The Saturday Special – March 9

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Three key Kentucky Derby preps on the East Coast offer the chance to clear the muddled path to the spring classics and a provide at least a brief respite from the serious issues on the West Coast shining the wrong kind of light on the game.

The Tampa Bay Derby, Jeff Ruby Steaks and Gotham Stakes take center stage on another busy Saturday, headlining the action in the absence of racing at Santa Anita Park. Racing was canceled indefinitely at Santa Anita this week after 21st equine fatality since the start of that track’s winter-spring meeting Dec. 26.

The closure of Santa Anita meant postponement of another key Derby prep, the San Felipe Stakes that was expected to draw Game Winner and Improbable from trainer Bob Baffert’s loaded barn, and the historic Santa Anita Handicap. The Stronach Group indicated those races would be rescheduled when racing resumes at an undetermined time.

We start the day overseas, where they’re in the final days before the much anticipated four-day Cheltenham Festival that opens Tuesday, March 12.

Here’s your primer for Saturday, March 9. Enjoy and good luck.

Meydan. Race 1. 7:00 a.m. Remember Switzerland? The 5-year-old plies his trade on the other side of the world these days. He takes another crack in this Grade 3 sprint.

Meydan. Race 2. 7:35. Eleven American-breds, including Godolphin’s two-time winners Divine Image and Estihdaaf, line up for this $300,000 listed stakes.

Meydan. Race 3. 8:10. Seven-time winner Blue Point drops from a 5-length win against Grade 2 foes into this Grade 3 turf sprint.

Sandown. Race 1. 8:20. The last storm, well at least the last thunder, before the storm as Sandown hosts a solid card including this juvenile hurdle.

Meydan. Race 4. 8:45. Axelrod, last seen finishing fourth in the Malibu, makes his first start in Dubai. Gallant veteran GM Hopkins rides a long losing streak into this Grade 3 stakes.

Sandown. Race 2. 8:50. Impressive field of 18 line up in the EBF National Hunt Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final. Strong renewal of a race, which always delivers. Testing ground will make this a test.

Wolverhampton. Race 2. 9:05. The Lincoln Trial Handicap dangles $64,000 to a tough group of 9-furlong stayers. Pactolus makes his 64th start, Masham walks in the gate for the 58th time, Goring goes out for his 51st try and American-bred Qaffal runs for the 47th time in his career.

Meydan. Race 5. 9:20. Godolphin keeps firing with four high-class runners in this Grade 2 turf stakes. Old Persian won the Group 2 King Edward Stakes at Royal Ascot last summer, he returns from six-month break for Charlie Appleby and William Buick. 

Sandown. Race 3. 9:25. The Grade 3 Matchbook Imperial Cup. Win this and a race at Cheltenham and you win a £100,000 bonus. Where’s Martin Pipe when you need him? 

Meydan. Race 6. 9:55. Oh, remember when? Thunder Snow and Gronkowski square off in their first starts since their American tours in the Grade 1 Maktoum Challenge.

Sandown. Race 4. 10:00. You have to be creative four days before Cheltenham and Sandown delivers yet again with a solid rendition of the EBF Stallions/TBA Mares Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race. Silver Forever has only lost once in her career.

Gowran Park. Race 4. 10:05. The unbelievable soundness and solidness of Dynaformer still lives on with Sir Ector. The 12-year-old makes his 83rd career start here, he’s won eight times with 10 seconds and 13 thirds on both codes. Raise your hand if you tried to buy him along the way.

Wolverhampton. Race 4. 10:15. Oh This Is Us aims at his 12th career win in the Lady Wulfruna Stakes.

Meydan. Race 7. 10:30. The final race on a stellar card, Dream Castle should make it three in a row at Meydan this winter.

Gowran Park. Race 5. 10:40. There are big purses out there if you decide to swerve Cheltenham. Ex Patriot once sold and ran within the same 24 hours at Cheltenham takes a cut at this handicap chase for $57,000.

Gulfstream Park. Race 1. Noon. Another Saturday, another monster card in South Florida. Here’s the first of 13, a 7 1/2-furlong maiden claimer on the grass.

Ayr. Race 6. 12:05 p.m. Glittering Love goes for his fourth straight win for Nicky Richards and owners Paul and Clare Rooney. The owners caused a stir when they instructed trainers not to enter their horses at Cheltenham, then changed their minds. Glittering Love won’t care.

Tampa Bay Downs. Race 1. 12:12. Tampa Bay Derby Day starts with 6-furlong maiden-claimer.

Aqueduct. Race 1. 12:20. Gotham Day starts with state-bred 6-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds.

Gulfstream. Race 3. 1:04. Early stakes on the day, the $75,000 Silks Run features the return of multiple stakes winner Imprimis against 13-time Gulfstream winner Pay Any Price and Grade 3 winner Vision Perfect.

Turfway Park. Race 1. 1:10. Jeff Ruby Day starts in the sunshine – at least the folks in Northern Kentucky hope so – and with a 6-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds.

Tampa. Race 3. 1:12. Welcome back to Joel Rosario, the leading rider at Santa Anita up until the closure. He rides the Gio Ponti filly Woodfin on 1-mile turf maiden for 3-year-old fillies.

Turfway. Race 2. 1:38. Mike Maker and the Ramseys always seem to have success on days like these and they send out the Fort Larned first-time starter Fort Ramsey in 1-mile maiden.

Aqueduct. Race 4. 1:55. Turco Bravo, still going strong at 10, saw three-race win streak come to an end in similar starter allowance last time. He shortens up a touch and makes first start for new barn.

Tampa. Race 5. 2:14. Second division of 1-mile turf maiden features many of the usual suspects – Christophe Clement (Tiple), Graham Motion (I’ll Take That), Michael Stidham (Repatriated Gem), Ignacio Correas (Snattered) and Arnaud Delacour (Zip Drive).

Turfway. Race 4. 2:34. Speight’s Comete improved in each of her two starts since New Year’s Eve debut and should graduate out of this 6-furlong maiden for Linda Rice and Chuck Fipke.

Tampa. Race 6. 2:44. One of our favorite angles is Barbara Minshall going Woodbine synthetic to dirt. How about Samurai Queen then in this 6-furlong maiden for 3-year-old fillies?

Gulfstream. Race 7. 3:12. Feel Glorious, a maiden winner in her third start last year at Goodwood and close in two subsequent tries for George Baker, makes U.S. debut with addition of Lasix for Christophe Clement in 1-mile optional on the grass.

Tampa. Race 7. 3:15. First stakes of the day is $75,000 Columbia on the grass for 3-year-olds.

Turfway. Race 6. 3:33. Field of eight 3-year-olds for $50,000 Mayers Electric Company Animal Kingdom going 6 1/2 furlongs. Hawaiian Noises, a son of Super Saver who won his last two for owner-trainer Wesley Ward, picks up exited Californian jockey Rafael Bejarano for stakes debut.

Fair Grounds. Race 5. 3:38. Shake off those cobwebs from Mardi Gras celebrations and check out this 5 1/2-furlong optional claimer on the grass. No doubt a player or two will emerge for turf sprint stakes down the road in Kentucky and elsewhere.

Tampa. Race 8. 3:45. Will the $100,000 Challenger be the spot for Flameaway to end nearly 13-month losing skid, dating back to last year’s Grade 3 Sam F. Davis? He faces field of five, including Reride for a new barn (Asmussen to Correas), last-out stakes winner Killybegs Captain for John Terranova and last-out winner Bourbon Resolution for Ian Wilkes.

Aqueduct. Race 8. 4:06. Skyler’s Scramjet is back to defend title in Grade 3 Tom Fool against Do Share, second in last year’s renewal, Syndergaard, Bavaro, Life In Shambles and Fully Vested.

Turfway. Race 7. 4:07. Old-school horseman remember Turfway as Latonia and here’s a $75,000 stakes for fillies and mares bearing that name. Full field of 12 includes New York shippers Total Control and Silent Sonet and a large Florida contingent headed by Princess Warrior and Orecchiette.

Gulfstream. Race 9. 4:12. Panther Hit just missed at 37-1 last time in similar 1-mile turf maiden. Daughter of Giant’s Causeway will be favored this time around and might not be worth it at a short price.

Tampa. Race 9. 4:19. Try not to be surprised; Chad Brown sends out the two leading threats in Grade 2 Hillsborough in Rymska and Onthemoonagain. There are good ones in the mix though, with Hawksmoor, Viva Vegas and Get Explicit entered for 9-furlong turf stakes worth $225,000.

Aqueduct. Race 9. 4:37. Vino Rosso makes first start since finishing fifth in last year’s Travers in 1-mile Stymie. Son of Curlin is 2-for-2 at the Big A, breaking his maiden in November 2017 and taking the Grade 2 Wood Memorial last spring. It’s no easy spot for a comeback with Sunny Ridge, Stan The Man and Title Ready in the field for $150,000 stakes.

Turfway. Race 8. 4:41. Who could forget Brass Hat breaking his maiden at nearly 40-1 in the 2004 Rushaway? The 2019 renewal of the $75,000 DRF Bets Rushaway does feature a maiden in Albireo, but he’ll need to do better than he has in eight defeats to handle the likes of Federal Law and Onthewaytonevrland.

Tampa. Race 10. 4:50. Stellar Agent chased Newspaperofrecord in back-to-back stakes to end her 2-year-old campaign and will welcome absence of that foe in Grade 2 Florida Oaks. Daughter of More Than Ready will need to be just that against field that includes Grade 2 winner Concrete Rose, La Feve, Winter Sunset, Elsa and Blowout.

Oaklawn Park. Race 7. 5:03. Grade 1 winner Whitmore, runner-up in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, set for 2019 return in $150,000 Hot Springs. He’s 6-for-9 at Oaklawn, including a victory in this race last year along with the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint. Steve Asmussen sends out Share The Upside and James Chapman goes with Heartwood looking for possible upset.

Aqueduct. Race 10. 5:09. The featured $300,000 Gotham offers 50 points to the winner toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Five of the eight in the field already have some points – Knicks Go (sixth on the most recent list with 18), Mind Control (12th, 10), Not That Brady (26th, 4), Much Better (36th, 2) and Family Biz (37th, 2) – and the list figures to be in for a shakeup by days’ end. Instagrand, purposely shut down for the season after two blowout wins last summer, makes return for Larry Best’s OXO Equine and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

Gulfstream. Race 11. 5:12. Going For Gold returns to the maiden ranks after distant failure in Grade 3 Sam F. Davis while Todd Pletcher (Promo Code and World Affairs), Bill Mott (Will Remember), Shug McGaughey (Unveiling) and Jimmy Jerkens (Skywriting) send out well-bred first-timers.

Turfway. Race 9. 5:15. Older horses stretch to 9 furlongs for $100,000 Kubota Kentucky Cup Classic, a former longtime fixture at the now defunct fall meet. Nun The Less and Midnight Pleasure won two local preps and should be tough against stakes winners Sniper Kitten, Surgical Strike, Royal Son and Sir Dudley Digges.

Tampa. Race 11. 5:25. The Grade 2 Lamholm South Tampa Bay Derby is another strong prep with critical Derby points on the line, including 50 to the winner. Well Defined is the lone member of the field with points already – he picked up 10 for winning the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis. Dream Maker, an easy winner last time at Fair Grounds, and Pasco Stakes winner Win Win Win figure to be the biggest threats to the morning-line choice. And don’t count out Tacitus and Outshine.

Oaklawn. Race 8. 5:34. High North flirted with the Triple Crown trail last spring before Brad Cox opted for spots like the Peter Pan, Iowa Derby, West Virginia Derby and Super Derby for son of Midnight Lute. That paid off with credible runs in each of those four spots. He returned to finish fifth in the slop going 1 mile and makes second start of 2019 in this 1 1/16-mile optional.

Aqueduct. Race 11. 5:40. A dozen would-be Kentucky Oaks hopefuls line up for $250,000 Busher Stakes at 1 mile. Todd Pletcher sends out a tough duo in Always Shopping and Orra Moor.

Gulfstream. Race 12. 5:42. Morticia missed chance to make 2019 debut when Ladies’ Turf Sprint came off the grass on Pegasus World Cup Day. Four works and more than a month later, she should be plenty tight for $75,000 Captiva Island.

Fair Grounds. Race 9. 5:48. Bell’s The One puts 3-for-3 mark on the line against seven others in $75,000 Allen Black Cat Lacombe Memorial.

Turfway. Race 10. 5:51. We love a good race sponsor here at TIHR and how about this one? The $100,000 Maxim Crane Works Bourbonette Oaks for 3-year-old fillies not only features a cool name but a full field of 12. The winner? We’ll go with Into Trouble.

Oaklawn. Race 9. 6:04. Three of the first four from the Martha Washington – Power Gal (winner), Marathon Queen (second) and Sunset Wish (fourth) – return to face highly regarded Chocolate Kisses and Raintree Starlet in the Grade 3 Honeybee. There are points for the Kentucky Oaks in $200,000 stakes that also drew last out Oaklawn winner Motion Emotion and California shipper Bizwhacks.

Gulfstream. Race 13. 6:12. Ten 3-year-old fillies entered for finale, 1-mile maiden on the grass. War Front filly Eternal Peace makes debut for Roger Attfield against several that were way back in their last starts.

Turfway. Race 11. 6:37. Somelikeithotbrown’s claim to fame is winning a state-bred maiden race on the grass at Saratoga at 9 furlongs in a race supposed to be run at 1 1/16 miles; whoops on the starting gate position that early August afternoon. New York-bred son of Big Brown can enhance his credentials that include three graded-stakes placings with victory in Grade 3 Jeff Ruby. He already won the John Battaglia Memorial over the track and at the expense of fellow Ruby entrants Dynamic Racer and Dabo. New players for $200,000 stakes include Five Star General, Skywire and Twelfthofnevrland.

Turfway. Race 12. 7:11. Don’t dash off to Skyline just yet, there’s a 1-mile maiden for 3-year-old fillies to close the card.