There’s top-class racing on tap across the country and around the globe this Saturday — Belmont, Keeneland, Santa Anita, Longchamp — but let’s not let the stakes action completely overshadow the quality maiden races on the agenda.
A bevy of promising 2-year-olds are slated to debut this week, including a pair of promising colts conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Let’s review half a dozen prospects to follow on this busy weekend:
Friday, Oct. 2
Santa Anita Race 3: Maiden Special Weight (1 mile, 4:33 p.m. ET)
Sold for $500,000 as a yearling, Parnelli showed flashes of speed and potential when debuting in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden sprint at Del Mar last month. The John Shirreffs-trained youngster dueled for the lead through quick early fractions, then weakened slightly to finish second against a quality field. As a son of Quality Road out of a Bernardini mare, Parnelli is bred to improve with distance and maturity, so I’m excited to see how he fares second-time out under Shirreffs’ patient care. A half-mile workout in :47 flat on Sept. 28 hints Parnelli is ready for a big effort.
Saturday, Oct. 3
Keeneland Race 5: Maiden Special Weight (6 furlongs, 3:13 p.m. ET)
A son of 2019 leading sire Into Mischief, Public Information has been breezing like clockwork since the end of July, wrapping up his preparations with 5 furlongs in 1:01 1/5 at Churchill Downs. Owned by Klaravich Stables and trained by Chad Brown, Public Information was produced by the stakes-placed Hard Spun mare Ruby Lips, previously the dam of stakes-winning router Lone Rock. There’s plenty of versatility in this pedigree, so it’s difficult to predict what distance will wind up being Public Information’s best. We’ll hopefully get a better idea on Saturday.
#7 Grand Design
There are some seriously classy bloodlines coursing through Grand Design’s veins. His sire, Union Rags, was an early-maturing juvenile who trained on sufficiently to win the 2012 Belmont Stakes (G1). His dam, Princess Arabella, ran only three times but never tasted defeat and won the Sunland Park Oaks by eight lengths. Grand Design has been training forwardly for his first start and should run well for high-percentage trainer Brad Cox. But Cox trainees often improve with racing experience, and since Grand Design is bred to thrive running long, I suspect this $260,000 yearling purchase will peak later on.
#14 Rising Empire
The second of three also-eligibles in Saturday’s large field, Rising Empire will need a couple of scratches to compete. But if he does draw into the race, you’re advised take notice. A son of Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Empire Maker out of the Smart Strike mare Smart Farming, Rising Empire is a half-brother to 1 3/4-mile Marathon Stakes (G2) winner Rocketry, so it’s safe to conclude Rising Empire is bred to thrive over classic distances and longer. Yet despite his stout breeding, the $700,000 auction purchase has shown significant speed in the mornings for trainer Larry Jones, so it’s possible he’ll outrun his pedigree in Saturday’s 6-furlong sprint.
Santa Anita Race 7: Maiden Special Weight (5 1/2 furlongs, 6:30 p.m. ET)
Sold for just $190,000 as a yearling, Namesake isn’t one of the more expensive 2-year-olds conditioned by Bob Baffert, but he certainly has the potential to be a talented runner. A son of Bernardini out of the Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2) winner Funny Proposition, Namesake is bred to excel running long, but the bay colt has also shown speed during the mornings. He wrapped up his preparations by clocking 5 furlongs from the Santa Anita starting gate in 1:00 2/5 on Sept. 26, which was his fifth gate move since the beginning of August. Training videos suggest Namesake has trouble breaking alertly from the starting gate, so that’s something to watch for on Saturday.
#7 Laurel River
A Juddmonte Farms homebred, Laurel River boasts a pedigree combining speed with stamina. Sire Into Mischief is responsible for many early-maturing sprinter/milers, while dam sire Empire Maker won the Belmont Stakes (G1) and sired 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, in turn the sire of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Conditioned by Bob Baffert, Laurel River has trained primarily at Los Alamitos (where he cranked out a long series of quick workouts), but recently shipped to Santa Anita and blazed a bullet 5 furlongs from the starting gate in 1:00 1/5 on Sept. 30. With Draydan Van Dyke in the saddle, Laurel River appears to be the more formidable of the Baffert duo, at least on debut.