By ROBERT KIECKHEFER
UPI Racing Writer
It’s final tune-up time a world apart for two top contenders for next month’s $10 million Dubai World Cup.
Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom will return to the races Saturday in a Gulfstream Park allowance designed as his sole prep for the Dubai race. And in Tokyo, last year’s World Cup runner-up, Transcend, goes in Sunday’s Group 1 February Stakes.
And undefeated Australian mare Black Caviar is set to run Saturday at Flemington in what might or might not be a final prep for one of the sprints on the World Cup undercard.
Earlier plans called for Animal Kingdom to make his 4-year-old debut Feb. 25 at Tampa Bay Downs. But trainer Graham Motion and Barry Irwin of Team Valor International said Wednesday the hastily arranged Gulfstream allowance event will be an easier and more targeted lead-up to the $10 million World Cup on March 31.
Animal Kingdom worked 6 furlongs on Tuesday and is ready to go, Irwin said, adding, “For this kind of allowance race, I think the horse will be fine on Saturday.
“He’s doing super, but we don’t want him to be too primed for a big race first time back. We want him to get something out of the race, not leave his Dubai World Cup race on the course.”
After winning the 2011 Kentucky Derby, the son of Leroidesanimaux finished second in the Preakness Stakes and sixth in the Belmont. After a rough trip in the Belmont, he was found to have a fracture in his left hind leg and he has not raced since.
While Animal Kingdom will be coming off an eight-month layoff, Black Caviar is looking likely to contest Saturday’s Lightning Stakes at Flemington in Australia with just one week’s rest.
Black Caviar – undefeated in 18 starts – barely got warmed up in winning last Saturday’s C.F. Orr Stakes at Caulfield and trainer Peter Moody said if she came back well, the Lightning was a possibility.
“I’d say we’re about 95 percent,” part-owner Neil Werrett said Wednesday on TVN. “Unless something happens on Saturday morning – she pulls up with a headache or something – we’re there.”
He also said if the Lightning is as easy a task as the Orr, Black Caviar might come back in yet another week’s time to try for her 20th win at Caulfield.
Meanwhile, Moody is looking at flights to Dubai with an eye on taking Black Caviar outside her comfort zone in one of the sprints on Dubai World Cup night. And she long has been eyed for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 23.
Other weekend toppers:
Speaking of the World Cup: Tokyo Racecourse on Sunday hosts the $1.2 million, Group 1 February Stakes for 4-year-olds and up going 1 mile on the dirt. Transcend, who finished second in the World Cup last year after prepping with a win in this race, is back for another try. Transcend ended an outstanding 2011 season with a victory in the Japan Cup Dirt so hopes are high. But trainer Takasuki Yasuda is still smarting over last year’s visit to Meydan. “He ran his heart out and proved himself second best in the entire world,” Yasuda said. “But we were so close. I would have given anything to have won it.” He said he expects Transcend to dictate the pace on Sunday. “That’s the kind of race we’ll expect from him this time,” the trainer said. “We’re going back to the Dubai World Cup and this time, I want to win it.” Also back for the February Stakes in an expected field of 12 is Espoir City, who won the race two years ago but has not won since.
Saturday’s feature – other than Animal Kingdom — is the $150,000, Grade II Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship. Force Freeze, beaten only a neck by Amazombie in last November’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, faces a questionable field with many making their first foray into stakes competition. Force Freeze, who spent a lot of time in Dubai last year before finishing ninth in the Golden Shaheen on World Cup night, came home to win the Teddy Drone Stakes at Monmouth, then finished second in the Vosburgh at Saratoga before the Breeders’ Cup near miss. Force Freeze was fifth in the Golden Shaheen in 2010. “My only concern is the distance, particularly coming off the layoff,” said trainer Peter Walder. “Seven furlongs can be a tricky distance, but Paco (Lopez) is very confident it won’t be a problem. He can run with any horse in the country at six furlongs. I’m excited to have him back.” Others to watch: Capt. Candyman Can and the well-bred and promising 4-year-old, Bold Warrior.
Sunday, it’s the $150,000, Grade III Hurricane Bertie for fillies and mares going 6 1/2 furlongs. A well-balanced field of seven includes Bobby Flay’s filly Her Smile, making her first start since finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
Saturday’s card is highlighted by the $200,000, Grade II Barbara Fritchie Handicap for fillies and mares at 7 furlongs on the main track. The 7-furlong Fritchie drew nine entrants with Nicole H installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite. The daughter of Mr. Greeley has finished first or second in eight of her last nine races, including five stakes victories, including the Correction Stakes just two weeks ago. “We are very happy with how she came out of her last race,” trainer Mike Hushion said. “We don’t usually run a horse like her back in two weeks but she bounced out of her last race and I think seven-eighths is a perfect distance.” Also in the field is C C’s Pal, who has won three of four starts since moving to the Rick Dutrow’s barn, including the Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct on New Year’s Day.
The $100,000 John B. Campbell at 9 furlongs supports the Fritchie on Saturday’s card.
On President’s Day on Monday, the $200,000, Grade II General George takes the spotlight.
Saturday’s feature is the $200,000, Grade II Santa Maria Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles. Seven are entered, including Ellafitz, who enters the fray off dominating back-to-back stakes wins for trainer Bob Baffert. The 5-year-old Tiznow mare took down the Grade II Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park in December, then accounted for the Paseana last month at Santa Anita. Miss Mittagong was second in the Bayakoa and then third in the Robert J. Frankel on New Year’s Day.
Sunday, it’s 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs in the $150,000, Grade II San Vicente with graded stakes earnings still vital in a pretty wide-open Kentucky Derby picture. Creative Cause returns to the races for trainer Mike Harrington for the first time since finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Drill, who has been going steadily downhill since winning the Del Mar Futurity last September, will try to make amends for trainer Bob Baffert. Captain Obvious, an Irish import, makes his second U.S. start after a fourth in the Real Quiet Stakes in November. Ben Cecil trains.
Golden Gate Fields
The $200,000, Grade III El Camino Real Derby tops the weekend action in northern California. Trainer Graham Motion ships in Lucky Chappy, who finished second to Howe Great in the Kitten’s Joy Stakes over the Gulfstream Park turf last month. Before that, the Irish-bred High Chaparral colt was third in the Bourbon Stakes on the Keeneland lawn and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He started his career with three races in Italy last year and it will be interesting to see how he handles the all-weather track. Russian Greek, Cahill Chrome and Senor Rain – the top three finishers from the Jan. 14 California Derby, all are back to face off again. Handsome Mike, a favorite of the Horse Racing Radio Network team, ships in from Southern California after a couple promising also-rans including a fourth in the Grade III Sham Stakes last month. Daddy Nose Best, another turf specialist trying a different surface, is in for trainer Steve Asmussen, who won last year’s El Camino Real with Silver Medallion and Julien Leparoux will take the transcontinental flight to ride. They all could be in trouble, though, if Jerry Hollendorfer’s star filly, Lady of Fifty, gets an easy lead. The Kentucky-bred After Market miss has won three stakes in a row over the Golden Gate oval, including the California Oaks in her last start. Hollendorfer also trains Russian Greek.