US Stakes Racing Review and Preview

Before we look forward to this Saturday’s racing, let’s cast our minds back to last weekend when we had a plethora of Graded racing to enjoy.

Starting at Aqueduct, the highlight on the card was the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, a $1m Kentucky Derby trial over a mile and an eighth. This was a race with very limited top grade form on show but plenty of potentially upwardly mobile colts. With a muddy track and Shagaf seemingly underperforming, it is difficult to know what to make of the race and we shall have to see how the form of the race pans out. Having said that, Outwork won fair and square having bobbled at the start and run a bit green on the tacky going. One thing is for certain is that the star of sire Uncle mo continues to rise as he adds another Grade 1 winner to his resume.

In the Carter Handicap, the Grade 1 for the older horses, Salutos Amigos delighted his fans by winning his first top grade race. Salutos loves Aqueduct and came with his usual late kick to pip Calculator in the last 100 yards.

Chad Brown may have drawn a blank in the Wood Memorial but he made up for it in the Gazelle Stakes when Lewis Bay easily took the race by a heavily eased 1 ½ lengths. Cathryn Sophia beat Lewis Bay easily last time out but struggled to uphold this form in the (Grade 1) Ashland Stakes at Keeneland when she could only come in 3rd to the 30/1 outsider, Weep No More,

Keeneland’s Kentucky Derby trial, the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes, had similarities with the Wood Memorial with plenty of potential but not much solid top grade form, so once again it will be interesting to follow how the race works out. The race was won well by 4/1 shot Brody’s Cause, who was held up early on and came with a powerful run in the stretch that saw him win going away by 1 ¾ lengths.

Over at Santa Anita, the mighty Songbird continued her unbeaten run in the Santa Anita Oaks with a comprehensive win from the front. Who will take her on in the Kentucky Oaks? Some are asking if she should have a crack at the more prestigious Kentucky Derby but trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is adamant that she will avoid the colts.

Santa Anita also had their $1m Derby, which was won by Exaggerator. Held up off the pace early on, he swept to the front in the straight and cruised to an easy 6 ¼ length victory. That adds another $1m race to Exaggerator’s resume, having won the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes. The 100 Kentucky Derby points earned for this win means that Exaggerator’s participation in the Run for the Roses is in the bag.

On to this Saturday’s action and pride of place goes to Oaklawn’s Arkansas Derby, a $1m Grade 1 race for the classic generation over a mile and an eighth. The 100 Kentucky Derby points to the winner would ensure his participation in the big race. It was at this track last year that American Pharaoh tuned up for his Triple Crown. We shall have to wait and see but it doesn’t look like the field has that sort of quality this year.

12 horses face the starter and the Bob Baffert trained Cupid heads the Morning Line odds at 2/1. There is a lot to like about this colt, who is unbeaten in two starts since stepping up to a two-turn trip. He is improving with his racing and is very versatile about his run style so his draw of 10 shouldn’t present any problems.

Suddenbreakingnews is an interesting entry. He had been very consistent (either first or second) in his first six starts before a nightmare trip in the Rebel Stakes, which saw him last coming into the home straight before rallying into fifth. He was drawn 14 of 14 in the rebel but has a much kinder draw of 4 today.

The other major race on the card is the Oaklawn Handicap, a Grade 2 race worth $750k for older horses over a mile and an eighth. This looks a lipsmacking renewal with the winners of the Santa Anita, Clark and Gulfstream Park handicaps lining up in a quality field.

The ML market is headed by Effinex at 2/1. He followed up his runner-up position in the Breeder’s Cup Classic with a win in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. His one race this year was a third in the Santa Anita Handicap, which was a good effort given he was diagnosed with hives. His run still earned a Beyer of 100.

Melatonin looks a fascinating runner. He is on a hat-trick of wins having followed up an optional claiming win with victory in the Santa Anita Handicap. His last three Beyers have been 87, 97 and 107 last time out. If he makes the same progression, we are in for an awesome run!

Today’s other grade 1 race is at Keeneland and is the Jenny Wiley Stakes for (four year old and above) fillies and mares over a mile and a sixteenth of the turf track. Nine fillies and mares face the starter but, in truth, this does look a one horse race and that is Tepin. She has won her last four races including a win in the Breeder’s Cup mile against the boys. She has recorded Beyers of 107 and 110 in two of her last three races and none of her rivals can match that. It is hard to see beyond her and I have a feeling that she will go off shorter than the Morning Line’s estimate of 4/5.

The last race we will look at today is Keeneland’s Ben Ali Stakes a Grade 3 for 4 year olds and up over a mile and an eighth. The market is headed by Eagle. He is a course winner though not at the higher levels and is ultra-consistent with his last six runs earning Beyers in the nineties but he hasn’t punched through to a mark in the hundreds. He may, therefore, be vulnerable to some of the horses, who are less consistent but are capable of top class performances such as Noble Bird and General a Rod.

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