Racing Roundtable: Memorial Day and upcoming stakes
In this week's Racing Roundtable, James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson look back at the big winners at Santa Anita on Memorial Day and then ahead to this week's Stephen Foster Preview Day at Churchill Downs and next week's third leg of the Triple Crown.
Will Count Again and Ocean Road continue to be major players in their respective turf divisions this season?
James Scully: Count Again has really come on over Santa Anita's turf, reeling off three consecutive graded wins, including the Shoemaker Mile (G1) and Frank Kilroe Mile (G1), but the seven-year-old gelding must transfer his form to the road at some point. His last two efforts — a non-threatening sixth in the Maker's Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland and last of five in the Del Mar Mile (G2) — were disappointing, and Count Again hasn't won outside of Arcadia, California since 2020. The filly and mare turf division features some depth this season, and Ocean Road has something going for her following Monday's half-length score in the Gamely (G1). It will be interesting to see how the Brendan Walsh-trained four-year-old filly fares against East Coast stakes rivals in upcoming engagements.
Kellie Reilly: Gamely winner Ocean Road is an exciting addition to the filly and mare turf picture, as a lightly-raced import whose closing kick is no hostage to pace. Her brief European career hinted of potential, an idea reinforced by her better-than-appears sixth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). But the Irish-bred is especially interesting in light of her half-brother, Wigmore Hall. That $2 million-earner traveled the world from his British base to Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and North America, capturing Woodbine's Northern Dancer Turf (G1) (twice) and the Jebel Hatta (then a G2). Considering how long he was around, Ocean Road has massive upside. Not to diminish Count Again, who is himself in the form of his life at the age of seven, but so far he's been dependent upon circumstances to produce his best.
Vance Hanson: I share the same concerns about Count Again. Although it was a dazzling victory in the Shoemaker Mile (career best 105 Brisnet Speed rating), the veteran seems to have forgotten how to carry that form outside Southern California. That's especially the case with respect to the Keeneland turf, over which he broke his maiden and will play host to this year's Breeders' Cup Mile (G1). With fall weather in Kentucky being what it is, I have long-term concerns about his ability to reproduce his best in a spot like that. Ocean Road is a potentially far more interesting Breeders' Cup candidate. She'll still have class to find as the season progresses, but she's won over the Keeneland turf already this season and remains with significant upside.
What are you looking forward to seeing on Saturday's Stephen Foster Preview Day at Churchill Downs?
JS: An exciting matchup between Americanrevolution and Scalding is set for the $200,000 Blame S., the local prep for the $750,000 Stephen Foster (G2) on July 2. Unraced since winning the Cigar Mile (G1) in early December, the Todd Pletcher trainee has won four of his last five starts, the lone setback being a third in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1). The up-and-coming colt is looking to make a major impact in the handicap division at age four. Scalding enters on a four-race win streak for Shug McGaughey, including two over graded rivals, and the four-year-old colt had little difficulty stretching out to Saturday's 1 1/8-mile distance when capturing the Ben Ali (G3) at Keeneland last out. It should be a good race.
KR: While the Blame pits the streaking Scalding versus returning Americanrevolution, I'm most looking forward to McKulick in the Regret (G3). The well-bred daughter of Frankel looked set for big things when taking her Saratoga debut in style, but she's had to settle for placings in both ensuing starts. Hopefully McKulick is on the verge of a breakthrough for Chad Brown.
VH: I agree that Americanrevolution and McKulick are both horses of interest, but I'll also be taking a look at how much Army Wife has progressed when she makes her four-year-old debut in the Shawnee S. for fillies and mares. She'll be up against it facing Pauline's Pearl, who has already won the La Troienne (G1) and Houston Ladies Classic (G3) this term, but the fact is Army Wife was as accomplished a three-year-old as that rival last season when taking the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) and Iowa Oaks (G3) before finishing only two lengths behind champion Malathaat in the Alabama (G1). Army Wife was likely over the top when a well-beaten fourth in the Falls City (G2) in November, but I expect a respectable campaign from her this summer and fall.
Do you have early opinions on the Belmont Stakes?
JS: Mo Donegal will have every chance to make amends after a dreadful trip in the Kentucky Derby (G1) in which he was swung nearly 15 paths wide from an advantageous inside position on the far turn. The rail post did him no favors at Churchill Downs, and pilot error made it impossible to offer a serious challenge, but I was impressed by Mo Donegal's win over Early Voting in the Wood Memorial (G2) two back and give him an excellent chance to rebound in the Belmont.
KR: Mo Donegal checks the boxes as the likeliest Belmont winner. The Todd Pletcher trainee isn't the only one freshened from the first weekend in May, but his pre-Derby résumé was vastly superior to that of Rich Strike, and with a better trip at Churchill Downs, he would have been a fair bit closer than fifth. A return to New York should bring out the best in him, albeit at Belmont rather than the Aqueduct scene of his Remsen (G2) and Wood Memorial heroics. That said, I'm not giving up on stablemate Nest either. Although I was expecting better in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), the royally-bred filly will be in her element at the 1 1/2-mile trip.
VH: Looking beyond probable favorite Mo Donegal, We the People is an increasingly intriguing candidate. Outside of the head-scratching performance in the Arkansas Derby (G1), the speedy son of Constitution has been a blowout winner of his other three outings, including the Peter Pan (G3). The Peter Pan has been a fertile source of Belmont winners in the past, including Sir Winston (2019), Tonalist (2014), Lemon Drop Kid (1999), Colonial Affair (1993), and A.P. Indy (1992) in the past 30 years. Throw Drosselmeyer on that list, too, as he placed in the 2010 Dwyer (G2) when it was run in the Peter Pan's spot. We the People's stamina will be tested, but he does figure to get an ideal trip on or close to the lead.