Spring rolls right along, Keeneland's spring meet is down to single digits remaining and the Kentucky Derby looms large on the not-so-distance horizon. A mere 14 days until the start of the Triple Crown and the complete madness of the season and a lighter-than-usual schedule for this week's Saturday Special presented by Pin Oak Stud, home of Alternation, Broken Vow and Cowboy Cal.
Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races takes top billing this week with the rich $1.25 million Charles Town Classic, a Grade 2 stakes that attracted a very strong field to highlight stakes-filled card. A couple stakes are on tap for the final Saturday of the Aqueduct meet and Keeneland runs Dixiana Bewitch Stakes going long the grass.
Overseas it's the trainer's race between Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins that takes center stage.
We mentioned Broken Vow earlier. Anyone by chance notice his colt that sold for $1.2 million at the OBS April sale Thursday? Strong.
Anyway, here's your primer for Saturday, April 23. Good luck.
Sandown. Race 1. 9:20 a.m. It comes down to this. Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins cross their swords one last time to decide a title. The British trainer's title is on the line between reigning champion Nicholls and his Irish-based competitor. Yes, an Irish-based trainer is going for the British title. Mullins trails Nicholls by £53,593. At Sandown, Mullins fires 10 shots, including likely favorites Vroum Vroum Mag, Valseur Lido and Un De Sceaux. Nicholls has 19 arrows in his bow. In the first, Mullins sends out Voix Du Reve while Nicholls counters with Tommy Silver. Ding, ding, ding...final round.
Sandown. Race 2. 9:55. The Bet365 Oaksey Chase. Mullins casts a long shadow here with 4/5 Valseur Lido and longshot Ballycasey. Nicholls empties the bench with Saphir Du Rheu, Rocky Creek and Wonderful Charm.
Sandown. Race 3. 10:35. The title contenders have runners but resurgent king Sprinter Sacre is the main attraction in the Bet365 Celebration Chase.
Leicester. Race 4. 11:00. The King Richard III Stakes offers a sweet spot for graded stakes performers Code Red, Convey, Here Comes When, Home Of The Brave, Johnny Barnes, Markaz, Mitchum Swagger and White Lake to make their 2016 debuts.
Sandown. Race 4. 11:10. Henri Parry Morgan looks strong amongst the 20-runner field in the Bet365 Gold Cup Chase.
Limerick. Race 5. 11:15. Bondi Beach returns for his first start since the Melbourne Cup.
Sandown. Race 5. 11:45. Vroum Vroum Mag looks long gone in the Bet365 Select Hurdle. Ching, ching, ching for Mullins. Nicholls could collect some valuable change with the Ptit Zig, San Benedeto and Silsol.
Sandown. Race 6. 12:20 p.m. The Bet365 Josh Gifford Novices' Chase. Named after a deserving legend of the turf, the novice chase gives Nicholls three chances while Mullins puts his hands over his eyes and hopes for backup from his friends.
Charles Town Races. Race 1. 12:45. Big day gets started with state-bred allowance going 6 1/2 furlongs.
Sandown. Race 7. 12:55. And it comes down to this, or it could come down to this. A $44,000 handicap hurdle pulls the curtain on the National Hunt season and could place a trophy on a mantle, either in Britain or Ireland. Nicholls rolls out Qualando, Red Hanrahan, Alcala and Chartbreaker and Mullins blocks with McKinley, Burgas and Bellow Mome. Whomever wins, thank you for the show.
Charles Town. Race 4. 2:03. R C's Daisyduke ended last season with back-to-back seconds to Aye A Song in state-bred stakes. Daughter of Yes It's True won't meet that foe in $50,000 It's Binn Too Long Stakes.
Keeneland Race Course. Race 3. 2:12. Juddmonte's Candy Ride filly Assembly ran well in debut for Bill Mott and stretches out to 1 1/16 miles in turf maiden for 3-year-old fillies.
Charles Town. Race 6. 2:55. Bullets Fever makes debut and looks to stay unbeaten in $50,000 Coin Collector going 4 1/2 furlongs.
Keeneland. Race 5. 3:18. Second division of turf maiden for 3-year-old fillies draws firsters from Tom Proctor (Private Client), Shug McGaughey (Creative Director) and Ken McPeek (Diamonds for Leah).
Charles Town. Race 7. 3:22. The $35,000 Caixa Eletronica going 7 furlongs attracts field of eight, including last-out local winners Mythos and Judge Carr.
Aqueduct. Race 5. 3:32. Good field of state-breds for 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional, including the come-backing Grade 2 winner Startup Nation, Uncle Sigh trying the grass for the first time and stakes winner Mark My Style.
Charles Town. Race 8. 3:50. Red Hot Diva sports 11-for-24 record locally heading into $50,000 Original Gold going 7 furlongs. Daughter of Devon Deputy also sports seven runner-up finishes at Charles Town but it's no layup against the likes of Candy Man's Girl, Spa Creek and Blisstikus.
Charles Town. Race 9. 4:20. Lucy's Bob Boy owns 26 wins locally and could cross the $1 million earnings mark at the track in $50,000 Confucius Say. He meets familiar foes Comeonletsplay, Prince Of Windsor and Russell Road and new shooter Partly Mocha.
Aqueduct. Race 7. 4:38. Unbridled Daddy impressed winning maiden on the grass and finishing third in Grade 2 With Anticipation for Todd Pletcher last summer. He romped in 2016 debut at Gulfstream and looks to take next step in $100,000 Woodhaven Stakes.
Woodbine. Race 8. 4:48. Goodoldhockeygame looks get 2016 season off to strong start in $125,000 New Providence. Son of Old Forester put together strong record the last two seasons in similar restricted Ontario-sired events.
Charles Town. Race 10. 4:50. Big Deep exits maiden win at Gulfstream Park and looks tough in $100,000 Robert Hilton Memorial.
Keeneland. Race 8. 4:57. Charlie LoPresti won for Richard and Bertram Klein Thursday; he tries again with Dear Elaine in maiden race for 3-year-old fillies going 7 furlongs and 184 feet on the Beard course.
Tampa Bay Downs. Race 9. 5:03. Turf maiden races continue to draw as the season winds down in Oldsmar. Ten older females go in this 1-mile test, including entries for George Weaver, Christophe Clement (two) and Arnaud Delacour.
Aqueduct. Race 8. 5:11. New York-bred champion Frosty Margarita tries to bounce back from loss in Franklin Square against the likes of She's All Ready, Liberata, Wonderment and Behrnik's Bank in $100,000 New York Stallion Stakes.
Charles Town. Race 11. 5:20. Plenty of out-of-towners for $150,000 Sugar Maple Presented by Canter Mid-Atlantic, including Magnificent Margo and Athena from Kentucky and Making Havoc from New York.
Keeneland. Race 9. 5:30. Twilight Eclipse, Kaigun, Da Big Hoss and Up With The Birds meet in Grade 2 Dixiana Elkhorn going 12 furlongs on the grass. Ignacio Correas' barn has been firing at the meet and he sends out Idolo Porteno, third in Grade 3 Razorback on the dirt.
Gulfstream Park. Race 10. 5:52. Strong field for 9-furlong allowance-optional draws War Dancer, Chamois, Dynamic Impact and Morning Calm.
Laurel Park. Race 10. 5:53. Blacktype bids for just that in $75,000 Henry S. Clark going 1 mile on the grass. Field of 11 also includes Rose Brier, Mister Brightside and Cage Fighter.
Charles Town. Race 12. 6:05. The main event, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic, features 2014 winner Imperative, 16-time winner and graded stakes winner Page McKenney, Grade 1 winner Hard Aces, multiple graded stakes winner International Star and the improving Stanford.
Golden Gate Fields. Race 8. 8:45. Sahara Sky, winner of the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap in 2013, set for 2016 debut in 6-furlong allowance for Jerry Hollendorfer.