US Analyst Mark Milligan looks through several Grade 1 races in the US over the weekend, picking out two bets.
"With Grade 1-winning form already in the book, familiarity with the track and conditions no longer an unknown, everything seems set for Peace and War to cement her place as one of the leading three-year-old fillies on the other side of the Atlantic."
It's a seven-way clash. A random draw is made for their positions. No-one is quite sure whether War will break out amongst the participants. Or perhaps it will end in Peace. Or maybe both- Peace and War. Though the leaders' debate had no clear winner, the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland (22:20 BST) will and we hope it similarly rewards the raiding party. Having shipped Peace and War to the same track last October, taking the Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes, Olly Stevens takes that familiar route once more as he prepares his exciting young filly for a crack at next month's Kentucky Oaks.
The opinion polls (or in this case the Morning Line) suggest that Peace And War is likely to go off favourite for this particular contest - and who are we to argue? With Grade 1-winning form already in the book, familiarity with the track and conditions no longer an unknown, everything seems set for her to cement her place as one of the leading three-year-old fillies on the other side of the Atlantic. But wait, the opposition are starting to make their case:
Angela Renee - the campaign poster-girl for the ever-popular Todd Pletcher party: a likeable filly, if a tad exposed at this level, but almost sure to give her running.
Lovely Maria - finished ahead of Angela Renee last time out, though she was in receipt of weight that day, and may not confirm the form.
West Coast Belle - even further behind the two mentioned above last time. She needs a major swing if she is to come out on top here.
Lassofthemohicans - just one win on her CV from six starts, an improbable winner at this level, and could end up looking out of her depth when the real candidates start to get serious.
Dissected in detail, this is far from the strongest field ever assembled, and the biggest doubt over the prime candidate Peace and War may be her own lack of early pace. Though just like some of the chief protagonists in the leaders' debate, she takes a while to get into her stride, but really builds up momentum as the race goes on. That unstoppable surge should be enough to see her get to the head of affairs when it matters, and the juggernaut that is the Qatar Racing brand may well take another step forward on their quest for ultimate domination in the horse racing world. A win here, and then subsequently at Churchill Downs, would more than send out a message to the current superpowers of Coolmore and Goldolphin - as if they needed anymore notice - that a real challenger to their supremacy was on the horizon.
The Kentucky Derby is now just four weeks away, and two major trials take place at Keeneland and Aqueduct on Saturday. This is the first running of the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes (23:00 BST) on Keeneland's new dirt surface, and it will be a major shock if Todd Pletcher's Carpe Diem is turned over. Very much like the Ashland, this is far from the strongest trial, and Carpe Diem should prove that he is very much a credible challenger in the Run for the Roses.
More competitive is the Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct (22:30 BST), with the all-powerful Pletcher team set to send out the favourite in this race, too. Daredevil looked a superstar in the making when taking last year's Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont, but on the face of it, has been a tad disappointing since. However, look at his two subsequent performances closely, and a case can be made that Daredevil is still capable of fulfilling the potential he showed as a two-year-old.
Daredevil's wide-trip run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is an easy race to throw out, and his comeback race over seven furlongs at Gulfstream last month, when runner-up to Ready for Rye, may well end being much better than it looked at the time. The winner of that Grade 2 contest clocked a very good time there, and could well make a name for himself as a high-class sprinter/miler in the coming months. It will be fascinating to see if Daredevil can get back on track here.
The chief supporting contest at Aqueduct is a superb renewal of the Grade 1 Carter Handicap (23:04 BST), which features a horse in The Big Beast who could well go on to prove himself the top of the sprinting crop in a weak division currently. This enormous specimen has everything you would look for in a top-class sprinter, and he is a very exciting horse to look forward to in the coming months. This will be no cakewalk, however, with the likes of Clearly Now, Dads Caps, Palace and Wild Dude in attendance. As Grade 1 sprinters go, though, these are not an elite bunch, and The Big Beast should have their measure.
Back Peace and War in the Ashland at Keeneland
Back The Big Beast in the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct