A pair of possible preview races for the $12 million Pegasus World Cup are on display this weekend. North America's highest-earning racehorse California Chrome will race in the Winter Challenge at Los Alamitos, and several possible contenders will make their auditions in Gulfstream's G3 Harlan's Holiday Stakes.
Kicking off the graded stakes action on Saturday is the six-furlong G3 Sugar Swirl at Gulfstream, a field of six fillies and mares led by the 5-year-old mare Stonetastic. Second in this race last year, Stonetastic has won over $800,000 in her career, has a distinct liking for the Gulfstream surface, and is coming into the race off a short freshening. Sophomore filly Dearest appears to be the main competition, aiming for her first graded win following a three-month break.
Up next at Gulfstream is the G3 Rampart Stakes, in which seven fillies and mares will contest a mile over the main track. A duo of Todd Pletcher trainees leads the field, with graded winner Genre seeking to rebound from her third-place finish in the G1 Spinster and the consistent Eskenformoney trying for her first graded win. Local stakes winner Curlin's Approval will also be trying for her first graded victory.
Pletcher has three entered in the G3 Harlan's Holiday at Gulfstream, held on the main track over 1 1/16 miles. Keen Ice, Stanford and Madefromlucky will all be looking to impress the owners of slots in the Pegasus World Cup. Keen Ice, most recently third in the Breeders' Cup Classic, may not love the shorter distance, but Stanford seems a very logical contender. Awesome Slew, the runaway winner of the G3 Smarty Jones at Parx, will line up against older horses for the first time in recent months and enters the race off a three-month freshening which could make him particularly dangerous to break into the trifecta.
In the next race at Gulfstream, fan-favorite Heart to Heart is heavily favored in the listed El Prado Stakes, in which the 7 1/2 furlong distance on the turf may be right up the frontrunner's alley.
Los Alamitos' $180,000 Winter Challenge drew a full field of 10 starters, with two also-eligibles, likely due to the purse structure which pays $10,000 to every horse that finishes the race. California Chrome is, of course, the heavy favorite in his first-ever start at his home base, and trainer Art Sherman is using the race as a tune-up for the Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 28. Every other horse in the field is at double-digit odds, save for Point Piper, winner of the G3 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs earlier this year. Estimated post time is 7:28 p.m. EST.
Also of note on Saturday is a particularly challenging-to-handicap series of listed stakes races at Fair Grounds in Louisiana; each of the turf races has a full field of 12 entries, along with several also-eligibles.
Don't forget: replays of every graded stakes race across the country are available at the Paulick Report website. Click here for more information.
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