Expensive auction acquisitions representing a wide variety of high-profile barns will take center stage at Fair Grounds and Gulfstream Park this Saturday.
A pair of maiden special weights, one on dirt and the other on turf, have drawn a bevy of promising 3-year-olds to the mix. As January winds down, let’s dig in and review six of the most noteworthy prospects worth watching.
Fair Grounds Race 7: maiden special weight (6 furlongs, 5:04 p.m. ET)
There’s a little bit of everything in Happy Romance’s pedigree. His sire, Runhappy, was a champion sprinter on dirt. His dam, Strange Romance, previously foaled the stakes-winning turf miler Ready for Romance. In general, though, Happy Romance’s pedigree is geared toward speed, so it wasn’t surprising to see him breeze a quarter mile in :21 at the 2020 OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training. This impressive exercise pushed Happy Romance’s purchase price to a lofty $435,000, suggesting expectations will be high when the Steve Asmussen debuts at Fair Grounds on Saturday.
It’s safe to say Screenplay hails from an elite family. A son of successful stallion Candy Ride (best known as the sire of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner), Screenplay was produced by the Bernardini mare Miss Catomine, a daughter of champion 2-year-old filly Sweet Catomine. Thanks in no small part to this impressive pedigree, Screenplay sold for $490,000 as a yearling. I don’t necessarily expect him to fire his best short sprinting 6 furlongs on Saturday, considering trainer Dallas Stewart wins at just a 7 percent rate with first-time starters. But Screenplay is definitely one to follow for the future, particularly once he stretches out around two turns.
#7 Regal Run
The second Steve Asmussen trainee is a son of Florida Derby (G1) winner Dialed In out of a mare by Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, giving Regal Run a solid if not overly flashy pedigree. A Calumet Farm homebred, the chestnut colt has turned in a couple of bullet 5-furlong workouts at Louisiana Downs and will be ridden on Saturday by hot jockey Mitchell Murrill. Among the two Asmussen trainees, Regal Run appears more likely to visit the winner’s circle, though it’s worth noting Asmussen has gone just 2-for-31 (4 percent) with 3-year-old first-time starters at Fair Grounds since 2019.
Gulfstream Park Race 7: maiden special weight (1 1/16 miles, 2:44 p.m. ET)
A son of elite sire Quality Road out of the graded stakes-placed Dixie Union mare Magic Union, Avenue is bred to handle dirt, but will give the lawn a try for his first run under colors. The Todd Pletcher trainee already has taken a couple of spins over the turf course at Palm Beach Downs, so we have to assume he’s shown some affinity for turf. Luis Saez will guide the $450,000 yearling acquisition, who races for the partnership of Robert LaPenta, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, William Freeman and Michael Valdes.
From a pedigree perspective, it’s surprising to see Ariston debuting on grass. After all, sire Flatter is responsible for a bevy of high-class dirt runners, including champion 3-year-old West Coast and two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Flat Out. And Ariston’s dam, the Street Sense mare S S Pinafore, already has produced Discovery (G3) winner Plainsman. But trainer Chad Brown is renowned for his prowess at conditioning top-class turf horses, so if Brown thinks Ariston is suited for success on grass, then the $500,000 yearling surely warrants respect.
Rounding out our trio of apparent dirt runners debuting on turf is Jarlian, a son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense out of an unraced mare by Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy. All of Jarlian’s bloodlines suggest that success over classic distances on dirt is well within reach, but Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has elected to first try Jarlian on the lawn, perhaps to get a two-turn run under his belt. In any case, Jarlian has trained sharply on dirt, so regardless of how he performs on Saturday, he’ll be worth backing if he switches to dirt in the future.