The Saturday Special – Feb. 16

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We’re back, just like racing overseas after the British Horseracing Authority lifted the equine influenza ban this week.

The return edition of The Saturday Special is packed as always with action from Fair Grounds – including key preps for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks – and previews of Aqueduct, Laurel, Golden Gate, Gulfstream, Santa Anita and more. Don’t forget the aforementioned racing from Europe, where they’re counting down the days to the Cheltenham Festival and beyond that the start of the flat season.

The day starts overseas with cards at Ascot, Haydock, Wincanton and Gowran Park to keep you busy over coffee and breakfast.

Here’s your primer for Saturday, Feb. 16. Welcome back and enjoy.

Ascot. Race 1. 7:30 a.m. Whew, UK jump racing is back. Novice hurdle kicks off a stellar card at Ascot.

Haydock. Race 1. 7:50. Next stop, Cheltenham. Quel Destin has won four of five since joining Paul Nicholls’ barn. This could be five, but he’ll face Torpillo, winner of both his starts in England by a combined 55 lengths.

Ascot. Race 2. 8:00. Whoa, competitive handicap hurdle keeps the Ascot hits spinning.

Haydock. Race 2. 8:25. Nicholls tries for the double, sending out If You Say Run in the Mares’ listed hurdle. Hard-trying Sensulano will appreciate not seeing Laurina here.

Ascot. Race 3. 8:35. Wow, Top Ville Ben has been strong this season, the 7-year-old aims at the Grade 2 Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices Chase.

Gowran Park. Race 12. 8:50. Farclas won the Triumph Hurdle last season and hasn’t won since. He tries to rebound here in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle.

Haydock. Race 3. 8:55. Well, hello Yanworth. Sixth in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, the 9-year-old makes his first start since, taking on six rivals in the Grade 2 William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle.

Ascot. Race 4. 9:10. Is there any juice left in the Coneygree lemon? Cheltenham Gold Cup winner finished third at Cheltenham in November and unseated his rider in December. He gets reunited with Nico De Boinville in this handicap chase.

Gowran Park. Race 3. 9:30. The indomitable Rachael Blackmore picks up the ride on Monalee, second to Kemboy in December. Short field but veterans Edwulf, Anibale Fly and Killultagh Vic stand like kings in the corners.

Ascot. Race 5. 9:45. Clan Des Obeaux towers above three rivals in the Grade 2 Betfair Denman Chase.

Haydock. Race 5. 9:55. Chasing veteran Blaklion knocks off some rust in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle. American-owned Solighoster returns to hurdles after a rough-and-tumble chase stint. We like Darlac to spring the upset.

Wincanton. Race 4. 10:00. Sceau Royal won four in a row over fences before flopping behind Altior in the Tingle Creek in December. Eleven-time winner tries to bounce back over hurdles in the Betway Kingway Hurdle.

Ascot. Race 6. 10:20. Another graded stakes comes at you here. The aptly named Getaway Trump (imagine he was born six years ago!) adds more salt to a spicy race.

Haydock. Race 6. 10:35. Staying chasers clash in the William Hill Grand National Trial Chase. Aintree beckons for the valiant.

Ascot. Race 7. 10:55. Around here, we are still Charbel fans, he takes on a tough group, including seven-time winner Waiting Patiently, in the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase.

Haydock. Race 7. 11:10. Ask Ben goes for three in a row, taking a big step in the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle.

Haydock. Race 8. 11:45. How about the story of Pacha Du Polder and Harriet Tucker at Cheltenham last year? The hickory-tough and oak-tree gallant return for their first try since that epic victory.

Aqueduct. Race 1. 12:50 p.m. The news out of New York came fast and furious – no, not Amazon’s decision to ditch the Big Apple in its plans – this week with the Saratoga stakes, launch of the Turf Triple Series and Flo Rida at the Belmont Stakes. Here’s the opener to another Saturday at the Big A, a state-bred maiden for fillies and mares.

Gulfstream Park. Race 3. 1:05. Several high-dollar purchases in field of maidens going 7 furlongs. Bandon Woods cost Larry Best $700,000 at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga in 2017 and he debuts for Chad Brown. Fort Worth cost $550,000 at last year’s OBS March sale and he makes first start for Todd Pletcher.

Aqueduct. Race 2. 1:22. Phil Serpe was “hoping the best” for Out Of Orbit late last summer during his Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour. The Broman homebred Malibu Moon filly came out of the Spa and fared well, racking up a win, two seconds and two thirds in six starts. She’s even-money in this 7-furlong state-bred optional.

Fair Grounds. Race 1. 1:30. Louisiana Derby Preview Day opens with state-bred maiden for 3-year-olds going 6 furlongs. No Star Guitars in the field. Bummer.

Gulfstream. Race 4. 1:35. What happened to all the 3-year-old filly maidens? Just a field of six for this 7-furlong event.

Fair Grounds. Race 2. 1:58. The stakes start early. Here’s the $75,000 Colonel Power going 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf. Ageless fan favorite Hogy meets Wings Locked Up and Adonis Creed again.

Kempton. Race 6. 2:15. Remember when Redicean fetched a fortune before Cheltenham? Now, he’s 10-1 in a 2-mile handicap on the all-weather surface. He takes on all-weather specialist Watersmeet, a winner of 14 races.

Fair Grounds. Race 3. 2:26. Five Triple Crown nominees – all first-time starters – among 10 3-year-olds entered for 6-furlong maiden.

Laurel Park. Race 5. 2:30. Alwaysmining seems like a throwback horse now, with nine starts under his belt and more than $191,000 in the bank heading into the $100,000 Miracle Wood. Linda Rice ships Mount Travers back to Maryland from New York and Peter Miller brings Gray Magician from California for 1-mile stakes.

Gulfstream. Race 6. 2:37. Seismic Wave lost his first two by a neck and a head before Bill Mott freshened up the son of Tapit and got rolling again at Payson Park to prep for 9-furlong turf maiden.

Fair Grounds. Race 4. 2:54. Good group of 10 for the $75,00 Albert M. Stall Memorial for older fillies and mares on the turf. Mitchell Road and Coffee Crush ship in from Florida to tackle top locals Beau Recall and Promise Of Spring.

Laurel. Race 6. 3:00. Paynterbynumbers remains a maiden after three starts but still merits respect in $100,000 Wide Country.

Laurel. Race 7. 3:30. Unbridled Juan returns to Maryland after decent fourth in Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper on Pegasus World Cup undercard. He’s 2-for-2 at Laurel and meets comebacking Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Discreet Lover, Monongahela and General Downs in $100,000 Jennings.

Tampa Bay Downs. Race 7. 3:46. Imperial Hint, arguably the best sprinter the last two seasons who didn’t win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, makes 6-year-old debut in $100,000 Pelican. Pocked-sized horse already sports 3-for-3 record at Tampa and lays over this bunch.

Laurel. Race 8. 4:00. Co-featured Grade 3 General George marks 2019 debut for Grade 2 winner Still Having Fun, who raced in Maryland, New York, Kentucky, Ohio and California during Maryland-bred championship season last year. Full field of 13 for 7-furlong event includes Pegasus World Cup tenth-place finisher Something Awesome, seven-time Laurel winner Laki, Home Run Maker, Majestic Dunhill, Uncontested and Life In Shambles.

Aqueduct. Race 7. 4:08. Open allowance draws field of six led by Monteleone, winner of last three for Linda Rice; Tap Master, winner of starter allowance last out for Steve Asmussen; and the Tapit colt Indimaaj, unraced since breaking maiden Oct. 25, 2017 for Shadwell and Kiaran McLaughlin.

Tampa. Race 8. 4:19. Christophe Clement, among the nine on the ballot for the 2019 Hall of Fame, enters pair in 1 1/16-mile optional claimer in Ponti Scheme (main track only) and Chiara Luna.

Fair Grounds. Race 7. 4:23. The high-dollar Tapit Wise and Golden Tiger mix with the more “affordable” Miltontown, Eskenforit and Lookin High in two-turn maiden on the main track.

Laurel. Race 9. 4:30. Spiced Perfection won the Grade 1 La Brea last time and ships east for Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie at same 7-furlong trip. Now trained by Peter Miller, she meets Late Night Pow Wow, Dawn The Destroyer, Ms Locust Point, Your Love and six others.

Santa Anita Park. Race 4. 4:35. Three-year-olds stretch to 9 furlongs in turf maiden.

Aqueduct. Race 8. 4:40. Familiar cast of older state-bred fillies and mares for $100,000 Broadway, including Holiday Disguise, Pauseforthecause, Absatootly, Starwithsilver and Filibustin.

Tampa. Race 9. 4:50. Heavenly Score hasn’t been out since close third as the favorite in the Shine Again last August at Saratoga. Daughter of Even The Score is favored from the rail in $50,000 Minaret.

Fair Grounds. Race 8. 4:53. Grade 1 winner Carrick didn’t draw too well for return – post 14 in field of 14 for 1 1/16-mile optional on the grass.

Gulfstream. Race 11. 5:12. Royal Delta topped group of nine finalists on the 2019 Hall of Fame ballot and here’s Grade 3 stakes named in honor of the three-time Eclipse Award winner. Tequilita likes Gulfstream – she’s 2-for-3 with a win in the Grade 3 Rampart last time – and should be tough from the rail. Don’t count out Blamed, who did all the work in her comeback effort before fading in the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie on the Pegasus undercard.

Fair Grounds. Race 9. 5:25. Older horses start the graded stakes in Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap. Quip, Flameaway and Lone Sailor, familiar names from last year’s spring classics, make their comebacks against Harlan Punch, Silver Dust and Phat Man, 1-2-3 in the local prep.

Oaklawn Park. Race 8. 5:38. Tough to sort out the seven 3-year-old fillies here for the $100,00 Dixie Belle. Raintree Starlet looked good winning her second straight last month in Hot Springs debut.

Fair Grounds. Race 10. 5:57. Synchrony puts 3-for-3 mark on the New Orleans grass course on the line in Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap.

Oaklawn. Race 9. 6:09. Nick Zito went to Hot Springs for a reboot and he’s won two of four so far. Hall of Famer sends out longshot Grassetto, eighth in Saratoga maiden in his only start last August, in 6-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds.

Fair Grounds. Race 11. 6:29. Fifty points and essentially an automatic bid to the Kentucky Oaks for the winner of the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra. Needs Supervision and Eres Tu were 1-2 in Silverbulletday and they’re back, along with unbeaten Bell’s The One, Grade 2 winners Liora, Positive Spirit and Serengeti Empress and Grade 3 winner Oxy Lady.

Santa Anita. Race 8. 6:38. Belvoir Bay loves the downhill turf course and that’s where she’ll be for $75,000 Wishing Well against stablemate Painting Corners, La Sardane, Compelled and Lady Suebee.

Golden Gate Fields. Race 7. 6:54. How’s this for incentive? The winner of the $100,000 El Camino Real Derby earns an automatic berth in the field for the Preakness Stakes. Not surprising there’s a field of 13 for race that way back in 1996 produced Kentucky Derby runner-up Cavonnier and two years before that eventual Preakness winner Tabasco Cat. Maybe Bob Baffert, who trained Cavonnier, will add another winner in Kingly.

Fair Grounds. Race 12. 7:02. The featured Grade 2 Risen Star could be the spot for War Of Will to further enhance his classics potential, but he’ll need to do it from outside post. He’ll meet Hog Creek Hustle, Manny Wah and Plus Que Parfait, 2-3-5 in the Grade 3 LeComte last time, and Owendale, Country House, Limonite and Frolic More in 1 1/16-mile test that offers 50 points toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

Santa Anita. Race 9. 7:09. From the rail out in the Grade 2 Santa Monica it’s Paradise Woods, Selcourt, Marley’s Freedom and Dream Tree. Collectively they’ve won four Grade 1s, four Grade 2s and three Grade 3s. And don’t count out the other three, Mopotism, Escape Clause and Amuse. Good race to cap the day.