Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness victor Cloud Computing face off again this weekend at Saratoga but many other Derby contenders reconvene on the Jersey shore for the $1 million Haskell.
It's that time of year when owners and trainers are getting serious about finding candidates for the Breeders' Cup races and year-end accolades and there's plenty of that on tap, too.
There are top-level sprints on both coasts and some potentially defining grass races, too. Stellar Wind and Terra Promessa will be on the track in Distaff division tilts.
On the international front, Ascot stages a classic confrontation of genders and generations in Saturday's King George. Hint: The old guys are not atop the oddsmakers' lists. France and Germany have Group 1 events with lots of international intrigue.
But let's start with those 3-year-olds and see if one of them finally can take charge of the division.
This year's Triple Crown races left a lot to be decided in the 3-year-old division. This weekend provides the sophomores a pair of big-deal opportunities to improve their resumes heading into year-end showdowns and the awards season.
How about a rematch between the winner of the Kentucky Derby and the winner of the Preakness Stakes? That's the kind of race Saratoga is meant to produce and that's just what it has produced in Saturday's $600,000 Grade II Jim Dandy for 3-year-olds. And remember: The Jim Dandy is "just" a prep for the Travers.
The Derby winner, Always Dreaming, has not raced since finishing a fading sixth behind Cloud Computing in the Preakness. The Todd Pletcher trainee, a Bodemeister colt, has been working regularly and well at the Spa.
Cloud Computing, meanwhile, has been idle since the Preakness. Trainer Chad Brown has kept the Mclean's Music colt busy at Belmont Park and moved him north last week.
Only three others signed on for the Jim Dandy and Giuseppe the Great, Pavel and Good Samaritan all get a significant break in the weights. The latter is making the turf-to-dirt move some savvy handicappers just love. Pavel makes just his second start after an impressive debut in California -- a big vote of confidence from trainer Doug O'Neill for the Creative Cause colt.
But ... the Jim Dandy might not be the "jim dandiest" race of the weekend, especially if neither the Derby nor the Preakness winner steps up to make a statement there. That honor easily could go to Sunday's $1 million Grade I betfair Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" for this fall's Classic.
The Haskell attracted Irish War Cry, a disappointing 10th in the Kentucky Derby but second behind Tapwrit in the Belmont Stakes; McCraken, eighth in the Derby but winner of the Grade III Matt Winn at Churchill Downs; Girvin, 13th in the Run for the Roses but second a nose to Irap in the Grade III Ohio Derby; Hence, 11th in the Derby, ninth in the Preakness and winner of the Grade III Iowa Derby; Practical Joke, fifth in the Derby but then winner of the Grade I Dwyer at 1 mile at Belmont Park; and Battle of Midway, third in the Derby and then an easy winner in the Grade III Affirmed back at Santa Anita.
Don't overlook Timeline in the Haskell. He didn't contest any of the Triple Crown events but remains undefeated in four career starts, most recently the Grade III Pegasus over the Monmouth strip at a sixteenth shorter than the Haskell's 9 furlongs.
What a nice race.
Also Sunday at Monmouth, Sharp Azteca will try two turns as trainer Jorge Navarro tries to judge the Freud colt's best distance for this fall's Breeders' Cup World Championships. Sharp Azteca was third, beaten just 1 length, in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile at Meydan in March, then was second behind Mor Spirit in the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont. This will be only his second start at 1 1/16 miles. Classy Class and Just Call Kenny, the 1-2 finishers in the local Grade III Salvator Mile, make a reappearance here.
Stellar Wind seeks her third straight Grade I win against five rivals in Sunday's $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Distaff. The 5-year-old Curlin mare broke in the air in last fall's Distaff and finished a disappointing fourth. Since that, she has won the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park and the Beholder Mile at Santa Anita. The opposition includes Vale Dori, who was second in the Beholder Mile and will try to get another sixteenth; Autumn Flower, a frequent bridesmaid at this level; and a promising Faithfully.
Terra Promessa, second to Stellar Wind in the Apple Blossom, faces only two rivals in Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Shuvee Handicap at Saratoga. The 4-year-old Curlin filly won the Grade III Allaire Dupont Distaff at Pimlico in her last start. Paid Up Subscriber could be a worthy opponent even though she's winless in some 14 months while running against quality foes. She was second to Songbird last time out in the Grade I Ogden Phipps. The third runner, Apologynotaccepted, is moving up in class.
Carrumba invades from New York to try Sunday's $100,000 Grade II Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park. Among the competetiton, the 5-year-old Bernardini mare finds the first three finishers from the local Lady's Secret -- Money'soncharlotte, Pleasant Mine and Eskenformoney.
A solid field of 11 is set for Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Bing Crosby at Del Mar, a 6-furlongs affair that offers a "Win and You're In" slot for the Breeders' Cup Sprint in November over the same course. The 2016 BC Sprint winner, Drefong, makes his first start of the year in this event. The Gio Ponti colt reeled off four wins leading up to the big race last year and has been working well for trainer Bob Baffert. St. Joe Bay makes his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on Dubai World Cup night in March and was good before that at Santa Anita. Ransom the Moon, Moe Candy and Roy H have improved in recent starts and Kobe's Back is back.
Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga attracted eight including last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint third-place finisher, A.P. Indian. The 7-year-old Indian Charlie gelding has finished second in both previous starts this year. Limousine Liberal, a 5-year-old Successful Appeal gelding, was fourth in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita but has won his last three starts, all at Churchill Downs. Bird Song cuts back from two-turn races for this one at 6 furlongs.
The 3-year-old sprinters get their chance in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Amsterdam at the Spa, going 6 1/2 furlongs. None of the six entrants has done much yet to get the juices flowing although there's plenty of potential. Coal Front and Mo Cash might be two to watch.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Already in the books: Paulassilverlining got to even terms with pacesetting Finley'sluckycharm at the top of the stretch in Wednesday's $200,000 Grade II Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga, edged ahead, gave up the lead at the sixteenth pole then found one last surge to win by a neck. By the Moon was third, only 1/2 length back of Finley'sluckycharm. Clothes Fall Off and Disco Chick completed the order of finish. Paulassilverlining, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper mare, ran 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:10.10 with Jose Ortiz in the irons. It was her fourth straight win -- a streak that encompasses the Grade I Madison at Keeneland and the Grade I Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs.
"Six (furlongs) is just a little short for her," said winning trainer Chad Brown. "She showed that with barely getting up there at the wire but good horses overcome things like this, taking them out of their element just a touch." He said the race was a prep for the $500,000 Grade I Ballerina Aug. 26 -- at 7 furlongs.
A contentious bunch of fillies and mares will contest Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) True North Stakes at Woodbine. There's not a lot to separate them but Code Warrior might be worth a look off her last-out win in the Grade III Hendrie.
Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Bowling Green Handicap at Saratoga pits rivals with credentials from all over the continent. Bigger Picture comes directly from a victory in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park. Ascend was the victor in the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park last time out. Frank Conversation finished second to Ashleyluvssugar in the Grade II Charles Whittingham at Santa Anita in his last start. Sadler's Joy has been in the money in seven straight starts, including a win in the Grade II Pan American at Gulfstream Park. The Bowling Green is 11 furlongs on the grass.
Can'thelpbelieving, second to Bigger Picture in the United Nations, resurfaces north of the border for Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Nijinsky Stakes, where he's posted as the even-money favorite on the morning line. The 6-year-old son of Duke of Marmalade has not been a frequent winner but almost always is competitive. His four rivals here are topped by Dragon Bay, who also has had moments of glory amid inconsistency.
Six names hit the entry box for Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Monmouth, a 9-furlongs affair out of the back of the Monmouth Park infield chute. Money Multiplier tailed off toward the end of last year but was tough earlier, running second in a trio of Grade I events. He makes his first start since finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Turf last fall. Irish Strait won the Grade III Red Bank over the course in his last start but will be going a furlong farther here. Smooth Daddy exits a win over a yielding Belmont Park course.
Filly & Mare Turf
With this year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf dialed back to 9 furlongs to suit the Del Mar configuration, trainers are taking a long look at distaffers who might be able to stretch to that distance. Among those is Miss Temple City. Most recently a miler, she has been competitive out to 9 furlongs earlier in her career and gets a chance at that distance again in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Winstar Matchmaker at Monmouth Park. This is her second start of 2017, following a serious fade job in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. At her best, the 5-year-old Temple City Mare should be able to handle the six rivals in Sunday's heat. Perhaps this is the first step to the Breeders' Cup and even the Longines Hong Kong International Races in December. Hong Kong would love to have her.
Already in the books: Miss Ella was last first and first last in Monday's $200,000 Caress Stakes for fillies and mares at Saratoga. After waiting patiently behind all eight rivals, jockey Joel Rosario got his 5-year-old Exchange Rate mare in gear around the turn, split rivals at the sixteenth pole and finished with energy to win by 1 length. Fair Point was along for second and Carolina Shag significantly inflated the trifecta payout. Miss Ella ran 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:02.30. She also won the 2016 Caress, which came off the turf onto a muddy main track.
It's a battle of the generations and genders in Saturday's Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot as dual Oaks winner Enable takes on the likes of Highland Reel and his younger brother, Idaho; Coral-Eclipse winner Ulysses and Dubai Sheema Classic winner Jack Hobbs among others. Enable, a Nathanial filly, gets a 14-pound break in the weights (1 stone in British parlance) from most of her rivals and has drifted downwards in antepost wagering to be a near even-money favorite. Highland Reel, a Group 1 winner on three continents, prefers firm ground and the forecast for the Ascot course is a bit iffy. His trainer, Aidan O'Brien, lauded the decision by owner Khalid Abdullah and trainer John Gosden to send Enable against older male rivals. "It's a very prestigious race, the King George, and I think because it's a tough race sometimes 3-year olds haven't gone there," O'Brien said at an early-week preview. "But that's what makes it as good as it is, is when those really special 3-year olds come along." Indeed.
Roly Poly and Persuasive come from England to take on likely local favorite Qemah in Sunday's Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville.
Roly Poly, a War Front filly, was second behind Ballydoyle stablemate Winter in both the Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas at the Curragh and the Group 1 Coronation Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot. Freed from the shadow of Winter, she scored her first top-level victory July 14 in the Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket. Persuasive won her first four starts last year, then was second in the Group 1 Matron at Leopardstown. The Rothschild will be her first start of 2017.
Topping the local contingent are Qemah, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget for Al Shaqab Racing, and Usherette, a 5-year-old Godolphin runner handled by Andre Fabre. Qemah, a 4-year-old Danehill Dancer filly, won last year's Group 1 Coronation Stakes en route to a victory in the Rothschild. In her last outing, she won the Duke of Cambridge Stakes (G2) at the Royal Meeting. Cristian Demuro rides her for the first time.
They may not be the best horses on the Continent but the eleven are set for Sunday's Group 1 Grosser Dallmayr-Preis Bayerisches Zuchtrennen at Munich, certainly show plenty of international experience and some success. Potempkin, a Group 1 winner last season in Rome, makes his first start here since finishing seventh in the Group I Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park June 10 behind Ascend, who will be among the favorites in Saturday's Bowling Greens Handicap at Saratoga. Iquitos won the Group 1 Longines Grosser Preis von Baden (G1) last September and was seventh, beaten only 4 lengths, in last November's Group 1 Japan Cup. Noor Al Hawa, a locally trained 4-year-old Makfi colt, posted a win and a second in Doha during the winter and also has won in France. Two Godolphin runners, Prize Money and Best Solution, have posted wins in England and Dubai.
Sky Racing World, the Kentucky-based subsidiary of Australia's Tabcorp, announced Thursday it will begin distributing Korean racing in the United States in August. The feed will have an English-language commentary and call and U.S. ADWs will be permitted to offer the usual assortment of single- and multiple-race wagers. Past performances will be available through Equibase and Sky Racing World web sites and shouldn't be too puzzling to American punters as most of the top Korean Thoroughbreds descend from American bloodstock.
Around the ovals:
Cool Catomine stalked the pace in Tuesday's $500,000 (Canadian) Prince of Wales Stakes, took over the lead in the lane and went on to post a 14-1 upset win in the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. The favorite, Aurora Way, put in a bid but couldn't sustain it and settled for second, 2 1/2 lengths back of the winner and a neck in front of pacesetter State of Honor. Cool Catomine, a Spring at Last colt, ran 1 3/16 miles on a fast track in 1:55.63 with Luis Contreras aboard. Trained by John Ross, Cool Catomine not only did not contest the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Queen's Plate, but also took four tries to find the winner's circle, finally getting his picture taken July 2 at Woodbine. He stepped directly from that win into the Prince of Wales. The Queen's Plate winner, Holy Helena, did not start in the Fort Erie fixture.