Horses to Watch: See 2 flashy Gulfstream debut winners

Horses to Watch: See 2 flashy Gulfstream debut winners
Photo: Ted McClenning / Eclipse Sports Wire

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


Just how talented is Bandita? The daughter of Gun Runner could be any sort after smashing a seven-furlong maiden special weight on Sunday at Gulfstream Park. Favored at even-money in her debut, the Todd Pletcher trainee carved out fractions of 23.47 and 46.98 seconds before easily kicking away to dominate by 8 3/4 lengths in 1:22.77. She looks like a stakes star in the making.


Similar to Bandita, Mage impressed with a flashy victory in a seven-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The son of hot young sire Good Magic set fractions of 22.78 and 45.88 seconds before pulling clear to trounce his pursuers by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:22.54. Perhaps trainer Gustavo Delgado has a Kentucky Derby contender in his barn.

Recent Watch List winners

Arabian Knight

Brought his record to 2-for-2 with an eye-catching victory in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn. Carving out fractions of 22.98, 46.82 and 1:11.88 over a sloppy track did nothing to tire the son of Uncle Mo, who finished up strongly down the homestretch (final sixteenth of a mile in 6.25 seconds) to romp by 5 1/2 lengths. Arabian Knight completed 1 1/16 miles in a quick 1:43.50 and is shaping up as one of the best 3-year-olds in training.


She isn’t the flashiest filly, but Faiza is 3-for-3 after a tenacious victory in the one-mile Las Virgenes (G3) at Santa Anita. The daughter of Girvin tracked splits of 22.41 and 47.04 seconds from third place before taking command and holding off Pride of the Nile by half a length in 1:38.46, reprising their 1-2 finish from last month’s Starlet (G1). So far, no one has found a way to beat Faiza.


The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile fourth-place finisher rebounded sharply in cutting back to six furlongs for the King Cotton at Oaklawn, tracking the pace before kicking away to win by four lengths. The son of Gun Runner ran his final two furlongs in 11.70 and 11.71 seconds to complete six furlongs in a fast 1:08.89, earning a 104 Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form. This was a big effort.


Strobe is 4-for-4 over fast tracks and 4-for-5 overall after smashing an $80,000 allowance optional claimer on Friday at Fair Grounds. The son of Into Mischief dueled for command through splits of 22.12 and 45.71 seconds before kicking clear to dominate by 5 1/4 lengths in 1:10.25, cementing his status as an exciting sprinter in the making.

Worth another try

Corona Bolt

Ran well below expectations in the Southwest, fading from fourth position to finish sixth by 18 1/4 lengths. Perhaps Corona Bolt didn’t care for the sloppy track, or maybe he struggled while stretching out around two turns for the first time. In any case, I’ll give him a chance to rebound.

Disc Jockey

Ran well below expectations as the 7-5 favorite in a $62,500 allowance optional claimer on Sunday at Oaklawn, staying in midfield throughout to finish sixth by half a dozen lengths. But Disc Jockey was racing over an unfamiliar muddy track (his first try over off going), so I’ll give him a chance to rebound over fast footing next time.


Debut winner Faustin ran gamely against Best Pal (G3) and Bob Hope (G3) winner Havnameltdown in the San Vicente (G2) at Santa Anita, chasing his stablemate every step of the way to finish second by 1 1/2 lengths. Faustin was cutting into Havnameltdown’s lead through the final furlong and finished 8 3/4 lengths clear of the rest, so this was a solid try. As a son of Curlin out of the three-time Grade 1-winning turf router Hard Not to Like, Faustin is bred to run long and figures to thrive when stretching out around two turns.

Fort Warren

Couldn’t keep pace with the top two finishers in the San Vicente, finishing 10 1/4 lengths behind Havnameltdown, but stayed on without much urging to secure third place by a clear margin. As a son of Curlin out of a Bernardini mare, Fort Warren is bred top and bottom to run long, so I expect we’ll see improvement when he stretches out in distance down the road. It’s also worth noting the San Vicente marked Fort Warren’s first start since Oct. 30, so it’s possible he needed a race off the three-month break.


Dropped 14 1/2 lengths off the early Las Virgenes pace, made a sustained mid-race move to catch up, and kept on gamely down the homestretch to snatch third place. Justique was beaten only three lengths after missing a start in the Santa Ynez (G3) with a fever, so I won’t judge her comeback effort too harshly.

Off the Watch List


Failed to bring his A-game in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), settling in midfield and launching only a mild challenge before flattening out to finish seventh by 9 3/4 lengths. This wasn’t the performance I anticipated based off Skippylongstocking’s win in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3), so I’ll drop him from my watch list for now.

White Abarrio

Suffered his first defeat at Gulfstream Park when fading from a pace-tracking position to finish eighth in the Pegasus World Cup, beaten 13 1/2 lengths. I’ll want to see White Abarrio bounce back with a sharper run before betting him again.


Tracked the early pace in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), then weakened to finish eighth. Wit was beaten only 3 1/2 lengths for victory (and only 1 1/4 lengths for third place), but after three straight defeats, it may be time to drop Wit from my watch list.

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

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