Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Maiden Watch: Asmussen trainees score at Churchill

September 25th, 2023

A pair of second-time starters from the Steve Asmussen barn graduated in seven-furlong maiden special weights at Churchill Downs last Friday, emerging as possible Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) candidates.

The first (and faster) winner was Informed Patriot, a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up Hard Spun. Coming off a pacesetting fourth-place finish over the same distance and class level at Saratoga, Informed Patriot switched to pressing tactics for his second start, staying close to splits of :23.19 and :46.42 before seizing a clear lead and holding off the rallying Top Gun Rocket to prevail by half a length in 1:23.59.

About one hour later, Asmussen’s Otto the Conqueror posted a similarly tenacious victory. Previously runner-up in his debut sprinting seven furlongs at Ellis Park, the son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense carved out modest fractions of :23.12 and :47.08 and led by daylight in midstretch before digging deep to beat the Brad Cox-trained first-time starter Dragoon Guard by a neck in 1:24.28.

Informed Patriot and Otto the Conqueror were two of the highest-profile maiden winners of the week, but they weren’t the only notable horses to visit the winner’s circle for the first time. The best racing of the week took place on Saturday at Parx Racing, where the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and Cotillion (G1) were contested, and the undercard featured a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight in which Godolphin homebred Maycocks Bay proved best.

Runner-up in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Monmouth Park, Maycocks Bay showed speed from the start at Parx, dueling for command through fractions of :21.99 and :45.30 over a sealed track. The pace decelerated sharply down the homestretch, but no one could catch Maycocks Bay, who forged clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:18.44. The son of champion sprinter Speightstown is trained by Michael Stidham.

Across the country at Los Alamitos, Ultra Power was the star of a seven-furlong maiden special weight on Sunday. The beautifully bred son of Curlin out of two-time champion Unique Bella showed little when finishing last in his debut over 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar, but Ultra Power jumped forward dramatically in his second start, pressing fractions of :21.91 and :44.63 before powering away to score by four lengths in 1:22.74. Bob Baffert trains the gray colt, who is bred to shine running long. 

We’ll close with a mention of Orb Alpha, who sprang a 21-1 upset in a one-mile maiden special weight on Sunday at Gulfstream Park. The Padarath Lutchman trainee was the longest shot in a six-horse field after debuting with a fifth-place finish in a $25,000 maiden claimer at Gulfstream, but that didn’t stop Orb Alpha from launching a midfield rally to win by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:39.21 over a sloppy track. Orb Alpha’s affinity for slop may be inherited; after all, he’s a son of Orb, who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby over a sloppy track.