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
Todd Pletcher’s Untreated was simply tons the best in a one-mile and 40-yard maiden race for sophomores on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs. Previously sixth behind Candy Man Rocket in a maiden sprint at Gulfstream, Untreated displayed a completely different level of form in his two-turn debut.
After racing eighth in the early going, Untreated launched a sensational outside rally around the far turn, sweeping past rivals with ease to take command at the top of the stretch. From there, he drew off under a hand ride to trounce his opposition by 8 3/4 lengths in a snappy 1:39.17. A son of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Untreated is nominated to the Triple Crown and could well be bound for a Derby prep next month.
The improving California-bred Brickyard Ride ran out of his skin in the seven-furlong San Carlos (G2) at Santa Anita. After opening up a daylight lead through blazing fractions of :21.63 and :43.93, Brickyard Ride kept on rolling with authority down the lane, clocking six furlongs in 1:08.49 on his way to a four-length victory in 1:21.51 — all blazing times for Santa Anita.
A 4-year-old son of Clubhouse Ride, Brickyard Ride is unbeaten and unchallenged in two starts this season. At this point, there’s no telling how high he might ascend.
The Honeybee (G3) at Oaklawn did not unfold in a manner conducive to producing fast speed figures. Slow early fractions of :24.25, :49.70, and 1:14.49 (set in large part by the victorious Will’s Secret) contributed to a modest final time of 1:44.61, even though Will’s Secret finished remarkably fast, dashing the fourth quarter-mile in :24.13 and the final 16th in :05.99.
With this in mind, I’m intrigued by Honeybee runner-up Pauline’s Pearl. A daughter of Tapit out of Spinaway (G1) winner Hot Dixie Chick, the Steve Asmussen-trained filly was compromised by the pace scenario and had to wait in traffic around the far turn, but after shifting inside down the lane, she fought on gamely to finish second by only three-quarters of a length.
Pauline’s Pearl still has plenty of upside, and I think her Honeybee effort was better than it appears at first glance. I think she’ll win a graded stakes (or several) before the year is over.
Idol put his stamina-oriented bloodlines to good use in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), unleashing a furious rally through the final furlong to win by half a length. A son of Curlin out of an A.P. Indy mare, Idol has always had the pedigree to improve with maturity and relish racing 1 1/4 miles. Major races over the American classic distance — the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1), the Pacific Classic (G1), even the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) — could be at Idol’s mercy if he keeps improving.
Plenty of accolades already have been bestowed upon Life Is Good for his eight-length romp in the San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita. He did race a bit greenly, but he also dominated the 1 1/16-mile race under a hand ride in 1:42.18, a sensational time for Santa Anita these days. The sky is the limit for Life Is Good, who appears poised to give trainer Bob Baffert a record-extending seventh victory in the Kentucky Derby. The speedy son of Into Mischief just needs to work on racing a bit more professionally.
Worth another try
I can’t really knock Blue Cat’s effort in the Columbia Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Breaking from the outside post, Blue Cat dropped back to trail the field early, then unleashed a wide rally to finish fourth behind a runaway gate-to-wire winner. Blue Cat was flying fast down the lane, sprinting the final furlong in about :11 2/5, so launching his rally a bit sooner might have yielded a better finish. With only two starts under his belt, the son of late-maturing turf champion Big Blue Kitten still has a bright future.
Dashing six furlongs off an eight-month layoff was unlikely to be Creed’s best ballgame, and indeed, he was outsprinted early in an allowance optional claiming race on Saturday at Gulfstream. But the stoutly bred son of Honor Code was gaining ground steadily down the stretch, finishing fourth by 3 1/4 lengths after trailing the leaders by 10 lengths down the backstretch. Look for this Shug McGaughey trainee to take a big step forward when stretching back out around two turns.
Showed no hesitation racing inside of rivals in the San Felipe, advancing steadily along the rail before settling for third place behind the Baffert trainees Life Is Good and Medina Spirit. Considering Dream Shake was stepping up sharply in class and distance off a debut win sprinting, this was an encouraging effort he can build on.
Ran too good to lose in the Santa Anita Handicap, seizing a two-length lead at the eighth pole before getting caught in the final strides by Idol. It’s possible that 1 1/4 miles is a bit beyond Express Train’s best difference, but his narrow defeat in the Big 'Cap shouldn’t overshadow the fact that trainer John Shirreffs has patiently developed this son of Union Rags into a Grade 1 star capable of competing at a high level from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles.
The Nyquist Stakes winner didn’t get the best trip while returning from a four-month layoff in the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct. After breaking slowly, Highly Motivated attempted to regain a forward position but was soon steadied behind a rival and forced to settle in sixth place behind a modest pace. Nevertheless, Highly Motivated produced a determined rally down the homestretch to finish third by just 1 3/4 lengths. I don’t think he was cranked for a peak effort off the layoff, so there’s room for improvement next time.
Although Jouster was beaten to second place in the Florida Oaks (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, she didn’t run poorly by any means, carving out the pace before getting caught in the last stride by a graded stakes-place rival carrying two fewer pounds. Jouster can be a bit headstrong and tricky to ride, but if Todd Pletcher can train the daughter of Noble Mission to relax, she’ll remain a front-running danger in the 3-year-old grass fillies division.
Some folks might be disappointed by Magic Attitude’s seventh-place effort in the Hillsborough (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, but check out the replay —she was buried along the rail for most of the race and never got a clear path down the homestretch. Despite these obstacles, Magic Attitude sprinted the final furlong in about :11 1/5 to finish just 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner. With an unencumbered journey next time, I expect Magic Attitude to rebound.
Disappointed without an obvious excuse in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, settling for seventh after failing to kick on the way I anticipated. But since this was a clear regression off Ride a Comet’s previous form, I’m tempted to draw a line through the effort and assume he’ll rebound next time.
Off the Watch List
We had a nice run with Medina Spirit, who won the Robert B. Lewis (G3) and finished second in the San Felipe while a member of our watch list. But he ranks a cut below stablemate Life Is Good at this point, and I don’t have a firm reason to believe Medina Spirit will take a step forward next time.
Came up empty in the Challenger (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, weakening down the stretch to finish third in a five-horse field. War Stopper ran his race,but was beaten fairly and squarely by a pair of proven stakes winners. He may need easier company to show his best.
Here is my complete, updated list of Horses to Watch.