12 to keep on the radar for 2023
Of the very many horses to look forward to in 2023, I’d like to highlight a dozen to keep on the radar. A couple are well known – the bookends, as it were, at top and bottom – but most aren’t the glaringly obvious ones to follow in their categories. Instead, they’re intriguing types that pique my curiosity, in hopes we’ll see them fulfill their potential.
To prevent this list from being monopolized by a bunch of Kentucky Derby (G1) hopefuls, I’ll stick to naming just my favorite three-year-old colt. Loggins has had a high profile ever since his smashing debut at Churchill Downs, and he backed up that maiden romp with an excellent second in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1). At the time, I raved about how well he did to succumb narrowly to the more experienced Forte. That result looms even larger after Forte came back to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Loggins skipped the Juvenile and hasn’t worked since Oct. 1, but he’ll be on the comeback trail at Fair Grounds. Whether the son of Ghostzapper is ready to peak on the first Saturday in May or not, he still strikes me as the captain of Brad Cox’s deep sophomore team. I’m on his bandwagon for the long haul.
The Kentucky Oaks (G1) trail will not lack for flash, with Hoosier Philly and Justique barely scratching the surface of their ability. But could D. Wayne Lukas have a stealthy candidate in Summer Promise? We haven’t seen the Uncle Mo filly since her runner-up effort as the favorite in the July 14 Schuylerville (G3) at Saratoga. Still, the way she’d romped in her five-furlong premiere at Churchill marked her out as potentially smart. Indeed, since her family can blossom with maturity, she was arguably overachieving that early at two. Out of Grade 1-winning millionaire Dream of Summer, Summer Promise is a half-sister to 2016 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) victor Destin, who nearly took the Belmont (G1); Grade 1 star Creative Cause, third in the 2012 Preakness (G1); and Vexatious, whose Grade 1 score came at the age of six.
Like her Todd Pletcher stablemate Munnys Gold, Prank demolished her rivals in her lone start as a juvenile before going to the sidelines. I’ve chosen to include Prank here, rather than Munnys Gold, for three reasons. Prank was arguably the most dazzling maiden winner at Saratoga last summer. Her manner reminded me a lot of champion Covfefe, by the same leading sire, Into Mischief. And Prank is a half-sister to reigning Belmont winner Mo Donegal. I wouldn’t necessarily expect her to have his distance range, but she could be a sprint monster.
Just when Hopper burst onto the scene by dominating the June 11 Affirmed (G3) fresh off his maiden win, he just as quickly dropped out of sight. At last he resurfaced on the worktab in December for Bob Baffert. The newly-turned four-year-old doesn’t have the typical Baffert pedigree, as a son of Declaration of War and South African globetrotter Irridescence (who beat Ouija Board in Hong Kong). Hopper started out on turf, finishing sixth in a sprint maiden, but he’s 2-for-2 on dirt.
At this time last year, Peter Brant and Robert LaPenta’s Miles D was very much on the radar as a late bloomer who was putting it together. Trained by Chad Brown, the Curlin colt placed third to champion Essential Quality in the 2021 Travers (G1) and ended his sophomore campaign by winning the Discovery S. at Aqueduct. He ran down Speaker’s Corner, who promptly won three straight graded stakes capped by the Carter H. (G1). Miles D unfortunately raced only once in the interim, finishing third to Olympiad in the track-record Mineshaft (G3) Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds. Now the well-named son of Sound the Trumpets, a descendant of unbeaten Hall of Famer Personal Ensign, is gearing up at Payson Park for a comeback.
Brant has an unbeaten four-year-old, Francesco Clemente, based with the Gosdens at Newmarket. A homebred in the name of Brant’s White Birch Farm, the Dubawi colt has been brought along carefully with a view to the future. He didn’t race at two, but immediately showed talent by winning on debut at Newmarket. The runner-up, Godolphin favorite Secret State, went on to win four in a row including a valuable Royal Ascot handicap before placing in the Great Voltigeur (G2). Francesco Clemente had been prominent in the Great Voltigeur market himself, and held a St Leger (G1) entry, but his season was over by that stage. He added a Sandown novice and a Newmarket handicap by nine lengths (under top weight of 135 pounds) in his latest July 23. Out of a Galileo half-sister to three Group 1 winners, chief among them 2003 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) champion Islington, Francesco Clemente could be anything.
While Aidan O’Brien has an exceptional raft of classic hopefuls led by Auguste Rodin and Little Big Bear, Alexandroupolis isn’t to be overlooked. The Camelot colt, whose dam is a half-sister to past Ballydoyle celebrity Kew Gardens, showed athleticism and push-button acceleration to win first up at ultra-competitive Galway. Alexandroupolis has not been seen since, but his form has been boosted by runner-up Espionage. That fellow O’Brien trainee won next time at the Curragh and just missed in the Criterium International (G1). Granted, Espionage likely moved forward from Galway, where he had a tougher trip rallying belatedly wide. Yet Alexandroupolis himself has every right to strengthen up from his debut.
🚀 This is a serious performance from Alexandroupolis— Racing TV (@RacingTV) September 6, 2022
Named after a Greek city, this 240,000gns purchase overcomes trouble in running to hose up in some style at @Galway_Races under @waynemlordan, leading home a @Ballydoyle 1-2 in the process pic.twitter.com/SyOG0erQDC
Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby is likewise loaded in the three-year-old department, with Noble Style spearheading his mile brigade, but Imperial Emperor could be the one to follow for Epsom. By Dubawi and out of the high-class Zhukova, who crushed males in the 2017 Man o’ War (G1), the homebred colt is a three-quarter brother to European champion Ghaiyyath. Imperial Emperor justified favoritism in his sole outing on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile Oct. 1, traveling best before putting the race away with authoritative ease. I’m not sure what was toiling in his wake, but he quickened well under an armchair ride by William Buick.
Never Ending Story
By far the most experienced three-year-old on this list, Never Ending Story raced six times as a juvenile for O’Brien. She won twice, notably in the Silver Flash (G3), before running creditably in defeat at a higher level. Normally you would think she’s exposed by now, until you compare her dam, Athena, who was almost hopeless in her first four starts, and needed seven to break her maiden. Only in the late spring and summer of her sophomore season did Athena really flourish, scoring her signature win in the 2018 Belmont Oaks (G1). From this perspective, Never Ending Story’s already-useful resume could be a very auspicious sign. Yet another by Dubawi, whose progeny age like fine wine, she was a troubled fourth behind Tahiyra and Meditate in the Moyglare Stud (G1) and a battling third in the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1). Never Ending Story probably needs further than a mile already, so it was wise for connections to take her out of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) consideration.
All eyes will be on Epsom Derby (G1) hero Desert Crown when he finally returns from his prolonged absence, but we’ll be blessed with several other classic veterans back in action as four-year-olds. One who might be unfairly lost in the shuffle is Haskoy, who crammed a lot in the space of just three races in 2022. The Juddmonte homebred turned an otherwise ordinary Wolverhampton novice into an eye-catching rout on debut, then climbed the class ladder to take the Galtres S. with a powerful late charge. That victory during York’s Ebor Festival put Haskoy into the picture for the Park Hill (G2) at Doncaster, but connections decided to go for gold versus colts in the St Leger. The bold decision was vindicated when she stormed to the lead in the stretch and just got caught by Eldar Eldarov. Unfortunately, she also lugged in and got disqualified to fourth. By Golden Horn and out of a stakes-winning daughter of Nathaniel, Haskoy can hit greater heights for Ralph Beckett.
Among stateside turf horses, Pletcher’s Capensis similarly made an impression in a limited three-race campaign. The $2 million Keeneland September yearling overwhelmed his Belmont Park maiden rivals in his July 5 debut, rallying from off the pace to romp by five. So much buzz was generated that Capensis was bet down to even-money favoritism in a Saratoga allowance, but he wound up a wide-trip sixth from the outside post 11. The Tapit blueblood made amends in the Virginia Derby (G3) at Colonial Downs, where he drove from midpack to score handily. Off since that Sept. 6 feature, Capensis could develop into a major divisional presence. His dam, Grade 1 vixen Tara’s Tango, was at her best as a four-year-old.
Capensis warmed up off the final turn and comes rolling down the outside to win the Virginia Derby (GIII) @ColonialRosies.— TwinSpires Racing 🏇 (@TwinSpires) September 6, 2022
Owners: @EclipseTBP, @Gainesway, @StonestreetFarm, Et al.
🎙️ @BeemieAwards #TwinSpiresReplay 🎥 pic.twitter.com/98vPUfcgzl
It’s a bit strange to park Moira on this list, as though anyone could forget the Canadian superstar who broke the track record in her Queen’s Plate demolition job. Yet in another sense, she warrants a mention for being much more than a Woodbine Tapeta aficionado. The Ghostzapper filly proved her caliber on turf, despite her official record looking like two unplaced efforts. She should have won the E.P. Taylor (G1), if not for a questionable ride that saw her demoted from a near-miss second to eighth. Left with too much to do in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, Moira closed respectably for fifth. Aside from having unfinished business on turf, I’d contend that she’s worth a try on dirt too. Her dam, the Unbridled’s Song mare Devine Aida, was a stakes winner on both turf and dirt, reinforcing the versatility that’s also imparted by sire Ghostzapper. If Moira’s a triple-surface threat, imagine the options.