Photo: Susie Raisher/NYRA
In this bi-weekly series, racing analyst Keeler Johnson shares promising horses from his Handicap Watch List, reviewing riders who have recently caught his eye and previewing horses set to return in the near future.
New to Watchlist
Who is the most accomplished North American turf horse so far this year? It was arguably Count Again, who sandwiched victories in the Grade 3 Thunder Road, the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile and the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile around a compromised pace sixth place (beaten just 1 3 /4 lengths) in the Maker’s Mark Mille (G1).
Count Again’s victory in the Shoemaker Mile on Memorial Day in Santa Anita was eye-catching. Reserved to pace thanks to quick early splits of 22.54 seconds, 45.58 seconds and 1:09.02, Count Again came charging with a furious kick turn down the home stretch, sprinting the final two furlongs in 11 furlongs. .43 and 11.54 seconds by Trakus to beat favorite Smooth Like Strait by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:32.40.
Considering Smooth Like Strait had gone 11 consecutive races without missing out on victory by more than half a length, Count Again’s decisive triumph is remarkable. At the rate Count Again is going, he expects to earn several more graduates before the end of the year.
The Todd Pletcher-trained 2-year-old looked like a potential stakes star on his debut as he sprinted five furlongs Friday at Belmont Park.
Favored 1-5 to four rivals, Forte wasn’t too aggressive early on, settling into third place by 3 1/2 lengths over a first quarter mile clocking 22.43 seconds. But once Forte rode under jockey Irad Ortiz, the son of Violence was unstoppable, passing his rivals to eventually gain 7 3/4 lengths.
— NYRA (??) (@TheNYRA) May 27, 2022
Forte sprinted the final furrow in 12.17 seconds to finish the race in 58.21 seconds. Could 3rd-year Sanford on July 16 in Saratoga be a viable goal?
Recent Watchlist Winners
The rising turf filly produced a terrific toe turn down the home stretch from Santa Anita to upset Gamely (G1) at odds of 5-1.
The opening splits of 23.49 seconds, 47.81 seconds and 1:11.65 weren’t particularly noteworthy for the 1 1/8 mile distance, so Ocean Road – which was running in last place at the start – might have be compromised. Instead, she sprinted the final mile in a blistering 11.26 seconds to secure a half-length triumph over Going to Vegas and Going Global. Ocean Road reached the finish line in a record time of 1:46.66 seconds and looks set to have a strong season under coach Brendan Walsh.
The Churchill Downs standout kicked off his 2022 campaign with victory at his favorite track, rallying to claim the Year 3 winning colors in record time. After settling into fourth place after a first quarter mile of 21.72 seconds, Sconsin moved up to second thanks to a fast half mile of 44.36 seconds, then gradually wore Joyful Cadence for winning by three-quarters of a length in 1:08.18.
Watch Sconsin win the Winning Colors for the second year in a row! pic.twitter.com/xZS665NR1P
— Churchill Downs (@ChurchillDowns) May 30, 2022
A four-time winner at Churchill Downs, Sconsin is on course to surpass $1 million in earnings. She has quietly put together a productive career while facing stiff competition and might be able to win at the 1st grade level if given the right opportunity.
It’s worth a try
The improving 4-year-old ran a brave race in the Gold Cup Hollywood 1 1/4 mile grade 1 race in Santa Anita. He naturally weakened down the home stretch after cutting fast fractions of 22.76 seconds, 46.13 seconds, 1:10.99 and 1:35.85, but was only beaten by one length per stretch There Goes Harvard long shot while shooting 3 1/4 lengths from the rest.
“The Rest” included ranked stakes winners Royal Ship, Stilleto Boy and Spielberg, so we can’t hit the performance produced by Defunded. If he maintains his current fitness level, Defunded can earn a progressive bet before the end of the year.
A lightweight running 4-year-old missed his shot entering stakes company for the Triple Bend (G2) at Santa Anita, weakening from behind at a rapid pace to finish last of six. This effort was a clear step back from Elector’s previous form, so I’ll forgive that effort and see if he bounces back next time.
The seven-time winner of the stake produced a rare miss in the Gamely, finishing third by 1 1/2 lengths while trailing Ocean Road down the home stretch. But Going Global has been a very productive member of my watchlist, and I won’t judge its unusual defeat too harshly. She can bounce back next time.
Followed hot fractions of 20.90 and 44.05 seconds in an optional $25,000 allowance claimant sprinting about five furlongs on the Gulfstream Park turf course, then weakened to finish fifth. It was only beaten to 1 1/4 in length, so we’ll give it another try.
Off the watch list
Couldn’t quite handle the leap into stakes society for Grade 3’s Steve Sexton Mile at Lone Star Park, finishing third by 1 3/4 lengths after going the early pace. Shaaz wasn’t as strong as I had hoped, so I want to see him move on before I play him again.
Which horses caught your eye over Memorial Day weekend?