Twinspires.com Weekend Stakes: Where to Watch
Just a week before the big day at Churchill Downs, the national stakes schedule is pretty light with five Grade 3s on tap for Saturday, including the traditional spring/summer Churchill opening stakes, the Derby Trial, which will be run under the lights for the first time. Though the Derby Trial has generally fallen from favor as a Derby prep, its Grade 3 status and $200,000 purse makes the race attractive to many 3-year-olds with other targets in mind. Even a winning performance in this mile test probably wouldn’t be enough to convince their connections to look at the Kentucky Derby as a viable option, but there are a couple entries in the 11-horse field that have showed some major talent. The probable favorite, Travelin Man, is coming of a two-length win in the G2 Swale, where he defeated Indiano, returning in this spot as well. J J’s Lucky Train exits two wins, most recently Aqueduct’s G3 Bay Shore.
Keeneland closes its spring meet Friday with the running of the G2 Elkhorn, a 1 ½-mile turf marathon for older runners. Musketier is back to defend his win in this race a year ago; he followed up that victory with a third-place finish in the G3 Sycamore at Keeneland’s fall meet. In two starts this season, the veteran 9-year-old has finished third and second in the G2 Mac Diarmida, and the G3 Pan American, respectively, at Gulfstream Park. In both those contests, Musketier finished behind Rahy’s Attorney, who is also entered here.
Like the Derby Trial and Westchester, all the Saturday graded stakes will be run at the mile distance—San Francisco Mile, Miami Mile Handicap and Wilshire Handicap, those three on grass. The Miami Mile, at Calder Race Course, looks like a showdown between Mambo Meister and Voodoo Swinge. The two have taken vastly different paths to get here; Mambo Meister has consistently been running in graded stakes company, last winning 11 months ago in the G3 Memorial Day Handicap on Calder’s main track, and Voodoo Swinge went through his conditions winning five in a row before finishing a very close third in the G3 Tampa Bay. Jackson Bend makes his turf debut.
Moving over the West Coast, the Wilshire Handicap has a bulky field of 11, which perhaps attracted more entries with the absence of Evening Jewel, who would have been heavily favored. This is a wide-open contest with no 2011 graded stakes winners starting. Expect some speed from both Burg Berg and Lilly Fa Pootz; Burg Berg was a winner in last October’s Swingtime Stakes, and Lilly Fa Pootz had a clear lead in her last out, the G2 Santa Ana, before being passed in the late stages by Malibu Pier and Turning Top. Also, watch for Richard Mandella’s trainee, Blue Maiden, who should sit just off the pace throughout.
The Golden Gate feature, the San Francisco Mile has a field of nine expected to go postward, including Our Nautique and Hudson Landing, who’ve met up twice before in recent months, each with a win and a second-place finish. It may be these two that run on the front end from start to finish. Other entrants are Blue Chagall, Bold Chieftain and Sebastian Flyte.