Can lightning strike twice?
Three years ago, a brilliant chestnut named Justify made history, sweeping the 2018 Triple Crown after failing to race as a juvenile. His 3-year-old half-brother Stage Raider likewise has been slow to reach the races, but now Stage Raider is set to debut on Pegasus World Cup Day at Gulfstream Park.
It remains to be seen whether the similarities between Justify and Stage Raider will begin or end with their mutually late debuts. But you can bet the hype will be high when Chad Brown sends Stage Raider to the starting gate with a potential 2021 Triple Crown run on the horizon.
Let’s review Stage Raider and five other promising first-time starters entered to race on Saturday.
Gulfstream Park Race 6: Maiden special weight (7 furlongs, 2:04 p.m. ET)
Easily one of the most exciting youngsters in the entries this week is Ghazaaly, who sold for $1.05 million as a yearling. A son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, Ghazaaly was produced by the Giant’s Causeway mare Transportation, a half-sister to Pacific Classic (G1) winner Higher Power and the four-time graded stakes-winning router Alternation.
Suffice to say, Ghazaaly is bred to thrive over classic distances, so Saturday’s 7-furlong sprint might be a bit short for the Shadwell Stable colorbearer. But he’s turned in encouraging workouts for trainer Todd Pletcher (who strikes at a 22 percent rate with first-time starters), so ignore Ghazaaly at your own risk. Regardless of how he performs on Saturday, he figures to improve with distance and maturity.
A Godolphin homebred trainer by Brendan Walsh, Prevalence is a well-bred son of Medaglia d’Oro out of the Ghostzapper mare Enrichment, previously the dam of stakes-winning sprinter Libreta. This is a pedigree that blends speed with stamina, along with subtle but significant turf influences.
Perhaps as a result, Prevalence has worked a couple of times over the grass course at Palm Meadows. But Walsh has elected to debut Prevalence on dirt, the surface over which the bay colt has turned in his quickest workouts. With Tyler Gaffalione aboard, a promising first run should be in the offing.
#10 Stage Raider
Had Stage Raider been offered for sale as a yearling, you can bet he would have brought a hefty price tag. No exaggeration, this John D. Gunther homebred is bred top and bottom to sweep the Triple Crown. His sire, Pioneerof the Nile, already is responsible for 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah. And his dam, Stage Magic, previously foaled Justify.
With this sensational pedigree in tow, Stage Raider has to be considered one of the most exciting unraced maidens in training. While it’s unlikely he’ll rise to the same heights as American Pharoah and Justify, anything is possible, right? Stage Raider has put together a solid, steady work tab for four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, and you can bet all eyes will be on Stage Raider this Saturday.
Although Marching is a son of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map, there’s a fair amount of turf breeding in the bottom half of his pedigree. Dam War Tigress won the Caressing Handicap racing a mile on turf at Churchill Downs, and her sire — War Chant — relished the same course and distance when nabbing the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Mile.
War Tigress already has produced one major turf winner, foaling San Clemente (G2) conqueror War Heroine, so don’t be surprised if Marching ultimately proves best on grass. But for now, we’ll get a chance to see how Marching handles dirt when the Shug McGaughey trainee debuts at Gulfstream with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard.
The second Todd Pletcher trainee might be even more formidable than Ghazaaly. The cleverly named Traveller is a son of Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner Tourist out of Purely Hot, winner of the Whimsical (G3) over the old Woodbine Polytrack course. But despite her affinity for synthetic surfaces, Purely Hot has proven capable of producing top-class dirt runners, with her second foal — Eight Rings — winning the American Pharoah (G1) over the Santa Anita main track.
Owned in partnership by WinStar Farm and CHC Inc., Traveller hasn’t compiled the flashiest work tab, though he did breeze 5 furlongs in a bullet 1:02 2/5 on Jan. 10 at Palm Beach Downs. Hot jockey Irad Ortiz (a 32 percent winner when teaming up with Pletcher) is set to ride, but Traveller will need racing luck to avoid getting caught wide from post 12.
Santa Anita Race 2: Maiden special weight (1 mile, 4 p.m. ET)
5 furlongs in :59 1/5 … 5 furlongs in :59 3/5 … 5 furlongs in :59 1/5 … it’s safe to say Fenway has shown plenty of speed in the mornings for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. A son of two-time leading sire Into Mischief out of a mare by Songandaprayer, Fenway is bred top and bottom to excel over short distances, so it’s interesting to see Baffert debut the $650,000 yearling over a mile.
Generally, Baffert isn’t a frequent winner with first-time starters racing a mile or farther — his lofty 36 percent strike rate with first-time starters drops to 11 percent when they debut in routes. But there have been nice runners in the latter group, including champion 3-year-old West Coast and Los Alamitos Derby (G3) winner Uncle Chuck, so it will be interesting to see how Fenway fares in his first run under colors.