Racing kicks into a higher gear this weekend with the first Grade 1 races of the year: the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and the Pegasus World Cup Turf, both at Gulfstream on Saturday.
Also coming up is the Smarty Jones, a Kentucky Derby prep race, on Friday at Oaklawn. Gulfstream has five other graded stakes on tap for Saturday, and a handful of other stakes will be run at Oaklawn, Santa Anita and Aqueduct.
Here's an early look at those races.
Smarty Jones Stakes
Caddo River will try his first race around two turns, and trainer Brad Cox told Horse Racing Nation: “We don’t think that will be an issue with him at all. He’s a big, strong, leggy horse that we always thought would be better around two turns” Moonlite Strike won at a mile around two turns at Gulfstream last out for Saffie Joseph Jr. Steve Asmussen has two entries: Cowan, second in the Remington Springboard Mile last out, and Big Thorn, sixth in the Mucho Macho Man.
Saturday: Gulfstream undercard
Fred W. Hooper (G3) — 1 mile, 4-year-olds & up
Shivaree broke a seven-race losing streak with a win in the Marion County Florida Sire Stakes last month for trainer Ralph Nicks. That streak included second-place finishes in the Swale Stakes (G3) and the Florida Derby (G1). Shug McGaughey’s Performer, meanwhile, had a five-race winning streak going before finishing third in the Cigar Mile (G1) last out.
Inside Information (G2) — 7f, fillies and mares, 4-year-olds & up
Kathleen O’ Connell and Thisismytime are expected to pursue a third straight win here after scoring in a one-mile allowance at Gulfstream in December and at 7 furlongs in the Millions Filly & Mare Preview in November. Also expected are the second- and third-place finishers in last month’s Sugar Swirl (G3): Brooks Beauty and Cinnabunny.
La Prevoyante (G3) — 1 1/2 miles, turf, fillies and mares, 4-year-olds & up
Mark Casse’s Heavenly Curlin is expected here after three straight wins at Woodbine, including the Maple Leaf Stakes (G3) last out in November. Todd Pletcher has the one-two finishers from Gulfstream’s Via Borghese Stakes in December: Always Shopping Cap de Creus. Christophe Clement is expected to enter one of his two nominees: Traipsing, fourth in the Via Borghese, or Sorrel, winner of the River Eden Fillies last out.
Marshua’s River (G3) — one mile, turf, fillies and mares, 4-year-olds & up
Shug McGaughey could bring Vigilantes Way back after a win here in the Tropical Park Oaks here last month. Barclay Tagg is expected to enter Niko’s Dream, winner of the My Charmer here last month. The second-place finisher from that race, Tuned, also is expected for trainer Graham Motion.
William L. McKnight (G3) — 1 1/2 miles, turf, 4-year-olds & up
The top two runners in the H. Allen Jerkens are expected here. The winner, Sir Anthony will be looking for his first graded stakes win since the Cornhusker Handicap (G3) in July 2019. Conviction Trade, second in the Jerkens is expected to make his first start in graded-stakes company.
Other Saturday stakes
Fifth Season — Oaklawn, one mile, 4-year-olds & up
Steve Asmussen’s Silver State steps back into graded-stakes company after winning an allowance race at Churchill in November. Eight-year-old Pioneer Spirit has 12 wins in 36 starts, but the Robertino Diodoro trainee has yet to score in a graded stakes race. Night Ops bounced back from a ninth-place finish in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) to win the Cornhusker last out.
Pippin — Oaklawn, one mile, fillies and mares, 4-year-olds & up
After winning the Miss Preakness (G3) in October, Wicked Whisper was fifth last out in November’s Fort Springs Stakes at Keeneland. Brad Cox brings two: Vault, who was winless last year after scoring in four of eight starts in 2019; and Getridofwhatailesu, who won two of three last year but hasn’t raced since March.
Jazil — Aqueduct, 1 1/8 miles, 4-year-olds & up
The second half of 2020 included fifth-place finishes in the Suburban Stakes (G2), Whitney Stakes (G1) and Cigar Mile (G1) for John Kimmel’s Mr. Buff. He was second last out in Aqueduct’s Alex M. Robb Stakes at six furlongs. Todd Pletcher is expected to bring Per Capital for his first stakes race. After breaking his maiden in May, he won an allowance race at Saratoga and then finished second in a December allowance optional claiming race at this distance at Aqueduct.
Palos Verdes (G3) — Santa Anita, 6 furlongs, 4&up
Shooters Shoot is expected to cut back in distance here for Peter Eurton after finishing seventh in an 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race at Santa Anita on Jan. 2. He was coming off a six-month layoff after a fifth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Mark Glatt’s Collusion Illusion would step down in class after a third-place finish in the Malibu (G1) here in December and a 12th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Glatt also could bring Pyron, who finished third last out in an allowance optional claiming race at Del Mar.
Clockers’ Corner — Santa Anita, 5 1/2 furlongs, 4-year-olds & up
Strongconstitution, one of two probables for Doug O’Neill, is looking for his first win since the Let It Ride Stakes on Nov. 1. He was sixth in the Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) last out on Dec. 26. O’Neill’s other probable, Oiseau de Guerre, hasn’t won since October 2019 and was sixth in this race last year.