As the winter solstice quickly approaches, this weekend's action is focused in the south -- from Fair Grounds in New Orleans to Gulfstream Park in Florida and onward, to the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia.
Gulfstream offers six races on the Saturday program, four of them graded stakes. Fair Grounds is among the tracks featuring state-breds.
Opportunities abound for the 2-year-olds who will turn 3 in a matter of weeks. Remington Park's $400,000 Springboard Mile and $200,000 Trapeze Stakes for fillies, along with the Display Stakes at Woodbine, are the big races with Aqueduct featuring New York-bred youngsers.
On the international scene, there's the Grade 1 Asahi Hai Stakes for 2-year-olds in Japan, the first "Win and You're In" Challenge race for the 2020 Breeders' Cup in Argentina and the aforementioned brand-new feature in Saint Lucia, the $150,000 Pitons Cup.
With new hope for the new year and the future, we start with:
Nine are signed up for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Fort Lauderdale Stakes at 9 furlongs on the turf. The oddsmaker looks to Channel Cat and Cross Border to be the favorites. Channel Cat, a 4-year-old colt by English Channel, won the Grade II Bowling Green at Saratoga this summer and finished seventh in this year's Breeders' Cup Turf. Cross Border, a 5-year-old English Channel ridgling, finished fifth in the Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park in October in his only previous graded stakes try.
Saturday's $100,000 My Charmer Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 mile on the turf drew a field of 10. Attention focuses on Mitchell Road, a 4-year-old daughter of English Channel, and Altea, a 4-year-old, French-bred filly by Siyouni. Mitchell Road, trained by Bill Mott, finished second in the Grade III Ladies Turf Stakes at Kentucky Downs in September. Altea was second in the Grade III Lake George at Saratoga during her 2018 campaign but has been toiling in he allowance ranks since. Chad Brown trains.
Prince Lucky is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in a field of eight for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Harlan's Holiday Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. The 4-year-old Corinthian won a pair of graded stakes at Gulfstream in March.
Eleven are set to face the starter in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Rampart Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 mile on the dirt. It's a well wide open field with Cookie Dough and Baccarat Fashion the lukewarm favorites.
Lady's Island and A Bit of Both are the favorites in a field of nine fillies and mares for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sugar Swirl Stakes at 6 furlongs. Lady's Island, a 5-year-old Greatness mare, has won eight of her last nine starts, including a starter allowance at Saratoga, but steps into graded stakes company for the first time. A Bit of Both, a 3-year-old Paynter filly exits a win at the Ocala Training Center.
Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Valedictory, 14 furlongs on the all-weather track.
The New Orleans track on Saturday hosts Louisiana Champions Day with seven races for state-breds. Two are on the dirt and the juveniles and juvenile fillies each get a turn.
Rowdy Yates and Answer In Kentucky are the morning-line choices among 12 in for Sunday's $100,000 Remington Springboard Mile. Rowdy Yates, an Oklahoma-bred colt by Morning Line, has won his last two starts, both at Remington, and also has been victorious at Churchill Downs. Answer In Kentucky, a Dialed In gelding trained by Brad Cox, comes off his maiden-breaker at Churchill Downs.
Also, there are Saturday's $500,000 Great White Way Division of the New York Stallion Stakes at Aqueduct, Saturday's Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile and Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Display Stakes at Woodbine
Sunday's $200,000 Trapeze Stakes at Remington Park features Princesinha Julia and Trixie Racer. Trixie Racer, an Orb filly trained by Danny Pish, won at Remington before finishing second in a stakes at Delta Downs. Princesinha Julia, by Pioneerof the Nile, seeks her third straight win, all at Remington for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Also, Sunday's $500,000 Fifth Avenue Division of the New York Stallion Stakes at Aqueduct, Saturday's $50,000 Soviet Problem for California-breds at Los Alamitos and Saturday's Louisiana Champions Day Lassie.
On the world stage:
A full field, including some youngsters already boasting impressive victories, will be on hand for Sunday's Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity at Hanshin Racecourse.
Among the 16 starters are Salios, winner of the Saudi Arabia Royal Cup (G3), Red Bel Jour, victor in the Daily Hai Nisai Stakes (G2) in November, and Taisei Vision, winner of the Keio Hai Nisai Stakes (G2).
Run at 1 mile on the turf, the 2018 Futurity went to Admire Mars (JPN), who a week ago captured the Longines Hong Kong Mile (G1) at Sha Tin Racecourse. Danon Premium (JPN) won the previous year.
Along with the 2,000-meters, Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Nakayama on Dec. 28, the Futurity will help crown the 2019 2-year-old champion and point the way for the 2020 Classics.
Friday's $125,000 Pitons Cup kicks off what the Royal Saint Lucia Turf Club hopes will become not only a regular program of racing on the island but also a major spur to development and tourism. Five races are scheduled, with a few slots set aside for local owners and horsemen.
The quality of the Pitons Cup itself wouldn't make any waves in the United States, featuring 10 former claimers shipped in from Florida to jumpstart the racing program. But, with a boost from the China Horse Club, there has been support from the United States.
WinStar Farm President Elliott Walden and jockey Mike Smith, key players with the China Horse Club in Justify's Triple Crown campaign, both appeared at a Thursday night preview party and investment seminar with racing interests and fans from as far afield as Malaysia and Australia in attendance.
The Prime Minister of Saint Lucia Allen Chastanet made a pitch for the RSLTC as a stimulant for development and a full house of racing fans is expected for race day.
Saturday's Group 1 Gran Premio International Carlos Pellegrini at San Isidro in Buenos Aires is the first Breeders' Cup Challenge Series race of the 2020 program. The winner earns an automatic berth into the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, which will be held on Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
News and notes:
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Monday adoped unprecedented medication reforms, including mandated full transparency of horses' medical records and a phase-out of Lasix. The state's Thoroughbred tracks announced full support and pledged to move forward on further safety and integrity protocols.
Monday's action by the KHRC makes Kentucky the first state to initiate a phaseout of the race-day use of Lasix, a medication designed to prevent exercise-induced pulmonary bleeding. Beginning in 2020 and rolling forward, Lasix will be banned for 2-year-olds. In 2021, Lasix will be eliminated in graded stakes run in Kentucky.
The commission also approved a requirement that 14 days of medical records be presented when a horse is entered in a race and mandated that trainers maintain a complete record of treatment, which will accompany the horse in any ownership transfer.
Salios, seen winning the Grade 3 Saudi Arabia Royal Cup earlier this season, is a likely favorite for Sunday's Group 1 Asahi Hai Futurity at Hanshin, JRA Photo