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Countdown to Triple Crown Preps

While some people believe that the American racing season begins with the run up to the Kentucky Derby and ends with the Breeders’ Cup, this is not the case. (AP Images)

Just check the schedules of several major tracks that are now open or soon will be.

Aqueduct is in progress; Hollywood Park also just started. The Fair Grounds meet is less than two weeks away and Churchill Downs –the host of this year’s Breeders’ Cup—will offer two solid weeks of good racing including five Graded stakes, the most important of which is the Grade-1 $500,000 Clark Handicap. That Stakes is so important to the sport that it sometimes helps a contender for Horse of the Year gain some late support.

Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs also are set to open their doors in three weeks during the first week in December.

That’s a lot of good racing to be overlooked by those who think they can pack their Racing Forms away until we see Triple Crown preps in February.

Aqueduct for example will host six Graded Stakes during Thanksgiving week, including two very important races for 2 year olds and two of my favorite races of the year: The Grade-3, $100,000 Fall Highweight Handicap at 6 furlongs on Nov. 24 and the Grade-1, $250,000 Cigar Mile on Nov. 25.

The intrigue of the Fall Highweight is that it is the only race in America in which sprinters are tested for the two things they can be tested for: Speed and weight carrying ability.

Usually in sprint stakes, horses tend to carry 115 to 123 pounds,  but in the Fall Highweight, they will be asked to shoulder eight to 12 pounds more than that. In factr, the great filly TA WEE once carried 140 pounds to victory in this race, spotting some of her rivals as much as 30 pounds

The Cigar Mile—akin to the Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park in the spring—is a Grade-1 race around one turn that often gives us a peek at a horse or two who figure to be among the best older horses in training. Breeders’ also look to this race to see potential stars at stud. They love horses who combine top level speed with enough endurance to win Grade-1 races at that distance.

The two important races for 2 year olds at Aqueduct are the Grade-2 Demoiselle for fillies and the Grade 2 Remsen. Both are Grade-2, $200,000 events, but their significance is that they will be run at 1-1/8 miles around two turns on the nine furlong Aqueduct main track. For a seemingly immature 2 year old, putting in a sharp performance at nine furlongs around two turns is a good sign that they likely will succeed at Classic distances next spring.

At Hollywood, which just began its stakes loaded fall meet, there will be 12 Graded stakes during the next four weeks, including five Grade-1’s, three of which will be run on the Hollywood turf course during its annual Thanksgiving Turf Festival.

The three Grade-1 turf stakes are:

The $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup at 1-1/2 miles on Nov. 19; the $250,000 Matriarch at one mile for fillies and mares, Nov. 25 and the $250,000 Hollywood Derby for 3 year olds at 1-1/4 miles, on Nov. 28.

The two Grade-1 races on the Hollywood main track this fall are both traditional stakes for highly ranked 2 year olds:

The $250,000 Hollywood Starlet at one mile on Dec. 10 and the $750,000 Cash Call Futurity at one mile for 2 year olds on Dec. 18.

Following a short break,  Santa Anita Park will open its fall-winter season as it usually does, on the day after Christmas, Dec. 26.

Gulfstream is opening a month earlier this year than its usual Jan start date. This, probably to coincide with the opening of its cross state winter track—Tampa Bay Downs. But, the Fair Grounds has opened on Thanksgiving Day for several decades and will do the same this time around.

Time moves relentlessly in all walks of life, but in Thoroughbred horse racing there really is no official start or stop to the season. There is the Triple Crown of course and it has incredible energy and the Breeders’ Cup seems to provide a great climax to most of the season long issues that have surfaced on tracks from coast to coast. But the strange truth is that the American racing season actually begins while it already is in progress and it could only possibly end when all the horses of quality stop racing at the same time. That never happens. Get your early Triple Crown betting in the Bodog Racebook today.