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UPI Horse Racing Weekend Preview

It is a bit of a slow week in North American racing -- at least until Memorial Day Monday -- so let's look a week farther up the stretch and see what our good friends at Epsom have in store for us in the 240th running of THE Derby on June 1.

We'll also take a brief gander at the Japanese Derby, the final Group 1 race of the Hong Kong season, the Irish Guineas and Gold Cup, what's up in France and the Kranji Mile in Singapore. We're nothing if not global.

Then, it's back to the United States and Canada, with some of the action already in the books.

But first, Tuesday was "Breakfast With the Stars" day at Epsom, and also a scratching deadline for the Derby. That done, 18 3-year-old colts remained in for the race, though how many actually will run won't be known until next week. Some key players are on the fence.

Aidan O'Brien has eight of the 18. If all were to go, it would equal his record eight starters in the 2007 field. That year, his best finish was second with Eagle Mountain. Blessed with superior stock from the Coolmore lads, O'Brien has won the Derby six times with Galileo, High Chaparral, Camelot, Ruler of the World, Australia and Wings of Eagles.

This time around, his most-fancied are progeny of two of those past winners.

Sir Dragonet, a Camelot colt, opened eyes wide with a dominating victory in the Group 3 Chester Vase May 8 in only his second career start but would need a supplemental entry fee to get into the Derby -- a minor inconvenience for the Coolmore lads. The fact he's the 3-1 favorite with official Derby bookmaker Unibet speaks for itself.

Broome, an Australia colt, was a comfortable winner of the Group 3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown May 12 and is the second-favorite for the Derby at 7-2.

At somewhat longer odds are O'Brien's Anthony Van Dyke (4-1), Japan (10-1), Circus Maximus (14-1), Cape of Good Hope (25-1), Norway and Mohawk. Each and every one of that lot is by Galileo so the odds are three of O'Brien's former Derby winners will be represented in this year's renewal.

While not committing to anything in particular, O'Brien told Tuesday's Breakfast With the Stars by phone from Ireland, "I think there will be a good crew of horses there. If their work goes well between now and then, we should have a good crew at Epsom."

American fans should pay attention even if British racing isn't front and center on their radar. Some -- perhaps several -- of these 3-year-olds are very likely to appear in the rich grass races at Belmont Park and Saratoga this summer.

With a big Derby chance if he runs is Dante Stakes winner Telecaster (7-1). But trainer Hughie Morrison said Tuesday he has concerns after the "very hard" effort in the Dante and will wait on a decision. "If the horse did run," Morrison said, "I would not be able to put my hand on my heart and say that he has fully recovered. It would be wrong of me to say and you can't really judge after a big race."

Morrison has saddled only one Derby starter, Pisco Sour, who reported ninth in 2011.

Also in the mix are Bet34 Classic Trial winner Bangkok, trained by Andrew Balding; Dante Stakes third Surfman (Roger Varian); and Qipco 2000 Guineas fourth Madhmoon (Kevin Pendergast). Godolphin, winner of the 239th Derby with Masar, has only Line of Duty, a long shot trained by the not to be underestimated Charlie Appleby. Appleby student Masar went to the post at odds of 16-1 at year ago.

Two-time Derby-winning trainer John Gosden has left three in the mix, all available at generous odds for those with a fancy.

The Derby festival, of course, also includes the Investec Oaks and the Investec Coronation Cup -- the latter for 4-year-olds and up. We'll have more on those in the coming week.

Elsewhere around the world:

England

Yes, more from England. Dee Ex Bee, last year's Derby runner-up, easily dispatched four rivals in Wednesday's Group 3 Matchbook VIP Henry II Stakes at Sandown, a preliminary bout before the Group 1 Gold Cup at Ascot. There, Dee Ex Bee can expect to meet the reigning European stayer champion, Stradivarius. The margin, after 2 miles of the Henry II, was 1 3/4 lengths with Mekong finding running room late to land second.

Hong Kong

Sunday's Standard Charted Champions & Chater Cup is the final Group 1 race of the Hong Kong season and also one of those rare Sha Tin "stayer" races at 2,400 meters. But the distance has seen an uptick in popularity since local runner Exultant popped up to win the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase last December at the same 2,400 meters. He went on to win the Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup at 2,000 meters and finished a game second to Japan's Win Bright in the Group I QE II Cup on Champions Day.

Trainer Tony Cruz cautiously says Exultant could be headed to Japan in June for the Group 1 Takarazuka Kinen. But, the trainer said Tuesday, "What's very important is how he pulls up after this race and that will tell us if we're going anywhere else with him."

Sunday's nine entries feature Japanese raider Happy Grin; the last two Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup winners, the siblings Glorious Forever and Time Warp; along with the promising 4-year-old Dark Dream and this season's Group 2 Jockey Club Cup winner, Eagle Way. Last year's winner, Pakistan Star, returns but without his distinctive green-and-white blinkers and earmuffs as trainer Paul O'Sullivan tries to get him to relax early and make one late sprint to the wire. "If he relaxes, he'll be very competitive. But he has to switch off," O'Sullivan said.

Japan

Saturnalia, undefeated after four starts, puts that streak on the line in Sunday's Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby. The race is one of the highlights of the Japanese racing calendar and has produced some eventual champions.

Saturnalia, a Lord Kanaloa colt, ended a 3-for-3 2-year-old season winning the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Nakayama. He eked out a win in the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2000 Guineas in April, winning a three-way sprint to the wire by a head over Velox and another nose from Danon Kingly. Admire Mars was fourth.

"He did lean a bit in the closing stages last time," said Yasuyuki Tsujino, assistant to Saturnalia's trainer, Katsuhiko Sumii. "But there are still things to work on with him. It's no easy thing to win a Classic race, but he showed he has the ability and power to do so."

Velox and Danon Kingley are back to try again Sunday.

Singapore

Saturday's three local Group 1 races feature the Kranji Mile, with a pair of highly regarded Hong Kong invaders.

Southern Legend, trained in Hong Kong by Caspar Fownes, comes to the equatorial regions after finishing sixth in Almond Eye's Group 1 Dubai Turf victory in March at Meydan. "He had a good freshen after his Dubai run," Fownes said after Southern Legend stretched his legs Tuesday at Kranji. "He seems to have bounced back."

The aptly named Singapore Sling -- he got the name in his native South Africa -- also worked a bit early Tuesday. Trainer Tony Millard's wife, Beverly, oversaw the effort and reported, "It was a quiet morning for him. Uneventful is good."

In the days of Singapore's international Group 1 events, Hong Kong routinely swept the placings.

Ireland

Saturday's Group 1 Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas promises to be one of the best so far in the young season with one-time Investec Derby favorite Too Darn Hot pitted against Qipco 2000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia and Craven Stakes winner Skardu. After Telecaster handed Two Darn Hot his first defeat in the Dante Stakes at York, trainer John Gosden originally targeted the St James's Palace at Royal Ascot before detouring to The Curragh. Despite his loss, Too Darn Hot has drifted toward favorite status with major bookmakers in the UK. Including Magna Grecia, Aidan O'Brien saddles five of the 14 left to run in this 1-mile affair.

O'Brien's "A Team" -- Pink Dogwood, "We always thought she was going to be our main Oaks filly" -- is pointed for the Investec Oaks. But that doesn't mean the Ballydoyle champion is empty-handed with five of the 11 in Sunday's Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas at The Curragh, pending final declarations.  

O'Brien also has four of the eight, pending declarations, in Sunday's Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup, looking to work some prestidigitation with Magical, Magic Wand, I Can Fly and Flag of Honour set to run.

France

Magical and Flag of Honour are cross-entered in a very tough field for Sunday's Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Paris Longchamp. Still in at press time were the likes of 2018 French Derby winner Study of Man, Addeybb and the Goldolphin trio of Barney Roy, Dream Castle and Wild Illusion. The latter, a 4-year-old Dubawi filly, won last year's Group 1 Prix de l'Opera Longines over the course before a second-place showing in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. This is a world-class bunch, even if a few don't make the final roster.

On the same program is the Group 1 Saxon Warrior Coolmore Prix Saint Alary for 3-year-old fillies. Coolmore is not represented in the field but the colors of many other top Europeans are. The race looks ripe for the plucking.

And here's a look at the week in North American racing:


Synchrony, seen winning the Fair Grounds Handicap Feb. 18 in New Orleans, is among the favorites for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Monmouth Stakes on the Jersey Shore, Hodges Photography, courtesy of Fair Grounds

Distaff

Only five are taking on the 1 1/16 miles of Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita. Bob Baffert fields Flor de la Mar, a Tiznow filly flying the Godolphin blue who finished second in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks, then 11th in the Kentucky Oaks. Sneaking Out, by Indian Evening, has three wins and two seconds from five starts for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Bizwhacks, a Fed Biz filly trained by Doug O'Neill, has been going the wrong direction in her last three starts, albeit in tough company.
Turf Mile

Entries were pending at press time for Monday's $500,000 Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita. The race is a "Win and You're In" for the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Mile and the expected cast includes Blitzkrieg, Bowies Hero, Catapult, Delta Prince, Desert Stone, Le Ken, Ohio, River Boyne, Sharp Samurai and Synchrony.

Turf

Synchrony and Almanaar are the favorites in a field of eight for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Monmouth Stakes at 9 furlongs on the Jersey Shore sod. Synchrony, a 6-year-old son of Tapit, won the Grade III Oceanport and the Grade III Red Bank over the course last summer and more recently accounted for the Fair Grounds Handicap. Almanaar, a 7-year-old Dubawi gelding, has been in a slump since finishing second in the Grade I Arlington Million last summer.

A well-matched field of seven awaits Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Charles Whittingham Stakes on the Santa Anita lawn. Marckie's Water is the morning-line favorite because one of them had to be and because he won his last race. But any of these could get the job done so sharpen the old handicapping skills and make some money.

Filly & Mare Turf

Sunday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Nassau Stakes at Woodbine has six distaffers set to tackle 1 mile on the grass. Starship Jubilee, fourth in last year's edition, is the highweight this time around in her first start since winning the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Jan. 19 at Gulfstream Park. Secret Message exits a win in the Dahlia Stakes at Laurel Park and won last year's Grade III Pucker Up Stakes at Arlington Park.

Entries were pending at press time for Monday's $500,000 Grade I Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares on the Santa Anita greensward. That race could include Vasilika, a 5-year-old Skipshot mare claimed for $40,000 Feb. 11, 2018, only to win 11 races since then, eight of them stakes and two of them Grade I events.

Turf Sprint

Eddie Haskel is the morning-line favorite among seven entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Daytona Stakes at Santa Anita. The 6-year-old Square Eddie gelding has missed the top three only once in his last 13 starts, five of those wins. Brandothebartender and Kanthaka also merit a second look.

Eleven are set for a 5-furlongs sprint in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Monrovia Stakes for fillies and mares at Santa Anita. Among them is last year's winner, Belvoir Bay, who comes off a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night in Dubai. Ginger Nut is going well for trainer John Sadler since arriving from the UK. Several others have claims after racing well in local allowances and minor stakes.

Sprint/Dirt Mile

American Anthem, The Hardest Way and Cistron sparkle in a field of eight for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita. American Anthem, a 5-year-old son of Bodemeister from Bob Baffert's bountiful barn, is the 5-2 favorite in his second start of the year. He has been formidable since cut back to sprint distances. The Hardest Way, a 5-year-old by Uncle Mo, climbs up from the allowance ranks. Cistron, a 5-year-old by The Factor, exits a win in the Grade II Kona Gold Stakes over the track.

Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park attracted nine with Jersey-bred Sunny Ridge made the 2-1 favorite on the morning line. Sunny Ridge, a 6-year-old Holy Bull gelding, has an excellent resume down the shore. He won at first asking at Monmouth in 2015 and won that year's Sapling, finished third in the Grade I Haskell the following year and was third in last year's Salvator Mile. Also worthy of note: Diamond King, Bal Harbour, California Note and Nanoosh.

Filly & Mare Sprint

An even dozen fillies and mares filled the entry box for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs and there's not a whole lot  to separate most of them. The nominal favorite at 3-1 on the morning line is Awestruck, a 5-year-old Tapit mare. But her resume doesn't really inspire that much awe and the 6-furlongs dash should be a fine wagering opportunity.

Classic

Entries were pending at press time for Monday's $500,000 Grade I The Gold Cup at Santa Anita. The track lists as probable: Core Beliefs, Fight On, Gift Box, Lone Sailor, Mongolian Groom and Vino Rosso.

Around and around and around we go:

Arizona Downs

Kudos to the folks who this weekend reopen the old Yavapai Downs under the new name Arizona Downs. The meeting runs into September at the Prescott Valley venue. All the best.

Woodbine

Souper Tapit saved ground well back of pacesetting Mr Ritz in Monday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Eclipse Stakes, switched outside that rival heading into the stretch and won by a head bob after dueling through the final furlong. Are You Kidding Me was third. Souper Tapit, a 5-year-old son of Tapit, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.39. "I just got lucky, getting there first," winning rider Patrick Husbands said of the extremely close margin of victory.

Souper Tapit won the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park in January, then reported sixth in the Grade III Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park and seventh in the Grade II New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds before returning home. The win sealed a magnificent long weekend for trainer Mark Casse, who among other triumphs landed his first Preakness Stakes.

Saturday's feature at Woodbine is the $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Marine Stakes for 3-year-olds on the all-weather course. 

Presque Isle Downs

Explorationist blazed the trail in Monday's $100,000 Tom Ridge Stakes for 3-year-olds, gradually edged away and won by 2 1/4 lengths over Crosstown Shootout. Powell was third, another 2 1/4 lengths back. Explorationist, a Pioneerof the Nile colt, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.70 with Jerome Lermyte in the irons.

Sunray Park

Shame On Powers kicked away down the lane in Monday's $60,000 C.O. Ken Hendrick Memorial for state-bred 2-year-olds, winning by 5 lengths over Wiskey Crown. First-time starter Royal Bertrando was third. Shame On Powers, a Shame On Charlie gelding, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 51.90 seconds for jockey Miguel Perez.

Will Rogers Downs

Socks rallied well wide around the turn and made up ground quickly in the stretch to win Monday's $55,000 More Than Even Stakes for Oklahoma-bred fillies and mares by a neck over Spring Steen. The odds-on favorite, She's Shiney, lost a bit of luster by tiring to finish third. Socks, a 5-year-old Maclean's Music mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.95 with Floyd Wethey Jr. up.

Century Mile

Trooper John made steady progress from just off the pace in Monday's $50,000 (Canadian) Journal Handicap and outfinished Born in a Breeze by 1/2 length for the win. Moon King was another 1 length back in third. Trooper John, a 5-year-old Colonel John gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in track-record time of 1:08.31 with Wilmer Galviz at the controls. Tom Rycroft trains the first two finishers.

Ruffenuff dueled for the lead in Monday's $50,000 JetSet Handicap for fillies and mares before edging clear of rival C U At Eau Clair to win by 1 length. Raider was third, giving trainer Greg Tracy a sweep of the trifecta slots. Ruffenuff, a 5-year-old Dialed In mare, finished in 1:08.49 with Dane Nelson up.

                                                                           
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