ITM analysis of the top 3-year-olds to watch from Feb. 27 - March 5 (* denotes a previous ITM Horse to Watch)
*Vyjack (gelding, Into Mischief – Life Happened by Stravinsky) - He showed a new dimension in the Gotham by coming from far off the pace and surging late. In the past, the Rudy Rodriguez trainee preferred to hang closer to the pace or be on the lead. The late acceleration under new jockey Joel Rosario was impressive, although he did give rallying Elnaawi a twirl when he ran by him. Notable time of 1:44.09 for the 1 1/6-miles is strong for the inner track surface. He’s undefeated in four starts and has faced most of the New York-based powerhouses, minus Revolutionary who is now Florida-based, and he beat Fountain of Youth champ Orb in his debut.
Vyjack is talented and versatile. He wields an impressive stride and galloped out well after the Gotham. All four wins, however, have come at Aqueduct, so shipping and another surface are unknowns. He’s also only faced a small sample of the 3-year-olds on the trail. How would he match up against some of the top-tier colts and geldings based in Florida, California and Arkansas? He needs to ship and perform well before being declared a top Derby contender.
“I was looking for him to run that way, taking dirt in the face because we have been working with him like that,” Rodriguez said after the Gotham. “He’s a type of horse where if you grab him, he wants to go, go, go. I told that to Joel, and I guess he just grabbed the reins. He said he was a little concerned because when the other horse pushed him outside he was (wider than he wanted to be), but it looked like he did everything he was supposed to do. We were very, very happy to see him do what he did (Saturday), especially when everything was winning close to the pace.”
Rodriguez indicated Vyjack has matured during the time between the Jerome and the Gotham.
“His mind is more settled,” said Rodriguez. “Pretty much, you have to let him do what he wants to do without pushing him.”
Remsen winner Overanalyze had no visible excuse for his lackluster fifth-place finish from a far outside post and shipped back to Florida for Todd Pletcher.
“He pulled up great,” said Whit Beckman, assistant to Pletcher. “No real excuse for him from a physical standpoint.”
The one to watch coming out of this race is third place finisher Elnaawi, a son of Street Sense who is a half-brother to To Honor and Serve and was the In the Money Live Longshot for the Gotham. He was hampered by a bad start, had a wide trip and was affected by Vyjack’s surge when embarking on his stretch run. He needs some time to mature, and even if he doesn’t make the Derby, this is a horse to watch for the future.
“Great run, we were happy with him,” Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, said of Elnaawi after the race. “He appears fine now and the plan is the Wood.”
*Up With the Birds (turf) (colt, Stormy Atlantic – Song of the Lark by Seeking the Gold) – No rust after a nearly four-month layoff for this Ontario-bred, who rallied from last turning into the stretch to nab Animal Style by a head at the wire in the Black Gold Stakes. The versatile Malcolm Pierce trainee, making his first start outside of Woodbine, was cutting back from 1 1/8-miles in the Coronation and handled the seven and a half furlongs on soft turf. He’s probably more suited for a one mile to 1 1/8-miles. Solid runner-up performance from ITM Horse to Watch Animal Style, who appeared to lose focus while alone in the stretch, but was strong on the gallop out.
Pierce said he’s hoping for a Queen’s Plate run for Up With the Birds with a possible prep at Keeneland.
*Rydilluc (turf) (colt, Medaglia d’Oro – Swift and Classy and Clever Trick) – In the Money tabbed him as one to watch after his maiden win and as a stakes-quality rising star after an impressive allowance win (http://inthemoneypost.com/rydilluc-confirms-his-star-status-with-palm-beach-win/). He backed up that praise when he dominated the Palm Beach Stakes on grass at 1 1/8-miles in a display of effortless power. Jockey Edgar Prado delivered a perfect trip, positioning the Gary Contessa trainee just behind Dad’z Laugh and making an early move in the far turn for the lead. No rival could catch him, not even the talented Charming Kitten, who finished three-and-a-half lengths back in second. Although this wasn’t a stellar field with the absence of such stars as Balance the Books and Noble Tune, it was an outstanding show of athleticism and class for such a lightly raced prospect.
“You see what he looks like turning for home with the stride he’s got,” Contessa said. “He’s an amazing horse.”
Although he was a lackluster fifth in his dirt debut at Belmont, Contessa believes that’s a toss race as he “was a handful” in the paddock that day. Tough to judge a horse’s surface preference from a debut race, as many horses need time to acclimate to their surroundings. He has a pedigree that suggests he could handle dirt and definitely some added distance. The most appealing attributes of this prospect are his high cruising speed and his ability to track the pace. Unlike Orb or Normandy Invasion, for instance, he’s not a late closer who is dependent on a pace scenario and vulnerable to traffic issues, and he’s not a need-the-lead type. The future is bright for this rising star, who is likely to make his first start on a synthetic surface in the Spiral Stakes on March 23.
*Clearly Now (colt, Horse Greeley – Bend by Arch) - With a bold, four-wide move in the stretch, this Brian Lynch trainee took control from a dueling Singanothersong and Tulira Castle and powered home to win by 1 3/4 lengths in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes. His win boosts the stock of Holy Bull winner Itsmyluckyday, as this Kentucky-bred – who was very sharp early in his career on synthetic at Woodbine – was third in that race.
“With a 3-year-old you’re always tempted to think of the big races,” Lynch said. “We’ll see how he comes out of it and talk about what’s next. If we decide to try him long again, the Florida Derby is here and would be a possibility. Who knows? He might turn out to be a top turf miler. We’ll see.”
Jockey Luis Saez: “We had a little trouble at the half-mile pole. When I took him out he was flying. I like this horse a lot. I knew I had a good chance from his last race. He finished third last time running against Itsmyluckyday and he needed that race, so I knew he’d do well today.”
*Fusaichiswonderful (filly, Fusaichi Pegasus – Cry Baby by Dance Brightly) - So Many Ways owned the buzz coming in off the layoff in the Primal Force Stakes, but it was this Todd Pletcher trainee who was the head-turner. The Kentucky-bred took control from Vitameta and drew off to win the six-and-a-half furlong test by more than five lengths. She posted a strong time of 1:16.58. So Many Ways got off to a slow start and appeared sluggish in the stretch, possibly needing a race after the long layoff from the Spinaway win in September.
After going undefeated in five starts in Puerto Rico, Fusaichiswonderful was fourth behind Kauai Katie in the Forward Gal. It’s likely she needed to adjust to her new surroundings – but more likely Kauai Katie is a monster sprinter. Fusaichiswonderful hasn’t raced at a distance longer than seven furlongs, but indications are she’ll handle a stretch out.
*Walkwithapurpose (filly, Candy Ride – Lightning Lydia by Broad Brush) - Sagamore’s amazing filly continues to wear the crown of the “Queen of Laurel” after extending her record to five for five at the track and recording her most impressive win yet. The competition proved no match for the Ignacio Correas runner, who romped by more than nine lengths going a mile. She’s a joy to watch.
*Titletown Five (colt, Tiznow - D’Wildcat Speed by Forest Wildcat) - In his first race since surgery for a bone chip in the knee, he dueled Get Happy Mister through a swift early pace of :22.62, snatched the lead and didn’t surrender to King Henny until the final furlong. Good performance considering it’s his first try back and he should improve with time; he’ll have to settle and make more strides, however, to match foes on the Derby trail who are far ahead of him.
“He needed this race a little more than I expected,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
*Departing (gelding, War Front - Leave by Pulpit) - After his eye-catching, easy win in the Texas Heritage Stakes, one is left wondering what impact he could’ve had if he’d drawn better and competed in the Risen Star. There’s a chance the Al Stall trainee could take on the top competition in his next start, and it’s likely he’ll play a key role wherever he goes. He’s undefeated in three starts, and although he’s yet to face any top-tier rivals, he did beat the impressive Ground Transport in his debut. This prospect boasts an outstanding pedigree that’s a blend of speed and stamina and leans to surface versatility as well.
*Beholder (filly, Henny Hughes – Leslie’s Lady by Tricky Creek) - With her throat ulcer dilemma behind her, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies champion was back in fine form and it showed in a scintillating edition of the Las Virgenes. Richard Mandella’s runner bounced back from her second place showing in the Santa Ynez with a runaway win by 3 3/4 lengths. She covered the mile in a solid 1:36.14. In all four of her wins, she’s only trailed a horse once, and that was only at first call of her debut at Del Mar. If she gets a jump on the field, she can carry that speed – but could she rate behind runners if necessary? Can she be multi-dimensional? The Santa Anita Oaks on April 6 is next.
*General Election (colt, Harlan’s Holiday – Menekineko by Kingmambo) - He didn’t seem to care for the Fair Grounds surface and bounced back when moved to synthetic in the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway. The Kellyn Gorder runner circled eight-wide and avoided traffic trouble in the stretch to win by 1/2-length. A nod of one to watch goes to third-place finisher For Greater Glory, who was bumped hard in the stretch by Takin the Sloroad, altered course and still accelerated to the wire.
General Election seems to have improved with the surface switch and could be a threat in the Spiral Stakes. Notable is how this prospect debuted with a sharp three-length win at Churchill Downs in November.
“He won his first race on dirt, so we thought he just didn’t get hold of the racetrack at Fair Grounds,” Gorder said. “We tried blinkers (in his second race there) and that didn’t work. We were deciding between the OBS Stakes or here, and we decided to send him here.”
*Doc Almon (colt, Any Given Saturday – Guidebook by Notebook) - He’s found his stride – and more level company – and won two straight at Fair Grounds, including a six-furlong allowance win in 1:10.96. Bret Calhoun’s prospect was third behind Proud Strike and third behind Risen Star winner Ive Struck a Nerve in the maiden ranks.
*Golden Joop (filly, Medaglia d’Oro - Joop by Zilzal) - The third-place debut at Aqueduct was just a test run for this Kiaran McLaughlin prospect, who is a half-sister to Hawthorne Gold Cup winner Redding Colliery. She shipped to Laurel and won by more than 15 lengths in front-running fashion at 1 1/16-miles. The time was a bit on the slow side (1:48.07), but this is a filly with potential, especially for longer distances.
*Regal Joanne (filly, Street Boss – Se Bella by Forestry) - One of In the Money’s Steve Asmussen Fillies to Watch (http://inthemoneypost.com/under-the-radar-steve-asmussens-3-year-old-fillies/), she bounced back from a troubled-trip third last out with a solid win at six furlongs.
*Hung the Moon (filly, Malibu Moon – Storm Breaking by Storm Cat) - She was eye-catching in her second start and followed up with yet another professional win for trainer Donnie Von Hemel. She prefers to close wide from off the stretch, and when Little Miss Fitz became leg-weary and started wandering, Hung the Moon remained straight and focused to the wire in the 1 1/16-mile journey.
Master Appeal (colt, Successful Appeal – Mrs. Greeley by Mr. Greeley) - He was a fast-closing second behind Summer Exclusive in his debut for trainer Jim Cassidy going six furlongs at Santa Anita. The full brother to Closing Argument, runner-up in the 2005 Kentucky Derby, is just one of several intriguing pedigrees to come out of this race. Also interesting is Bob Baffert’s Wine Stock, ninth, a half-brother to 2012 Super Derby winner Bourbon Courage.
Just Win Baby (ridgling, The Daddy – The Shulamite by Event of the Year) - He pulled off the 28-1 shocker in his second start and looked much the best in the 1 1/16-mile test for trainer Oscar Garcia. He’s slated to try the Sunland Derby next, where he’ll likely be long odds again.
Kyriaki (turf) (filly, Scat Daddy – Tally Ho Dixie by Dixieland Band) - Toss that debut on the off-track, off-turf surface and check out the second start for Peter Eurton’s filly. She charged down the lane with Foxy Boss as her target, caught her before the wire and held off the late-rallying Showgirl Form. Impressive for a 1 1/8-mile test – she boasts stamina and a versatile pedigree. Nice debut second for Showgirl Form, a daughter of Dynaformer trained by Tim Yakteen.
Brainy (filly, Lemon Drop Kid – True Legacy by A.P. Indy) – Jaw-dropping moment when this Curtis Garrison trainee, making her second start at Tampa Bay, rallied from eighth place to meet the leaders late in the stretch in a six-furlong test. She needed just a little urging in the final furlong, but rushed past With Polish and Indian Spell with a second burst of acceleration. She closed into a solid pace, but not blazing fast. Impressive.
Grand Mere (filly, Bob and John – Petite Princess by Dayjur) - A consistent filly since she came to Aqueduct, this Rudy Rodriguez runner likes to come from off the pace with a late run. She fell just shy of catching a wandering Let Me Entertain U in the one mile, 70-yard Beru Stakes, her first stakes try.
E Quake (gelding, Bernstein – Jungle Queen by Unbridled) - Just when it looked like the field was coming to him after he set swift fractions while loose on the lead, he found another gear and put them away. He won by 10 1/2-lengths over the muddy track for W. Robert Bailes; it wasn’t the off-track that moved him up, as he was no threat in his debut over a muddy track. It’s possible he acclimated to the new surroundings of Charles Town.
Banner Boy (gelding, Sky Classic – Jewel of the East by Kris S.) - This consistent Maryland-bred, trained by Dane Kobiskie, has won three of his last four races with one second. He traveled to Charles Town for the first time and stung the competition with a win at seven furlongs.
Pick of the Litter (colt, Kitten’s Joy – Eagle Sound by Fusaichi Pegasus) – Tough to judge by a four-horse field, but the fact he went 1 1/8 in 1:49.35 and won by more than seven lengths in his second start is a statement.
R Next Escapade (filly, Brother Derek – Valid Silk by Valid Appeal) - Astute claim by Wayne Catalano as she romped by more than seven lengths in her debut. Sharp time of 1:10.38 for the six furlongs.
Fifty Pesos (gelding, Even the Score – My Three Sisters by Defrere) – This Texas-bred didn’t flinch while riding the rail in his debut at five and a half furlongs for trainer Jack Bruner. He benefited from an advantageous break, but it looks like the race took nothing out of him. He could make some noise on this circuit.
Surfcup (turf) (colt, Unusual Heat – Omi Princess by Runaway Groom) - He’s now 2 for 2 on turf after a determined win at Santa Anita for trainer Bob Baffert.
Devious Chic (filly, Harlan’s Holiday – Skyscape by Marquetry) - She didn’t show much in her first two starts on turf, and in her dirt debut she flashed early speed before fading to fourth. She’s one to watch after being claimed by Doug O’Neill and Reddam Racing. She’s half-sister to Sky Cape, who won several stakes including the Grade 2 La Jolla.
Corlett Drive (filly, Pleasant Tap – Azure Spring by Open Forum) - John Sadler’s runner is still quite green, but she’s improving with each race. She likes to come from off the pace and has a good closing kick; one to watch when she stretches out.
Cottagecupcake (filly, Stormello – M G on Tap by Pleasant Tap) – Notable debut against mostly newcomers by Dallas Barton’s Kentucky-bred; she was extending her lead at the wire in the sprint.
Mythical Man (turf) (colt, Broken Vow – Miss Abita by Dixie Union) – He’s been on the improve since returning from a layoff to Tampa Bay, and he posted his most impressive win to date in a one mile test on grass. The Kathleen O’Connell runner covered the distance in 1:36.67. His win flatters ITM Horse to Watch Night Warden, a rising star on turf for Bill Mott.