1) Kentucky Derby Winter Favorite: The Remsen Stakes (G2) is maligned (no Kentucky Derby winners since Go for Gin & Thunder Gulch went back-to-back in 1993-94) and critics may doubt trainer Kiaran McLaughlin when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, but Mohaymen looks like the real deal, a serious horse who could star in next year’s preps. He didn’t receive the best of trips during the early stages of the 1 1/8-mile Remsen, stuck behind rivals with little room to maneuver, but the gray colt’s powerful finishing kick made it a moot point as he drew away to a decisive 1 ½-length victory. By leading sire Tapit, Mohaymen appears to receive a nice dose of stamina from damsire Dixie Union, the sire of 2012 Belmont Stakes hero Union Rags, and his 102 Remsen BRIS Speed rating was outstanding. Perfect from three starts, Mohaymen will need to keep moving forward over the coming months but at this early stage, he easily rates as the leading Kentucky Derby prospect in my estimation.
2) Casse stable: Airoforce must still prove himself over a fast track, but it was easy to like the turn of foot he displayed winning the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over a sloppy oval. The Colonel John colt can finish and will be targeting Kentucky Derby preps next year after racing exclusively on turf in his first three outings. The Mark Casse stable also sent out Conquest Big E to a sharp allowance tally on the Kentucky Jockey Club undercard, the same allowance that Dortmund stylishly captured last year, and Conquest Big E could have a bright future as well. Second to subsequent Breeders’ Futurity (G1) winner Brody’s Cause when making his debut, the gray Tapit colt jumped straight from an October 2 maiden win to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but drew a tough rail post in the 14-horse field and checked in eighth.
3) Up-and-coming fillies: Songbird casts a pall over the division, but Carina Mia also possesses excellent speed and will be a 3-year-old filly to watch following a superb 4 ¼-length win in the Golden Rod (G2). The Bill Mott-trained Malibu Moon filly romped by 9 ¾ lengths when breaking her maiden the second time out at 6 ½ furlongs and two turns proved no obstacle as the front-runner overcame an outside post as well as sloppy conditions in the Golden Rod. Lewis Bay’s final time in the Demoiselle (G2) was nearly three seconds slower than Mohaymen’s Remsen, but the Bernardini filly was exiting a maiden win and remains a nice prospect for Chad Brown after scoring by a 1 ¾-length margin.
4) Do late-season accomplishments from Effinex & The Pizza Man matter?: Regardless of sport, media drives MVP discussions before seasons are completed and horse racing is no different, with pundits revealing their Eclipse Award choices as soon as the Breeders’ Cup is over. As a result, the desire to cling to such opinions is strong but I prefer to keep an open mind at least through the end of November; it’s the four-day Thanksgiving weekend (Thursday-Sunday) that brings a sense of closure to the Thoroughbred racing calendar, with about 20 graded stakes being offered at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs and Del Mar. Perceived leaders in the Older Male and Turf Male divisions (Honor Code and Big Blue Kitten) were far from overwhelming and it’s fair to ask whether impressive victories by Effinex in the Clark H. (G1) and The Pizza Man in the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) will make any difference upon Eclipse voters. The Pizza Man and Big Blue Kitten met twice in 2015, with the former beating his rival on the square in a 1-2 Arlington Million (G1) finish, and I give that meeting far more weight than the also-ran performances in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, with Big Blue Kitten third and The Pizza Man fifth. The Pizza Man’s only other loss in 2015 was an excellent head second in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1), where he ran out of ground at a distance too short for him, and the Illinois-bred gelding deserves credit for shipping to California late in the season, recording a convincing two-length victory in the Hollywood Turf Cup. With a stellar 6-4-1-0 mark this year, The Pizza Man is a viable champion turf horse contender. Effinex outfinished Honor Code by 4 ½ lengths in their lone match-up, with the older horses placing second and third behind American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and the 4-year-old colt recorded a couple of nice wins in Excelsior (G3) and Suburban (G2) earlier in the season, the latter coming at the expense of Tonalist. Effinex was arguably the top older horse down the stretch based upon his performances in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Clark, but it may be a case of too little too late for him to unseat Honor Code.
5) Tonalist finds groove outside of Belmont Park: Tonalist uncorked a furious late rally in the Cigar Mile H. (G1), closing stoutly through the final furlong to nail stablemate Red Vine on the wire, and the victory represents a nice accomplishment for the winner of the 2014 Belmont Stakes (G1) and two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) scorer. It also marked the first stakes win outside of Belmont Park for the Christophe Clement charge and it was exciting to hear plans to bring Tonalist back for a 5-year-old campaign. Dortmund’s class showed in a 4 ½-length romp in Saturday’s Native Diver (G3) at Del Mar, a tune-up for the 7-furlong Malibu (G1) on Santa Anita’s December 26 opening-day program, and the flashy chestnut is also part of a 2016 older horse contingent that is expected to include Shared Belief, California Chrome, Effinex, Keen Ice and Frosted.
Mohaymen winning the Remsen courtesy of Adam Coglianese Photography