Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Maiden Watch: Two powerful winners

October 23rd, 2023

Roughly two weeks out from the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita, it might seem too late for new contenders to emerge. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Last week, two talented juveniles posted fast and eye-catching maiden special weight victories at high-profile tracks. Either one could be a good fit for the Juvenile if their connections take a shot at the quick turnaround.

The first notable winner was Air of Defiance. Trained by Brad Cox, the son of Quality Road showed promise in his Aug. 25 debut sprinting six furlongs at Saratoga, finishing second behind runaway winner Fierceness while coming home ahead of next-out winners Billal and Apollo Ten.

But Air of Defiance moved forward in a big way when stretching out over seven furlongs at Keeneland last Wednesday. Engaging in a three-way duel for the lead through fractions of :22.62 and :46.85 did nothing to tire the bay colt, who took over in the homestretch and pulled away strongly to win by six lengths in 1:23.29. The runner-up pulled 6 1/4 lengths clear of the rest, so it’s safe to say Air of Defiance trounced his opposition.

Air of Defiance’s dam is Faypien, winner of the 1 1/16-mile Summertime Oaks (G2) and a daughter of 2004 Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Ghostzapper. This is a pedigree geared toward running at least 1 1/16 miles, so Air of Defiance has more room for upside when stretching out around two turns. We’ll have to wait and see whether he tackles that configuration in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile or another target down the road, but either way Air of Defiance has a bright future.

Nysos was every bit as impressive when debuting in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday at Santa Anita. The Bob Baffert trainee never gave his nine rivals a chance to factor, carving out fast fractions of :21.62 and :44.19 before roaring away in the homestretch to win by 10 1/2 lengths in the excellent time of 1:08.97.

Sold for $550,000 earlier this year, Nysos is a son of Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist out of a mare by Preakness (G1) winner Bernardini, so he has the pedigree to stretch out in distance. Baffert has won the Juvenile five times, including with last-out maiden winner New Year’s Day in 2013, so there’s at least an outside chance we could see Nysos tackle the Juvenile off his powerful debut victory.