Horses to Watch: Derby and Oaks contenders in the making?

Horses to Watch: Derby and Oaks contenders in the making?
Photo: 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.

New to the Watch List

Rocket Dawg

Considering how young horses trained by Brad Cox often improve off their debuts, there’s no telling how good Rocket Dawg might be. The son of juvenile champion Classic Empire presumably wasn’t cranked for his debut on Friday at Churchill Downs, but that didn’t stop Rocket Dawg from smashing the seven-furlong maiden special weight with authority.

The bay 2-year-old wasn’t in any hurry to get going, settling in seventh place through an opening quarter-mile in 22.76 seconds. But after advancing to second place through a half mile in 45.8 seconds, Rocket Dawg seized command and pulled clear steadily to score by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:22.99 seconds.

Produced by a Distorted Humor mare, Rocket Dawg has the pedigree to stretch out and looks like a 2022 Kentucky Derby contender in the making.

La Crete

Let’s see … a daughter of elite sire Medaglia d’Oro out of three-time Grade 1 winner Cavorting, previously the dam of Cotillion (G1) winner Clairiere? La Crete is bred top and bottom to be a Kentucky Oaks contender, and the bay filly certainly looked the part when dominating her debut on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Favored at 8-5 in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight, La Crete dashed to the front through fractions of 23.53, 47.84, and 1:12.84 while leading by a minimum of two lengths at every call. Down the homestretch, she cruised to a five-length lead under a hand ride, then confidently eased across the finish line clear by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:45.44 seconds.

This was an eye-catching performance from a filly bred to improve with maturity, stamping the Steve Asmussen trainee as a highly exciting filly to follow this winter.

Worth another try


Although Amadevil suffered her first defeat from six starts when finishing second in the First Lady at Mahoning Valley, I won’t judge her performance too harshly. After dueling for the lead through a quick 22.30-second opening quarter, Amadevil opened up a clear lead through a half mile in 45.33 seconds then failed by just 1 1/2 lengths to stem off a stretch rally from Tivis.

The final time of the First Lady was a quick 1:11.21 seconds for six furlongs; for comparison, older males required 1:11.22 seconds to complete the Cardinal Handicap less than half an hour later. In addition, Amadevil pulled 10 3/4 lengths clear of the third-place finisher, so I’m optimistic she can bounce back to the winner’s circle next time out. Perhaps she just didn’t care for the occasionally tricky track at Mahoning – all five of her previous victories came at Thistledown.

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

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