Kentucky Downs opens its short but sweet season this weekend, Saratoga has the historic Woodward and things start to get serious for next year's Kentucky Derby and Oaks hopefuls.
On the international front, there's the Group 1 Sprint Cup at Haydock Park in England and the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden in the German spa country.
Let's plunge right in:
The gem of the weekend is Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Woodward at Saratoga, featuring Frosted -- the winner of the Met Mile and the Whitney and a top prospect for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who also will saddle Dubai World Cup runner-up Mubtaahij, said Frosted didn't have to work too hard in his Aug. 8 win in the Whitney, so he should be good to go on Saturday and has a range of options before the Breeders' Cup.
"The thinking is that it's 60 days to the Breeders' Cup," McLaughlin said Wednesday. "That's not to say we won't run back in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. If he's tearing the barn down like he has been, we might do both. But Sheik Mohammed is involved with the decision-making, so I don't know. Right now, we're giving ourselves a good chance to get 60 days to the Breeders' Cup."
Don't overlook Mubtaahij, who was a good third behind Effinex and Samraat in the Grade II Suburban in his only start since Dubai. The other eight include Samraat; Bradester, who has a three-race winning streak on the line, including the Grade I Stephen Foster; and Seagram Cup winner Breaking Lucky. The race is 9 furlongs on the main track.
Talk about success stories. The one-time Dueling Grounds, near the Kentucky-Tennessee border near Nashville, has grown from a sleepy, bucolic venue to a powerhouse meeting that takes full advantage of a sprawling, European-style turf course. Purses fueled by "historical horse racing" revenue -- and by increased wagering on the attractive live races -- have become gigantic, even by today's U.S. standards. The per-race average purse has swelled from just under $25,000 in 2011 to a projected $156,000 this year.
While much of the largesse is directed toward horses bred and foaled in the Commonwealth, others will run, even without the supplement, for the biggest pots in Kentucky. First-level allowance races for non-Kentucky runners will carry purses of $65,000; for maiden races, $58,000.
Trainer Mark Casse recently said, not entirely in jest, "When we run one at Saratoga and it gets beat, we say, 'That will set him up for a real pot at Kentucky Downs.'"
Saturday's card at the all-turf layout features four stakes races, each worth $350,000 for the Kentucky-breds who will make up the bulk of the big fields.
Cash Control comes to Saturday's 1-mile Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf with a record showing five straight in-the-money finishes, including a good third behind Tepin in the Grade II Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs. That could be good enough against the eight rivals signed on here. However, one of those, Mizz Money, defeated Cash Control by a nose in the New Orleans Ladies back in March at Fair Grounds. Also here is She's Not Here, who has won the Grade II Yellow Ribbon at Del Mar two straight years but has been pretty dismal in between those scores. Susie Bee and Secret Someone also are worth a look. Cash Control, a 5-year-old Pioneerof the Nile mare, is trained by Brad Cox and regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan will ride.
The Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint, at 6 1/2 furlongs, looks like a real brawl with an overflow field arguably headed by Undrafted. The Wesley Ward trainee famously won the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot last year but also has run well here, finishing third, beaten only 1/2 length, in the 2014 Turf Dash and second last year in the $350,000 More Than Ready at 1 mile. The field is chock full of stakes winners, including Almasty, Barbados, Toowindytohaulrox, Regally Ready and Island Town.
There also is a pair of juvenile turf races. See below.
Santa Anita Juvenile winner California Diamond is in for Friday's $150,000 I'm Smokin Stakes for Cal-breds at Del Mar. The colt faded from the lead to finish second in the Graduation Stakes at Del Mar in an intervening start. There are some other potential improvers, too.
Saturday's $300,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Sire Stakes for state-breds at Gulfstream Park features Three Rules, undefeated in three starts and winner of the Dr. Fager Division of this series in his last start -- by 7 lengths.
Sunday at Monmouth, look to the $100,000 Sapling at 1 mile on the main track.
Lokinforpursemonee was looking for room in the stretch run of Thursday's $200,000 (Canadian) Simcoe Stakes for Canadian-breds at Woodbine, got through to the lead at the sixteenth pole and gamely outfinished Pachi Cruze by a neck. Blu Without You was another neck back in third with a late rally from last. Lokinforpursemonee ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:18.79 with Gary Boulanger riding. The colt started his career running second in the Frost King Stakes in June, then won the Victoria Stakes in July.
An even dozen will contest Saturday's $350,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile at 7 furlongs and they're coming from all directions -- from New Mexico and Iowa to the west and West Virginia and Saratoga to the east. Prados Way is undefeated in two starts for trainer Steve Asmussen, including a minor stakes race in Albuquerque. Ancient Warfare won at first asking for conditioner Mark Casse at Saratoga. Raising Rumors won the Prairie Gold Juvenile in Iowa for Randy Morse. One to watch for sure: Han Sense, one of the few offspring of Hansen we'll see in the United States. The gray colt won the restricted Iowa Cradle Stakes at Prairie Meadows with a late rush from far back and now tries grass for the first time. Hansen, winner of the 2011 Kentucky Cup Juvenile and Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the divisional Eclipse Award winner for that season, now stands in Korea.
Made You Look saved all the ground in Thursday's $200,000 Grade II With Anticipation at Saratoga, shot through an opening along the inside and went on to win by 2 lengths over Keep Quiet. Bird's Eye View finished third. Made You Look, a More Than Ready colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.12 with Javier Castellano up.
"We were getting a beautiful trip," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "It was just a matter of whether he was able to find a spot to go through. I thought for a young horse to shoot through there was pretty brave on his part."
Pletcher said he might run Made You Look back in the $200,000 Grade III Pilgrim on Oct. 1 at Belmont Park or just train him up to the Breeders' Cup.
Fourteen are set to face the starter in Saturday's $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Turf at 1 mile. If you can pick 'em, you should be well rewarded. There's a first-timer, several recent maiden winners and absolutely no standout. We like Ky. Colonel only because our dad was one.
Grade II Sorrento Stakes winner Champagne Room heads a field of seven for Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Del Mar Debutante at 7 furlongs on the dirt. The Broken Vow filly finished second in her career bow for trainer Peter Eurton, then drew off to a workmanlike victory in the Sorrento. Miss Southern Miss returns here after just missing in the Sorrento. Bob Baffert will saddle American Cleopatra, a Pioneerof the Nile filly who won her first start a month ago for Zayat Stables, and Florida-bred Noted and Quoted. American Cleopatra is a full sister to last year's Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and a good showing here would cause more than the usual notice.
Grade III Schuylerville winner Sweet Loretta and Churchill Downs Debutante winner Pretty City Dancer are among seven entered for Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga at 7 furlongs. Jockey John Velazquez abandons Sweet Loretta in favor of Cherry Lodge, a maiden winner and stablemate in Todd Pletcher's barn, with Javier Castellano taking over on Sweet Loretta. Runaway Doll won her first start by 13 1/2 lengths in the slop a month ago. The winner gets a spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies via the "Win and You're In" program.
Also note Saturday's $300,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes, 7 furlongs at Gulfstream Park, and Sunday's $175,000 Rio Grande Senorita Futurity for New Mexico-breds at Ruidoso Downs, 5 1/2 furlongs.
Spring Tempest rallied six-wide from mid-pack to take Thursday's restricted $200,000 (Canadian) Muskoka Stakes for Canadian-foaled fillies at Woodbine by 3/4 length over Green Freedom. Raglan Road and Cindervella were close in third and fourth. Spring Tempest, a Spring at Last filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:18.10 with Patrick Husbands in the irons, scoring her first win in her fourth start.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Saturday's $350,000 Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies at Kentucky Downs at 7 furlongs is a nice puzzle with an oversubscribed field coming from far and wide, mostly with maiden wins to their credit. There's a Hansen filly here, Lady Hansen, a winner in her second try on the Ellis Park grass. Lull, a lovely War Front filly, won at first asking at Belmont Park and was favored in the Bolton Landing at Saratoga but clipped heels and fell in that heat. Caroline Test was a close second in the Ellis Park Juvenile. We'll mention Zyxyz because of the name but the Divine Park filly is not without other merits.
Camelot Kitten, winner of the Grade II Hall of Fame over the course on Aug. 5, returns against some of the same rivals in Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Saranac for 3-year-olds. The Kitten' Joy colt again gives weight and adds a sixteenth of a mile, going 9 furlongs on the grass, but weight and distance haven't yet posed much problems for the Chad Brown trainee. Strike Midnight was a closing third in the Hall of Fame and returns for another try.
The top four from last month's Grade III Waya Stakes -- Guapaza, Suffused, Achnaha and Ball Dancing -- return for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Glens Falls Handicap at 11 furlongs for fillies and mares on the turf. French-bred and German-raced Arles makes her first U.S. start as a likely pace factor and could show some courage late.
Sunday's $300,000 Grade III Prioress is for 3-year-old fillies at 6 furlongs on the dirt.
Our Way followed the favorite, Hammers Vision, through mid-stretch in Monday's $100,000 Better Talk Now Stakes for 3-year-olds on the grass, then got by that rival to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Dragon Bay, the early leader, held on to finish third but was demoted to fifth, granting show money to Mighty Mo. Our Way, a Tizway gelding, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:34.75 with Jose Ortiz aboard. "He's coming together and getting better," winning trainer H. James Bond said of Our Way, who now has three wins from six starts this year. "The horse has really matured. He's going to be a serious horse this fall."
Sunday's program includes two important grass features, the $250,000 Grade II Del Mar Derby at 9 furlongs and the $200,000 Grade II John C. Mabee Stakes for fillies and mares, also at 9 furlongs.
Vale Dori, a 4-year-old Argentine-bred filly, stalked the pace in Wednesday's $75,000 Tranquility Lake Stakes at Del Mar, took over the lead when asked by jockey Rafael Bejarano and went on to win by 3 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Makena was second and Jolene was a distant third. Vale Dori ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.56. Prior to her entry into the United States, the filly finished second in the Group 3 UAE Oaks and fourth in the Group 2 UAE Derby, both at Meydan. Bob Baffert now trains her for Sheik Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum.
The local season opens this weekend in Hong Kong but much of the attention is focused overseas. With a new racing official firmly pointed to expanding the comingled simulcast pools and a new deal with Daily Racing Form to disseminate Sha Tin and Happy Valley past performances in the United States, the possibilities seem endless.
Meanwhile, Gun Pit, a Hong Kong-based dirt specialist, has been ruled out of September's inaugural Korea Cup and trainer Caspar Fownes says his charge will be "cherry ripe" for a run at Santa Anita.
"The California dirt tracks are very similar to ours, so we'll take our chance there," Fownes added. "We'll look at the program over there but it would likely be first-up and he goes really well fresh, so he should be good."
Two other Hong Kong runners are still pointing toward the new Korean fixture.
Protectionist, 3-for-3 this year and still basking in the glow of his 2014 Melbourne Cup win, is the likely favorite in Sunday's Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden. Nightflower, second to Protectionist in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Berlin earlier in the year, will take another swing. Also on the card is the Group 2 Von Zastrow Stutenpreis for fillies and mares. Both races are Breeders' Cup Challenge races, offering guaranteed spots for the Breeders' Cup Turf and Filly & Mare Turf, respectively.
Limato is a general favorite among 17 in Saturday's Group 1 32red Sprint Cup at Haydock. Limato, a 4-year-old gelding trained by Henry Candy, comes off a second-place showing in the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York in his last outing. Before that, he won the Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket. If he runs back to those, the others would seem up against it. However, The Tin Man, Quiet Reflection, Dancing Star and Magical Memory have attracted some support. Eight-year-old Gordon Lord Byron and 9-year-old Sole Power also are in this bunch and a return to their form of prior years would reward punters handsomely.
Also of note:
Parx Racing in Pennsylvania and Hastings in western Canada both have big cards of restricted stakes on Saturday.
Suffolk Downs operates Saturday and Sunday with two $75,000 features each day.
Already in the books:
Tuesday's program had six stakes for Canadian-foaled horses. See above for the 2-year-old events. (All funds in Canadian dollars).
Strut N Stomp was up in the final strides to catch pacesetting Eminent Force and win the $125,000 Halton Stakes by a head with Hampstead Heath third. Strut N Stomp, a 4-year-old Strut the Stage gelding, got 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.29 with Rafael Hernandez up.
Melmich got the best of a three-horse field in the $125,000 Elgin Stakes for colts and geldings, pressing the pace, leading in the stretch and holding off Freitag by 1/2 length. Kingsport led and finished third, another 3/4 length back. Melmich, a 5-year-old Wilko gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.43 with Eurico Da Silva riding.
Jacks Escarpment outfinished River Maid by 3/4 length to take the $125,000 Kenora Stakes with Rexton third. Jacks Escarpment, a 4-year-old Old Forester gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:09.96 under Rafael Hernandez.
Sweater Weather was along late to take the $125,000 Algoma Stakes for fillies and mares by 3/4 length from Galina Point, who led briefly in the lane. Trini Brewnette was 2 length farther back in third. Sweater Weather, a 5-year-old daughter of Milwaukee Brew, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:45.13.