A busy Thanksgiving week of Thoroughbred racing started with a disqualification in Ohio and culminates with the Japan Cup in Tokyo.
Along the way, there are graded stakes to report or preview from New York to California, via Florida and Kentucky, plus the Zia Park Derby and Oaks in New Mexico.
Among the important and historic races on the docket are the Fall Highweight, Clark Handicap, Cigar Mile, Hollywood Turf Cup, the Seabiscuit Handicap, the Tropical Turf Handicap and, for 2-year-olds looking toward the 2017 Kentucky Derby and Oaks, the Kentucky Jockey Club and the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs and the Remsen at Aqueduct.
On the world front, in addition to Sunday's Japan Cup, the fields are set for the final major meeting of the year, the Longines Hong Kong International Races on Dec. 11.
There's a lot to gobble up, so let's tuck right in:
Sunday's Group 1 Japan Cup features a trio of foreign contenders versus a deep and talented field of 14 locals. Japanese horses have won the last 10 runnings of the nation's signature race and Sunday's 36th renewal at Tokyo Racecourse could hinge on the weather.
A freak snowstorm -- the first to hit Tokyo in November in 54 years -- briefly coated the turf track in white during training hours on Thursday and Ian Ferguson, rider of German hope Iquitos, said the moisture was a welcome sight.
"Our advantage," he said after the workout, "would be if it keeps raining. ... The difficult part will be finding the right lane in the straight."
Iquitos, a 4-year-old colt by Adlerflug, has done his best running in Europe on soft to heavy going. The other two foreigners, German filly Nightflower and French runner Erupt, both would benefit from some drying out of the course. Erupt comes to the race after a victory in the Grade I Pattison Canadian International over firm turf at Woodbine. Nightflower's two Group 1 wins came over firm going at Cologne. She did, however, finish second behind Iquitos in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden two starts back.
Erupt finished a respectable sixth in last year's Japan Cup and is ticketed for the Group 1 Longines Hong Vase after Sunday's effort, all being well. Iquitos, compromised by a poor draw, was 11th last year and drew poorly again for Sunday's race, in gate 15.
The local crew includes highly regarded Kitasan Black, Real Steel, Dee Majesty and Gold Actor. Several others are capable of an upset and the uphill climb in the straight near the end of 2,400 meters can generate some surprising results.
Twenty-six Group 1 or Grade I winners are among the 56 runners selected for the Dec. 11 Longines Hong Kong International races, including return engagements for all four of last year's winners.
Japan's A Shin Hikari will try to make it two in a row in the Cup, at 2,000 meters. But he hasn't fired since a dominating win in the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan. Challengers include last year's Hong Kong Mile winner, Maurice, recent winner of the Group 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn); German's Potempkin, winner of the Group 1 Premio Roma; French runner Eliptique, a Group 1 winner in Germany in July; and two former Hong Kong Horse of the Year honorees -- Military Attack and Designs on Rome.
The Mile appears, as often is the case, to be the domain of the local runners. Only four internationals are challenging -- three from Japan and Cougar Mountain from Ireland. Neither of the American hopefuls -- Tepin and Miss Temple City -- signed on. Able Friend, winner in 2014, will try to come all the way back from a serious tendon injury.
Japanese combatants Red Falx and Big Arthur renew their rivalry in the 1,200-meters Sprint, which also has representatives from England and France as well as the day's only American runner, Pure Sensation, who comes off a third-place showing in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Last year's winner, Peniaphobia, heads the home team.
A very talented field for the 2,400-meters Vase will have to go through last year's winner, Highland Reel, last seen winning the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita. Silverwave from France, Japan's Satono Crown and Big Orange from England are among those who will give it a go at a distance that puts the locals at a disadvantage.
The Road to the Roses
Mc Cracken, undefeated in two starts, heads a field of 12 for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. The Ghostzapper colt won at first asking Oct. 2 at Churchill, then returned four weeks later to win the Street Sense Stakes over the same track with an impressive stretch rally. This traditional early pointer to the Kentucky Derby is packed with other possibilities, though. Among them are Wild Shot, third in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland behind Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Classic Empire, and Han Sense, runner-up in both the Grade III Grey Stakes at Woodbine and the Grade III Nashua at Aqueduct, albeit both by wide margins.
Most of the 10 entered for Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct are recent maiden winners. The notable exception is No Dozing, a Union Rags colt who won his first two starts and most recently finished fourth in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. Takaful, a Shadwell homebred by Bernardini, stands out among those trying winners for the first time.
On the turf, Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Cecil B. DeMille Stakes at Del Mar has a field of nine. None has yet won beyond the maiden or optional claiming level. Term of Art tried the Breeders' Cup Juvenile off a maiden win and finished ninth in that heat and now tries the grass for the first time. Ky. Colonel finished fifth in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf.
The Road to the Oaks
Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct features the winner of the Grade III Tempted, Miss Sky Warrior; the runner-up in the Grade I Frizette, Libby's Tail; the traffic-troubled sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Jamyson 'n Ginger; state-bred sensation Bonita Bianca; and several promising recent maiden winners. This is a good one to note for the future.
Daddy's Lil Darling returns from a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies as the lukewarm favorite in a well-balanced field for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs. The Scat Daddy filly won the Grade II Pocahontas beneath the Twin Spires in her previous local appearance and was second in the Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland in her Breeders' Cup prep. After Daddy's Lil Darling, the 12-filly field is wide open, with Fun, Dream Dancing, Ever So Clever and Lovely Bernadette all getting some consideration from the oddsmaker.
Yorkiepoo Princess led all the way to an upset win over odds-on favorite Eloquent Ride in Thursday's $100,000 Furlough Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Aqueduct. The margin was 2 3/4 lengths and the time for 6 furlongs on a fast track was 1:11.62 with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard the winner. The other three were well up the track. Yorkipoo Princess, a daughter of Kantharos, notched her second win from five starts.
"She's just got so much talent and we hope we can go on to bigger and better things later on in the spring," said winning trainer Eddie Barker.
On the turf, 13 2-year-old fillies are entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Jimmy Durante Stakes at Del Mar, going 1 mile. With Honors is the morning-line favorite after winning the Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf and finishing second in the Grade I Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita. But the War Front filly finished ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in her last start and many of the others look capable of springing the upset. German-bred and Italian-raced La Force drew the outside gate but could improve on her seventh-place showing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Wellabled returns to the all-weather surface facing four rivals in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Swynford Stakes at Woodbine. The Shackleford colt won the Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity on the all-weather at Arlington Park, then ran 10th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita after leading for the first half mile. Katalox finished second in the Clarendon Stakes at Woodbine. Undulated was second in the Laurel Futurity in his second start.
Also to watch: Friday's $50,000 Golden Gate Debutante at Golden Gate Fields.
Lady Fog Horn stalked the pace in Thursday's $200,000 Grade II Falls City Handicap for fillies and mares, took over in the stretch and inched away to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Streamline, always close, settled for second and Walkabout came from well back to take third. The favorite, Go Maggie Go, was never involved and finished last. Lady Fog Horn, a 4-year-old Zavata filly, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.89 with Albin Hernandez up. The Indiana-bred has been first or second in 11 of her last 12 starts.
Thatcher Street won a three-way scramble in the final sixteenth of Thursday's $200,000 Grade III River City Handicap on the turf, edging by Pleuven in the final yards to win by 1/2 length. The Pizza Man put in his usual late bid to take third, another 1/2 length back and a head in front of Taghleeb. Thatcher Street, a 5-year-old Street Sense gelding, ran 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:51.45 under Brian Hernandez Jr. Thatcher Street took 13 tries to notch his first win and the River City was his first graded stakes score. He was second in last year's edition of the same event.
On the weekend agenda in Louisville:
Effinex will bid to become only the fourth two-time winner of the Grade I Clark Handicap when the 142nd renewal of the historic feature runs Friday under the twin spires. Effinex defeated Hoppertunity last year the 9-furlongs clash and will have that rival to contend with again. Those two are among seven of the 10 entrants for the $500,000 Clark who already have surpassed $1 million in earnings. Effinex comes off a seventh-place finish behind Arrogate and California Chrome in the Breeders' Cup Classic, where Hoppertunity was fourth. Also among the morning-line favorites for the Clark are Noble Bird, Shaman Ghost and the 3-year-old hope, Gun Runner.
Harmonize and Hawksbill head a tough cast for Friday's $200,000 Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Those two ran second and third behind Time and Motion in the Grade II Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland this fall.
Heaven's Runway caught odds-on favorite Stallwalkin' Dude in the final jumps to win Thursday's $200,000 Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap by a neck. Ready for Rye was third. Stallwalkin' Dude, giving 11 pounds to the winner, tracked the early pace, surged to the lead and mid-stretch and evidently felt the effect of his 134-pounds impost as he could not hold off the winner's outside run. Heaven's Runway, a 6-year-old son of Run Away and Hide, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.19 under Junior Alvarado. He had gone 12 starts without a win since taking the Hockessin Stakes at Delaware Park in July 2015.
"When I claimed this horse, believe it or not, I claimed him for this race," said winning trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who took Heaven's Runway for $62,500 in August at Saratoga. "I knew he was going to be OK for this race and he didn't prove me wrong. It made the owners happy today.
"They don't believe in me, I guess, because they didn't show up," he added with a laugh. "But I believe in myself."
Catapault pressed the pace in Thursday's $125,000 Gio Ponti Stakes for 3-year-olds, came to the lead turning for home and held on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Strike Midnight. Hunter O'Riley came from last of nine to finish third. Catapault, a Kitten't Joy colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:44.75 with Javier Castellano up.
Yet to come at the Big A:
A nicely matched field of 10 is set for Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Cigar Mile. Anchor Down, who drew the rail, comes off a win in the Grade II Kelso at Belmont and finished a distant second to Frosted in the Met Mile back in June. Connect, the winner of the Grade II Pennsylvania Derby, represents the 3-year-olds. He has won four of his last five starts. Divining Rod has been improving and adds blinkers.
Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Comely for 3-year-old fillies has a tasty ensemble of seven. Prominent among those is Unbridled Mo, winner of her last four including the Grade III Monmouth Oaks. Lewis Bay and Flora Dora return from a 1-2 finish in the Grade III Turnback the Alarm. Going For Broke's claim to fame is a second behind Songbird in the Grade I Alabama -- 7 lengths behind Songbird.
Japanese runner Nuovo Record, originally ticketed for the Longines Hong Kong International Races after finishing 11th in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, repaid the change of itinerary with a last-jump victory in Thursday's $100,000 Grade III Red Carpet Handicap. The late surge found Nuovo Record a nose in front of the favorite, Arles, who appeared to have the race won. Swear by It was a long shot third. Nuovo Record, a 5-year-old Heart's Cry mare, earned her Breeders' Cup trip with a victory in the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Hong Kong in April. She ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:15.56 with Yusanari Iwata in the irons in the Red Carpet.
"Outside the Breeders' Cup she has always run well," said winning trainer Makoto Saito. "This time some horses went to the front so she could stalk and the race went as I was thinking it would. I think we will have even bigger expectations for her next year and we would like to come back to Del Mar for the Breeders' Cup."
Nuovo Record was the first-ever Japanese-bred runner at Del Mar.
Coming attractions at Del Mar:
Ashleyluvssugar, Texas Ryano and Flamboyant are the morning-line favorites among seven in for Friday's 200,000 Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup at 12 furlongs. Ashleyluvssugar, who also could have tried the Longines Hong Kong Vase instead, won a pair of Grade II events before finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Turf behind some of the world's best. Texas Ryano dead-heated for sixth and seventh in the Breeders' Cup. Flamboyant needs a reversal of form to justify his 3-1 morning line odds.
The mid-distance West Coast turfers square off again in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the greensward. Om, second in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, is the morning-line favorite. Vyjack, What a View and Ring Weekend will be along to test the favorite.
On Sunday, seven are set to face the starter in the $100,000 Grade III Native Diver at 9 furlongs on the turf.
Pass the Buck started from gate No. 11 in Wednesday's $200,000 Zia Park Derby, trailed the field early and had to come nine-wide into the stretch to reach contention. After all that, the Pulpit colt outfinished Semper Fortis, winning by 1/2 length. Inside Straight was making up the most ground at the end but fell another neck short, finishing third. The favorite, Dalmore, finished fourth. Pass the Buck, with Luis Quinonez up, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.06.
Family Tree pressed the pace in Wednesday's $300,000 Zia Park Oaks, then took full command, racing off to win by 8 1/2 lengths. K P Wildcat beat the others with Ready to Confess another neck back in third. Family Tree, a Smart Strike filly, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.59 with Florent Geroux in for the ride on the Wayne Catalano trainee.
Golden Gate Fields
Three of the five in for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Berkeley Handicap are bunched at the top of the morning line. Stryker Phd, the narrow favorite, is in from Emerald Downs near Seattle, where he has done well in the stakes ranks. The 7-year-old Bertrando gelding was third in this race two years ago and fifth in 2013. Bronze Star won the Bulldog Handicap at Fresno in his last outing and Southern Freedom has been competitive from Del Mar to Golden Gate. Jerry Hollendorfer trains Bronze Star, Southern Freedom and long shot G.G. Ryder.
Gulfstream Park West
Three turf stakes are on Saturday's card.
The $100,000 Grade III Tropical Turf Handicap drew nine to tackle 1 1/16 miles. Coalport, Rose Briar, Granny's Kitten and Lubash are the favorites on the morning line. War Correspondent returns from a nine-months absence and is worth watching.
The companion My Charmer for fillies and mares also attracted nine. Stormy Victoria, Isabella Sings and Strike Charmer are the more recognizable names in this aggregation.
Summation Time is the 9-5 favorite among eight in the $75,000 Gin Rummy Champion Stakes at 5 furlongs on the greensward.
Yockey's Warrior came three-wide into the stretch in Thursday's $75,000 Thanksgiving Handicap and cleared, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Clearly Now. Union Jackson, the early leader, held on for third. Yockey's Warrior, a 4-year-old Warrior's Reward colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.23 with Miguel Mena in the irons.
Here's where the holiday week started, not with a bang but with a costly bump.
Mo Dont No got a bump from Awesome Banner in the stretch and then got the nod from the stewards after Monday's $200,000 Steel Valley Sprint for 3-year-olds. The officials ruled Awesome Banner interfered with Mo Dont No before drawing off to win by 2 lengths over that rival and reversed the order of finish. The favorite, Bandwith, was third, well behind the stretch action. Mo Dont No, an Uncle Mo colt, had been terrorizing state-bred competition at distances up to 1 1/4 miles, winning seven of his previous nine races. The 6 furlongs over a muddy track went in 1:11.50.
Regia Maria rallied from last of nine to win Monday's $75,000 Hollywood Gaming Mahoning Distaff by 1 1/4 lengths. She's a Bootsy Too was along for second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of the front runner, Luckyallmylife. Regia Maria, a 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:12.87 with Albin Jiminez up.