Looking at this weekend’s notable stakes races takes the eye halfway around the world to the $20 million Saudi Cup. Another look also takes the eye back to three races postponed from last weekend to this weekend – the Southwest Stakes, the Bayakoa Stakes, and the Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park.
Weather permitting, those three races will plant Oaklawn as North America’s stakes center this weekend. The three races were pushed back a week due to ice storms pelting the central US. Oaklawn official originally scheduled them for Saturday, but moved them back to Sunday.
That gives more oxygen to those races, along with Saturday’s Saudi Cup, which figures to be a classic duel between Bob Baffert’s Charlatan and Brad Cox’s Knicks Go.
Both horses are at the top of their games. Charlatan has never been beaten across a finish line in four races, blowing away the field by 4-¾ lengths in December’s Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita. Knicks Go, meanwhile, brings in a four-race winning streak punctuated by wins in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Pegasus World Cup.
Oaklawn Gets this Week’s Only Derby Prep
Meanwhile, back in this hemisphere, the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes holds court as the lone Kentucky Derby prep this weekend. Essential Quality, the Champion 2-Year-Old of 2020, makes his 2021 debut.
Cox will be busy this weekend. Along with Essential Quality, Cox brings Monomoy Girl into Oaklawn for her 6-year-old debut in the Bayakoa. He also turns Owendale loose in the Razorback.
Oaklawn wasn’t the only track dodging the weather last weekend. Laurel Park in Maryland pushed back its cards, meaning that track postponed two Grade 3s, the General George and the Barbara Fritchie. Both will run on Saturday.
South American Spotlight at Santa Anita This Weekend
Elsewhere Saturday, Santa Anita Park features a strong Grade 2 for older fillies and mares with the Buena Vista. That marks the second North American start for Simon Callaghan’s Brooke, who won five of her eight starts in South America.
The Saudi Cup headlines a nine-graded stakes card at King Abdulaziz Race Course in Riyadh. There are seven graded stakes in the US this weekend, coming from Oaklawn, Santa Anita, Laurel, and Gulfstream Park. OG News takes a closer look at this weekend’s selected races.
Group 1 Saudi Cup/King Abdulaziz Race Course
This 1-1/8-mile jaunt carries a $10 million payday for the winner. Five of the expected 14 entries come from the US. Aside from favorites Charlatan and Knicks Go, we could see Max Player, Sleepy Eyes Todd, and last year’s fifth-place Saudi Cup entrant, Tacitus. Max Player finished in the top five in all three 2020 Triple Crown races, returning for the first time since finishing fifth in October’s Preakness. Sleepy Eyes Todd owns two graded-stakes wins and Tacitus won three Grade 2s.
Grade 2 Buena Vista, Santa Anita
This one-mile turf race for older fillies and mares offers the 1-2-4 finishers from the Grade 3 Megahertz: Mucho Unusual, Sedamar, and the aforementioned Brooke. Mucho Unusual comes in with three graded stakes wins in her last four starts. Her only blemish is a 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Also warranting attention are Going to Vegas and Red Lark, who finished 2-4 in the Grade 1 American Oaks.
Grade 3 General George/Laurel Park
The two to watch in this seven-furlong sprint for older horses are Laki and Majestic Dunhill, both seeking a return to form. Eight-year-old Laki turned in eight consecutive triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures, dating to October 2019. But, he’s 0-for-3 since taking the Grade 3 Frank J. DeFrancis Memorial Dash in October. Majestic Dunhill, meanwhile, lost two Grade 3s since winning October’s Bold Ruler Handicap.
Grade 3 Southwest Stakes/Oaklawn
The field for this 1-1/16-mile Derby prep remains a work in progress, but the foundation, with Essential Quality, Jackie’s Warrior, and Keepeminmind is as solid as it gets. Essential Quality tuned up with a 1:02.4, five-furlong clocking Sunday at Fair Grounds. Waiting for him is Jackie’s Warrior, who had his four-race winning streak snapped by Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Keepmeinmind, meanwhile, finished third, one place ahead of Jackie’s Warrior in that BC Juvenile, then won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club.
Grade 3 Bayakoa/Oaklawn
Along with Monomoy Girl, who seeks her 14th victory in 16 starts, Cox could field two other candidates in this 1-1/16-mile race for older fillies and mares. Those are Vault and Getridofwhatailesu. The latter won the Listed Stakes Pippin earlier this year while Vault finished 11th. Both could chase Finite, who won the Grade 3 Chilukki in November, then finished fourth in the Grade 1 La Brea.
Grade 3 Razorback/Oaklawn
The likely favorite for this 1-1/16-mile event for older horses is Mike Stidham’s Mystic Guide, who won the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and finished second in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. He’s hit the board in all six starts. Cox counters with Owendale, coming in off a third in the Grade 1 Clark, but who is winless since May. Dale Romans brings in Mr. Freeze, who finished an ice-cold 11th in last month’s Pegasus World Cup. Dallas Stewart sends Long Range Toddy for his first outing since his 12th in the Listed Stakes Blame last May.