In this biweekly series, racing analyst J. 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
It wasn’t the fastest race on the clock, but Julia Shining ran impressively under challenging circumstances in the Demoiselle (G2) at Aqueduct, keeping her record perfect in two starts.
Reserved as many as eight lengths behind pedestrian early fractions of 24.61 seconds, 49.35 seconds and 1:14.31 over a sloppy track, Julia Shining had every reason to throw in the towel while launching a five-wide rally around the far turn. But somehow the daughter of Dreaming of Julia gained five lengths in the span of a quarter-mile and out-kicked fellow closer Affirmative Lady to win by a neck, completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:53.05.
Julia Shining ran her final furlong in approximately 12.9 seconds, a solid fraction showcasing her talent and potential. As a full sister to Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner Malathaat, Julia Shining is bred to improve with maturity, so it’s likely we haven’t yet seen the best of this Todd Pletcher-trained juvenile filly.
I’m not convinced the inside was the best part of Saturday’s sloppy track at Aqueduct, which makes White Abarrio’s third-place finish in the Cigar Mile Handicap (G1) all the more impressive.
White Abarrio raced along the rail or in the two-path for the majority of the Cigar Mile, but despite this possibly unfavorable trip he was in contention down the homestretch and ultimately finished just half a length away from victory.
It’s worth noting White Abarrio is 4-for-4 at Gulfstream Park and 0-for-6 at all other tracks. He trained fast at Gulfstream prior to the Cigar Mile and should be formidable if he races over his favorite track this winter. White Abarrio won the Florida Derby (G1) racing 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream last winter, so might the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup (G1) over the same track and distance be a viable goal for White Abarrio?
Recent Watch List winners
Stretching out from 5 1/2 furlongs to one mile proved to be no obstacle for Speed Boat Beach, who successful carried his speed to win the Cecil B. DeMille (G3) at Del Mar in determined fashion.
Dropping in class out of a ninth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, Speed Boat Beach casually pressed fractions of 22.82 seconds, 47.30 seconds and 1:12.80 (much slower than he’s accustomed to running) before wearing down pacesetter Game Time to prevail by half a length.
Speed Boat Beach ran the final quarter-mile in less than 23.3 seconds to record a respectable final time of 1:35.38 seconds, suggesting the son of Bayern is back on track and ready for a strong 2023 season.
Worth another try
Stretched out beyond one mile for the first time in Del Mar’s 1 1/8-mile Hollywood Derby (G1) and ran a strong race in defeat. After rating in sixth place behind modest fractions of 24.51 seconds, 49.86 seconds and 1:14.10, Wit dropped back to eighth place at the furlong marker, the gained 2 3/4 lengths in the final furlong alone to finish third by three-quarters of a length. Wit was only beaten a nose for second place, so we’ll view this effort in a positive light.
Off the Watch List
Came up short as the 7-10 favorite in the Cigar Mile Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct, failing to launch a meaningful rally while finishing fourth by 2 1/2 lengths. Perhaps Zandon didn’t care for the sloppy track, but he’s lost five races since claiming top prize in the Blue Grass (G1), so I’ll drop him from my watch list for the time being.
Here is my complete, updated list of Horses to Watch.