The racing world turns its eyes to Baltimore this week, looking for any competition for Kentucky Derby winner Justify in the May 19 Preakness. But the big on-track action is at Belmont Park.
Saturday's $700,000 Grade I Man o' War over the New York turf is the gem of a five-stakes program at Belmont. Three other races on the card also are graded events.
Arlington, Santa Anita and Woodbine also have graded stakes on the weekend menu.
On the international front, there's the Grade 1 Victoria Mile in Japan, the Poule d'Essai des Poulains and Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French Guineas) at ParisLongchamp, and the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown in Ireland as action heats up for next month's Derby and Oaks at Epsom.
The Triple Crown
It's a fact: Bob Baffert now has saddled five Kentucky Derby winners and each of the previous four has gone on to also win the Preakness Stakes. Of course, Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet the following year, and War Emblem in 2002 came up one short of the Triple Crown when they missed in the Belmont. American Pharoah got over that hump in 2002 and now Baffert seeks a Triple Crown repeat with Justify.
Baffert also won the Preakness with Point Given in 2001 and Lookin at Lucky in 2010.
In scattered, early returns, few Derby also-rans appear likely to reappear at Old Hilltop May 19 to challenge Justify. Runner-up Good Magic is a strong possibility, pending trainer Chad Brown's discussion with the owners. D. Wayne Lukas is keen to run back with Bravazzo, who finished sixth at Churchill Downs. And Tom Amoss said Lone Sailor, second in the Arkansas Derby but eighth at Churchill Downs, is a Preakness possible.
The "new shooters" are still forming up, too, but their ranks seem certain to include Quip, the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, who shares ownership with Justify. Steve Asmussen is readying Tenfold, who finished fifth in the Arkansas Derby.
It's also worth watching Saturday's $350,000 Grade III Peter Pan for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park for prospects for the Belmont Stakes. The Peter Pan runs at 9 furlongs on the big track and drew refugees from several late Kentucky Derby preps. Note especially Blended Citizen, who won the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park but did not draw into the Kentucky Derby field as the lone also-eligible, and Diamond King, the once-beaten winner of the Federico Tesio at Laurel Park, which often is a prep for the Preakness. Triva: Who finished third behind Justify and Bolt d'Oro in the Santa Anita Derby? Answer: Core Beliefs. And he returns in this race.
Preps for the "original" Derby:
It's only three weeks until the Investec Derby at Epsom and prospects are in the final round of trials:
Wednesday's Grade III MBNA Chester Vase produced a wee upset as Young Rascal overcame a spot of traffic to get up for a 1/2-length win, outfinishing Dee Ex Bee. The Aidan O'Brien-trained favorite, Hunting Horn, had every chance but was unable to match the top two in the final 100 yards and settled for third. Godolphin's hope, Ispolini, was fourth, another 1/2 length in arrears. Young Rascal, trained by William Haggas, is by the German-bred sire Intello. The win was his second from as many starts this season. Dee Ex Bee improved from a third in the Investec Blue Riband Trial in his last race.
The Chester Vase is an important indicator. Ruler of the World won the race in 2013 en route to his Derby triumph. Wings of Eagles was second last year, then first in the big race.
We're finally comfortable spelling Mendelssohn and now Coolmore gives us Rostropovich? And we'd better get used to it because the Frankel colt drew off smartly in the final furlong to win Thursday's Homeserve Dee Stakes at Chester by 3 1/2 lengths. Trained by Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, the colt easily put away My Lord and Master for the win. King's Proctor was third and Godolphin's hope in this one, Rastrelli, faded in the late going to finish next-last of seven. Rostropovich was 2-for-5 as a juvenile and finished fourth in his 2018 debut, the Group 3 Prix de Fountainbleu on heavy going at ParisLongchamp April 15.
Actually, Rostropovich is easier to spell than Mendelssohn.
On Tuesday at Saint-Cloud in France, Study of Man easily won the "sprint" part of a "sit-and-sprint" job in the Group 2 Prix Greffulhe. Only four started and the Deep Impact colt, trained by Pascal Bary, bided his time in second, quickly took the lead when asked by jockey Stephane Pasquier and rolled home first by 3 1/2 lengths. The Flaxman Stables homebred, out of the Storm Cat mare Second Happiness, now is 2-for-3 and holds a Derby entry.
Sunday, the action moves across the Irish Channel for the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown -- another big-deal prognosticator for the Investec Derby. Sinndar in 2000, Galileo in 2001 and High Chaparral in 2002 all won this heat before snatching the Derby honors. This year's race is set to feature the O'Brien-trained trio of Nelson, Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon, who filled the first three places in the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes over course and distance April 14.
Sunday it's the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches and Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas and 1000 Guineas) at ParisLongchamp. Trials continue next week at York with the Group 3 Tattersalls Musidora Stakes Wednesday and the Group 2 Betfred Dante Stakes Thursday.
The Investec Oaks
While the O'Brien-Coolmore team may have been disappointed in the Chester Vase outcome, such was not the case in Tuesday's Arkle Finance Chester Oaks. In that, favorite Magic Wand, partnered by Ryan Moore, and stablemate Forever Together, with Donnacha O'Brien up, came home 1-2 with Magic Wand 3 1/2 lengths in front. The Galileo filly scored her first win. Forever Together, also by Galileo, remains winless after three starts.
Elsewhere this weekend:
Saturday's $700,000 Grade I Man o' War, 11 furlongs at Belmont Park, drew a salty field of 10. Prominent: One Go All Go, winner of the Grade II Elkhorn at Keeneland last timeout; Bigger Picture, winner of the Grade III John B. Connolly at Lone Star two starts back; Hi Happy, winner of the Grade II Pan American at Gulfstream Park most recently; Postulation, winner of the Grade III American St. Leger at Arlington Park last summer; and Sadler's Joy, winner of the Grade II Mac Diramida at Gulfstream in March.
A couple interesting players in the Man o' War are Money Multiplier and Catcho En Die. Money Multiplier finished a close third in his last start, the $1 million H.H. the Emir's Trophy in Doha, Qatar. Catcho En Die was a Group 1 winner in his native Argentina but finished ninth in the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap in February. He then was claimed by his current owner-trainer, Naipaul Chatterpaul, for $40,000 while winning at Aqueduct last month.
Filly & Mare Turf
If there is a standout among the seven set for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Beaugay at Belmont Park, it must be A Raving Beauty. The 5-year-old German-bred daughter of Mastercraftsman makes her first U.S. start for trainer Chad Brown. Raced primarily in Germany last year, she concluded the season with a good second-place finish in the Group 1 Premio Lydia Tesio at Capannelle in Italy. The others are good enough but none is particularly scary.
A half dozen signed on for Saturday's $150,000 Runhappy at Belmont Park and there's not a whole lot to separate them. Each has credentials and each has question marks. Among them is Green Gratto, a $1 million earner but now 8 and likely to try for the lead from the outside stall. Westwood, a 4-year-old son of Bernardini, likely will contest that lead and ran a good one last time out at Keeneland.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Hanshin Cup at Arlington Park, 1 mile on the all-weather track, drew a talented field of 10 headed by Ghost Hunter and Wellabled. Ghost Hunter finished second in this race last year, then switched to the green course where he won the Grade III Arlington Handicap before an 11th-place finish with an ambitious try in the Grade I Arlington Million. He has been more effective on the all-weather. Wellabled won twice this winter on the Turfway Park all-weather, including the Forego Stakes and most recently was second in the Lost in the Fog Stakes at Golden Gate Fields. He won the Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity in 2016.
Wesley Ward will saddle Master Merion in the Hanshin Cup and, if he's as good on the all-weather as he has been on grass, he should be a handful. Goneghost, one of two Illinois-breds in the field, won all three of his starts at the recent Hawthorne meet, all against fellow state-breds. The other, Christian C, was very good on both turf and all-weather at Arlington last season.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Lazaro Barrera Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita drew a field of seven to tackle 7 furlongs. The entries include Kanthaka, who won the Grade II San Vicente, finished third in the Grade II San Felipe and then was sixth in the Grade II Blue Grass at Keeneland. Beautiful Shot showed promise as a juvenile but finished eighth in both the Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct and the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. The others will need to step it up.
Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Marine Stakes for 3-year-olds is 1 1/16 miles on the Woodbine all-weather.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Four of the six entrants for Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Vagrancy Handicap at Belmont Park won their last race. Perhaps the most impressive performance was by Holiday Disguise, a 4-year-old Harlan's Holiday filly who worked out of the state-bred ranks to win the Grade III Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct in her last outing. Sounds Delicious finished second in that heat but was demoted to fourth. She returns and likely will set the pace from the inside post while Holiday Disguise gets the staking trip from the No. 6 gate. Any of the other four could figure, though.
On the international scene:
Idaho unleashed a devastating late kick to win Thursday's Group 3 Boodles Diamond Ormande Stakes at Chester, finishing full of run and 3 1/2 lengths in front of Danehill Kodiac. Elidor was third in the 1 mile, 5 1/2 furlongs race. Ryan Moore rode Idaho for trainer Aidan O'Brien, who said the victory at the distance opens up options for Idaho throughout the season.
It's been a long journey for Idaho, the full younger brother to now-retired Highland Reel. The 5-year-old was last seen in the British Isles last July 25, finishing third behind Enable and Ulysses in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. Since then he had finished sixth in the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga, eighth in Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomph at Chantilly, fourth in the Grade I Canadian International at Woodbine, fifth in the Grade 1 Japan Cup in Tokyo and eighth in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan.
Soul Stirring, who gave Frankel his first winner at the top level when she scored in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in December 2016, headlines Sunday's Grade 1 Victoria Mile for fillies and mares at Tokyo Racecourse. That first-ever for Frankel led to a victory in last year's Yushun Himba, or Japanese Oaks. After that, she found the waters deeper when taking on older males in such as the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and Japan Cup, finishing out of the money. She prepped for Sunday's race in the Sankeisports Hai Hanshin Himba Stakes, finishing 10th, and faces many of those rivals again.
The entries also include Miss Panthere a Daiwa Major 4-year-old who boasts a four-race winning streak. The latest victory in that skein was that Hanshin Himba, where she led gate-to-wire through a moderate pace, aided by a swing in the weights. Admire Lead, winner of last year's Victorial Mile, and Aerolithe, winner of the 2017 NHK Mile Cup both also grace this field.
News and notes:
-- The newest Longines World's Best Racehorse Ratings put Kentucky Derby winner Justify at No. 4 on the list, in a tie with West Coast and behind Winx, Gun Runner and Cracksman. Since Gun Runner is retired and Winx and Cracksman run on the stuff they can eat, that puts Justify and West Coast atop the worlds' dirt specialists, followed by Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow. Those three seem likely for this fall's Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, which would make it quite a race.
-- The racehorse Preakness, a 19th century standout and the namesake of the second race in the Triple Crown series, and the accomplished trainer William Lakeland have been elected to the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame by the Museum's Historic Review Committee. Preakness, a foal of 1867, won the Dinner Party Stakes in his first start as a 3-year-old at the inaugural Pimlico Race Course meeting. The second jewel of the Triple Crown is named for him. Lakeland, a jockey and later a prominent trainer, saddled the 1894 Preakness winner Assignee among many other top stakes winners.
-- Breeders' Cup Thursday announced a major change in schedule for the 35th Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs Nov. 2-3. Starting this year, all five Breeders' Cup races for 2-year-olds, including the new $1 million Juvenile Sprint, will be run on the first day of the event as "Future Stars Friday." The day will climax with the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
The $2 million Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff and the $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile move to the Saturday program, which will feature nine Breeders' Cup races, concluding with the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
"With the increased excitement and international interest in our Juvenile races, 'Future Stars Friday' will create an identity to showcase the emerging stars of our sport on the first day of the World Championships," said Craig Fravel, Breeders' Cup President and CEO.