UPI Horse Racing Weekend Preview

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer  |  Feb. 4, 2016 at 3:32 PM
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Contenders for Dubai's World Cup night are on display around the globe in weekend racing, with the American contingent looking like a powerhouse.

Frosted got things off to a flying start at Meydan on Thursday, running away from a solid field to win Round 2 of the Maktoum Challenge. Keen Ice gets his chance in Florida on Saturday and California Chrome already is in Dubai, awaiting his prep race for the big night. Hoppertunity and Imperative face off Saturday at Santa Anita. Among the U.S. turf cadre, The Pizza Man will have a go in Florida.

Santa Anita hosts the first big West Coast prep for the Derby on Saturday and also has 2015 Juvenile Filly champ Songbird poised for her first flight of 2016. Oaklawn Park also has an important Oaks prep.

Hong Kong has an auspicious race of its own on Saturday.

"Around the world, around the clock." Let's get ticking.

Dubai World Cup night

Frosted sat just off the pace in Thursday night's Group 2 Maktoum Challenge Round II, changed leads after straightening into the stretch and jetted off to demolish his opposition, winning by 5 lengths without a flick of William Buick's whip. Gold City was second and Faulkner finished third. Frosted looked every bit of being Godolphin's 2016 challenge to California Chrome, just as Prince Bishop carried the blue silks to defeat the Kentucky Derby winner in the 2015 World Cup. Lest we forget: Frosted finished fourth behind American Pharoah in last year's Kentucky Derby, second to that rival in the Belmont and third behind Keen Ice and American Pharoah in the Travers. He and Keen Ice finished close together behind the eventual Horse of the Year in the Breeders' Cup Classic with Keen Ice fourth and Frosted seventh, separated by two noses and a head.

Two races later on the Thursday card in Dubai, Mubtaahij was a disappointment in the Firebreak Stakes at 1,600 meters. However, the 2015 UAE Derby winner was making his first start since finishing fourth in the Belmont Stakes and surely needed the race.

For much more about Thursday's action at Meydan, see Richard Gross's report in Monday's UPI Horse Racing Roundup.

Speaking of Keen Ice, that hot prospect for the $10 million, Group 1 Dubai World Cup will get a stern test in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. Keen Ice, of course, is the "villain" who defeated American Pharoah in the Grade I Travers last summer at Saratoga. After that, he ran a well-beaten fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic and a close fourth, defeated only 1 length, in the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. His owner, Donegal Racing, and trainer, Dale Romans, are no strangers to international competition. Saturday's competition includes Mshawish and Valid, the 1-2 in the Grade III Hal's Hope on Jan. 9. Mshawish was third, behind only Solow and The Grey Gatsby, in last year's Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night. Mexicoma comes to the Donn off a sparkling win in the Sunshine Millions Classic. Madefromlucky finished second to Valid in the Harlan's Holiday over the course in December and appears to be improving rapidly for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Imperative and Hoppertunity finished second and third behind California Chrome in their last race, the Grade II San Pasqual. With California Chrome already in Dubai, they are the logical choices in Saturday's $500,000, Grade II San Antonio at 9 furlongs on the Santa Anita main track. Neither of them, however, wins very often. Imperative has posed for pictures only thrice after 28 starts; Hoppertunity, four times in 17 tries. Between them, they had exactly one win from 15 starts in 2015. Looking elsewhere? El Kabeir stretches out to 1 1/8 miles for the first time in a race that seems to lack pace. And then there's Donworth. He finished second -- okay, to Divining Rod -- in the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland last spring, had two more minor starts on the East Coast and then went to the sidelines for a seven-months rest. The Tiznow colt posted a gigantic work at Santa Anita two days after Christmas for trainer Doug O'Neill and has been working steadily ever since.

Arlington Million and Hollywood Turf Cup winner The Pizza Man headlines Saturday's $350,000, Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, which could be a prep for the Group I Dubai Sheema Classic on the World Cup card. The Pizza Man was scheduled to contest the Group 1 Japan Cup last fall but missed some time with a fever and wound up the year in California instead. He missed more time last month as a little malady floated around trainer Roger Brueggemann's barn. But Brueggemann now pronounces the 7-year-old English Channel gelding fit to fight. Javier Castellano takes over in the irons. He'll face pacemaker Shining Copper, who one of these days is going to steal a Grade I; Lukes Alley and All Included, the 2-3 finishers in the recent Grade II Fort Lauderdale; and some others with talent.

The $100,000, Grade III Fred W. Hooper at Gulfstream on Saturday is a one-turn mile on the dirt and drew eight. Among them are Grande Shores and Wildcat Red, both showing good recent outings. Ami's Flatter, Tommy Macho, Stanford and Just Call Kenney all are graded stakes-placed. {b: Derby preps}

Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita drew seven Triple Crown nominees and poses some interesting handicapping questions. Of the seven, only Dressed in Hermes contested the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and that Hat Trick colt finished fourth. He returned to California to win the Grade III Cecil B. DeMille, defeating Collected. Mor Spirit has two wins and two seconds for trainer Bob Baffert and one of the runner-up showings came at Churchill Downs in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club, won by Breeders' Cup runner-up Airoforce. I Will Score has won both his starts sprinting and is burning up the track in the morning for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The Baffert-trained Let's Meet in Rio is a late runner who would benefit from a pace battle. Path of David has been running well on the grass.

Oaks preps

Songbird flies again. The undefeated Breeders' Cup and Eclipse Award winner faces six rivals in Saturday's $300,000, Grade II Las Virgenes at Santa Anita. The Medaglia d'Oro filly was never challenged in her four starts last year -- three of them Grade I events -- and looks to have things pretty much her way again here. Street Fancy won the Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos in her last race.

Nickname heads the cast for Saturday's $100,000 Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. The Scat Daddy filly won the Grade II Frizette at Belmont Park last fall, then got home fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, nearly 10 lengths behind Songbird. My Master Plan is undefeated in four starts, all at Remington Park in Oklahoma. Marquee Miss and Durango were 1-2 in the Dixie Belle over the course. Lovable Lyss, a Big Brown filly, showed some promise in New Orleans.

Nine will contest the $50,000 California Oaks on Saturday over the Golden Gate Fields all-weather course. The morning-line favorite, Code Warrior, drew the rail and will try to land her fourth win from as many starts at the northern California oval. She finished second in the Grade II Santa Ynez in her only try down south.


In addition to the big race at Gulfstream Park (see above):

Last year's winner, Amelia's Wild Ride, drew an outside post position in a big field for Saturday's $75,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint but still rates a chance off her last-race victory in the Sunshine Millions Turf Sprint. Australian-bred Power Alert won the Grade III Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs last spring and ran okay in a tightener at Tampa Bay Downs after a long rest. Pure Sensation won the Grade III Turf Monster at Parx, then finished a dull eighth in the Breeders' Cup in his last race.

A field of eight, headed by Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint runner-up Lady Shipman, is set for Saturday's $75,000 Ladies Turf Sprint at Gulfstream Park. The likely favorite also is likely to have some company on the lead in the form of Jewel of a Cat. The latter, despite blazing quickness, steps up in class. Katie's Kiss fits the same specs. The others face an even bigger jump.

Eight fillies and mares signed on for Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Suwannee River at Gulfstream -- a 1 1/8-miles test on the greensward. Tammy the Torpedo starts her 4-year-old career after wrapping up 2015 with a win in the Tropical Park Oaks. Most of the others, however, appear to be in good form. Sweetie Girl makes her first start outside her native Argentina, where she was a Group 1 winner last spring.

Saturday's $200,000, Grade II San Marcos at Santa Anita features the last-out winner of the Grade II San Gabriel, Flamboyant. The 5-year-old, French-bred gelding has made steady progress for trainer Patrick Gallagher but faces some tough rivals. Among them are Power Foot and Southern Freedom, both of whom ran well in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar in November. A mystery is Chiropractor, who looked like a good thing winning the Grade I Hollywood Derby in November but then flopped badly last month in the San Gabriel, finishing seventh.

These are some tough, tough races. Be sure to check out Jude Feld's astute handicapping aid www.popejude.com and follow the action on Horse Racing Radio Network, www.horseracingradio.net. {i: Moving back overseas:}

Hong Kong

As Hong Kong continues its ascent into the stratosphere of world racing, even its prep races take on serious meaning. Thus it is with Saturday's HK Group 3 Centenary Vase, the history of which belies its relatively lowly status. For the past two years, for example, the winners of this race -- Designs on Rome and Akeed Mofeed -- have gone on to win international Group 1 events in the Longines Hong Kong International Races. Other Group 1 winners who have taken down this prize include Bullish Luck and Vengeance of Rain. So it's no surprise that John Moore sends four from his powerful stable, most notably Helene Happy Star. "Helene Happy Star's going really well and I expect to run a good race on Saturday," Moore said. The 5-year-old was fifth last time out, that in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase. "This should be his season to really prove himself as one of the better middle-distance horses in Hong Kong," Moore said. "He's settled in to the environment here now and we expect him to be very competitive in the middle distance races." The Centenary Vase is run at 1,800 meters on the right-handed Sha Tin turf. Moore also will saddle Dominant, Harbour Master and Kabayan. Dominant, sixth in the Vase in December, is the most likely of that three with Ryan Moore engaged to ride. Trainer Tony Cruze sends out two to oppose the Moore quartet, including Helene Super Star, winner of the Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup. In all, 14 are set to go with a pair of reserves including Dubai World Cup entrant Mr Gnocchi.


Things heat up in the All-Weather Championships Saturday with two Fast-Track Qualifiers Saturday at Lingfield Park offering entre to the finals on Good Friday, March 25 at the same track.

Festive Fare, favorite for the Coral Winter Derby, headlines 10 entries for the coral.co.uk Winter Derby Trial over 10 furlongs on Polytrack. The winner guaranteed a free start in the 200,000-pounds Coral Easter Classic over the course and distance on Finals day. Trained by Charlie Appleby, Festive Fare is unbeaten in three outings on the all-weather surface.

His competition includes the Marco Botti-trained 2015 winner Grendisar, who already has two good runs over the course and distance this all-weather season; Captain Cat, winner of the 2014 Ladbrokes Mile in 2014; and All-Weather specialist Complicit.

South African import Cold As Ice could drop back to six furlongs for the Unibet Cleves, a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Unibet All-Weather Sprint over the same distance on Good Friday. Also likely are Golden Steps, who later is targeting Qatar, Chookie Royale, Angelic Alben Star and German invader Gamgoon among 20 entries.

Louisiana Premier Night

Delta Downs on Saturday hosts the 13th annual Louisiana Premier Night. The 11-race program will feature 10 stakes events for Louisiana-bred horses worth more than $1 million. The feature is the $200,000 Louisiana Premier Night Championship for older horses competing at 1 1/16 miles. The eight-horse field includes last year's winner, One King's Man and The Pickett Factor, who defeated him in the Gold Cup at Delta Downs in November as well as the Louisiana Classic at the Fair Grounds one month later on Champions Day.

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