It may be well down the list of things to worry about, but due to the global pandemic, there was a lot of good racing missed. Thankfully, many of our biggest races, such as the Kentucky Derby, have been rescheduled for a later date rather than lost altogether in 2020.
So with new safety measures in place, several racetracks around the country have recently resumed racing, and at long last many of our brightest stars are returning to the races.
In the last two weekends alone, strong return performances by top horses such as Monomoy Girl, Maxfield, Dunbar Road, Sharing and Owendale remind us what we were missing while they were away. Happily, the trend of really good horses coming back after extended layoffs will continue.
And you won't have to wait long, as Monday marks the return of 2019 Preakness winner War of Will when he takes on a tough field in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) on the Santa Anita turf.
Perhaps the horse I am most excited about returning from a lengthy layoff is Code of Honor. Last year the son of Noble Mission won the Fountain of Youth Stakes before being put up for second in the Kentucky Derby. He followed that with impressive wins in the Dwyer, Travers, and a hard-fought victory via disqualification over ultimate Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
With a series of steadily progressing workouts under his belt, trainer Shug McGaughey has the talented colt ready to see if he can be even better this year. He’ll make his 4-year-old debut on Saturday, June 6, in the Westchester Stakes going 1 1/16 miles at Belmont Park.
Others who could add to the overall depth of the older male division but have not yet raced in 2020 include Game Winner, Gift Box and Spun to Run.
We haven’t seen him since winning the Los Alamitos Derby (G3) last July, but Game Winner was getting rave reviews from the Baffert barn after a series of workouts earlier this year. Unfortunately, it appears the champion 2-year-old of 2018 may now be in another holding pattern as he has not recorded a public workout since May 1.
Meanwhile, Gift Box looked great in winning the San Antonio late last year but has shown no recent workouts for trainer John Sadler due to an injury that counted him out of the Santa Anita Handicap (G1). Meanwhile, Spun to Run, who won the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile two starts back, is also some time from his seasonal debut for trainer Carlos Guerrero.
One group to get excited about in the coming months is the female turf division, which has a slew of wonderful older stars who have yet to make their seasonal debuts. When you talk about turf mares, you need to start with trainer Chad Brown. He actually has three Breeders’ Cup-winning grass females in his barn, and one of them is all ready to roll.
eFive Racing’s Rushing Fall will make her first start of the year in the Beaugay on opening day at Belmont Park. The return race on Wednesday, June 3, will not be easy as she will square off in an early season showdown against her old rival and multiple Grade 1 winner Got Stormy.
Overall Rushing Fall has won 8 of 11 with two seconds. Her only poor effort came in her most recent start when fourth in Keeneland’s First Lady, but apparently she was not 100% for that one due to lingering effects of an illness. The 2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner has been working very well for her 2020 debut.
Also in the loaded Brown barn, two classy turf mares await another season of racing. Last year’s Champion Turf Female Uni had two works in April but has missed some time lately due to a splint bone injury as we look forward to her first start since winning last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Mile. The 2018 Champion Turf Female Sistercharlie has had a pair of easy breezes in May as the Irish-bred mare builds to the start of her 6-year-old campaign.
Speaking of excellent grass mares, I was also hopeful to see the return of Concrete Rose soon, who was hands down the best 3-year-old turf filly in the nation last year, but it looks like her impending comeback has been delayed.
Finally, we cannot forget about the horses who traveled to the Middle East to run in the inaugural edition of the Saudi Cup in February. Americans dominated the race, and our top three have not yet made it back to the races here in the States.
Midnight Bisou ran a bang-up race to run second against the males in the $20 million event, and now we eagerly await her comeback in America. The Champion Older Dirt Female of 2019 is a classy model of consistency but is currently on a two-race losing streak and now has her old rival Monomoy Girl to deal with. The good news is that she has turned in a series of recent workouts here in Kentucky and should be ready for a summer return.
Mucho Gusto, who declared his intentions to be one of our best older males with an easy score in the Pegasus World Cup back in January, also ran well in Saudi Arabia. He is yet another who could make 2020 a memorable season for trainer Bob Baffert. The son of Mucho Macho Man has yet to record a workout stateside since running overseas.
And then of course you have Maximum Security. Arguably the best horse in the United States, we need to see what he can do in his new surroundings with Baffert. He’s still months away from his anticipated return, but it will be intriguing to see what the multiple graded stakes-winning son of New Year’s Day looks like removed from the situation he was in under the hands of Jason Servis.
Likewise, the excellent sprinter/miler Firenze Fire is a horse I’ve always liked, so I very much look forward to his first race since transferring from Servis to Kelly Breen.
COVID-19 may have slowed down the racing season, but as you can see, the action will pick up in the second half of 2020.