Tepin headlines a bevvy of top international turf runners descending on Canada this weekend while potential 2017 Kentucky Derby and Oaks prospects are on display as Thoroughbred racing action returns to Churchill Downs.
Across the waters, Winx is back in action in Australia and The Grey Gatsby continues his hunt for firm going in England.
We'll run on anything so, without further ado:
Canada's premier track stages the first of its two big turf weekends Saturday and Sunday with five stakes worth a total just north of $2 million (all purses in this section are cited in Canadian dollars). Four of those are Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" Challenge races. Adding to the mix, Saturday's card also includes the $150,000 Grade III Ontario Derby on the all-weather course.
Saturday's $1 million Grade I Ricoh Woodbine Mile is for 3-year-olds and up and offers a berth in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Tepin brings a seven-race winning streak, including the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, and is certain to be the favorite against seven male rivals.
"When she brings her 'A' game, she's always tough to beat," said assistant trainer Norm Casse. "We want this one and then we're looking forward to the Breeders' Cup after that." He said Tepin is sure to be a hit with the Canadian fans. "She's a superstar and she embraces it," he said. "She soaks up the media attention and likes the fans to come and see her ... She knows she's the queen."
The international team for the Mile includes Mutakayyef, who has been in the frame consistently while facing top opposition in Engand, including a win in the Group 2 Summer Mile at Ascot. He is the second choice on the morning line, after Tepin. Mr. Owen was sixth in the Woodbine Mile last year over yielding turf but twice this season has run credibly behind Vadamos in European races. Vadamos won the Group 1 Prix du Moulin at Chantilly on Saturday.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Northern Dancer Turf is 1 1/2 miles for 3-year-olds and up and attracted some of the division's heavyweights -- potential rivals for Flintshire and Da Big Hoss in the upcoming Breeders' Cup Turf. But they all have something to prove here if they hope to challenge the division leaders.
Big Blue Kitten is 0-for-3 since winning the Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic a year ago at Belmont Park and finished third behind Found and Golden Horn in last year's Breeders' Cup at Keeneland. He was fifth and sixth in two previous starts this season. The Pizza Man, winner of the 2015 Arlington Million, finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Turf and has only a solitary win in five intervening races. German-bred Wake Forest won the Grade I Man o' War at Belmont in May but was a well-thumped 10th in this year's Million.
Danish Dynaformer, fifth in the Million, and World Approval, seventh in the Arlington fixture, also will try to improve here. World Approval won the Grade I United Nations in July at Monmouth.
The only international visitor for the Northern Dancer is Majeed, a handicap horse from the barn of David Simcock who has shown some signs of improvement midway through his 6-year-old season and could spring a surprise.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Canadian Stakes is about 9 furlongs for fillies and mares, with a Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf spot on offer. The overseas contingent is represented here by Steip Amach, an Irish-bred filly who has posted back-to-back third-place finishes in the Group 1 Prix Rothschild and the Group 1 Prix Jean Romanet at Deauville.
Among the North Americans, Dacita won the Grade II New York Stakes at Belmont in June and the Grade I Diana at Saratoga in July and was a multiple Group 1 winner in her native Chile. Strut the Course won this event last year and has run well every time out. Midnight Miley has scored twice in a row over the course, as has Goodyearforroses. Rainha Da Bateria has not won since taking the Grade III Jessamine Stakes in her third start -- on Oct. 8, 2014. But in that stretch she has four seconds and a pair of thirds, all in graded stakes.
Sunday, the 2-year-olds take to the grass course with the $250,000 Grade I Natalma Stakes for fillies and the $200,000 Grade II Summer Stakes for any 2-year-old. Each is 1 mile and the winners get a pass to the 2-year-old turf events at the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita in November.
Watch out for Conquest Farenheit in the Summer. The Scat Daddy colt, out of a Holy Bull mare, won his career debut at 7 furlongs by 5 lengths, well in hand, after stalking the early pace. Good Samaritan, owned by the China Horse Club and WinStar Farm, was an impressive winner on the Saratoga grass in his first start, making up a ton of ground in the stretch.
The Natalma is as loaded with potential as any 14-filly field could be and will be well worth watching.
Saturday's Ontario Derby goes at 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather course. The field for that includes Ami's Gizmo, second in the Queen's Plate and winner of the Prince of Wales Stakes. He has six wins from eight starts -- all stakes races and all at Woodbine, save the Prince of Wales.
The Twin Spires track kicks off its fall meeting with four stakes races on Saturday.
Breeders' Cup spots are at stake in the $150,000 Grade III Iroquois Stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles and the $200,000 Grade II Pocahontas Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at the same distance. The Iroquois is the first race in Churchill Downs' "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series and offers 10 points to the winner toward a spot in the starting gate for the 143rd Run for the Roses.
We'll know at lot more about the prospects for the youngsters after the races. For example: Bling On the Music, a Texas-bred daughter of Too Much Bling, is 3-for-3 with two stakes wins. But those came at Lone Star Park and Arapahoe. Can she carry the form to the Pocahontas? And Lookin at Lee, a Lookin at Lucky colt, won his last two starts at Ellis Park, including the Ellis Park Juvenile. Will he perform in the Iroquois, over a Churchill Downs surface where he finished fifth in his first career start?
The $100,000 Grade III Locust Grove is for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. It drew a field of six, featuring Innovative Idea, who comes off wins in the Iowa Distaff at Prairie Meadows and the Grade III Fleur de Lis at Ellis Park, where she defeated two of Saturday's rivals.
The $100,000 Open Mind Stakes finds nine females sprinting 6 furlongs on the same surface. Spelling Again won this last year and returns. She's 2-for-3 under the Twin Spires. I'm a Looker won the Grade II Winning Colors over the course during the spring meeting. Unbridled Explosion has been idle for almost a year but has been working well and gets the red-hot Florent Geroux in the irons so take a look. Puntsville invades from Chicago, where she has run well.
A note: Churchill Downs made some changes in this year's "Road" series, dropping the Grey Stakes at Woodbine -- the only Canadian race in the series -- in favor of the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs and inaugurating a "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" that includes two 1-mile races at Tokyo Racecourse. The only other race outside the United States that offers Derby qualifying points is the Group 2 UAE Derby at Meydan on World Cup night.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Sands Point Stakes is for 3-year-old fillies at 9 furlongs on the grass. Seven are on tap. Al Jazi, a Canford Cliffs miss owned by Al Shaqab Racing makes her first U.S. start after racing well in France, with a Group 3 win in England on her way west.
For the home team, Noble Beauty won the Grade III Pucker Up at Arlington in her most recent start. On Leave has three straight wins, most recently in the Riskaverse Stakes at Saratoga. Tin Type Gal is a two-time Grade III winner. Three Irish-bred fillies -- Diamond Fields, Galileo's Song and Elysea's World -- have merit in a nice heat.
The West Virginia oval on Saturday hosts the $350,000 Grade III Charles Town Oaks as the anchor of a program that also incudes seven other stakes -- five of those for state-breds. Only six were tempted by the $350,000 pot.
Todd Plecher brings Sophia's Song, a Bellamy Road filly who has three wins and two seconds from five starts. "We were very pleased with her last race and feel like she will like the Charles Town oval," Pletcher said after Sophia's Song drew the outside gate.
Michael Reavis brings Mia Torri, who has been running shorter on the Arlington Park all-weather but Reavis has done well spotting the Chicago trainees in jurisdictions with gaming-infused purses.
Presque Isle Downs
Sunday's feature is the $200,000 Presque Isle Mile on the all-weather course. There's a full field of 12 with an also-eligible and the morning line is essentially a "you pick it" with seven entrants at single-digit odds.
Seven races, all restricted, make up Sunday's program.
The Grey Gatsby is the headliner among six in for Saturday's Group 2 Dubai Legacy Cup at Newbury. The 5-year-old comes out of a sixth-place finish behind Postponed in the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York and is in rather desperate search of firm ground -- anywhere.
"The Grey Gatsby has got the Arc, Breeders' Cup and Champions Day as options after this," said Adam Ryan, assistant to his trainer-father, Kevin. "But he is a ground dependent horse and we will go wherever the ground tells us to."
First he must get past Dartmouth, Her Majesty's winner of the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot and more recently third to Highland Reel in the G1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes over 12 furlongs. Saturday's race is 11 furlongs.
The Newbury card also includes the Group 2 Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes for 2-year-olds at 6 furlongs and the Group 3 Dubai International Airport World Trophy Stakes at 5 furlongs.
Star sprinter Winx is back in Saturday's Group 1 Colgate George Main Stakes at Royal Randwick, facing seven rivals at 1,600 meters. The 5-year-old Street Cry mare is seeking her 11th straight win. On paper, that shouldn't be too tough a task although she has had a month since her last race. After this, she is slated for Melbourne and the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes on Oct. 8 -- a busy day worldwide! -- and then a defense of her title in the Group 1 Cox Plate.
Sunday's Yeung Uk Handicap at Sha Tin, a 1,000-meters affair, showcases not only the upwardly mobile Bad Boy, but also his part-owner, kung fu "icon" Donnie Yen. John Moore trains the 4-year-old and has aspirations.
"I hope we can take Bad Boy into Class One and into Group races, eventually," Moore said of the gelding, a two-time winner from four starts in Hong Kong, all at 1,000 meters. "He'll be slightly underdone for his first start of the season but there's plenty of upside to him. He's looking like he might be an out-and-out 1,000-meter horse but we're hoping that's not the case."
Worthy of note:
In the distaff turf ranks, So Mi Dar returned from an injury to post an impressive win Wednesday in the John Musker Fillies Stake at Yarmouth in England, winning eased up under Frankie Dettori. The John Gosden-trained filly by Dubawi was among the favorites for the Oaks before her injury and now looks to be a candidate for the Group Prix de l'Opera at Chantilly. Madeleine Lloyd Webber, wife of owner Andrew Lloyd Webber, told Racing Post, "We could have a look at the Arc next year as she stays in training and it would be nice to go for the Breeders' Cup, but we'll leave it up to John Gosden."
California Chrome's romp in the Grade I Pacific Classic has improved his standing in the Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Dubai World Cup winner jumped from a 128 figure to 133. That puts him 4 points ahead of the Japanese runner, A Shin Hikari, who has not raced since finishing sixth and last as the heavy favorite in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, and Travers Stakes winner Arrogate, both rated 129. Five of the top 10 are American-trained.
A Tapit colt, half-brother to champion Beholder, sold for $3 million Wednesday (see photo) on the final day of the premier Book 1 catalog at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The buyer was Coolmore's M.V. Magnier, who noted the recent success of the colt's sire, Scat Daddy, with the likes of Caravaggio and Lady Aurelia. The colt became the most expensive Thoroughbred sold at public auction anywhere in the world this year, Keeneland said. He was one of six yearlings fetching seven-figure prices during the Wednesday session.