By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues on Saturday with
the $250,000 Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at
Aqueduct, a unique race that provides the only opportunity for North America's future
Derby contenders to contest a nine-furlong graded stakes race during their
It's been a while since the Remsen Stakes last produced a
Kentucky Derby winner—Remsen starters have actually gone 0-for-24 in the Derby
since Thunder Gulch pulled off the Remsen/Derby double in 1994-95—but the race
remains a key stop on the Derby trail and figures to produce starters for
several future Derby prep races, so regardless of its ultimate Derby
implications, the Remsen is a race worth watching.
Let's take a look at each horse in the field....
Jungle Warrior: Can he handle the switch to dirt? That's
the big question surrounding Jungle Warrior, who unleashed a big finish to win
his debut on turf at Woodbine before finishing a decent fifth in the one-mile Summer
Stakes (gr. I) over the same course. Just in terms of established class he has
to be respected—the Summer Stakes featured a pretty strong field—but as a son
of Animal Kingdom his pedigree leans toward turf and he's shown very little in
the way of tactical speed. I can certainly envision a scenario in which Jungle
Warrior takes back and picks off tired rivals in the homestretch to finish on
the board, but reaching the winner's circle could be a tougher task, even with
the reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz in the saddle.
Chunomado: A heavily-raced colt with a dozen starts
under his belt already, Chinomado ran third in the Juvenile Sprint Stakes for
Florida-breds three weeks ago and has been pretty consistent overall while
placing in the top three eight times, but his lone victory came in a maiden
claiming race and his overall race record suggests that he might be best as a
sprinter. He could find the waters a little deep while running nine furlongs
against this caliber of competition.
Bourbon War: Purchased for $410,000 as a weanling, this well-bred
son of Tapit has a pedigree that leans slightly toward turf, so it wasn't a
surprise to see him entered in a turf maiden race at Aqueduct on November 14th.
However, when the race got rained off the grass, Bourbon War stayed in the
field and showed an affinity for dirt while rallying from three lengths off the
early pace to win going away by 2 ¼ lengths. The final time wasn't particularly
fast, and he had to work pretty hard to secure the victory in a race that was a
bit messy overall, but it was a fair enough effort for his debut and he picks up
the services of top jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. for the Remsen. If Bourbon War steps
forward off his debut, he can certainly contend for a spot in the superfecta.
Gladiator King: Chinomado's speedy stablemate has packed in
four starts over the last two months, including an October 28th maiden win sprinting
five furlongs on turf at Gulfstream Park West and an allowance victory over the
same course and distance just one week ago. Can he be successful while
switching back to dirt and stretching out a full half-mile in distance? His
pedigree says yes—he's a son of Curlin out of a Hennessy mare—but combined with
a sizable jump in class, I get the feeling this could be too deep a spot for
Gladiator King to attempt such a significant change in surface and distance.
Network Effect: This well-regarded colt has done little wrong
in two starts to date, comfortably winning his debut going seven furlongs at
Saratoga before stretching out to a mile for the Nashua Stakes (gr. III) at
Aqueduct, where he rated just behind the leaders before rallying to finish
In a lot of respects, Network Effect's Nashua effort was
encouraging. He had no difficulty leaving the third-place finisher Call Paul
seven lengths behind—no easy feat since Call Paul had won the Saratoga Special
Stakes (gr. II) and finished third in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) in his previous
two starts—and the Nashua came back pretty fast on the speed figure scales, with
Network Effect earning a 93 Beyer.
If there's one aspect of Network Effect's performance
that I might knock, it's that he had dead aim on the eventual winner Vekoma at
the top of the stretch, but just couldn't seal the deal when it counted,
ultimately finishing 1 ¾ lengths behind. Granted, the margin might have been
closer if Network Effect hadn't been forced to wait in traffic around the turn
while Vekoma moved up to challenge the leaders, but the way Network Effect
flattened out slightly in the final furlong leaves me wondering if nine
furlongs could be stretching his limitations just a bit.
Then again, even if Network Effect does ultimately prove
best as a miler, his proven class could be enough to see him through against a
somewhat weak field compared to some past editions of the Remsen, and you have
to respect any horse racing for the powerful team of trainer Chad Brown and
jockey Javier Castellano.
Maximus Mischief: Maximus Mischief was cut out to be a good
horse from the moment he sold for $340,000 as a two-year-old in training, and
the son of Into Mischief has thus far delivered on his hefty purchase price
with two breathtaking victories at Parx Racing. I'll be the first to admit that
he wasn't facing the toughest competition by any means, and granted, he's shown
some signs of inexperience and needs to step up his game from a mental
But has any horse in the Remsen field shown as much raw
ability as Maximus Mischief? I'd argue that the answer is no. In his debut
sprinting 5 ½ furlongs at Parx, Maximus Mischief sprang out of the starting
gate like a Black Friday shopper eyeing the deal of the century and was two
lengths in front before any of his rivals could respond. From there, Maximus
Mischief casually extended his advantage while never really asked for run,
pulling away to score by 8 ¾ lengths with a strong 94 Beyer speed figure.
Three weeks later, Maximus Mischief stretched out to
seven furlongs in an allowance race, and while he was green early on—breaking outward
at the start and continuing to bear outward while fighting his rider's
restraint—once he settled down, Maximus Mischief was all business and again
crushed his rivals with complete authority, pulling away to win by six lengths with
something left in the tank, earning a 98 Beyer that ranks as the highest figure
recorded by any two-year-old so far this year.
The nine-furlong distance of the Remsen is a big question
mark for a horse with the pedigree of a sprinter, but based on the talent and
potential that Maximus Mischief has shown so far, I'm willing to overlook his
breeding and trust that his ability will outweigh any potential distance
limitations, at least on Saturday. He's trained strongly for this race with
three straight bullet workouts at Parx, including a half-mile in :47 2/5 on
November 26th, and drawing post six should give him plenty of
options for working out a traffic-free trip. For all these reasons, Maximus
Mischief is my choice to win.
Tax: Since Tax is making a jump from a $50,000 maiden claiming
race at Keeneland to a Grade 2 at Aqueduct, he figures to be among the
longshots in the wagering. And yet, I really don't think that Tax is particularly
overmatched against this field. That maiden claiming race was held at 1 1/16
miles, just a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Remsen, and his stamina-oriented
pedigree (he's by Arch out of a Giant's Causeway mare) seemed to come in handy that
day as he pulled away late to win by two lengths.
Tax was claimed out of that race by trainer Danny Gargan,
who has gone 6-for-16 (38%) so far at this Aqueduct meet, with another seven
runners finishing in the trifecta.
Gargan also wins at a strong 22% rate with horses he's just claimed, and
he seems to be pulling out all the stops to have Tax ready for a big run on
Saturday, enlisting the services of Aqueduct's leading rider Manny Franco and
scheduling Tax to race on Lasix for the first time. For good measure, Gargan
sent out Tax to work four furlongs in :48 2/5 on November 26th, the
fastest of 134 morning workouts at that distance over the Belmont Park training
Outside of Network Effect and Maximus Mischief, the
Remsen doesn't look like the toughest field, and with all these positives in
Tax's corner, I think he can crack into the trifecta at a nice price and maybe
even finish higher if one or both of the favorites falter.
1st: Maximus Mischief
2nd: Network Effect
4th: Jungle Warrior
Now it's your turn!
Who do you like in the Remsen Stakes?
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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 www.theturfboard.com.