A fascinating renewal of the Whitney at Saratoga, the West Virginia Derby and an important early test for 2-year-old fillies at Del Mar are among the weekend features in Thoroughbred racing.
On the world front, Stradivarius, Wild Illusion and Lightning Spear were big winners at Glorious Goodwood.
Diving right in:
Saturday's $1.2 million Grade I Whitney at Saratoga, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", also is a fascinating mix of eight contenders. The historic 9-furlongs race features one of the world's top sprinters, Mind Your Biscuits, and two of the primary contenders among the older middle-distance runners, Diversify and Tapwrit. Toss in graded stakes winners McCraken, Good Samaritan, Backyard Heaven and Dalmore, and you've got quite a race.
Diversify, a 5-year-old Bellamy Road gelding, was running against fellow New York-breds at last year's Spa meeting. He jumped from that to victory in last fall's Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup and enters Saturday's fray after winning the Grade II Suburban at Belmont Park last month. Tapwrit won last year's Belmont Stakes but has not been in the winner's circle since and was a distant fifth in the Suburban.
The question mark is Mind Your Biscuits, who will try to tack on a furlong to the longest distance he's tried previously. "I'm as confident as I can be," said trainer Chad Summers. "Everything he's always shown me over his entire career is that he can do it, and until he can't, I'm not going to think he can't."
Can't be at Saratoga in person? NBC-TV will carry the race live, as will Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net). For HRRN analyst Jude Feld's thoughts on the big race, check out www.popejude.com.
Once On Whiskey, trainer Bob Baffert's Los Alamitos Derby winner, is the narrow morning-line favorite among nine entered for Saturday's $500,000 Grade III West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park. The Bodemeister colt is 2-for-4 with a third-place finish at Churchill Downs sandwiched among three California starts. A case also could be made for Draft Pick, High North, Mr. Freeze, Lionite and Rugbyman in a 9-furlongs race that could serve as a springboard for one -- or more -- of these.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III West Virginia Governor's Stakes is a 1 1/16-miles affair for 3-year-olds and up and, like its 3-year-old companion event, it's a virtual tossup. The morning line finds Hawaakom, Matrooh, Imperative, Leofric, Rated R Superstar and Secret Passage all at single-digit odds in a field of nine.
Big Dollar Bill put in a big late run in Thursday's $100,000 Birdstone Stakes at Saratoga, defeating the odds-on favorite, Hard Study, by 1 length. Big Dollar Bill, a 4-year-old Midnight Lute gelding, got 1 3/4 miles on the fast main track in 2:59.39 with Chris Landeros up.
Gidu looks to rebound from a sixth-place finish at Royal Ascot when he lines up against 10 rivals in Friday's $200,000 Grade III National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga. The Todd Pletcher-trained Frankel colt has three wins and two seconds from five starts on U.S. soil but found the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup a bit too rich for his blood. Pletcher also has Maraud, a Blame colt who won the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs in May but has missed the frame twice since. Raging Bull, a French-bred colt by Dark Angel, has two wins for trainer Chad Brown. Mark Casse will saddle Ride a Comet, a Candy Ride colt who has two straight wins at Woodbine.
Six are entered for Sunday's $150,000 Grade III La Jolla Stakes for 3-year-olds at Del Mar, 1 1/16 miles. Irish-bred River Boyne has won four of his last five and has had a two-months break. None of the others is in particularly great form but all have had their moments.
Voodoo Song is the 5-2 pick on the morning line for Saturday's restricted $100,000 Lure Stakes at Saratoga. In truth, a case could be made for most of the entrants. Zennor starts for the first time since winning this last year. And we're still kicking ourselves for missing the $654.20 Durocher-Mr Cub exacta in the Tropical Park Derby last December at Gulfstream Park. Mr Cub comes to this with two wins and a close third in three previous starts this season.
Ellis Park hosts four $100,000 turf races on Sunday, all through a funding arrangement with Kentucky Downs and all designed as preps for the big-money races at Kentucky Downs. The Turf Cup at 10 furlongs, Turf Mile and Turf Sprint are all open events. The Ladies Turf, at 1 mile, is restricted as the name implies.
Filly & Mare Turf
A dozen are set for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Yellow Ribbon Handicap at Del Mar, 1 1/16 miles on the grass. It's a well-matched bunch with Cambodia the 7-2 morning line favorite. The War Front mare won this last year and backed that up with a victory in the Grade II John C. Mabee and a good third in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. But she looks for her first win this year and at least a half dozen others have equally good claims on paper.
Santa Monica sticks out among eight entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Waya Stakes at Saratoga, 1 1/2 miles over the inner turf course. The British-bred Mastercraftsman filly, trained by Chad Brown, shows two wins and a third from three U.S. starts, improving each time. She most recently won the Grade II Dance Smartly at Woodbine, earning a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, and has won at the 1 1/2 miles, both in Ireland and this sprint at Keeneland. Providing stiff competition are the likes of Mom's On Strike, Lottie, Homeland Security and Summersault.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Been waiting for one of those Star Guitar offspring to spring out of the bayous and hit the big time? Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Longines Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga is a place to watch as Minit to Stardom puts her undefeated record on the line. The Al Stall Jr. trainee won twice against fellow state-breds at Fair Grounds during the winter and returned in May to win easily at Churchill Downs. She won't be the favorite, though, as she tackles Grade II Eight Belles winner Mia Mischief, last year's Grade I Frizette winner Separationofpowers, Classy Act, Alter Moon and others.
Okinawa and Out of The Flames are the morning-line picks among nine in Friday's $75,000 Daisycutter Handicap for fillies and mares, 5 furlongs on the Del Mar grass. Okinawa, a daughter of The Factor, is in from the East Coast after a second-place finish in a Belmont Park allowance event going 6 furlongs. Out of The Flames, a British-bred filly by Showcasing, is based in Southern California but journeyed east to win the Mizdirection Stakes at Aqueduct in her last start, back in April.
Sunday's $200,000, Grade III Troy Handicap at Del Mar is 5 1/2 furlongs and the handicapper has loaded up Disco Partner with 123 pound, conceding weight to all the other seven. Disco Partner, a grey New York-bred, comes off a win in the $400,000 Grade II Jaipur at Belmont Park -- a race he has won two straight years.
Broadway Run led most of the way to win a wide-open $100,000 Coronation Cup Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Monday at Saratoga. After opening up a nice lead in the stretch, the Prospective filly held on to win by 3/4 length over Originator with Lady Suebee third. Broadway Run, with Luis Saez up, finished 5 1/2 furlongs of good turf in 1:03.67. Unraced at 2, she won at first asking at Belmont Park in May and finished second in her first try against winners at the same venue. "When they're fast, they're fast," said winning trainer John Terranova, who said stetching the filly out might be an option.
Saturday's $100,000 Fasig-Tipton De La Rose Stakes for fillies and mares at Saratoga features Precieuse, winner of the last year's Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, or French 1000 Guineas. Now under the command of Chad Brown, the Tamayuz filly raced only once after that triumph, finishing sixth in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot behind some of Europe's best fillies -- Winter, Roly Poly and Hydrangea. She has been working steadily for the comeback but faces some tigresses in the likes of stablemate Uni and the 1-2 finishers from last year's De La Rose, Thundering Sky and On Leave.
Ten will contest Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Sorrento for 2-year-old fillies at Del Mar -- the highlight among the weekend juvenile stakes. They come from hither and yon with last starts as far afield as Hastings Park and Keeneland. As you'd expect, they've all shown promise. Now, it's time to deliver.
Gulfstream Park kicks off this year's Florida Sire Series on Saturday with the Dr. Fager Division and the fillies-only Desert Vixen Division, each worth $100,000 and each contested at 6 furlongs.
Louisiana-bred juveniles also tackle 6 furlongs in the 2-year-old divisions of the Louisiana Cup Saturday at Louisiana Downs.
Saturday's $75,000 Cleveland Kindergarten Stakes at Thistledown is for Ohio-bred juveniles.
On the grass, Monmouth Park on Saturday offers the Tyro and the Colleen, each at 5 furlongs for $60,000.
Stradivarius came alongside pacesetting Torcedor a furlong out in Tuesday's Group 1 Qatar Goodwood Cup, slowly edged by that rival and ran on strongly to win by 1/2 length. It was another 6 lengths back to Idaho in third.
Stradivarius, with Andrea Atzeni subbing for the suspended Frankie Dettori, now is 3-for-3 this season after winning the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup in his opener, then the Group 1 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. The 4-year-old Sea the Stars colt, trained John Gosden, needs only the Lonsdale Cup next month at York to land the 1 million-pound Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers Bonus. Trainer John Gosden said Stradivarius will contest the Lonsdale Cup and we'll do everything we can to try and win it." After that, he said, things get complicated with the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and the Melbourne Cup competing options.
"You have to make a plan for the autumn," Gosden said. "Do you go for the Melbourne Cup, carry top-weight and find yourself giving the guts of a stone to a 3-year-old in November, which is tough, or do you go for the Arc which is a massively difficult task? In the Arc you need tactical speed, agility and luck, so I think we will get past York first before thinking about huge fences like that."
Her Majesty's runner, Call to Mind, pressed the lead into the stretch Tuesday, then suddenly pulled up 2 furlongs from home. Racecourse officials said the 4-year-old Galileo colt, winner of the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational in his previous start, was stabilized on course and vanned back to William Haggis' yard at Newmarket with what was described as a career-ending tendon issue.
Also Tuesday, Sir Dancealot closed stoutly in the final yards of the Group 2 Qatar Lennox Stakes at 7 furlongs and pipped Suedois in the final stride. Sir Dancealot, a 4-year-old Sir Prancealot gelding, scored his third win from seven starts on the year. Gerald Mosse rode for trainer David Elsworth.
And in the Group 2 Qatar Vintage Stakes for 2-year-olds, Dark Vision got the lead inside the furlong marker and was able to hold on for a 1 3/4-lengths victory over Dunkerron. Dark Vision, a Dream Ahead colt trained by Mark Johnston, remains undefeated after three trips to the races. Johnston, however, declined to speculate about the 2019 Guineas. "I'm not a great believer in planning for May while we have yet to reach August," he said, sensibly.
In Wednesday's Group 1 Qatar Sussex Stakes, lightning struck at just the right time for Lightning Spear. After tracking the pace, the 7-year-old Pivotal horse was all dressed up with nowhere to go a furlong out when suddenly a gap appeared between rivals. Accelerating quickly, Lightning Spear flew through to the lead and won by 1 1/2 lengths from Expert Eye. Lord Glitters was third and the favorite, beat only one rival. With Oisin Murphy riding for trainer David Simcock, Lightning Spear finished the 1 mile over good turf in 1:39.89.
He was third in this last year, sixth the year before. The win was his first in 16 starts at the Group 1 level. "He was going really well and I thought if he got a gap he would win," Simcock said. "It is just getting it all to click, with that little bit of luck that we haven't had at times."
David Redvers, racing and bloodstock manager for Sheik Fahad's Qatar Racing, did not discuss whether Lightning Spear might accept the "Win and You're In" bid for the Breeders' Cup Mile conferred by Wednesday's win. But Redvers confirmed that Lightning Spear will join the Qatar Bloodstock roster of stallions at his Tweenhills Stud in Gloucestershire, adding: "He's one of the best-looking horses in racing, he's won a stallion-making race and he's by Pivotal."
On Thursday, Godolphin's star filly Wild Illusion, second in the Oaks at Epsom and second again in the Group 2 Ribblesdale at Ascot, broke through with a Group 1 score in the Qatar Nassau Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/4 miles. Making all, the Dubawi filly rolled home first by 2 lengths, essentially ridden out by William Buick. Urban Fox was best of the rest, followed by Veracious. The triumph for Godolphin was a massive disappointment for Coolmore as Rhododendron, the favorite, showed little and finished last.
Wild Illusion holds entries in the Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks and the Group 1 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, both at 12 furlongs. But trainer Charlie Appleby said no decisions have been made. "We'll let the dust settle and, while she's had a busy campaign, she looks like she's thriving. When fillies tell you that, you map out a plan to suit," he said.
Yet to come:
Sunday's Group 1 Larc Prix de Gheest, 1,300 meters at Deauville, and Sunday's Group 1 German Oaks at Dusseldorf.