By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: The return of Saudi Cup runner-up Midnight Bisou – “arguably the best horse in the world,” according to her trainer Steve Asmussen – provides the highlight of a US Saturday schedule featuring four Graded stakes each at both Churchill Downs and Belmont Park.
Crowds are beginning to dribble back at second-tier venues across the Atlantic but the major tracks are continuing on a behind-closed-doors basis.
Running for the first time since her controversial defeat to Maximum Security in the world’s richest race in Riyadh in February, superstar dirt mare Midnight Bisou (Steve Asmussen/Mike Smith) reappears in the G2 Fleur de Lis (10.15pm BST) at Churchill Downs.
The five-year-old’s rivals in this ‘Win and You’re In’ contest for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff are headed by last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress (Tom Amoss/Joe Talamo).
On the same card, Clark Handicap winner Tom’s D’Etat (Al Stall/Miguel Mena) and convincing New Orleans Classic scorer By My Standards (Bret Calhoun/Gabriel Saez) head the $500,000 Stephen Foster (10.47pm BST), downgraded to G2 these days.
8¾-length maiden winner Cazadero (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana) will start favourite for the G3 Bashford Manor (9.43pm BST), the first Graded stakes of 2020 for two-year-olds.
Live on Sky Sports Racing at Belmont Park, the G1 Just A Game (11.08pm BST) features Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Uni (Chad Brown/Joel Rosario), back for the first time since storming to victory with a strong late kick at Santa Anita.
Chasing a four-timer in the one-mile event for fillies and mares, Brown also fields a second Breeders’ Cup heroine in Newspaperofrecord (Irad Ortiz) plus dual Graded-stakes winner Regal Glory (Manny Franco).
Leading dirt sprinter Promises Fulfilled (Dale Romans/Luis Saez) makes his seasonal debut in the G2 True North (10.36pm BST), while the Graham Motion twosome Mean Mary (Luis Saez) and Mrs Sippy (Joel Rosario) headline the G2 New York Stakes (10.04pm BST).
Storm The Court (Peter Eurton/Flavien Prat), winless since landing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, bids to get his three-year-old campaign back on track in the $500,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown.
Shall we talk about it?
“Her training before we went to Saudi was just mind boggling; it’s just like it is now. We still wonder how she’s able to do it so easily and so consistently. Her works at Churchill have been beautiful. I feel like with what she’s done – traveling to Saudi, taking on older boys and everyone knows the trip she got and knows the circumstances – how do you have an adjective for what she is and what she means to racing? Coming back, the next race isn’t the goal for this year. The Breeders’ Cup is. She is arguably the best horse in the world.”
Steve Asmussen (trainer)
“We have all the confidence in the world of our filly. We know how she likes to go and that’s to be on the lead. It’s a tough matchup against a champion but the way our horse has prepared for this race has us very confident she’ll put in a great performance.”
Tom Amoss (trainer)
“He has a history of running well off layoffs. He’s never really left form even after he was freshened at Fair Grounds this winter when we were getting him ready for the second half of the year.”
Al Stall (trainer)
“He is a horse who I think will excel at two turns and his last race was just a prep as his first start of 2020. He ran some tough races last year but appears to have taken a step forward now that he’s older.”
Brad Cox (trainer)
“Her career took off in Florida. We thought from her first race that she was talented and it seems like she’s gotten better and better. She’s a filly who had shown some ability in the morning and handled dirt well enough, but it’s probably not a surprise that she improved on the grass.”
Graham Motion (trainer)
“She wintered down in Florida. We had a couple of minor setbacks. She irritated her eye once and missed a couple of works, so it’s taken us a little bit longer but quite frankly, she didn’t really miss any opportunities with the whole Covid-19 situation. The timing is pretty good and we want to have her fresh for the fall. Last year, the Breeders’ Cup came at the end of a long year.”
Graham Motion (trainer)
“She seems very settled in the mornings. She went fast fractions last time, which wasn’t really what I wanted, but she doesn’t need to do that. She’s been pretty relaxed and settled.”
Chad Brown (trainer)
“He had ankle surgery [during his time off] and since he’s come back he’s been training very well. He just keeps getting better. There’s a lot of money out there for him. I think he’ll run well; he’s doing good enough.”
Dale Romans (trainer)
“She’s doing well. There’s a little uncertainty with the layoff, but she seems to be training well. She has a great turn of foot and we’ll just see how it plays out.”
Chad Brown (trainer)