The Saturday Special – April 20

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Skippylongstocking, winner of the Challenger Stakes last time out at Tampa Bay Downs, ships to Hot Springs for Saturday’s Oaklawn Handicap. SV Photography.

Here we go. Into the final countdown we go with phrases like “penultimate work” and “just what we wanted” thrown about as Kentucky Derby contenders go through their final paces at home or at Churchill Downs.

We’re two weeks out from Kentucky Derby 150 and all eyes on Louisville. The Special rolls along, too, prepping for the Triple Crown season with some handicapping from Hot Springs and all the usual favorites. Hey, it’s April 20. Happy 4-20 to all who celebrate.

Worth Repeating
“I thought he worked super – a solid five-eighths with a good gallop-out, exactly what we were targeting. He is doing every bit as good, if not better, than he was going into the Florida Derby.”
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher on champion Fierceness after his breeze in 1:00.35 under Hall of Famer John Velazquez Friday at Palm Beach Downs

“Master Of The Seas might go to Churchill on (Kentucky) Derby Day there, and Naval Power might head to Aqueduct, and then they’ll ship up to Saratoga and spend the summer there.”
Trainer Charlie Appleby on a few of the Godolphin stars headed to upstate New York

“That’s been part of his journey throughout his career; he’s learned in this last two or three years racing, to relax at any spot in the race, really. His trips to America and Canada have really made a man of him.
Jockey William Buick after riding Masters Of The Seas to victory in last weekend’s Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland

“That was very magical and stressful at the same time, especially the last day knowing that he was not going to run again. You don’t forget it; you chase it.”
Juan Leyva, assistant to trainer John Sadler, returning to Keeneland this week and looking back at Flightline’s final start in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic

“He still has to get there. We are preparing to win and everybody feels the same. Hey, I might be a first-time starter (in the Kentucky Derby), but I’m not a rookie. I love being over there on Derby Day. I have been in a lot of Derbies – the Ohio Derby, Indiana Derby – but this is the ultimate Derby.”
Trainer Larry Demeritte, after West Saratoga turned in a 6-furlong work in 1:16.20 over a wet-fast track Friday morning at Keeneland

Whitney Stand opens to public April 25
The New York Racing Association announced that the Whitney Viewing Stand at the Oklahoma Training Track will open to the public beginning Thursday, April 25.

Prior to the start of the summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course July 11, the Whitney Viewing Stand will be open free of charge Thursday through Sunday from 8-10:30 a.m. The Oklahoma Training Track is accessible to pedestrians through Gate 21 on East Avenue. Parking is not currently available within the Oklahoma Training Track grounds.

The opening of the Whitney Viewing Stand also coincides with the on-sale for dining reservations for Saratoga’s popular Clubhouse restaurants: The Turf Terrace, Club Terrace and The Porch.

Reservations will be accepted beginning Thursday, April 25 through All reservations include a non-refundable table seating charge and admission. There is a $25 food and beverage minimum per person within the restaurants.

Saratoga single-day tickets in the Clubhouse, Grandstand and Cutwater Stretch will go on sale Thursday, May 2. The Clubhouse and Grandstand offer racing fans traditional open-air chairback seating and feature some of the best views on track. Weekly ticket plans for these areas are currently available through

By the Numbers
16: Outstanding trainer titles earned by Mark Casse after Thursday night’s Sovereign Awards. Casse trained six Canadian champions in 2023, including Horse of the Year and champion turf female Fev Rover. His other champions were Paramount Prince (3-year-old male), Elysian Field (3-year-old filly), Lucky Score (male turf), My Boy Prince (2-year-old male) and Witwatersrand (2-year-old filly).

8: Votes that separated Lucky Score and My Boy Prince for the Sovereign Award as Canada’s champion male turf horse in 2023.

30.92: Win payoff in dollars of Sir Greylind, winner of the third race at Keeneland April 13 and picked on top in last week’s Saturday Special by handicapper Jessica Paquette. She also picked Ready for Shirl, who paid $17.86 when she won the fifth.

82: Races scheduled for 12 countries in the 2024 “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.

96: Age of trainer Robert “Red” McKenzie when he sent out a winner last June at Century Mile. He was honored with a special Sovereign Award for his accomplishments in Alberta racing as an owner, trainer and jockey.

556: Entries for the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May 2-year-olds in training sale scheduled for May 20-21 at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, Maryland.

111: Horses cataloged for the Keeneland April selected horses of racing age sale scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 26 following the races on Closing Day of the spring meeting. By Thursday there were already 14 supplements.

10,000: Dollar increases in open maiden special weight and New York-bred maiden special weight races during the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival June 6-9 at Saratoga Race Course. Open maidens will run for $100,000 and New York-breds will run for $85,000. Additionall, NYRA announced that open non-winners of two category will be increased by $13,000 to offer a purse of $115,000, while the non-winners of one category will be upped by $10,000 for a purse of $110,000. The New York-bred non-winners of one category will be boosted by $10,000 to $90,000.

Names of the Day
Clockmaker. Clockwatcher. Newbury. Race 1. Clockmaker is out of Queen Of Time and Clockwatcher is out of Fountain Of Time.

Kiyomori. Middleburg. Race 1. Gregory Hawkins’ homebred is by First Samurai. And, of course, Taira no Kiyomori established the first samurai-dominated government in Japan.

Proper Grammar. Aqueduct. Race 2. What we’re always after here at TIHR.

Disappearance. Aqueduct. Race 4. The 4-year-old is by Good Magic.

Summer At The Spa. Hawthorne. Race 8. Hey, we’ll be there soon.

Handicapper’s Corner
One final swing through Hot Springs, Arkansas, for the season as the handicappers rev up for the spring classics and – gasp – Saratoga down the road. Pretty tight race for winter-spring honors with John Shapazian up one on Tom Law and Jessica Paquette. Here are the picks for Oaklawn Handicap Day at Oaklawn Park:

John Shapazian (26/107):
1-Doughty, Gold Strategy, Predicting
2-Fightertown, Cool Memory, Polterer
3-Ngala, One Way Or Another, Pat’s Gal.
4-Sir Otto, Sky Master, Catalina Crush.
5-Famous Final Scene, Saturday Starter, Strasse.
6-Improbable Journey, Backside Buzz, Shuffle Dance.
7-Gourmet, Lyrical Pardon, Miss Rockette.
8-Pappy’s Revenge, Golden Plate, Call The Cavalry.
9-Maximus Magic, Informed Patriot, Imperial Gun.
10-Neom Beach, Midshipman’s Dance, Merasol Sugar.
11-Octane, Highland Falls, Skippylongstocking.
12-Wildwood Queen, My Julia, Q’s Your Mama.

Tom Law (25/107):
1-Betty Jo, Kitiara, Dat Dares Right.
2-W W Crazy, Polterer, Fightertown.
3-Ngala, Natural Touch, Pat’s Gal.
4-Max’s Map, Sir Otto, Executive Power.
5-Rebelious, Saturday Starter, Empire’s Best.
6-Rithim Nic, Improbable Journey, Shuffle Dance.
7-Flashy Dancer, Miss Rockette, Gourmet.
8-Give Me A Reason, Dimatic, Ethan Energy.
9-Count Dracula, Informed Patriot, Maximus Magic.
10-Winnable, Merasol Sugar, Blue Squall.
11-Highland Falls, Red Route One, Reincarnate.
12-Wildwood Queen, Queen Mallard, Aloha Baby.

Charles Bedard (22/107):
1-Sassy Lass, Doughty, Gold Strategy.
2-Fightertown, Polterer, Nepal Up.
3-One Way Or Another, Ngala, Natural Touch.
4-Sir Otto, Executive Power, Max’s Map.
5-Vigano, Empire’s Best, Rebelious.
6-Rithm Nic, Life Is Hard, Improbable Journey.
7-Gourmet, Looking For Ginny, Flashy Dancer.
8-Ethan Energy, Awesome Ruta, Pappy’s Revenge.
9-Imperial Gun, Brilliant Man, Militant.
10-Winnable, Neom Beach, Merasol Sugar.
11-Red Route One, Guntown, Octane.
12-Wildwood Queen, Q’s Your Mama, Aloha Baby.

Rob Whitlock (18/95):
1-Kitiara, Predicting, Betty Jo.
2-Cool Memory, Polterer, Fightertown.
3-Ngala, Pat’s Gal, Natural Touch.
4-Executive Power, J J’s Ranger, Veracruzin.
5-Rebelious, Diomedes, Outlaw Run.
6-Shuffle Dance, Crew Dragon, Life Is Hard.
7-Miss Rockette, Flashy Dancer, Looking For Ginny.
8-Ethan Energy, Pappy’s Revenge, Golden Plate.
9-Militant, Gould’s Gold, Informed Patriot.
10-Winnable, Xtreme Smoke Show, Under The Palms.
11-Reincarnate, Skippylongstocking, Red Route One.
12-Aloha Baby, This Damsel May Fly, Queen Mallard.

Jessica Paquette (25/107):
1-Betty Jo, Doughty, Sassy Lass.
2-Fightertown, Cool Memory, Man On The Moon.
3-Courageous Cappen, One Way Or Another, Ngala.
4-Max’s Map, Veracruzin, Executive Power.
5-Rebelious, Parisian Promise, Sunday Starter.
6-Rithm Nic, Shuffle Dance, Backside Buzz.
7-Gourmet, Flashy Dancer, Miss Rockette.
8-Dimatic, Golden Plate, Call The Calvalry.
9-Militant, Imperial Gun, Brilliant Man.
10-Neom Beach, Merasol Sugar, Winnable.
11-Red Route One, Highland Falls, Magic Tap.
12-Wildwood Queen, Queen Mallard, Aloha Baby.

Be the star of your Derby Party: Buy Derby 150 programs
Churchill Downs sent out a note this week that should be of interest for anyone throwing a Kentucky Derby Party. Impress your guests with official programs, just order by April 26. Here’s the release:

Fans, party hosts, horseplayers and memorabilia collectors can now have official Kentucky Derby 150 souvenir programs shipped right to their doorstep in time for Derby Day Saturday, May 4.

Available exclusively through advanced ordering here , these coveted programs offer a comprehensive look at Kentucky Derby Day. Each program mirrors those offered on-track, boasting full past performances for the entire card along with immersive feature articles.

Following the post-position draw Saturday, April 27, programs will go to print and be delivered via FedEx by Thursday, May 2.

The last day to place orders is Friday, April 26 with a minimum requirement of five programs per order.

Leading owner, breeder Wygod passes at 84
Sad news out of Southern California last week with the passing of longtime successful owner and breeder and native New Yorker Marty Wygod. Here’s the obituary from Santa Anita Park’s communications team:

Martin J. Wygod, an exceptional businessman whose love of horses led him to a second successful career as an award-winning owner and breeder, died peacefully in his sleep Thursday night at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, near his home in Rancho Santa Fe. He was 84.  

Wygod’s keen business instincts led him to get in on the ground floor of the burgeoning “online” world and its ties to the health care industry where his tallied his largest accomplishments. 

After graduating from New York University in 1961, the native New Yorker started as a Wall Street stockbroker, but then quickly shift to the management side where he proved especially adept. The young financier formed and sold several companies and was a multi-millionaire before the age of 30. 

Among his early acquisitions was Glasrock Medical Services in the 1970s that he sold for a major profit after five years of solid growth. In 1983 he established Medco Containment Services and built it into the largest mail order pharmacy in the United States. In 1993 he sold that company to the health giant Merck & Co. for more than $6 billion. He subsequently was the chairman of WebMD Health Corp., the nation’s leading provider of health information services, which he sold in 2017.

During his teenage years, Wygod found joy and a different education in “walking hots” on the backstretches of New York’s Belmont Park and Aqueduct racetracks. During that period, he met and befriended another young New Yorker named Bobby Frankel, who would go on to become a world-class horse trainer and a member of racing’s Hall of Fame.

Wygod’s introduction into horse ownership occurred on his 25th birthday when he received a gift of two racehorses from his California friend and business partner Fletcher Jones. Subsequently, he and his wife Pam gave up the east coast for California and Rancho Santa Fe in 1994 while establishing a lucrative breeding/farm operation at River Edge in Buellton, CA. 

Among the many highlights of his breeding and racing successes were 2004 Breeders’ Cup and Eclipse Award winner Sweet Catomine, the 2-year-old filly champion; Life Is Sweet, the winner of the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic; major stakes winners Tranquility Lake, After Market and Courageous Cat; Kentucky’s 2009 Broodmare of the Year Sweet Life, as well as being saluted as California’s leading breeder in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

He worked with notable conditioners over the years including the late V.J. “Lefty” Nickerson, Bill Mott, John Shirreffs, Jimmy Jerkens, Ron Ellis, John Sadler and Cliff Sise, Jr.

Wygod was a trustee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and a member of The Jockey Club since 1996. He joined the board of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in 1999. 

“Marty’s inclusion on our board proved to be a blessing over and over again,” said DMTC’s longtime CEO Joe Harper. “His insights and feel for both the world of business and our racing game helped us repeatedly make the kind of good decisions that have seen us rise to the top of the national racing community. We will dearly miss him.”

The Wygods have two children, Emily and Max. In a possible magical extension to Marty’s racing career, he had “gifted” his homebred 3-year-old colt Resilience to Emily and his longtime bloodstock consultant Ric Waldman. Last Saturday, the colt won the Grade 2 Wood Memorial in New York and will be among the favorites for this year’s 150th running of the Kentucky Derby. 

As for the races …
Ayr. Race 1. 8:15 a.m. If you’re following the champion trainer’s race in Britain. Start here and stay here. British-based conditioners Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls try to fend off Irish-based, world-conquering Willie Mullins. Skelton throws Pembroke, Nicholls offers Sans Bruit and Mullins unleashes Uncle Phil at the opening Scotty Brand Handicap Chase.

Newbury. Race 1. 8:30. The Group 3 Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise Stakes launches the best European flat card on the day. Hamish, 8 years old and going strong, returns in the opener. He’ll face St. Leger runner-up Arrest.

Ayr. Race 2. 8:50. Mullins: Sharjah. Nicholls: Mofasa. Skelton: Hitching Jacking.

Newbury. Race 2. 9:05. Group 2 winner Relief Rally returns for her 3-year-old season in this Group 3 stakes. 

Ayr. Race 3. 9:25. The Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle could make an impact on the trainer’s rumble. Worth $127,000, the 2-mile stakes attracts Rubaud and Afadil for Nicholls, Westport Cove, Bialystock and Alvaniy for Mullins and L’Eau Du Sud for Skelton.

Newbury. Race 3. 9:40. The undefeated Zoum Zoum makes his 3-year-old debut in the Group 3 Watership Down Stud Too Darn Hot Greenham Stakes. Once considered a “giraffe” in his barn, the son of Zoustar takes on 10 rivals in the 7-furlong stakes.

Newbury. Race 4. 10:15. The OLBG Spring Cup attracts 21 runners at a mile. We’ve always liked Metal Merchant. He’ll offer value in a deep race.

Ayr. Race 5. 10:35. The big one on the day. And the big one in the title race. The Coral Scottish Grand National posts $254,000. Nicholls goes with Stay Away Fay and Broken Halo. Skelton volleys with Ballygrifinconttage and Mullins attacks with Mr Incredible, Ontheropes, Spanish Harlem, Macdermott, Klarc Kent and We’llhavewan. In all, Mullins goes 18-strong on the Ayr card.

Keeneland Race Course. Race 3. 2:04. Decent early allowance-optional on the final Saturday card of the spring meet. Mr Skylight seems short at 4-5 on the morning line but there are only six in the field.

Laurel Park. Race 5. 2:29. The $100,000 Dahlia leads off five-pack of stakes on the card.

Keeneland. Race 4. 2:36. Wesley Ward, battling for another training title, sends out Baraye in 5 1/2-furlong turf allowance for fillies and mares.

Aqueduct. Race 5. 3:28. The first turf race of the 2024 season on the circuit, 1 1/16-mile maiden for fillies and mares.

Laurel. Race 7. 3:31. Grooms All Bizness always shows up and could be tough in the$100,000 King T. Leatherbury. Turf sprint stakes also features Witty, Bump N Run, Future Is Now, Yes And Yes, Outlaw Kid and others.

Keeneland. Race 6. 3:40. Sacred Wish, who just missed in last year’s Grade 1 CCA Oaks; 2022 Grade 2 winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf runner-up Pleasant Passage and stakes winner Freydis The Red stand out in 1-mile allowance on the grass with a purse of $120,000.

Laurel. Race 8. 4:02. Automatic bid to the Black-Eyed Susan on the line in the $125,000 Weber City Miss.

Oaklawn Park. Race 7. 4:20. Into Mischief fillyMiss Rockette cost $1.25 million as a yearling in 2022 and makes her debut going 1 1/16 miles for Bob Baffert.

Laurel. Race 9. 4:33. Older horses take to the grass for the $100,000 Henry S. Clark.

Aqueduct. Race 7. 4:34. Blazing Sevens, winner of the 2022 Champagne and runner-up in last year’s Preakness, makes return in 1-mile allowance-optional that also features stablemate Artorius and Power Seeker.

Keeneland. Race 8. 4:44. Always one of our favorites, the Grade 2 VisitLex Elkhorn Stakes going long on the grass. Charlie Appleby, who announced this week he’d likely have a string of about a dozen in New York this spring and summer, sends out last year’s Grade 3 Sycamore winner Bold Act and Group 1-placed Silver Knott.

Oaklawn. Race 8. 4:52. CallThe Cavalry, 5-1 when fifth in last year’s Grade 3 Sanford at the start of the Saratoga meet, makes his first start since in 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional. Solid field also includes runners from the Louisiana Derby, Arkansas Derby, Lecomte, Smarty Jones, Rebel and Risen Star.

Laurel. Race 10. 5:05. Top local prep for the Preakness, the $125,000 Federico Tesio going 9 furlongs. The first five from the Private Terms – led by Copper Tax, Inveigled and Speedyness – are back along with shippers Carolo Rapido, Lat Long and Classic Joke.

Aqueduct. Race 8. 5:07. Turf stakes season returns to New York, weather permitting of course, and things get rolling with the $150,000 Danger’s Hour going 1 mile. New York-bred stakes winner Spirit of St Louis ventures into open company for the first time against field that includes Grade 3 winner Masen, multiple stakes winner Dakota Gold, Equitize and Pioneering Spirit.

Keeneland. Race 9. 5:16. Two-time Claiming Crown Iron Horse winner Time For Trouble takes on the likes of Kingsbarns, Smile Happy and War Campaign in Grade 3 Ben Ali going 1 3/16 miles.

Oaklawn. Race 9. 5:32. Automatic bid for the May 18 Preakness Stakes on the line in the $200,000 Bath House Row, which looks like a good spot for Count Dracula to win his first stakes. Maximus Magic, who beat him by a neck last time out, is also in the field with Steve Asmussen’s duo of Imperial Gun and Informed Patriot.

Aqueduct. Race 9. 5:40. End it in New York with a 6-furlong state-bred allowance on the grass.

Keeneland. Race 10. 5:48. Finish the day with a 5 1/2-furlong turf allowance for fillies and mares.

Gulfstream Park. Race 10. 5:51. Lord Miles, 59-1 winner of last year’s Wood Memorial, makes 2024 debut in 7-furlong allowance-optional that also features Shaq Diesel, Prairie Hawk, Classic Car Wash, Vivir Con Alegria, Great Navigator and Gatsby.

Oaklawn. Race 10. 6:12. Maybe one day the $200,000 Valley of the Vapors will offer an automatic bid into the Black-Eyed Susan, but not yet. Randy Morse, who won last year’s Black-Eyed Susan with Tax, has another promising filly in Blue Squall. She takes on a good group that also includes Neom Beach, Midshipman’s Dance, Xtreme Smoke Show, Candy Aisle, Sakura Blossom, Tx Women For Arts and Winnable.

Fonner Park. Race 9. 6:22. It’s Saturday so you know there’s a stakes in Nebraska. Here’s the $15,000 Pepsi for 3-year-old fillies. Mischievous Miss, a maiden winner last time out at Fonner; and Creditor, riding a three-race win streak at Fonner, both raced at Saratoga last summer. Take that however you choose.

Oaklawn. Race 11. 6:52. New Orleans Classic winner Red Route One, Razorback winner Octane and Challenger winner Skippylongstocking headline $1.25 million, Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap, which also attracts Reincarnate and Highland Falls out of the Santa Anita Handicap, Magic Tap, Last Samurai, Guntown and others. Another automatic bid on the line to the winner, who gets in the May 17 Pimlico Special should they choose.

Charles Town Races. Race 7. 10:02. No Change and Social Chic, 2-3 in last year’s Confucius Say, return for this year’s $75,000 renewal. They’re co-second choices on the morning line behind the legend Muad’dib, 16-time winner who has started this season with back-to-back victories.