The appetizer for the big holiday weekend begins at Penn National where that slots money will be distributed among four stakes, three of the sprint variety, the centerpiece being the $200,000 Fabulous Strike, named for that region’s fabulous speedster.
As an aside, he was a horse that earned a million and a half the hard way, shipping around and getting the money six furlongs at a time, winning 15 of the 28 races he ran in. He was a multiple graded winner at all three NYRA tracks, including the G1 Vosburgh. But it was at Penn National where he earned career victory #1.
Beginning Thanksgiving Day, there will be 20 graded stakes run all around the country; two graded events north of the border at Woodbine notwithstanding. Significantly, Grade 1s will be offered at Churchill (Clark); Aqueduct (Cigar and Gazelle) and at Hollywood Park (Derby and Matriarch).
While there are no graded stakes scheduled in New Orleans this weekend, the storied Fair Grounds will open its gates for the 141st time and the opening Thanksgiving Day program attracted no fewer than 110 entrants.
There are four graded stakes scheduled for Thursday: the anachronistic but always entertaining G3 Fall Highweight Handicap (once won by Fabulous Strike), the grassy G3 My Charmer from Calder, which appears to have taken a hit from the new, early scheduling; Churchill’s G2 Falls City for fillies and mares which only attracted seven starters and Hollywood’s G3 Prevue.
The latter is in the running for the worst graded stakes ever run. It’s not so much that it drew five entrants, which is no upset in SoCal, but four of them are trained by Bob Baffert.
I certainly hope trainer Peter Miller has the good taste to scratch the filly Heir Kitty, although she did finish second to the colt Know More in Del Mar’s G2 Best Pal this summer.
Things begin to heat up Friday when the G2 Go for Wand, originally a G1 that started at Belmont, was moved to Saratoga, lost G1 status, and now is relegated to Aqueduct By the Sea.
On the Left Coast, the G2 Citation has drawn two from New York, G1 winner Data Link and Doubles Partner, pre-entered but which skipped the Breeders’ Cup. The home team will be well represented my miler Jeranimo in the 9-furlong two-turner, most recently beaten 4-1/2 lengths by Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
In the Blue Grass, Churchill Downs will offer the G2 Falls City Handicap in which recent Turnback The Alarm winner Afleeting Lady will try to reverse the neck defeat she suffered to Arena Elvira in last year’s renewal.
Of course, Saturday is a huge day as certain 2012 Filly & Mare Sprint Champion Groupie Doll will throw her bonnet into the Horse of the Year ring when she meets males in Aqueduct G1 Cigar Mile Handicap, taking on a previous Cigar winner and Travers winner, among others.
This final leg of an All Stakes Pick 4 will be preceded by a pair of G2 stakes for juveniles at 9 furlongs, the Demoiselle for the girls and Remsen for the boys. What’s interesting about those two stakes is how little they are a precursor to 3-year-old form.
Indeed, it could be argued with some certitude that these two routes most often turn out to be negative key races instead of positive ones. Perhaps 2012 will be different.
The first G1 of the day, for 3-year-old fillies at 9 furlongs, features My Wandy’s Girl, a highly professional in-reserve winner of her U. S. debut, the Pentelis Stakes, over the track at 7 furlongs, extending her record to a lofty 14-for-18 lifetime.
This latest American-bred South American wonder horse obviously is the star attraction. And know that trainer Mike Hushion would never enter back so quickly if he had any reservations about what was left in the tank. Indeed, his instructions to Ramon Dominguez were to leave something in the tank for next time.
There are two other interesting graded stakes for juveniles Saturday, Churchill’s G2 Golden Rod Stakes for fillies and G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes for the boys. The latter has been only a slightly better barometer of Triple Crown form than the Remsen. But at least fans will get some idea as to which colts handle the Churchill surface and which do not.