The countdown to Christmas and the end of 2018 is on and with it a significantly reduced slate of racing here in North America.
Gulfstream Park bucks the trend with a strong card topped by five stakes that include the Harlan’s Holiday, where Florida Derby winner and Kentucky Derby third Audible looks solidify his spot for next month’s Pegasus World Cup. Tampa Bay Downs, another haven for snowbirds, also features a good card that includes four stakes worth $450,000. There's plenty of jump racing overseas, from Fairhouse to Cheltenham, Newcastle to Hereford.
Here’s your primer for Saturday, Dec. 15. Enjoy the shopping and good luck.
Fairyhouse. Race 1. 7:05 a.m. One, two, three strikes you’re out? Not here. Campeador has fallen in four of his previous six starts, the Gordon Elliott trainee is the favorite for the opener.
Cheltenham. Race 1. 7:10. Juvenile action heats up this time of year and here’s just a sampling of the offering. Fret D’estruval, another high-powered French import for Simon Munir and Isaac Soude, makes his debut for Alan King.
Cheltenham. Race 2. 7:45. Arrange your morning around Cheltenham, this novice chase has it all, including the debut for OK Corral, second in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in March.
Newcastle. Race 2. 7:55. Festival Of Ages, a 4-year-old gelded son of Medaglia d’Oro and November, seeks his third straight win in this handicap.
Fairyhouse. Race 3. 8:15. Taking notes for Cheltenham? Farid makes his debut for J.P. McManus and Willie Mullins in this 3-year-old maiden hurdle. Lethal Steps finished fifth in the Group 3 Derby Trial in May, he makes his hurdle debut for Cheveley Park, Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell. There are 19 entered for this. Yes, 19.
Cheltenham. Race 3. 8:20. Bun Doran leads this electric 2-mile chase.
Doncaster. Race 4. 8:35. Grade 2 novice chase attracts Coup de Pinceau, 2-for-2 over fences, and Rocky’s Treasure, second behind the highly-regarded Santini at Newbury two weeks ago.
Hereford. Race 4. 8:45. Style de Garde, second to Veneer Of Charm in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham in March, makes his second start over fences. His first? A facile win at Hereford in November.
Cheltenham. Race 4. 8:55. Baron Alco and Frodon square off again in the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup. Add Rather Be and 12 others. Yowza.
Hereford. Race 5. 9:20. Nice to see Hereford back in the game and here’s a sweet $40,500 handicap hurdle that attracts a solid field of 12.
Cheltenham. Race 5. 9:30. Doux Pretender and Aye Aye Charlie lead the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
Doncaster. Race 6. 9:45. More kindling for the Cheltenham fire as juveniles clash in this Grade 2 hurdle. Quel Destin, Cracker Factory and Elysees have done little wrong thus far in their hurdle careers.
Cheltenham. Race 6. 10:05. The hits just keep on coming. The Grade 2 International Hurdle. It could be time to say goodbye to old standby, The New One. Nigel Twiston-Davies adds cheek pieces to try to wake up the 10-year-old who owes nothing after a 20 wins and $1.4 million. If he doesn’t show his old zest, they say this is it. Rivals Old Guard, Silver Streak, Summerville Boy, We Have A Dream, Vision Des Flos, Brain Power and Western Ryder won’t feel any sentimentality.
Newcastle. Race 6. 10:15. Fabulist, a daughter of Dubawi and Melodramatic, makes her debut for owner/breeder Bjorn Nielsen and trainer John Gosden.
Cheltenham. Race 7. 10:40. OK, you can walk the dog and take a break after this mares handicap hurdle.
Tampa Bay Downs. Race 1. 12:24 p.m. We thought the card would start with one of our favorites, maiden special weight on the grass for $22,500, but all the rain in the area forced it to the main track.
Laurel Park. Race 2. 1:00. Promising 2-year-old Amino, a homebred for Wertheimer et Frere, makes his third start for Graham Motion.
Woodbine. Race 1. 1:00. Penultimate card of the 2018 season starts with claimer going 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic.
Aqueduct. Race 3. 1:18. The New York Stallion Series continues with 2-year-old fillies rumbling again. Sassy Agnes has won her last three, all stakes, for Linda Rice. Veteran Mike Luzzi might have a good one, he gets the return call on runaway maiden winner Forgotten Hero.
Tampa. Race 3. 1:22. Highway Flyer, son of Quality Road out of Grade 2 winner Aviate, is entered for debut in 1-mile (now) off-the-turf maiden for Juddmonte and Bill Mott.
Tampa. Race 4. 1:52. First stakes on the card is FTBOA City of Ocala Florida Sire, worth $125,000 for 3-year-old fillies. Florida Fuego won a state-bred stakes in March and returns to restricted ranks after four straight efforts against open company.
Gulfstream Park. Race 5. 2:01. Audible takes his second step toward the Pegasus. The five-time winner, 2-5 on the morning line, breaks from the rail in the Harlan’s Holiday.
Tampa. Race 5. 2:22. Ranger Up cost $575,000 at 2017 Keeneland September sale and makes debut in 6-furlong maiden worth $27,500.
Aqueduct. Race 6. 2:47. Pickle Rick and Punchline make their debuts for high-octane barns. Back in August, we spoke to Jimmy Jerkens about the latter for the Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour. The big, placid bay son of Into Mischief, wearing Team Colors’ halter, finishes walking around the outside walking ring after a routine gallop. Jerkens pulls off his blanket and takes a long look at the imposing colt. “This is a 2-year-old of Centennial’s, he just got here three weeks ago. He’s up to a half-mile, he’s big, but needs to fill out. He won’t be ready for a while.”
Tampa. Race 6. 2:52. Probably too early to say the road to the Tampa Bay Derby begins with the $100,000 Inaugural but other stakes leading to the signature Kentucky Derby prep might feature a player or two from this 6-furlong stakes for 2-year-olds. We’ll go with a hunch play and tab Wallace, who may or may not be named for the late legend Terry Wallace.
Gulfstream. Race 7. 3:03. Two-year-olds take their first steps toward…hey, you never know.
Wolverhampton. Race 7. 3:15. Tiger Eye, a 3-year-old daughter of Frankel and half sister to £742,368 earner Caspian Prince, makes her debut for Qatar Racing and James Fanshawe.
Aqueduct. Race 7. 3:17. Crazy how far they can fall. Syndergaard was sent off at 6-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2016 for Todd Pletcher. Now 4, the New York-bred has lost his last two by double digits for John Terranova. He tries to right the ship against allowance foes.
Tampa. Race 7. 3:22. Colts and geldings take their turn in $125,000 FTBOA Marion County Florida Sire Stakes. World Of Trouble, who ran lights out in Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint runner-up effort, finds spot to win. And what about Old Time Revival? We met him and his trainer Ken Decker before last summer’s Grade 3 Amsterdam and wrote about them in The Saratoga Special. Check out page 20.
Fair Grounds. Race 5. 3:24. More Fun Again, a daughter of Arch and Silver Reunion, returns from a brief freshening after finishing 12th in the Valley View at Keeneland.
Gulfstream. Race 8. 3:35. We’re tabbing Tequilita to upset the Grade 3 Rampart.
Aqueduct. Race 8. 3:47. Solid allowance late in the card features the likes of Cerretalto, Honor Up, Have Another, Allured, Barahin and Aveenu Malcainu.
Gulfstream. Race 9. 4:05. Bellavais won her debut for Todd Pletcher. The daughter of Tapit and La Cloche should be strong in the My Charmer. Our favorite New York-bred, La Moneda, takes her show on the road for Trish Moseley and Tom Morley.
Tampa. Race 9. 4:22. Lovesick is 2-for-2 and the one to beat in $100,000 Sandpiper.
Gulfstream. Race 10. 4:36. Awestruck could give Brian Hernandez Jr. a stakes win in South Florida. The Sugar Swirl attracts a solid group of eight fillies and mares.
Gulfstream. Race 11. 5:06. And now to the Florida turf season. No rest for the hard hitters as Glorious Empire, Projected, Hi Happy and a full field of established turf stars continue their season in the Ft. Lauderdale.
Woodbine. Race 9. 5:09. Hot Cash, perhaps asked for a bit too much in the Breeders’ Stakes off late July maiden win, finds home in allowance ranks and looks tough in 1 1/16-mile optional against She’s The Berries, Dreams Are Free and Superduper Sky.
Fair Grounds. Race 9. 5:22. Midnight Tea Time should enjoy the switch back to the turf for this heady allowance…if it’s on the turf.
Los Alamitos. Race 5. 5:28. Peter Miller looks loaded with Kookie Gal and Creative Instinct in the Soviet Problem.
Turfway Park. Race 6. 8:42. Bridge the gap between the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl and R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl with this 6-furlong optional. Land Battle takes step up the ladder off win in Northern Kentucky debut while Torazo puts 3-for-6 local record on line from the rail.