Top Thoroughbred action shifts east -- Far East -- this weekend as Hong Kong horses get their final tuneup for the Dec. 10 Longines International Races and Kyoto Racecourse hosts the Group 1 Mile Championship in Japan.
Fast-Track Qualifier spots in two divisions of the All-Weather Championships are on offer at Lingfield Park in England, with a bit of international intrigue included.
In North America, the weekend sees only a single-graded stakes. But Fair Grounds back in action for the long winter meet that runs through Mardi Gras and up to the Louisiana Derby.
Enable -- no surprise -- is the Cartier Horse of the Year after five straight Group 1 wins culminating in her Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe triumph. See more in "odds and ends" below.
Before that and starting globally:
A diverse cast is on hand for the Group 1 Mile Championship Sunday at Kyoto with year-end honors on the line. Satono Alladin, a 6-year-old son of Deep Impact, would nail down the Japanese miler of the year title if he can add this to his victory in the Group 1 Yasuda Kinen at the same distance at Tokyo in the springtime. However, he was able to manage only a fifth in last year's Mile Championship. Isla Bonita was second last year and third in the 2015 Mile Championship but is an infrequent winner. Air Spinel and Red Falx also have claims but the former makes only his second start after a long layoff and the latter has been better at shorter distances. The race often sends contenders to the Group I Longines Hong Kong Mile and three of this crew hold entries for that race.
Sunday's program at Sha Tin includes a trio of Group 2 events that would be easy to overlook -- if you didn't know them as total incubators of contenders for the Longines Hong Kong International Races. The BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint previews the Longines Hong Kong Sprint on the Dec. 10 program. The BOCHK Jockey Club Mile leads to the Longines Hong Kong Mile and the BOCHK Jockey Cub Cup on Sunday's card presages the Longines Hong Kong Cup, the feature attraction on international day in the New Territories.
Last year's winner of the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint, Aerovelocity, was third in the BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint. The winner of the prep, Not Listenin'tome, finished seventh on the big day. In 2014, Aerovelocity finished last of 14 in the same prep race, then came back to win the Group 1. Not Listenin'tome is back for this year's races, hoping to carry a good effort Sunday to an improved result on Dec. 10.
Beauty Only won last year's Jockey Club Mile, continued to win the Longines Hong Kong Mile on the big day and later was named Hong Kong champion miler. For that title, he edged Helene Paragon, second in the Hong Kong Mile, winner of the Group 1 Stewards' Cup at 1 mile and the Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at 1,400 meters. Both of them will contest Sunday's race.
No one was beating Japan's imposing Maurice in last year's Longines Hong Kong Cup. But the runner-up in that race, Secret Weapon, beat all the others after winning the Jockey Club Cup on prep-race day. This year's prep includes well-known locals such as one-time Horse of the Year Werther, Eagle Way, Helene Charisma and the improving Nassa, who launched a late run to land the Sa Sa Ladies Purse over some of the same rivals two weeks ago.
Watch and learn. And, by the way, BOCHK is the Bank of China (Hong Kong).
Lingfield on Saturday's hosts two All-Weather Championship "Fast Track Qualifier" races, each offering a guaranteed, fees-paid spot in the Good Friday championships -- and, as a bonus, demonstrating the value of the series on the international front.
The Betway Churchill Stakes is a 10-furlongs Fast-Track Qualifier for the Middle Distance Division finals with Victory Bond and Boynton the favorites. The two fought to the finish in a conditions race over the same distance on Polytrack at Chelmsford City Oct. 12. Charlie Appleby, who trains Boynton for Godolphin, illustrated the key position the All-Weather Championships have developed in the international wintertime racing picture. "If he manages to win this race, then it give us a few options," Appleby said of Boynton, and we can hopefully then head to Dubai in the knowledge that we have qualified him for Finals Day."
An All-Weather race as a springboard to international glory? Sure. Last year, Decorated Knight won the Winter Derby Trial on the British all-weather, then was sent to Dubai and stayed there rather then returning for the finals, winning the Group 1 Jebel Hatta. He also won the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes in September and, with less success, contested the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf at Del Mar.
Saturday's 6-furlongs Betway Golden Rose Stakes is a qualifier for the Sprint Division final and features some first-timers on the all-weather surface. The favorite, Magical Memory, is a Group 2 winner on turf and finished fourth in the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Geest at Deauville. Trainer Dominik Moser brings Making Trouble from Germany, hoping to live up to his name at antepost odds of some 50-1 in his first try on the all-weather surface. This field also includes Caspian Prince, who defeated subsequent Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes winner Marsha in the G2 Sapphire Stakes at the Curragh in July.
Meanwhile, back in North America:
The Twin Spires track offers the only graded stakes of the weekend -- Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Cardinal Handicap at 9 furlongs on the turf. Twelve fillies and mares are set to face the starter with the morning-line favorite, Dona Bruja, drawn in the outside gate. The 5-year-old Argentine-bred mare has started four times since coming north, posting two wins, a second and a fourth, all in graded stakes.
Saturday's $100,000 Artie Schiller Stakes at 1 mile on the grass drew 11 with Delta Prince and Blacktype the morning-line favorites. Delta Prince was third in the Grade II Bernard Baruch at Saratoga in his last start. Blacktype exits a Grade II victory in the Knickerbocker on the Belmont Park lawn.
Saturday's program includes the $100,000 Dezi Arnaz Stakes for 2-year-old fillies going 7 furlongs. None of the six entrants has done much to brag about.
Sunday's feature is the $100,000 Cary Grant Stakes for 3-year-olds and up, going 7 furlongs on the dirt.
The Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot, won last year by Gunnevera, was scrubbed from Saturday's schedule in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The track will, however, run a pair of 2-year-old races for state-breds, each worth $150,000. Saturday's Louisiana Legacy drew 12 entries for 10 spots with Budro Talking, Gladyousawme and Star Anne the morning-line favorites. Friday night's Louisiana Jewel attracted 11 2-year-old fillies starring 9-5 early pick Testing One Two, a Star Guitar filly who was a dominant winner last time out at Evangeline Downs.
The Toronto-area oval also has a pair of restricted 2-year-old races -- Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Frost King and Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Glorious Song for 2-year-old fillies. Both are 7 furlongs on the all-weather track.
Hawthorne's stakes schedule rolls on with nine set for Saturday's $100,000 Sun Power Stakes for Illinois-bred 2-year-old colts and geldings. Ghaaleb's Winner is a solid favorite with two wins and a third in the Arlington-Washington Futurity on his resume.
Yes, Fair Grounds. The nation's third-oldest track reopens Saturday with a program that includes four overnight stakes that work as preps for the Dec. 9 Louisiana Champions Day card. The New Orleans oval will run through March 31 with the Louisiana Derby on March 24 the key date.
Odds and ends:
The Turf Publicists of America announced Monday the 2017 Big Sport of Turfdom award, recognizing a person or group of people who enhance coverage of Thoroughbred racing through cooperation with media and racing publicists, will be presented posthumously to Penny Chenery. Chenery, the owner of 1973 Triple Crown hero Secretariat, philanthropist, and one of the industry's preeminent figures for five decades, passed away in September. She won in a vote by nearly 150 active TPA members. She also won the Big Sport of Turfdom award in 1973.
Enable was named Cartier Horse of the Year during a ceremony at the Dorchester Hotel in London on Tuesday night. The star filly, from the first crop of her sire, Nathaniel, rolled to five straight Group 1 wins this year for owner Khalid Abdullah, trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori. She won English and Irish Oaks, added another leaf to her cluster in the Yorkshire Oaks, beat older males and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth at Ascot and dominated Europe's richest race, the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. She also was named Cartier 3-year-old filly winner. Perhaps best of all, the prince will keep her in training for another season.
Other Cartier winners: