Want to see potential Triple Crown contenders in action? Then check out the high-quality maiden special weights scheduled to be held at Saratoga and Del Mar Saturday.
A couple of sprints have drawn deep fields packed with well-bred (and pricey) first-time starters. Let’s dive in and analyze seven of the most exciting names to know:
Saratoga Race 5: Maiden special weight (seven furlongs, 2:52 p.m. EDT)
#5 Big Skipper
Hailing from the first crop of foals sired by 2016 champion 3-year-old Arrogate, Big Skipper was produced by the Speightstown mare Paradise Playgirl, whose previous foals include five winners from six starters. This flashy pedigree surely played a part in Big Skipper selling for $590,000 as a yearling.
Big Skipper’s pedigree can be interpreted in several ways. On one hand, Speightstown was a champion sprinter and Arrogate excelled running long, so Big Skipper has the potential to perform well over a variety of distances. But both Arrogate and Speightstown were late-maturing sorts, suggesting Big Skipper will not fire his strongest shot as a juvenile. He has been busy in the mornings, cranking out a bevy of half-mile breezes for trainer Chad Brown, but I will look for Big Skipper to show his best form down the road.
It is safe to say Vodka Mardini’s pedigree combines speed with stamina. Sire Bernardini won the Preakness Stakes (G1) during a championship season, while dam Hot City Girl was best as a sprinter, winning the Charles Town Oaks (G3) and placing second in the La Brea (G1).
Whether Vodka Mardini will show more speed or stamina on Saturday is up for debate, but the Lady Sheila Stable homebred certainly has shown some promise in the mornings for trainer Steve Asmussen. On July 23, the bay colt turned in a half-mile gate breeze over the Belmont Park training track, completing the distance in a bullet :47 flat. With three-time champion jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. in the saddle, Vodka Mardini looks like one to watch on debut.
OXO Equine spent $750,000 to acquire Immokalee as a weanling, and it is easy to understand why. The gray colt is a son of two-time horse of the year Curlin (who tends to sire long-winded classic types) out of the Macho Uno mare Banree – definitely a high-class pedigree.
Macho Uno was a champion juvenile, and Banree placed in multiple graded stakes as a juvenile, so the bottom half of Immokalee’s pedigree contains plenty of early-maturing bloodlines to balance Curlin’s stout genetics. Trainer Bill Mott is not normally known for winning with first-time starters, but his strike rate with such runners in 2021 stands at a solid 18 percent. Do not be surprised if Immokalee outruns expectations on debut.
Del Mar Race 4: Maiden special weight (six furlongs, 6:30 p.m. EDT)
Trainer Bob Baffert appears to have a promising prospect on his hands. Acquired for $400,000 as a yearling, Montebello is a son of Curlin out of the El Corredor mare Beautiful But Blue. The latter was an accomplished race mare, with a third-place effort in the 2012 Test (G1) among the best of her nine top-three finishes against stakes company.
Like most Baffert trainees, Montebello has been training fast, most notably clocking five furlongs from the Del Mar starting gate in a bullet :59 1/5 on July 22. Jockey Abel Cedillo (a 33 percent winner when teaming with Baffert in the last two months) is named to ride, cementing Montebello as a logical choice to win.
In case you have not noticed, Connect is off to a hot start at stud. The 2016 Cigar Mile (G1) winner is siring 22 percent winners from first-time starters, and Derecho Dandy will have every chance to increase that stat when he debuts on Saturday at Del Mar.
Purchased for $120,000 as a yearling, Derecho Dandy has been posting sharp workouts like clockwork for trainer John Sadler. His last two moves at Del Mar have been especially quick – five furlongs from the starting gate in :59 2/5, followed by a half mile in :47 3/5. Produced by the stakes-winning sprinter Vindy City (who won her debut as a juvenile), Derecho Dandy is a logical alternative to Montebello in this high-quality maiden heat.
Any way you slice it, Forbidden Kingdom is bred to be a stakes-winning juvenile. A son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (also the champion 2-year-old male of 2014), Forbidden Kingdom was produced by the Five Star Day mare Just Louise, whose 2-for-2 record as a juvenile included a victory in the 2010 Debutante (G3).
Under the care of trainer Richard Mandella, Forbidden Kingdom has been breezing steadily (and quickly) at Santa Anita and Del Mar. A half mile from the starting gate in :47 2/5, five furlongs in 1:00 1/5, five furlongs from the gate in 1:00 2/5 and finally six furlongs in 1:14 3/5. Count out this well-bred chestnut at your own risk.
The second Baffert trainee has not been working as fast as Montebello, but you can’t knock his pedigree. Flying Drummer is a son of 2017 horse of the year Gun Runner out of the stakes-winning sprinter Salamera,
Gun Runner is siring a spectacular 37 percent winners from first-time starters, and Salamera won her first two starts as an early-season juvenile (including a stakes), so Flying Drummer has the potential to win from an early age. He sold for $850,000 after breezing a furlong in 10 seconds flat before the OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds and will be a force to reckon with if he shows similar speed on Saturday.