American summertime racing hits its stride this weekend as both Saratoga and Del Mar swing into operation with Arrogate, Lady Eli, Dickinson and Abel Tasaman among the stars poised to start their march toward year-end glory and honors.
The one-time boutique meetings have blossomed into full-fledged gatherings of the clan, with horses coming from all points of the compass. This year, Del Mar also will be preparing for yet another moment in the sun in November when the Breeders' Cup World Championships make their first visit "Where the Surf Meets the Turf".
And big venues bring out the big stars. Arrogate returns to action for the first time since the Dubai World Cup in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. Lady Eli and Dickinson top a stellar field in for Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Diana at the Spa and Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman is back in the $300,000 Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks on Sunday.
It's time to start finding out about the 2-year-olds, too.
Meanwhile, a relatively quiet week on the international front is enlivened by a sprint scramble for 2-year-olds at Newbury in England -- an event apparently of keen interest in Hong Kong.
Remember, the summertime races are complex and tough to keep in focus. Let Horse Racing Radio Network help (www.horseracingradio.net) and turn for insightful handicapping to www.popejude.com.
But first, turn to this:
Arrogate, under a relatively feathery 126 pounds including Mike Smith, headlines a cast of six for Saturday's San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. Arrogate is conceding eight pounds only to stablemate Cat Burglar and as much as 11 pounds to the other four -- Donworth, Dalmore, Accelerate and El Huerfano. Still, the 126 pounds is roughly what he carried (57 kg) in Dubai, where he strolled out of the starting gate, eventually passed the entire field and won easily. Those trying to beat him will note the 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song hasn't raced in nearly four months and is going a distance (1 1/16 miles) shorter than in his consecutive 1 1/4-miles victories in the Travers Stakes, the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Pegasus World Cup and the Dubai World Cup. Still, if the Bob Baffert trainee loses here, it would be the biggest upset since ... well, since Baffert saddled Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in his loss to Keen Ice in the 2015 Travers Stakes.
Lady Eli continues her remarkable career in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Diana at Saratoga, facing Dickinson and four others. With a big gap while she fought off a nearly fatal bout of laminitis, Lady Eli has won eight of 11 career starts, never finishing worse than second. Dickinson saw her three-race winning streak snapped last time out in the Grade I Longines Just a Game at Belmont. While those two are the established stars, Antonoe may be the party crasher. The First Defence filly, previously raced in France, is 2-for-2 since shipping west and being turned over to trainer Chad Brown and rallied from last to win the Just a Game. Quidura started in Germany and has hit the board in all three U.S. starts, all graded stakes, under Graham Motion's tutelage. My Impression and Harmonize, both capable of making an impact, complete the excellent field.
The first two from the Kentucky Oaks -- Abel Tasman and Daddys Lil Darling -- meet again in a field of seven for Sunday's Coaching Club American Oaks. Since that day in May, Daddys Lil Darling has gone on to a fourth-place finish in the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational while Abel Tasman won the Grade I Acorn, also at Belmont. Abel Tasman, a Quality Road filly owned by China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms, is trained by Bob Baffert. Daddys Lil Darling, a Normandy Farm homebred by Scat Daddy, is handled by Kenny McPeek. It's not necessarily a two-horse race. The others are all capable and Salty, winner of the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks, was second in the Acorn after finishing fifth in Louisville.
At Woodbine on Saturday, Minks Aprise is the narrow favorite in a field of 10 for the $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Ontario Matron, run at 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course. The Northern Afleet filly comes off a win in the Trillium Stakes over the course and distance. Also catching the oddsmaker's eye are Ami's Mesa and Ice Festival.
Ashleyluvssugar, Kenjisstorm and Hunt are the favorites in a field of seven for Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Eddie Read at Del Mar going 9 furlongs on the grass. Ashleyluvssugar, a 6-year-old Game Plan gelding, is the narrow favorite after winning the Grade II Charles Whittingham Stakes at Santa Anita in his last outing. He was second in this last year, behind only Midnight Storm. Kenjisstorm, a 5-year-old by Stormy Atlantic, was sixth in his first stakes try, the Grade III American Stakes last month at Santa Anita. Hunt, a 5-year-old Irish-bred gelding by Dark Angel, was fifth in the American Stakes.
If Dalmore doesn't take on Arrogate, he has a fallback position in Sunday's $100,000 Wickerr Stakes at 1 mile on the Del Mar lawn. Vyjack also is in this -- his first start since last November at Del Mar. Seven are entered.
Filly & Mare Turf
Sircat Sally, undefeated in seven starts, shoots for eight in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II San Clemente for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar. The Surf Cat miss, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, started against fellow California-bred but scored her last three wins in graded stakes at Santa Anita. Her first two starts were on the dirt, including a 12-lengths victory in the Soviet Problem Stakes at Los Alamitos. This field also includes Noted and Quoted, the winner of the Grade I Chandelier last fall at Santa Anita but winless since. Trainer Bob Baffert will be looking for any improvement on the switch to the green course. Lull, a War Front filly, is a threat. Enthrall makes her first U.S. start after winning two of three races this spring in France.
Friday's $150,000 Grade III Lake George for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga features Sweeping Paddy, an easy winner in the Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs in her last start, and Fifty Five, who was two lengths behind stablemate New Money Honey in the Grade III Wonder Again at Belmont Park. Victory to Victory won the Grade I Natalma at Woodbine last fall. Dream Dancing was third in the Wonder again and second in the Grade III Edgewood at Churchill Downs. Party Boat and Super Marina are both stakes winners and still others in this promising field are graded stakes-placed.
Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Sanford at Saratoga drew eight youngsters including two trained by Todd Pletcher and two by Steve Asmussen. The Pletchers are Bal Harbour, a First Samurai colt who won the second time out at Gulfstream Park, and Admiral Jimmy, a son of Jimmy Creed who was third in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park. Asmussen fields Direct Dial, a Texas-bred colt by Too Much Bling who finished second in the Tremont, and Baffin, who won at first asking in Louisville last month. Also in are first-start winners Firenze Fire, Psychoanalyze, Free Drop Billy and the cleverly named Nauti Buoy, a Mizzen Mast colt.
The very first stakes race on the very first day of Saratoga -- the $150,000 Grade III Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies -- is a prime example of why this meet is so hard to figure. The nine fillies last raced at six different tracks, from Gulfstream Park in Florida to Woodbine, outside Toronto. Many of them are only maiden winners but Buy Sell Hold won the Kentucky Juvenile at Churchill Downs in May and Dream It Is took the My Dear Stakes at Woodbine.
Saturday's highlight is the Weatherby's Super Sprint for 2-year-olds at Newbury, a 5-plus furlongs dash restricted to horses sold at as yearlings at specified locations or as or as 2-year-olds for specified prices. It always bears watching. Among the good ones who have come from this are Peniaphobia, who won the 2013 renewal in his last start before being sold to Hong Kong, where he went on to Group 1 stardom. Charles the Great won in 2011 and also was sold to Hong Kong, where he had a successful career, albeit a bit shy of Peniaphobia's mark. Tiggy Wiggy won in 2014 and, a year later, captured the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket.
The purse structure encourages gigantic fields by providing rewards down to 10th place and this year is no exception. Twenty-four are in the final field.
News and notes:
Even though the summer season is just heating up in the United States, it's not too early to start thinking about the 2018 Dubai World Cup. Why? Tickets already are on sale for the super night of racing, set for March 31. There's a connection. Remember, as this time last year, Bob Baffert was preparing to take a little-remarked 3-year-old named Arrogate to New York for the Travers ... Seven months later, Arrogate was amazing even Mike Smith with his come-from-last victory at Meydan. Will Arrogate take another swing before retiring? Is there another budding star heading for Saratoga who will reappear in the desert? Tickets at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sadly, Maryland's beloved multi stakes-winning Ben's Cat has been euthanized just months into his well-earned retirement. Bred, owned and trained by King Leatherbury, the Parker's Storm Cat gelding succumbed to complications from colic surgery at age 11. The four-time Maryland Horse of the Year was sent to Spring Ridge Farm in Versailles, Ky., after his last race, a ninth-place finish in the Mister Diz Stakes at Laurel Park, a race he won five times.