The Saturday Special – Feb. 26

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The final Saturday of February, almost time for some March Madness but first another major Kentucky Derby prep on one of Oaklawn Park’s biggest days of the year.

The $1 million Rebel takes center stage with all eyes on trying to get to Louisville the first Saturday in May, now just 10 weeks away. Wow, that snuck up fast. Or perhaps it didn’t to the folks in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, hit with another round of winter weather just in time for the weekend (and right after most of the snow and ice melted in Saratoga).

Speaking of Saratoga, less than 20 weeks now until Opening Day. We’re already ramping up plans for the 22nd season of The Saratoga Special. Stay tuned in the coming weeks and days for our publishing schedule and advertising information.

But first a big weekend, which also includes the $20 million Saudi Cup from King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh. Plenty of Americans in the races, including a strong group for the $20 million headliner. We preview the action below, along with handicapping selections from the team at The Saratoga Special for Rebel Day.

Have a safe weekend.


By the Numbers

6: Wins in the Honeybee Stakes for D. Wayne Lukas, who tries for seven with Secret Oath Saturday. He won the first four from 1988 to 1991 and again in 2007.

99: Fillies nominated for the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes April 8 at Keeneland, including last year’s champion 2-year-old filly Echo Zulu.

103: Fillies nominated to the $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks, including, you guessed it, Echo Zulu.

121: Nominations for the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass April 9 at Keeneland, and no, Echo Zulu is not on the list.

482: Trainers, including individuals and team members, accepted to the 2022 class of the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America, scheduled for Oct. 12-15 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

3,000: North American victories for Irad Ortiz Jr. after he rode Order And Law to victory in the fourth race Thursday at Gulfstream. Ortiz started riding in 2012 and also won 92 races in his native Puerto Rico before coming to the U.S.


Worth Repeating

“That would be a great birthday gift, I’m not going to lie. I don’t usually celebrate it. I’m not a big fan of parties on my birthday. But you know what? If ever I could get a good gift, I’ll take this one.”
Trainer John Ortiz, who turned 36 Thursday and runs Ice Orchid in the $300,000 Honeybee and Barber Road in the $1 million Rebel Saturday at Oaklawn


Riverdee Stable Names of the Day

Endless Adventure. Race 1. Chepstow. The 7-year-old is by And Beyond.

A Longlongtimeago. Race 3. Aqueduct. The 4-year-old is by Maclean’s Music.

Ratify. Race 6. Laurel Park. The 5-year-old is by Constitution.


Thoroughbred Racing Calendar Play of the Day

Kempton. Race 2. 8:50. Moka De Vassy is learning and improving all the time and, while he takes on some heat, this could be graduation day at a price.

Lingfield. Race 7. 11:20. Sea The Sunset’s debut was better than it looks. The 3-year-old makes his second start here and we’re seeing some 6-1 and some 9-2. Take all you can get. 

Gulfstream Park. Race 10. 4:37. We wrote “cool filly” on our Horse Tracker for Magna Mater back when she was in France. We’ll give her another chance in third start since coming this way.


Handicapper’s Corner

The handicappers head to Hot Springs this weekend –in spirit, although Rob is already there – for Rebel Day and another strong 12-race card at Oaklawn Park. Tom holds a slim lead over John and Rob, 20-18, with Charles and Jessica lurking. Good luck.

John Shapazian (18/72):
1-Little Mombo, Ari Oakley, Firewolves.
2-Most Sandisfactory, First Line, Moliere.
3-Parlance, Icy Stare Down, Marr Time.
4-Roll Dinero Roll, T’s Little Man, Orbital Starr.
5-Yuugiri, Secret Oath, Optimality.
6-Awesome Saturday, Big Fudge, Secretary At War.
7-Mclaren Vale, Great Escape, Sky And Sand.
8-Quick To Blame, Life On The Nile, Rider’s Special.
9-Palace Coup, Myopic, Prioritzation.
10-Plausible Denile, Stay In For Half, Lunberg.
11-Newgrange, Barber Road, Ben Diesel.
12-Rolling Fork, Navy Seal, You Vee Cee.

Tom Law (20/72):
1-Devious, Little Mombo, Heartyconstitution.
2-Moliere, First Line, Most Sandisfactory.
3-Icy Stare Down, Marr Time, Lady Scarlet.
4-Peace Dog, Allo Enry, Roll Dinero Roll.
5-Secret Oath, Optionality, Yuugiri.
6-Awesome Saturday, Secretary At War, Big Fudge.
7-Sky And Sand, Great Escape, Costa Terra.
8-Quick To Blame, Curly Tail, Ludwig.
9-Lamutanaatty, Prioritization, Myopic.
10-Stayed In For Half, Magnificus, Lundberg.
11-Newgrange, Chasing Time, Stellar Tap.
12-You Vee Cee, Rolling Fork, Goodnight Archie.

Charles Bedard (14/72):
1-Little Mombo, Firewolves, Heartyconstitution.
2-Moliere, First Line, Mr. Dougie Fresh.
3-Icy Stare Down, Peace Peddler, Marr Time.
4-Allo Enry, J’s Little Man, Roll Dinero Roll.
5-Secret Oath, Yuugiri, Ice Orchid.
6-Awesome Saturday, Secretary At War, Ravens Reflection.
7-Mclaren Vale, Sky And Sand, Costa Terra.
8-Quick To Blame, Curly Tail, Millard’s Smile.
9-Prioritization, Lamutanaatty, Calibrate.
10-Stayed In For Half, Slim Man, Lundberg.
11-Newgrange, Chasing Time, Dash Attack.
12-Rolling Fork, Heritage Park, You Vee Cee.

Rob Whitlock (18/72):
1-Ari Oakley, Heartyconstitution, Little Mombo.
2-Mr Dougie Fresh, Moliere, River Cactus.
3-Parlance, Peace Peddler, Icy Stare Down.
4-Sacrament, Peace Dog, Macho Ronnie.
5-Optionality, Secret Oath, Yuugiri.
6-Secretary At War, Awesome Saturday, Lonely Private.
7-McLaren Vale, Sky And Sand, Call Me Jamal.
8-Quick To Blame, Ludwig, Curly Tail.
9-Martini Blu, Catholic Guilt, Calibrate.
10-Summer In Malibu, Abrierwin, Stayed In For Half.
11-Ben Diesel, Newgrange, Barber Road.
12-Where’s Randy, Heritage Park, Rolling Fork.

Jessica Paquette (15/72):
1-Hearty Constitution, Little Mombo, Firewolves.
2-Moliere, Cashanova, Indian Gulch.
3-Icy Stare Down, Parlance, Marr Time.
4-Northern Woods, Peace Dog, Allo Enry.
5-Secret Oath, Optionality, Yuugiri.
6-Lonely Private, Awesome Saturday, Skyscanner.
7-Costa Terra, Great Escape, Sky And Sand.
8-Quick To Blame, Rider’s Special, Curly Tail.
9-Pats Property, Myopic, Palace Coup.
10-Stayed In For Half, Lundberg, Summer In Malibu.
11-Barber Road, Newgrange, Chasing Time.
12-Rolling Fork, Goodnight Archie, Afleet Sky.


As for the races…

King Abdulaziz Racecourse. Race 1. 7:45 a.m. Channel Cat flies the flag for the U.S. the $1.5 million Neom Turf Cup, which features the likes of Japan Cup runner-up Authority and Group 1 winner Pyledriver.

King Abdulaziz. Race 2. 8:25. Casa Creed, lightning fast winner of the Grade 1 Jaipur last year on Belmont Day for Lee Einsidler and Mike Francesa and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, takes on 13 in the $1.5 million Turf Sprint Stakes going 6 3/4 furlongs on the grass.

Kempton. Race 2. 8:50. Knight Salute rides a four-race win streak into the Adonis Hurdle, a Grade 2 for juveniles. Solid 11-horse affair.

Fairyhouse. Race 1. 9:00. We touted Ebasari back when he won at 7-1 in his hurdle debut. He’s lost twice since and takes on Grade 3 juveniles in the Irish opener. Big price.

Lingfield. Race 3. 9:05. Lord North tries to add to his $3 million career tally in the Group 3 Winter Derby. The multiple Group 1 winning 6-year-old makes his first start since winning the 2021 Dubai Turf.

King Abdulaziz. Rae 3. 9:05. Settle in for this one, the $2.5 million Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap at 1 7/8 miles on the grass. Ireland’s Baron Samedi, winner of the Belmont Gold Cup for Joseph O’Brien last year, among the top threats along with Godolphin’s Siskany for trainer Charlie Appleby.

Kempton. Race 3. 9:25. Minella Drama, with leading jockey Brian Hughes, takes on Pic D’Orhy and Harry Cobden in the Grade 2 Pendil Novices’ Chase.

Lingfield. Race 4. 9:40. We loved Passionova in back-to-back wins last year, the 4-year-old filly, trained by our friend George Baker, makes her return here.

King Abdulaziz Race 4. 9:45. Back to the main track for the $1 million Jockey Club Local Handicap at 9 furlongs. Joel Rosario rides Almobeer and Luis Saez takes the call on Bamer Allah.

Kempton. Race 4. 10:00. Stellar card offered here. The Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle packs a punch with eight runners, including the 20-length winner Shallwehaveonemore for Goshen connections.

Newcastle. Race 4. 10:15. As horses are put on cotton for Cheltenham, there is real money out there. The Eider Chase offers $108,000 for its 4 1/8-mile test.

Kempton. Race 5. 10:37. Small purses? Here’s $202,500 for the Grade 3 Coral Trophy Handicap.

King Abdulaziz. Race 6. 11:05. Bob Baffert sends Pinehurst halfway around the world for the $1.5 million Saudi Derby, a race he isn’t banned from, and son of Twirling Candy looks tough coming off second in Grade 2 San Vicente going 7 furlongs. He stretches out to a mile here.

Fairyhouse. Race 5. 11:18. Burrows Saint goes 7-5 against three rivals in the Grade 3 Tote Bobbyjo Chase.

King Abdulaziz. Race 7. 11:45. The scratch of Ginobili leaves the U.S. without a runner for the $1.5 million Riyadh Dirt Sprint. We’ll go bombs away with Faz Zae, son of Mizzen Mast out of the Aaron and Marie Jones-bred $375,000 Forestry yearling Summer Forest.

King Abdulaziz. Race 8. 12:35. The main event on the card, the $20 million Saudi Cup. Recent adjudged Kentucky Derby winner Mandaloun, fresh off a victory in the Grade 3 Louisiana at Fair Grounds, takes on old rival Midnight Bourbon and defending champ Mishriff. Field also includes Marche Lorraine, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at 49-1 last year, and Art Collector, winner of last year’s Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga and sixth in Knicks Go’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Oaklawn Park. Race 3. 2:10. Can’t beat the purses in Hot Springs. How about this 1-mile optional for 3-year-old fillies worth $100,000?  

Gulfstream Park. Race 6. 2:27. Hello, Champ. Letruska returns in the Royal Delta. Fresh off winning an Eclipse Award, the 17-time winner is 2/5 against six rivals in the Grade 3 stakes. Read about Letruska here

Aqueduct. Race 5. 2:50. It’s that time of year. Florida-based Strapped and Mystic Quest for Todd Pletcher, Knight Legend for George Weaver and Highly Respected for Chad Brown make the journey north for their career debuts. Do they share a van? A plane?

Santa Anita Park. Race 1. 3:30. European imports swing into action here as Almanera, Oh Great and Relaxed Artist make their stateside debuts.

Oaklawn. Race 5. 3:10. D. Wayne on the Oaks – maybe Derby? – Trail with Secret Oath. Daughter of Arrogate looks to take the next step here in the Grade 3 Honeybee over several she whipped in the Martha Washington along with Golden Rod runner-up Yuugiri, last-out maiden winner Ice Orchid and multiple Louisiana-bred stakes winner Free Like A Girl.

Oaklawn. Race 7. 4:13. McLaren Vale didn’t make the trip from Southern California for this $100,000 optional, so that probably leaves Sky And Sand as the favorite, along with Great Escape, Costa Terra and Call Me Jamal in the mix.

Aqueduct. Race 8. 4:30. Green Light Go continues his revitalization with Jimmy Jerkens, taking on six foes in the Stymie.

Oaklawn. Race 11. 6:22. The day’s headliner, the $1 million Rebel with 50 points to the winner toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. That’s an automatic bid, unless you’re Bob Baffert and the connections of 9-5 favorite Newgrange. Unbeaten son of Violence can’t earn any points because of Churchill Downs’ ban on Baffert. So, if he wins as expected the “winner” of the points in the race will only get 20. Barber Road and Ben Diesel tried the favorite last time in the Grade 3 Southwest and finished second and third, respectively. They’re back with eight others for 1 1/16-mile test.

Santa Anita. Race 7. 6:37. Tapwater tries to snap an eight-race losing streak in the Wishing Well. Losing streaks are relative, she lost two photos and hit the board in four stakes during the stretch.

Turfway Park. Race 5. 8:14. Breeze Rider goes for her 13th career win. The Steve Manley-trained mare breaks from post 4 in the Wintergreen Stakes.

Turfway. Race 7. 9:16. Homebred royalty here. Arronautic, a Juddmonte homebred by Arrogate out of Jibboom, makes her debut from the outside slot for trainer Brad Cox.