Two-year-old graded stakes routes in September and October typically offer a fast pace because connections are still experimenting with their horses. Some of these runners will be sprinters in the long term once exposed as one-turn types, while others will stretch out successfully and stay on the Kentucky Derby or Oaks trail.
With that said, it is no surprise the TimeformUS Pace Projector predicts a red-hot pace in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs. Therefore, a proven closer with ability seems like the right runner to side with, and in this situation that horse is the Kiaran McLaughlin entrant, It Justhitthe Wire.
It Justhitthe Wire closed from seventh to "win" her career debut at Saratoga, but what made the race impressive was how she overcame the blatant speed bias. TimeformUS indicates a speed bias for the card, and the charts for the other races back this.
Unfortunately, It Justhitthe Wire was disqualified for interfering in midstretch, so the race did not count as an official victory. But she gets credit for crossing the wire first.
As a daughter of Bernardini and the Mizzen Mast mare C J’s Leelee, she will be a closer in this race with a solid route pedigree. In 57 combined overall starts by It Justhitthe Wire’s siblings, 40 of them came in routes, which is a good sign.
While the so-so speed figure for the Saratoga maiden is a small concern, the connections must believe there is a lot of talent. Otherwise, McLaughlin would search for another maiden race rather than ship her to run in the Pocahontas one month later.
Two Dozen Roses, who officially defeated It Justhitthe Wire at Saratoga through the stewards’ decision, also deserves consideration. She is trained by Todd Pletcher.
The daughter of Super Saver makes her third career start, and the only question is her ability to get the 1 1/16-mile Pocahontas distance. As a negative, her dam Judy B raced in 19 sprint races out of 19 lifetime starts. Furthermore, half-sibling Sarah Your Highness only won two races out of 16 starts, and both wins came in sprints.
In addition, Two Dozen Roses ran closer to the pace than It Justhitthe Wire on the speed-biased surface. While less promising, with a good trip she can win, too.
Another intriguing maiden winner to discuss is Splashy Kisses, who won her second career start by over five lengths at Del Mar. She is trained by Doug O’Neill.
Splashy Kisses completed the six furlongs on Aug. 18 in 1:11.21, the same time Game Winner took to break his maiden on the same card. Game Winner went on to win the Del Mar Futurity (G1) against talented opponents in Rowayton and Roadster.
For breaking her maiden, Splashy Kisses received a 101 TimeformUS Speed Figure, the second-highest in the field. Then again, sprint figures are not as useful in routes. But it must be noted Phoenix Thoroughbred bought 51-percent of Splashy Kisses after the impressive maiden win, so there are high expectations with this filly.
On the track: Splashy Kisses makes her 1st start since we acquired a 51% share from @ERJRACING (who retain the rest) on Saturday. She'll carry the white and orange silks as she steps up to G2 in the Pocahontas Stakes. Here she is in easy work a few couple of weeks back. (outside) pic.twitter.com/6TpBoqonWw— Phoenix Thoroughbred (@PhoenixThoroug1) September 12, 2018
To bring up one big negative, though, the combination of O’Neill and jockey Drayden Van Dyke is 0 for 14 over the past year. Perhaps the statistic can be overlooked, as Van Dyke is on a tear right now.
Now to cross-examine Serengeti Empress, who has been taking up most of the headlines: She comes off a 13-length victory in the Ellis Park Debutante Stakes. Three starts ago, she broke her maiden by about five lengths at Indiana Grand.
However, sandwiched between those two races, she ran fourth in the Schuylerville Stakes (G3) at Saratoga against a legitimate graded stakes field. It could be argued her flashy wins at Indiana Grand and Ellis Park look good because she faced nothing.
Also, Serengeti Empress needs to prove her routing ability as well. While the same statement can be said for most of the field, she will offer little to no value.
Odds and betting strategy aside, Serengeti Empress is a win contender.
Next to discuss is Love My Honey, who made her career debut a successful one for trainer Michael Maker while winning at Saratoga in late July.
Love My Honey posted an average speed figure of 83, which can be improved upon in her second start. Will she route, though? Her lack of flashiness is a good sign, as she ran like a horse who can distribute her energy well over a route distance.
To throw up a negative, Love My Honey’s siblings primarily ran in sprint races, and the combination of Shackleford over an Indian Charlie mare will signal “sprinter” to most minds.
In contrast to the guessing game with most of these fillies, Taylor’s Spirit owns a one-mile route win. Unfortunately, the win came at Louisiana Downs.
Previously, Taylor’s Spirit broke her maiden by over 13 lengths at Prairie Meadows, and followed up by taking the Prairie Gold Lassie on the same racetrack.
Although tackling a first-tier racetrack such as Churchill Downs will not be an easy task, Taylor’s Spirit deserves a glance from bettors. The TimeformUS numbers fit.
Finally, the last realistic contender is Lightscameraaction, who shows two slow sprint efforts at Keeneland and Churchill before improving in turf routes at Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs. Maybe this filly’s game is going long, no matter the surface.
Of course, she still needs to prove herself routing on dirt, but it is obvious the public will let her stay at 15-1 or higher. This is a good longshot to throw in exotics.
Choosing the headliner for this analysis proved difficult, as all signs point toward Splashy Kisses pointing toward a bright future. But It Justhitthe Wire feels more reliable to rate and take advantage of the pace scenario in this specific race.
If Justhitthe Wire is the top choice here, but if she fails, the race becomes open. Due to the stretchout and other question marks surrounding most of these fillies, this is a good opportunity to score with a sneaky value selection.