Summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21 but the Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff to horse racing’s most popular season. This weekend’s graded stakes action gets under way on Saturday at Belmont Park with the Grade 3 Soaring Softly Stakes and winds up on Monday with a trio of Grade 1 races at Santa Anita, including the first domestic Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In Challenge Series race, the Shoemaker Mile.
Horseplayers should note that Belmont’s Saturday card begins with a $43,523 carryover in the track’s non-jackpot Pick 6 and that Monday’s Santa Anita card will feature a mandatory payout that rolled into Saturday with a jackpot of $485,398. If no one holds the single winning ticket on Saturday or Sunday’s races, Monday’s Pick 6 pool at Santa Anita is expected to exceed $5 million.
Be sure to keep your advance deposit wagering account funded.
In addition to Belmont and Santa Anita stakes, there are some other races you won’t want to miss.
On Sunday, Canadian champion Mighty Heart, now 5, returns to the track where his biggest wins have occurred, going postward against five others in the G2 Stella Artois Eclipse Stakes on Woodbine’s Tapeta surface.
At Churchill Downs on Monday, hard-driving Sconsin bids for a repeat of her 2021 victory in the G3 Winning Colors Stakes for filly and mare sprinters racing six furlongs.
The holiday weekend graded stakes action comes to a close on Monday evening at Lone Star Park in Texas when West Coast invader Shaaz will try to pick up his first stakes success in the G3 Steve Sexton Mile for older runners on the main track. A 9-year-old fan favorite, Rated R Superstar, winner of 11 races from 60 starts and nearly $1.6 million, will try to show that he’s still competitive at this level.
Here’s a quick look at all of this weekend’s North American graded stakes:
5:12 p.m. – Grade 3 Soaring Softly Stakes at Belmont Park
Many New York turf stakes seem to come down to a multiple choice: a) Chad Brown b) Christophe Clement c) someone else. This one appears to be no exception, with Brown saddling morning line favorite Haughty and Clement sending out a pair, including second choice Derrynane. Haughty was a close third to Pizza Bianca in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last November and is making her 2022 debut. Derrynane ran a good fourth in the G2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint and has the benefit of a race under her belt this spring at Keeneland. But contention runs deep in the field with Wesley Ward-trained Irish-bred Chardy Party coming off a debut win at Keeneland and Bill Mott-trained Wonka shortening up to seven furlongs after a sharp score going two turns at Gulfstream Park.
4:27 p.m. – Grade 2 Stella Artois Eclipse Stakes at Woodbine
Two-time Canadian Horse of the Year Mighty Heart, the 2020 Queen’s Plate winner, tired in his 2022 debut in the G3 Ben Ali at Keeneland but the one-eyed wonder should be much tighter today for Josie Carroll. Frosted Over missed the Canadian Triple Crown last year but finished his season strong for Mark Casse and faces a stiffer task now that he’s facing seasoned older runners. Special Forces fits the latter category and 5-for-12 on Woodbine’s Tapeta track with 11 in the money performances. If the pace is hot, Riptide Rock can be counted on for a strong finish.
5:04 p.m. – Grade 3 Daytona Stakes at Santa Anita
Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale has half of the six entries, but favoritism is likely to fall between Dan Blacker-trained California-bred Burnin Turf, who is making his stakes debut, and John Sadler-trained French-bred Bran. Burnin Turf is 2-for-2 on the tricky downhill turf course in his last two starts and a win here gives him a “horse for the course” label. Bran just shipped to Churchill Downs where he finished second in the G2 Turf Sprint on Kentucky Oaks day. He’s run down the hill twice but wasn’t able to win either. Majestic Eagle, coming off an off-the-board performance in the 1 ¼-mile G2 Whittingham, may be the best of the Drysdale trio, but a 4-for-36 record doesn’t inspire confidence.
5:36 p.m. – Grade 2 Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita
Brickyard Ride is 4-5 on the morning line in this field of six and there’s no secret about what the Craig Lewis runner’s tactics will be. He’s been in front after a quarter mile in his last 11 races and he’s won seven of them. He draws well starting from the four post and will be tough to run down. Elector is the newcomer to this field, having only run three times and making his stakes debut for John Sadler after a couple of wins against lesser.
7:15 p.m. – Grade 3 Honeymoon Stakes at Santa Anita
The 90 Beyer Speed Figure in Cairo Memories’ last race, a 4 ½-length wire to wire win in the G3 Providencia Stakes, jumps off the Daily Racing Form page. She got away with a slow pace and dominated, but there’s not much early foot in this lineup to keep her from repeating for trainer Bob Hess. Island of Love exits a sharp win in the G3 Senorita and could prompt the pace from the rail. A sleeper in the race might be Fuente Ovejuna, an English-bred from Leonard Powell’s stable who has had trouble in all three of her U.S. starts.
4:22 p.m. – Grade 3 Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs
While multipole graded stakes winner Sconsin is the class of the field and boasts a strong record over the Churchill Downs main track for trainer Greg Foley, she is making her first start since Sept. 18. It’s worth noting that her return from a layoff just over a year ago resulted in an uncharacteristically poor performance in the G1 Madison Stakes at Keeneland. Novel Squall, from the John Ortiz stable, appears to be the “now” horse and has an improving trend in her Beyer Speed Figures. Her last, a 9 ½-length victory over a four-horse allowance/optional claiming field at Keeneland, was her best yet, getting a 90 Beyer. Li’l Tootsie has won 2-of-3 at Churchill Downs and can’t be ignored.
5:30 p.m. – Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita
The 2022 edition of the Hollywood Gold Cup – a race that dates back to Seabiscuit’s victory in the 1938 inaugural running at defunct Hollywood Park – will not be remembered as one of its most memorable ones in terms of quality of field. California’s dirt division for older runners is depleted. Ed Moger Jr.-trained Stilleto Boy is an improving sort but Royal Ship nearly won this race last year and showed in his comeback race last month that he is back on his game for Richard Mandella. Two temporarily displaced Bob Baffert horses, Spielberg and Defunded, will be saddled by Sean McCarthy and could pop up with a big effort.
6:00 p.m. – Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile Stakes at Santa Anita
Though he always tries, Smooth Like Strait came up on the short end of the stick six out of seven times last year, with one win and five seconds and a third from seven starts. He started out 2022 on a similar note, finishing third, beaten a neck, in the G1 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland. Still, the Michael McCarthy runner towers over this field and gets the services of Flavien Prat, who hasn’t ridden the son of Midnight Lute since his debut in August 2019. The Shoemaker Mile winner receives a guaranteed fees-paid berth in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile, a race Smooth Like Strait finished second in behind Space Blues last November.
8:30 p.m. – Grade 1 Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita
Going Global is unbeaten in five starts on the Santa Anita turf and she’s shown that 1 1/8 miles is well within her scope. Flavien Prat travels west to ride her, but this is not an easy spot. Going to Vegas has developed into a top mare, as has Neige Blanche. And give trainer Mike Puype credit for finding a niche for Canoodling, who spent most of 2021 racing in New Mexico where there are no turf courses. She has found a home on the lawn in her last three starts since returning to California and may try to steal the Gamely on the front end.
8:35 p.m. – Grade 3 Steve Sexton Mile Stakes at Lone Star Park
Elector, one of two West Coast horses entered in the Steve Sexton Mile, will not be making the trip, opting instead for a race at Santa Anita. That leaves Shaaz as the morning line favorite for Sean McCarthy, who is temporarily training Bob Baffert’s string while the latter is suspended. Shaaz was a $1.1 million 2-year-old purchase but obviously had a physical setback before debuting as a 3-year-old in December 2021. With Florent Geroux riding, Shaaz will be forwardly placed from the outset, but the Uncle Mo colt looks like a vulnerable favorite. Mish, the second choice, is on a roll for Saffie Joseph Jr., and will be hard to reel in.