The Dubai World Cup Carnival set sail on Thursday with a record performance, while things in North America start to get more serious on the Kentucky Derby trail.
Santa Anita adds some nice grass races to its 3-year-old weekend schedule.
And we'll just note for the record that the field for Saturday's first race at Santa Anita includes Arya Stark and Princess Leia.
But first things first and that would mean:
And away they go in the 2017 Dubai World Cup Carnival, with a bit of excitement and history from the very start.
Le Bernadin took back after breaking well in Thursday night's Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge, Round 1 and waited for some early speed to wilt. When it did, jockey Tadhg O'Shea had to hook his mount sharply around the leaders and came on smartly to win by 2 lengths over Long River. Lindo Amor was third in the 1,600 meters -- the earliest major prep for the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on World Cup night itself.
The victory also marked the first repeat win in the race, which first was run in 1994.
"He is a great horse for a jockey as he is just so versatile," O'Shea said of Le Bernadin. "He has so much early speed and he just naturally took me to the front. But he does not have to lead and I was happy to take a hold. The 1,600 meters is his optimum trip and I knew he would find plenty when I asked him."
O'Shea said the Godolphin Mile is the "main target" for the Ali Rashid Al Rayhi trainee with perhaps another prep in the Burj Nahaar on Super Saturday.
Last season's filly sensation, Polar River, continued to disappoint, never in the mix in the Maktoum Challenge and eighth under the wire.
In other Thursday action, Light The Lights, from Mike de Kock's always-dangerous barn, burst from the pack in the final 100 meters to snatch victory in the Singspiel Stakes, a Listed even at 1,800 meters on the Meydan turf. Championship had taken the lead 300 meters out and appeared headed for an easy win before Christophe Soumillon got Light the Lights moving.
"Mike told me to settle him early on as he can be quite keen, and to try and challenge in the straight," Soumillon said of his ride on Light The Lights. "We left it late but he ran on very well once he hit his stride and I always thought we were getting there."
Many of the more prominent names in top-level South African racing turn up in the field for Saturday's Grade I L'Ormarins Queen's Plate at Kenilworth. Trainer Sean Terry has last year's winner, Legal Eagle, who went on to finish second in the Grade I Met, and French Navy, who might be a cut below.
The Conglomerate and Marinaresco, first and second in last year's Grade I Durban July, are here although The Conglomerate drew poorly and likely would prefer a bit more ground than the Queen's Plate's 1,600 meters. Captain America and Abashiri also figure in this event.
In the companion 1,800-meters Maine Chance Farms Paddock Stakes for fillies and mares, another Grade I, Bela-Bela is the early choice over Silver Mountain.
Meanwhile, back in the States:
The Road to the Roses
The big question in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita is this: Will Gormley bounce back from his trouncing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and remain a viable Derby candidate? The Malibu Moon colt, trained by John Shirreffs, won the Grade I FrontRunner in only his second start. But then he bobbled at the start a month later in the Breeders' Cup, never reached the front and finished seventh.
Saturday's rivals in the Sham include American Anthem, a Bodemeister colt coming off a win at first asking for conditioner Bob Baffert, and Big Hit, a Super Saver colt who took three tries to get on track for trainer Phil D'Amato.
Hemsworth scored his first career win in his third start -- the Grade II Nashua at Adueduct in November -- and returns in Saturday's $100,000 Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park. The Bernardini colt, racing for Godolphin and trainer Tom Albertrani, drew the outside gate and again faces Han Sense, the Hansen colt who finished second, albeit 9 1/2 lengths back, in the Nashua. The latter was a dull 10th in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in an intervening start.
On the turf: Made You Look, fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, is the morning-line favorite against seven others in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Dania Beach at Gulfstream Park. The field also includes Kitten's Cat, winner of the Juvenile Turf Sprint at Santa Anita; Keeneland allowance winner Minister's Strike; and Squadron, undefeated in two starts versus fellow Florida-breds.
Kentucky Oaks Preps
Shane's Girlfriend, undefeated in two starts including the $400,000 Delta Princess, returns as part of a field of nine for Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Ynez at Santa Anita. The Doug O'Neill trainee, an Adios Charlie filly, won at first asking over the Santa Anita strip. Also here is Noted and Quoted, winner of the Grade I Chandelier at Santa Anita in October but a flop in the Breeders' Cup. She may find the 7 furlongs on the main track more to her liking after fading from the lead in the 1 1/16-miles Breeders' Cup. Sandy's Surprise was sixth in the Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos in her first try against winners.
Bode's Dream, undefeated in three starts, is the early favorite for Saturday's $100,000 Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream Park, a Listed event at 6 furlongs on the main track. The Bodemeister filly, trained by Todd Pletcher, has not yet been tested around two turns. The others include Atenea, an Equadorian import who won her first two starts by a combined 24 3/4 lengths; Sand Shark, another Pletcher filly fresh off a maiden win; and Summer Luck, ditto for trainer Mark Casse.
On the lawn: Thirteen are entered for Saturday's $100,000 Ginger Brew at Gulfstream Park, going 7 1/2 furlongs on the greensward. Handicappers can be excused if they have a hard time sorting them out. So did the oddsmaker. Juenesse Doree is a lukewarm, 4-1 favorite despite drawing the outside gate based on an impressive Keeneland score in October.
On Sunday, Aqueduct hosts the $100,000 Ruthless Stakes at 6 furlongs on the inner track. A field of six in engaged, including stakes winner Yorkiepoo Princess.
Ring Weekend chased some of the country's best turf milers during 2016 and did so with some distinction. The 5-year-old Tapit gelding gets an easier lift in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Gabriel -- but will be asked to go 9 furlongs for the first time since October of 2014. Drayden Van Dyke returns to the irons after riding Ring Weekend to victory last time out in the Grade II Seabiscuit at Del Mar, going 1 1/16 miles. Also signed on are the likes of Twentytwentyvision, Flamboyant and Point Piper.
A super tough field of five signed on for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Las Cinegas for fillies and mares down the hillside turf course. The 9-5 morning line favorite is Prize Exhibit, who exits an even tougher race -- the Grade I Matriarch, won by Miss Temple City. Prize Exhibit, a British-bred mare by Showcasing, turns back to a trip where she won her only previous start. Three of the other four won their last race. The other, Cadet Roni, finished third in the Grade III Las Flores in her last outing.