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
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
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
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
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
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.