Catching My Eye: Emerging 3-year-olds and turf stakes at Fair Grounds

March 7th, 2023

Racing analyst Kevin Kilroy examines up-and-coming three-year-olds and a couple of turf stakes that caught his eye at Fair Grounds during the first weekend of March.

Saturday: March 4, 2023

The award for “Most Sensational Effort” over the weekend at Fair Grounds goes to Bo Cruz, who in Race 7 broke his maiden at second asking. Following up a strong debut effort, where despite a troubled trip he finished second to Brad Cox's Demolition Duke, Bo Cruz stretched out to a mile and 70 yards.

Leaving from the rail, he wasted no time grabbing command into the first turn. He held the lead throughout for trainer Al Stall Jr. and jockey Jose Riquelme, winning by a widening 12 1/4 lengths under a hand ride. Owner Bruno De Julio (Bruno with the Works) pointed out after the race, “He motored away on his own and Jose (jockey Riquelme) never asked him.”

The connections are considering the Lexington (G3) at Keeneland for his next outing, or maybe a two-turn allowance on the Kentucky Derby (G1) undercard. The son of Creative Cause earned a 91 Brisnet Speed figure, which included an impressive 95 Late Pace rating.

Saturday’s card featured three turf stakes, and each produced multiple strong performances. Let’s start with the three-year-olds and then move to the statebreds.

Debuting with a 73 Brisnet Speed figure when winning against a nice field of turf runners who flattered him by running well in their next starts, Wonderful Justice stepped forward to earn an 84 in his second race. He beat a nice field of sophomore males in the Black Gold Stakes, including Andthewinneris and Reckoning Force, who both ran in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). Cox’s three-year-olds can do no wrong, and this son of Justify will be dangerous in the division throughout the year.

And so will Reckoning Force. This Brendan Walsh trainee set the pace from the rail and held on for third in the Black Gold Stakes, less than a length behind Wonderful Justice. Nominated for the Triple Crown, the Air Force Blue colt won’t likely switch over to the dirt, but he should step forward nicely when he makes the second start of his three-year-old year.

And what to say about the second-place finisher out of Louie Roussel III’s barn, Myredwhiteandblue? After firing three bullet breezes between his maiden victory in his first try on the turf, he came out at 14-1 and showed the best late turn of foot I’ve seen all meet. I know I won’t sleep on this runner again — if the finish line would have been one yard further, he would’ve won.

Cheers to Fort Polk for winning the Red Camelia — always an honest statebred-stakes mare — but let’s talk A G’s Charlotte. Patricia West’s smart filly has been the center of a few conversations since her run on Saturday. She finished second, rallying up the rail but never fully extending for the entirety of her bid.

Talking with her exercise rider, Bracelon Carmouche (Kendrick’s nephew) and her regular jockey Marcelino Pedroza Jr., Charlotte runs in spots because she gets distracted. Her mind’s interest in what is going on around her overpowers the flow of her run. Maybe it’s simply a stubborn and intelligent filly who may or may not fully mature mentally, but both Brace and Marcelino mentioned taking the blinkers off. If West makes that decision, I will be going all in on her in her next effort.

Sunday: March 5, 2023

You don’t often see a horse win stakes both sprinting on the dirt and going a route of ground on the turf in the same meet, but Big Chopper did just that, upsetting the statebred turf standout Who Took the Money in the Eddie Johnston Memorial. A versatile horse like this who can win in many different spots is a story in and of itself, but as a bettor, this type of runner is not always fully backed at the windows, and I want to be there for the value as Scott Gelner’s runner continues his four-year-old campaign across the state.

Big Chopper only earned an 87 Brisnet Speed figure, a far cry from the 97 he earned last year going two turns on the dirt and the 95 he earned at the beginning of the meet sprinting. All the better for our value.

Sub-22-second opening fractions are hard to carry home, but Swot Analysis did just that, beating a nice field of veteran older statebred sprinters and the Brittlyn Stable queen Ova Charged. Going half a mile in 43 and 3/5ths and finishing up in 1:09 and 3/5ths, this five-year-old from the Mark Casse barn earned a 96 Brisnet Speed figure, pairing up what he earned winning an allowance in early February. Honestly, I thought it would be higher. He made this list after his last race, and I said “open-company, here he comes.” I’ll repeat that sentiment here.

In the following race on Sunday, Wayne Catalano sent out Mister Mmmmm to victory in an optional claimer. The fourth win for the son of Speightster was ultra impressive, as Mister Mmmmm ran a 94 Brisnet Speed figure — nice enough, but he beat a field of lower stakes-types by 6 1/2 lengths in a five-furlong turf sprint. The pace set up for his late move, but still, winning by that margin at that distance, I know he is in top form and will be one to follow in Kentucky this spring and summer.