Best Thanksgiving Racing: Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, or Del Mar?

November 26, 2014 10:26am


There can be no doubt that the best racing in America after the Breeders’ Cup is over, happens over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Leading the way are the offerings served up by Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, and Del Mar. Each of the three brings us a plethora of important races to remind us that the racing season is far from over. All the graded stakes, hosted by each, got me thinking about which of the three actually has the best of the holiday racing. Here is what I think ...


Aqueduct - Saturday is big at the Big A. Headlined by the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, which is always fun, even if Stay Thirsty did nail Groupie Doll on the wire two years ago, the Saturday after Thanksgiving includes four graded stakes. Besides one of the best flat miles in American racing, the Grade 3 Comely generally attracts good three-year-old fillies looking for their last big win of the year. This year Sweet Reason and Dame Dorothy should fit that bill nicely. As two of the best juvenile races of the New York season, the Remsen and Demoiselle, both Grade 2, often will provide good barometers of which youngsters may go on to be true two-turn runners as they mature. Throw in the history rich Fall Highweight on Thursday, and the Grade 2 Go For Wand for older mares on Friday, and Aqueduct has six reasons why it may be the best of the holiday tracks.


Churchill Downs - There are not as many graded stakes in Louisville over the Thanksgiving weekend as the other two tracks, but what it lacks in graded stakes quantity, it makes up for in quality. Thursday’s feature is the Grade 2 Falls City, which this year has attracted Eclipse Award hopeful Don’t Tell Sophia. On Friday, the Grade 1 Clark Handicap gives some Breeders’ Cup Classic types a shot to close out the year with a big win. Who can forget last year’s stirring battle between Will Take Charge and Game On Dude? Following the top older horses, Churchill Downs rolls out the Stars of Tomorrow II card on Saturday. The Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club and the Grade 2 Golden Rod give the good two-year-olds an opportunity to strut their stuff over the same track that will host the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks in less than six months. Rachel Alexandra and Super Saver both were able to double dip in recent years.


Del Mar - Much as it was at good old Hollywood Park, turf is the word for the new fall meet at Del Mar’s headline weekend. Starting on Thursday, with the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup, through Sunday’s Grade 1 Matriarch, Del Mar will host seven graded stakes, with only Saturday’s Native Diver interrupting the turf fest. The Matriarch routinely includes a number of the best turf mares in the country, while the Turf Cup has been won by several horses who were either named Turf Champion, or won at the Breeders’ Cup, or both, in just over 30 years of history. Both of those races figure to be slightly overshadowed this year, though, by the appearance of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, California Chrome in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. Will California Chrome take to the grass, and if so, will it propel him to the Horse of the Year award? Stay tuned.



Not an easy call, but for my money, I will take the new turf spread at Del Mar by a nose over Aqueduct, with Churchill Downs in the photo finish picture. Now if California Chrome was not running at Del Mar, my answer might be a little different. Clearly, though, you can’t go wrong with any one of the three racetracks over Thanksgiving weekend. Enjoy a great week of the horses, racefans! 


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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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