Ready to watch some expensive (and exciting) racehorses debut? Then you’ll have a lot to look forward to this week.
A bevy of competitive maiden special weights for 3-year-olds are slated to take place over the next few days at Santa Anita and Fair Grounds. Among the entries are two of the most expensive horses sold at auction last year. Surely we’ll see a future stakes winner (or two or three) in action?
Let’s dig in and review half a dozen of the most exciting sophomores debuting this week.
Santa Anita Race 7: Maiden special weight (1 1/16 miles, 6:38 p.m. EST)
No. 5 Kerouac
Pedigree: Uncle Mo–Walk Close, by Tapit
Purchase price: $420,000
Trainer: Bob Baffert
It’s easy to understand why Kerouac sold for $420,000 as a yearling. He’s a son of champion and successful stallion Uncle Mo (the sire of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist) out of the Tapit mare Walk Close, previously the dam of 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Anneau d’Or.
Kerouac has shown speed in the mornings for trainer Bob Baffert, capping off his morning preparations with a bullet half-mile from the Santa Anita starting gate in 47.6 seconds. The fact that Baffert wins at only a 14 percent rate with runners debuting over one mile or farther is a potential red flag. But Baffert’s champion West Coast took this path, and the presence of leading jockey Flavien Prat (a 36 percent winner at Santa Anita this meet) is encouraging.
Santa Anita Race 8: Maiden special weight (six furlongs, 7:00 p.m. EST)
No. 2 Vittoro
Pedigree: Liam’s Map–Super Buggy, by Grand Slam
Purchase price: N/A
Trainer: Bob Baffert
It’s safe to say Vittoro is bred to be brilliant. The Bob Baffert trainee is a son of impressive Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map out of the Grand Slam mare Super Buggy, previously the dam of 12-time stakes-winning sprinter Chief Cicatriz.
Vittoro hasn’t put together quite as flashy a work tab as stablemate Bletchley Park (see below), but he did breeze a quick five furlongs from the Santa Anita starting gate in 59.2 seconds on Jan. 3. Jockey Juan Hernandez finishes in the top three 78 percent of the time when riding for Bob Baffert, so don’t overlook Vittoro – he can surely challenge for a spot in the trifecta.
No. 8 Bletchley Park
Pedigree: Nyquist–Spinning Wheel, by Smart Strike
Purchase price: $2.6 million
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Of all the 2-year-olds-in-training sold at North American auctions in 2021, none brought a higher price than Bletchley Park. The son of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist sold for $2.6 million after breezing a furlong in 9.8 seconds.
Bletchley Park was produced by Spinning Wheel, a half-sister to 2014 Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin. Bletchley Park has put together an excellent work tab capped off by five furlongs from the Santa Anita starting gate in one minute flat, so expectations are surely high for his debut. The presence of hot jockey John Velazquez (10-for-15 riding for Baffert over the last two months) adds to the appeal.
Fair Grounds Race 9: Maiden special weight (six furlongs, 4:54 p.m. EST)
No. 1 Strong Quality
Pedigree: Quality Road–Tiz So Sweet, by Tiznow
Purchase price: $500,000
Trainer: Mark Casse
Purchased for half a million dollars as a weanling, Strong Quality has been training like a serious racehorse at Fair Grounds. On Jan. 2, he clocked half a mile in 47.6 seconds. On Jan. 9, he threw down five furlongs from the starting gate in 59.2 seconds. And last Saturday, he clocked another half-mile in 48.4 seconds.
Conditioned by Mark Casse (a 15 percent winner with debuting runners), Strong Quality is a son of four-time Grade 1 winner Quality Road, who sires 13 percent winners from first-time starters. All the signs suggest Strong Quality has the potential to live up to his name.
No. 3 Vinco
Pedigree: Quality Road–Stormy Welcome, by Storm Cat
Purchase price: $1.5 million
Trainer: Dallas Stewart
Bletchley Park may have been the most expensive 2-year-old-in-training sold at a North American auction in 2021, but Vinco wasn’t far behind, coming in third with a $1.5 million price tag. Since 2000, Dallas Stewart has won at a 9 percent rate with first-time starters. But in 2021, Stewart struck at a career-best 23 percent rate with debuting runners, so there’s a good chance Vinco will be primed for a strong showing right out of the gate. He’s put together solid workouts (including five furlongs in 1:00.4 seconds at Fair Grounds last Friday) and picks up hot jockey Brian Hernandez, so dismiss Vinco at your own risk.
No. 7 Ferociously
Pedigree: Violence–Brinkley, by City Zip
Purchase price: $410,000
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
A son of Grade 1 CashCall Futurity winner Violence (who sires an excellent 17 percent winners from first-time starters), Ferociously was produced by the stakes-placed sprinter Brinkley. This is a pedigree geared toward speed, so Ferociously figures to appreciate sprinting six furlongs on debut.
A pricey $410,000 yearling acquisition, Ferociously has been firing off fast workouts for trainer Steve Asmussen, highlighted by a bullet five furlongs from the starting gate in 59.8 seconds. Hot jockey Joel Rosario is named to ride, stamping Ferociously as a key contender for victory on debut.