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
Antoinette was getting good at the end of her 2020 campaign, winning the Saratoga Oaks and finishing second in the Belmont Oaks (G1). At Gulfstream Park on Saturday, she resumed her upward momentum with a decisive victory in the 1 3/16-mile The Very One (G3).
Granted, Antoinette received a picture-perfect trip, waltzing along on an uncontested lead through modest fractions of :23.98, :49.11, and 1:13.24. But she thoroughly capitalized on her advantage, dashing the fourth quarter-mile in :23.43 and the final 3/16 in a rapid :17.03 to score by 2 1/4 lengths. With her blend of tactical speed and finishing power, this Godolphin homebred will be a major player in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf division.
Only a wide trip prevented Olympic Runner from prevailing in the Canadian Turf (G3) at Gulfstream. The Mark Casse trainee launched a sharp rally from mid-pack and appeared to be on his way to victory, but then the ground-saving Venezuelan Hug snuck through along the rail to score by a neck. Olympic Runner has now placed three times at the Grade 3 level without winning, but the son of Gio Ponti is improving with maturity and should eventually nab a signature victory of his own.
Delivered as expected in the Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream, bringing his record to a perfect 2-for-2. After dropping 22 1/2 lengths behind a runaway leader, Annex kicked on strongly around the far turn and down the homestretch, sprinting the fourth quarter mile in :23.20 and the final 16th in :06.02 to edge fellow closer Scarlett Sky by a head. But according to Trakus, Annex ran nearly three lengths farther than the runner-up, so his effort was even better than it appears at first glance.
He had to work for it, but Greatest Honour got the job done in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. The stretch-running son of Tapit appeared to be stalling on the final turn, and with an eighth of a mile remaining he was still five lengths off the pace. But once Greatest Honour got rolling on the far outside, his momentum never wavered, and he surged clear late to score by 1 1/2 lengths. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey clearly has Greatest Honour progressing in the right direction.
Adding blinkers worked absolute wonders for Known Agenda in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race on Friday at Gulfstream. Showing much more tactical speed and focus than usual, Known Agenda raced wide while tracking the pace from fourth place, then took over and pulled clear with authority to crush his rivals by 11 lengths.
This was a huge step forward off Known Agenda’s fifth-place effort in the Sam F. Davis (G3), in which he was sluggish early before suddenly gaining a ton of ground down the homestretch. If Known Agenda has finally turned the corner, there’s no telling how high he can ascend for two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. As a son of Curlin out of Vanity Hanidcap (G1) winner Byrama, Known Agenda is bred to thrive over classic distances. The Florida Derby (G1) might be next on the agenda, and I suspect Known Agenda can give Greatest Honour a real tussle for top honors.
Mystic Guide has always had the pedigree to improve with maturity, so it wasn’t surprising to see him take a big step forward in the Razorback Handicap (G3) at Oaklawn Park. Racing 1 1/16 miles over a sloppy track, Mystic Guide settled in mid-pack early on while racing wide, then pounced to the front and pulled clear with authority to trounce his rivals by six lengths. The sky is the limit for this Godolphin homebred, with the Dubai World Cup (G1) a possibility for his next start.
Worth another try
Although Fire At Will never factored in the Fountain of Youth, weakening to finish eighth after tracking the pace, I’ll forgive this effort and assume he didn’t handle the switch to dirt. Returning to grass can send Fire At Will right back to the winner’s circle.
On a day when outside closers dominated race after race at Oaklawn Park, I thought Hunka Burning Love ran deceptively well in the Razorback Handicap. Racing closer to the inside than most, Hunka Burning Love carved out respectable fractions of :23.69, :47.61, and 1:12.99 before weakening down the lane to finish fourth. Dropping back down to the listed stakes level (and returning to a fair track) can trigger a rebound for Hunka Burning Love, potentially at a solid price.
Stretching out from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles off a six-month layoff proved too much for Tobys Heart to overcome in the Herecomesthebride (G3) — she finished sixth after making a mid-race move to reach contention. But I expect Tobys Heart to improve significantly off this effort, particularly if she cuts back in distance for her second start of the season.
Although War Like Goddess was beaten to fifth place in the The Very One, I thought she ran deceptively well in defeat. After trailing the field through modest splits of :23.98, :49.11, and 1:13.24, War Like Goddess rallied resolutely into fast finishing fractions, gaining ground steadily to miss second place by just one length. I still believe this Bill Mott trainee will be a force to reckon with in 2021, particularly when running 1 3/8 miles or farther.
Ran too good to lose in the Honey Fox (G3) at Gulfstream, gaining three lengths through a :22.80 final quarter to finish just a nose behind multiple Grade 1 winner Got Stormy. With another few strides, Zofelle might have picked up her second graded stakes victory of 2021. As it stands, Zofelle ran every bit as well as the winner and might be capable of nabbing a Grade 1 this year.
Off the Watch List
Failed to take the step forward I anticipated in the Fountain of Youth, racing off the pace throughout before settling for seventh place. A cutback in distance might help Prime Factor’s chances next time, but after two straight defeats, I’ll jump off the bandwagon for now.
Here is my complete, updated list of Horses to Watch: