Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Maiden Watch: Stronghold is strong

October 2nd, 2023

Three maiden special weights at Churchill Downs last week produced possible Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and/or Road to the Kentucky Derby contenders.

A pair of one-mile contests on Sunday served as the highest-profile events. The faster division went to Stronghold, a second-time starter from the barn of Phil D’Amato. Coming off a runner-up finish in his sprint debut at Ellis Park, the son of Ghostzapper stalked early splits of :22.86 and :46.30 before taking over and edging clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:35.99.

His time was 0.59 quicker than the 1:36.58 clocking posted by first-time starter Catching Freedom earlier in the afternoon. The Brad Cox-trained son of Constitution raced in sixth place behind fractions of :23.08 and :46.79 before sweeping past the leaders in the homestretch to dominate by 3 3/4 lengths.

In addition, a six-furlong maiden special weight was contested on Friday. Honor Marie, a debuting son of champion Honor Code, trailed the field through an opening quarter-mile in :21.68 before gobbling up five lengths in the final furlong to win by a head in 1:10.54. D. Whitworth Beckman trains the bay colt.

Noteworthy action took place at Aqueduct as well. On Thursday, Moonlight added blinkers off a runner-up finish in his debut on turf and promptly obliterated a one-mile maiden special weight, pressing fractions of :23.63, :47.28, and 1:11.48 before powering clear to win the off-the-turf contest by eight lengths in 1:36.04. The son of Florida Derby (G1) winner Audible is yet another flashy two-year-old maiden winner from the Hall of Fame barn of Todd Pletcher.

The New Jersey-bred gelding Sea Streak debuted with a runner-up finish in the Smoke Glacken S. at Monmouth Park and appreciated dropping in class for a six-furlong maiden special weight on Sunday at Aqueduct, settling as many as eight lengths behind quick fractions of :21.90 and :45.68 before rallying strongly to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Eddie Owens Jr. conditions the son of Sea Wizard, who stopped the clock in 1:10.39.

We’ll wrap with a mention of Tejon Pass, a son of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify who nabbed a six-furlong maiden special weight at Santa Anita on Saturday. The Peter Miller trainee was never headed while setting fractions of :21.98 and :44.69, ultimately holding off all comers to win by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:16.57.