By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Raise your hand if you're
ready for an epic weekend of racing!
No fewer than 39 stakes
races are scheduled to take place on Saturday and Sunday in the U.S., led by
the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park. Meanwhile, Meydan in Dubai is set to
host an action-packed Dubai World Cup night, and Japan boasts a stakes-laden weekend
featuring the Fukuryu Stakes on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.
We'll focus our attention on
three of the richest upcoming prizes—the Florida Derby, the Dubai World Cup,
and the UAE Derby.
Florida Derby (G1)
I can't knock anything #7 Greatest Honour (6-5) has
accomplished at Gulfstream Park this winter. The stoutly bred son of Tapit has
gone 3-for-3, unleashing powerful late rallies to win the Holy Bull (G3) and
Fountain of Youth (G2) by a minimum of 1 1/2 lengths.
But I've always been a fan
of #5 Known Agenda (5-1), and his morning
line odds are too tempting to pass up. Known Agenda first rose to prominence in
a 1 1/8-mile maiden race at Aqueduct last fall, defeating none other than
Greatest Honour by a head. The strength of the race was further reiterated when
third-place finisher Overtook (beaten 21 lengths) returned to break his maiden
and finish second in the Withers (G3).
I selected Known Agenda to
win the Remsen (G2) and the Sam F. Davis (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky
Derby, but the chestnut colt raced greenly on both occasions, refusing to offer
up his best efforts until it was too late to do any good. In the Sam F. Davis,
for example, Known Agenda trailed the leaders by 13 lengths at the eighth pole
before gaining 8 3/4 lengths to finish fourth, beaten just 4 1/4 lengths.
But Known Agenda took a huge
step forward when adding blinkers in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream
Park last month. After settling just three lengths off a steady pace, Known
Agenda, swooped to the front and never lost focus, powering clear to win by 11
Pletcher has already won the
Florida Derby five times, including on three occasions with runners stepping up
out of allowance or overnight stakes at Gulfstream. As a son of Curlin out of
Vanity (G1) winner Byrama, Known Agenda is bred to improve with maturity and
thrive over classic distances. If he keeps progresses like I expect he will, he
can track the Florida Derby pace, get the jump on Greatest Honour, and roll to
victory at a nice price.
Dubai World Cup (G1)
Speaking of horses bred to
improve with distance and maturity, I'm expecting a big effort from #10 Mystic Guide (5-2) in the Dubai
World Cup at Meydan. The exciting four-year-old is progressing rapidly for
trainer Michael Stidham and appears poised to give owner/breeder Godolphin a
ninth triumph in the Dubai World Cup.
Certainly Mystic Guide has
the pedigree to excel as an older horse. His sire, Ghostzapper, won the Vosburgh
(G1) as a sophomore, but went unbeaten as a four-year-old to claim Horse of the
Year honors. Mystic Guide's dam, the five-time Grade 1 winner Music Note, was
also a standout four-year-old, winning the Ballerina (G1) and Beldame (G1)
before placing third in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (G1).
So far, Mystic Guide is
following the path laid out by his parents. As a three-year-old, he showed
flashes of promise, especially after adding blinkers late in the season. A
stretch-running victory in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy (G2) preceded a runner-up
effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), in which Mystic Guide finished ahead
of Suburban (G2) winner and Belmont (G1) runner-up Tacitus.
But Mystic Guide elevated
his game to a new level in the 1 1/16-mile Razorback Handicap (G3) at Oaklawn
last month, his first start of the season. Splashing his way over a muddy
track, Mystic Guide crushed graded stakes winners Silver Prospector and
Owendale by six lengths, leaving no doubt about his superiority.
The 2021 Dubai World Cup hasn't
drawn the toughest field, with Pegasus World Cup (G1) runner-up #7 Jesus's Team (6-1), Al Maktoum
Challenge Round 3 (G1) winner #11 Salute
the Soldier (8-1), and Saudi Cup third-place finisher #5 Great Scot (15-1) looming among the other major players. If
Mystic Guide brings his A-game to Dubai, I believe he'll relish the 1 1/4-mile
distance and win for fun.
UAE Derby (G2)
Has anyone else noticed how
strongly Japanese-based three-year-olds have been performing in Middle Eastern
dirt Derbys? Lani won the 2016 UAE Derby... Epicharis finished second by a short
head in the 2017 UAE Derby... Full Flat upset the 2020 Saudi Derby... and Pink
Kamehameha sprung a surprise in the 2021 Saudi Derby.
Japan's dirt sophomores are
better than a lot of handicappers give them credit for, so I'm keen to support
all three of the Japanese invaders in the 2021 UAE Derby. The abovementioned #9 Pink Kamehameha (8-1) has already
demonstrated the apparent superiority of the Japanese contingent over the local
runners, easily defeating UAE 2000 Guineas Trial winner #10 Rebel's Romance (15-1) and UAE 1000 Guineas winner #14 Soft Whisper (12-1) in the Saudi
Derby. And Pink Kamehameha doesn't even appear to be the best of the Japanese
raiders in the field!
Instead, Pink Kamehameha's Triple
Crown-nominated stablemate #4 France Go
de Ina (6-1) looks like an even greater threat. A son of Will Take Charge
out of a Curlin mare, France Go de Ina is bred to thrive over classic distances,
and he's displayed strong form running long in Japan. In two starts over 1 1/8
miles at Hanshin Racecourse, France Go De Ina flashed excellent tactical speed
before finishing fast to trounce his pursuers by a minimum of four lengths.
France Go de Ina has drawn well
in post 10, setting the stage for a clean stalking trip over the frequently
speed-friendly Meydan dirt track. Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Joel Rosario is
named to ride, suggesting France Go de Ina's connections are serious about winning
the UAE Derby and securing a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. If
France Go de Ina improves at all in his sophomore debut, his UAE Derby rivals
may be running for second place.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the weekend stakes 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.