The Pacific Classic at Del Mar features Accelerate and Pavel while the Alabama at Saratoga stars Midnight Bisou and Talk Veuve to Me in highlights of weekend racing action.
Top-flight races also are on tap from Canada to Cleveland as final game plans are set for the Breeders' Cup World Championships, now just more than 10 weeks away.
On the international scene, some of Europe's top 2-year-olds gather in Deauville, co-starring on the Sunday card with older horses going 1 1/2 miles.
And, the cherry on the sundae, Winx returns to action Saturday in Australia, starting a campaign aimed at an unprecedented fourth straight Cox Plate two months down the road.
Let's get down to this:
Saturday's $1 million Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar pits Santa Anita Handicap and Gold Cup winner Accelerate against Stephen Foster winner Pavel with a few twists thrown in to make things even more interesting.
Accelerate, a 5-year-old by Lookin at Lucky, was third in last year's Pacific Classic behind Collected and Arrogate. He's better now, winning the Grade II San Pasqual and the Big Cap before reporting second in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap in Hot Springs. He's been on the sidelines since winning the Grade I Gold Cup May 26 but his works are encouraging.
Pavel was fourth in the San Pasqual, then journeyed to the Middle East to finish fourth in the Dubai World Cup. He also was fourth in the Gold Cup behind Accelerate, then traveled to Churchill Downs to win the Grade I Stephen Foster by 3 3/4 lengths.
Also in the eight-horse field for the Del Mar feature are Dr. Dorr, owned by Jill Baffert and trained by her husband, Bob, and Argentine-bred Roman Rosso, who makes his first U.S. start after winning the Group 1 Grand Premio Latinoamerico in Uruguay in his most recent start. Baffert also conditions that 4-year-old son of Roman Ruler, who has looked good in the Del Mar morning. Beach View moved from the turf to win the Grade III Cougar II Handicap in his last race, beating Hoppertunity and others, and could be a force here.
With Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl absent, Midnight Bisou and Talk Veuve to Me are the stars among eight 3-year-old fillies entered for Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Alabama at Saratoga. Midnight Bisou, a Midnight Lute filly, was third in the Kentucky Oaks -- the only time in eight career starts she's missed the exacta. The Grade I Santa Anita Oaks winner was second in her last start, the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks, again behind Midnight Bisou.
Talk Veuve to Me, a daughter of Violence, has two wins and three seconds from five career outings and was second two starts back in the Grade I Acorn
Nine signed up for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Monmouth Oaks at 1 1/16 miles on the main track with Gio Game and Sassy Sienna the morning-line favorites. Gio Game, a Gio Ponti filly, was third in the Grade I Acorn at Belmont and fifth in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. Sassy Sienna, by Midshipman, won the Grade III Fantasy at Oaklawn but then was sixth in the Kentucky Oaks and seventh as the favorite in the Grade III Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows.
It's a case of, "If you fund it, they will come." The $200,000 purse for Saturday's Lady Jacqueline Stakes at Thistledown attracted some well-qualified out-of-towners. Sneaky Betty, a 4-year-old daughter of Mineshaft, arrives from Laurel Park after a second-place finish in the Grade II Delaware Handicap in her most recent effort. Fuhriously Kissed was fourth in the Delaware 'Cap and has been working at Saratoga. Dutch Parrot has been training at Keeneland and spotted in worthy events around the Midwest. Babybluesbdancing comes from her Arlington Park base after finishing fifth in the Iowa Distaff at Prairie Meadows.
They've come from Germany and Hong Kong, among other spots, to compete Saturday in a rather wide-open $250,000 Grade II Del Mar Handicap Presented by the Japan Racing Association. The 12-horse field entered for the 1 3/8-miles event, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, includes New Zealand-bred and Hong Kong-raced Whoop Whoop and French-bred, German-raced Cashman. Cashman, now with Neil Drysdale, makes his first U.S. start. Whoop Whoop, ran a respectable comeback race for trainer Jeff Mullins in his U.S. debut after a year on the sidelines. The favorites here are Itsinthepost and Kenjisstorm. Multiplier, winner of the 2017 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Racecourse, also graces this field.
Tiz a Slam, winner of two in a row over the course, is the eaerly favorite for Sunday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Sky Classic, 1 3/8 miles on the Woodbine turf. Five others are set to face the starter.
With Wonder Gadot headed for bigger things, there's no Triple Crown on the line in Saturday's $400,000 (Canadian) Breeders' Stakes for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds at Woodbine. It's still a good race with Aheadbyacentury, second in both previous legs of the series -- the Queen's Plate and the Prince of Wales -- as the narrow morning-line favorite.
Itsinthepost, seen winning the 2017 Dixiana Elkhorn at Keeneland, is among the favorites for Saturday's Del Mar Handicap, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", picture Keeneland
Filly & Mare Turf
It won't be easy to sort out the top prospects in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Del Mar Oaks, a 9-furlongs run out of the infield chute. Ollie's Candy would be 4-for-4 if not for a neck loss in the Grade II San Clemente in her last start. Colonia comes off a victory in the Hatoof Stakes over the Arlington green. Fatale Bere was competitive with some of the best while fifth in the Grade I Belmont Oaks in her most recent effort. Paved also ran with honor finishing eighth at Belmont and won the Grade II Honeymoon at Santa Anita two starts ago. Ms Bad Behavior is among the speedsters but is short in the win column. Much will depend on position coming out of the chute.
Rushing Fall is the 9-5morning-line favorite among seven in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Lake Placid for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga. The More Than Ready filly won her first four career starts, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, before finishing second in the Grade III Edgewood at Churchill Downs on Oaks Day. She has not competed since. Chad Brown handles both Rushing Fall and Significant Form, who might need to crank it up a small notch here. Also likely candidates: Thewayiam, Daddy Is a Legend and Capala Temptress.
A baker's dozen will contest Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Del Mar Mile. There are plenty of recognizable names, from Hunt and Om to Catapult and Bowies Hero. Should be a competitive race.
Reigning Breeders' Cup winner Stormy Liberal tops a talented field for Friday's $75,000 Green Flash at Del Mar, 5 furlongs on the green course. The 6-year-old Stormy Atlantic gelding finished second in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai in March, then was sixth in the Grade II Jaipur at Belmont in his return to the races in June. He won an allowance heat earlier in the Del Mar meet. This is no easy task as the quality of the field belies the non-graded status. Others here include Richard's Boy, Tribalist, Pee Wee Reese and Touching Rainbows.
Whiskey Echo is the 9-5 favorite on the morning line for Sunday's $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile but the Tiznow colt, trained by Steve Asmussen, is stuck in the outside gate in a field of 11. If jockey Shaun Bridgmohan can't overcome the starting slot, the race is wide open. Whiskey Echo won at first asking in June at Belmont Park, then finished third in the Grade III Sanford at the Spa.
Friday's $100,000 Skidmore on the turf at Saratoga drew a full field of 12 with the oddsmaker setting Shang Shang Shang as the 5-2 morning-line favorite. The Shanghai Bobby filly, one of four in the race trained by Wesley Ward, is 2-for-2 with the second win coming in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot two months ago. Sir Truebador, a More Than Ready colt, won the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs in his last start but that was on the dirt and he drew the outside post for this event. They're 2-year-olds so anything can happen.
A well-matched field of 11 is on hand for Sunday's $75,000 Ellis Park Debutante. The lukewarm favorite is Serengeti Empress, an Alternation filly who won her first start at Indiana Grand, then reported fourth in the Grade III Schuylerville at Saratoga. Tom Amoss trains. Also at single digits on the line are: Profound Legacy, Somewhere, Bivian B and Shanghai Rain.
On the international scene:
Australia's super mare Winx, the topper in the current Longines World's Best Racehorse Ratings, is the star of a race named for her, Saturday's Group 1 Winx Stakes at Royal Randwick. The sturdy mare seeks her 26th straight win en route to a shot at her fourth straight Cox Plate and comes to her season-opener off a satisfying trial heat.
There is the question: When does preserving the winning streak take precedence over sparing Winx a draining, all-out effort if someone does muster a challenge? The issue probably is moot because, while some tough opposition from all over the world is eyeing the Cox Plate, this bunch should prove a lot easier.
Trainer Chris Waller, according to the Daily Telegraph, said of his 7-year-old, "I just can't fault her. She's spot on, sharp. I shake my head in disbelief most mornings, she has developed into this big strong, horse that has matured."
TAB Fixed-Odds wager officials said they accepted one wager of Aus$140,000 on Winx (US$101,194) with the punter hoping for a profit of Aus$16,800 (US$12,143.30). To stir interest, TAB also is offering Winx-out wagering.
Knight to Behold defeated only one rival in the Investec Derby at Epsom and only one in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby. In an abrupt turn of form, the Sea the Stars colt romped home first in Wednesday's Group 2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano Haras du Logis Saint-Germain at Deauville after leading all the way. Study of Man, winner of the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club, could do no better than third, also trailing Patascoy, runner-up in the Jockey Club.
On the same Wednesday card, Talismanic was an easy winner in the Group 3 Prix Gontaut-Biron Hong Kong Jockey Club. The 5-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro was making his first start since finishing ninth behind Godolphin stablemate Thunder Snow in the Dubai World Cup in March. He closed out his 4-year-old season with a victory in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf and a second, behind Highland Reel, in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin.
Sunday's Group 1 Prix Morny for 2-year-olds at Deauville has some promising ones, pending final declarations. Among them: Signora Cabello, winner of four straight including the Group 2 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot; Pretty Pollyana, runaway winner of the Group 2 Duchess of Cambridge Stakes at Newmarket; So Perfect, a Scat Daddy colt who was second in the Phoenix for Aidan O'Brien and Coolmore; Group 2 Richmond Stakes winner Land Force for the same connections; and Sexy Metro, whose only loss was by a neck to Signora Cabello.
The classy lineup for Sunday's Group 1 Prix Jean Romanet at Deauville includes Bateel, Rhododendron, Urban Fox, Lady Frankel and seven others.