Horses to Watch: Cezanne is back – and better than ever

Horses to Watch: Cezanne is back – and better than ever
Photo: Benoit Photo

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

Cezanne

Technically, Cezanne isn’t a new member to our watch list – he’s a returning member. We dropped the son of Curlin after a fourth-place finish in the Shared Belief Stakes last summer, a decision that – in retrospect – was clearly premature.

Case in point? Cezanne ran out of his skin when returning from an 8 1/2-month layoff in Sunday’s 6 1/2-furlong Kona Gold (G3) at Santa Anita. The Bob Baffert trainee did benefit from closing into blazing fractions of :21.18 and :43.60, but he also was tons the best down the homestretch, roaring clear to trounce his rivals by 9 3/4 lengths.

Cezanne stopped the clock in the excellent time of 1:14.71, but there’s no reason to think he’ll be limited to sprinting this season – he was produced by a Bernardini mare, so he’s bred top and bottom to relish running long. Sold for $3.65 million as a 2-year-old, it appears Cezanne is finally living up to his lofty purchase price, and I’m excited to see what he can accomplish this season.

Averly Jane

Trainer Wesley Ward has won a bevy of 4 1/2-furlong 2-year-old races at Keeneland this spring, with Averly Jane arguably the most impressive of the lot. A bump at the start of a maiden sprint on Thursday left the daughter of Midshipman in second place early on, but after tracking an opening quarter in :21.68, Averly Jane seized command and powered clear under the lightest of hand rides to trounce her pursuers by 8 3/4 lengths.

Averly Jane’s blowout victory came on dirt, but her goal is England’s prestigious Royal Ascot meeting, and the switch to turf shouldn’t be a problem. After all, Midshipman won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Del Mar Futurity (G1) over synthetic tracks, and Averly Jane’s half-brother Chattel nabbed the 5 1/2-furlong Skidmore Stakes on grass as a juvenile. Averly Jane might prove even better on turf, a scary proposition for her rivals across the pond.

Nakatomi

No 2-year-old has run faster at Keeneland this spring than Wesley Ward’s Nakatomi, a comfortably winner sprinting 4 1/2 furlongs on Wednesday. After tracking stablemate Happy Soul through a modest opening quarter mile in :22.25, Nakatomi dashed the second quarter mile in :22 4/5 and the final 16th in :06.12 to score by 2 1/4 lengths, with Happy Soul pulling a dozen lengths clear of the rest.

Nakatomi did race a bit greenly down the homestretch, but he also won under a hand ride while stopping the clock in :51.35 over a sloppy track. The second-fastest juvenile race at Keeneland so far this meet elapsed in :51.80, so Nakatomi ran very fast on the clock. The gelded son of Firing Line is another who could make some noise at Royal Ascot.

Recent Watch List winners

Silver State

Silver State has been absolutely unstoppable since returning from a layoff last fall. The Steve Asmussen trainee picked up his fifth consecutive victory on Saturday at Oaklawn Park, rallying tenaciously to win the Oaklawn Handicap (G2).

To secure his first win at the graded stakes level, Silver State had to defeat seven proven graded stakes winners – not an easy task by any means but one that Silver State handled with aplomb. The stretch-running son of Hard Spun had just one rival beaten with three furlongs remaining, but once he started rolling outside of rivals, his momentum was undeniable. Silver State dashed the final furlong in :12 1/5 to win by half a length over a ground-saving foe, in the process reiterating his status as a runner to reckon with in the 2021 older males division.

Worth another try

Express Train

The Santa Anita Handicap (G1) runner-up arguably raced too close to the pace in the Oaklawn Handicap, tracking splits of :22.73, :47.06, and 1:11.67 before failing to kick on as expected down the homestretch. But to Express Train’s credit, he never stopped fighting, battling gamely to finish third by just 1 1/2 lengths. Considering he was racing outside of California for the first time, this wasn’t a bad effort by any means. I think Express Train will win his fair share of stakes before the year is out.

Superstition

This talented turf sprinter ran too good to lose in the Mizdirection Stakes at Santa Anita. After dueling for the lead through rapid fractions of :21.06 and :44.13, Superstition kicked clear of her two pace rivals (including two-time stakes winners Leggs Galore), who faded to finish at the back of the pack. But Superstition was caught in the final furlong by stretch-running Constantia, who closed from dead last to prevail by 1 1/2 lengths. If Superstition encounters a more relaxed pace scenario next time, I think she’ll rebound nicely.

Off the Watch List

Brickyard Ride

Brickyard Ride surely ran too fast, too soon in the Kona Gold, sprinting to a clear lead through blazing fractions of :21.18 and :43.60. But even still, he had less to offer down the homestretch than I would have expected, faltering to finish 9 3/4 lengths behind Cezanne. I’m left scratching my head over Brickyard Ride’s performance since he previously had dominated the San Carlos (G2) off fractions of :21.63 and :43.93. It seems clear the son of Clubhouse Ride regressed in the Kona Gold, and I’ll want to watch his next race to get a better gauge of his true ability.

Eres Tu

Eres Tu wasn’t disgraced when stepping up against tough competition in the Dougledogdare (G3) at Keeneland, but she couldn’t quite keep up when the real running began, weakening to finish fourth by 4 3/4 lengths. She can rebound against easier competition (perhaps at the listed stakes level) in the future, but I don’t have any particular reason to believe she’ll improve off her established form.

Greyes Creek

Came up short for the second straight time in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on Thursday at Keeneland, rallying into contention down the homestretch before flattening out to finish fifth by two lengths. Greyes Creek hasn’t been producing his best stretch kick since returning from a layoff in December, so until he steps forward again, we’ll reluctantly remove him from our watch list.

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

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