It’s the Big C weekend in the thoroughbred racing world with the Clark Handicap, Cigar Mile and turf debut of California Chrome at Del Mar.
Saturday is as big a day in racing at this time of year that you won’t see again until the New Year when Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita are heating up the Derby trail. Let's take a look at the three big races of the weekend...
The signature race on today’s Churchill Downs 12-race card will go at 5:35 p.m. with nine entries including two promising colts that were late defections from the Kentucky Derby trail that will return to graded action in the Clark.
The $500,000 race at 1 1/8-miles features Hoppertunity (7-2), the runner-up behind California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby who had some steam heading into the Kentucky Derby before scratching out prior the day before the race. The Bob Baffert-trained son of Any Given Saturday will be ridden by Martin Garcia. He drew the rail and comes in off a sharp workout at Santa Anita. He’ll face Florida Derby winner Constitution (7-2), who fell off the trail with an injury in mid-April after his big win at Gulfstream. Trainer Todd Pletcher was very high on this colt heading towards the Derby before settling on disappointment from the injury. Javier Castellano will ride Constitution for Pletcher.
The slight favorite over the two 3-year-olds is Departing (3-1) who lost by a neck to Pick of the Litter (9-2) in his last outing. The race looks like to be wide open and a great betting race with a number of rivals who can challenge the big name horses.
One of the iconic races at Aqueduct every Thanksgiving weekend, Saturday’s Cigar Mile also drew nine hopefuls, including three of the top four finishers in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, a race that covers six furlongs.
Secret Circle (2-1) inherits the favorite role off his second place finish in the Sprint for Baffert with Joel Rosario aboard. He’ll face third-place finisher Private Zone (3-1), a west coast rival who was the runner-up in last year’s Cigar Mile and will have Martin Pedroza in the irons.
A horse looking to make amends off a dismal Super Saturday performance in the Kelso Handicap is Itsmyluckyday (4-1). He’ll have his regular rider from Monmouth, Paco Lopez up in attempts to rebound from his third place finish as the odds-on favorite in September. The horse that took him to task in the last outing, Vyjack (8-1) received little love from the morning line maker after springing the upset in the Kelso.
The 5-year old warrior Bourbon Courage (12-1), fourth-place finisher at Santa Anita in the Sprint, will be a square price breaking from the 8-hole with Jose Lezcano guiding the son of Lion Heart.
Post time for the $500,000 Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Saturday is 4:17 p.m. ET.
The Queen’s Plate winner and the Kentucky Derby winner face off for the first time since 1998, when Plate winner Awesome Again edged out Derby winner Silver Charm twice in the same year. He defeated him in the Stephen Foster and then in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, both in very close races. The last time the two winners faced off in the same year of their respective wins as 3-year-olds was in 1993 when Plate winner Peteski defeated Derby winner Sea Hero in the Molson Million at Woodbine.
This time they’ll take on each other on the turf as Plate-winner Lexie Lou will face the talented California Chrome in the $300,000 Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar. California Chrome had a lackluster :52 half-mile workout on the turf last Saturday and is likely a bet-against on Saturday in his debut on the grass. Lexie Lou has thrived on the grass so far and won her last outing, the Autumn Miss Stakes at Santa Anita, her third outing on the turf since winning the Plate on Polytrack at Woodbine.
Pool 1 – Kentucky Derby Futures Pool
The first pool for making a future bet on the 2015 Kentucky Derby opens up on Friday and will close at 6 p.m. on Sunday. The field was set as the 3-5 favorite and American Pharoah was the lowest horse on the board at 12-1. Texas Red (15-1), the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner was the third choice by the morning line maker. Trainers Pletcher and Baffert have nine of the 23 horses listed in Pool 1.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.