Shaman Ghost and Mind Your Biscuits return to action in a hot weekend of Thoroughbred racing that also includes internationally flavored turf events in New York, Delaware and Chicago and a Breeders' Cup Sprint qualifier.
This also is the biggest weekend of the year in Iowa racing, with a full slate of stakes topped by the Iowa Derby and Oaks and the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker.
On the international front, some of Europe's top 3-year-olds get a test against their elders in England and the enigmatic Thunder Snow returns to action in France.
We get the action going with:
NYRA put up $1.2 million for Saturday's Group 1 Belmont Derby Invitational and was rewarded with a field that pits some really good Europeans against some really good American turf runners. Oscar Performance, off a front-running victory in the Pennine Ridge over the same course, fronts the locals as the 3-1 morning-line favorite. Homesman, Called To The Bar and Whitecliffsofdover represent Ireland, France and England with distinction. Yoshida, Japanese-bred and American-trained, also has a big chance in this 1 1/4 miles over the inner turf course.
Kasaqui is fresh off a win in the Grade II Wise Dan at Churchill Downs and that's enough to make him the favorite for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Arlington Handicap. Tagleeb faded badly trying 2 miles at Belmont a month ago but might enjoy this 1 3/16 miles which could point to the Grade I Arlington Million on Aug. 12.
The favorites for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III American Derby at Arlington Park, Sonic Boom and Gorgeous Kitten, drew the inside post positions in a good field of seven. The race is a preview of the Grade I Secretariat Stakes on Million Day.
The Pizza Man is the featured attraction in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Stars and Stripes at Arlington Park even though the 8-year-old English Channel gelding hasn't won since he took the Grade I Patison Canadian International last fall at Woodbine. The Stars and Stripes can be a stepping stone to the Arlington Million or to the Grade III American St. Leger that same day.
Filly & Mare Turf
The $1 million purse for Saturday's Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational attracted some promising international 3-year-old fillies. Sistercharlie comes from France after finishing second in the prestigious Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines. Chad Brown takes the training honors and the Myboycharlie filly is the 5-2 morning-line favorite. Other contenders come from Ireland, Canada and California. Daddys Lil Darling, second in the Kentucky Oaks, is 10-1 on the morning line in this tough field.
Zipessa and Paige are the morning-line picks in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park, an 11-furong affair on the lawn. Zipessa, a good fifth in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, comes off a third-place finish in the Grade III Eatontown at Monmouth Park. Paige has had a break since finishing third in the Grade III The Very One at Gulfstream Park four months ago.
Time and Motion travels from New York to play the favorite in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Modesty Handicap at Arlington Park, the local stepping stone to the Grade I Beverly D. on Million day. Last year, the Tapit filly was second to Catch a Glimpse in the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational. Dona Bruja, an Argentine-bred is 1-for-1 in the United States and invades from Kentucky. Eight are set for this one.
Pure Sensation and Richard's Boy caught the oddsmaker's eye in a 12-horse field set for Saturday $200,000 Grade III Parx Dash. Pure Sensation, fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, exits a fourth-place showing in the Grade III Jaipur at Belmont Park. He won last year's Parx Dash. Richard's Boy comes off victories in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint and the Pennsylvania Governor's Cup in his last two outings.
Shaman Ghost, arguably the top older American horse who is not Arrogate, is the obvious pick in a field of six for Saturday's $750,000 Grade II Suburban at Belmont Park. Since finishing second to Arrogate in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup in January, the 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper has won the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap and the Grade III Pimlico Special. Notable among Saturday's rivals are Matt King Coal and Keen Ice, the latter making his first start since finishing seventh in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup -- won by Arrogate.
Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Dwyer for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park is the 100th running of the event. The 1-mile Dwyer drew only five, headed by Battalion Runner, idle since second to Irish War Cry in the Grade II Wood Memorial in April. Practical Joke resurfaces for the first time since finishing fifth in the Kentucky Derby.
Nine signed on for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Prairie Meadows Cornhusker. Dolphus is the morning-line favorite in a well-matched field of nine. That could go in just about any direction. Texas Chrome, Iron Fist, Conquest Windycity, Hawaakom and Shotgun Kowboy are all in the mix.
Petrov, Hence and Impressive Edge are among the likely ones in Friday evening's $250,000 Grade III Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows. The former has but a single win, albeit against some top company. Mike Smith visits to ride Hence, 11th in the Kentucky Derby and ninth in the Preakness. Impressive Edge most recently was third in the Grade III Peter Pan in New York.
Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Belmont Sprint is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup sprint, now just four months down the road. The big favorite here is Mind Your Biscuits, making his first start since winning the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on World Cup night at Meydan. Stallwalkin Dude and Unified look to be the cream of the opposition.
Union Jackson drew the outside gate in a six-horse field for Saturday's $100,000 Iowa Sprint at Prairie Meadows and was installed as the 9-5 morning-line pick. The lightly raced Curlin 5-year-old won the Sam Houston Sprint Cup earlier this season.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Great Lady M. at Los Alamitos promises to be a cracker with Finest City, Pretty N Cool, Constellation and Sky Diamonds all well in the mix.
Vertical Oak, winner of the Grade III Miss Preakness, returns in a short field for Sunday's $150,000 Grade III Victory Ride for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park. She most recently was declared a non-starter after hitting the gate at the start of the Jersey Girl at Belmont Park.
It Tiz Well is a narrow morning-line favorite in a competitive field of six for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Delaware Oaks. The Arch filly won the Grade III Honeybee at Oaklawn in the springtime and most recently was a fading fifth, placed fourth, in the Grade II Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita. This field also has the winner of the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan, Actress. You Know Too, a Colonel John filly, is one to watch on the stretchout from sprinting in her second start as a 3-year-old.
Ontario-bred Brooklynsway is the 5-2 morning line selection among eight set for Friday night's $100,000 Iowa Distaff. The Giant Gizmo mare makes her first start as a 5-year-old after winding up her 4-year-old season with a win at Indiana Grand.
Shane's Girlfriend got going at the right time in Thursday evening's $200,000 Grade III Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows, drawing off in the lane to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Babybluesbdancing rallied for second at odds of 50-1 and Jordan's Henny was a late-running third. Shane's Girlfriend, a daughter of Adios Charlie, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.94 with Kyle Frey aboard. She won both her starts as a 2-year-old, including the Grade III Delta Downs Princess but was third in the Grade II Santa Ynez at Santa Anita and fifth in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds in her two previous starts this season.
Saturday's Group 1 Coral-Eclipse at Sandown gives the 3-year-olds a chance to show how they stack up against their elders. With Investec Derby winner Wings of Eagles injured and retired, the 3-year-old contingent for this 10-furlongs event includes the second- and fourth-place finishers from the Derby, Cliffs of Moher and Eminent, and Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes winner Barney Roy. Decorated Knight, most recently second to Highland Reel in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, is the top chance among the older crowd. This is almost always a good race with massive implications for the remainder of the season.
Thunder Snow is the favorite in a field of just five for Sunday's Group 1 Jean Prat at Chantilly. The Godolphin runner won the Group 2 UAE Derby in Dubai, declined to run in the Kentucky Derby, finished second behind only Churchill in the Group 1 2000 Guineas and then was third in the St James's Palace. The four locals include Trais Fluors, an Andre Fabre-trained Danehill colt undefeated in four starts but stepping up in class. Gold Luck exits a second in the Group 2 Prix de Sandringham