Racing Season Does Not End With Belmont
by Trevor Whenham - 06/06/2007
Though most casual horse racing fans don't seem to be aware of it, there really is a season that happens between the end of the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup. The national attention the sport gets, such as it is, basically disappears for five months, but there are hundreds of thrilling races to watch. If you enjoy the big races but don't pay attention otherwise, you really should. Here's a cheat sheet - 10 races worth watching this summer. This is far from a complete list, because pretty much every summer weekend is packed with great match-ups:
Mother Goose, June 30, Belmont - Tell me if this sounds familiar - Trainer Carl Nafzger has a horse that is almost certainly one of the top two in its class. In this case, though, I'm not talking about Street Sense, but rather about a filly called Lady Joanne. The three year old crushed the field in the Dogwood at Churchill. The Mother Goose won't be as exciting as it would have been if Rags to Riches were there as well, as she would have been if not for the Belmont. Still, it will show us if Lady Joanne is any good, and could set up a brilliant showdown between the top fillies later in the summer. With Rags to Riches out, the other good Todd Pletcher filly, Octave, will also likely head to the Mother Goose.
Hollywood Gold Cup, June 30, Hollywood Park - This is a chance to see the great Lava Man. Or at least he is great when he's in California. Lava Man is back after winning this race two years in a row. Intriguing competition will come from Buzzard's Bay, the incredibly ugly gelding that won the Californian, a key Gold Cup prep, last weekend, and won the Santa Anita Derby in 2005.
American Handicap, June 30, Hollywood Park - You get two great races on one day at Hollywood. The American Handicap is run on turf and should have an intriguing and talented west coast field. I'm excited to see what Crossing the Line can do. He's a New Zealand bred horse that has run just once in the States. That was in a non-Stakes race at Hollywood last week, and he did it with an absolutely unbelievable closing move. The American will be a huge jump in class, but if he can handle it then it could be exciting.
Suburban Handicap, June 30, Belmont - California's not the only place with great racing on this weekend. The Suburban will mark the return to action for Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup winner Invasor. He's clearly the best horse in the world right now, and this race will see if he's likely to remain in form this year. He will likely face the very intriguing but perplexing Corinthian here. Corinthian is clearly incredibly talented, and nearly unbeatable when at his best, but predicting when he will run well is impossible.
Virginia Derby, July 21, Colonial Downs - This race is interesting for a few reasons. First, it's the second leg of the Grand Slam of Grass. Any horse that wins this 10-furlong turf race along with the Colonial Turf Cup, the Secretariat at Arlington and the Breeders' Cup Turf would earn a $5 million dollar bonus. The field also promises to be deep and interesting with 78 nominees so far, including four runners from the Kentucky Derby.
Jim Dandy Stakes, July 29, Saratoga - There are dozens of races you could choose at Saratoga, America's greatest racing meet, but the Jim Dandy is as good a place as any to start. Last year, Bernardini dominated this race. Street Sense will be spending the summer at Saratoga, and this could be his next start. He could be joined by any number of horses, but perhaps the most intriguing is Tiz Wonderful. He was the Derby horse for trainer Steve Asmussen coming into the spring, but he got injured, forcing Asmussen and his owners to buy Curlin. Tiz Wonderful looks as talented and freakish as Curlin. If he returns to action well here then the three year old division could really get interesting heading into the Breeders' Cup.
Haskell Invitational, Aug. 5, Monmouth - Along with the Jim Dandy, this is always one of the big mid-summer three year old draws. This race will be especially key this year, though, because Monmouth will be hosting the Breeders' Cup, so trainers will use this race to see how their horse likes the track. It's too early to speculate, but this could be a logical spot for both Hard Spun and Curlin.
Pacific Classic, Del Mar, Aug. 19 - If you don't agree with me that Saratoga is the best meet there is, then you probably think it's Del Mar. The West Coast's summer circuit is highlighted by the Pacific Classic, a $1 million race. Lava Man won it last year, and it consistently draws the best horses in California. It is, as the name suggests, almost always a classic.
Travers Stakes, Saratoga, Aug. 25 - The Travers is the biggest three year old race outside of the Triple Crown. Street Sense is being pointed here (this race was the excuse for pulling him out of the Belmont, and a lame one at that). If we get lucky, he'll be joined by Curlin, but whoever goes it is likely to be a strong and impressive field to end the summer racing season.
Hopeful Stakes, Saratoga, Sept. 3 - This is one of the first major stakes races for two year old colts every year, and it gives us an early taste of who will be among the best of next year's Derby Crop. Circular Quay won it last year, and other winners include greats like Afleet Alex, Favorite Trick, Hennessy, Summer Squall, Gulch, Affirmed, Secretariat and even Man O' War.