After the last set of prep races, the common quip was the Kentucky Derby will be run in Florida this year. We'll see about that on Saturday as the two top-rated 3-year-olds meet head-on in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
There are two Breeders' Cup Challenge races on a lovely Saturday card on the first day of The Championships at Royal Randwick in Australia. Check out two important preps for Hong Kong's upcoming Group 1 Champions Mile and Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize. Saturday is SA Classic day at Turffontein in South Africa.
And a tribute to a valiant old warrior -- and his trainer -- as Cirrus Des Aigles trots happily off to a well-deserved retirement. See "News and notes" below for more about him -- and Calvin Borel.
The Road to the Roses
The best of the east meets the best of the west in Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Xpressbet.com Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Undefeated 2-year-old champ Nyquist is lured from California for a potential $1 million bonus. But he will have to get past undefeated Mohaymen, the king of the local hill, to cash in. This is the kind of showdown that used to be reserved for the first Saturday in May under the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs. That day will have other thrills.
Nyquist, one of many Uncle Mo colts in this year's Derby picture, has won all six of his starts, five of them graded stakes. The haul includes the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and his first start at age 3, the Grade II San Vicente. He is trained by Doug O'Neill. Mohaymen, by Tapit, is 5-for-5, with four of the wins in Grade II events. He has won twice this year over the Gulfstream oval -- in the Holy Bull Stakes in January and last month's Fountain of Youth. Kiaran McLaughlin trains the grey colt.
Unaccountably, there are eight other horses in the Florida Derby field. Strange things happen in racing but a victory by any of them would rank high on the incredibility index.
Also Saturday, a full field will contest the $500,000, Grade III Horseshoe Casino Spiral Stakes on the all-weather course at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky. The morning-line favorite is Airoforce, who won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs last fall but didn't perform in his 3-year-old debut in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Azar moves from a turf win at Gulfstream Park and is the second pick on the morning line, followed by Kasseopia, Ralis and Jensen. Don't Be So Salty, an all-weather winner at Woodbine, also is worth a look at a slightly longer price.
Kentucky Oaks Preps
Off the Tracks and Gomo are the standouts in a short field for Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks. The former is undefeated in three starts, including last year's Grade III Schuylerville at Saratoga and a minor handcap at Gulfstream to start her 3-year-old season. The Curlin miss tackles two turns for the first time in this 1 1/16-miles event. Gomo won the Grade I Alcibiades in the Keeneland slop last fall and hasn't been seen since. The Uncle Mo filly also has a turf win to her credit and is 5-for-5 in the money. There are four recent maiden winners, any of whom could play a role.
An overflow field is entered for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park on the all-weather track. Appropriately, the marquee attraction is Marquee Miss, who won two straight stakes at Oaklawn Park before stopping badly in the stretch in her most recent start over the Arkansas oval.
Grand Tito and Kaigun top the field for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II pan American at Gulfstream Park at 12 furlongs on the green course. They were 1-2 in the recent Grade II Mac Diarmida over the course. The others are a very mixed bag, including recent maiden winner Hello Don Julio; German bred and raced Wake Forest; the ever-dangerous O'Prado Ole; and Twilight Agenda, who is entered for "main track only".
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Appleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park is run at 1 mile and features a clutch of recent stakes performers. All Included, Long On Value, Divisidero and Reporting Star all have been prominent in early 2016 stakes. Force the Pass makes his 2016 debut after a 3-year-old campaign that include a win in the Grade I Belmont Derby and a third behind Highland Reel in the Grade I Secretariat Stakes at Arlington.
Filly & Mare Turf
Nine international distaffers make up the field for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Orchid Stakes at Gulfstream Park at 11 furlongs on the grass. The contentious field includes runners bred in Ireland, England and France but lacks much consistent recent form. This could be a race for the "hatpin in the program" handicapping method.
Sandiva, Tammy the Torpedo and Lady Lara are among the likely ones in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Honey Fox Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Eight are set for the grassy mile and none would be a total surprise.
Nine will line up for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III San Simeon Stakes at Santa Anita, about 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill. Producer, previously campaigned in England and Dubai, makes his U.S. debut here. Il Formaio makes his first American start up from Argentina. Guns Loaded has two straight wins going down the hill.
Abashiri, winner of the Betting World Gauteng Guineas, moves along to the second jewel of the South African Triple Crown in Saturday's SA Classic at Turffontein. Heaps Of Fun, winner of he Wilgerbosdrift Gauteng Fillies Guineas, also moves along up the line in the companion S A Fillies Classic. Abashiri will find some familiar faces from the earlier race, which he dominated. Karl Zechner has the return call.
Brazuca, fourth in the Guineas, has a better draw this time for jockey Anton Marcus to work with. Champagne Haze, second in the Guineas, drew inside for his return try and Gavin Lerena will return from his current Hong Kong residency to take the mount. Heaps Of Fun, by contrast, could have a tougher time repeating as Negroamaro, beaten less than a length in the Guineas, is back for another try. Princess Varunya could improve after a longer stay in the area and a No. 2 draw.
The companion Grade I HF Oppenheimer Horse Chestnut Stakes, a 1,600-meters, weight-for-age affair, drew a field of 10 including Legal Eagle and Captain America.
Cox Plate winner Winx is the feature attraction in the Group 1 The Star Doncaster Mile on opening day of The Championships at Royal Randwick. That despite drawing the No. 11 gate for the feature as she faces the likes of Happy Clapper, Bow Creek and Kermadec. Fifteen are set to go -- a relatively compact field for the event. The race is a Breeders' Cup Challenge race for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
In Saturday's Group 1 Darley T J Smith Stakes at 1,200 meters, Chautauqua will try to atone for a third-place finish two weeks ago in the Group 1 Newmarket at Flemington. Neither of the two who defeated the grey, 5-year-old gelding in that race will be in Saturday's field. But the lineup will include Flamberge, winner of the Group 1 William Reid and the Group 1 Oakley Plate; Delectation, who defeated Chautauqua in the 2015 Darley Classic; and Terravista, third in the Darley. Nice race! And, a Breeders' Cup Challenge race for the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Not enough for one day? There's also the Group 1 Australian Derby at 2,400 meters, with Rosehill Guineas winner Tarzino and the filly Jameka, who was third in that same race. And the Group 1 Inglis Sires at 1,400 meters for 2-year-olds.
Two HK Group 2 sprints on Sunday foreshadow the international Group 1 events coming at the end of April
Entries for the HK G2 Sprint Cup at 1,200 meters include Dundonnell Frederick Engles, Charles the Great and Packing Pins and leads to the Chairman's Sprint Prize May 1. The latter is another stop on the Global Sprint Challenge, which has replaced the lamented KrisFlyer Sprint in Singapore on that program.
Sunday's Chairman's Sprint Trophy at 1,600 meters is a preview of the May 1 Champions Mile. Entries include Designs on Rome, Blazing Speed, Beauty Only and Packing Llaregyb among others.
News and notes:
Cirrus Des Aigles is retired but it will be a while before the racing world forgets the globetrotting gelding's character and accomplishments -- or the radiant joy and enthusiasm of his loving trainer, Corine Barande-Barbe.
"Cirrus" won seven Group 1 races at venues around the world, defeating some of the best horses of his generation, including Treve, St Nicholas Abbey, Flintshire and Al Kazeem. He even tossed a scare into the mighty Frankel in that rival's final start in the Group 1 Champion Stakes in 2012.
The persistence of the gelding and trainer were on brilliant display in his seven visits to Hong Kong's International Races. He never won and once was declared with a late injury. But he kept trying. The Even Top gelding retires with earnings well north of 6 million pounds sterling.
"I am so pround of him," his trainer said. "He is a brave horse who loves fighting and winning."
Calvin Borel also has announced his retirement. The three-time Kentucky Derby winner (Street Sense, Mine That Bird and Super Saver) hangs up his tack with 5,146 wins. The colorful rider also was a fan favorite, known as "Calvin Bo-rail" for his frequent inside trips to victory. He did not give a reason for retirement, which was announced through his agent.