It's a big weekend for North American 2-year-olds with the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot at the top of the list of major races.
Laurel Park puts the pedal to the metal on Saturday in the Fall Festival of Racing while Fair Grounds fires things up for its winter season in the Big Easy. Churchill Downs, Aqueduct and Del Mar roll on.
On the international scene, the Group 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto tops the Japanese racing weekend just a week before the Japan Cup itself.
At the end, we'll discuss Able Friend in Hong Kong and Enobled Friend in Dubai.
Onward, in friendship:
The Kentucky Derby trail
Many of the better U.S. 2-year-olds who weren't in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile gather for Saturday's $1 million Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot in Louisiana. This year's renewal includes impressive winners from California, Kentucky, Minnesota and New York. The list includes Dangerfield, Tip Tap Tapizar and Gunnevera.
In the Jackpot, they all might have to chase Line Judge, a Spring At Last colt who has won three straight races including the local prep for this, the $200,000 Jean Laffite. The Joe Sharp trainee has been dominant in all three wins. Bob Baffert has another of those lightly raced, first-time-stakes horses -- this time a Flatter colt named Hot Sean.
Mastery and California Diamond are the heavy favorites in a field of five for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Bob Hope at Del Mar. California Diamond won the Golden State Juvenile for state-breds on Breeder's Cup weekend at Santa Anita and has five wins and two seconds from seven starts. Mastery has raced but once, winning that heat easily at Santa Anita on Oct. 22.
El Areeb is the big favorite among 11 in for Saturday's $100,000 James F. Lewis III -- a 6-furlongs event at Laurel Park. The Exchange Rate colt woke up last month in his third start, leading all the way to an 8 3/4-lengths win over the course. Also to watch: Rockshaw, winner in his second career start in a hard-fought sprint at Keeneland.
There also are juvenile stakes for state-breds at Remington Park in Oklahoma, Aqueduct, Charles Town and Delta Downs.
The road to the Kentucky Oaks
The weekend's festivities for 2-year-old fillies start with the $400,000 Grade III Delta Princess. The handicapping key is whether Cajun Delta Dawn can bounce back from a fourth-place finish in the finale of the Florida Sire Stakes when asked to go two turns for the first time.
Cajun Delta Dawn, a Kantharos filly, ran out of gas in that one and, while she goes a sixteenth shorter in this, still has to negotiate two turns. Dude Fantasy, winner of that FSS event, also is in this field. The main local threat may be Golden Mischief, winner of the My Trusty Cat over the course at 7 furlongs in her last outing.
Three recent maiden winners top a field of nine for Saturday's $100,000 Smart Halo at Laurel Park. Tequilita, a Union Rags filly, got the job done on her fourth try, going 7 furlongs at Keeneland. Perfect Wife, a daughter of Majesticperfection, won at first asking in a 6-furlongs event at Keeneland. Riley's Choice, a Distorted Humor filly, returned from a layoff to win going 6 panels over the Laurel track on Oct. 9.
Let It Ride Mom is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Glorious Song Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather course. The Into Mischief miss comes off two straight runner-up finishes, most recently in the Grade III Mazarine Stakes. Just Be Kind and Heard That also figure in a field of nine.
This division sees state-bred action at Delta Downs, Remington Park and Aqueduct.
Elsewhere around the North American ovals:
The Saturday program features the $250,000 Grade III Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, a top-shelf sprint for 3-year-olds and up. X Y Jet makes just his second start since finishing second in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen way back in March. He is the 9-5 morning-line pick despite a fading fifth-place finish in his comeback race seven weeks ago -- the Grade I Vosburgh, run in the Belmont Park mud.
Stallwalkin Dude and Weekend Hideaway, both of whom finished in front of X Y Jet in the Vosburgh, return for the De Francis. Ivan Fallunovalot invades from the Louisiana-Oklahoma circuit, where he has won five straight races dating back 15 months.
The $100,000 City of Laurel drew 14 3-year-olds including some refugees from the early stages of the Triple Crown trail such as Awesome Speed, Cocked and Loaded and Rated R Superstar. Hot Seat could continue a super hot season for his late sire, Unbridled's Song. The chestnut colt won his first two races, both at Parx, by 13 1/2 and 7 lengths, respectively. Sharp Azteca has been sharp going longer than this 7-furlongs tilt.
Three other stakes races and huge fields throughout the card should make for an interesting day of racing.
Real Smart, Annulment, Kitten's Roar and Cash Control all get favorable looks from the oddsmaker for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Cardinal Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on the grass. Thirteen are entered and Real Smart and Annulment drew the inside gates so traffic could pay a major role in this.
A very tough field of nine signed on for Saturday's $80,000 Bet On Sunshine Stakes at 6 furlongs. The morning-line favorite, Holy Boss, faces the likes of Alsvid and W.B. Smudge.
Midnight Miley, Southern Ring and River Maid are the early picks for Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Grade II Bessarabian Stakes for fillies and mares at 7 furlongs on the all-weather. Midnight Miley already has two stakes victories over the course this season. Southern Ring exits a win in the Grade III Ontario Fashion Stakes and River Maid was third in that heat.
Sunday's feature, the $200,000 (Canadian) Grade II Kennedy Road Stakes at 6 furlongs on the all-weather course, attracted nine. Passion for Action has a class edge but has fizzled recently against tougher competition. Puntrooski and Stacked Deck are worth a look. Several others exit the Overskate Stakes on Oct. 29.
The $100,000 Cary Grant Stakes for state-breds at 7 furlongs tops the Sunday card and drew a field of nine.
In addition to the big races, Saturday's card includes the $200,000 Treasure Chest for fillies and mares at 1 mile and a pair of $75,000 events for state-breds going 7 furlongs.
Although the German-trained Spectre is out of it, Sunday's Group 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto should have a full starting gate of 18. Star power may be lacking but a fascinating handicapping puzzle and the prospect for economic reward make up for that. Only three favorites have won this event during the past decade and a field featuring runners aged from 3 to 5 with experience at a wide variety of distances promises to continue a trend of upsets.
Sunday's Group 2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint features some tough customers, including past Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint winners Aerovelocity and Peniaphobia. But all eyes will be on former Horse of the Year Able Friend, who is attempting a comeback at age 7 after an absence that stretches back to last December's Longines Hong Kong Mile.
Able Friend returned to training in September after a long period of recovery in Australia after suffering a tendon injury.
"Everything's on target for the race on Sunday," said trainer John Moore after Able Friend worked 1,200 meters earlier this week. "He's drawn two, a nice gate, and he's definitely a force to reckon with, even at 1,200 meters."
Moore hopes the Jockey Club Sprint will race Able Friend into shape for a try at one of the Group 1 international races on Dec. 11 -- either the Longines Hong Kong Sprint or the Longines Hong Kong Mile. But he acknowledges the veteran is past his absolute prime.
"He's 7 years old and you cannot expect a horse of his age to be physically perfect. He can't be 100 percent anymore," Moore said. "It's like any athlete -- over time, the body changes and there are little bits of wear and tear to deal with. That's normal. But when it comes to ability and heart, he's lost none of that."
The co-feature on Sunday's card is the Group 2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile, which also has such recognizable names as Sun Jewellery, Gun Pit, Contentment and Beauty Only.
It was obvious that a lot was being asked of Polar River in Thursday's Gulf News Conditions race at Meydan on Thursday. The UAE Oaks and Guineas winner and UAE Derby runner-up was making her first start since March, meeting older horses and still, because of her stellar resume, giving weight.
In the end, it was too much as Polar River put in a bid as the field turned into the stretch but never really reached contention. She finished fourth as Need to Know ran down Heavy Metal and Enobled Friend before drawing off to a 2-lengths victory. Need to Know, second in the equivalent race last season, finished 1,600 meters in 1:38.73.
"This is a really tough horse," said winning rider Tadhg O'Shea. "Just look at his form. He has been to Jebel Ali, China, Korea, Abu Dhabi and back to Meydan in his last five starts. He has always been a model of consistency and really appreciated the fast pace early on tonight."
Polar River's trainer, Doug Watson, said he expects his filly to benefit from the race and show more in her next start.
Kananee scored a narrow victory over Sutter County in the 6-furlongs 32Red Casino Conditions Stakes on Tapeta at Newcastle Thursday, earning a guaranteed start in the All-Weather 3-year-old Championships at Lingfield Park this coming Good Friday. The Son of Exceed and Excel, trained by Saeed bin Suroor, was headstrong during the first 3 furlongs, then quickly challenged the leaders when allowed to run by jockey Kevin Stott. He went on to win by a neck with Parnassian in third. Kananee has won four of his five starts.