In this biweekly series, racing analyst Keeler Johnson shares 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.
The wait is over. After spending 9 1/2 months on the sidelines, Cezanne will return to action in Saturday’s eighth race at Santa Anita, the Grade 3 Palos Verdes (post time 7:22 p.m. EST).
Sold for $3.65 million as a juvenile, Cezanne has won three of his four starts for hot trainer Bob Baffert. In his lone start of 2021, Cezanne smashed Santa Anita’s 6 1/2-furlong Kona Gold (G3) by 9 3/4 lengths. The son of Curlin has trained sharply for his return and retains the services of Santa Anita’s leading jockey Flavien Prat, so even off the layoff, Cezanne warrants respect.
Colonel Liam was on a roll last winter and spring, rattling off consecutive victories in the Tropical Park Derby, Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), Muniz Memorial Classic (G2) and Turf Classic (G1). He’ll attempt to recapture his winning momentum when seeking a second victory in Saturday’s 11th race at Gulfstream Park, the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1 – post time 4:49 p.m.).
Colonel Liam hasn’t run since June, when he finished eighth in the Manhattan (G1) at Belmont Park. But the son of Liam’s Map has turned in an encouraging series of workouts for hot trainer Todd Pletcher (a 42 percent winner at Gulfstream this meet), setting the stage for a strong run. Keep in mind, Colonel Liam won the Tropical Park Derby off a layoff at Gulfstream last winter.
In addition to Cezanne, Baffert and Prat will team up with Doppelganger in Saturday’s fourth race at Santa Anita, the San Vicente (G2 – post time 5:10 p.m.).
Baffert has won the seven-furlong San Vicente 11 times since 1997, and Doppelganger is the morning-line choice among Baffert’s three entrants in the 2022 edition. The son of Into Mischief unleashed a powerful rally to dominate his debut sprinting six furlongs at Los Alamitos, and a repeat would make Doppelganger a formidable threat in his first start against winners.
Emmanuel has run only once, trouncing a one-mile maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park by 6 3/4 lengths. But the Todd Pletcher trainee is already among the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby, closing at 17-1 in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2.
Emmanuel can cement his status as an exciting Derby contender in Sunday’s sixth race at Tampa Bay Downs, a $75,000 allowance optional claimer (post time 2:43 p.m.). The son of More Than Ready will face five rivals over one mile and 40 yards, and on paper he seems likely to secure the early lead. From there, I expect Emmanuel to post another easy victory.
Only two horses from outside the Baffert barn are slated to contest the San Vicente. The best of the duo appears to be Forbidden Kingdom.
Conditioned by Richard Mandella, Forbidden Kingdom cracked the trifecta in all three of his starts last season, including two stakes. He ran especially well in the Bob Hope (G3) sprinting seven furlongs at Del Mar, carving out blazing fractions of 21.40 and 43.23 seconds before staying on to finish second behind stretch-running winner Messier.
Forbidden Kingdom has trained strongly for his sophomore debut and clearly possesses a world of tactical speed, so don’t be surprised if he gives the Baffert trainees a serious fight.
Winner of the Edgewood (G2) at Churchill Downs last spring, Gift List never had a serious chance to win the Wonder Again (G3) on June 3 at Belmont Park – not after the 1 1/8-mile turf test produced pedestrian early fractions of 25.78, 51.33 and 1:15.24 seconds.
But to Gift List’s credit, she gained a lot of ground down the homestretch, rallying to finish third by just 1 1/4 lengths against the pace-tracking winner Con Lima. Gift List hasn’t run since, but if she gets a fair pace to work with in Saturday’s ninth race at Gulfstream Park, the Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G3 – post time 3:36 p.m.), she can outrun expectations at a big price.
After rattling off three blowout sprint wins against increasingly tough company, Happy Medium looms as an odds-on favorite to win Saturday’s eighth race at Aqueduct, the Toboggan (G3 – post time 3:50 p.m.).
Happy Medium was impressive in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance optional claimer on Dec. 18 at Aqueduct. After carving out the pace, Happy Medium kicked away to beat a next-out winner by seven lengths, earning a massive 107 Brisnet Speed rating. Anything close to a repeat of this performance should land Happy Medium in the Toboggan winner’s circle.
Fresh off a dominant victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Life Is Good is one of the key contenders for victory in Saturday’s 12th race at Gulfstream Park, the Pegasus World Cup (G1 – post time 5:34 p.m.).
Life Is Good is a neck away from being unbeaten in half a dozen starts, thanks to his combination of abundant tactical speed and the stamina to sustain it around two turns. He’ll need every ounce of his ability to take down defending Pegasus champ Knicks Go, but whether he wins or loses this battle, Life Is Good appears poised for a strong 4-year-old season.
Unbeaten in two starts for trainer Bob Baffert, Newgrange was much the best in the Sham (G3) at Santa Anita last month, leading all the way to beat his Grade 3-winning stablemate Rockefeller by 2 3/4 lengths. Newgrange will attempt to keep his momentum going in Saturday’s ninth race at Oaklawn Park, the Southwest (G3 – post time 5:22 p.m.).
The Southwest is bound to be a tougher challenge for Newgrange. Starting from post 10 in a large field might force Newgrange to run harder earlier than he did in the Sham. But he’s the fastest entrant in terms of Brisnet Speed ratings, and hot jockey John Velazquez (12-for-20 teaming up with Baffert in the last two months) retains the mount, so a winning effort may well be in the offing.
Speaker’s Corner might not be the most consistent horse in training, but he has shown flashes of abundant talent. Two starts back, he posted a 112 Brisnet Speed rating when crushing a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claimer at Belmont Park by 6 3/4 lengths.
A peak performance would make Speaker’s Corner highly competitive in Saturday’s 10th race at Gulfstream Park, the Fred W. Hooper (G3 – post time 4:12 p.m.). The one-turn configuration should suit Speaker’s Corner just fine, considering he’s 3-for-4 racing around one turn and 0-for-2 tackling two turns. And he enters off an encouraging string of workouts, opening the door for a strong showing in his 4-year-old debut.
Here is my complete, updated list of Horses to Watch.