The Saturday Special – April 25

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A spring like no other rolls along and the final weekend of April, which usually brings the final serious push before the Kentucky Derby, offers much of the same here in the U.S.

Oaklawn Park, Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs continue to be a beacon of hope for racing fans and provide much more than an ample distraction from the coronavirus crisis. Oaklawn runs a pair of stakes on another strong Saturday card while Gulfstream and Tampa also run balanced programs filled with maiden, allowance and stakes on the dirt and turf.

The day starts somewhere we’ve certainly never been, in person or here in the primer – in South Australia’s capital city Adelaide. We also preview some of the action at Rosehill and Flemington, a virtual steeplechase from here in the states and a monster card in Hong Kong. How’s that for a smorgasbord?

Everyone knows the drill. Stay smart, stay home, be safe and keep fighting the fight. We’ll see you next week with the debut of our springtime edition of The Special. Just like you expect in the summer at Saratoga, and maybe a little more.

Here’s your primer for Saturday, April 25. Good luck and enjoy.

Morphettville Parks. Race 5. 1:01 a.m. Never thought Morphettville would make The Saturday Special but desperate times call for… here’s the Nitschke Stakes pitting 10 rivals at 7 furlongs.

Rosehill. Race 6. 1:45 a.m. Dawn Passage for the irrepressible Gai Waterhouse should take this Group 3 stakes. Read The Special’s feature on the Australian legend here.

Flemington. Race 6. 2:00 a.m. The VRC St Leger at the classic distance of 1 3/4 miles attracts a competitive group of 14. Royal Crown should relish the trip.

Tampa Bay Downs. Race 1. 12:28. Best news of the week in U.S. racing came out of Tampa with the extension of the current meet from May 3 to May 30. The action will shift from a four-day race week to three days after May 3, running Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Here’s the opener, 6 1/2-furlong maiden for fillies and mares which marks the return of Rollick for Michael Stidham.

Gulfstream Park. Race 1. 12:45. Start the day in South Florida – well, watching on TV or online – with 5-furlong maiden claimer on the grass.

Queen’s Cup Steeplechase. 1:30. Dress up, tailgate and tune into the virtual running of the jump races at Queen’s Cup Steeplechase which will stream last year’s races. If you’re betting, let us know (we know the winners!). www.queenscup.org 

Oaklawn Park. Race 1. 1:35. Only weekend one to go for the winter-spring meet in Hot Springs after this weekend. Did you see the handicapper’s picks? Start the day with a winner in the 1 1/16-mile maiden for Arkansas-breds.

Gulfstream. Race 5. 2:46. Sign of the times. Shug McGaughey, Mike Maker, Todd Pletcher, Tim Hills, Chad Brown and Ken McPeek all with runners in 7-furlong maiden.

Gulfstream. Race 6. 3:17. Catch A Thrill, runner-up in a small stakes at 2 and last seen in a Saratoga allowance last August, makes 4-year-old debut for Mark Casse and Tracy Farmer in 5-furlong turf optional. Good field also includes Smack, Catharsis and Bye Bye Nicky.

Gulfstream. Race 7. 3:48. Florida-breds take their turn on the turf in 1 1/16-mile maiden. Danny Gargan sends out Venezuelan Hug. We know what a Kentucky Hug is, but what about a Venezuelan version? Shamrocket, with the returning Irad Ortiz Jr., is the one to beat.

Oaklawn. Race 6. 4:10. St. Joe Bay goes from back-to-back starts in the Grade 2 San Carlos – in March 2019 and March 2020 – to running for $80,000 tag in deep optional that also draws Firecrow, Nero, Wilbo and Drena’s Star.

Gulfstream. Race 8. 4:21. Scars Are Cool, ambitiously spotted when 10th of 12 in last year’s Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga, could continue productive campaign since in two-turn optional for Stan Hough. Legit, third in an optional in early March before they closed up shop at Aqueduct, will be tough for Todd Pletcher and Irad.

Tampa. Race 9. 4:32. Tom Proctor entered two for Glen Hill Farm – Ski Bunny and Mille Fleurs – for 6-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds. They’re on the same work pattern all the way back to February – and probably even before that. Ian Wilkes sends out the more experienced Recoded, third in her last two both right here.

Gulfstream. Race 9. 4:53. Races like the $75,000 Unbridled Stakes could be useful for 3-year-olds looking at spots down the road depending on what that looks like later this spring, summer or fall. Named for the 1990 Kentucky Derby winner – who also beat champion sprinter Housebuster going 7 furlongs in March of their 4-year-old seasons – 1 1/16-mile stakes is a good one despite a field of only seven. South Bend, Attachment Rule, Americanus and Relentless Dancer look to upend flashy maiden winner Dr Post.

Oaklawn. Race 8. 5:14. Flat Out Speed, 3-for-3 last summer at Prairie Meadows, makes return in allowance for fillies and mares and is 12-1 from the rail while Sneaking Out also makes 3-year-old debut and first start for Jerry Hollendorfer.

Oaklawn. Race 9. 5:45. First of two stakes, the co-featured $100,000 Bachelor for 3-year-olds lures Grade 1 winner Eight Rings from Bob Baffert’s deep stable. He’ll need to be ready against last-out stakes winner Long Weekend – who impressed us last summer before the Grade 2 Saratoga Special – Echo Town, Ginobili and Little Menace.

Gulfstream. Race 11. 5:57. Blasts from the past time in 7-furlong optional for older horses. Grade 3 winners Global Campaign and Yorkton take on stakes competitors Majestic Dunhill, Hembree, Spinoff, Rare Form, Borracho and Big Dollar Bill. Cool race.

Oaklawn. Race 10. 6:16. Tough to get past the class of Bellafina and Mia Mischief in $125,000 Carousel for older fillies and mares at 6 furlongs. The former ended her 3-year-old season with back-to-back runner-up finishes in Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and Grade 1 La Brea. She hasn’t always shipped well outside California, with losses in the Kentucky Oaks, Test and Cotillion on her resume. Those are three pretty salty spots though. Mia Mischief, first or second in 15 of 20 for Steve Asmussen, comes in off win in optional that was her third win in five tries in Hot Springs.

Oaklawn. Race 11. 6:47. Finish the day – unless you keep going with Sha Tin after the clock rolls past midnight (keep reading) – with two-turn maiden for 3-year-olds and up. Todd Pletcher sends Unrighteous back to the maiden ranks after seventh in Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby last time out. He’ll roll with Joel Rosario.

Sha Tin. Race 1. 12:45 a.m. Sunday. The power-packed FWD Champions Day, offering HK$63 million in purses kicks off with this 7-furlong test.

Sha Tin. Race 5. 2:50 a.m. Sunday. The Chairman’s Sprint, offering a $2.3 million purse, begins the graded stakes action which should keep you up all night. Hot King Prawn and Aethero look strong here.

Sha Tin. Race 6. 3:25 a.m. Sunday. The undefeated Wellington puts his 3-for-3 mark on the line in the Class 3 Vengeance of Rain Handicap. Trainer Richard Gibson purchased the Australian-bred for his career in Hong Kong.

“Wellington has done very well – very few horses win three on the trot in Hong Kong but to make it four would be a great credit to his name,” Gibson said. “We thought we’d bought a very decent horse, the trackwork reports were very promising in Australia. But as we all know, there are a lot of boxes to tick before they adapt here and he had a very smooth transition into training and all of his trials were very good pre-debut, so we were crossing our fingers. That will be him for the season, we’ll put him away, win lose or draw that’s him done for the season after this race.”

Sha Tin. Race 7. 4:00 a.m. Sunday. Veteran trainer John Moore tries to add a few more superlatives as his illustrious career winds down in Hong Kong. At 70, Moore has reached the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s compulsory retirement age and will ply his trade in Australia after trying to plunder an already record haul on Champions Day. Beauty Generation will try to win his third Champions Mile and Moore’s eighth in the last 11 years.

“I live in the present,” Moore said. “Here’s Beauty Generation and he’s an iron horse. He’s now getting close to being my favorite – you just look at that record he’s put together. He keeps doing it. Look at what he can do, racing time and time again on firm tracks, the wins he’s had, the records he’s broken. And they’re all gunning for him. He gets out in front and he gets shot at from every angle, but at his best he was so impressive that they were scared to take him on. He’s capable of running sectionals that other horses can’t live with at a mile.”

Sha Tin. Race 8. 4:40 a.m. Sunday. The $3.2 million QEII Cup. Living legend Tony Cruz sends out Exultant who is 7/4 on the morning line in the feature.

“I’m very pleased with him, I think he should win this race on Sunday,” Cruz said. “It’s a smaller field this time so Exultant will be closer in the run. He was too far back last time and got into trouble, that cost him and he just couldn’t catch Time Warp – I’m still disappointed with how that worked out for Exultant, I think he should have won that race.”

Exultant breaks from post 4 while Time Warp takes up stall 4 in a thriller.