By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
In the weeks and months
following the Triple Crown, it's fun to crisscross the country handicapping
smaller stakes for three-year-olds, which often draw alumni from the Triple
Crown and/or Road to the Kentucky Derby.
That's why we're turning our
attention this week to the $200,000 Dwyer S. (G3) at Belmont Park. It's not the
biggest or most competitive race of the week, but the six-horse field is dotted
with talented names, and you never when a Dwyer winner might step up and nab a
Grade 1 stakes during the summer. Practical Joke (2017) and Code of Honor
(2019) have achieved that feat in recent years, respectively going on to win
the H. Allen Jerkens S. (G1) and Travers S. (G1) at Saratoga.
In terms of accomplishments
to date, #5 Fort Bragg is the horse
to beat in the 2023 Dwyer. The son of Tapit ran third in the Los Alamitos
Futurity (G2) last fall, but weakened to finish fifth when taking on tougher
competition in the San Felipe S. (G2) and Florida Derby (G1). In the latter
contest, Fort Bragg finished behind champion two-year-old male Forte and
next-out Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage.
Cutting back to a one-turn
mile for the Pat Day Mile (G2) at Churchill Downs triggered a career-best
performance from Fort Bragg. After racing close to a solid pace, Fort Bragg
took command around the far turn, only to weaken slightly in the final furlong
and finish second by a neck against General Jim.
Fort Bragg enters the Dwyer
off sharp workouts and should appreciate sticking to a one-turn mile. But at
this point, Fort Bragg seems to have found his level as a Grade 2/Grade 3
miler. Unless the addition of blinkers (which he wore for his maiden victory
last fall) triggers significant improvement, Fort Bragg appears to have less
upside than #2 Saudi Crown, who
could certainly be a Grade 1 winner in the making for two-time Eclipse
Award-winning trainer Brad Cox.
A son of 2017 Kentucky Derby
winner Always Dreaming, Saudi Crown is unbeaten in two starts. He debuted in a
six-furlong maiden special weight at Keeneland during the spring and tracked a
solid pace before powering clear in the final furlong to score by 4 3/4
lengths. The third-place finisher, Briterdayzahead, came right back to win a
Churchill Downs maiden special weight and an Ellis Park allowance.
Saudi Crown subsequently
stepped up in class for a 6 1/2-furlong allowance at Churchill Downs and
successfully switched to pacesetting tactics, leading all the way through
splits of :22.37, :45.01, and 1:09.34 to beat Sweet Cherry Pie by 1 3/4 lengths
in the snappy time of 1:15.88. Sweet Cherry Pie had previously beaten older
horses in a Keeneland maiden special weight.
Saudi Crown's first two
victories produced Brisnet Speed ratings of 101 and 95, which stack up well
against the 100 Fort Bragg posted in the Pat Day Mile. His pedigree suggests
stretching out over one mile won't be an issue, as does his running style—while
Saudi Crown is tactical enough to stay close and even lead in sprints, the early
fractions he's posted are more indicative of a talented miler than a pure
In short, I'm willing to bet
that Saudi Crown's talent and upside will conquer the experience of Fort Bragg
and lead to victory in the Dwyer.
Beyond the two favorites, #3 Harrodsburg is a logical contender
after wiring an Aqueduct maiden special weight and finishing second by a nose
in a Belmont Park allowance. Both those contests took place over 6 1/2 furlongs
and yielded promising 96 Brisnet Speed ratings, stamping Harrodsburg as
candidate to crack the Dwyer trifecta.
But don't overlook #6 Joey Freshwater for a spot in the
top three. If you draw a line through his misfire on turf in the Paradise Creek
S. last time out, his form is rock-solid. Three starts back, he employed
pace-tracking tactics to win Aqueduct's seven-furlong Bay Shore S. (G3) by 1
1/4 lengths over Gilmore, who has since finished third in the Pat Day Mile and
Woody Stephens S. (G1). And two starts back, Joey Freshwater ran third in
Belmont's Gold Fever S. behind Drew's Gold, future runner-up in the Woody
Stretching out over one mile
is unexplored territory for Joey Freshwater, but judging from the company he's
kept, he fits well against the Dwyer field and has every chance to run well for
the hot jockey/trainer duo of Jose Ortiz and Linda Rice. Per Brisnet stats,
they've teamed up to win at a 31% rate over the last two months.
1st: #2 Saudi Crown
2nd: #5 Fort Bragg
3rd: #6 Joey Freshwater
4th: #3 Harrodsburg
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Dwyer?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contest 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.