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UPI Horse Racing Weekend Preview

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
International graded stakes winner Hootenanny, seen winning the 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf,
 resurfaces this weekend in Canada with an international campaign in mind. Photo courtesy Breeders' Cup
International graded stakes winner Hootenanny, seen winning the 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, resurfaces this weekend in Canada with an international campaign in mind. Photo courtesy Breeders' Cup

Million-dollar races on Saturday in California, New York and Kentucky will go a long way toward shaping up this year's Kentucky Derby field.

After the Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Blue Grass at Keeneland -- all Grade I events -- the only remaining big-deal prep for the Run for the Roses will be the following weekend's $1 million Arkansas Derby.

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But Derby action is far from the be-all, end-all of weekend racing.

Songbird, arguably the best 3-year-old of all, doesn't seem to have much in the way as she seeks to continue her unbeaten string in the Santa Anita Oaks.

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The Blue Grass heralds the return of Keeneland racing and Saturday's stakes-rich card including a showdown between two of last fall's Breeders' Cup winners. Woodbine kicks off the Ontario Thoroughbred season with Hootenanny making his first appearance since last Royal Ascot.

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On the international front, Hanshin Racecourse on Sunday hosts the Grade I Oka Sho, or Japanese 1,000 Guineas. Royal Randwick rolls on with another four Group 1 events on Saturday in Australia, including a super-tough cast in the Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

We note with great sorrow the death Wednesday of Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps -- owner, breeder, industry leader and a conscience for racing. Phipps was the fourth generation of his family to head one of the nation's most prestigious and powerful stables. He gave his time and energy tirelessly to better the industry.

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"The biggest thing to me is, he was a wonderful guy," said Phipps' long-time trainer, Shug McGaughey.

We soldier on.

The Road to the Roses

Three races on Saturday, each 1 1/8 miles for $1 million, basically guaranteed entry into the Kentucky Derby for horses finishing first or second. They are:

Zulu drew gate No. 4 and was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in an overflow field for the Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland. The Bernardini colt won his first two starts and then chased Mohaymen home in the Grade II Fountain of Youth.

"We're very happy with our spot, very happy with the draw," said owners' representative Charlie O'Connor.

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He's one of three in this field for trainer Todd Pletcher, also including Cards of Stone and Donegal Moon. Brody's Cause, winner of the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity, was pegged at 4-1 as the second choice on the line. Trainer Chad Brown sends My Man Sam, who has been working with his other Derby hopefuls at Aqueduct in New York. Cherry Wine, who drew No. 13 before finishing fourth in the Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park, got the 3 slot for the Blue Grass and could make more of an impression from there. The two also-eligibles are owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey and, should there be a defection from the main field, Hint of Roses would get the nod for that team.

The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct will include trainer Chad Brown's duo of Grade III Gotham Stakes winner Shagaf and Grade III Jerome Stakes winner Flexibility. Shagaf is undefeated but has given Brown's crew some issues with his quirky personality. Flexibility has been idle since finishing fourth in the Grade III Withers three weeks after his Jerome victory. Todd Pletcher's Wood Memorial contingent will include Grade II Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Outwork. Adventist finished third in both the Withers and the Gotham and, like several others in this field, must show improvement to make a case for spot in the Triple Crown picture.

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With Nyquist sidetracked to last weekend's Florida Derby, Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Santa Anita Derby features the top three from the Grade II San Felipe – Danzing Candy, Mor Spirit and Exaggerator. Danzing Candy, a Twirling Candy colt, has won three straight, dating back to his maiden win on Boxing Day in December. Mor Spirit, by Eskendereya, won the Robert Lewis over the same course, then finished 2 lengths behind Danzing Candy last time. Exaggerator, a Curlin colt, won the Grade III Delta Jackpot last year but finished second and third in the San Vicente and the San Felipe. The rest of the field is sufficiently competitive that upsets would be no surprise.

Seven are entered for Saturday's $100,000 Federico Tesio Stakes, a 9-furlongs race at Laurel Park which usually is more a preview of the Preakness than the Kentucky Derby. Two of the seven also are entered in the 7-furlongs Bay Shore at Aqueduct so it's tough to figure how this might go.

Kentucky Oaks previews

There are no sure things in this game but Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Santa Anita Oaks is about as close as it gets. Unless Mike Smith lets Songbird give them a healthy head start, her six rivals don't seem to have much chance. Songbird, a Medaglia d'Oro filly, not only has won all six of her starts -- she has dominated them, leading and extending the margin. Richard Baltas, who will saddle Forever Darling and Mokat, said he's aware Songbird's rivals are "up against it." Of Forever Darling, he said, "Both times I shipped Forever Darling out of town, she didn't run well. So my owner and I decided to stay here and try for second." This will be one to watch and enjoy.

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There are only five fillies in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Central Bank Ashland at Keeneland but that number includes some good ones. Cathryn Sophia is undefeated in four starts and no rival has finished within 5 lengths of the Street Boss filly. She stretches out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time. Rachel's Valentina, Rachel Alexandra's daughter by Bernardini, has two wins from three starts and has been beaten only by the mighty Songbird and that in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Carina Mia makes her 3-year-old debut after closing out 2015 with a convincing win in the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs. Weep No More is 2-for-2 this year in Florida and Banree rounds out the field.

Terra Promessa thrashed odds-on favorite Nickname in the Grade III Honeybee in her last start and doesn't find anyone much tougher as she seeks the promised land in Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The Curlin filly's three wins also include one at Churchill Downs, always a promising sign. Unless something totally untoward occurs, she should earn a chance to meet Songbird on May 6 under the Twin Spires.

Mo d'Amour, Dreams to Reality and Flora Dora – the 1, 2 and 4 finishers in the recent Stakes over the course – mix it up again in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct, going 1 1/8 miles. They are joined in the seven-filly field by Lewis Bay, who finished a distant second to Cathryn Sophia in the Grade II Davona Dale at Gulfstream in her last outing, and Clair de Lune, a promising sort who moves up in class after two straight wins. Regally bred Royal Obsession ran well at Fair Grounds and will need to improve here while Behrnik's Bank steps into open company for the first time.

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Sprint

Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Bay Shore for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct attracted an Awesome field of seven -- that is, two Awesome Again offspring coming from opposite directions on the distance chart. Awesome Speed was doing well sprinting but hit the wall when asked to go 1 1/16 miles against Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth and cuts back here to 7 furlongs. He's cross-entered in the Federico Tesio at Laurel Park, going long. Awesome Gent, on the other hand, tacks on a furlong after posting three straight wins on the Big A's inner track. Never Gone South, also cross-entered at Laurel, has never run poorly. Cocked and Loaded makes his first start since a fading finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. And don't sell short on Richie the Bull, the field's lone Illinois-bred.

Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Carter Handicap at Aqueduct has Stallwalkin' Dude, Salutos Amigos, Green Gratto, Majestic Affair and the rapidly improving Sassicaia among eight older horses going 7 furlongs. Last year's winner, Dad's Caps, is back but has been in a tailspin. Anchor Down was getting good in Florida and ditto Calculator in California.

If you toss out a misguided turf effort and an ambitious trip to the Breeders' Cup, Barbados has been in the money 7-of-8 while sprinting. The 4-year-old Speightstown colt catches an interesting cast of rivals going 7 furlongs in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland, only one of whom comes off a last-race win. And that is the very interesting Hiding Place, undefeated in three starts for trainer Wesley Ward with two of the wins coming on the Turfway Park all-weather track. The balance of the field has been great sometimes and not so much other times. Ready for Rye, Departing and Holy Boss are worth a look.

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Speaking of Wesley Ward: Who should pop up in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Jacques Cartier Stakes at Woodbine but Hootenanny, the Ward trainee who won the 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf but then disappeared after finishing 11th last June in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot. Before all that, the Quality Road colt won the listed Windsor Castle Stakes at the 2014 royal meeting and finished second, only 1/2 lengths back, in the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville. He worked this past winter on the Turfway Park all-weather course but Ward said they never could find him a race there.

"Then this race popped up in Canada and we just loaded him on the van about 30 minutes ago," he said Wednesday from Keeneland. Asked if he'd think about taking Hootenanny back to Royal Ascot if he runs well, Ward said, "It's all we think about. He's doing great." It's no easy field with Stacked Deck and Passion for Action both proven commodities at Woodbine.

Sunday's $400,000 Grade III Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, 6 furlongs at Oaklawn Park, drew nine entries including Alsvid, Cinco Charlie, Bayerd, Gentlemen's Bet and an Illinois-bred Recount, who is not to be discounted. Subtle Indian step up after three straight wins over the Arkansas oval. Cautious Giant invades from California with a reasonable resume. {b: Filly & Mare Sprint } The winner of last fall's Breeders' Cup Distaff, Stopchargingmaria, and Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, Wavell Avenue, face off in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Madison Stakes going 7 furlongs at Keeneland. Stopchargingmaria is more frequently seen going longer and will start from the No. 11 gate. But she did finish a close second in this event last year, also off a long layoff. Wavell Avenue's No. 3 draw is somewhat negated by her stalking style. Meanwhile, there is plenty other talent in the field, including graded stakes winners Cavorting, Sheer Drama, Birdatthewire, Fioretti, Dancing House and Super Majesty.

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Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Whimsical Stakes, 6 furlongs on the Woodbine all-weather, includes the lightly raced Leigh Court, a 6-year-old Grand Slam mare who won the Mardi Gras Stakes at Fair Grounds in her last start. A graded stakes winner and Breeders' Cup competitor, she always has been tough at Woodbine. Galena Point and Green Doctor are permanent fixtures at the Ontario track and usually show up.

Turf Sprint

There's no shortage of zip among the dozen entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Shakertown Stakes going 5 1/2 grassy furlongs at Keeneland. And there's equally no shortage of late-running types to pick up the pieces if things get too heated. There is, however, a shortage of graded stakes experience and that leads the eye to the Wesley Ward-trained duo of The Great War and Undrafted. With decent trips, both should be flying late. Power Alert has been in good form in Florida and Something Extra has run well during the winter in Florida.

Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Las Cienegas Stakes, about 6 1/2 furlongs down the Santa Anita hillside course drew a competitive field of 11 fillies and mares.

Filly & Mare Turf

Seven of the nine 3-year-old fillies entered for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita come directly from the March 12 China Doll, including the 1-2-3 finishers, Mirage, Lady Valeur and Nodiac. However, that race featured a blanket finish with even Kiss N Scat, who got home ninth, less than 5 lengths in arrears. The China Doll was 1 mile -- a furlong shorter than the Providencia.

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Turf Mile

Speaking of resurfacing, Texas Red is back in a big field for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Thunder Road Stakes at Santa Anita. The 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner was last seen finishing a distant fifth in the Grade I Travers at Saratoga last August. The Thunder Road is his turf debut for trainer Keith Desormeaux. The likely favorite, What a View, has won three straight, including the Grade I Frank Kilroe in his last start, but drew outside. Poshsky, Si Sage, Decisive Edge, Twentytwentyvision and Finnegan's Wake also are likely contenders.

Turf

Sunday's $100,000 Grade III San Juan Capistrano, about 14 furlongs on the Santa Anita grass, features the top three from last month's Grade II San Luis Rey -- a 1 1/2-miles affair. Generosidade won that affair by 1 1/2 lengths with Quick Casablanca and Energia Fribby second and third -- a Uruguayan, a Chilean and a Brazilian. Do not be confused by the presence in this 10-horse field of another Uruguayan-bred named Generoso.

Classic

Five will tackle Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Excelsior at 1 1/4 miles over the Aqueduct main track. Turco Bravo, Kid Cruz and Good Luck Gus all won their last starts, although the latter beat fellow New York-breds. The others, Madefromlucky and Norumbega, also are proven graded stakes performers. With zero early speed, this should be an interesting tactical exersize.

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And on the international front:

Japan

Sunday's Grade I Oka Sho, at 1,600 meters on the right-handed Hanshin Turf, features the 1-2-3 finishers from Grade III Tulip Sho over the course and distance – Sinhalite, Jeweler and Lavender Valley. Sinhalite, a Deep Impact filly, is undefeated in three starts. Jeweler, by Dubai World Cup winner Victoire Pisa, has a win and two seconds from three trips. Major Emblem, a daughter of Daiwa Major, has won four of her five starts, including the Grade I Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and the Grade II Daily Hai Queen Cup. Solveig, another by Daiwa Major, comes off a win in the Grade II Hochi Hai Fillies Review, going 200 meters shorter.

Australia

Saturday's card at Royal Randwick is fit for a queen, featuring the Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes at 2,000 meters. That feature includes the likes of a very in-form Preferment, Criterion, Dibayani, Happy Clapper, Awesome Rock, Mongolian Khan, Our Ivanhowe and The United States although a case could be made for several others including It's Somewhat, a 5-year-old Dynaformer gelding. Also on the program are the Schweppes Sydney Cup at 3,200 meters with Who Shot the Barman coming off a second to Preferment just two weeks ago; the James Boags Premium Australian Oaks with Jameka, Single Gaze and Valley Girl in a full field; and the Coolmore Legacy Stakes for sprinters. The Group 2 Arrowfield 3-year-old sprint attracted Japonisme, who should be a hot favorite.

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Otherwise ...

Will Rogers Downs

Stormquility surged to a big lead in the stretch in Monday's $50,000 Wilma Mankiller Memorial Stakes for fillies and mares and coasted home first by 1 1/4 lengths over Magnificent Margo. More Than Even finished third. Stormquility, a 5-year-old After Market mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.88 with Curtis Kimes up. The race is named for the late Wilma Pearl Mankiller, first female chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Sharp Art led from the start in Tuesday's $50,000 Clem McSpadden Memorial Route 66 Stakes and shook clear in the final yards to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Johnny Whip was second with Yonaguska Boy third. Sharp Art, a 4-year-old Sharp Humor gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.66 with Joe Johnson riding. The race is named for a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma who also was a grandnephew of Will Rogers and, of course, for the Mother Road.

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