California Chrome returns to action this weekend. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
It's that golden time of year -- The King George in England, Del Mar fully cranked up, Saratoga opening weekend, Monmouth enlivening the Jersey Shore and Arlington Park preparing for the Arlington Million.
Oh yeah -- California Chrome and Songbird are back in action, too.
Toss into the mix some of the important early races for next year's Derby and Oaks contenders and life is good for the railbirds.
Let's pour a lemonade and take a look at the goodies in store this weekend:
Her Majesty the Queen has put up 75,000 pounds sterling to supplement Dartmouth to Sunday's Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot -- the race named for her parents. Dartmouth, a 4-year-old Dubawi colt, comes to the 1 1/2-miles event after defeating Highland Reel in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at the Royal meeting -- his third straight victory. Another win over the course would give Her Majesty her second score in the event -- the first coming with Aureole way back in 1954, just two years into her historic reign. Trainer Sir Michael Stoute seeks his sixth triumph in the iconic race. The field shapes up tough enough even after the likely favorite, Postponed, was withdrawn. Highland Reel remains, as do Sir Isaac Newton, Western Hymn, Erupt and Wings of Desire. Noted: The Queen reportedly sent a case of Champagne to the press tent after Aureole's victory in the King George.
Time Test, third in the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse earlier in the month, may get a go in Saturday's Group 2 Sky Bet York if the conditions don't get too soggy. The race is 2,080 meters for 3-year-olds and up.
Meanwhile, back in North America:
California Chrome returns to action for the first time since winning the Dubai World Cup in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. The 5-year-old, after a couple of sluggish efforts at his Los Alamitos training base, perked up notably in his last work Where the Surf Meets the Turf and should be a handful for his six rivals. That bunch has not achieved nearly California Chrome's level of success, although it does include Dortmund, who makes his first start since winning the Grade III Native Diver over the same track last November. Hard Aces has run well in tough company without winning much. And Win the Space jumped up to finish second in the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita in his last start -- at 24-1. California Chrome will start from gate No. 6 for the 1 1/16-miles test.
Note: Hard Aces is cross-entered in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar, going 1 1/2 miles. Hoppertunity and Quick Casablanca also are on the list among six for that one.
Only four other 3-year-old fillies signed on to test Songbird in Sunday's $300,000, Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. And if she performs up to her previous eight straight wins, she might find even less competition in the future. The Medaglia d'Oro filly has yet to be defeated. She missed the Kentucky Oaks after spiking a fever at just the wrong time but returned to win the Grade II Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita without a hiccup. She really hasn't been tested yet or asked for her best. Those likely fighting for place money Sunday are Carina Mia, Flora Dora, Weep No More and Mo d'Amour -- nice fillies all.
If it's Opening Day at Saratoga, it's time for the $150,000 Grade III Schuylerville. And it's also time for Todd Pletcher, the 12-time training champ at the Spa who will saddle Sweet Loretta in this year's version after a 7-lengths score in a maiden event at Monmouth Park. Eight other winners will line up against the Tapit filly, coming from last races at Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, Laurel Park and Keeneland. It's all part of the handicapping challenge of Saratoga.
Seven aspirational fillies are entered for Saturday's $125,000 My Dear Stakes at Woodbine, going 6 furlongs on the all-weather. Raglan Road won at first asking, then finished second in the Nandi. Otherwise, little is known, something may be learned.
Five are entered for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Sanford Stakes at Saratoga. All five come off maiden victories. Watch and learn. Bay Numbers took two tries to find the winner's circle. The others graduated at first asking. Bronson likely will be bet down because of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez. Note the cleverly named Bitumen, a son of Mineshaft, who won his debut by open lengths, impressing trainer Eddie Kenneally.
Filly & Mare Turf
Chad Brown has been runner-up to Todd Pletcher for the Saratoga training title each year since 2011. He'll be looking to get off to a fast start with two runners in Friday's $200,000 Grade II Lake George for 3-year-old fillies on the grass. Ancient Secret, undefeated in her career, will try two turns for the first time as the 7-2 morning line favorite. And Elysea's World, a winner in France last year and in her U.S. debut on May 11, was sixth in her last outing. Two other Euro transplants will try their luck -- Baciami Piccola, who won the Grade III Florida Oaks, and Diamond Fields, who was second in the Sandringham Handicap at Royal Ascot in her last start. The tough field also includes Flora Dora, making her first start on grass, and Grade 3 Miss Grillo winner Tin Type Gal.
Continuing that effort, Brown will saddle four of the 10 starters in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Diana at the Spa -- Weekela, Mrs MacDougal, Dacita and Rainha Da Bateria. Pletcher has two -- Sandiva and Isabella Sings. Miss Temple City returns to action after a valiant fourth in the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes at Royal Ascot. They're all graded or group stakes winners, though, and it's tough to sort them out.
And, just to be sure the help has enough to do, Brown has two more -- Galileo's Song and Verbouwen -- entered in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Boiling Springs Stakes at Monmouth Park.
Kaigun will to get untracked against just four rivals in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine. The 6-year-old Northern Afleet gelding won the Grade II Pan American at Gulfstream during the winter but has regressed in three subsequent races, most recently running ninth in the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational. He will concede six pounds to each of the others, who are: Up With the Birds, Dynamic Sky, Halo Nation and Button Down.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Clemente at Del Mar is a nice puzzle with 11 3-year-old fillies out to make their mark. Santa Anita Oaks second Mokat (behind Songbird) returns to the turf in her first start since the Kentucky Oaks. Stays in Vegas was a graded stakes winner at Santa Anita and is the 5-2 morning-line pick here. Be Mine was second in both the Grade III Senorita and the Grade II Honeymoon. Most of the others at least have shown promise. And just to keep caller Trevor Denman on his toes, Jade Princess and Princess Princess were drawn side-by-side in gates No. 5 and 6 -- with Sweet Queen installed in No. 7.
Six were entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Jersey Shore at Monmouth Park. It's not a distinguished bunch but Yellow Chips has won two straight races. Illinois-bred Cashel Rock was a stakes winner at Prairie Meadows. Divine Warrior won his last two, at Churchill Downs and Ellis Park. Full Salute drew outside but could be the favorite after wins in his last two starts, both at Monmouth. The race is 6 furlongs over the main track.
Calgary Cat, a frequent visiton to the Woodbine winner's circle, will be among the favorites to have his picture taken again after Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Bold Venture Stakes at the Toronto-area track. The Cowtown Cat gelding won the local Achievement for the second year in a row in his last effort. Western Elegance ships in from Arlington Park, where he has won his last two starts. Noholdingback Bear has won three in a row. They'll be going 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather cushion.