The world's top two horses face off again Saturday at Gulfstream Park in a rematch of the world's top-rated race of the past year.
And that's just the highlight of a weekend that sees top-shelf action from South Africa to Florida to Houston to Hong Kong, which has a couple rematches of its own.
We also have the results of Thursday's Dubai World Cup Carnival meeting at Meydan.
That's a lot of traveling. So let's get moving.
Pegasus World Cup
On Tuesday at Claridge's in London, Arrogate was crowned the 2016 Longines World's Best Racehorse for 2016, followed closely by California Chrome. The Breeders' Cup Classic, in which Arrogate narrowly defeated that older rival, was honored by Longines and the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities as the year's best race.
On Saturday at Gulfstream Park in Florida, California Chrome was named U.S. Horse of the Year, with Arrogate the runner-up.
Following the glittering London ceremony, the relevant owners, trainers and other attendants of Arrogate and California Chrome got ready to trek back to Gulfstream Park where their horses are set to face off again in Saturday's $12 million Pegasus World Cup, the world's richest Thoroughbred horse race.
The racing gods tossed a potential monkey wrench into the works in the draw for the Pegasus, installing California Chrome in the outside, No. 12 gate with Arrogate on the rail. That opens the potential for traffic issues as the field negotiates the short run into the first turn.
Both horses have experience running from behind the pace and both are leagues ahead of the other 10 prospective starters -- on paper, anyway. So, in theory, things likely will sort themselves out. But, as Homer Simpson famously said, "In theory, Communism works."
The winner of this extravaganza gets $7 million. Second nets $1.75 million and third earns $1 million. Each other starter gets a $250,000 parting gift. Each starting spot was sold for $1 million so if everyone runs to form, 10 owners will be hoping just to get their money back by finishing third.
Can't make it in person or watch the NBC telecast? Pocket the money you'd have spent on a ticket and listen to the festivities live on Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net) with Mike Penna and Jude Feld live from track. Check out www.popejude.com to see if Jude thinks a long shot can hit the exacta.
On the international front:
The home team had a good night Thursday at Meydan as Godolphin won five of the seven races on the card including both Group 2 events. Godolphin's Promising Run rallied in the final 100 meters to defeat the Mike de Kock-trained Light the Lights by 1/2 length in Thursday's Group 2 Al Rashida at 1,800 meters on the turf. Earnshaw was only a neck farther back in third.
Jim Crowley rode Promising Run for trainer Saeed bin Suroor, sitting behind the pace until the field turned for home, then making steady, grinding process as the field neared the finish. Promising Run, an American-bred Hard Spun filly, finished second in both the UAE 1,000 Guineas Trial and the 1,000 Guineas itself, both times behind Polar River. Her only victory since last year's Carnival came in the Group 3 Istanbul Trophy in September.
"She will stay further," Crowley said, " and I think she is still improving which gives connections plenty of options." Light the Lights was a winner in his first start during the Carnival, the Singspiel Stakes on opening night, and would have given de Kock his ninth winner in the race and sixth in a row. Very Special not only defended her crown in the Group 2 Cape Verdi but also gave bin Suroor his 200th Carnival victory. Also ridden by Crowley, Very Special was settled just behind the speed set by Christophe Soumillon and Tahanee and stayed on strongly to lead close to the finish. "Saeed wanted me to settle her off the lead today so I was delighted when Christophe wanted to go to the front," Crowley said. "I was always happy and she quickened nicely when I asked her. She is a very good mare."
Godolphin also took the UAE 2,000 Guineas Trial as the Charlie Appleby-trained Fly at Dawn got by the early leader in the final 100 meters to score a comfortable win under Mickael Barzalona.
If the Pegasus World Cup is the marquee attraction of the weekend, Monday's card at Sha Tin is not far behind. The New Year's Day weekend feature is the Group 1 Stewards' Cup at 1,600 meters and the runners include last year's Hong Kong Horse of the Year Werther -- ranked No. 5 on the Longines list this week.
Trainer John Moore said an excellent work this week under race-day rider Sam Clipperton has convinced him Werther is ready to get back onto the road that saw him win the Group 1 Audemars-Piguet QE II Cup last spring. "Werther worked the place down," Moore said. "Sam was very excited to be on him."
In a race stuffed with big names, Moore also will saddle past Hong Kong Derby, AP QEII Cup and Horse of the Year winner Designs On Rome. The 7-year-old will sport first-time blinkers at the suggestion of jockey Joao Moreira. The dozen entries for the Stewards' Cup also include the first four finishers from December's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile -- Beauty Only, Helene Paragon, Joyful Trinity and Contentment, as well as former Horse of the Year and 2015 Stewards' Cup winner Able Friend.
Moore also handles Able Friend and said the 7-year-old appears just about fully back in form after a long layoff to recover from a tendon injury. "I think there's still further improvement to come," Moore said of Able Friend. "But the question is, how fit does he have to be to beat this field? If he brings his A game, all of them, they're a length or so behind him. Able Friend's just a different class when he's right."
The Group 2 Centenary Handicap at 1,200 meters drew a more compact but no less impressive field. Set to go here are Aerovelocity, Lucky Bubbles, Peniaphobia and Amazing Kids, the top four finishers from last month's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint as well as Not Listenin'tome and Strathmore, who were seventh and ninth in that world-class event. They will be challenged by the very promising Blizzard, who won the Class 1 Flying Dancer Handicap on HKIR day, defeating the likes of Rapper Dragon and Mr. Bogart. Merion rounds out the crew of eight.
Legal Eagle is the favorite for Saturday's 5 million-Rand Grade I Sun Met at Kenilworth but others have claims. The 5-year-old gelding, trained by Sean Tarry, was second in last year's edition of the iconic race, caught late by Smart Call after racing handy and leading 300 meters out. Jockey Anton Marcus reportedly has different instructions this time around and Legal Eagle could be a bit farther back and under cover until the final charge to the finish.
The second choice in the early betting is Marinesco and trainer Justin Snaith remains high on the chances of Bela-Bela, the only filly in the race and notable for her striking gray color. Snaith also has It's My Turn, who surprised him by winning the Cape Derby last season and finished a credible fourth in the Durban July behind The Conglomerate, who also turns up in this field. Whisky Baron, Captain America and French Navy also are among the fancied in the field of 15.
The day is full of high-quality stakes, including the Betting World Cape Flying Championship at 1,000 meters, the Klawervlei Majorca stakes for fillies and mares at 1,600 meters and the Investec Cape Derby at 2,000 meters -- all Grade I events.
Meanwhile, back in the States ...
Six other stakes races grace Saturday's Pegasus World Cup program.
The feature on the undercard is the $400,000 Poseidon Handicap at the same 1 1/8 miles as the Pegasus. Stanford looks like the standout here after winning the Grade III Harlan's Holiday over the same track on Dec. 16 after a long vacation. Madefromlucky, Imperative, Mylute and Cherry Wine also are regular graded stakes contenders.
The other main-track feature is the $100,000 Grade III Hurricane Bertie at 7 furlongs for fillies and mares. Curlin's Approval, You Bought Her and Genre stand out among among the eight entered.
Twilight Eclipse will try to win the $200,000 Grade III W.L. McKnight Handicap for the third time. The 8-year-old won the race in 2013 and 2014 but has not been a frequent guest in the winner's circle of late. There's plenty of competition here, including the always dangerous Danish Dynaformer; the top three from the local New Year's Eve feature -- Taghleeb, Montclair and Hunter O'Riley; Charming Kitten, Generous Kitten and a third Kitten's Joy offspring, Sadler's Joy, who moves up in class but shows lots of promise. It's 1 1/2 miles on the grass.
The $200,000 Grade III La Prevoyante Handicap is the filly-mare equivalent at the same 1 1/2 miles on the lawn. This is a tough field with Suffused and Arles, who finished 1-2 in the Grade III Glens Falls at Saratoga; the top three from the New Year's Eve comparable -- Paige, Desiree Clary and Flipcup; Chilean import Wapi; and Dueling Grounds Oaks winner Try Your Luck among other contenders.
The 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner, Mongolian Saturday, gives it another try in Saturday's $125,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint. That one has but a single victory since the big win. But he gets a pretty big class break. Australian-bred gelding Power Alert looms the biggest threat. Manhattan Dan loved the course and distance last year but hasn't run since last April. Rainbow Heir is a threat from the inside gate.
The $125,000 Ladies Turf Sprint features the first three from last month's Lightning City over the same grassy 5 furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs -- Triple Chelsea, Night Delite and Everything Lovely. Also here is Moon River -- the 5-year-old Irish-bred mare, not the 5-year-old gelding of the same name, who finished seventh in a Saturday allowance race at Fair Grounds.
It's California Cup Derby Day on Saturday with the Derby, Oaks, Sprint and Turf Classic sharing the program with one outlier -- the Sunshine Millions Filly/Mare Turf Sprint
California Diamond could sparkle in the $250,000 Cal Cup Derby at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt. The Harbor the Gold colt has never finished worse than second in nine starts, including the Grade III Bob Hope at Del Mar. Ann Arbor Eddie was third in the Bob Hope and returned to win the King Glorious at Los Alamitos, chasing down California Diamond for the win.
The Oaks drew a nice field of 10, including a few stakes winners. Also here is the deliciously named Cioppino Pasadino, who was claimed for $25,000 while winning her last start at Santa Anita just two weeks ago. The $200,000 Oaks is run at 1 mile on the grass.
The $250,000 Turf Classic attracted Ashleyluvssugar, a multiple graded stakes winner who makes her first start as a 6-year-old. The Game Plan gelding was fifth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Turf, then second in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar. Ralis and What a View also have graded stakes experience, albeit less recent success at that level.
The $150,000 Cal Cup Sprint has seven starters. Solid Wager comes off a win in the Grade III Midnight Lute Stakes. Richard's Boy ran third in the Grade III San Simeon last time out and seldom misses the board. We'll mention Senator Robert just because we like the name even though he wasn't taken for an $8,000 tag while winning his last start at Golden Gate Fields two weeks ago.
The $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint is run down the hillside course and has nine set to go including Enola Gray, who won the California Distaff over the same conditions last October. Lucy De and Cuddle Alert have been running their way up the class ladder.
Saturday's feature is the $125,000 American Beauty for fillies and mares going 6 furlongs. Seven are set including Louisiana dynamo Wheatfield and Zia Park Distaff winner D R C's Pretty Sky. Super Saks returns from a long layoff after running in graded stakes at Churchill Downs last spring.
Sam Houston Race Park
I'm a Chatterbox, freed from quarantine in New Orleans, headlines Sunday's feature, the $400,000 Grade III Houston Ladies Classic. The 5-year-old Munnings mare won the Grade I Delaware Handicap last summer and the Grade I Spinster at Keeneland last fall and was fifth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff after shadowing Songbird through much of the race. Family Tree, a multiple graded stakes winner last year, also ships in from Fair Grounds for this event. Unbridled Mo, winner of last season's Grade III Monmouth Oaks, arrives from Florida.
The co-feature is the $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles on the lawn. This field includes Oscar Nominated, the runner up in the Tropical Park Derby at Gulfstream on New Year's Eve; Bigger Picture, winner of the Grade III Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct in November; and Greengrassofyoming, winner of the Grade III Stars and Stripes last summer at Arlington.
Sunday's $100,000 Riley Allison Derby is the first step toward the Mine That Bird Derby on Feb. 26 and the $800,000 Grade III Sunland Derby on March 26. Underwood is the 3-1 morning-line favorite and makes his first start around two turns. This group will need to make an impression to move along toward the late-spring classics. But we all remember that Mine That Bird finished fourth in the Sunland Derby before going on to victory in the 2009 Run for the Roses, winning by 6 3/4 lengths at 50-1 odds under Calvin Borel.
Today's trivia question: Mine That Bird won but who was the post-time favorite in the 2009 Kentucky Derby?
The answer: Louisiana Derby winner Friesan Fire, sent off at a lukewarm $3.80-1. He won only once after the Derby flop. Mine That Bird never won another race. The runner-up in the 2009 Derby was Pioneerof the Nile, who subsequently finished 11th in the Preakness, then ever raced again. Pioneerof the Nile, however, has done pretty well at stud, producing many talented runners including 2015 Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year American Pharoah.
News and Notes
Breeders' Cup and Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club this week announced an agreement to swap presenting sponsorship titles at their respective championship races this year -- the H.H. Emir's Sword Festival at Al Rayyan Racecourse in Doha and the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Del Mar. The Doha meeting will feature the Breeders' Cup Dukhan Sprint. The Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club Juvenile Turf Sprint be run Saturday, Nov. 4 at Del Mar. "We are thrilled to take this next step in expanding our relationship with the renowned Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club," said Breeders' Cup President and CEO Craig Fravel. "As we look to ways to elevate our international presence with similar caliber thoroughbred racing leaders around the world, the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club is a natural fit. We look forward to continuing to strengthen our relationship and encouraging the international Thoroughbred community to support and race in Qatar."