This Agenda Will Guide You to Grade 1 Winners

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 lengths.

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

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