Weekend Recap Part 4: Rafting Breaks Through with Stakes Win

Weekend Recap Part 4: Rafting Breaks Through with Stakes Win

This is the fourth and final part of my massive Weekend Recap analyzing the results of the U.S. racing action during Thanksgiving weekend. Today’s recap will detail the results of the fantastic two-year-old races that were held at Gulfstream Park West on November 28th. Part 1, which can be viewed here, recapped the racing action on November 25th and 26th;Part 2, which can be viewed here, recapped the major races on November 27th, 28th, and 29th, including the Clark Handicap and Cigar Mile; Part 3, which can be viewed here, analyzed the results of the “Stars of Tomorrow” card at Churchill Downs. Enjoy!

Since the days have flown by and it’s already Friday–and another weekend is practically here!–I shall attempt to make Part 4 of this recap a bit shorter than the first three, although there is definitely a lot to discuss!

On the same day as the Stars of Tomorrow card at Churchill, Gulfstream Park West held a similar card featuring eleven races for two-year-olds, including several stakes races. Perhaps the most intriguing was the one-mile Smooth Air Stakes, which drew a quality field led by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) pre-entrant Fellowship and Saratoga maiden winner Rafting. The latter entered the race off a respectable third-place finish against Gun Runner and Uncle Jerry in an 8.5-furlong allowance race at Keeneland, and parlayed this effort into a solid victory in the Smooth Air. With Edgar Prado in the saddle, the Graham Motion-trained colt was reserved three lengths back through an opening quarter-mile in :24.82, but progressed smoothly through a half-mile in :49.75 to take command after six furlongs in 1:14.64. Partly as a result of this modest pace, Rafting had plenty left in the tank for the homestretch, drawing off through a respectable final quarter in :25.36 to defeat the late-running Fellowship by 2 1/4 lengths in the time of 1:40 flat. Now, he didn’t receive a great Beyer speed figure–just a 74–but in ways, he reminds me of Motion’s capable runner Ring Weekend, who won the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) in 2014 and later ran fifth in the Preakness Stakes. Time will tell, but Rafting has impressed me since his maiden win at Saratoga, and I think he could continue progressing next year and be a factor in races like the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) and Tampa Bay Derby.

Another major stakes race on the day was the one-mile Pulpit Stakes on turf, in which Todd Pletcher’s Mountain Music Man–unbeaten winner of the Awad Stakes–was the odds-on favorite at 9-10. But while he ran well to take the lead after six furlongs and hold it until the eighth pole, he was passed in the final furlong and tired to finish third by 1 1/4 lengths as Mike Maker’s Swagger Jagger swept to victory. Swagger Jagger was always in the front half of the field, looming a couple lengths off the lead before producing a big finish to rally and win by a neck over Chad Brown’s Life Imitates Art, a winner at Belmont that surprisingly went off at nearly 9-1 before producing a big finish to vie for the lead and just miss holding off Swagger Jagger.

The interesting thing about Swagger Jagger is that while his pedigree suggests that success on dirt isn’t out of the question–he’s by Crown of Thorns out of a Congaree mare–but so far in his career, he’s 0-for-3 on dirt and 2-for-3 on turf, with his lone defeat coming in a quality maiden special weight at Saratoga. Perhaps he’s just getting better with time and will eventually handle dirt with success, but for the time being, he looks bound for the major turf stakes races coming up at the Gulfstream winter meet.

Later on the card, the capable Full Salute won the six-furlong Buffalo Man Stakes with a big late run. A very consistent runner that finished second to the talented Sunny Ridge in the Sapling Stakes earlier this year, Full Salute was only the second choice in the Buffalo Man, but after rating about four lengths behind fractions of :22.16 and :45.35, he rallied well through the homestretch to make up 2 1/2 lengths in the final furlong and draw off to win by a length over pace-setting Cat Tree. Trained by Eddie Plesa Jr., Full Salute has raced exclusively in sprints thus far, but it will be interesting to see if he is able to stretch out in distance down the road.

Also on the card were a pair of maiden special weight turf sprints at five furlongs and 7 1/2 furlongs, although the latter really qualifies as more of a middle-distance race than a true sprint. The five-furlong race was won by the Dane Kobiskie-trained first-time starter While Ye May, who tracked the pace before taking command to win by 1 1/2 lengths in the good time of :57.19. It was particularly impressive that While Ye May was able to accelerate the final furlong in about :11 2/5, suggesting that While Ye May could be one to watch in turf sprints down the road. He received a Beyer of 82 for his effort.

Dane Kobiskie won the 7 1/2-furlong maiden special weight as well with Hear You Me, who flashed excellent speed to settle in second before out-dueling the late-running Mark Casse-trained first-time starter Chief Admiral to prevail by three-quarters of a length. With Todd Pletcher’s Ransack finishing a close third, it’s clear that this was a very quality race, and I’ll be curious to see how all of these horses perform further down the road.

And so, after four posts and around 7,000 words, my weekend recap is finally complete! Thanks to all for reading!

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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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