Picking an Up-and-Comer in the Dwyer

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 sprinter.

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 Stephens.

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?


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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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