© Benoit Photo
Welcome to Part 2 of my weekend recap analyzing the results of the racing action on December 19th and 20th. Part 1, which can be read here, recapped the results of the many maiden and allowance races for two-year-olds, while Part 2 will recap the results of the major stakes races. Enjoy!
Last weekend was full of impressive performances in major stakes races, providing an exciting glimpse at some of the horses that could be big stars in 2016. First and foremost among them was Mor Spirit, the Bob Baffert-trained two-year-old that scored a dominating victory in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I). Granted, his winning margin of 1 1/4 lengths wasn’t eye-catching, and neither was his final time of 1:43.54 seconds for 8.5 furlongs, which translated to a Beyer of 88. But visually, Mor Spirit was nothing short of spectacular.
In an effort to determine what is Mor Spirit’s best running style, Baffert instructed jockey Gary Stevens to conserve Mor Spirit near the back of the pack early on, and while Mor Spirit was relatively willing to drop a few lengths behind early fractions of :23.09 and :47.12, it was also clear that he was eager to do more and could have easily been a pace factor if given the chance.
But the most impressive part of Mor Spirit’s performance came in the final half of the race. After racing wide throughout, he rallied smoothly into contention on the far turn, then set off to try and reel in his pace-tracking stablemate Toews On Ice. Now, Toews On Ice is a three-time stakes winner and a very talented horse, and after tracking the modest pace in the Los Alamitos Futurity, he still had something left in the tank and was moving strongly at the top of the stretch. But as well as Toews On Ice was running–and he ended up six lengths in front of the third-place finisher–Mor Spirit seemed to have him measured from the moment he entered the homestretch, and while he had to be urged a bit finish the deal, the impression he gave was that he was just getting started and will absolutely thrive with more time and distance. With this performance, Mor Spirit has vaulted to the top of my Kentucky Derby rankings, and I think he has a huge chance to give Bob Baffert back-to-back wins in the Kentucky Derby.
The last race I’d like to mention is the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds. For a $60,000 stakes race, the Tenacious drew a surprisingly strong field led by Eagle, a recent allowance winner at Churchill Downs. The late-running colt had stamped himself as a Derby contender with a third-place finish in the 2014 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), but was sidelined following a disappointing effort in the LeComte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds. Returning to the track where he suffered his unfortunate defeat, Eagle proved without a doubt in the Tenacious that he’s got his career back on track. Reserved in fifth behind fractions of :24.29 and :47.54, Eagle got a great ground-saving trip and began to move up through six furlongs in 1:12.06, then pounced to a two-length lead in the homestretch and finished well under a hand ride to defeat Freesytler by 1 1/4 lengths, with 2014 Preakness (gr. I) runner-up Ride On Curlin another five lengths back in third.
Trained by Neil Howard, Eagle stopped the clock in a rapid 1:41.63 for a mile and seventy yards, missing the track record by just 0.22 seconds, and received a Beyer of 97. I think this was an effort that Eagle can improve upon next year, and I think we’ll see him in the winner’s circle of a graded stakes races next year. He looks like a good one!
Now it’s your turn! Which horses impressed you the most last weekend?
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