The remainder of U.S. racing's year looks a bit different after the announcement Triple Crown winner Justify has been retired -- and the impact starts this weekend with the remaining 3-year-olds now fighting it out for the remaining division prizes.
The $1 million betfair.com Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park tops the list of 3-year-old battles with the Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga also on that list.
The big races for older horses, including Sunday's Clement Hirsch at Del Mar, look different with the contenders knowing they won't face the juggernaut from the Baffert Barn in the Breeders' Cup Classic in November.
Meanwhile, the top two from last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint are back in action on a slate the includes four Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" events for November's renewal at Churchill Downs.
Internationally, there's a jim dandy edition of the Group 1 King George the VI and Queen Elizabeth at Ascot, the Group 1 Rothschild at Deauville and the Group 1 Grosser Dallmayer-Preis Bayerisches Zuchtrennen in Munich.
Let's sprint into this with:
Defending Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Roy H headlines a quite talented cast for Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Bing Crosby at 6 furlongs on the main track at Del Mar -- a "Win and You're In" for this year's Breeders' Cup Sprint. The More Than Ready gelding, now 6, will need to be ready in his first start since finishing third in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen in March at Meydan.
Among the others lining up for the "Der Bingle" are American Anthem, one of the many stars in Bob Baffert's barn; last year's Crosby winner (defeating Roy H), Ransom the Moon; the top two from the Oak Tree Sprint, Annie's Candy and Tribal Storm; and East Coast invader, 8-year-old warrior Stallwalkin' Dude.
Last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up, Imperial Hint, is among the likely ones in Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga, also at 6 furlongs. The 5-year-old son of Imperialism comes off a handy win in the Grade II True North at Belmont. A couple of up-and-coming types are Switzerland, winner of four in a row, most recently the Grade III Maryland Sprint, and Done Deal, winner of four straight -- a string bifurcated by an 18-months absence. He comes out of the Iowa Sprint Handicap at Prairie Meadows.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Amsterdam at Saratoga finds seven 3-year-olds traveling 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track. Several have been shortened up after testing the Triple Crown waters. But only Promises Fulfilled actually made the Kentucky Derby, finishing 15th, beaten just shy of 40 lengths. He went on to run a fading third in the Grade II Woody Stephens at 7 furlongs and faces the runner-up from that heat, Engage, again here. All seven, frankly, seem to be seeking their niche.
Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade II Vigil at Woodbine, 6 furlongs on the all-weather, got a field of six. Among them is Pink Lloyd, who will try to restart his string of 11 straight stakes wins -- a stretch ended with a third-place finish in the Shepperton Stakes in his last start.
Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) King Corrie for 3-year-olds runs at 6 furlongs over the Woodbine all-weather course.
Despite his early retirement, Justify is a lock for division honors among 3-year-olds. But with no dominant force among older horses, there's still plenty of room in the last half of the year for the other 3-year-olds to make a mark. This weekend would be a good place to start.
Good Magic, last year's Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old, is the morning-line favorite in Sunday's $1 million Grade I betfair.com Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. The 9-furlongs contest, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In," could have been Justify's return to the races. Good Magic was second in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preaknes -- efforts which trainer Chad Brown said left him "body sore" and mentally exhausted. But, Brown added, "The horse responded well from his time off and is doing great now. He's ready to go back in the ring."
Also in the seven-horse field are Bravazo, sixth in the Kentucky Derby, second in the Preakness and sixth in the Belmont; Core Beliefs, winner of last month's Grade III Ohio Derby; and Lone Sailor, eighth in the Kentucky Derby, fifth in the Preakness and second in the Ohio Derby. Another to watch: Golden Brown, a New Jersey-bred colt who comes off a win in the Kent Stakes on the Delaware Park turf.
Only five turned out for Saturday's $600,000 Grade II Jim Dandy for 3-year-olds at 9 furlongs on the Saratoga main track. None has much in the way of bragging rights of late but Vino Rosso and Tenfold did manage to finish fourth and fifth in the Belmont Stakes. Flameaway most recently was sixth in the Ohio Derby at Thistledown and Reride was fifth in the Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury Park. Sporting Chance won the Grade I Hopeful over the course last summer but has not won since.
Hofburg is the prospective star in another top 3-year-old race, Friday's $100,000 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga. Hofburg, a Tapit colt, finished second in the Florida Derby, seventh in the Kentucky Derby as one of the "wise guy" picks and third in the Belmont Stakes. The Bill Mott trainee hasn't raced since that third jewel of the Triple Crown.
Six are set for Sunday's $150,000 Grade III Monmouth Cup at 9 furlongs for 3-year-olds and up. Remembering Rita and Page McKenney are the 123-pound heighweights.
Sadler's Joy and Hi Happy have been well-matched rivals in their last three starts with Hi Happy slightly the better of the two. They clash again in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Bowling Green at Saratoga, going 11 furlongs on the grass. This time, they're joined by Grade I United Nations runner-up Money Multiplier, Manitoulin, Bigger Picture and Channel Maker, among others in a well-matched field.
Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Toronto Cup is 9 furlongs on the lush Woodbine green course and restricted to 3-year-olds.
Synchrony, a top-three finisher in his last seven starts, is among the favorites for Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Oceanport at Monmouth Park. Seven are set to goin the 1 1/16-miles event on the turf.
Filly & Mare Turf
Elysea's World, Lift Up and Dream Awhile figure among eight fillies and mares entered for Sunday's $100,000 WinStar Matchmaker at Monmouth Park, 9 furlongs on the grass.
Ten are set for Sunday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Royal North Stakes for fillies and mares, 6 furlongs on the Woodbine greensward. The 125-pound highweight is Lull, a multiple graded stakes-winning daughter of War Front who makes her first start north of the border for trainer Christophe Clement.
Already in the books:
Ruby Notion came running in the stretch to post a 27-1 upset win in Monday's $200,000 Caress Stakes for fillies and mares at Saratoga. Chanteline was best of the rest with Just Talkin third and the favorite, Triple Chelsea, sixth while lacking a rally. Faypien was among four scratches. Ruby Notion, a 5-year-old daughter of Great Notion, negotiated 5 1/2 furlongs of soft turf in 1:06.43 with Florent Geroux riding. It was her first win in three starts this year.
Unique Bella stands out in a field of six for Sunday's $300,000 Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar -- 1 1/16 miles with a Breeders' Cup Distaff "Win and You're In" bid for the winner. Unique Bella, a Tapit filly, was seventh in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. But that was the only time in her 11-race career she's been worse than second. She comes off a win in the Grade I Beholder Mile at Santa Anita.
Farrell looks to regain her winning ways for the first time since January in Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Shuvee Handicap at Saratoga. The Malibu Moon filly dominated the Fair Grounds 3-year-old filly series in 2017 but hasn't regained that form but showed improvement while second in her last two starts, the Grade I La Troienne and Grade II Fleur de Lis, both at Churchill Downs. Chad Brown saddles Pacific Wind and Wow Cat. Todd Pletcher has Ivy Bell.
There are no standouts in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park. Dreamcall comes off three straight wins at Oaklawn Park and Prairie Meadows. Several others step down a notch or two from tougher competition.
Already in the books:
Let's not lose track of Wonder Gadot, the Mark Casse-trained Medaglia d'Oro filly who had absolutely no trouble handling five rivals in Tuesday's $400,000 (Canadian) Prince of Wales Stakes for Canadian-foaled 3-year-olds at Fort Erie. With John Velazquez along for the ride, Wonder Gadot led all the way and won by 5 3/4 lengths without being asked to exert herself much. Aheadbyacentury and Cooler Mike were strung out behind the winner in second and third.
After finishing second in the Kentucky Oaks, Wonder Gadot finished second in the Woodbine Oaks, then beat the boys in the Queen's Plate. The Plate and Prince of Wales are the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown. But Casse indicated it's unlikely Wonder Gadot will switch to the turf for the third leg, the $400,000 Breeders' Stakes Aug.18 at Woodbine. His ultimate goal for the filly, he said is an Eclipse Award and a shot at the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Finley'sluckycharm allowed Vertical Oak to show the way in Wednesday's $200,000 Grade II Honorable Miss, then eased by that rival at the top of the stretch and went on to beat her by 2 1/4 lengths. It was another 9 1/4 lengths back to Kirby's Penny in third. Finley'sluckycharm, a 5-year-old daughter of Twirling Candy, twirled 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:09.48 with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons.
"I thought things went as well as they possibly could," said winning trainer Bret Calhoun. "The pace wasn't super hot, she was able to sit outside, save horse, push the button later and she cruised home. I think that's the opportunity to bounce back out of a race as good as any."
Master trainers Aidan O'Brien and Sir Michael Stoute have strong contingents for Saturday's Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Ascot, one of England's premier mid-summer races and a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf. John Gosden, meanwhile, will attempt to get Cracksman back to the promise he showed last season -- if the ground is not too hard. The race is just shy of 1 1/2 miles for 3-year-olds and up.
Sir Michael brings Crystal Ocean and Poet's Word in search of his sixth King George victory. Crystal Ocean, by Sea the Stars, has won all three starts this year. Poet's Word, by Poet's Voice, comes off a dominant win in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. "Both horses seem in good shape and their preparations have gone well," Sir Michael said. "They have both been in good form this year so, touch wood, we are happy at this stage.
O'Brien has saddled four winners of the King George, starting with Coolmore's current stallion star Galileo. His anterace key hope this time around, Kew Gardens, will not start, leaving the Ballydoyle master with backup starters Hydrangea and Rostropovich.
Cracksman, a 4-year-old by Frankel, saw a four-race winning streak snapped when second to Poet's Word in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. Gosden said Cracksman will start only if there is sufficient rain to put some cut in the ground.
Twelve fillies and mares remain in for Sunday's Group 1 Prix Rothschild at 1 mile at Deauville
Godolphin's Benbatl and Stormy Antarctic from the Ed Walker barn headline the invading contingent for Sunday's Group 1 Grosser Dallmayer-Preis Bayerisches Zuchtrennen in Munich. Iquitos spearheads the local group in a field totaling 10.
News and notes:
The purse for the Dubai World Cup gets another bump for the 2019 renewal, going from $10 million to $12 million with $7.2 million to the winner. The latter figure becomes the biggest first-place award anywhere in Thoroughbred racing.
Overall, the March 30, 2019 card, with six Group 1 races and three Group 2, sees purses rise from $30 million to $35 million. The Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen goes from $2 million to $2.5 million, becoming the world's richest dirt sprint. The purse for the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint doubles to $2 million. The three Group 2 events each get a $500,000 bump.