UPI Horse Racing Weekend Preview
The Longines Hong Kong International races take center stage in this weekend's thoroughbred racing, with lots of 2-year-old action throughout North America and in Japan.
The Grade I Cash Call Futurity and Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos are the star attractions for the youngsters with more action in Maryland and Canada.
Fair Grounds hosts Louisiana Champions day with big and competitive fields.
And see the England section for a feel-good yarn regarding Toast of New York.
Meanwhile, toast this:
Sunday's Longines Hong Kong International Races are the last stop on the annual world tour for globetrotting turf runners and this year's renewal has attracted some of the best, including several participants in last month's Breeders' Cup at Del Mar.
The field for the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase, run at 1 1/2 miles, is headed by the winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf, Talismanic, and the third-place finisher from that event, Highland Reel. Highland Reel won the Vase in 2015 and finished second in 2016, nailed in the final yards by Japanese runner Satono Crown. The Irish-based 5-year-old son of Galileo is slated to retire to stud for his Coolmore owners after the race. Talismanic, a 4-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro, is owned by Godolphin and based in France.
The unusually strong field for the Vase also includes Max Dynamite and Tiberian, third and seventh in last month's Group 1 Melbourne Cup, former South African champion Smart Call and Japanese 3-year-old Kiseki. The 1 1/2 miles is rarely raced in Hong Kong and local runners therefore are disadvantaged in this event.
By contrast, the Group 1 The Longines Hong Kong Sprint at 6 furlongs and the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile have been dominated for the past decade by local runners.
Leading the Hong Kong contingent for the Sprint is Mr Stunning, winner of the BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint -- the local prep for the international race. The field also includes Lucky Bubbles, second in last year's Sprint, who chased Mr Stunning home in the prep race, 2015 Sprint winner Peniaphobia, Thewizardofoz, Amazing Kids and Not Listenin'tome.
The overseas rivals in the Sprint include a rare American challenger, Stormy Liberal. The 5-year-old Stormy Atlantic gelding has won five of his last six starts, culminating in victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar Nov. 4. Brian Trump, racing manager for the owner, Rockingham Ranch, admitted the No. 11 gate he drew at the Sha Tin ceremony is "not ideal" for the sprint. "But it's a crazy game," he said.
France, England and Japan also have contenders in the Sprint.
Locals have won nine of the last 10 renewals of the Mile. This time around, a squadron led by Seasons Bloom, Beauty Only, Beauty Generation, Helene Paragon and Contentment will be well backed to keep this trophy safely home. Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien has Lancaster Bomber and Roly Poly in the Mile but they drew gates 11 and 14, hampering their chances. France's Karar, who was seventh in the Breeders' Cup Mile, also returns here.
The Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup at 2,000 meters race drew a nicely competitive international field. Deauville, third in each of the past two runnings of the Arlington Million, drew well in post No. 2 for trainer O'Brien and jockey Ryan Moore. O'Brien also will saddle War Decree, who returns to the turf after finishing ninth in the Breeders' Cup Classic. English-based Blond Me, winner of the Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine, makes the final start of her career. Neorealism, Staphanos and Smart Layer carry the Japanese hopes in the Cup and Garlingari, seventh in the 2016 renewal, returns after a more successful season in France, including a victory in the Prix Dollar (G2) at Chantilly Sept 30.
Hong Kong's hopes in the Cup rest primarily with Werther, the 2015-16 Hong Kong Horse of the Year. His campaign last season was disrupted by injuries but the 6-year-old Tavistock gelding has had smooth sailing this season and won the local prep for this race. "The pick of my horses running Sunday would be Werther -- by a furlong," said trainer John Moore. He then upped the ante by drawing an advantageous gate No. 3 for his star.
Sunday's Group 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies is notable in part because of the participation of some first-crop daughters of 2011 Japanese Triple Crown winner Orfevre. Among them, Rock This Town is 2-for-2 with her latest win coming in the Group 3 Sapporo Nisai Stakes. She does come off a three-months layoff. Another Orfevre filly, also is 2-for-2 with a victory in the Group 3 Artemis Stakes at Tokyo Oct. 28. The last filly from a first-crop sire to win the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies was Vodka in 2006. She went on to become one of Japan's all-time greats.
Toast of New York, winner of the 2014 UAE Derby in Dubai and second in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita, has come out of three years' retirement, won his first race and suddenly is a prospect for the $16 million Pegasus World Cup in January at Gulfstream Park and the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March. Really.
The 6-year-old entire son of Thewayyouare was retired to stud duty in Qatar with a soft tissue injury. While he was successful in limited opportunities, Sheik Johan's Al Shaqab Racing found him sound and reckoned he had more value as a runner. He made his return for trainer Jamie Osborne in Wednesday's 10-furlongs Betway Conditions Stakes on Polytrack at Lingfield Park and, with Frankie Dettori up, scored by 1 length over the favorite, Petite Jack.
"I think we will see what the next stage is," said Al Shaqab racing manager Harry Herbert. "We don't have a slot for the Pegasus World Cup but those normally become available at some point. We will let the dust settle and have a good think about it.
"I am sure Sheikh Joaan would love to see him go for the Dubai World Cup and that would be an obvious target," Herbert added. "He was originally bought to go for that race. It has just taken a while to get there."
Back in North America:
McKinzie and Solomini, both from the Bob Baffert barn, are the solid favorites in a field of just five for Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Cash Call Futurity. Solomini, by Curlin, won his first start at Del Mar in the summer, then finished second in both the Grade 1 FrontRunner at Santa Anita and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. McKinzie, a Street Sense colt, was an easy winner in his career debut at Santa Anita Oct. 28 going 7 furlongs. Mike Smith gets the return call.
Five 2-year-old fillies make up the field for Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Starlet and Baffert also has the morning-line favorite here -- Dream Tree, an Uncle Mo filly who is 2-for-2 with a win in the Desi Arnez at Del Mar. Also high in the oddsmaker's estimation are Piedi Bianchi, who was second in the Grade I Del Mar Debutante and third in the Grade I Chandelier but disappointed in the Breeders' Cup, finishing fifth. War Heroine, a daughter of Lonhro, also gets a nod after an impressive maiden score at Santa Anita.
Saturday's card includes the $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Futurity and $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship, both for state-breds.
Saturday's $100,000 Garland of Roses Stakes at 6 furlongs drew seven fillies and mares. Quezon, a 5-year-old Tiz Wonderful mare, drew the rail and is the 9-5 morning line pick. The rest of the field is well matched.
Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) King Arvie, for 2-year-olds sired in Ontario, has 10 starters. The early picks are the 1-2-3 finishers in last month's Frost King Stakes -- Be Vewy Vewy Quiet, Silent Sting and Royal Laser. Be Vewy Vewy Quiet and Silent Sting are both by the Japanese-bred sire Silent Name. Royal Laser is a Giant Gizmo colt. The 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track will be watched for hints to the 2018 Queen's Plate.
Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian), Grade III Valedictory is 14 furlongs on the all-weather track. Melmich, a 6-year-old Wilco gelding, was second in last year's edition, then ran off five straight wins to start his 2017 season, including the Grade III Seagram Cup, the Grade III Durham Cup and the Grade II Dominion Day. He does, however, concede nine pounds to most of his rivals.
Saturday's Louisiana Champions Day card includes seven stakes for state-bred Thoroughbreds on both turf and dirt.
News and notes:
Charles J. Cella, longtime president and chairman of the Board of the Oaklawn Jockey Club in Hot Springs, Ark., died this week in St. Louis from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 81. Cella took the reins of Oaklawn in 1968. Under his direction, Oaklawn developed into one of the largest and most respected racing centers in America, introducing such innovations as the Racing Festival of the South, full-card interstate simulcasting and Instant Racing. Cella also owned and raced several notable Thoroughbreds, including 1995 Breeders' Cup Turf winner Northern Spur.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club announced Thursday it plans to stage racing carnivals starting in 2019 at its under-development training center at Conghua on the Chinese Mainland. Racing with Hong Kong based horses would be a significant step forward for the sport in China but the Club said the races will not include betting, which is illegal on the Mainland. The intent is to use the massive facility, which will cost the HKJC nearly US$1 billion, to promote tourism in the area, already a draw thanks to its hot springs spas. Should the Chinese government ever legalize wagering, an existing facility with an ongoing race program would be well positioned to take a leadership role in development.