International Star headlines Thanksgiving eve stakes at Zia, Penn National

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

November 23rd, 2015

Racing fans eagerly anticipating the smorgasbord of stakes offerings this Thanksgiving weekend will have tantalizing appetizers on Wednesday when Zia Park and Penn National play host to several graded-quality events.

Wednesday afternoon at Zia, International Star makes his return to the track for the first time since winning the Louisiana Derby (G2) in the $200,000 Zia Park Derby. The Mike Maker-trained colt won that March 28 event by a neck, thus sweeping Fair Grounds' leading classic preps which also included the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2).

International Star was entered in the Kentucky Derby (G1), but was forced to scratch the morning of the race after developing an abcess in his left front foot.

Should International Star be too rusty off the layoff, Mobile Bay figures as the one to beat. A Louisiana-bred, Mobile Bay captured his home's state other significant for three-year-olds, the Super Derby (G2) at Louisiana Downs, in September. Most recently, the colt made a wide rally to finish third in the Oklahoma Derby (G3).

Other leading contenders are multiple Grade 3-placed stakes winner Pain and Misery, a 5 1/2-length allowance winner at Zia last time, and the multiple graded stakes-placed Bold Conquest, who exits an allowance score at Keeneland.

Calamity Kate, the Delaware Oaks (G3) winner and Cotillion (G1) runner-up, will be a strong favorite in the $300,000 Zia Park Oaks. The Kelly Breen charge faded to ninth in the Breeders' up Distaff (G1) in her last start.

Dual Santa Anita allowance winner Never Ends and last-out Keeneland allowance winner Lavender Chrissie are the primary challengers to Calamity Kate.

At Penn National Wednesday night, the venerable Maryland-bred Ben's Cat seeks to win the six-furlong, $200,000 Fabulous Strike H. for the fourth consecutive year. However, the nine-year-old seems to have lost a step this season, winning only twice in seven starts.

The likely betting favorite in the Fabulous Strike is Favorite Tale, who captured the Smile Sprint H. (G2) in July and finished third in both the Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G1) and Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1). The latter performance was most noteworthy as he finished less than two lengths behind Runhappy after a wide journey from post 14.

Others to watch out for include Amelia's Wild Ride, who captured the Pennsylvania Governor's Cup on the Penn National turf in May and last time beat eventual Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) winner Mongolian Saturday in the off-the-turf Woodford (G3) at Keeneland. Fabulous Kid has won two of three starts since joining the David Jacobson barn, including a track-and-distance allowance in late September, but is also cross-entered to Thursday's Fall Highweight H. (G3).

One race earlier, Stormin Monarcho will defend his title in the $100,000 Swatara, a 1 1/16-mile event for older horses. An optional claiming winner at Belmont over returning rival Kid Cruz last time, Stormin Monarcho has another serious rival in Page McKenney, a three-time stakes winner on dirt at Laurel this year who has also placed in three graded stakes.

(Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography)