Turning the page on 2020, heading into 2021 and some might already be dreaming of the Kentucky Derby.
America’s great race is only about four months away by the time the first Saturday of 2021 gets underway, 17 weeks in fact, and a trio of Derby preps are on tap for the first two days of the New Year. Santa Anita Park runs the Grade 3 Sham Stakes, featuring flashy debut winner Life Is Good and four others, while Gulfstream Park runs the ungraded $100,000 Mucho Macho Man that marks the turf-to-dirt return of Grade 1-placed Mutasaabeq, Nashua winner Pickin’ Time and eight others.
The $150,000 Jerome and its field of five helps usher in the return of racing in New York for the New Year with a field of five set to go Friday at Aqueduct. The Big A runs the $100,000 Gravesend for older sprinters Saturday, while Gulfstream and Santa Anita carded strong supporting stakes to the 3-year-old fixtures.
The day starts overseas with more top-level jump racing before things return stateside for the New Year’s Day action.
Here’s your primer for Saturday, Jan. 2. Happy New Year.
Sandown. Race 1. 7:05 a.m. Is Hystery Bere the next great French-bred recruited for bigger things in the United Kingdom? Or is it Hudson De Grugy?
Hereford. Race 1. 7:12. You never know who you’ll see in a juvenile hurdle on a January afternoon. Table Mountain was rated 91 on the flat for Andrew Balding, the daughter of Phoenix Reach fetched £57,000 pounds Oct. 28. She makes her hurdle debut here.
Ayr. Race 1. 7:20. Venerable National Hunt owner Trevor Hemmings sold a lot of his horses in response to the pandemic’s impact on his business. Well, he kept Wetlands. He won his most recent start by 28 lengths for champion jockey Brian Hughes and Nicky Richards.
Sandown. Race 2. 7:40. Stormy Ireland is another Sullivan Bloodstock runner searching for their Irish form. The six-time winner hasn’t been a shadow of herself since moving across the sea.
Cork. Race 2. 8:03. Robcour has stepped up their investment. Gentlemansgame, a £250,000 purchase in November, makes his debut for Mouse Morris in this 20-horse maiden hurdle.
Sandown. Race 4. 8:50. San Benedeto tries to recapture his form that has netted 10 wins and $426,149 in this handicap chase.
Ayr. Race 4. 9:05. The one and only Guitar Pete makes his 53rd start in the Ayrshire Cancer Support Handicap Chase. Trained by Nicky Richards, the 11-year-old has banked over $453,000 in a stellar career.
Sandown. Race 5. 9:25. And here’s your Grade 1 of the day. Metier leads seven foes into the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle. Undefeated in two starts over hurdles, the Harry Fry 5-year-old faces his sternest task against Galice Macalo. Five-time winner Andrimel scratched.
Sandown. Race 6. 10:00. Like walking into the pub on a Saturday night. The Unibet Veterans’ Handicap Chase attracts a wily group of old timers who have made our weekends enchanting and entertaining over the years.
Ayr. Race 6. 10:15. You would think Guitar Pete would be the most venerable veteran in Nicky Richards’ yard…meet Takingrisks. The 12-year makes his 34th start in the Retraining of Racehorses Handicap Chase. Richards runs at least one horse in all seven races on the card. Their odds are 1-3, 8-5, 8-1, 6-1, 10-1, 2-1, 15-1 and 6-1.
Wolverhampton. Race 3. 12:10 p.m. We lost our money by a half-length on Australis three weeks ago. We can get it back here, but it’ll take a lot more risk as he goes from 5-1 to 7-5 in this marathon handicap.
Gulfstream Park. Race 4. 1:35. The $75,000 Dania Beach for 3-year-olds on the grass leads off the five stakes in South Florida.
Laurel Park. Race 4. 1:53. We’ll root for one named after a favorite phrases, Crush It, in 6-furlong starter optional.
Gulfstream. Race 5. 2:06. Lucifers Lair, not seen since finishing fifth in Grade 2 Adirondack, could make return in $75,000 Glitter Woman. The Elkstone Group’s homebred Quality Road filly also entered Friday at Gulfstream.
Aqueduct. Race 6. 2:50. Jill’s A Hot Mess, second in division of New York Stallion Series last time, returns to maiden ranks and meets a decent group led by No Payne, Nebo and Laoban first-time starter Breakfastatbonnies.
Gulfstream. Race 7. 3:11. Newly turned sophomores set for 6 furlongs in $75,000 Limehouse Stakes.
Santa Anita Park. Race 1. 3:30. Nine-furlong turf maiden for older horses starts the day in Arcadia.
Gulfstream. Race 8. 3:42. A dozen new 3-year-olds entered for 1 1/16-mile turf maiden, including comebacking Winfromwithin and $500,000 Uncle Mo yearling Prayer Book from Todd Pletcher’s string at Palm Beach Downs.
Aqueduct. Race 8. 3:50. Stan The Man, winner of the Tale Of The Cat last summer at Saratoga and a close second last time in the Grade 3 Fall Highweight, stands out against four others in $100,000 Gravesend.
Gulfstream. Race 9. 4:13. Oyster Box looked good winning debut Oct. 3 at Belmont and stretches out to 1 mile here for $75,000 Ginger Brew. Solid field for turf stakes with Honey Pants, Inthewinnerscircle, Con Lima, I Get It and Sweet Pearl also in the mix.
Gulfstream. Race 10. 4:45. Ten entered in the 1-mile Mucho Macho Man, like the Jerome Friday around one turn as opposed to Santa Anita’s prep at same distance around two turns later in the day. Shadwell Stable’s Mutasaabeq impressed enough winning debut in early August at Saratoga to earn spot in in the Grade 1 Hopeful, where he finished third. Todd Pletcher went to the grass with the Into Mischief colt after that and he won the Grade 2 Bourbon at Keeneland before non-factor in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Back to the dirt here with Derby dreams alive.
Santa Anita. Race 6. 6:00. Shooters Shoot, off since showing speed and fading to fifth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby June 6, returns in 1 1/16-mile optional on the main track.
Fair Grounds. Race 10. 6:21. Name of the day to Gershwin, newly turned 3-year-old son of Distorted Humor out of Music Note who makes debut with fellow Godolphin homebred Colonel Bowman in 6-furlong maiden.
Santa Anita. Race 7. 6:30. Potential candidates could emerge for Pegasus World Cup Turf here in the Grade 2 San Gabriel.
Santa Anita. Race 8. 7:00. Life Is Good blasted four other maidens in 9 1/2-length score Nov. 22 at Del Mar and takes logical step up the ladder in the Grade 3 Sham. Bob Baffert also entered debut maiden winner Medina Spirit in 1-mile stakes that offers 10 points to the winner toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.