The Woodward, the Super Derby and top quality 2-year-old events on both turf and dirt highlight the Labor Day weekend Thoroughbred racing schedule.
Kentucky Downs opens its all-too-brief meeting over the undulating, European-style grass course on the old Dueling Grounds site. Still more high-end turf races are carded at Del Mar, Saratoga and Monmouth Park.
Things largely are quiet on the international front -- except in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Jockey Club this week formally opened its plush and massive Conghua Training Center on the Mainland -- a project that holds major implications for the HKJC itself and, perhaps, for racing in China. The formal opening took place Wednesday, just four days before Sunday's start of the 2018-19 racing season at Sha Tin.
Sunday also finds one of Europe's iconic races, the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden in the Black Forest spa city.
Before we go any farther, deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of John Asher, who died suddenly Monday. John's successful career in broadcast journalism morphed perfectly into his long-held role in publicity for Churchill Downs. Beyond his talent and dedication to racing, John truly was a good guy. He will be missed.
Let's start, for a change, with the international scene:
Several of the eight runners in Sunday's Group 1 Longines Grosser Preis von Baden are legitimate candidates for the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. But the Black Forest fixture is a really nice race in its own right with the likes of Dschingis Secret, Iquitos, Best Solution and Defoe in the field.
Best Solution, a 4-year-old Kodiac colt, exits a victory in the Group 1 Longines Grosser Prix von Berlin, where Dschingis Secret finished fourth as joint favorite. Khan and Windstoss, both in Sunday's field, were fifth and sixth at Hoppegarten. Best Solution has been a bright spot this year for Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor as Charlie Appleby has taken his turn with a banner season.
Dschingis Secret, a 4-year-old by Soldier Hollow, so far hasn't lived up to his multiple Group 1-winning 2017 season but remains dangerous for trainer Marcus Klug. The same could be said for 6-year-old Iquitos, who was second last year in Baden Baden, then traveled to Tokyo last fall to finish 15th in the Japan Cup. Roger Varian invades with Defoe, who most recently was third in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh.
Back in North America:
A full field of 14 is entered for Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Woodward at Saratoga with nary a solid favorite among 'em. You could like Gunnevera, whose only start since finishing eighth in the Dubai World Cup was an allowance win at Gulfstream Park Aug. 10. Gunnevera was second in last year's Travers -- 3 1/4 lengths in the wake of West Coast.
Others in the wide-open field include Yoshida, Hence, Seeking the Soul, Imperative and Discreet Lover. It's a nice field and, lacking a superstar, should provide some nice wagering opportunities.
Lone Sailor, a player in many of the big 3-year-old races during the first half of the year, surfaces as the morning-line favorite for Sunday's $300,000 Grade III Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. The Majestic Warrior colt, trained by Tom Amoss, was second in the Louisiana Derby, eighth in the Kentucky Derby, fifth in the Preakness, second in the Ohio Derby and third in the Haskell. The main opposition in the field of nine appears to be High North, a Midnight Lute colt from Brad Cox's barn who won the Ohio Derby, then was third in the West Virginia Derby.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Sarnac Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga is a rematch between Raging Bull and Maraud, the 1-2 finishers in that order in the Grade II Hall of Fame. Also in this are Golden Brown and Hot Springs, the first two home in the Grade III Kent Stakes at Delaware Park, and Free Drop Billy, trying the green course for the first time and making his first start since finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby and seventh in the Belmont.
River Boyne is 5-for-7 since arriving from his native Ireland and that should make him one to reckon with in Sunday's $250,000 Grade II Del Mar Derby. The Dandy Man colt, trained by Jeff Mullins, comes off a win in the Grade III La Jolla early in the meet. His only non-exacta U.S. showing was a fifth in the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs over yielding turf on Derby Day. Watch for the Mark Casse-trained Ride a Comet, who rides in from the East Coast after a third in the Grade II Hall of Fame at Saratoga. Arawak was second in the La Jolla and tries again. Pubilius Syrus returns from a long absence. The only filly in the field, Animosity, comes off an eventful 11th-place finish in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks and drew the outside gate. She does get a 3-pound weight break.
Filly & Mare Turf
A full field for Saturday's $250,000 One Dreamer Stakes at Kentucky Downs is headed by On Leave and Prado's Sweet Ride. On Leave, a 5-year-old War Front mare, comes off a fourth-place finish in the De La Rose Stakes at Saratoga for trainer Shug McGaughey. Prado's Sweet Ride, trained by Chris Block, was second in the Grade III Modesty at Arlington Park in her last start.
Chad Brown will saddle three of the eight set for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Glens Falls at Saratoga -- as wide-open a field as eager bettors would like to find in a quality race. Brown has Homeland Security, Santa Monica and Onthemoonagain. Santa Monica won the Grade II Dance Smartly at Woodbine in her most recent effort. Homeland Security comes off a victory in the River Memories at Belmont. Danceland steps into graded stakes company after back-to-back wins in Belmont and Saratoga allowance events.
Cambodia is the 5-2 morning-line favorite for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II John C. Mabee at Del Mar after an impressive win last time out in the Grade II Yellow Ribbon. The 6-year-old War Front mare won this last year en route to a third in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Madame Stripes and Sophie P were second and third in the Ribbon and return. Vasilika and Fahan Mura have been almost invincible in California but step up in class.
There's a lot of talent in the eight-horse field set for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Violet Stakes at Monmouth Park. Elysea's World is the marginal 5-2 morning-line pick after capturing the WinStar Matchmaker over the course in her last outing. But the Champs Elysees mare has to compete with Celestial Impact, Special Event, Lift Up and others.
The favorites in Saturday's $750,000 Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs drew the opposite ends of the starting gate -- Mr. Misunderstood on the rail and Bound for Nowhere in the outside No. 8 stall. Their paths have been divergent, too. Mr. Misunderstood, a 4-year-old Archarcharch gelding, has raced in the Midwest and won the preview for this at Ellis Park in his previous start. Bound For Nowhere, a 4-year-old colt by The Factor, has raced in France and England for trainer Wesley Ward and was third in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot in his last start. Don't forget Mr. Cub and Camelot Kitten in his bunch.
Synchrony is the early 6-5 pick in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Red Bank at Monmouth Park based on victory in the Grade III Oceanport last time out for the 5-year-old son of Tapit. He was second in last year's Red Bank.
Monday's $250,000 Grade II Bernard Baruch at Saratoga has six going 1 1/16 miles. Voodoo Song, exiting a win in the Grade I Fourstardave, drew the rail. Synchrony comes off a win in the Grade III Oceanport down the Jersey shore. Inspector Lynley and Projected have been knocking on the door at this level. Qurbaan was fifth in the 2016 UAE 2000 Guineas and otherwise raced reasonably well in the French second division for Shadwell Stable.
Monday's $300,000 Grade III Turf Monster at Parx Racing had not been drawn at press time.
Sombeyay comes into Monday's $350,000 Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga with two wins and a second from three starts. In his latest effort, the Into Mischief colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, won the Grade III Sanford. He drew the rail in a field of eight. The others are maiden winners all -- except for Derby Date, who has yet to win in two starts for owner-breeder Calumet Farm despite the optimistic name.
Monday's $300,000 Grade I Del Mar Futurity had yet to be drawn at press time. Bob Baffert is expected to have Roadster but Jerry Hollendorfer will not enter Instagrand, according to Daily Racing Form's Steve Anderson. Those two were the top morning-line picks in the new Breeders' Cup Futures Bet for the Juvenile. DRF projects a field of seven, none of them stakes winners.
Stage Left is the 2-1 morning line favorite in Saturday's $75,000 Sapling at Monmouth Park but Successful Zip and Unionizer, each at 5-2, aren't far behind. Stage Left makes his first start since his successful career debut at Keeneland in April. The other two are more recent maiden winners.
A field of 10 is set for Saturday's $200,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Cajun Firecracker, winner of the Dr. Fager Division, is back. So are Fully Loaded and Garter and Tie, who finished second and third in that order in the Dr. Fager only to have the stewards reverse that placing. This series is always worth watching.
Eleven youngsters are set for Saturday's $400,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile with the Todd Pletcher-trained Good Good looking pretty good as the morning-line favorite. The Quality Road colt won at first asking at Gulfstream Park and finished third in the Skidmore at Saratoga Aug. 17. Wesley Ward entered Dragic, a winner in his first try in the Keeneland springtime and fourth in the Grade II Sorrento at Del Mar. As always, the unique nature of the Kentucky Downs course leaves this open for upset.
Eleven will face the starter for Sunday's $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Turf. Owning finished fourth in the Grade II Best Pal on the main track after an initial win at Los Alamitos. The others are a mostly well-bred and promising mix of maiden winners and some still seeking that first on-track portrait.
Timmy M. and Harry's Ontheloose are the oddsmaker's picks for Saturday's $65,000 Proud Man Stakes on the Gulfstream greensward. They also drew the outside gates in a field of 10.
Sunday's $60,000 Sunday Silence at Louisiana Downs attracted eight with no clear favorite. Florent Geroux lands on Iowa-bred Future Abundance, who won at first asking at Prairie Meadows.
Already in the books:
Opry closed with a rush from last place to win Wednesday's $150,000 Grade III With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga by 1 1/2 lengths over Somelikeithotbrown, who was the favorite despite the name. Joyful Heart led most of the way and tired to finish third. Opry, a Declaration of War colt trained by Todd Pletcher, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.00. It was his first win and followed a third-place finish at the Spa Aug. 11. "For now, we'll look to stay on the turf and see what he does," Pletcher said.
Chasing Yesterday, a half-sister to American Pharoah, looks for her second win in as many starts in Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". The Tapit filly, trained as was 'Pharoah' by Bob Baffert, won easily in her career debut at Del Mar July 28. Mike Smith has the mount.
"She's not a really big filly, but she's starting to fill out," Baffert told NYRA media. "She worked well for this and she shipped well, so we'll find out what she's made of ... Hopefully, she gets a nice, clean trip and it sets her up for something in the future."
Also in the Spinaway are Catherine the Great and Nonna Madeline, first and second in the Grade III Schuylerville; Virginia Eloise and Guacamole, second and third in the Grade II Adirondack; Restless Rider, winner of the Debutante at Churchill Downs; and several impressive maiden winners.
An aside: A 3-year-old full brother to American Pharoah, St Patrick's Day, has struggled in three starts this season in Ireland after being transferred from Baffert to Aidan O'Brien. It may not be a fair test as O'Brien's yards have been battling flu-like symptoms all year after the nasty Irish spring.
Shipping Chasing Yesterday to the Spa doesn't mean Baffert is abandoning Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Del Mar Debutante. Staying home for that is Mother Mother, a Pioneerof the Nile filly who was bet down to odds-on for her career debut over the same track July 22 and won for fun, 6 1/2 lengths in front of her closest rival. Among the rivals in this five-filly field are Bellafina, a Quality Road filly who scored a minor upset win in the Grade II Sorrento early in the meeting, and Brill, a daughter of Medaglia d'Oro who won her maiden voyage impressively for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Drayden Van Dyke rode both Mother Mother and Brill in their first starts and opts for Mother Mother in the Debutante.
Capture Your Dream is the 4-5 favorite among 10 entered for Saturday's $200,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park. She's 2-for-2 with the most recent win coming in the Desert Vixen Division.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
A dozen plus three also-eligibles were attracted to Saturday's $400,000 Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies at Kentucky Downs. Two Shakes and Miss Technicality are the morning-line favorites. Two Shakes is a daughter of Exchange Rate from the Dynaformer mare Perfectforthepart and won her career debut for trainer Wesley Ward Aug. 10 at Saratoga. Miss Technicality, by Gio Ponti, also won at first asking, at Belmont, for Christophe Clement.
Entirely stands out against eight rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Sharp Susan at Gulfstream Park. The Point of Entry filly won her first start at Gulfstream, then finished fourth in the My Dear Stakes over the Woodbine all-weather track. She does add 2 furlongs to her longest previous test.
Eight plus a main-track-only also eligible signed on for Saturday's $75,000 Sorority at Monmouth Park. The oddsmaker found little to differentiate Malocchio, Sweet Sami D and Horolgist -- all recent maiden winners. It's wide open.
The field for Monday's $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf wasn't available at press time. We're sure it's a good one.
Already in the books:
Dogtag came running late, found a hold on the inside and went on to win Thursday's $100,000 P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga by 1 length over Varenka, who rallied from even farther back. Chocolate Kisses stayed at home for this, eschewing a purse four times as big at Kentucky Downs, then settled for third, earning $12,000. Dogtag, a War Front filly, ran 1 1/16 miles over a yielding inner turf course in 1:45.82. "It was first time on the grass and the surface was a little soft," said winning rider Javier Castellano. "First time two turns. All those considerations, she has to prove it and figure it out ... I liked the way she did it."
Rose's Vision rallied from mid-pack to win Monday's $100,000 Better Talk Now Stakes for 3-year-olds by a neck after having at in through the final sixteenth with Have At It. Prioritize was third. Rose's Vision, an Artie Schiller colt, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.82 with Jose Ortiz riding.