ITM analysis of the top 3-year-olds to watch from Feb. 20 – 26 (* denotes a previous ITM Horse to Watch)
*Orb (colt, Malibu Moon – Lady Liberty by Unbridled) – The Fountain of Youth winner jumped up from the allowance ranks to claim the 50-point prize for trainer Shug McGaughey. He benefited from the meteoric pace scenario set by Majestic Hussar, with Violence right behind – the perfect setup for the closing finish and the astute tactics by John Velazquez, who got him off the rail and put him on the outside in the stretch. Solid final time of 1:42.24 for the 1 1/16-miles. The race didn’t quite simulate what you’ll likely see on the first Saturday in May, however, and this colt has a few quirks that could prove bumps in the road; mainly gate issues in the past and slow starts (which seem to have been rectified) and his penchant for “needing to be on the outside.” Versatility is an important necessity for a Derby winner. McGaughey said Orb could go in the Florida Derby; taking a wait-and-see approach. High dosage of 3.21.
“I would never have thought when I brought him down here that he’d be where he is today,” McGaughey said. “He just kind of grew up.”
Violence suffered a fracture in his left front leg and is off the Kentucky Derby trail. Speak Logistics ran well for third, but he doesn’t boast a strong long-distance pedigree moving forward. Majestic Hussar must learn to relax if he’s going to try to wire a field in route races.
Ive Struck A Nerve (colt, Yankee Gentleman – Ranaway by Cryptoclearance) – Surprise longshot winner of the Risen Star appears to have come out of nowhere, but should he have been 135-1? He boasted more back class than many of his foes, as several were allowance and maiden winners. The move to James Graham – one of the top riders at Fair Grounds – and an affinity for the surface were also elements of the win. Is the new Derby points leader a contender or pretender? He has a solid pedigree with some stamina influences on the dam side, but his dosage is a borderline 3.67. If all goes to plan, he’ll be going into the Derby with 10 starts, so there’s the element of fatigue. Dirt is his preferred surface. Overall, he looks to be a better 3-year-old who’s matured and finally got a clean trip. Derby material? Tough to take him for the first Saturday in May.
The ones to watch out of this race are Normandy Invasion (explained here: http://inthemoneypost.com/the-case-for-normandy-invasion/) and Code West, who was beat by just a nose.
*Countess Curlin (filly, Curlin – Profit Column by Private Account) – In the Money tabbed this filly as one to watch after her impressive debut win, and since then, she’s notched two more victories, including the Island Fashion Stakes at Sunland. This filly looks to be very talented and will be a top contender in the Sunland Oaks, her likely next start for Steve Asmussen. Could the Kentucky Oaks be in her future? http://inthemoneypost.com/countess-curlin-an-under-the-radar-oaks-contender/
*Unlimited Budget (filly, Street Sense – Unlimited Pleasure by Valid Appeal) – Todd Pletcher’s Florida-bred showed no rust from the layoff and powered her way home in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes. Good final time of 1:45.38 for the 1 1/16-miles (compared to 1:44.52 for the Risen Star). No flaws in three starts, she handles long distances and has had a well-timed campaign headed to the first Friday in May. Good late run from runner-up Promise Me More in her second start off the layoff.
*Live Lively (filly, Medaglia d’Oro – Glacken’s Gal by Smoke Glacken) – She was expected to do well in the Davona Dale, but this? Mark Hennig’s freewheeling filly got the jump on the rest of the field – including classy Dreaming of Julia and promising Private Ensign – and never looked back. She posted an eye-catching final time of 1:42.30, just shades off the Fountain of Youth. Her times have always been above par. Legitimate Kentucky Oaks contender due to her speed, versatility and ability to adapt to various pace scenarios.
Agent Scully (filly, Johannesburg – Causin a Storm by Giant’s Causeway) – A multi-surface runner, 3 of 4 at Turf Paradise, who romped by more than six lengths in the Arizona Oaks for trainer Robertino Diodoro.
Persuasive Paul (colt, Olmodavor – Witch of the Air by Lure) – Another one of Super Ninety Nine’s victims who returns to win, this Doug O’Neill runner sat mid-pack while a host of rivals battled for the lead on a solid pace in the Turf Paradise Derby. He made his move to power past Brokered and was doing his best running late in the 1 1/16-mile jaunt.
*Dry Summer (ridgling, Any Given Saturday – Greenstreet by Street Cry) – Formerly based in California, he’s found a home at Sunland Park, where he’s 2 for 2 after a 1 1/2-length win in the Mine That Bird Derby. Show Some Magic put up a fight until the final strides, when this Joel Marr runner pulled away. Not a strong field and the top two set themselves apart.
*Reaching Out (colt, Big Brown – Touch too Much by Holy Bull) – This New York-bred didn’t fire on the off track in the Damon Runyon, but he bounced back to win over a track rated ‘good’ in an allowance at one mile, 70-yards. He won in front-running style and by a 7 1/2-length margin. The field wasn’t strong, but he certainly looks like one who could handle added distance.
*Keep Bustin (filly, Bustin Stones – Shuffle the Deck by High Yield) – Bruce Levine’s undefeated New York-bred filly continues to dominate her state-bred competition. She’s 3 for 3 and has posted two wins at the allowance level. One of many nice prospects for sire Bustin Stones.
*Ground Transport (colt, Big Brown – Extry by Broad Brush) – Michael Stidham’s very promising runner has put together two straight impressive performances at one mile, 70 yards at Fair Grounds. In his most recent allowance win, he stalked until late in the stretch, when he caught Winning Note who was freewheeling on the lead. Although he’s yet to be tested, this colt exudes talent. His times are solid and he should have no trouble stretching out to at least 1 1/8-miles. His only loss was in his debut – behind Departing. He’ll be a live contender if he tries the Louisiana Derby.
Sunbean (colt, Brahms – X Strawdnair by Malagra) – Who knows what this spunky Louisiana-bred would’ve done in the Risen Star, as he scratched from the main show because of a far outside post. Instead, he played against the local competition and dealt them another lopsided loss, rambling home by more than four lengths in the Gentilly Stakes. That increases his win streak to three.
When asked if Sunbean would’ve tried the Risen Star if not for the post, owner Evelyn Benoit of Brittlyn Stable said: “Yes, I wasn’t scared. It’s not about whether we would have won or lost; it’s about showing that Louisiana can put an animal out there that’s as competitive as Kentucky or New York and we will do that.” He could get his chance in the Louisiana Derby.
*Deceptive Vision (filly, A.P. Indy – Eye of the Sphynx by Smart Strike) – The classy Ontario-bred needed every step of the one mile, 70 yards to get past a game Irish Lute over the muddy surface, and she came through for her second straight win.
Tread (filly, Arch – Scoot Yer Boots by Seeking the Gold) – The Claiborne/Al Stall connection strikes again with this lightly raced filly. She flashed promise in a runner-up showing in her debut and followed up with a wire-to-wire romp at six furlongs. Final time of 1:10.32 is solid for the surface and class level.
Illusion Confusion (colt, Mineshaft – Classy Charm by Silver Charm) – It was obvious from the start this first-timer was getting acquainted with his new job. He was left unprepared at the gate, breaking last after missing the start, but made up ground in the 1 mile, 70-yard challenge. He finished third behind winner Hard Aces and runner up Smooth Stone. The win by Hard Aces flatters ITM Horse to Watch Perfect Title, as he was third to him last out. Great routing pedigree for this Edward Johnson runner.
Irish Presence (filly, Midnight Lute – Proper Form by Deputy Minister) – These Midnight Lute runners are fierce. The Eoin Harty trainee, after being mid-pack in the six-furlong race, dropped to last with five-sixteenths left and appeared done. She re-rallied, forcing her way through a small seam. She checked off heels but kept going, meeting up for a head-to-head duel with Power of Ten to the wire. One gutsy filly who is 2 for 2 at Golden Gate.
Crop Report (turf) (colt, Medaglia d’Oro – Amarillo by Crafty Propector) – Last-to-third voyage was an excellent educational experience in the U.S. debut of this highly-regarded Team Valor product. He hit the gate at the start and was left far behind the field, but mustered a head-turning rally in the stretch. Note when Joel Rosario elects to split horses instead of going wide in the final sixteenth. He looks talented; dirt is an unknown.
Black Onyx (turf) (colt, Rock Hard Ten – Kalahari Cat by Cape Town) – A Rock Hard Ten first-time turf is almost as appealing as a Kitten’s Joy turf/poly debut, and with a consistent colt like this Kelly Breen runner, it’s a good bet. A toss race for sixth-place runner Starship Zorro, who clipped heels and almost went down in the first turn.
Forever Thing (turf) (colt, Tapit – Liberty Flag by Kingmambo) – The connections of Violence campaign this good-looking prospect, who was a rallying second in a one-mile turf test in his debut. Pedigree leans turf, but dirt certainly not out of the question and he has an outstanding dosage (1.96).
*Ruble (colt, Exchange Rate – Silent Street by Street Cry) – Efficient, front-running win for this blinkered Ian Wilkes trainee in his fourth start; he covered the six furlongs in an impressive 1:09.89. A definite for the virtual stable.
Hot Tempo (turf) (filly, Heatseeker – Garden Music by Pivotal) – A move from dirt to Gulfstream turf has produced results for this Barclay Tagg runner. She was a good fourth in her second start and followed up with a fast-closing win from the back of the pack going a mile.
Devious d’Oro (filly, Medaglia d’Oro – Hafifah by Machiavellian) – Drawn wide and sent off in her debut at 19-1, this Donnie von Hemel runner gobbled up ground in the stretch with a late rally from fifth to win going six furlongs. Outstanding pedigree is versatile and could also lean turf.
*Double Tapped (filly, Tapit – Fun House by Prized) – Paddy O’Prado’s half-sister looked rested and ready after a long layoff, winning by more than three lengths in front-running fashion on dirt. Tough to gauge if she’s a multi-surface talent as she hasn’t fared as well on turf, but was taking on tough foes on grass. Steve Asmussen is loaded with promising fillies.
Summerstar Bird (turf) (colt, Birdstone – Smashing Halo by Halo) – Very impressed by this first-time starter for Michael Stidham, whose super stride was on display in the stretch of the one-mile race. He benefited from a smart rail run by jockey Paul Nolan; good time of 1:38.45 as the only newcomer against a field of experienced foes. Pedigree loaded with stars like Halo and Explodent. Note that due to the rains in New Orleans affecting the turf, many Fair Grounds-based trainers are shipping their grass contenders to Sam Houston. Keep a close eye on that track’s turf races.
Spellbound (filly, Bernardini – Layreebelle by Tale of the Cat) – She’s really come into her own as a 3-year-old, winning two straight and running confidently from off the pace in sprints at Santa Anita. Both wins for the Richard Mandella trainee were at a mile and with similar times, but her closing split was faster in this most recent start against winners (11.97, compared to 13.27 on Jan. 4).
Dads Caps (colt, Discreet Cat – Seeking the Silver by Grindstone) – Notable debut at the claiming ranks – and nobody grabbed him from trainer Rudy Rodriguez. He bolted to the lead and drew off to win by nearly nine lengths; time of 1:10.05 for the six furlongs is strong for the surface and class level.
*Glowing Ember (colt, Bernstein – Fanfare by Elusive Quality) – This New York-bred continues to improve with each start and has won two straight at Aqueduct for trainer Gary Contessa.
Harlan’s Sweetie (filly, Harlan’s Holiday – Sierra Sweetie by Old Topper) – This Jeff Bonde runner took the inside path to make her late rally, but it proved a troubled trip as she was forced to check sharply, taking her out of stride. She regained momentum, but it was too late, and she wound up fifth behind Life is a Stone. Without the check and traffic trouble, she would’ve had an impact on the trifecta and looks to be an improving filly.
Magical Flute (filly, Midnight Lute – Dahlia Dearest by A.P. Indy) – A runner-up in the claiming ranks in her debut, she has an outstanding pedigree and could develop over time. She was claimed by Lon Wiggins.
Omnitap (filly, Tapit – Classic Olympio by Olympio) – Returning from a long layoff and going back to dirt, this Steve Asmussen trainee gave the best performance of her career so far with a fast-closing second to Alert in Class. This filly started out at Churchill and Saratoga and looks to be improving as a 3-year-old stretching out.
*Chuffed to Bits (turf) (gelding, English Channel – Laurafina by Cozzene) – Tabbed as one to watch after his third-place debut at Hawthorne, he followed up just as expected with a win at Sam Houston going a mile on the grass. He has a trademark late-closing style; another turf winner for jockey Paul Nolan.
*Cash is Queen (filly, Unbridled’s Song – Cash’s Girl by Northern Afleet) – Tabbed after her debut win, she followed up with another good performance on the synthetic. Sedecrem pulled a head in front midway through the stretch, but this Stephen Lyster runner refused to lose and re-rallied to win by more than two lengths.