There's a special excitement in racing this week as Del Mar is up and running and Saratoga swings into action Saturday.
Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl and top older horse Accelerate headline the action at the summer hot spots.
Woodbine continues its season-long program of top-shelf racing and some state-bred races for 2-year-old join the Grade III Sanford at the Spa.
On the international scene, Saturday's Irish Oaks at the Curragh features Investec Oaks winner Forever Together.
Away we go:
Accelerate gets a chance to cement his status atop the older horses as the heavy favorite in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. The 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky has been nothing but consistent this season with three wins and two seconds from five starts. The wins include the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita and the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap. He also won this race last year. The other nine are well matched although Dr. Dorr, another by Lookin At Lucky, could benefit from a return to California after finishing ninth in the Grade II Suburban at Belmont. Before that, he was second to Accelerate in the Gold Cup, fading from the lead to finishing 4 1/4 lengths back.
Meanwhile, undefeated Triple Crown winner Justify is at Del Mar as trainer Bob Baffert keeps an eye on an inflamed left front ankle. The announcement of the problem last week caused speculation by the conspiracy theorists that his owners plan to retire the strapping colt without further racing. Baffert's comments Monday morning didn't negate that possibility but didn't point to it, either.
"Right now, we're just looking to get him 100 percent," Baffert said. "We're in a holding pattern. I'd love to run him again, because he's so much fun and exciting to watch. We should know more in a couple of weeks."
Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl heads a short list for Sunday's $300,000 Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. The Tapizar filly, winner of seven of her eight starts, exits a win in the Grade I Acorn at Belmont. This is a deep, deep division and the rivals include Santa Anita Oaks winner Midnight Bisou, who was third in the Kentucky Oaks and subsequent winner of the Grade II Mother Goose at Belmont, and Fair Grounds Oaks winner Chocolate Martini. Gio Game and Eskimo Kisses round out the talented field.
Filly & Mare Turf
Irish-bred Sistercharlie and German-bred A Raving Beauty are the favorites against five rivals in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Diana at Saratoga. Sistercharlie, by Myboycharlie, finished second in last year's Group 1 Prix du Diane or French Oaks last June. A month later, she was second in the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational and this season she won the Grade I Coolmore Jenny Wiley at Keeneland and finished second in the Grade II New York Stakes at Belmont. A Raving Beauty, a German-bred daughter of Mastercraftsman makes just her third U.S. start after racing in France, Italy and Germany. The first two starts on U.S. shores resulted in wins in the Grade III Beaugay at Belmont Park in May and the Grade I Longines Just a Game over the same course in June. It doesn't hurt that Chad Brown handles her training.
Eight were enlisted for Friday's $150,000 Grade III Lake George for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga, a 1 1/16-miles affair over the fresh lawn. While they have been racing in tough heats, it's not the most exciting bunch we'll see at the Spa. Goodthingstaketime, a lightly raced Canford Cliffs filly, is worth watching after a runner-up finish in the Florida Oaks and subsequent thirds at Keeneland and Penn National. If the race comes off the turf, Nootka Sound, a main-track-only entry, would be a viable pick.
Good luck sorting out the 14 fillies entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Clemente for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar. The oddsmaker couldn't do it, posting Ms Bad Behavior as the 9-2 morning line favorite. Five others are 5-1 or 6-1 on the line. Feeling lucky?
Got Stormy heads the field for Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Ontario Colleen for 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine. The Get Stormy filly, trained by Mark Casse, won the Penn Oaks and Wild Applause Stakes at Belmont in her last two starts. Also worthy of a look is Peach of a Gal, a Curlin filly who seems to be developing nicely for trainer Graham Motion.
Eleven are set to tackle 1 1/8 miles in Sunday's $250,000 Grade II Eddie Read at Del Mar while eight go 1 1/2 miles in Sunday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine
Seven go in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Sanford at Saratoga with support scattered almost evenly among Todd Pletcher trainees Lexitonian and Sombayay and Mark Casse's charge, Strike Silver. Lexitonian, a Speightstown colt, won at first asking at Belmont Park. Sombayay, by Into Mischief, won his first start at Gulfstream Park in April, then finished second last month in the Tremont at Belmont. Strike Silver, a Violence colt, won his only previous start, at Churchill Downs. Lexitonian sounds like a Kentucky Derby-winning name from days of yore.
Four of the 10 2-year-old fillies entered for Friday's $150,000 Grade III Schuylerville at Saratoga are Casse-trained -- three by Mark Casse and one by his son, Norm. The younger Casse, according to Equibase, has a 50 percent in-the-money result from his first 24 starts as a trainer, including six wins. He was trained well.
Norm Casse fields Fightress, a Tapizar filly who won at first asking at Churchill Downs June 22. Mark Casse has Catherinethegreat, Tapping Pearl and Eyeinthesky. Eyeinthesky, a Sky Mesa filly, finished third in the Astoria Stakes at Belmont. The others are recent maiden winners, as is the case for the bulk of the field.
Lady Apple, a Curlin filly trained by Steve Asmussen, was second in the Astoria but remains winless after two starts.
Saturday's Group 1 Irish Oaks at the Curragh, to the surprise of none, is top heavy with Coolmore runners from Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard, starting with Investec Oaks winner Forever Together. That Galileo filly seeks redemption after finishing second behind Urban Fox in the Group 1 Pretty Polly going 2 furlongs shorter than this 1 1/2 miles. Arguably the best of the rest is Magic Wand, fourth in the Oaks at Epsom but then winner of the Group 2 Ribblesdale at Ascot last month.
Bye Bye Baby, whose recent record includes a third in the Oaks and a fourth in the Pretty Polly, rounds out the O'Brien contingent. Note, however, that Galileo filly was barely in view of the winner in each of those.
William Haggis brings Sea of Class, a Sea the Stars filly who won her last two starts going 1 1/2 miles at Newbury but steps up significantly in class.
Back in North America:
The season's festivities got under way with Wednesday's $100,000 Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-old. It promised to be a scramble and it was with Restrainedvengeance rallying late and outfinishing Afleet Ascent by 3/4 length for the win. Pacesetter Calexman held third. Restainedvengeance, a Hold Me Back gelding, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.37 with Evin Roman up.