The Saturday Special – Feb. 18

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Victory Formation, winner of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park last time out, puts his 3-for-3 record on the line in Saturday’s Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Coady Photography.

The countdowns are on in earnest as we rolled past the midpoint of February and enjoyed a slightly concerning stretch of extremely mild weather here in the Northeast.

Which countdowns you ask? How about the start of the American steeplechase season, just five weeks from Saturday. What about the Kentucky Derby? That’s only 11 weeks from Saturday. And the topper of them all, Saratoga? Well, by our count it’s slightly more than 20 weeks away. Better knock off those items on the to-do list.

Another countdown rolled along this week as Steve Asmussen closed in on 10,000 victories in his Hall of Fame career. We’ve only been there for a fraction of those wins, but can’t think about his career without last year’s Travers Stakes coming to mind. Relive it here, on Page 12 of the Aug. 31, 2022 edition of The Saratoga Special.

With the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks in mind, Fair Grounds hosts a couple key preps for those events in the Risen Star and Rachel Alexandra Saturday. They top a six-stakes card in New Orleans. There’s plenty of other top racing around the world, starting at Ascot in England with stops at Haydock, Wincanton and Gowran Park to keep you busy in the morning. Shift your attention stateside in the afternoon for Aqueduct, Laurel, Oaklawn, Tampa, Santa Anita and more.

Here’s your primer for Saturday, February 18. Good luck.

By the Numbers

512: Trainers accepted into the 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover by the Retired Racehorse Project. The world’s largest and most lucrative retraining competition for off-track Thoroughbreds takes place Oct. 11-14 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington and carries prize money of more than $100,000.

1,498,077: Dollars donated by the Grayson Jockey Club for equine research in 2023. 

9,997: Career wins for trainer Steve Asmussen going into Friday’s racing. The Hall of Famer had 13 runners Friday and 26 Saturday. Asmussen’s son, Keith is named on six (now that would be something)

Names of the Day

Saratoga Strong. Aqueduct. Race 1. We’ll be all of that this summer.

For the Chief. Gulfstream Park. Race 8. Trained by longtime Allen Jerkens’ assistant, Fernando Abreu, the beautifully named colt seeks his first win after two seconds in four starts.

Saunter. Turfway Park. Race 8. Bred by Joseph Sutton, the 3-year-old filly is out of Sashay.

Pinky Tuscadero. Turfway Park. Race 8. Ah, the memories of watching Happy Days.

Worth Repeating

“You’d like to see it set her up to do something bigger this year. I don’t want to get ahead of myself or anything, but there’s plenty of options in the Mid-Atlantic over the summer and we’re hoping for a big year from her.”
Trainer Brittany Russell about Nellie Morse favorite Hybrid Eclipse

“He ran huge to win the stakes. I don’t know that he didn’t completely fire last time, but we didn’t have any pace to close into in the four-horse field. He didn’t run bad but there just wasn’t a pace to close into and he needs that, and Treasure Trove needs that, also. This is a horse that runs forever. He absolutely will run forever. He came back after the mile and an eighth race and wasn’t even blowing. He just got up that day. It was a monster race.”
Trainer Norman “Lynn” Cash about John B. Campbell entries Plot The Dots and Treasure Trove

“There will never be another one like him. We were so fortunate to have known him. He appreciated everything you did for him.”
Suzanne Moscarelli about the late Burt Bacharach for an upcoming story in Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred

“We got a little farther back than I wanted and we got in a little trouble in the lane and we only got beat [4] lengths for all of it, and most of that was the winner. Obviously, things have to go right in a race like that. It was kind of disappointing. I’m still disappointed over it.”
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey on Kathleen O.’s fifth in last year’s Kentucky Oaks

“We had no turf at Churchill through the fall, so I’m good at sitting on horses and getting them fresh. I’m just playing a little catch-up.”
Trainer Brian Lynch, off to a 10-for-31 start at Gulfstream Park’s Championship Meet

Trainer Steve Asmussen crept up on 10,000 wins as the weekend neared and the Oaklawn Park publicity team caught up with the Hall of Famer, who offered the following takes on the milestone:

“The record was on my mind, to be the winningest. That’s never over. A milestone like 10,000 will feel like when Curlin became the first North American racehorse to go over $10 million (in earnings). You’ll always be the first to ever hit that digit.”

“You would find it hard to believe, but there is the outside possibility that it could happen (his all-time record being broken). As hard as it is to win the next one, I am in awe of it (reaching 10,000). Getting races to ‘go’ is hard enough, let alone actually winning one. A friend of mine told me that 10,000 wins calculates to a win a day for 27 straight years. A lot of credit goes to the consistency and quality of my help. Assistants like Scott Blasi and Darren Fleming.”

“I was hoping I could do it (reach the milestone) at Sam Houston, but it’s impossible to time that. My mom (Marilyn) wants to be there for it and she follows my racing better than I do. How do you even know? There is also a chance that my son Keith could win it for us at Oaklawn. If that happened, it would be like divine intervention. If I had to predict, I think it will happen either Friday or Saturday of this week and I’ve got nice horses in, so it will be fun.”

Bets of the Day

Ascot. Race 4. 10:00. We’re counting on Kaleb bouncing back from a first-flight fall in his most recent start to upset 12 rivals in the handicap hurdle. 

Ascot. Race 7. Kay Tara Tara impressed us when she won her debut at Lingfield in December. This is tougher but we’ll nibble at 12-1.

As for the races…

Ascot. Race 2. 8:50 a.m. Stellar card at Ascot starts with the Grade 2 Bateaux London Reynoldstown Chase. Kinondo Kwetu rides a six-race win streak into his sternest test. The Sam England-trained 7-year-old faces Bold Endeavor, a winner of hist last two for Nicky Henderson.

Haydock. Race 2. 9:05. Green Book tries to make it two in a row, leaping from a handicap hurdle win at Sandown to the Grade 2 Betfred Rendlesham Hurdle.

Gowran Park. Race 2. 9:17. Grade 1 winner Sharjah towers over five rivals in the Grade 2 Red Mills Trial Hurdle.

Ascot. Race 3. 9:25. Fourteen veterans, including 15-year-old Regal Encore, rumble in the Swinley Handicap Chase.

Haydock. Race 3. 9:40. The Grand National Trial attracts millionaire Bristol De Mai, 11-year-old mare Snow Leopardess and 13 others.

Wincanton. Race 3. 10:12. Global Citizen, last seen finishing 47 lengths behind Hewick in the Grand National at Far Hills, returns against three tough rivals in the Grade 2 Wincanton Jennings Bet Kingwell Hurdle. Knappers Hill, First Street, I Like To Move It…who do you like, Richard?

Gowran Park. Race 4. 10:27. The Willie Mullins cannon keeps firing. He sends out Capodanno, Haut En Couleurs and Janidil in the five-horse Red Mills Chase.

Ascot. Race 5. 10:35. Twelve-time winner Shishkin tries to right the ship in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase. He swims in deep water against the likes of Silviniaco Conti winner Pic D’Orhy and Irish raider Fakir D’Oudairies.

Laurel Park. Race 3. 1:26 p.m. L Street Lady, Chicikeness and We’ll See finished 1-2-3 in the Xtra Heat and are back for the $100,000 Wide Country, along with New York-bred stakes winner and shipper Stonewall Star.

Aqueduct. Race 3. 1:50. The $125,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational features a field of five, including last year’s runner-up Battle Bling, Ladies winner Falconet and Godolphin’s Frost Point.

Laurel. Race 4. 1:57. Prince of Jericho takes on several familiar rivals in the $100,000 Miracle Wood for 3-year-olds.

Laurel. Race 6. 3:05. Good group of 10 for the $100,000 John B. Campbell going two turns.

Fair Grounds. Race 6. 3:31. The $100,000 Albert M. Stall Memorial kicks off the six stakes on the card in New Orleans.

Laurel. Race 7. 3:33. Seven entered for the $100,000 Nellie Morse for fillies and mares and it looks like a tough group to sort.

Aqueduct. Race 7. 3:55. Foxburg went to post as the favorite in his debut on Pegasus Day for Bill Mott and LRE Racing. He finished a chasm back and now shows up in New York for his second start in 1-mile maiden.

Laurel. Race 8. 4:02. Fille d’Espirit defends home turf against shippers Union Lake and Pass the Champagne in the co-featured Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie.

Tampa Bay Downs. Race 8. 4:17. The first of two stakes on the card, the $100,000 Lightning City for fillies and mares. Train To Artemus, 6-for-11 in her career, comes into 5-furlong turf stakes on two-race win streak for Kelly Breen.

Laurel. Race 9. 4:32. Factor It In, Beren and Pirate Rick look tough in the co-featured Grade 3 General George. And don’t count out Lynn Cash’s other runner, Eastern Bay. He also trains Pirate Rick.

Fair Grounds. Race 8. 4:33. First Defender impressed in debut and takes next step up, stretching out in 1 1/16-mile optional for Steve Asmussen. Tapit Shoes, Banishing, Caligiostro, Denington and Willakenzie figure to have some say, too.

Fair Grounds. Race 9. 5:05. Solid group for the $100,000 Colonel Power sprinting on the grass. We’ll go with Ice Chocolat from the rail.

Gulfstream Park. Race 11. 5:06. The Grade 3 Royal Delta. Named for one of our favorites, $150,000 stakes for fillies and mares marks the comeback of Kathleen O., winner of last year’s Davona Dale and Gulfstream Park Oaks before her troubled fifth in the Kentucky Oaks. New York-bred stakes winner Classy Edition finished second to Kathleen O. in the Davona Dale and turned heads with sharp comeback in 1-mile optional last month.

Tampa. Race 10. 5:20. The Critical Way, the winner of 10 of 32, makes his 9-year-old debut in the $100,000 Turf Dash. He hasn’t been out since fading late in the Lucky Coin in September at Saratoga but owns two wins on the Tampa turf course.

Turf Paradise. Race 6. 5:26. Arizona-bred Arizona Kei aims at her fourth win in her turf debut.  She takes on seven rivals in the Princess of Palms, a $60,000 stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Fair Grounds. Race 10. 5:37. A few older horses have stepped up in recent weeks to fill voids at the top of the division and the Grade 3 Mineshaft presents an opportunity for more to do the same.

Oaklawn Park. Race 9. 5:42. What we said for the Mineshaft applies here, too, with field of 10 entered for the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap. Law Professor ships from New York off easy score in the Queens County, Ginobili looks to follow up his win in the Fifth Season, West Will Power aims to make amends for runner-up in the Grade 1 Clark, Last Samurai tries to improve off fourth in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup and Keystone Field bids to continue momentum that included a victory in last year’s Claiming Crown Jewel.

Fair Grounds. Race 11. 6:09. Switch to the grass for the Grade 3 Fair Grounds. Gentle Soul and Two Emmys finished 1-2 in the prep for this, while former Kentucky Derby runner Tiz The Bomb makes first start since finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Hall of Fame in early August at Saratoga.

Fonner Park. Race 9. 6:22. Stakes horses clash in the Grasmick.

Turf Paradise. Race 8. 6:28. Another strong Arizona-bred, Arizona Andrew, makes his turf debut in the Startac, a $60,000 stakes for 3-year-olds.

Fair Grounds. Race 12. 6:41. The co-featured Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra presented by Fasig-Tipton. All eyes on Hoosier Philly and her 3-for-3 record. Daughter of Into Mischief has been the buzz since romp in the Grade 2 Golden Rod last November and takes on Chop Chop, Pretty Mischievous and three others.

Santa Anita Park. Race 8. 7:06. Ain’t Easy and Adare Manor, veterans of Grade 1 stakes last year, meet in 7-furlong optional for fillies and mares.

Fair Grounds. Race 13. 7:14. The Grade 2 Risen Star could go a long way in sorting out the 3-year-old male division in New Orleans. Full starting gate of 14 for key prep for the Louisiana Derby and possibly the Kentucky Derby, with unbeaten Victory Formation the one to beat from post 13.

Santa Anita. Race 9. 7:38. Fillies and mares dash down the hill in the restricted $100,000 Wishing Well Stakes.

Turfway Park. Race 6. 8:25. Still going strong? Here’s the $125,000 Dust Commander for older horses going 1 1/16 miles. In Love showed he liked the synthetic in Northern Kentucky last time out, winning the Prairie Bayou, and he takes on nine others led by Price Talk, Beatbox and Camp Hope.