The international racing year comes to a dramatic close in Hong Kong this Sunday while American racing very much looks to 2017, with 2-year-old races from Florida to Maryland, Oklahoma and California.
Japan also is in 2-year-old mode with the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies on Sunday -- a race that could give Frankel his first Japanese Grade I win.
Fair Grounds hosts a robust Louisiana Champions Day card on Saturday with some well-known contenders.
Let's get rolling.
Sunday's Longines Hong Kong International Races program at Sha Tin encompasses four Group 1 races on the turf, from 1,200 meters to 2,400 meters, featuring Group 1 winners from around the world in the last major international meeting of the year.
The festivities start with the Longines Hong Kong Vase, starring recent Breeders' Cup Turf winner and successful globetrotter Highland Reel. He also won this last year, defeating Flintshire, and on paper the 4-year-old Galileo colt, trained by Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, is head and shoulders above 13 rivals.
There are some other intriguing possibilities in the Vase, though. Consider France's Silverwave, who won the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and Group 2 Prix Foy before getting home 13th in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in his last start. Big Orange, representing England, has been in the picture in pattern races in England, Dubai and Australia.
And Nuovo Record, a 5-year-old Japanese mare, finished 11th in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf last month, but then stayed in California to win the Grade II Red Carpet Handicap at Del Mar. This is the only race of the four where local horses frequently struggle as this distance is seldom contested in Hong Kong.
The Longines Hong Kong Sprint, by contrast, has been a playground for Hong Kong-trained runners, who have landed 12 of the 17 editions. When they're not winning, Japan does well, with the great Lord Kanaloa helping that cause with victories in 2012 and 2013.
This year's race finds two speedy Hong Kong veterans, defending champion Peniaphobia and 2014 winner Aerovelocity, drawn in the No. 1 and No. 2 gates, virtually ensuring a quick pace. That could pave the way for a closer, possibly Japan's Big Arthur or Red Falx or Australia's Rebel Dane or Takedown.
The day's only American runner, Pure Sensation, is entered in this race but as of Friday was an uncertain starter because of a foot bruise. The show horse in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, Pure Sensation also had some difficulty negotiating right-handed turns during early-week trackwork.
The Longines Hong Kong Mile could come down to Japan vs. Hong Kong. The local team features 7-year-old Able Friend. He won this race in 2014, then finished third last year behind Japan's Maurice, who this year moves up to the 2,000-meters Cup.
But the Shamardal gelding suffered a tendon injury after the 2015 Mile, then just as he was rounding back into form, sustained a freak barn injury. That series of misfortunes has left trainer John Moore a race short with the veteran. Jockey Joao "Magic Man" Moreira has confidence in Able Friend despite the upset training schedule and the outside gate.
Also here are Beauty Only, who won the local prep, and Contentment, another local veteran who was second in the Group 1 Champions Mile in the springtime. Japan brings Logotype, winner of the Grade I Yasuda Kinen at 1 mile in May, Neorealism, third in the Grade I Mile Championship last month; and Satono Aladdin, an unlucky fifth in that same race at Kyoto.
The only non-Japanese, non-Hong Kong runner in the Mile is Ireland's Cougar Mountain, who seems overmatched after an eighth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
And then there's the Longines Hong Kong Cup -- a 2,000-meters affair that features last year's winner, Japanese runner A Shin Hikari; the 2014 winner, Hong Kong's Designs On Rome; and last year's Mile winner, Maurice, also from Japan.
A Shin Hikari comes to this off two dull efforts after being top-ranked horse in the world early in the year. Designs on Rome has struggled a bit since his victory 24 months ago. Maurice, a mile specialist earlier in his career, won the Gerade I Tenno Sho (Autumn) Oct. 30 going this same 2,000 meters in Tokyo, where he had to cope with an uphill grade in the stretch.
In other international racing:
Sunday's Grade I Hanshin Juvenile Fillies is, as usual, a tossup. But one to watch in the 18-filly field is Soul Stirring, by Frankel out of the Monsun mare Stracelita. She is 2-for-2 and looks primed for this task after taking the open Ivy Stakes at Tokyo in her last outing with a stretch run that collared several speedier types. That style should suit this 1,600-meters turf event, also run up a long stretch with a 1.5 percent gradient in the late going.
"This will be her first mile race, but she has the speed and racing sense to adjust to it," said Daisuke Tsumagari, assistant to trainer Kazuo Fujisawa. "She will bring herself up to par even in this strong field." Other contenders include Lys Gracieux, a Heart's Cry filly who is 2-for-3 after a victory in the 1,600-meters Aretmis Stakes in her last outing. Jeune Ecole, a daughter of Kurofune, is the only starter with three wins. Previous winners of this race, the only Grade I for 2-year-old fillies in Japan, include Vodka, Buena Vista, Apapane and last year's Major Emblem.
Meanwhile, back in the States and starting with the 2-year-olds:
Mastery is the 1-2 morning-line pick among five in the weekend's premier race for 2-year-olds, Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity. The Candy Ride colt is 2-for-2 with the latest being a victory in the Grade III Bob Hope at Del Mar. He's one of two trained by Bob Baffert, the other being recent maiden winner Show Me Da Lute.
Bobby Abu Dhabi, a Macho Uno colt, won at first asking at Del Mar. Doug O'Neil will saddle Dangerfield, an Into Mischief colt who won the Oak Tree Juvenile, then finished third last month in the Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot. O'Neill also has long shot Irap, yet a maiden after two starts.
Nine fillies are set for the companion $300,000 Grade I Starlet, without a clear-cut favorite. Among the likely are American Gal, third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies; Union Strike, winner of the Grade I Del Mar Debutante and sixth in the Breeders' Cup; Berned, second in the Grade III Tempted at Aqueduct; and Tapped, second in the Pike Place Dancer on the all-weather course at Golden Gate Fields.
Twelve are set for Sunday's $300,000 Remington Springboard Mile with most of the attention focused on Cool Arrow and Young American. Cool Arrow, another Into Mischief colt, won the Kip Deville at 6 furlongs over this course in September, then was second in the Spendthrift Stallion Stakes at Churchill Downs the day before Halloween. Young American, by Congrats, got his first win last month at Churchill Downs in his fifth try. Trainer Steve Asmussen sends three, including likely contenders Totality and Equator.
The $100,000 Trapeze Stakes attracted a well-balanced, hard-to-sort field of nine 2-year-old fillies.
There are state-bred 2-year-old events worth watching at Laurel Park in Maryland and Charles Town in West Virginia.
It's a Saturday for the young 'uns at the South Florida track with the entire 11-race program devoted to 2-year-olds -- including six stakes races going long and short on the main track and 1 mile on the grass.
The $75,000 Buffalo Man Stakes at 6 furlongs on the main track features Recruiting Ready, the even-money favorite on the morning line despite having only one win from four starts. The Algorithms colt's resume does, however, include a second in the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs, a second (disqualified to fourth) in the Grade III Saratoga Special and a fading third in the Grade III Iroquois under the Twin Spires when asked to go two turns for the first time. Uncle B, a Zensational colt, finished second in the Swynford at Woodbine before heading south for the winter.
Yes I'll Go is the 7-5 morning-line favorite for the $75,000 House Party for 2-year-old fillies at 6 furlongs. The Yes It's True filly won at first asking at Gulfstream Park West by 9 lengths with a Beyer Speed Figure of 90. If she can duplicate that, she will be tough to handle. But the opposition includes Bode's Dream, a Bodemeister filly who was 2-for-2 in the springtime, including the Astoria Stakes at Belmont Park, and returns from a long rest; and speedy locals La Vie Ross and Wildcat Kate.
Basha and Capitane are the early picks among eight contenders for the $75,000 Smooth Air at 1 mile. Basha, an Uncle Mo colt, is undefeated in two local starts. Capitane arrives from New York after finishing third, albeit nearly 11 lengths back, in the Grade II Nashua at Aqueduct. Sweetontheladies won the Juvenile Sprint at Gulfstream Park West last month for his third win.
The $75,000 Hut Hut Stakes finds the fillies tackling the one-turn mile. Several of the seven exit last month's $100,000 Juvenile Fillies for staste-breds, including the 2-1 morning-line pick, Lurlica. Only one of these fillies won her last race and that was a maiden-breaker for Phone Chick, going 6 furlongs during the Keeneland fall meet.
On the turf, the $75,000 Pulpit Stakes features 14 hopefuls. The oddsmaker lands on Lemonist, a Lemon Drop Kid colt who broke his maiden going this same 1 mile on the turf at Gulfstream Park West on Oct. 29 in his second start. Many of these are recent maiden winners but other of note include Avie's Mesa, who was fourth in the Cup and Saucer at Woodbine, Whiskey Train, winner of the Armed Forces Stakes over course and distance in October, and Hey Mike, who came up just a bit short in his first turf try at Churchill Downs last month.
The fillies go 1 mile on the turf in the $75,000 Wait a While Stakes with an overflow field. The lukewarm morning-line favorite is Create a Dream, an Oasis Dream filly who won the Chelsey Flower stakes at 1 mile on the Belmont Park grass after finishing fourth in the Group 3 Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot for trainer Wesley Ward. Now handled by Chad Brown, she also finished fourth in the Grade III Miss Grillo at Belmont after the England trip.
In other action:
Aqueduct continues on into the winter with Saturday's $125,000 Garland of Roses for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs and Sunday's $100,000 Bay Ridge for distaffers at 1 1/16 miles.
Remington Park, in addition to the 2-year-old fixtures, has the $100,000 She's All In Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on Sunday.
Laurel Park offers the Willa On the Move Stakes for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs on Saturday.