July is set to kick off with a bang, and we’re not talking about Independence Day fireworks. An action-packed weekend of racing is slated for July 4-5, with the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) and Manhattan Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park leading the charge.
But if you can’t wait for the holiday weekend to get underway, we’ve got good news. The Thursday racing action is almost as good, with a bevy of quality maiden and allowance races on the agenda. Hall of Fame trainers Bob Baffert and Shug McGaughey will both have promising sophomores in action, so let’s dig in and review a half-dozen up-and-coming runners to follow this week:
Thursday, July 2
Belmont Park Race 6: Allowance optional claiming (1 1/16 miles, 3:59 p.m. ET)
#3 Mister Winston (3yo)
Trained by Chad Brown for the high-profile partnership of Peter Brant and Robert LaPenta, Mister Winston wasn’t expected to win his debut sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs at Gulfstream on April 11. As a son of two-time champion Lookin At Lucky, who tends to sire long-winded types, Mister Winston was disregarded by bettors at odds of 9-1. But after rating in midpack, Mister Winston rallied with determination down the stretch, wearing down heavy favorite Ima Pharoah to win by half a length. This effort produced a competitive 88 Brisnet Speed rating, and Mister Winston figures to improve while stretching out over 1 1/16 miles. For good measure, four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano picks up the mount.
#7 Creed (3yo)
A beautifully bred son of champion Honor Code out of a mare by Seeking the Gold, Creed is bred to improve with maturity and relish running a route of ground. So far, he’s living up to his breeding. A slightly troubled trip arguably cost Creed victory in his debut sprinting 7 furlongs on April 22 at Tampa Bay Downs, but the $650,000 yearling purchase rebounded in a big way when stretching out over 1 1/16 miles on June 11 at Belmont, rallying sharply over a muddy track to dominate by 7 3/4 lengths. Conditioned by hot trainer Shug McGaughey (5-for-18 at Belmont so far this meet), Creed is widely expected to prevail in his first start against winners.
Ellis Park Race 4: Maiden Special Weight (5 furlongs, 3:14 p.m. ET)
#2 Fuego Caliente (2yo)
A Three Chimneys Farm homebred, Fuego Caliente brings a classy pedigree to the equation. A son of 2013 champion 3-year-old male Will Take Charge, Fuego Caliente was produced by the Hook and Ladder mare Noble Fire, whose previous foals include 2015 champion female sprinter La Verdad and La Brea (G1) runner-up Hot City Girl. Trainer Steve Asmussen saddled juvenile winners left and right during the Churchill Downs spring meet, and Fuego Caliente has been training sharply in preparation for his debut, breezing a half-mile from the Keeneland starting gate in :47 2/5 on June 2. With Asmussen’s go-to rider Ricardo Santana in the saddle, Fuego Caliente will be heavily favored to make his first start a winning one.
Los Alamitos Race 5: Allowance Optional Claiming (1 mile, 5:58 p.m. ET)
#4 Bronn (3yo)
Sold for just $85,000 as a yearling, Bronn showed promise while facing tough company for Bob Baffert last summer. After knocking heads with future stakes performers Collusion Illusion, Ginobili and Honor A. P. in his first two starts, Bronn broke through when stretching out over a mile at Los Alamitos, battling to victory by half a length as the 2-5 favorite. Bronn subsequently went to the sidelines, but the son of Conveyance has been training up a storm in preparation for his return, cranking out one fast workout after another at Los Alamitos and Santa Anita. Baffert has enlisted Drayden Van Dyke to ride, and while stablemate Cezanne figures to attract all the attention, Bronn is capable of running a solid race in his own right.
#5 Cezanne (3yo)
A late nominee to the Triple Crown, Bob Baffert’s Cezanne has been on everyone’s radar since he sold for $3.65 million as a 2-year-old in training. As a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of a mare by Preakness (G1) champion Bernardini, Cezanne is bred top and bottom to excel over classic distances, so it was noteworthy to see him win his debut sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs on June 6 at Santa Anita. Cezanne raced professionally through traffic and advanced smoothly into a testing :44.73 half-mile before pulling away to score by 2 1/4 lengths in the quick time of 1:16.13. Hot jockey Flavien Prat retains the mount, and stretching out over a mile should only enhance Cezanne’s chances. A strong performance will likely send Cezanne down the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Saturday, July 4
Los Alamitos Race 4: Maiden Special Weight (5 1/2 furlongs, 5:28 p.m. ET)
#5 She’s a Lil Flirt (2yo)
Though she’s a filly facing colts, there’s no reason to think She’s a Lil Flirt can’t challenge for victory on debut. Sold for $200,000 as a weanling, the gray filly is a daughter of Triple Crown champion American Pharoah out of the Include mare Runaway Rosie, a four-time stakes-winning router who has foaled six winners from seven starters. Trainer Simon Callaghan wins at a 21 percent rate with first-time starters, jockey Juan Hernandez has been hot at Los Alamitos (going 4-for-14 so far), and She’s a Lil Flirt blazed a bullet half-mile in :47 flat on June 20 at Los Alamitos. What’s not to like?