Even with COVID-19 wreaking scheduling havoc among many of the country’s marquee races, the traditional Thanksgiving weekend races provide comfort-food wagering opportunities for horseplayers, and intriguing races for food coma-recovering fans to savor.
Churchill Downs plays host to one of the best end-of-year races anywhere, along with another glimpse at possible Kentucky Derby contenders. Aqueduct sends out seven, $100,000 stakes events this weekend. And Del Mar takes to the turf, closing its Bing Crosby Meet with seven graded stakes – all on the grass.
Starting on Thanksgiving Day, the three tracks combine for 15 graded stakes races this weekend – all where you’d expect to find them this time of year. There is something for every handicapper to pick through. And with that, OG News examines several of the better Thanksgiving weekend races.
Falls City Handicap, Churchill Downs
The one to watch in this Grade 2, 1-1/8-mile race for fillies and mares 3 and up is Bonny South, who chased both Miss Marissa in the Black-Eyed Susan and Swiss Skydiver in the Alabama across the finish line. The 8/5 Bonny South is one of those good-but-not-great 3-year-old fillies who can thrive in this field. Pushing her will be Swiss Skydiver’s stablemate, 5/2 Envoutante, coming off a win in the Remington Park Oaks. At 5/1, Smooth With a Kick could provide one in her first graded stakes.
Red Carpet, Del Mar
Del Mar’s traditional Thanksgiving Day feature rolls out its green carpet for eastern shippers Orglandes (5/2) and Blame Debbie (3/1), your favorites for this 1-3/8-mile, Grade 3 contest for fillies and mares 3 and up. Orglandes ended a 54-week layoff with a second and a victory in allowance races. The 9-½ furlongs won’t be a problem for the Chad Brown charge, who won twice at 1-½ miles in her native France. After adding blinkers, Graham Motion’s Blame Debbie crossed the finish line first in her last three races: two victories and a disqualification.
Clark Stakes, Churchill Downs
Black Friday goes under the lights in one of the weekend’s best races. The 146th Clark turns an overflow field of 15 older horses loose over 1-1/8 miles. The Grade 1 event also welcomes back last year’s runner-up and third-place finishers, Owendale and Mr. Freeze. Waiting for those two multiple graded stakes winners are two-time Grade 1 winner Code of Honor, and four-time Grade 2 winner By My Standards, seeking a return to his standards after finishing eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Title Ready and Aurelius Maximus provide more intrigue.
Comely Stakes, Aqueduct
The focus here is on Miss Marissa, who goes for her fourth consecutive victory in this 1-1/8-mile, Grade 3 contest for 3-year-old fillies. Fresh off an upset at 10/1 in the Black-Eyed Susan, Miss Marissa is one of seven fillies coming in with career-best speed figures. Look at Makingcents to push her early, and Thankful and Mrs. Danvers pushing late. Mrs. Danvers, who owns a victory over five-time graded stakes winner Finite, tackles two turns for the first time.
Kentucky Jockey Club, Churchill Downs
This 1-1/16-mile Grade 2 race for juveniles throws more light on possible 2021 Kentucky Derby contenders. Taking some of that light is Keepmeinmind, who looks for his first victory after a runner-up to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Futurity, and a third to the likely 2-year-old Eclipse winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Pushing Keepmeinmind are Iroquois Stakes winner Sittin On Go, coming off his ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, along with maiden winners Swill, Inspector Frost, and King Fury.
Hollywood Derby, Del Mar
Del Mar turf madness peaks with this 1-1/8-mile, Grade 1 jaunt for 3-year-olds featuring Christophe Clement-trained eastern imports Gufo and Decorated Invader. Belmont Derby winner Gufo is 4-for-5 in 2020, with his only loss a second to Domestic Spending in the Saratoga Derby. Speaking of Domestic Spending, he’s waiting for Gufo as one of the 13 horses in this stellar field. As for Decorated Invader, he seeks the form that produced three consecutive stakes wins opening the season, and not the form that produced a fifth and a second in his last two. Storm the Court returns for the first time since finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby.
Discovery Handicap, Aqueduct
This 1-1/8-mile event for 3-year-olds is a Grade 3 with recognizable names brought to you from the Derby Trail. There’s Oklahoma Derby and Indiana Derby winner Shared Sense, who passed up the Derby. There’s Money Moves, a trendy Derby pick turned terrible pick after he finished 13th. And there’s Attachment Rate, who finished right behind Money Moves in 14th. The latter two come off allowance wins.
Matriarch Stakes, Del Mar
Where do you start in this stellar, Grade 1, mile race on Del Mar’s turf for fillies and mares 3 and up? How about with Sharing, who’s won five of her last six races? The only time Sharing failed to find the winner’s circle came at Royal Ascot, where she finished second in the Coronation Stakes. There’s Newspaperofrecord, seeking to turn the page after a third in the First Lady, and a second in the Churchill Distaff Turf Stakes. And there’s Jolie Olimpica, who hasn’t finished worse than second in four stakes races this year.