It may seem to be all about Royal Ascot this week but there's plenty of other action around the world with a Breeders' Cup qualifier in Japan and some Kentucky Derby also-rans back in action from Ohio to California.
The action never stops in Thoroughbred racing and neither do we. So let's start:
The first two days of the five-day Royal meeting were run under brutally hot and sunny conditions -- so extreme for England that gentlemen -- gasp! -- were given permission to shed their jackets and Her Majesty the Queen dispensed with her stylish coat after the carriage deposited her at the Royal Enclosure.
The racing was equally hot.
On Tuesday, American star Lady Aurelia was an easy winner for the second straight year at Royal Ascot. The Wesley Ward-trained filly kicked away from a top field to win the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes by 3 lengths over the favorite, Marsha. Last year, the superstar won the Grade II Queen Mary Stakes by 7 lengths in just her second career start. The King's Stand is a leg of the Global Sprint Challenge so let's see if Ward and his owners are sporting enough to pursue that US$1 million bonus to Hong Kong and either Japan or Australia.
Tuesday's other features found one of the week's best bets, Ribchester, landing the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes as American hopes Miss Temple City and American Patriot made no impression, and Barney Roy upset the Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 mile, defeating Lancaster Bomber and Thunder Snow as the favorite, Churchill, didn't fire.
Day two found globetrotting Highland Reel victorious in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes, turning back a challenge in deep stretch by both Decorated Knight and Ulysses. The reigning Longines Breeders' Cup Turf champion could be a return candidate for the Group 1 Cox Plate in Australia this fall -- a race in which he was third behind the mighty Aussie mare Winx two year ago as a still-developing 3-year-old.
Thursday's Day Three produced more moderate temperatures. With overnight watering and some cloud cover, the ground was less rock-solid, jackets stayed on and ladies left their early-week essential parasols at home.
The massive crowd also enjoyed what's sure to be one of the year's best races anywhere as Big Orange, with James Doyle deputizing for the injured Frankie Dettori, held off a desperate late charge by last year's winner, Order Of St George, to win by the narrowest of margins. Doyle said he and Dettori compared notes by phone in the days leading up to the race and Dettori gave him the secret to Big Orange: "Don't interfere with him." Doyle heeded the advice and let the 6-year-old Duke of Marmalade gelding run to the lead after the first time past the judge. He got a break up the hill from Swinley Bottom just as order Of St George was having to make up lost ground and that difference counted at the end of the 2 1/2 miles.
In the day's other big races, the fifth-place finishers from both the Investec Derby and the Investec Oaks came back winners. Coronet overcame plenty of traffic in the lane to land the Group 2 Ribblesdale while Benbatl held off Orderofthegarter in the final strides to win the Group 3 Hampton Court.
Action continues through Saturday at the Royal meeting.
Sunday's Group 1 Takarazuka Kinen, like the Arima Kinen in December, gives fans a chance to vote which horses they'd most like to see run. This year, many of them find their wishes granted as the prospective field of 11 includes a bunch of Japan's top runners. The race is worth about US$2.8 million, with US$1.3 million to the winner. Oh, and by the way, the 2,200 meters run right-handed around the Hanshin grass is a Breeders' Cup Challenge race with the winner earning a berth in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf this fall at Del Mar.
The field is headed by Kitasan Black, the Japan Cup winner. The son of Black Tide is in prime form but cuts back from the marathon distance of the Tenno Sho (Spring) for this, with Yutaka Take named to ride. Three other Group 1 winners -- 2015 Arima Kinen winner Gold Actor, last December's Longines Hong Kong Vase winner Satono Crown and Japanese Oaks winner Mikki Queen -- will be lined up amongst the opposition. Of the others, Cheval Grand could be poised for a breakthrough after several close finishes.
Back in North America:
A bit of action on the fringes of the Classic division provides an American highlight as Royal Ascot winds down.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Ohio Derby at Thistledown brings together a quartet of Kentucky Derby also-rans to tackle 1 1/8 miles. The morning-line favorites are Girvin, 13th in Louisville after winning the Grade II Louisiana Derby, and Irap, 18th after winning the Grade II Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland.
Given lesser chances by the Ohio oddsmaker are Untrapped, 12th in the Run for the Roses and still only a maiden winner, and Fast and Accurate, who was supplemented to the Run for the Roses after winning the Grade III Spiral Stakes on the Turfway Park all-weather. He finished 17th in Louisville. The Ohio Derby also includes a three-horse entry from Looch Racing Stables. Vibe, Talk Less and Game Over are coupled for wagering and posted at 12-1 on the morning line. Sorry Erik and Hinton complete the field.
Collected, winner of the Grade II Californian in his last start, is the odds-on morning-line favorite for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Precisionist for older horses at Santa Anita. The 4-year-old City Zip colt, trained by Bob Baffert, got a long break after finishing 10th in last season's Preakness. He is 2-for-2 this year but could have a serious challenge from Accelerate, Cat Burglar, Donworth and Argentine-bred Keane, who complete the field for the 1 1/16-miles test.
Remember who was third in the Kentucky Derby? How soon we forget. It was Battle of Midway, who returns Saturday in the $100,000 Grade III Affirmed for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita. The Smart Strike colt, second by 1/2 length to Gormley in the Santa Anita Derby, faces only four rivals Saturday and is the odds-on favorite. Watch out for Arms Runner, a gray colt by Overdriven. He makes only his third career start and comes off two victories on the hillside turf course for trainer Peter Miller. B Squared, Term of Art and Quiet Dude make up the remainder of this field.
The grass is greener at Ascot this weekend but the paddock is not quite bare on this side of the pond.
Finley'sluckycharm head to the post as the odds-on favorite in a big field in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Chicago Handicap at Churchill Downs. The Twirling Candy filly has won seven of her nine starts and six of her last seven, missing only in the Grade I La Brea at Santa Anita last Boxing Day, where she was second, beaten 1/2 length by Constellation after setting a blazing pace.
The 13-horse field for the Chicago Handicap also includes Kathballuk was second in the race last year when it was run at its home, Arlington Park. Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Arlington, moved the race down I-65 while the Illinois General Assembly sorts out legislation to permit casino gambling at the Chicago track.
Belmont Park on Saturday stages the $100,000 Wild Applause for 3-year-old fillies at 1 mile on the lawn. Six are in with Rubllinda, a Frankel filly, as the morning-line choice. The Chad Brown trainee won at first asking last month at Belmont, drawing off nicely to win by 3 3/4 lengths after starting last of nine.
Laurel Park's Saturday program has six stakes for state-breds, each worth $75,000.
Belmont on Sunday has New York Stallion Stakes for both genders, each worth $100,000