Top two-year-olds at Del Mar
by Scott Shapiro
Last year it was Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Songbird and Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator that topped the list of two-year-olds to hit the wire first at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.
After four weeks of racing at the 2016 meeting and the completion of the first two-year-old graded stakes event on Saturday afternoon, it is a great time to take a look at some of the most impressive juveniles to perform thus far in Southern California this summer.
Peter Miller and Keith Desormeaux appear to have the two best two-year-old colts in Southern California in 2016 in Chasing Aces and Straight Fire.
After a less than ideal trip in his debut at Santa Anita Park, Rockingham Ranch’s Chasing Aces sat just off the early pace in his second start and romped home to a powerful five and one quarter length victory on July 17th to break his maiden. He stopped the clock in a track record time of 56.21 seconds for the five-eighths of a mile. Controlling interest of the son of Flatter was sold to Mark and Adam Wachtel. He is expected to be the favorite in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity on closing day.
The colt that Chasing Aces stalked in his track record performance last month was Straight Fire. The son of Dominus is a powerful looking individual that showed tremendous speed in the July 17th event for a barn that never has their runners “cranked” in their first start.
The Keith Desormeaux trainee returned to the afternoons in Saturday’s eighth race and put on a dazzling performance. He finished the six and a half furlongs in a flashy time of 1:14.94 seconds and defeated the nine-horse field by a massive ten and a half lengths. Not only was the final clocking and the margin of victory impressive, but it was the ease in which he did it in. He has the look of a colt that will continue to get better with further grounding.
Chasing Aces was not the only impressive Peter Miller/Rockingham Ranch young colt unleashed at the Del Mar summer meeting. On July 30th, Big League, a son of Speightstown, broke alertly and made short work of a field of eight maidens en route to a three and a quarter length win in his first start under jockey Norberto Arroyo, Jr. While the effort did not produce a record-breaking time or massive speed figure, it was done with total ease. The dark bay or brown colt is scheduled to make his next start in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes on August 13th.
Last year it was Songbird that made the biggest splash amongst the two-year-old fillies with two extremely impressive performances to start her career. There does not appear to be any young females as talented as the once in a decade type Fox Hill Farm runner, but a solid field should be assembled for the 2016 Del Mar Debutante.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert appears to have two of the top contenders for the Grade 1 conducted on the final Saturday of the summer meeting.
American Cleopatra, the full sister to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, was dismissed by bettors in her debut on July 31st, but showed good early speed and pulled away in the stretch to win at a price of 7-1. The bay filly should only improve with further ground and will not be ignored by horseplayers in her first start against winners.
Her stable mate Noted and Quoted finished a troubled fourth in her debut on July 16th, but came back on Sunday afternoon in the fifth race and won by a widening nine and a half length margin. The Factor filly was boxed in early on, but jockey Rafael Bejarano found room and drew away powerfully. She could be the most talented young filly on the grounds.
Also amongst the best looking two-year-old fillies in Southern California thus far are the top two finishers in the maiden special weight event that Noted and Quoted finished fourth in. The winner was Morganite, a Hronis Racing runner that stalked early and won under steady handling from jockey Victor Espinoza. The Gemologist filly will be amongst the favorites in the Del Mar Debutante.
Another that will certainly take support in the Debutante will be the runner-up finisher in that July 16th event, Champagne Room. The well-meant Peter Eurton filly had a troubled trip from the rail in her debut, but came back on Saturday and bested a compact field in the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes. The daughter of Broken Vow is certainly one to watch over the next several months.
While the main track sprints draw the most attention, two juveniles had very impressive debut performances going a route of ground over the turf.
LNJ Foxwoods’ With Honors showed tremendous class and speed in her wire-to-wire victory on July 29th. Flavien Prat dueled early in her debut on the lawn and inched away late under little urging for the aforementioned Keith Desormeaux. The War Front filly has the look of a special runner and one that could be a major player in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf if all goes well.
The other impressive juvenile turf winner during the first part of the Del Mar summer meeting was George Krikorian owned Mr. Big colt, Big Score. The Tim Yakteen runner settled well off the early pace, swung four-wide into the stretch and won going away at a juicy price of 8-1. He was also ridden by leading rider Flavien Prat and appears to have a bright future on the green.
As usual Southern California appears to have a number of the top young runners in the States. It will be interesting to see them mature.