By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The Road to the Kentucky
Derby continues in a big way this week with a pair of important prep races. The
Peter Pan Stakes (G3) on July 16 at
Saratoga will award 50 qualification points to the winner, while the July 18 Haskell Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park
will double the stakes with 100 points on the line.
Both races have drawn
competitive fields, and I'm keen to play a pair of 5-2 shots. Let's dig in!
Peter Pan Stakes (G3)
Since I've been practically
blasting a bugle promoting #6 Mystic
Guide (5-2) all over the internet, I might as well take
a moment to expound on his virtues here as well. It wouldn't be the first time
I've dedicated several Unlocking Winners paragraphs to this exciting Godolphin
homebred; back in May, I penned the following when Mystic Guide was entered to
race in the Matt Winn (G3):
From a pedigree perspective, Mystic
Guide is a blueblood bred to improve with experience and maturity—he's a son of
2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper out of the A.P. Indy mare Music Note, a
five-time Grade 1 winner over distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/4
fact Mystic Guide is bred to improve down the road makes the early potential
he's shown all the more impressive. A poor start and a wide trip prevented
Mystic Guide from winning his debut sprinting six furlongs at Fair Grounds, but
the Michael Stidham trainee was nevertheless closing ground down the lane,
rallying to finish third by 1 1/4 lengths.
to say, Mystic Guide showed substantial improvement when stretching out around
two turns for a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on Mar. 21 at Fair Grounds. After
settling about three lengths off the lead through fractions of :24.07, :48.59,
and 1:13.37, Mystic Guide swept to the front on the far turn and drew clear
with power and authority in the homestretch, winning by five lengths in
Guide's eye-catching finish was reflected by the clock—he sprinted the final
five-sixteenths in about :30 flat, an excellent fraction for a dirt race.
Visually speaking, Mystic Guide appeared to be full of run and just getting
started, so no matter how you slice it this was a huge effort.
Mystic Guide wound up
scratching from the Matt Winn—a race won by stablemate Maxfield—but I was
encouraged when Mystic Guide returned to action in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race
on June 4 at Belmont Park. The race unfolded in unusual fashion as eventual
winner Tap It to Win turned in a freakish performance on the front end, carving
out splits of :22.65, :45.64, and 1:09.39 before cruising to the wire in
1:39.76—just 0.54 off the track record.
No one was catching Tap It
to Win that day, but Mystic Guide fought on resiliently down the homestretch, rallying
in the final furlong to finish clearly second-best with a competitive 89 Beyer
speed figure. The one-turn nature of the Belmont allowance race probably wasn't
ideal for Mystic Guide, so returning to two turns for the Peter Pan—while
making his second start off a 2 1/2-month layoff—can send Mystic Guide back to
the winner's circle. The chestnut colt has trained strongly for his graded
stakes debut, and for good measure he's picking up the services of Saratoga's
reigning champion jockey Jose Ortiz.
In short, I'm confident
Mystic Guide will prevail, and at 5-2 I'll eagerly bet him to win, play him on
top in the exotics, and single him in multi-race wagers.
Haskell Stakes (G1)
Hall of Fame trainer Bob
Baffert has won the Haskell eight times, and the 12 starters he's saddled since
2000 have all finished first or second. So it's easy to see why Baffert's #2 Authentic (4-5) is the morning line
favorite in the Haskell.
Authentic would warrant
plenty of respect even without Baffert in his corner. The son of Into Mischief won
his first three starts with strong Beyer speed figures and dominated both the
1-mile Sham (G3) and the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe (G2) in gate-to-wire fashion.
But after taking some time
off in April, Authentic suffered his first defeat in the June 6 Santa Anita
Derby (G1), rating just off the lead before weakening down the stretch to
finish second behind runaway winner Honor A. P., a rival Authentic had defeated
in the San Felipe.
Perhaps Authentic was a little
rusty off the layoff, but it's also possible racing 1 1/8 miles stretched the
limits of his stamina, considering his pedigree is geared toward sprints and
miles. He's come back to post a series of sharp workouts, including a stiff
mile in 1:39 on July 4, but Authentic is unlikely to secure an uncontested lead
in the Haskell—not with fellow speedsters #3
Jesus' Team (15-1), #4 Ancient
Warrior (20-1), #6 Lebda (20-1),
and #7 Ny Traffic (7-2) in the mix.
Unless Authentic takes back off the pace (at risk of getting boxed in behind
horses), he's likely to face pace pressure from start to finish.
As a result, I prefer the
chances of #1 Dr Post (5-2).
Conditioned by three-time Haskell-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, the
late-maturing Dr Post is 2-for-3 this season and enters Monmouth's signature
race off a runner-up effort in the 1 1/8-mile Belmont Stakes (G1). A mid-pack
closer, Dr Post stubbornly gained ground through fast closing fractions to finish
within four lengths of three-time Grade 1 winner and Kentucky Derby favorite
Tiz the Law.
This effort produced a 95
Beyer—not far off Authentic's career-best 98—and Dr Post still has plenty of
upside. He won the 1 1/16-mile Unbridled Stakes racing two turns at Gulfstream
Park during the spring, and as a son of versatile sire Quality Road (a multiple
Grade 1 winner who improved with maturity), Dr Post probably hasn't hit his
best stride yet.
Since the Haskell field is
packed with speed, Dr Post figures to sit a perfect trip a few lengths behind
the pacesetters. Then, when the real running begins, he can rally to pick up
the pieces and spring a mild upset.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in this week's Kentucky Derby prep races?
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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.