Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl stars in the Cotillion and McKinzie and Hofburg feature in the Pennsylvania Derby as the attention of the racing world turns to Philadelphia this weekend.
McKinzie, in fact, is one of two early-season stars from the Bob Baffert barn who return after being on the sidelines for a while.
Laurel Park runs seven stakes, worth a combined $900,000, on Saturday -- all rescheduled from Sept. 15 due to the threat of severe weather from Hurricane Florence.
Churchill Downs has the Dogwood for 3-year-old fillies and Los Alamitos has an interesting race for state-bred 2-year-olds. Arlington Park runs the final weekend of its season before handing over to Hawthorne Race Course.
The Grade II Sankei Sho All Comers in Japan and the Group 2 Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef for 2-year-olds in England are the top international events of the weekend.
In news and notes, the Pegasus World Cup spins off a companion race on the grass.
There's no grass growing under our hooves as we move right on to:
McKinzie and Hofburg are the morning-line favorites for Saturday's $1 million Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing. McKinzie was sidelined in March after being disqualified from victory in the Grade II San Felipe. Hofburg finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Belmont -- one of the few gaining ground in the stretch run in both of those races. He tuned up with an easy win at Saratoga July 27.
The Pennsy Derby field is filled with other dangers, though. Chad Brown will saddle Instilled Regard in his first start since his fourth-place effort in the Run for the Roses, where he was closing even faster than Hofburg. Dale Romans continues to have faith in King Zachary despite a scarcity of wins. Ditto D. Wayne Lukas and Bravazo. Mr. Freeze won the Grade III West Virginia Derby in his last start by 8 lengths with a Beyer Speed Figure of 102. Axelrod and Core Beliefs are worth a long look.
Are You Kidding Me drew the middle gate among five entries for Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Durham Cup at Woodbine and will try for a second win in the race. After coming up short in 2014 and 2015, the venerable son of Run Away and Hide got there first in the 2016 edition, then did not contest the race last year. He gives 2 pounds to the others -- Avie's Mesa, Melmich, Lookin for Eight and Florida Won.
Collected returns to action for the first time since the Pegasus World Cup way back in January in Saturday's $150,000 Pennsylvania Derby Champion at Parx Racing. The 5-year-old son of City Zip, trained by Bob Baffert, finished seventh in the big race but earlier was a consistent performer at top levels, winning the Pacific Classic and finishing second to Gun Runner in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He's been working well at Santa Anita.
Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl is a monumental favorite in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Cotillion at Parx Racing. The Tapizar filly's career record is blemished only by a second-place finish -- that by a neck -- last fall in the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs. She looks to extend a five-race winning skein, the last four of them Grade I events. The opposition includes Wonder Gadot, who returns to female company after a last-place finish in the Travers. She was, however, second to Monomoy Girl in the Kentucky Oaks, only 1/2 length back. The show horse from the Oaks, Midnight Bisou, also is in the field after a sixth-place finish in the Alabama in her last start. Chocolate Martini has shown enough talent to make an impression at this level.
Battle of Midway is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park going the one-turn mile. Hard to remember he was the bottom of the trifecta in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, then went on to win the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last year at Del Mar. He was second in the Grade II Pat O'Brien at Del Mar in his 2018 debut Aug. 25. Sunny Ridge, No Dozing and Timeline also could have a say in the outcome in the Kelso.
Switzerland, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, drew the rail for Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Frank De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park. The 4-year-old Speightstown colt exits a fading, fifth-place finish in the Grade I Vanderbilt at Saratoga but before that won four in a row while climbing the class ladder. Always Sunshine has two straight stakes wins. Lewisfield and Laki were 1-2 over the Laurel strip in their last outing.
Firenze Fire headlines a field of 10 set for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Gallant Bob for 3-year-olds at Parx Racing. The Poseidon's Warrior colt won the Grade III Dwyer at Belmont Park by 9 lengths in July going a one-turn mile, then finished a close third in the 7-furlongs Grade I Jerkens at Saratoga. He shortens up another furlong for this. The field also includes Seven Trumpets, who was second in the Jerkens, and some lightly raced types who could pose a threat.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Hot Shot Anna shot through a sudden opening between the leaders turning for home in Monday's $400,000 Grade II Presque Isle Downs Masters and jetted off to a 4 1/4-lengths victory. Let It Ride Mom edged Crazy Sweet for second in a battle of long shots. Hot Shot Anna, a 4-yea-rold Trappe Shot filly, finished 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:14.73 with Antonio Gallardo riding.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Charles Town Oaks, 7 furlongs, drew a mixed bag of 10 plus also-eligibles. Take Charge Paula was last in the Kentucky Oaks but has been better. Sower has run consistently for trainer Linda Rice. Alter Moon exits a close fourth in the Grade I Test at the Spa. Alberobello shows promise for trainer Todd Pletcher. And Sense of Bravery just missed in the Grade III Groupie Doll at Ellis Park. Perhaps not the best in the business but a competitive field.
Figarella's Queen figures in Saturday's $100,000 Dogwood for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs after a runner-up finish behind the talented Talk Veuve to Me in the Grade II Indiana Oaks. The 7-furlongs Dogwood also attracted Arlington Park invader Jean Elizabeth, winner of seven of her nine previous starts; Everyonelovesjimmy, stepping into stakes company after two consecutive wins; and Jersey Girl Stakes runner-up Devine Mischief in a field of 11.
Highway Star, second in four of her last five starts, figures prominently among seven entered for Sunday's $300,000 Grade II Gallant Bloom at Belmont Park. The Girolamo mare's last win was in this race last year. The likely favorite is Lewis Bay, in the money in all but one of her 16 career starts.
Eight signed on for Friday's $150,000 Bertram F. Bongard Stakes for New York-breds at Belmont Park with Bankit tabbed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite. The Central Banker colt comes off a second in the Funny Cide Stakes at Saratoga.
Galilean gets his first chance to start repaying his $600,000 auction price in Saturday's $100,000 Barretts Juvenile for California-breds at Los Alamitos. The Uncle Mo colt, owned by West Point Thoroughbred and others, has been working steadily since the end of June for his debut. Drayden Van Dyke takes the call for Jerry Hollendorfer. He faces several winners in a field of six.
Saturday's $100,000 Laurel Futurity drew a field of 12 plus main-track-only also eligible with lots of promising types but no standouts. The race, formerly run on the dirt at Pimlico, has been won by the likes of Triple Crown winners Count Fleet, Citation, Secretariat and Affirmed as well as Spectacular Bid, Tapit and Barbaro. Can any other 2-year-old race can match that lineup?
Cartwheelin Lulu led from the start in Wednesday's $150,000 Joseph A. Gimma Stakes for New York-breds at Belmont Park and kept running, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. More Mischief nipped the favorite, Elegent Zip, in the final strides to take second. Cartwheelin Lulu, a daughter of Bustin Stones, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.71 with John Velazquez up.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Elsa, a Godolphin homebred daughter of Animal Kingdom, is the morning-line favorite among 12 for Saturday's $100,000 Selima Stakes at Laurel Park. She won at first asking over the course, then finished third in the Bolton Landing at Saratoga. Margie Is Livid is the only other filly in the field with a win over the Laurel turf. Most of the others will be seeking improvement.
Hello Don Julio is the 5-2 favorite for Saturday's $100,000 Laurel Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles despite having faded from the lead in his last four starts -- all going shorter. The Afleet Alex gelding just missed in his last outing at Saratoga, nipped at the wire by a neck. That might be good enough in a field including only one last-race winner.
Filly & Mare Turf
Chad Brown fields an impressive pair of imports -- Uni and Dream Awhile -- in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Noble Damsel for fillies and mares at Belmont Park. Uni rides a two-race winning streak while Dream Awhile has never finished off the board since arriving in the United States from France. Hawksmoor is 2-for-2 on the Belmont turf but has not had her picture taken in a while.
Saturday's $150,000 All Along at Laurel Park finds a dozen fillies and mares set to tackle 1 1/16 miles. It's a total program-stabber but Lift Up, Mythical Mission, Stormy Victoria and My Impression all could make an impression with a top effort.
A full and very wide-open field will contest Saturday's $100,000 Laurel Dash. The oddsmaker looks to Dubini as the 4-1 favorite but any number of others could just as well be installed there. Should be a nice race to pick 'em and win.
Smiling Causeway is the 9-5 pick on the morning line for Saturday's $100,000 Sensible Lady Turf Dash at Laurel Park. The Giant's Causeway filly is drawn No. 10 in a full field going 6 furlongs.
On the international scene:
Sunday's Grade II All Comers Stakes at 11 furlongs on the Nakayama turf has a talented field including Rey de Oro, a 4-year-old son of King Kamehameha, who won last year's Grade I Japanese Derby and finished second in the Japan Cup. He makes his first start since a fourth-place showing in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic in March. Gold Actor, a 7-year-old son of Screen Hero, won this race in 2016, then went on to finish fourth in that year's Japan Cup. He showed little, however, in his two earlier starts this year.
Saturday's Group 2 Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef for 2-year-olds at Newbury features a pair whose performance was at the opposite ends of the spectrum in last month's Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville. True Mason, trained by the red-hot Karl Burke, finished third in that heat behind the talented fillies Pretty Pollyana and Signora Cabella. Marie's Diamond, a Mark Johnston charge, was last of nine. But he had performed much better on firmer ground earlier against tough opposition. The Irish Rover roves over for Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien while John Gosden will saddle Kessaar and Marhaba Milliar. Ribchester won this in 2015 and Harry Angel did the same in 2016.
Things do seem to come in threes and Poet's Word is the third equine star sidelined in less than a week. On Sunday, Roaring Lion and Alpha Centauri were retired with injuries. Tuesday, Sir Michael Stoute announced Poet's word, winner of the King George and runner-up to Roaring Lioin in the Juddmonte International, is done -- at least for this year -- with an injury. That precludes a start in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf in November, where he would have been among the favorites. Sir Michael said the owner, Saeed Suhail, will make the call about retirement or another year of racing for the 5-year-old son of Poet's Voice.
News and Notes
The Pegasus World Cup in January will split its $16 million purse with a new Grade I turf race at 1 3/16 miles -- the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational. The dirt race, to be run for the third time Jan. 26, will carry a purse of $9 million, with $4 million to the winner. Its new turf complement will offer $7 million in purse money with $3 million to the winner. Starting slots will cost $500,000 apiece for either race.
A $1 million bonus will go to an owner whose horses win both races and fans will be offered a "Pegasus Pick 24" wager with $5 million on offer for predicting the exact order of finish in both races. Good luck with that!
"The appetite for a turf race is strong and the decision to include a premier turf race is part of the ongoing evolution of the Pegasus World Cup," said Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of the Stronach Group, which owns the Pegasus franchise and Gulfstream Park, which hosts the event.
Arrogate won the initial Pegasus in 2017. Gun Runner captured this year's edition.