Kentucky Derby winner back on track, ’23 Derby contenders try out in Kentucky , Japan

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Rich Strike, seen posing the morning after his Kentucky Derby win, returns in Saturday’s Grade I Clark Stakes with a chance to stake a claim for year-end honors. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs

Nov. 25 (UPI) — It’s getting to be crunch time for horses who seek year-end honors, and this weekend’s Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs provides one of the final opportunities with none other than Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike poised to strike it rich if he can win.

There’s lots more action from coast to coast and beyond, too. One “Road to the Kentucky Derby” continues at Churchill Downs, and another gets underway at Tokyo Racecourse in Japan.

Speaking of Japan, Sunday’s Grade 1 Japan Cup looks like a rare window of opportunity for foreign runners. And the fields are set for what promises to be another competitive edition of the Longines Hong Kong International Races.

And … who is the 2022 Big Sport of Turfdom? See “News and Notes” below.

Classic

Is it possible that Rich Strike, winless since his amazing Kentucky Derby victory and still eligible for a “non-winners of two other-than,” is still a solid contender for the 3-year-old male Eclipse Award?

Well, “solid” might be a slight stretch but let’s see how he does in Friday’s $750,000 Grade I Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs before writing him off.

The Keen Ice colt clearly loves the Churchill Downs surface. In three spins over it, he has two wins, including the Run for the Roses, and a head-bob second to Hot Rod Charlie in the Grade II Lukas Classic Oct. 1. He was last seen finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland.

The other six in the Clark are all nice horses but if Rich Strike can repeat his Derby or Lukas Classic run, he will be tough to beat. And, should he win, he’d have the “tiebreaker” on two other candidates for the Eclipse Award — Epicenter and Taiba, second and 12th in the Derby, respectively — and two Grade I wins, which is one more than Epicenter and the same as Taiba.

Who ya gonna call?

In other weekend action in the Classic division:

Saturday’s $100,000 Grade III Berkeley Handicap, 1 1/16 miles on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather, has just five entries and little to separate them.

Defunded, fresh off a win in the Grade I Awesome Again at Santa Anita, will try to repeat in Sunday’s $150,000 Grade III Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar. The competition includes last year’s winner, Azul Coast, and Newgrange, who wheels back on three weeks’ rest after a win on the Santa Anita dirt.

Sunday’s $150,000 Discovery Stakes for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct has a nice field of seven without a standout. Eloquist won his last two starts at Parx Racing and Delaware Park.

Distaff

Already in the books: Played Hard, the odds-on favorite, led throughout the 1 1/8 miles of Thursday’s $500,000 Grade III Falls City at Churchill Downs and kept going to win by 1 length over Bellamore.

She’s All Wolfe came from last of six to finish third. Played Hard, a 4-year-old Into Mischief filly, got home in 1:49.39 with Joel Rosario up for trainer Philip Bauer.

Kathleen O returns to action in Friday’s $175,000 Grade III Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct at 1 1/8 miles. The Upstart filly won her first five starts, but then finished fifth in the Kentucky Oaks before going to the sidelines and faces seven in her return.

Turf

Friday’s $250,000 Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar has local favorite Dicey Mo Chara and New York invader The Grey Wizard against five other rivals going 1 1/2 miles.

Saturday’s $300,000 Grade II Red Smith at Aqueduct drew a full field to tackle 1 3/8 miles despite the presence of 5-2 morning-line favorite Soldier Rising.

The 4-year-old Frankel gelding gets some relief after two good efforts in Grade I affairs. Also look at Astronaut and Mooney Love, the latter making his second start for Bill Mott after racing earlier in Italy and Germany.

Saturday’s $250,000 Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap at Del Mar has plenty of talent packed into a nine-horse field. What it doesn’t have is a clear favorite with the oddsmaker bunching five of the nine at 5-1 or less on the morning line.

Santin, the Grade I Arlington Million (at Churchill Downs) winner, gets the lukewarm 3-1 nod despite finishing ninth in his most recent start in the Grade I Turf Mile at Keeneland.

Eleven 3-year-olds are on deck for Sunday’s $300,000 Grade III Commonwealth Turf at Churchill Downs. None is in particularly hot form except Barberini, who has won three in a row well down the class ladder.

For the sports fans, the field includes Stolen Base, Play Action Pass, Running Bee and Trademark. Good luck. Also, consider Actuator.

Filly & Mare Turf

In the books: Dalika bounced back from a sixth-place finish in her previous start at Keeneland to win Thursday’s $300,000 Grade III Cardinal at Churchill Downs by 1 3/4 lengths over Perseverancia. The favorite, Adventuring, was third.

A 6-year-old, German-bred mare, Dalika ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:50.61 under Brian Hernandez Jr. In eight appearances at Churchill downs, she has missed a top-two finish only once. The wins include this year’s Grade I Beverly D.

Also in the leger: Bellestreet Bridle pressed the early pace in Thursday’s $150,000 Grade III Red Carpet Stakes at Del Mar, took over when asked by jockey Flavien Prat and ran on to win by 4 1/4 lengths.

Quattrolle was best of the rest, a neck in front of Queen ofthe Temple, with the favorite, Sister Otoole, fourth. Bellestreet Bridle, a 3-year-old, British-bred filly by Sir Percy, got 1 3/8 miles of firm turf in 2:15.67.

Friday’s $300,000 Grade III Long Island at Aqueduct has six distaffers tackling 1 3/8 miles. Prominent is Temple City Terror, a 6-year-old Temple City mare exiting a win in the Grade III Dowager at Keeneland. Chad Brown has three, including Rocky Sky and Capital Structure, first and second in the recent Grade III Waya over the course.

Eleven 3-year-old fillies signed up for Friday’s $300,000 Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill Downs, assuming the turf track is ready for use after many months of hand-wringing about the condition of the surface.

California Angel and Bubble Rock are the morning-line favorites. Small World Department: Those two finished 11th and 12th in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Turf Sprint

A full field plus extras is on hand for Friday’s $150,000, 6-furlongs Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship. Recognizable names include Bad Beat Brian, Thin White Duke, Chewing Gum and Gear Jockey but it’s a wide-open event.

Sunday’s $150,000 Autumn Days Stakes for fillies and mares at Aqueduct has a main field of 11 plus four “main track only” entries to go 6 furlongs.

Sprint

Already run: Surveillance outfinished the favorite, Heart Rhythm, by 1/2 length to win Thursday’s $175,000 Thanksgiving Classic at Fair Grounds. Chattalot got home third as Surveillance, a 5-year-old Constitution gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.93 with James Graham riding for trainer Keith Desormeaux.

Seven signed on for Saturday’s $175,000 Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct. Runninsonofagun and Factor It In are the early picks for the 6 furlongs after running 1-2 in the Grade III Bold Ruler in their last start.

Already in the books: Tejano Twist rallied from last of 11 to win Monday’s $250,000 Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley by 1/2 length over Knocker Down. Tejano Twist, a 4-year-old Practical Joke gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.38 with Chris Landeros riding for trainer Chris Hartman.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Already in the books: Disco Ebo pressed the pace in Monday’s $100,000 Youngstown Oaks at Mahoning Valley, took the lead in the lane and won by 1 1/2 lengths from the favorite, My Kentucky Girl. Disco Ebo, a Weigelia filly, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.50 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up.

Juvenile

Saturday’s $400,000 Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs is the first “Road to the Kentucky Derby” race since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The 1 1/16-mile event awards points on the 10-4-3-2-1 scale.

Nine are set for the race, several of them coming off relatively poor showings in recent graded stakes elsewhere.

Of note are Instant Coffee, a Bolt d’Oro colt from the Brad Cox barn who was fourth in the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity, won by later Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Forte, and Curly Jack, fifth in the Breeders’ Cup after winning the Grade III Iroquois under the Twin Spires in September. Freedom Trail is 2-for-2 but both races were on the Aqueduct grass.

Saturday’s $120,000 Central Park Stakes at Aqueduct is contested at 1 mile on the turf. Ten are entered and it would be tough to eliminate any one of them right off the top. The morning line reflects that with General Jim, an Into Mischief colt, seeking his third win in a row as the morning-line favorite at 7-2.

Saturday’s $200,000 Edward Brown Stakes at Churchill Downs, 6 1/2 furlongs, has a field of seven with some cutting back in distance, one trying a new surface and none making a compelling case.

Acoustic Ave, a Maclean’s Music colt, stands out among seven entered for Saturday’s $100,000 Notebook Stakes at Aqueduct with three wins from four starts.

Saturday’s Cattleya Sho at Tokyo Racecourse is the first of four races in the “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby”. Last year’s series didn’t turn up a runner for Louisville and, throughout its history, the Japan Road has had only minimal impact on the Run for the Roses.

However, Japanese racing officials, in a nod to international competition, are reorganizing their dirt competition, mainly run under the auspices of the National Association of Racing, into an officially recognized Triple Crown.

One of the four races in the Churchill Downs-sanctioned series currently is run at an NAR track. CDI officials told investors two years ago they planned to expand this series and the companion “European Road to the Kentucky Derby” but nothing has happened yet. We’ll see.

Juvenile Fillies

Saturday’s $400,000 Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs has 10 fillies set to go 1 1/16 miles including Pretty Mischievous and Hoosier Philly, both 2-for-2. A few others have been tested in graded stakes and look for a step forward.

Among those is the Chris Block-trained Knockyoursocksoff, second in the Grade II Jessamine at Keeneland after missing the break. She makes her first start on the dirt. American Rockette and Mustang Lady last competed in the Grade I Frizette at Aqueduct and Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland, respectively.

Key of Life comes to Saturday’s $200,000 Fern Creek at Churchill Downs off three straight wins including the Myrtlewood Stakes at Keeneland in her last. Six are entered to go 6 1/2 furlongs.

Saturday’s $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Mazarine Stakes has a competitive field of seven to 1 1/16 miles on the Woodbine all-weather but three of them are cross-entered in the open Grey Stakes earlier on the program (see above).

Also of note in this bunch: Friday’s $200,000 Shamrock Rose Stakes for Pennsylvania-bred fillies at Penn National, Friday’s $50,000 Golden Gate Debutante at Golden Gate Fields, 6 furlongs on the all-weather and Sunday’s $120,000 Tepin Stakes, 1 mile on the Aqueduct turf.

Around the world, around the clock

Japan

Sunday’s Grade 1 Japan Cup looks like a golden opportunity for a foreign visitor to win the prestigious race for the first time since Alkaased in 2005. Japanese runners have dominated the Japan Cup ever since, usually leaving the overseas challengers well up the track.

This year, the worm may turn. The Japanese team looks the least impressive in many years while three of the four international runners already have Grade I wins in the bank and appear in good form.

Shahryar, a 4-year-old Deep Impact colt, is the most imposing of the locals with wins in the 2021 Yushun Himba or Japanese Derby and this year’s Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic.

But in his last two, he was fourth in the Grade I Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and fifth in the Grade I Tenno Sho (Autumn) on his return to Japan.

French-trained mare Grand Glory not only outran Shahryar in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, finishing a head in front of him in third, but also finished third in last year’s Japan Cup — an experience that will provide valuable experience for both the mare and her connections.

It’s still a tough ask for any foreign horse to ship in and the locals are seasoned and experienced. This is always a great race and it’s even better when it serves its original purpose of teeing up international competition.

Hong Kong

The international raiders have been announced for the Dec. 11 Longines Hong Kong International races and, as expected, the locals will have some tough international rivals there, too.

The marquee race will be the Mile, with Hong Kong’s brightest star and his most promising rival — Golden Sixty and California Spangle — defending the home pitch against the likes of Japan’s Salios, Schnellmeister and Danon Scorpion, as well as England’s two-time Group 1 winner Saffron Beach. This should be a really good one.

Romantic Warrior will be Hong Kong’s main hope in the 2,000-meters Cup with five Japanese rivals plus Ireland’s Order of Australia and others out to dislodge his crown.

Hong Kong has won seven of the last eight runnings of the 1,200-meter Sprint and looks well placed to extend that dominance with Wellington and Lucky Sweynesse leading the way. Japan has three Grade 1 winners in the field and Singapore also will be represented.

The 2,400-meter Vase usually is the best chance for foreigners as the distance is seldom run in Hong Kong. Ireland’s maestro, Aidan O’Brien, fields Broome, Bolshoi Ballet and Stone Age while Japan’s Glory Vase will chase a third win in the event.

News and Notes

Cody Dorman, the 16-year-old namesake of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Cody’s Wish, has been named 2022 Big Sport of Turfdom by the Turf Publicists of America. The honors a person or group of people who enhances coverage of Thoroughbred racing through cooperation with media and racing publicists.

Dorman was born with a rare genetic disorder and is unable to walk or communicate without utilizing a tablet. He met a then-unnamed Curlin foal when Godolphin hosted Cody and his family during Keeneland’s Make-A-Wish Day.

They bonded immediately and lent each other strength through the relationship. Cody’s Wish has never lost a race with Cody in attendance.

“Cody has brought to the forefront what it means to be strong and brave in his personal life as well as highlighting the extraordinary interaction that occurs between horses and humans,” TPA President Wendy Davis said. “He gives inspiration to us all.”

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