The Saturday Special – Feb. 24

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The slugfest that is the winter of 2018 continues and a relatively light slate of action here in the U.S. to preview in this week’s edition of The Saturday Special presented by Pin Oak Stud.

A pair of graded stakes – the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream and Grade 3 Daytona at Santa Anita – are on the schedule for Saturday along with a four-pack of stakes at Sam Houston, two at Oaklawn and others here and there. The action heats up significantly in a week’s time, with the Fountain of Youth card at Gulfstream leading off in March.

But first things first, it’s not March yet. Here’s your primer for the final Saturday of the February. Good luck.

Gulfstream Park. Race 1. Noon. The first of 13 races – yes, 13 – is maiden-claimer going 1 1/16 miles on the grass.

Laurel Park. Race 2. 1:00 p.m. O Dionysus was one of top 3-year-olds in Maryland last year, winning the Miracle Wood and chasing Twisted Tom home in back-to-back stakes in the spring. He hasn’t been out since the Federico Tesio in late April and runs coupled with Showalter in this 7-furlong optional.

Aqueduct. Race 3. 1:50. Pauseforthecause returns to state-bred stakes company for $100,000 Franklin Square. Broman homebred exits allowance-optional that also featured Beautiful Buzz, who should vie for favoritism in 6-furlong event.

Gulfstream. Race 6. 2:30. The $75,000 Texas Glitter features two from Todd Pletcher’s barn in the comebacking Salmanazar and Barbarossa from inside posts. The former hasn’t been out since backing up as the favorite in Tremont in June while the latter shortens up to 5 furlongs after close second going two turns in 7 1/2-furlong optional in late December.

Fonner Park. Race 1. 2:30. Racing returned to Nebraska Friday and the first Saturday card of the season starts with a 4-furlong maiden special for state-breds.

Santa Anita Park. Race 1. 3:30. We wrote about Phoenix Fire a few weeks back before he scratched out of 6 1/2-furlong turf maiden. The Tapit colt who brought $1.25 million at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale in 2016 is entered back in this 9-furlong turf maiden.

Fair Grounds. Race 5. 4:05. Pin Oak Stud homebred Missive finished third in Silverbulletday Stakes last time and skipped last weekend’s Rachel Alexandra. Daughter of Alternation tries the grass for the first time. Her mother, Bedanken, was lights out on the turf with three of her four graded wins on the green.

Aqueduct. Race 8. 4:25. Cool story behind Untimateenticement, which we wrote about in last year’s Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour with Rick Violette. Check it out and then watch son of Drosselmeyer make his first start since distant fourth in Bertram F. Bongard in late September.

Gulfstream. Race 10. 4:33. Phipps homebred Bail Out, a half brother to a couple graded stakes winners, makes debut for Shug McGaughey in 7-furlong maiden that attracts several from top barns.

Santa Anita. Race 4. 5:06. Peter Miller accounts for three of the seven entered in Grade 3 Daytona going 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill, including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal. He hasn’t been out since finishing 11th in Grade 1 Hong Kong Sprint in December. Look for him to improve on 7-for-12 mark on the hillside course.

Oaklawn Park. Race 7. 5:09. Arkansas-bred fillies and mares go 6 furlongs in $100,000 Downthedustyroad. Surely you remember Downthedustyroad, Arkansas-bred daughter of Storm And A Half who won the Grade 1 La Brea in 2006 for Bob Baffert.

Tampa Bay Downs. Race 10. 5:20. Sleeping Giant runs for $32,000 tag in 5-furlong turf optional off 19-month layoff. Fifth in the 2015 Quick Call Stakes at Saratoga, 6-year-old son of Red Giant ran twice for Tony Dutrow in 2016 and now goes for Keith Nations.

Gulfstream. Race 12. 5:35. Irish War Cry, last year’s Wood Memorial winner and Belmont Stakes runner-up, is the one to beat in Grade 3 Hal’s Hope. Field for 1-mile stakes also includes graded stakes winners Send It In and Malagacy from Todd Pletcher’s string, Economic Model and Conquest Big E.

Fair Grounds. Race 8. 5:35. Lilt showed steady improvement in her last two starts and takes on winners for the first time going 1 mile and 70 yards from the outside post.

Oaklawn. Race 8. 5:38. Mitole blasted field of maidens last time and steps up in $125,000 Gazebo. Stablemate Direct Dial and Fair Grounds shipper Bourne In Nixa look like main threats in 6-furlong stakes.

Fair Grounds. Race 9. 6:03. Arklow, winner of last year’s Grade 2 American Turf at Churchill Downs, makes first start since the Grade 2 Hall of Fame at Saratoga in early August. Brad Cox talked about son of Arch in his Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour last summer.

Gulfstream. Race 13. 6:06. A dozen, not including four on main track only and also lists, for 1-mile turf maiden. Golden Challenge, a Medaglia d’Oro colt who brought $425,000 at 2016 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale, makes debut for Ralph Nicks with John Velazquez named.

Fonner. Race 9. 6:22. The day’s feature is the $10,000 Grasmick going a half-mile.

Santa Anita. Race 9. 7:46. Life’s Blessings, daughter of Tapit out of champion Indian Blessing, makes second start off layoff in 5 1/2-furlong optional for Bob Baffert.

Santa Anita. Race 10. 8:16. Don’t throw in the towel yet and click over to the Olympics, there’s the $70,000 Wishing Well to watch first. Restricted stakes for fillies and mares who have not won a graded stakes since July 1, 2017 attracts field of 11. George Weaver tries to upset the likes of Bendable, Samba Inc and Miss Southern Miss with Malibu Stacy.

Sam Houston Race Park. Race 6. 9:20. The first stakes of the evening in Houston is $50,000 Sam Houston Sprint Cup.

Sam Houston. Race 7. 9:48. Tom Proctor ships Proud Reunion from Fair Grounds for $50,000 Jersey Lilly Turf.

Sam Houston. Race 8. 10:16. The evening’s feature is the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup. Blueridge Traveler, a winner last time at Oaklawn Park for Ken McPeek, is the heavy favorite on the morning line but don’t count out Net Gain, Social Misfit or even Franco.

Sam Houston. Race 9. 10:44. The $50,000 Houston Turf going 1 1/16 miles puts cap on the day. It looks like Mav Master vs. Moojab Jr.