of his rapidly improving career in Monday's $600,000, Grade III Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs. The race was rescheduled from Saturday. With Joe Rocco aboard, Da Big Hoss sat well off the pace, came through inside rivals on the turn and easily outfinished Power Ped to win by 2 lengths. Roman Approval showed the way and held on for third. The favorite, Hyper, finished sixth. Da Big Hoss, a 4-year-old Lemon Drop Kid colt, ran 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:33.40. He was claimed for $50,000 on June 21 at Churchill Downs by trainer Mike Maker for Skychi Racing and has won all three races since that date, one by disqualification. He earned $352,980 for Monday's win alone. As Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee has been known to mutter: "It's an easy game."
Closing Bell tracked the pace in Monday's $300,000 Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs, got by the early leaders entering the stretch and held off Wireless Future to win by a head. Mission Driven finished third. Closing Bell, a Tapit colt, ran 1 5/16 miles on good turf in 2:17.60 with Jose Lezcano in the irons. The colt, owned by WinStar Farm and trained by Bill Mott, finished fourth in the Grade I Belmont Derby and then trailed only Highland Reel while finishing second in the Grade I Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park last month.
On the weekend roster:
Force the Pass heads a field of eight for Saturday's $400,000 Commonwealth Derby on the Laurel Park lawn. The Speightstown colt won the Grade III Penn Mile and the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational earlier this year before finishing third behind Highland Reel and Closing Bell in the aforementioned Secretariat at Arlington Park. In the latter race, Force the Pass reared at the start and essentially lost all chance. As noted above, Closing Bell returned to win Monday at Kentucky Downs while Highland Reel ran well before fading against the world's top-rated horse, Golden Horn, in last weekend's Irish Champion Stakes. On paper, none of the other seven has a resume that would threaten a legitimate effort by Force the Pass. Fundamental, an Arch colt trained by Chad Brown who comes off a nice allowance win at the Spa, might be worth a "just in case" look.
Earlier on the same program at Laurel is the $250,000 Commonwealth Cup for 3-year-olds and up. Up With the Birds hasn't won in more than a year but he has been competitive in all the graded stakes he's contested other than last November's Japan Cup, in which he finished 16th. He most recently was fourth for the second straight year in the Grade I Arlington Million. Much the same could be said for Legendary except that he has not visited Tokyo and finished 12th on the deep going in this year's Arlington Million. The other recognizable name in this bunch is Mr Speaker, who has been a puzzle for trainer Shug McGaughey.
Eleven are set for Saturday's $100,000 Alphabet Soup for Pennsylvania-breds at Parx Racing, with improving local runner Uncle Dave the morning-line favorite but the well-bred Pumpkin Rumble worth a look off the layoff while shipping in from Arlington Park.
Filly & Mare Turf
Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Noble Damsel at Belmont Park drew a field of nine. Most of them have been running competitively in roughly comparable company without doing a whole lot of winning. Pick the right ones and be rewarded. Crowley's Law comes from England and has raced in Turkey and Germany -- also with a lot more seconds than wins on her recent report card.
There aren't a whole lot of recognizable names in Saturday's $200,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs but there are some up-and-coming fillies in the 1 5/16-miles event. Among them are morning-line favorites Dating Lady Luck and Return to Grace. The latter comes off a runner-up finish, by a nose, to Mizz Money in the Grade III Pucker Up on the Arlington Million undercard. Dating Lady Luck was third, beaten just a head, in a good allowance event at Saratoga in her last outing. Team Block, always dangerous here, brings Giant Deduction, who should be flying late. Walking the Kitten was a closing fifth in the Pucker Up, beaten just 1 length. Miss Double d'Oro won the Wine Country in California in her last race.
Honey Lake and Dido, the top two finishers in the CTT and TOC Handicap at Del Mar last month, top Saturday's $300,000 Fasig-Tipton Ladies Marathon at Kentucky Downs. Honey Lake, a Dynaformer mare, won the California heat and has the advantage of a previous win over the European-style turf course although she finished eighth in this race last year. One More Strike won here earlier in the short meeting.
I'm Already Sexy and Sunset Glow are the early picks in Saturday's $300,000 Fasig-Tipton Ladies Turf at Kentucky Downs, going 1 mile. I'm Already Sexy, last year's winner, has been in the exacta picture in each of her last three starts including a win in the Grade III Eatontown at Monmouth Park. Sunset Glow was a close fourth in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks in her last start and finished second to Lady Eli in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Sugar Shock has struggled after enjoying a great winter and spring but might be back to her best distance. Lori's Store won her last two at Gulfstream Park. And Kiss Moon won the Grade III Mint Julep at Churchill Downs two starts back.
Kitten's Dumplings missed all of 2014 and was slow to round back into form this year. But, after a good third on yielding turf in a stakes race at Indiana Downs, the 5-year-old mare is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's $100,000, Glen Hill Farm One Dreamer Stakes at Kentucky Downs at 1 mile and 70 yards. The others in the overflow field are a tough-to-figure mix.
Sweet Luca came off the rail entering the stretch run in Monday's $300,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Dash and quickly passed most of the field en route to an upset victory. Holy Lute held the lead late and lost by a neck. Bye Bye Bernie ran well late to take third, just a nose further in arrears. The favorite, Green Mask, finished fourth in his first start since finishing third in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night at Meydan -- behind only Sole Power and Peniaphobia. Sweet Luca, a 6-year-old Candy Ride gelding, finished second in his last race, the $54,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap for Illinois-breds at Arlington Park. The Chris Block trainee, ridden by Robby Albarado, ran 6 1/2 furlongs over the Kentucky Downs course in 1:19.44.
Sky Treasure closed relentlessly in Monday's $300,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint and was along just in time to pick up the victory by a nose over Seeking Treaasure -- rewarding treasure hunters with a 56-1 exacta payoff. Theater Star was 1/2 length farther back in third and the favorite, Shrinking Violet, was never involved and finished next-last of 10. Sky Treasure, a 5-year-old Sky Mesa mare, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:19.83 under Julien Leparoux. She was coming off a sub-par effort in the Grade II Dance Smartly at Woodbine but, before that, won the Grade II Nassau over that same course.
Saturday's $1 million, Grade II Pennsylvania Derby includes West Virginia Derby winner Madefromlucky, Ohio Derby winner Mr. Z and Los Alamitos Derby winner Gimme Da Lute. Also here are Wood Memorial winner Frosted, who ran with American Pharoah through the early furlongs of the Travers last month at Saratoga; Grade III Smarty Jones winner Island Town; and Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth winner Upstart. Frosted, who finished second in the Belmont and Jim Dandy, is the morning-line favorite. Gimme Da Lute comes from California seeking a fifth straight win. War Story, who was a closing third in the West Virginia Derby, should be among those making up ground in the stretch run. However, Mr. Z is the only horse in this field who has found himself on the lead with any regularity, so a lot will depend on pace and tactics.
There are more question marks surrounding Saturday's $150,000 Bayern Stakes at Parx Racing than around the gyrating stock market. Among them: Are those triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures from an Aug. 20 optional claimer right or skewed? If they're accurate, the top two from that field, Market Blaster and Classic Giacnroll, would be unbeatable. Another question: Does trainer Michael Stidham have Ground Transport back on his game after two awful performances separated by a long layoff? If the answers are no and no, watch for Freestyler and Street Babe in the 1 1/16-miles test.
Saturday's Cotillion at Parx Racing drew a field worthy of its $1 million purse and Grade I ranking. Seven of the 12 are last-out winners, including Embellish the Lace, victor in the Grade I Alabama at Saratoga. Other graded stakes winners here include Breeders' Cup winner Take Charge Brandi, I'm a Chatterbox, Calamity Kate, Keen Pauline, and Peace and War. There also is quite a bit of speed in the lineup and several of the long shots are confirmed closers who easily could pick up the pieces if they go too fast early in the 1 1/16-miles event.
Limousine Liberal was second in the Grade I King's Bishop at Saratoga in his last outing and the Successful Appeal gelding reappears as the morning-line favorite in Saturday's $300,000, Grade III Gallant Bob at Parx. Catalina Red, briefly a Triple Crown prospect early in the year, tries this after winning a comeback effort in Florida. Grand Bili beat some nice ones in the Grade III Carry Back at Gulfstream Park but faltered in the King's Bishop. Also in for this 6-furlongs race are the top three from a recent local $100,000 allowance tilt -- Hebbronville, Bayerd and Always Sunshine.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Super Majesty gets oddsmaker Mike Battaglia's nod in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Dogwood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs. The Super Saver filly had two wins and a second in California before heading east. Huasca headed north from Florida for this with a resume that includes top-three finishes in 11 of her 12 career starts, including two stakes wins at Gulfstream Park. Chide and Kathballu, by contrast, were competitive against top competition in Grade I stakes in New York.
It would be tough to put together a more competitive field than the six entered for Saturday's $350,000, Grade III Charles Town Oaks at 7 furlongs. Temper Mint Patty, Fusaichi Red, White Clover and the morning-line favorite, Sarah Sis, are all stakes winners. Sarah Sis, a Sharp Humor filly, won the Grade III Iowa Oaks two starts back, then finished fourth in the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga while fading from the early lead.
Sunday's $100,000 Barretts Juvenile at Los Alamitos is restricted to 2-year-olds offered at any Barretts sale. But it's worth watching because of the venue.
Ditto Saturday's $100,000 Barretts Debutante at Los Alamitos.
Saturday is George Main Stakes Day at Royal Randwick, with four group events including the Group 1 George Main at 1 mile. Ten are entered for the George Main, with Royal Descent and Kermadec seeming in the best current form.