The final weekend in February offers the chance to regroup a bit without a significant Kentucky Derby prep and a relatively light overall slate.
That didn’t stop our team from pulling together another edition of The Saturday Special, which features stakes action from Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Sam Houston, Oaklawn and Santa Anita.
The Grade 3 Hal’s Hope featuring the returns of Quip, Prince Lucky and Tale Of Silence tops a 13-race card at Gulfstream while Santa Anita hosts the only other graded stakes of the weekend with the Buena Vista for fillies and mares on the grass.
As always we'll start the day overseas, where the serious countdown to Cheltenham is well underway. Here's your primer for Saturday, Feb. 23. Enjoy and good luck.
Kempton. Race 2. 8:50 a.m. The first graded stakes on a stellar card, the Pendil Novices’ Chase offers Bags Groove a chance to erase a 37-length drubbing in the Kauto Star. Before that, the 8-year-old was untouchable in three straight chases.
Fairyhouse. Race 2. 9:15. Promising Irish juvenile Authorizo tries to book his ticket to Cheltenham.
Kempton. Race 3. 9:25. British-based juveniles continue their march to March in the Adonis Hurdle. We’ll see if the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede have purchased another French star in Fusil Raffles.
Newcastle. Race 3. 9:40. Nice to see jump racing at Newcastle instead of all-weather. The Eider Handicap Chase buoys the card with $102,500 on the line over 4 1/8 miles. Yes, 4 1/8 miles.
Kempton. Race 4. 10:00. Angels Breath looks like a standout in the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle.
Lingfield. Race 4. 10:15. George Strawbridge’s Wissahickon aims at his fifth win in a row, taking on six overmatched rivals in the Winter Derby.
Kempton. Race 5. 10:35. Veteran Double Shuffle exits the King George and drops two notches to this tough Grade 3 chaser.
Fairyhouse. Race 5. 11:00. Cheltenham Gold Cup favorite Presenting Percy swerves the Bobbyjo Chase and leaves the $52,000 stakes to seven others, including 10-time winner Outlander, eight-time winner Valseur Lido and seven-time winner Alpha Des Obeaux from Gigginstown (of course!).
Aqueduct. Race 3. 1:51 p.m. Uncle Sigh lost rider last time in open-company allowance. The now 8-year-old gelding is back with state-breds here going 7 furlongs.
Gulfstream Park. Race 5. 1:58. J Boys Echo, winner of the 2017 Gotham and an also ran in that year’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, seeks first win since his score at the Big A nearly two years ago in two-turn optional claimer.
Aqueduct. Race 5. 2:53. Elios Milos ran well in only two starts last May and July at Belmont before going to the sidelines. Son of Dublin returns in 6-furlong state-bred allowance in first start for Chad Brown.
Fair Grounds. Race 4. 2:54. Minit To Stardom, sixth in the Grade 1 Test last summer at Saratoga, drops back to state-bred allowance-optional company for Al Stall Jr. Daughter of Star Guitar is 2-for-3 at Fair Grounds.
Aqueduct. Race 6. 3:24. Nine 3-year-olds for 6 1/2-furlong maiden. We’ll pull for Tariff Tantrum, the second starter for Ralph Evans since Rick Violette’s passing last fall.
Aqueduct. Race 7. 3:55. Bon Raison won first start for Carlos Martin and takes another step up latter in 7-furlong optional claimer against Runaway Lute, J S Bach and Almithmaar.
Gulfstream. Race 9. 3:58. The $75,000 Melody of Colors leads off as first of three stakes. Brad Cox ships Play On from Fair Grounds and John Sadler brings Ginger Nut from Santa Anita. They both need to beat Just Ain’t Right, who has been correct in her only two starts for Todd Pletcher.
Fair Grounds. Race 7. 4:23. Complete just missed last time in similar turf maiden and should get it done in this spot.
Aqueduct. Race 8. 4:26. Forgotten Hero looks to go 3-for-3 in $100,000 Franklin Square for state-bred 3-year-old fillies. Same for Stonesintheroad.
Gulfstream. Race 10. 4:28. Jimmy Jerkens liked Hit The Town Runin, a son of Speightstown who cost $250,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale in 2017, when we stopped by for a Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour last summer. He makes belated debut in 6-furlong maiden.
Oaklawn Park. Race 6. 4:40. Steve Asmussen sends out two firsters – the Speightstown filly Soulcometown and Strong Mandate filly Get The Goodies – in 6-furlong maiden.
Gulfstream. Race 11. 4:58. We mentioned the returnees above but the 1-mile Hal’s Hope goes through Breaking Lucky, who ran on well late in the Grade 3 Fred Hooper on the Pegasus World Cup undercard. Quip hasn’t been out since troubled trip against eventual Triple Crown winner Justify in last year’s Preakness and needs to answer question of whether he needs one.
Oaklawn. Race 7. 5:11. From the Pegasus World Cup to a $50,000 starter allowance, that’s the latest chapter for Imperative.
Fair Grounds. Race 9. 5:22. Bond Street won two of 13 with three seconds and three thirds out of Ballydoyle for Aidan O’Brien the last two seasons. Son of Galileo makes debut for Conor Murphy and adds Lasix for first start in U.S., a 1 1/16-mile turf optional that also attracts Revved Up, Ezmosh and Zapperini.
Gulfstream. Race 12. 5:28. Yes I Am Free and Standup exit same maiden race and top $75,000 Texas Glitter. The former won going same 5-furlong trip on the grass by three-quarters of a length from the latter.
Oaklawn. Race 8. 5:41. Arkansas-bred fillies and mares dash 6 furlongs in $100,000 Downthedustyroad. The last time Georgia’s Reward raced in Hot Springs she won the Rainbow Miss, a similar stakes, over Firewater Rocket.
Gulfstream. Race 13. 5:58. Stay on the grass for the finale, a 1-mile maiden for 3-year-old fillies. Full field of 12 and four on the also-eligible list.
Fonner Park. Race 9. 6:22. Maybe one day there will be the Fonner Special, but until then we’ll just cover stuff in Nebraska periodically. Like the $10,000 Grasmick, a fixture on the stakes calendar at Fonner. Insubordination, who started his career in Southern California, makes local debut off a 7-length victory at Delta Downs.
Santa Anita Park. Race 8. 7:20. The win machine better known as Vasilika – she’s 14-for-29 lifetime – meets Ms Bad Behavior and Zaffinah again in Grade 2 Buena Vista. Good field also includes Fahan Mura, 10th against males in the Pegasus World Cup Turf after setting the pace, Complelled and former Chad Brown-trainee Elysea’s World.
Sam Houston Race Park. Race 4. 9:45. Still going strong? Take a look at the restricted $65,000 Jim’s Orbit for 3-year-old colts and geldings. Mr Money Bags is 4-5 on the line from the rail against six others.
Sam Houston. Race 6. 10:45. How about one more? Cowgirls Like Us is an even bigger favorite, at 2-5 on the line for the $65,000 Two Altazano.