Jockey Neil Callan celebrates as Not Listenin'tome wins the National Day Cup in Hong Kong Thursday and points to bigger prizes. (HKJC photo)
WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- It's arguably the biggest weekend of the year in Thoroughbred racing, with the Arc meeting in Paris, a dozen Breeders' Cup qualifiers in the United States and the Sprinters Stakes kicking off the Group 1 season in Japan.
Not only are there big races, but the players in those races are exceptional, starting with Treve, who will be running for an historic third straight victory in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday at Longchamp.
The Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" races start Friday on opening day at Keeneland, which will host the Breeders' Cup for the first time at the end of the month -- an exciting prospect in its own right. The qualifiers continue through the weekend there and at Belmont Park and Santa Anita. Substantial rain predicted Friday and Saturday in both Kentucky and New York, however, could toss a spanner in the gears.
Gulfstream Park winds up its supercharged Florida Sire Stakes series on Saturday. And Suffolk Downs proves the mettle of New England horsemen with three stakes races on Saturday's card.
It's not all good news. The Singapore Turf Club abruptly pulled the plug Monday on its two Group 1 international races -- a springtime date that recently had been dominated by Hong Kong invaders. And two of last year's Breeders' Cup winners were retired on Monday.
No retirement for us. Read on.
Many of the horses lining up for Sunday's Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp would be heavy favorites in any other race on the calendar. But not here. Not with Treve cocked and loaded in an effort to land an historic third straight victory in the Continent's top race. The super mare is the heavy favorite, even against the likes of Golden Horn, winner this season of the Epsom Derby, Coral Eclipse and Irish Champion Stakes. The forecast is for dry weather through the weekend, which might improve the chances of invaders like Golden Horn. Also lining up are French Derby winner New Bay, Prince of Wales's Stakes winner Free Eagle, Sword Dancer winner Flintshire, Dubai Sheema Classic winner Dolniya and Grosser Preis von Baden winner Prince Gibraltar.
Some of the others have been close while running in this top company. But Treve, a 5-year-old daughter of Motivator, has been dominant in three runs leading up to this Arc and trainer Criquette Head-Maarek says her star performer is in peak form. Support for the favorite has eroded a bit in light of the forecast for good ground. So, for the record, be it noted Treve won the 2013 Arc on soft turf by 5 lengths over the great Japanese runner Orfevre, who this past week was inducted into the Japanese racing Hall of Fame, and also won last year's edition on good going by 2 lengths from Flintshire, who went on to run a gallant second to Main Sequence in a sparkling renewal of the Breeders' Cup Turf. It may take more than a going report to stop history on Sunday at Longchamp.
The Arc is only part of the action in Paris this weekend. Five other Group 1 races are on tap on Sunday -- all of them important in their own right. And on Saturday, Longchamp hosts four Group 2 events. Fans on the western side of the Atlantic can root for a long shot in Sunday's first race -- Ella Diva, a 2-year-old daughter of Heliostatic. The filly is the first-ever Group 1 starter for trainer Gina Rarick, a Wisconsin native and former reporter for the International Herald-Tribune who has earned her way up the ladder of French racing.
Sunday's Group 1 Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama will be a bit of a proving ground, with top short-distance runners Aerovelocity and Snow Dragon remaining on the sidelines. That leaves a well-matched group of locals to contend with Hong Kong shipper Rich Tapestry, who last was seen finishing fifth behind Aerovelocity in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. The race is the eighth leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, which offers a US$1 million bonus for a horse winning three races in three different jurisdictions. Aerovelocity already has won two legs, the Takamatsunomiya Kinen in March and the Kris Flyer at Kranji in Singapore in May (see News and Notes below). The remaining races after the Sprinters Stakes are the Darley Classic at Flemington in Australia on Nov. 7 and the Longines Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin Dec. 13.
The spring season continues with Group 1 sprints on Friday at Moonee Valley and Saturday at Randwick and longer events Saturday at Randwick and Sunday at Flemington.
Not Listenin'tome blitzed some of Hong Kong's top sprinters in Thursday's HK Group 3 National Day Cup, giving trainer John Moore immediate thoughts of bigger things to come. With Neil Callan up, the 5-year-old Dylan Thomas gelding finished 2 lengths to the good of the field, full of run. Super Jockey, runner-up to Secret Circle in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen in March, finished second. Peniaphobia, runner-up in last year's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint, faded to finish seventh and Moore said he has the Dec. 13 renewal of that fixture on the dance card of Not Listenin'tome. "I'm absolutely gobsmacked," the trainer said of Not Listenin'tome's performance. "He's finally done what I wanted him to do. This should take him on his way to become Hong Kong's top sprinter." In the second feature on National Day, Contentment landed the HK Group 3 Celebration Cup. Jockey Joao Moreira, already far ahead in the jockey's race in the young season, said he sees further improvement from Contentment.
Back in North America
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Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont offers a free pass to the Breeders' Cup Classic. This year, the 1 1/4-mile fixture may not be the usual proving ground for that climactic race, which is expected to feature Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and super mare Beholder. Nonetheless, it's a good field, featuring Coach Inge, Wicked Strong and Effinex, who finished second, third and fourth behind Liam's Map in the Grade I Woodward in their last outing. Also here is last year's Belmont Stakes and Gold Cup winner Tonalist, who always seems to be in the picture in these races without winning too often. He nonetheless is the 6-5 morning-line favorite. The joker in this deck is Constitution, last year's Florida Derby winner. He went to the sidelines after winning the Grade I Donn Handicap in February, returned on the turf last month, fading to finish fifth in the Grade II Bernard Baruch at Saratoga.
Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Durham Cup, run at 9 furlongs over the Woodbine all-weather course, attracted a field of seven locals. The narrow morning-line favorite, last-year's winner Luke's Alley, drew the outside gate. Florida Won and Are You Kidding Me also are fancied by the oddsmaker.
Untapable, the defending Breeders' Cup champ and 2014 Kentucky Oaks winner, is among nine in Sunday's $500,000, Grade I Juddmonte Spinster at Keeneland going 9 furlongs with a free ride to the Breeders' Cup part of the prize. She, however, has not won since the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn back when the springtime was full of promise, finishing second in the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont, second again in the Grade III Shuvee and third in the Grade I Personal Ensign. Lovely Maria won the Grade I Ashland over the course and this year's Kentucky Oaks but nothing since. Got Lucky was second in the Personal Ensign. Yahilwa was second to Beholder, albeit 7 lengths back, in the Grade I Clement Hirsch. Frivolous is a multiple graded stakes winner. It's a rare meeting of two Kentucky Oaks winners and a tough puzzle.
Saturday's $500,000, Grade III Hill Prince for 3-year-olds at Belmont features a partial rerun of last month's Grade III Sarnac at Saratoga, including the 1-2-4-5-6-7 finishers from that heat -- World Approval, Money Multiplier, Winter Springs, Takeover Target, Nona's Boy and Vision Perfect. There's plenty of other talent. Royal Albert Hall was a close second in the Grade II Del Mar Derby in his last start. Japanese-bred Tale of Life was second to New Bay, a contender in Sunday's Arc, earlier this year at Longchamp and had an adventurous first American start at Saratoga. Courtier has been a solid performer all year and could be ready to move up a notch. Jay Gatsby, a recent import from France, might be dangerous with first-time Lasix.
Filly & Mare Turf
Stephanie's Kitten, the victim in a messy stretch run in last month's Grade I Beverly D., returns in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont, a 10-furlongs Breeders' Cup qualifier. Watsdachances, adjudged winner of the Beverly D. thanks to the late shenanigans, also is in here, along with Regardez, America, Distorted Beauty, Danza Cavallo and others. Curvy leads a strong foreign contingent. That 3-year-old Galileo filly finished third, beaten only 1/2 length, in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks in her last outing and is among the best of the 3-year-old Euros all season. She also would be okay if the turf is less than firm. Should the race come off the turf, a pair of main-track-only entrants includes Rosalind, who would be worth a long look.
The Pizza Man won the Grade III Stars and Stripes at Arlington going 1 1/2 miles. Then he upset the Grade I Arlington Million, cutting back to 1 1/4 miles. Saturday, he cuts back again, this time to the $1 million, Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland as trainer Roger Bruggeman seeks the right Breeders' Cup race for the 6-year-old English Channel gelding. This is no easy spot, with the ultra-impressive Dutch Connection invading from England. That 3-year-old Dutch Art colt has a pair of Group 3 wins to his credit at home and just missed in the Group 1 Prix Jean Pratt at Chantilly in July. In addition, the race features Fourstardave winner Grand Arch, Oceanport winner Heart to Heart, Bernard Baruch runner-up Grand Tito, More Than Ready winner Tourist and -- for good measure -- last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner, Bobby's Kitten. Two other foreigners, War Envoy and Kelinni, further complicate the equation.
Tepin heads a talented "home team" facing some accomplished foreign raiders in Saturday's $400,000, Grade I First Lady at Keeneland. The 1-mile race is for fillies and mares. Tepin, a 4-year-old Bernstein filly, won three straight races to start the year, then finished second by a nose in the Grade I Diana and second by a head in the Grade II Ballston Spa, both at Saratoga. Kiss Moon, She's Not Here and Sky Treasure all come off important wins. Aidan O'Brien brings two from Ireland -- Easter and Outstanding. Both have been placed in group races in the Emerald Isle. Crowley's Law came from England to finish third, beaten only 1 length in the Grade III Noble Damsel in his first U.S. start.
Undrafted, winner of the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, makes his second start back in the U.S. in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Woodford at Keeneland, going 5 1/2 furlongs. The Wesley Ward trainee finished second in the More Than Ready Stakes at Kentucky Downs in his last outing. The overflow field also overflows with talent, including the second, third and fourth from last month's Grade III Turf Monster at Parx -- Mongolian Saturday, Sharp Sensation and Amelia's Wild Ride. Also here are Shore Runner, Summation Time and Something Extra, the 1, 2 and 4 finishers in the Troy Stakes at Saratoga.
Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Eddie D Stakes at Santa Anita finds 11 going about 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill. The morning line has more than half of them bunched at odds between 7-2 and 6-1 so it might be time to stab the program with a hatpin.
Work All Week, winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, drew the outside post position among 12 entered for Friday's $250,000, Grade III Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix at Keeneland. The 6-furlongs event also attracted Runhappy, who drew the rail, and Holy Boss, who will start from the No. 4 gate. Those three were installed as the morning-line favorites. Work All Week, a 6-year-old City Zip gelding running in the colors of Midwest Thoroughbreds, finished second in both in the Grade III Aristides at Churchill Downs in May and the Grade II Smile Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream in July. He won the Sen. Robert Byrd Memorial at Mountaineer in his last start. Runhappy has won three straight, including the Grade I King's Bishop in his last outing. Holy Boss was third in the King's Bishop.
Gimme Da Lute gets an acid test in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship. The 3-year-old son of Midnight Lute drew the outside gate in a field of eight and will try to extend a four-race winning streak against some tougher competition. That would include multiple graded stakes winners Masochistic, Wild Dude and Kobe's Back.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Judy the Beauty, winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, features in Saturday's $250,000, Grade II, BC, TCoA Sprint at Keeneland. The 6-furlongs dash drew a field of eight. Judy the Beauty finished second and third in two starts since the Breeders' Cup but has been working strongly at Keeneland since early August. Spelling Again, Heykittykittykitty, Fioretti and Leigh Court all have claims here, too.
Taris heads a field of just five entered for Sunday's $100,000, Grade III L.A. Woman at Santa Anita, going 6 1/2 furlongs. She has won three of her last four, including the Grade III Rancho Bernardo last time out. Uzziel was third in that race, then won the C.E.R.F. stakes. The others have slightly more modest resumes.
An evenly matched field of seven is in for Saturday's $150,000 Roamin Rachel Stakes at Parx Racing. Room For Me is the morning-line choice after earning checks in graded stakes in New York in her last two outings.
There are some tough ones, indeed, in Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Kelso Handicap at Belmont. Honor Code won the Grade I Met Mile and the Grade I Whitney in his last two starts. Appealing Tale exits a victory in the Grade II Pat O'Brien at Del Mar at 7 furlongs. Red Vine was third behind Beholder in the Grade I Pacific Classic. A wild card here is Tamarkuz, who won four straight races at Meydan in Dubai early this year, culminating in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on World Cup night. But he finished well up the track in his two subsequent U.S. starts. All the likely favorites, save Tamarkuz, are proven performers on off tracks, so weather shouldn't be too much of a concern.
Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Champagne at Belmont attracted the top two finishers from the Grade I Hopeful, Ralis and Magna Light, and the winner of the Sapling at Monmouth, Sunny Ridge. The 1-mile affair is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". Magna Light also finished first in the Grade III Sanford at Saratoga but was placed third for an erratic stretch run. The rest are recent maiden winners.
Exaggerator is the most accomplished in a pricey field of 12 for Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, going 1 1/16 mile on the main track. Exaggerator, a Curlin colt, won the Grade II Saratoga Special on Aug. 16, looking like he will enjoy two turns. His competition in the Breeders' Cup qualifier Saturday includes several impressive maiden winners, Prairie Meadows Juvenile Mile winner Pinnacle Peak, Grade III Iroquois runner-up Rated R Superstar and Uncle Vinny, second in the Grade III Sanford and third in the Grade I Hopeful, both at the Spa. From England comes Godolphin's Hawksbill, a Kitten's Joy colt who won three straight races on the Kempton all-weather course.
Riker puts his 3-for-3 record on the line again in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Grey Stakes at Woodbine. The Include colt has accounted for the Colin Stakes and the Swinford Stakes among those wins. He faces five rivals going 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course.
Fourteen plus two also-eligibles are entered for Saturday's $500,000, restricted In Reality Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Among those going 1 1/16 miles is Tribal Drama, winner of the Affirmed Division in his last start and 2-for-2 overall. This should be a great wagering opportunity.
A full field of 14, plus two also-eligibles, is entered for Sunday's $250,000, Grade III Dixiana Bourbon at Keeneland. Put the numbers in the hat and draw out one to bet to win, two for the exacta and three for the trifecta.
Dothraki Queen headlines Friday's $400,000, Grade I Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland, a 1 1/16-miles event that's also a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". The Pure Prize filly has won both previous starts, most recently the Grade II Pocahontas at Churchill Downs. Just Wicked won the Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga and was fourth in the Pocahontas. Gomo has been in the money in all four starts in California and there are eight other young ladies in the field.
Seven are entered for Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Frizette at Belmont. The 1-mile Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" drew a surprisingly soft, if promising field without a single graded stakes winner. In fact, of the seven, only two have beaten winners so far in their career. In that environment, British invader Nemoralia looks interesting. The Kentucky-bred More Than Ready filly has won on both turf and all-weather in England and tries dirt for the first time. She's All Ready is 2-for-2, including a restricted stakes at Saratoga.
Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Mazarine Stakes at Woodbine drew six fillies to tackle 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course. Gamble's Ghost was second in the Grade II Natalma in her second career start. The other five are recent maiden winners.
Ballet Diva is favored among nine in Saturday's $500,000, restricted My Dear Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The Hear No Evil filly is 3-for-4 and won the Susan's Girl Division in her last outing.
News and notes
Two of last year's Breeders' Cup winners, Classic victor Bayern and Juvenile Fillies winner Take Charge Brandi, were retired on Monday. Bayern goes to stud at Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Lexington with six wins from 15 starts and earnings of more than $4.4 million. He also provided one of the most controversial moments in recent U.S. racing when he cut in front of Shared Belief at the start of last year's Classic -- either causing a chain-reaction situation that determined the outcome or, as the stewards ruled, "no harm, no foul." "Something was bugging him this year that we could never figure out although he trained great," trainer Bob Baffert said. Take Charge Brandi also is headed for Hill 'n' Dale after her retirement. "She is the complete package and everything you look for in a broodmare prospect," said her trainer, D. Wayne Lukas. She won last year's Breeder's Cup Juvenile Fillies at odds of more than 60-1. But Lukas ran her back twice more in late 2014, winning the Grade II Delta Downs Starlet and the Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos and that was enough to garner the Eclipse Award for 2-year-old fillies.
The Singapore Turf Club Monday announced the discontinuation of its two International Group 1 events, The Singapore Airlines International Cup and the KrisFlyer International Sprint. The former dates to 2000, the latter to 2001. The club somewhat mysteriously said the races were created to brand Singapore racing internationally and to improve the quality of horses and racing in the small city-state, adding, "As the objectives set out for the two races have been achieved, Singapore Turf Club wishes to announce that the SIA Cup and KFIS will be discontinued." Horses based in Hong Kong have swept the two Group 1 events three years running, including last May's edition. The Hong Kong Jockey Club said it will examine its schedule to see what it can do to plug the hole in the Asian racing schedule. The KrisFlyer also was a leg of the Global Sprint Challenge.