Up-and-Coming 2yos Impress at Churchill Downs

Up-and-Coming 2yos Impress at Churchill Downs

Breeders’ Cup Photo ©

Although they’ve generally been lost in the shuffle of a few quiet post-Breeders’ Cup weeks, a number of talented two-year-olds with Kentucky Derby potential have impressed in maiden and allowance races at Churchill Downs over the last twelve days. Here’s a quick rundown of their performances to fill you in on the details:

American Dubai: He got a great pace setup in his debut on November 12th, settling in eighth place behind an opening quarter-mile in :21.76, but he took advantage by unleashing a smooth, eye-catching rally to take command and win going away by 2 3/4 lengths. He ran the final furlong in a respectable :12.86 to post a final time of 1:10.77, and as a son of E Dubai–who sired 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Fort Larned–there’s a good chance that American Dubai will be able to stretch out in distance. It could also pay to keep an eye on Beat Goes On, who finished fourth in this maiden race after pressing the pace while racing wide. He stayed on admirably to be beaten just 4 1/4 lengths and should have a big chance to break his maiden next time out with a better trip.

Battle Tap: Coming off of a third-place finish at Keeneland, Battle Tap broke his maiden in impressive fashion going 8.5 furlongs on November 19th, tracking fractions of :24.08, :48.80, and 1:13.81 before easily drawing off to win by 5 1/2 lengths. Granted, he got a very easy trip, and his final time of 1:45.59 wasn’t stellar, but his pedigree (by Smart Strike out of a Tapit mare) has Kentucky Derby written all over it, and his connections (trained by Steve Asmussen and owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds) suggest that we might see Battle Tap in the major Derby prep races at Oaklawn or Fair Grounds this winter.

Hand of Power: He really couldn’t have been more dominant while winning a one-mile maiden special weight on November 14th. Hung wide throughout while staying within striking range of :23.06, :46.83, and 1:12.08 fractions, Hand of Power accelerated strongly entering the homestretch to grab the lead and open up a 2 1/2 length advantage passing the eighth pole. He continued to finish strongly to triumph by 4 1/2 lengths in the sharp time of 1:36.58 seconds, meaning that he ran his final quarter-mile in an impressive :24 1/5. Trained by Ian Wilkes, this son of Candy Ride out of a Mineshaft mare should have no trouble handling the distance of the Kentucky Derby and appears to be a very, very promising candidate for success on the Kentucky Derby trail.

Knights Key: From a visual perspective, it’s hard to top what first-time starter Knights Key accomplished while breaking his maiden sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs on November 20th. A very poor start left him in last place early on, well behind the rest of the runners, but despite chasing relatively modest fractions of :23.06 and :46.85–which should have left him with too much ground to make up–Knights Key swallowed up the field in the final five-sixteenths of a mile, running his third quarter-mile in about :24 flat and his final sixteenth in less than :06 2/5 to get up and win by a neck in the time of 1:18.12 seconds. Very impressive! As a son of Giant’s Causeway out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare, Knights Key is bred to thrive with longer distances, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he fares when stretched out in distance.

Synchrony: After breaking his maiden impressively at Keeneland last month, Synchrony was favored to win a 7 1/2-furlong allowance race on November 14th, but had to work hard to pull it off. After settling at the rear of a six-horse field, Synchrony gradually advanced as the leaders carved out solid fractions of :23.19 and :46.19, then unleashed a strong bid to take a narrow lead from Uncle Walter at the top of the stretch. The latter colt proved tough to beat, battling back gamely through the final furlong, but Synchrony kept his head in front to the wire, running his final three-sixteenths in a rapid :18.35 seconds to prevail in the time of 1:29.30 seconds. Uncle Walter, in turn, finished 6 1/4 lengths in front of the third-place finisher, proving both himself and Synchrony to be very talented runners.

Z Royal: After teaming up with Mr. Z in the Derby preps earlier this year, Zayat Stables and D. Wayne Lukas are back again with Z Royal, who looked good breaking his maiden going a mile on November 14th. Taking advantage of a fast pace (22.94 and :45.94), Z Royal made a wide rally from seventh place to reach striking range in the homestretch, and after a long stretch rally, he managed to take the lead well inside the eighth pole and then hold off a late run from first-time starter Zapperini to win by a neck. His pedigree isn’t the most commercial type–he’s been Eskendereya out of a Monarchos mare–but both Eskendereya and Monarchos were thoroughly proven at nine furlongs and longer, so Z Royal has the pedigree to handle two turns and the longer distances of the Derby prep races. I think we’ll be hearing a lot from him during the coming months!

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin’s quest to become North America’s richest racehorse. 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. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.

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