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
Is Amadevil an Ohio-bred sensation in the making? You’d better believe it! The 3-year-old filly has been spectacular in her first two starts against state-restricted company at Thistledown. After obliterating a five-furlong maiden special weight by 24 1/4 lengths, the daughter of Dominus stepped up in class for a six-furlong allowance and promptly won by 11 3/4 lengths.
Both of Amadevil’s victories have comes against older rivals, and both were achieved in virtually effortless fashion. She appears destined to win more than her fair share of Ohio-bred stakes races, and it’s possible Amadevil has the talent to step up and challenge open company.
Although Dynamic One never fired when finishing 18th in the Kentucky Derby, the Wood Memorial (G2) runner-up looked like a different horse when returning to action in the Curlin S. at Saratoga.
On an afternoon when the main track was drying out and speed horses largely dominated, Dynamic One managed to rally from dead last to win the Curlin by 1 3/4 lengths. The son of Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Union Rags was full of run around the far turn and down the homestretch, sprinting the final three furlongs in :37.26 (according to Trakus), and his beaten rivals included the previously undefeated Dwyer Stakes (G3) winner First Captain.
With the exception of his Kentucky Derby setback, Dynamic One has made steady progress this season. The Todd Pletcher trainee now looms as a serious contender for the Travers (G1) at Saratoga next month.
When Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey wins with a first-time starter, it’s wise to sit up and take notice. They frequently turn out to be stakes horses, with Grade 1 winners Honor Code and Code of Honor among the best examples from the last decade.
Could Limited Liability progress down the same path? It certainly seems possible after the well-bred son of Kitten’s Joy rallied to an eye-catching debut victory on Saturday at Saratoga. Racing 1 1/16 miles on turf, the gray colt raced near the back of the pack through splits of :24.35, :49.14, and 1:14.36 over a good course, then unleashed a strong burst of acceleration to sweep past the leaders and score by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:45.12.
Visually, this was an eye-catching performance, and Limited Liability was full of run down the lane. His future looks bright, with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) looming as a possible year-end goal.
Worth another try
Failed to produce the strong finish I expected when stretching out over 1 1/8 miles in the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga, flattening out down the homestretch to finish third by 8 3/4 lengths. First Captain doesn’t look ready to tackle the Grade 1 ranks just yet, but the Shug McGaughey trainee still has the pedigree to improve with time and maturity. I won’t drop this three-time winner from my watch list just yet.
Didn’t quite see out 1 1/16 miles in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1) at Del Mar, where she set fractions of :23.30, :47.21, and 1:11.77 before weakening down the stretch to finish second by 3 1/4 lengths. But the winner was 2020 Kentucky Oaks champion Shedaresthedevil, and Venetian Harbor finished 3 1/4 lengths clear of the rest, so I will not judge her defeat too harshly. Sprinting is probably Venetian Harbor’s true strong suit, and I think she will be effective if she cuts back in distance for the rest of summer and fall.
Fresh off a game fourth-place finish in the 1 1/4-mile Suburban (G2), Moretti will stretch out over a more favorable 1 3/4-mile trip in Thursday’s ninth race at Saratoga, the Birdstone Stakes (post time 5:39 p.m. EDT).
Moretti has done his best work over extended marathon trips and won the 2020 Birdstone by 1 1/2 lengths over a quality field featuring You’re to Blame and Rocketry. Those two are back for a rematch on Thursday, along with runaway Brooklyn Stakes (G2) winner Lone Rock, but a peak effort from Moretti should be enough to vie for a repeat victory.
Off the Watch List
The Santa Margarita (G2) and Santa Maria (G2) winner regressed in the Clement L. Hirsch, stumbling at the start and uncharacteristically racing off the pace before losing ground down the lane to finish fourth by 14 lengths. We have had a nice run with As Time Goes By, but I will want to see her bounce back before returning her to my watch list.
Failed to fire in his 2021 debut, fading steadily to finish eighth and last in the Bing Crosby Stakes (G1) at Del Mar. While he’s eligible to bounce back in his second run of the season, I’ll want to see a more encouraging performance from last year’s Steel Valley Sprint winner before playing him again.
Here is my complete, updated list of horses to watch.