The following horse racing weekend preview piece was written by Robert Kieckhefer of UPI. Fans can watch and wager all the action noted below online at TVG.com, Xpressbet.com, Twinspires.com and NYRABets.com, at a Rosie’s Gaming Emporium in New Kent, Richmond, Hampton, Vinton, Dumfries and Collinsville, an at a VA-Horseplay Off Track Betting (OTB) Center in Chesapeake (Buckets Bar & Grill) and Henrico (Breakers Sports Grille).
The shortest day of the year looms but this week’s horse racing calendar carries the promise of brighter days ahead as action shifts to Florida and another Kentucky Derby prep is on the agenda. Can spring be far behind?
Friday’s Remington Springboard Mile in Oklahoma is the race offering qualifying points for the Run for the Roses. Meanwhile, the second leg of the “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby” went into the books Wednesday at Kawasaki Racecourse. Who won? Read on. Aqueduct on Saturday has a pair of $500,000 races for New York-bred 2-year-olds, some of whom might move up with a good showing. Saturday’s program at Gulfstream Park has five stakes races, four of them graded. And just over the horizon is the traditional and eagerly awaited Dec. 26 Santa Anita opening day with six graded stakes.
The Run for the Roses Friday’s $400,000 Remington Springboard Mile has a well-matched field of nine juveniles vying for the 10 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points afforded the winner. Steve Asmussen entered two — Concept, who won the local Kip Deville Stakes two starts back, and Classic Moment, last seen breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs in his second start. Those two, along with Zia Park-based Bye Bye Bobby, are among the favorites on a morning line topped at 7-2 odds by Gulfstream Park visitor Make It Big. That Neolithic colt, trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., won both previous starts in his native Florida.
Eleven New York-bred colts and geldings signed on for Saturday’s $500,000 Great White Way Division of the New York Stallion Stakes at Aqueduct. Bustin Pietre won at first asking at Belmont Park, then was second in the Notebook Stakes at the Big A in his latest. Maseta was last seen reporting third in the Central Park Stakes. The others are a mix of maiden winners, claimers and still maidens.
The 2-year-old fillies Saturday’s $500,000 Fifth Avenue Division of the New York Stallion Stakes at Aqueduct attracted 11 state-bred fillies. Morning Macha, a Central Banker filly, shows promise in a bunch that includes some recent claiming race winners and a few still maidens. Morning Macha has won two in a row, both at Parx Racing, and also performed well at Saratoga. Howdyoumakeurmoney, by Freud, won the Presque Isle Debutante and finished second in the Glorious Song at Woodbine, both on the all-weather, but broke her maiden on the Saratoga turf. Watch Shigeko, a Japan colt trained by Christophe Clement for owner Barry Schwartz. He won his second start at Belmont Park, an off-the-turf affair run in the slop in an incredibly slow time and drew the outside gate for this but looks ripe for improvement.
Gulfstream Park Five stakes on the Saturday program mark the highlight of the U.S. racing weekend.
Fearless and Mighty Heart top the morning line for the $150,000 Grade III Harlan’s Holiday at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt. Fearless, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper gelding, won the Grade II Gulfstream Park Mile in February, finished second in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap and third in the Grade III Pimlico Special before a break. He was second in his return here Nov. 21. Mighty Heart, the 2020 Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales hero, makes his first Florida start. He left Woodbine on a high note, winning the Grade II Autumn Stakes Nov. 14.
Dream Marie is a solid favorite among six entered for the $100,000 Rampart Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 mile on the dirt. The 4-year-old Graydar filly has been rested since finishing second in the Love Sign Stakes at Colonial Downs Aug. 23.
Frank’s Rockette and Center Aisle, both Into Mischief 4-year-olds, stick out among eight set for the $100,000 Grade III Sugar Swirl for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs on the dirt. Frank’s Rockette has missed a top-three finish only twice in her 18 career starts and one of those misses was an 11th-place finish in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint — miles above this class. Center Aisle cost $1.5 million as a 2-year-old but hasn’t quite worked out. She got an 11-months break and came back to win twice in October and November. She steps back up in class. Interesting matchup.
The best of East Coast turf racing shifts to the Sunshine State and so does the division heavyweight barn of trainer Chad Brown. His speedy 6-year-old Point of Entry gelding Analyze It is the morning-line favorite in the $200,000 Grade II Fort Lauderdale at 1 1/8 miles on the turf. Analyze It has seldom been out of the frame throughout a career that was interrupted by a layoff of nearly two years after finishing third, beaten less than 1 length, in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Mile. He was last seen winning a $100,000 heat at Belmont Park Oct. 8. Space Traveler likely will be chasing him down the stretch in this in search of his first U.S. win.
The $100,000 Grade III Suwanee River for fillies and mares at 1 mile on the turf has a field of 12 with several likely prospects. The 3-1 morning-line favorite is Shifty She, a 5-year-old Gone Astray mare who exits a win in the Grade III Noble Damsel at Belmont Park. In a Hurry, Alms, Summering, Sweet Melania and Princess Causeway are all at single-digit odds on the line.
Oaklawn Park The Hot Springs track added several tasty stakes to spice up its extended 2021-22 schedule and Saturday’s $200,000 Tinsel Stakes at 1 1/8 miles is one of those. Lone Rock and Warrior’s Charge are the early favorites in a field of seven. Lone Rock, a 6-year-old Majestic Warrior gelding from Robertino Diadoro’s barn, has won eight of his last 10 starts. He won the Grade II Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Stakes at Del Mar on Breeders’ Cup weekend and has been working in Hot Springs ever since. Warrior’s Charge, a 5-year-old son of Munnings, has gone winless in his last eight starts while competing against top foes and was second in a Keeneland allowance event in his last outing.
Aqueduct Sunday’s $125,000 Queens County at 9 furlongs has a field of nine — notably, Bourbonic. The 3-year-old Bernardini colt hasn’t won since the Grade II Wood Memorial over the same track boosted him to the Kentucky Derby, where he finished 13th. He hasn’t won in four intervening starts and finished fourth, beaten 17 1/4 lengths, in his last start, the Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct. This is about an equivalent field so if improvement isn’t noted, it could be back to the drawing board for trainer Todd Pletcher. All six entrants in Sunday’s $100,000 Gravesend Stakes at 6 furlongs are proven graded-stakes contenders and there’s not much to separate them. Wonderwherecragis comes off a win in the Grade III Bold Ruler at Belmont Park. Jaxon Traveler has been an ATM for trainer Steve Asmussen, hitting the board in all 11 career starts. There’s nothing against the others — Majestic Dunhill, Wendell Fong, Drafted and Chateau.
Turfway Park Snapper Sinclair has had an interesting year. He started with a win at Oaklawn Park, traveled to Dubai to finish fourth in the Grade II Godolphin Mile, finished second in the Grade II Opening Verse on the Churchill Downs turf and won the $400,000 TVG Stakes on the Kentucky Down grass layout. Then the 6-year-old son of City Zip went west to finish second in the Grade II Eddie D Stakes on the Santa Anita downhill turf course and sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Now trainer Steve Asmussen sends him onto the all-weather surface for the first time where he faces 10 foes in Saturday’s $100,000 Prairie Bayou. Rushie, a consistent graded stakes performer for Mike McCarthy, also tries the artificial surface for the first time in the Prairie Bayou. His big score came in the 2020 Grade II Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs. Cross Border gets serious class relief after crossing swords with some of the best on the turf throughout the year.