Horses to Watch: Cox stars return in Churchill entries

Horses to Watch: Cox stars return in Churchill entries
Photo: NYRA

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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Instant Coffee

It’s easy to understand why Instant Coffee is the morning line favorite to win Saturday’s 11th race at Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2, post time 5:56 p.m. EST). The son of hot young sire Bolt d’Oro has a lot of positives in his corner. For starters, Instant Coffee recorded a fast time of 1:22.77 when winning his debut in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga. For another, Instant Coffee followed up with a respectable fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, a race won by next-out Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Forte.

Throw in the fact Instant Coffee is conditioned by two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox, and the morning line favorite looks tough to beat while dropping into the Grade 2 ranks for this Road to the Kentucky qualifier.

Tres Soles

A son of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, Tres Soles looked like a talented colt in his debut at Churchill Downs, surviving a long duel to win a six-furlong maiden special weight by a neck. But Tres Soles regressed when tackling a $100,000 allowance optional claimer at Keeneland last month, finishing sixth by 22 3/4 lengths in the seven-furlong sprint.

On the bright side, that allowance was a fast race in which 1-2 finishers Giant Mischief and Arabian Lion pulled 17 1/2 lengths clear of the rest, so Tres Soles’s margin of defeat is deceiving in some respects. The Steve Asmussen trainee has a chance to get back on track in Saturday’s eighth race at Churchill Downs, a $100,000 allowance optional claimer (post time 4:27 p.m. EST). Stretching out over 1 1/16 miles should prove more suitable for Tres Soles, who is bred top and bottom to thrive running long.

Victory Formation

Is Victory Formation a stakes star in the making for Brad Cox? The stoutly bred son of Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit certainly looked like one in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Keeneland last month, leading all the way to trounce a next-out winner by 4 3/4 lengths.

Victory Formation will seek to bring his record to a perfect 2-for-2 in Saturday’s third race at Churchill Downs, a $100,000 allowance optional claimer (post time 1:59 p.m. EST). Cox trainees often improve when racing for the second time, so Victory Formation has to be viewed as a key win threat even while cutting back to six furlongs.

West Will Power

Speaking of stakes stars trained by Cox, West Will Power has already made his name at a high level. The son of Preakness winner Bernardini was a dominant winner of the 1 1/8-mile Fayette (G2) at Keeneland last month, leading all the way to crush four graded stakes winners by 6 3/4 lengths.

Off this impressive victory, West Will Power is a formidable win threat in Friday’s 11th race at Churchill Downs, the Clark (G1, post time 5:56 p.m. EST). He’s squaring off against 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, but West Will Power has more tactical speed than the Derby winner and figures to enjoy a favorable trip setting or stalking a slow pace.

Which horses do you have your eyes on?

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