Bobby Flay’s homebred Pizza Bianca (#4 outside) under Jose Ortiz on her way to winning the Hilltop Stakes at Pimlico May 20, 2022, and earning Black Type. (Maryland Jockey Club photo)
Turf Racing is on the rise in America. And international contenders are coming to challenge.
By Maribeth Kalinich
There’s a phenomenon happening in North America. Turf races are booming. That is in part thanks to more European horses coming across the pond to compete here. Also, more North American owners are buying Irish and British bred horses.
Wesley Ward always brings a horse or two to run (Although turf guru Ward’s lone entry on opening day at Santa Anita is on dirt in the GI Runhappy Malibu with Nakatomi, Tyler Gaffalione up. He has two in at Turfway Park, where he is actually stabled, on AWT). And we can count on Aidan O’Brien’s ‘Army’ in their platoon-like workouts for big races like Breeders’ Cup turfs.
Two of the top turf trainers in the U. S. are Chad Brown and Graham Motion. They both have had horses run at Woodbine, Del Mar and Santa Anita as well as the familiar terra firma on the New York and Mid-Atlantic circuits.
Other trainers are now taking on the turf with success such as Phil D’Amato, Christophe Clement, Brendan Walsh and Mark Glatt.
There are other circuits, too. The southern circuit of Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park, Fair Grounds and Sam Houston Park.
More racetracks are promoting their turf courses with featured stakes and boosted purses.
The Turf Circuit
Gulfstream Park has two top races on Monday. The Tropical Park Derby and Tropical Park Oaks. Both on turf. Irish-bred Spirit and Glory contends in the latter while British-bred Maraud waits on the bubble in the Tropical Park Derby as Also Eligible.
There is also a, $84,000 MSW turf race and a $28,000 claiming turf race with Brit-bred Van Dusen on the card of 10 races.
On March 4, 2023, Gulfstream Park offers six stakes races on the turf worth $1.75 million. The G3 Canadian Turf, G3 Herecomesthebride, G3 Honey Fox, G2 Mac Diarmida and G3 The Very One. (Editor’s Note: Check out ALL of the stakes on March 4 in North America. It’s going to be an epic day.)
Monday Fair Grounds will have two $100,000 8 1/2 furlong turf stakes on the card—the Blushing K.D. and Buddy Diliberto Memorial. Two of nine stakes Fair Grounds is serving up on a 13-race card by the way.
The Santa Anita Classic Meet that begins Monday is loaded with turf races. Six in fact out of 11 on the card. Including a Grade I and two Grade IIs. And those are stocked with entries from across the pond.
Race 1, the Grade II Santa Anita Mathis Mile, on the turf at one mile with three imports from Ireland—Balnikov, (Phil D’Amato) I’m A Gambler (Mark Glatt) and Agatino (Phil D’Amato).
Race 3, the Grade II San Gabriel, on turf at one mile and one eighth, has two of seven starters from across the pond. Dicey Mo Chara from Great Britain (Leonard Powell) and Prince Abama, another Phil D’Amato trainee.
D’Amato has several turf runners on the opening day card. In fact, D’Amato’s lone representative in a dirt stakes on opening day is Ain’t Easy in the Grade I, $300,000 La Brea for 3-year-old fillies going seven furlongs.
Race 5, a Maiden for two-year-olds at a mile—on turf—with two of twelve runners from Ireland. Maltese Falcon (Leonard Powell) and Dandy Man Shines (Jeff Mullins). Also Eligible is Azure Star from Ireland with trainer Dan Blacker.
Race 7, an Allowance for Fillies and Mares three-years-old and upward. On turf but a restricted race for Cali bred or sired. But still, on turf.
Race 9, an Allowance for Fillies and Mare three-years-old and upward. Open company. On the turf. Two Irish starters and two AEs. Glenall (George Papaprodromou), Leisurewear (Phil D’Amato), Maeve of Connaught (Peter Gallagher) and Anaghlasa (Phil D’Amato).
Race 11, the Grade I American Oaks. One and one fourth miles on the turf. A true test for three-year-old fillies. Rhea Moon (D’Amato), Salimah (Chad Brown) and Duvet Day (Michael McCarthy) represent Ireland. Lady Clementine (George Papaprodromou) Bellstreet Bridie (Mark Glatt) and Miss En Scene (Brendan Walsh) hail from Great Britain in a field of eleven.
D’Amato has three entered in the Oaks: Rhea Moon, off since winning the GIII Autumn Miss at Santa Anita on Oct. 29; School Dance, who is 2-for-2 since arriving from Gulfstream Park earlier this year; and Oakhurst, who will be making her first start for D’Amato.
Oakhurst was previously based in New York with trainers Chad Brown and then Michelle Nevin. The daughter of Mr. Speaker, who was second in an ungraded stakes at Belmont Park this past summer, arrived in D’Amato’s barn in the fall.
“She’s a nice, solid filly who acts like she wants to run all day,” the trainer said. “So, I think style-wise this should be a good spot for her. She’s trained very steadily, and we’ll just see how good she is. But she trains like a mile-and-quarter is right up her alley.”
Graham Motion, based at Fair Hill in Maryland, has two starters in the Oaks in Sparkle Blue and Pizza Bianca.
Motion won the Christiana at Delaware Park and the Grade III Rubicon Valley View at Keeneland with Sparkle Blue.
Pizza Bianca, winner of the 2021 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf and the Hilltop Stakes at Pimlico on Black-Eye Susan Day, just came to Motion’s barn for his talent on the turf. And location, location, location.
Because Motion has a string at Santa Anita for the Classic Meet, owner and breeder of Pizza Bianca Bobby Flay and current trainer Christophe Clement asked Motion if he would take on the graded stakes winning filly for the Classic Meet.
“I’ve trained for Bobby off and on, and he and Christophe approached me and asked since I was stabled (at Santa Anita) if I could help them out,” Motion said.
On Tuesday, Dec. 27, Santa Anita has two more turf stakes. Blue Norther and Eddie Logan.
The turf trend continues in particular at Santa Anita, Gulfstream and Fair Grounds with stakes. The end of January Sam Houston Park joins the grassy groove. Check out the stakes schedule on BloodHorse.
This past year, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) held third The Caesars Turf Triple Series will showcase the best 3-year-old turf runners in the country! The inaugural Turf Triple Series took place in 2019 at Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.
This year’s edition for three-year-olds kicks off with the Grade 1, $1 million Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational, contested at 1 1/4-miles (2,000 meters) on the Belmont turf. The second leg, the $1 million Caesars Saratoga Derby, will be contested at 1 3/16-miles (1,900 meters) on the Saratoga green. The series concludes at the Belmont fall meet with the 1 1/2-mile, $1 million Caesars Jockey Club Derby.
The edition for three-year-old fillies will begin with the Grade 1, $700,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational, at 1 1/4-miles (2,000 meters) on the Belmont turf. The series continues at Saratoga Race Course with the $700,000 Saratoga Oaks, held at 1 3/16-miles (1,900 meters) on the Saratoga lawn. The final leg, the $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks at the Belmont fall meet, will be contested at 1 3/8-miles (2,200 meters) on the turf.
They gave them names …
At Belmont they have two turf courses. The 1 1/2 miles outer course is the Widener Turf Course, The 1 5/16 miles Inner Turf Course has no specific name.
Santa Anita brought back the legendary Camino Real Hillside Turf Course in the fall of 2021 after the installation of the new turf chute in late 2020.
The Laurel Park turf course area is 142 feet wide. They have the ability to move the portable rail so there is no overuse of one area of the track. The six turf course names and locations are as follows: On the rail: All Along; 17 feet out: Bowl Game; 35 feet out: Kelso; 52 feet out: Dahlia; 70 feet out: Exceller; and, 87 feet out: Fort Marcy.
Woodbine has the 1 ½-miles turf course named the E.P. Taylor Turf Course after the track’s founder.