Zia Park, Penn National offer stakes feast on Wednesday
Thanksgiving Eve has become a notable fixture on the stakes calendar in recent years, thanks to Zia Park and Penn National, and racing fans can once again begin enjoying their cornucopia on Wednesday.
The $300,000 Zia Park Oaks anchors six Thoroughbred stakes on the card at the New Mexico track. Family Tree (pictured) seeks a return to top form after a decent third in the Alabama (G1) and a more lackluster third as the 1-2 favorite in the Remington Park Oaks. The Wayne Catalano filly would be awfully tough to beat if running up to her strong victories in the Iowa Oaks (G3) and Indiana Oaks (G2).
The Doug O’Neill-trained Land Over Sea has been installed as the 3-1 favorite on the morning line, but it’s questionable whether she’ll retain that position. Off form since winning the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) and finishing second in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), she’s been soundly beaten in four straight versus tougher, and tailed off in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). If class relief is the answer, Land Over Sea is in the right place.
Other contenders to note are Ready to Confess, second in both the Remington and Iowa Oaks for Donnie Von Hemel; Hastings shipper Victress; Raven Run (G2) third Coniah, now with Jon Arnett; and Eileen’s Girl, a well-bred maiden winner going turf-to-dirt for Peter Eurton.
In the $200,000 Zia Park Derby over the same 1 1/16-mile trip, Dalmore (pictured) rates a deserving 3-1 favorite for the Desormeaux brothers. Trained by Keith and ridden by Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, Dalmore upended Danzing Candy in the Affirmed (G3) and most recently finished second to Texas Chrome in the Super Derby (G3), leaving Mending Fences in fourth. In between, Dalmore tried the Pacific Classic (G1) and was beaten 16 lengths into fifth by California Chrome. The Colonel John colt fits very well in this spot.
Also invading from Southern California is Semper Fortis from the Doug O’Neill barn. Although not in the same league as multiple Grade 1-winning half-brother Carpe Diem, Semper Fortis has steadily developed into a useful stakes performer. He was narrowly beaten by Accelerate (the eventual third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile [G1]) in both the Shared Belief and Los Alamitos Derby (G2), and he exits an allowance third to older stakes winner Avanti Bello. Mario Gutierrez comes in for the ride aboard the son of Distorted Humor.
Larry Jones sends out No Distortion, also by Distorted Humor, and a half-brother to champion Proud Spell. The Brereton Jones homebred looked bound for big things when romping in the Long Branch at Monmouth over the summer, but he subsequently disappointed in the West Virginia Derby (G2) and Bud Delp Memorial. Freshened for three months, No Distortion has been training forwardly at Fair Grounds.
Several are coming in from Remington, including Oklahoma Derby (G3) alums Pass the Buck (fourth), Way Striking and Inside Straight as well as last-out Oklahoma Classics Cup victor Phantom Trip. Among the locals, ex-Baffert trainee Let’s Meet in Rio is finding new life on this circuit for Justin Evans, and figures to improve on the stretch-out from his sprint prep. Mine That Bird winner Concord Fast, off since adding the May 3 Riley Allison, resurfaces for new trainer Bart Hone.
Prairie Meadows Cornhusker (G3) hero Smack Smack (pictured) seeks to defend his title in the $150,000 Zia Park Championship, where he’ll face last year’s Super Derby and Zia Park Derby winner, Mobile Bay. The nine-furlong test has also attracted veteran Forest Mouse, third to J Serino and Smack Smack in the Veterans last out; Code West; and King of New York, making his first start off the claim for Mike Stidham.
A pair of $75,000 six-furlong stakes feature solid fields. Jones’ Chief Istan has won two straight going into the Zia Park Sprint, while Bing Crosby (G1) runner-up Indexical debuts for Hone off a claim, Wings Locked Up chased the classy Ivan Fallunovalot at Remington two back, and the ex-Baffert Toews on Ice tries his elders. Well-bred shippers in the Zia Park Distaff are Steve Asmussen’s Moment Is Right, Cinnamon Spice from the Jones barn, and Von Hemel’s Ghost Locket. Rounding out the Thoroughbred stakes is the $140,000 Eddy County for New Mexico-bred juveniles.
Wednesday evening, Penn National picks up the baton, beginning with the $100,000 Blue Mountain Juvenile Fillies. La Vitesse looms large in this state-bred event after trouncing open company at Los Alamitos for O’Neill and at Parx for new trainer Scott Lake. But Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard has a fascinating runner in well-bred Rose Tree. By Harlan’s Holiday and out of a half-sister to Lost in the Fog, Rose Tree romped in last-to-first style in her Delaware unveiling. Item, victorious over this track and six-furlong trip in her debut, made it two in a row in the Maryland Million Lassie. Spanker, although a maiden, has consistently acquitted herself well in respectable company.
Salvator Mile (G3) winner Res Judicata puts his perfect record on the Penn main track on the line in the $100,000 Swatara. By Smarty Jones and representing the same connections, Res Judicata will likely have company on the front end here. Fellow “Smarty” son Amplified stretches out to 1 1/16 miles in the wake of a dominant allowance score at Parx. Charitable Annuity was third in the Mountainview back in June in his only prior appearance away from Charles Town, and David Jacobson’s Belmont shipper Fabulous Kid figures to get plenty of support.
Like Zia, Penn’s last stakes is also the richest on the card, the $200,000 Fabulous Strike at six furlongs. Talented three-year-old Awesome Speed (pictured), fourth off a layoff in the Gallant Bob (G3), has appeal in his first crack versus older horses for trainer Alan Goldberg. The other sophomore, Imperial Hint, beat Swatara contender Amplified in his latest.
Lightly raced four-year-old Easy to Say, out of Wild Snitch, has loads of upside – and gets a rider switch to Irad Ortiz Jr. Trouble Kid looked like a different animal in his 11-length conquest of Parx, garnering a 107 BRIS Speed rating. New York-bred stalwart Weekend Hideaway would be a prime threat, unless he opts for the Fall Highweight (G3) on Thanksgiving Day. Iowa Sprint winner Candip has placed to the likes of X Y Jet and Ivana Fallunovalot this season, Chief Lion was third in the Smile Sprint (G2) for Jacobson, and New Jersey’s pride Chublicious is capable at his best.
Family Tree and Smack Smack photos at Prairie Meadows courtesy of Coady Photography.
Dalmore photo courtesy of Benoit.
Awesome Speed photo courtesy of Kenny Martin/Coglianese Photography.