Horses to Watch: 12 to keep an eye on, 12 to drop

Horses to Watch: 12 to keep an eye on, 12 to drop
Photo: Carolyn Simancik / 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


You have to appreciate how well Dayoutoftheoffice performed off a long layoff in the Eight Belles (G3) at Churchill Downs. Competing for the first time since a runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), Dayoutoftheoffice tracked fast fractions of :21.89 and :44.46, seized a daylight lead through six furlongs in 1:09.16, and ultimately finished second by a length against the late-charging winner Obligatory.

It’s not surprising that Dayoutoftheoffice grew a little leg-weary down the homestretch, considering she chased a hot pace while returning from a long layoff. Victorious in the one-mile Frizette (G1) as a juvenile, I think Dayoutoftheoffice will win her fair share of races this year.

Domestic Spending

Winner of the Hollywood Derby (G1) and Saratoga Derby as a sophomore, Domestic Spending kicked off his 4-year-old campaign with a powerful performance in the Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs. Battling his way through traffic down the homestretch, Domestic Spending shifted out just in time to sprint the final furlong in :11.47 and finish in a dead heat for victory with Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) winner Colonel Liam.

The slow early/fast late race shape wasn’t advantageous to Domestic Spending, who rated in eighth place for much of the 1 1/8-mile journey. But his turn-of-foot was strong (he ran the fourth quarter-mile in :22.98), and the Chad Brown trainee is surely on the verge of a big season.

Gift List

Talk about an explosive victory – Gift List was breathtaking in the Edgewood (G3) at Churchill Downs. Racing 1 1/16 miles over the turf course, Gift List saved ground in third place for much of the journey, tracking slow fractions of :24.32, :49.03, and 1:13.00 set by 3-10 favorite Aunt Pearl. Then, after shifting outside for racing room, Gift List unleashed a terrific burst of acceleration, rocketing clear through a final 16th in :05.91 to win by 4 1/4 lengths.

When visuals and the clock agree on the impressive nature of a performance, you know you’re looking at a talented horse. Gift List has run only twice in the U.S. and appears to have a very bright future. The Belmont Oaks (G1) looms as a logical goal for the daughter of Bated Breath.

Recent Watch List winners

Colonel Liam

Tracked the pace from third place in the Turf Classic, then kicked on nicely down the homestretch to finish in a dead-heat for victory with Domestic Spending. The wire came just in time for the son of Liam’s Map, but his tactical speed will always give him an advantage over deep-closing rivals. Colonel Liam is now 3-for-3 this season with two Grade 1 wins under his belt, giving him a big head start in the race for champion turf male honors.


Overcame a troubled start and a wide trip to win the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in determined fashion. According to data from Trakus, Malathaat ran between two lengths and 8 1/4 lengths farther than 10 of her 12 rivals (she ran roughly the same as the other two), yet she never wavered down the homestretch, battling past the formerly undefeated Search Results to win by a neck.

Malathaat is now unbeaten in five starts, and the Belmont Stakes has been mentioned as a possible target for the daughter of Curlin. Don’t forget, trainer Todd Pletcher won the 2007 Belmont with Kentucky Oaks champion Rags to Riches.

Magic Attitude

Arguably lost in the shuffle of Kentucky Derby day was a freakish performance from Magic Attitude in the Sheepshead Bay (G2) at Belmont Park. Returning to the site of her victory in the 2020 Belmont Oaks (G1), Magic Attitude trailed the field through extremely slow fractions of :25.27, :51.03, 1:17.05, and 1:40.05 over a firm course, then somehow swallowed her rivals with a jaw-dropping burst of speed to win by three lengths.

Visually, this was a stunning effort, and the clock agrees with this impression. Depending on whether you believe Trakus or the traditional timer, Magic Attitude sprinted her final three furlongs in something between :32.59 and :33.68. No matter which metric you trust, Magic Attitude ran a huge race, and it seems evident she has a special appreciation for the wide turns at Belmont Park.

Medina Spirit

Already a veteran of five graded stakes starts this season, Medina Spirit ran out of his skin in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Seizing the early initiative under jockey John Velazquez, the stoutly bred son of Protonico carved out respectable fractions of :23.09, :46.70, and 1:11.21, then kept going through a strong final half mile in :49.81 to win by half a length in 2:01.02 – the 10th-fastest Kentucky Derby in history.

Medina Spirit’s victory resulted in no small part from the bulldog tenacity he displayed in turning back multiple challengers down the homestretch. Medina Spirit previously showed his fighting spirit when nabbing the Robert B. Lewis (G3) in gate-to-wire fashion, so at this point, it’s clear he’s most effective when allowed to race on the front end. I’m excited to see what he can accomplish in the Preakness (G1).

Worth another try

Dream Shake

Ran too good to lose in the Pat Day Mile (G2) at Churchill Downs, pressing multiple Grade 1 winner Jackie’s Warrior through fractions of :21.75, :43.68, and 1:07.97 before fighting on to finish second by a head against his unwavering rival. Dream Shake beat the rest of his rivals by 4 1/2 lengths and is surely destined to pick up a stakes win at some point this season.

Hot Rod Charlie

Raced in tight quarters during the opening quarter mile of the Kentucky Derby but recovered to track the pace and ultimately finish third by just a length. The son of Oxbow has developed into an honest and durable racehorse with the talent to compete at a high level, and he’ll be a logical contender for the Belmont if his connections opt to pursue the third leg of the Triple Crown.

Known Agenda

Got shuffled back while breaking from the rail in the Kentucky Derby, then gradually threaded his way up the inside and between rivals to finish ninth. Known Agenda didn’t have much racing room down the homestretch and had to wait a bit behind rivals, so with an unencumbered run, he might have finished considerably closer. The Belmont could be next for the son of Curlin.


Although Mutamakina was no match for Magic Attitude in the Sheepshead Bay, she didn’t run a bad race for her 2021 debut, tracking the pace before finishing fast to secure the runner-up spot. Last year’s Long Island (G3) winner figures to improve off her seasonal bow and possibly visit the winner’s circle next time out.

Rock Your World

Although Rock Your World was beaten to 17th place in the Kentucky Derby, I won’t judge his effort too harshly. After leading all the way to beat Medina Spirit by 4 1/4 lengths in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Rock Your World never got close to the lead in the Kentucky Derby – instead, he broke a step slowly and got squeezed out of contention.

The Derby was only Rock Your World’s second start on dirt (and his fourth overall), so the unfamiliar experience of racing off the pace and behind rivals surely compromised his chances. Don’t be surprised if he rebounds next time with a return to front-running tactics.

Off the Watch List

• Annex

• Antoinette

• Aunt Pearl

• Clairiere

• Creed

• Highly Motivated

• Paris Lights

• Pauline’s Pearl

• Scarlett Sky

• Souper Sensational

• Travel Column

• Zofelle

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

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