Posted: 9:44 p.m. Thursday, May 23, 2013
By Matt Gardner
While the Triple Crown is just a couple of weeks away from winding down for another year, the summer racing season is right around the corner from the East Coast to the West Coast. This Memorial Day weekend is loaded with excellent racing action all across the continent, including the Grade 1 Met Mile, Grade 1 Ogden Phipps, and Grade 1 Acorn and Belmont Park, and the Grade 1 Gamely at Hollywood Park on Monday.
Let's take a quick look at the stakes action from Saturday and Sunday; I'll have a preview of Monday's races later this weekend:
Lucayan (FR) makes his North American debut against a field of just five rivals in Saturday's American Handicap at Hollywood Park. Based in France for his entire career (well, he raced once at Royal Ascot), Lucayan won the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) last spring before embarking on a three-race losing streak where he struggled mightily. He's found a decent spot to debut in the U.S.; take note that (as of Thursday) he is not running on Lasix. He's run well on firm ground in the past including a pair of solid efforts on the synthetic surfaces at Chantilly and Pau, and he gets Leparoux in the irons for his American debut.
9-Heathcote (15/1) makes his grass debut after running away from the field in the G3-Validictory Stakes at Woodbine back on Dec 16 at a mile and three-quarters. His breeding suggests his form might transfer well to the lawn as his sire, Niigon, does well with runners on the green stuff. He's got some speed to his inside and it's certainly going to be a lot harder to wire this field than it was the Woodbine race, but perhaps he's worth a flyer at 15/1.
If the Belmont turf course gets any amount of rain on Saturday, it's probably going to be awfully tough to deny 1-Starformer (7/2) from the winner's circle; the last three times she's run over a turf course raced "good" or worse, she's won. 6-Strathnaver (GB) (4/1) has rolled to two victories in two starts in North America and is looking for three in a row under Joel Rosario.
8-Hoo Why (3/1) draws lukewarm morning line favorite status versus a field of eight rivals, including an ultra-rare son of Kitten's Joy owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey that doesn't have "Kitten" in the name - 3-Sisterhood (8/1). There isn't a ton of speed in this race, and I think 2-Ice Cream Silence (6/1) could get loose on the lead again, but if 4-Diva's Diamond can apply some pressure on the Ice Cream Silence, Sisterhood might be able to employ a perfect stalk-and-pounce strategy.
It's been a while since 6-Nate's Mineshaft (5/2) was last seen on a racing surface but he pops up at Arlington Park for the Hanshin Cup on Saturday. His last race was a 3rd place finish in the G1-Stephen Foster last June after a winter/spring of dominating races at the Fair Grounds. I'm not sure I understand the Polytrack choice for his comeback when you consider his only other synthetic try was a pretty flat effort about a year and a half ago at Turfway combined with his excellent form on dirt. Perhaps his previous effort on synthetics was due to racing immaturity but I wouldn't take too small of a price on this guy with the surface question.
1-Brown Almighty (12/1) tries to get any semblance of a stakes career back on track in the feature race on Saturday's Arlington Park card. After a couple of decent efforts to begin his career on grass, the son of Big Brown is lost seven in a row, including a couple of awful attempts on dirt. I'm guessing his dirt days are behind him and, if he continues to struggle for wins at the graded stakes level, he might be in need of some class relief.
A nice big field of ten contest's Sunday's Connaught Cup at Woodbine where defending champion Something Extra is back. He'll probably enjoy stretching back out to seven panels after a trio of close losses in shorter races, culminating with a nose defeat in the G3-Shakertown at Keeneland in mid-April.