Horses to Watch: 12 worth your attention, 3 to drop

Horses to Watch: 12 worth your attention, 3 to drop
Photo: Benoit Photo

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

Going Global

Flashy 3-year-old filly brought her U.S. record to a perfect 3-for-3 with a deceptively easy victory in the Providencia (G3) at Santa Anita. Racing 1 1/8 miles, Going Global endured a wide journey after getting bounced around at the start. But she unleashed a swift burst of acceleration when called upon and won by a neck over the ground-saving Closing Remarks. Going Global finished fast, sprinting the final three furlongs in about :34 4/5, and she looks like an up-and-coming young turf star on the California circuit.

Laurel River

A Juddmonte Farms homebred trained by Bob Baffert, Laurel River delivered a sharp effort in his second career start. Returning from a six-month layoff on Saturday at Santa Anita, the son of Into Mischief carved out testing fractions of :21.66 and :44.17 in a 6 1/2-furlong sprint, then kicked away down the lane to beat a promising field by 4 1/4 lengths. Laurel River’s final time was a quick 1:15.66, and since his dam is a daughter of Empire Maker, Laurel River has the pedigree to stretch out over at least 1 1/8 miles. He looks like an exciting, late-developing prospect for the second half of the season. Arrogate, anyone?

Plum Ali

Ran deceptively well in the Appalachian (G2), her first start since finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) last November. Reserved in fourth place behind slow fractions of :24.82, :49.87, and 1:14.29, Plum Ali never had a chance to catch up when front-running winner Jouster (see below) sprinted the final two furlongs in :11.10 and :11.44. But Plum Ali never stopped trying, sprinting her own final quarter in approximately :22.12 to gain 3 1/2 lengths and finish third by just two lengths. She figures to improve off this effort, and a better pace setup next time might be all she needs to rebound.

Rock Your World

Granted, Rock Your World received a pretty straightforward trip in the Santa Anita Derby, carving out the pace before edging away to win by 4 1/4 lengths. But this straightforward trip was purely the result of Rock Your World’s abundant talent. Normally a pace-tracking type, Rock Your World showed no hesitation sprinting to the lead through quick fractions of :22.42, :46.11, and 1:10.64 before staying on strongly down the stretch to beat Robert B. Lewis (G3) winner Medina Spirit in decisive fashion. Rock Your World’s final time of 1:49.17 was quick for Santa Anita, and victory in the Kentucky Derby (G1) could be within reach for the improving son of Candy Ride.

Scarlett Sky

Scarlett Sky is really coming to hand for trainer Shug McGaughey, as the 3-year-old colt demonstrated in the 1 1/16-mile Transylvania (G3) on opening day at Keeneland. Despite trailing through slow fractions of :49.83 and 1:14.83, Scarlett Sky produced a furious rally down the homestretch, gaining four lengths in the final furlong to score by half a length. According to Trakus, Scarlett Sky dashed the final 5/16 in :28.86 over a good course, an excellent fraction.

Recent Watch List winners


Todd Pletcher trainee ran to expectations as the favorite in the Appalachian. After relaxing reasonably well through slow fractions of :24.82, :49.87, and 1:14.29 over a good course, Jouster kicked on through a rapid :22.54 final quarter to win the one-mile turf test by 1 1/2 lengths. The daughter of Noble Mission is a nose away from being undefeated in four starts on turf, and her front-running speed is a formidable weapon.


The Demoiselle (G2) winner showed no signs of rust off a four-month layoff, producing a terrific late rally to win the Ashland (G1) by a head. Any way you slice it, this was a big effort – according to Trakus, Malathaat sprinted the final 5/16 of a mile in :29.54 (sensational for a dirt route) to gain three lengths and secure the victory. She’ll be a major player in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) if she can reproduce her Ashland effort four weeks from now.

Paris Lights

Speaking of fillies on the comeback trail, last year’s Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) winner Paris Lights was ready to roll off a 7 1/2-month layoff in the Distaff Handicap (G3). Sprinting just seven furlongs at Aqueduct, Paris Lights showed tenacity to track the pace and wear down front-running Portal Creek to score by a half a length. As a daughter of Curlin out of a Bernardini mare, Paris Lights is bred to improve with maturity and thrive running long, so look for her to show substantial improvement when stretching back out in distance down the road.

Pauline’s Pearl

Delivered as the 4-5 favorite in the Fantasy (G3), settling back in fourth place before rallying past pacesetter Ava’s Grace to score by a length. A beautifully bred daughter of Tapit out of Grade 1 winner Hot Dixie Chick, Pauline’s Pearl is getting good at the right time for trainer Steve Asmussen and appears bound for the Kentucky Oaks.

Worth another try

Dream Shake

Ran evenly to finish third in the Santa Anita Derby, but never seriously threatened Rock Your World or runner-up Medina Spirit. I suspect cutting back slightly in distance could work wonders for Dream Shake, who’s still lightly raced with only three starts under his belt. An event such as the Pat Day Mile (G2) running a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs could be a perfect fit.

Highly Motivated

Ran too good to lose in the Blue Grass (G2), coming up a neck short against the undefeated Kentucky Derby favorite Essential Quality. True, Highly Motivated capitalized on setting a slow pace (he ran the opening half mile in :48.21), but I was impressed by the way he sprinted the next two quarter-mile fractions in :23.87 and :23.89. Trainer Chad Brown has Highly Motivated progressing in the right direction, and I expect the son of Into Mischief to take another step forward in the Kentucky Derby, which will mark his third start off a winter layoff.

Medina Spirit

A wide trip surely contributed to Medina Spirit’s defeat in the Santa Anita Derby – according to Trakus, he ran 40 feet (five lengths) farther than Rock Your World, which was enough to offset his 4 1/4-length margin of defeat. The Santa Anita Derby was a fast race, so a better trip in the Kentucky Derby could allow Medina Spirit to challenge for a top-four finish.

Off the Watch List

Fire At Will

Had everything his own way in the Transylvania, carving out slow fractions of :24.63, :49.83, and 1:14.32 as the 11-10 favorite. But Fire At Will failed to accelerate the way I had hoped down the lane, settling for third place by one length. Perhaps carving out a fast pace would have put Fire At Will’s tactical speed to better use, but at this point, I’m wondering if Fire At Will has failed to progress from age 2 to 3.


Failed to factor in the Wood Memorial (G2), tracking the early pace before weakening to finish sixth behind 72-1 long shot Bourbonic. It’s possible the super-slow track wasn’t to Prevalence’s liking, but it’s also possible the jump from allowance to Grade 2 company tripped him up.


The slow early/fast late race shape of the Blue Grass was surely detrimental to the stretch-running Untreated, but the son of Nyquist never got engaged while coming home eighth out of nine, beaten 33 3/4 lengths. Untreated remains an intriguing prospect off his blowout maiden win, but I’ll want to see how he bounces out of the Blue Grass before returning him to my watch list.

Here is my complete, updated Horses to Watch list.:

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