New to the watch list
When Moonlight debuted in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on turf at Saratoga, he battled gamely to finish second by a neck against winner Carson’s Run, who went on to win the Grade 1 Summer. But when Moonlight switched to dirt and added blinkers for a one-mile maiden special weight at Belmont at the Big A on Thursday, he ran even better.
Indeed, Moonlight was tons the best in Thursday’s off-the-turf contest for juveniles, pressing fractions of 23.63, 47.28 and 1:11.48 before finishing strongly (final quarter-mile in 24.56 seconds) to dominate by eight lengths in 1:36.04. The future looks bright for this Todd Pletcher trainee.
#11 Moonlight gets blinkers and graduates in R5 at Belmont for trainer Todd Pletcher with @iradortiz in the irons! ??September 28, 2023
Recent watch list winners
Relished cutting back to seven furlongs for the Vosburgh (G2) at Belmont at the Big A, overcoming a slow start and a modest pace to wear down the leader and prevail by 1 1/2 lengths in the snappy time of 1:21.83. The victory marked a nice rebound from Cody’s Wish’s distant third-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney (G1) and should set him up well for a defense of his Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile title five weeks from now.
Two years after winning the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2) as a 3-year-old, Dr. Schivel returned to the six-furlong Santa Anita dash at age 5 and won again. A pace-pressing trip from third place perfectly positioned Dr. Schivel to wear down Speed Boat Beach (see below) in a prolonged stretch battle to win by a head in 1:08.49. In 2021, Dr. Schivel parlayed his Santa Anita Sprint Championship victory into a close runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Perhaps he can go one better this year.
Worth another try
Her seven-race win streak was snapped with a third-place finish in the Chillingworth (G3) at Santa Anita. Eda was never really in the hunt for victory while finishing 3 1/4 lengths behind upset winner Kirstenbosch, but it’s worth noting Eda previously defeated Kirstenbosch comfortably in the Rancho Bernardo Handicap (G3) at Del Mar. I’ll forgive one subpar showing and give Eda a chance to bounce back next time.
Speed Boat Beach
Returned from a 10-month layoff in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship and ran a giant race, pressing hot fractions of 22.08 and 44.27 seconds before failing by a head to hold off Dr. Schivel in a driving finish. Considering Speed Boat Beach was making his 3-year-old debut and stepping up against older rivals for the first time, we can only view his effort in a positive light.
Off the watch list
Ran below his best for the second straight time in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, racing off the pace throughout to finish seventh. I’ll want to see the Woody Stephens (G1) winner bounce back with a sharper run before supporting him again.
Agate Road launched an impressive rally from behind a slow pace in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Saratoga last time out, gaining 5 3/4 lengths through the final furlong alone to prevail by a neck. The beautifully bred Todd Pletcher trainee looms as a logical win threat while stepping into the stakes ranks for Wednesday’s seventh race at Belmont at the Big A, the Pilgrim (G2, post time 4:14 p.m. EDT).
Here is my complete, updated list of Horses to Watch.
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.