Horses to Watch: 3 turf fillies poised for success in 2022

Horses to Watch: 3 turf fillies poised for success in 2022
Photo: Candice Chavez/Eclipse Sportswire

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

Shantisara

Shantisara was bred in Ireland and initially campaigned in France, but the U.S. is where she has developed into a star. The Chad Brown trainee has been on a hot streak in the last two months, winning the Pucker Up (G3) at Arlington Park and the Jockey Club Oaks at Belmont Park before unleashing a powerful performance in Keeneland’s Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) on Saturday.

Indeed, Shantisara was spectacular in the Queen Elizabeth. The 3-year-old daughter of Coulsty settled a couple of lengths behind early fractions of 23.91, 48.63, and 1:12.78 over a yielding turf course, then pounced to the front down the homestretch. Pouring on speed with authority, Shantisara drew off to beat a deep field (including multiple graded-stakes winner Technical Analysis) by five lengths.

Even over yielding turf, Shantisara managed to blaze the final furlong in 11.86 seconds to record a solid final time of 1:48.86. The Queen Elizabeth might have been Shantisara’s first Grade 1 win, but I don’t believe it will be her last. If she keeps improving with maturity, 2022 can be a big year for Shantisara.

La Dragontea

The running of the E. P. Taylor (G1) at Woodbine on Sunday was hardly conducive to successful performances from late runners. The 1 1/4-mile event for fillies and mares took place over a yielding turf course, and the early pace fractions were snail-like: 27.26, 54.46, and 1:20.84 seconds.

Yet despite these challenging circumstances, La Dragontea ran a huge race while rallying from off the pace. Content to trail the field for the first mile, La Dragontea somehow gained 3 3/4 lengths through a final quarter mile in 23.79 seconds to finish second, beaten only a neck by the pace-tracking winner Mutamakina.

Any way you slice it, this was a massive effort from La Dragontea, especially considering she had to shift outside and split horses down the lane. A 4-year-old filly conditioned by Christophe Clement, La Dragontea has improved by leaps and bounds in recent starts. Prior to the E. P. Taylor, she employed pace-tracking tactics to post a one-length score in the Canadian (G2) at Woodbine. Her versatility is an asset, and she appears to have more upside. I do not think we have see La Dragontea’s best yet, and if the E. P. Taylor is any indication, she might be capable of winning at the Grade 1 level in 2022.

Worth another try

Great Island

La Dragontea wasn’t the only runner to receive a less-than-perfect trip in the E. P. Taylor. Great Island was caught wide every step of the way while racing in fifth place, a position she occupied at every call. Her running line might appear a bit dull at first glance, but the fact that Great Island was beaten only 1 3/4 lengths is a testament to the gutsy race she ran while conceding considerable ground. I’m optimistic Great Island can bounce back with a better trip next time.

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

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