The Month Ahead: March 2012
By Kevin Martin, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

As we enter March, racing fans begin to sense the end of winter, which means the start of Triple Crown season. By the end of the month, we will be one month away from the big day at Churchill Downs. Next thing you know, it will be summer and the east and west coast Meccas of racing (Saratoga and Del Mar) will be open for business. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, March has some excitement of its own.

This month will have 35 graded stakes races from coast to coast, including Grade 1 stakes for older horses (Santa Anita Handicap), turf runners (Kilroe Mile), older females (Santa Margarita), 3-year-old colts (Florida Derby), and 3-year-old fillies (Santa Anita Oaks, Las Virgenes Stakes).

This month also brings the second as well as the final Kentucky Derby future pools during the first and last weekend. It also brings the only chance you’ll have to get early action on your Kentucky Oaks choice. The second Derby pool and only Oaks pool open on March 2nd and will close on the 4th. March 30th to April 1st we’ll have the last Derby future pool. You can download the past performances of contenders in each pool and place your future bets at Twinspires.com.

A number of 2011 champions made their 2012 debuts in February, including the 3-year-old Eclipse champ and Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. This month, Havre de Grace, the reigning Horse of the Year, is expected to make her first start of 2012 in the New Orleans Handicap at the Fair Grounds on March 17th.

And finally, the last day of the month brings Dubai World Cup Night to the Meydan Race Course on the Arabian Peninsula. World class horses from all over the world will compete in nine races with a total purse exceeding $25 million. The feature race, the Dubai World Cup at 1 ¼ miles, is worth $10 million, making it the richest race in the world. Animal Kingdom, who won his first race of 2012 at Gulfstream in February, is scheduled to be among the contingent representing the U.S. in Dubai. Others expected to ship to Dubai are Breeders Cup’ winners Royal Delta and Perfect Shirl.

It’s time to shake free of the winter blues, race fans! March will be an exciting month of racing!

Week 1

March 3
Santa Anita Park: The month begins with a bang in California. The first Saturday of the month will feature three Grade 1 races, including the biggest prize for older horses in California, the Santa Anita Handicap, aka the “Big Cap.”

March 3
Aqueduct: Three graded stakes will be on the card March 3rd at Aqueduct in New York. Among the graded stakes will be the Grade 3 Gotham for Kentucky Derby hopefuls. The Breeders Cup’ Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion Hansen is expected to make his next start in the Gotham.

March 2-4
Futures: The second Kentucky Derby pool and the only Kentucky Oaks future pool will be open during the first weekend of the month.

Week 2

March 10
Tampa Bay Downs: The Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby will be the feature race for Tampa Bay Downs’ biggest day of racing. Battle Hardened, who won his first career race in last month’s Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa, is scheduled to start and will attempt to prove himself worthy of a place in the gate on Kentucky Derby day.

March 10
Santa Anita Park: The 3-year-old prospects in California will compete in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

Week 3

March 17
Oaklawn Park: The Rebel Stakes, the penultimate race in the series for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park, will bring a promising group of colts to the big track in Arkansas. Bob Baffert, who swept the two divisions of the Southwest Stakes in February, will likely ship a promising colt or two into Oaklawn for the Rebel. Also on the card at Oaklawn is the Grade 3 Azeri Stakes, a prep for the Grade 1 Apple Blossom, an important race for older females. Horse of the Year Havre de Grace won last year’s edition of the Azeri.

March 17
Santa Anita Park: One of the oldest and most prestigious stakes for older females, the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Stakes, will be run at Santa Anita Park. The race has been won by four Horse of the Year winners, the last coming in 2010 with Zenyatta.

March 17
Fair Grounds: Horse of the Year Havre de Grace is scheduled to make her 2012 debut at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Week 4

March 30 to April 1st
Futures: The third, and final, Kentucky Derby future pool is scheduled.

March 31
Dubai: Dubai World Cup Night racing will start around 9am eastern in the U.S., giving bettors the rare opportunity to wager on world class racing over breakfast.

March 31
Gulfstream Park: One of the most prolific preps for producing Kentucky Derby winners, the Florida Derby, will be run at Gulfstream Park. Union Rags is likely to make his final start before the big race at Churchill Downs.

March 31
Kentucky Oaks Preps: Three big races for fillies in Florida, Louisiana and California–the Grade 2 Gulfstream Oaks, Grade 2 Fairground Oaks, and Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks–will serve as important preps for the Kentucky Oaks in May at Churchill Downs.

Good luck, everybody!

Full Schedule of March Stakes Races

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