The Canadian International at Woodbine, Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, the Shuka Sho in Japan and the Everest Stakes in Australia highlight a distinctly international Thoroughbred racing weekend agenda.
A pair of 2-year-old races at Newmarket in England could be instructive about the 2019 season.
And we have a bonus: Several important races already are in the books, thanks to Indigenous Peoples Day/Columbus Day holiday racing and one, final Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In".
Saturday's $800,000 (Canadian) Grade I Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine almost always is a truly international affair. This year it expands even those parameters, welcoming to the field Thundering Blue, who comes off a victory in the Group 3 Stockholm Cup in Sweden. Before that, he was third in the Group 1 Juddmonte Interational at York. European raiders had won six straight editions of the Canadian International before U.S. runner Bullard's Alley snapped that string last year and Thundering Blue, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred and England-based gelding by Exchange Rate, is the 2-1 morning line pick to return the hardware across the Atlantic.
Further international flair comes from Germany in the form of Khan, a 4-year-old colt who exits a victory in the Group 1 Pries Von Europa in Cologne, and Desert Encounter, who campaigns in England for trainer David Simcock.
Amongst the visitors from south of the border we find Spring Quality, winner of the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park in June. His fortunes, however, have been sliding in the wrong direction since that race. The same can be said for Funtastic, a Chad Brown-trained colt who won the Grade I United Nations, then disappointed in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga. Another of Brown's, the lightly raced Focus Group, seems on his way up the ladder and it's not wise these days to ignore anything Brown trains.
Local hopefuls in the Canadian International include Johnny Bear and English Illusion, first and third in the Grade I Northern Dancer.
Only a half dozen entries were dropped for Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Ontario Derby at Woodbine. None sets the heart aflutter but Mr. Ritz, a British-bred colt by Oasis Dream, does come off a victory in the Caesar's Stakes at Indiana Grand, earning a 2-pound penalty vis a vis the others.
Already in the books:
Blacktype showed the way in Monday's $200,000 Grade II Knickerbocker Stakes at Belmont Park and survived a late bid by Hi Happy to win by a neck over that rival. Inspector Lynley was third. Blacktype, a 7-year-old Dunkerque gelding, ran 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:48.35 with Joel Rosario up. The French-bred won this event last year and was third in the 2016 edition. He was making a quick turnaround after winning an allowance race Sept. 27 and trainer Christophe Clement said the gelding is due a month or so off before the Artie Schiller at Aqueduct Nov. 10.
Filly & Mare Turf
Eight 3-year-old fillies are signed on for Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland. They are headed by Rushing Fall, a More Than Ready filly who has won five of six starts for trainer Chad Brown with her sole loss a second place by a neck in the Grade III Edgewood at Churchill Downs in May. The victories include last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Del Mar and both her previous starts at Keeneland.
Also in the lineup for the QE II are Grade I winners Fatale Bere (Del Mar Oaks) and Capala Temptress (Natalma). The race is 9 furlongs over the bluegrass.
Brown also has three of the nine fillies and mares entered for Saturday's $500,000 (Canadian) Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine. Santa Monica, a 5-year-old Mastercraftsman mare, won the Grade II Dance Smartly over the course June 30. "She loved the course the last time she ran here," said Jose Ortiz, who has the return engagement. Brown also sends out Elysea's World, a 5-year-old Champs Elysses mare, and the lightly raced Pollara, a 3-year-old Camelot filly.
The field for the E.P. Taylor also includes Proctor's Ledge, winner of the Grade II Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs in May; Sheikha Reika, in the money six times from seven starts; Sky Full of Stars, a Group 2 winner at Baden-Baden last month; as well as Summer Luck and Starship Jubilee.
An early return:
Kingsport swapped leads with Thor's Rocket through the stretch run in Monday's $100,000 (Canadian) Bunty Lawless Stakes for Canadian-sired runners, then put a neck in front of that rival under the wire. It was another 10 1/4 lengths to the show horse, Be Vewy Vewy Quiet. Kingsport, a 6-year-old by Milwaukee Brew, ran 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:37.84 with Patrick Husbands up, scoring his third win from his last four starts. "He had a perfect trip and the other horse put him away and he fought back on," Husbands said. "At the end of the day, horse makes jockey. But I'm happy to be here."
Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Nearctic Stakes at Woodbine drew 11, mostly locals. Yorkton, a 4-year-old Speightstown colt, has been on the improve, winning the Grade III Bold Venture in his last start. Holding Gold has been holding his own without winning at the top local level.
King of Speed didn't have much speed early in Monday's $100,000 Zuma Beach Stakes at Santa Anita but made up for that lack in the late going, closing for a 1 1/4-lengths victory over the favorite, Much Better. It was 2 1/4 lengths farther back to Rijeka in third. King of Speed, a Jimmy Creed colt, finished 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.35 with Gary Stevens riding. He scored his first win in his fifth start, the Del Mar Juvenile Turf.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Concrete Rose attended the pace in Wednesday's $200,000 Grade II JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland, swept past the leaders a furlong out and kicked away to win by 3 lengths, earning a spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf via the final "Win and You're In" offering for the 2018 World Championships at Churchill Downs. Pakhet was second, Belle Laura third and the favorite, Fierce Scarlet, fourth. Concrete Rose, a Twirling Candy filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.09 with Jose Lezcano in the irons. It was her first start since she won her career bow at Saratoga in August, going just 5 1/2 furlongs. "We thought two turns was what she wanted," said winning trainer Rusty Arnold. "We are going to the Breeders' Cup if everything's right. That was the plan."
Lonely Road was anything but lonely in the stretch run of Monday's $150,000 Matron at Belmont Park, seeing off two persistent rivals before winning by a head. Monette was second, just 1/2 length to the good of Entirely, and all three had a shot in the late going. Lonely Road, a Quality Road filly, ran 6 furlongs on the good inner turf course in 1:10.88 for jockey David Cohen. He was making his first start on the green course after an eighth-place finish in the Grade III Schuylerville at Saratoga. Trainer Christophe Clement, who notched his third graded stakes win of the long weekend, said owner/breeder Robert Evans "kept telling me the dam was a good turf filly ... I'll talk to Mr. Evans next week and he can make up his mind where to go next."
Lakerball led all the way to an upset win in Monday's $100,000 Surfer Girl at Santa Anita, holding on in the final jumps to win by a head over Lady Prancealot. The odds-on favorite, Summering, settled for third. Lakerball, a daughter of Lakerville, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:35.23 under Mario Gutierrez. She now is 2-for-4 for trainer Doug O'Neill.
The World View:
The best Japanese horses are emerging from their summer hibernation to prepare for the big fall and winter races and Monday's Grade 2 Kyoto Daishoten was an important stop. Satono Diamond, the 2016 Japanese Derby winner, rallied from mid-pack to win the 2,400-meters race by 1/2 length over Red Genova with Albert third. The favorite, reigning Japan Cup winner Cheval Grand, settled for fourth. Satono Diamond, a Grade 1 winner earlier in his career, won for the first time in 19 months -- a span which included a 15th-place finish in last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly. Cheval Grand was stretching his legs for the first time since finishing second in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) in April.
Sunday, it's the Grade I Shuka Sho, the final leg of the 3-year-old filly Triple Crown. Almond Eye, winner of the first two legs, is the likely favorite with the main challenge from last year's 2-year-old champion, Lucky Lilac. The latter has finished second and third in the first two stops in the Triple Crown. It's a big field so anything is possible but, all being equal, it looks a two-filly race.
Saturday's AUS$13 million (US$9.23 million) Everest Stakes at Royal Randwick is a buy-in event similar to the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, but run at 1,200 meters, or about 6 furlongs. This second running of the event attracted the attention of Coolmore's Irish flagship operation, which sent U S Navy Flag, a War Front, winner of the Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket in July. Ryan Moore is booked for the flight and the ride on the colt -- a 3-year-old in the north but listed as a 4-year-old in Australia. He won the Group 1 Darley Dewhurst at this point in last year's season, with Mendelssohn second, before finishing a fading 10th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on the Del Mar dirt.
The home team for the Everest includes the top three from last year's edition -- Redzel, Vega Magic and Japanese-bred Brave Smash. None of those has exactly set the track ablaze in their prep races so we shall see how things stack up.
Friday's Group 1 bet365 Fillies' Mile at Newmarket has a contentious field of eight. Antonia De Vega, Hermosa, Pretty Pollyanna and Zagitova all compete for attention in antepost wagering. Hermosa and Zagitova, both by Galileo, carry Coolmore colors. Antonia De Vega, a Lope De Vega filly trained by Ralph Beckett, has won both her starts. Pretty Pollyana, a daughter of Oasis Dream, finished fourth in the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes over the course in her last outing and stretches out from that.
Saturday's Group 1 Darley Dewhurst Stakes, as noted above, was won last year by U S Navy Flag, representing Coolmore and trainer Aidan O'Brien. Those connections have the numbers again this year, with three of the seven confirmed starters. But they may not have the favorite -- a role likely reserved for Too Darn Hot. The Dubawi colt out of the Singspiel mare Dar Re Mi is trained by John Gosden for Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber and has won all three previous starts convincingly. Frankie Dettori has the mount. Sangarius, a Juddmonte Farms homebred by Kingman, is 2-for-2 but steps up a small notch in class and distance for trainer John Gosden. O'Brien's top hope appears to be Anthony Van Dyke, a Galilo colt who exits a runner-up spot in the Group 1 National at the Curragh. The Coolmore lads also send Mohawk and Christmas.
Ace of Aces led much of the way in Tuesday's $100,000 Crown Ambassador Stakes for Indiana-bred 2-year-olds and survived the late bid of Snicker Cookie, winning by 1/2 length. Merocketman was third. Ace of Aces, an Unbridled Express colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.41 for jockey Alex Canchari.
Fireball Baby rushed to the lead in Tuesday's $100,000 Indiana Stallion Stakes for state-bred juvenile fillies, then held off Stormy Lives late to win by 1/2 length. Pretty Assets was third and the odds-on favorite, Stormy Brooke, got home fourth. Fireball Baby, a daughter of Noble's Promise, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.20 with Fernando De La Cruz riding.
Winston's Chance was along late to win Tuesday's $50,000 Leon Reed Memorial for New York-breds by 1/2 length over Breakin the Fever. Winston's Chance, a 5-year-old gelding by Roaring Fever, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.71 with Nazario Alvarado riding.
Calgary Caper came from last of 10 to win Monday's $100,000 (Canadian) BC Premier's Handicap by a neck over Brave Nation with Silent Eagle another neck back in third. Calgary Caper, a 7-year-old El Corredor gelding, finished 1 3/8 miles on a good track in 2:17.48 under Sahin Civaci.
Victress was just that in Monday's $100,000 (Canadian) Ballerina Stakes after rallying from the back of the pack. The 5-year-old Include mare, with Amadeo Perez riding, completed 9 furlongs on a good track in 1:50.38, catching Sailingforthesun in the final strides.
Driller hit the lead in the lane in Monday's $100,000 (Canadian) Harvest Plate Stakes and held on gamely to win by a neck over Sir Bronx. Hey Bro was another 3/4 length back in third. Driller, a 4-year-old Texas Wildcatter gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:25.65 with Sheldon Rodrigo in the irons.
Escape Clause waited behind a breakaway leader in Monday's $50,000 (Canadian) Lynn Chouinard Founders Distaff, reeled that one in with ease and strode out to a 10 3/4-lengths win. Anstrum was best of the rest. Escape Clause, a 4-year-old Going Commando filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the muddy track in 1:44.90 under Prayven Badrie.