Regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil did this week – for the record he saw his shadow, forecasting six more weeks of winter – spring is not too far down the road. The dawn of February a few days ago means it’s really time to get serious on the road to the Triple Crown and to Cheltenham and this week’s Saturday Special presented by Pin Oak Stud sets the stage for a big start to February.
One week removed from the extravaganza that was the $12 million Pegasus World Cup and a trio of Kentucky Derby prep races take center stage. The Grade 2 Lambholm South Holy Bull leads the way, thanks largely in part to the presence of champion Classic Empire, while the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita and Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct figure to produce some sophomores to keep an eye on as winter rolls into spring.
Here’s your primer for Saturday, February 4. Enjoy and good luck.
Sandown. Race 1. 7:40 a.m. Walk the dogs early, brew a strong pot, send the kids out to play – a strong card at Sandown kicks off with this novice hurdle.
Musselburgh. Race 3. 8:30. The Queen’s Forth Bridge, a promising son of Bernardini, aims at his second win in a row in the Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial Juvenile Hurdle. Fidux and Project Bluebook cast long shadows.
Sandown. Race 3. 8:50. Veteran Irving tries to brush off a rare fall in his most recent start while Buveur D’Air reverts to hurdling after hearing the news that Annie Power is off the Champion Hurdle trail. Just four line up for this listed hurdle.
Lingfield. Race 3. 9:00. A big purse of $55,500 offered for a listed handicap. Godolphin’s Pretend seeks his eighth career win.
Musselburgh. Race 4. 9:05. Veterans Just A Par, Alvarado and a bunch of old friends clash in the Edinburgh National Handicap Chase. There is nothing like longevity – in horse and man.
Sandown. Race 4. 9:25. Another short field but a strong one at Sandown. Top Notch leads a stellar group of five in this Grade 1 chase.
Wetherby. Race 4. 9:45. Calett Mad has won two of three starts since moving from France. The Towton Novices’ Chase should make it three of four.
Fairyhouse. Race 4. 9:50. Nice to see Coolmore sponsoring a hurdle race. The Coolmore Soldier of Fortune Mares Novice Hurdle looks like a good spot for Shattered Love, a 37-length winner in her most recent start. Pravalaguna represents Bruton Street IV, Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.
Sandown. Race 5. 10:00. The tip of the day. Bet Behind Time. Click until your fingers hurt.
Lingfield. Race 6. 10:05. The Betway Winter Derby Trial Stakes highlights the card, sending listed stakes horses a mile and a quarter for $55,500. American-breds aren’t durable? Is it the blood or the environment? Forceful Appeal would argue the environment as the British-based 9-year-old son of Successful Appeal seeks his 13th win in his 62nd start. All-weather specialist Grendisar loves this race.
Musselburgh. Race 6. 10:15. Drumcliff got knocked sideways late in his most recent effort. The Harry Fry-trained 6-year-old looks strong in the Bet365 Scottish County Hurdle.
Musselburgh. Race 7. 10:45. In Europe, horses go up the ladder, then back down the ladder, all with style and grace. Wonderful Charm, once an Aintree-Cheltenham-Sandown regular – dusts off a 287-day layoff in this hunter chase. If you can, get a good, long look in his eye, it’ll take you to another world.
Fairyhouse. Race 7. 11:30. Coolmore isn’t finished. It sponsors the finale, the Coolmore Champs Elysees E.B.F. Mares Flat race for a cool $42,000.
Gulfstream Park. Race 3. 1:00 p.m. Todd Pletcher sends out uncoupled WinStar-China Horse Club-SF Racing entry of Expedition and Hedge Fund as 10 3-year-olds look to graduate in two-turn maiden.
Gulfstream. Race 4. 1:30. You know Ken Ramsey wants to win this one, the $100,000 Kitten’s Joy. He and wife Sarah are represented in 1-mile turf stakes for 3-year-olds by Kitten’s Cat, fourth behind fellow entrants Made You Look at Clyde’s Image. Made You Look and Kitten’s Cat are two of three for Todd Pletcher, along with Lemonist.
Gulfstream. Race 5. 2:00. Three Rules was unbeaten in five starts – all at Gulfstream – before shipping west to finish not-so-terrible sixth in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He looks to get back in winner’s circle in Grade 2 Swale going 7 furlongs. Good field also includes Champagne third Favorable Outcome, multiple stakes winner Sonic Mule and Canadian stakes winner Vanish.
Aqueduct. Race 4. 2:20. Adventist, once a serious classics contender himself, makes 4-year-old debut for Leah Gyarmati in 1 1/16-mile allowance.
Gulfstream. Race 6. 2:30. The Grade 2 Forward Gal produced last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner, Cathryn Sophia. Who will take a step forward among this year’s 3-year-old filly division? The race goes through unbeaten Grade 1 winner Pretty City Dancer.
Santa Anita Park. Race 1. 3:30. Plenty of high-profile barns represented in 3-year-old maiden going two turns to start the card. Give Reach The World one more shot for Bob Baffert and Mike Smith.
Parx Racing. Race 7. 3:37. Uplifting crossed the finish first last time, by a comfortable margin, but was disqualified and placed third. Jersey Town gelding tries again in 6-furlong maiden for Scott Lake.
Tampa Bay Downs. Race 8. 3:55. Cite is short-priced favorite on the line for 1-mile turf allowance despite being off the board in last four starts dating back almost a year. Hardly Home shortens up to more favorite trip for Shug McGaughey.
Santa Anita. Race 2. 4:00. No need to wait around for this Derby prep, the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis is early on the card no doubt because of its short field of five. Doug O’Neill goes with three – Irap, Dangerfield and Term Of Art – while John Shirreffs looks to bolster his sophomore set with the talented Uncle Mo colt Royal Mo. Watch the opener and you might get a read on Sheer Flattery, who bested stablemate Honor And Courage by a nose last time in the slop. That’s the field.
Aqueduct. Race 8. 4:20. El Areeb and Square Shooter carry the flag for the Mid-Atlantic region in Grade 3 Withers, while Apartfromthecrowd, True Timber and Bonus Points might be the best of the New Yorkers. Historic prep likely to produce some candidates for the Gotham and Wood Memorial down the road.
Laurel Park. Race 8. 4:00. Big Louie D romped as the favorite in Parx allowance last time and looks pretty tough against six others in this 6-furlong allowance for John Servis.
Gulfstream. Race 9. 4:03. A dozen 3-year-old fillies entered in 6 1/2-furlong maiden on the main track. Wilkes, Pletcher, Arnold, Hennig, Brown, McLaughlin, Kenneally and Matz all represented with first-time starters.
Fair Grounds. Race 5. 4:13. Cowboy Culture is 2-for-2 coming into $50,000 Keith Gee Memorial faces good group led by Cool Arrow, Girvin and Hot Dad in 1-mile overnight turf stakes.
Santa Anita. Race 3. 4:30. Remember Ocho Ocho Ocho? He was 14th in American Pharoah’s Kentucky Derby and is a sprinter now, or so it seems. He takes on four others in Grade 2 Palos Verdes. St. Joe Bay is deserving favorite of win in Grade 3 Midnight Lute, while the lightly raced Moe Candy looks good for John Sadler and Hronis Racing.
Gulfstream. Race 10. 4:34. Quality Rocks, winner of Grade 3 Florida Oaks and runner-up in three other stakes in 2015 for Bill Mott, makes return from long layoff in 1 1/16-mile allowance for older fillies and mares.
Fair Grounds. Race 6. 4:40. Connections of Royal Obsession thought enough of Tapit filly to try heavyweights last year in Kentucky Oaks, where she finished 11th, after good efforts in Grade 2 stakes in the winter and spring. She’s on comeback trail for Steve Asmussen and gets going in two-turn allowance against former stablemate Cced.
Gulfstream. Race 11. 5:05. Recently crowned Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown looks to win sixth straight – yes, sixth – edition of the Grade 3 Sweetest Chant. He entered two, Rymska and Okinawa, in 1-mile stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the grass.
Gulfstream. Race 12. 5:35. The Grade 2 Lambholm South Holy Bull is probably the deepest of the three Kentucky Derby preps and it also features the most accomplished standout in champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Classic Empire. The field also includes highly regarded and undefeated stakes winners Fact Finding and Irish War Cry and Grade 2 Saratoga Special and Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot winner Gunnevera. Lots of clues for the spring classics are lurking in this spot.
Oaklawn Park. Race 8. 5:38. Ivan Fallunovalot shipped from the Southwest to Maryland late last year to win Grade 3 De Francis Dash to hopefully set up a run at the sprint series for older horses in Hot Springs. Five-time winner at Oaklawn looks strong in $125,000 King Cotton although Recount and Rockport Kat could give a tough challenge.
Penn National Race Course. Race 1. 6:00. State-bred fillies and mares start card in 6-furlong allowance.
Santa Anita. Race 6. 3:00. A dozen entered in 1-mile allowance on the grass for older horses, including the comebacking Hollywood Don, Curlin Rules and Gangster.
Oaklawn. Race 9. 6:09. Best way to cap the day, a two-turn maiden for 3-year-olds. Five Triple Crown nominees in the field, including Zip Van Winkle from Ron Moquett’s barn and Horse Fly from D. Wayne Lukas’. Never count out Donnie Von Hemel, either, and he goes with Pin Oak Stud’s Broken Promise.
Santa Anita. Race 8. 7:00. The Grade 2 San Antonio, a week after the Pegasus World Cup, brings together remaining top older horses on the West Coast. Hoppertunity, who won this last year and might have factored late in the $12 million extravaganza, is one of two for Bob Baffert along with Mor Spirit. John Sadler and Hronis Racing counter with two of their own, Accelerate and Hard Aces.
Santa Anita. Race 9. 7:30. Who doesn’t love that they still card 10-furlong graded turf stakes? Apparently the horsemen don’t have a problem with it as 14 entered the Grade 2 San Marcos, including the first three from the Grade 3 San Gabriel, Hollywood Turf Cup winner Texas Ryano and Isotherm from trainer George Weaver’s East Coast barn.
Penn National. Race 6. 8:16. Another good allowance for older females, this one going 5 1/2 furlongs, with an evenly matched field.
Turfway Park. Race 6. 8:40. When Promises Broken wins she really wins. Daughter of Algorithms blasted field of maidens at Keeneland by 12 1/4 and then took an allowance last time out on the Polytrack by 8 1/2 for Phil Sims. She looks to add another win in $50,000 Cincinnati Trophy but will be tested by Florida shipper Sister Nation, Wesley Ward’s Delphinia and Mike Maker’s Spanish Arch.