Saturday's big races for 3-year-olds are at Parx Racing near Philadelphia with Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman and up-and-coming West Coast heading the program.
There are interesting sprints from coast to coast and a few juvenile races added for seasoning.
It's the calm before the storm on the international front, a week ahead of Arc weekend in France and the Sprinters Stakes in Japan. But there is news from Hong Kong about the springtime racing schedule there.
Let's spring right into this:
Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman puts her three-race winning streak on the line in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies at Parx Racing. The Quality Road filly, owned by the China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms, backed up her victory at Churchill Downs with wins in the Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park and the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. Since the win at the Spa, she has been working steadily in Southern California for trainer Bob Baffert. Mike Smith will make the trip to Pennsylvania to ride Abel Tasman.
The 11-filly Cotillion field also includes Kentucky Oaks third Lockdown; Grade II Black-Eyed Susan winner Actress; It Tiz Well, winner of the Grade III Delaware Oaks; and Salty, who has hit the board in three straight Grade I races.
Sunday's feature in this division is the $200,000 Remington Park Oaks.
West Coast returns to the East Coast for Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing, bringing with him a four-race win streak that includes the Grade I Travers in his last start. The Flatter colt, owned by Gary and Mary West and trained by Bob Baffert, has blossomed in much the same way as Arrogate did last fall for Baffert, the difference being Arrogate did not race between his dramatic Travers win and his victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Well, that's one difference, anyway.
Prominent among nine others in the Pennsylvania Derby field is Irap, a Tiznow colt who won the Grade II Blue Grass at Keeneland prior to an 18th-place showing in the Kentucky Derby. He bounced back from that to win the Grade III Ohio Derby and Grade III Indiana Derby. But in the Travers, he pressed the pace set by West Coast, could not go on in the final furlong and finished third. Irish War Cry loyalists will get another chance to back that Curlin colt, who was 10th in the Run for the Roses, then second in the Belmont Stakes.
Mike Smith road West Coast like he owned him in the Travers, leading all the way and easily dusting off Irap's bid. But there should be enough speed in Saturday's race to let him take back and make a late run, as West Coast has done in most of his seven starts.
Remington Park officials are expecting at least a few Kentucky Derby also-rans to participate in Sunday's $400,000 Grade III Oklahoma Derby. The Derby headlines a program that includes 10 stakes races and total purses of $1.4 million.
Coal Front and Excitations, the 1-2 finishers in the Grade II Amsterdam at Saratoga, meet again in a tough field for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Gallant Bob at Parx Racing. The Gallant Bob, restricted to 3-year-olds, also attracted American Pastime, a Tapizar colt trained in Southern California by Bob Hess. Coal Front's entrymate for this race, Petrov, comes off an impressive allowance win at the Spa. Several others are looking to rebound from disappointing recent races.
Sharp Azteca, third in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile this sprint, headlines Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Kelso, Belmont Park at 1 mile. The 4-year-old son of Freud came back from the rain-plagued desert to run second in the Grade I Met Mile, then won the Grade III Monmouth Cup in his last outing. Don't bet the "haus," however, as the field also includes German-trained Ross, a 5-year-old son of Acclimation who was second in the aforementioned Godolphin Mile. Ross, however, was a dull 10th and last in his only intervening race, the Grade I Forego, behind several of Saturday's rivals. Is he back to form for very capable trainer Peter Schiergen?
Filly & Mare Sprint
Farrell is back in Saturday's $100,000 Dogwood Stakes at Churchill Downs, cutting back to 7 furlongs after fading badly to finish last in the Kentucky Oaks in her last start. Before that, the Malibu Moon filly won the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs, then swept the 3-year-old filly series at Fair Grounds. The full field also includes several who have amassed graded stakes experience without winning very often. Tequilita comes off a third in the Grade I Longines Test Stakes at Saratoga. Covenant, a Speightstown filly trained by Bill Mott, comes off a very impressive second-out win at the Spa and looks poised to move forward.
Ten names tumbled out of the entry box for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Charles Town Oaks at 7 furlongs with 10 to go in the main field and four also-eligibles. Among them: Overture, winner of the Grade III Indiana Oaks and third in the Grade III Monmouth Oaks; Tequilita, cross-entered as noted above in Louisville; Munny Spirit, winner of the Grade III Torrey Pines at Del Mar; R Angel Katelyn, who has missed the top three only once in 10 races; Sine Wave, second in the Grade III Monmouth Oaks. Watch for scratche as the AE's all have ability.
Sunday's $300,000 Grade II Gallant Bloom for fillies and mares at Belmont Park is 6 1/2 furlongs.
Already in the books: Ami's Mesa, wide all the way, got by Bar of Gold in the final sixteenth to take Monday's $400,000, Grade II Presque Isle Downs Masters by 1 length in track-record time of 1:14.68. Bar of Gold held second and the pacesetter, Cavalia, held on to get show money at 41-1 odds. Ami's Mesa, a Sky Mesa filly based at Woodbine, won her fourth straight race. She never has been worse than second on all-weather tracks but is 0-for-2 on the Gulfstream Park turf and untested on dirt.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Noble Damsel at Belmont Park drew five. Celestine, a lightly raced 5-year-old Scat Daddy mare, was 12th in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint but otherwise has shown herself with credit in Grade I company. Ditto Sassy Little Lila and Time and Motion.
Green Mask has been retired after fracturing a sesamoid during a Sunday workout at Belmont. The 6-year-old Mizzen Mast gelding was fifth in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint and earned a spot in this year's editon in the "Win and You're In" Grade II Highlander at Woodbine July 2. Trainer Brad Cox said the injury will require surgery but is not deemed life-threatening.
Two-time stakes winner Run Away heads a field of seven 2-year-olds in the $100,000 Barretts Juvenile Saturday at Los Alamito. The 6 1/2-furlongs Juvenile is restricted to colts or geldings offered for purchase at any Barretts sale. Run Away, a son of Run Away and Hide, has won three of his four starts. His stakes wins came in the Santa Anita Juvenile July 3 and the Grade II Best Pal at Del Mar Aug. 12. He finished third as the favorite in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity Sept. 4. The other six have more modest On the international scene:
Eight, all locals, are set for Sunday's Group 1 Preis Von Europa at Cologne going 2,400 meters. The field includes three from the stable of trainer Markus Klug, including this year's Group 1 Deutsches Derby winner Windstoss. He also has Colomano and Kasalia. Enjoy Vijay, second in the Deutsches Derby, also is a danger in this field.
With only a week to go until the Group 1 Sprinters Stakes, Japan's Sunday features are the Group 2 All-Comers at 11 furlongs and the Group 3 Kobe Shimbun Hai, for 3-year-olds at 12 furlongs.
The Sprinters Stakes has drawn only a single international participant -- Hong Kong's Blizzard. But it looks to include several of the top Japanese speedballs. It's also a leg of the Global Sprint Challenge and a Breeders' Cup Challenge race, offering a berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint Nov. 4 at Del Mar. More on this important race next week.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club is repackaging three springtime Group 1 features into a single day on April 29, establishing a program almost mirroring the Longines Hong Kong International Races in December. The differences: The spring event lacks a 2,400-meters race and only the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup will have a sponsor on the April card.
The restructure finds the Champions Mile and the 1,200-meters Chairman's Sprint Prize moved forward on week on the calendar to join the 2,000-meters AP QE II Cup, "creating Hong Kong's own spring festival," said Anthony Kelly, executive director of racing for the HKJC.
Purses for all three races have been increased. The AP QE II Cup was boosted by HK$4 million to carry a purse of HK$24 million, making it the second-richest race run in Hong Kong. Increases of HK$2 million were applied to both the Champions Mile and Chairman's Sprint Prize, bringing their total prizes to HK$18 million and HK$16 million, respectively.
Kelly said the repackaging at a relatively open time on the international calendar, combined with the offer of transportation costs for overseas horses and their connections, should make the springtime day more attractive for participation and wagering worldwide.