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.
New to the Watch List
Greyes Creek appeared to have some momentum when turning for home in the Jaipur (G1) at Belmont, but he ran into boatloads of traffic down the homestretch. He wound up steadying sharply behind rivals and never had a chance to accelerate, so I’ll view his eighth-place effort in an optimistic light. He was beaten by only 4 1/4 lengths overall and by just 2 1/4 lengths for second place, so I get the feeling this former route runner is capable of winning a graded turf sprint before the year is out.
Mahaamel had the misfortune to encounter rising star First Captain in their mutual debut on April 24 at Belmont, where Mahaamel settled for second by just under a length. This sharp effort stamped Mahaamel as the 4-5 favorite for a seven-furlong maiden special weight on Friday at Belmont, which the son of Into Mischief won with authority. Carving out quick fractions of :22.68 and :45.89 over a muddy track, Mahaamel drew off down the stretch to score by 3 1/4 lengths in the snappy time of 1:22.46. It looks like Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher has a talented sprinter on his hands.
Could Soft Power be a powerful young turf star in the making for trainer Chad Brown? The son of Invincible Spirit certainly impressed when debuting in a seven-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday at Belmont. After dropping back to eighth place through splits of :22.85 and :46.47, Soft Power bulled his way out of traffic down the homestretch, then accelerated furiously to win by a nose.
Soft Power’s final time of 1:23.36 was respectable over a rain-dampened course, and Invincible Spirit has a reputation for siring high-class sprinters and milers, including Kingman and Moonlight Cloud. Might the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) be on the distant horizon for Soft Power? I wouldn’t count him out of the mix.
Venetian Harbor has long shown significant talent on dirt, placing multiple times at the Grade 1 level and winning a pair of Grade 2 stakes last season. But the daughter of Munnings stands to re-envision herself as an elite turf sprinter after rolling to victory in the 6 1/2-furlong Monrovia (G2) over the Santa Anita grass course.
Making her first start since the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), Venetian Harbor carved out fractions of :22.48 and :44.96 before putting away stakes-winning rivals Superstition and Nasty to win by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:15.06. Venetian Harbor's dual-surface versatility will afford her plenty of options for a productive 2021 campaign.
Recent Watch List winners
Picked up his second Grade 1 win from as many starts this season in the Manhattan (G1) at Belmont, launching a powerful rally from more than a dozen lengths behind to win going away. The Chad Brown trainee still had 5 1/2 lengths to make up with a quarter mile remaining, but he rocketed the distance in :23 flat, according to Trakus, to score by 2 3/4 lengths. Domestic Spending has developed into a beast of a turf horse and should be tough to beat this season.
Not many folks expected Silver State to win Belmont’s Metropolitan Handicap (G1), but the Steve Asmussen trainee managed to secure the victory under a perfect ride from Ricardo Santana. After saving ground behind splits of :23.36 and :46.31, Silver State rallied up the rail in the final furlong and edged away to beat four-time Grade 2 winner By My Standards by a length. Silver State now has won six straight races (including four stakes) since returning from a layoff last fall and ranks among the leading older dirt males in training.
Worth another try
Although Colonel Liam disappointed when finishing eighth with a wide trip in the Manhattan, the multiple Grade 1 winner has been too productive a member of our watch list to drop off one poor showing. We’ll look for the son of Liam’s Map to bounce back next time, perhaps while returning to firm turf.
True, Harvey’s Lil Goil came up short in the New York (G2) at Belmont, weakening from a stalking position to finish fifth by four lengths. But racing 1 1/4 miles over yielding turf probably stretched the limits of her stamina, so I think she can rebound when cutting back in distance and returning to firm turf in the future.
Ran too good to lose in the Belmont Stakes (G1), carving out blazing early fractions of 22.78 and 46.49 before fighting on gamely to finish second, just 1 1/4 lengths behind champion Essential Quality. Hot Rod Charlie pulled 11 1/4 lengths clear of the rest while somehow finding enough stamina to sprint his final quarter-mile fraction in under 25 seconds. The final time was a rapid 2:27.11, and Hot Rod Charlie reached the finish line in 2:27.27. Any way you slice it, this was a huge effort from a gallant colt.
Never really picked up her feet when finishing seventh in the New York, but I wonder if the yielding turf course was detrimental to her chances. Magic Attitude has done by far her best work over firm turf, so I’ll give her another try if she encounters more favorable going next time.
The Preakness (G1) winner couldn’t keep pace with the top two finishers in the Belmont. But to his credit, he never stopped trying and won the battle for third place by just under a length. Since the Belmont was a fast race on paper, Rombauer ran better than his bare margin of defeat implies. I think he’ll win another graded stakes (or perhaps multiple) before the year is over.
Off the Watch List
• Dream Shake
• Known Agenda
• Pocket Square
• Rock Your World
Here is my complete, updated list of Horses to Watch.