Horses to Watch: Conagher can make amends at Churchill Downs

Horses to Watch: Conagher can make amends at Churchill Downs
Photo: Scott Serio / Eclipse Sportswire

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.

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Conagher couldn’t quite handle jumping into the Grade 1 ranks for the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) at Saratoga last month. After opening up a clear early lead, Conagher faded down the homestretch to finish fourth. However, Conagher had previously gone 3-for-3 in dirt sprints this year, highlighted by a 2 1/4-length score in the Housebuster Overnight Handicap at Colonial Downs. Conagher will return to the ungraded ranks for Saturday’s eighth race at Churchill Downs, the Harrods Creek (post time 9:39 p.m. EDT), and while he’ll have to reckon with Allen Jerkens runner-up Gunite, it’s not inconceivable for Conagher to turn the tables. Remember, Conagher defeated Gunite by 5 1/4 lengths in a seven-furlong allowance optional claimer at Churchill Downs during the spring.

Echo Zulu

Echo Zulu was a force to reckon with at 2, rattling off blowout victories in the Spinaway, Frizette and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, all Grade 1s, on her way to earning the Eclipse Award for champion 2-Year-old filly. She also kicked off her sophomore season on a winning note in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) before faltering to fourth place in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). Echo Zulu hasn’t run since the Kentucky Oaks and spent some time on the sidelines after being scratched from the Acorn (G1) in June, but Saturday’s ninth race at Churchill Downs, the Dogwood (G3, post time 10:11 p.m. EDT) looks like a nice spot to get back on track. The seven-furlong distance should suit Echo Zulu just fine and the competition looks a little easier.

Secret Oath

Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Secret Oath has been on a roll dating back to last December. The only filly she’s finished behind in the last nine months is Nest, recording runner-up efforts against that rival in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and Alabama (G1) at Saratoga this summer. Nest is skipping Saturday’s 11th race at Parx Racing, the Cotillion (G1, post time 5:20 p.m. EDT), leaving Secret Oath as a logical favorite. Secret Oath is capable of unleashing a terrific turn-of-foot around the far turn, and this aggressive approach should be well-suited to racing 1 1/16 miles in the Cotillion.


Taiba ran too good to lose when returning from a 2 1/2-month layoff in the Haskell (G1) during the summer. Rallying strongly on the outside down the homestretch, Taiba failed by a head to outkick the ground-saving Cyberknife, who completed the 1 1/8-mile race in the track-record time of 1:46.24 seconds.

The caliber of competition in the Haskell was strong, as Cyberknife returned to finish second in the Travers (G1) while Haskell third-place finisher Jack Christopher won the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) in his next start. Taiba and Cyberknife will square off again in Saturday’s 12th race at Parx Racing, the Pennsylvania Derby (G1, post time 6:10 p.m. EDT), and while Cyberknife is a formidable rival, Taiba has trained up a storm since the Haskell and looks ready to turn the tables.


Talent and consistency are a formidable combination, and that combination has carried Zandon to six consecutive top-three finishes in Grade 1 and Grade 2 races. A victory in the Blue Grass (G1) ranks as the highlight of his career, but Zandon also boasts third-place finishes against elite competition in the Kentucky Derby and Travers.

Generally a deep closer, Zandon may find himself at a tactical disadvantage against his speedier rivals Taiba and Cyberknife in the Pennsylvania Derby. But Zandon never misfires and may work out a ground-saving trip from the rail draw, so don’t dismiss this capable colt from contention.

Which horses do you have your eyes on?

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