Thoroughbred racing gets ever more international this weekend with the Arc de Triomphe preview weekend in France, St Legers in both England and Ireland and Korea's first major step into world competition.
In North America, with Saratoga and Del Mar mothballed, the emphasis is on grass racing with the biggest purses on offer at Kentucky Downs and Laurel Park's greensward on full display.
Continuing the international theme, the 1-2 finishers from last year's Breeders' Cup Turf are both in action -- one in Kentucky, the other in Ireland.
Saturday is Super Derby day at Louisiana Downs and British Columbia Derby day at Hastings Park. But, as they say in Kentucky, any day you wake up and see the right side of the grass -- that's a super day."
Graze on this:
Da Big Hoss, the defending champ, rides a three-race winning streak and is the early pick for Saturday's $600,000 Grade III Calumet Farm Kentucky Downs Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles. He won the Grade III American St. Leger at Arlington in his last start.
Saturday's $100,000 Laurel Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles has a highly competitive field of nine -- most of them familiar allowance company competitors on the circuit.
War Dancer and Roman Approval are the standouts among seven in Saturday's $200,000 9-furlongs PTHA President's Cup at Parx Racing. War Dancer comes off a third-place in the Grade III Oceanport at Monmouth. Roman Approval was over his head last time in the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga but has run well earlier.
Sunday's $350,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs has a field of 12. Airoforce, a Colonel John colt, has not won since taking the Kentucky Jockey Club on the Churchill Downs main track. But he was second to Hit It a Bomb in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and looks formidable here if he can get the 13 furlongs. Oscar Nominated and Little Scotty may be the main rivals. The latter is out of the Wavering Monarch mare Hey Jude.
Saturday's $400,000 More Than Ready Mile at Kentucky Downs has eight competitors from all over the United States. It's a "you pick 'em" event although international traveler Hootenanny could be back to form after winning a confidence-builder at Belterra Park last month.
Ten are set to battle it out in Saturday's $150,000 One Dreamer Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles at Kentucky Downs. The morning line is a virtual toss-up among Entrechat, Annulment and No Fault of Mine.
Saturday's $75,000 Unbridled Stakes at Louisiana Downs has a field of 12 including vintage performers Coalport, Benwill and Sunbean.
Filly & Mare Turf
Ten are in for Saturday's $150,000 Lady Baltimore Stakes, going 1 1/16 miles at Laurel Park. Tuttipaesi exits a fourth-place showing at in the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington. Catcha Rising Star has two wins in a row.
Sunday's $200,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs has an overflow field of 12 with two also-eligibles. The morning-line picks in a relatively wide-open field are Outsider Art and Try Your Luck. But the handicapping puzzle is deep enough that "try your luck" could be the theme of this excellent heat.
Mississippi Delta hasn't won for a while but she's the favorite among 10 well-matched fillies and mares entered for Saturday's $350,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint at 6 1/2 furlongs. Miss Double d'Oro and Late Spring also merit consideration.
Saturday's $100,000 Laurel Dash at 6 furlongs features the venerable Ben's Cat trying to land this for the third time. The 10-year-old Parker's Storm Cat gelding has posted three straight third-place finishes.
On Sunday at Woodbine, it's the $100,000 (Canadian) Ontario Jockey Club Stakes at 7 furlongs on the turf.
Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Super Derby at Louisiana Downs attracted seven. Ohio Derby winner Mo Tom is the 7-5 morning-line pick.
Emerald Downs Derby winner Opportunistic headlines Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III British Columbia Derby at Hastings Park
Last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff winner, Stopchargingmaria, has been retired, according to owner Town & Country Racing. The Tale of the Cat mare retires sound but Town and Country CEO Kiki Courtelis said she "is giving us signs that she is ready to start the next phase of her life" after finishing sixth in the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park in June. A multiple Grade I winner, she won at distances from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles and earned more than $3 million.
There are several races worth a look here, notably the $100,000 Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity at 7 furlongs on the Arlington all-weather and the $75,000 Sunday Silence at Louisiana Downs, both Saturday. Some others are for state-breds with potential. Saturday's $75,000 Laurel Futurity is 7 furlongs on the grass.
The young ladies have the $75,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie and the $75,000 Happy Ticket at Louisiana Downs. On the grass, they contest the $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Debutante at Woodbine and the $75,000 Selima at Laurel Park.
Saturday is St Leger Day at Doncaster in Yorkshire, an history-steeped event that also is a highlight of the British racing calendar. The Group 1 St Leger itself is the last of the five British classics run each year and the oldest of the lot, first run in 1776. The St Leger Festival kicked off Wednesday.
Aidan O'Brien will saddle three of the nine confirmed starters with Seamie Heffernan set to ride the odds-on favorite, Idaho. O'Brien also has Housesofparliament and Sword Fighter but Idaho, off his victory in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes at York, seems a standout for the classic, run at something over 18 furlongs.
Not to be outdone, the Curragh hosts the Group 1 Irish St Leger on Sunday, with a pair of Group 1 races for 2-year-olds in support of that fixture. Order of St George, another O'Brien runner, looks a prohibitive favorite in this St Leger amid what promises to be a short field going 18 furlongs.
On Saturday at Leopardstown, it's the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes, with the likes of Minding, Harzand, Found and Almanzor in a field of 13. This field is so tough that multiple international Group 1 winner Highland Reel is double-digits odds in the mid-week wagering.
Also at Leopardstown, last year's Breeders' Cup Turf winner Hit It a Bomb faces some tough older horses in the Group 2 Boomerang Stakes at 1 mile. Hit It a Bomb was third in his comeback race last month over the course.
Looking forward to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe weekend at Chantilly? Who isn't? Some clues to the big weekend will be offered Sunday over the same course with a clutch of important races that also are preps for the Arc card. Pre-eminent among them are the Group 1 Qatar Prix Vermeille for fillies and mares and a pair of Group 2 events, the Qatar Prix Foy for 4-year-olds and up and the Qatar Prix Niel for 3-year-olds. All are 2,400 meters.
Remember, the Arc races are at Chantilly this year because Longchamp is being rebuilt. Don't show up at the wrong track and wonder, "Where is everyone?"
Korea steps into international competition Sunday with two local Group 1 events -- the Keeneland Korea Cup at 1,800 meters and the Keeneland Korea Sprint, at 1,200 meters. The Sprint drew entries from six countries -- among them Hong Kong's Super Jockey and and former U.S. sprinter Wild Dude.
Sixteen are entered for the inaugural Keeneland Korea Sprint. None of the names would strike fear into the hearts of international-level Group 1 runners. But the race will be competitive.
The Korean Authority is committed to taking its place on the world stage, already having staged home-and-home series with Japanese tracks and offering financial encouragement for the importation of top breeding stock. This weekend marks an excellent start to world-class racing on the peninsula.