The Delaware Handicap, with Elate and Unbridled Mo facing off, and a clutch of 3-year-old races on both dirt and turf highlight weekend Thoroughbred racing.
Ax Man and Blended Citizen feature in the Los Alamitos Derby while King Zachary is a heavy favorite in the Indiana Derby.
On the international scene, English fans can drown their World Cup sorrows with some nice races at Newmarket. But Investec Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee will be in France on Saturday, where the football crowd will be looking forward to Sunday's World Cup final against England-beater Croatia.
With sympathy for our British friends, we move along.
King Zachary is the solid morning-line favorite among nine lining up for Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand. The Curlin colt backed out of the Triple Crown grind after finishing sixth in the Grade II Wood Memorial, detouring to victories in a Churchill Downs allowance race on Derby Day and the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes under the Twin Spires last month. Among the other eight, the oddsmaker looks to Axelrod, who ships in from California after finishing second in the Grade III Affirmed in his most recent outing.
Ax Man reappears in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Los Alamitos Derby after a trip to Kentucky that produced a third-place finish in the Matt Winn. He's one of two in the five-horse field for trainer Bob Baffert. The other, Once On Whiskey, hasn't stirred much enthusiasm yet. Doug O'Neill also field two, including Blended Citizen. The Proud Citizen colt didn't make the Kentucky Derby field but won the Grade III Peter Pan as a consolation prize. He then finished ninth in the Belmont Stakes. O'Neill's King Cause and the Peter Eurton-trained Draft Pick round out the field.
Elate, Unbridled Mo, Mopotism and Farrell are set to duke it out along with five others in Saturday's $750,000 Grade II Delaware Handicap. Elate, by Medaglia d'Oro, won the Grade I Alabama and Grade I Beldame last year before finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff and makes her first start of 2018 as the 2-1 favorite on the morning line. Unbridled Mo, a 5-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo, missed most of last season but won the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park this spring. Mopotism, by the same sire, hasn't been a frequent winner but has regularly hit the board. Farrell swept last year's 3-year-old filly series at Fair Grounds, struggled this spring at Oaklawn but had two nice runner-up finishes at Churchill Downs in May and June.
Talk Veuve to Me is the even-money favorite among eight entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Indiana Oaks at Indiana Grand. The Violence filly makes just her fifth career start and has never been worse than second. That tally includes runner-up showings in the Grade II Eight Belles at Churchill Downs and the Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park in her most recent efforts. The Rodolphe Brisset trainee looks tough to beat here. But they run the races for a reason.
Gamble's Ghost is the 125-pound highweight in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Ontario Matron on the Woodbine all-weather course. The 5-year-old Ghostzapper mare comes off a win in the Grade III Trillium over the course and faces eight rivals.
Untamed Domain is the lukewarm morning-line favorite for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Kent Stakes at Delaware Park, a wide-open affair indeed. The Animal Kingdom colt was second in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, where he was gaining on Mendelssohn in deep stretch but fell 1 length short. In four previous starts this year, his best showing was a second in the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs. Any of the other look capable of stepping up in this one and the race easily could produce some new players in the division.
Blue Point, winner of the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, is the antepost favorite for Saturday's Group 1 Darley July Cup at 6 furlongs Saturday at Newmarket. The Shamardal 4-year-old, trained by Charlie Appleby for Godolphin, has been a totally consistent performer throughout his career, bar a ninth-place finish in April in Hong Kong. The opposition is suspect. Coolmore's U S Navy Flag hasn't been the same since his trip to Del Mar last fall for the Breeders' Cup. Eqtidaar exits a victory in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot but that was only his second-ever win. Sands of Mali was second in the Commonwealth Cup. One might be inclined toward Dreamfield, theoretically Godolphin's second team but a winner three times from four starts and most recently a good second in the Wokingham Stakes at Royal Ascot where he faced 27 rivals, missing by a neck to 33-1 chance Bacchus.
On Friday at Newmarket, Alpha Centauri is the prohibitive favorite in the Group 1 Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 mile. The Mastercraftsman filly, out of the Rahy mare Alpa Lupi, was the convincing winner in the Group 1 Irish 1,000 Guineas and the Group Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot in her last two starts. Aidan O'Brien has Clemmie, who was fifth in the Coronation but is 2-for-2 at Newmarket. Threading, second in the Coronation, represents the Mark Johnston yard.
Dee Ex Bee keynotes a short field for Saturday's Group 1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris Saturday at ParisLongchamp, a 1 1/2-miles test for 3-year-old colts and fillies. The Farhh colt, out of the Seeking the Gold colt Dubai Sunrise, was second to Masar in the Investec Derby but a disappointment in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, reporting seventh. Mark Johnston trains this one. Heading the local contingent is Neufbosc, winner of the Group 3 Prix du Lys in his last outing for trainer Pia Brandt. Aidan O'Brien sends Kew Gardens and Nelson. Joseph Patrick O'Brien saddles Downdraft and it's never wise to ignore the trainer-jockey team of Andre Fabre and Maxime Guyon, who field Folamour.
News and Notes:
The Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings for the first half of the year paint an interesting picture and seem to leave matters fairly wide open for the remainder of 2018 -- bar, of course, Winx.
Australia's super mare remains atop the ratings at 130, followed by Gun Runner (129), Cracksman and Poet's Word (125) and Justify and West Coast (124). Winx's connections opted to stay Down Under rather than travel to Royal Ascot so we'll never know how she would have fared in international competition. But there's no questioning her dominance in Australia. The ratings include horses who ran at any point from Jan. 1 onward so Gun Runner qualifies via his victory in the Pegasus World Cup. But he's long gone from competition. Cracksman has shown none last year's dominance so far this season, most recently losing to Poet's Word by better than 2 lengths at Royal Ascot.
The door would seem to be open for Justify to move up the rankings -- except that he currently is being treated for filling in an ankle. That touched off the conspiracy theorists who believe his ownership team is building an excuse to retire him without further ado. West Coast hasn't raced since finishing second in the Dubai World Cup in March and shows no current works although he reportedly is back with trainer Bob Baffert for a restart.
It's enough to make you want to buy a horse and get in the game!