In another big weekend of racing, European raiders clash with promising Americans on the Belmont Park turf with even more action on the main course, it's Arlington Million Preview Day, Delaware Park heats up and top 3-year-olds face off in Germany and France.
The weekend feature in England is the Darley July Cup with a huge field of talented sprinters.
And, is it possible that the fabulous Frankel will meet Mick Goss's definition of a great sire, producing progeny even better than himself? So far, so good. See England in the international section.
Saturday's $1.25 million Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational is a fascinating confrontation between some truly promising but largely untested American 3-year-olds and some European counterparts who have been done battle at the highest level without quite catching the brass ring. The European contingent is formidable. The Aidan O'Brien-trained Deauville finished behind only Wings of Desire in the Group 2 Dante Stakes at York two starts back before poor effort in the Investec Derby at Epsom. Richard Hannon brings Humphrey Bogart, who was second in the Derby Trial at Epsom, then won the Derby Trial at Lingfield. He also finished well up the track in the Derby itself. Long Island Sound has won three of four starts and most recently was third in the Group 3 Tercentenary Stakes at Ascot. Among the locals, Camelot Kitten, Highland Sky and Call Provision were the first three home in the Grade III Pennine Ridge over the Belmont course last month going a furlong shorter than Saturday's 1 1/4 miles. Airoforce was second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last fall and has two good recent runs. Beach Patrol looked like a good thing finishing second to Camelot Kitten in the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs, then disappointed in the Grade III Penn Mile. Surgical Strike won the Grade III Arlington Classic over yielding turf in his last start. Applicator and Ralis also have claims.
Last year's Arlington Million winner, The Pizza Man, headlines a cast of 10 entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Stars and Stripes, the 1 1/2-miles local prep for next month's renewal of the Million. The 7-year-old English Channel gelding won't face an impossible task as the main opposition seems to be Bullard's Alley and Roman Approval, the first- and third-place finishers in the Grade III Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs in May. The Pizza Man finished fifth and fourth in two previous starts this year. He defeated Roman Approval by a neck in this race last year before downing Big Blue Kitten by the same margin in Million XXXIII.
Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Arlington Handicap is run at 1 3/16 miles, just 1/16 mile short of the Million distance and Roman Approval is cross-entered in this. The morning-line favorite, however, is Go Around, who comes off a rare disappointment in the Grade I Man o' War at Belmont Park going 1 3/8 miles. Kasaqui, an Argentine-bred, finished second in the Grade II Wise Dan at Churchill Downs in his last outing. Messi, a German-bred, was third in the Grade III Fort Marcy at Belmont in his last start.
Eleven will line up for Saturday's $125,000 Grade III American Derby at Arlington with the favorite, J R's Holiday, on the outside of a field of 11. J R's Holiday misfired in the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs with some traffic excuses in his last start. That aside, he has consistently been involved in the late stages of his races. An interesting alternative is Mongolian Holiday, who makes just his second start for Mongolian Stable LLC.
Filly & Mare Turf
Irish master Aidan O'Brien brings two auspiciously named fillies -- Coolmore and Ballydoyle -- to contest Saturday's $1 million Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational. Coolmore was fifth and Ballydoyle sixth in their last start, the Group 1 Prix du Diane at Chantilly. Ballydoyle, however, is a Group 2 winner and likely has the nod between them. It's no surprise that both are by Galileo but both also are out of Storm Cat mares. The other trans-Atlantic invader is French-based Magnanime, who is stepping up significantly in class. They'll all have to deal with Catch a Glimpse, the 2015 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner, who is riding a seven-race winning streak. She will be trying 1 1/4 miles for the first time and so has something to prove. It would not be a surprise to find one or more of the other Americans involved in the outcome as they continue to find their place in the hierarchy.
Eight distaffers, three with significant European experience, are entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Robert G. Dick Memorial at 1 3/8 miles on the Delaware Park grass. Photo Call is the 9-5 morning-line favorite on the basis of a win more than three months ago in the Grade III Orchid Handicap at Gulfstream Park. But she misfired in the Grade II New York at Belmont, tossing this event up for grabs. Suffused and Savings Account might pay some interest.
It seems "The Boss," Arlington Park Chairman Richard L. Duchossois, is out to win another Beverly D., the race named after his late wife. The 94-year-old has acquired Marypop, a 4-year-old, French-bred filly by Layman, who won her last two races in France, and entered her in Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Modesty Handicap -- the local prep for the Beverly D. The last win came in the Group 3 Prix Allez France at Chantilly in April and Marypop has been training steadily at Arlington since late May. She is among the favorites in an eight-horse field, along with Faufiler, Al's Gal and No Fault of Mine. Duchossois won the Beverly D. six years ago with Éclair de Lune, a German-bred filly who prepped with a runner-up finish in the Modesty.
"Winning this race means more to me than winning the Kentucky Derby," an emotional Duchossois said after that Beverly D. score.
Mubtaahij and Effinex immediately draw the eye among eight entered for Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Suburban at Belmont Park, going 1 1/4 miles on the dirt. Both, however, have questions to answer. Mubtaahij makes his first start since finishing second only to California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup in March. Kiaran McLaughlin has taken over trainer duties from South African legend Mike De Kock. But the Dubawi colt has disappointed in his two previous U.S. starts. After winning the Group 2 UAE Derby last spring at Meydan, he finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby and fourth, beaten 7 3/4 lengths, in the Belmont. At 4, can he reproduce the Dubai form on American shores? Effinex, meanwhile, was second only to American Pharoah in last fall's Breeders' Cup Classic and since then has won the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap in Arkansas. But the 5-year-old son of Mineshaft also has posted disappointing losses as the favorite in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap and the Grade I Stephen Foster. Among the others, Noble Bird has developed a pattern of following a good race with a poor one and is due for success; Shaman Ghost and Turco Bravo were the exacta in the Grade II Brooklyn last month; and Eagle could step up.
A highly competitive field of eight is set for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Delaware Oaks. Dark Nile, Browse and Dreams to Reality all return after finishing 1-2-3 in the Our Mims over the same track last month. Kinsley Kisses put up a game fight in the Grade II Black Eyed Susan before reporting home third. Eighth Wonder is undefeated after five starts at Parx, albeit by disqualification in one of those outings.
Neshama and Caren, first- and third-place finishers from the Woodbine Oaks, are the favorites in Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Bison City Stakes for Canadian-foaled 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine. Seven are set to try 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track with long shot recent maiden winner String Bikini drawn on the outside.
Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up Private Zone makes his second start of 2016 in Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Belmont Sprint Championship at 7 furlongs. The 7-year-old son of Macho Uno won this event last year and is 3-for-4 overall at Belmont Park. Anchor Down, A.P. Indian and Joking all are Grade I winners this year.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Victory Ride at Belmont Park drew nine 3-year-old fillies, among them Lost Raven and One True Kiss, the exacta pair from the Grade III Miss Preakness in May. Lost Raven won that event from far off the pace and, with a hot tempo seemingly assured here, could have a nice setup. There are some promising up-and-comers, though, including Stradivarius, Behrnik's Bank, Appealing Maggie and Malibu Stacy. Coppa won her first two starts in California.
Ben's Cat is back in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Parx Dash. The 10-year-old but ageless Parker's Storm Cat gelding has won two of three starts so far this season. He finished second in the Parx Dash in 2011, won it in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and finished sixth last year -- in a race that saw eventual Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday a close second to Tightend Touchdown. The morning-line favorite in the field of 10 is Power Alert. The Australian-bred 6-year-old was fourth last year as the favorite. Also fancied is the entry of Pool Winner and Take Cover although a case can be made for most of these. The race is 5 furlongs.
Economic Model gets to show whether he's for real in Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Dwyer for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park. The Flatter colt was an impressive winner in the Easy Goer over the same track last time out with a Beyer Speed Figure of 101 -- head and shoulders above the others in here. Those include Fish Trappe Road, who comes off a second-place showing in the Grade II Woody Stephens; Swipe, who was second to Nyquist in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and Laoban, who was promising though over his head in the Triple Crown preps.
Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies
Five of the six starters for Saturday's $125,000 Santa Anita Juvenile come directly from victories at first asking. Watch and learn.
The situation is similar for the companion $125,000 Landaluce Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Here, though, you've got to like Cioppino Pasadino, if only for the name.
Over the waves:
Mick Goss, master of the fabulous Summerhill Stud in South Africa and an encyclopedia of breeding history and theory, told visiting journalists early this week the definition of a great sire is, "One who produces horses better than himself." A cynical guest was heard to mutter, "Frankel's in trouble, then." Maybe not. After winning all 14 of his own races, the dominant son of the great sire Galileo has sent six of his progeny to the track so far and all have returned winners. Seven Heavens was the latest, overcoming a reluctant start to win Thursday at Ascot for trainer John Gosden.
Big Orange made all in Thursday's Group 2 Princess of Wales's Arqana Racing Club Stakes at Newmarket and stayed on strongly in the final furlong to easily hold safe the favorite, The Grey Gatsby, who finished 2 1/2 lengths in arrears. Exosphere was third in the 1 1/2-miles test, run in good to firm conditions in 2:29.93. Big Orange, a 5-year-old by Duke of Marmalade, also won this race last season. The Grey Gatsby has not won since the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes in September of 2014.
Saturday's feature at Newmarket is the Group 1 Darley July Cup at 6 furlongs, the third British leg of the Global Sprint Challenge. The race drew a massive field of 18, including such household names as Group 1 Diamond Jubilee winner Twilight Son, Group 1 King's Stand winner Profitable and Group 2 Duke of York Stakes winner Magical Memory. The 3-year-olds are headed by Quiet Reflection, who has won six of seven starts, including five in a row and most recently the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Ascot. Air Force Blue gets some distance relief after failing to handle either the British or Irish 2,000 Guineas. Some "faded glory" types also are here, including Sole Power, Mongolian Saturday and Arod. From this side of the Atlantic, Washington DC looks to be a live long shot.
Sunday's Group 1 Prix Jean Pratt at Chantilly features Zelzal and Nemoralia among nine 3-year-old colts and fillies. The former, a Sea the Stars colt, has won three of four starts. The fourth was an unfortunate 11th-place showing in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains, where he weakened badly in the final furlong. He returned to win easily in a Group 3 event over the course, however. Nemoralia, a More Than Ready filly, finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last fall at Keeneland and most recently was second Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Ascot. Also in the field: First Selection, who was second in the Poule d'Essai; German-bred and raced Degas, who was second in the German 2,000 Guineas; Stormy Antarctic, winner of the Group 3 Craven Stakes at Newmarket; and Spectre, a Group 3 winner at Maisons-Laffitte.
Sunday's Group 1 Deutches Derby continues to take shape with Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien entering Landofhopeandglory against a strong local field. The Andreas Wohler-trained Wai Key Star won the Group 3 Ittlingen Derby Trial at Baden Baden. Bosccacio won the Group 2 Oppenheim-Union-Rennen at Cologne in his last start. El Loco finished second in both those races.