Near the halfway point of April and speeding toward the first Saturday in May – only three weeks away – brings another loaded edition of The Saturday Special.
Three major Kentucky Derby preps went down last week and there’s two more, including an important edition of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, a race that offers 100 points to the winner toward a spot in the starting gate May 4. The strong card in Hot Springs also features Whitmore in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint and the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap.
Keeneland hosts the other prep with the Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington bolstering another interesting Saturday card topped by the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley and Grade 3 Ben Ali. Elsewhere there are stakes at Aqueduct, Santa Anita, Mahoning Valley and Fonner Park to help cure those blues of missing March Madness or to divert you away from spring cleaning and yard chores.
The day - err, night - starts early when Winx closes out her amazing career.
Here’s your primer for Saturday, April 13. Enjoy, be safe and good luck.
Randwick. Race 4. 1:05 a.m. Start early or finish strong, your pick. Regardless of what you’re doing don’t forget to catch Winx in the Group 1 Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes. She goes for her 25th Group 1 score in her career finale and a victory gives her 37 wins and 33 straight. Need some history? Win No. 37 would tie the legendary Phar Lap.
Ayr. Race 1. 8:25. The traditional strong Scottish racing festival kicks off here. Dandridge might be rounding into form, the veteran is a big price in the handicap chase.
Newbury. Race 1. 8:40. One of Britain’s best tracks doesn’t miss a beat between jump season and flat season, offering the Group 3 Finest Surprise Stakes as the opener. Three-time Group 3 winner Young Rascal makes his 4-year-old debut.
Naas. Race 1. 8:50. Remember the $750,000 son of American Pharoah at Keeneland? Well, he’s named Monarch Of Egypt and he makes his debut here.
Ayr. Race 2. 8:55. Dandy Dan rides a three-race win streak into this lucrative novice chase. Azzerti could benefit from having another week from his Cheltenham effort.
Newbury. Race 2. 9:10. So Perfect, second to Bulletin in November, returns for the Group 3 Dubai Duty Free Stakes.
Ayr. Race 3. 9:25. Cheltenham certainly took its toll on Aintree runners, it will be interesting to see about Ayr runners. Verdana Blue finished fifth in the Champion Hurdle, she returns for the Scottish Champion Hurdle here. Redicean could revive after a long winter stint on the flat. Malaya won the Imperial Cup at Sandown, skipped a possible Cheltenham bonus to aim here.
Newbury. Race 3. 9:40. Boitron has only lost once, the son of Le Havre returns for his first start since finishing fourth in the Group 1 Qatar Prix Jean-luc Lagardere in France.
Naas. Race 3. 9:50. Ruby Walsh shortens up for this, a 6-furlong maiden. The champion jump jockey does 143 aboard the 4-year-old gelding for his parents Ted and Helen Walsh. They finished third in the same type of race in March.
Ayr. Race 4. 10:00. Ballywood looks strong in this Grade 2 novice chase.
Newbury. Race 4. 10:15. Want big fields? Twenty-seven line up for the Spring Cup.
Ayr. Race 5. 10:35. The big one. The Scottish Grand National Handicap Chase. Beware The Bear emerged at Cheltenham, winning the Ultima, he’s 2-for-2 since adding blinkers. We bet Vintage Clouds in the Grand National, we’ve had longer runs in 5-furlong sprints at Saratoga as he fell at the first. Could Cloth Cap salvage Jonjo O’Neill’s season? Twenty-eight runners.
Naas. Race 5. 11:00. Imaging looked strong in his 4-year-old debut, he comes right back for the Group 3 Gladness Stakes.
Naas. Race 6. 11:35. Group 3 stakes winner Hazapour returns in the Group 3 Alleged Stakes. He takes on Magical, second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf to Enable in November.
Aqueduct. Race 1. 1:30 p.m. Sure signs of spring on the NYRA circuit – a later post time at the Big A and new that the Oklahoma Training Track in Saratoga swings into action Wednesday, April 17. And don’t forget this 1-mile optional claimer that features the New York return of Timber Ghost for Jimmy Jerkens.
Oaklawn Park. Race 1. 1:30. Arkansas Derby Day – no longer Closing Day in Hot Springs with the meet extended into May – opens with 6-furlong optional claimer.
Mahoning Valley. Race 4. 1:38. Eighth Ohio-bred 3-year-olds for the $75,000 Howard B. Noonan. Diamond Dust, homebred for WinStar and Blazing Meadows Farm, meets Ohio Player again after topping that one by 2 lengths in allowance March 30.
Keeneland. Race 2. 1:39. Always fun to see variations in distances and this 3-year-old maiden going 1 3/16 miles should suit Felix The Fox well.
Oaklawn. Race 2. 2:06. See what we wrote about Keeneland’s second? How about this one, starter allowance going 1 9/16 miles. Snicker all you want, the game needs more races like this and less going 6 furlongs on the dirt or sprinting on the grass.
Keeneland. Race 3. 2:12. A dozen entered in the body of the race for 1-mile maiden on the grass. Bar Harbor ran well in debut at 13-1 but drew way outside for Shug McGaughey and Jose Ortiz. One spot to his inside is Life Mission, winless in six starts but stakes placed three times for Ben Colebrook last year.
Aqueduct. Race 3. 2:30. Field of six, which includes a main track only runner, for the $100,000 Bridgetown for 3-year-olds going 6 furlongs on the grass. The numbers point to Regally Irish, a winner last time out going 1 mile at Tampa Bay Downs.
Fonner Park. Race 1. 2:30. We promised some Fonner so here goes. The opener is 6-furlong (two turns) allowance worth $8,760.
Mahoning Valley. Race 6. 2:34. Workaholic exits victory at 36-1 in the Cicada last time out for Mattress Mac and Laura Wohlers. Daughter of Sky Mesa could be tough against Midnight Fantasy, Thunderous Gem, Intro Trouble and Crafty’s Dream in $75,000 Austintown Filly Sprint.
Laurel Park. Race 5. 3:12. Still Dreaming tried the deep water in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis and Private Terms and is back to allowance-optional ranks here for Graham Motion.
Keeneland. Race 5. 3:18. Not many races at 1 mile on the Keeneland main track each meet but here’s an optional that attracts last year’s Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks winner Coach Rocks, Grade 1-placed Gio Game, Abounding Joy and Barrier Island.
Oaklawn. Race 4. 3:18. Whitmore is back to defend back-to-back victories in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap. He’s the top weight at 123 pounds but not the favorite. That role goes to Mitole, in at 121 and the winner of an optional claimer March 2 in his first start since mid-May. Go against the back class and determination of Whitmore at your own peril.
Keeneland. Race 6. 3:51. Back to the grass for older fillies and mares in this 1-mile allowance. Malakeh placed in Group 2 in Germany last season and makes U.S. debut for Graham Motion. Juliet Foxtrot does the same for Juddmonte and Brad Cox.
Aqueduct. Race 6. 4:11. Political aficionados – if they’re still out there – will be on board Dutchess Views Farm’s homebred Very Stable Genius, first-time starter by Posse for Charlton Baker, in 6-furlong state-bred maiden.
Keeneland. Race 7. 4:24. The Grade 3 Ben Ali. Flameaway and Solomini, well beaten in last year’s Kentucky Derby, both exit victories in their last starts and should be tough on their best day.
Oaklawn. Race 6. 4:31. Strong 6-furlong optional claimer marks the return of Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity runner-up and Grade 1 American Pharoah third Rowayton, who will get a stern test from Pryon, Landeskog and Cabot. Clues provided for races like the Pat Day, Chick Lang and Woody Stephens down the road.
Santa Anita Park. Race 2. 4:33. Bob Baffert and Juddmonte unveil Martial Eagle, 3-year-old son of Curlin out of stakes-placed Hennessy mare Sumptuous who cost $725,000 at 2017 Keeneland September sale, in 1-mile maiden for 3-year-olds.
Keeneland. Race 8. 4:57. Morticia is about as consistent as they come and she’s the one to beat in $100,000 Giant’s Causeway sprinting on the grass. Don’t discount Factorofwon, Student Body, Surrender Now or Excessivespending.
Aqueduct. Race 8. 5:21. Midnight Disguise, recently crowned as New York-bred champion 3-year-old filly for 2018, stretches back out to two turns for $200,000 Top Flight Invitational. Good field also features Forever Liesl, Frostie Anne and My Miss Lilly.
Gulfstream Park. Race 10. 5:23. Easy spots usually can be found in South Florida come mid-April. Not here in $48,000 optional going 1 mile on the grass. Princesa Coqueta, Lady Joan, Thewayiam, Miss Mo Mentum, American Frolic, Rosebud’s Hope and Vow To Recover give race a mid-winter feel.
Keeneland. Race 9. 5:34. The co-featured Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington offers 20 points toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby field. That might be important for the likes of Anothertwistafate (23rd, 30 points), Sueno (25th, 28 points), Harvey Wallbanger (29th, 10), Roiland (32nd, 10) and Zenden (35th, 5) by the end of the day.
Santa Anita. Race 4. 5:39. Duchamp, son of Curlin out of Grade 1 winner Tarlow, ran well in debut and figures to improve in start No. 2 for John Shirreffs.
Oaklawn. Race 8. 5:47. Ike, runner-up in last year’s Northern Spur and well-beaten in optional in mid-March, stuck around after that last effort and makes first start for Ron Moquett in 1 1/16-mile optional.
Keeneland. Race 10. 6:12. Rushing Fall is 3-for-3 on the turf at Keeneland – victories in the Grade 3 Jessamine at 2 and Grade 2 Appalachian and Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at 3 – and no reason to see her not making it 4-for-4 in Grade 1 Jenny Wiley. Her stablemates Rymska and Onthemoonagain could be the spoilers.
Fonner. Race 9. 6:22. The feature of the day is the $20,000 Dowd Mile. That’s a three-turn mile if you’re keeping tabs, and who isn’t when it comes to the Nebraska racing scene? Smarty Party Papa puts 3-for-3 mark on the line against Coal Truth, who last race for a $30,000 tag at Gulfstream Park for Scooter Dickey.
Oaklawn. Race 9. 6:22. The $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap, run a week removed from the rescheduled Big Cap out at Santa Anita, didn’t draw the most stellar field in its rich history but it’s a decent one from a gambling standpoint. The 9 furlongs is right in Tenfold’s wheelhouse.
Gulfstream. Race 12. 6:27. Not everyone shipped north for Keeneland and beyond. Tom Albertrani, George Weaver, Jonathan Thomas, Kelly Breen, Brendan Walsh, Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher all with runners in 1 1/16-mile maiden on the grass for 3-year-old fillies.
Santa Anita. Race 6. 6:43. The day before they run a race by the same name at Aqueduct, here’s the $75,000 Mizdirection, formerly at 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill and now at 5 furlongs on the grass. Algorhythmic finished sixth in last yeaer’s edition and is back for another try but the race looks like it goes through Go On Mary and Gliding By.
Keeneland. Race 11. 6:45. Stick around for the finale, let the crowd filter out and try to cash a ticket on 6-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds.
Oaklawn. Race 10. 7:05. Another Derby starter on the card in Combatant for this two-turn optional. He finished 18th in last year’s Derby and is winless in seven starts since.
Oaklawn. Race 11. 7:43. The featured Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, used by American Pharoah and five other Kentucky Derby winners as their final serious prep, might prove to be one of the best points races this year with Improbable, Omaha Beach, Galilean, Country House and Long Range Toddy in the field of 11.
Oaklawn. Race 12. 8:15. Don’t hit the exits yet, not with this two-turn maiden for 3-year-olds on tap. Cowboy Diplomacy should get it done.