UPI Horse Racing Preview: Dramatic Melbourne Cup leads into large weekend

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Sheik Mohammed finally won the Melbourne Cup, keying a week that finds top-level action in Japan and a wide range of stakes in post-Breeders’ Cup North America.

The All-Weather Championships roll on in England, where Ascot Racecourse and NBC-TV announced a five-year extension of their deal to bring Royal Ascot to the American colonies (see News and Notes).

While the Melbourne Cup is history, Saturday brings two Group 1 events back to Flemington.

And, baby, it’s cold outside here in Chicagoland. So, naturally, attention swings south to Gulfstream Park West (think Calder) where Saturday’s program has four stakes for 2-year-olds and five races previewing the Sunshine Millions.

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Here’s how things shape up, along with a result or two, from Australia to Dubai:

Aqueduct

Saturday’s features are both on the turf — the Artie Schiller at 1 mile for 3-year-olds and up and the Atlantic Beach Stakes for 2-year-olds going 6 furlongs. Bricks and Mortar, winner of the Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga, and Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap victor Qurbaan are the favorites in a field of 10 in the Artie Schiller. The Atlantic Beach features Futurity runner-up Backtohisroots and Parx Racing invader Absentee among seven.

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Sunday finds the Stewart Manor Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and the Staten Island Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares.

Churchill Downs

Saturday’s program-topper is the $100,000 Commonwealth Turf for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles. The race drew a well-matched field of seven, four of whom are held between 2-1 and 4-1 on the morning line.

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Del Mar

California action moves back down the coast a ways with the 1-mile Let It Ride Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf on Saturday. The two favorites on the morning line, Afleet Ascent and Prince Earl, are drawn inside in a field of seven.

Sunday, state-bred fillies and mares stretch their legs at 7 furlongs on the main track in the $100,000 Betty Grable Stakes.

Laurel Park

Five stakes events grace Saturday’s card. Two are for juveniles at 6 furlongs, two for 3-year-olds going 7 furlongs and the fifth is the Richard W. Small Stakes at 9 furlongs for 3-year-olds and up.

Gulfstream Park West

Saturday’s card features five races, each worth $75,000, previewing the Sunshine Millions program set for Jan. 19 at the main Gulfstream facility. Another four are for 2-year-old Florida-breds on both turf and dirt.

Woodbine

The Toronto track’s weekend feature is the $100,000 (Canadian) Glorious Song Stakes for 2-year-old fillies on Sunday. Saturday it’s the $100,000 (Canadian) La Prevoyante for Ontario-sired 3-year-old fillies with Line of Vision, Zestina and Stormy Summer the early favorites.

Indiana Grand

Belmont Park invader Piedi Bianchi rallied five-wide from the back of the field to win Tuesday’s $150,000 Frances Slocum Stakes for Indiana-bred fillies and mares by 2 1/2 lengths over Expect Indy. Sweet N Wicked and Marina’s Legacy finished third and fourth after contesting the early lead. Piedi Bianchi, a 3-year-old Overanalyze filly several times in the money in graded stakes, toured 1 1/16 miles on a good track in 1:44.36 with Manny Franco up for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Rebel Bull led all the way to a 2 1/2-length victory over Huntstown in Tuesday’s Too Much Coffee Stakes for state-breds. Both were let go at odds of about 25-1. Rebel Bull, a 5-year-old Flashy Bull gelding, ran 1 1/4 miles in 1:43.30 with Jesus Cantanon riding. He hasn’t missed the board in seven starts this year and was second in the A.J. Foyt Stakes two starts back.

Getting back to the international front:

Melbourne Cup

It’s billed as the “race that stops a nation” but it was a deluge of almost Biblical proportions that nearly stopped Tuesday’s Lexus Melbourne Cup — before Cross Counter rallied from the back of the pack to an historic victory.

Melbourne was drenched with more rain on race day than had fallen in all of September and October combined. The downpour caused power outages, delayed in trains serving the Flemington racecourse and ruined whatever ladies’ fashions were not hidden by foul-weather gear. Two of Australia’s wagering sites crashed before the race, although that might not have been laid to weather causes.

Cross Counter, a 4-year-old Teofilo gelding, trailed the field turning for home, shifted out to the middle of the track and ran by them all, catching Marmelo in the final yards to win by 1 length. Kerrin McEvoy had the winning ride, his third in the Melbourne Cup. A Prince of Arran was third, Finche fourth. Cross Counter came directly from England after finishing second to Old Persian in the Voltigeur Stakes Aug. 22 at York.

It was the first victory in 20 years of trying for Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Godolphin Racing, leaving the Kentucky Derby atop his “still to win” list. Charlie Appleby became the first English-based trainer to win the Cup, reflecting the realization by the world’s horsemen that Australian stayers are very vulnerable in Australia’s signature race. The top three finishers Tuesday are all trained by Brits.

“I got out at the 400 (meters) and knew I was going to finish but I was unaware how much running the horses in front of me had left,” Racing Post quoted McEvoy. “At the 300 I realized I had a chance and by the 250 I thought, ‘I’ve got this covered,’ and, ‘Really? Is this happening again?'”

The race was marred by the fatal breakdown of Cliffsofmoher, who suffered a fractured shoulder approaching the first turn. Jockey Ryan Moore managed to pull the colt up but the injury was judged catastrophic. Melbourne Cup day has been beset with a string of fatal incidents dating back to 2013.

Six riders, including McEvoy, were fined for excessive use of the whip during the Melbourne Cup. Hugh Bowman, on Marmelo, also was handed a 25-day suspension for three separate violations — whip, careless riding and weighing in more than 1/2 kilogram above his assigned weight.

Saturday’s program at Flemington has the Group 1 VRC Sprint Classic with the likes of Everest Stakes winner Redzel, Manikato Stakes winner Brave Smash, last season’s Lightning and Newmarket winner Redkirk Warrior, Galaxy winner In Her Time and, among the international travelers, July Cup winner U S Navy Flag and Al Quoz Sprint winner Jungle Cat. Those are all Group 1 events.

The Group 1 Seppelt Mackinon Stakes at 2,000 meters features Blair House, second to Benbatl in the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes last time out, and It’s Somewhat. The latter is notable as one of the last remaining top-level runners for the late Dynaformer. The 8-year-old gelding is out of the Royal Academy mare Sometime. He makes his 46th start in a career that started with promise in England with a second in the Group 2

Japan

Hong Kong’s gain is Sunday’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup’s loss as Deidre, an international traveler, is absent from the QE II lineup, awaiting the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup Dec. 9 at Sha Tin. The QE II also misses filly Triple Crown champ Almond Eye who is sitting this one out in favor of a swing at the Group 1 Japan Cup on Nov. 25 at Tokyo Racecourse.

That leaves the door ajar for last year’s winner, Mozu Katchan, to repeat in the 11-furlongs turf test for fillies and mares at Kyoto Racecourse. Or, it could be Lys Gracieux, who has been frustratingly close to a Grade 1 win more times than her connections would like to count. Four times in sevent Grade 1 starts, the 4-year-old Heart’s Cry filly has finished second and the margin of loss in all of those four starts combined was less than 1/2 second. Maybe this time. But she will have to improve on a propensity to miss the break.

Several of the others have winning, or at least competitive, records but step up in terms of the race’s Grade 1 status.

Japanese racing officials announced Wednesday they have granted a temporary license to Joao Moreira, whose permanent move from Hong Kong was thwarted — at least temporarily — when he failed a written test on the history of racing in Japan. The license runs through Dec. 9, which will allow him to ride in the Grade 1 Mile Championship Nov. 18 and the Grade 1 Japan Cup Nov. 25. Coincidentally, the final day of the license is also the date of the Longines Hong Kong International Races. There is some question about how welcome Moreira is in Hong Kong after his abrupt departure at the end of the 2017-18 season.

Dubai

It wasn’t officially the feature on a seven-race card Thursday night at Meydan but the first event, a 1,600-meters test for 2-year-old maidens, proved the most thrilling and a potential pointer to future stardom.

At the end, it was Superior, trained by Ahmad bin Harmash, getting the better of Martial Art, conditioned by Doug Watson. Superior, a Kentucky-bred colt by Majesticperfection out of the Tiznow mare Tiz Fate, prevailed by 1/2 length under Connor Beasley after getting a three-wide trip. The victory handed the Phoenix Ladies Syndicate their second win in as many starts. Walking Thunder got the new group off to a flying start a week earlier.

“As with Walking Thunder, we were hopeful because his work at home had been good,” bin Harmash said. “Obviously, we are delighted to have won the first two maidens for the 2-year-olds.”

England

It wasn’t a Fast-Track Qualifier but Kasperenko’s victory Monday in the 32Red Floodlit Stakes on the Kempton Park Polytrack may have been enough to get the 4-year-old consideration for the All-Weather Championship Finals on Good Friday next. The son of Archipenko scored by 1 3/4 lengths after taking the lead in the final quarter mile.

“We hadn’t really thought about Good Friday before this evening as I didn’t think he would be good enough to win this race,” said trainer Brendan Powell. “But I suppose we will have to think about it now … He is definitely better on the all-weather. We had him jumping in the winter, which he didn’t seem to like, but he definitely likes the all-weather.”

News and Notes:

NBC Sports Group and Ascot Racecourse Thursday announced a six-year agreement to extend NBC Sports Group’s exclusive United States media rights to Royal Ascot until 2025. Royal Ascot made its U.S. television debut on NBC-SN in 2017. Nothing against the incumbent U.S. crew serving NBC’s horse racing coverage but let’s hope they keep Nick Luck on the job!

Simultaneously, NBC Sports announced expansion of its “Road to the Kentucky Derby” coverage, collaborating with Churchill Downs on a new magazine-style series, and adding the Louisiana Derby and Arkansas Derby to its coverage of prep races.

It’s fun watching the international rankings, isn’t it?

Thursday, the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings elevated British Champion Stakes winner Cracksman into a tie with Cox Plate four-timer Winx atop that list, rated 130. Gun Runner was third at 128, followed by Poet’s Word and Roaring Lion at 127. Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate follows with a 126 mark, tied with Crystal Ocean and Hong Kong’s Beauty Generation. Enable, who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf after taking her second straight Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, was graded only 125. Year-end rankings are due Jan. 23.

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