British Champions Day at Ascot takes center stage in weekend Thoroughbred racing, with the Japanese St. Leger and some rich state-bred festivals in the United Stakes sharing the spotlight.
The Ascot races are the culmination of the British racing season and Saturday's event brings together some old rivals in tough competition. On display are the likes of Cracksman, Roaring Lion, Crystal Ocean, Lah Ti Dar, Stradivarius and The Tin Man.
In Japan, while there will be no Triple Crown winner this year, Epocha d'Oro could wind up with two wins and a second and jump into contention for some big races in the near future with a big effort in Sunday's Grade 1 St. Leger.
Let's get on with it straight away:
British Champions Day
Fifteen, including well-fancied Roaring Lion, are left in for the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at the straight mile. Roaring Lion roars into Ascot riding a three-race Group 1 winning streak that encompasses the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, the Juddmonte International at York and the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
At York, he defeated the mighty Poet's Word. The question mark here is that all of those efforts were at 1 1/4 miles. But he was deadly at that distance last season and there's no reason not to trust trainer John Gosden to have him sharpened up again for Saturday's race. The opposition includes Laurens, a 3-year-old Siyouni filly who exits victories in the Group 1 Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes (over Alpha Centauri) and the Group 1 Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot.
The Group 1 Qipco Champion Stakes, at round about 1 1/4 miles, features Cracksman as the even-money favorite against seven, notably Crystal Ocean and Capri. Cracksman, a 4-year-old Frankel colt, won this last year in a season that saw him getting better as things progressed. He started 2018 with victories in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp and the Coronation Cup at Epsom before settling for second behind Poet's Word in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot.
He hasn't been seen in the afternoon since that race. Crystal Ocean, a 4-year-old by Sea the Stars, chased Enable home in her Arc prep race and earlier just missed to Poet's Word in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Aidan O'Brien sends Capri, a Galileo colt who hasn't had much luck this year, including two fifth-place showings this fall. He would have to return to his 2017 peak to win this but could do.
The 11-member cast for the Group 1 Qipco British Champion Filly & Mare Stakes at 1 1/2 miles features Lah Ti Dar, the 3-year-old Andrew Lloyd Webber homebred daughter of Dubawi who missed extending her undefeated record to four when she ran second in the Group 1 William Hill St Leger Stakes in her last outing. The Gosden trainee has yet to win a Group race but her three wins have been produced with such domination that much is expected as she cuts back from stayers' distance to a test probably more to her liking. If not, there would be a scramble for the top spot among the likes of Kitesurf, Hydrangea, Coronet and Magical, all held at single-digit odds in antepost wagering.
The Group 1 Qipco British Champions Sprint is a lovely tossup with 14 set to go 6 furlongs. The Tin Man is a lukewarm favorite after a win in the Group 1 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock. But he's had an up-and-down season at age 6 and finished fifth in this last year. The 2017 winner, Librisa Breeze, returns but hasn't shown much in the intervening year. And Harry Angel is back to try again to recover the near disaster at Royal Ascot. Back to his best, the 4-year-old Dark Angel colt could be the best of this lot. There are plenty of other chances here is an excellent wagering opportunity.
Stradivarius looks to continue his remarkable run in the Group 2 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at 2 miles. The 4-year-old Sea the Stars colt finished third in last year's running, behind only Order of St George and Torcedor. This year, he has ripped off four wins sans loss and reaped the generous Weatherby's bonus along the way. Those looking to beat him could turn to Flag of Honour, a 3-year-old by Galileo who's the latest to try to pick up the star stayers' role for the Coolmore lads and Aidan O'Brien. He exits a win in the Group 1 Comer Group International Irish St. Leger. The other five in this heat will have to improve to contend.
Epocha d'Oro, winner of the Grade 1 Japanese 2000 Guineas and runner-up in the Grade 1 Derby, is the likely favorite for Sunday's Grade 1 Kikuka Sho, or Japanese St. Leger, the third led of the Japanese Triple Crown.The Orfevre colt won the 2,000-meters Guineas in his first try at the top level April 15 at Nakayamia, then finished a close second behind Wagnerian in the Derby, 400 meters farther.
After his summer break, Epocha d'Oro returned to finish fourth, again behind winner Wagnerian, in the Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2) at Hanshin Sept. 23. The two now go their separate way, with Wagnerian's connections aiming for the shorter distance (2,000 meters) of the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) in another week's time at Tokyo.
Also in a big field for the St. Leger are: Blast Onepiece, fifth place in the Derby; Generale Uno, winner of the Grade 2 Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen Sept. 17 but third in the Guineas and 16th in the Derby; and Etario, the Derby fourth. Meisho Tekkan, trained by the impressive Toshitada Takahashi, was a close second behind Wagnerian in the Kobe Shimbun Hai. Fierement makes just his fourth start and has never tried farther than 1,800 meters but will have leading rider Christophe Lemaire in the irons.
Back in North America, two weeks out from the Breeders' Cup World Championships:
The excellent news this week is: Enable, two-time winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, is headed for Churchill Downs and the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf.
Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Khalid Abdullah, told Racing Post Tuesday: "The way Enable's season has panned out, this race is a logical progression. She's come out of the Arc fine, she seems to have recovered and taken it well. From that point of view we have to be very pleased with her.
"No Arc winner has won the Turf, but we're looking for positives," Grimthorpe continued. "Most of them to try had a hard, tough season by the time they got to the Breeders' Cup." Enable, by contrast, had her season significantly shortened by injury and the Breeders' Cup will be only her third race since she dominated the 2017 Arc.
While it's true that none of the eight Arc winners who've tried has won a Breeders' Cup, you'd not want to leave any off your trifecta ticket. Four of the eight have finished in the top three.
Already in the books:
Zulu Alpha shadowed the pace in Thursday's $100,000 Grade III Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland, shot through a hole along the rail at the top of the stretch and ran on to win by 2 lengths. The favorite, Arklow, ran evently to finish second, 2 1/2 lengths better than Bigger Picture. The disappointments included Oscar Nominated, who reported a fading eighth. Zulu Alpha, a 5-year-old Street Cry gelding, ran 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:34.21 with Channing Hill up for trainer John Ortiz. Zulu Alpha was claimed out of his last start at Churchill Downs for $80,000. The winner's share of the Sycamore purse was $60,000. "Right now, I'm speechless and very thankful," Ortiz said.
Filly & Mare Turf
Daddy Is a Legend is a mild favorite in an overflow field for Friday's $150,000 Grade III Pin Oak Valley View at Keeneland. The Scat Daddy filly was scratched from last weekend's program by trainer George Weaver in favor of this event and comes off a Saratoga sojurn in which she won the Grade III Lake George and finished third in the Grade III Lake Placid. Two others well regarded on the morning line, Poetic Charm and Chipolata, drew gates No. 13 and No. 14 for the 1 1/16-miles event -- not a plus.
Sunday's $125,000 Grade III Rood & Riddle Dowager has 10 fillies and mares going 1 1/2 miles on the Keeneland greensward.
Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Athenia at Belmont Park got nine distaffers to tackle 1 1/16 miles. Hawksmoore has been the bridesmaid in her last two outings in Grade II events at Saratoga and Belmont. Rymska, lightly raced since finishing fifth in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, makes her second start after 11 months on the sidelines. At her best, she was very good. New Money Honey won that Breeders' Cup race at Santa Anita and comes off a runner-up showing in a Woodbine Grade II event. Others in the well-matched field have run with credit in Europe.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Fourteen plus two also-eligibles turned out for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Lexus Raven Run Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland. It's a wide-open event at 7 furlongs with the nominal morning-line favorites Moonshine Memories and Alter Moon at 3-1 and 7-2, respectively. The moon is waxing, so why not?
Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Grey Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather course has a mixed bag of eight 2-year-old colts.
Around the ovals:
Super Humor stalked the pace in Monday's $50,000 Chaves County Stakes for fillies and mares, surged by and went on to win by 2 lengths. K P Wildcat was up for second, 2 3/4 lengths to the good of Kel Paso. Super Humor, a 6-year-old Super Saver mare, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.93 with Elvin Gonzalez in the irons.
Saturday is state-bred day in Elmont, N.Y. Seven stakes races for New York-breds carry purses ranging from $150,000 to $300,000 for the Empire Classic. There are big, competitive fields -- good wagering chances.
Maryland Million Day returns to Laurel Satuday with seven stakes events on both surfaces, worth between $100,000 and $250,000 each.
Friday's Oklahoma Classics Cup races comprise eight stakes events on both turf and dirt for state-breds. Each race has a six-figure purse.