The Japan Cup, a matchup between the Kentucky Derby and Queen's Plate winners, the Cigar Mile and the Clark Handicap add spice to the menu during the long Thanksgiving weekend.
There also are some important, late-season events for the 2-year-olds looking to next year's classics. The competition gets stronger and the distances get longer from New York through Kentucky to California.
So shake off the turkey-induced lethargy and get going.
The Japan Cup
The Europeans drew gates No. 2 and No. 18 for Sunday's Group 1 Japan Cup at Tokyo Race Course, doing little to boost their chances against a tough local field. Trading Leather, last years Group 1 Irish Derby winner, drew the outside post and Ivanhowe, winner of two Group 1 events in his native Germany, got the No. 2 spot. The Canadian invader, Up With the Birds, did better in the No. 7 spot but comes to the race with more modest credentials. The local contingent includes Gentildonna, winner of the last two runnings of the Japan Cup, who benefits from the riding services of Ryan Moore and starts from Gate No. 3. Just a Way, one of the world's top-rated horses despite a poor effort in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, will start from the rail. Multiple Japanese Group 1 winner Fenomeno got stall 16; Harp Star, who finished best of three Japanese starters in the Arc, drew No. 6; and Denim and Ruby, who finished second to Gentildonna in the 2013 Japan Cup, will start No. 8. Kevin Manning, who will ride Trading Leather in the 2,400-meters grass race, said he is more concerned with the condition of the course, which received heavy rain on Wednesday, than on the barrier draw. "He hasn't had quick ground in any of his starts this year," Manning said of Trading Leather, although the going was listed as either "good" or "good to firm" in each of his three starts, including a third to The Grey Gatsby and Australia in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes. Ivanhowe has won on ground ranging from firm to soft but jockey Eurico Da Silva said he will let Up With the Birds dictate how he will place himself in the field and over the ground.
Only five signed on to challenge California Chrome in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Hollywood Derby at Del Mar as the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner tries to get back in to the winner's circle and pump up his "Horse of the Year" credentials after the controversial third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Among the rivals is Lexie Lou, the Queen's Plate winner who comes off an impressive win on the grass at Santa Anita. She is cross-entered for Sunday's Matriarch over the same course but trainer Mark Casse said he is looking forward to facing the Derby winner. "She has nothing to prove. She's a queen in her own right, but we're going to see if we can't beat up on the king," said Casse. Sawyer's Hill comes off a pair of seconds in Grade II events on the green course.
Friday's $250,000, Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap at 1 1/16 miles at Del Mar drew a big field of 10, including some toughies. Tom's Tribute is the favorite off two graded stakes wins earlier this year but exits a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Big Bane Theory finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile but earlier won the Grade II City of Hope Mile on the Santa Anita grass.
Sunday's $300,000, Grade I Matriarch for fillies and mares at 1 mile on the grass at Del Mar drew a heavyweight field of eight. Queen of the Sand has won three of her last four starts. Strathnaver has been second in three graded stakes this season. La Tia has three graded stakes wins this year. Kadaya has run well in France and in Florida. If Lexie Lou does not take on California Chrome, she also would start here.
Remember who finished second in the 2013 Kentucky Derby -- likely spoiling your exacta and trifecta tickets at 34-1? It was Golden Soul, who has struggled ever since, finally finding the winner's circle last time out in a Churchill Downs allowance race at 1 3/8 miles on the grass. He cuts back to 9 furlongs for a tougher but richer allowance event Friday over the same course against the likes of Dorsett and Shining Copper.
Finnegan's Wake rallied late to win Thursday's $250,000, Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar by a neck over Patrioticandproud. The favorite, The Pizza Man, held a brief lead in the stretch but settled for third, 1 length farther back. Finnegan's Wake, a 5-year-old son of Powerscourt, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.35 with Victor Espinoza aboard.
Friday's $500,000, Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs demonstrates the depletion of the older-horse ranks through injuries and retirements. While only three of the nine entrants for the 1 1/8-miles fixture are 3-year-olds, two of them -- Hoppertunity and Constitution -- are among the favorites. Hoppertunity finished second in the Santa Anita Derby, then went to the sidelines for more than six months, returning to finish second in a tough allowance race on Breeders' Cup week at Santa Anita. Constitution was the undefeated winner of the Florida Derby, then went to the bench and returned with a fourth-place finish at Belmont Park, fading from the lead after a stumbling start. Easter Gift won that Belmont race and returns in this. Departing, Prayer For Relief and Pick of the Litter also have credentials.
A tough field of seven entered for Saturday's $300,000, Grade III Native Diver Handicap going 9 furlongs on the Del Mar all-weather track. Avanzare won the Grade III Arlington Park Handicap this summer. Blueskiesnrainbows won this last year and makes his second start off a long break. Tamarando also makes his second start after a layoff following a dismal showing in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park that knocked him off the Kentucky Derby trail.
Ever Rider, Cary Street and Red Rifle headline a nice field of 11 entered for Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup
outside Chicago. The local favorite, Mister Marti Gras, was parked in the No. 10 gate and also is among the morning-line picks despite some recent setbacks.
Godolphin has one-third of nine entered for Saturday's $400,000, Grade III Comely Stakes at Aqueduct for 3-year-old fillies -- Penwith, Snowbell and Divided Attention. The morning-line favorites for the 9-furlongs event, though, are Dame Dorothy and House Rules. The former remains undefeated in four starts after a victory in the Grade III Turnback the Alarm a month ago. The Bernardini filly is trained by Todd Pletcher for restaurateur Bobby Flay. The latter comes off a dominating win on a sloppy track in an off-the-turf allowance.
The six morning-line favorites drew the six inside post positions for Friday's $300,000, Grade III Go For Wand Handicap at 1 mile at Aqueduct. From the inside out, that's Tapit's World, Endless Chatter, Street Girl, Sweet Whiskey, Willet and Princess Violet. They're all at 6-1 or lower. The other six starters are all at 20-1 or more on the morning line.
Frivolous got first run to the lead in the stretch drive in Thursday's $200,000, Grade II Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs and held on to win by 1/2 length over the odds-on favorite, Don't Tell Sophia. Molly Morgan finished third. Frivolous, a 4-year-old Empire Maker filly, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.24 for jockey Jon Court. It was only her third win from 17 starts. Don't Tell Sophia was coming off a second-place finish behind Untapable in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, also with a late run that fell short.
Secret Circle, Private Zone and Bourbon Courage, second, third and fourth behind Illinois-bred upsetter Work All Week in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, will try to make amends while stretching out for Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. Secret Circle, a 5-year-old son of Eddington hasn't gone more than 6 furlongs since finishing second in the Arkansas Derby in March of 2012 and has been working at 5 furlongs since his Breeders' Cup disappointment. Private Zone, a 5-year-old Macho Uno gelding, finished second to Flat Out in last year's Cigar Mile. Bourbon Courage likely is a long shot again here. Also in the 9-horse field are Vyjack and Itsmyluckyday, the first- and third-place finishers in the 1-mile Kelso at Belmont two months ago.
Salutos Amigos avenged a Breeders' Cup disappointment with an off-the-pace, 1 3/4-lengths victory in Thursday's $300,000, Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct. The 4-year-old Salute the Sarge gelding came wide around most of his six rivals to hit the lead at the sixteenth pole and cleared. Long shot Mewannarose was along for second with Captain Serious third. Salutos Amigos, with Cornelio Velasquez aboard, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:10.78. He was coming off a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
A full field of 14 is set for Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Remsen at 9 furlongs at Aqueduct. The race is wide open with entries from trainers Chad Brown and Mark Casse included.
Lord Nelson and El Kabeir are the early picks among 12 for Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs at 1 1/16 mile. Lord Nelson is 2-for-3 in California for trainer Bob Baffert with the loss a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 FrontRunner. El Kabeir finished fourth the Grade I Champagne at Belmont and second behind Blofeld in the Grade II Nashua at the Big A.
Saturday's restricted $250,000 (Canadian) Coronation Futurity at Woodbine has a clutch of prospects going 9 furlongs on the all-weather track. Passion for Action, Brooklynsway and Danzig Moon all have claims with others in the 10-horse field looking to improve their game.
Conquest Typhoon and Daddy D T are among 10 prospects for Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Cecil B. DeMille Stakes at 1 mile on the Del Mar turf. Conquest Typhoon won the Grade II Summer Stakes and finished second in the Grade III Grey Stakes at Woodbine before getting home fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Daddy D T finished third in the Breeders' Cup and earlier won the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf. Papacoolpappacool is an up-and-coming sort worth a look.
Gulfstream Park West has events on turf and dirt at 6 furlongs and 1 mile on the Saturday card.
On Wednesday, Alert Bay came from off the pace to win the $200,000 Zia Park Derby in New Mexico by 3 lengths in track-record time of 1:41.80. Tonito M. finished second with Proceed third. Alert Bay is a City Zip gelding. The Golden Gate Fields trainee was coming off two straight graded stakes wins at Hastings Park.
Angela Renee, a disappointing 10th in the Breeders' Cup, will try to salvage her 2-year-old campaign against seven rivals in Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct, going 9 furlongs. She finished second and third at Saratoga, then won the Grade I Chandelier at Santa Anita before the flop in the big race, which came after she was bumped at the start. She faces Jacaranda, undefeated in two starts including the Grade 3 Tempted over the course, and Condo Commando, winner of the Grade I Spinaway at the Spa but fourth in last month's Grade I Frizette at Belmont.
A nicely balanced, full field is on tap for Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs, going 1 1/16 miles. Christina' Journey won her first two starts in Kentucky before struggling home 11th in the Breeders' Cup. Others with promise include West Coast Belle, No Fault of Mine and Kathballu.
Rainha Da Bateria, an also-ran in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, is the morning-line favorite among 11 in an otherwise wide-open $150,000, Grade III Jimmy Durante Stakes for 2-year-olds fillies Saturday at 1 mile on the turf at Del Mar.
Gulfstream Park West has events on turf and dirt at 6 furlongs and 1 mile on the Saturday card.
On Wednesday in New Mexico, Cassatt led from the start in the $300,000 Zia Park Oaks and won going away. Thegirlinthatsong was next-best, 4 1/2 lengths back. Shanon Nicole finished third. Cassatt, a Tapit filly, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.29 with Kerwin Clark riding. Earlier this year, the Larry Jones trainee won the Grade III Monmouth Oaks.
By ROBERT KIECKHEFER
UPI Racing Writerhttp://www.upi.com/