Frosted and Effinex square off at Saratoga and the Ohio Derby winner meets the Indiana Derby winner in West Virginia in weekend racing action.
Saratoga also features the Grade I Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Saturday is Louisiana Cup day at Louisiana Downs, Gulfstream Park advances the Florida Sire Stakes series. Mountaineer has a mountain of stakes to support its Derby. Del Mar has graded stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf and 2-year-olds on the dirt.
Internationally, look for a star Hong Kong sprinter on the French side of the English Channel and for Aidan -- or Joseph -- O'Brien to do well at the Curragh in Ireland.
Sail right into this:
Frosted and Effinex are the stars in a six-horse field for Saturday's $1.25 million Grade I Whitney at Saratoga. Frosted returned from a decent fifth-place effort in the Dubai World Cup to win the Grade I Met Mile by 14 1/4 lengths and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has given the 4-year-old Tapit colt nearly two months off since that effort. A big race here would move him up in a division currently tilted heavily to California Chrome. Effinex, second to American Pharoah in the Breeders' Cup Classic last fall, has been much busier. In five races since that effort at Keeneland, the 5-year-old son of Mineshaft has posted three wins, all in graded stakes. In his two Grade I efforts, however, he has come up short so the Whitney is a bit of an acid test for him. The other four are not without their claims. Noble Bird, a multiple graded stakes winner, won the Grade III Pimlico Special two starts back but was thrashed in the Met Mile. He should enjoy the extra furlong Saturday. Upstart won the Grade III Razorback at Oaklawn Park in the spring and was third in the Met Mile, albeit 15 1/4 lengths back of Frosted. El Kabeir was a Kentucky Derby candidate last year until he was drubbed in the Grade I Wood Memorial -- by Frosted. Comfort has won three straight but takes a monumental class leap.
The winners of the Indiana Derby and Ohio Derby -- Cupid and Mo Tom -- hook up in a tough field for Saturday's $750,000 Grade II West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park. The group also includes No Distortion, winner of the Long Branch at Monmouth in his last start; Ohio Derby runner-up Adventist; Economic Model, second in the Grade III Dwyer; Grade III Pat Day Mile runner-up Forevamo; and Arkansas Derby runner-up Suddenbreakingnews. Cupid, with Rafael Bejarano in to ride for trainer Bob Baffert, drew the rail and is the 3-1 favorite on the morning line.
This already in: Breaking Lucky and Are You Kidding Me both shadowed the pacesetter in Monday's $150,000 (Canadian) Seagram Cup at Woodbine, then moved together to duel down the stretch before Breaking Lucky prevailed over the even-money favorite by 3/4 length. Melmich rallied late to get show money. Breaking Lucky, a 4-year-old Lookin at Lucky colt out of the Sky Classic mare Shooting Party, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.70 with Luis Contreras up. Earlier in the year, the Ontario-bred had posted a pair of thirds, then two seconds, all in graded stakes.
Winning trainer Reade Baker noted the race posed some tough tactical questions.
"It's a tough move. These are good horses," said Baker. "If you move too early, Melmich will run you down. If you don't get close, Are You Kidding Me will outsprint you. It's tough. It took a perfect trip, but he got it today."
A reminder: If you can't make it out to the races, the next best thing is Horse Racing Radio Network. The boys will be trackside for the Whitney. And if it's analysis you need, Jude Feld is available and wise at www.popejude.com.
Camelot Kitten is the morning-line selection for Friday's $200,000 Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga. The Kitten's Joy colt exits a fourth-place finish in the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational. The opposition in a field of nine with two also-eligibles includes Airoforce, Isotherm and Giant Run.
Three-year-olds also are the subject of Saturday's $150,000 Grade III La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar. The promising Italian-bred, French-raced Moonlight Drive, now trained by Bob Baffert, will be looking for his second U.S. win following a runner-up showing in the Oceanside. He'll have to improve to beat Monster Bea, who returns from winning that race. Dressed in Hermes was fourth in the Oceanside and needs a wakeup call. Burger and Fries makes his first start for trainer Patrick Gallagher after arriving from France this spring.
Filly & Mare Turf
It's tough to separate the 10 fillies and mares entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Waya at Saratoga, a 1 1/2-miles tour of the inner turf course. Eight of the 10 either won or finished second in their last start, all in good to very good races. Al's Gal, Guapaza and Real Smart might get a second look based on relative consistency. Looks like one of those "You pick 'em, you get paid" races.
Monday's $100,000 Coronation Cup for 3-year-old fillies came off the Saratoga turf and lost half the field to scratches. Of the remaining four, it was Lost Raven leading all the way, under pressure from Quick Release, and eventually holding to win by a nose over that opponent. Brinkley and J La Tache completed the order of finish. Lost Raven, another in the seemingly endless line of Uncle Mo stakes winners, covered 5 1/2 furlongs on the sloppy main track in 1:04.42 with Jose Ortiz riding. She's won three of her last four starts.
"It was a hard-fought win," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "The two of them hooked up pretty much the whole way. We were on the fortunate side of a head bob ... It's fun to see another Uncle Mo stakes winner at Saratoga. It seems like every time you pick up the paper, Uncle Mo's got another stakes winner."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Test Stakes at Saratoga is a 7-furlongs test for 3-year-old fillies out of the backstretch chute. That tricky distance will challenge the top three from the 1 1/16-miles, Grade I Mother Goose -- Off the Tracks, Lewis Bay and Lightstream -- as well as those adding a little distance like Kareena, winner of the 6-furlongs Jersey Girl at Monmouth Park. Eight fillies are entered.
An overflow field of 13 is set for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Groupie Doll Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 mile at Ellis Park. Ahh Chocolate is the morning-line favorite with a lot of attention to Pangburn, Engaginglee, Conquest Curlgirl and Kathballu.
An evenly matched field of six is entered for Saturday's $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile. Without much to go on, the morning line has Cardinal Sin as a narrow favorite on the basis of his maiden-breaking win July 16 over the course. Others, however, have similar credentials.
Saturday's schedule also includes the $75,000 Cleveland Kindergarten at 6 furlongs at Thistledown, for Ohio-bred Juveniles.
Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Sorrento at Del Mar features Miss Southern Miss, who won at first asking, then was second in the Landaluce Stakes late in the Santa Anita meeting. The other five are still seeking their place in the pecking order.
Eight signed on for Saturday's $75,000 Colleen Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Monmouth Park on Saturday, going 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf.
There also are juvenile races in the Louisiana Downs card on Saturday and Florida Sire Stakes races for 2-year-olds at Gulfstream Mark on Saturday.
Gold-Fun, a former champion miler in Hong Kong, adds to the international intrigue in Sunday's Group 1 Prix Maurice du Gheest at Deauville. Gold-Fun was making up ground late while finishing a neck second to Twilight Son in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot and may find good use for the extra 100 meters of Sunday's 1,300-meters Gheest. Still, trainer Richard Gibson is managing expectation.
"It's a tough European Group 1 sprint," he said. "These aren't easy races to win and it's likely we'll have quite a big field, so draw is going to come into play as well."
Aidan O'Brien's Air Force Blue and Gordon Lord Byron also are entered for the seaside party -- and also in a Group 3 sprint back home at the Curragh.
On numbers alone, the O'Briens have surrounded Sunday's Group 1 Keeneland Stakes for 2-year-olds at the Curragh. Aidan O'Brien will saddle six of the 10 entrants and his son, Joseph, has another. Caravaggio, a Scat Daddy colt, enters undefeated after three starts and is the general favorite. The elder O'Brien also has Churchill, Courage Under Fire, Edgar Allan Poe, Intelligence Cross and Roly Poly. The younger O'Brien will saddle Ambiguity, a Fastnet Rock colt who won at first asking but has lost his way in five subsequent starts.
On the West Virginia Derby undercard:
Pleuven is the favorite in the $100,000 West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker's Cup at 1 mile and 70 yards on the grass, with Watchyourownbobber among the competition.
The $200,000 West Virginia Governor's, at 1 1/16 miles, attracted 12, including stakes winners Mobile Bay, Bodhisattva, S'maverlous, Great Minds, Majestic Affair and Departing, for what seems a wide-open affair.
Candip, recent winner of the Iowa Sprint Handicap at Prairie Meadows, is the morning-line favorite among 11 in the $100,000 Sen. Robert C. Byrd Memorial at 6 furlongs.
Mizz Money and Notte d'Oro are the morning-line picks against 10 others for the $100,000 West Virginia Senate President's Cup, a 1 1/16-miles event on the grass.
Ten-year-old Russell Road drew the rail for the $100,000 Northern Panhandle Stakes for state-breds at 6 furlongs, where he will have to contend with frequent foe In the Fairway.
I'm a Looker and Athena come from Churchill Downs with good credentials for the $100,000 West Virginia Secretary of State for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs. However, Disco Chick, last seen at Saratoga, is the morning-line pick.
Eight speedballs are entered to go 4 1/2 furlongs in the $100,000 West Virginia Legislature Chairman's Cup.
R Luckey Charlie battled down the stretch with Badabing Badaboom in Thursday's $150,000 Governor's Stakes for Indiana-bred 3-year-olds before prevailing by a nose over that rival. Easy Doer was 7 1/2 lengths back in third and the favorite, Derby Express, finished fourth. R Luckey Charlie, an Adios Charlie gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.41 with Richard Bracho up.
Carmalley Chrome led all the way in Thursday's $150,000 Indiana First Lady stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies and persevered to a 1 1/2-lengths victory. Sassy Miss Officer and Tequila and Salt filled the trifecta slots. Carmalley Chrome, a daughter of Cat Dreams, rolled home in 1:42.64 under Rodney Prescott.