USA: Key Classic trials make for must-watch action

Songbird (Medaglia d'Oro)

Songbird: should be hard to stop in the Santa Anita Oaks

  PICTURE: Wendy Wooley/EquiSport  

Preview: USA, Saturday 11.30pm GMT

Santa Anita: Santa Anita Derby (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo

WITH three major Kentucky Derby trials each worth $1 million and featuring no fewer than seven Grade 1 events, this Saturday programme is a hugely significant date on the US racing calendar.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the various trials is the Santa Anita Derby, where the first five home in last month’s San Felipe Stakes face off again.

Although Danzing Candy (Cliff Sise/Mike Smith) upset favoured Mor Spirit (Bob Baffert/Gary Stevens) that day, the runner-up was doing his best work in the closing stages and gets an extra half-furlong here. Mor Spirit, a 12-1 chance for Kentucky with Ladbrokes, is looking for his second Grade 1 victory after taking the Los Alamitos Futurity in December.

Ladbrokes: 6-4 Mor Spirit, 7-4 Danzing Candy, 5 Exaggerator, 14 Smokey Image, 16 Denman’s Call, 25 Dressed in Hermes, Iron Rob, Uncle Lino, 66 Diplodocus, Rare Candy

Also on Saturday

Keeneland: Ashland Stakes (Grade 1) 1m½f, dirt, 3yo fillies (8.28pm GMT, live on ATR)

Cathryn Sophia (John Servis/Javier Castellano), considered the only feasible threat to Songbird in the Kentucky Oaks, has specialised in wide-margin victories in going unbeaten in four previous starts.

Now she faces the biggest test of her career in this $500,000 event against Breeders’ Cup runner-up Rachel’s Valentina (Todd Pletcher/Florent Geroux) and Carina Mia (Bill Mott/Julien Leparoux), both major Graded-stakes winners last season.

Keeneland: Shakertown Stakes (Grade 2) 5½f, turf, 3yo+ (9.43pm GMT, live on ATR)

Wesley Ward fields a couple of familiar names in Diamond Jubilee Stakes victor Undrafted (John Velazquez) and former Aidan O’Brien-trained The Great War (Albin Jimenez), who has been handed the outside box in a 12-runner field. Last year’s winner Something Extra (Gail Cox/Shaun Bridgmohan) bids to repeat the dose.

Keeneland: Madison Stakes (Grade 1) 7f, dirt, 4yo+ f/m (10.20pm GMT, live on ATR)

What a race. A splendid field has been assembled for this $300,000 event, headed by a pair of Breeders’ Cup winners in Stopchargingmaria (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) and Wavell Avenue (Chad Brown/Julien Leparoux), who won the Distaff and the Filly Mare Sprint respectively at the end-of-season championships.

Multiple Grade 1 winner Sheer Drama (David Fawkes/Joe Bravo) makes her 2016 bow, while west-coast visitor Sunday Rules (Phil d’Amato/Edwin Maldonado) has won eight of nine career starts. Birdatthewire (Tom Proctor/Drayden van Dyke) and Cavorting (Kiaran McLaughlin/Jose Lezcano) are other top-level winners in a red-hot race where Sophie Doyle also gets a Grade 1 chance on Fioretti (Anthony Hamilton).

Ladbrokes: 7-2 Stopchargingmaria, Wavell Avenue, 5 Cavorting, 8 Dancing House, Sheer Drama, 12 Birdatthewire, Enchanting Lady, Sunday Rules, 16 bar

Aqueduct: Wood Memorial (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo (10.30pm GMT, live on ATR)

After highly rated Mohaymen tamely forfeited his unbeaten record in Florida last weekend, Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell team will be hoping a similar fate does not await Shagaf (Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz).

The son of Bernardini is unbeaten in three starts, claiming the Grade 3 Gotham at this venue on his most recent outing. He has drawn the inside gate in a tepid-looking field.

Keeneland: Blue Grass Stakes (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo (11pm GMT, live on ATR)

A maximum field for this Derby trial, with Coolmore’s Zulu (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) a leading contender to put himself into the Kentucky reckoning after coming second to Mohaymen last time in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.

Brody’s Cause (Dale Romans/Luis Saez), a Grade 1 winner here at two, needs to rebound after a dismal effort as favourite for the Tampa Bay Derby on his seasonal debut. Zulu’s stablemate Donegal Moon (Todd Pletcher/Martin Garcia) is another possibility.

Santa Anita: Santa Anita Oaks (Grade 1) 1m½f, dirt, 3yo fillies (11pm GMT)

Anything but a comfortable victory here for Songbird (Jerry Hollendorfer/Mike Smith) will be regarded as a major shock as last year’s champion two-year-old filly bids to extend her unbeaten streak to seven on her final start before the Kentucky Oaks on May 6.

Many experts consider Songbird the best three-year-old of either sex in the States. “She’s got things figured out at a very young age,” said Smith. “Does that mean she’ll continue to grow and get even better? That’s scary to think about.”

Ladbrokes make Songbird their 4-7 favourite for the Kentucky Oaks; they are quoting her at 1-8 for Saturday’s race, in which she breaks from the rail against six seemingly overmatched rivals.

Aqueduct: Carter Hcap (Grade 1) 7f, dirt, 4yo+ (11.08pm GMT, live on ATR)

Late-running sprinter Salutos Amigos (David Jacobson/Cornelio Velasquez) has to concede 6lb to west-coast raider Calculator (Peter Miller/Junior Alvarado). Last year’s winner Dads Caps (Rudy Rodriguez/Irad Ortiz) is back for more.


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