Holiday season is already upon us and the month’s biggest race event is just days away — Santa Anita’s big day after Christmas stakes-filled card with a trio of Grade I events on tap. And that also means Derby prep race season is on about to commence — 3-year-old horses will compete in a series of preps most every weekend through April that leads up to the annual “Run for the Roses” at Churchill Downs on Saturday May 7.
In the meanwhile, there is still plenty to get excited about with some key pre-holiday stakes. On Saturday December 11, Fair Grounds hosts the $750,000 Louisiana Champions Day with seven state-bred events including the $150,000 Classic. Los Alamitos hosts the $300,000 Futurity (Gr. 2) the same day.
On Friday December 17, Remington presents their $400,000 Springboard Mile for 2-year-olds along with a four-pack of other stakes. The next day, Gulfstream really picks it up with four graded stakes including the $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (Gr. 2), $150,000 Harlan’s Holiday (Gr. 3), $100,000 Sugar Swirl (Gr. 3) and $100,000 Suwanee River (Gr. 3). The same afternoon, Aqueduct hosts a pair of $500,000 stakes in their New York Stallion Series — the 5th Avenue division for 2-year-old fillies and the Great White Way division for 2-year-old colts/geldings.
On December 26, Santa Anita hosts the most anticipated card of the month featuring a trio of Grade I stakes — the $300,000 La Brea, $300,000 Runhappy Malibu and $300,000 American Oaks. A trio of Grade 2’s complement the star-studded affair — the $200,000 San Antonio, $200,000 San Gabriel and $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile.
Laurel chips in with their own set of Boxing Day stakes — a six-pack of $100,000 bell ringers that include the Carousel, Dave’s Friend, Gin Talking, Heft, Robert Manfuso and the Willa On The Move stakes. Gulfstream adds a pair with the $100,000 Tropical Park Derby and Tropical Park Oaks.
On New Years Day, a four-pack of sophomore stakes kick off 2023 from tracks around the country — the $250,000 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn, $150,000 Jerome at Aqueduct, $100,000 Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream and the $100,000 Sham Stakes (Gr. 3) at Santa Anita.
Looking ahead into January, Gulfstream hosts the month’s showstopper — the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (Gr. I) on Saturday January 29. The card features 7 additional graded stakes including the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (Gr. I).
Derby preps populate the calendar in coming weeks starting with the $125,000 Pasco Jan. 15 at Tampa Bay Downs, the $200,000 Lecomte (Gr. 3) Jan. 22 at Fair Grounds, the $750,000 Southwest (Gr. 3) and $200,000 San Vincente (Gr. 2) Jan. 29 at Oaklawn and Santa Anita respectively, the $250,000 Withers (Gr. 3) and $250,000 Holy Bull (Gr. 3) Feb. 5 at Aqueduct and Gulfstream respectively, and the Robert B. Lewis (Gr. 3) Feb. 6 at Santa Anita.
The quality of Derby preps really picks up in February and fans should circle these dates to continue pursuit of who will comprise the 2023 “Roses” field — the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa (Feb. 12), the Risen Star at Fair Grounds (Feb. 19), the Rebel at Oaklawn (Feb. 26) and a can’t miss day on March 5 with a stellar four-pack that includes the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct, Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita and John Battaglia Stakes at Turfway.
Fans can watch and wager all the action a number of ways. Wager online from the comfort of home over the holidy season — Virginia’s four online partner wagering sites are TVG.com, Xpressbet.com, Twinspires.com and NYRABets.com.
Feeling a desire to venture out? Every Rosie’s Gaming Emporium has a live racing simulcast area where you can wager via live tellers or self-bet terminals. Rosie’s has locations in New Kent (at Colonial Downs Racetrack), Richmond, Hampton, Vinton, Dumfries and Collinsville. Wagers can also be placed at VA-Horseplay Off Track Betting (OTB) Centers in Chesapeake (Buckets Bar & Grill) and Henrico (Breakers Sports Grille).