The racing world doesn't take a vacation while we are gathered with family for the holidays. On the contrary, this frigid time of year is host to some big stakes races for juveniles as well as top stakes at meets in parts of the country where fans are still wearing shorts in December. Here is your guide to the blizzard of races you'll shovel through from now until the first hints of spring. Note, this list does not include all of the Kentucky Derby 2012 trail - that exhaulted schedule will be discussed in detail in its own story.
Thanksgiving Day was opening day at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The historic track will once again play host to a packed schedule of stakes races. First up, however, is the Claiming Crown on Dec. 3, a series of races for the top claiming and allowance horses. This event gives those hard-knocking horses and dedicated trainers and owners a chance to shine. Hollywood's last blast is the Dec. 17 Cashcall Futurity, the final major juvenile race of the year. Bob Baffert has 4 probables, including Secret Circle. Majestic City tries to follow in the footsteps of stablemate Comma To The Top with a win, and Graham Motion sends Lucky Chappy. Gulfstream's opening day feature on December 3 is the Sugar Swirl stakes with Pomeroy's Pistol a probable starter. Top New York-based trainers Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott and Nick Zito winter in Florida with their stables full of Derby contenders. Santa Anita opens the day after Christmas, and a cast of 3-year-olds hoping to get a Grade 1 will line up for the Malibu. Coil, Comma To The Top and Fast Bullet all seek a win in this final 3-yr-olds-only Grade 1. The Malibu is the beginning of the Strub Series, which will continue with the San Fernando on Jan. 14 and the Strub Stakes on Feb. 4. All of these lead up to the Santa Anita Handicap on March 3. Game On Dude is pointing for a Big Cap repeat, so expect to see him this winter, too.
For fans of international racing, the Hong Kong Cup day of racing is Dec. 11.
New York racing doesn't take a break when the tracks open in Florida - it is a sure sign of winter when the races switch to the Inner Track at Aqueduct.
Ring in the new year at Gulfstream with the Gulfstream Park Derby, the first stakes for 3yos on the Derby Trail. The Robert Frankel stakes at Santa Anita on the same day pays tribute to a legend with a race for older fillies and mares on the turf, one of his training specialties. Opening January 13 with corned beef sandwiches for all is Oaklawn Park. The meet attracts top trainers from the south and midwest, including Don Von Hemel. Von Hemel already has undefeated juvenile filly Now I Know pointing for the Dixie Belle stakes on Jan. 15. You may see son Donnie K.'s Caleb's Posse make a start at the Hot Springs oval. D. Wayne Lukas has used Oaklawn as a hub the past few years and will be there again in 2012. Gulfstream hosts the Sunshine Millions day of racing for Florida-bred horses on Jan. 28. Sunshine Millions is topped by the $400,000 Classic. Musical Romance, upset winner of the BC Filly & Mare Sprint, is probable for the Sunshine Millions F&M Sprint, while Awesome Feather may appear in the Sunshine Millions Distaff.
The Donn Handicap, an important Grade 1 for older horses (and often a US prep for the Dubai World Cup), and the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, also a Grade 1, will be run February 11. Flat Out is pointing for the Donn. The Gr. 2 Strub on Feb. 3 has been a stepping stone to greatness for many horses in the past, including Twirling Candy in 2011. Bob Baffert has Coil already on track for this race. This is just a sample of what is to come this winter - stay tuned to Stakes Tracker for the latest on upcoming stakes races!