In this biweekly series, racing analyst Keeler Johnson will share promising horses from his handicapping watch list, reviewing runners who have recently caught his eye and previewing horses scheduled to run back in the near future.
New to the Watch List
Cutting back in distance out of the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile worked wonders for Vertical Threat, who brought his record sprinting on dirt to a perfect 3-for-3 with a powerful victory in Monday’s Steel Valley Sprint Stakes at Mahoning Valley. Dashing straight to the lead through splits of 22.89 and 45.59, Vertical Threat drew off with authority down the homestretch to crush his pursuers by 7 1/2 lengths.
Vertical Threat finished fast over a slow track to stop the clock for six furlongs in 1:10.07, good for a 102 Beyer Speed Figure. Trained by Richard Baltas, the 3-year-old son of Tapiture appears poised to develop into a top-class older sprinter for 2021.
Granted, Coastal Defense will be a longshot in Friday’s tenth race at Churchill Downs, the Clark (G1, post time 5:27 p.m. EST). But the stoutly bred son of Curlin endured a nightmare trip when last seen in the Fayette (G2), getting checked, bumped and blocked in traffic before rallying to finish fourth by just 1 1/4 lengths. I am optimistic this improving Dale Romans trainee will take a big step forward with a clean journey in the Clark.
A talented son of Smarty Jones, Dreams Untold returns to stakes company in Saturday’s fourth race at Laurel Park, the Concern Stakes (post time 1:53 p.m.). The seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds has come up tough on paper but Dreams Untold is 2-for-2 over this distance, twice defeating older rivals in allowance company. Dreams Untold suffered from poor starts in his two previous stakes attempts, so I’m excited to see what he can achieve with a (presumably) clean break Saturday.
A 6-year-old son of leading sire Into Mischief, Hunka Burning Love is undefeated in five starts running long on dirt since being claimed in the spring by Karl Broberg. I’ll draw a line through his fifth-place effort sprinting in the David M. Vance Stakes last time out and assume he’ll rebound in Saturday’s eighth race at Delta Downs, the Delta Mile Stakes (post time 5:07 p.m.). The one-mile distance should be much more suitable for Hunka Burning Love, and the speedy gelding figure to sit a perfect trip stalking pure front-runner Stephen’s Answer in the early going.
The Belmont Derby (G1) winner passed on a start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf to specifically target Saturday’s ninth race at Del Mar, the Hollywood Derby (G1, post time 7:25 p.m.). The competition is fierce, and the 1 1/8-mile distance might be a hair shorter than Gufo prefers. But the son of Declaration of War is a head away from riding a six-race win streak, and with a clean trip under hot jockey Flavien Prat, he can post his second straight Grade 1 triumph.
I wasn’t particularly disappointed by King Fury’s seventh-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He ran evenly while returning just 12 days after his fast-finishing victory in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs. A son of Curlin out of the Grade 1-winning mare Taris, King Fury figures to rebound while adding blinkers for Saturday’s 11th race at Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2, post time 5:56 p.m.). He’s 2-for-2 over the Churchill main track and should appreciate facing easier company.
I don’t know if a mile is really Maxim Rate’s best distance, but I do believe the improving 4-year-old can vie for victory in Sunday’s ninth race at Del Mar, the Matriarch (G1, post time 7 p.m.). The Simon Callaghan trainee hasn’t missed the exacta in five starts this season and enters the Matriarch off a runner-up effort in the Rodeo Drive (G1) and a confident victory in the Goldikova (G2). The Matriarch field is very deep, but Maxim Rate is progressing in the right direction, and a top-three finish against this caliber of competition will tempt me to keep Maxim Rate on my watch list for the foreseeable future.
The French import Mutamakina endured absolutely dreadful racing luck in the Zagora Stakes at Belmont last month, her U.S. debut. After tracking the pace while saving ground, Mutamakina was shuffled back dramatically on the far turn, losing a ton of ground and momentum at a key point in the race. Despite this obstacle, Mutamakina re-rallied resolutely down the homestretch, gaining 3 1/2 lengths in the final furlong to finish third by half a length. With anything resembling an unencumbered journey in Saturday’s tenth race at Aqueduct, the Long Island (G3, post time 4:13 p.m.), I expect Mutamakina to post a comfortable victory.
After finishing second in his first three starts – beaten by the likes of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Hot Rod Charlie and the twice Grade 1-placed Spielberg – Parnelli should have every chance to reach the winner’s circle in Saturday’s fourth race at Del Mar, a one-mile maiden special weight (post time 4:59 p.m.). He could potentially face a tough test from Editor in Chief, a $650,000 yearling purchase conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. But since Baffert strikes at just a 12-percent rate with horses debuting over a mile or farther, the fact Parnelli has already negotiated this distance twice is a big positive.
Facing just four rivals in Friday’s third race at Churchill Downs, a seven-furlong allowance optional claiming race (post time 1:57 p.m.), Silver State should have every chance to post a resounding victory. Twice placed against graded stakes company on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, the Steve Asmussen trainee displayed great form when returning from a seven-month layoff at Keeneland last month, crushing an allowance sprint by seven lengths. With hot jockey Ricardo Santana in the saddle, Silver State can continue his transformation into a top-notch sprinter.
A slow start and a traffic-filled trip prevented Alcibiades (G1) winner Simply Ravishing from showing her best form in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, but despite these challenging circumstances, the daughter of Laoban rallied late to finish fourth in a tough field, beaten two noses for the runner-up spot. Simply Ravishing enters Saturday’s ninth race at Churchill Downs, the Golden Rod (G2, post time 4:57 p.m.) with a big advantage in terms of Brisnet Speed ratings, so with a clean trip, she should bounce back to the winner’s circle.
A 3-year-old daughter of hot stallion Wootton Bassett, Tamahere turned in a tremendous effort to win her U.S. debut for trainer Chad Brown. Facing seven rivals in the 1-mile Sands Point (G2), Tamahere unleashed a powerful finish from off the pace, sprinting the final quarter in approximately 23 seconds flat to win by two lengths. The bay filly was hardly asked for any run at all, and while stepping up against older rivals (including the above-mentioned Maxim Rate) in the Matriarch (G1) will be a tougher task, I’m optimistic Tamahere’s brilliant turn-of-foot will win the day.