Three Unheralded Sophomores to Watch

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

January is underway, and you know the 2020 Kentucky Derby winner is out there, somewhere.

Maybe he's already won a graded stakes race, like recent Derby winners American Pharoah (2015) and Nyquist (2016). Maybe he's won a race or two against easier company, like Orb (2013) or California Chrome (2014). Maybe he's still a maiden at this point, like Always Dreaming (2017) or Country House (2019). It's also possible he's yet to run, like Justify (2018), who didn't debut until February 18.

We can spend all day debating the merits of proven runners like Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Storm the Court or Sham Stakes (G3) winner Authentic. But there's a good chance the standouts of today will be surpassed by the stars of tomorrow, whoever they turn out to be.

With this in mind, let's examine three currently unheralded 3-year-olds with the potential to make some noise on the Derby trail this winter:

Dreams Untold

Could lightning possibly strike twice for Someday Farm and trainer John Servis? Back in 2004, Servis saddled the Someday Farm homebred Smarty Jones to win the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1), improbable triumphs that stamped the talented colt as a fan favorite. Now here we are, 16 years later, and the Servis/Someday Farm team is back together with an exciting son of Smarty Jones named Dreams Untold.

Produced from the Seattle Slew mare Shootforthestars, Dreams Untold didn't show much in his debut on November 10 at Parx Racing, tracking the pace on his way to a modest third-place finish. But Dreams Untold looked like a completely different horse when crushing a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight on January 4 at Parx.

With jockey Kyle Frey in the saddle, Dreams Untold was difficult to load and broke just a step slowly before recovering to press the pace through fractions of :22.59 and :45.72. Then Dreams Untold put away his rivals and powered clear under urging to win by a staggering 14 1/4 lengths, finishing the final five-sixteenths in :31.44 to record a respectable final time of 1:17.16.

Dreams Untold received an 88 Beyer for his effort. He'll need to keep improving if he's going to challenge on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but his eye-catching maiden triumph was a big step in the right direction. And what a story it would be to see Someday Farm and John Servis return to the Derby!

Steely Danza

He's still a maiden, but Steely Danza ran a huge race in his debut sprinting six furlongs on December 28 at Fair Grounds. Trainer Steve Margolis isn't known for winning with first-time starters, but this son of Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Danza was obviously ready to roll.

Breaking from post two under jockey Gabrial Saez, Steely Danza came flying out of the starting gate and briefly led before conceding the advantage to free-running Twilight Fantasy, who opened up a 2 1/2-length lead through a blazing opening quarter-mile in :21.43.

I was impressed with the way Steely Danza allowed Twilight Fantasy to go on by without getting rank, and I was even more impressed with the way Steely Danza gobbled up ground on the far turn to reclaim the lead following a half-mile in :45.40.

After such an odd trip—starting, stopping, and starting again while rallying into the teeth of a fast pace—Steely Danza had every reason to fade in the homestretch. But instead, he fought on gamely down the lane to finish clearly second-best, beaten just 1 3/4 lengths by 11-10 favorite Digital.

No matter how you slice it, this was an impressive run from Steely Danza. assigned the race a Closer Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 96 out of 100, indicating a strongly closer-favoring pace flow detrimental to Steely Danza. If this colt encounters a fairer setup in his second start, he should graduate without difficulty and possibly join the Road to the Kentucky Derby.


Technically speaking, Tizamagician hasn't finished second behind every Derby contender of significance in California—it only feels that way. This son of Tiznow finished second in four of his five starts as a juvenile, coming home behind Wrecking Crew and Honor A. P., among others.

Trainer Richard Mandella finally convinced Tizamagician to turn things around in a one-mile maiden special weight on January 1 at Santa Anita. As if to celebrate turning three years old, Tizamagician parlayed a pace-tracking trip into a 2 1/2-length victory, recording a final time of 1:37.91 that translated to an 85 Beyer.

Tizamagician's lengthy string of early defeats might prevent some handicappers from viewing him as a serious Kentucky Derby contender. But keep in mind, Mandella's star colt Omaha Beach (favored for the 2019 Kentucky Derby before withdrawing with a breathing issue) lost the first four starts of his career before impressively turning things around.

This doesn't mean Tizamagician will develop into the next Omaha Beach. Few horses ever reach such a lofty level. But by securing his maiden win, Tizamagician appears to have turned a corner and could improve from here on out, making him a horse watch on the Derby trail this winter.

Now it's your turn! Which up-and-coming 3-year-olds do you have your eye on?


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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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