By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The Road to the Kentucky Derby and the Road to the
Kentucky Oaks will make stops at Aqueduct this week for a pair of important graded
stakes—the $150,000 Remsen (G2) for
colts and geldings and the $150,000 Demoiselle
(G2) for fillies.
Held over the testing distance of 1 1/8 miles, the Remsen
and Demoiselle have been very productive in recent years. Not necessarily as
Derby and Oaks preps, but as general proving grounds for top-class horses.
Eight of the last 15 Remsen winners have gone on to win Grade 1 races, while the
Demoiselle has produced such standout fillies as Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1)
champion Stopchargingmaria and Queen's Plate winner Wonder Gadot.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Remsen twice and the
Demoiselle five times, and on Saturday he'll saddle the favorites in both
races. I would hate to be called a "chalk-eating weasel" (apparently there's no
worse moniker for a handicapper!), but I believe both of the Pletcher trainees
are standouts in their respective races.
We'll start with the Remsen, where Nashua (G3) 1-2
finishers #1 Pickin' Time (5-2) and #5 Ten for Ten (2-1) are logical
contenders. Although Pickin' Time prevailed by 2 1/4 lengths in the 1-mile
race, Ten for Ten might have a better chance at victory on Saturday. The Shug
McGaughey trainee arguably went out too fast in the Nashua, carving out testing
splits of :22.86 and :46.10 before weakening late. Nevertheless, he pulled 10
1/4 lengths clear of the third-place runner and looms as the lone speed horse
in the Remsen field, setting the stage for a more relaxed journey.
But Ten for Ten has never negotiated two turns, and
Pickin' Time has never run beyond a mile, which could tip the scales in favor
of Pletcher's promising #2 Known Agenda (8-5).
The chestnut colt boasts a pedigree packed with stamina; he's a son of two-time
Horse of the Year Curlin out of Vanity Handicap (G1) winner Byrama, so racing 1
1/8 miles should be right up his alley.
Indeed, Known Agenda clearly relished the distance when
rallying to victory in a maiden race at Aqueduct last month. Favored at 3-5 as
part of a coupled entry, Known Agenda settled within two lengths of a modest
early tempo, then rallied game to win by a head over Greatest Honour. The rest
of the field finished a staggering 21 lengths behind.
This was hardly the first promising effort turned in by
Known Agenda. In his debut dashing 6 1/2 furlongs at Belmont Park, Know Agenda
rallied wide to finish second behind Highly Motivated, a prominent Kentucky
Derby candidate who returned to win Keeneland's Nyquist Stakes in track-record
time. With his stamina, improving profile, and respectable tactical speed,
Known Agenda looms as a logical favorite to win the Remsen under Hall of Fame
jockey John Velazquez.
Speaking of Velazquez, he'll also guide Pletcher's
promising filly #1 Malathaat (4-5)
in the Demoiselle. Like Known Agenda, Malathaat is bred top and bottom to
thrive running long. A daughter of Curlin, Malathaat was produced by the A.P.
Indy mare Dreaming of Julia, a Pletcher filly who counted a gutsy triumph in
the Frizette (G1) and a 21 3/4-length demolition of the Gulfstream Oaks (G2)
among her best efforts.
Malathaat has already shown an abundance of potential. In
her debut sprinting 7 furlongs at Belmont Park, she pressed the pace before
edging clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Stepping up in class and distance
produced an even sharper performance as Malathaat dominated Aqueduct's Tempted
Stakes in gate-to-wire fashion, scoring by 7 3/4 lengths.
Sold for $1.05 million as a yearling, Malathaat appears
poised to generate a solid return on investment for owner Shadwell Stable. With
her tactical speed and stout breeding, she'll have every chance to dominate the
Demoiselle on the front end, especially while saving ground from her rail draw.
She might not be an absolute lock to prevail, since the Demoiselle contains
several other promising fillies—Bill Mott's #3 Millefeuille (7-2), for example, and the impressive Saratoga
maiden winner #4 Malibu Curl (6-1).
Coincidentally, both are daughters of Curlin.
But if Malathaat runs as well as she did in the Tempted, the
rest will likely be fighting for the minor awards. I'm optimistic Malathaat
will deliver another resounding victory on Saturday, cementing her long-term value
as a broodmare while simultaneously emerging as a serious threat for the 2021
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Remsen and the
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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.