The Saturday Special – February 18

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President’s Day weekend and possibly another three-day weekend rolls in this week and with it another packed day of action on racetracks from Ascot to Aqueduct, Gowran Park to Gulfstream Park. 

The Saturday Special presented by Pin Oak Stud gets rolling fairly early, with jump racing action overseas before making it’s way stateside for top flat action led by a loaded card at Laurel and strong programs at Gulfstream, Santa Anita and Fair Grounds.

It’s a fairly light weekend on the Triple Crown trail with only the El Camino Real Derby and Monday’s Southwest Stakes here in the U.S. and the Hyacinth at Tokyo Racecourse offering points toward a starting-gate spot for the Kentucky Derby. The latter goes Sunday and offers 50 points to the winner, while the other two only carry 10 points to the winner. The guess is they’re hoping for another Lani at Churchill Downs this spring.

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

Lingfield. Race 1. 8:10. We take notice every time we see a first-time starter in the green, pink and white. First Moon, a daughter of Oasis Dream, makes her career debut for Hugo Palmer and Josephine Gordon. By the way, watch her ride, she needs a weight allowance about as much as Donald Trump needs another golf trip.

Ascot. Race 1. 8:15 a.m. As we wrote last week, there’s always a featured jump card on Saturday and today’s comes at you from Ascot. The opener offers a coveted look at novice hurdlers with Cheltenham dreams. De Dollar Man rolls in off two straight wins for Evan Williams. Topofthegame and Criq Rock finished on the line together earlier in the season.

Gowran Park. Race 1. 8:20. Strong opener as beginner chasers clash in Ireland. Mall Dini hasn’t won since upsetting the Pertemps at Cheltenham in March, but he’s been knocking on the door in his chase career.

Haydock. Race 1. 8:30. The Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle kicks off a strong card at Haydock. Be ready with your notepad, Cheltenham clues will come at you hard and fast. Most Celebrated wins this.

Ascot. Race 2. 8:50. The Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase, a Grade 2 chase, presents six runners including Label Des Obeaux, an easy winner of his most recent start, Bigbadjohn who chased Thistlecrack in November and Arpege D’Alene, who hit the board at Cheltenham in his two most recent starts.

Gowran Park. Race 2. 8:55. Love the schedule in Europe as the Red Mills Chase comes five minutes after the second at Ascot. Occasionally races will clash but for the most part, the races slot into formation like soldiers on the final day of basic training. Veteran Ballycasey meets three rivals here.

Haydock. Race 2. 9:05. Paul Nicholls opens fire with two of the five runners in the Rendlesham Hurdle. Cheltenham winner Aux Ptits Soins and veteran nine-time winner Zarkandar represent the champion trainer here.

Ascot. Race 3. 9:25. Veteran Sausalito Sunrise aims at the Swinley Chase.

Wincanton. Race 3. 9:45. Dilemmas. If you’re a jump fan, do you go to Ascot, Haydock or Wincanton? Pick the closest one and enjoy. Yanworth puts the finishing touches on his Cheltenham preparation with a spin in the Kingwell Hurdle.

Ascot. Race 4. 10:00. Good to see Ordo Ab Chao return from a long break. He’s been away 680 days. Air Horse One seeks his third straight.

Gowran Park. Race 4. 10:05. Jezki continues his comeback in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle, a Grade 3 stakes. The 9-year-old veteran returned from a nearly two-year layoff to win at Navan in January. He’s won 14 races while rumbling with the sport’s best.

Haydock. Race 4. 10:15. Blaklion carries top weight in the Grand National Trial. Wonder if Phil Smith will get bashed for this one?

Ascot. Race 5. 10:35. And for today’s feature…the Ascot Chase. Wonder if Cue Card will notice that stablemate Thistlecrack isn’t on the lorry with him to Ascot. The 11-year- old veteran is 4/9 favorite over five rivals.

Haydock. Race 5. 10:50. Seven evenly-matched hurdlers clash in the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle.

Ascot. Race 6. 11:10. Staying hurdlers try to book a ticket to Cheltenham.

Gulfstream Park. Race 1. Noon. Short field of 3-year-old fillies for turf allowance. Not sure who they’re all afraid of, but Accepting and Taperge look fairly tough.

Laurel Park. Race 1. 12:30 p.m. Big day gets rolling with first of two 5 1/2-furlong allowance races.

Gulfstream. Race 4. 1:30. Eskenformoney and Curlin’s Approval renew rivalry in Grade 2 Royal Delta. The former outran the latter in Grade 3 Rampart, then Curlin’s Approval came back in Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie for her fourth win in six starts at the track. They both stretch out to 1 1/16 miles this time.

Laurel. Race 3. 1:30. Matt King Coal, fourth in last year’s Grade 1 Wood Memorial, makes 2017 debut and just second start since that effort in 1-mile allowance for Linda Rice and Lady Sheila Stable.

Kempton. Race 4. 2:15. Escape from Alcatraz? The house horse has warmed to the task ever since a failed attempt at hurdling. He’s produced a rallying fifth, a closing second and a hard-luck second on the winter all-weather. Maybe it’s today.

Laurel. Race 5. 2:30. No fake news in this stakes, the $75,000 Maryland Racing Media. Wait Your Turn is heavy favorite on the line off blowout victory in 2016 bow at Aqueduct.

Laurel. Race 6. 3:00. Ben Colebrook ships China Grove from Kentucky for $75,000 Wide Country to take on the popular and unbeaten Crabcakes, Forever Liesl and Lucky In Malibu.

Gulfstream. Race 7. 3:01. Brooklyn Bobby was the talk of the town when he made his debut Aug. 6 at Saratoga. Son of Frankel didn’t live up to hype that day, finishing sixth, and returns off six-month break in 1 1/16-mile turf maiden.

Laurel. Race 7. 3:30. The first four from the Frank Whiteley Jr. – High Roller, O Dionysus, Butch Walker and Eastern Bay – are back for $75,000 Miracle Wood, along with New York shipper Everybodyluvsrudy.

Oaklawn Park. Race 4. 3:38. Eight 3-year-olds not quite ready for Monday’s Southwest line up for allowance. Curtis impressed enough in Parx win to lure private purchase and he makes first start for Brad Cox in 1 1/16-mile heat.

Tampa Bay Downs. Race 8. 3:55. No Fault Of Mine looked good winning Wayward Lass last month and looks for second straight stakes win and third victory in four starts at Tampa in $50,000 Minaret going 6 furlongs. Mines And Magic makes 2017 debut, but is also cross-entered at Gulfstream.

Santa Anita Park. Race 2. 4:00. Older Cal-breds dash down the hill in allowance.

Laurel. Race 8. 4:00. The stakes keep coming. Page McKenney might have factored in General George later on the card but trainer Mary Eppler opts instead for the $75,000 John B. Campbell. Check out why she made that decision.

Gulfstream. Race 9. 4:03. Full field of 14 3-year-olds for 1-mile maiden. The gang’s all here, with Todd Pletcher (Wissam and Patch), Chad Brown (Take Your Guns and Clear N Convincing) and Brian Lynch (Hit The Diamond and Meantime) with multiple entries.

Aqueduct. Race 8. 4:20. Hot City Girl returns to state-bred ranks and looks to end two-race losing streak in $100,000 Broadway.

Laurel. Race 9. 4:30. Will Wonder Gal romp again? Her connections certainly hope so – even if they were only joking this week – in Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap.

Santa Anita. Race 3. 4:30. Denman’s Call did enough early last year to earn a chance in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, where he finished non-threatening sixth. He continues on comeback trail in 6-furlong allowance for Doug O’Neill.

Gulfstream. Race 10. 4:34. Another big field for turf allowance, this one led by Tombelaine, Azar, Captain Gaughen and Luck Of The Kitten.

Tampa Bay. Race 10. 4:55. Ian Wilkes tries to score stakes features on back-to-back weekends with Gorgeous Bird in $50,000 Pelican. Schivarelli figures to benefit from change of scenery after dull effort in Sunshine Millions Sprint last month at Gulfstream.

Santa Anita. Race 4. 5:00. Seven of the nine 3-year-olds in 1-mile maiden are Triple Crown nominees and all but one – the Bob Baffert-trained West Coast – have already run without showing much.

Laurel. Race 10. 5:00. Strong finale to great card, the Grade 3 General George featuring Stallwalkin’ Dude, Imperial Hint, Heaven’s Runway and Ocean Knight.

Gulfstream. Race 11. 5:05. Mines And Magic, see above in Tampa’s Minaret, might be tough if she runs here in $60,000 White Pearl going 7 furlongs.

Fair Grounds. Race 7. 5:07. Souper Tapit, son of Tapit out of 2012 Mother Goose winner Zo Impressive, makes debut for Live Oak and Mark Casse in two-turn maiden that also draws entries from Godolphin (Brookline), Donegal Racing (Manning), Peter Callahan (Sir Ballantine) and Jerry Durant (Off Road). Good race.

Gulfstream. Race 12. 5:35. One-mile allowance to close the card. Perhaps fitting that on same day as the Royal Delta Stakes that Delta Prince, her younger half brother, might make it two in a row on the grass for Jimmy Jerkens.

Fair Grounds. Race 9. 6:01. The 3-year-old fillies take their turn in 1-mile and 70-yard maiden.

Oaklawn. Race 9. 6:09. Road to the Apple Blossom continues with Grade 3 Bayakoa. Terra Promessa topped Ready To Confess and Streamline already in last month’s Pippin and faces that pair again, along with Fair Grounds shippers Power Of Snunner and Steel Cut.

Fair Grounds. Race 10. 6:28. Ken McPeek looks to regroup with Pat On The Back, New York-bred stakes winner who found the water a bit deep in back-to-back graded stakes attempts, in two-turn allowance. Steve Asmussen counters with a pair – Reel Creel and Total Tap – while Larry Jones bids to make it 2-for-2 for Midway Gold on the stretchout.

Golden Gate Fields. Race 7. 6:45. Sheer Flattery checked in third in Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis and comes back on two weeks rest for Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby. He takes on six others, including the Cal-bred trio of Ann Arbor Eddie, More Power To Him and Tribal Storm.

Santa Anita. Race 8. 7:00. Illuminant chased Tepin last spring when third in Grade 1 Jenny Wiley then returned to California to take Grade 1 Gamely. She makes 2017 debut here going 1 mile in the Grade 2 Buena Vista that might earn her another trip to Kentucky.

Turfway Park. Race 5. 8:11. Porter Street, son of Giant’s Causeway out of Marylebone, overcame slow start to finish second in debut last month for Wesley Ward and looks to graduate in 1-mile maiden. Gorgeous Kitten will no doubt appreciate with switch to Polytrack.