A Different Kind of Horse Roundup: Spring’s Notable Horse Racing Events
Several events and tracks are set to shine this spring en route to horse racing’s most famous event.
Updated: Feb. 22, 2019 • 12:05 PM ET
Horse racing offers several intriguing events before Steve Buttleman sounds his bugle.
It’s rodeo season in Texas. You ever seen mutton bustin’? It’s a sight; a child strapped to a sheep going Mach 2 like its wool is on fire. Good fun.
The Fort Worth Stock Show just ended, and barbecue grills in Houston are being fired in anticipation of next week’s Houston edition, which is the largest on the planet. Horses will be a central fixture on the South Loop, next door to the dilapidated Eighth Wonder of the World.
Round-up time is also upon us for thoroughbred horse racing, and February bodes so much promise. Over the next two months, the Kentucky Derby prep schedule dominates, but there are also so many great racing events ahead that are truly wonderful.
I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight four events that have nothing to do with the Derby Trail that you might want to tune into.
The Making of the Gulfstream Raiders
Just outside of Lexington, Ky. sits arguably the most palatial racetrack in America. With meets only during October and April, Keeneland is a boutique. Attracting the best horses, riders and connections, it’s an experience best observed in person. What you might want to do before the first Friday in April is start watching the action down in South Florida. At Gulfstream Park, the raiders, as they are called, are polishing their shoes and booking their tickets into Blue Grass Field, which is directly across from Keeneland. Raiders always do well at Keeneland, so catch them now. Make a list and be ready to watch once racing returns to Lexington.
Breakfast and Dubai
In late March, there’s a Saturday of racing where the day starts with racing in Dubai; it’s practically on the other side of the planet, mind you. If you haven’t had breakfast and watched the World Cup from Meydan, you’re missing out. Sheik Mohammed built a palace to racing, and every year the day is an exhibition of global talent. There’s Ascot, Melbourne and Longchamp, but Meydan is just as significant on the calendar. Chances are your local track will have it on with breakfast, and the signature event is the big race worth $10 million. Sheik Mo, as he’s affectionately known by, doesn’t skimp, even if he can be seen driving around by himself in his hometown.
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Big Cap Day
I believe in the Big Cap. To me, the Santa Anita Handicap just drips with nostalgia. Everyone from Seabiscuit to John Henry to Accelerate have won this one. It has had its lean years, but it marks such a wonderful spot on the calendar around the second week in March. It gives older horses a target to mark. Not interested in making the trek to Dubai? Couldn’t be ready to run back in January for the Pegasus at Gulfstream? The Big Cap continues to be a special event, even though the purse money isn’t what it used to be. Hard to believe that it was the first race to offer $100,000 to the winner. I believe in the Big Cap.
The Oaks: The Other Derby
Last, but certainly not least, there’s another trail that is running all the way to Churchill Downs in Louisville. But, it’s not part of the Saturday Derby card, even though it has been around just as long. I’m talking about the Kentucky Oaks, which takes place the day before what they call Super Saturday. Oaks Day is one of my favorites because it has all the pomp and circumstance of the Derby and just as much trainer and jockey participation. Exclusively for three-year-old fillies, last year’s winner, Brad Cox trained Monomy Girl, became a Breeders’ Cup star and is poised for another big year. This year’s edition promises to be yet another highly competitive race. For a complete listing of preps over the next two months see here.
These are just a few of the highlights we can expect from thoroughbred horse racing this spring. It’s going to be quite a rodeo, even though this one doesn’t have any mutton bustin’. Stay tuned!