Horses to Watch: Shirl's Speight takes major test in Woodbine Mile

Horses to Watch: Shirl's Speight takes major test in Woodbine Mile
Photo: Michael Burns

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


Great Island

A well-bred daughter of Scat Daddy out of a Rahy mare, Great Island showed promise in her debut at Keeneland last October. Favored at 9-5 in a 1 1/16-mile turf maiden race, the Chad Brown-trained filly settled off the pace early on, then rallied belatedly to finish second behind future three-time graded stakes winner Mean Mary.

Great Island subsequently spent 11 months on the sidelines, but she returned to action better than ever in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight Thursday at Churchill Downs. Favored at 1-2, Great Island showed vastly improved tactical speed, settling in second place as longshot Shell Shock ran off to a significant early lead. Taking first run at a runaway pacesetter can be tricky, but the task was no obstacle for Great Island, who took command at the top of the stretch before edging clear to win by 3 1/4 lengths.

Great Island sprinted home fast, covering the final five-sixteenths of a mile in :29.15, and it’s unlikely we’ve seen the best she has to offer. As a lightly raced 4-year-old, Great Island still has plenty of upside, and I’m excited to see what she can accomplish through the fall and winter.

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Shirl’s Speight

A son of champion sprinter Speightstown out of Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Perfect Shirl, Shirl’s Speight is bred to be any kind of runner. Perhaps that’s why he’s already shown impressive versatility, dominating his debut sprinting on turf before romping home in the 1 1/16-mile Marine (G3) on Tapeta.

Undefeated and unchallenged in two starts, Shirl’s Speight will get a major class test when facing older rivals in Saturday’s ninth race at Woodbine, the $1 million Woodbine Mile (G1, 5:39 p.m. ET). The challenge is formidable. No 3-year-old has ever won the Woodbine Mile, and Shirl’s Speight recently missed some training time (and a scheduled start in the Kentucky Derby) after coming down with a cough.

But Shirl’s Speight has bounced back quickly with a pair of fast workouts, so I’m curious to see how he fares in the Woodbine Mile. The odds are stacked against him, so I won’t be disappointed if he falters. But if he prevails in the face of adversity, I’ll be inclined to declare this colt a genuine star in the making.


Value Proposition

Shirl’s Speight isn’t the only horse stepping up in class for the Woodbine Mile. Chad Brown’s promising 4-year-old Value Proposition will also tackle the task after finishing third in the 1-mile Poker (G3) at Belmont 2 1/2 months ago.

A two-time allowance winner, Value Proposition ran a deceptively good race in the Poker. The British-bred son of Dansili seemed poised to strike early in the homestretch, but he ran into tight quarters down the lane and had to steady in traffic. If not for this incident, Value Proposition certainly would have finished closer than 2 3/4 lengths behind the winner—he might have even vied for victory.

The competition will be tougher in the Woodbine Mile, but with a clean trip, I’m optimistic Value Proposition will deliver an improved performance.

Which horses have caught your eye this week?

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