03/26/2015 2:11PM

Hovdey: A racing feast begins at dawn


It’s off to bed early Friday night. Big day of racing on Saturday, and if DRF’s Marcus Hersh and TVG’s Simon Bray can stir themselves from their five-star digs nearly every morning this week to watch California Chrome come out in the dark, then the least I can do is open for business at 5:40 a.m. Pacific Not-Quite-Daylight Time for the $1 million Godolphin Mile from Meydan. Anyone for kippers and croissants?

As the race won in 2002 by trainer Warren Stute and Grey Memo, the Mile will forever hold a warm spot in the hearts of Californians. Still, a one-mile dirt race on the same card as the 1 1/4-mile Dubai World Cup will always be an afterthought (see Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile) not to be taken seriously beyond its immediate result.

Much later in the day at Santa Anita Park, a modest collection of routers will run for $100,000 in the Tokyo City Cup at 1 1/2 miles on dirt. Their connections would be wise to look the other way when the Dubai Gold Cup is run that morning for 10 times the prize money at two miles on turf. Without jumps. If Brown Panther doesn’t run off or dump his jock, he wins, although I always worry when John Gosden slips something like Marzocco into the mix, especially with a key prep at Chelmsford City, which is really a place.

I am trying hard to care about the UAE Derby, any UAE Derby, but not even the presence of Bill Casner’s My Johnny Be Good, up the track at Tampa Bay Downs, can light the fire. If nothing else, this running has answered the question, “Will anyone ever name a Tapit colt Tap That?” Yup.

A straightaway five furlongs on firm turf like the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint is great fun, like a Quarter Horse race on steroids, although that’s probably a poor choice of words. And look who’s back – Sole Power, the Cartier sprint champ and 2014 Irish Horse of the Year. At 8, he might be a tick past his prime, and he was beaten 2 1/2 lengths in the same race last year. But wouldn’t it be great if he had one more in him like his King’s Stand at last year’s Royal Ascot?

The Americans could send two guys in a pantomime horse suit and they’d still win the $2 million Golden Shaheen, a raced named either for a breed of peregrine falcon or the senior U.S. senator from New Hampshire. Either way, the trophy comes home.

The grass routes are another matter. Runners from the U.S. have bombed big time, which is tough to take since there is $12 million on the table between the Dubai Turf and the Sheema Classic. All hopes rest with Main Sequence, the American champion and British ex-pat, who will need every inch of his ferocious late kick in the Sheema to handle the one-two French punch of Flintshire and Dolniya. As for the Dubai Turf, Euro Charline stole my heart last summer in winning the Beverly D., but she’s got tough, old Trade Storm and the French gelding Solow to deal with here. You can have The Grey Gatsby, who wants more distance and has a lame pun for a name.

By the time the $10 million World Cup rolls around at 10 a.m. Pacific, it will be 9 o’clock at night in Dubai, and California Chrome will think he’s going over for the last race of the Quarter Horse program at Los Alamitos, his home track. If nothing else, the wider racing world owes his connections a thank you for giving Dubai a try. Some horses just can’t help making history.

Once the World Cup card is in the books, the decks will be cleared for an afternoon’s entertainment topped by the $1 million Florida Derby and the $750,000 Louisiana Derby.

But first – Moreno! – the gelding who keeps on giving. Moreno has not won a race since the Whitney last August. In fact, he’s still eligible for non-winners of three other than. He is also prone to high drama, like the Jockey Club Gold Cup, in which he triggered Wicked Strong’s scary stumble and Rajiv Maragh’s injury, or the Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which he was wiped out at the start. But Moreno always comes to play, like he did when second off the bench to Shared Belief in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Both the Louisiana and Florida derbies are at nine furlongs, five weeks out from the Kentucky Derby, and are spiced by top contenders who have had steering issues in the past.

Upstart, the favorite at Gulfstream, lost no luster despite being disqualified for his move in winning the Fountain of Youth. It was a tough call, reminiscent of Alysheba’s disqualification from the 1987 Blue Grass Stakes, but things worked out okay for him after that, as in Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Horse of the Year, and Hall of Fame.

Mr. Z was so erratic in the Los Alamitos Futurity last December that he kept Firing Line from beating Dortmund. He pulled the same move in the Smarty Jones Stakes in January, then ran a more professional race under Corey Nakatani in the Southwest Stakes last time out. Whatever Nakatani found out about Mr. Z could go to waste, though, since the jock broke his collarbone last week and will be watching from the couch. Kent Desormeaux, a winner of the Kentucky Derby three times, has picked up the ride.