Another week, another handful of high-quality juvenile maiden races at Belmont Park and Churchill Downs. Some of the best action will precede the weekend, with competitive events slated for Thursday and Friday.
Let’s dig into the entries and review half a dozen colts and fillies worth following:
Belmont Park Race 3: Maiden special weight (5 1/2 furlongs, 4:09 p.m. EDT)
Sold for $500,000 earlier this year, Velvet Sister boasts a pedigree worthy of her lofty purchase price. A daughter of Preakness (G1) hero and champion 3-year-old Bernardini, Velvet Sister was produced by the Sharp Humor mare Backslash, the dam of four winners from four starters. Her best runner to date, My Boy Tate, has won five stakes and more than half a million dollars.
Conditioned by Hall of Famer trainer Steve Asmussen, Velvet Sister has turned in an encouraging series of workouts at Keeneland and Belmont Park, including a half mile from the Keeneland starting gate in 47 2/5 seconds. Hot jockey Joel Rosario takes the mount, stamping Velvet Sister as a logical contender to strike on debut.
Four-time champion trainer Chad Brown might have a nice filly on his hands in Gerrymander. A daughter of two-time leading sire Into Mischief, Gerrymander was produced by the Hard Spun mare Ruby Lips, a graded stakes-placed juvenile whose most accomplished runner to date, Lone Rock, obliterated a strong renewal of the 1 1/2-mile Brooklyn (G2) last week.
Brown wins at a 20 percent rate with first-time starters, and Gerrymander has flashed speed at Belmont Park, clocking a half mile in :47 3/5 on May 23. Hot jockey Jose Ortiz (a 35 percent winner when teaming up with Brown) is named to ride, so don’t count this $375,000 yearling acquisition out of the mix.
Churchill Downs Race 5: Maiden special weight (5 1/2 furlongs, 6:56 p.m. EDT)
#2 Hazy Command
Although Hazy Command sold for only $75,000 as a yearling, she brings a classy pedigree to the table. Sire Mastery went undefeated in four starts, including a runaway victory in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), while dam Justasprinkle has foaled Portales (a five-time stakes winner) and Justalittlesmoke (victorious in a dozen stakes).
Hazy Command has shown speed in the mornings for trainer Tom Amoss, a 23 percent winner with horses debuting in maiden special weights. The bay filly has twice breezed five furlongs in less than a minute, including a bullet 59 2/5 move on May 31 at Churchill Downs. Jockey James Graham (a 35 percent winner when teaming up with Amoss) is named to ride, so look for Hazy Command to fire a strong shot on debut.
#3 Blest Life
Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is set to debut Blest Life, a chestnut daughter of Hard Spun out of the Tale of the Cat mare Curry Cat. The latter, though unraced herself, has foaled five winners from six starters, including Xtra Heat Stakes winner My Savannah Belle.
My Savannah Belle was best as an older runner, and Cox has gone just 4-for-51 (8 percent) with first-time starters this year, so Blest Life might not fire her best shot sprinting on debut. But the $80,000 yearling purchase has turned in encouraging workouts, including a swift half mile from the Keeneland starting gate in 47. Blest Life is eligible to improve with maturity and is worth following in the long run.
Churchill Downs Race 4: Maiden special weight (5 1/2 furlongs, 2:13 p.m. ET)
Hailing from the first crop of Cigar Mile (G1) winner Connect, Royal Connection is the third starter produced by the Malibu Moon mare Touch the Moon, who has previously achieved success as the dam of Matron (G3) winner Royal Approval.
Royal Approval was a stakes-winning juvenile sprinter, so there’s at least a bit of win-early breeding in Royal Connection’s pedigree. A Three Chimneys Farm homebred trained by Steve Asmussen, Royal Connection has fired off nine timed workouts since the beginning of April, highlighted by a half mile in 47 3/5 from the Keeneland starting gate. There’s no reason to think Royal Connection can’t factor on debut, but considering that Connect found his best stride as a 3-year-old, Royal Connection might have some long-term potential as well.
#3 Curly Tail
Talk about a beautifully bred colt. Curly Tail is a son of two-time Horse of the Year and acclaimed sire Curlin out of the War Front mare Take Charge Tressa, a half-sister to champion 2-year-old Take Charge Brandi and a full sister to three-time Grade 1 winner Omaha Beach.
Conditioned by Dallas Stewart (who has gone 2-for-2 with juvenile first-time starters at Churchill this spring), Curly Tail has flashed serious speed in the mornings. After blazing five furlongs in 59 3/5 on May 23, the bay colt came back and flashed a bullet half mile from the starting gate in 47 2/5 on May 31. Don’t be surprised if this Willis Horton Racing homebred visits the winner’s circle at a nice price.