As we flip the calendar to February, we find the first Grade 1 stakes races of 2013 and a slew of opportunities for 3-year-olds to earn qualifying points towards the Kentucky Derby and Oaks. Last month brought the 3-year-old debuts for the 2-year-old filly and colt champions, Shanghai Bobby and Beholder; both ran well but lost. Identifying Derby and Oaks contenders is a crapshoot this early in the season. The races this month could bring some clarity to the 3-year-old divisions as we count down to the big weekend in May.
In addition to 3-year-old racing, February brings high-class racing action for older horses, including a doubleheader of Grade 1 races at Gulfstream Park and graded stakes in the always-compelling filly and mare division. Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, and Royal Delta, the reigning older female champion, are expected to make their 2013 debuts this month.
Here is a detailed look at the month ahead in thoroughbred racing!
Aqueduct opens the month with two graded stakes races. The top four finishers of the Grade 3 Withers Stakes will earn qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. The Withers is the first of seven races offering points towards the Derby and Oaks in February. The other graded stakes at Aqueduct is the Grade 3 Toboggan, a 6-furlong dash for older sprinters.
Santa Anita cards an excellent trifecta of stakes headlined by the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Last year, I’ll Have Another won the race at odds of 43-1 and went on to win the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby, and the Preakness. He’s Had Enough, the second-place finisher in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, will make his 3-year-old debut in this year’s Robert Lewis. He’s Had Enough has the same connections as champion I’ll Have Another. The Grade 2 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds and the Grade 2 Arcadia for turf horses are also on the day’s card.
Tampa Bay Downs will have a trio of Grade 3 races, including a Derby qualifier in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. The Endeavor Stakes and Florida Oaks are for female turf runners. The 2012 Eclipse winner for turf female, Zagora, won last year’s Endeavor in the first race of her championship campaign.
At Santa Anita Park, Game on Dude, a top performer in 2012, will make his first start of 2013 in the Grade 2 San Antonio.
The Grade 1 Donn Handicap is a major early season race for older horses at Gulfstream Park. Multiple-graded-stakes winners Ron the Greek and Mucho Macho Man are both under consideration for the Donn. he regally bred winner of last year’s Florida Derby, Take Charge Indy, is expected to make his 4-year-old debut in the Donn. In the other Grade 1 on the card, the Gulfstream Park Handicap, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom is likely to be among the entries. The Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint and the Grade 3 Suwannee River Stakes round out a great day of racing in Florida.
While the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park isn’t graded, the top four finishers will earn qualifying points for the Kentucky Oaks. In 2009, Rachel Alexandra won the Martha Washington on her way to one of the greatest campaigns for a 3-year-old filly in racing history.
Santa Anita Park has the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes for turf runners.
Gulfstream Park will card two turf races: the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Stakes for older horses and the Grade 3 The Very One Stakes for fillies and mares.
Laurel Park in Maryland has the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap for filly and mare sprinters.
The two-time champion Royal Delta is slated to make her first start as a 5-year-old in the Grade 3 Sabin Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Santa Anita Park has the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes, a 7-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds.
President’s Day brings the aptly named General George Handicap at Laurel Park. The Grade 3 General George is a 7-furlong sprint for horses 3-years-old and up.
Oaklawn Park will have the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, the first graded stakes in Oaklawn’s stellar series of 3-year-old races. Among the possible starters is Will Take Charge, who is a half brother to 2012 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy. Will Take Charge won the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn in January.
Santa Anita Park headlines its holiday racing with the Grade 2 Buena Vista Stakes for filly and mares on the turf.
The final Saturday of the month brings the first of the 50-point qualifying races for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks. All races to this point have been worth 10 points to the winner, but the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds and the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream will be the first to award 50 Derby qualifying points to the winner. The Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds and the Davona Dale at Gulfstream will be the first 50-point races towards the Kentucky Oaks.
The Risen Star and Rachel Alexandra Stakes is a big day of racing at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap will be open to older turf horses and the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap to older dirt runners.
The Todd Pletcher-trained colt Violence is among the possible starters for the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. The well-regarded Violence is undefeated in three starts and among the favorites in current Kentucky Derby future betting.
Normandy Invasion, a strong second-place finisher in last year’s Remsen Stakes, is pointing to the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds for his first start of the year. Turf writer Gary West wrote that his performance in the Remsen “might have been the best performance of the year by a juvenile.”
Santa Anita Park has the Grade 2 San Carlos Stakes for older horses at the sprint distance of 7-furlongs.
Best of luck and enjoy a great month of winter racing from coast to coast!