Belmont Park returns to action this weekend with Irish and English horses, including Bolshoi Ballet, chasing the third leg of New York's rich turf series.
Belmont combines with Woodbine's rich turf weekend and Churchill Downs' autumnal opening to offer a half dozen Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" events across Saturday and Sunday.
Last year's Kentucky Oaks winner, Shedaresthedevil, drops down to Grade III company under the Twin Spires while Bell's the One and Sconsin face off on the same track in a battle of filly and mare sprinters.
On the international front, some of Australia's heavyweights are in action in a couple Group 1 events and Japanese 3-year-olds prep for their late-season star turns in stakes races Sunday and Monday.
Some may have wondered about the whereabouts of "The Pontiff," veteran racing observer Jude Feld, last weekend. Turns out Jude was on holiday and his "Pope Jude" analysis took a break. But with Churchill Downs and Belmont back in operation, The Pontiff has returned from Castel Gandolfo and his observations are available again at www.popejude.com.
And that set us to thinking about horses named Castel Gandolfo. A Gone West colt named Castel Gandolfo finished second, behind no less than High Chaparral, in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy in 2001 but never quite lived up to that promise. He finished 12th in the 2002 Kentucky Derby with Jerry Bailey up. And a Dark Angel gelding by that name is currently a very useful hurdler in England, finishing second in a handicap at Worcester July 22.
But we digress. On to the previews, and a few results:
Bolshoi Ballet is back in New York for Saturday's $1 million Jockey Club Derby at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf. The Galileo colt, trained by Aidan O'Brien, disappointed in the Group 1 Cazoo Derby at Epsom, finishing seventh. But he made amends by winning the $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational July 10 and then reported fourth in the Grade I Saratoga Derby Invitational Aug. 7. The favorite's role, though, is assigned to Yibir, a Godolphin homebred colt by Dubawi who was last seen winning the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes at York. Soldier Rising, another former Euro now with Christophe Clement, was second in the Saratoga Derby and returns. He's a Frankel gelding.
Saturday's $600,000 (Canadian) Grade I Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine finds Desert Encounter looking for a three-peat in the event. But the race wasn't run last year and the 9-year-old hasn't won since the 2019 triumph so there are questions. The favorite is Godolphin's Walton Street, a 4-year-old by Cape Cross who gets Frankie Dettori as pilot.
Bolshoi Ballet (far left, dark blue), seen en route to winning the Belmont Derby in July, is back to contest the Jockey Club Derby Saturday at Belmont Park, photo by Dom Napolitano, courtesy of New York Racing Association
Dettori also has the morning-line favorite among 10 entered for Saturday's $1 million (Canadian) Grade I Ricoh Woodbine Mile, a "Win and You're In" for the FanDuel Breeders' Cup Mile. That would be Raging Bull, a French-bred son of Dark Angel who was third in the 2019 renewal of this race and has a couple impressive Grade I turf mile scores to his credit. Mark Casse saddles three, including an improving March to the Arch and Ride a Comet, who is undefeated in four Woodbine starts. The Casse trio drew the 2, 3 and 4 gates.
Filly & Mare Turf
You won't find many races at this level as wide open as Saturday's $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks at Belmont Park. Seven fillies are set to tackle 1 3/8 miles and a case could be made for almost all of them. Trainer Chad Brown saddles two -- Higher Truth and Shantisara. Creative Flair journeyed across the Atlantic to finish third in the Grade II Saratoga Oaks Invitational last month and returns along with jockey Jamie Spencer.
Saturday's $250,000 (Canadian) Grade II Canadian Stakes at Woodbine drew just five to tackle 1 1/8 miles. The favorite is Merveilleux, a 4-year-old Paynter filly who is a regular player in this type of event at Woodbine.
Friday's $100,000 Allied Forces for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park has a field of eight to go 6 furlongs. The oddsmaker puts Jaxon Traveler, Big Everest, Arzak and Ranger Fox in the top slots on the morning line. Jaxon Traveler, the 5-2 favorite, is 5-3-1 from nine starts.
Friday's $100,000 Christiecat at Belmont Park drew 10 3-year-old fillies with no real standouts. However, two others entered for "main track only" look likely should the race come off the grass. The forecast looks okay but pay attention to the changes.
Shedaresthedevil headlines in Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Locust Grove at Churchill Downs. The 2020 Kentucky Oaks winner already is 3-for-4 this year with the latest a triumph in the Grade I Clement Hirsch at Del Mar Aug. 1. She also is 4-for-4 at Churchill Downs. The chief opponent is Envoutante, an Uncle Mo filly who has chased Shedaresthedevil home on several occasions.
Get the hatpin out to handicap Saturday's $275,000 Louisville Thoroughbred Society at Churchill Downs. A stab at the program might be as good a handicapping tool as any to separate these six. We do note the presence of Dennis' Moment, who returned from a long layoff to finish second, beaten just a head, last month at Ellis Park. That was his best effort since he stumbled at the start and finished last as the favorite in the 2019 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, dashing trainer Dale Romans' hopes for a first-ever Kentucky Derby winner.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Bell's the One and Sconsin are the favorites in a field of five set for Saturday's $300,000 Open Mind Stakes at Churchill Downs. Bell's the One, third in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, won the Grade II Honorable Miss at Saratoga in her last. Sconsin was fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup and won the Grade II Winning Colors over the Louisville strip in May.
Eleven 2-year-old fillies are entered for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Pocahontas at Churchill Downs, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. The 5-2 favorite, Ontheonesandtwos, finished second in the Debutante under the Twin Spires in June but bobbled at the start of the Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga last month, finishing sixth. After that, let's see who steps up.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Eight, plus one hoping for rain, make up the field for Saturday's $100,000 Our Dear Peggy at Gulfstream Park. Diamond Wow and Saturday Nite Girl are the early favorites off recent maiden wins. Let's see what they can do against winners.
Sunday's $400,000 (Canadian) Grade I Natalma Stakes at Woodbine, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, has an interesting field. Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby has Wild Beauty, a Frankel filly who finished second in a Group 3 at Newmarket Aug. 7 with Frankie Dettori taking the mount. Mark Casse fields four fillies who drew gates 6, 7, 8 and 9 in the 10-horse field. Of those, Diabolic, a Dark Angel filly, looks toughest with a perfect record after three starts.
And yes, that is the third time we've mentioned Dark Angel in this missive.
Saturday's $300,000 Iroquois at Churchill Downs is a "Win and You're In" for the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile and it's no surprise the favorites in a field of 11 are trained by Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher. Asmussen has Guntown, a Gun Runner colt who broke his maiden last time out at Ellis Park. Pletcher fields Major General, a Constitution colt who won at first asking at Saratoga Aug. 21. There are plenty of upset options.
Eight 2-year-olds plus another two entered for "main track only" comprise the field for Saturday's $100,000 Armed Forces at Gulfstream Park. Much is to be determined but Eldon's Prince, an Ontario-bred Cairo Prince colt, is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line after winning the Proud Man Stakes in his last outing.
Sunday's $400,000 (Canadian) Grade I Summer Stakes at Woodbine, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, mirrors the Natalma with four saddled by Casse and one trained by Appleby with Dettori up. The well-bred Godolphin entry, Albahr, has won three straight, most recently the Stonehenge Stakes at Salisbury. The Casse bunch is headed by First Empire, winner of the Soaring Free Stakes in his last start.
Juvenile Turf Sprint
Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Racing Stakes has five takers to go 5 furlongs. There's not much to write home about other than … well, there's not much.
Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Cares Stakes for 2-year-old fillies has a field of seven. The good news is, several have meaningful stakes experience. The bad news, none of them has performed very well in those stakes races.
Lone Rock is the 1-2 morning-line favorite among six set for Saturday's $300,000 Grand Prix American Jockey Club Invitational at Belmont Park, 13 furlongs miles on the dirt. And why not? The Majestic Warrior gelding has won four in a row and seven of his last eight and comes off a 4-lengths win in the 14-furlongs Birdstone at Saratoga. Moretti was third in the Sword Dancer and tries again.
Canadian Triple Crown
Already in the books: Tuesday's $400,000 (Canadian) Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie officially put paid to any thought of a Canadian Triple Crown sweep this year as Haddassah rolled to the lead in the stretch run and held off Harlan Estate by 1/2 length for the victory in the second leg of the series. Safe Conduct, winner of the Triple Crown opener, the Queen's Plate, did not contest the second leg. Haddassah, an Air Force Blue gelding, ran 1 3/16 miles on a fast track in 1:56.15 with Gary Boulanger up for trainer Kevin Attard.
Haddassah finished eighth in the Queen's Plate after a rank start over the Woodbine all-weather track. He finished third in his seasonal debut on the Woodbine turf, site of the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Oct. 3 Breeders' Stakes.
Around the world, around the clock:
Beau Rossa looms atop 16 rivals entered for Saturday's Group 1 Neds Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes at Caulfield, a 1,400-meters dash. The 4-year-old Unencumbered gelding was second to Behemoth in his last two, most recently the Group 1 Memsie over the same course last month. He races that rival again, along with the likes of Probabeel and I'm Thunderstruck.
Saturday's Group 1 Fujitsu General George Main Stakes at Royal Randwick has a top-shelf field of nine to tackle 1,600 meters. Verry Elleegant, Kolding, Think It Over, Cascadian and Star of the Seas all figure. Kolding won last year with Star of the Seas second and Verry Elleegant fourth as the big favorite.
Titleholder, runner-up in the Satsuki Sho or Japanese 1,000 Guineas, and sixth in the Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby, returns to action Monday in the Grade 2 Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen at Nakayama -- a Japanese St Leger trial. The field also has Orthoclase, who has not raced since finishing second in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes last December, his first defeat after two victories. The 14-colt field does not include a single son of Deep Impact.
Saturday's Grade 2 Kansai Telecasting Corp.Sho Rose Stakes at Chukyo Racecourse has a field of 18 3-year-old fillies, all of whom will be looking to make a mark. Tagano Passion, a King Kamehameha filly, was fourth in the Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks, in her last start back in May. The JRA lists this as a Shuka Sho trial.
Meanwhile, back in North America:
Presque Isle Downs
Champion by Design got his career off to a nice start, battling through the final yards to win Monday's $120,000 Mark McDermott Stakes for Pennsylvania-bred 2-year-olds by 3/4 length over the favorite, Dr. Steve. Champion by Design, a Jump Start gelding trained by Katy Cheeks, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.12 with Scott Speith up.
In the companion $100,000 Finest City Stakes for state-bred juvenile fillies, You Look Cold stalked the pace, took the lead when asked by jockey Jose Ferrer and won off by 3 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Morning Matcha. You Look Cold, a Frosted filly, was clocked in 1:10.05.
Red River Rebel dominated the final furlong of Tuesday's $80,000 (Canadian) Lake Erie Stakes for 3-year-old, Ontario-bred colts and geldings. The Reload gelding, with Rafael Hernandez up, got away to win by 5 lengths, finishing the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.55. Blind Trust was second.
Red Equinox was along in deep stretch to win Tuesday's $80,000 (Canadian) Rondeau Stakes for Ontario-bred, 3-year-old fillies by 1 length. The odds-on favorite, Sunsprite, closed well after a tardy start but could only manage second. Red Equinox, by Signature Red, finished in 1:11.01 for jockey Christopher Husbands.
Cash Logistics ran by the leaders heading for home in Wednesday's $100,000 Empire Stakes for Indiana-breds and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Starspangledxpress. Cash Logistics, a 4-year-old Unbridled Express gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.75 with Alex Achard in the irons.
Fireball Baby got fired up in the lane in Wednesday's $100,000 Hoosier Heartland Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, running on to a 5 1/4-lengths win over Pretty Assets. Fireball Baby, a 5-year-old mare by Noble's Promise, was clocked in 1:45.97 with Marcelino Pedroza riding.
Minister of Soul dueled to the lead in Thursday's $55,000 Tom Metzen H.B.P.A. Stakes and took charge in the stretch, winning off by 4 1/4 lengths. Samurai Cause was second, 1 1/2 lengths better than Market Analysis. Minister of Soul, a 7-year-old Ministers Wild Cat gelding, toured 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.98 under Luis Fuentes.
Misyneedsacocktail moved quickly to the lead in Thursday night's $55,000 Shakopee Juvenile and drew off easily to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Simply Wicked was second, 3 1/4 lengths in front of Bit Coiner. The favorite, Summer Lightning, finished fourth. Misyneedsacocktail, a Bernardini filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.35 with Luis Negron in the irons.