Breeders’ Cup runners return to action in weekend horse racing


Ce Ce, shown winning the Azeri Stakes on March 12 at Oaklawn Park, is among the favorites for Saturday’s Grade I Apple Blossom over the same track. Coady photography, courtesy of Oaklawn Park

April 22 (UPI) — As spring blossoms, horse racing stars including Letruska, Ce Ce, Pizza Bianca, Malathat and Channel Maker return from winter vacations this weekend to contest big races in Kentucky, Arkansas and New York.

Several of those stars figured prominently in last November’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar and look forward to this year’s renewal at Keeneland.

On the international front, Hong Kong stages its second big international weekend without international runners, but with plenty of interest in the outcome of three Group 1 races. And some promising Classic contenders — human and equine — are in action in England.

The Kentucky Derby field is gathering in Louisville, with final training action likely to pick up by the middle of this week. The 20-horse field is largely set, although Early Voting and Morello, No. 14 and No. 15, respectively, on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” leaderboard, are not yet confirmed starters.

If either or both should be removed from consideration, Pioneer of Medina and In Due Time would move into the field, in that order.

The weather guessers are calling for mostly favorable conditions leading up to the May 7 Run for the Roses.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here’s the scoop on this weekend’s racing action:


The rundown of entries for Saturday’s $1 million Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park is short but sweet — Letruska, winner of nine graded stakes since August of 2020, including last year’s Apple Blossom; Ce Ce, a six-time graded stakes winner, including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and the 2020 Apple Blossom.

Also entered is the youngster of the bunch, Clairiere, a 4-year-old, winner of two graded events and placed in five others; and outsiders Maracuja and Miss Imperial.

Maracuja is no slouch, either, despite being a long shot on the morning line. She chased down and defeated Kentucky Oaks winner Malathaat and Clairere in last year’s Coaching Club American Oaks.

Miss Imperial looks like the only legitimate threat to Letruska’s usual sprint for the lead. The others would hope those two go too fast early.

Speaking of Malathaat, the Oaks winner is back to face five rivals in Friday’s $300,000 Grade III Baird Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland.

After dropping the Coaching Club American Oaks to Maracuja, she rebounded to win the Grade I Alabama at Saratoga and finished third, beaten less than 1 length, in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Del Mar.

She also won her only previous start at Keeneland, the Grade I Ashland Stakes, a key prep for the Kentucky Oaks.

Malathaat is the favorite, but last year’s Doubledogdare winner, Bonny South, also is in the field. She hasn’t won in five intervening races, but has been placed in four of those. Crazy Beautiful is a multiple graded stakes winner, too.


Saturday’s $300,000 Grade III Ben Ali at Keeneland drew eight to tackle 1 1/8 miles. The morning line provides scant aid in separating them with six of the eight at single-digit odds.

The 2-1 favorite is Warrant, a well-traveled Constitution 4-year-old who has never missed a top-three finish in nine starts.

Trainer Brad Cox has shipped him to seven different tracks, from Mountaineer in West Virginia to Santa Anita, where in his most recent effort he was second in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap.

A look at the past performance lines shows why the Ben Ali ranks as a tossup. Many of the others have resumes similar to Warrant’s.

Among them, Title Ready has raced in more prestigious surroundings, including the Dubai World Cup, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup, and a lightly raced scalding was on a roll for trainer Shug McGaughey in Florida.

Saturday’s $1 million Grade II Oaklawn Handicap doesn’t have quite the same star power as the Apple Blossom with Frearless and Plainsman as the morning-line picks in a field of eight.

Fearless, a 6-year-old Ghotzapper gelding, won the Grade III Ghostzapper Stakes at Gulfstream Park in his latest and has been in the money in eight straight races, including a second in this event last year.

Plainsman, a 7-year-old son of Flatter, was second in the Grade III Essex Handicap over the Oaklawn track in his most recent start and won the Grade III Razorback the race before that.

The rest of the field is far from hopeless.

Idol, winner of last year’s Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, makes his first start of the year. Super Stock won last year’s Arkansas Derby but has struggled since.

Nine-year-old Rated R Superstar won the local Fifth Season Stakes in January, then jumped up to win the Essex. Thomas Shelby was second in the Razorback and fourth in the Essex. Beau Luminaire wins infrequently but almost always is in the mix.

Saturday’s $150,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds has a competitive field of seven, with Home Brew and Stellar Tap as lukewarm favorites on the morning line.

While of good betting value, the quality of the field likely is not quite what Oaklawn folks hoped for when the race was developed a couple years ago as a spot for Triple Crown-level contenders.


Nine signed on for Saturday’s $350,000 Grade II Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland with Channel Maker the favorite on the morning line to win for the first time in 18 months.

To be fair, the 8-year-old English Channel gelding gets a bit of class relief as he has been toiling at the highest levels, including Grade I and Group 1 events from Saudi Arabia and Dubai to Del Mar. He was last seen finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf in November.

Unconvinced? The next two on the Elkhorn morning line are Two Emmys and Phantom Currency.

Two Emmys come off a Grade II win at Fair Grounds, but his only previous graded score was the “phantom Million” — last summer’s $600,000 Grade I Mr. D. Stakes at Arlington Park. Phantom currency won his last two at Gulfstream Park, the Grade II Mac Diarmida and the Grade III Appleton.

Unanimous Consent got the only vote that counts on the morning line as the British-bred Almanzor colt was installed as the 2-1 favorite for Saturday’s $100,000 Woodhaven for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct.

The Chad Brown trainee makes just his second start after winning at Monmouth Park last September and repeating at Tampa Bay Downs in February. Each and every one of the other six in the field is worth at least a glance.

Filly & Mare Turf

Sunday’s $100,000 Memories of Silver Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct has an interesting mix starting with last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner, Pizza Bianca. The Fastnet Rock filly, a Bobby Flay homebred, hasn’t raced since that stretch-running triumph and the others will be trying to Beat Bobby Flay (sorry, a Food Network reference there).

Alittleloveandluck and Miss You Ella come north from Florida in good form. Sail By won the Grade II Miss Grillo at Aqueduct in October, but has been absent since a 13th-place showing in the Breeders’ Cup. Consumer Spending returns from a sixth-place finish in that same heat.

Around the world, around the clock:

Hong Kong

The local horses have things all their own way Sunday on FWD Champions Day. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, after successfully maintaining international competition on its biggest days for two full pandemic years, finally gave way to the inevitable and limited this year’s event to horses on the grounds.

But while there are no foreign raiders, there is no lack of interest in any of the three Group 1 races on the card.

The FWD Champions Mile features Golden Sixty, the reigning Horse of the Year, racing for history. A win would be his record 21st in Hong Kong. A first or second would boost him past Beauty Generation’s HK$106,233,750 (about US$13.5 million) into the No. 1 slot on the local earnings list.

Golden Sixty got a good draw in the No. 2 stall and won’t have any excuses on that score as he did when his long winning streak ended earlier in the season.

But, in a generally accomplished field, he does face a younger, up-and-coming challenger in California Spangle. The latter’s only loss came when he was second in the BMW Hong Kong Derby in his last outing.

Competition aside, Golden Sixty’s jockey, Vincent Ho, proclaimed the champ is back to “100 percent. He’s right on track and fitter than last time. He’s always got the fighting heart. Since last start, he’s brought on his fitness more and we’ re confident going into this race.”

Golden Spangle, a 4-year-old by Starspangledbanner, and jockey Zac Purton will start from the No. 5 stall with another speedster, Healthy Happy, just to his inside.

“I think the mile is perfect distance for him. I believe he is still improving and I believe if he gets his own way, he’ll run a big race,” trainer Tony Cruz said of California Spangle. “Healthy Happy is the only horse that can spoil the race for us.”

The FWD QE II Cup at 2,000 meters has Romantic Warrior in his first start since the winning the BMW Hong Kong Derby by a head over California Spangle.

Russian Emperor won the Group 1 City Hong Kong Gold Cup over course and distance two starts back and was second to Golden Sixty in the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy in his latest.

The Chairman’s Sprint Prize at 1,200 meters shapes up as a scramble with a well-matched field of 11. Wellington, an All Too Hard gelding, has back-to-back wins in the Group 1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup and the Group 2 Sprint Cup .

Several others return from the accident-marred Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint in December, including the winner of that race, Sky Field, and the favorite, Lucky Patch, who unseated his rider amid the pileup. Wellington was seventh in that race.


Those watching the 3-year-olds will want to have an eye on Friday’s Classic Trial at Sandown. The 1,990-meters event has a field of six after a late scratch with many of the big names represented.

Trainer Charlie Appleby and jockey William Buick will see what Goldspur can do as the nearly odds-on favorite. The Godolphin homebred Dubawi colt is out of the Arch mare Pomology and won two of three starts as a 2-year-old, finally finishing third in the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud over very soft ground before being put away for the winter.

Aidan O’Brien gives Ryan Moore a leg up on River Thames, a Churchill colt who won his only 2021 start.

John and Thady Gosden hand Frantastic over to Frankie Dettori and Franz Straus to James Doyle. Frantastic, by Frankel, races for AE Oppenheimer and Frans Strauss, a son of Golden Horn, is the Godolphin second.

Westover, another by Frankel, is a Juddmonte homebred with Rob Hornby to ride for trainer Ralph Beckett. And Jamie Spencer rides Cash, a Shamardal colt out of David Simcock’s yard.


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