ITM analysis of the top 2-year-olds to watch from: August 28 – September 4
(* denotes a previous ITM Horse to Watch)
*Strong Mandate (colt, Tiznow – Clear Mandate by Deputy Minister) – Who knew this colt, after his subtle fifth-place debut, would develop into one of the top 2-year-olds on the East Coast? D. Wayne Lukas, that’s who. “I thought he’d run huge, I really did,” Lukas said after the son of Tiznow powered through the slop to romp by nine and three-quarters lengths in the Grade 1 Hopeful. “I was a little concerned about the surface; you always are. He had a really good prep race and he hadn’t done anything (wrong) since then. I thought we’d get a good one, but you never expect to waltz home like that, though, ever.”
Strong Mandate, a half-brother of stakes winner Full Mandate and multiple graded stakes winner Newfoundland, is out of Clear Mandate, whose career conquests include the Shuvee, the John A. Morris Handicap and the Three Chimneys Spinster Stakes. Clear Mandate died of foaling complications after giving birth to Strong Mandate.
Jockey Jose Ortiz was positioned perfectly behind Corfu (Malibu Moon) and Wired Bryan (Stormy Atlantic), who prompted very swift early fractions (:22.47, :45.15) that paved the way for an off-pace run. When Strong Mandate made his move in the stretch, it was clear he was in control, as others toiled to make up ground in the muck. He crossed the finish in 1:23.55. Calder invader Casiguapo (Sightseeing) was a distant second. It was a sneaky-good run for fourth by Big Sugar Soda (Ready’s Image), who bumped with Lunarwarfare (War Pass) and was last until the stretch run.
Proven on both a fast surface and an off track, the likely motivator for Strong Mandate was the addition of blinkers in his second start. Lukas described his method. “I like to give all my horses a race without blinkers and let them get dirt in their face and go through the whole drill,” he said. “I didn’t want them all to get left at the gate like they have all season long. Second out, you’ll see all my horses come with blinkers and usually improve, if they’ve got some ability.” The colt boasts a pedigree for longer distances than the seven-furlong Hopeful.
Lukas told the Daily Racing Form he might send Strong Mandate to Santa Anita for the Frontrunner Stakes on Sept. 28, an ideal move that would put him in the front seat for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile bandwagon.
“We were pointing (for) the Breeders’ Cup long before we won this,” Lukas said. “I’m going to look for a two-turn race.”
*Clenor (turf) (filly, Oratorio – Chantarella by Royal Academy) – The juvenile filly turf division was a puzzle until this Doug O’Neill trainee cleared things up with her exciting, come-from-behind win in the Oak Tree Juvenile Fillies Turf Stakes. With Rafael Bejarano aboard, she broke last, but accelerated quickly when urged and bypassed the field en route to a win by more than three lengths. The run mirrored that of the winning trip she took in her maiden win at Del Mar – also at a mile – but this was against much tougher company. She also improved on her final time (1:34.64 from 1:36.13). This Irish-bred filly is adjusting her style to fit these distances and should prefer stretching out. Another advantage she’ll have moving forward is seasoning. She races three times in Ireland, including a third against males in a stakes, before being privately purchased in late July. Stablemate Concave (Colonel John) might like a return to grass, but for now, this is the juvenile turf leader for the fillies heading into the Breeders’ Cup.
“She runs at the proper time in the race and it’s very unusual to see that, especially in a 2-year-old,” O’Neill said. “They (connections in Ireland) had her well prepared . . . As long as she stays healthy, she’s Breeders’ Cup bound.”
Bejarano: “She ran well in that first one here (August 7), but she ran much, much better this time. She’s impressive.”
*Sweet Reason (filly, Street Sense – Livermore Leslie by Mt. Livermore) – There’s “reason” to believe this Leah Gyarmati-trained filly could be a top talent after two eye-catching victories in the slop at Saratoga. Her ability on a fast strip is unknown, but there’s no question she’s talented to handle such obstacles in just two career starts. Her debut-winning late rally in an off-turf event was one of the highlights of the meet, and she followed up by capturing the meet’s marquee race for 2-year-old fillies, the Spinaway. The late closer got the help she needed from a fast pace up front carved by Bahnah (Elusive Quality) and Sweet Whiskey (Old Fashioned), both retreating quickly while Sweet Reason, Stopchargingmaria (Tale of the Cat) and Dancing House (Tapit) moved up. Sweet Reason handled the seven furlongs with ease; she was unchallenged in the stretch and pulled away for an easy win in 1:23.42.
“She trains very well on a dry track,” Gyarmati said. “I’m sort of anxious to see how that translates into what she does in the afternoon on a dry track. But that’s OK; this is good enough for me for now. I can live with this for a while.”
Jockey Alex Solis: “She’s so special. The other morning when I worked her, two horses broke off six lengths in front of her and by the three-sixteenths pole she had caught them and blew by them. That’s what she does. She is just having fun. She runs like she has done it her whole life. She won easily.”
Note this is a toss race for Brazen Persuasion (Indian Charlie), who refused to leave the gate. Dancing House, out of multiple graded stakes winner Tout Charmant, is one to watch as the races get longer.
*Fascinating (filly, Smart Strike – Untouched Talent by Storm Cat) – One of In the Money’s top juvenile fillies to watch on the West Coast, she proved once again she’s running just under her optimal distance lines with a late-charging second to She’s a Tiger (Tale of the Cat) in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante. The half-sister to Bodemeister is being expertly prepared by Bob Baffert for a breakout performance, possibly in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies if she can make the field. The switch to dirt and extended distance will be her game and she now has the experience tracking behind speed. Not to take away from the splendid performance of She’s a Tiger, the three-quarter sister to sharp sprinter Smiling Tiger trained by Jeff Bonde who added blinkers and switched to jockey Gary Stevens for this seven-furlong task. Stevens kept her tracking the blazing pace set by favorite Awesome Baby (Awesome Again), who disappointed when she faded quickly to seventh. She’s a Tiger was clear in the stretch, but Fascinating was getting to her, and she held on for a half-length victory in 1:22.71. Concave (Colonel John), third, ran well but might be a step better on grass. Secret Compass (Discreet Cat), fourth, is a Baffert trainee to watch for the future.
Stevens: “When we got near the three-quarters pole, she wanted to duck in on me. Seems a lot of horses have been trying to do that at the meet. She was swapping leads on me, but she was running strong. You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I think she’ll be better going two turns, where I could drop her head and let her just get into a high gallop like Winning Colors. She’s got a stride on her a mile long and I think she’d love to go on.”
Mike Smith on Fascinating: “Her race was just incredible. She’s only going seven eighths here; just wait until we go two turns. That other mare (She’s a Tiger) had more seasoning on her today, but further on down the line I think it’ll be a different story.”
Bonde: “The blinkers definitely made a difference today. She was dominant over horses up north, but when we came down here she was kind of pricking her ears and looking around. She got stronger and when we added those she got more focused. She was very professional in the paddock. A lot of Tale of the Cats can get a little hot, but she’s got such great mentality and I’m really pleased with her. ”
*Bashart (turf) (colt, War Front – Busy Windsong by Clever Trick) – This Todd Pletcher trainee cruised home with a front-running win going 1 1/16-miles on grass in the Grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes. He’s stamped himself as one of the leading contenders among the juvenile male turf division. Bashart broke his maiden at Saratoga just 11 days prior to the With Anticipation.
This test didn’t offer much from the rest of the field minus River Dancer (Pioneerof the Nile). The David Cannizzo trainee started to make up ground in late stretch, but he was vanned off after the race. The Daily Racing Form’s David Grening reported River Dancer is out six to eight months with a strained tendon. Although he wasn’t going to challenge the winner, Tiger Bourbon (Big Brown) was forced very wide in the stretch and was fourth.
*Dunkin Bend (colt, Dunkirk – Misty Run by Vindication) – The Steve Asmussen trainee is the first stakes winner for new sire Dunkirk after his win against three foes in the six-furlong Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park. The race got off to an eventful start as jockey Gabriel Saez appeared to lose the irons on Run for Logistics, who spotted the field a few lengths but managed to finish third. Dunkin Bend was able to stay in the clear of trouble on the outside and finished in a pedestrian time of 1:11.82.
Miss Behaviour (filly, Jump Start – Successful Romance by Successful Appeal) – Pennsylvania-bred fillies are making their mark, and this speedy Phil Schoenthal trainee is no exception. A clue to her viability in the Sorority Sakes was the fact she beat Gracer (Exchange Rate) in her debut against state-breds at Parx; Gracer would go on to break her maiden impressively at Saratoga. Miss Behaviour snatched an easy lead out of the gate in her debut. This time, she was challenged by Flay Mignon, but dispatched that foe on the turn of the six-furlong test and never relinquished the advantage. Swift early fractions gave way to a geared-down final time of 1:11.54.
“She just has so much natural speed,” said jockey Garry Cruise. “She’s just such a professional for a 2-year-old filly. A couple times she tugged at me, asked for a little bit more and when I gave it to her she went even faster. During the race, I was thinking to myself, ‘could I possibly have this much horse?’ Turns out I did.”
Sunday Rules (filly, Tribal Rule – Sunday Dress by General Meeting) – Is she the best California-bred juvenile filly? The Mike Mitchell trainee is making her case with two straight front-running wins capped by the Generous Portion Stakes. She boasts speed to spare; out of the gate in :21.83 and finishing up in 1:09.56 in a romp.
Jockey Edwin Maldonado: “She’s just a little, bitty thing, but she’s good with it; professional. . . Funny thing about her, she’s going fast but you don’t know it. She goes so smoothly. I thought she was almost crawling out there, then I took a look back at the eighth pole and I saw I was well in front. I hit her a couple of times just to keep her mind on it, but she doesn’t need a lot of help.”
Mitchell: “Her maiden win just blew me away, and I felt that if she ran that race again, she’d win, and she did. I wasn’t concerned (about fast early fractions) because I’d seen her run the last time. I think she’ll run like this on the dirt. I don’t think she’s a synthetic specialist or anything like that. So we’ll take her to Santa Anita and we’ll find a nice race for her.”
*Go Greeley (colt, Horse Greeley – Orchids Halo by Smoke Glacken) – If you’re talking juveniles at Woodbine, this Ontario-bred is likely at the center of the conversation. The gutsy John Ross trainee is four of five with a second in his young career – including three straight stakes wins – and appears to have a refuse-to-lose mentality. Spin the King (Giant Gizmo) looked like he was primed to pull off the upset in the stretch run of the Simcoe Stakes, but Go Greeley continued to make up ground until he caught the leader at the wire to win by a nose. He can win from off the pace or on the lead. His ability at route distances is unknown, but in sprints on synthetic, he’s tough to beat. This is the colt who beat the highly regarded Conquest Two Step (Two Step Salsa) in the Colin Stakes.
*Free Mugatu (colt, Utopia – Thunder Babe by Appealing Skier) – This John Terranova-trained New York-bred jumped from a sharp maiden win in the slop to a victory on a fast track in the Law Enforcement Stakes.
*Granny Mc’s Kitten (filly, Kitten’s Joy – Granny Franny by Grand Slam) – We tabbed this Chad Brown runner as one to watch after her runner-up finish to Miss Frost (Curlin) at 1 1/16-miles in her debut. She turned the tables on Miss Frost and took a step forward with a win from off the pace in the P.G. Johnson Stakes at the same distance. Miss Frost couldn’t hold on this time, and this full-sister to Kittens Dumplings showed some head-turning acceleration in the stretch, finishing in 1:42.07 on the firm turf.
“We’re going to take her down and run her in the Miss Grillo Stakes (October 6, Belmont Park),” owner Ken Ramsey said. “That’s a ‘Win and You’re In’ race, and then it’s on to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Duff One (Harlan’s Holiday) chased in second, but appeared to take a slight misstep in late stretch that thwarted her momentum; one to watch.
Needmore Flattery (filly, Flatter – Kiosk by Left Banker) – This undefeated Ohio-bred is dominating her peers, going five-for-five with four stakes wins at two different tracks. The Tim Hamm trainee most recently won the Tah Dah Stakes at Beulah Park by more than six lengths. Is there anyone in Ohio that can beat her?
Honor Code (colt, A.P. Indy – Serena’s Cat by Storm Cat) – The first true Kentucky Derby buzz of the season erupted Saturday at Saratoga as a debut winner trained by this year’s Derby victor, Shug McGaughey, gave one of the best performances of a juvenile at the meet. The colt showed no interest early in the seven-furlong test and lagged last in the eight-horse field. The frontrunners backed up after a swift pace over the sloppy track, but Honor Code made up an astonishing 22 lengths with a rail rally under John Velazquez that turned heads. He won by more than four lengths and crossed the wire in 1:23.48. He recorded a final split of 12:54.
What’s most interesting about this winner is how he defied the odds. McGaughey 2-year-olds rarely win first out. Also, this colt’s pedigree suggested he might need some time and added distance before reaching this potential. It’s fair to note it was a sloppy track and the field was comprised of all first-timers. Another notable takeaway from the race was stated by NYRA: In seven races run Saturday between 5 ½ and seven furlongs, every other winner was either in front or no more than two lengths behind after a half-mile. That says a lot about what Honor Code had to overcome.
He boasts a versatile pedigree and is half-brother of Noble Tune, a multiple graded stakes winner on turf. McGaughey, however, thinks this colt’s future is on dirt.
“I’ve had him on the turf and I didn’t see much difference in him,” he said. “I think he is a dirt horse. I think he is a two-turn dirt horse in the making, and I think that’s what he’s going to want to do. He won’t be that far back. We’ll be anxious to get him stretched out and see where that takes us.”
“He broke fine. I thought he got a little farther back than Johnny and I thought he would. Obviously, I was very pleased with the result. I thought he was really striding out to the finish line. I think the future is in front of him.”
Jojo Warrior (filly, Pioneerof the Nile – Carson Jen by Carson City) – One of the most impressive debuts of the Del Mar meet by a juvenile – filly or colt – was delivered by this Bob Baffert trainee owned by Zayat Stables. With Martin Garcia aboard, she stalked the hot pace mid-pack before making her move heading into the stretch. It wasn’t just the way she put away the field, winning by more than three lengths in 1:03.67, it was the way she ran with such a determined effort; a fluid stride and a very willing, professional attitude. She’s half-sister to A Z Warrior, E Z Warrior and J Z Warrior, and is one of several juveniles to watch for new sire Pioneerof the Nile, who is doing particularly well with performers on synthetic and turf.
The victory prompted this tweet from a jubilant Ahmed Zayat: “Jo Jo warrior has a great mind, awesome mover, fast and HUGE stride.”
Grand Arrival (colt, Harlan’s Holiday – Grandstone by Grindstone) – Nick Zito anticipated improvement in his second start after a traffic-troubled debut, and this colt delivered with a notable win in the slop at seven furlongs at Saratoga. He tracked pacesetter Can’t Stop the Kid (:22.81, :46.11), reeled him in and drew off to win by more than six lengths.
“(Grand Arrival) had a little trouble,” said Zito of the colt’s debut. “He kind of jumped in the air, and (two horses) squeezed him a little bit. It was good experience, and the next time he ran to what everybody thought he would run to, which is always good because great expectations bring great disappointment.”
Zito said the colt could start next in the Champagne on October 5 at Belmont Park. “It looked like he’d go a distance of ground, which is great,” said Zito. “We’ll see what happens. We’ll see how he develops.”
Also to watch from this test is runner-up Village Warrior (Majestic Warrior), a first time starter for Todd Pletcher. Note that Good Response (Medaglia d’Oro), last, had obvious difficulty with the off track conditions and could move up with a fast track.
*New Year’s Day (colt, Street Cry – Justwhistledixie by Dixie Union) – We tabbed this Bob Baffert trainee after his rallying third-place finish behind winner Indexical in his debut at Del Mar. The stretch out to a mile was just what he needed to break his maiden. Garrett Gomez had to hustle him up to the pace from the far outside post, but instead of rushing to the lead, he neatly stalked in third until he took command at the quarter pole. Although his lead diminished with a late run by Bond Holder, he was much the best and finished in a solid 1:36.93. His dam, multiple graded stakes winner Justwhistledixie, won the Davona Dale and the Bonnie Miss. He could be one of Baffert’s top 2-year-olds so far.
Jedi Mind Trick (gelding, Don’tsellmeshort – Icy ‘n Elegant by Ice Age) – John Sadler’s California-bred has notched three straight wins, most recently a hard-fought victory by a neck against state-breds in the I’m Smokin Stakes at Del Mar. Notable final time of 1:09.76 for the six furlongs.
Candip (gelding, Candy Ride – Indefinable by Storm Cat) – Bret Calhoun’s list of talented 2-year-olds is a long one and includes this speedy Remington Park debut winner. This gelding grabbed the lead, set fast fractions and left the field in his wake, winning by more than four lengths in 1:03.05 for the five and a half furlongs. Keep an eye on this one.
Schoolofhardrocks (colt, Rock Hard Ten – Miss Chapin by Royal Academy) – One of only two newcomers in a maiden test going a mile at Del Mar, this David Hofmans runner flashed promise with a late-rallying, four-wide run to win going away. He’s a bit green and carries his head high, but there’s no doubt he’s a runner. Fantastic pedigree for turf; solid final time of 1:36.85. He’s half-brother of stakes winner Coffee Clique. A definite for the virtual stable.
Harpoon (colt, Tapit – Christmas Star by Star de Naskra) – From the connections of Verrazano, this half-brother of Cuvee and Will He Shine encountered a muddy track in his debut at Saratoga and couldn’t catch Tiznowforamerica (Tiznow). Once he got rolling, he showed late interest; one to watch next out. The pedigree is an interesting blend of stamina and speed, and he’s a visually impressive individual.
Colonel Joan (filly, Colonel John – Live ‘n Laugh by Dixieland Band) – This Eoin Harty-trained late closer has shown improvement with each race; she rallied five-wide to fall just short to Miss Machiavelli (Artie Schiller) going a mile at Del Mar. Also to watch from this race is Tiz the Key (Tiznow), who angled up the rail for third and could also benefit from a stretch-out.
Courtesan (turf) (filly, Street Sense – Lady Discreet by Boundary) – This Christophe Clement runner appreciated the switch from slop to turf and the 1 1/16-miles, coming from off the pace to win a crowded race on the grass rated good at Saratoga. She won a stretch duel on the inside. Her dam, Lady Discreet, is half-sister to Discreet Cat and Discreetly Mine.
Brays Secret (gelding, Denis of Cork – Be Quick Spice by Sea Salute) – This Florida-bred made a statement in his debut sprinting on synthetic at Presque Isle, winning by seven lengths for trainer Thomas Cooper.
Medal Count (colt, Dynaformer – Brisquette by Unbridled’s Song) – Trainer Dale Romans tallied some wins late in the Ellis Park meet, including this interesting runner who emerged victorious in a race taken off the turf. What’s most impressive about this colt is his physical game – he literally bumped a foe out of the way to make a path for himself to the finish line; a true Dynaformer who should enjoy a tussle on grass as well. He’s half to Garden District, who is best known for beating Rachel Alexandra in the Debutante Stakes.
Financial Mogul (colt, Street Boss – Trav n’ Kris by Snow Chief) – The off track might have moved him up, but it’s interesting to note this Rick Violette runner came out of a key Saratoga race won by Big Sugar Soda that produced Grand Arrival and Strong Mandate (July 22).
Roundupthelute (colt, Midnight Lute – In Secure by A.P. Indy) – Usually the Baffert trainees are the first ones out of the gate, but this debuting colt broke last in a nine-horse field and was also squeezed, nullifying his chances in the six-furlong test at Del Mar. Look for him to be better prepared next out. With that pedigree, he could be one who develops with some experience.
Grazenette (filly, Grazen – Malley Girl by Malek) – This California-based made up a lot of ground when rallying from last to third in her debut in the claiming ranks at Del Mar for trainer Mike Mitchell.
Honeychild (turf) (filly, Jump Start – Cinnamon Belle by Belong to Me) – She flashed speed in her debut on dirt, then found traffic trouble in her second start on grass for trainer Ken McPeek. This tough-luck New York-bred is on the verge of a maiden-breaking win.
Commissioner (colt, A.P. Indy – Flaming Heart by Touch Gold) – A runner-up in his debut at a mile and a winner at 1 1/8-miles, he’s not likely part of Todd Pletcher’s A-team, but he’s a grinder who can win on his stamina alone.
Ami’s Holiday (colt, Harlan’s Holiday – Victorious Ami by Victory Gallop) – In the words of Woodbine race caller Dan Loiselle, he came running up the rail “like an old horse.” This newcomer ran like a pro in his debut for Josie Carroll.