A handful of Kentucky Derby candidates will move forward, and dozens of others will have their hopes dashed, in weekend prep races in Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, California and even Japan.
Here's a look, with just 11 weeks left until they line up under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs for the 145th running of the Derby.
A full field is set for Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds, and all of them have something to prove on the Triple Crown trail. All, that is, except the morning-line favorite, War of Will.
War of Will, a War Front colt, started his career on turf, running well enough. But he blossomed when trainer Mark Casse moved him to the main track at Churchill Downs in November to break his maiden. He followed immediately with a romping victory in the Grade III Lecomte over the Fair Grounds dirt in his 3-year-old debut Jan. 19.
War of Will drew the outside gate and is listed as the 5-2 morning line favorite.
"It's pretty well the same bunch that he'll be up against" as in the Lecomte, Casse said. "Obviously the post is outside but we'd rather be out there than inside. He's got enough speed so he'll get over and if he's as good as we think he is, it shouldn't matter."
The others in the Risen Star all have shown potential and all are nominated to the Triple Crown. But, to move forward, improvement will be needed. The race offers 50 Kentucky Derby starting points to the winner, usually enough to make the field, and also is the local prep for the March 23 Louisiana Derby, the first of the 100-point events on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Otherwise on the weekend Triple Crown trail:
Monday's $500,000 Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park features a return appearance by Gray Attempt, winner by a neck of the Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 25 -- the first race in Oaklawn's Derby series. The Southwest also is expected to welcome five other Smarty Jones contestants, including the well-beaten favorite for that race, Bankit. The rich Arkansas program has attracted some powerful stables and it would not be surprising to see some new Kentucky Derby contenders emerge here. The Southwest provides the winner 10 points toward a start in the Run for the Roses.
Dual stakes-winner Galilean is among those expected for Monday's $200,000 California Cup Derby for state-breds at Santa Anita. The field, however, had not been drawn at press time.
Somelikeithotbrown and The Mackem Bullet remain the heavy favorites for Friday night's $75,000 John Battaglia on the Turfway Park all-weather. The race was postponed because of weather last Friday. Somelikeithotbrown, a Big Brown colt, exits a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and also has placed on the grass in New York. The Mackem Bullet, an Irish-bred filly by Society Rock, is trained by Wesley Ward, who usually has a firm eye on Royal Ascot by this time of year. And since The Mackem Bullet was second in the Grade I Cheveley Park at Newmarket last September ...
Six signed on for Saturday's $100,000 Miracle Wood at Laurel Park, a 1-mile, one-turn race that might be watched for Preakness candidates. Always Mining, a Stay Thirsty gelding, rides a three-race win streak, all at Laurel, and is the solid favorite.
Bob Baffert extends another branch of his nearly infinite stable to Saturday's $100,000 El Camino Real Derby on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather. Kingly, a Tapit colt with a win and Del Mar and a second at Santa Anita under his girth, is the 2-1 favorite in a full field. This, obviously, is his first effort on an all-weather surface. If that's an issue, look to Anothertwistafate, a Scat Daddy colt who has run off two straight wins at the Bay Area oval, both in impressive, front-running fashion. Whatever, the winner of this is guaranteed a spot in the Preakness Stakes. The winner also gets 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby slot.
Charlie Irish, an Illinois-bred Temple City gelding training at Oaklawn Park, is the only shipper among eight in Saturday's $50,000 Turf Paradise Derby. Charlie Irish won two of his three earlier starts, all at Hawthorne Race Course. Dr John H, a Washington-bred Harbor the Gold colt, is the narrow favorite after winning his first two career starts, both at the Phoenix-area oval.
And in Japan, Sunday's Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse is the third leg of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby -- a series that offers one of the 20 spots in the Churchill Downs starting gate to the horse amassing the most points in the four races in Japan. The series concludes March 31 at Nakayama.
Kentucky Oaks preps
American Pharoah's half sister, Chasing Yesterday, chases in from California as the star of Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds. The Tapit filly, trained by Bob Baffert, is 4-for-5 and last seen winning the Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos Dec. 8. Her only defeat was in the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga where she was bumped at the start, losing position. Nine rivals include Oxy Lady, winner of the Grade III Tempted at Aqueduct; Positive Spirit, winner of the Grade II Demoiselle at the Big A; the first two finishers from the local Silverbulletday Stakes, Needs Supervision and Eres Tu; and Serengetti Empress, winner by more than 19 lengths of the Grade II Pocahontas at Churchill Downs but a fading seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Good race.
Our Super Freak, a Mineshaft filly, is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $100,000 Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park. The second-favorite remains a maiden after three starts at Aqueduct.