Racing fans give thanks with graded stakes

Thanksgiving is not only a time for families to gather together and celebrate everything they have to be appreciative for but to reflect on the best parts of their lives.  For racing fans Thanksgiving is that plus the unofficial end to the racing season.  There are only two Grade I stakes races in 2009 scheduled after this upcoming weekend but five will be run between Friday and Sunday, giving us all a chance to enjoy some stuffing for our wallets.  Let’s take a look at some of what’s coming up in just the next two days.

THURSDAY

FALL HIGHWEIGHT HANDICAP

It’s not one of the bigger races on the NY circuit but the Fall Highweight Handicap (G3) is certainly one of the more interesting.  A solid field of 10 has been assembled with the Repole Stable entry of #1 THE ROUNDHOUSE and #1A GO GO SHOOT expected to go off a strong favorite.  They are quite the tag team in that the former is a one-run closer who does his running in the stretch while the latter has blazing early speed.  Both will have to deal with carrying significantly more weight than they ever have before. 

Joining them will be #3 SEAN AVERY, a recent allowance winner who has shown potential for trainer Mike Hushion, who’s having a terrific Aqueduct fall meet.  Another entrant of note is #5 RILEY TUCKER, who was last seen in NY tiring in the final furlong of the Forego at Saratoga.  He’s run two lackluster races since that effort but now cuts back in distance for trainer Steve Asmussen and should appreciate the six panels they’ll go in here.

FALLS CITY

One of five graded stakes to be run at Churchill Downs on their final 3 days of racing, this Thanksgiving staple has drawn a compact yet accomplished field of six older ladies.  #4 SWIFT TEMPER and #5 UNBRIDLED BELLE are both millionaires looking to add another graded stakes race to their accomplishments.  The former has run two dreadful races in a row since she won the Ruffian (G1) at Belmont in early September but this will be her first start at two turns on conventional dirt since a 2nd place finish to Icon Project in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga.  Among the mares who were vanquished that afternoon was Unbridled Belle, who came back to finish 2nd in the Beldame (G1) and most recently toyed with a subpar group in the Turnback the Alarm (G3) at Aqueduct.

FRIDAY

CITATION

Hollywood Park kicks off their turf festival with the $300,000 Citation (G1) on Friday afternoon and a solid field has been assembled, headlined by 2008 Kilroe Mile winner #5 EVER A FRIEND and Oak Tree Mile victor #6 COWBOY CAL.  The former has made only one start in the last eighteen months, a win going down the hill at Santa Anita while the latter is looking to rebound off of a poor effort in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.  The most likely horse to give those two trouble is probably #4 BLUE CHAGALL, a Julio Canani-trained son of the Australian sire Testa Rossa, who scored a decisive victory in the Lure at Oak Tree in his last start.  It took him a while to find his way after shipping into this country but his last two efforts have both been strong and any horseplayer is wont to omit a Canani trainee in a Grade I grass race at a mile.

CLARK

Wow, the Clark drew a phenomenal field of 14 with #14 EINSTEIN a tepid 7-2 morning line favorite.  This field really includes all types of horses, outsiders looking to shock the world with improved efforts, younger, lightly raced horses looking to prove they belong, and older, more accomplished horses looking to cap off their year in a big way. 

I want no part of Einstein with the outside post coming off a terrible effort at Santa Anita.  I’ve always been skeptical of his ability on conventional dirt and there are just too many alternatives in here that will offer significantly more value at the windows.  #5 BLAME is a horse I’ve taken a liking to since he ran 2nd in the Super Derby behind Regal Ransom.  He was completely pace compromised that day but still ran on well to finish second and he came out of that event and handily beat older horses at Keeneland in the Fayette.  He seems equally adept on synthetics and dirt and should be moving in the right direction late under Jamie Theriot.

#8 ETCHED is coming off a terrific effort in the Meadowlands Cup where he battled early and held gamely late despite contesting strong fractions.  He seems to have a great deal of potential and may only be realizing it now with experience.

TOP FLIGHT

The Top Flight at Aqueduct will be drawn later today and is expected to include Bonnie Miss winner Justwhistledixie, who hasn’t been seen since a 2nd place finish in the Acorn on Belmont Stakes Day.  Godolphin will be represented by Victory Ride winner Sara Louise, who most recently finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. 

I’ll see you back here on Friday to look at Saturday’s stakes races, which include the Cigar Mile, Gazelle, Remsen, and Demoiselle from Aqueduct, along with the Golden Rod and Ky Jockey Club from Churchill, and the Matriarch from Hollywood.  Until then I’ll leave you with the 2008 version of the Clark Handicap:

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