Sod Dabbler Or Diver, Saturday's Graded Stakes Runs Deep

Kentucky Downs blades of grass | Kentucy Downs


The going sticks will get stuck and with the rails down or out, the Saturday graded stakes lineup trucks in with heaps of sod for your turf racing enjoyment.

Whether you are a dabbling duck or one that takes a deep dive, there is something for everyone as the Downs–Kentucky and Colonial–plus Woodbine Racetrack and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, all feature high-level grass action.


The uniquely designed turf course at Kentucky Downs cards the most graded stakes this Saturday, which will lead off with the GIII Ladies Marathon S.

Going 1 5/16ths, look for MGSP Vergara (Noble Mission) to stalk the pace as she returns to the site where she won last year by a head in the Dueling Grounds Oaks. Standing in her way is GSW Personal Best (Tapit) who broke her maiden at last year's meet before going on to face graded company this spring at Gulfstream Park where the homebred won the GIII La Prevoyante S.

With no overwhelming favorite on the morning-line, expect the GII Franklin-Simpson S. to be an all-out war both on the tote and sprinting down the stretch. Playlist (Uncle Mo), making her first stakes start, will look to go on the offensive early versus the boys, but she will have to contend with Sweet Cherry Pie (Twirling Candy), who has never sampled turf, and GSW Mo Stash (Mo Town), who is cutting back for the first time in almost a year.

Playlist | Coady Photography

“I like to run fillies against colts in sprints,” said Playlist's trainer Wesley Ward. “I don't think it makes a big difference. If you look at the times in the 2-year-olds in training sales, the fillies are always faster as a group. I think they can compete against the colts every time.”

Moving right along, the GIII Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf S. pits GISP and MGSP White Frost (Candy Ride {Arg}) against GSW and 'TDN Rising Star' New Year's Eve (Kitten's Joy). After a very solid first half, the former was second in the De La Rose S. Aug. 2 at Saratoga and will face many of those competitors in this spot, while the latter prepped ably by winning this race's preview at Ellis Park Aug. 6.

Back to the speedsters for the GII Turf S. for males, it is going to be a pleasure to see another bout between the top two finishers in Aug. 5 running of the GIII Troy S. at Saratoga. That slugfest upstate saw Cogburn (Not This Time) catch GSW Nobals (Noble Mission {GB}) just before the wire. If this Breeders' Cup Challenge race for entry into the GI BC Turf Sprint wasn't tough enough, you will also find 'TDN Rising Star' and Woodbine GII Connaught Cup hero Dream Shake (Twirling Candy) looking to make it three wins in a row.

The GII Ladies Turf S. includes favorite MGSP Bay Storm (Kantharos), as she looks to add to her overall earnings after winning the prep for this race Aug. 5 at Ellis Park, and the experienced GSW and GISP Wakanaka (Ire) (Power {GB}).

Bringing up the graded rear going 12 furlongs will be the $1.7-million GII Turf Cup S., which offers a 'Win and You're In' opportunity into the GI Breeders' Cup Longines Turf. A pair of Brendan Walsh trainees in GSW Verstappen (War Front) and MGISW Santin (Distorted Humor) come calling, but they are going to have to be cognizant of GI United Nations S. victor Therapist (Freud) and GIII Dinner Party S. winner Never Explain (Street Sense).

“I wouldn't completely rule out him going back to dirt again at some point,” Walsh said of Santin. “But he's a heck of a turf horse … he ran a very good second in the Arlington Million. It was a fantastic run. He was up on the pace the whole way and was there to be shot at. And he held in there and ran a really, really good second. I feel he's doing really well coming into here. He got a mile and a quarter at Colonial. I don't see why he wouldn't get a mile and a half. He's a very relaxed horse, maybe a little too laid back if anything.”


Program Trading | Sarah Andrew

On its closing day Saturday, Colonial Downs hosts the nine-furlong GIII Virginia Derby.

Klaravich Stables has a pair of Chad Brown trainees which pose a major threat to the rest of the field. Activist Investing (GB) (Kingman {GB}) was very sharp at this distance when he cleared the optional claiming ranks Aug. 13 at Saratoga in his lone race this year. He will do battle with GI Saratoga Derby star Program Trading (GB) (Lope de Vega {Ire}) by attempting to relieve his speed-oriented stablemate of his perfect record.

Also present is Salute the Stars (Candy Ride {Arg}), winner of the Monmouth Park Pegasus S. June 17 and surprise longshot from the Aug. 12 GII Secretariat S. at Colonial, Gigante (Not This Time), who is trying to become the first Virginia-bred to win this race.


Not to be missed in the GII Canadian S. for older females is the return of last year's victoress Fev Rover (Ire) (Gutalfan {Ire}), who wired the field last out in the GI Beverly D Aug. 12 at Colonial. She will square off against the top three finishers from the GII Dance Smartly S. Aug. 20 at Woodbine, which includes Miss Dracarys (Malibu Moon).

“Javier [Castellano] and I were flying to Colonial Downs, and we were talking about the race [Beverly D],” said Fev Rover's trainer Mark Casse. “He said, 'There's no speed in this race.' I agreed and told him that she can go right to the lead. The nice thing about her, and Tepin [champion and dual Hall of Fame mare] was the same way, is that a great horse can bring their A-game no matter the situation. So, we went right to the lead, and it was over when that happened.”

Also on the graded docket is the GIII Singspiel S., which returns to 1 1/4 grass distance from two years ago. GSP Malibu Mambo (Point of Entry) could be the hot commodity after a sharp late surge against optional claimers in Toronto Aug. 12, but don't count out GSP Palazzi (Pioneerof the Nile). 


Tamara | Benoit

The GI Del Mar Debutante S., the only graded dirt race on Saturday, is sure to bring some attention with a capacity field of 14. First-crop sire Flameaway is well represented with 'TDN Rising Star' Julias Dream, who broke her maiden by 5 1/2 lengths over the turf at Del Mar Aug. 6. She will take on the top two finishers from the GIII Sorrento S. Aug. 12, Dreamfyre (Flameaway) and Benedetta (City of Light). The lineup also includes Chatalas (Gun Runner) and 'TDN Rising Star' Tamara (Bolt d'Oro), who both broke their maidens at first asking in Solana Beach July 30 and Aug. 19, respectively.

It wouldn't be Del Mar's surf without the turf and this year's GII John Mabee S. might be remembered as a match between GII Yellow Ribbon H. wearer Closing Remarks (Vronsky) and MGSW Neige Blanche (Fr) (Anodin {Ire}). Still, no one should overlook trainer Phil D'Amato's offerings. After all, he is looking to edge out Bob Baffert for the training title, and both Oakhurst (Mr Speaker) and GSW Turnerloose (Nyquist) will try to help the cause as the Del Mar meet concludes Sunday with a pair of graded races, the GI Runhappy Del Mar Futurity and GIII Del Mar Juvenile Turf S.

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