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
Promising juvenile was tons the best in his Friday debut sprinting 4 1/2 furlongs at Keeneland, tracking the pace before kicking away to dominate by five lengths. Sire Uncaptured won five stakes at age 2, and trainer Luis Mendez campaigned early-maturing 2020 Del Mar Futurity (G1) winner Dr. Schivel, so there’s a good chance King Adrock will make some noise against stakes company this spring. Could the May 5 Kentucky Juvenile at Churchill Downs be next on the horizon?
Runner-up in the Hopeful (G1) and third in the Champagne (G1) last season, Wit fired off a big effort when returning from a six-month layoff in the Grade 3 Bay Shore at Aqueduct. After racing wide in midpack, the Todd Pletcher trainee unleashed a furious stretch rally to get up and win by a nose over sharp debut winner Highly Respected. Races like the Pat Day Mile (G2) and Woody Stephens (G1) could be viable spring targets for Wit, who has been highly effective competing around one turn.
Recent Watch List Winners
Six-time stakes-winning turf star returned a winner in her 4-year-old debut, tracking the pace in Santa Anita’s Royal Heroine (G2) before finishing fast (final quarter-mile in about 23.1 seconds) to win the one-mile grass heat by 1 3/4 lengths in a snappy 1:33.97 seconds. Don’t be surprised if Going Global rattles off another lengthy series of graded wins this season.
Two-time Breeders’ Cup winner kicked off his 2022 campaign on a brilliant note, wiring Keeneland’s Shakertown (G2) with blazing pace fractions of 20.94 and 43.58 seconds. He ultimately won by 4 3/4 lengths and appears poised for another big season.
Couldn’t have been much more impressive in the Beaumont (G3) at Keeneland, tracking the early pace before bounding away to win easily by 8 1/2 lengths. The Godolphin homebred is 3-for-4 sprinting and 2-for-2 this year, suggesting she’s developing into a speedy sprint star with Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint potential.
Trailed the field after the opening half-mile of the Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct, but ultimately unleashed a freakish rally (sprinting the final three furlongs in 35.61 seconds per Trakus) to win by a neck. His final time of 1:47.96 seconds for 1 1/8 miles marked the fastest Wood Memorial since 2005.
Three-time stakes winner ran out of her skin in the Ashland (G1) at Keeneland, powering away down the homestretch to dominate by 8 1/4 lengths. Nest rocketed the final sixteenth of a mile in six seconds to stamp her credentials as a serious Kentucky Oaks threat.
Red-hot 4-year-old picked up his first top-level success in the Carter Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct, dueling for the early lead before kicking away to win the seven-furlong sprint by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:21.34 seconds. His reward was a massive 114 Beyer speed figure, stamping Speaker’s Corner as one of the fastest horses in training.
A debut winner sprinting six furlongs at Santa Anita, Taiba amazingly stepped forward sufficiently in his second start to upset Santa Anita’s Santa Anita Derby (G1) over 1 1/8 miles. The son of Gun Runner tracked the early pace before unleashing a relentless rally to beat stablemate Messier by 2 1/4 lengths in the excellent time of 1:48.46 seconds, suggesting the Kentucky Derby is a viable goal.
Zandon couldn’t have been much more impressive in winning the Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland. The stretch-running colt was racing dead last with three furlongs remaining, but ultimately unleashed a powerful rally to get up and beat Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) winner Smile Happy by 2 1/2 lengths. Any way you slice it, this was a big performance.
Worth Another Try
Couldn’t quite secure victory in the Santa Anita Oaks (G2), pressing quick fractions before settling for second place against the rallying Desert Dawn. But Adare Manor was only beaten a neck in her first start off a two-month break, so she’s eligible to move forward in the Kentucky Oaks.
Ran a big race against Mo Donegal in the Wood Memorial, carving out the pace and opening up a two-length lead in midstretch before getting caught in the final strides. Chad Brown trainee keeps progressing in a positive direction and appears bound for the spring classics.
Stayed within a couple lengths of the lead in the Carter Handicap, then faded to finish last of seven. The distance and pace were perhaps too sharp for First Captain, who is bred top and bottom to thrive running long. We’ll give him a chance to bounce back next time.
Carved out the pace in the Santa Anita Derby, then gave way unexpectedly at the top of the stretch to finish last of six. This marked a sharp regression from Forbidden Kingdom’s winter form, so we’ll assume something went awry and expect the son of American Pharoah rebound in the future. Cutting back in distance might help his chances.
Dueled for the lead through ambitious fractions of 22.11 and 44.50 seconds in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland before weakening in the final furlong to finish fourth. Lady Rocket was cutting back in distance for her first start since dominating the one-mile Go for Wand Handicap (G3) on Dec. 4 at Aqueduct, so she has plenty of upside for improvement this season.
Pressed multiple Grade 2 winner Forbidden Kingdom through the first six furlongs of the Santa Anita Derby, only to get run down by stablemate Taiba after taking command in the homestretch. Messier may have fallen to defeat, but he was only beaten 2 1/4 lengths in his first start since Feb. 6. It’s possible Messier needed the race, in which case he’s eligible to move forward in the Kentucky Derby.
Broke poorly in the Wood Memorial and never really fired thereafter, weakening to finish sixth by 21 1/2 lengths. This effort marked a sharp regression from his fine victory in the Gotham (G3) last month, so we’ll forgive Morello’s no-show performance and give him a chance to rebound next time.
Couldn’t keep pace with Speaker’s Corner in the Carter Handicap but did finish clearly second-best, pulling 2 1/2 lengths ahead of multiple Grade 1 winner Mind Control. If Reinvestment Risk maintains his current level of form, he ought to win a graded stakes (or several) this season.
Stretch-running colt stayed closer to the pace than usual in the Blue Grass and actually surged to the front in midstretch before getting run down by deep-closing rival Zandon. All things considered, this was a solid effort from Smile Happy, who may offer live longshot potential with a more patient trip in the Kentucky Derby.
Couldn’t quite get the job done in the Monrovia (G2) at Santa Anita, running evenly to finish third by 2 1/4 lengths. But considering Tobys Heart was shipping across the country, stepping up in class off a layoff, and tackling Santa Anita’s downhill turf course for the first time, this wasn’t a bad effort.
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint winner nearly conquered males again in the Palisades at Keeneland, but was caught by the ground-saving Futurity (G3) winner Slipstream after carving out the pace. However, Twilight Gleaming was only beaten by 3/4 length while pulling 5 1/2 lengths clear of the rest, so her performance has to be viewed in a positive light.
Off the Watch List
Rattle N Roll
Which horses caught your eyes last week?