In this biweekly series, racing analyst Keeler Johnson shares promising horses from his handicapping watch list, reviewing runners who have recently caught his eye and previewing horses scheduled to run back in the near future.
Could Adare Manor be one of the best 3-year-old girls in training? She certainly looked like a star in her route debut racing one mile at Santa Anita last month, leading all the way and finishing fast to dominate by 12 lengths with a 101 Brisnet Speed rating.
This effort has stamped Adare Manor as a key win threat in Sunday’s third race at Santa Anita, the Las Virgenes (G3, post time 4:30 p.m. EST). Stablemate Eda (see below) is more accomplished, but Adare Manor clearly has a lot of raw talent and may prove capable of stealing the show. Take note, jockey John Velazquez has won at a 60 percent rate when teaming up with trainer Bob Baffert over the last two months.
Constitutionlawyer was much the best in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight at Aqueduct last month, leading all the way through solid fractions to win by 3 1/2 lengths. He’ll stick to the same track and distance in Saturday’s eighth race at Aqueduct, the Withers (G3, post time 4:25 pm).
Constitutionlawyer is the fastest entrant in terms of Brisnet Speed ratings and has drawn the rail in a race without a ton of speed. There’s a good chance he’ll secure an easy lead while saving ground, which sounds like a recipe for victory.
One of Constitutionlawyer’s key rivals in the Withers is Early Voting, who employed pace-tracking tactics to win a one-mile maiden special weight on Dec. 18 at Aqueduct.
Early Voting’s tactical speed sets the stage for a forwardly placed trip, perhaps stalking Constitutionlawyer. Trainer Chad Brown has been hot at Aqueduct (winning at a 35 percent rate), and jockey Jose Ortiz (a 36 percent winner teaming up with Brown over the last two months) is named to ride. What’s not to like? Early Voting is bred to improve with maturity and should produce a competitive effort in the Withers.
Eda was on fire during fall, posting three straight stakes wins capped off by a gritty triumph in the 1 1/16-mile Starlet (G1). In the Starlet, Eda lost the lead down the homestretch, only to battle back and prevail by half a length.
Eda hasn’t been quite as flashy as stablemate Adare Manor, but she’s beaten tougher company and will receive plenty of betting support in Sunday’s Las Virgenes. Drawing the outside post in a five-horse field should afford Eda with plenty of options for working out a clean trip.
The speedy miler Get Smokin hasn’t been seen since June, but he’ll have every chance to end his layoff on a winning note when returning to action in Saturday’s eighth race at Tampa Bay Downs, the Tampa Bay (G3, post time 3 :46 pm).
Get Smokin was a sharp winner of the 2021 Tampa Bay, tracking a quick pace before taking over to win by three-quarters of a length. A three-time stakes winner, Get Smokin has the speed to stay out of trouble in Saturday’s large field and should deliver a competitive effort in his first start for trainer Mark Casse.
After rattling off three blowout sprint wins against increasingly tough company, Happy Medium looms as an odds-on favorite to win Saturday’s third race at Aqueduct, the Toboggan (G3, post time 1:50 pm).
Happy Medium was particularly impressive in a 6 1/2-furlong optional claimer on Dec. 18 at Aqueduct.
After carving out the pace, Happy Medium kicked away to beat a next-out winner by seven lengths, earning a massive 107 Brisnet Speed rating. Anything close to a repeat of this performance should land Happy Medium in the Toboggan winner’s circle.
Hot Rod Charlie
Hot Rod Charlie was one of the most accomplished and consistent 3-year-olds of 2021, with a victory in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and a runner-up effort in the Belmont Stakes among his best performances. He’ll kick off his 4-year-old campaign in Friday’s fifth race at Meydan in Dubai, the Al Maktoum Challenge R2 (G2, post time 11:20 am).
A solid field has turned out for the 1,800-meter race, but Hot Rod Charlie looks like the runner to beat if he brings his A-game. He’s using the race as a springboard to the Dubai World Cup (G1) in March, so I’m hoping to see Hot Rod Charlie get an encouraging prep run under his belt.
Although Messier was beaten in his first route run, finishing second in a quick renewal on the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), the son of Empire Maker looms as a heavy favorite to win Sunday’s eighth race at Santa Anita, the Robert B. Lewis ( G3, post time 7:00 pm).
Messier ran well in the Los Alamitos Futurity, coming home second by a length while pulling nine lengths clear of the third-place finisher. He’d previously nabbed the seven-furlong Bob Hope (G3) by 3 1/2 lengths over next-out San Vicente (G2) winner Forbidden Kingdom. Trainer Bob Baffert has won the Robert B. Lewis nine times overall, including the last three editions and six of the last nine, so expect Messier to produce a strong run on Sunday.
Mo Donegal ran a big race in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct last year, rallying into a slow pace to win by a nose. The son of champion Uncle Mo will attempt to keep his momentum going in Saturday’s 11th race at Gulfstream Park, the Grade 3 Holy Bull (G3) (post time 5:10 pm).
The Holy Bull can be a bit unkind toward proven juvenile stars like Mo Donegal, with many short-priced runners falling to defeat over the last decade. But trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Irad Ortiz have been ultra-hot at Gulfstream this winter–just last week, they teamed up to sweep the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1). Perhaps Mo Donegal can replicate Mohayman (2015-16) as a Remsen/Holy Bull hero.
Just how promising is Radio Days? The daughter of hot young sire Gun Runner is undefeated in two starts for trainer Shug McGaughey, breaking her maiden at Belmont before dominating a seven-furlong optional claimer at Aqueduct by 8 1/2 lengths. And as a half-sister to Bowies Hero (a Grade 1 winner at ages four and five), Radio Days has the pedigree to improve with maturity.
I’m excited to see what Radio Days can accomplish in Saturday’s ninth race at Gulfstream Park, the Grade 3 Forward Gal (post time 3:33 pm). There are a number of promising fillies entered in this seven-furlong Road to the Kentucky Oaks qualifier, but none have been quite as flashy as Radio Days, who looms as the favorite to win.
Fresh off a gate-to-wire win sprinting five furlongs over the Gulfstream Park Tapeta track, Sayyaaf will return to turf (his most accomplished surface) in Sunday’s ninth race at Gulfstream, a $25,000 optional allowance claimer (post time 4:11 pm)
Sayaaf’s recent victory came in a $35,000 claimer, but he was returning from a long layoff and proved much the best, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. He’s 3-for-5 over the Gulfstream lawn and has lots of pacesetting speed, so Sayyaaf should have every chance to win right back on Sunday.
When seven horses head to the starting gate for Saturday’s third race at Santa Anita, a seven-furlong allowance optional claimer (post time 4:32 pm), you can bet most eyes will be focused on Shaaz.
Conditioned by hot trainer Bob Baffert (a 40 percent winner at Santa Anita this meet), Shaaz was strong in his Dec. 26 debut sprinting six furlongs at Santa Anita, rallying to win by half a length with strong speed figures of 105 (Beyer) and 104 (Brisnet). Sold for $1.1 million as a juvenile, Shaaz needed time to get started, but his flashy debut hints he’s poised for a strong 4-year-old campaign. The addition of blinkers may sharpen his speed on Saturday.
Soft Power looked like a young turf star in the making when overcoming a troubled trip to win his June 5 debut sprinting seven furlongs at Belmont Park. The Chad Brown trainee prevailed by a nose over next-out winner Ranger Fox.
Soft Power hasn’t run since, but he’s nevertheless favored to win Saturday’s fourth race at Tampa Bay Downs, a one-mile turf allowance (post time 1:42 pm). Brown has been ultra-hot at Tampa, winning at a 46 percent rate, so this looks like an ideal spot for Soft Power to get back on track and hopefully maintain his winning momentum.
Tiz The Bomb
Mo Donegal isn’t the only high-profile juvenile starting his sophomore in the Holy Bull. He’ll be joined by two-time stakes winner Tiz The Bomb, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).
Tiz the Bomb has done his best work on turf, but he’s hardly a one-surface specialist. He broke his maiden by 14 1/4 lengths racing one mile over the Ellis Park main track, so there’s a strong chance Tiz the Bomb will thrive while returning to dirt. He did miss a slated start in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club with a leg issue and is returning from a longer-than-expected layoff, but as long as Tiz the Bomb shows some spark on Saturday, I’ll continue to view him as a potential Kentucky Derby type.
Messier isn’t the only horse Baffert will saddle in search of a 10th Robert B. Lewis trophy. Baffert will also send out Wharton, a debut winner sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita on the final day of 2021.
Wharton was impressive in his maiden score, parlaying pace-tracking tactics into an eye-catching 5 1/4-length victory. Wharton is unproven running long, but the son of Candy Ride clearly has talent and bears watching in his first start against winners.
Which horses do you have your eye on this week?