Center stage this week belongs not to Washington, D.C., no, no, that whole deal is done and it’s all over but the crying. No, this week belongs to South Florida and New Orleans, which both host signature events at this early point of the New Year. One gives a glimpse at the future, another celebrates a state’s breeding program and the third closes the book on 2016.
We’ve got them covered in this week’s Saturday Special presented by Pin Oak Stud, home of Alternation, Broken Vow and Cowboy Cal.
Fair Grounds hosts its first big card of the season with the Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone. The Lecomte is on tap, giving clues for the Louisiana Derby in 10 weeks time and the Kentucky Derby in 15.
Gulfstream Park is home to the other marquee events – the Sunshine Millions starting off and the Eclipse Awards bringing an end to 2016.
The Eclipse Awards will be handed out for the 46th time inside the Sport of Kings Theatre. Talk about a busy day in South Florida. Not much drama for this year’s event though, with California Chrome expected to take home his second Horse of the Year crown in the last three years and many of the winners on Breeders’ Cup Day taking home titles.
Elsewhere there’s a Breeders’ Cup winner and likely champion making her 2017 bow, sophomore stakes action at Tampa Bay Downs and a strong card at Laurel Park.
And since we’re counting down to other big events, how about just a little more than eight weeks until the Cheltenham Festival?
Here’s your primer for Saturday, January 21. Enjoy and good luck.
Haydock. Race 2. 8:30 a.m. Yup, it’s that time of year when the races are named for Cheltenham Previews. Novice chasers continue on the road to the Festival. Politologue aims to keep his undefeated chase record on the line.
Ascot. Race 3. 8:50. The OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle offers Grade 2 status to a narrow but accomplished group, led by 11-time winner Kotkikova. Imported from France, she flopped against Vroum Vroum Mag in December, but that was a little like trying to win a leading role over Meryl Streep (disregarding Donald Trump’s sentiment).
Haydock. Race 3. 9:05. One of four Grade 2 races on a stellar card, this one pits a strong group of novice hurdles, including Elgin, Craggaknock and Neon Wolf, who are combined 5-for-5 in their hurdle careers.
Ascot. Race 4. 9:25. Apprentice Alex Ferguson gets another chance on Jaleo, this time in a Grade 3 hurdle. We like the booking of Davy Russell on Wolf Of Windlesham, who has ability but needs a jolt.
Haydock. Race 4. 9:40. Veterans Irving and The New One aim at the Champion Hurdle Trial. L’Ami Serge rides a five-race losing streak but he’s been volleying with the best.
Ascot. Race 5. 10:00. Ar Mad couldn’t handle Un De Sceaux, Sire De Grugy and God’s Own in the Tingle Creek. This is not the Tingle Creek, but he still faces Un De Sceaux.
Haydock. Race 5. 10:15. The Peter Marsh Chase once again attracts a stellar group going 14 deep. Definitly Red won his most recent start by 7 lengths for the always potent Brian Ellison while Alary makes his British debut after a promising career in France.
Aqueduct. Race 1. 12:20 p.m. A half dozen 3-year-old maidens open the card in 6-furlong dash. There’s an Ohio-bred – the Hansen colt Red Spark – and a Maryland-bred – Sagamore Farm’s homebred Shoe Loves Shoe – in the field.
Gulfstream Park. Race 3. 1:00. The $100,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf looks like three-way fight between Mom’s On Strike, Family Meeting and E B Ryder. Hard to believe the latter is only 2-for-20 on the local turf course, but she frequently gives top effort and was second in this spot last year.
Tampa Bay Downs. Race 3. 1:12. The $100,000 Pasco Stakes for 3-year-olds, one step on the path to the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby. Field of seven includes the Union Rags colt Union Blues, a winner in late November at Penn National for Arnaud Delacour, and the Colonel John colt Six Gun Salute who is much better than his last.
Laurel Park. Race 3. 1:30. Fans of old school barbershops will like Clubman, first-time starter by Not For Love in 3-year-old maiden race going 7 furlongs.
Gulfstream. Race 4. 1:30. Moment Of Delight and You Bought Her were one-two in the prep and meet again in $100,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff. You Bought Her raced since, finishing second in Grade 3 Sugar Swirl while Moment Of Delight changed barns from Stanley Gold to David Fawkes.
Laurel. Race 4. 2:00. Short price on the early line for the $75,000 Frank Whiteley Jr. on O Dionysus, winner of restricted stakes three back at Parx and beaten in last two. The Great Ronaldo and High Roller return to stakes company after good efforts in same allowance prep.
Gulfstream. Race 6. 2:30. Awesome Banner finished fifth in Grade 1 Malibu and gets back in more comfortable company in $100,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint. The very capable Schivarelli ventures into restricted company for the first time for Eddie Kenneally and Delta Bluesman exits back-to-back graded stakes for Jorge Navarro.
Laurel. Race 5. 2:30. The $75,000 Marshua for 3-year-old fillies attracts eight to take on heavy favorite Star Super, second in last two after a sixth in the Grade 1 Frizette.
Tampa Bay. Race 6. 2:42. Maiden 3-year-old fillies on the grass. Mott, Proctor, Clement with entrants, along with Vicky Oliver, who sends out Youngest Daughter.
Laurel. Race 6. 3:00. Marabea gave Lacey Gaudet victory on Claiming Crown card and bids for open stakes win in $75,000 Nellie Morse going two turns on the dirt.
Tampa Bay. Race 7. 3:12. The $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes for older females. Pleasant Mine could cap a big could days for Vinny Viola, up for the head of the Army on the same weekend his new boss got inaugurated.
Fair Grounds. Race 5. 3:18. First stakes on the Road to the Derby Kickoff Day card is $75,000 Duncan F. Kenner. Only six entered but they include Holy Boss, Clearly Now and Yockey’s Warrior.
Laurel. Race 7. 3:30. The $75,000 Native Dancer is spot for the comeback of Page McKenney, off since his second in Grade 2 Charles Town Classic in April.
Fair Grounds. Race 6. 3:45. Fault, 3-year-old daughter of Blame trained by Al Stall Jr., should appreciate stretch out to two turns in maiden race for the fillies. Brendan Walsh sends out Uncle Mo first-time starter Lilt.
Aqueduct. Race 8. 3:50. Older horses go 6 furlongs in allowance feature. Mills, once pretty useful going long on the grass, makes first start since two-turn dirt race early in 2016 Saratoga meet while Bond Vigilante looks to make it two in a row.
Fair Grounds. Race 7. 4:12. The $75,000 Louisiana. Remember Seeking The Soul? After his 12th in the Belmont Stakes he’s carved out a decent resume with two seconds in allowance company, two thirds in stakes and a win in a Keeneland allowance last fall.
Tampa Bay. Race 9. 4:15. The 3-year-old fillies take their turn in $100,000 Gasparilla. Mythical Tale enters 7-furlong stakes off two good races last fall at Churchill Downs while R Angel Katelyn is 3-for-4 and won the local prep over a couple also entered.
Fair Grounds. Race 8. 4:39. Now that Chocolate Ride got that prep under his belt – a fourth behind Western Reserve, Greengrassofyoming and Granny’s Kitten – he should be ready to get back winning ways in New Orleans in Grade 3 Colonel E. R. Bradley Handicap. He’ll meet those three, plus One Mean Man and others, in this spot.
Tampa Bay. Race 10. 4:50. Earring just missed last time in Grade 3 Long Island and should appreciate drop in class for 1 1/16-mile allowance on the grass.
Gulfstream. Race 11. 5:05. Our Way got going as good as one can get at Saratoga last summer for Jim Bond. He got a freshening after sixth in small stakes in late October at Belmont and might be up to task in $100,000 Sunshine Millions Turf.
Fair Grounds. Race 9. 5:06. How good is Farrell? She trounced field in Grade 2 Golden Rod in juvenile finale and now takes possible step toward Fair Grounds Oaks and Kentucky Oaks in $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes. Steve Asmussen always factors in these races and he sends out the Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred Tapit filly Untapped, a full sister to champion Untapable who is 2-for-3.
Santa Anita Park. Race 5. 5:30. Finest City, who will likely win the Eclipse Award for champion female sprinter later in the night, makes 2017 debut in Grade 2 Santa Monica from the rail going 7 furlongs. Small field of five also includes Bad Ju Ju, winner of three straight, and Fantastic Style making first start for Doug O’Neill after Kaleem Shah sacked Bob Baffert.
Fair Grounds. Race 10. 5:33. I’m A Chatterbox, fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, shows up on entries for the $75,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial going 1 1/16 miles on the turf.
Gulfstream. Race 12. 5:35. Awesome Slew deserves favoritism in $200,000 Sunshine Millions Classic off five straight graded stakes, including Grade 1 Haskell Invitational in August and Grade 2 Harlan’s Holiday last time out. He finished third in that spot behind the Pegasus World Cup-bound Stanford and Keen Ice.
Fair Grounds. Race 11. 6:00. Points for the Kentucky Derby on the line in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes. Big field as always and this race often produces unpredictable results, and outside posts don’t help but we’ll lean toward Neil Howard’s Guest Suite and Larry Jones’ Running Mate.
Turf Paradise. Race 6. 6:15. The 4-year-old Munnings gelding Chief Cicatriz puts 4-for-4 mark on the line in $30,000 Hank Mills Sr. Stakes going 5 1/2 furlongs on the main track.
Fair Grounds. Race 12. 6:27. Two-turn maiden 3-year-olds closes the card. Oxford Lane, third in debut back in June behind eventual graded stakes winner Bitumen, should improve second out for Ken McPeek.
Santa Anita. Race 7. 6:30. Plenty of six-figure purchases – including Juddmonte’s $600,000 Mineshaft colt Bronze Age and Fox Hill Farm’s $410,000 Smart Strike colt Battle Of Midway – for 6-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds.
Santa Anita. Race 8. 7:00. Americanize is another former Baffert runner for Kaleem Shah making first start for Doug O’Neill. Homebred son of Concord Point broke his maiden last time at Los Al and gets outside post in field of 12 for 7-furlong allowance.
Golden Gate Fields. Race 8. 7:15. The 3-year-old preps aren’t just on the East Coast. The $100,000 California Derby should give some clues for the El Camino Real Derby, Spiral Stakes and other sophomore heats down the road.
Turfway Park. Race 6. 8:40. Full field of 12, plus one on the also-eligible list, for $50,000 Forego. The Great War likes it in Northern Kentucky – he romped in a small stakes there as a 3-year-old – and should be tough in 6-furlong feature.
Turfway. Race 8. 9:38. Ben Colebrook sends out two – Preemptive Strike and Noshackleshere – in 6-furlong allowance that might produce a starter or two for the Spiral prep series.
Charles Town Races. Race 7. 9:49. Bored with the Eclipse Awards telecast? Flip the channel – or is it website feed? – for the $30,000 Shenandoah Handicap.
Sam Houston Race Park. Race 8. 10:30. Feature for the first Saturday of 2017 meeting that opened Friday is Texas-bred allowance going 9 furlongs on the grass.