Two Kentucky Derby preps – one on each coast – grab this weekend’s stakes spotlight. Those are the Grade 3 Holy Bull from Gulfstream Park and the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis from Santa Anita Park.
Not to be forgotten are two Kentucky Oaks preps, the Grade 3 Forward Gal at Gulfstream and the Listed Stakes Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park.
All four Derby and Oaks preps offer 10-4-2-1 qualifying points to the top four finishers in their respective races.
Sam Houston Park Brings Two Weekend Stakes
The older horses get their weekend stakes moments at Aqueduct and Santa Anita. New York’s Aqueduct brings us the Grade 3 Toboggan, while Santa Anita offers two strong Grade 2s, the San Pascual and the San Marcos. King Guillermo is expected to make his West Coast debut in the San Pascual.
Sam Houston Park in Texas joins the weekend stakes board with two stakes for the older set: the Houston Ladies Classic for fillies and mares 4-year-old and up, and the John B. Connolly Turf Cup for horses 4 and up.
OG News takes a closer look at this weekend’s selected stakes races.
Grade 3 Holy Bull, Saturday, Gulfstream
This will somewhat flesh out the eastern Derby contenders list. Mutasaabeq returns off his Jan. 2 Mucho Macho Man victory, which marked the Into Mischief colt’s return to dirt. Waiting for him in this 1-1/16-mile race is Todd Pletcher stablemate Prime Factor, who broke his maiden by 8-¾ lengths at Gulfstream, albeit at six furlongs. And waiting for the both of them are Shug McGaughey’s Greatest Honour and Dale Romans’ Sittin On Go. Greatest Honour broke his maiden on Dec. 26 over a mile. Sittin On Go comes in off a sixth in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis, Saturday, Santa Anita
This 1-1/16-mile Derby prep somewhat fleshes out the western Derby contenders. Two Doug O’Neill Derby prospects return, led by Hot Rod Charlie, last seen finishing second to Essential Quality at 94/1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His stablemate, Wipe The Slate, returns after breaking his maiden on opening day Dec. 26. If it’s a Santa Anita Derby prep, Bob Baffert is on the case. Here, he brings Los Alamitos Futurity winner Spielberg and, possibly, Sham Stakes runner-up Medina Spirit. Keep an eye on Mike McCarthy’s Rombauer and John Shirreffs’ Parnelli, who finished a distant third behind Life Is Good and Medina Spirit in the Sham.
Grade 3 Forward Gal, Saturday, Gulfstream
This seven-furlong Oaks prep introduces us to Zaajel, Todd Pletcher’s Street Sense filly who broke her maiden here on Dec. 20 at this distance. The likely favorite is Competitive Speed, who brings a three-race winning streak to the fray. Last time out, she won the Glitter Woman Stakes on Jan. 2.
Listed Stakes Martha Washington, Saturday, Oaklawn
Steve Asmussen holds court in this mile Oaks prep with likely favorite, Joy’s Rocket. She rides in with a two-race winning streak, both coming in listed stakes — the Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds in December and the Songbird at Keeneland on Nov. 6. Brad Cox counters with Coach, who opened her account with three consecutive wins before finishing third in November’s Grade 2 Golden Rod.
Grade 2 San Marcos, Saturday, Santa Anita
This 1-¼-mile turf tussle for older horses may get pushed back a week, due to heavy rains expected in Southern California this weekend. If it goes off, Acclimate is the one to watch. He finished third in the Unusual Heat Turf Classic on Jan. 16, off a fourth in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar in November. Multiplier and Oscar Dominguez return after finishing fourth and sixth, respectively, in the San Gabriel on Jan. 2.
Grade 2 San Pascual, Saturday, Santa Anita
Welcome back King Guillermo. And welcome to the West Coast. The 4-year-old Uncle Mo progeny passed up a Pegasus World Cup spot for this 1-1/8-mile event. He may stick around a while, using the San Pascual as a prep for the March 6 Santa Anita Handicap. Another Pegasus passer, Idol, returns after his runner-up in the Grade 2 San Antonio on Dec. 26. And trivia answer Express Train is likely, coming in off his second to Charlatan in the Grade 1 Malibu on Dec. 26.
Grade 3 Toboggan, Saturday, Aqueduct
This seven-furlong race for older horses brings us Share the Ride, who hit the board in his last six races. After winning the Grade 2 Fall Highweight Handicap at the end of November, the Candy Ride colt makes his second start for trainer Miguel Penaloza. Two others worth watching are Drafted, who finished fifth behind Share the Ride in the Fall Highweight, and Pete’s Play Call, who won the Listed Gravesend Stakes earlier this month.
Grade 3 Houston Ladies Classic, Sunday, Sam Houston
Two Asmussen products, Motion Emotion and defending champion Lady Apple, take center stage in this 1-1/16-mile jaunt for fillies and mares 4 and up. Asmussen took over Motion Emotion after her fourth in the Personal Ensign last summer. Lady Apple comes in off a third in the Broussard on Dec. 26.
Grade 3 John B. Connally Turf Cup, Sunday, Sam Houston
Conviction Trade headlines three Mike Maker entries in this 1-½-mile turf trek for older horses. He’s hit the board his last three starts, including a last-out second in the Listed H. Allen Jerkens. Waiting for him are Spooky Channel, last seen finishing fourth in the Fort Lauderdale last month, and one-time Derby prospect Tenfold. He finished sixth in the Listed Buddy Diliberto at Fair Grounds last month.