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
Although Defunded was beaten to second place in the Affirmed Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita, I was impressed by his performance and believe the son of Dialed In is capable of winning a stakes this year.
Previously fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Pat Day Mile (G2), Defunded arguably went out too fast, too soon in the Affirmed. Hooking up with long shot Jimmy Irish, Defunded dueled for the lead through quick splits of 23.25 and 46.34, then kicked away to a 2 1/2-length lead through a snappy six furlongs in 1:10.82.
Ultimately, this hot pace proved too much for Defunded, who grew a bit leg-weary down the lane while settling for second behind proven graded stakes winner The Chosen Vron. But Defunded was beaten only 1 1/4 lengths, and he pulled 11 lengths clear of the rest, so I think Defunded can rebound with more patient tactics next time.
Worth another try
It’s hard to knock the effort Luck Money produced when finishing second in the 1 1/2-mile Searching Stakes at Pimlico. True, she was beaten 3 1/2 lengths as the 6-5 favorite. But I believe Luck Money’s effort was significantly stronger than it appears.
It all comes down to pace. The turf course was damp, and front-running winner Blame Debbie benefited from escaping with an uncontested lead through staggeringly slow fractions of 27.63, 55.29, and 1:22.10. Under the circumstances, Luck Money – rating back in fourth place – never had a fair chance to catch up. But to her credit, Luck Money rallied gamely to finish clearly second best, and she was the only runner to pass a rival during the final mile of the race.
Considering Luck Money was returning from a 5 1/2-month layoff, this was a solid comeback run. She can bounce back to the winner’s circle if she gets a fair pace setup next time.
Off the Watch List
Faltered when returning from a long layoff in the Affirmed, fading down the homestretch to finish a distant third. The son of Empire Maker didn’t have the best early luck, stumbling at the start and temporarily getting boxed in behind rivals. But I want to see him fire a better effort next time before returning him to my watch list.
You can usually count on trainer Wesley Ward to win a race or two at the annual Royal Ascot meeting in England. The American trainer is sending a strong contingent to the 2021 royal meet, with Nakatomi slated to participate in Thursday’s first race at Ascot, the Norfolk Stakes (G2, post time 9:30 a.m. EDT).
A gelded son of Firing Line, Nakatomi ranks among the early Norfolk favorites after winning his debut at Keeneland by 2 1/4 lengths. Runner-up Happy Soul, also trained by Ward, came right back to break her maiden and win Belmont Park’s Astoria Stakes.
Nakatomi is switching from dirt to turf for the Norfolk, but this hasn’t bothered Ward’s Royal Ascot juveniles in the past – future Group 1 winner Lady Aurelia made the same move when dominating Royal Ascot’s Queen Mary Stakes (G2) in stunning fashion. Don’t be surprised if Nakatomi fires a big shot in this win-and-you're-in qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2).
Here is my complete, updated list of Horses to Watch: