The Saturday Special – April 8

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Three signature prep races that could produce nearly half of the field for next month’s Kentucky Derby headline a monster day of racing and they top this week’s jam-packed Saturday Special presented by Pin Oak Stud.

Keeneland opened its spring meeting Friday and rolls out a strong 11-race card Saturday topped by arguably the best Derby prep to date in the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass. Undefeated McCraken is favored in that spot but several other top colts whose connections have eyes on the spring classics are in the mix.

Aqueduct also hosts a solid card Saturday topped by the $750,000 Wood Memorial, which features Battalion Runner, Cloud Computing and Irish War Cry, while Santa Anita features the lone Grade 1 stakes of the trio with the $1 million Santa Anita Derby. Bob Baffert and Doug O’Neill go deep into their strings for that West Coast fixture, sending out seven of the 13 in the field.

We certainly did not forget about all the action overseas, topped by the Grand National at Aintree and its 40-horse field. Yes, 40.

Here’s your primer for Saturday, April 8. Take care and good luck.

Randwick. Race 7. 1:15 a.m. Nothing better on a Friday night – oh, hell, any night – than watching the one and only Winx. The wonder mare rides a 16-race win streak into the Queen Elizabeth Stakes. If you can manage, watch the whole Randwick card, great racing from start to finish.

Aintree. Race 1. 8:45. The Gaskells Handicap Hurdle, a Grade 3 for the stayers, opens a stellar Saturday at Aintree. The Picks: No Hassle Hoff, Forthefunofit, Barney Dwan.

Leopardstown. Race 2. 9:20. Zorion, a son of Smart Strike, won his debut last summer easily. The Godolphin colt returns for his second start in this $50,000 listed stakes.

Aintree. Race 2: 9:25. Finian’s Oscar could continue a banner Aintree, a banner season, for Colin Tizzard, in the Betmay Mersey Novices’ Hurdle. Benatar looked really good, then really flat, now he’s freshened, perhaps as a bomb. The Picks: Finian’s Oscar, Le Breuil, Benatar.

Leopardstown. Race 3. 9:55. Intricately and Hydrangea failed to threaten in the Breeders’ Cup, they make their 3-year-old debuts in the Ballylynch Stud One Thousand Guineas Trial Stakes. Of course, Promise To Be True does as well, she’s Group 1 placed for Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien, who send out three others. Remember, this is the prep.

Aintree. Race 3. 10:00. Charbel can make up for a second-to-last fall in the Arkle with a clean round in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase. There is no Altior breathing down his neck here. The Picks: Charbel, San Benedeto, Forest Bihan.

Aintree. Race 4. 10:40. At Aintree, it’s important to note horses who had hard races at Cheltenham. Emerging Force hasn’t had a hard race, a race, since December. He tests that theory in the Betway Handicap Chase. The Picks: Thomas Brown, Emerging Force, Henri Parry Morgan.

Lingfield. Race 4. 10:45. Majoris, a two-time winning son of Frankel, makes his 3-year-old return in the International Trial Stakes.

Leopardstown. Race 5. 11:00. Yucatan, second in the Raing Post Trophy in October, leads the P.W. McGrath Memorial Ballysax Stakes.

Aintree. Race 5. 11:20. The Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle. Warren Greatrex complained about watering at Cheltenham, blaming it for Cole Harden’s loss in the Stayers. Well, they’ve been watering at Aintree. Fourth in the Stayers, Cole Harden tries again, this time, taking on Coral Cup winner Supasundae for the red-hot Robbie Power and Champion Hurdle beaten favorite Yanworth, who should appreciate the stretch out in distance. The Picks: Snow Falcon, Yanworth, Supasundae.

Aintree. Race 6. 12:15 p.m. And now for the big one. The Randox Health Grand National. 40 runners. 4 1/2 miles. 30 fences. History in the making. The Last Samuri led until late in last year’s running, succumbing to Rule The World’s improbable late kick, the highweight is back to avenge that loss for Kim Bailey and David Bass. Jonjo O’Neill has called More Of That the best he’s ever trained, well then, prove it. Vieux Lion Rouge could give the Scudamore family their first win in the big one, the likely favorite finished seventh in last year’s race but has won both his starts this season. Definitly Red handed a 14-length drubbing to The Last Samuri at Doncaster in March. The Picks: Stellar Notion, Blaklion, Wonderful Charm.

Aqueduct. Race 1. 12:45. Mineralogy chased Wood Memorial entrant Cloud Computing in February maiden race on the inner track and stretches out to 7 furlongs for the opener. Myakka River, son of Giant’s Causeway out of A.P. Indy mare Boca Grande, has to be better than his debut.

Aintree. Race 7. 1:15. The getting-out stakes. Conditional jockeys and amateur riders get their chance in the finale. The Picks: Master Of Finance, So Celebre, Wakea.

Keeneland Race Course. Race 1. 1:05. Blue Grass Day opens with allowance on the Beard course – for those uninitiated that’s 7 furlongs and 184 feet. Seriously, look it up. Only a half-dozen but field includes Grade 3 Sanford Bitumen, stakes winner Con To Partiro and stakes-placed Star Empire.

Aqueduct. Race 2. 1:15. Back on the grass – weather permitting of course – for 1 1/16-mile allowance.

Laurel Park. Race 2. 1:40. Metallic, colt by Medaglia d’Oro who cost Centennial Farms $340,000 at 2015 Keeneland September sale, ran well and was moved up to second via disqualification in debut. He looks good in 6-furlong maiden for Rodney Jenkins.

Keeneland. Race 3. 2:12. Maniacal led nearly the entire 6 1/2-furlong trip of the Grade 2 Amsterdam before giving way late to eventual Grade 1 winner and New York-bred Horse of the Year Mind Your Biscuits. He makes first start since in 6-furlong allowance for owner-breeder-trainer Wesley Ward.

Aqueduct. Race 4. 2:19. Full field of 12 3-year-olds for turf maiden. Hopefully it stays on the grass – there was rain in the forecast Friday afternoon and evening.

Keeneland. Race 4. 2:45. Switzerland was one of most expensive horses sold at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May sale on bid of $500,000. Son of Speightstown ran well in debut in mid-February and draws outside post for 6 1/2-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds.

Tampa Bay Downs. Race 6. 2:57. Winding down in Oldsmar but still time for a tough grass allowance with a $22,500 purse.

Santa Anita Park. Race 1. 3:00. Early start to Santa Anita Derby Day is allowance going 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill.

Keeneland. Race 5. 3:18. Another full field of 12 for 3-year-old allowance going 1 mile on the grass.

Aqueduct. Race 6. 3:25. The Grade 3 Bay Shore looks like good spot for the return of Theory, winner of the last year’s Grade 3 Futurity and off the board in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He meets a good pair from Chad Brown’s barn in Long Haul Bay and You’re To Blame.

Santa Anita. Race 2. 3:30. Nine of the 10 fillies for 6-furlong maiden are first-time starters, including Hot Blooded Girl for Bob Baffert, Champagne Girl for Richard Mandella, Queen Laila for Simon Callaghan and My Party Girl for Jerry Hollendorfer.

Keeneland. Race 6. 3:53. A. P. Indian and Limousine Liberal locked up in last year’s Grade 2 Phoenix and renew rivalry in Grade 3 Commonwealth going 7 furlongs. Strong field also includes Fish Trappe Road, Yockey’s Warrior, Ami’s Flatter and Awesome Slew.

Santa Anita. Race 3. 4:00. Cascade Kid chased American Pastime in quick 6-furlong maiden last month and makes second start for Jerry Hollendorfer in 7-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds.

Keeneland. Race 7. 4:28. Well matched group of turf sprinters entered for Grade 2 Shakertown. Mongolian Saturday is 2-for-2 on the course, including win in 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, and the 8-year-old gelding Hogy has never been better. Good race.

Santa Anita. Race 4. 4:30. California-bred fillies and mares go 6 1/2 furlongs in $200,000 Evening Jewel. Miss Sunset blasted state-breds in her first two starts then ventured into open company for her next three – winning the Sweet Life on the grass on the process – for Jeff Bonde.

Aqueduct. Race 8. 4:40. Older horses stretch it out to 10 furlongs in the Grade 3 Excelsior. Field of seven led by South American import Tu Brutus, Hereditary and Send It In.

Santa Anita. Race 5. 5:00. Bill Mott shipped Harmonize to the West Coast, where she won last year’s Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, for Grade 2 Royal Heroine. Daughter of Scat Daddy probably would have factored in next week’s Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland.

Keeneland. Race 8. 5:03. Familiar names make first starts for new barns in Grade 1 Madison – Paulassilverlining for Juddmonte Farms and Chad Brown, Paid Up Subscriber for Peter Brant and Joe Allen and Brown. Strong field also includes Constellation, Grade 1 winner shipping in from Southern California, and Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie winner High Ridge Road.

Laurel. Race 9. 5:10. J La Tache is 8-5 choice on the morning line for 5 ½-furlong allowance despite an 0-for-3 record on the grass and no wins since last March.

Aqueduct. Race 9. 5:15. Unified show now signs of rust winning Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint last time and looks to add fifth victory in six starts in Grade 1 Carter Handicap. Not the strongest renewal but most of the top local players in the division for the season are here – Green Gratto, Spartiatis and Tommy Macho among that group.

Santa Anita. Race 6. 5:30. No Unique Bella for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, she’s out with an injury, so it looks like Abel Tasman’s race to lose in her first start for Bob Baffert. Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Unique Bella, sends out Honeybee winner It Tiz Well. 

Oaklawn Park. Race 8. 5:38. Weast Hill lost against state-breds for the first time in Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes in late February, finishing second by 1 1/4 lengths behind Racer. Those two renew rivalry for $100,000 Arkansas Breeders’ going the same 1 1/16-mile trip.

Keeneland. Race 9. 5:40. Oddsmaker no doubt struggled with the line for the Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland, making Darley Alcibiades runner-up Daddys Lil Darling the 5-2 choice. She exits disappointing sixth in Grade 3 Florida Oaks and takes on Grade 1 winner Pretty City Dancer, graded-stakes placed Elate and Summer Luck and California Oaks runner-up Tapped. 

Aqueduct. Race 10. 5:52. The first of the three big Derby preps is the Grade 2 Wood Memorial. Todd Pletcher looks to add another bullet for the first Saturday in May with Battalion Runner, son of Unbridled’s Song who makes his stakes debut off back-to-back wins at Gulfstream against Holy Bull winner Irish War Cry, Remsen winner Mo Town and Gotham runner-up Cloud Computing.

Oaklawn. Race 9. 6:09. Athena and Marquee Miss, one-two in an allowance and American Beauty already at the meet, are back for $150,000 Carousel.

Keeneland. Race 10. 6:17. The featured $1 million Toyota Blue Grass draws unbeaten McCraken, Gotham winner J Boys Echo, Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapwrit and Hopeful and Champagne winner Practical Joke. Rusty Arnold threw down the gauntlet saying Wild Shot would be on the lead, a style that nearly landed him graded stakes wins last year. Key word is nearly. Don’t count out Irap, a 20-1 longshot shipping in from Southern California for Doug O’Neill.

Aqueduct. Race 11. 6:25. The stakes aren’t finished yet as the fillies look to secure a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Oaks in the Grade 2 Gazelle. Miss Sky Warrior rides four-race win streak against good group that includes Yorkiepoo Princess, Lockdown, Full House and North End.

Santa Anita. Race 8. 6:30. The last three Kentucky Derby winners came from California – California Chrome, American Pharoah and Nyquist – but only one ran in the Santa Anita Derby, that being California Chrome. Still, the strength of the division often sits in the Golden State. Interesting group includes two from good March 9 allowance – Battle Of Midway and Reach The World – Grade 1 winner Gormley and Robert B. Lewis winner Royal Mo from John Shirreffs’ string and Iliad and American Anthem. The pick? Royal Mo.

Keeneland. Race 11. 6:50. Finale offers up a dozen 3-year-old fillies for 9-furlong turf maiden. Lido, daughter of Street Cry out of multiple Grade 1 winner Cocoa Beach, ran well to be fourth in Feb. 12 debut at Gulfstream Park and might be the one to beat.

Aqueduct. Race 12. 6:55. State-breds close the card for 6 1/2-furlong maiden on the main track.

Emerald Downs. Race 1. 8:10. Opening Night in the Pacific Northwest and seven-race card starts with $2,500 claimer going 5 1/2 furlongs.