In addition to the Clark H. (G1) card at Churchill Downs, there’s also Black Friday graded stakes action on both coasts.
The $200,000 Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) at Del Mar anchors the festivities with a scheduled post time of 3 p.m. (PST)/ 6 p.m. (EST). The respective top two from the course record-setting 2017 United Nations (G1), Bigger Picture and Can’thelpbelieving, ship west for a rematch.
The Mike Maker-trained Bigger Picture, winless since his repeat score in the John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) in January, gets a rider switch to Hall of Famer Mike Smith. Recently placed in the Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) and Sycamore (G3) with no pace help, the closer likely relies on stablemate Krewe Chief to keep things honest on the front end.
Can’thelpbelieving posted a career high in last fall’s Sky Classic (G2), only to be shelved for 13 months. The Graham Motion charge resurfaced with a dead-heat second at Woodbine, but could do no better than seventh in the Sycamore on a “good” Keeneland course. Much happier on firm, Can’thelpbelieving should be in his element here with new rider Joe Talamo.
Chicago Style, a neck second as the 7-5 favorite here a year ago off pedestrian fractions, figures to have a more amenable pace scenario. In only two subsequent starts, the Glen Hill homebred closed from 10th for third to Bigger Picture in the Connally, and most recently checked in a useful fifth in the Lure. That mile tightener off the nine-month layoff should set him up well for trainer Tom Proctor.
Multiple Grade 2 veteran Ashleyluvssugar had lost a step, until rolling back the clock with a strong pacesetting second, under Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, in the John Henry Turf Championship (G2). Also runner-up in the 2016 edition of this race, the seven-year-old is only 1-for-8 on the Jimmy Durante turf, and his last score over 1 1/2 miles came in May 2015.
Ya Gotta Wanna, best of the rest behind the imperious Fashion Business in the Del Mar H. (G2) in August, rallied for third last out in the John Henry. The Phil D’Amato four-year-old has upside and gets a rider switch to Flavien Prat.
Beach View was last seen romping in the Cougar II (G3), going this distance on the Del Mar main, July 25. Ruled out of the Pacific Classic (G1) after a stall mishap, the Leonard Powell trainee will face a fitness test in this spot, while Cal-restricted stakes winner Marckie’s Water takes a hike in class and trip off a Santa Anita allowance win.
Earlier in the afternoon (3:50 p.m. EST) at Aqueduct, the $200,000 Comely (G3) features a competitive cast of eight sophomore fillies.
Blamed’s comeback second in the Raven Run (G2) received a big form boost when the winner, Shamrock Rose, went on to upset the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1). Stretching back out from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles should agree with the Bill Mott filly, who’d capped a five-race winning streak in the Sunland Park Oaks for original trainer Joel Marr before injury forced her to the sidelines.
Two exit the Remington Park Oaks – Brad Cox’s Remedy, who kept on for second after setting the pace, and Todd Pletcher’s Alberobello, a subpar eighth who looms as a rebound candidate.
A lively pace would help Stronger Than Ever and the others. The Ken McPeek pupil is rounding back into the kind of form that saw her win the Silverbulletday. Consistent New York-bred Split Time, beaten a neck when third in the Fleet Indian in her only prior try at trip, should enjoy another opportunity. The multiple stakes winner comes off a second versus elders in the Empire Distaff around Belmont’s one-turn 1 1/16 miles.
War Cabinet, a War Front half to U S Army Ranger, goes turf to dirt for Shug McGaughey. Indy Union, third in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2), just posted a field-best 97 Brisnet Speed rating in a Belmont allowance, and Hey Niki placed second in her Winter Melody stakes debut.
The undercard includes a trio of supporting stakes, two of them 1 1/16-mile turf tests. The $150,000 Gio Ponti for three-year-olds pits Therapist, a five-time stakes winner for Gio Ponti’s trainer Christophe Clement, against McGaughey’s stakes firster Breaking the Rules, Chad Brown’s new Irish recruit Medal of Honour, Better Talk Now scorer Rose’s Vision, and Caesars S. winner Mr Ritz, who reverts to turf after a third in the Ontario Derby (G3).
The $150,000 Forever Together is for turf distaffers as it name implies. Stakes veteran Bellavais was successful first off the layoff for new trainer Pletcher, beating Dolce Lili and defending Forever Together champ Penjade. Multiple Grade 3-placed Special Event drops from graded company, Yaddo winner La Moneda ventures into open company, Lift Up was runner-up by a neck in the Maple Leaf (G3), Bombshell is two-for-three since joining Arnaud Delacour, and Ready to Confess tries turf for Graham Motion.
Linda Rice holds a strong hand in the $100,000 Key Cents S. for New York-bred juvenile fillies, with Surge of Pride and Sassy Agnes looming large in the six-furlong dirt dash.