It's turf, turf and more turf this weekend in Thoroughbred racing with the emphasis on the Arlington Million in suburban Chicago.
There's also significant action in other divisions, including the youngsters, with 2-year-old races at Del Mar and Saratoga.
On the international front, the 2-year-olds take to the Curragh turf in Ireland for the Phoenix Stakes. The Jacques Le Marois tops French racing and the Grosser Preis von Berlin is the feature in Germany.
First, the Million:
The Pizza Man won it two years ago. Kasaqui and Deauville finished first and second last year. All three are back as part of a worthy cast of 13 for Saturday's 35th running of the Arlington Million, highlight of the International Festival of Racing at Arlington International Racecourse. The 1 1/4-miles on the grass, in addition to worldwide prestige, offers a "Win and You're In" spot for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf in November at Del Mar.
Deauville, a Galileo colt trained by Aidan O'Brien, was a close third in last year's Million. He comes from three straight in-the-money finishes on the other side of the Atlantic, including a third in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths by the highly regarded Ribchester. The other invaders for the Million are French Group 1 winner Mekhtaal and Fanciful Angel from the always dangerous Marco Botti yard. Scottish was a late scratch with an injury.
The locals include 2015 Million winner The Pizza Man, an Illinois-bred gelding by English Channel. The Pizza Man, 8, may be nearing retirement. But he opened some eyes with a good closing second in the Grade III Stars and Stripes Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on the Arlington grass on July 8. Last year's Million runner-up, Kasaqui, was an impressive winner in the Grade II Wise Dan at Churchill Downs June 17 and third in the Grade III Arlington Handcap July 8. The 7-year-old is by Lasting Approval.
Beach Patrol, a Lemon Drop Kid colt, has not won since last year's Grade I Secretariat for 3-year-olds on the Million card but has run well in five straight Group 1 events from coast to coast. Divisidero, a 5-year-old by Kitten's Joy, is a multiple Grade I winner but comes off a disappointing sixth in the Grade I Woodford Reserve Manhattan at Belmont Park. Ascend, a 27-1 upset winner in the Manhattan, also will contest the Million.
Oscar Nominated finished fifth in the 2016 Secretariat on Million day, then went on to win the 2016 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs. Enterprising, Ghost Hunter and Oak Brook round out the Million field and none can be dismissed out of hand.
Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Secretariat for 3-year-olds on the Million undercard drew a field of six, including 2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Oscar Performance and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum's Permian, a top European-based sophomore. Oscar Performance misfired in his first two starts this year, then won the Grade III Pennine Ridge and Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational. Permian, a Teofilo colt, won the Group 2 Dante Stakes at York in May but then disappointed in the Ivestec Derby at Epsom, finishing 10th. He rebounded nicely in his last two races but the Secretariat will be his eighth start since April 14. Afandem carries French hopes. Although the French-bred Zoffany colt is trained by Jean-Claude Rouget for Al Shaqab Racing and has Frankie Dettori engaged, his three wins have come against softer competition. O'Brien fields Taj Mahal, who has not fulfilled his early-season promise.
Completing the field are the top two finishers from the local Grade III American Derby -- Sonic Boom and Gorgeous Kitten.
The $250,000 Grade III American St. Leger drew eight, all American-trained, to tackle 1 11/16 miles. Taghleeb is the morning-line favorite despite his fifth-place finish in the Grade III Arlington Handicap.
Filly & Mare Turf
Argentine-bred Dona Bruja and Irish-based Rain Goddess could be the class of the field in Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington Park. Dona Bruja has won both her starts, including the Grade III Modesty Handicap over the Arlington course, since coming north from Argentina. Rain Goddess was last seen finishing second in the Group 1 Darley Irish Oaks behind Enable. Enable currently is ranked the top prospect for the Oct. 1 Prix de l'Arc de Tripomphe at Chantilly -- Europe's top race. France is represented by Sarandia represents Germany and trainer Peter Schiergen. Chad Brown will saddle three American-based distaffers in the Beverly D. -- Chilean-bred mare Dacita, a Scat Daddy mare who has posted multiple graded stakes wins since exiting her native land; Grand Jete, winner of all three of her 2017 starts; and Rainha Da Bateria, a Broken Vow mare who exits a victory in the Grade II Dance Smartly at Woodbine. Also dangerous is Hawksmoor, a Group 1 winner in Germany last year, who has thrived on American soil this season.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Pucker Up for 3-year-old fillies at Arlington has a field of 12 and is about as wide open as a Graded stakes can or should be. Good luck with this, the final race of the $300,000 guaranteed late Pick Four. Can you say "all" for that fourth leg, boys and girls?
Friday's $150,000 Solana Beach for state-bred fillies and mares at Del Mar got eight takers and is worth a look since the Breeders' Cup World Championship will be run over this course. Majestic Heat, Moonless Sky and Shehastheritestuff are the morning-line picks.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Fourstardave at Saratoga has an accomplished cast. American Patriot won the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile during Keeneland's spring meeting. Ballagh Rocks comes off a win in the Grade III Poker at Belmont. Time Test, second in the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont, is waiting for a breakthrough showing. Disco Partner won the Grade III Jaipur in June. World Approval won the Grade II Dixie at Pimlico two starts back. And Sassy Little Lila, the only filly in the bunch, was second in the Grade I Just a Game in her last start and gets in with a feathery 112 pounds.
Blind Ambition tracked down pacesetter Expedited Vision in the final jumps of Wednesday's $100,000 Quick Call Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga, winning by 1/2 length. It was another 6 lengths back to The Money Monster in third. Blind Ambition, a Tapit colt, toured 5 1/2 furlongs of firm turf in 1:01.51 with Javier Castellano in the irons. It was his third win from his last four starts. Trainer Todd Pletcher said a brief experiment on the dirt is over and he believes Blind Ambition "can go further. He's won at seven and a half, so it looks like we have some options going forward."
A field of nine for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Monmouth Oaks includes Grade III Indiana Oaks winner Overture; Proud and Fearless, second in the Delaware Oaks; and Babybluesbdancing, the Chicago-based runner-up in the Grade III Iowa Oaks. Sine Wave and My Miss Tapit have claims, too.
If trainer Bernie Flint and jockey Calvin Borel have it right, Brooklynsway should be tough to handle in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Groupie Doll at Ellis Park. "The filly is doing real, real good," Borel said leading up to the 1-mile test. "Believe me what I'm telling you. I love her a lot." Brooklynsway, a 5-year-old Giant Gizmo mare, hasn't done much winning recently but Flint attributes that to a long layoff and some circumstance. She will start from the outside in a field of 12.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Constellation, Skye Diamonds and Bendable are well matched in a cast of five for Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Rancho Bernardo at Del Mar. Sky Diamonds exits a victory in the Grade II Great Lady M Stakes at Los Alamitos. Bendable, never worse than third in her six previous races, comes off a win in the Grade III Desert Stormer at Santa Anita. Constellation has the best body of work, posting three straight runner-up finishes, all in graded stakes and culminating in the Great Lady M. She was a Grade I winner last season.
Mach One Rules is the morning-line favorite among 12 entered for Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs. He posted wins in the Mount Rainier Stakes and Budweiser Stakes over the course in his last two outings. The field also includes last year's winner, Point Piper.
Seven are on tap for Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Seagram Cup, Woodbine, 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather. Among them are Melmich, Gigantic Breeze and Are You Kidding Me, the first three home in the Grade III Dominion Day Stakes on July 1, and Keen Gizmo, who won the Steady Growth Stakes in his last try.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Best Pal at Del Mar, 6 1/2 furlongs, should offer some clues to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in less than three months' time. But for now, it's a puzzle. The field of eight includes: Run Away, winner of the Santa Anita Juvenile; recent winners from Gulfstream Park and Camarero in Puerto Rico; Oklahoma-bred Serengetti, a $200,000 Keeneland September sale purchase who is undefeated in two starts for Peachtree Stables and trainer Bob Baffert; the Wesley Ward trainee Arawak, who returns from a 12th-place finish in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot after winning at first asking at the Belmont Park dirt; plus and assortment of recent maiden winners and one still a maiden.
A promising field of nine is on tap for Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Saratoga Special at 6 1/2 furlongs. Copper Bullet has a win and two seconds from three starts, including a runner-up showing in the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs June 30. Mo Diddley, trained by Mark Casse, showed promise winning his career debut after a troubled start in a May 18 sprint at Churchill Downs. Casse compares the Uncle Mo colt to Classic Empire, the 2016 champion male 2-year-old. We shall see.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has two of the eight entries in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga -- Pure Silver and Stainless. Either could be golden as the former is undefeated in two starts and the latter, after a career-opening win, finished third in the Grade III Schuylerville early in the Spa meeting. While the others have less to show, there is no shortage of potential on display in this heat. Trainer Horacio de Paz also has two, including Southampton Way, the only one of the eight with a win over the track.
On the international front:
Sunday's Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh is an early test of local 2-year-olds with a heavy emphasis on Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard. O'Brien has left in four of the eight entrants. Among them are likely favorites Sioux Nation and the filly, Actress. Chief rival to the O'Brien combine is Beckford, entering with a 2-for-2 record and both wins over the Curragh turf.
Sunday's Group 1 Prix du Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard - Jacques Le Marois at Chantilly would be billed as a rematch among Thunder Snow, Trais Fluors and Gold Luck, the first three finishers in the Group 1 Jean Prat a month ago. However, the presence of the race's lone 4-year-old, Taareef, changes that equation a bit. Taareef, an American-bred colt by Kitten's Joy, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, enters the fray off three straight wins dating back to last fall. His two victories this season came in Group 3 events at Maison-Laffitte and Chantilly and he has yet to win at the Group 1 level.
Trais Fluors, a 3-year-old Dansili colt trained by Andre Fabre, was undefeated going into the Jean Prat and lost by 1 1/4 lengths to Thunder Snow, the famous Kentucky Derby non-runner. Gold Luck has been a shade less impressive. Al Wukair and Inns of Court round out the six-horse field. Irish star filly Roly Poly was withdrawn at the final entry stage.
Sunday's Group 1 Longines Grosser Preis von Berlin at Hoppegarten attracted a field of seven to contest 1 1/2 miles on the grass. Godolphin has sent a pair: Hawkbill, a 4-year-old by Kitten's Joy who comes off a Group 2 win at Newmarket for trainer Charlie Appleby, and Racing History, a 5-year-old son of Pivotal trained by Saeed bin Suroor who makes his first start since finishing second in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Bayern last November in Munich. Sirius, trained last year in Germany, has run well this season in France for trainer Andreas Suborics and returns home after finishing second in the Group 2 Prix Maurice du Nieull at Saint-Cloud.
Black Caviar's first foal, a filly by Exceed and Excel, found the winner's enclosure on her second try Friday, taking a 1,000-meter maiden event at Geelong. Oscietra met several challenges in the final furlong and won by about 1 length. She finished third in her first race on New Year's Day at Flemington.