In this biweekly series, racing analyst Keeler Johnson will share 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
A budding juvenile star trained by Mark Casse, Gretzky the Great picked up his second stakes win — and his third victory from four starts — when rolling to an easy victory in Sunday’s Summer Stakes (G1) at Woodbine.
The task was quite straightforward for Gretzky the Great, a son of Nyquist out of a Bernardini mare. After casually tracking the pace in second place, Gretzky the Great accelerated sharply down the homestretch, sprinting the final quarter in less than :23 2/5 to pull clear under a vigorous hand ride and win by 3 1/4 lengths.
Gretzky the Great hit the wire in 1:34.53 to secure a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. European shippers are typically formidable in the 1-mile race, but Gretzky the Great looks like a strong contender for the home team.
A beautifully bred daughter of Galileo out of the Group 1-winning mare Margot Did, Magic Attitude entered Saturday’s Belmont Oaks (G1) at Belmont Park with a class advantage on paper. The British-bred filly had held her own against tough company in France during the spring and summer, finishing second in the Prix Alary (G1) and fifth — beaten just three lengths — in the Prix de Diane (G1).
Magic Attitude’s superiority was readily evident in the Belmont Oaks. Making her U.S. debut for trainer Arnaud Delacour, Magic Attitude settled at the back of a small field through modest splits of :24.89, :49.99, and 1:14.17 before unleashing a powerful burst of acceleration down the homestretch. Roaring past rivals with an impressive turn of foot, Magic Attitude sprinted the final quarter in about :22 4/5 to win by a comfortable 2 1/4 lengths over Saratoga Oaks winner Antoinette.
It’s possible Magic Attitude has the talent to step up and contend against older rivals in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. In any case, she looms as an early favorite for the 1 1/4-mile American Oaks (G1) at Santa Anita, should her connections choose to travel west this winter.
Worth another try
Although Shirl’s Speight could finish only seventh in Saturday’s Woodbine Mile (G1), I wasn’t discouraged by his poor showing. The lightly raced 3-year-old was returning from an illness, stepping up sharply in class and facing older rivals for the first time. After breaking slowly, Shirl’s Speight tracked the pace for much of the journey before weakening down the stretch to finish 5 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
Considering the circumstances, I’ll forgive Shirl’s Speight’s first defeat and look forward to playing him again (perhaps against easier company) next time out.
Off the Watch List
This two-time allowance winner found the competition too tough in the Woodbine Mile. After tracking the pace in second place, Value Proposition ran out of steam for the homestretch drive and steadily faded to finish last of eight, beaten 6 1/4 lengths. A step down the class ladder might be necessary for Value Proposition to rebound.
With three straight wins under her belt, the 4-year-old filly Qahira has shown significant promise for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. On Aug. 16 at Del Mar, the daughter of Cairo Prince returned from a one-year layoff to wire a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race, beating next-out stakes winner Proud Emma by three lengths.
With this impressive performance behind her, Qahira will make her stakes debut in Saturday’s sixth race at Santa Anita, the Chillingworth Stakes (G3, 6 p.m. ET). She’ll face quality rivals, including her stakes-winning stablemate Message, but if Qahira improves at all in her second start of the season, I expect she’ll emerge victorious. The Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint looms as a potential long-term goal.
A 4-year-old son of Goldencents, Wildman Jack ran too well to lose in the Aug. 1 Bing Crosby (G1), sprinting 6 furlongs at Del Mar. On a day when the rail was the best part of the track, Wildman Jack raced four or five wide every step of the way while dueling for the lead through intense fractions of :21.58 and :44.73. Despite the ferocious early pace, Wildman Jack led into the stretch and ultimately was beaten just 1 1/2 lengths in a race dominated by closers.
This effort was all the more impressive considering it was Wildman Jack’s first start on dirt — he had previously won the Daytona (G3) racing 5 1/2 furlongs over the Santa Anita turf course. He’ll return to his preferred configuration for Saturday’s seventh race at Santa Anita, the Eddie D. Stakes (G2, post time 6:30 p.m. ET).
Wildman Jack has drawn the rail this time, so a ground-saving trip should be in the offing, and he can certainly vie for victory if he brings his A-game.
Here's my complete, updated list of horses to watch: