WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- The $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot and the $400,000 Delta Princess top weekend racing in North America with Japan and Hong Kong weighing in with important events on the international front.
The Saturday card at Delta Downs in Louisiana includes eight stakes, worth a total of $2.3 million. But most eyes are on the Jackpot, which used to be an effective "Win and You're In" for the following year's Kentucky Derby when the field for that race was based on earnings.
There are four other U.S. graded stakes, all on the grass and all with full and challenging fields. Woodbine has stakes on Saturday and Sunday on the all-weather course.
"Weather" we like it or not, here we go again:
Exaggerator, winner of the Grade II Saratoga Special this summer, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite among 10 entered for Saturday's $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot. The race is carded at 1 1/16 miles and the winner gets 10 points toward a start in the Kentucky Derby. Exaggerator, a Curlin colt, finished second in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after his triumph at the Spa. Sunny Ridge, a Holy Bull gelding, finished second to Greenpointcrusader in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont in his last race but before that won the Sapling at Monmouth Park. Forevamo comes to this event off a victory in the Jean Lafitte Stakes over the track -- the first win in his third start for the Uncle Mo colt. Found Money has been solid in California. Of note: Memories of Silver will be ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, whose California-imposed suspension is over.
The $400,000, Grade III Delta Downs Princess drew a field of seven with La Appassionata the 3-5 morning-line favorite and a likely single on many a ticket in the $200,000 guaranteed Stakes Pick Four. The Bernardini filly has won both her previous starts, a Sept. 13 maiden event at Churchill Downs and the local My Trusty Cat Stakes -- the latter by 7 lengths. Gerard Melancon will ride for trainer Steve Asmussen. The others have a lot to do. Above Fashion, the soundly thumped runner-up in the My Trusty Cat, also is second choice on the morning line.
Departing headlines a field of eight for the $250,000 Delta Mile. The 5-year-old War Front gelding has had his ups and downs this year but did win the Grade II Firecracker at Churchill Downs at the end of June and in his last outing finished second in the Lukas Classic, also under the Twin Spires. Also in for this are Agent Di Nozzo, Rise Up, Mister Pollard and Cougar Ridge.
The $200,000 Treasure Chest is for fillies and mares at 1 mile. Julie's Jewelry is the narrow favorite on the morning line. The Distorted Humor has been first or second in each of her last four starts -- at Mountaineer, Ellis Park, Charles Town and Keeneland. Walk of Stars, who defeated Julie's Jewelry by a neck at Charles Town, also is in this field. Diva's Diamond may be back at the right level after a couple of overmatched outings in Kentucky that followed a win in the Iowa Distaff. Kyria gave a good account of herself in California in allowance company before watching from well back as Beholder won the Grade I Zenyatta at Santa Anita in her last effort.
The outstanding card also includes $250,000 races for state-bred juveniles.
Ladies on the lawn
Thirteen are set for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Cardinal for fillies and mares at 9 furlongs on the Churchill Downs lawn. The field includes graded stakes winners Kiss Moon, Emotional Kitten, Lacy and Sistas Stroll. Several others look at least as capable as those in a nice handicapping challenge, including oddsmaker Mike Battaglia's morning-line favorite, Button Down. Note that Wiener Valkyrie came to the United States from England in September to finish second in the Grade III Athenia at Belmont a month ago.
A well balanced and very international cast of 12 is set for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Red Carpet Handicap for fillies and mares at Del Mar, going 1 3/8 miles. Elektrum has not been worse than fourth in seven U.S. starts this year after racing equally successfully in France as a 3-year-old. Three Hearts won this race last year but hasn't had her picture taken in six intervening starts. The others have experience from South America to Ireland, France and Dubai.
Ten are set for Saturday's $100,000 My Charmer Handicap for distaffers at Gulfsream Park West with another entered for "main track only." Kitten's Dumplings are the co-highweights at 121 pounds. The former is a Grade I winner, albeit two years ago, and also captured a minor stakes over the course last month. Sandiva, formerly raced in England, won the Grade III Suwanee River at Gulfstream early this year. Lady Lara, another English import, hit the board in her last two races, both graded stakes at Belmont Park.
Males on the grass
Lochte, All Included and Kharafa are the early picks among nine entered for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Tropical Turf Handicap at Gulfstream Park West. Lochte shows two straight wins on the South Florida circuit. All Included is looking for his first stakes victory but ran respectably in his last two starts in New York, both graded events. Kharafa makes only his second start in Florida but has been on a tear in New York, finishing in the money in 11 of his last 12 starts.
Saturday's $100,000 Artie Schiller, at 1 mile on the Aqueduct grass, drew 10 with four also-eligibles. Shug McGaughey trains the morning-line favorite, Reload, who has won four of his last six starts, including the Grade III Canadian Turf at Gulfstream back in February. Also fancied is Lubash, victorious in four of his last five starts, all in New York. He won the Grade III Tropical Turf Handicap last year but this year, trainer Christophe Clement elected not to ship south.
The field for Sunday's Group 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto Racecourse is jam packed with Group 1 winners -- including the victors from this spring's Group 1 mile events, Maurice and Clarity Sky and last year's Mile Championship winner, Danon Shark. However, this race in the recent past has not favored the initiated. The last Group 1 winner to take down this trophy was Company, in 2009. That could be a favorable omen for Fiero, who missed by a nose in last year's Mile Championship but, four races later, remains winless in graded stakes. But the past is no guarantee of anything and Maurice comes to Sunday's event riding a four-race winning streak; Danon Shark has been superior in his Kyoto races; and last year's Japanese 2,000 Guineas winner Isla Bonita could find new life at the mile distance. Also of note are the 3-year-old, American-bred filly Albiano, a daughter of Harlan's Holiday, who has run out of the money only twice in seven starts, and Let's Go Donki, this year's Japanese 1,000 Guineas winner who hopes for a turnaround while turning back in distance.
Saturday at Sha Tin the locals get their final test for December's Longines Hong Kong International Races. The card includes three Group II races, the BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile, the BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint an the Longines Jockey Club Cup. The Mile includes Able Friend, one of the world's top sprinters and defending champion, and the venerable Designs on Rome, both trained by John Moore. "He's never been better," Moore said of Able Friend. "I think he's pretty close to peak. I expect him to win and then go on to the Hong Kong Mile." Moore also has Dan Excel and two others in the field. The field is packed with Group 1 competitors. The Sprint, at 1,200 meters, includes Not Listenin'to me, Peniaphobia, Super Jockey, Lucky Nine, Gold-Fun and Dundonnel in what should be a fast and furious charge to the finish. The 2,000-meters Cup features Military Attack, Blazing Speed, Dominant, Packing Llaregyb and Helene Super Star among others.
The Longines International Jockeys' Championship that kicks off Hong Kong's International Races next month has grown into a major event all on its own with this year's lineup including a superb local team against the cream of the crop from Europe, the United States, South Africa, Australia, Japan and New Zealand. Joao Moreira will head the Hong Kong riders with three others yet to be selected. Victor Espinoza will represent the United States after riding American Pharoah to victory in the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup Classic. Ryan Moore and Silvestre De Sousa will come from the U.K. to join South Africa's reigning champion jockey, Gavin Lerena; three-time Australian champion Hugh Bowman; French ace Maxime Guyon; Japan's current champion, Keita Tosaki; and two-time New Zealand champion James McDonald. Espinoza's performance on "Dancing With the Stars" aside, that's an impressive lineup. "One notable change to this year's IJC," said Hong Kong Jockey Club Executive Director of Racing William Nader, "is that we have one more Hong Kong-based rider than in the past. This reflects the depth of quality we have in the Hong Kong jockey ranks, a fact emphasised considering riders like Zac Purton, Douglas Whyte, Brett Prebble and Karis Teetan are battling to secure the two available places." The final rider will be the leading graduate of the HKJC Jockey School. The competition includes four races, randomly drawn, with 12 points for a first, 6 for a second and 4 for third.
Big Baz quickened nicely from behind a slow pace to win Wednesday's All-Weather Championships "Fast-Track Qualifier" at Kempton Park. The race should send Big Baz on to the Ladbrokes Mile on Finals Day, March 25, at Lingfield and also could see the relaxed pacesetter, Gordon Lord Byron, off to the Longines Hong Kong International races in one month's time. With Graham Lee in the irons, Big Baz was not bamboozled by the pace in Wednesday's listed race. When asked, he quickly took charge and was very much in command to the end. Very Special finished second and Gordon Lord Byron finished fifth. Trainer William Muir said he will point Big Baz to the All-Weather Championships finale, possibly with a detour to Dubai before that. Gordon Lord Byron has finished fourth in each of the last three runnings of the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin.