The Mine That Bird Derby in New Mexico is the only weekend race with potential impact on the Kentucky Derby picture while relative calm reigns across much of the racing landscape.
Two of last year's promising 3-year-olds return from long layoffs to run at Gulfstream Park and turf-running fillies and mares slug it out at Santa Anita.
On the international front, it's the weekend of the H H The Amir's Sword Festival in Doha, Qatar. World Cup preparations continued Thursday evening in Dubai and we've got the results, including a filly who could contest the UAE Derby. And Lingfield Park hosts the Winter Derby in England.
Winter's almost over so let's get to this while we can:
The Road to the Roses
Wicked Indeed ships in from New Orleans to take the favorite's role in Sunday's $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico. The Tapit colt, out of the Harlan's Holiday mare Wicked Deed, won at first asking at Fair Grounds in November, finished third in an allowance event there Dec. 22 and returned to finish fourth in the Grade III Lecomte on Jan. 19, a race won by current Kentucky Derby points leader War of Will.
Steve Asmussen trains Wicked Indeed for Winchell Thoroughbreds, also the breeder of the gray colt.
Among the others, One Flew South won his only previous start at Turfway Park in November, trained at Fair Grounds and then at Santa Anita for Doug O'Neill. Hustle Up, an Abstraction gelding, is the highest rated of the locals with consecutive wins at Zia Park and Sunland.
The Mine That Bird Derby is named for the upset winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby, who prepped for the Run for the Roses with a second-place finish in this race, then called the Borderland Derby, and a fourth in the Sunland Derby. With Calvin Borel riding, Mine That Bird rallied along the rail through the Churchill Downs slop from last of 19 to win by 6 3/4 lengths over Pioneerof the Nile at odds of 50-1. He went on to finish second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont but never won another race.
Ten fillies and mares are entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Buena Vista at Santa Anita with Vasilika coming back from a victory Jan. 21 in the Grade I Megahertz. The 5-year-old Skipshot mare would have a 10-race winning streak going but for a fourth-place finish in the Grade I Matriarch at Del Mar Dec. 2.
Ms Bad Behavior enters the Buena Vista after four straight runner-up finishes. Fahan Mura won the Grade III Bobby Frankel at Santa Anita before finishing up the track in the soggy Pegasus World Cup Turf in January. Elysea's World won a pair of graded stakes at Monmouth Park last summer and finished second in the 2017 Frankel in her only previous visit to California.
Sir Anthony, an Illinois-bred Mineshaft ridgling, brings a four-race winning streak into Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Hal's Hope at Gulfstream Park. The most recent was the Grade III Harlan's Holiday in December. The race also is noteworthy as the return of Quip for the first time since eighth-place finish in the 2018 Preakness. Ere that, the Distorted Humor colt was second in the Arkansas Derby winner of the Tampa Bay Derby. Todd Pletcher saddles Copper Town and Prince Lucky, the latter last seen winning the Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont Park last June.
On the international front:
A quality field of 15 lines up for Saturday's $1 million Group 1 H H The Amir Trophy at Al Rayyan Racecourse in Doha, including horses who have competed at the top level in the United States and Europe as well as locally.
Among the 15 are American-trained Liam the Charmer, Hunting Horn from the Irish Coolmore combine and Raymond Tusk, trained by Richard Hannon.
The local field in topped by The Blue Eye, winner of the Trophy in 2016 and 2018; the 2018 runner-up, Noor Al Hawa, and the 2018 Qatar Derby winner, Alhazm.
The race also drew some of the world's top riders, among them Ryan Moore, making his first stop in Doha, Tyler Gaffalione, Jamie Spencer, Maxime Guyon, Olivier Peslier and Gerald Mosse.
Liam the Charmer, a 6-year-old Smart Strike gelding, won the John Henry Turf Championship (G2) at Santa Anita Sept. 30. After a 12th-place finish in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf on a rain-soaked Churchill Downs course, he returned to finish third in the Grade II San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita in his most recent start.
Exercise rider Nikki Diodoro said Liam the Charmer is in good form and likes the Al Rayyan turf. "It's great," Diodoro said after drawing gate No. 5 for Liam the Charmer at the Feb. 21 ceremony. "He likes it and he took to the right-hand turning real well."
Hunting Horn, a 4-year-old Camelot colt, has only two wins for the Irish Coolmore combine. But he has been racing in top company, contesting the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf. In January, he finished third in the Grade III W.L. McKnight at Gulfstream Park.
Raymond Tusk, a well-bred 4-year-old colt by High Chaparral, posted three wins from six starts in 2018 but a mis-timed ride in the Group 1 William Hill St Leger at Doncaster in September. He rebounded to win the Group 2 Gran Premio del Jockey Club Italiano at San Siro Oct. 21.
The Blue Eye, a 7-year-old entire son of Dubawi, won the H H The Amir Trophy in 2016 and again in 2018. After the 2016 victory, he finished last in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic.
The Godolphin blue and trainer Charlie Appleby swept all before them in a stakes triple -- and then some -- at Meydan on Thursday night.
Spotify led from the early jumps in the Group 3 Dubai Millennium Stakes at 2,000 meters on the turf, then just did hold off Racing History by a short head in the final jumps. The race was essentially a group training session for Godolphin, which fielded six of the eight starts, including the top five finishers. James Doyle rode Spotify for Charlie Appleby while Christophe Soumillon was aboard Racing History. Spotify, a French-bred son of Redoubt's Choice, now has two wins from as many starts during the Carnival.
"That might be his Carnival wrapped up for him," Appleby said of Spotify. "We will point him to a European campaign. As always, we'll get them back and see how they are and regroup. We had a strong team of horses in there and it was always going to be a tactical race and James got his fractions right on the front end."
Godolphin finished 1-2 in the Group 3 UAE Oaks as Divine Image made up a lot of ground in the final 300 meters and caught Swift Rose in the shadow of the wire, winning by a neck. Doug Watson saddled Razeena and Habah to finish third and fourth. Jockey William Buick kept Divine image in mid-pack through the turn in the 1,900-meters race, swung to the outside once in the stretch and made steady progress thereafter. She finished second in the Guineas Trial in her first Dubai run after winning her career debut on the Chelmsford all-weather course in December.
"She's a filly who's definitely got the talent," Appleby said. "We just need to make sure we take it in the right direction. The (UAE Derby) is certainly under consideration. She has experience on this (distance) and surface and it'll definitely be something that's put in the melting pot."
The Group 2 UAE Derby on World Cup night March 30 carries 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.
Mythical Magic had things his own way in the stretch run of the Group 2 Zabeel Mile on the Meydan turf, drawing off smartly to win by 3 lengths as Appleby runners finished first, third and fourth. Century Dream, trained by Simon Crisford, interrupted the Godolphin parade.
Mythical Magic, a 4-year-old Iffraaj gelding, bettered his second-place finish behind yet another stablemate, D'bai, in the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort, on Jan. 24 and Appleby said he future might include Australia
"We'll have a chat" about the Dubai Turf on World Cup night, Appleby said. "He could maybe go to Australia for the Doncaster, but obviously we'll get back and regroup and see where we are.
"Very pleasing night," said the trainer, who only scored his first World Cup night victory 11 months ago.
Deep Intrigue earned a spot in the Ladbrokes Three-Year-Old Championship on Good Friday with a win in Wednesday's Ladbrokes Home of the Odds Boost Conditions Race at Newcastle. The Dark Angel colt raced close to the lead in a tightly contested race, took the lead inside the final furlong and held on to win by 1/2 length from Call Me Ginger. It was the third win of the season at the 6-furlongs trip for the Mark Johnston trainee.
"He won well around Lingfield on his latest start and is a lovely horse with a good future," said winning rider Daniel Tudhope. "He is in good hands and I wouldn't be surprised to see him step up in trip in time as well.
"I think not going round a bend today probably helped, but he will go back to Lingfield for Finals Day now and he likes it there, so I wish him all the best," Tudhope added.
Wissahickon is the heavy favorite in a field of seven for Saturday's Group 3 Betway Winter Derby at Lingfield. The 10-furlongs event is the final Fast-Track Qualifier in the middle-distance division of the All-Weather Championships with the winner earning an automatic berth in the Betway Easter Classic over the course and distance on Good Friday.
Frankie Dettori is booked to ride the 4-year-old for trainer John Gosden. Wissahickon earned the favorite's role with victories in the Quebec Stakes and the Winter Derby Trial earlier in the season.
The 2018 Winter Derby winner Master The World would become the first two-time winner should he stage an upset. He has not raced since Nov. 17.
Master The World (left) winning the 2018 Betway Winter Derby, picture All Weather Championships