Handicapping Exciting Juveniles on a Super Saturday

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

An epic Saturday of racing across North American includes a pair of Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifiers at Keeneland and Santa Anita.

What are we waiting for? Let's dive in and explore the entries:

Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland

There are so many directions to go in handicapping this 1 1/16-mile "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). One could favor Forte, who had no trouble beating future Champagne S. (G1) 1-3 finishers Blazing Sevens and Gulfport in Saratoga's Hopeful S. (G1). Or we could favor Lost Ark, the undefeated runaway winner of the Sapling S. at Monmouth Park. Or we could try the stretch-running Iroquois S. (G3) runner-up Honed.

But in the end, Loggins and Newgate are the two I'm most eager to support. And of the pair, I'm leaning toward Loggins, an exciting Brad Cox trainee purchased for $460,000 as a yearling.

Loggins ran like a beast in his debut sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs against maiden special weight company at Churchill Downs. After casually tracking and pressing fractions of :22.91 and :45.80, Loggins seized command and drew clear to dominate by 8 1/2 lengths.

Loggins was full of run down the homestretch, running the third quarter-mile in a about :23.85 and the final sixteenth in :06.20 to record a sharp final time of 1:15.87. That translated to lofty speed figures of 90 (Beyer) and 99 (Brisnet), which rank among the best figures in the Breeders' Futurity field.

According to Brisnet statistics, Cox wins at a lofty 30% rate with horses running long for the first time, so Loggins is eligible to improve while stretching out in distance for the Breeders' Futurity. Certainly his pedigree (by Ghostzapper out of a Blame mare) is geared toward stamina. I expect Loggins to produce another big run on Saturday and vie for victory under hot jockey Florent Geroux.

As for Newgate, he was a sharp debut winner sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar, pressing a quick pace before taking command to win under a hand ride by 3 1/2 lengths. He subsequently stepped up in class for the seven-furlong Del Mar Futurity (G1) and couldn't quite keep pace with blistering fractions of :21.56 and :43.65, weakening from a tracking position to finish fourth in a nine-horse field.

Newgate should encounter a significantly slower tempo in the Breeders' Futurity, so I envision the son of Into Mischief bouncing out of the gate and securing a comfortable position near the front of the pack. From there, Newgate can stretch his speed more effectively under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and outrun his 20-1 morning line odds.

American Pharoah S. (G1) at Santa Anita

It's too early to crown a division leader, but Cave Rock looks ready to romp in the American Pharoah, a 1 1/16-mile steppingstone to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. If the son of champion Arrogate runs to expectations at Santa Anita, he'll have a head start on earning the Eclipse Award for champion two-year-old male.

Cave Rock has been sensational in two starts for hot trainer Bob Baffert, who has gone 4-for-9 (44%) to start the Santa Anita meet. In a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Del Mar, Cave Rock led all the way to dominate by six lengths with strong speed figures of 101 (Beyer) and 104 (Brisnet). He was even more impressive in the seven-furlong Del Mar Futurity (G1), again leading all the way to prevail by 5 1/4 lengths with figures of 98 (Beyer) and 105 (Brisnet).

By every metric, Cave Rock ran out of his skin in the Del Mar Futurity. He set crazy pace fractions (:21.56 and :43.65) that would have exhausted many horses, yet he still drew off down the homestretch to defeat Best Pal S. (G2) winner Havnameltdown by a daylight margin.

Arrogate thrived racing around two turns, and Brisnet stats reveal Baffert wins at a 31% rate with horses running long for the first time, so there's no reason to think Cave Rock won't shine over 1 1/16 miles in the American Pharoah. The pace figures to be much easier than in the Del Mar Futurity, so the stage is set for Cave Rock to pick up a second consecutive Grade 1 win.

For second place, we'll give Hejazi a try. The $3.55 million auction acquisition is 0-for-2 so far, but he posted lofty speed figures of 100 (Beyer) and 101 (Brisnet) when finishing second in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Del Mar last month. The form of that race was flattered when the victorious Speed Boat Beach returned to win the Speakeasy S., earning a berth to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1).

Hejazi is bred top and bottom to thrive running long, so I'm optimistic he'll appreciate stretching out over 1 1/16 miles and stay on down the homestretch to secure a strong finish behind Cave Rock.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in this week's Kentucky Derby qualifiers?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)

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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