7 Horses to Watch as Racing Expands

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

If you check out the North American stakes schedule for this weekend, you might come away thinking, "there's not much going on this week." Only a handful of ungraded stakes races are on the agenda, and there isn't a single graded stakes race to be found.

But wait—there's good news! Though the stakes action is a bit quiet, Churchill Downs, Santa Anita, and Golden Gate Fields are reopening this week, bringing high-class racing back to Kentucky and California. You'd be surprised how many prominent horses have been entered to run in allowance events this week—even a couple Breeders' Cup champions. And if you're willing to turn your attention outside of North America, the Sunday card at Tokyo Racecourse in Japan is stellar with the Group 1 Victoria Mile leading the schedule.

We'll return to our regular handicapping programming next week with the Matt Winn Stakes (G3), a new Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race. In the meantime, I'm going to exchange my handicapper hat for my racing fan hat and highlight seven horses I'm excited to watch this week, regardless of whether I wind up playing or opposing them:

Friday, May 15

Big Mel (Santa Anita Race 9, 7:30 p.m. ET)

Though he isn't favored on the morning line, I have to think the first-time starter Big Mel will receive plenty of support in this 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight. Conditioned by Bob Baffert, Big Mel sold for $800,000 as a yearling and has been cranking out fast workouts since February—a sampling includes five furlongs in :59 2/5 on Mar. 7, a half-mile in :46 4/5 on Mar. 21, a half-mile in :46 1/5 on Apr. 17, five furlongs in :59 3/4 on May 3, and six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 on May 10. Times aren't everything, but this son of Quality Road clearly has some speed and figures to prominent from the outset under jockey J. C. Diaz, Jr. Could Big Mel turn out to Baffert's next star? We'll get a better idea on Friday.

Saturday, May 16

Green Light Go (Gulfstream Park Race 6, 3:16 p.m ET)

Winner of the Saratoga Special (G2) and runner-up in the Champagne (G1) as a juvenile, Green Light Go has only run once in 2020, finishing a distant third in the seven-furlong Swale (G3) on Feb. 1 at Gulfstream Park. But keep in mind, the Swale was a very strong race; the victorious Mischevious Alex returned to win the Gotham (G3), while runner-up Shivaree finished second in the Florida Derby (G1) and fourth-place runner Untitled nabbed the runner-up spot in the Gotham before claiming an allowance race.

A Triple Crown nominee, Green Light Go will return to action in Saturday's Roar Stakes, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds. The son of Hard Spun has been training forwardly for Jimmy Jerkens and will be racing with Lasix for the first time, setting up the potential for an improved performance while facing just five rivals. Hot jockey Luis Saez has the mount.

Untitled (Gulfstream Park Race 8, 4:21 p.m. ET)

The above-mentioned Gotham (G3) runner-up Untitled will also head to the starting gate on Saturday. The dominant winner of a 1-mile allowance optional claiming race for Florida-breds at Gulfstream last month, Untitled will stick to the same track, distance, and class level for his latest test, but he'll leave the state-bred ranks in favor of a run against unrestricted sophomores.

Running a one-turn mile seems to be a strong suit for Untitled. He was tons the best last time out, carving out fractions of :23.37, :45.59, and 1:09.37 before pulling clear easily to win by 3 3/4 lengths. But Saturday's race won't be a walkover, because Untitled will be knocking heads with the exciting maiden winners Extraordinary and Casino Grande, as well as the up-and-coming allowance performers Edge of Fire and Cajun Brother. Both Extraordinary and Edge of Fire in particular appear to have significant upside, so I'm looking forward to using Untitled as gauge for the overall strength of this promising field.

Monomoy Girl (Churchill Downs Race 4, 2:32 p.m. ET)

At long last, Monomoy Girl is ready to return! The champion 3-year-old filly of 2018 was a beast during her signature season, rattling off victories in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1), Acorn (G1), Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), Ashland (G1), and Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2). Only a controversial disqualification from victory in the Cotillion (G1) prevented Monomoy Girl from compiling a perfect 7-for-7 season.

Unfortunately, a handful of setbacks—including a bout with colic—prevented Monomoy Girl from racing in 2019. But her connections have persevered, and Monomoy Girl is finally back in the entries, favored at 4-5 in a 1-mile allowance optional claiming race. The daughter of Tapizar brings a lengthy slate of fast workouts to the equation, including three :59-and-change five-furlong moves at Keeneland since Apr. 18, suggesting she still has the speed from her championship days.

Monomoy Girl probably isn't cranked for an absolute peak effort off the layoff, but she might not need her best to beat Saturday's compact field. In any case, it will be a delight to see her back on the track.

Sunday, May 17

Dieu du Vin (Tokyo Racecourse Race 10, 2:00 a.m. ET)

Winner of the Cattleya Sho last November, Dieu du Vin is currently ranked fourth on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, setting up the possibility that he could be invited to compete in the Run for the Roses. A son of Declaration of War out of the Tapit mare Jealous Cat, Dieu du Vin missed the Feb. 23 Hyacinth due to a minor setback and subsequently disappointed when giving turf a try in the Apr. 18 Arlington Cup (G3), finishing eleventh in a dull performance.

But since Dieu du Vin was switching surfaces and returning from a 5-month layoff, I'll draw a line through that effort and assume he'll rebound while returning to dirt in Sunday's 1,600-meter Seiryu Stakes at Tokyo. His stiffest competition could come from Tagano Beauty, who sits third on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard after rallying to finish second in the Hyacinth. These two colts figure to wage a nice battle, so Kentucky Derby fans are advised to keep an eye on what transpires in the Seiryu. There's a chance the race will produce a starter on the first Saturday in September.

Almond Eye (Tokyo Racecourse Race 11, 2:40 a.m. ET)

A six-time Group 1 winner, Almond Eye has compiled a fantastic record, sweeping the Japan Filly Triple Crown before dominating male rivals in the 2018 Japan Cup (G1), 2019 Dubai Turf (G1), and 2019 Tenno Sho Autumn (G1). A versatile mare capable of competing at a high level from 1,600 to 2,400 meters, Almond Eye will kick off her 5-year-old season in Sunday's 1,600-meter Victoria Mile (G1) at Tokyo, where she'll face 17 rivals in a deep and competitive field.

A few of Almond Eye's challengers are formidable, including Loves Only You, winner of the 2019 Japanese Oaks (G1). But Almond Eye can produce a wicked turn-of-foot on her best day, and she had no difficulty winning the Dubai Turf in her seasonal debut last year, so returning from a layoff shouldn't be a concern. Remember, we're talking about a superstar who has at one time or another run 1,600 meters in 1:30.90, 2,000 meters in 1:56.20, and 2,400 meters in 2:20.60. I expect Almond Eye to put on quite a show this week.

Four Wheel Drive (Churchill Downs Race 10, 5:44 p.m. ET)

Undefeated in three starts, all against stakes company, Four Wheel Drive showed a ton of promise sprinting on turf last year. The son of American Pharoah wrapped up his productive season with a front-running victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), holding off a late surge from Chimney Rock to prevail by three-quarters of a length.

Trained by Wesley Ward, Four Wheel Drive will kick off his sophomore season on Sunday in a 5 1/2-furlong grass allowance race at Churchill Downs. He won't be facing an easy field—Chimney Rock is back to challenge again, and Four Wheel Drive's own stablemate Maven could be a threat if he runs back to the form that saw him claim the Prix du Bois (G3) at Chantilly last year. But barring any surprises, Four Wheel Drive's pure speed should win the day, potentially setting him up for a run at Royal Ascot in England.

Now it's your turn! Which horses are you looking forward to watching/playing this week?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.

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