Prospect Watch: 6 debuts worth your attention

Prospect Watch: 6 debuts worth your attention
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

A $1.5 million yearling trained by Shug McGaughey, a $700,000 acquisition from the barn of Todd Pletcher, a couple of beautifully bred juveniles conditioned by Wesley Ward – suffice to say, there’s no shortage of exciting first-time starters entered to race across the country this week.

Let’s dig into the entries and review half a dozen promising prospects worth watching:


Keeneland Race 1: Maiden special weight for 2-year-old fillies (5 1/2 furlongs on turf, 1:05 p.m. EDT)

#1 Ruthin

Purchased for $475,000 as a yearling, Ruthin looks ready to roll on debut for trainer Wesley Ward, who has compiled a terrific 10: 4-3-2 record with juveniles at Keeneland this spring. Ruthin’s work tab is solid, highlighted by a bullet three furlongs in 34.4 over the Palm Meadows turf course last month.

A daughter of the four-time Group 1-winning miler Ribchester, Ruthin was produced by the stakes-winning miler Selinka, previously the dam of five-furlong Mercury (G3) winner Hit the Bid. This is a thoroughly European pedigree geared toward success on turf, so it’s easy to see why Ruthin is debuting over the Keeneland lawn. Don’t be surprised if Ruthin wins impressively on Thursday before heading to England for the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting.

Keeneland Race 3: Maiden special weight for 2-year-old fillies (4 1/2 furlongs, 2:12 p.m. EDT)

#6 Cartel Queen

It’s safe to say this Tom Amoss-trained juvenile is bred to win from an early age. Sire Cairo Prince, dam Peach Brew and half-sister Sydney Freeman all won stakes races as 2-year-olds, and Cairo Prince sires a solid 12 percent winners from first-time starters.

Cartel Queen has been training up a storm at Keeneland, Three furlongs in 34.6, a bullet half mile from the starting gate in 46.4 and another half mile from the gate in 47.4. Considering Amoss wins at a 22 percent rate with horses debuting in maiden special weights, Cartel Queen has to be considered the filly to beat in her first run under colors.


Keeneland Race 1: Maiden special weight for 2-year-old fillies (5 1/2 furlongs on turf, 1:05 p.m. EDT)

No. 5 Napa Spirit

Speaking of fillies bred to excel at Royal Ascot, check out Napa Spirit in the Friday opener at Keeneland. The Wesley Ward-trained filly sold for just under $500,000 as a yearling, in no small part because her pedigree (by Invincible Spirit out of the Pivotal mare Aimhirgin Lass) is packed with speed and class.

Certainly Napa Spirit has shown speed in the mornings. Between March 9 and April 2, she turned in a trio of bullet three-furlong workouts over the Palm Meadows turf course, and she’s followed up with a couple of solid half-mile moves over the Keeneland main track. With hot jockey Joel Rosario named to ride, Napa Spirit looks like a young star in the making.


Belmont Park Race 1: Maiden special weight for 3-year-olds (7 furlongs, 1:00 p.m. ET)

#2 First Captain

It’s no wonder why First Captain sold for $1.5 million as a yearling – talk about an elite pedigree! First Captain is a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of Turnback the Alarm Handicap (G3) winner America, in turn a daughter of Belmont Stakes (G1) winner and Horse of the Year A.P. Indy.

A.P. Indy was a breed-shaping stallion, and Curlin is quickly emerging as the same, so I’m excited to see what First Captain can accomplish under the care of Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. Since First Captain’s pedigree is absolutely stuffed with stamina, I don’t necessarily expect him to fire a winning shot sprinting seven furlongs on debut. But once First Captain stretches out in distance, watch out.

#4 Mahaamel

Although Mahaamel was only about half as expensive as First Captain, his $700,000 purchase price is nothing to sneeze out. Furthermore, the Shadwell Stable colorbearer looms as the more likely candidate to win on debut.

A son of two-time leading sire Into Mischief out of Bed o’ Roses Handicap (G3) winner Hot Stones, Hot Stones is bred top and bottom for speed. Sprinting seven furlongs should be right up his alley, and a bullet half-mile workout on April 16 hints he has talent. Trainer Todd Pletcher wins at a 21 percent rate with first-time starters, and three-time champion jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. is named to ride, so expect Mahaamel to draw plenty of support at the betting windows.

No. 5 Pipeline

A Triple Crown nominee conditioned by Chad Brown, Pipeline has put together a lengthy work tab in preparation for his debut, suggesting he’ll be fit for a strong effort right out of the gate. The question is, will sprinting seven furlongs be Pipeline’s strong suit?

That’s a tough question. Sire Speightstown was a champion sprinter, but he’s sired a surprising number of long-winded types. Dam Vivo Per Lei did her best work as a turf miler, placing in multiple Grade 2 stakes, and dam sire Empire Maker was a Belmont winner whose progeny have thrived running long over every surface. Pipeline potentially could develop into any sort of racehorse, so I’m curious to see how he performs on Saturday.

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