UPI Horse Racing Preview: Oaks, Derby hopefuls in action

Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Farrell, seen winning last year's Golden Rod at Churchill Downs, is the likely favorite in Saturday's Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks in New Orleans. (Churchill Downs photo)
Farrell, seen winning last year's Golden Rod at Churchill Downs, is the likely favorite in Saturday's Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks in New Orleans. (Churchill Downs photo)

It's the first of several "semifinal" weekends on the Kentucky Derby trail with the Louisiana Derby and Florida Derby both on the Saturday schedule.

The Oaks hopefuls also are in action at the same venues. Tampa Bay Downs has six rich state-bred events on Sunday. Aqueduct's Saturday program is the "New York Claiming Championship".


On the international front, look to Australia and mainland China.

Look at this:

The Louisiana Derby

The eye of the astute Fair Grounds handicapper is drawn immediately to Girvin, the Tale of Ekati colt who jumped up to win the Grade II Risen Star in his last start. The Joe Sharp trainee has won two of his three career outings with the third a narrow loss in a turf experiment.

It's hard to find a negative about Girvin. It's his first time breaking from the outside. But it's only a nine-horse field and he seems a come-from behind type anyway. The field also includes Local Hero and Guest Suite, who get another chance after finishing third and fourth in the Risen Star.

A potential wild card is the Todd Pletcher-trained Patch, a Union Rags colt who broke his maiden impressively in his last start at Gulfstream Park.


On the other side of the Gulf of Mexico, Gunnevera stands out against 10 rivals in Saturday's $1 million Grade I XPressbet Florida Derby. He also will stand outside all of them as the Dialed In colt, winner of the Grade II Fountain of Youth and last year's Grade III Delta Jackpot, already a millionaire, drew gate No. 11 for the 9-furlongs event.

The post is probably no problem for jockey Javier Castellano as the colt usually makes his move from off the pace anyway.

Rivals are less accomplished. Three Rules swept the Florida Sire Stakes last year but likely will be swept out of the Triple Crown picture if he can't improve on his 6 1/4-lengths defeat in the Fountain. State of Honor struggled over the Tampa Bay Downs dirt, fading from the lead in the Grade III Sam F. Davis and the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby. But he might find the quicker Gulfstream surface more to his liking.

And there are several recent maiden winners in the Florida Derby, including Battalion Runner and Always Dreaming from the Todd Pletcher barn and the Dale Romans-trained Impressive Edge. Any of them could figure in this if Gunnevera misfires.


The Road to the Kentucky Oaks

Farrell, winner of three straight, is the star in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks. The Malibu Moon filly, trained by Wayne Catalano, won the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in her 2-year-old finale, then cruised to victory in the Silverbulletday and the Grade II Rachel Alexandra over the Fair Grouds oval.

Majestic Quality and Wicked Link are back after finishing second and fourth in the Rachel Alexandra. Summer Luck has run well in the Gulfstream Park graded stakes but consistently has come up just a bit short. Maybe a change of scenery would help but she is cross-entered in the Gulfstream Park Oaks.

Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks drew a relatively modest field. Tequilita has won three in a row including the Grade II Forward Gal but will be asked to go two turns for the first time. Jordan's Henny and Summer Luck finished second and third in the Grade II Davona Dale last time. After that, the brightest prospects might be some recent maiden winners. There's one in here who remains a maiden after seven starts.


In other weekend racing:

Gulfstream Park's Florida Derby program includes a host of other stakes. Among them Grade II Pam American at 1 1/2 miles on the grass, the Grade II Honey Fox for fillies and mares at 1 mile on the lawn, the Grade III Appleton at 1 mile on the grass and the Grade III Orchid for fillies and mares at 11 furlongs on the green course.

The Louisiana Derby undercard in New Orleans features the Grade II New Orleans Handicap at 1 1/8 miles and the Grade II Muniz Memorial at the same distance on the turf.

Saturday is "New York Claiming Championship" day at Aqueduct with nine starter races -- events for horses who have started for a specific claiming price last year or this. Sadly, most of the fields are fairly short.

Tampa Bay Downs has six stakes on the Sunday program, all for state-breds and each worth $100,000. Half are on the turf.


The Championships get under way in Australia with four Group 1 events and plenty of undercard action on tap Saturday at Randwick. The Australian Derby, worth Aus$3 million (about US$2.3 million) features New Zealand Derby winner Gingernuts, last year's Victoria Derby winner Prized Icon, Randwick Guineas winner Inference and Jon Snow, who beat Prized Icon in their last meeting. The Darley T J Smith Stakes came up tough with Chautauqua, Malaguerra, Terravista and Rebel Dane all in the mix.


And if you liked the cast at Meydan in Dubai this past Saturday, don't miss the Chengdu International Cup in mainland China this Sunday. Most of the cast -- and infrastructure -- is imported from Dubai to the southwest Chinese capital. Do not expect Arrogate. But do expect a jockey challenge that will pit four Chinese riders against some of the Dubai crew. This is a nice idea and another small step toward internationalizing racing on the mainland.

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