Horses to Watch: Baffert 2-year-old Classier lives up to his name

Horses to Watch: Baffert 2-year-old Classier lives up to his name
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

In this biweekly series, racing analyst Keeler Johnson will share 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


The aptly named Classier looks like a young star in the making for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Sold for $775,000 as a yearling, Classier trained fast leading up to his Saturday debut at Santa Anita and definitely ran to his workouts, posting a decisive victory.

With Abel Cedillo in the saddle, Classier broke a step slowly but recovered quickly to secure a 1 1/2-length lead through an opening quarter-mile in :22.25. Rounding the turn, Classier started pulling away under his own power, clocking a half-mile in :45.68 to enter the homestretch with a six-length advantage. Although never asked for his best run, Classier cruised home in front by four lengths in 1:16.94, with runner-up Go On pulling 6 3/4 lengths clear of the rest.

A stoutly bred son of Empire Maker out of a Bernardini mare, Classier is bred to improve with distance and maturity, making his powerful debut all the more impressive. This exciting 2-year-old will be one to watch this winter.

King Fury

It’s safe to say that King Fury has the pedigree of an elite prospect. A son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of the Grade 1-winning mare Taris, King Fury first caught my eye when overcoming a wide trip to win his debut racing 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs.

The Kenny McPeek trainee subsequently failed to fire in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, but he rebounded in a big way when returning to Churchill Downs for Sunday’s Street Sense Stakes. After rating in mid-pack behind splits of :24.60, :49.51, and 1:14.34, King Fury unleashed a powerful finish down the homestretch, sprinting the final 5/16 in about :23.90 to win by half a length.

Coming from a 2-year-old, such a fast finish is a sign of serious talent. McPeek already has mentioned the 2021 Kentucky Derby as a goal for King Fury, with the Nov. 28 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs looming as a more immediate target for the chestnut colt.

Maxim Rate

Under the patient care of trainer Simon Callaghan, Maxim Rate has shown slow but steady improvement. Following a victory in the 1 3/8-mile CTT and TOC Stakes and a runner-up effort in the 1 1/4-mile Rodeo Drive (G1), Maxim Rate cut back to a mile for Sunday’s Goldikova (G2) at Santa Anita and delivered her most impressive performance to date.

With hot jockey Umberto Rispoli in the saddle, Maxim Rate broke a step slowly before settling in fifth place behind splits of :22.79 and :46.20. Despite being known for stamina more than speed, Maxim Rate subsequently advanced into the teeth of a :23.72 third quarter, drawing within a length of the lead after 6 furlongs in 1:09.92. Then she turned on the afterburners, sprinting the final quarter in :23 4/5 to score by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:33.85.

Maxim Rate won with her ears pricked and appeared to have more left in the tank, which not surprising since she’s been successful running much farther than a mile. With her versatility and improving form, Maxim Rate could be set for a strong fall/winter campaign on the California circuit, with the Nov. 29 Matriarch (G1) at Del Mar looming as her next goal.

Here is my complete, updated list of horses to watch.

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