Despite the pandemic, Memorial Day weekend’s racing was just as strong as ever. Several candidates from Santa Anita Park and Churchill Downs were in contention (including Keeper Ofthe Stars, Maxfield, Wildman Jack, Dunbar Road, and Sharing), but here is who made our final list of the Three Stars of the Week:
1. Raging Bull
Maybe it was age, maybe it was the pace setup, or maybe it was a return to the southern California sunshine. Whatever it was, Raging Bull’s 2020 debut in the Shoemaker Mile Stakes (G1) was nothing short of a smashing success. The Chad Brown trainee’s most recent victory came in December 2018 when he shipped to Del Mar for the Hollywood Derby (G1). He put together a 5-0-1-2 record while facing all Grade 1 foes last year, but his strongest efforts seemed to come while going 1 mile. Brown believed that this was his best distance, and the French-bred 5-year-old rewarded his faith with a strong 2 1/4-length score. That victory made him racing’s newest millionaire and earned him an expenses-waived berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Keeneland this fall.
Once known as the horse who was a head from ending Bricks and Mortar’s perfect season in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), United has shown twice now that he is a new horse at age 5. In Saturday’s Charles Whittingham Stakes (G2), he closely tracked a slow early pace before Santa Anita Park’s leading rider Flavien Prat made a move to the lead near the 1/4 pole. Trainer Richard Mandella said afterward that he’d feared the move was made too soon because the field cut into his advantage, but United put his heart and grit on full display when he dug in gamely at the 1/16 pole and fought back. Unlike the Breeders’ Cup, when Irad Ortiz, Jr., nailed him at the wire, United held sway for the victory and stamped himself as the west coast’s top older turf male.
3. Jolie Olimpica
The Brazilian-bred sensation that is Jolie Olimpica proved once again on Monday that she is an absolute force in turf sprints, this time surging late to win the Monrovia Stakes (G2). Though this was her fifth win in six starts, this victory was made all the more impressive because of how confidently Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith. The margin of victory belied the fact that Smith never had to ask her for her best, despite a stubborn early pacesetter and a hard-charging foe arriving late. Her lone loss came going a two-turn mile, but her connections believe that she will be able to stretch out just as well sometime in near the future. Until then, her rivals would be wise to steer clear of facing her.