Discovery Handicap Could Showcase Future Stars

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

With the Breeders' Cup behind us, and with the end of the year less than two months away, it's time to start turning our attention to 2017 and begin analyzing the horses that could be poised to make a big impact next year. On Saturday, Aqueduct will host the $150,000 Discovery Handicap (gr. III), one of just two graded stakes races for three-year-old colts scheduled to be run before the end of the year. As a result, the race has drawn a deep field of talented horses that could develop into major stakes winners in 2017, following in the footsteps (or hoofprints!) of previous Discovery Handicap winners like Protonico, Redeemed, Haynesfield, and Left Bank. Let's take a look at the entries!

Discovery Handicap (gr. III)

Despite drawing a large field of eleven horses, the nine-furlong Discovery Handicap looks like a fairly paceless race; most of the horses do their best running from off the pace, and when you consider that this race hasn't unfolded at a fast pace since 2005, I think there's a good chance that this race will be won by a forwardly-placed runner.

In my opinion, the most likely candidate is Sticksstatelydude. He showed promise last year by placing fourth in the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) behind Brody's Cause and Exaggerator, but was sidelined after that and did not run again until June 19th, when he finished second in a 6 ½-furlong allowance optional claiming race at Churchill Downs. But that turned out to be a strong race, as the victorious Threefiveindia came back to place in the Gallant Bob Stakes (gr. III) and Bold Ruler Handicap (gr. III) while third-place finisher Twizz won an Ellis Park allowance race in his next start.

With that comeback effort under his belt, Sticksstatelydude shipped to Belmont Park and turned in a huge effort in a one-mile allowance race, sprinting to the lead through fractions of :22.78, :45.43, and 1:09.18 before pulling away to win by 3 ¼ lengths in the time of 1:34.04, which was good enough for a Beyer speed figure of 103.

Since that race, Sticksstatelydude hasn't enjoyed the best of luck. In the Smarty Jones Stakes (gr. III), he endured a nightmare trip over a biased track, but ran surprisingly well under the circumstances to finish fourth. Just twenty days later, he contested the Oklahoma Derby (gr. III) and looked like a winner in the homestretch until the talented Texas Chrome got a perfect trip up the rail to win by half a length.

Sticksstatelydude has shown strong tactical speed throughout his career, and his big win earlier this year at Belmont, as well as his near-miss going nine furlongs in the Oklahoma Derby, suggests that he's got the talent to win a race like this. From post position four, he has options to take the lead if the pace is slow or concede the early advantage to Adulator if that rival shows speed from the rail post. With a good trip, I think Sticksstatelydude will be tough to beat.

Speaking of Adulator, he's been very competitive while facing older horses in allowance races this year, winning one and placing second in three others while defeating horses like Keen Ice and Stormin Monarcho. Last time out, he had the difficult task of trying to keep the speedy Wake Up in Malibu honest on the lead without getting tired out in a speed duel, and while he couldn't quite catch his rival, he closed ground late to finish just 1 ¼ lengths behind while well clear of the rest of the field. Drawing the rail could force Adulator's hand and require him to show more speed than usual, but in a race that doesn't have much pace on paper, that might not be a bad thing.

Two other horses that warrant a lot of respect are Gift Box and Governor Malibu, and I wouldn't underestimate either of them. Gift Box has never finished out of the superfecta and was a dominant winner of a 4 ¼-length allowance optional claiming race on May 26th, in which he crushed a quality field that included recent Aqueduct allowance winner Realm. Gift Box has also been a capable performer in stakes races, finishing second in the Curlin Stakes behind future Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) winner Connect and fourth in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) behind Arrogate, American Freedom, and Gun Runner. Gift Box didn't get the best of trips in the Travers and should be competitive while cutting back in distance and dropping in class for the Discovery Handicap.

As for Governor Malibu, he was fifth in the Travers but had previously finished second in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) and Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II), both at nine furlongs, and he also ran well when fourth in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) despite a troubled trip. In his two most recent races, he's faced New York-bred older horses while racing on wet tracks and ran well in both, winning an allowance optional claiming race by 7 ½ lengths before finishing second to the talented Royal Posse in the Empire Classic Handicap.

I think Governor Malibu has the talent to win a graded stakes race, but his off-the-pace running style could cause some trouble as he attempts to negotiate traffic and rally into what should be a modest pace. Since he'll likely be a short price, I think he could be one to place against in this race, at least for the top spot.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Discovery Handicap?


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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