The first three from the Kentucky Derby face off at Monmouth Park this weekend -- perhaps the star event in a program that also includes such superstars as Flintshire, Beholder, Stellar Wind and Minding.
There's a lot of racing already in the books this week, too, from California to New York to England.
In the Prince of Wales Stakes in Canada, Amis Gizmo went one better on his runner-up finish in the Queen's Plate -- so no Triple Crown there this year, either.
Early results from Glorious Goodwood indicate a lot of English and Irish interest in travel to America.
And remember, if you can't get to the track, check out Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net) for all the action, direct from Saratoga. That's right. The boys are at the Spa. For insights into this particularly difficult handicapping period, try www.popejude.com.
Arkansas Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Creator has been thriving at Saratoga and is ready for Saturday's $600,000 Grade II Jim Dandy, trainer Steve Asmussen reports. The Tapit colt will face just five rivals in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, which is the local prep for the $1.25 million, Grade I Travers -- the "Midsummer Derby" -- on Aug. 27. The rest of the field includes Destin, who came up just a nose short in the Belmont, and Mohaymen, who won five in a row, including the Grade II Holy Bull and Grade II Fountain of Youth, before finishing fourth in both the Grade I Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
Asmussen said his only concern for Creator, "going from a mile and a half to a mile and an eighth, is that it may be a bit short for him. But I feel good about it as a prep for the Travers."
In fact, Creator needed every inch of the 1 1/2-mile distance of the Belmont to overhaul Destin. Restaurateur and celebrity chef Bobby Flay bought a share in Creator before the Belmont, as he often does on his "Beat Bobby Flay" television show, basked in the glow of the upset win. He finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby after being severely checked at the top of the stretch in the usual traffic jam. Also here: Laoban, who remains a maiden; Governor Malibu, fourth in the Belmont; and Race Me Home, who has but a single win to his credit.
Another of Asmussen's talented 3-year-olds, Gun Runner, also has been training at Saratoga in preparation for Sunday's $1 million, Grade I betfair.com Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park -- a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic. He'll have to be at his best, facing a field that also includes Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. Gun Runner, a winner of five of his seven starts, finished third in the Kentucky Derby. He most recently won the Grade III Matt Winn at Churchill Downs on June 18 by 5 1/4 lengths. Sunday's race also includes the winner and runner-up from the Derby, Nyquist and Exaggerator. Asmussen said a good showing down the shore on Sunday could earn Gun Runner a place in the Travers, too. Nyquist, meanwhile, makes his first start since his unbeaten record vanished in a third-place finish in the Preakness Stakes. Of the three others here, it might pay to watch American Freedom, winner of three of his four starts, including the Grade III Iowa Derby. But he and the others have work to do.
On the foreign front, including -- what the heck, Canada?
Ami's Gizmo, second in the Queen's Plate, left no doubt in Tuesday's $500,000 (Canadian) Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie. After tracking the pace, the Giant Gizmo colt seized the lead in the lane and drew off to a convincing, 5 1/2-lengths victory. Leavem in Malibu was second, Niigon's Edge third and Queen's Plate winner Sir Dudley Digges sixth, never a factor. Ami's Gizmo, trained by Josie Carroll, ran 1 3/16 miles on a fast track in 1:56.76 toting Luis Contreras. It was his sixth win from eight starts, the victories including the Plate Trial at Woodbine. He led in the stretch in the Queen's Plate but was caught in the final sixteenth.
Also on Tuesday at Fort Erie, Dancing On Fire kicked clear in the final furlong to win the $75,000 Rainbow Connection Stakes for Ontario-sired fillies and mares by 3 lengths. Marilyns Last Love was second and Quidi Vida got show money. Dancing On Fire, a 4-year-old daughter of Philanthropist, ran 5 furlongs on the fast main track in 58.33 seconds with Contreras up. The race was taken off the turf.
Saturday's Group 1 Qatar Nassau Stakes for fillies and mares at Glorious Goodwood drew only five to try the 9 furlongs-plus. But one of them is Minding, the Aidan O'Brien charge who won the Investec Oaks at Epsom and the Grade I Sea the Stars Pretty Polly at the Curragh in her last two starts. The Galileo filly looks like the real thing and it seems unlikely this will be much more than a warmup for sterner tests to come. O'Brien has mentioned the Breeders' Cup.
The Gurkha found running room late in Wednesday's Group 1 Qatar Sussex Stakes for 3-year-olds at Glorious Goodwood, then had just enough stuffing to get by old rival Galileo Gold and win by a neck. Ribblesdale put in a late bid but settled for third and Toormore was well back in fourth. The Gurkha, continuing a fabulous summer for trainer Aidan O'Brien, owner Coolmore and jockey Ryan Moore, finished 1 mile on good to firm going in 1:37.35. Since winning the French 2,000 Guineas, The Gurkha had been second in both the Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot -- behind Galileo Gold -- and the Group 1 Coral Eclipse at Sandown. Galileo Gold won the Qipco 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket earlier in the campaign.
Commenting on The Gurkha's future, O'Brien said, "I think he'd go back and get a mile and get a mile and a quarter but he's probably a miler ... He has the mile races in France, he has the Champion Stakes and he has York. "
Hugo Palmer, who trains Galileo Gold for Al Shaqab Racing, added, "I never shy away from a fight and the question is where it will be next. The Jacques Le Marois is quite soon, then there is the Moulin, QE II and Breeders' Cup Mile."
Richard Fahey said he will continue to seek a Group 1 or Grade I somewhere for Ribchester.
"He's all up in the air and still needs to learn to race. He could be a champion next year," Fahey said.
On Tuesday at Goodwood, War Decree settled behind the leaders in the Group 2 Qatar Vintage Stakes for 2-year-olds, got to challenge Thunder Snow inside the furlong marker and was clear after that, winning by 1 3/4 lengths. Thunder Snow and Boynton, a pair from the Godolphin string, finished second and third. War Decree, a War Front colt owned by Coolmore and trained by Aidan O'Brien, ran 7 furlongs over good to firm going in 1:25.75 under Ryan Moore. He's now 2-for-3 with the loss coming in a runner-up showing to Boynton in the Group 2 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket.
"It did look a rough race," said Godolphin representative Kevin Buckley. "But being by War Front he acted well on the ground and that is why we decided to come here. He can stay at this distance or step up a little bit. We might look at the Champagne or the National Stakes. Going to America is certainly a possibility given his pedigree."
Dutch Connection got going in the final furlong of Tuesday's Group 2 Qatar Lennox Stakes and drew clear, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Home of the Brave. Gifted Master was third. Dutch Connection, with James McDonald riding for trainer Charlie Hills, covered 7 furlongs in 1:24.48. The 4-year-old Dutch Art colt, owned by Godolphin, was second in this event last year, behind Toormore.
"We will have to speak to John Ferguson and Sheik Mohammed to see where we go next," Hills said. "There are options for him in Saratoga and maybe the Prix Maurice de Gheest in France as well. I wouldn't mind bringing him back to 6 1/2 furlongs, but I would have thought that a two-turn mile would be right up his street. Fast ground is really the key to him, he loves it quick, and he's a fine, big horse who should improve as he gets older."
In Thursday's Group 2 Qatar Goodwood Cup at 2 miles, Big Orange led from the start, was headed and found more, drawing off to win by 11/4 lengths from Pallasator. Sheikzayedroad finished third in the 2-miles event. Jamie Spencer steered the winner for trainer Michael Bell.
Meanwhile, back in the states:
Who thinks they can beat Flintshire? Only four rivals signed on to try the imposing international traveler, now based in New York. He comes off a handy, 1 3/4-lengths victory in the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont in June. Before that, he had a history of second-place finishes. But those were against the likes of Highland Reel, Golden Horn, Treve, Main Sequence and Dolniya. Chad Brown now handles the 6-year-old son of Dansili, who is pointed for the Breeders's Cup Turf and then ... who knows? He's already run well in Paris, Hong Kong, Dubai, Epsom and Los Angeles. The others are Danish Dynaformer, Grand Tito, Can'thelpbelieving and Twilight Eclipse.
The mighty Beholder puts an eight-race winning streak on the line in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the Del Mar main track. The 6-year-old Henny Hughes mare won this race last year in preparation for the Grade I Pacific Classic -- which she also won -- but missed the Breeders' Cup after spiking a fever. A win here would set up a monumental showdown in this year's Pacific Classic involving Beholder, California Chrome and Dortmund, should all go to plan. Saturday's rivals include Stellar Wind, who finished second to Beholder in the Grade I Vanity Mile in their last start; The Dream, who finds a tough assignment for her first start up from her native Chile; and two who seem to be running for minor placings. For that matter, as long as Mike Smith steers Beholder in the right direction, they all are running for minor placings.
Six are set for Sunday's $150,000 Grade III Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park. None is likely to be mistaken for Beholder or Songbird. But it's a nice race, worth a look. Only one of the six won her last start and that was on the grass. This is 9 furlongs on the main oval.
Filly & Mare Turf
There are no standouts among the dozen fillies and mares entered for Sunday's $100,000 Matchmaker at Monmouth Park. Perhaps Spook Express, who posted a large win in a minor race at Gulfstream before heading north. Hatpin through the program time.
Long On Value wasn't really as the second-favorite in Monday's $100,000 Lucky Coin Stakes at Saratoga. But value is where you find it and believers cashed their win tickets after the 5-year-old Value Plus horse rallied five-wide around the turn, ground down Successful Native in a stretch duel and won by 1 length over that one. Undrafted, making his first start since finishing sixth in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, ran evenly to finish third as the favorite. Long On Value, with Joel Rosario up, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:01.76. The Virginia-bred, a multiple graded stakes winner, scored his first win from four 2016 starts.
It looks like they'll be smokin' out of the box in Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga with at least six of the eight entrants usually on or close to the lead. That includes Anchor Down, who was second in the Grade I Met Mile last time out -- albeit 14 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Frosted. Before that, he won the Grade III Westchester by 6 3/4 lengths. Delta Bluesman has won four straight, all on the lead, while moving up the class ladder. A.P. Indian won the Grade III Belmont Sprint in his last outing. One to watch: Chublicious, who has won three of his last four and should be flying down the stretch. He also steps up in company, however.
Lord Nelson, winner of the Grade I Triple Bend at Santa Anit in his last outing, should be a handful in Sunday's $300,000 Grade I Bing Crosby at Del Mar at 6 furlongs. He will face eight rivals including Alsvid, Home Run Kitten and Justin Squared. And away they go.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Amsterdam for 3-year-olds at Saratoga lacks marquee value but promises to be very competitive and bettable. Among the eight, look to Maniacal, a Kitten's Joy colt bred, owned and trained by Wesley Ward who has won two in a row after finishing second to Cocked and Loaded in his only other race back in April 2015 at Keeneland. The only potential downside: John Velazquez jumps ship in favor of Its All Relevant, who has excelled going longer than Saturday's 6 1/2 furlongs. One never knows, however, what prior commitments or loyalties affect these decisions so jockey changes often are overrated as indicators. Todd Pletcher saddles Uncle Vinny. Several of the others seem to be finding their way.
Winning Cause rallied to win the Grade III Red Back at 1 mile over the Monmouth grass in his last start and returns from a two-months rest to try Sunday's $150,000 Oceanport at an added sixteenth. The 5-year-old son of Giant's Causeway has been consistent at the Jersey Shore track and that should be enough to land him among the favorites in this. Several others look capable if they can handle class jumps, different tracks, etc. Pick 'em and profit in this one.
Bradester looks like the one to beat among six entered for Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Monmouth Cup, a 1 1/16-mile challenge. Except for a misfire at Keeneland in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, he has been ultra tough for the past year, winning four of five, sandwiching a second behind Valid in last summer's Grade III Iselin, which was too far for him at 9 furlongs. He won this race and the Grade III Salvator Mile over the same track last year and comes to Monmouth after a victory in the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. Look for the others to trail Bradester and try to catch him in the final sixteenth.