UPI Horse Racing Weekend Preview

By ROBERT KIECKHEFER, UPI Racing Writer  |  Sept. 1, 2017 at 5:45 PM
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It's another big racing weekend as older horses -- headed by Gun Runner -- contest the historic Woodward at Saratoga, Kentucky Downs fires up its unique, European-style turf meeting and some top 2-year-old prospects get the acid test on both turf and dirt.

With long-time division leader Arrogate now riding a two-race losing streak, Gun Runner can confirm his status as the "now" horse for November's Breeders' Cup Classic with another powerful performance in the Woodward.

Kentucky Downs, near the Tennesse state line, has some of the nation's biggest purses and biggest fields for its brief meeting, conducted over an undulating, meandering turf course. Field sizes ... well, Saturday's 10-race card attracted 199 entries.

From Germany to Sarataoga, Breeders' Cup berths on the line and year-end honors are in the offing.

And Churchill Downs is doubling down -- or tripling, depending how you figure it -- on international outreach for the Kentucky Derby. See "News and Notes".

We'll get to the youngsters who might be competing for next year's Derby shortly. But first:

Classic

Gun Runner looks like the whole story in Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Woodward at Saratoga. The 64th running of the Woodward, at 9 furlongs, found only four to challenge the 2-5 morning-line favorite. Small wonder as Gun Runner has won four of his last five starts, losing only to Arrogate in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in March. Around that runner-up finish, he wasn't seriously tested in winning the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, the Grade III Razorback at Oaklawn, the Grade I Stephen Foster back in Louisville and the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga a month ago. Another impressive performance in the Woodward conceivably could make him favorite over Arrogate in the Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 4.

The competition in the Woodword would seem up against it if Gun Runner is on his game. Neolithic finished third behind Arrogate and Shaman Ghost in the Grade I Pegasus in January in Florida and third again, behind Arrogate and Gun Runner, in the Dubai World Cup. Rally Cry ran a nice race and earned a big speed figure in winning the Alydar on Aug. 8 at the Spa. But beating Red Rifle and Conquest Windycity might not have been enough of a prep for tackling Gun Runner. The others: War Story finished 13 1/2 lengths behind Gun Runner in the Whitney and Discreet Lover was 1 1/4 lengths behind him.

Don't overlook Monday's $200,000 Grade Grade III Greenwood Cup at Parx Racing. The 1 1/2-mile race drew Hawaakom, runner-up to Gun Runner in the Razorback, and a few others with some significant back class.

{b:Distaff } The news in this division is the abrupt retirement of Songbird, who suffered only her second career defeat last weekend in the Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga, losing to Forever Unbridled by a neck. Her only other defeat was that remarkable 2016 Breeders' Cup Distaff, when Beholder put her nose in front of Songbird in the final stride. Songbird, a Medaglia d'Oro filly, was the Eclipse Award champion 2-year-old filly and 3-year-old filly. She retires with 13 wins and earnings just shy of $4.7 million. She was sold for $400,000 as a yearling to Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm. Porter said after the Personal Ensign he did not think Songbird was 100 percent physically and he said Thursday an exam bore out that verdict.

Juvenile

Firenze Fire, 2-for-2 with a win in the Grade III Sanford, tops the field for Monday's $350,000 Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga. He will face the second- and third-place finishers from the Sanford -- Free Drop Billy and Psychoanalyze -- along with some other impressive but unproven rivals. Someone needs to step up here.

Monday's $300,000 Grade I Del Mar Futurity also reflects unsettled issues. Expected are the top four from the Grade II Best Pal -- Run Away, Dia de Pago, Fleetwood and Master Ruler. As at Saratoga, some recent maiden winners may have a say in the outcome -- and the future of the juvenile division.

Nine are in for Saturday's $200,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The field is headed by the first three finishers from the first level of the FSS -- Phantom Ro, Dunk and Soutache.

The word must be out, loud and clear, about Be Vewy Vewy Quiet. The Silent Name gelding is the even-money favorite against four rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Colin Stakes at Woodbine. He won his first two starts, most recently the Clarendon against fellow Ontario-breds. Among the others, Tenacity Zip was second in the Victoria Stakes in July.

Ten are entered for Saturday's $50,000 Evangeline Downs Prince. It's a tossup with the 3-1 morning-line favorite, Hardworkcleanlivin, coming off a fifth-place finish in a stakes race in Albuquerque.

Juvenile Fillies

Pure Silver is the even-money favorite among five entered for Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" race. The Mission Impazible filly is undefeated in three starts and won the Grade II Adirondack last time out by 9 1/2 lengths. In a field of just five, Pure Silver likely will have to contest the lead with Separationofpowers, who separated herself nicely from the field in her only previous start, winning by 11 3/4 lengths. Lady Ivanka and Maya Malibu also step up after winning their first career start. Obvious Two would be a surprise after taking three tries to find the winner's circle at Thistledown.

Spectator has morning-line favorite status for Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Del Mar Debutante. The Kentucky-bred Jimmy Creed filly is 2-for-2 with the most recent win a 5 1/4-lengths score in the Grade II Sorrento. Four others come off first-out wins: Gas Station Sushi, Moonshine Memories and Poetic.

Awesome Mass is the early pick among nine in Saturday's $200,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The Brethren filly was second behind Go Astray in the first round of the series. That filly also is back for another try as is Pantyhose, who finished third last time out.

Saturday's $60,000 Sorority at Monmouth Park got a field of nine. The morning-line favorites, Pacific Gale, Little Dipper and Jehozacat drew the outside gates.

She'screative and Janae are the favorites in a field of eight for Saturday's $50,000 Evangeline Downs Princess. She'screative is undefeated after two starts at Evangeline. Janae was a stakes winner at Lone Star Park.

Gone Shoppin and Fast Gator (they are, you know) are the morning-line favorites in Sunday's $175,000 Rio Grande Senorita Futurity for New Mexico-breds at Ruidoso Downs. Gone Shoppin drew the outside gate in the 10-filly field while Fast Gator goes from the rail.

Juvenile Turf

Saturday's $350,000 Fasig-Tipton Turf Showcase Kentucky Downs Juvenile has a field of 12 with four also-eligibles and should be another razamatazz. They've come from all over for this one, including the Wesley Ward-trained Arawak, who will be looking to atone for disappointing performances at Royal Ascot in England and the Grade II Best Pal at Del Mar in his last two outings.

Fourteen plus two also-eligibles stuffed the entry box for Sunday's $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Turf. It's a program stabber with the morning-line favorite, Encumbered, posted at 9-2 and encumbered with the No. 13 gate. Pick 'em right and collect big.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Christophe Clement brings Best Performance from Saratoga as the favorite in a full field for Saturday's $350,000 Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies at Kentucky Downs. The Broken Vow filly was second to Dream It Is in the Grade II Schuylerville in her last start -- albeit 9 lengths back of the winner. This is her first try on the grass. Rivals ran their last races at Ellis Park, Gulfstream Park, Woodbine, Prairie Meadows and Arlington, providing plenty of opportunity for discerning handicappers.

Monday's $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf, obviously, will be watched for implications for November. Check back Tuesday for details.

Turf

Saturday's $400,000 Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs drew a "you pick 'em" field of nine. The morning-line favorite is Irish Strait, who finished second to Money Multiplier in the Grade II Monmouth Stakes in his last outing going a furlong longer. Applicator, Western Reserve, Flatlined and Hootenanny all seem to have claims and Shining Copper could show them all how it's done if he's sharp after a full year off.

Bricks and Mortar and Yoshida, the 1-2 finishers from the Grade II Hall of Fame Stakes a month ago, are the favorites among nine for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Saranac for 3-year-olds at Saratoga. Another prospect for the 9-furlongs heat is Bobby Flay's Caviar Czar, who makes his turf debut after winning an off-the-turf conditioned allowance at the Spa. Voodoo Song tackles open company for the first time but has the credentials to make that a logical progression. Nine are entered.

Big Score and Sharp Samurai are the early picks among 11 entered for Sunday's $250,000 Grade II Del Mar Derby at 9 furlongs. Big Score, a Mr. Big colt, has yet to win at the top level but did break his maiden at Del Mar last year and won the Grade III Transylvania at Keeneland this spring. Sharp Samurai, a First Samurai gelding, seeks his third straight win and took the Grade III La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar in his last outing. Colonist, a Pioneerof the Nile colt, appears to be knocking on the door.

Also of note: The Pizza Man has made his last delivery. The 2015 Arlington Million winner finished last of 12 in last month's renewal of that classic and owner Richard Papiese of Midwest Thoroughbreds said that's enough for the 8-year-old, Illinois-bred gelding by English Channel. He will pay a final visit to Arlington Sept. 16, parading for the fans. "This horse gave us thrills that we could only have dreamed about. He gave us everything he had and having him return to the scene of his -- and our -- greatest win is only fitting," Papiese said. Arlington General Manager Tony Petrillo added, "We are thrilled that the Papiese family and trainer Roger Brueggemann have allowed us to celebrate the career of this great horse with his many fans. We have quite a program that is being developed at this time, and he certainly deserves it."

Filly & Mare Turf

Zipessa heads an overflow field for Saturday's $150,000 One Dreamer Stakes at Kentucky Downs. The City Zip filly, fifth in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, was last seen fading from the lead to finish well back in the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington Park. Saturday's 1 1/16 miles should be more suitable. My Impression and French import Boreale also make an impression on the oddsmaker in what promises to be a wide-open affair.

A baker's dozen is warm and waiting for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III John C. Mabee at Del Mar. Look to the outside post position for Goodyearforroses, who comes from a runner-up showing in the Grade I Gamely at Santa Anita. Cambodia, Mrs McDougal and Decked Out also attracted some early attention for the 9-furlongs test.

War Flag is the lukewarm favorite in a well-balanced field of nine for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Glens Falls at Saratoga. The War Front filly, a Group 3 winner in France last year, finished second in the Grade III Matchmaker at Monmouth Park in her last start. Also catching the oddsmaker's eye is Harmonize, a Scat Daddy filly who was a close fourth in the Grade I Diana, won by Lady Eli, on July 22. Sarandia, second in last year's Grade I German Oaks, enters this after rallying to finish sixth, beaten just 2 1/2 lengths, in the Grade I Beverly D. on Arlington Million day. The field also has the 1-2-3 finishers from the Grade III Waya Aug. 5 at the Spa.

Turf Mile

Heart to Heart and American Patriot are prominent for Monday's $250,000 Grade II Bernard Baruch at Saratoga at 1 1/16 grassy miles. Heart to Heart, an English Channel 6-year-old, has been a consistent performer from Florida to New York to California and most recently was third in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita. American Patriot won the Grade I Makers 46 Mile during the Keeneland spring season. Projected, Highland Sky, Takeover Target, Ring Weekend and Delta Prince all could figure, too.

Turf Sprint

Pure Sensation, third in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, headlines Monday's $300,000 Grade III Turf Monster at Parx Racing. The 5 1/2-furlongs race attracted 11 entrants. Pure Sensation is 1-for-3 so far this year with the win coming in the Grade III Parx Dash in July. Dubini, a 3-year-old Geo Ponti gelding, is 4-for-4 but faces much tougher here. Mongolian Saturday, the 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner, also is in this field. He has but a single win since that moment of triumph.

Sprint/Dirt Mile

Monday's $300,000 Grade III Smarty Jones at Parx Racing got seven to tackle 1 1/16 miles. Sunland Derby and Iowa Derby winner Hence is among them after finishing seventh in the Grade I Haskell. Last year's Parx Derby winner, Bonus Points, and Colonelsdarktemper also merit a look.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Vertical Oak, Dawn the Destroyer and Nonna Mela are morning-line attractions in Sunday's $250,000 Grade II Prioress for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga. It's a field of nine for the 6 furlongs in a rather wide-open division. Nonna Mela is 2-for-2 at the Spa, including a victory in last year's Grade II Adirondack.

That's a lot of racing and a lot of horses. Helping sort it out is Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net). Analyzing the big races, it's Jude Feld at www.popejude.com.

On the international front:

Australia

Saturday's Group 1 Memsie Stakes at Caulfield is a 1,400-meters dash for 3-year-olds and up featuring Black Heart Bart as the highest-rated contender. The 7-year-old gelding got his season off well with a third-place finish behind Hartnell in the Group 2 Lawrence Stakes on Aug. 19. He won this last year en route to a very productive season that included victories in the Group 1 C F Orr, the Group 1 Underwood and the Group 1 Futurity. There are a couple others to watch, notably Le Romain, who finished second between Winx and Chautauqua in the Group 1 George Ryder at Rosehill back in March.

Germany

Weekend races at the spa city of Baden Baden offer free passes to the Breeders' Cup turf races. Saturday's filly and mare race is heavy on also-rans from the German Oaks and provides a fees-paid entry and travel allowance for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. The Group 1 Longines Grosser Preis Von Baden, a gateway to the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, features Iquitos, who won this last year and finished an honorable seventh, beaten just four lengths, in the 2016 Group 1 Japan Cup.

News and notes:

Churchill Downs announced Thursday it is adding a "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" and expanding the existing "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby."

The European series will be four juvenile turf races, starting Sept. 24 in Ireland, two races over English all-weather tracks in March and the 1-mile Burradon Stakes at Newcastle on March 30. The series will provide one Kentucky Derby slot for the horse earning most points in those races.

The Japanese series is modified by the addition of the Zen Nippon Nisai Yushon at Kawasaki Racecourse Dec. 13. That's a dirt-track feature of the National Association of Racing. The Japan Racing Association's Cattleya Sho, on Japan Cup Day, and the Hyacinth Stakes in mid-February, continue as part of the series, which also offers one slot in the starting gate for the Run for the Roses.

The winner of the Group 2 UAE Derby on the Dubai World Cup undercard in March gets 100 points through the regular "Road to the Kentucky Derby" traveled by hopeful U.S.-based 3-year-olds. The 100 points is sufficient to earn a spot in the big race, as it did this year for Thunder Snow.

Churchill Downs also added the $400,000 Springboard Mile, to be run Dec. 17 at Oklahoma City's Remington Park, as a fixture of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby".

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Cup Classic is back. It may not immediately assume its status of old, when Silver Charm and Wild Rush dead-heated for victory or Thunder Gulch, Roses in May and Tabasco Cat lifted the Cup. But the $100,000 renewal next March 17 as part of the Grade III Spiral Stakes undercard, clearly is a step in the right direction for the northern Kentucky track. The 2018-17 schedule also finds the Wintergreen Stakes for older fillies and mares renamed the Latonia Stakes. It joins the Classic, the Grade III Bourbonette Oaks and the Rushaway Stakes on Spiral Day.

"Adding stakes for older horses rounds out the card and gives trainers wider opportunities and greater incentive to ship," explained Turfway GM Daniel "Chip" Bach. The season opens Nov. 29 and runs through March 31. Most of Turfway's other stakes will run on Friday nights rather than Saturday.

Ironically, Churchill Downs' Derby announcement included as light downgrade of the Spiral Stakes. Previously, the race carried 50, 20, 10 and 5 points for the first four finishers. Henceforth, that will be 20, 8, 4 and 2 points.

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