Two-year-olds take center stage in debut wins

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Ted Black

August 9th, 2016

When the thoroughbred Triple Crown races for three-year-olds conclude in the early spring, racing enthusiasts begin looking for the two-year-old races at various tracks to perhaps get an early gauge of which horses could impact the series the following spring. Granted, most of that attention is often focused on the well-bred, expensive horses that arrives at Saratoga Race Course and Del Mar each summer, but occasionally one or two juveniles from other venues can turn some heads.

This past Sunday afternoon Laurel Park hosted two maiden special weight events for two-year-olds at 5 1/2-furlongs, one on the main track and the latter on the turf. Both races were captured by freshman colts making their respective career debuts, but there was much more to the story than that.

In the first of the two events, onlookers got an early glimpse to some of the perils trainers and jockeys realize in racing two-year-olds. O Dionysus, a $190,000 yearling purchase by Marathon Farms and trained by Gary Capuano, got a little unruly leaving the paddock and tossed jockey Victor Carrasco, stepped on the fallen rider's foot and then darted around the oval and was scratched. Union Blues was difficult to handle in the paddock, but walked onto the track quietly, but Holiday Bonus also got a little squirelly leaving the paddock, tossed jockey Trevor McCarthy but did not get free as the jockey held onto the reins and then got a leg up.

Soon after the gate opened in that maiden special weight event for two-year-olds, longshots Magician'scalendar and Windcries both broke alertly to battle for command down the backside and by the opener in 22.3, then Union Blues launched his bid midway on the far turn and Holiday Bonus found his best stride turning for home and joined the fray. Union Blues gained command briefly turning for home, but Holiday Bonus swept by that one in the lane to score by nearly two lengths in 1:05.58.

A Harlan's Holiday colt who also went for the lofty sum of $190,000 as a yearling, Holiday Bonus prevailed in his career debut for trainer Graham Motion of Animal Kingdom fame. He was able to shake off McCarthy only briefly in the post parade, but Holiday Bonus recouped roughly one-eighth of his price tag by scoring at first asking on Sunday.

One race later a gathering of two-year-olds headed to the turf for a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight event that included several colts with very big price tags and one filly from the barn of trainer Michael Dickinson of Da Hoss and A Huevo fame. Undulated, a son of Curlin out of the Foxhound mare Polly Alexander, fetched $625,000 at the Ocala Breeders Sale in March, while Recoil went through the same ring for $255,000. Both expensive colts were saddled for their debuts by Cathal Lynch.

When the gate opened in that event, Jet Home, Speedy Slew and Bronx Sandman all broke very alertly to occupy the top three spots down the backside, but Sleepless was off a step slow while Undulated was squeezed from both sides at the break, appeared to clip heels in the opening strides and then only had the filly beaten down the backside.

Jet Home and Speedy Slew continued to show the way through the far turn, while Bronx Sandman found an opening along the fence and darted past the two longshots in what appeared to be the winning move. But Undulated was finding his best stride from between horses, while Sleepless was uncorking her rally from last while gradually being steered widest of all.

A furlong from home, Bronx Sandman looked like the winner, but both Sleepless and Undulated were gaining rapidly. Sleepless had clear sailing throughout and was motoring past her rivals down the center of the course while Undulated simply tried to weave through traffic under patient handling from McCarthy. Inside the final 100 yards, Undulated, despite the constant trouble, shifted gears and split rivals to prevail by a neck in 1:03.13 in a gritty, determined, professional debut.

When Undulated returned to the winner's circle, McCarthy told Lynch that nothing went right during the race and the colt still managed to win at first asking. He was squeezed at the break and then clipped heels, appeared bottled up in traffic on the far turn, changed lanes several times in the stretch looking for an opening and then finally found a seam 100 yards out and forged past Sleepless and Bronx Sandman for the score. Sleepless rallied widest of all after trailing the field and will likely not being a maiden much longer whether she tries boys again or drops in against fillies.