With Saratoga and Del Mar in the rear-view mirror, Kentucky Downs takes center stage in U.S. racing this weekend with huge purses on offer both Saturday and Sunday.
The big noise, however, comes from England with Enable and Harry Angel both ready for comeback starts.
And, we note that the Hong Kong Jockey Club's spanking new Conghua Training Center on the mainland seems to have a magically restorative effect on horses ... at least from a (very) limited sample. See the International section.
Which starts right here:
How about a weekend with both Enable and Harry Angel making comeback starts from injury?
Enable, last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, suffered a training setback in the springtime and has not been seen on the track since the Chantilly triumph. Trainer John Gosden might have foreseen a bit of a softer comeback spot for the 4-year-old Nathaniel filly in Saturday's Group 3 188Bet September Stakes at Kempton -- until Crystal Ocean, runner-up in the King George, appeared among the entries.
Enable, who won last year's King George in addition to the English, Irish, Yorkshire and Cheshire Oaks, remains a strong chance for the Oct. 7 Arc. But even if she needs the race, she will have to show Saturday that she has recovered from her injuries and retains the brilliance that marked the 2017 campaign.
Two notes about this race: 1) The other three get in comparatively feather-light and, 2) It's the first race on the card (9:05 EDT) so get up early.
An hour and a half later, Harry Angel, apparently fully recovered from a near disaster at Royal Ascot, will resume his brilliant career in the 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock. The 4-year-old Dark Angel colt won the race last year for Godolphin en route to a campaign that saw him finish best among sprinters in the Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings.
This year's program was derailed -- literally -- when Harry Angel's foot was hooked on a rail as the barriers sprung in the Diamond Jubilee at Ascot in June. Slow-motion replays showed it a matter of inches from a terrible accident. Still, Harry Angel's small wound and some lingering soreness kept him out of the Group 1 July Cup, which trainer Clive Cox called "a huge disappointment ... I would have preferred to have run in the July Cup but the upside is that he is going into Saturday as a fresh horse. I guess every cloud has a silver lining," Cox said.
The second and third from last year's 32Red Sprint Cup, Tasleet and The Tin Man, are set to give it another go. Sir Dancealot and James Garfield were supplemented to an already talented field.
Fine Needle is among 15 set for Sunday's Grade 2 Centaur Stakes at Hanshin, a logical stepping stone to the Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes Sept. 30 at Nakayama. Fine Needle, a 5-year-old son of Admire Moon, won last year's Centaur but then had an off day in the Sprinters Stakes, finishing 12th. He rebounded to win the Group 1 Takamatsunomia Kinen at Chukyo in March, then finished fourth against a tough field in the Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize at Sha Tin in Hong Kong in April. Fine Needle, bred by Darley Japan and owned by Godolphin, has been idle since. The others in this tilt have been competing well down the class ladder.
When Most Beautiful went to the post at 16-1 odds in the fourth race at Happy Valley Wednesday night, the 6-year-old Blackfriars gelding was winless in 26 previous Hong Kong starts. But Most Beautiful was among the first horses to be shifted to the new Conghua training center in the hot springs district of Guangdong Province on the mainland. The vacation must have paid off. Most Beautiful, also benefitting from a 5-pound weight break, rallied down the center of the course to victory -- the first Conghua-trained steed to win a Hong Kong race. According to HKJC data (and they provide every scrap), he was shuttled back to Hong Kong Aug. 31.
Back in North America:
It's pretty much Kentucky Downs this weekend, with a splash of juvenile races at Arlington Park to keep things lively.
Saturday's card has five big-money stakes, four of them graded. Sunday it's the Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby and the Dueling Grounds Oaks, plus four qualifying races for the Claiming Crown in December at Gulfstream Park.
An overflow field of 12 plus four also-eligibles can hardly wait for Saturday's $750,000 Grade III Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup at 12 furlongs. There's a "horse for the course" here in 7-2 morning-line favorite Oscar Nominated. The Kitten's Joy 5-year-old makes his third stop at Kentucky Downs, looking to add to victories in the 2016 Dueling Grounds Derby and to repeat in this race. He's one of four in the main field trained by Mike Maker. After Oscar Nominated, there's Multiplier, shipped in from California by trainer Peter Miller; Manitoulin, in from Saratoga; and another Maker trainee, Bigger Picture, also a Spa refugee. Beyond them, stab the program and hope for the best. If Patterson Cross draws in, make sure he's on the bottom of exotic tickets.
Who remembers when a predecessor to this race was the Kentucky Cup Turf as Dueling Grounds and Turfway Park coordinated the late, lamented Kentucky Cup races? We're pulling for a comeback.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf drew a field of 10, with little to differentiate many of them, handicapping-wise. The 7-2 morning-line favorite, I'm Betty G, drew the rail for the 1-mile journey. But most of the field starts the wagering at single-digit odds.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint, 6 1/2 furlongs, attracted 11. There's no standout so consider the likes of Undrafted, Conquest Panthera, White Flag, Done Deal and Master Merion. Undrafted, from Wesley Ward's barn, makes his fifth appearance at Kentucky Downs, having finished third, second, fourth and third in the earlier efforts. He has not raced since finishing 18th (of 28) in the Wokingham Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Lull is the solid, 2-1 favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $450,000 Grade III Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint. The War Front filly, trained by Christophe Clement, won this race last year and the Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies Stakes the year before. She comes off third-place showings in graded stakes at Belmont Park and Woodbine. Ruby Notion, a Great Notion mare, comes from a win in the Caress Stakes at Saratoga. Ten are set for the 6 1/2-furlongs test.
Eleven 2-year-olds are entered for Saturday's $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint and -- how unchivalrous! -- the three fillies drew the outside gates to start the 6 1/2 furlongs. Nonetheless, Moonlight Romance, a Liaison filly trained by Wesley Ward for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, was installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite. That, apparently, is on the basis of her maiden-breaking win at Belmont Park in May and not her 13th-place showing in the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot. She drew No. 10 and Ward's other filly, Mae Never No, third in the Tremont at Saratoga, starts on the outside.
Reride has been on quite a ride this year, from victories in Louisiana and New Mexico to a third-place finish in the Group 2 UAE Derby in Dubai, then to Minnesota and to a fourth-place finish in the Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga. Now he's back in Kentucky, where he started his career with two straight wins, for Sunday's $400,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby at 10 1/2 furlongs. The Candy Ride colt has two wins on the grass.
Also in the Dueling Grounds Derby: Irish import Bandua, a Kentucky-bred colt by The Factor, who finished third in the Grade I Secretariat at Arlington in his U.S. debut. Jailhouse Kitten was claimed away from Mike Maker for $30,000 two starts ago and Maker took him back for $40,000 in his last outing -- both straight claiming events at Churchill Downs. Others of note: Channel Cat, Captivating Moon and Zanesville.
Heavenly Love is one of 12 mostly underachievers in Sunday's $300,000 Fifth Third Insurance Dueling Grounds Oaks at 10 1/2 furlongs. The Malibu Moon filly, trained by Mark Casse, won the Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland last fall but struggled after that. She has shown a bit more promise on the green course and Sunday's rivals might be a bit easier than what she's faced recently. Pamina was second in the Grade II Pucker Up at Arlington on the Million undercard and has yet to miss the exacta in five career starts. Princess Warrior was third in the Pucker Up. Maker has three fillies here, all looking for a breakthrough. Don't dismiss Dothraki Sea.
We'll catch up with Thursday's late action in the weekend roundup.
Big Drink of Water, a Soldat gelding, drew the outside gate among seven entered for Saturday's $75,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity. He started his career finishing second on the Gulfstream Park dirt, then won a maiden event at Presque Isle Downs and captured the Victoria Stakes at Woodbine. Both of the wins were on all-weather surfaces, as is Saturday's race. If not him, Knicks Go and Castlewood Terrace look promising. Knicks Go, a Paynter colt, comes off a fifth-place finish in the Grade II Sanford at Saratoga. He won his first start at Ellis Park. Castlewood Terrace, by El Padrino, broke his maiden in his second start at Arlington in July, then finished third in the Prairie Meadows Juvenile Aug. 10, albeit 13 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
Saturday's $75,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie, 7 furlongs on the all-weather track, has mostly recent maiden winners among its nine entrants. The exception is Beach Getaway, a Run Away and Hide filly who broke her maiden at Churchill Downs in June, then finished third in both the Debutante a Churchill and the Prairie Gold Lassie in Iowa. Get None, by Biondetti, won at first asking at Arlington, then finished fourth in a Presque Isle Downs allowance event.
In other action:
Belmont Park opens the fall meeting Friday with the $100,000 Christiecat for 3-year-old fillies going 6 furlongs on the turf. The $100,000 Armed Forces on Saturday is the same conditions for any 3-year-old.
The Saturday card at Hastings Park has the $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III British Columbia Derby and the $100,000 (Canadian) British Columbia Oaks.
Los Alamitos fires up Saturday with the $75,000 Beverly Lewis for 3-year-old fillies and the $75,000 E.B. Johnston at 1 mile.
Woodbine has 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) La Lorgnette. Older distaffers tackle the same trip in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Belle Mahone.
These already in the books:
Mr. Ritz dueled for the lead in Wednesday's $200,000 Caesars Stakes for 3-year-olds, took the advantage for good in the stretch run and the favorite, Untamed Domain, could do no better than chase him home, finishing second by 2 3/4 lengths. Factor This was third. Mr. Ritz, a British-bred colt by Oasis Dream, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:36.20 with Jose Valdivia Jr. in the irons. He shipped in from Woodbine, where he won his previous start.
Beyond Blame ran to her notices as the odds-on favorite in Wednesday's $200,000 Indiana Grand for 3-year-old fillies. The Blame filly tracked the early pace, moved up when asked by jockey Florent Geroux and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths. High Tech was second at long odds and Beach Waltz danced home third. Beyond Blame ran 1 mile on the green in 1:35.69. She won the Grade III Regret at Churchill Downs in June.