5 Up-and-Coming Triple Crown Contenders to Follow

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

Every year, in the days or weeks following the Breeders' Cup, I like to dig into the juvenile racing scene and highlight up-and-coming Kentucky Derby (G1) and Triple Crown contenders who haven't entered the spotlight yet.

Not all of them pan out, but past juveniles featured on Unlocking Winners before they joined the stakes scene include Gun Runner, Drefong, Olympiad, Dortmund, Gift Box, Irish War Cry, Mor Spirit, Roadster, and Om.

I'll try to keep the momentum going by outlining a quintet of promising colts to follow in 2023 and beyond:

Arabian Knight

Anyone who watched the full Breeders' Cup Saturday card at Keeneland is familiar with Arabian Knight. The son of champion two-year-old male and successful sire Uncle Mo ranked among the most impressive winners of the weekend.

A $2.3 million auction acquisition conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, Arabian Knight was favored at odds-on to win a seven-furlong maiden special weight, and the bay colt didn't disappoint. Dashing to the lead under jockey John Velazquez, Arabian Knight set quick fractions of :22.47 and :45.78 before surging away under a hand ride to beat 10 rivals in eased-up fashion.

Arabian Knight hit the finish line in 1:21.98 while pulling 7 1/4 lengths clear of his closest pursuer. His final time was only 0.37 slower than the 1:21.61 required by Goodnight Olive to win the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) two races later on the card. With this eye-catching debut under his belt, there's no telling how good Arabian Knight might be.

Extra Anejo

The wildly successful stallion Into Mischief has already sired two winners of the Kentucky Derby (Authentic and Mandaloun, though the latter's victory via disqualification is still under dispute), and he's set to lead the North American sire rankings for the fourth consecutive year.

Into Mischief has a couple of promising sons I'll discuss this week. The first is Extra Anejo, a Steve Asmussen trainee acquired for $1.35 million as a yearling. The bay colt cranked out a fast series of workouts in preparation for his Oct. 13 debut at Keeneland and definitely ran to those workouts, setting fractions of :22.57 and :45.19 before powering clear under little urging to win a maiden special weight by 9 1/2 lengths.

Extra Anejo completed the seven-furlong and 184-foot distance in 1:27.17, a respectable time. Asmussen hasn't been winning at the highest percentage with first-time starters over the past couple of years (he's striking at an 11% rate in 2022), so Extra Anejo's blowout victory is extra noteworthy. He looks like a special colt.

Giant Mischief

Four of the five colts I'm highlighting are last-out maiden winners. The lone exception is Giant Mischief, a son of Into Mischief conditioned by two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox.

Giant Mischief endured quite a bit of traffic trouble in his Sept. 22 debut in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Horseshoe Indianapolis, but shrugged off the difficulties to finish legitimately fast and win by 2 1/2 lengths. Giant Mischief gained 2 3/4 lengths in the final furlong alone and was never asked for his best run.

Giant Mischief followed up with a gritty victory in a seven-furlong allowance optional claimer on Nov. 4 at Keeneland. After tracking fractions of :22.35 and :45.84 from third place, Giant Mischief rallied up the rail to defeat the heavily favored Bob Baffert trainee Arabian Lion by three-quarters of a length.

The final time was a quick 1:22.30, and Arabian Lion pulled 17 1/2 lengths clear of the third-place finisher, so it's safe to say Giant Mischief ran a giant race. He's shaping up as an exciting horse to follow on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.


A son of Tapit out of a mare by Seeking the Gold? That's a pedigree geared toward success running long, so it was striking to see Signator run second in his debut sprinting six furlongs for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. Facing half a dozen rivals in a maiden special weight at Belmont at the Big A, Signator rallied strongly from fifth place to finish second by 1 1/4 lengths, gaining 2 1/4 lengths in the final furlong while pulling 7 1/2 lengths clear of the third-place finisher.

Signator followed up with an impressive victory in a one-mile maiden special weight at Belmont at the Big A. Relishing the longer distance, Signator settled a couple of lengths behind modest fractions of :24.09, :48.73, and 1:13.93 before rocketing his final quarter-mile in approximately :23.70 to pull clear and dominate by 4 1/2 lengths.

It's uncommon to see juveniles post a sub-:24 finishing fraction running long on dirt, so Signator appears to have a world of potential. He scratched from a slated start in the Nashua (G3) at Aqueduct last weekend, but I'm hopeful we'll see the gray colt back in action soon.

Victory Formation

Speaking of horses bred to run long, have you taken note of Victory Formation? A son of Belmont (G1) winner Tapwrit out of a mare by stamina source Smart Strike (sire of Curlin, English Channel, Lookin At Lucky, etc.), Victory Formation posted a flashy victory sprinting on Oct. 21 at Keeneland.

The race in question was a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight, and Victory Formation received some betting support even while debuting against 11 rivals. Starting at odds of 3.82-1, Victory Formation got off to a quick start and carved out fractions of :23.03 and :46.91 before kicking away under jockey Luis Saez to dominate by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:17.94.

Trained by Brad Cox, Victory Formation is bred top and bottom to improve with maturity and thrive over classic distances, so it's unlikely we've see his best yet. I expect Victory Formation to improve throughout the winter and develop into a classics contender.

Now it's your turn! Which up-and-coming juveniles have caught your eye?


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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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