Two-year-olds starting to emerge in this unorthodox season

Profile Picture: Dick Powell

July 23rd, 2020

America’s 2-year-old program has changed over the years. Young horses are rarely pushed early and like their elders, they race infrequently. A good example is the historic Saratoga race meet. When it was contested over four weeks, there were horses that contested all three stakes races. Now, the same three stakes races are contested over eight weeks and hardly anyone tries all three.

This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2-year-old in-training sales have been disrupted. Many were delayed so horses that might have been sold in February and March were not sold until recently and are not ready for racing. With racetracks themselves having their schedules delayed, trainers had to wait for a degree of certainty before getting their 2-year-olds ready to debut.

In 2019, Jeremiah Englehart had a career year at Saratoga that included four first-time winning juveniles. This year, he said that because of the uncertainty from the pandemic, his 2-year-olds were a month and a half behind in their training from where they should be. I don’t think he is alone.

In the first four days of racing at Saratoga, we did get to see some promising 2-year-olds in action. In Saturday’s opener, the red-hot Christophe Clement sent out Momos, a son of Distorted Humor that romped by 6 1/2 lengths over the even-money favorite, Mo Mischief. He was able to make the lead without too much effort and then drew off in the stretch under a vigorous hand ride from Manny Franco. Clement said after the race that he might try the Saratoga Special S. (G2) at 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track. Mo Mischief won’t be a maiden much longer.

Sunday’s 7TH race was for juvenile fillies going 5 1/2 furlongs on the main track. All 10 fillies were making their debut and the public settled on Todd Pletcher’s Lucifers Lair. She did not disappoint. Pressing the pace from post 9 under Irad Ortiz Jr., she gradually increased her margin to three lengths at the wire.

What makes Lucifers Lair intriguing is that she is bred to go much longer on the dirt. Her sire, Quality Road, has sired six-time Grade 1 dirt stakes winner Abel Tasman and Alabama S. (G1) winner Dunbar Road. Her dam won the Sabin S. (G2) going two turns on the dirt and was graded stakes-placed two other times under similar conditions.

The Churchill Downs’ Spring meet had more than their share of 2-year-old races, but it looked like Cazadero was head and shoulders above them. He broke his margin at the end of May by a wide margin then came back and romped in the Bashford Manor S. (G3) by almost five lengths in good time. His sire, Street Sense, is not known for siring precocious 2-year-olds so he should be able to stretch out for Steve Asmussen.

Asmussen sent out four first-time juvenile winners in the month of June at Churchill. Thoughtfully won by a wide margin in good time on June 11. The daughter of super sire Tapit should be able to stretch out. The next day, Hulen was a handy winner going 5 1/2 furlongs then ran evenly in the Bashford Manor. Jackie’s Warrior won on June 19 going 5 furlongs in 57.49 seconds then Whiskey Double rallied from a bit off the pace to win going 6 furlongs on June 27 in good time.

Finally, Belmont Park had only a handful of dirt maidens for 2-year-olds, but Wesley Ward had a pair of winners. Blame the Booze won an off-the-turf event on July 10 going 6 furlongs over a sealed, muddy track and Roderick won a fast 5-furlong dirt sprint on June 21. Todd Pletcher won a 5-furlong maiden on June 3 with Prisoner, a son of Violence who is cranking out sprint winners. Kelly Breen, who is underrated with his juveniles, won with Garoppolo on July 3 going 5 1/2 furlongs. Many could show up in the Saratoga Special on August 8.

It’s going to take longer than usual, but there are a lot of 2-year-olds that are going to make some noise as their season progresses.