Saturday's Pegasus World Cup and World Cup Turf at Gulfstream Park are not only world-class races in their own right but also the leading edge of a gathering global wave that will crest two months later in Dubai.
The winner of the Gulfstream tilt is guaranteed a slot in the brand new $20 million Saudi Cup at Riyadh Feb. 29. And that race, now the world's richest, is followed March 25 by the $12 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan, which used to be the richest race on the globe.
Gulfstream also has the $1 million (down from $7 million) Pegasus World Cup Turf, plus a full slate of supporting stakes on the Saturday card.
The weekend's other big action around the United States is at Sam Houston with the $200,000 Grade III John B. Connally Turf, the $200,000 Texas Turf Mile for 3-year-olds, the $100,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint and the $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic on the main track.
There's Kentucky Derby prep action, too. Oaklawn Park opens Friday with a bang in the shape of the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 mile. The Riley Allison Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico can't be ignored.
On the world scene, some of Dubai's promising 3-year-olds were in action Thursday at Meydan and Sunday's Hong Kong Classic Mile showcases that jurisdiction's Derby candidates.
And, big congratulations to Bricks and Mortar and his whole team for snagging Eclipse Awards Thursday night, from Horse of the Year through owner, breeder, trainer and jockey. (See separate story). Well deserved and a recognition, too, of the growing importance of turf racing in the United States. Bricks and Mortar now stands in Japan so we'll say, "Arigato for a great year."
Let's rock and/or roll.
The Pegasus World Cup Invitational seemed to have survived just fine in the face of a massive purse reduction, competition from the new $20 million Saudi Cup and a ban on race-day Lasix use. But the frailty of the Thoroughbred finally took its toll.
Wednesday, just three days before the $3 million race, Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Spun to Run was scratched, trainer Juan Carlos Guerreo citing a skin disease affecting much of the horse's body. Then Thursday, the even-money morning-line favorite, Arkansas Derby and Malibu Stakes winner Omaha Beach, was scratched as trainer Richard Mandella said x-rays showed what could be the beginning of a fracture in his right hind cannon bone. Those defections left a field of 10.
All involved should be grateful the potential problem with Omaha Beach was detected before Saturday, when the stress of the race could have escalated the issue into a disaster. This is the kind of pre-race scrutiny and pre-emptive action that demonstrates the commitment of the sport to the welfare of horses.
That's not to say the remaining runners are bums, by any means. The list still includes eight graded stakes winners, among them Pacific Classic winner Higher Power and Affirmed Stakes winner and Haskell runner-up Mucho Gusto.
After the defections, trainer Bob Baffert's Mucho Gusto looks a lot more attractive. The 4-year-old Mucho Macho Man colt has been competitive at the top level, has speed and showed enough promise to get Irad Ortiz Jr. to jump off Spun to Run to ride him -- a fortunate move for the rider after the scratch. Plus, Mucho Gusto is owned by Saudi Prince Faisal bin Khalid and he is nominated to the Saudi Cup.
Unlike the first few years of the event, there's no dominating force like Arrogate or Gun Runner so the race should be a lively one and a good wagering opportunity.
While the Pegasus retains an excellent field, the $1 million Pegasus Turf Invitational Sponsored by Runhappy looks even better, with a very welcome international flavor.
The Coolmore lads and trainer Aidan O'Brien have entered Magic Wand, a Galileo filly who may just be coming into her prime at age 5. After a long string of frustrating Group 1 seconds and close thirds, including a runner-up finish in this race last year, Magic Wand finally broke through at the top level in November in Australia, winning the Seppelt Mackinnon Stakes. She returned to Heartbreak Hotel Dec. 8 in Hong Kong, losing by just a nose to Win Bright in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup.
If Magic Wand indeed has found the needed extra step, she will need it. The field for Saturday's race includes Grade I Turf Classic Invitational winner and runner-up Arklow sand Sadler's Joy, Grade I Hollywood Derby winner Mo Forza, Grade III Kentucky Cup Turf winner Zulu Alpha and the top three from the Grade II Fort Lauderdale -- Instilled Regard, Admission Office and Channel Cat.
Adding to the international intrigue, Frankie Dettori visits South Florida to ride Without Parole, a son of Frankel who won the Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2018 and finished third in the Breeders' Cup Turf last November at Santa Anita. He is one of three in the field trained by Chad Brown, joined by Instilled Regard and Sacred Life.
The good news for many of these runners is they won't have to face the newly crowned 2019 Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar -- a rival most of them chased home last year. He is preparing to enter stud duty in Japan.
Magic Wand (IRE), picture Quentinjlang.com
On Saturday's sparkling Gulfstream Park undercard:
The $150,000 Grade III Fred Hooper, a one-turn mile, drew a full and well-balanced field. The lukewarm 4-1 favorite on the morning line is Free Enterprise, a 5-year-old Curlin gelding who posted three straight seconds before breaking through at Belmont Park last September. He followed that with an impressive win in November at Aqueduct. Javier Castellano remains aboard for trainer Chad Brown. Others: Rare Form, Seven Trumpets, UAE Derby runner-up (and last-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby) Gray Magician.
Shekky Shebaz is the 8-5 favorite among eight in the $150,000 World of Trouble Turf Sprint. The 5-year-old Cape Blanco gelding was a close third in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint and won the Claiming Crown Canterbury over the course and distance in his last start. Pay Any Price is a speedball and could be trouble on the lead if he can over from the No. 7 gate early.
Spiced Perfection tops a really good field for the $200,000 Grade II Inside Information, a 7-furlongs test for fillies and mares. The 5-year-old daughter of Smiling Tiger hasn't exactly been a model of consistency but did win the Grade I Madison and Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America at Keeneland and the Grade III Go For Wand at Aqueduct last year. Pink Sands exits a victory in the Grade III Rampart at 1 mile over the course and merits a look.
Irish visitor Simply Beautiful is one to consider in a competitive field for the $200,000 Grade III La Prevoyante for fillies and mares, 1 1/2 miles on the turf. The Aidan O'Brien trainee, a 4-year-old Galileo filly, has but a single win to her credit but has run well enough against good competition to merit a shot here with Ryan Moore taking the reins. Chad Brown saddles Lady Paname, a 6-year-old mare who is the 3-1 morning line favorite though she hasn't raced since November of 2018, when she won the Grade III Long Island at Aqueduct.
Jean Elizabeth and Girls Know Best figure among nine entries for the $150,000 Ladies Turf Sprint. Jean Elizabeth, a 5-year-old, Illinois-bred mare by Adios Charlie, has won five straight races including the Grade III Ontario Fashion Stakes, and defeated Girls Know Best in her most recent start, the off-the-turf Abundancia Stakes. Nonetheless, Girls Know Best is the 7-5 favorite on the morning line.
Mitchell Road is the solid 8-5 morning-line pick in the $150,000 South Beach for fillies and mares, 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf. The 5-year-old English Channel mare exits a front-running score in the My Charmer Stakes going 1 mile over the course and has three wins and two seconds from five starts over the Gulfsream green.
Red Knight and American Tattoo drew the inside and outside gates in a field of 12 for the $200,000 Grade III W.L. McKnight at 1 1/2 miles on the turf and were installed as the early favorites. Red Knight, a 6-year-old Pure Prize gelding, last was seen finishing second to Sadler's Joy in the Grade III Red Smith at Aqueduct. American Tattoo, a 5-year-old Argentine-bred, won the off-the-turf H. Allen Jerkins in his last start
Sam Houston Race Park
Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress is the 7-5 morning-line favorite in a six-horse field for Sunday's $300,000 Grade III Houston Ladies Classic. The Alternation filly has two seconds and a third from four starts since her triumph in Louisville. The third was in the Breeders' Cup Distaff and she has not raced since that day in November. Street Band, Mylady Curlin and Lady Apple all figure to make things tough for the favorite. Street Band won the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks and the Grade I Cotillion last year. Mylady Curlin returns from a victory in the Grade II Falls City at Churchill Downs in late November. And Lady Apple has been idle since winning the Grade III Remington Park Oaks last September.
Sunday's $200,000 John B. Connally Turf, a 1 1/2-miles affair, drew a big but slightly soft field of 12. The morning-line favorite, at 7-2, is Cross Border, a 6-year-old English Channel ridgling who exits a fading sixth-place finish in the Grade II Fort Lauderdale, which is contested at 1 1/8 miles. In his only other stakes start, the Mike Maker trainee finished fifth, beaten just 2 1/2 lengths, in the Grade I Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park in October -- an excellent effort. Dot Matrix and Tracksmith both have run well but are drawn outside in the field of 12.
Sunday's $200,000 Texas Turf Mile for 3-year-olds drew a large and feisty bunch from as far afield as Fair Grounds and Turf Paradise with the morning-line favorite, Billy Batts, arriving from the Peter Miller barn at San Luis Rey in California. Billy Batts, a City Zip ridgling, starts for the first time since finishing second, beaten just 3/4 length by Structor, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Others to consider: Godolphin's City Zip colt Pixelate, Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint runner-up Chimney Rock, and French-bred Jack and Noah, winner of the Atlantic Beach at Aqueduct in his last start Nov. 9.
If you're looking for experience, you've come to the right place in Sunday's $100,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint. The 11-horse field includes 10-year-old Drowningndiamonds, 10-year-old Dance Proudly, 8-year-old Richard's Boy and 7-year-olds Roger Brown, Imma Bling and Jazzy Times. The favorite for the 5-furlongs dash, however, is 4-year-old Real News, third in last year's Grade II Penn mile and a recent winner at Fair Grounds.
Friday's $150,000 Smarty Jones for 3-year-olds kicks off both the ever-better Oaklawn season and the rich Arkansas Derby series and drew a quality field of nine. Silver Prospector, a Declaration of War colt last seen winning the Grade II Kentucky Jocky Club at Churchill Downs, is the narrow favorite on the morning line over Shoplifted. The latter comes off a win in the Remington Springboard Mile and finished second in the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga last summer. Both are trained by Steve Asmussen, who also fields Gold Street -- a Street Boss colt who could prosper while stretching out. Lynne's Map and Three Technique were assigned the outside gates and either could get the job done with a small step forward. The Peter Miller-trained Nucky has only one victory since his maiden score but that was in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity.
Saturday's one-mile $100,000 Fifth Season attracted eight with Pioneer Spirit, Bravazo and Bankit the early favorites.
Fillies and mares tackle 1 mile in Saturday's $100,000 Pippin. It's pretty much a "you pick 'em" among the 11 entries although Florent Geroux is in to ride Gold Standard, a 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly who was second in the Grade III Remington Oaks and third in the Grade III Comely Stakes a Aqueduct in her last two starts of 2019.
Carressa raced behind the leaders down the backstretch in Monday's $100,000 Grade III Megahertz for fillies and mares, moved three-wide to challenge on the turn and got there first by 3/4 neck. Super Patriot was second with a late move of her own and La Sardane was third. The favorite, Brill, led but then faded badly to finish last of seven. Carressa, a 4-year-old Uncle Mo filly making her stakes debut, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.64 with Victor Espinoza riding.
Six are entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Palos Verde at 6 furlongs. Unless you want to toss out the lone Oregon-bred, Grinning Tiger, a case can be made for any of them. Flagsaff, a 6-year-old Speightstown gelding, is the 2-1 favorite after finishing third in the Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship, then winning the Damascus Stakes.
Saguaro Row rallied four-wide with 2 furlongs to go in Monday's $100,000 Interborough for fillies and mares, spurted clear late and won by 2 3/4 lengths over Abounding Joy. It was another 6 3/4 lengths back to Honor Way in third. Saguaro Row, a 5-year-old Union Rags mare, finished 7 furlongs on a good track in 1:25.13 with Jose Lezcano in the irons. She has scored two wins and a second from three starts at the Big A in the past two months.
"She's really found a home up there, trainer Michael Stidham said of Saguaro Row. "When those horses like that course, I've found that you're smart to keep running on a track that a horse likes." Nonetheless, he said he's likely to send the mare to he $250,000 Grade III Barbara Fritchie at Laurel Park for her next start on Feb. 15.
Speaking of the Dubai World Cup (see above, and below), Saturday's $100,000 Jazil sports a candidate -- last year's Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston. The Awesome Again colt, trained by Mark Casse, hasn't won since the "Test of a Champion" at Saratoga, finishing off the board over yielding turf on his return at Fair Grounds Dec. 28. He also threw a shoe during a workout at Belmont last week and is using glue-on shoes and the 9-furlongs Jazil is a step on the road. "Right now we're trying to make the Dubai World Cup, but he likes New York and likes to run long," the trainer said. The others in the Jazil are less accomplished though Stan the Man comes off a victory in the Queen's County last month over the course and distance. Last year's Jazil winner, Mr. Buff, also returns.
Sunday's $100,000 Ruthless drew nine 3-year-old fillies, none of whom sets the heart aflutter. Miss Marissa is the sole graded stakes competitor but she did not match up well in those events and drew the outside stall for this one. So, get out the hatpin and program and start handicapping.
Trainer Steve Asmussen has two of the seven entrants for Sunday's $100,000 Riley Allison Derby, including the morning-line favorite, Rowdy Yates. The Morning Line colt was second in the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs in June, then fifth in the Grade III Iroquois over the same track in September. Since then, he won twice at Remington Park before finishing seventh in the Remington Springboard Mile in his most recent start. Asmussen also fields Code Runner, a recent maiden winner at Remington. Top among the locals, according to the morning line, is Competitive Idea, winner of two of his three starts.
Around the world, around the clock:
Thursday's Dubai World Cup Carnival meeing at Meydan produced some juicy prospects not only for Super Saturday and World Cup night locally but also for the intervening Saudi Cup and its undercard.
Glorious Journey led a glorious outcome for trainer Charlie Appleby and Godolphin in the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort sponsored by DP World UAE Region conditioner's charges finished 1-2-3 in the 1,400 meters over the turf. Glorious Journey, with James Doyle up, saved ground, found room leaving the turn and ground out the win by 3/4 length over Mythical Magic. Mubtasim was third.
Glorious Journey, a 5-year-old Dubawi gelding representing HH Sheikha Al Jalila Racing, got 7 furlongs on good turf in 1:22.35. He was making his first start since finishing ninth in the Grade I Qatar Prix de la Foret at Longchamp on Arc day.
"I'm delighted, as he's is a good horse and seven furlongs is his trip," Appleby said of Glorious Journey. "He was a bit disappointing in his last start, but he has rock-solid form. The plan now is to perhaps go to Saudi for a race just short of 7 furlongs, which seems perfect for him."
Laser Show was long gone by the time the field straightened for home in the Al Bastakiya Trial for 3-year-olds. After opening a huge lead for jockey Kevin Stott, the New Approach colt essentially coasted home first, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Dark of Night. The 1,900 meters or about 9 1/2 furlongs, took 1:59.88 over a fast track.
Laser Show, also trained by bin Suroor, struggled home 14th in his earlier start during the World Cup Carnival after prepping with a Group 2 win over the Kempton Park all-weather course in England. The trainer added a visor to the equipment for Thursday's race.
"The visor has certainly made a difference," he said. "The last time he just took no interest in the race and was not concentrating. Obviously, he has stayed this trip well, but in the visor, we will probably have to try the 1,600 meters again and go for the UAE 2000 Guineas."
Dubai Love came off the rail to find running room in the stretch run of the UAE 1000 Guineas sponsored by Mina Hamriya, quickly got by the two in front of her and won off by 3 1/4 lengths for Patrick Cosgrove, trainer bin Suroor and Godolphin. Down On Da Bayou raced gamely to save second from Final Song, who tired after contesting the lead. Dubai Love, a Night of Thunder filly, ran 1,600 meters on a fast track in 1:37.98.
Final Song and Down On Da Bayou finished 1-2 in the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial with Rio Ange third and Dubai Love fourth.
"Final Song is classy and has ran well, but not stayed," said bin Suroor, who trains both. "Whereas Dubai Love, who ran well behind her in the Trial, has seen the trip out very well. The 1,900 meters of the UAE Oaks should really suit her."
The 1000 Guineas promised to be a "quiet" affair, what with Silent Wave, Silent Night and Chasing Dreams all in the field but none of them made any impression.
Equilateral made smooth progress from the middle of the field to take the Dubai Dash sponsored by JAFZA by an easy 2 lengths over Waady. Rusumaat edged Caspian Prince for third. Equilaeral, a Juddmonte Farms homebred by Equiano, ran 5 furlongs down the Meydan grass straight in 59.60 seconds.
"He has taken on a lot of the top sprinters in Europe and we think gelding him has really helped," said Equilateral's trainer, Charlie Hills. "He will probably come back here in four weeks and has options on Super Saturday, Dubai World Cup night and in Saudi Arabia, so we have plenty to consider."
Monday's New Year's celebration at Sha Tin Racecourse features the Hong Kong Classic Mile -- first leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series that culminates in the BMW Hong Kong Derby.
There's no shortage of promise and quite a bit of performance in the eight-horse field. Golden Sixty, an Australian-bred Medalia d'Oro colt, for example, seeks his fifth straight win. More Than This, a British-bred Dutch Art gelding, also has four straight wins and Ryan Moore jets in from the Pegasus World Cup meeting in Florida to take the mount. Buddies, a Dubai nominee for trainer John Moore, moves from the all-weather course for this. And Beauty Legacy, another from the pink-and-black brigade of the Kwok family, showed come-from-behind prowess in his first Hong Kong start.
Despite Hong Kong's emergence as a major payer in the world Group 1 scene, the Hong Kong Derby remains a highly coveted prize among local owners and Monday's race will point the way toward victory there March 22.
Kondratiev Wave gave up the lead briefly late in Monday's 32Red Conditions Stakes at Kempton Park, then came again with a last-ditch rally to regain the advantage when it counted, nipping the favorite, Amarillo Star, by a neck. Topically named Fleeting Prince was only a short head farther back in third. Hollie Doyle rode the winner, who earned a Fast-Track Qualifier spot in the Ladbrokes Three-Year-Old All Weather Championship on AWC Finals Day, April 10.
"Hopefully, there is plenty more to come from him," said winning trainer Tony Carroll of the 3-year-old Dragon Pulse colt. "Finals Day at Lingfield has to come under consideration now we have qualified, and we will make a plan once we see how he comes out of this."
Doyle now has ridden three Fast-Track Qualifiers this season.