Pletcher Trainees Look Strong in Remsen, Demoiselle

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) contenders will head to Aqueduct this week for a pair of qualifiers worth $250,000 apiece, and I can't think of a better way to kick off December than by handicapping both races.

Let's dig in and examine the key contenders!

Remsen S. (G2)

As far as Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races go, the Remsen hasn't been the most productive steppingstone toward the "Run for the Roses." The last Remsen starter to win the Kentucky Derby was Thunder Gulch, who nabbed both races in 1994-95. Since then, only three Remsen starters have cracked the Kentucky Derby trifecta, most recently Mucho Macho Man in 2011.

But perhaps the 2021 Remsen will shift the storyline. The 1 1/8-mile race has drawn a promising field containing several exciting maiden winners, including the graded stakes-placed #3 Judge Davis, the fast-finishing debut winner #7 Zandon, and the stretch-running #1 Mo Donegal.

The latter colt is the one I'm most interested in betting. From a pedigree perspective, he's bred to relish racing 1 1/8 miles. Sire Uncle Mo was a juvenile champion known for siring two-turn types at stud, with 2015 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist his best runner to date. Meanwhile, Mo Donegal's dam is Callingmissbrown, a daughter of Blue Grass S. (G2) winner and stamina influence Pulpit.

So far, Mo Donegal is living up to his pedigree. The Todd Pletcher trainee ran deceptively well in his debut sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs at Belmont Park, overcoming a slow start and some traffic to gain 4 1/4 lengths through the final furlong and finish third. Then he stretched out over 1 1/16 miles at Belmont and promptly rallied from midfield to score by 1 1/2 lengths.

Mo Donegal brings encouraging Brisnet Speed ratings to the fold, and his maiden victory was flattered when third-place finisher Life Is Great returned to dominate his next start. Mo Donegal does have a tendency to break slowly, but racing 1 1/8 miles will give him time to overcome this weakness, and the lack of pace in the Remsen on paper should ensure Mo Donegal doesn't fall too far behind early on.

Throw in three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz (a 27% winner when teaming up with Pletcher over the last two months), and what's not to like? Mo Donegal looks primed to deliver a winning effort in the Remsen.

Demoiselle S. (G2)

In contrast to the Remsen as a Kentucky Derby prep, the 1 1/8-mile Demoiselle has proven more productive as a steppingstone toward the Kentucky Oaks. Last year's Demoiselle winner, Malathaat, came back to claim the 2021 Kentucky Oaks, while recent Demoiselle heroines Wonder Gadot and Lewis Bay both cracked the trifecta in the Oaks.

There are several promising fillies entered in the 2021 Demoiselle, led by #7 Magic Circle. A debut winner sprinting at Saratoga, the Rudy Rodriguez trainee has already competed twice against stakes company. After finishing fourth in the Frizette S. (G1) behind future Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner Echo Zulu, Magic Circle improved to run second in the one-mile Tempted S. at Belmont, beaten only half a length after pressing the pace.

But is Magic Circle the most likely winner of the Demoiselle? Not necessarily. Her pedigree leans toward speed more than stamina, so stretching out over 1 1/8 miles (while debuting around two turns) is a question mark. There's a strong chance the longer journey will play to the strengths of #5 Nest instead.

A daughter of Curlin out of the A.P. Indy mare Marino Ravenwood, Nest is bred top and bottom to relish running long—in fact, her full brother Idol won the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita H. (G1) last winter. And Nest certainly looked like a route star in the making when smashing her debut over 1 1/16 miles at Belmont by five lengths.

Nest subsequently stepped up in class for the Tempted, where she raced off the pace before gaining 2 3/4 lengths through the final furlong to finish third, only a neck behind Magic Circle. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Demoiselle half a dozen times (including last year with Malathaat), so I'm optimistic Nest is spotted for victory in her graded stakes debut. Hot jockey Irad Ortiz (a 29% winner at Aqueduct) is named to ride, and the tactical speed Nest displayed on debut should be sufficient to secure a forward position in Saturday's largely paceless field.

In short, I expect Nest to turn the tables on Magic Circle and deliver a Demoiselle victory. And who knows? Perhaps she'll Malathaat's example and develop into the 2022 Kentucky Oaks winner.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Remsen and Demoiselle?


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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.

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