Was there a memo going around decreeing the last Saturday in April shall henceforth be National Older Turf Miler Day?
Considering the stakes scheduling up and down both coasts a week out from the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (G1), it sure seems that way: the Miami Mile at Gulfstream Park, the San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate and the Thunder Road at Santa Anita Park are all grade 3 grass races worth $100,000.
In the illogical manner unique to Thoroughbred racing, Belmont Park's ungraded Elusive Quality for older turf males is a furlong shorter than the other three, yet it is worth $150,000, so go figure.
The venerable New York-breds Lubash and Kharafa, each of them seven-figure earners the hard way, respectively make their seasonal debuts in the Miami Mile and the Elusive Quality, and handicappers can expect them to be getting legged up for yet another go-round in the Kingston, one of six stakes to be run on Belmont's "Big Apple Showcase" card Memorial Day, May 29. They may have to eventually rename the Kingston for 2015 winner Lubash, who has run in the past six editions, while 2014 winner Kharafa is prepping for a fifth straight appearance.
So if you can tear yourself away from all things Derby, let's take a look at these four races in chronological order.
Miami Mile (GP, race 5, 3:25 EDT): It took Lubash a few races to iron out the kinks last year, as he was off the board in his first three starts before winning a high-end optional claimer at Belmont, and being elevated from second to first via disqualification in the Tropical Turf Handicap (G3T) at Gulfstream Park West.
It could very well be that Lubash (#3), now 10, will need his first start in just over five months, as he takes on a pair of Appleton Stakes (G3T) winners in All Included (#5) and War Correspondent (#2).
All Included was last into the backstretch of the Appleton four weeks ago, but track announcer Pete Aiello described him as being "confidently handled," and indeed he swept by the field in the stretch under nothing more than a few shoulder taps from Javier Castellano, and notched his first victory since July 2015.
War Correspondent, meanwhile, has run only five times since taking the 2015 Appleton, but he had trouble behind his stablemate Lubash in the Tropical Turf, and most recently he ran into more bad luck when moved up to third in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1T) after some stretch bumping.
Diamond Bachelor (#1) faded to last behind All Included after forcing the pace in the Appleton; he looks to be in over his head, but is potentially loose on the lead from the rail, and you know how that goes sometimes.
Our Way (#4), a decent third in the Appleton, is third off a layoff and has more tactical speed than All Included, who picks up an additional four pounds.
A - 2, 5
B - 3, 4
Elusive Quality (Bel, race 8, 5:13 EDT): One of 11 turf sprints scheduled through the first three days at Belmont, the Elusive Quality drew seven for grass, with three others besides Kharafa (#1) making their first start of the year, among them Disco Partner (#5) and Calgary Cat (#8), who are quite obviously off-the-pace threats.
Kharafa began 2016 with an even fifth-place finish in this race, and, like Lubash, hit his best stride after getting a couple more starts under his belt. His lone seven-furlong win over Belmont's Widener course was against first-level New York-bred allowance foes back in 2012.
Disco Partner, who won on Belmont's inner course off a November-to-May absence for former trainer Jim Ryerson last year, makes his first start for Christophe Clement, and some encouraging workouts at Payson Park hint that he is ready to fire fresh again.
Calgary Cat, idle since a fast-closing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1T), won the $150,000 Jacques Cartier off a five-month layoff in 2015. He was beaten less than a length by Disco Partner in the 5 1/2-furlong Troy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
Siding Spring (#3) turns back a bit after setting the pace in the Appleton, and it's not hard to envision him getting an easy lead in this match-up.
A - 5, 8
B - 1, 3
San Francisco Mile (GG, race 7, 3:45 PDT): Five of the seven entrants prepped in an allowance race over Golden Gate's synthetic surface on April 2, including the San Francisco Mile's last two winners, Alert Bay and G.G. Ryder.
Alert Bay (#6) was reserved a dozen lengths or so off a heated pace duel, inhaled the spent leaders in the stretch and outkicked both Star Student (#7) and G.G. Ryder (#1). And while Star Student gained some ground on Alert Bay in the last furlong, the latter was strictly prepping in his first start since a fourth in the Longacres Mile Handicap (G3) last summer, and he took off again on the gallop-out.
The only entrant not based locally is the French-bred Patentar (#3), a Santa Anita invader whose two wins in the United States have come at 1 1/8 miles, along with a runner-up finish going 1 1/4 miles in the Charlie Whittingham Stakes (G2T). A mile may be a bit too short, but his versatility in terms of running style is an attractive trait.
Camino Del Paraiso (#5) makes his first start since being bottled up through upper stretch of the restricted Let It Ride at Del Mar last Nov. 12. While he has never faced older stakes horses, he really turned the corner through his last four starts as a 3-year-old, and his preparations were capped by a bullet six-furlong workout last Saturday.
A - 6
B - 3, 5
Thunder Road (SA, race 7, 4:00 PDT); Bolo (#3) is the 5-2 morning-line choice to rebound, just 15 days after finishing ninth as a lukewarm favorite in the Makers 46 Mile (G1T) at Keeneland.
Neither did Bolo enjoy his two prior sojourns to Kentucky, when twelfth in the 2015 Run For The Roses, and tenth in last year's Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1T). It is a different story on the turf at Santa Anita, where he has won four times from six starts, along with in-the-money finishes in the last two renewals of the Frank Kilroe Mile (G1T).
Be that as it may, Bolo's two shining moments - wins in the last two runnings of the Arcadia (G2T)—have come off July-to-February vacations, and it's reasonable to wonder how he'll handle the quick turnaround while carrying 126 pounds, which is four pounds more than the heaviest load he has successfully toted thus far.
Things get delightfully confusing once you get past Bolo, so much so that Perfectly Majestic (#1), Twentytwentyvision (#2) and Sawyer's Hill (#7) are all tabbed at an identical 7-2 on the line, while Fabozzi (#5) and Farhaan (#6) are each accorded some kind of chance at 6-1.
Farhaan was a Shadwell Farm cast-off when claimed for $40,000 last summer, and he was a close fourth just 17 days later in the Bernard Baruch (G2T) despite having the rider lose the whip in deep stretch.
Farhaan had a difficult setup in his 8-year-old debut, and first start for Phil D'Amato, running second in an optional claimer behind Prospect Park, a graded stakes winner who set up shop on an easy lead that was noticed immediately by track announcer Michael Wrona, who exclaimed, "Well, if there were a police officer on duty around the first turn, they'd all get cited for loitering."
This time, could it be Sawyer's Hill that lulls them to sleep?
A - 3
B - 1, 6, 7
C - 2, 5