The Saturday Special – Feb. 8

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Old Man Winter finally reared his head in most of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Thursday into Friday, so what better way to distract oneself from the elements than another loaded Saturday of racing from coast to coast.

The paths to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks continue their long and winding road this week with preps at Tampa Bay Downs, Santa Anita Park and maybe even Aqueduct. We’ll start the day overseas with a relatively light slate of jump racing before diving into things here in the U.S.

The sixth annual Runhappy/NTRA NHC Charity Challenge, an undercard event for the 21st NTRA National Horseplayers Championship at Bally’s Las Vegas, livens up the day for This Is Horse Racing’s Joe Clancy, Sean Clancy and Tom Law. They’ve participated the last few years and hope to make the podium from a slate of eight races at Gulfstream Park, Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs, Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields.

Those races, and much more, are included in this week’s primer. Enjoy and good luck.

Warwick. Race 3. 9:05 a.m. Grade 2 novice chasers try to book a ticket to Cheltenham. Nube Negra looks like the best one in here, although, we’ve always loved Rouge Vif.

Newbury. Race 3. 9:25. The one and only Altior. His undefeated reign (19-for-19) snapped by Cyrname and an untried distance in his most recent start. The reign returns here.

Newbury. Race 4. 10:00. Do you think Richard Johnson tunes in to watch Native River or does the injured champion walk the dog, make breakfast for the kids, tinkers in the tool shed? The Gold Cup winner towers above a field of seven in the Grade 2 Denman Chase. Might Bite, the one who chased and scrapped with Native River in that epic Gold Cup, tries to right his ship which has detoured lately. Valdez, well, the veteran is in deep.

Newbury. Race 5. 10:35. The Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle attracts a deep and contentious field. Highly Prized, still charting an uncharted voyage from Far Hills to Newbury (yes, in that order) returns on a course he should relish and ground he should cherish. Awesome 24-strong race.

Mahoning Valley. Race 1. 12:15 p.m. The 8-year-old Greg Rules Da looks to lead off the day in 6-furlong allowance.

Parx Racing. Race 1. 12:55. They’re back in action at Parx after the Jockeys’ Guild helped settle a dispute with the riders and track management.

Aqueduct. Race 2. 1:28. Tonal Vision ran well to be third in debut at Gulfstream. She breezed once in Ocala after that race and makes New York debut in 7-furlong maiden for 3-year-old fillies.

Gulfstream Park. Race 4. 1:34. First race in the Runhappy NTRA/NHC Charity Challenge is 1-mile turf event (we hope) for $16,000-$14,000 claimers.

Tampa Bay Downs. Race 4. 1:46. Two-turn main-track maiden worth $27,000 draws entries from Ignacio Correas, Todd Pletcher (two), Christophe Clement, Ian Wilkes, Michael Stidham and Rodolphe Brisset.

Gulfstream. Race 5. 2:04. Second race in the Charity Challenge, 9-furlong maiden special weight on the grass for 4-year-olds and up, attracts a dozen including one main track only runner. Here’s hoping wet weather in South Florida Friday won’t move it off the grass.

Gulfstream. Race 6. 2:34. Bill Mott runs Blamed back off two-week break after she faded to 12th in Grade 2 Inside Information on Pegasus Day undercard. Daughter of Blame should appreciate drop to allowance-optional ranks, where she hasn’t been since her 3-year-old season in 2017 at Zia Park.

Parx. Race 5. 2:43. Jason Servis ships Magic Carpet, a son of Malibu Moon who cost Gary and Mary West $385,000 at 2018 Keeneland September sale, from New York for 5 1/2-furlong maiden.

Aqueduct. Race 5. 2:55. Nine 3-year-olds for 1-mile maiden. Continuation is short price on morning line off fast runner-up in debut but don’t discount Informative, Judicial Restraint, Striking Speed or Breithorn. You remember Breithorn, right? Refresh your memory in last summer’s Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour with Bill Mott.

Gulfstream. Race 7. 3:04. The third race in the Charity Challenge – 9-furlong maiden on the main track for 3-year-olds – doesn’t feature any first-time starters, no doubt a plus for aspiring tournament champs.

Tampa. Race 7. 3:20. The Special’s Tom Law will be all over Saratogian, first-time starter by Empire Maker for Rodolphe Brisset. That’s where he started his career in the mid-1990s and the building now houses Walt & Whitman Brewing Co. Check it out next time you’re in town.

Aqueduct. Race 6. 3:25. Halfway home in the Charity Challenge after this state-bred 6-furlong claimer.

Mahoning Valley. Race 8. 3:30. A dozen state-breds for featured finale going 6 furlongs.

Parx. Race 7. 3:27. Irish Cork lost back-to-back starts at Parx before shipping to Laurel to get it done stretching out to 1 mile. He goes the same trip here in allowance-optional for John Servis, albeit around two turns.

Golden Gate Fields. Race 1. 3:45. Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux moved his tack from Southern to Northern California this week and he rides Aotearoa in the opener, a $5,000 claimer at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Aqueduct. Race 7. 3:55. Multiple state-bred stakes winner Blindwillie McTell makes return for Linda Rice in open-company allowance that also draws tough entry of Clench and Dark Money.

Tampa. Race 8. 3:59. The Grade 3 Lambholm South Endeavour marks return of Got Stormy, multiple Grade 1 winner last season and a finalist for champion turf female. Daughter of Get Stormy would have won that in just about any other year but she’s back for 5-year-old campaign. No cakewalk though, with Andina Del Sur, Dynatail and Altea in the field for $175,000 stakes.

Fair Grounds. Race 6. 3:59. Class move by track management with name of this, the $60,000 Shantel Lanerie Memorial Overnight. Shantel fought the bravest of battles with cancer until June 2018 and her legacy lives on through the Shantel Lanerie Foundation. Corey Lanerie rides one with a chance, too, in Pass The Plate for Paul McGee. That would be cool.

Golden Gate. Race 2. 4:14. All Desormeaux, all the time. He rides Megameister in 1-mile starter allowance and looks though. Ok, we’ll stop for now.

Aqueduct. Race 8. 4:25. The $100,000 Jimmy Winkfield could serve as useful prep for the Grade 3 Gotham in a month’s time. Field of seven includes Quixotic, maiden winner last time out for Jonathan Thomas and Ralph Evans; Secret Rules, winner of back-to-back for Bill Mott; and multiple Mid-Atlantic stakes winner Newstome for Mike Trombetta. Good heat.

Tampa. Race 9. 4:29. Which 3-year-old filly will step up in $150,000 Suncoast, which also is fifth race in the Charity Challenge. Without giving away anything but the obvious, Comical, Motu, Blame Debbie, Two Sixty and Lucrezia are the ones to beat.

Fair Grounds. Race 7. 4:30. Long Weekend makes return from, ahem, long layoff in 6-furlong optional. Son of Majesticperfection showed speed and faded to sixth last summer in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special before going to the sidelines.

Oaklawn. Race 6. 4:39. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen sends out two in 1 1/16-mile optional – his Clever Serve and South American import La Renoleta.

Tampa. Race 10. 4:59. Race No. 6 in the Charity Challenge is the Grade 3 Tampa Bay, featuring our old friend March To The Arch. Will Sean and Tom take the bait once again and tab the son of Arch in 1 1/16-mile turf stakes? Or will they fancy Caribou Club, Halladay, Hembree or Real Story?

Gulfstream. Race 11. 5:04. The Grade 3 Suwannee River. Kevin Attard and Starship Jubilee take on Chad Brown and Magic Star and Tapit Today.

Oaklawn. Race 7. 5:09. Reeve McGaughey, who sent out his first starter Sunday in Hot Springs, saddles Franknjymme for his former boss Charlie LoPresti in 1-mile allowance.

Santa Anita Park. Race 5. 5:28. Kentucky Oaks points on the line in Grade 2 Las Virgenes. The oddsmaker says the 10 to the winner figure to go to Venetian Harbor, daughter of Munnings who blasted a field of maidens last time sprinting. Bob Baffert might say otherwise with the Tapit filly Stellar Sound off a short layoff with Mike Smith aboard.

Tampa. Race 11. 5:29. Significant steppingstone to the Tampa Bay Derby – and Kentucky Derby – here with the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis. The Special’s Paul Halloran took in Independence Hall’s final serious work for the 1 1/16-mile stakes last weekend and wrote about the race’s 6-5 favorite here. Seven opponents line up, including Grade 3 Grey winner Chapalu, the 2-for-2 Premier Star and Grade 2 Remsen runner-up Ajaaweed.

Oaklawn. Race 8. 5:38. The $125,000 King Cotton marks the return of Whitmore, who amazingly in three prior seasons when eligible didn’t run in the 6-furlong stakes at his “home” track. Veteran sprinter ran lights out in Grade 2 Phoenix (second) and Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (third) last season and close to that handles this group led by Wilbo, Share The Upside, Nun The Less and Silver Ride.

Santa Anita. Race 7. 6:31. After about an hour and a half break here’s the seventh of eight races in the Charity Challenge, the Grade 3 Thunder Road at 1 mile on the turf. Potential to be a good prep for the Grade 1 Kilroe next month, $100,000 stakes attracted field of 10 led by True Valour, Frontier Market, River Boyne and Majestic Eagle.

Charles Town Races. Race 1. 7:00. Claudio Gonzalez ships three-time 2019 winner Mamma Dee from Laurel for three-turn allowance.

Golden Gate. Race 8. 7:17. The final race in the Runhappy NTRA/NHC Charity Challenge, 5 1/2-furlong allowance for fillies and mares, features a field of nine led by Morning Cynn and The Fun Begins.