By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The Road to the Kentucky Derby will take a couple of sharp
turns on Saturday, December 7 when Aqueduct and Los Alamitos host the $200,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) and
$250,000 Remsen Stakes (G2).
Both races offer Kentucky Derby qualification points, and
both can boast impressive rosters of winners over the last dozen years. Since
2007, Into Mischief, Pioneerof the Nile, Lookin At Lucky, Shared Belief,
Dortmund, Mor Spirit, and McKinzie have all prevailed in the Los Alamitos
Futurity, while Court Vision, To Honor and Serve, Overanalyze, Honor Code, Mo
Town, and Catholic Boy have been among the future stars to prevail in the
Only time will tell if the 2019 editions of the Los
Alamitos Futurity and Remsen Stakes will produce stars of similar caliber, but
the fields certainly look promising on paper. Let's dig in and come up with a
couple of plays:
Alamitos Futurity (G2)
Trainer Bob Baffert has won all five editions of this
race since it moved to Los Alamitos in 2014, so it's natural to assume his
promising up-and-comers #3 Thousand
Words and #4 High Velocity will
be tough to beat. The latter is more accomplished, having won the seven-furlong
Bob Hope Stakes (G3) in gate-to-wire fashion, but the inexperienced Thousand
Words is the horse handicappers will be talking about.
Purchased for $1 million as a yearling, Thousand Words is
a son of Pioneerof the Nile out of the multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter
Pomeroys Pistol. This classy combination of stamina and speed produced a
winning debut on October 26 at Santa Anita. Favored in a 6 ½-furlong dash,
Thousand Words settled a couple lengths off a fast pace before rallying to edge
the promising Thunder Code by a half-length, earning a solid 88 Beyer speed
Thousand Words has trained sharply for the Los Alamitos
Futurity and will race with blinkers for the first time, a highly successful
angle for Baffert, who strikes at a 34% rate with such runners. But while
Thousand Words is an obvious contender, he figures to face a stiff challenge
from #1 Anneau d'Or.
From a pedigree perspective, Anneau d'Or is bred top and
bottom to thrive over classic distances. A son of noted stamina influence Medaglia
d'Oro, Anneau d'Or's dam is Walk Close, winner of the 1 3/16-mile Modesty
Handicap (G3) on grass at Arlington Park. In turn, Walk Close is a daughter of
Tapit, who has sired three winners of the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes (G1).
Anneau d'Or was an impressive debut winner running a mile
on grass at Golden Gate Fields, powering clear down the lane to score by eight
lengths over next-out winner Final Final. Anneau d'Or then switched to dirt for
the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and handled the huge class jump with aplomb. After
rating in third place early on while racing wide, Anneau d'Or rallied boldly
around the far turn and battled down the stretch on even terms with eventual
winner Storm the Court. While Anneau d'Or crossed the wire a head behind in
second place, for all practical purposes he ran every bit as well as the
Prominent speed figure makers disagreed on the strength
of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile; Anneau d'Or received a modest 87 Beyer, but an
eye-catching 102 Brisnet speed rating. As I noted a few weeks back, I'm tempted
to upgrade the Beyer figure for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and credit the top
finishers for coming home relatively fast over a deep and tiring track.
Granted, it could still be tough for Anneau d'Or to deny
Baffert's 1-2 punch. But I think the long homestretch at Los Alamitos will
favor Anneau d'Or's stamina-oriented pedigree, which certainly served him well
over the testing track conditions for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. With a bit of
luck while breaking from the rail, Anneau d'Or can track High Velocity and get
the jump on Thousand Words when the real running begins.
There's a staggering lack of speed in the 1 1/8-mile
Remsen Stakes. Nine horses have been entered, but not one has ever set the pace
in any race over any distance. Who will secure the early lead in this field
full of patient pressers and closers? Your guess is as good as mine.
I do suspect #8
Alpha Sixty Six will be prominent from the outset. Conditioned by two-time
Remsen-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, Alpha Sixty Six is likely better than his
bare form suggests.
Alpha Sixty Six ran a deceptively big race in his debut
on September 7 at Belmont. Favored in a 6 ½-furlong maiden sprint, Alpha Sixty
Six stayed within striking range of a modest early pace, then closed gamely
into fast finishing fractions to win by a neck. The runner-up finished eight
lengths clear of the rest, and Alpha Sixty Six sprinted the final
five-sixteenths of a mile in about :30 flat, a strong fraction. The slow
early/fast late race shape led RacingFlow.com to assign the event a Close
Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 9 on their 1-to-100 scale, signifying a notably
Unfortunately, Alpha Sixty Six didn't get a chance to
show his best when stepping up in class and distance for the one-mile Champagne
Stakes (G1). When the gates opened, Alpha Sixty Six—breaking from the rail—brushed
with longshot Truculent, who took a left-handed turn out of the gate. This
caused Alpha Sixty Six to duck inward and lose his momentum. By the time he
settled back into stride, he had conceded the front-runners about five lengths.
Despite this setback, Alpha Sixty Six gradually worked
his way back into contention while racing wide around the turn. In the stretch
he briefly ran up on the heels of eventual third-place Big City Bob, prompting
jockey John Velazquez to hit the brakes and guide Alpha Sixty Six still farther
outside. Plenty of horses would have given up at this point, but Alpha Sixty
Six re-rallied with interest. While he ultimately crossed the wire in fifth
place, he missed the runner-up spot by just three-quarters of a length.
As a son of Liam's Map out of a mare by Giant's Causeway,
Alpha Sixty Six should have sufficient stamina to handle 1 1/8 miles. John
Velazquez retains the mount, showing faith in this $400,000 yearling purchase,
and Pletcher will remove the colt's blinkers in search of an improved
I'm optimistic Alpha Sixty Six will get off to a better
start in the Remsen and settle within a couple lengths of the early pace. From
there, the resilience he showed in the Champagne should make him tough to pass
in the Aqueduct homestretch.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the weekend Derby
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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.