Catching My Eye: June 25 and 26 at Churchill Downs
Fulsome was off from the gates in last, looking to save ground and close into what on paper appeared to be a fast pace. But after the first call, Ricardo Santana Jr. realized how slowly the pace was developing, and he put his four-year-old into action. From there, Fulsome ran the fastest of the field in each of the last four calls. Tipping off the rail in the backstretch, Fulsome was keen to split foes, but Chess Chief blocked him in, and Santana had to pull back, tucking behind the crowd while waiting for another seam. He had to make a wide move in the second turn, and when he caught up with the leaders, a stretch duel developed with Twilight Blue, who just beat Masqueparade in an allowance on May 13. Fulsome and Twilight Blue battled stride for stride, evenly through the wire, but Fulsome nosed out that game 6-5 foe, who had a perfect pressing trip. Some wins are way more impressive than their speed figures show. This Brad Cox barn beast has the muscle and mind to win.
Top of the Charts
Top of the Charts beat a nice field in the finale at Churchill on Saturday, including the Steve Asmussen trainee Favorite Outlaw, who got the lead but couldn't hold back the classy colt trained by Brian Lynch. With a nice step forward in speed figures from his first to second race, this undefeated three-year-old by Maclean’s Music should be in some interesting sprint races going forward this summer.
Did we just find the next Aloha West? Though the speed figure wasn’t huge, this two-year-old out of Wayne Catalano’s barn showed some serious run on debut. Catalano does fantastic with two-year-olds so no surprise, and he has a knack for training sprint closers—think Manny Wah and Aloha West.
But the pedigree on both sides suggested the precocity would not be there for a win on debut. Well, this fella was 12 lengths back after two furlongs, and at the top of the stretch he was 6 1/2 lengths back but building up steam. As he gunned down the leaders flying down the center of the track, Santana kept him to task, and what a late kick to behold. Winning by nearly two lengths. Running the final half-furlong in 5.25 seconds. That’s some first run. The pedigree is there to be a sprinter.
The even-money second-time starter sped off six lengths ahead accompanied by the eventual place-finisher. 22.00 and 24.84 seconds is quick, for sure, for this age but no obvious meltdown at this distance, specifically going 4 1/2 furlongs. He had a good setup with stopping frontrunners who dueled, but he showed something I want to see again. He is a half to French Empire, who had some success coming off the pace in sprints, winning over $300,000. With a turf dam and Candy Ride grandsire, it will be interesting to see what Catalano decides for the preferred surface.
Second of July
Think back to the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint and you might remember the 12th-place finisher: Second of July. A standout two-year-old season that included winning Belmont’ s Futurity (G3), things didn’t pan out as hoped for this gelding who hadn’t won since. Fast forward to June 3’s allowance optional claimer at Churchill, where Second of July had trip trouble when falling to the ground out of the gate, and then he expended too much energy splitting foes hustling to catch up. When would this Jack Milton four-year-old return to form? Sunday was the answer. The trip went smoothly, and his full run was on display.
Pressing a swift pace that in the end cooked heavy favorite Kingmeister, Second of July took over in the far turn and energetically kept late comers at bay. Kenny McPeek has this fella right where he wants him, and there’s no reason to doubt that unrealized potential could be on tap for the rest of the year. Being only the second dirt run for this Bryan Hilliard homebred, there are likely more big dirt races in his near future.
The first win for the new sire Always Dreaming comes in Race 7 on Sunday at Churchill. Making only the ninth start by an Always Dreaming progeny, Mardukas broke sharp from the rail and cut along nicely, managing to go through a narrow post full of run. Corey Lanerie was up, and no one rides the rail better, but still, always a challenge from lightly raced horses, let alone a two-year-old. All signs show this colt out of Blue Kisses knows how to win.
Proving her maiden win at Oaklawn two back was no fluke, Ari Oakley sped to the front and cut an opening fraction in 21.2 seconds. Holding off the game Portilla late and keeping in front through the gallop out, I think we have a nice filly here. Her maiden win was a key race with two next-out winners and four next-out place finishes. This Gun Runner three-year-old has the profile of a filly who needs the lead, something to keep in mind as we look for her going forward.
Bonus: Belmont on June 26
Overcoming a hesitation out of the gate and having to steady slightly behind the outside foe dropping down into his path, three-year-old Saint Tapit shows up with a huge first run, receiving a 94 Brisnet Speed rating. And he faced stiff company, turning back the challenge from the 8-5 Chad Brown horse, Triple Elvis. Sired by Tapit and out of Havre de Grace, who won three Grade 1s, Saint Tapit is a full sibling to Graceful Princess, a G3-winning dirt router. The works have been looking great, and he even kept company on June 5 with one of Todd Pletcher’s Kentucky Derby colts, Charge It, who is likely for the Jim Dwyer on Saturday. Another talented three-year-old for Pletcher’s barn.