A busy weekend of graded stakes action is topped by a pair of Kentucky Derby prep races on the East coast, the second and third 50-point races to be offered. Last weekend, Girvin took home the prize in the Fair Grounds' G2 Risen Star to rise to the top of the Derby leaderboard, but this weekend's racing figures to place a new name atop that list as many of the contenders already have several points to their names.
Kicking off a stakes-laden card at Gulfstream Park on Saturday is the G3 Herecomesthebride, a 1 1/16-mile contest for 3-year-old fillies on the turf. Coasted, runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, makes her 2017 debut for trainer Leah Gyarmati, and is heavily favored in the field of seven. With 12 career starts already under her belt, the Chad Brown-trained India Mantuana has been steadily improving since the start of 2017, and figures to play a major part in the pace scenario. Dream Dancing should also run well here, having returned to the turf successfully last out after a failed dirt experiment last fall. For a longshot play, Conquest Hardcandy appears an interesting choice stepping up from maiden company; her last-out number was right along those of the best in the field, and trainer Antonio Sano is sneaky-good.
Gulfstream's G3 Fred Hooper Handicap is held over a mile on the main track for older horses. The eight-horse field is led by Greenpointcrusader for Todd Pletcher, a winner over the course and distance impressively last out. A G1-winning juvenile, the son of Bernardini has continued to work consistently and will be tough here. However, Pegasus World Cup fifth-place finisher War Story is an intriguing prospect for new trainer Jorge Navarro. When the gelding breaks well, he can be a big threat, though this distance would appear to be a bit shorter than he prefers. Bird Song may well be the surprise of the group, however, as trainer Ian Wilkes can be sure to have the horse ready and he appears to be the only one with significant early speed.
Up next at Gulfstream is the listed Sand Springs Stakes, over a mile on the turf for fillies and mares, in which fan-favorite Catch A Glimpse will make her 2017 debut. She is up against a solid field of nine, but her main rival will be the Christophe Clement-trained Celestine.
The G3 The Very One Stakes, held on Gulfstream's turf for fillies and mares over 1 3/16 miles, is led by Bill Mott trainee Suffused, winner over the course last out. She will be challenged by the Chad Brown-trained Olorda, making her return off a lengthy layoff. Olorda won this race last year, and her status as the field's lone confirmed front-runner may well make her hard to catch if Brown has her ready.
Gulfstream's G3 Palm Beach Stakes for sophomores over 1 1/16 miles on the turf is led by tepid favorite Cowboy Culture, undefeated in three starts and winner over Risen Star victor Girvin in his last out over Fair Grounds' turf course. Kitten's Cat is deserving of a graded stakes win for trainer Joe Sharp, and while in tough here deserves a long look; he is very game if in good position heading to the wire. Channel Maker showed good form over Woodbine's turf as a juvenile but didn't quite match up to the best in the Breeders' Cup. If new jockey Joel Rosario can work out a trip for Ticonderoga where the colt is not forced ridiculously wide around the far turn, his big late kick should put the son of Tapit right there on the wire for trainer Chad Brown.
In the G2 Davona Dale, sophomore fillies will compete for 50 Kentucky Oaks points in the one-mile dirt contest at Gulfstream. The 14-horse field features a pair of fillies with strong past performances in Pretty City Dancer, a G1-winning juvenile for trainer Mark Casse, and Miss Sky Warrior, a G2 and G3 winner for trainer Kelly Breen. The former posted a bullet work two weeks ago and, following a runner-up finish in her season debut, should be primed and ready for a top effort. The latter hasn't raced since November, but a bullet three-furlong blowout in :35 last week should have her on her toes here. Eloquent Riddle is a bit of a mystery for trainer Chad Brown; she improved with each start last fall, but never quite ran well enough to win a stakes race. The Juddmonte-owned daughter of Harlan's Holiday may have matured a bit since her last start in November, and she drew top jockey Javier Castellano.
Up in New York at Aqueduct, the G3 Gotham is the first of the weekend's 50-point Derby preps. Held over 1 1/16 miles on the inner dirt, the Gotham drew a field of 10 sophomores led by the dominant El Areeb, winner of both his starts there so far in 2017. So Conflated ships over from the West coast for trainer Doug O'Neill, bringing Mario Gutierrez with him, and the listed California Derby winner was impressive on the Tapeta at Golden Gate last out. Cloud Computing broke his maiden handily first out in February, and should garner a bit of respect from the barn of Chad Brown. Todd Pletcher is shipping up Action Everyday, a son of The Factor who is undefeated in two allowance starts at Tampa. He may not want the classic distance, but 1 1/16 miles should be in his wheelhouse and Pletcher can be dangerous when shipping in, as we saw with One Liner at Oaklawn Park.
Back at Gulfstream, the G3 Canadian Turf Stakes drew a field of nine older males to contest a mile on the turf. Heart to Heart is the top choice in the group and the distance should suit the frontrunner. Four-time winner Projected will make his first stateside start for trainer Chad Brown; the Juddmonte-owned gelding is a stakes-placed runner in France and appears to have been working steadily at Palm Meadows. Interpol posted a strong record at Woodbine last year, and has drawn the services of jockey Jose Ortiz for trainer Jimmy Toner.
The 1 3/8-mile G2 Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream has drawn a group of 12 older turf horses to try for the $200,000 pot. Wake Forest is the slight favorite for trainer Chad Brown, but he will need the pace setup if he is to utilize his late kick to hit the wire first. Bigger Picture should be near the front end for trainer Mike Maker, and was very impressive last out at Sam Houston. Taghleeb needed every bit of racetrack in the 1 1/2-mile McKnight last out, and any traffic trouble in this large field would seem to leave him out of the top contenders. Twilight Eclipse faced much tougher in his fall campaign, and may have been a touch short when finishing fourth in the McKnight; assume Albertrani should have him ready here.
Over at Santa Anita, more Oaks points are on the line as the immensely talented Unique Bella takes on six others over 1 1/16 miles in the G3 Santa Ysabel. There are a pair of Grade 1 winners in the field in Abel Tasman and Noted and Quoted, but Unique Bella appears much the best in the entire sophomore filly division.
Closing out Saturday's action is the G2 Fountain of Youth, offering those crucial 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby to the winning sophomore colt. Held over 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream, the contest drew an interesting mix of colts. Irish War Cry and Gunnevera will face off once again, with Irish War Cry getting the win in the Holy Bull off an easy lead. Dual Grade 1 winner Practical Joke is back in action for trainer Chad Brown, and Peruvian Group 1 winner Huracan Americo makes his first US start here. Three Rules loves the Gulfstream surface but may not have the ability to beat these, and Made You Look has been very successful but on the turf for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Sunday, the only graded stakes action around the country is the G3 Las Flores at Santa Anita, held over six furlongs on the main track for fillies and mares. Pretty N Cool and Constellation appear to be the top two choices here in the field of five.
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