It's Derby weekend at Epsom and in Chantilly. It's Yasuda Kinen Sunday in Tokyo. And it's "the weekend of the mile" in United States thoroughbred racing.
A big and competitive field is set for the Investec Derby at Epsom on Saturday, following Friday's Oaks, where Minding is an overwhelming choice. The Prix du Jockey Club, or French Derby, at Chantilly on Sunday is another option for 3-year-olds, depending on the weather and turf conditions.
The Yasuda Kinen features a rematch between Maurice and Contentment. And in South Africa, four Group 1 events comprise the Festival of Speed at Scottsville.
There are rich mile races all over the United States, on both turf and dirt, but none is bigger than Saturday's Vanity Mile at Santa Anita, featuring Beholder vs. Stellar Wind and, oh yes, don't forget Taris.
So let's us get running.
With no powerhouse runner to scare anyone out, Saturday's Group 1 Investec Derby at Ascot has 16 declared, five of them trained by Aidan O'Brien and one of those ridden by his teenage son, Donnacha O'Brien. The Irish trainer has one of the two lukewarm favorites, US Army Ranger. The other, Wings of Desire, is trained by John Gosden, who snapped a three-year O'Brien winning skein last year when he saddled Golden Horn to victory. Wings of Desire, with Frankie Dettori to ride, and US Army Ranger, partnered by Ryan Moore, drew gates No. 13 and 15, respectively, for the 1 1/2-miles tilt. But it's no stretch to find reasons to like others in this big field. Ulysses, for example, is by Derby winner Galileo out of an Oaks winner, Light Shift. Others getting support in the local market are the Andre Fabre-trained Cloth of Stars, O'Brien stablemates Idaho and Deauville and the Jim Bolger trainee, Moonlight Magic. It might be a stretch to get down to Donnacha O'Brien's mount, Shogun. But stranger things have happened and Donnacha's brother, Joseph, rode two Derby winners for their dad.
Friday's Investec Oaks field revolves around Minding, the 1,000 Guineas winner at Epsom but a narrow second behind Jet Setting in the Irish equivalent. With nine finalists in the Oaks, Minding could be less than even money when the barrier springs. She is a Galileo filly out of the Danehill Dancer mare Lillie Langtry, herself a multiple Group 1 winner. Minding has four wins and three seconds from seven starts for trainer Aidan O'Brien and the Coolmore owners and her Racing Post Rating of 135 towers above the competition. Her closest competition, at least odds-wise, is Skiffle, a Dubawi filly owned by Godolphin and trained by Charlie Appleby. She has only two starts and steps up from a victory in a listed race at Goodwood on May 19 with an RPR of 122. The rest of the field is Turret Rocks, Somehow, Architecture, Seventh Heaven, Harlequeen, Diamonds Pour Moi and Australian Queen.
The Derby Day undercard includes the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Cup, with the Queen's name added this year to celebrate Her Majesty's recent 90th birthday. The prospective field includes Postponed, winner of four straight races dating back to last July and most recently including the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night. Also here we find Found, who defeated last year's Derby winner, Golden Horn, in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Keeneland. Also watch out for the often overlooked Simple Verse, a Duke of Marmalade filly who won four straight races, including two Group 1 events, to wind up her 3-year-old season.
The Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club, or French Derby, on Sunday at Chantilly, continued to evolve during the week amid uncertainty about the conditions at Ascot. This race also looked like having a big and competitive field.
Incidentally, Racing Post has assigned a 133 rating to Japanese runner A Shin Hakari's victory in the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan, putting the son of Deep Impact atop the current world rankings. Racing Post, however, downgraded the "official" 10-lengths margin of victory to its own unofficial 8 lengths and noted A Shin Hakari's potential is unlikely to stretch to the 1 1/2 miles of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe -- a race Japanese owners and trainers have targeted unsuccessfully for a decade. Racing Post's Sam Walker is touting last weekend's Japanese Derby winner Makahiki as a potential Arc winner.
Sunday's Group 1 Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo Racecourse features a rematch between Maurice and Contentment, the 1-2 in the Group 1 Champions Mile at Sha Tin on May 1. Contentment had the home advantage in that race; Maurice, riding a five-race winning skein, takes home court in this renewal. Among the others, Fiero was second and Isla Bonita third to Maurice last December in the Group 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto but neither has been particularly impressive since. One to watch for sure is Real Steel, making his first start since winning the Group 1 Dubai Turf at Meydan on World Cup night. He had been knocking on the door behind Duramente and some other good ones at home and if he can maintain the ability he showed in the UAE, he will give Japan yet another threat on the international front for the remainder of the year.
The Tsogo Sun Sprint, worth 1 million Rand, anchors the four Group 1 events -- each at 1,200 meters on the Saturday card at Scottsville. Also on the program is the 600,000-Rand City of Pietermaritzburg Fillies Sprint. Those are supported by a pair of juvenile sprints.
Meanwhile, back in North America:
For no obvious reason, this is the "weekend of the mile" in the United States.
Going one mile on the main track, we have:
Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Vanity Mile at Santa Anita, features a showdown between two champions, Beholder and Stellar Wind. Beholder, who missed last year's Breeders' Cup after a fever, is looking for her eighth straight win. Stellar Wind, second to Stopchargingmaria in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Keeneland, makes her first start since that effort. "We're starting her campaign relatively late with the Breeders Cup in mind," said Stellar Wind's trainer, John Sadler. "She's been training very well for her first race back and we're looking forward to it." Beholder's trainer, Richard Mandella, noted his mare already has run and won this year and said she doesn't need much more preparation. Beholder, a 6-year-old won divisional Eclipse Awards for her performance in each of the past three years. Stellar Wind was the 2015 3-year-old filly Eclipse champ. But wait. There's more. Taris also is in this seven-horse field and all she's done is post eight wins, two seconds and two thirds from 13 starts, including a victory in the Grade I Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. None of the others has been seen pulling a milk wagon recently but a win by any of them would be noteworthy.
And, even though they're 1 furlong short of a mile, we'll nod to Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian) Connaught Cup and Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Stakes for fillies and mares, both the Woodbine all-weather course.
At 1 mile on the green course:
An interesting field of seven 3-year-olds is on tap for Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Penn Mile at Penn National. Catch a Glimpse is a standout -- winner of six straight races including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last fall at Keeneland. Can she handle the boys? Airoforce was a graded stakes winner on both turf and dirt as a 2-year-old. As a 3-year-old, he's tried dirt, all-weather and turf courses, all without hitting the board. Oscar Nominated won a stakes race on the turf in New Orleans and the Grade III Spiral Stakes on the Turfway Park all-weather. That was enough to convince owner Ken Ramsey to pony up $200,000 to put him in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished 17th. The winner's share here would get Ramsey back in the black. Beach Patrol showed tremendous potential in finishing second in the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs on Derby Day after a pair of wins at Santa Anita. Giant Run has been first or second in four straight races in Florida and the mile seems right up his alley.
There are six takers for Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita and, looking at their records, any one of them could win. So take a stab: Heart to Heart, Twentytwentyvision, Tourist, Home Run Kitten, Cape Wolfe or Midnight Storm.
Sunday's program features the $100,000 Grade III Red Bank at Monmouth Park.
But wait. That's not all. There are big races that are not at a mile or thereabouts.
Camelot Kitten comes into Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Pennine Ridge for 3-year-olds at 9 furlongs on the grass at Belmont Park fresh off a victory in the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. He was an 18-1 long shot that day but has turned in only one bad race, that in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf from a wide draw. He has the No. 2 gate this time in a field of 10. Dressed in Hermes finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup, flirted with the Triple Crown trail, then finished seventh in the American Turf. Highland Sky was sixth in the Breeders' Cup and comes off a win at Aqueduct. Azar, who finished 13th in that Breeders' Cup race and fifth in the American Turf, also is in this field. Converge was sixth in the American Turf.
A solid field of seven is entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Aristides, a 6-furlongs dash at Churchill Downs honoring the first Kentucky Derby victor. Toews On Ice won the William Walker Stakes over the course and distance last time out. Jude Feld's favorite, Barbados, has struggled everywhere outside Florida but is talented. Limousine Liberal hasn't lived up to the promise he showed in finishing second to Runhappy in last year's Grade I King's Bishop at Saratoga. Alsvid won this last year as a 6-year-old but has not found the winner's circle in 11 intervening races. Don't be too discouraged, though, as he's been in the money seven straight times, including the Grade III Twin Spires Turf Sprint on Oaks Day. Union Jackson has won four of his last five but steps up a bit in class for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Have a great Derby Day!