Three critical Kentucky Derby preps, one of America’s great handicap races and strong undercard stakes at several tracks highlight this week’s edition of The Saturday Special presented by Pin Oak Stud.
The Derby preps come in a bunch, with the Tampa Bay Derby, San Felipe and Gotham all set to run in a 22-minute window. Each offers 50 points to the winner toward a spot in the Derby field come the first Saturday in May and undoubtedly others on the board in those races will factor in preps down the road.
The San Felipe, which features Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie, is part of an outstanding card at Santa Anita Park highlighted by the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile. Tampa Bay Downs and Aqueduct, which hosts the Grade 3 Gotham, also feature strong undercard stakes.
The Cheltenham Festival kicks into gear next week so it’s a relatively light slate overseas.
Everything starts early and doesn’t go too late, so there’s plenty of time to catch some key college basketball games in advance of the start of next week’s NCAA tournament. Here’s your primer for Saturday, March 10. Take care, good luck and enjoy.
Sandown. Race 2. 8:50 a.m. Sandown always does a good job filling its pre-Cheltenham Saturday card and the National Hunt Novices Handicap Hurdle Final is one of the spokes in a strong wheel. Eighteen line up.
Sandown. Race 3. 9:25. Always a stellar race, the Imperial Cup attracts a deep group of quality hurdlers looking to earn the first part of a lucrative Sandown/Cheltenham double. Silver Streak starts it off.
Gowran Park. Race 4. 10:05. Don’t get hurt, boys. Barry Geraghty, Davy Russell, Sean Flanagan and a host of other Irish-based, Cheltenham-bound jockeys clash in this handicap chase.
Wolverhampton. Race 4. 10:15. Five-time winner Second Thought returns from a short rest to loom large in the 7-furlong stakes, the feature on a strong card.
Gowran Park. Race 5. 10:40. Still plenty of money offered four days before Cheltenham, as handicap chasers line up for $119,500. Scoir Mear will love the stretch out and bests Close Shave here.
Gulfstream Park. Race 1. Noon. A week removed from a 14-race card for Fountain of Youth Day, Gulfstream starts 13-race card with $16,000 claimer for fillies and mares on the grass.
Ayr. Race 6. 12:05 p.m. Nothing like longevity. Veterans Harry Topper and Cloudy Too need to turn back time on youngster Indy Five (he’s 8).
Tampa Bay Downs. Race 2. 12:42. Todd Pletcher sends Ruler Of The Nile, a $1 million Pioneerof The Nile from last year’s OBS March sale, from his Palm Beach Downs base for 7-furlong maiden that also attracts My Dream for Phipps Stable and Shug McGaughey.
Tampa. Race 3. 1:12. Claiborne, Juddmonte, Glen Hill, Humphrey, SF Racing, Alpha Delta. Just another turf maiden at Tampa.
Gulfstream. Race 4. 1:30. Bucchero, fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, makes 2018 debut against fellow specialist Pay Any Price in $75,000 Silks Run going 5 furlongs on the grass.
Oaklawn Park. Race 1. 2:05. Divine Interventio, off since $50,000 claim was voided following fifth-place finish going 7 furlongs Sept. 1 at Saratoga, is one of eight entered in 6-furlong allowance worth $79,000. Can’t say enough about the purses in Hot Springs.
Santa Anita Park. Race 1. 3:00. The 11-race Big ‘Cap Day card starts with 6 ½-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds going down the hill.
Fair Grounds. Race 3. 3:03. Hot Springs, son of Uncle Mo who cost $750,000 at 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale, makes debut in 1 1/16-mile turf maiden for Steve Asmussen and Woodford Racing. Don’t sleep on Rocknbowl – the colt by Smart Strike or the place. Those in the know in New Orleans are familiar with that spot.
Oaklawn. Race 3. 3:09. Uncontested was on the classic trail last winter following a victor in the Smarty Jones. He’s won only once since that day – taking an allowance-optional in mid-September at Churchill Downs – and breaks from rail in this 6-furlong allowance for Wayne Catalano.
Tampa. Race 7. 3:15. Pin Oak Stable’s Verboten puts 2-for-2 mark on the line in first stakes on the card is $75,000 Columbia for 3-year-olds on the grass. Blueblood also brings 2-for-2 record to 1-mile stakes while Gidu drops down a bit from Grade 3 Dania Beach last time out at Gulfstream.
Santa Anita. Race 2. 3:30. Hall of Famers Bob Baffert and Richard Mandella send out firsters by Congrats in McKale and Passionate Reward, respectively, in 6-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds. Baffert also goes with Awesome Again first-time starter Super Sol, while Peter Miller debuts the $350,000 Tale Of The Cat colt Bobby Axelrod.
Aqueduct. Race 6. 3:34. Collective Effort, described by Ray Handal in his Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour as a “biter” with two horns on the front of his head, tries to exit maiden ranks in ninth start. Son of Mission Impazible has been second or third in all eight of his prior starts, including a pair of stakes at Finger Lakes last year.
Parx Racing. Race 7. 3:37. Sister Patricia, second or third in all nine of her starts, looks to break through against seven others in 7-furlong maiden.
Tampa. Race 8. 3:45. Older horses go two turns in $100,000 Challenger. Perfect opportunity for War Story to land a stakes victory after competing in four straight Grade 1s, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup.
Santa Anita. Race 3. 4:00. Cross-country running fans will be pulling for Van Cortlandt in 9-furlong turf allowance. Not sure if he’s named for the famed park in the Bronx that hosts some of the best meets in the Northeast.
Fair Grounds. Race 5. 4:05. Magic Joan, a winner in her debut and second against winners last fall on the NYRA circuit, returns from brief freshening and starts 4-year-old campaign in 1 1/16-mile turf allowance.
Aqueduct. Race 7. 4:08. The first stakes of the day is the $150,000 Stymie, now run at 1 mile. Vulcan’s Forge stretches back out after good second in Grade 3 Toboggan last time, while Fellowship tries to improve off his second in the Grade 3 General George.
Oaklawn. Race 5. 4:08. Hats off to the racing office for carding starter allowance at 1 3/16 miles – the Preakness distance!
Tampa. Race 9. 4:20. Daddys Lil Darling, who secured Grade 1 win to end her 3-year-old season, makes return against strong group that includes La Coronel, Off Limits, Fourstar Crook, Lovely Bernadette and Proctor’s Ledge in Grade 2 Hillsborough.
Santa Anita. Race 4. 4:30. Only six entered the Grade 1 Triple Bend and one of them, Giant Expections, figures to go later in the day in the Big ‘Cap. That leaves City Of Light and Edwards Going Left, 1-2 in the Grade 1 Malibu, to renew rivalry against Peter Miller’s duo of Captain Scotty and Bobby Abu Dhabi and longshot Horse Greedy.
Parx. Race 9. 4:31. Uncle Leo. Hello! Enough said.
Oaklawn. Race 6. 4:39. Classy sprinters Whitmore, Ivan Fallunovalot and Wilbo meet in $125,000 Hot Springs, the last serious local prep for the Count Fleet during the Racing Festival of the South. Whitmore won it last year by 6 lengths over Ivan Fallunovalot. He hasn’t been out since the Breeders’ Cup, while Ivan Fallunovalot and Wilbo both have made two starts this season. Cool race.
Aqueduct. Race 8. 4:40. Highway Star makes her 2018 debut in the $150,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational. New York-bred Girolamo mare is 4-for-5 at the 1-mile trip and 3-for-4 at Aqueduct. Holiday Disguise looks to join half sister Midnight Disguise as stakes winners in a seven-day span. She’s already a two-time stakes winner, against state-breds.
Tampa. Race 10. 4:50. Salsa Bella and Andina Del Sur, second and third in Grade 3 Sweetest Chant last month at Gulfstream, among the field of 12 3-year-old fillies in Grade 3 Florida Oaks. Beckoning, Altea, Almond Roca, Closer Still or Goodthingstaketime would not be a shock.
Santa Anita. Race 5. 5:00. Dubai’s loss is America’s gain as champion World Approval returns to the West Coast looking for another Grade 1 victory in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile. Bill Mott also ships Channel Maker from Florida and those two meet Om, Bowies Hero and Next Shares, the first three from the Grade 3 Thunder Road last month.
Fair Grounds. Race 7. 5:05. Big field older fillies and mares for $50,000 Nelson J. Menard Memorial. The only time Stallion Heiress went 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf was last year in New Orleans – a maiden-breaking score – and she returns to that trip off lengthy layoff. Michael Stidham takes the blinkers off daughter of Exchange Rate, who hasn’t been out since the Woodbine Oaks in June.
Oaklawn. Race 7. 5:09. Full field of 12 3-year-olds for 6-furlong maiden. Races like this usually are the finale, but we’ll take it early. Steve Asmussen unveils Tapit firster Tap Master for Winchell Thoroughbreds.
Aqueduct. Race 9. 5:12. Spartiatis is back to defend title in Grade 3 Tom Fool. He won it last year for Leon Blusiewicz. He’s now trained by Rudy Rodriguez, with Blue no doubt lingering nearby. Field of 10 for 6-furlong stakes also includes Toboggan winner Great Stuff, Threefiveindia, Do Share and Favorite Tale.
Tampa. Race 11. 5:20. The first of three big Kentucky Derby preps is $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, which features Sam F. Davis winner Flameaway, Kentucky Jockey Club winner Enticed, turf stakes winner Untamed Domain and World Of Trouble. Then there’s Vino Rosso, who instantly became a wise-guy horse when third in the Sam F. Davis. Todd Pletcher adds blinkers to Curlin colt, who won at Tampa two starts back. He’ll be shorter than his 4-1 morning-line price with the buzz and expected scratch of Free Drop Billy .
Santa Anita. Race 6. 5:30. Perhaps the most anticipated Kentucky Derby prep of the day is the Grade 2 San Felipe, which pits two-time Grade 1 winner Bolt d’Oro against the unbeaten McKinzie. Bolt d’Oro lost the 2-year-old championship when he finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after a very wide draw. He missed some time in late December and early January but shows strong string of works for return. McKinzie earned Grade 1 when put up in the Los Alamitos Futurity but showed that was no fluke with victory in the Grade 3 Sham. Don’t like those two? Perhaps it will be San Vicente winner Kanthaka, Robert B. Lewis winner Lombo or Lewis runner-up Ayacara.
Gulfstream. Race 12. 5:35. Field of 10 for 3-year-old maiden on the grass includes two firsters for Bill Mott in Dawood and La Manche. The former is a $675,000 Giant’s Causeway. Todd Pletcher also sends out Tapit first-timer Times Square.
Oaklawn. Race 8. 5:38. The Grade 3 Honeybee is prep for the Grade 2 Fantasy and it offers 50 points to the winner toward a spot in the Kentucky Oaks field. Red Ruby, Sassy Sienna and Cosmic Burst were 1-2-3 in the Martha Washington and they’re back, along with Silverbulletday winner Stronger Than Ever and unbeaten Dixie Belle winner Amy’s Challenge.
Aqueduct. Race 10. 5:42. The third of trio of key Derby preps is Grade 3 Gotham, which also offers 50 points and a $300,000 purse. Back to its 1-mile trip, the Gotham looks like perfect spot for Free Drop Billy to return to a one-turn race. He finished second in two graded races last summer at Saratoga going 6 and 7 furlongs and shortens up after three straight at 1 1/16 miles. Firenze Fire also cuts back after winning the 9-furlong Withers last time out for Jason Servis.
Fair Grounds. Race 9. 6:03. Terra’s Angel might be worth a look as she returns to the grass – where she’s unbeaten in two starts – for $50,000 Allen Black Cat Lacombe Memorial going 1 mile.
Gulfstream. Race 13. 6:06. Fillies and mares take their turn going 5 furlongs on the grass in $75,000 Captiva Island. Morticia enjoyed a brilliant 3-year-old season last year with six wins in eight starts, including the Coronation Cup at Saratoga, and makes her 2018 debut here for Rusty Arnold.
Santa Anita. Race 8. 6:30. The $75,000 China Doll going 1 mile on the grass for 3-year-olds attracts a dozen led by Californiagoldrush, Ms Bad Behavior, Ippodamia’s Girl and Finess Bere.
Santa Anita. Race 10. 7:30. The Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap might not be worth seven figures or feature the strongest field in recent years, but it remains one of the country’s great races. A good test at 10 furlongs, the Big ‘Cap figures to come down to Accelerate Hoppertunity, Mubtaahij and Giant Expectations. Hoppertunity and Mubtaahij are the only members of the field with a win at 10 furlongs and Accelerate is in the best form of his career with a second to Giant Expectations in the Grade 2 San Antonio and a win in the Grade 2 San Pasqual this season.
Santa Anita. Race 11. 8:00. The day closes in Arcadia with 9-furlong maiden for 3-year-old fillies. Hope Wins should win.