By J.J. Hysell
Several intriguing 2-year-old races are on tap to close out 2013.
On Friday, attention turns to the ninth race at Fair Grounds, an allowance optional claiming test at one mile and 70 yards.
Gold Hawk, a son of Empire Maker out of the champion mare Caressing, seeks to build on his impressive debut at Churchill Downs in November. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the bay colt has trained steadily over the Fair Grounds surface and retains jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. He is part of a Winchell entry with Zantastical, a son of Zanjero who is 1 for 5.
Bret Calhoun has a formidable duo in the race in Son of a Preacher (Miguel Mena) and Plug Catcher (Rosie Napravnik), both sharp debut winners at Churchill Downs who regressed in their second start. Son of a Preacher, a Florida-bred son of Pulpit, tested turf but didn’t show as much kick with a fifth-place finish. A return to dirt could propel him back to top form.
Albano, brother of Mark Valeski who was third behind Son of a Preacher in that key maiden race, has won two straight. Be Well, second to Son of a Preacher, won his next out and was second to Albano in the Sugar Bowl Stakes.
Plug Catcher’s debut win was over the slop, and he has more to prove as he faded to ninth with no apparent excuse in his first try at two turns on a fast Churchill Downs dirt surface. The son of Roman Ruler remains one to watch here, however, as he has trained superbly over this particular surface and adds blinkers.
Al Stall’s Purple Sky looked like the next big thing with a memorable last-to-first rally at Churchill Downs in his second start. In the same allowance as Plug Catcher’s recent start – won by Almost Famous – the son of Pulpit had some traffic trouble but was flat and finished seventh. He’s had a few works over the surface and Stall has been doing well with his juveniles, so an improved performance would not be a surprise.
Bayou St. John is an interesting contender for trainer Michael Stidham. The son of Bernstein won his debut over this surface and at this distance in an off-turf test that featured mostly experienced foes. If not here, look for this gelding when he does get the call on grass at sprint or middle distances.
Two races at Santa Anita catch the eye. In the third race, Bob Baffert’s The Admiral stretches out to a mile after a rallying third in his debut at six furlongs on synthetic. The half-brother of Madcap Escapade by Giant’s Causeway showed promise in that first run and extra distance on dirt should be his game.
Baffert also entered Icy Ride, a son of Candy Ride who was fifth behind Baffert’s very talented Indianapolis in his debut going six furlongs on synthetic.
Cool Samurai, second to Wicked Strong at a mile at Belmont Park in his debut, should contend for trainer John Shirreffs. Rough Passage, a son of Stormy Atlantic who as third to Beach Hut in his debut, and Fuzzy Logic round out the short field going a mile.
The second race should shed some light on the sixth race, an allowance optional claiming at six furlongs, as there are some parallels. Beach Hut returns here for Baffert along with Chitu. Although not likely to produce a Derby contender, this race features some who could emerge as talented sprint or middle-distance runners.
Beach Hut jumped up to stakes company and two turns off a debut win, and it proved too much for the son of First Defense, who was a lackluster seventh in the Real Quiet Stakes. He should bounce back with a return to dirt, a drop to allowance and the cutback in distance. It’s interesting to note, however, that Baffert is bringing him back in a sprint.
Chitu, a son of Henny Hughes out of the A.P. Indy mare Sea Gift, is a tough one to gauge. He won his debut over highly regarded Yard Line and The Admiral in front-running fashion going six furlongs. On the surface he looks like a solid sprinter, but there’s stamina aplenty on the dam side. Will he go to the front once again?
Street Icon is a valid contender with some very eye-catching works at Hollywood Park in preparation for this, his first race since finishing eighth in the Willard Proctor Memorial in June. In that race, the son of Street Boss was in contention until he suddenly dropped back. The sharp works indicate he’s ready for a comeback.
Papa Turf, fourth to Shared Belief in the Hollywood Prevue, returns to his preferred surface. Golden Gate invader Benny Time, a son of Benny the Bull, is half-brother of Sok Sok, a multiple stakes-winning warrior who was 12 of 52.
Other races of interest include the sixth race at Laurel Park, featuring Magdalena Bay, a Kiaran McLaughlin-trained filly by Distorted Humor making her debut, and the second race at Gulfstream Park.
A one-mile test on dirt, the Gulfstream race features one to watch for the future in Secret Someone. The Bill Mott trainee might not be a first-out winner, but the daughter of A.P. Indy out of Unbridled mare Private Gift is bred to excel at a classic distance.
One of the most anticipated non-stakes juvenile races is slated for Saturday at Santa Anita. Some serious pedigrees among the eight entered in the fifth race, a six-furlong maiden test.
Bob Baffert’s two contenders hail from strong female families. First-time starter Indian Smoke, a son of Zensational, is out of two-time Eclipse Award winner Indian Blessing. All eyes will be on this gray, whose sire dominated the California sprint scene in 2009.
Baffert’s other entry, Pimpernel, is by Elusive Quality out of the Eclipse Award-winning speedy mare Xtra Heat. This colt was third to Top Fortitude in his debut on synthetic at Hollywood.
Both Baffert colts boast super sprint pedigrees. There are a few here who could develop into serious route runners, including trainer Peter Miller’s Garen, a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Invasor by Street Cry who is making his first start.
Another top-notch pedigree – particularly for Churchill Downs – belongs to Chelios, a son of Distorted Humor out of the A.P. Indy mare Grat. Trainer Tom Proctor’s colt gets Gary Stevens for his debut.
Eoin Harty’s Tumbaga, a son of E Dubai, is one who could do well at first asking. Both Gameboy Luke (third) and Cherubim (eighth) exit the maiden race won by Indianapolis.
Two outstanding turf races for juveniles at Santa Anita are the Eddie Logan Stakes (race 4) and a one-mile maiden race (race 6).
In the fifth race at Fair Grounds, an allowance optional claiming sprint on turf, Solitary Ranger makes his first start since a disappointing ninth in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. He’ll face Gun Roar – a son of Bernstein making his grass debut (often a winning angle) – and speedy Florida-bred Copy Catter.
Other juvenile races of interest include: a full field of turf runners in the sixth race at Gulfstream, the Maryland Juvenile Championship Stakes at Laurel, the Red Hedeman Mile at Sunland and fillies in the eighth race at Tampa Bay.
Calm Water, a full sister to Emollient, makes her second start – and first on turf – for Bill Mott in the fourth race at Gulfstream Park.
The seventh race at Santa Anita, a six furlong maiden race, could emerge as a key test for fillies.