A sparkling renewal of British Champions Day, Woodbine's big turf festival, the Caulfield Cup in Australia, the Shuka Sho in Japan and a final round of Breeders' Cup preps in the United States make up a tasty weekend of thoroughbred racing.
There are races named for Her Majesty in both Kentucky and England this weekend but the queen will be watching the action in Canada.
Winter may be coming but not before a blaze of autumnal glory on the world's tracks. Except, of course, in Australia, where it's a blaze of spring promise. Either way, here we go:
The sixth running of Champions Day lives up to its name throughout Saturday's card at Ascot.
The centerpiece is the Group 1 Qipco Champion Stakes at 1 1/4 miles with Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Found in a rematch with Almanzor, the French-based colt who defeated her in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes over yielding ground at Leopardstown last month.
Ryan Moore again will ride Found, a 4-year-old Galileo filly, for trainer Aidan O'Brien. Found led a sweep of the top three placings in the Arc for O'Brien, the Coolmore ownership team and her sire. Remember that combination, which will be a theme throughout the weekend.
Almanzor, a 3-year-old Wootton Bassett colt, gets Christophe Soumillon up for Jean-Claude Rouget. Last year's winner, Fascinating Rock, is back for another try in a field of 11.
If that one isn't appealing enough, the race right before it, the Group 1 Qipco Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, features among 13 Guineas and Oaks winner Minding, who is another O'Brien-Coolmore-O'Brien runner. She also was third in the Irish Champion Stakes.
Some tough rivals here are Group 1 Jacques le Marois winner Ribchester and 2,000 Guineas and Group 1 St. James's Palace Stakes victor Galileo Gold. The 1-mile dash down the straight also attracted 2015 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Hit It A Bomb, looking for his first win of the year.
A race before that finds Seventh Heaven and Zhukova as the favorites in the Group 1 Fillies & Mares Stakes at 1 1/2 miles. Seventh Heaven, yet another of the O'Brien-Coolmore-Galileo bunch, comes off victories in both the Group 1 Irish Oaks and the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks.
Zhukova, by Fastnet Rock, has won four in a row, including two Group 3 events. Also in the Fillies & Mares are Group 1 Prix de l'Opera and Group 1 Prix Jean Romanet winner Speedy Boarding and last year's runner-up, Journey, in a field of 13.
The Group 1's kick off with the Qipco British Champions Sprint and a field of 14 set to go 6 furlongs. Support is a bit more widespread here with Quiet Reflection the likely favorite off her victories in the Group 1 Commonwealth Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Group 1 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock. Shalaa, The Tin Man, Twilight Son, Mecca's Angel and Librisa Breese all have been taking money.
Order of St. George is the heavy favorite in the day's first event, the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at 2 miles. Order of St. George -- yet another O'Brien-Coolmore-Galileo star -- was second in the Group 1 Irish St Leger earlier this year and most recently third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
If Order of St George doesn't appeal, have a gander at last year's St. Leger winner and fourth in this year's Group 1 Coronation Cup, Simple Verse, or Sheikhzayedroad, who has more than proved his staying power and will be long odds.
And not to ignore the final race of the day, 23 are set for the 1-mile Balmoral Handicap. Figure this one out and get a nice reward.
Meanwhile, back in the former colonies:
The Pizza Man vs. the Queen of England: Only in horse racing. That's one of the features of Sunday's $1 million (Canadian) Grade I Pattison Canadian International at 12 furlongs over the sweeping Woodbine turf.
The Pizza Man, based in Illinois and winner of the 2015 Arlington Million, and a sole local runner, Danish Dynaformer, take on a tough international field that includes Her Majesty's runner, Dartmouth. Dartmouth won't be the wagering favorite but there is a special cachet to handling Her Majesty's first Canadian runner and Kerry Jones, assistant to trainer Sir Michael Stoute, knows it.
"I find it actually nice and I'm very proud to represent her," Jones said Thursday of Her Majesty. "She's a great ambassador for the sport and knows her horses ... We treat them like any owner's horses, but sometimes at the end of the day we do kind of think, 'Oh, please win for the queen.'"
The field also boasts 2014 Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist, who has found new life this year after a dismal 2015 with three straight wins in Germany culminating in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Berlin.
Here's the refrain again: Coolmore, O'Brien, Galileo. This time they have Idaho, who unseated his rider, Seamie Heffernan, at the start of the Group 1 St. Leger in his last trip to the track but otherwise has been competitive in every race. Moore is named on Idaho, which indicates a quick trans-atlantic trip after his Ascot engagements on Saturday. As the only 3-year-old in the field, Idaho, a full brother to the accomplished Highland Reel, will be getting seven pounds from his older rivals as the 119-pound lightweight and starts from the No. 3 gate.
The Pizza Man, Wake Forest and World Approval finished 1-2-3 in the Grade I Northern Dancer over the course and distance in their last start and all repeat here.
Already in the books: On Monday at Belmont Park, Heart to Heart led from the start in the $200,000 Grade III Knickerbocker Stakes and held off a late run by the favorite, Jay Gatsby, for a 1/2-length win. Blacktype finished third.
Heart to Heart, a 5-year-old son of English Channel, ran 9 furlongs on the yielding inner turf course in 1:50.62 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. The horse has won four of six starts this year and finished second to the Breeders' Cup-bound Miss Temple City in the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland in the spring.
Trainer Brian Lynch said he was happy to see Heart to Heart answer the distance question. "He seems to do his best running late if he gets to dictate the terms," the trainer said. "He's not a real big horse. He doesn't take a lot of work to get ready. It's nice when a plan comes together."
Filly & Mare Turf
Time and Motion was up just in time to end Catch a Glimpse's eight-race winning streak last on Aug. 21 in the Grade II Lake Placid at Saratoga. Those two will meet again in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland. The 9-furlongs even drew nine 3-year-old fillies.
Before the Lake Placid, Catch a Glimpse had won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational during her streak for trainer Mark Casse. Time and Motion was fifth in the Breeders' Cup nearly a year ago over the Keeneland course and second in the Belmont Oaks before the upset at the Spa.
Five of the others are graded stakes winners including Harmonize, who was fifth in the Belmont race and went west to win the Grade I Del Mar Oaks in her last start. Try Your Luck hasn't won a graded stakes but did take the $200,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks in her last outing. And Queen Caroline has won four in a row against easier rivals.
Six of the 13 fillies and mares entered for Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine are making their first North American start. Among them we find Best in the World, still another O'Brien-Coolmore-Galileo who has the quadruple benefit of Moore in the irons. The 4-year-old is a Group 3 winner in Ireland and O'Brien wins with nearly 30 percent of his first-timers in the New World.
Other Euros in the E.P. Taylor: Parvaneh is a Group 2 winner in Germany and finished fourth in the Group 1 Preis von Europa in her last start. Banzari, a 4-year-old Motivator filly recently acquired by Bobby Flay, has won four of her last five including the Group 3 La Coupe de Maisons-Laffitte in her last start. Aim to Please also comes off a Group 3 win at Maisons-Laffitte.
The local bunch includes the second- and fourth-place finishers from the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington -- Al's Gal and Tuttipasei; the winner and fourth-place finishers from the local Grade II Canadian -- Rainha Da Bateria and Strut the Course; and Suffused, winner of the Grade III Glens Falls at Saratoga.
Saturday's $200,000 Pebbles for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park drew a full field. The eye is drawn to Mo d'Amour, an Uncle Mo filly who finished fifth in the Kentucky Oaks and has been getting closer ever since against graded stakes company. But she is entered for "main track only" and the weather guessers are not calling for rain.
The balance of the field shows more promise than performance so far. Ancient Secret won her first four starts before tossing in a clunker at Woodbine. Baciami Piccola won the Grade III Florida Oaks in March but hasn't done much since.
Conquest Enforcer, Stacked Deck, Passion for Action and Full Mast all have claims in Sunday's $300,000 (Canadian) Grade II Nearctic Stakes at 6 furlongs on the lawn. Full Mast, in particular, is noteworthy for his close, fourth-place finish behind Tepin in the Grade I Woodbine Mile last time out. Formerly raced at the top levels in France, the 4-year-old Mizzen Mast colt drops back to the shortest distance of his nine-race career. Divine, a 5-year-old Dark Angel mare, makes her first North American start after racing with mixed results in England and Dubai.
Enola Gray returns from her first career defeat to take on four rivals in Saturday's $100,000 California Distaff for state-bred fillies and mares at Santa Anita, going about 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course that will host the Breeders' Cup Sprint next month. The Grazen filly finished second to Bendable in the Beverly J. Lewis in her last start and Bendable returned from that to finish a close third in the Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland last weekend against Breeders' Cup-class rivals. The other four in Saturday's race will have to up their ante.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Only six signed up for Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Ontario Fashion Stakes for fillies and mares, run at 6 furlongs on the all-weather course. Cactus Kris has run in arguably tougher company and won this event last year. But the other five all have performed well over the local track.
Theory might wind up the favorite in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Futurity at Belmont if only because the Gemologist colt is trained by Todd Pletcher. He's among five promising but mostly unproven 2-year-olds entered to go 6 furlongs on the main track in the event. Theory won his only previous start at Saratoga in July by 5 1/2 lengths against nine other first-time starters. Star Empire ran third in the Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity in his previous outing but that was on the all-weather track.
Six are set for Sunday's $70,000 Speakeasy Stakes at Santa Anita at 6 furlongs. California Diamond has a pair of stakes wins to his credit, including the Santa Anita Juvenile. Crosscheck Carlos and Silver Assault have credentials for this, too.
Already in the books: On Monday at Woodbine, Dragon's Cry battled to the lead in the $125,000 (Canadian) Bull Page Stakes for Ontario-sired 2-year-olds, got clear and held on to win by 3/4 length over the odds-on favorite, Signature Spring. Pachi Cruz was 4 1/2 lengths behind that one in third.
Dragon's Cry, a Victor's Cry gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.35 with Sheena Ryan in the irons for her first stakes win. "He's a laid-back horse in the morning and he's doing so well right now," said winning trainer Bob Tiller. "When the fight's on, he shows up so far. We're really pleased with him."
Already in the books: Big Score rolled by the leaders in the lane to post a, well, big score in Monday's $100,000 Zuma Beach Stakes at Santa Anita. At the end, the Mr. Big colt was drawing off and won by 3 1/4 lengths from Sonic Boom with Ventry Bay third. Talented British visitor Harbour Master was running best late after altering course at mid-stretch, settled for fourth and is worth a look if he runs back next month.
Big Score, with Flavien Prat up, finished in 1:33.56 over firm going. He now is 2-for-3 with a second in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf. Trainer Tim Yakteen and owner George Krikorian both said the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf is the next target.
Krikorian noted Mr. Big is by the influential late Dynaformer. "These horses by Mr. Big are showing a lot of promise," he said. "If he keeps going the way he is, he could be the best son of Dynaformer at stud."
Todd Pletcher has two of the five fillies in for Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Matron at Belmont Park. Spirituality won at first asking at Delaware Park then ran a fading ninth in the Arlington-Washington Lassie on the Arlington Park all-weather course. Cherry Lodge won her first start at Saratoga, then finished third in the Grade I Spinaway, fading at the end of 7 furongs. The Matron is one panel shorter. Fly, who drew the rail, won at Laurel Park before finishing fourth in the Selima Stakes over that same track.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Already in the books: La Coronel bided her time behind the pace in Wednesday's $150,000 Grade III JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland, pulled even with the leaders a furlong from home and quickly drew off, winning by 4 1/4 lengths. Lull was second; Rum Go, third.
La Coronel, a Colonel John filly owned by John Oxley, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.37, earning a spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Florent Geroux rode. It was her second straight win following a maiden-breaker at Saratoga when trainer Mark Casse put her on the grass for the first time.
Asked whether La Coronel will take the free trip to the Breeders' Cup, trainer Mark Casse said, "I think we're in. When she broke her maiden at Saratoga, Florent came back and said, 'We have another Catch a Glimpse.' So we were excited."
Already in the books: Miss Southern Miss rallied from last of 11 to land Monday's $100,000 Surfer Girl at Santa Anita, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Happy Mesa. German-bred and Italian-raced La Force was a long shot third in her U.S. debut and just her second career start.
Miss Southern Miss, a More Than Ready filly, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:35.08 with Kent Desormeaux up for his trainer brother, Keith. She finished second in the Grade II Sorrento at Del Mar but then disappointed with a fifth-place showing in the Grade I Del Mar Debutante. The Surfer Girl was her turf debut.
"She's been so exciting to have in the barn and she has all the things you want in a racehorse," Keith Desormeaux said. "I actually thought we'd see that on the dirt but she leveled off, didn't she? But she's going to be a really good horse on this turf."
Exaggerator has been retired and will stand at WinStar Farm. The Curlin colt won three Grade I events as a 3-year-old -- the Santa Anita Derby, the Preakness and the Haskell. All of those wins were on wet tracks but WinStar President and CEO Elliott Walden said that is misleading. "If you look at how the multiple different speed-figure makers rated Exaggerator, it actually bears out that he was as fast -- or even faster -- on a dry track as he was on an off track," Walden said. Speed figure gurus quoted by The Blood-Horse confirmed that analysis.
Turning our attention back over the waves:
Saturday's Group 1 Caulfield Cup is likely to find Jameka as the favorite in the wake of Godolphin's decision to hold out Hartnell in favor of a run in the Cox Plate. Jameka was second to Hartnell last time out in the Group 1 Turnbull at Flemington. But the 4-year-old filly is far from odds-on for the 2,400 meters.
Godolphin substitutes Scottish for Hartnell with the former victorious in two of four starts in England this season. Exospheric also comes from England after contesting some top-level heats with mixed results. And, despite a poor showing in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes, Sir Isaac Newton represents the recently unstoppable combination -- stop me if you've already heard this one -- of trainer Aidan O'Brien, owners from Coolmore and top sire Galileo. Preferment and Our Ivanhowe also are in the mix.
For those who doubt the wide variety of dangerous fauna in Australia, note New Zealand long shot Fanatic was scratched from the Caulfield Cup after suffering a spider bite.
Sunday's Shuka Sho at Kyoto is the third leg of the local filly Triple Crown and has been taken down by the likes of Gentledonna, who swept the series four years ago. This year's edition has been beset by injury, with top prospects Major Emblem and Sinhalite sidelined. There's still plenty of competition. Jeweler, winner of the Oka Sho, or Japanese 1,000 Guineas, will line up. Kaiserball, an Empire Maker filly, might like the 2,000 meters over the inner turf course.