Horses to Watch: 3 juveniles and 8 older runners worth following

Horses to Watch: 3 juveniles and 8 older runners worth following
Photo: Chelsea Durand / NYRA

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


A full sister to Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner Idol, Nest was much the best in her debut racing one mile on Saturday at Belmont Park. The 2-year-old daughter of Curlin tracked modest early fractions before taking command to easily win a maiden special weight by five lengths, stopping the timer for 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.88 seconds.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Nest is bred to thrive running long and could develop into a logical contender for the Demoiselle (G2) racing 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct this fall.

Penny Saver

Speaking of promising 2-year-old fillies, Penny Saver looked like a stakes-caliber juvenile in the making when dominating a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on Friday at Churchill Downs. Conditioned by Kenny McPeek, Penny Saver led the way through fractions of 23.90, 47.62, and 1:12.04 seconds before finishing quickly (final 5/16 of a mile in 31.02 seconds) to crush her rivals by 9 1/2 lengths in 1:43.06 seconds.

Penny Saver did receive a pretty comfortable trip in a race dominated by speed horses, but the daughter of Super Saver showed a lot of talent along the way. A race such as the Golden Rod (G2) at Churchill this fall could be a logical target.

Rattle N Roll

The third time was the charm for Rattle N Roll, a Kenny McPeek-trained juvenile who broke his maiden in eye-catching fashion on Thursday at Churchill Downs. After racing behind slow splits of 24.56, 49.38 and 1:14.63 seconds, the son of Connect roared home through fast closing fractions (final 5/16 of a mile in 30.20 seconds) to beat the two pacesetters by three lengths.

Rattle N Roll’s final time of 1:44.83 seconds was modest at first glance, but the slow early fractions were a factor. The way Rattle N Roll finished down the lane bodes well for his long-term potential, with the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) looking like a possible autumn goal.

Sir Alfred James

The stakes-placed Sir Alfred James fired off a career-best effort to dominate a six-furlong allowance optional claimer on Friday at Churchill Downs. The Al Stall trainee was quick into stride, carving out fast fractions of 21.35 and 44.03 seconds, and he was simply full of run down the lane, roaring home to win by 5 3/4 lengths in a blazing 1:08.00 seconds.

A former claimer, Sir Alfred James has made a lot of progress this year and boasts an excellent 4-for-7 record at Churchill Downs. Don’t be surprised if he wins a stakes before the year is over.

Recent Watch List winners

Bella Sofia

Had no difficulty defeating a small field of older rivals in the Gallant Bloom Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park, leading all the way to win by 3 1/2 lengths under an easy hand ride. The Rudy Rodriguez trainee completed the 6 1/2-furlong sprint in 1:15.69 seconds to reiterate her credentials as a Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint contender.

Jackie’s Warrior

Absolutely dominated four challengers in the Gallant Bob (G2) dashing six furlongs at Parx, carving out fractions of 21.97 and 44.13 seconds before cruising home under no urging at all to win by 6 3/4 lengths in 1:08.64 seconds. The speedy three-time Grade 1 winner looks like a serious threat for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

King Fury

The fifth-place finisher from the Travers (G1) relished dropping in class for the 1 3/16-mile Bourbon Trail at Churchill Downs, rallying boldly from a couple lengths off the pace to power clear and dominate by 13 lengths under a hand ride. The son of Curlin reached the finish line in 1:56.01 seconds, just shy of the 1:55.97 track record set by Idol last fall.

King Fury now boasts a 3-for-4 record at Churchill Downs and could be an intriguing candidate for the Clark (G1) over this track two months from now.

Life Is Good

Ran to expectations as the 1-20 favorite in the Kelso Handicap (G2) at Belmont, setting fractions of 23.53, 46.58 and 1:10.24 seconds before pulling away through a 24.13-second final quarter to win by 5 1/2 lengths. His final time for one mile was a respectable 1:34.37 seconds, suggesting the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile is a viable goal for the talented Todd Pletcher trainee.

Hot Rod Charlie

Despite drifting out at the top of the stretch, pacesetting Hot Rod Charlie held on gamely to win the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx by 2 1/4 lengths. The consistent son of Oxbow beat Preakness runner-up Midnight Bourbon in the snappy time of 1:48.63 seconds, earning a powerful 111 Beyer speed figure. Hot Rod Charlie will be a player in the Breeders’ Cup Classic if he maintains his current level of form.

Worth another try

Silver State

Ran too good to lose in the Parx Dirt Mile, overcoming a bad start to rally from last place and finish second by a head against multiple Grade 1 winner Mind Control. Silver State led close to home, and the final time of 1:36.59 seconds was excellent over a slow-playing track. The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile looms on the horizon.

Speaker’s Corner

Never really fired in the Pennsylvania Derby, weakening steadily to finish sixth by 20 1/2 lengths. This was a decidedly subpar performance, so I will draw a line through it and give Speaker’s Corner a chance to rebound next time.

Off the Watch List


Irish Unity

Santa Barbara

Wolfie’s Dynaghost

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

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