Onus will be a big threat in Saturday's Commonwealth Oaks at Laurel Park. (Laurel Park photo)
WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Breeders' Cup qualifying races sprout like Christmas displays in discount stores this weekend, with "Win and You're In" events on both coasts and other important preps in between.
Much attention will be on the Distaff division, with Beholder entered in California and Wedding Toast in New York. And Oklahoma takes its turn in the center ring with a stakes-rich Saturday card at Remington Park.
If you can't make it out to the track, follow the action on Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net) on Siriux XM 93 for streaming. Analysis of the proceedings? That would be at www.popejude.com.
Internationally, things continue to heat up in Australia as the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup draw ever closer. In England, Newmarket hosts some big tests for the 2-year-old set as well as the Royal Lodge. And the Hong Kong Jockey Club continues to make positive waves on Mainland China.
Dislodging ourselves from our torpor, we'll stir up these waves...
Super mare Beholder drew the outside post position in a field of nine for Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Zenyatta at Santa Anita. The 5-year-old Henny Hughes mare towers over the other eight and, in fact, has rather easily defeated many of them. She exits an awesome performance in the Grade I Pacific Classic, where she romped home first by 8 1/4 lengths with a Beyer Speed Figure of 114. Trainer Richard Mandella is debating whether to target the Breeders' Cup Distaff, which Beholder won in 2013, or the Classic. Unless something unexpected happens, Saturday's outing should be a good prep for either. Among the others, Big Book might reward a quick read. The 3-year-old Mr. Big filly has been hustled up the class ladder and finished second to Stellar Wind in her last outing, the Grade III Torey Pines at Del Mar. The race is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Beholder already has won qualifying events for both the Classic and the Distaff.
Six, headed by Wedding Toast, are in for Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Beldame at Belmont Park. The 9-furlongs event is another "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup. Wedding Toast, a 5-year-old Street Sense mare bred by Darley and owned by Godolphin, won the Grade II Ruffian and the Grade I Ogden Phipps earlier this year over the big Belmont oval, then took the summer off. Call Pat comes off a victory in the Grade III Groupie Doll at Ellis Park, a meeting that has shown good form elsewhere. The 3-year-old contingent is represented by Curalina, who won the Grade I Acorn and the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks, the latter on a disqualification.
Include Betty holds a huge class edge over six rivals in Sunday's $200,000 Remington Park Oaks. The Include filly was fifth in the Grade I Alabama at Saratoga in her last start and second, beaten just 2 lengths, in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks before that. She won the Grade III Fantasy at Oaklawn in the springtime. The others need to find another gear.
Red Rifle and Twilight Eclipse, the 1-2 from the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga, return for Saturday's $600,000, Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park going 12 furlongs. The Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" drew a field of seven, also including Big Blue Kitten, Shining Copper, Slumber and Quiet Force, who finished second, third, eighth and 10th, respectively, over yielding turf in last month's Grade I Arlington Million.
Sunday's $100,000 Remington Green has a field of seven to tackle 9 furlongs. The group arguably is headed by Cougar Ridge, who won the local DeBartolo Memorial by 4 lengths in his last outing. Code West makes his second start off a layoff with some nice credentials but tries the green course for the first time. Waronthehomefront looks poised for a breakthrough but steps up a bit in class.
Filly & Mare Turf
We've said it before and we'll said it again -- Hard Not to Like is hard not to like in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita. The 6 year old Hard Spun mare has won two straight Grade I races -- the Gamely Handicap at Santa Anita in May and the Diana at Saratoga on July 25. That said, there's plenty more talent in this 10-furlongs test, which is a Breeders' Cup qualifier. Among those with graded stakes credentials are Lady Pimpernel, Photo Call, Elektrum, Queen of the Sand, Sharla Rae, Stormy Lucy and Fanticola. Fanticola looks, on paper, to be the only confirmed speed in the race. If she's allowed to plod along on the lead, that could compromise the late kick that is Hard Not to Like's trademark. This is one to watch.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Commonwealth Oaks at Laurel got a good field of 12 with Zvarkhova, Stormy Regatta and Onus installed as the morning-line favorites. Zvarkhova, a French-bred filly, ran with some credit at home before shipping over this summer, than won her first U.S. start at Saratoga last month for trainer Chad Brown. Stormy Regatta has won four of her last five starts at Gulfstream Park, Monmouth and Saratoga. Onus, a very promising daughter of Blame, steps up in class after two straight dominating victories over the course. The race is at 9 furlongs.
They've assembled from all points of the compass for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs. The recent Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury in Minnesota contributes its winner, Nun the Less, and third-place finisher, Syntax. High Noon Rider won the Better Talk Now at Saratoga. Others in the 11-horse field last raced in Indiana, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Florida. Nun the Less and High Noon Rider are Mike Battaglia's morning-line favorites.
Nine are set for Sunday's $200,000, Grade II City of Hope Mile at Santa Anita. Talco has figured in the exacta in three straight graded stakes, including a win in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile. Twentytwentyvision finished second in the Grade I Eddie Read early in the Del Mar meeting. Avanzare won the Grade II Del Mar Mile in his last race. Big Bane Theory won this race last year but hasn't had his picture taken since.
With the Breeders' Cup temporarily moved out of California, Saturday's $70,000 Unzip Me Stakes for fillies and mares down the Santa Anita hill might be of reduced interest. But it's still worth a look with eight performers, many of whom are still trying to find their niche. Finest City, making just her third start, could be one to watch. Curlin's Fox has a win over the course.
There are a lot of familiar old warriors in Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Vosburgh at Belmont. But the spotlight in the 6-furlongs Breeders' Cup qualifier will be squarely on Rock Fall. The 4-year-old Speightstown colt is 6-for-6 since a learning experience in his career bow while quickly climbing the class ladder. He won the Grade II True North at Belmont in June and was last seen winning by a nose over The Big Beast in the Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt. He'll face the likes of Salutos Amigos, Stallwalkin' Dude, Wildcat Red and Palace
Ivan Fallunovalot has something to prove in Sunday's $150,000 Remington Sprint Cup at 6 furlongs. The ultra-consistent Valid Expectations gelding has been first or second in 11 of his last 12 starts -- a skein interrupted by a fourth-place finish in last year's Sprint Cup. After that race, Calvin Borel took over riding duties and the 5-year-old performed with distinction at Oaklawn Park in the spring. He also won a comeback race over this course last month. Bagg O'Day and Candip both won at Ellis Park in their last starts and that has proved to be a good indicator. Homerun Berti has been claimed out of four of his last five starts, for prices ranging from $15,000 to $5,000. He also has won three straight and seven of his last nine.
Filly & Mare Sprint
La Verdad rides a four-race winning streak into Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Gallant Bloom Handicap at Belmont. That skein includes three graded stakes victories. Classic Point arrives with three straight wins, but those go back 11 months and she was fifth in this race last year. Seven are entered to tackle the 6 1/2 furlongs.
Souper Colossal will try to go one better after four straight runner-up finishes when he lines up for Sunday's $400,000, Grade III Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park. The War Front colt has finished behind Stanford, Madefromlucky and Island Town in his last three outings and might find this assignment a bit more manageable. Desert Dynamo invades from California, where he recently ran an excellent third behind Gimme Da Lute in the El Cajon. Classy Class was good in the spring in New York. Tale of Verve finished second in the Preakness, well behind American Pharoah, but has been uncompetitive in three intervening starts. Watch out for Shotgun Kowboy, an Oklahoma-bred who has had steam coming out of his ears after a long layoff.
Bob Baffert's enigmatic duo of Bayern and Hoppertunity get another chance in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Awesome Again at Santa Anita -- a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" at 9 furlongs. Reigning Breeders' Cup Classic winner Bayern not only hasn't won since that triumph but has been soundly thumped in three of four intervening races. Hoppertunity won the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Grade II San Pasqual back-to-back last November and January, then went into a funk, although his losing efforts were less embarrassing than his stablemate's. Hard Aces won the Grade I Gold Cup over the course two starts back, beating Hoppertunity by a nose.
Saturday's $175,000 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs is named for legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas. So it's fitting that the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the 9-furlongs event, Mylute, is trained by former Lukas assistant Todd Pletcher. Mylute, however, is winless in four tries under the Twin Spires and faces some credible competition in the form of Ulanbator, Departing and Irish You Well. Lukas, meanwhile, is recovering from some heart problems that required hospitalization last weekend in Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, U.S. Triple Crown champ American Pharoah breezed Monday at Santa Anita for the first time since finishing second in the Travers Stakes. Owner Ahmed Zayat, who considered retiring the Pioneerof the Nile colt after the Travers, said 4 furlongs in 50 seconds was just what the doctor ordered as American Pharoah is expected to work up to the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill Downs asks the handicapping question: What the heck happened in that last race? The morning-line favorite, Tapiture, beat only one horse while finishing 23 1/4 lengths in arrears in his last start, the Grade III Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows. He's a multiple graded stakes winner, finished second in last year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and had run well enough in his two previous starts. Den's Legacy finished eighth, beaten 12 1/2 lengths, in his last race. But that was the Grade I Forego at Saratoga. Agent Di Nozzo beat only one in the Grade III Hanshin at Arlington in his last outing but that was on the all-weather course. Among those with better recent records we find Midnight Cello, although he has looked better on the all-weather surfaces. Let's turn back to Tapiture.
Nyquist, Swipe and Blameitonthelaw -- the top three from last month's Grade I Del Mar Futurity, all advance to Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Front Runner at Santa Anita, stretching out to 1 1/16 miles. They'll have to contend with Mt Veeder, winner of the Contender Stakes at Los Alamitos and undefeated in two tries, and with Hollywood Don, winner of the Del Mar Juvenile Turf, who is making his first start on the main track.
He's Comin in Hot won the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs in June, faltered in a very tough renewal of the Grade III Sanford at Saratoga and, after a break, returned to beat fellow Texas-breds last month at Retama. He returns Saturday in the $75,000 Kip Deville at Remington Park against a field that includes some promising prospects. Stormation has won four straight races, including stakes at Prairie Meadows and Canterbury. The real decision for punters is only whether He's Comin in Hot is back to his earlier form.
Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Pilgrim at Belmont Park features maiden winners from Saratoga, Monmouth Park and Ascot. The latter is Ray's the Bar, now trained by Chad Brown after winning at first asking in England. Brass Compass won on his second try at Monmouth. Six others got their first win at the Spa. Azar is one of those, winning the Grade II With Anticipation. The place horse from that, Next Shares, also reappears here.
The top four from the Grade I Del Mar Debutante -- Songbird, Pretty N Cool, Land Over Sea and Right There -- are entered among nine in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Chandelier at Santa Anita.
Saturday's Group 1 Underwood Stakes at Caulfield is a trial for the Group 1 Cox Plate on Oct. 24 at Moonee Valley. The prospective field includes several of the runners who participated in a dramatic, cavalry-charge finish in the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes two weeks ago, where only 3 lengths separated the first 13 finishers. That race was at 1,600 meters. The Underwood gives the field an additional 200 meters to sort itself out. In that field are the runner-up in the Makybe Diva, Fawkner, as well as Mongolian Khan (7th), Weary (9th), Hi World (10th), Dandino (11th), Magicool (12th) and Volkstock'n'barrel (14th). The newcomers to this bunch include Godolphin's Contributer, who needs to make amends for recent shortcomings to remain on the Cox Plate list.
Also on the card is the Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes at 1,400 meters.
Simple Verse has won the Ladbrokes St Leger -- again. Simple Verse was demoted to second after finishing first in the classic with the stewards ruling two incident of interference cost Bondi Beach a fair shot at the victory. An inquiry panel of the British Horseracing Authority disagreed and reinstated the original order of finish.
It's 2-year-olds on Saturday at Newmarket. The Group 1 Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes at 1 mile includes Deauville, undefeated in two starts for trainer Aidan O'Brien, and Foundation, ditto for John Gosden, among six starters. The Group 1 Juddmonte Middle Park, at 6 furlongs, has seven. Three of them carry Godolphin blue -- Group 2 Coventry Stakes winner Buratino, Venturous and Rouleau. Among the others, Ajaya is a Group 2 winner. The Group 1 Connolly's Red Mills Cheveley Park Handicap is for juvenile fillies. Eight are to go, including Albany and Duchess of Cambridge winner Illuminate, the impressive Besharah and the promising Alice Springs.
Those looking for a handicapping challenge can turn to the Betfred Cambridgeshire -- a 9-furlongs affair that has 35 runners.
News and notes:
The Hong Kong Jockey Club Tuesday in Beijing signed a memorandum of understanding to work with the China Horse Industry Association to build a "comprehensive system for the development of the horse industry in China." Taken together with significant earlier investment on the Mainland, the agreement positions the HKJC as a leader in the race to establish a major commercial racing industry in the largest market in the world without one. The new agreement, significantly inked at the Ministry of Agriculture, commits the HKJC to help modernize the China Stud Book, develop an antidoping program and significantly upgrade veterinary capacity and expertise on the Mainland, including planning for a new veterinary hospital. The HKJC earlier this month announced a partnership with the Chinese Equestrian Association to sponsor the final leg of the China Horse Racing Grand Prix on Nov. 7 at Jinma Racecourse in Wenjiang, near Chengdu, and to work with that group to enhance protocols for administration and control of horse racing in China.
Horse Racing Radio Network this week began its midweek "Xpressbet Radio on HRRN," a live, three-hour show Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons on Sirius 220/XM 206. The show features live coverage, interviews and analysis. It also will stream live on both the Sirius and HRRN web sites. "We have received countless requests from racing fans, horseplayers and horsemen looking to follow their favorite racetracks and horses during the week," said HRRN founder and president Mike Penna. "Thanks to our friends at Xpressbet and SiriusXM, we will now be able to provide this service and fill the void."
HRRN is the official radio home of the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup.