Photo by NYRA/Coglianese Photos/Chelsea Durand
With less than two weeks remaining in the year, a remarkable number of two-year-old races were held last weekend, including the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I). We’ll recap that race in Part 2 of this weekend recap and focus Part 1 on the many allowance and maiden races that were held over the course of the weekend.
The action started a day early on Friday with two of the best races of the week, including a one-mile and seventy-yard allowance optional claiming race that featured the proven stakes competitor Tom’s Ready and Rachel Alexandra’s promising half-brother Dolphus. However, both were upset by Pinnacle Peak, a Mike Stidham-trained runner that won in nearly gate-to-wire fashion. After securing the early lead through respectable fractions of :23.76 and :47.69, he was confronted by Dolphus on the far turn and briefly headed through six furlongs in 1:12.72, but Pinnacle Peak showed great determination to turn back Dolphus and hold off a late run from Tom’s Ready to triumph by a neck. The final time of 1:42.90 missed the track record by less than two seconds and translated to a solid Beyer speed figure of 89.
Both Pinnacle Peak and Tom’s Ready ran very well–well enough for Pinnacle Peak to be under strong consideration for the January 16th LeComte Stakes (gr. III)–but the colt that really caught my eye was Dolphus. Coming off of a late-running win in a six-furlong maiden at Fair Grounds, Dolphus showed much more early speed than expected to press the pace, and although he was obviously tiring at the top of the long homestretch, he fought on admirably well to finish third, beaten only 3 3/4 lengths. This was an excellent performance in his first start around two turns, and he strikes me as a grinding type that will get better with more time and distance. I think we’ll see him take a big step forward in his next start, and I think he could be a legitimate Belmont Stakes contender.
There was also a quality allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park on Friday, that being a one-mile event that featured Todd Pletcher’s promising Destin as the 3-10 favorite. Coming off of an impressive win going seven furlongs at Belmont, Destin was expected to win in decisive fashion, but ended up being upset by a 29-1 shot named Golden Ray.
On paper, the pace scenario was highly unusual, and the replay supports the recorded fractions, at least to some extent. One-mile races at Gulfstream as a whole tend to feature quick second quarter-mile fractions, but this allowance race took that to a different level. Early on in the race, the jockeys of the six horses didn’t seem to be in a hurry, letting their mounts settle into stride as Golden Ray grabbed a one-length early lead through an opening quarter-mile in :25.23 seconds. But as the field entered the second quarter-mile, the jockeys of Destin and several other runners–perhaps recognizing that the pace was slow–began urging their mounts to go faster, and the jockey of Golden Ray responded by letting his mount out a notch to maintain a one-length lead through a half-mile in :47.97. This meant that the field had traversed the second quarter in a blazing :22.74 seconds, nearly 2.50 seconds faster than the first quarter, and this may have been Destin’s undoing. Caught three wide while being pressured through this blazing fraction, Destin was having to work hard just to keep up, and a third quarter in a respectable :24.79 sealed the deal. Golden Ray, benefiting from securing an easy early lead, capitalized by setting a fast pace down the backstretch and around the turn, then stayed on well through two more furlongs in :12.79 and :12.98 to defeat Destin by 1 1/4 lengths.
Destin, in turn, deserves a lot of credit for making the finish as close as he did. Turning for home, he seemed to be running out of stream and dropped two lengths behind Golden Ray at the eighth pole, but he managed to re-rally in the final furlong to finish a clear-cut second and might have finished slightly closer if Golden Ray hadn’t drifted out close to home. The final time of 1:38.53 wasn’t anything to write home about (Golden Ray received a Beyer of just 67), but given the highly unusual pace scenario, I think it would be wise to reserve judgement on Golden Ray and Destin until they run again. I have the feeling that they might be better than their final time implies.
On a side note, Trakus–which times the races at Gulfstream using a complete different timer than is used for the official charts–had identical or near-identical fractions for the majority of the race, but posted a dramatically different first quarter-mile fraction. Whereas the Gulfstream timer recorded a fraction of :25.23, Trakus posted a first quarter-mile in :26.70. As mentioned above, it did seem like the horses ran faster in the second quarter-mile than in the first, but not by this much. I’m not sure what the explanation is, but it does seem like something unusual transpired with the opening quarter-mile fraction, which is one reason why I think Golden Ray and Destin may be faster than their final time suggests.
On Saturday at Gulfstream Park, two notable maiden special weights were held. The first, conducted at nine furlongs on turf, featured a field of twelve led by Mark Casse’s Southside Warrior. After racing in ninth through much of the race, Southside Warrior unleashed a terrific turn-of-foot to get up and win by a neck, closing 4 3/4 lengths on the leaders while running the final three furlongs in :34.75 seconds! That’s the kind of acceleration that wins stakes races, and while the modest early fractions (:49.72 and 1:14.16) and firm turf course contributed to his strong, this was still an exceptional performance that stamps Southside Warrior as a colt to watch on turf. Additionally, his pedigree–being by Warrior’s Reward out of a Not For Love mare–suggests that he could be successful on dirt as well, making him an intriguing Derby contender. A race like the Spiral Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park could be a great spot for Southside Warrior to take a shot at earning Kentucky Derby qualification points, especially since the last six Spiral winners all prepped at Gulfstream prior to their Spiral victory.
I should also take a moment to mention runner-up Conquest Sandman, a first-time starter from the barn of Mark Casse that also produced a strong finish to miss winning by just a neck. He’s another that looks like a very promising colt with a bright future, and I don’t think he’ll be a maiden for long.
The other maiden special weight at Gulfstream on Saturday was a 6 1/2-furlong race that saw Avast Matey withstand a fast pace and win by a neck over Todd Pletcher’s late-running first-time starter Mo Power. Visually, it looked like Avast Matey was tiring quite a bit homestretch after carving out fractions of :22.65 and :46.20, but Mo Power still produced a huge finish to gain 6 1/4 lengths on Avast Matey in the final furlong and fall just short of stealing the glory. According to Trakus, he ran his final sixteenth in a strong :06.09 seconds, and it will be interesting to see if he can produce a similar finish in longer races down the road. If he can–and his pedigree suggests that he will be able to go at least a mile and probably farther–he could be one to watch in Derby preps during the next few months.
Up north at Aqueduct, the first-time starters Adventist and Moon Over a Beauty were the winners of two six-furlong maiden special weights. Their respective final times of 1:11.84 and 1:11.93 were similar, but the fractional splits of the races couldn’t have been much more different. Whereas Adventist went fast early and slow late, settling in second behind fractions of :22.85 and :46.43 before running the final two furlongs in about :25 1/5, Moon Over a Beauty ran in opposite fashion, tracking a modest pace of :23.42 and :47.70 before accelerating the final two furlongs in a rapid :24 flat.
The two colts also won by widely different margins. Adventist proved much the best to win by 11 1/4 lengths despite racing greenly, while Moon Over a Beauty had to work hard for his victory, getting up in the shadow of the wire to win by a neck. But both are well-bred runners from prominent New York stables–Adventist is by Any Given Saturday out of a Deputy Minister mare and is trained by Leah Gyarmarti, while Moon Over a Beauty is by Malibu Moon out of a Grand Slam mare and races for Richard Violette Jr.–so I have to think that we’ll see both of these colts on the Derby trail early next year. Stay tuned!
Another notable maiden winner at Aqueduct on Saturday was Awesome Gent, who won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight for New York-breds. A son of Awesome Again trained by Todd Pletcher, Awesome Gent was favored to win and more than lived up to expectations, setting the fastest half-mile fraction of the three maiden races–:46.14–before pulling away in easy fashion to win by 8 1/2 lengths in the time of 1:04.73. That earned him a Beyer of 76, higher than the figures of 74 and 73 earned by Adventist and Moon Over a Beauty, so Awesome Gent is another that could make some noise on the Derby trail next year.
Lastly, I’d like to recap a pair of maiden special weights held at Los Alamitos on Saturday and Sunday. Both were held at six furlongs, although the Saturday race–held shortly after the Los Alamitos Futurity–was conducted over a fast track, whereas the Sunday raced was run over a track labeled “good.”
In the Saturday race, Doug O’Neill’s first-time starter Eddie Haskell–presumably named for the character on the 1950s sitcom Leave it to Beaver–was favored to win, and the son of Square Eddie had no trouble defeating his rivals in impressive fashion. Battling his way to the lead through an opening quarter-mile in :21.42 seconds, Eddie Haskell extended his lead at every call to win by 3 1/4 lengths in the time of 1:10.90. The field probably wasn’t the toughest, but the fact that the other pacesetter finished last by 28 3/4 lengths hints at how impressive Eddie Haskell’s front-running victory was, and my feeling is that Eddie Haskell is yet another Derby contender in O’Neill’s very deep stable of two-year-olds.
Lastly, the Sunday race was led by Bob Baffert’s first-time starter Cupid, but Cupid could only run evenly to finish fourth as Good For It rallied into fractions of :21.67 and :45.39 to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:11.07 seconds. He probably benefited from the fast pace, but his pedigree holds some promise for stretching out in distance, and I’ll be curious to see where he heads next.
My apologies for the length of this post, but I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you’ve found some Derby contenders to add to your watch list! So what do you think–did the 2016 Kentucky Derby winner run last weekend? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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