Carpe Diem half-sister is among debut runners to keep tabs on

Carpe Diem half-sister is among debut runners to keep tabs on
Photo: Susie Raisher/NYRA

Stakes races are dominating the headlines five weeks out from the Breeders’ Cup, but competitive maiden special weights for 2-year-olds continue to take place around the country.

Quality runs deep in a series of contests at Belmont at the Big A and Churchill Downs this week, so let’s analyze eight first-time starters in the entries:

Friday, Sept. 29

Belmont at the Big A Race 6: Maiden special weight (one mile, 3:36 p.m. EDT)

No. 6 Digital Ops

2-year-old colt
Pedigree: Nyquist–Flora Dora, by First Dude
Purchase price: $600,000
Trainer: Chad Brown

Acquired for $600,000 earlier this year, Digital Ops is a son of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist out of Busanda heroine Flora Dora, who placed against Grade 1 company in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1). Digital Ops has put together a lengthy series of half-mile workouts and has the pedigree to shine over one mile, so he’s eligible to outrun his 8-1 morning line odds.

No. 9 Unique Insight

2-year-old colt
Pedigree: Gun Runner–Raucous, by Speightstown
Purchase price: $360,000
Trainer: Chad Brown

A son of 2017 Horse of the Year and hot sire Gun Runner, Unique Insight was produced by Chelsey Flower winner Raucous, a graded stakes-placed filly who previously foaled Saratoga’s Albany winner Drake’s Passage. Sold for $360,000 as a yearling, Unique Insight enters off a long series of half-mile workouts and has every chance to factor.

Saturday, Sept. 30

Belmont at the Big A Race 2: Maiden special weight (six furlongs, 12:36 p.m.)

No. 1 Gum Island

2-year-old colt
Pedigree: Good Magic–Stage Stop, by Valid Expectations
Purchase price: N/A
Trainer: Bill Mott

There’s a lot of class in the pedigree of Gum Island. Sire Good Magic was voted Champion 2-year-old male after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, while dam Stage Stop won the La Senorita and is the dam of Preakness third-place finisher Mylute, Silverbulletday winner Stageplay and Sapling (G3) hero She Digs Me. Gum Island is bred to succeed from an early age, so a winning debut isn’t out of the question.

Churchill Downs Race 5: Maiden special weight (one mile, 2:48 p.m.)

No. 7 Starina

2-year-old filly
Pedigree: Candy Ride–Rebridled Dreams, by Unbridled’s Song
Purchase price: N/A
Trainer: Wayne Catalano

One of the best-bred fillies debuting this week is Starina. She’s a daughter of successful sire Candy Ride out of Rebridled Dreams, whose four stakes-winning foals include Blue Grass (G1) and Breeders’ Futurity (G1) winner Carpe Diem, Breeders’ Futurity winner J. B.’s Thunder and four-time Grade 2 winner Farrell. Trainer Wayne Catalano isn’t a frequent winner with first-time starters, but based on pedigree Starina is worth following in the long term.

Sunday, Oct. 1

Churchill Downs Race 4: Maiden specialwWeight (one mile, 2:13 p.m.)

No. 6 Catching Freedom

2-year-old colt
Pedigree: Constitution–Catch My Drift, by Pioneerof the Nile
Purchase price: $575,000
Trainer: Brad Cox

Catching Freedom is a son of Florida Derby (G1) and Donn Handicap (G1) winner Constitution out of Summer Colony winner and Beldame (G1) third-place finisher Catch My Drift. This is a pedigree geared toward success racing one mile and farther, so it’s not surprising to see Catching Freedom debuting in a route. Brisnet statistics indicate trainer Brad Cox wins at an impressive 25 percent rate with horses debuting over one mile or farther, so don’t be surprised if Catching Freedom visits the winner’s circle in his first try.

Churchill Downs Race 7: Maiden special weight (one mile, 3:50 p.m.)

No. 2 Mo’ Spresso

2-year-old colt
Pedigree: Uncle Mo–Espresso Time, by Tapit
Purchase price: N/A
Trainer: Brendan Walsh

Mo’ Spresso is a beautifully bred son of Uncle Mo out of a mare by Tapit, a cross that has previously produced Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Kingsbarns. Mo’ Spresso has shown speed in the mornings at Churchill Downs, even clocking a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.6 seconds, stamping this Chiefswood Stables homebred as a live contender under hot jockey Tyler Gaffalione.

No. 7 Track Phantom

2-year-old colt
Pedigree: Quality Road–Miss Sunset, by Into Mischief
Purchase price: $500,000
Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Sold for half a million dollars as a yearling, Track Phantom is a son of four-time Grade 1 winner and successful sire Quality Road out of Raven Run (G2) heroine Miss Sunset. The bay colt has put together an encouraging work tab highlighted by five furlongs from the Churchill Downs starting gate in 1:00.2 seconds, so a competitive debut may be in the offing.

No. 11 Blown Cover

2-year-old colt
Pedigree: Gun Runner–Secret No More, by Unbridled’s Song
Purchase price: $650,000
Trainer: Brad Cox

A $650,000 yearling acquisition, Blown Cover looks ready to factor after putting together a quintet of five-furlong workouts at Churchill Downs. He followed that series of exercises with half a mile in 48.2 seconds, so fitness shouldn’t be an issue for this son of Gun Runner. The fact Blown Cover will be ridden by hot jockey Gerardo Corrales (a 34 percent winner teaming up with Cox over the last two months per Brisnet statistics) adds to the appeal.

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