After weeks of attention on more storied venues, the focus of American racing shifts this weekend to Thistledown, where Flameaway and Lone Sailor bid to get their seasons back on track in the Ohio Derby.
The Ohio Derby tops a rather short list of graded stakes during the weekend with Arlington Park, Santa Anita and Woodbine also contributing.
Royal Ascot, of course, already draws to a Saturday close, which we have and will chronicle separately.
We'll start this carriage procession with:
Flameaway, second in both the Tampa Bay Derby and the Blue Grass, tossed in the towel early in the Kentucky Derby slop. Trainer Mark Casse has the Scat Daddy colt rested and ready to go and he is the 5-2 favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Ohio Derby at Thistledown.
Lone Sailor finished second in the Louisiana Derby, earning his way into the Run for the Roses, where he finished eighth after encountering traffic issues. He returned to finish fifth in the Preakness and has not raced since then.
American Anthem, featuring the Triple Crown combo of trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith, is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II San Carlos at 7 furlongs at Santa Anita. The 4-year-old Bodemeister colt, a dual graded stakes winner since Baffert redirected him to sprinting, won his seasonal debut at Churchill Downs June 1.
Touching Rainbows, Stone Hands and Dabster also have live chances in the San Carlos. Touching Rainbows steps up to the stakes ranks after four straight allowance wins on the Southern California circuit stretching back to last fall at Del Mar.
Filly & Mare Sprint
There's no shortage of runners with a baker's dozen signed on for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Chicago Handicap at Arlington Park. But there is a shortage of favorites as the field looks fairly wide open. Union Strike, Princess La Quinta, Hotshot Anna and Natural Wonder are all at single-digit odds on the morning line with Union Strike the nominal 3-1 favorite for the 7 furlongs on the all-weather course.
Union Strike, a Union Rags filly, won the Grade I Del Mar Debutante in 2016 but has never quite lived up to that promise. She has been training at Keeneland since finishing seventh in the Grade II La Canada at Santa Anita in January -- a race she needed after a six-month layoff. Her recent works for trainer Mick Ruis indicate she isn't too rusty after another five months off.
Princess La Quinta won the Grade III Arlington Matron in her last outing. Hotshot Anna comes off a win at Canterbury. Natural Wonder was a stakes winner last year on the Presque Isle Downs all-weather course.
Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Singspiel Stakes at Woodbine drew a contentious field of eight. The morning-line favorite is Danish Dynaformer, at age 6 one of the last top-performing offspring of the star sire Dynaformer. He won this race in 2016 but has not seen victory in 11 intervening starts. He was second in a Woodbine allowance last month in preparation for this 1 1/2-miles test.
Final Copy also enters the Singspiel off a local allowance win. Pumpkin Rumble and Johnny Bear would bear a close look despite getting the widest draws.
Continuing the renaissance of grass racing in North America, Woodbine's Turf Endurance Series returns for its second season starting with the 1 3/8-miles first leg on the undercard of the third day of the Queen's Plate Festival, July 1. Subsequent legs require 1 1/2 miles Aug. 5 and 1 5/8 miles on Sept. 9 and culminate with a 2 1/4-miles marathon Oct. 14. All four legs will carry purses of $50,000. The series is for optional $25,000 starters or optional $45,000 claimers. Woodbine offers $40,000 (all figures in Canadian dollars) in bonus money for owners and trainers.
Sunday is closing day for the Santa Anita meet and the feature is the $100,000 Grade III Wilshire Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 mile on the lawn. Cordiality, claimed for $32,000 in 2016, is a prospect, along with Ancient Secret, Beau Recall and Storm the Hill.
On the international front:
This could be a continuation of the "Turf" section as the winner of Sunday's Grade I Takarazuka Kinen gets an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf through the international "Challenge" program.
Werther, a former Hong Kong Horse of the Year, is a rare foreign entrant for the 2,200-meters race at Hanshin Racecourse. The 7-year-old Tavistock gelding is owned by Johnson Chen, who spent several years in Tokyo and has dreamed of racing in Japan.
The local crew includes five Grade I winners.