The Louisiana Derby, Sunland Park Derby, Winx and the Takamatsunomia Kinen combine to make up a compelling weekend of Thoroughbred racing.
Plus ... the Fair Grounds Oaks and Sunland Park Oaks, the New Orleans Handicap and important turf races in California and Louisiana. Paradise Woods is back.
And, Juddmonte Farms' mare Kind has produced a filly by Galileo -- a full sister to the great Frankel. "A quality Galileo filly with great presence," said Stud Director UK Simon Mockridge.
Presence? We've got presence. Here's a big helping:
The Road to the Roses
My Boy Jack is the 5-2 favorite on track oddsmaker Mike Diliberto's morning line for Saturday's $1 million Grade I Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. There's a field of 10 seeking an entry to the Kentucky Derby as the race carries 100 points for the winner. My Boy Jack, a Creative Cause colt who moved from the turf for the Triple Crown campaign, comes off a win in the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in his last start.
Trainer Keith Desormeaux is based in Southern California but has his roots firmly in Louisiana. He said it was a pretty easy decision to run My Boy Jack Saturday rather than in last weekend's $900,000 Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn.
"It gives us an extra week, one million is a monster pot, and if we are forced to scratch or have an unlucky trip, there is time to get into another prep race and still make the Kentucky Derby," the trainer said. In addition, he pointed out the Louisiana Derby is an equal-weights race whereas My Boy Jack would have carried a penalty in the Rebel after the earlier win at Oaklawn.
Top rivals likely are Bravazo and Snapper Sinclair, who finished 1-2 in that order, just a nose apart, in last month's Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas trains Bravazo, an Awesome Again colt, and he will leg up Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. Snapper Sinclair is conditioned by Steve Asmussen and Jose Ortiz will ride the City Zip colt.
My Boy Jack drew the No. 9 gate. Bravazo starts on the rail and Snapper Sinclair will go from No. 7.
Noble Indy wasn't that far back in third in the Risen Star and the Todd Pletcher trainee, a son of Take Charge Indy, gets another chance. Pletcher also has Hyndford, a Street Cry colt who has been improving by leaps and bounds but needs one more bound to figure here.
In New Mexico:
Sunday's $800,000 Grade III Sunland Park Derby is pretty much a tossup with some of the country's top trainers sending secondary prospects in hope of snagging the 50 Kentucky Derby points awarded the winner. The only surprise is that Bob Baffert isn't represented. Perhaps none of his Derby contenders are secondary.
At any rate, Steve Asmussen brings New York Central and Dream Baby Dream. Dale Romans has Seven Trumpets. Todd Pletcher is represented by Prince Lucky. Jerry Hollendorfer will see what Choo Choo can can do do on the dirt. The 4-1 morning-line favorite in the 12-horse field is All Out Blitz, a Concord Point colt trained by Simon Callaghan who finished second in the Grade III Sham and third in the Grade II San Vicente.
Don't ignore this race just because it's in New Mexico. Mine That Bird finished fourth here before winning the 2009 Run for the Roses. Hence won last year for trainer Steve Asmussen and Southern California stalwarts including Baffert, who has saddled the winner four times, and Doug O'Neill frequently run at Sunland as a way to keep their top prospects apart early in the season.
Classy Act and Wonder Gadot return from their second- and third-place finishes in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra to contest Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks in New Orleans. They are the morning-line favorites on the basis of the earlier performance. Classy Act, an Into Mischief filly, led in the Rachel Alexandra before yielding to Monomy Girl in the late going. Wonder Gadot, by Medaglia d'Oro, raced in mid pack and wasn't doing much in deep stretch, finishing 1 1/4 lengths behind Classy Act.
Looking elsewhere for the Fair Grouds Oaks winner? Eskimo Kisses, a daughter of To Honor and Serve, won impressively in her last start at Oaklawn Park but that was in an optional claimer in the slop. Patrona Margarita won the Grade II Pocahontas at Churchill Downs in September in a 23-1 upset but then was away until she finished sixth in the Rachel Alexandra. Testing One Two gets another chance against good ones after a fade job in the Rachel Alexandra. But she's by the promising sire Star Guitar and worth a glance.
In New Mexico, only five fillies reported for duty in Sunday's $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks. While the Sunland Park Derby contenders all have a lot to prove, that's not the case here. The 4-5 morning-line favorite is Blamed, a Blame filly who has won four straight races after finishing second in her career debut. Granted, they were all in New Mexico. But they also were by comfortable margins and the filly looks capable of doing more. Kram, a Colonel John filly, has been chasing Blamed without much success. The main invader in the short field is Charge Back, a Take Charge Indy filly trained by Steve Asmussen, who comes off an allowance win at Sam Houston Race Park. It wouldn't be a surprise to see some bridge-jumper money on Blamed if Sunland permits show betting on this race.
Good Samaritan and The Player are the standouts among a half dozen contesting Saturday's $400,000 Grade II New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds. The Player has the "recency" edge, having won the Grade III Mineshaft over the course last month. Good Samaritan arguably has the class edge, finishing a close second to Seeking the Soul in the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs Nov. 24 -- his last start. Good Samaritan, a 4-year-old son of Harlan's Holiday owned by the hot partnership of China Horse Club and WinStar Farm, has been training well for Bill Mott. The Player, a 5-year-old by Street Hero, is handled by Bill Bradley. Scuba, winner of last fall's Grade III Hawthorne Gold Cup, could be a threat and Leofric ran well last time out to finish second in the Grade III Razorback at Oaklawn Park. Han Sense and Hollywood Handsome round out the field.
A high-quality field of 11 is set for Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Muniz Memorial Handicap on the Fair Grounds turf. Synchrony and Mr. Misunderstood, the first two home in the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap Feb. 17, return for another go. Lucullan makes his second start of the year and the 4-year-old Hard Spun colt show promise last year for the Godolphin juggernaut. Forge just missed to Eclipse champion World Approval in the Tampa Bay handicap last month and Ring Weekend usually is in the mix. Danish Dynaformer returns from a 10-months absence. Synchrony is the 7-2 morning-line favorite off the local win.
The threat of rain hangs over Sunday's $200,000 Grade II San Luis Rey at Santa Anita. If the 1 1/2-mile race stays on the lawn, it shouldn't pose any problem for likely favorite Itsinthepost. The 6-year-old French-bred gelding shows a nice win on yielding going at Keeneland in the Grade II Elkhorn last sprint. A surface switch might not be a problem for Itsinthepost either, as he was good enough to finish second in the off-the-turf Grade III San Gabriel a year ago January. Oh, and he's riding a two-race winning streak for trainer Jeff Mullins. Frank Conversation, Hayabusa One and Responsibleforlove look like potential threats.
Filly & Mare Turf
Saturday's $50,000 New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds could be a coming-out party for Mom's On Strike. The 5-year-old First Dude mare was on the fringes as a 3-year-old, beaten 3 lengths in the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico. After switching to the green course, she ran well enough at Saratoga, Keeneland and Churchill Downs in an abbreviated 2017 campaign. Now she has won three straight in New Orleans, with steadily climbing Beyer Speed Figures. If she wins Saturday, her ceiling could be defined by trainer Joe Sharp's ambition for her.
Six are entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Hutcheson Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park. Watch all 6 furlongs to see if any of the youngsters show promise in a division that's already plenty tough.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Paradise Woods, Selcourt and Skye Diamonds will face off in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Monica at Santa Anita. Paradise Woods, a 4-year-old daughter of Union Rags, finished third in last fall's Breeders' Cup Distaff, then returned going 7 furlongs in the Grade I La Brea on Boxing Day, losing to the uniquely qualified Unique Bella by only 1/2 length. She has not raced since but her works have been steady and quick. Selcourt, a 4-year-old filly by Tiz Wonderful, makes just her sixth start but has improved dramatically along the way, picking up a win last time out in the Grade III Las Flores. Skye Diamons was third in the Las Flores but won a pair of graded stakes last summer on the Southern California circuit.
If the threatened storms dampen the track, note that Paradise Woods' only real disappointment was an 11th-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks on a sloppy Churchill Downs strip. But that may have resulted more from setting a hotly contested pace than from the moisture in the sandy soil. Who knows?
The international front:
Winx seeks her 24th straight win in Saturday's Group 1 The Agency George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill Gardens. Her five rivals would amount to no more than token opposition except for the presence of a "new shooter" -- Godolphin's highly promising 3-year-old colt Kementari.
Kementari, a Lonhro colt trained by James Cummings, is riding a three-race winning streak including a last-out victory in the Group 1 Randwick Guineas. The boys in blue are very optimistic about his future.
On the other hand, a three-race winning streak pales in comparison to a 23-race winning streak and Winx has ever looked better. She even has her regular rider, Hugh Bowman, who passed a concussion protocol after a recent spill left him in questionable shape for a few days. The biggest question after this race may be: Will Winx's connections finally make up their minds whether to send her to Royal Ascot in June?
Winx highlights a program that includes four other Group 1 events, notably the Longines Golden Slipper for 2-year-olds, a highlight of the Australian racing season. The race is worth AUS$3.5 million (almost US$2.7 million) and plenty of hope for success in the coming season.
Sunday's Takamatsunomia Kinen at Chukyo Racecourse is the first Grade I turf event on the 2018 Japanese racing calendar and the 1,200-meter sprint should provide an assessment of the established stars versus the promising rookies. There's also a Hong Kong-based runner, Blizzard.
Red Falx was the favorite in last year's running of the Takamatsunomia Kinen but finished third behind Seiun Kosei and Let's Go Donki. He came back to win the Grade I Sprinters Stakes and was named champion sprinter of 2017 in Japan. With a prep race under his girth, he is the likely favorite again this year although Seiun Kosei and Let's Go Donki also are back.
The youngsters will have to make a statement. Blizzard, a close fifth in last fall's Sprinters Stakes, went home to finish third in the Group 2 Longines Hong Kong Sprint in December and prepped for this with a fifth-place showing in Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup at Sha Tin. Trainer Ricky Yiu said earlier in the week he's hoping the cold and rainy weather that's plagued Japan recently will relent and give the ground a chance to firm up a bit for his 7-year-old.