LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 6, 2020) – Each week, the NTRA will provide a guide to the best stakes races in North America and beyond. Races are listed in chronological order (all times Eastern). Full previews when available can be found through the link for each race.
Aqueduct, Santa Anita Park, and Tampa Bay Downs all have Kentucky Derby prep races as part of their respective stakes lineups this Saturday with the Gotham Stakes, San Felipe, and Tampa Bay Derby each offering 50 qualifying points to the winner. In addition to the San Felipe, Santa Anita Park also has the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile – featuring Eclipse Award-finalist Got Stormy – and Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap highlighting its card.
The three Kentucky Derby preps will be televised on the FOX Sports program “America’s Day at the Races” presented by America’s Best Racing, which airs nationally this Saturday on FS2 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET. These races, along with the Big ‘Cap, will also be shown live on TVG as part of their comprehensive, coast-to-coast coverage.
Saturday March 7
3:55 p.m.—$100,000 Grade 3 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on TVG
The Challenger was upgraded to graded status this year following an eight-year run of winners that included subsequent Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Fort Larned in 2012, multiple graded-stakes winner Stanford in 2017, $3.2-million-plus earner War Story in 2018 and graded stakes Flameaway last year. Heading this year’s field is 5-year-old gelding Admiralty Pier, owned by Hoolie Racing Stable and Bruce Lunsford and trained by Barbara Minshall. Admiralty Pier notched his first graded stakes triumph here on February 8 in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes. Other likely contenders are Prompt, from the barn of Bill Mott, and Noble Drama, trained by David Fawkes, who appears to be in excellent form.
4 p.m.—$200,000 Grade 2 San Carlos Stakes at Santa Anita Park on TVG
Trainer John Sadler’s hard knocking 6-year-old gelding Flagstaff looms prominent amongst a wide open field of six older sprinters going seven furlongs in Saturday’s San Carlos Stakes. Along with Flagstaff, who was a close second in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Stakes, Bob Baffert will send out a tough twosome in recent allowance winner McKale and last year’s Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster, who cuts back in distance and has five consecutive bullet works on his tab since well beaten routing.
4:25 p.m.— $225,000 Grade 2 Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on TVG
The Hillsborough Stakes, which has launched the Eclipse Award-winning seasons of 2012 winner Zagora (FR) and 2016 winner Tepin, has attracted a field of 12 older fillies and mares, headed by Lael Stables’ 5-year-old mare Jehozacat, Canadian champion Starship Jubilee and 5-year-old mare Altea, one of three Chad Brown-trained entrants. Jehozacat, who is trained by Arnaud Delacour, captured the Grade 3 Endeavour Stakes on the turf here on February 8, her second stakes victory of the meeting. Starship Jubilee, who is a career millionaire, captured the Grade 1 E. P. Taylor Stakes last October has won her first two starts of 2020 including a victory last time out in the Grade 3 Suwannee River Stakes on February 8.
4:30 p.m.—$400,000 Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes at Santa Anita Park on TVG
Trainer Jeff Mullins’ rejuvenated River Boyne (IRE) heads a wide open field of 10 older horses in Saturday’s Frank E. Kilroe Mile on turf. Others who rate tremendous chances are defending race winner Ohio and Eclipse Award-finalist Got Stormy. Winless in eight starts prior to earning an emphatic 2 ½ length score in the Grade 3 Thunder Road Stakes on February 8, River Boyne earned a career-best 99 Beyer Speed figure that day. Though she finished fourth in the Grade 3 Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on February 8, the Mark Casse-trained Got Stormy is a multiple Grade 1 winner who defeated males in the Fourstardave Handicap last summer and finished second in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Mile over the Santa Anita course.
4:46 p.m.— $200,000 Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap at Aqueduct on TVG
Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables’ Mind Control, a dual Grade 1-winner on the New York Racing Association circuit, leads a field of eight in the six-furlong Tom Fool Handicap. Trained by Gregg Sacco, the 4-year-old Stay Thirsty colt captured a pair of Grade 1 races at Saratoga Race Course, beginning with the Hopeful as a juvenile and the H. Allen Jerkens last year. Mind Control has won three of four starts at Aqueduct, including scores in the Jerome and Grade 3 Bay Shore during a productive sophomore campaign, and a last-out nose win in the Grade 3 Toboggan in his seasonal debut on January 18.
4:55 p.m.— $200,000 Grade 3 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs on TVG
This year’s Florida Oaks has drawn a field of 12 sophomore fillies, led by undefeated New York Groove, owned by Commonwealth New Era Racing and trained by Michael Trombetta. The daughter of Verrazano posted back-to-back stakes victories last fall in the Presque Isle Debutante Stakes at Presque Isle Downs and the Glorious Song Stakes at Woodbine. All of New York Groove’s races have been on all-weather synthetic surfaces.
5:32 p.m.—$400,000 Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs on FS2 and TVG
A field of a dozen 3-year-olds headed by Sole Volante will in the 40th edition of the Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday, a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” qualifying race, awarding points to the first four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 scale. Sole Volante, the lone gelding in the field, drew the No.7 post position for the 1 1/16-miles races and has been established as the 2-1 morning-line wagering favorite, based on his impressive victory in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The second choice at 5-2 is Chance It, who defeated Sole Volante in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes on January 4 at Gulfstream Park. Chance It was scratched from last Saturday’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream because of concerns about breaking from the extreme outside No. 11 post position and the short run to the first turn.
5:42 p.m.—$300,000 Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on FS2 and TVG
Cash is King and L C Racing’s Mischevious Alex has posted back-to-back stakes wins in impressive fashion and will now try to earn qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby as part of a competitive 11-horse field in Saturday’s Gotham Stakes. The 68th running of the Gotham will offer 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the top-four finishers towards the “Run for the Roses” on May 2 at Churchill Downs. Mischevious Alex enters the one-turn mile with momentum as the field’s only graded stakes winner courtesy of his seven-length score in the seven-furlong Grade 3 Swale on February 1 at Gulfstream Park. The John Servis trainee is 3-1-1 in six career starts, including a third-place finish under jockey Trevor McCarthy in his only previous start at one mile in the Sapling, a two-turn event, on September 1 at Monmouth Park.
6:01 p.m.—$400,000 Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park on FS2 and TVG
Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes once again promises to showcase some of the best sophomore talent on the Kentucky Derby trail as Bob Baffert’s undefeated twosome of Authentic and Thousand Words, along with Peter Eurton’s Eclipse Award-winning Storm the Court and John Shirreffs’ classy Honor A.P., head a field of seven 3-year-olds. The San Felipe will award a total of 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, with 50 to the winner. Authentic captured the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at one mile on January 4 by 7 ¾ lengths, but gave regular rider Drayden Van Dyke some anxious moments late, as he nearly brushed the inner rail a furlong out. Although he hasn’t yet shown the flash exhibited by his stablemate, Thousand Words has been efficient in winning all three of his starts, the most recent a three-quarter length tally in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on February 1.
6:09 p.m.—$300,000 Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park on TVG
Unbeaten Ring Leader will be making her two-turn debut in the 1 1/16-miles Honeybee after winning the $125,000 Dixie Belle Stakes February 15 in her last start. The Honeybee, which will offer 85 points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Oaks, is the final major local prep for the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes April 10.
7:03 p.m.—$600,000 Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap at Santa Anita Park on TVG
One of eight trainers dating back to 1940 to have saddled consecutive winners of the storied Santa Anita Handicap, John Sadler will seek an unprecedented three-peat this Saturday as Gift Box aims to defend his title in the 83rd running of the 1 ¼-miles test for older horses. Originally trained by Chad Brown and purchased privately prior to winning the 2018 Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes in his first start for Sadler, Gift Box outdueled McKinzie to take last year’s Big ‘Cap by a nose under regular rider Joel Rosario. A winner of three out of his five starts for Sadler, Gift Box will attempt to join John Henry (1981-82), Milwaukee Brew (2002-03), Lava Man (2006-07) and Game On Dude (2013-14) as the fifth two-time winner of the Santa Anita Handicap.
Sunday March 8
7 p.m.—$100,000 Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita Park on TVG
Favored in all three of her starts and most recently second in a pair of Grade 1 stakes, trainer Simon Callaghan’s Donna Veloce heads a field of seven sophomore fillies in Sunday’s Santa Ysabel Stakes. Donna Veloce rolled to a 9 ¼ length first-out maiden win going 6 ½ furlongs on September 28 and was subsequently second, beaten a neck as the 2-1 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. As is his custom, Bob Baffert will also be well represented in the Santa Ysabel, as he’ll send out promising recent maiden winner Storie Blue and battle tested Gingham.