The holiday weekend schedule finds important races as far afield as South Africa and Iowa, with Breeders' Cup qualifiers in Florida, graded stakes in New York and California, The Coral-Eclipse in England and the Queen's Plate in Canada.
Two of Saturday's sprint features at Gulfstream Park are qualifiers for this fall's Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita.
Without further ado:
Saturday's Group 1 Vodacom Durban July at Greyville is Africa's biggest race and one of the continent's most colorful celebrations. A full field will tackle the 2,200 meters with South African Triple Crown winner Abashiri attempting the local equivalent of the "Grand Slam" that American Pharoah achieved last year in the United States. Questions remain about his ability to get the distance, however, and how much stuffing he has left after the Triple Crown rigors. If that doesn't work out, some of the better fancied are the filly Bela-Bela; French Navy, who was an unlucky sixth in this last year; Black Arthur, a Group 2 winner over the course in his last race; and Solid Speed, the Group 1 Queen's Plate winner last December. The large field competes on a narrow course, which for the past two years has thrown the outcome to the stewards after roughly run stretch battles.
The July is supported by the Group 1 Jonsson Workwear Garden Province Stakes for fillies and mares at 1,600 meters and a pair of Group 2 events for 2-year-olds.
The Gurkha, second only to Galileo Gold in the Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes at Royl Ascot, is the general favorite in a field of seven for Saturday's Group 1 Coral-Eclipse at Sandown. The Galileo colt, trained by Aidan O'Brien, was a Group 1 winner in France before the Ascot effort. The competition includes My Dream Boat, an upset winner over Found in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, and Time Test, a Group 3 winner at Sandown in his last race.
Vazirabad is the favorite among 11 set for Sunday's Group 2 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. The 4-year-old Manduro gelding has won seven straight races, dating back nearly a full year and including the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup on World Cup night at Meydan. The 10 locals will be joined by the John Gosden-trained Eagle Top, who makes only his second start since finishing 15th in last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
It's retirement instead of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe for Duramente, the 2015 Japan Derby winner and top hope to realize Japan's long-held dream to win the French classic. The colt was injured while being pulled up after finishing a narrow second in last weekend's Group 1 Takarazuka Kinen. He also missed the 2015 Arc with an injury. His owner said he is expected to be fully capable of assuming stud duty.
Back in North America
Amis Gizmo is the early favorite for Sunday's $1 million (Canadian) Queen's Plate at Woodbine, Canada's signature race. The Giant Gizmo colt won the Plate Trial in preparation for this and has won all five of his starts against fellow Canadian-breds. His lone loss came in open company in the Wando Stakes in April, where he finished a fading fifth. This race is wide open, though, with the second and third from the Plate Trial, Shakimat and Sir Dudley Digges, back for another try. Gamble's Ghost, a Grade III winner over the course in March, is parked in the outside, No. 13 gate for the 1 1/4-miles event.
As always, if you can't get to the track, follow the action on the Radio. Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net) will be on site at Woodbine with all the pre-race and race action. For hints, it's Jude Feld's analysis at www.popejude.com.
Wake Forest, Money Multiplier and Can'thelpbelieving -- the first three in the Grade I Man o' War at Belmont Park on May 14 -- return to dispute Sunday's $300,000 Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park, going the same 11 furlongs. Wake Forest, the heavy favorite that day, was clearly best and won by 3/4 length despite significant traffic issues. Among the others, World Approval has been in the money regularly in graded stakes action without winning much and Mr Maybe was third in the Grade III Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream Park in his only previous 2016 start. Ten are set to face the starter.
Generous Kitten is the 8-5 morning-line pick in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Singspiel Stakes at Woodbine despite making his first stakes start and going his longest distance ever at 1 1/2 miles. His two straight wins and three consecutive 90-plus Beyer Speed Figures give him an edge over six rivals, including Aldous Snow and Danish Dynaformer.
Filly & Mare Turf
2015 Queen's Plate and Woodbine Oaks winner Lexie Lou is among the favorites for Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Dance Smartly Stakes for fillies and mares at Woodbine. The 9-furlongs event also drew Strut the Course and Heath among 11 starters.
Monday's $200,000 Grade III Dr. James Penny Memorial at Parx Racing, run at 1 1/16 miles, had yet to be drawn at press time.
Lewis Bay, Off the Tracks and Rachel's Valentina pack at powerful one-two-three punch in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Mother Goose for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles at Belmont Park. Lewis Bay was third in the Kentucky Oaks in her last outing. Off the Tracks was second in the Grade I Acorn. Rachel's Valentina was second in the Grade I Ashland at Keeneland before finishing sixth in the Kentucky Oaks. Also here is Linda Mimi, a rapidy improving Congrats filly who broke her maiden in her third outing June 6 at Belmont Park.
Family Tree rallied three-wide in the stretch in Thursday's $200,000, Grade III Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows and kicked clear, winning by 2 lengths over Ready to Confess. Put Da Blame On Me was third and the favorite, Thrilled, beat only one rival after contesting the early pace. Family Tree, a Smart Strike filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a good track in 1:43.25 with Florent Geroux in the irons. She has finished out of the money only once in eight starts. Thursday's win was her first in a graded stakes.
Cyrus Alexander and S'maverlous are the morning-line favorites in a well-balanced field of nine for Saturday's $300,000, Grade III Prairie Meadows Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows at 9 furlongs on the dirt. Cyrus Alexander, drawn outside, comes off a victory in the Grade III Lone Star Park Handicap. S'maverlous won the Grade II New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds earlier this year. Code West and Domain's Rap finished 1-2, a neck apart, in the local Jim Rasmussen Memorial a month ago.
Texas Chrome, third in the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs in his last start, is the favorite among eight entered for Friday's $250,000, Grade III Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows. The race is 1 1/16 miles on the dirt.
Only five are set for Friday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Dominion Day Stakes at Woodbine and there's not much to separate them at 10 furlongs over the all-weather course. Melmich is a narrow, 2-1 favorite off his third-place finish in the Grade II Eclipse Stakes in his last outing.
Danzing Candy returns to action in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita. The Twirling Candy colt has not been seen since finishing 15th in the Kentucky Derby but earlier won the Grade II San Felipe and finished four in the slop in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. He has only four rivals in this 1 1/16-miles event on the main track.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Despite several recent subpar efforts, Birtatthewire is the 8-5 favorite for Saturday's $250,000 Princess Rooney at Gulfstream Park. This 7-furlongs affair is the year's first "Win and You're In" automatic qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Spelling Again and Kiss to Remember are the main rivals in a field of eight.
Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Smile Sprint Stakes is a "Win and You're In" event for the Breeders's Cup Sprint. Limousine Liberal is a 2-1 morning-line favorite in a very contentious field of seven that also includes Delta Bluesman and Chief Lion.
Awesome Banner returns in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Carry Back at Gulfstream Park. The Awesome of Course colt won the Grade II Swale going this same 7 furlongs but failed in the Fountain of Youth and the Tampa Bay Derby, Turned over to trainer Mark Casse, he then won a 6 1/2-furlongs stakes last month, restoring some confidence.
Lady Shipman, runner-up in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, is the even-money morning-line favorite in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Highlander at Woodbine going 6 furlongs. The 4-year-old Midshipman filly has won both her starts since returning from Dubai, where she finished seventh in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint. The other six are talented, as well. Among them is Hootenanny, the Wesley Ward-trained colt who missed Royal Ascot after a disappointing outing in the Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs.
Mr. Jordan and Comfort are the morning-line picks among six in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park. Allied Air Raid, second in last year's Iowa Derby, also is worth a glance.
Nine are in for Saturday's $200,000, Grade II King Edward Stakes at Woodbine. Prominent are Full Mast, Smokem Kitten and Tower of Texas.
Twelve signed on for Sunday's $100,000 Charlie Barley for 3-year-olds at Woodbine. Notable in this are 2015 Cup and Saucer winner Conquest Enforcer and last year's Grade II Summer Stakes winner Conquest Daddyo.
Nine colts and gelding are entered for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs. The 6-furlongs sprint, as usual for 2-year-olds at this time of year, is a learning experience for handicappers as much as for the horses.
In other action:
Saturday is Lousiana Legends day at Evangeline Downs with seven six-figure stakes events for Louisiana-breds.
Saturday's Gulfstream Park card, in addition to the two big Breeders' Cup qualifiers and the Carry Back, has five other stakes races on both turf and dirt.