By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
On this fairly quiet weekend of racing, I imagine that
most of us are already looking ahead to the 2019 Kentucky Derby and are busily analyzing
race entries and results in search of promising two-year-olds who could make a
big impact on the Derby trail this winter.
So with this in mind, I'm departing from my typical
Unlocking Winners blog template. Rather than handicap a single race this week,
I'm just going to share some fairly random and unorganized thoughts on
promising two-year-olds that I've got my eye on across the globe. After all,
with the obvious exception of Justify, every Kentucky Derby winner since
Monarchos in 2001 had debuted by mid-November of their 2yo season, and every
one since Street Sense in 2007 had debuted by September. Chances are, we've
already seen the Derby winner in action, and if not, he ought to turn up in the
entries very soon. Let's start looking!
Debuts Promising 2yos
One of the most interesting races of the weekend is the
first race on Saturday at Del Mar, a seven-furlong maiden special weight for
two-year-olds. The two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert will debut two
promising young runners, including Coliseum,
who has received a fair amount of hype already, in large part since he's owned
by Godolphin and represents a new Godolphin/Baffert partnership.
But is Coliseum actually the best of the two Baffert entrants?
From a pedigree perspective, certainly—he's by Tapit out of the six-time graded
stakes-winning sprinter Game Face, a very classy pedigree that surely would
have brought a hefty price at auction had Coliseum not been retained as a
Godolphin homebred. In contrast, Baffert's second runner Figure Eight is by Power Broker (whose $3,500 stud fee pales in
comparison to the $300,000 fee for Tapit) out of the lightly-raced
Argentinean-bred mare Figureta—not exactly a pedigree that catches your eye at
However, set the hype and pedigrees aside, and it's not
hard to make a case that Figure Eight might wind up being the better runner.
Since the end of August, he's posted no fewer than seven bullet workouts at Los
Alamitos, including five in a row dating back to October. The times of those
workouts? Four furlongs in :46 1/5 on October 6th, six furlongs in
1:13 flat on October 16th, five furlongs in :58 2/5 on October 23rd,
five furlongs in :58 4/5 on November 2nd, and five furlongs in :59
flat on November 9th.
Just as significantly, Figure Eight will be ridden
by Drayden Van Dyke, who has been riding an increasing number of Baffert's better
runners in recent months. In fact, over the last two months Van Dyke and Baffert
have teamed up to win at a phenomenal 47% strike rate, which is only slightly lower
than the other-worldly 56% win rate Baffert has compiled with his two-year-olds
In contrast, Joe Talamo will be aboard Coliseum, and
while Talamo has likewise been enjoying a nice run of success with Baffert (24%
wins over the last two months), Van Dyke is the one who appears poised to be
Baffert's next go-to jockey, so that fact that Van Dyke will ride Figure Eight
suggests—at least to me—that Figure Eight, and not Coliseum, is the horse to
beat on Saturday.
Gusto or Metropol in the Bob Hope Stakes?
Baffert will also be strongly represented in the Bob Hope
Stakes (gr. III) at Del Mar, a seven-furlong sprint that the Hall of Fame
trainer has won on eight previous occasions. His starters this time are the debut
winners Metropol (ridden by Van
Dyke) and Mucho Gusto (with Joe
Talamo in the saddle), but this time, I'm siding with Talamo's runner. Mucho
Gusto, a $625,000 auction purchase, showed a lot of speed in his debut
sprinting six furlongs at Los Alamitos, winning by four lengths in gate-to-wire
fashion while earning an 80 Beyer.
Mucho Gusto's pure speed should give him a tactical
advantage over Metropol, a $200,000 purchase who employed pace-tracking tactics
to win his debut at Santa Anita by three-quarters of a length with a 75 Beyer. Metropol
could further be disadvantaged by drawing the rail, which could potentially
force him to use more speed early on in order to avoid getting boxed in behind
If any horse can split the Baffert duo, it's probably Sparky Ville, winner of the Sunny Slope
Stakes at Santa Anita last month. The son of Candy Ride has already competed
against the likes of Game Winner and Instagrand and could find the competition
in the Bob Hope to be a bit easier. How about a Mucho Gusto/Sparky
Ville/Metropol cold trifecta?
Mischief: How Far Can He Run?
I'll be the first to admit that Maximus Mischief is bred like a sprinter and probably isn't the
type of horse who will go on and achieve Kentucky Derby glory. But "probably"
and "definitely" are two very different words, and it's possible that Maximus
Mischief's raw talent could help him outrun his pedigree and become a major
player on the Derby trail this winter.
Trained by Robert Reid, Jr. and owned by the partnership
of Cash is King LLC and LC Racing LLC, Maximus Mischief hasn't been challenged
in two starts at Parx Racing, winning his debut sprinting 5 ½ furlongs by 8 ¾ lengths
(earning a 94 Beyer) before stretching out to seven furlongs for an allowance
race, which he won effortlessly by six lengths with a 98 Beyer, the second-highest number posted by any two-year-old so far this year.
Yes, Maximus Mischief only beat two horses in the latter race. Yes, he
was green and headstrong in the early going. And yes, his pedigree (by Into
Mischief out of the Songandaprayer mare Reina Maria) is geared toward shorter
distances. But visually speaking—and the clock backs it up—Maximus Mischief is
a pretty talented colt, and we'll get a chance to see how he handles tougher
competition and longer distances when he runs in the nine-furlong Remsen
Stakes (gr. II) on December 1st at Aqueduct.
Mares Have Runners in Japan
If you enjoy following high-class racing in Japan and
want to get an early look at some of next year's classic contenders, the Tokyo
Sports Hai Nisai Stakes (Jpn-III) is a good place to start. With a scheduled
post time of 1:30 a.m. Eastern, only night owls (or those on the West Coast)
will have a chance to tune in and watch, but even if you just catch the replay
on Saturday morning, you'll surely be in for a treat.
Held over 1,800 meters (about nine furlongs) at Tokyo
Racecourse, this Group 3 turf race serves as a major prep for the Asahi Hai
Futurity Stakes (Jpn-I) and the Hopeful Stakes (Jpn-I) next month, the two
races that typically determine the pecking order of Japan's best two-year-olds. Fittingly,
the Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai has attracted a large and competitive field
containing some of the most promising young runners in Japan.
Even better, some of these exciting colts were produced
from mares that should be familiar to fans of racing in North America. First
and foremost is Danon Luster, a son
of Japan's leading sire Deep Impact out of the 2013 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I)
winner Princess of Sylmar. In his debut going 2,000 meters (about ten furlongs)
at Tokyo on October 7th, Danon Luster settled in fifth place behind
slow fractions, then burst clear of the field while running the final 600
meters (about three furlongs) in a sharp :33.60 seconds. The runner-up, Shadow
Diva, came right back to win a similar race by four lengths, so I'm expecting
another big effort from Danon Luster on Saturday.
Another well-bred runner with a North American connection
is Levolg, a son of Deep Impact out
of the graded stakes-winning Kitten's Joy mare Kitten Kaboodle. Levolg debuted
in an 1,800-meter newcomers race on October 28th at Tokyo and
crushed fifteen rivals by four lengths, sprinting the final 600 meters in
:33.60 to leave no doubt about his superiority. Notably, the world-renowned
jockey Ryan Moore will be in the saddle on Saturday. Check out the replay of Levolg's impressive victory—he's #14 with the red silks and yellow cap:
Lastly, do you remember Sarafina? In 2010 and 2011, the
French-bred mare won a trio of Group 1 events in her home nation before
shipping to the U.S. and finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. I) at
Churchill Downs. She's now the dam of Go
Timing, yet another son of Deep Impact who rallied to score a hard-fought
victory in his debut going 1,800 meters over a yielding turf course at Hanshin on
September 29th. Go Timing might not have been quite as flashy as
Danon Luster or Levolg, but longer distances down the road should be no problem and Go Timing
could ultimately be a pretty good horse.
Now it's your turn! Which two-year-olds are you excited
to see in action this weekend?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!
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.