By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The 2020 Breeders' Cup is in
the history books, which means it's time to turn our attention toward the 2021
We've already seen some
promising Kentucky Derby contenders in action, including the undefeated
Godolphin homebred Essential Quality, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1)
and Breeders' Futurity (G1).
But the best 2-year-olds of
any given year only occasionally achieve equal success as 3-year-olds. More
often, the eventual standout sophomores compile unremarkable records as
juveniles. Case in point? You have to go back to 2016 to find a Kentucky Derby
winner (Nyquist) who achieved stakes win as a 2-year-old. Three of the last
four Derby winners failed to win a single race at age two.
With this in mind, let's
examine three unheralded 2-year-olds with the potential to make some noise in
Although Irish Unity has yet
to race, he warrants watching based on his pedigree and connections alone.
Conditioned by six-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert, Irish Unity
was bred in Kentucky by Clearsky Farms, previously responsible for producing
the Baffert-trained champions Arrogate and Abel Tasman.
As for Irish Unity's
pedigree, it's nothing short of spectacular. A son of 2009 Kentucky Derby
runner-up Pioneerof the Nile (renowned as the sire of 2015 Triple Crown
champion American Pharoah), Irish Unity was produced by the Dixie Union mare
Justwhistledixie, whose previous foals include...
Tapit), winner of the 1 1/16-mile Lecomte (G3) and a participant in the 2020
Kingly (by Tapit),
winner of the 1 1/16-mile Lo Jolla Handicap (G3) on turf and a capable stakes
performer on dirt and synthetic.
Mohaymen (by Tapit),
a four-time Grade 2 winner victorious in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth (G2)
and fourth in the 2016 Kentucky Derby.
New Year's Day (by
Street Cry), winner of the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).
Irish Unity has already
cranked out 18 workouts, primarily at Los Alamitos, while displaying flashes of
speed. He's bred to relish racing two turns, so I'm excited to see what this
promising colt can achieve once he reaches the races.
Although Olympiad was beaten
in his Aug. 1 debut at Saratoga, finishing a distant third behind future
Hopeful (G1) and Champagne (G1) runner-up Reinvestment Risk, he showed
meaningful improvement in his second start. Favored at 2-1 in a 7-furlong
maiden sprint on Sept. 5 at Saratoga, Olympiad settled just off the lead
through splits of :22.80 and :46.22, then pounced to the lead and drew off to
win by 2 3/4 lengths.
Olympiad finished fast,
sprinting the final 3 furlongs in :36.56, and his respectable final time of
1:22.78 translated to an encouraging 82 Beyer speed figure. He hasn't posted a
workout since then, but assuming Olympiad returns to serious training this
winter, his pedigree suggests he'll be a factor on the Road to the Kentucky
After all, Olympiad's
pedigree contains more two-turn stamina than first meets the eye. Although sire
Speightstown was a champion sprinter, his best progeny have excelled running 1
1/4 miles, with Golden Ticket, Haynesfield, Force the Pass, Seek Again, and
Competitionofideas all winning Grade 1 races over the Kentucky Derby distance.
Furthermore, Olympiad was
produced by the graded stakes-placed turf router Tokyo Time, a daughter of
stamina influence Medaglia d'Oro. In short, Olympiad figures to improve with
distance and maturity, stamping him as an under-the-radar colt to follow this
I wouldn't normally
highlight a colt who lost his first three starts, but Parnelli seems like a
worthy exception. Though he's yet to reach the winner's circle, the bay colt
has nevertheless shown steady progress under the patient care of trainer John
A stoutly-bred son of
Quality Road out of a Bernardini mare, Parnelli sold for $500,000 as a yearling
and debuted in a 5 1/2-furlong dash on Sept. 6 at Del Mar. After dueling for
the lead through fast splits of :22.08 and :45.77, Parnelli weakened only
slightly to finish second behind favored Superman Shaq.
For his second start,
Parnelli stretched out to a mile at Santa Anita and locked horns with Hot Rod
Charlie, future runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). After carving out
modest splits of :24.12, :49.02, and 1:13.87, Parnelli unleashed a strong burst
of acceleration in the homestretch, sprinting the penultimate furlong in :11.92
and the final eighth in about :12.25. This fast finish wasn't quite sufficient
to hold off Hot Rod Charlie, who prevailed by a neck, but Parnelli did pull 16
1/2 lengths clear of the rest.
Parnelli third and most
recent effort was virtually a carbon copy of his second run. After leading
through fractions of :22.57, :47.27, and 1:12.06, Parnelli succumbed in the
final strides to finish second by a neck against Spielberg, who had previously
placed in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and American Pharoah (G1). The rest of the
runners finished a minimum of 8 1/4 lengths behind.
Considering the quality of
competition Parnelli has faced, the C R K Stable colorbearer has to be
considered one of the most accomplished maidens in the country. A breakthrough
victory should be just around the corner, with a foray on the Road to the
Kentucky Derby looming as a likely winter goal.
Now it's your turn! Which
up-and-coming 2-year-olds do you have your eye on?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!
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.