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
The 5-year-old mare Songline reiterated her status as Japan’s leading grass miler with a second consecutive victory in the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo Racecourse. Facing 17 rivals, Songline charged from off the pace and sprinted her final 600 meters (about three furlongs) in 33.1 seconds to complete 1,600 meters (about one mile) in 1:31.4.
Songline has won three Grade 1 prizes during her decorated career, including the Victoria Mile (G1) at Tokyo last month. The Breeders’ Cup Mile is on the agenda for Songline, and I’m optimistic she’ll take home top honors at Santa Anita this fall, hence her addition to my watch list.
Recent watch list winners
Back in the U.S. after a couple of solid but losing efforts in the Middle East, Gunite unleashed an arguably career-best performance to win the six-furlong Aristides at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old son of Gun Runner settled as many as three lengths behind fractions of 21.71 and 44.92 seconds before rallying strongly to beat six-time stakes winner Bango by 1 3/4 lengths.
#3 Gunite gets by #4 Bango to win the Aristides S. for trainer Steve Asmussen with @Tyler_Gaff in the saddle! ??June 3, 2023
Gunite’s blazing final time of 1:08.46 translated to a powerful 108 Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form, stamping the dark bay colt as one of the fastest sprinters in the country. The Breeders’ Cup Sprint looms as an enticing year-end target.
The beautifully bred Scylla brought her record to 2-for-2 with a terrific victory in a $100,000 allowance optional claimer racing one mile at Churchill Downs on Friday. The daughter of Tapit out of champion Close Hatches settled in midfield behind splits of 23.16 and 46.24 seconds before advancing powerfully around the turn and down the homestretch to dominate by 8 1/4 lengths.
The beautifully bred #5 Scylla makes it two-for-two in R8 at Churchill Downs for trainer Bill Mott with @jjcjockey aboard! ??
This 3-year-old filly is the daughter of super sire Tapit and MG1W Close Hatches! A homebred for @JuddmonteFarms.June 2, 2023
Scylla ran her final quarter-mile in about 24.2 seconds to complete the contest in 1:35.27. She’s bred to improve with maturity and should relish stretching out around two turns, so races like the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and/or Alabama (G1) at Saratoga could be on the horizon for this talented Bill Mott trainee.
Worth another try
The Ohio-bred sprinter suffered a rare defeat when kicking off 2023 in the Best of Ohio Diana at Belterra Park, fading from a pacesetting position to finish third by 10 1/4 lengths. The 5-year-old mare ran below form, but I’ll give her a chance to bounce back next time.
Far Bridge didn’t get the best trip in the Pennine Ridge (G2) racing 1 1/8 miles over the Belmont Park turf course. He found a nice position in midfield early on but gradually got shuffled back between rivals and wound up steadying in traffic while searching for racing room. He ultimately got through along the inside and dashed his final three furlongs in about 34.51 seconds to finish second by one length against gate-to-wire winner Kalik, who escaped on an uncontested lead through slow fractions of 24.69, 49.17 and 1:13.01. I’ll view Far Bridge’s performance in a positive light.
Although Moira was beaten when kicking off her 4-year-old season in the Belle Mahone (G3) over the Woodbine Tapeta track, she didn’t run badly by any means, closing from just off the pace to finish second by a neck. The winner, Souper Hoity Toity, vied for the lead through pedestrian fractions of 25.26, 50.75 and 1:14.87, so the fact Moira gained ground through strong finishing fractions (29.62 seconds for the final five-sixteenths of a mile) is impressive.
Off the list
Disappointed as the 7-5 favorite in a $125,000 allowance optional claimer Sunday at Churchill Downs, pressing the pace for half a mile before fading to finish last in the 6 1/2-furlong sprint. Mo Strike has lost three straight races (including two this year) since winning the 2022 Saratoga Special (G3), so I’ll remove him from my watch list.
Put up a good try in the Mint Julep (G3) at Churchill Downs, finishing second by half a length after pressing a steady pace in a small field. But at this point White Frost has lost three straight races, so I’ll drop her from my list for the time being.
Here is my complete, updated list of Horses to Watch.