Preparations for the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Del Mar on Friday and Saturday proceeded with remarkably little drama through midweek while Churchill Downs, Aqueduct and Woodbine also prepared for important weekend stakes.
On the international front, the All-Weather Championships qualifying season marches on in England. Racing returns to the United Arab Emirates on Friday. And Sunday's feature at Sha Tin might give a clue to an unconventional prospect for the Longines Hong Kong International Races in December.
Victoria Derby Day at Flemington on Saturday is a prelude to the mid-week Melbourne Cup, "The Race That Stops a Nation".
No stopping us:
With the last of the international competitors out of quarantine and on the track Thursday, preparations for the Breeders' Cup races were near their end without a serious hiccup.
As usual, the races feature compelling storylines. Can the American runners stack up against a powerful contingent, primarily from the Irish juggernaut piloted by trainer Aidan O'Brien? Can Bob Baffert saddle his fourth straight winner in the Classic? Can Lady Eli complete her comeback from a near-fatal illness to win the Filly & Mare Turf?
Del Mar has scheduled a fine stakes program of its own around the Breeders' Cup races.
Friday's card features the Grade III Senator Ken Maddy, for fillies and mares at 5 furlongs on the turf. Eleven are entered for what promises to be a wide-open scramble on the final race of the day.
Also on the Friday program are the $200,000 Grade II Marathon at 14 furlongs -- a race that replaces a discontinued Breeders' Cup event -- as well as the $200,000 Damascus at 7 furlongs and the Golden State Juvenile Fillies for state-breds at 7 furlongs. Hard Aces, a hard-knocking 7-year-old, is the morning-line favorite for the Marathon. The Juvenile Fillies features Ismelucky and One Fast Broad among nine starters.
Saturday's supporting card has the $200,000 Grade II Goldikova for fillies and mares at 1 mile on the grass, the $200,000 Qatar Juvenile Turf Sprint for 2-year-olds at 5 furlongs and the Golden State Juvenile.
The Goldikova is the day's first race and could not be more wide open. On Leave is the favorite among 14 -- at morning-line odds of 9-2.
The Juvenile Turf Sprint has 12 plus four also-eligibles. March X Press, a Shanghai Bobby colt, is a lukewarm favorite on the strength of two Saratoga wins.
Navajo is the 4-5 morning-line pick from six entered in Friday's $150,000 Grade III Tempted Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The Union Rags filly has a second at Saratoga and a nice, off-the-pace win at Belmont to show from two starts.
Twelve plus a main-track-only entrant are in for Saturday's $100,000 Chelsey Flower Stakes for 2-year-old fillies on the turf.
Six fillies and mares are set for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Long Island Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on the turf. Arles, a French-bred, German-raced mare, has finished second in all three U.S. starts, all graded stakes. That's head and shoulders above the other five.
Aveenu Malcainu is the 122-pound highweight for Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Nashua Stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 mile. The Into Mischief colt won his first two starts at Saratoga, then finished seventh in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park, derailing plans for bigger targets. Crea's Bklyn Law also has knocked heads with some good ones in graded stakes and takes a step back.
Sunday's $100,000 Pumpkin Pie Stakes for fillies and mares, 6 furlongs, drew a field of six. There are no monsters but several are stepping down a run or two on the class ladder.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Chilukki Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 mile was oversubscribed, with two on the also-eligible list. Among the favorites in a very competitive field are Kathballu, Shenandoah Queen, Farrell and Motown Lady. The morning-line favorite, at 4-1, is Money'soncharlotte, a 5-year-old Mizzen Mast mare who had four straight wins before a runner-up showing in the Grade I Beldame at Belmont Park in her last start. Granted, she was 8 1/4 lengths behind Elate -- among the favorites in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Eight are engaged for Saturday's $125,000, Grade III (Canadian) Maple Leaf Stakes for fillies and mares at 10 furlongs on the all-weather course. The three early favorites are Gamble's Ghost, Involuntary and Ice Festival. Gamble's Ghost has won two in a row over the course. Ice Festival won this last year and has been a consistent earner since, in the money in six starts without winning.
Sunday's card features the $225,000 (Canadian) Coronation Futurity for 2-year-olds.
Tuesday's Melbourne Cup, "The Race that Stops a Nation," gets more international attention but Australians will be plenty focused on four enticing Group 1 events on the Victoria Derby Day card Saturday at Flemington.
The AAMI Victoria Derby itself drew a full field with Ace High, a High Chaparral colt, looking to back up his Oct. 7 victory in the Group 1 Moet & Chandon Champion Stakes at Randwick. He narrowly edged Tangled in that race and the Snitzel colt is back for another try. Others in with a chance include Weather With You, Main Stage and Sully.
The Derby is run at 2,500 meters and this is the first time any of the field has been asked to go that far. It's probably also the last time for many of them.
The Kennedy Mile is a contentious heat that features Tosen Stardom (Jpn), winner of the Group 1 Toorak Handicap at Caulfield in his last start -- his first victory since coming from Japan in late 2016. The 7-year-old son of Deep Impact is trained by Darren Weir, who also sends out Lucky Hussler. Chris Waller trains six of the 14 starters in the Kennedy Mile.
The Myer Classic for fillies and mares at 1,600 meters attracted an overflow field with 16 to face the starter. Twenty are set for the Coolmore Stud Stakes, a 1,200-meters dash for 3-year-olds.
Muffri'Ha took the lead a furlong out in Thursday's 1-mile All-Weather Championships Fast-Track Qualifier at Lingfield Park and held well to win by 1 length over 20-1 long shot Zest. Promising Run was third, another 1/2 lengths in arrears. Muffri'Ha, trained by William Haggas and ridden by James Doyle, finished in 1:36.01 over the all-weather course. The 5-year-old mare by Iffraaj was a narrowly beaten favorite in last year's Good Friday finals but is unlikely to seek redemption as the breeding shed awaits her in the spring. "I think she has done her stuff really and the most important thing is that she gets in foal next spring," said the trainer's wife, Maureen Haggis.
United Arab Emirates
The season opens Friday at Jebal Ali with a six-race card that features the return to the track of Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "This year we have a few horses suitable for some of the early season races so have shipped them to Dubai," Suroor said. "It will give us an opportunity to assess them with regards to their future plans. Hopefully they can progress through the ranks."
Ace trainer John Moore is have a good look at Rocketeer in Sunday's Group 3 Sa Sa Ladies Purse at Sha Tin. If the 4-year-old performs to expectations he may be a top candidate for the BMW Hong Kong Derby in March -- through an unconventional path. Moore has entered Rocketeer for two of the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong International Races Dec. 10 -- the 2,000-meters Cup and the 2,400-meters Vase. If he goes that route, Rocketeer would bypass the usual 4-year-old series leading to the Derby and could accrue substantial added glory and purse money along the way.
"He's going well in his work so I'd be thinking this is where we'll find out where he is at," Moore said.
He will have to be at someplace good to land the win. The Sa Sa Ladies' Purse, first run in 1846, has a strong and accomplished field of 14. Moore will also saddle Longines HKIR entries Eagle Way and Helene Charisma, as well as Harbour Master.