Horses to Watch: Zulu Alpha was better than he looked in Elkhorn

Horses to Watch: Zulu Alpha was better than he looked in Elkhorn
Photo: Leslie Martin

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

Sally’s Curlin

Admittedly, Sally's Curlin didn't have much impact on the outcome of Saturday's Madison (G1) at Keeneland. A slow start left the Dale Romans-trained daughter of Curlin near the back of the pack early on while Guarana and Mia Mischief carved out fractions of :22.95 and :45.92.

Those were slow splits for a 7-furlong Grade 1 sprint, especially on a day when Keeneland’s main track was playing on the quick side. So when Guarana and Mia Mischief sprinted home the final 3 furlongs in :35.78 to run 1-2, Sally’s Curlin never had a realistic chance to gain ground.

Nevertheless, Sally’s Curlin closed the gap a bit down the homestretch, rallying to finish fifth while beaten less than a length for third place by two fillies who raced much closer to the slow early pace. Previously victorious in the Hurricane Bertie (G3) and Chilukki (G3), Sally’s Curlin should have every chance to rebound next time if she drops in class and catches a faster pace.

Therideofalifetime

After rallying to finish second in his debut sprinting 5 furlongs at Churchill Downs, the 2-year-old Therideofalifetime took a huge step forward in his second start. Conditioned by Ignacio Correas IV, the chestnut son of Candy Ride carved out fractions of :22.45 and :46.02, then rocketed the final quarter in :23.79 to dominate by 8 1/4 lengths in a snappy 1:09.81.

Visually, Therideofalifetime made a great impression, running straight and true down the stretch while clearly full of run and eager to keep going. His fast finish was impressive for a juvenile, and his pedigree suggests he can continue improving over longer distances.

Even better, Therideofalifetime’s quick final time produced an 85 Beyer speed figure, tied for the highest posted by 2-year-old so far this year. Look for Therideofalifetime to make some noise in major juvenile stakes races this summer.

Zulu Alpha

Winner of the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Pan American (G2) during the winter at Gulfstream Park, the 7-year-old former claimer Zulu Alpha really had no business adding Saturday’s Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland to his growing resume. The pace set by front-running longshot Postulation was pedestrian — :25.56, :52.02, 1:18.14, and 1:43.20 — and turning for home, Zulu Alpha still had four or five lengths to make up.

But despite this unfavorable setup, Zulu Alpha exploded down the homestretch, sprinting the final quarter in :22 2/5 (maybe even a bit quicker?) over a damp course labeled “good” to beat Postulation by just under a length. Considering Zulu Alpha was returning from a 3 1/2-month layoff, this feat was all the more impressive.

Under the care of Mike Maker, Zulu Alpha has developed into a highly effective turf star over distances ranging from 1 3/16 miles to 1 1/2 miles. His Elkhorn triumph in the face of challenging circumstances is a testament to how good he’s become, and Zulu Alpha can continue building on his strong form as 2020 progresses.

Recent Winners

Art Collector

The rapidly improving Art Collector brought his 2020 record to a perfect 3-for-3 with a powerful triumph in the Blue Grass (G2) on Saturday at Keeneland. From every perspective, his performance in the 1 1/8-mile race was eye-catching. After rating comfortably off the lead through splits of :23.25, :46.61, and 1:10.63, the son of Bernardini wore down the accomplished filly Swiss Skydiver to win going away by 3 1/2 lengths.

Art Collector finished strongly off the quick pace and hit the finish line in 1:48.11, sufficient to earn an excellent 103 Beyer speed figure. Trained by Thomas Drury Jr., Art Collector has emerged as one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby and will naturally remain on my watch list until further notice. He might just have the talent to win the roses.

Upcoming entry

Mystic Guide

A son of Ghostzapper out of the five-time Grade 1-winning A.P. Indy mare Music Note, Mystic Guide caught my attention when posting a powerful 5-length maiden win at Fair Grounds on Mar. 21. The Godolphin homebred made a terrific impression in the 1 1/16-mile race, sprinting the final five-sixteenths in approximately :30 flat to leave the future maiden winners Amani’s Eagle, Verb, and Man of Honor (among others) far behind.

Mystic Guide subsequently tackled a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Belmont Park, in which the flashy but inconsistent Tap It to Win romped by five lengths in a freakish front-running performance. The race unfolded at a fast pace from start to finish — the final time of 1:39.76 missed the track record by just 0.54 — and Mystic Guide showed tenacity to rally between runners down the stretch and finish clearly second best.

The Belmont allowance race was a one-turn event, and Mystic Guide figures to improve while stretching back out around two turns in Thursday’s ninth race at Saratoga, the $100,000 Peter Pan (G3, post time 5:46 p.m. ET). The 1 1/18-mile race serves as a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep event awarding 50 qualification points to the winner, sufficient to attract Risen Star (G2) winner Modernist and Fountain of Youth (G2) runner-up Candy Tycoon to the fray. But despite the quality of the field, I’m confident Mystic Guide’s talent, potential, and late-maturing pedigree will win the day.

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