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Kentucky Derby already on fans’ minds

Nov. 27 — The Thanksgiving weekend cornucopia of racing action already is overflowing onto our screens and, with luck, our bank accounts, with graded stakes action yet to come from coast to coast.

Chad Brown shipped a planeload of horses across the continent for the weekend’s turf races at Del Mar and quickly reaped rewards, winning the Thanksgiving Day feature.

The Grade I Clark at Churchill Downs is a late-season opportunity for the dirt-runners.

For fans hip enough to dig international racing action, Sunday’s Grade 1 Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse is well worth a look despite the time difference. It might be the only time ever that three Triple Crown winners line up in the same gate.

Also worth a look is the classy international field announced for next month’s Longines Hong Kong International Races despite the pandemic restrictions.

It’s not too early to be thinking about Kentucky Derby 2021 with weekend action in Louisville, Tokyo and at a betting window (or computer screen) near you.

Fair Grounds and Delta Downs swing into action this weekend and Tampa Bay Downs sounds the Call to the Post on Wednesday.

We cue the bugler right now for:

The Road to the Roses

Can we already be into Kentucky Derby mode? Sure. Why not? Christmas decorations have been popping up for weeks and it really is only a little more than five months until the first Saturday in May.

A couple of sure Derby harbingers are in evidence this weekend: Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager and the first race of the “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby”.

The only odds-on bet in the Future Wager, which opens on Thanksgiving and closes Sunday evening, is that “all other 3-year-old colts and geldings” will emerge as the favorite. That’s been the case in Pool 1 for 22 consecutive years and Churchill Downs oddsmaker

Mike Battaglia makes that the 6-5 morning-line pick. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Essential Quality tops the 23 individual options at 10-1 on the Battaglia line. Remember, if your horse doesn’t start in the Run for the Roses, you lose.

Meanwhile in Tokyo, the Cattleya Sho kicks off the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby Saturday, the day before what promises to be one of the best-ever editions of the Japan Cup (see below).

It’s the first of four races that award points toward a guaranteed berth for a Japanese horse at Churchill Downs. The European Road to the Kentucky Derby already has four races in the books with four different winners.

Oh … some actual races for potential Kentucky Derby and Oaks contenders will be held this weekend. Chief among them are Saturday’s $200,000 Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club and $200,000 Grade II Golden Rod for fillies, both at 1 1/16 miles on the Churchill Downs dirt.

Juvenile races at Aqueduct and Del Mar are on the grass — Saturday’s $100,000 Central Park Stakes and Sunday’s $100,000 Tepin Stakes for fillies at the Big A and Saturday’s $100,000 Grade III Jimmy Durante for fillies and Sunday’s $100,000 Cecil B. DeMille.

In the other divisions:

Classic

The Grade I Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs traditionally is one final opportunity for someone to step up and make a final bid for year-end honors in the handicap division.

Friday’s $500,000 renewal reflects the recent rash of retirements that leaves things pretty wide-open for the remaining old warriors. With 14 in the field and an also-eligible, oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has six horses clustered at single-digit odds — a virtual “you pick ’em.”

The 3-1 favorite on the Clark morning line is Code of Honor, whose only win in four starts this year came in the Grade III Westchester Stakes at Belmont Park in June.

He most recently was second in the Grade II Kelso over the same surface. In his only previous trip to Louisville, he was placed second in the 2019 Kentucky Derby after the disqualification of Maximum Security.

After him, there’s By My Standards at 4-1, Owendale at 5-1, Mr. Freeze at 6-1 and Bodexpress and Aurelius Maximus, both at 8-1. The race is open to 3-year-olds and up, but the only 3-year-old in the field is Silver Prospector, a well-bred colt who returned from a long absence to win a Churchill Downs allowance race Oct. 30.

Saturday’s $100,000 Grade III Discovery at Aqueduct has just five 3-year-olds but any of them could make a case for a spot in next year’s Classic chase with a good showing.

Shared Sense is the 3-1 morning-line favorite with victories in the Indiana Derby and Oklahoma Derby earlier this year for trainer Brad Cox. Attachment Rate, Monday Morning Qb and Forza Di Oro all exit wins of various sorts.

Distaff

Thursday’s $200,000 Grade II Falls City at Churchill Downs was all Envoutante. The 3-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo jumped quickly to the lead for jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., shook off a brief challenge and went on to win by 6 lengths.

Odds-on favorite Bonny South tracked the pace and got second, 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Another Broad. Envoutante ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.11. She was fourth in the Grade I Alabama this summer at Saratoga and won the Grade III Remington Park Oaks in her most recent start in September.

“We were very confident by the way she was working in the mornings and hoping she was going to put it together in the afternoon,” trainer Kenny McPeek said of Envoutante.

“She’s worked against Swiss Skydiver and has really done well in her training. She’s done a lot of traveling this year and got her graded stakes win in the Remington Oaks so winning another one was very special.”

Friday’s $100,000 Grade III Comely at Aqueduct has 10 3-year-old fillies ready to tackle 1 1/8 miles. The field is headed, politely enough, by Mrs. Danvers and Miss Marissa.

The former has failed to hit the board only once in seven starts, that in the Grade I Test Stakes at Saratoga, where she reported fifth. The latter brings a three-race winning streak with the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico her latest triumph.

Given the timing, one would have to consider Thankful, an American Pharoah filly with wins at Saratoga and Belmont Park in her last two starts.

Turf

Saturday’s $300,000 Grade I Hollywood Derby at Del Mar is filled with transplants from the East Coast and Midwest.

Chad Brown ships Domestic Spending from New York, where he was 3-for-4 this year and won the Saratoga Derby Invitational in his last start. Also here is Gufo, a Christophe Clement trainee who was second in that Saratoga race, and then went on to win the Belmont Derby Invitational.

Get Smokin and Decorated Invader, the 1-2 finishers in the Grade II Hill Prince at Belmont Park in their last start, also made the trip.

The morning-line favorite, though, is Smooth Like Strait, a Midnight Lute colt who was last seen winning the Twilight Derby at Santa Anita by 1 1/2 lengths. He’s won three of his last four starts for trainer Mike McCarthy.

Brown also brings two of the 13 entered for Saturday’s $200,000 Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap at Del Mar. Flavius won the Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs two starts back and was a decent fifth in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland after traffic issues.

Stablemate Spirit Animal has won three of his last four against easier. The morning line has several others with decent records and longish odds. Anothertwistafate exits a handy victory in the Grade III Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs for trainer Peter Miller.

Arklow and Laccario feature in a full field for Friday’s $200,000 Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar.

Arklow salvaged something from an otherwise tough year with a victory in the Grade III Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs in September, but then finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Laccario, a German-bred colt who won the Deutches Derby in 2019, makes his second U.S. start for trainer Graham Motion. He was second in the first effort, the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park Oct. 3.

Friday’s $100,000 Gio Ponti for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct is another wide-open affair with a field of 12 and nothing resembling a favorite.

The top pick on the morning line at 4-1 is Basquiat, an American Pharoah ridgling with one win from five starts — that a Gulfstream Park maiden event back in April. In that context, just about the entire field deserves a look.

Filly & Mare Turf

Orglandes, a 4-year-old, French-bred filly by Le Havre shipped in from the East Coast as part of the Chad Brown herd, came rolling late to capture Thursday’s $100,000 Grade III Red Carpet Handicap at Del Mar by 1/2 length.

Orglandes got by long shot Going to Vegas, who had taken a late lead, in the closing strides. Quick was third, another 1 length behind. Orglandes ran 1 3/8 miles on firm turf with Irad Ortiz Jr. in for the ride and that duo had to sweat out an inquiry into a stretch incident before the “official” sign was illuminated.

Orglandes now is 2-for-3 since being imported from France.

“Chad talked to the jockey in the morning,” assistant trainer Jose Hernandez said. “He said just to break and play off of it. It’s a mile and three-eighths, a long race, so the jockey can do what he feels. The pace was good and he was in a really good position and then made a strong finish.”

Saturday’s $100,000 Grade III Long Island at Aqueduct has a well-matched, overflow field. In such cases, we look to trainers for hints and, indeed, the two morning-line picks are from well-regarded barns.

Chad Brown saddles Eliade, a 4-year-old, French-bred filly coming off a win on the Keeneland grass. Christophe Clement has three with the most likely being British-bred Mutamakina, a narrowly defeated third in her first U.S. start last month.

A full field is entered for Friday’s $100,000 Forever Together at Aqueduct with the 2-1 morning line favorite, Tapit Today, drawn in the No. 12 stall.

The Tapit filly has four wins from 10 starts and has missed a top-three finish only twice. She comes off a win in the Grade III Athenia at Belmont Park last month. Those not liking the gate assignment have a wide option among the others.

As long as he was shipping horses west, Chad Brown figured he wouldn’t ignore Sunday’s $300,000 Grade I Matriarch at Del Mar at 1 mile on the lawn. Accordingly, he has Blowout, Viadera and Tamahere as one-third of the nine-horse field.

Blowout has three wins, six seconds and a third from 10 career starts, most of those in tough company. Viadera has won two of three in New York since arriving from Ireland. Tamahere, formerly raced in France, won her first U.S. start, the Grade II Sands Point at Belmont Park.

Brad Cox ships Grade III Gallorette winner Juliet Foxtrot from Churchill Downs.

Among the locals in the Matriarch, Bodhicitta won the Grade II Yellow Ribbon over the course in her last start. Mucho Unusual disappointed in the Breeders’ Cup but won the Grade I Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita before that. Maxim Rate was second in the Rodeo Drive, then won the Grade II Goldikova last month.

Turf Sprint

Saturday’s $100,000 Aqueduct Turf Championship has a field of 10, ranging from the favorite, Therapist, recent winner of the Artie Schiller Stakes at 1 mile on the Big A turf, to Hollywood Talent, a 9-year-old gelding claimed for $8,000 at Delaware Park two starts back.

Most of the field is suspect at this level although Turned Aside, a 3-year-old American Pharoah colt, did turn in a decent effort in his last start at Kentucky Downs.

Sprint

Sunday’s $100,000 Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct has seven takers with assignments ranging from 128 pounds up to 133 for the 6 furlongs.

Notable here, Drafted is back from the Middle East where he has toiled for the past three seasons, winning multiple group stakes in Dubai and most recently finishing sixth in the Saudia Cup Sprint on Saudi Cup night Feb. 29.

Majestic Dunhill, Share the Ride and Stan the Man will provide stiff competition with more recent races in graded stakes company.

Thursday’s $60,000 Thanksgiving Handicap at Fair Grounds gave an indication of what to expect from this winter hotspot’s meeting. Six horses went to the post having made their previous start at five different tracks — Pimlico, Keeneland, Remington Park, Oaklawn Park and Churchill Downs. Several were coming back from long layoffs.

Nitrous came from next-last to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Manny Wah with Mr. Money Bags third. Nitrous, a 4-year-old Tapit colt last seen finishing third in the Grade III DeFrancis Dash at Pimlico, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.76 with Adam Beschizza in the irons for trainer Steve Asmussen.

“I thought his last race was really good at Pimlico. He was unlucky not to win that day,” said Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi. “He seems to be rounding into form. We always thought a lot him and look forward to him improving off this.”

Already in the books:

Vertical Threat surged quickly to the lead in Monday’s $200,000 Steel Valley Sprint for 3-year-olds at Mahoning Valley and kept right on going to a 7 1/2-lengths victory. Williston Way was second, a head in front of Flatter Me Please.

Vertical Threat, a Tapiture colt trained by Richard Baltas, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:10.07. The colt is part-owned by MyRacehorse.com so maybe the thousands of investors in that microsyndicate can find some solace after the retirement of Authentic.

Elsewhere:

Delta Downs

Speaktomyoflove pressed the pace in Tuesday’s $60,000 B-Connected Stakes for Louisiana-breds, got by the early leader and outfinished Jus Lively, winning by a head.

The early pacesetter, Scarlettsblackjack, finished third. Speaktomeoflove, a 3-year-old Run Away and Hide gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.25 with Joe Stokes in the irons.

Saints N Muskets rallied from slightly off the pace to take Wednesday’s $60,000 Lookout Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares by 3 3/4 lengths. Quikfast N Ahurry was second-best, 1 length ahead of Schiff’s Corner.

Saints N Muskets, a 5-year-old mare by Musket Man, reported in 1:28.50 over a wet-fast track with Stokes riding.

Around the world, around the clock:

Japan

Here’s one you’ve never seen before and likely won’t ever see again: Three Triple Crown winners competing in the same race and two of them undefeated. That’s Sunday’s Grade 1 Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse.

It’s also a passing of the baton as Almond Eye, winner of Japan’s 2018 filly Triple Crown — and that year’s Japan Cup — meets 3-year-olds Contrail and Daring Tact. Contrail swept through this year’s Triple Crown and Daring Tact landed the filly equivalent.

The race also has several potential spoilers from the local stables and a lone foreigner — French-trained Way to Paris, winner of the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud at Longchamp earlier this year.

“Both Contrail and Daring Tact are amazing horses and they’ve given us some very good races,” said Almond Eye’s jockey, Christophe Lemaire.

“They showed us both speed and stamina. The two of them are very talented. So, I think this year’s Japan Cup is going to be quite difficult. It’s very hard to tell who will win. I’ll think about my strategy two days before the race.”

Hong Kong

There were concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic might play havoc with the “international” part of next month’s Longines Hong Kong International Races — four Group 1 events that highlight the local season and effectively wrap up the world’s racing year. No worries.

Thanks largely to Ireland’s Coolmore “lads” and trainer Aidan O’Brien, as well as the ever-willing and ever-dangerous Japanese, the races will be quite cosmopolitan with 15 invaders.

Magical, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland, tops the list of foreigners and will provide a target in the Longines Hong Kong Cup for Japan-based defending champion Win Bright, 2019 BMW Hong Kong Derby winner Furore and others.

The Longines Hong Kong Mile features locally based Golden Sixty, this year’s Hong Kong Derby winner and victor in 10 straight races. He takes on Group 1 company for the first time. Japan won this race last year, too, with Admire Mars. He returns.

So does two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year Beauty Generation, who is nearing the end of a fabulous career. O’Brien has Order of Australia, upset winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland, and Lope Y Fernandez, third in that race.

The Longines Hong Kong Sprint has Classique Legend making his first start for local connections. The Not A Single Doubt gelding was imported after winning The Everest, Australia’s rich and prestigious sprint event, where he defeated seven individual Group 1 winners.

Hot King Prawn could be other local in the mix along with Japan’s Danon Smash and Tower of London.

Exultant, the 2018 winner, looks a solid favorite in the Longines Hong Kong Vase at 2,400 meters. The main rival seems to be Mogul, another of the Coolmore-O’Brien lot, who won the Grand Prix de Paris and finished fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf on Nov. 7.

“To have entries of this caliber in any year would be notable,” Hong Kong Jockey Club executive director of racing Andrew Harding. “But this year’s standard is remarkable given the challenge of the pandemic and all its attendant travel and quarantine issues.

“We are delighted that the quality of the selected runners for this year’s Longines Hong Kong International Races is in keeping with our long-held commitment to deliver sporting excellence.”



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