Thoughts on Promising 2yos Around the World

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!

Baffert 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 a glance.

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 this year.

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.

Mucho 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 horses.

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?

Maximus 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.

Familiar 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?


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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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