Juveniles Take Center Stage in California

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

This coming weekend of racing is a bit of a quiet one with not a lot of stakes action on the agenda, but the $100,000 Desi Arnaz Stakes at Del Mar has attracted a promising-looking field containing several fillies that appear to have bright futures. Let's take a quick look at that race, and then review a few promising two-year-old colts that could make some noise this winter on the Triple Crown trail....

Desi Arnaz Stakes

There are a lot of fast fillies entered in the seven-furlong Desi Arnaz Stakes, but it's possible that none are quite as quick as Ms Bad Behavior. Trained by Richard Baltas, the daughter of Blame was beaten in two starts at Del Mar this summer, but showed ample speed each time while competing against the likes of Alluring Star (future runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies) and Piedi Bianchi (who has placed in a couple of Grade 1 races).

But Ms Bad Behavior took her game to a new level when breaking her maiden at Santa Anita on October 15th. Sent off as the 1-2 favorite against six rivals, Ms Bad Behavior settled into second place behind blazing fractions of :21.17 and :43.73, then cruised to the lead in the homestretch and pulled away to win by 3 ¼ lengths in the solid time of 1:16.75, a time that produced a 79 Beyer and a 95 BRIS speed figure.

Given her excellent early speed and ability to rate off the lead, Ms Bad Behavior should be able to work out an ideal trip regardless of how the Desi Arnaz Stakes unfolds. And while she didn't finish very fast in her maiden win, that was to be expected given how quick a pace she pursued, and her pedigree suggests that the extra half-furlong of the Desi Arnaz Stakes shouldn't be an issue. To me, Ms Bad Behavior looks like the most likely winner.

Dream Tree and Midnight Bisou, the 1-2 finishers in a six-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita on October 26th, also warrant respect. The race came back reasonably strong on the speed figure scales, though not quite as strong as Ms Bad Behavior's race, and both are eligible to take a step forward while making their second starts. Of the pair, I might narrowly prefer the Baffert-trained filly Dream Tree since she raced wide while pushing a fast pace and will race with blinkers off on Saturday, but Midnight Bisou races for a trainer (William Spawr) that wins at a striking 25% rate with second-time starters, and it's not hard to envision her turning the tables of Dream Tree while stretching out another furlong in distance.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Desi Arnaz Stakes?

Promising 2yos Emerge in California

In recent years, the Triple Crown races have been dominated to a great extent by horses based in California, including I'll Have Another, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist, and Exaggerator. While it's too early to say if the West Coast will exert a similar influence on the 2018 Triple Crown, judging from the horses and performances we've already seen from two-year-olds at Santa Anita and Del Mar, it's shaping up to be another strong season for California's Triple Crown contenders.

One of the most promising young runners might be McKinzie, named for the late Brad McKinzie of Los Alamitos. Trained by Bob Baffert, the son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense couldn't have been more impressive in his debut at Santa Anita on October 28th, rallying wide from just off the pace to crush nine rivals by 5 ½ lengths, stopping the clock in 1:22.70 and earning a 99 Beyer speed figure. The Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity (gr. I) next month is on the agenda for this talented colt, who was ridden to victory by the Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. The sky might be the limit for McKinzie, who is bred to excel in two-turn races.

Cool Bobby is another colt to keep an eye on. Trained by Peter Eurton, the son of Shanghai Bobby was beaten just a neck in his debut at Santa Anita last month, then returned to win a six-furlong maiden race at Del Mar on November 11th by 1 ¼ lengths, rallying from just off the pace and closing the final quarter-mile in :24 3/5 to win going away with an 88 Beyer speed figure. His pedigree suggests that he might wind up best as a sprinter/miler, but only time will tell. In any case, he appears bound for stakes company in the near future.

The runner-up behind Cool Bobby, Candy Cornell, could also be a factor down the road. Trained by John Shirreffs, who isn't known for training debut winners, Candy Cornell was sent off as the longest shot in the race at odds of 65-1 but outran expectations in a big way, settling just off the lead before taking command after a half-mile and staying on well to finish clearly second-best. I think we could see Candy Cornell take a big step forward off this effort, and I expect to see him on the Triple Crown trail at some point this winter.


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 www.theturfboard.com.

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