The Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Japan, a pair of graded stakes at Aqueduct, the return of Del Mar and a preview of coming attractions at Gulfstream Park all feature in weekend Thoroughbred racing action.
The world's richest Purebred Arabian race is Sunday in Abu Dhabi.
Arrogate springs past California Chrome to become the world's top-rated horse while Coolmore, O'Brien and Galileo dominate the Cartier Racing Awards.
And could South Africa's highly talented grass runners be set to break out onto the world's stage? Be afraid, because they're very good.
Here's what's good this weekend:
Saturday's card at the Big A has a pair of Grade III events, the $200,000 Red Smith Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at 11 furlongs on the grass and the $150,000 Discovery Handicap for 3-year-olds at 9 furlongs on the dirt.
The Smith attracted a dozen including Danish Dynaformer, Up With the Birds, Messi and Wake Forest. The latter was third, best of the North Americans, in the Grade I Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine in his most recent start.
Eleven are entered for the Discovery with the 124-pound highweight, Sunny Ridge, drawn outside and conceding as much as 8 pounds to those on his inside. Sunny Ridge was third in the Grade I Haskell this summer, ahead of Nyquist and Gun Runner. The field also includes Governor Malibu, who was fourth in the Belmont and had a distant view of Arrogate's hindquarters in the Grade I Travers while finishing fifth.
On Sunday, it's the $125,000 Staten Island Division of the New York Stallion Stakes. The state-bred fillies and mares will tackle 7 furlongs on the main track.
Winter at Del Mar? Sure, why not? Stakes action gets under way Saturday with the $75,000 Let It Ride Stakes, a restricted event that drew a half dozen 3-year-olds to go 1 mile on the grass. On Sunday, action continues with the $100,000 Betty Grable Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares at 7 furlongs on the main track.
Saturday at Gulfstream Park West (think Calder), there's a combo deal -- previews for the Sunshine Millions Classic, Distaff and Turf and four races for state-bred 2-year-olds. Each of the seven events is worth $100,000.
The Sunshine Millions previews point to the big races that go Jan. 21 as a prelude to the annual Eclipse Awards ceremonies. Saturday's races don't include many tigers although Mr. Jordan might be worth a look in the Classic Preview. The Kantharos gelding was on the board in three straight graded stakes at Monmouth this summer, including a second in the Grade III Iselin.
The juvenile races are at 1 mile on the grass, one open and one restricted to 2-year-old fillies, and 6 1/2 furlongs on the dirt, similarly separated by gender.
One Mean Man is the lukewarm favorite among 11 3-year-olds tackling 1 1/16 miles on the grass in Saturday's $100,000 Commonwealth Turf. The Mizzen Mast colt won the Grade III American Derby at Arlington this summer, then won the Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury Park and, most recently, the Jefferson Cup beneath the Twin Spires. Also in the mix are Queen's Plate winner Sir Dudley Digges, Bondurant and Tizarunner.
It's a rich weekend for Canadian-foaled juveniles at the Toronto-area track.
Saturday it's the $250,000 (Canadian) Princess Elizabeth for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course. Sunday, 2-year-olds go 9 furlongs on the all-weather in the $250,000 (Canadian) Coronation Futurity.
On the international front:
Sunday's Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Kyoto, as usual, includes the top fillies and mares in Japan. Among this year's field is defending champion Marialite, who also won the Grade I Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin in June over the same 2,200-meters distance. Pearl Code, second in the Grade I Shuka Sho, and Queen's Ring, second in the Grade II Fuchu Himba Stakes, also figure in Sunday's contest. There are no foreign entries this year, though the QE II was won in both 2010 and 2011 by Snow Fairy, trained by Ed Dunlop. Marialite would be the first since Snow Fairy to win back-to-back editions of the race and only the third in the race's 41-year history.
The All-Weather Championships shift into high gear Saturday on the Lingfield Polytrack with a pair of Fast-Track Qualifiers for next Good Friday's championships. The more notable of the two is the 2,000-meters Betway Churchill Stakes, featuring last season's star performer, Grendisar, from the Marco Botti yard. He has not run since taking the Easter Classic this past spring, capping an all-weather campaign that also included wins in the Group 3 Winter Derby and the Winter Derby Trial.
"We have kept him fresh and will only campaign him on the all-weather," Botti said, looking forward to the 6-year-old's season opener. "He will be following the same route as last year with the Winter Derby and Good Friday as his main targets."
The entries for the Churchill are strong, also including Yorker, a three-time Group 1 winner in South Africa, as well as Energia Davos and Educate, both coming off top-three showings on the turf at Newmarket. The co-featured Betway Golden Rose Stakes had 22 entries for 1,200 meters on the all-weather course.
Some of South African racing heavyweights are organizing a massive move of top horses to the United States to compete in on the turf next summer and fall. The plan, organized by Derek Brugman, racing manager for Marcus and Ingrid Jooste, takes advantage of an option to the onerous export quarantine restrictions involved in shipping to other countries, according to a report by racing operator Gold Circle.
The traditional exit from South Africa involves a circuitous course through Mauritius and Dubai to England or Europe that takes six months -- time when the horses are out of training. Shipping to the United States requires a relatively short quarantine in South Africa for vaccinations and then a 60-day "lockdown" quarantine upon arrival in North America.
Brugman said arrangements are being made to allow for treadmill training and other amenities during the quarantine, which will ease the horses into competitive form. Gold Circle's Michael Clower said the shipment due to leave in late January or early February is expected to include Legal Eagle, Marinaresco, Rabada, Silver Mountain and perhaps Durban July winner The Conglomerate.
"We need to get trading with the U.S. as well as compete there," Clower quoted Brugman. "And that trade will be phenomenal as well as of the utmost importance to our entire bloodstock industry."
South African racing principals long have argued existing quarantine regulations, designed to prevent the spread of African Horse Sickness, are far more restrictive than scientifically required.
In an unrelated development:
Callan Murray, South Africa's 20-year-old star apprentice rider, is headed for a stint in Australia. The young rider, a product of the South African Jockey Academy near the Summerveld training site, took the apprentice title last season with 76 wins. When he entered the academy at age 16, he had no experience with horses.
"I cannot wait," Murray said. "It's going to be a great learning curve for me."
On Sunday at Abu Dhabi, 16 Purebred Arabians will contest the 1.2 million-Euro Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown, the world's richest race for the breed.
The top four finishers from last year's inaugural running are back -- Kalino, Sahabba, Thakif and Abhaar. However, they all will have to get by French-trained Al Mourtajez, winner of 12 of 16 starts and generally regarded as the world's top Purebred Arabian. The 6-year-old "is the best," according to jockey Julien Auge. "He is an exceptional racehorse who has plenty of speed for this 1,600 meters but also stays well 2,400 meters."
There are three American challengers who face the triple handicap of top world competition, right-handed turns and turf.
The race attracted some prominent international riders, including Olivier Peslier, who takes the mount on Kalino, and American Hall of Fame rider Calvin Borel, who earlier this year retired, then unretired and will ride Paddy's Day, winner of the Sheikh Zayed Cup US Triple Crown in each of the last two years but a long shot in Sunday's race.
Cool Cowboy, third in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on World Cup night, returns Friday in the 1,400-meters feature at Jebel Ali Racecourse. Cool Cowboy, trained by Doug Watson, also scored a Group 3 victory over Meydan's 1,600-meters dirt course last season before following stablemates One Man Band and Faulkner across the line in the Godolphin Mile.
"He is in great form at home and ready for a run," said Watson. "There are only so many opportunities for this kind of horse and we were keen to get a run into him before the Listed race at Meydan next month."
News and Notes
To the surprise of none, the Coolmore partnerships, trainer Aidan O'Brien and the offspring of Galileo dominated the Cartier Racing Awards announced Tuesday night in London.
Five of the eight top awards went to horses owned and trained by those noteworthies -- Found was named top older horse, Order of St George took honors as top stayer, Churchill was top 2-year-old colt and Minding was named both champion 3-year-old filly and Horse of the Year. All are by Galileo.
The first American winner in the 26-year-history of the awards is Lady Aurelia, named top 2-year-old filly. The daughter of Scat Daddy is owned by Stonestreet Thoroughbreds and trained by Wesley Ward. She was a 7-lengths winner in the Group 2 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot. Also honored were Almanzor as 3-year-old colt and Quiet Reflection as champion sprinter. O'Brien received the Cartier/Daily Telegraph Award of Merit.
In the new Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings, Arrogate vaulted past California Chrome into the No. 1 spot based on the result of the Breeders' Cup Classic. Arrogate now is rated 134 with "Chrome" at 133. Winx is pegged third at 132 after her repeat victory in the Cox Plate. And French runner Almanzor and Japan's A Shin Hikari are dead-heated for fourth and fifth at 129.