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
In December 2022, Straight No Chaser started as a 15-1 long shot in the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita. After tracking the pace, he gallantly challenged heavy favorite Taiba before fading in the final furlong to finish seventh.
Straight No Chaser showed flashes of talent that day, and now he’s developed into a monster sprinter. On April 1, he demolished a $50,000 allowance optional claimer sprinting six furlongs at Oaklawn, setting fractions of 22.13 and 45.54 seconds on his way to victory by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:09.05.
Straight No Chaser was even more impressive in Saturday’s Maryland Sprint (G3) at Pimlico. After blazing the opening quarter-mile in 22.44 seconds (rapid for a race with only five feet of run-up distance), Straight No Chaser clocked a stiff half-mile in 44.66 seconds, then powered home through a final quarter-mile in 23.61 seconds to dominate by 7 1/2 lengths.
The final time was a strong 1:08.27, producing a 107 Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form. At this point, Straight No Chaser looks ready to return to the Grade 1 ranks, and when he does you can bet this rapidly developing 4-year-old will finish better than he did in the Malibu.
Trainer Kenny McPeek doesn’t crank his juveniles to win on debut, so when one delivers a victory first-time out, it’s wise to take notice.
That’s why I’m excited by V V’s Dream. The daughter of champion sprinter Mitole entered a Friday maiden special weight at Churchill Downs off a pair of fast half-mile workouts and obliterated her rivals. She wasn’t in any hurry early on, settling about half a dozen lengths off the pace through the first three furlongs, but down the homestretch she hit another gear and roared past rivals to dominate by 6 1/4 lengths.
#4 V V's Dream impressively breaks her maiden in R3 at Churchill Downs under @b_hernandezjr for trainer @KennyMcPeek! ??
?? #TwinSpiresReplay pic.twitter.com/e59EatAuMn— TwinSpires Racing ?? (@TwinSpires) May 19, 2023
V V’s Dream ran her final furlong in about 12 seconds and completed five furlongs in 57.91 seconds. The gray filly looks like a future graded-stakes star in the making.
Recent Watch List winners
This exciting Brad Cox filly brought her record to 3-for-3 with a blowout victory in a $125,000 allowance optional claimer Friday at Churchill Downs. Running for the first time since December, Dazzling Blue hopped at the start but recovered to set fractions of 21.47 and 44.91 seconds on her way to victory by 8 3/4 lengths in 1:10.28. The daughter of Into Mischief counted last-out Serena’s Song winner Sunday Shoes among her beaten rivals, so Dazzling Blues appears set for a big 3-year-old season.
Racing for the first time since a third-place finish in the Jan. 29 San Vicente (G2), Fort Warren returned victorious in a $62,500 allowance optional claimer Friday at Pimlico. As a son of Curlin out of a Bernardini mare, Fort Warren is bred to thrive running long, but he was nevertheless sharp enough to rally into splits of 22.63 and 44.94 seconds to win this six-furlong dash by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:09.94. More distance should only help Fort Warren, who has the potential to develop into a graded stakes-caliber route racer.
Two-time Breeders’ Cup winner bounced back from a season-opening defeat in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) to win the Lockinge (G1) at Newbury in England. The Charlie Appleby trainee comfortably defeated a quality field by 1 1/2 lengths, in the process securing the fifth top-level victory of his globetrotting career. The prestigious Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot is next on the agenda for Modern Games.
Saudi Crown brought his record to 2-for-2 with a comfortable victory in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance Sunday at Churchill Downs. The son of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming sprinted to the front through an opening quarter-mile in 22.37 seconds, withstood a challenge from Sweet Cherry Pie through half a mile in 45.01 seconds and gradually pulled away to win by 1 3/4 lengths in a quick 1:15.88.
#7 Saudi Crown prevails in the end to win R8 at Churchill Downs for trainer @bradcoxracing with @flothejock aboard! ??
?? #TwinSpiresReplay pic.twitter.com/XAZeqMKaBa— TwinSpires Racing ?? (@TwinSpires) May 21, 2023
Trained by Brad Cox, Saudi Crown has shown speed sprinting, but has the pedigree to stretch out around two turns. He figures to make some noise during the second half of the season.
Worth another try
She couldn’t keep pace as the 3-5 favorite in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) at Pimlico, weakening from a pace-tracking position to finish third by 6 1/2 lengths. It’s possible Faiza found the waters a bit deep while racing outside of California for the first time, and I’ll give the previously unbeaten four-time graded stakes winner a chance to bounce back next time.
Hurricane Dream nearly got the job done in the Dinner Party (G3) at Pimlico but narrowly failed to out-kick Never Explain through a strong closing fraction, finishing second by half a length. Hurricane Dream rocketed his final three furlongs in about 34.2 seconds, and the final time over a fast-playing course was a record 1:46.14, so I’ll view Hurricane Dream’s performance in a positive light. He counted Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) winner Atone and three-time graded stakes winner Emmanuel among his beaten rivals.
Although Mage was beaten 2 1/4 lengths as the 7-5 favorite in the Preakness, it’s hard to knock his performance. Early fractions of 23.95, 48.92 and 1:13.49 seconds set by the victorious National Treasure were pedestrian for the 1 3/16-mile distance, and when National Treasure accelerated the fourth quarter-mile in 23.58 seconds and the final three-sixteenths in 18.05 seconds, Mage never had a realistic chance to catch up.
Nevertheless, Mage fought gamely down the homestretch, producing strong finishing fractions in his own right. This was a deceptively good try from Mage, so I’ll keep the Kentucky Derby winner on my watch list.
Here is my complete, updated list of Horses to Watch.