There are no certainties in racing, but with only 58 days remaining until the first Saturday in May, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Kentucky Derby winner has debuted and isn’t waiting on the sidelines as an unraced, unheralded maiden.
But that doesn’t mean the Derby winner already has visited a winner’s circle. For all we know, the future champ might be entered in an ordinary maiden special weight this week, poised to secure a breakthrough victory before tackling one of the final Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races.
With this thought in mind, let’s highlight six experienced sophomore maidens (plus one notable first-time starter) entered to race across the country this week:
Friday, March 5
Santa Anita Race 3: Maiden special weight (1 mile, 4:35 p.m. EST)
#1 Hudson Ridge
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is proving best as a sire of turf horses. Galileo is a living legend among European stallions, siring a record five Epsom Derby (G1) winners. So if Hudson Ridge is a son of American Pharoah out of a Galileo mare, he should thrive on grass, right?
Not necessarily. Hudson Ridge actually struggled in his Feb. 5 debut over the Santa Anita lawn, finishing sixth after tracking the early pace. Now Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will transition the bay colt to dirt for a one-mile maiden heat. A series of sharp workouts over the Santa Anita main track suggest the switch won’t be an issue, so count out Hudson Ridge at your own risk.
The second Baffert trainee was soundly beaten in his debut racing a mile at Santa Anita, carving out a very fast pace before fading to finish last behind San Felipe (G2) entrant The Great One. But Fenway took a big step forward in his second start, relaxing on an easy lead before settling for second behind stablemate Hozier.
A son of two-time leading sire Into Mischief, Fenway is a late foal born on May 24, so don’t be surprised if he improves by leaps and bounds during the coming months. He’s always been a well-regarded prospect, selling for $650,000 as a yearling, and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez has been named to ride on Friday. In short, there’s plenty to like about Fenway.
The 2-1 morning line favorite already has knocked heads with seriously talented horses. After finishing second in his debut on turf behind future Pasadena Stakes winner Rock Your World, Harbored Memories switched to dirt and finished second again, this time behind San Felipe (G2) entrant Dream Shake.
Harbored Memories has never run farther than 6 1/2 furlongs, but he has the breeding to stretch out over at least a mile — in fact, half-brother Galilean was a four-time stakes-winning router. Perhaps the third time will be the charm for this promising Mike Puype trainee.
Saturday, March 6
Santa Anita Race 11: Maiden special weight (6 furlongs, 8:00 p.m. EST)
#10 Following Sea
Let’s see … Following Sea is a son of champion sprinter Runhappy out of the stakes-winning sprinter Quick Flip, who is in turn a daughter of champion sprinter Speightstown. That’s a pedigree geared 100 percent toward speed, correct?
In a sense, yes. But if you dig a little deeper, you might get a different impression. Runhappy seems to be passing on more stamina than speed, and Speightstown has sired a bevy of Grade 1 winners over 1 1/4 miles. Following Sea’s pedigree is stouter than it appears at first glance, which might be why Bob Baffert nominated the Spendthrift Farm runner to the Triple Crown.
Following Sea has yet to race, but he’s shown talent in the mornings, blazing a bullet six furlongs from the Santa Anita starting gate in 1:11 on Feb. 24. John Velazquez has been assigned the mount, and a big debut effort could be in the offing.
Defunded didn’t show much in his debut for Baffert at Del Mar last summer, rallying mildly to finish third in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden heat. But the son of Dialed In has since been gelded, and he has turned in a fast series of workouts in preparation for his first start in 6 1/2 months. There’s potential for improvement from this $210,000 yearling acquisition.
Tampa Bay Downs Race 6: Maiden special weight (1 mile and 40 yards, 2:50 p.m. EST)
A son of 2016 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist, Untreated failed to fire in his Jan. 9 debut at Gulfstream Park, coming home sixth behind future Sam F. Davis (G3) winner Candy Man Rocket. But Untreated has since been transferred from trainer Chad Brown to Todd Pletcher, and after posting three consecutive bullet workouts at Palm Beach Downs, perhaps the Team Valor color bearer will take a step forward in his second start.
Sunday, March 7
Oaklawn Park Race 7: Maiden special weight (6 furlongs, 5:09 p.m. EST)
#1 Noble Reflection
Although Noble Reflection is not nominated to the Triple Crown, he certainly has shown the talent to compete against elite competition. In his debut at Del Mar last summer, the son of Liam’s Map carved out a fast pace before settling for third place behind future Del Mar Futurity (G1) winner Dr. Schivel and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) winner Spielberg.
Noble Reflection has not run since, but he has been training sharply under the care of Richard Baltas, most notably breezing five furlongs in a swift :59 3/5 on Feb. 6 at Santa Anita. If he has improved at all during his time off, Noble Reflection will be tough to beat on Sunday.